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Conducting Light

Chapter Text

John Watson isn’t sure about Sherlock Holmes right away. He’s an odd duck, no denying that, but clearly brilliant. John finds the combination of his intelligence and his refusal to hide it, along with his complete lack of respect for social conventions, rather refreshing. Particularly the bit where he treats John like a complete person with some interesting facts about him instead of as damaged goods.

He’s so used to people avoiding looking at him that someone looking so intently at him for long minutes, though unsettling, is like a warm bath.

The flat is lovely and the location perfect, but the flatmate is frankly bonkers and for some reason John likes that. The more people who tell him to stay away from Sherlock Holmes, the more stubbornly he sticks to him. He is aware, vaguely, that the man is showing off for him, trying to please him in an odd way, and that this is unusual. Not the showing off, the wanting approval from someone who, really, shouldn’t matter to him one bit.

Despite not being at all sure about Sherlock Holmes, John Watson follows him to a crime scene. And keeps following him, at a walk, at a run, into danger, so quickly that he soon finds he’s left his old life and his limp somewhere out there in the dark streets of London.

He knew the pain there hadn’t been real. How could it take a near-stranger to prove it to him?

When Sherlock Holmes first casually refers to them as “we”, not 36 hours into their acquaintance, John Watson feels a strange swell of pleasure and pride. Pleasure at being part of a team again, part of anything, when he’s been alone for so long, and pride that this brilliant man seems to find his opinion and aid worth seeking out. And suddenly John can’t imagine a life that doesn’t include him.

 

It’s not very long before John realises something more than a solid friendship is developing here. He takes it in stride, carefully considering the possible consequences and ramifications before deciding what to do about it. He’s never been one to lie to himself, and he doesn’t see the point of doing so now. Men have never featured in his romantic activities (except, occasionally, in the way that tends to happen during a long and isolated deployment), but he is not entirely opposed to the concept and Sherlock is certainly very unique. 

He’s never been inclined to worshipful obsession or infatuation, but if he were, this would be the time.

As his attraction and attachment to the man continues to grow, he is not unaware of his friend’s hungry stares, abruptly terminated if John turns toward him. Sherlock stands closer to him and doesn’t realise. Sherlock grow more intolerant of long absences on John’s part. Sherlock takes obvious delight in any move John makes to protect or defend him. John notices all of this, but he’s not sure Sherlock does.

John wonders which of them will break first. He hopes it’s Sherlock, not because he wishes to delay the inevitable, but because he’s not sure that Sherlock could accept it until he fully comes to terms with his own poorly delineated feelings. So John stays quiet, ignoring the blatant signs as thoroughly as Sherlock manages to do, waiting for him to figure things out.

Maybe Sherlock never will. Maybe he’s not capable or interested, as he claims. Maybe it’s all in John’s head.

After the horrible incident in the abattoir, in which Sherlock comes closer than he knows to dying and John kills a man with more raw brutality than he has ever before displayed, things have no hope of staying the same. As Sherlock whispers to him deliriously about beauty and starlight and the suns that live in John’s chest, and John cannot stop himself from kissing the top of Sherlock’s head as he holds him to try and warm his hypothermic body, John knows they will not be able to resist each other much longer. It both delights and terrifies him.  

He could have lost him. It was a close thing. John would claw through more than old bricks and mortar to stop that from happening.

When Sherlock comes home from hospital his stares grow predatory and intense, and he is worse at hiding them. John can feel desire radiating off him like a physical force whenever they are even remotely near each other. It takes all his restraint not to jump him the first time it happens, but he wants Sherlock to come to the conclusion on his own.

He makes it very nearly four weeks. Very nearly four weeks of cold showers, turning in early to avoid late night temptation, and studiously keeping at least one piece of furniture between them at all times. And then one afternoon, when Sherlock is sprawled gracefully on the sofa, deep inside his own head and miles away, unaware of how the sunlight is making his hair shine and his skin look even more like ivory than usual, John breaks.

He’s never before felt like he can’t physically keep himself from another person any longer. But that’s what he feels now and it beats his rationality into submission.

He is surprised at how much coaxing it takes for a man so obviously smitten, and begins to second-guess himself, wondering if he has misinterpreted all the signs. But once they meet in that first kiss, so soft and wet, Sherlock’s body trembling beneath his, wanting to respond even while being completely overwhelmed, John knows there is no turning back. That would be like death, he suspects, for both of them.

When he is laid out on top of his friend, listening to his heartbeat and stroking his hair, John is overcome with amazement that he is allowed to do even these simple things – touch, kiss, hold – to a man who has always seemed so untouchable in every way.  Sherlock says he wants everything, and John knows he’s not just talking of the things they can do with and to each other. He wants every last thing John has and is, and he’s not promising he’ll give anything back.

And John will do it, because with this man it’s all or nothing and he can’t bear to go back to nothing.

 

When the time finally comes, much later that night after both men have acclimated themselves to the sudden lack of boundaries and the reciprocal desire of the other, John feels like he has live current running through him. He had expected Sherlock to be wild, rough even, aggressive from long-restrained desire; he is prepared for that. What John does not expect is the hesitant but determined Sherlock, a little unsure of himself, still somewhat convinced this is all an illusion and one false move will make it vanish.

John is certain that this will not be the usual way of things between them, but is grateful for it this time. He himself is a little unsure, although he is positive it is completely real. He feels like he is being shocked every time Sherlock touches him in a new place, removes an item of clothing, mouths unknown words silently into his neck or shoulder. Like he is on the verge of dying and being yanked back to life each time. His skin feels hot everywhere Sherlock’s hands go, though the taller man himself is cool, as if he is drawing all of John’s warmth to the surface and into himself.  

Even through all his fantasising over the past months, John hadn’t actually believed those large hands with their long, sensitive fingers would ever really be roaming over his body like it was a thing to be studied as carefully as the types of tobacco ash.

John takes an elemental pleasure in finally being able to do some of the things he’s tried not to obsess over, simple things like fisting both hands in Sherlock’s impossibly thick hair as Sherlock attempts to taste John’s trachea. Like burying his face in that elegant line where Sherlock’s torso meets his thigh and licking, lower and lower, until Sherlock gasps despite himself, John’s lips wrapped around him and his face buried in a completely different landscape, tangled and dark and glossy.

Sherlock in turn puts his mouth to the ugly, intricate scar that mars both the front and back of John’s left shoulder and sets himself to tracing each and every white line of it, starting at the outside and working clockwise towards the centre. It’s as is if he wants to lick the poison out of it, or maybe just learn it by heart. John understands that this is the most tender thing Sherlock can think to do to him, and lets himself be taken by the soft and pleasing sensation of Sherlock’s tongue  wandering over his bare skin.

He knows Sherlock loves this mark of destruction on him, that it is proof of John's reckless bravery and the reason they know each other at all .

When Sherlock is at last nestled deep inside of John, where no one else has ever been or ever will be, he looks down into John’s eyes with an expression of joyful disbelief, perfectly still, perfectly at ease.

John cannot believe how complete he feels, or the level to which he aches for more. He wants to be taken, to be filled, in a way that is completely unfamiliar, but suddenly as necessary as breathing.

“I think you might be radioactive,” Sherlock tells him, completely serious, and John quivers as the reverberations of Sherlock’s deep voice reach into his own body.

“Like a bomb?” John manages, trying to distract himself, as even staying motionless together is nearly enough to finish him off now. .

“No… like a pulsar or a white dwarf. Compact but bright and powerful.”

That is the closest thing to romance John is likely to get, and he treasures the strangeness of it. And then Sherlock begins to move and all thoughts are seared from John’s head. It’s over far too soon and yet they seem to exist timelessly in those few moments.

Nothing has ever hit him like this. Nothing else will ever be enough again.

When they are finished, shuddering sharply only seconds apart despite Sherlock not laying a finger on John to bring him off, Sherlock rolls John on top of him and they lay there, chests together, breathing in sync. Sherlock seems to like having John on him like this, likes to feel the weight and heat and solidness of him to assure himself it’s real.

“So, if I’m a white dwarf star, what does that make you?” John asks, when the afterglow has dimmed enough to speak.

“Hmm. A black hole, perhaps.”

“A dead, collapsed star that sucks in and destroys everything around it?”

“Maybe.”

John put his lips briefly to Sherlock’s collarbone. “I don’t like that.”

“It’s true.”

It might be true, but John won’t stand for it. Sherlock deserves better, even if he does take and destroy and is generally a force impossible to resist.

John shakes his head. “If you must be a dark thing, be a dark nebula. They’re full of energy and they draw light to themselves but they don't destroy. They do really shine, but beyond the spectrum of the human eye.”

He can feel Sherlock raise an eyebrow.

“I had a telescope in the fifth form. I like astronomy.”

“A dark nebula,” Sherlock says, pondering. “If you prefer.” He pauses for a long minute. “Did you mean it?”

“Mean what?”

“Everything. That I could have everything.”

John grins to himself. “I would think that should be obvious by now, but yes. Tattoo your name on my heart, I’m all yours.” Sherlock perks up noticeably and John amends, “Not literally. We will not be tattooing internal organs. Or anything else.”

Oh Lord, he would do it, he really would. John isn’t sure if he’s appalled or flattered.

“It’s possible though,” Sherlock presses.

“And sometimes fatal. No. But that doesn’t make me any less yours.”

Sherlock seems temporarily satisfied by this and goes nearly limp, settling into the pillows. John goes to move off him, but is restrained by an immoveable arm, and decides that of all the places he could possibly sleep, on top of Sherlock Holmes is one of the better ones. And so ends the first day of what must be called a relationship, if only for lack of a more sufficient word for it.

 

 

Sherlock Holmes is a fucking nightmare. And John Watson loves every minute of it. He had known that this was how it would be; any kind of relationship with Sherlock had to be, on some level, hellish. But knowing it and living it are very different things. Not that he has regrets, it’s just a lot to deal with. But he loves it, all of it. Well, almost all of it.

He loves the late night chases, the danger, the spark of energy that come with them. He loves the difficult cases, watching Sherlock’s clever mind at work, wheels turning almost visibly. He loves the long hours in bed (or not) together, and all of Sherlock’s insane, inventive, and strangely erotic ideas for what to do with them. He even loves Sherlock’s weird possessiveness, his wild mood swings, his inappropriate comments. He could go on and on about the things he loves about Sherlock Holmes.

But he won’t because he’s an Englishman and a soldier and it doesn’t work that way. It’s enough to know them for himself.

There are some things John Watson doesn’t love. He hates the way Sherlock can, in less than a minute, go from sweetly affectionate to using everything he’s learned about John, even the most intimate knowledge, to eviscerate him verbally. He hates the way Sherlock expects, demands, instant forgiveness for even the most cutting cruelty, or sometimes doesn’t even realise he needs any at all. And he really hates the way Sherlock can disappear for hours or days without notice, making him ache with worry that his friend has discovered a new and interesting way to get himself killed.

And yet even those things John still truly loves somehow, no matter how painful or terrifying they are, because they are part of what makes Sherlock the man he is, the man John would never dare to wish to change.

As for the man himself… John knows he is not permitted to say the words to him. Sherlock, so disdainful of all sentiment, would view it as evidence of the weakness of John’s devotion to him, not its strength. So he tells him he’s mad and cracked and disturbed and a danger to society. He calls him a git and an idiot and a prat and a twat and every other name he can think of and Sherlock beams like John has written him a sonnet or carved his name into his chest.

For Sherlock's part, whenever he growls “mine” to John at random and decreasing intervals, bites him in a place nearly impossible to cover when he goes out, snaps in annoyance “hurry up, I need you”, or pulls John to him suddenly, roughly, twanging with desire, John finds that he could not possibly feel more cherished by anyone. He wonders if something is wrong with him, then decides he doesn’t want to know because it wouldn’t change a thing.

It's not something that could ever be considered a healthy relationship, he knows, but in all his healthy, balanced relationships he never felt like this. And what other kind of relationship can you have with a madman?

Chapter Text

Sherlock surveys the gristly scene with his usual impassivity. They were too late. John’s got a strong stomach, but a murder-suicide, and for so young a couple, gets him where he lives, and he has swallow his gag reflex and breathe very deliberately for a moment.

Just kids. Teenagers, sure, but really hardly more than babies in his eyes. Some of the soldiers he’d lost had only been a few years older, but they’d been babies too, fresh faced boys playing a game they couldn’t win.

“We must have just missed them. They weren’t kidnapped were they? They ran away together and when they thought they were going to be caught…”

“Re-enacted Romeo and Juliet, it would seem. Staged the kidnapping so their parents wouldn’t guess what they were doing. Clever. Yet so stupid.”

 “Jesus,” John breathes. He’s only 16 and she’s only 14. Apparently both sets of parents had objected vehemently on the basis of their respective ethnicities and religions. He shivers. Sherlock inspects the room while John goes over the bodies, but everything is exactly as it had seemed on first glance. Impulsive, hormonal kids couldn’t see past the immediate future, think they would rather die than be separated. They are still in each other’s arms.

John feels like that sometimes, fiercely, but he knows death is more of a separation than anything else could be.

“Love is a terrible thing,” Sherlock says bitterly as they get in the taxi back to Baker Street. “Look what it does. It destroys.”

John is no stranger to Sherlock’s philosophy on love, but this is a dagger in the chest, especially considering what he has just witnessed. “Don’t say that,” he says quietly.

Sherlock completely fails to register John’s reaction and forges on. “But it’s true,” he insists. “See what it did those kids? Love is blind and stupid. When you let it in, it takes over, you’re not in control of yourself any more. You do things you never would have dreamt of. Chemicals flood your brain and you have no say about how you feel any more, no power to control your actions. And even when it doesn’t end like this, there’s still destruction, the subsuming of yourself as you are to please another person. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

Sherlock looks pleased with himself for this little speech. John makes no reply and looks out the window, and Sherlock finally cottons on that something is wrong.

“John?”

“It’s fine. I hear you. You’ve made it very clear. Love is chief among the evils of mankind. I got it.”

He knows Sherlock doesn’t feel things like most people, but he’d still hoped for a little more warmth, maybe just the tiniest bit of sentiment given what they are to each other. But if this is what Sherlock thinks about it, then what are they after all?

In the glass, John can see Sherlock’s eyes darting back and forth at an almost inhuman rate, the way they do when he doesn’t understand something about another person, like he’s scanning all available data for a solution.

Finally, he says, “That was Not Good, wasn’t it?”

John turns back towards him. “That’s one way of putting it, yes.”

“You’re upset.”

“I’ll get over it, it’s just more chemicals, right?”

“John, I meant what I said. I truly believe that. But I wasn’t trying to say anything about… Don’t you understand what this is, it’s so much better?”

John looks at him in utter surprise. “Go on…” he says slowly.

“Look, when you started things with me, did you do it because you couldn’t help it? Did chemicals make you?”

“Well, I can’t say that there weren’t some chemicals in play…” John admits, thinking back to the hungry desire he had felt constantly for several months beforehand.

“But you didn’t feel like you had to,” Sherlock presses. “You wanted to, you had hormonal urges, but you thought about it and made a decision. You told me that. And you could have decided it was a bad idea and walked away. You, John Watson, decided you wanted me, as I am, not some fuzzy idealized version of me. And I decided the same. Neither one of us has to be someone we’re not or pretend anything. Despite our respective powerful urges, we walked in with clear eyes, we each made a choice. That’s why it’s better.” He looks exhausted from having to explain this to John.

So this Sherlock Holmes’ idea of romance and relationships.  He esteems choice beyond love, loyalty above sentiment. Suddenly it clicks for John. Sherlock doesn’t like love because to him it means being controlled by another person or your own emotions, changing you who you are, the destruction of self. Maybe they are on the same page about this, just reading it in different languages.

John feels a swell of warmth for his friend, now that he sees Sherlock isn’t denigrating what they have, but elevating it to the highest plane he can imagine. John wonders if he can make him understand that the two things didn’t have to be at odds. You can choose to love someone. Sometimes you have to choose to love them, even if you hate them in the moment. The decision and the feeling can be the same. That was a conversation for another day, though.

But had he chosen, really? He likes to think that he’d decided he was going to be with Sherlock long before the physical need for him had become impossible to resist. He is sure that Sherlock needs to believe that of himself as well. He had considered it carefully and thought he’d made a choice, but had it been possible for him to make a different one? Had either of them really had a choice since they fell into one another’s orbit, or were they both lying to themselves?

John decides it doesn’t matter if they don’t speak the same language, as long as at least one of them can puzzle out what the other is saying. Sherlock is watching him like a hawk, unable to predict his reaction or discern whether he’s been forgiven.

John shifts away from the window and closer to him, so they are touching. “You’re right,” he says, leaning into Sherlock a bit, so Sherlock can feel that he means it. “It’s better.”

He feels Sherlock relax next to him, relieved to have somehow successfully negotiated this extremely thorny territory.

“You crazed clot,” John adds, affectionately.

 

 

 “How was the crime scene?” John asks when he hears the door, a bit stiffly as he is still stinging from Sherlock’s brusque refusal of his company to it.

Sometimes Sherlock left him behind if they’d had a tiff and Sherlock was angry, but everything had been fine until he abruptly announced that John was not coming with him and left without another word.

There is no answer except the sound of a body being flung violently onto the sofa. John ventures into the sitting room and is unsurprised to see Sherlock facedown there, with his legs bent up at ninety degrees and one arm slung over the back cushion.

“So…not good, I take it.”

Whatever reply Sherlock makes is muffled by pillows, and John suspects it was rather a rude one. He sighs wearily and slowly approaches the sofa. He puts a hand on Sherlock’s back to gauge his reaction, like letting a dog smell you before you pet him, and when there is no abrupt rejection he carefully lowers himself on top of Sherlock, chest to back, using his arms as a pillow and nuzzling his face into that spot on Sherlock’s neck he knows can make him crumble.

John shouldn’t indulge his moods like this, but it’s the only way he’s found to forestall an extended sulk, and it does feel so good to lay like this together, bodies touching nearly as much as possible.

The other man makes a low noise that could, in some circumstances, be interpreted as pleasure or at least acceptance. John lays there quietly, until he feels the angry breathing begin to subside. Finally he asks, “What happened?”

Sherlock heaves a great sigh of injustice and turns his head to the side so John can make out what he’s saying. “I couldn’t see.”

“Okay. What do you mean you couldn’t see?”

“I couldn’t see!” Sherlock snaps. “I got there and everything was dark and flat and I couldn’t make out a single useful thing. Like a very old black and white photograph. All blurry and dark and running together.”

John lifts his head, instantly in doctor mode. “What, you mean literally? Can you see okay right now? What colour is the chair by the fire?”

He never knows when Sherlock is talking about something real and solid and when he’s grasping at metaphors because there’s no words to fit what he experiences.

Sherlock shakes his head, frustrated. “Not literally…not exactly. It was just…wrong. Now it’s fine, everything looks normal, you’re glowing like you should be.”

“Glowing?” John is a bit taken aback, but then recalls the other times Sherlock has referenced something like that about him. He’d thought it was poetic license, although he probably should have known better given that this is Sherlock they are talking about. “You’ve said things like that before. Do you… really see that?”

He remembers Sherlock telling him he was radioactive like a star and bright like an aquarium of fireflies, and more.

Sherlock moans, nearly a whinge, and starts to get up. John climbs off him and sits next to him on the sofa. “Do you really want to know? You’re not going to like it.”

John nods. “I think you’d better tell me. I ought to know if I can function as an alternative light source. Handy in emergencies, I should think.”

Sherlock doesn’t smile. “Go stand by the fireplace,” he orders. “As far away as possible and still be line of sight.”

Puzzled, John obeys without argument. Sherlock stands and comes towards him, a single, deliberate step at a time. “Dim… less dim… brighter… brighter…” he mutters. He stops about halfway to John and takes a few steps backwards. “Dimmer…dimmer…”

John is riveted and more than a little concerned by this. Sherlock repeats the walk-forward-and-then-back routine a few times before he finally reaches John.

“What do I look like now?” John breathes, looking up at him.

“An incandescent lightbulb,” Sherlock replies. He puts up his hands and traces the line of John’s head and shoulders, about twelve centimetres away from his actual skin, like he can see and touch an aura John is unaware of.

This is blatantly insane, but John knows there must be something to it. Sherlock’s brain wasn’t like anyone else’s, why should he see like them?

John is very still for a moment, captivated by this performance, then shakes himself and takes Sherlock’s hand, leading him back to the sofa. They sit, with Sherlock’s gangly legs thrown over John’s lap. “I’m not crazy,” he says defensively but tiredly, and John strokes his calf.

John will have to try and get inside Sherlock's head on this one. He's starting to get rather good at that.  

“I don’t think you’re crazy,” John tells him. “Well, at least not about this.  But you have to admit it’s not usual. The light dims the further you get from me… and when you were at a crime scene without me it was like a…blurry dark photo, yes?”

Sherlock nods. “And when we’re…intimate…sometimes it’s so dazzling I have to shut my eyes.”

He knows what Sherlock means, exactly. He never actually sees any visible light, but it sparks blindingly inside his head.

John can’t help being completely melted and not a little turned on by that, but he tries to stay focused. “But it hasn’t always been like this since we met, has it?”

“No. It started in the abattoir, when you first showed up on the killing floor. You were so bright, like your own solar system. I tried to tell you.”

“Hmmm. Well, you did get rather a sizeable bump on the head that day.” John is quite startled by this whole thing, but doesn’t want to alarm Sherlock or make him feel persecuted. There’s no faster way to get him to clam up. “Sherlock, do you know what synesthesia is?”

Sherlock brightens a little. “Yes. It’s when someone’s brain interprets the stimuli from one of the senses as something completely different, either replacing the real stimulus or overlaying it with an additional sensation.”

“Exactly. Some people read words as music, or see numbers as colours, or smell touch.”

“It’s fascinating!” Sherlock exclaims. “I’ve always wanted to meet someone like that.”

Of course he does. He’d probably want to take their head apart with a screwdriver.

“Well, I think you might… have it,” John tells him, very carefully. Sherlock does not like being diagnosed with things – hence the word “Asperger’s” now being verboten in 221B. That had not been a good day.

Sherlock digests this calmly. “So… instead of or in addition to something else, I experience the optical illusion of light radiating off of you?”

“It would seem that way. Does anything else effect it besides distance?”

Sherlock considers. “It’s brighter when we’re being affectionate… or working on a case together…or you are doing something for me. It gets dimmer if we’re ignoring each other, or if you are angry with me or I with you.”

“And when I sleep, does it go away?”

“No. Sometimes it’s even more brilliant.”

“And you couldn’t see right today because… because I wasn’t there?”

“I think so,” Sherlock admits reluctantly. “I’ve noticed it starting to happen, that’s why I didn’t want you to come today. I needed to test it.”

“You know, we have talked about you telling me before you test things…” John mutters. “But it’s not always like an old photo when I’m not around you…is it?”

“No. Only if it’s a really difficult case. Or if we’ve had a row and you’ve gone off to get some air. Then things can go a bit greyscale like today.”

John has never heard of something quite like this before, but doesn’t have any better ideas. And mad or not, it was clearly very real to Sherlock.

“This going to sound a little out there, but I think… I think the light might be how your brain processes…feelings.”

“Feelings?” Sherlock spits the word as usual. “I see your feelings as light?”

“No… I think it might be yours.”

“My feelings?” He looks horrified.

“No use pretending you don’t have them,” John says firmly. “But maybe feelings isn’t quite right… More like how you are perceiving me and the things around you, like the clues from a crime scene. I think your brain is taking all that input, bouncing it off of me and interpreting it as brightness.”

“But it comes from you! Not me. I can see it.”

“I know it seems that way, but if it were my feelings why would it get less bright when you move away from me? Why would you have trouble observing when I’m not there? Why would there be any light at all when I sleep?”

God help him, he’s accepted Sherlock’s premise and is arguing it. But sometimes it’s the only way they can communicate properly. So what if it doesn’t actually make sense?

Sherlock is silent for a long moment. “So… it’s something originating from me and then coming back out of you as light, so I can see things I couldn’t before?”

“I suppose you could say that…” This is not actually the weirdest conversation John has ever had with Sherlock, but it’s starting to crack the top five.

Sherlock seems to like this idea, oddly enough. “That means you’re like a conductor in a circuit. I make electricity, you make the current flow and illumination possible. You make things visible.”

“If you like…sure…” John says weakly. He is not at all sure that this is good, particularly given what tends to happen to the human body when large amounts of current are passed through it. And yet this is very nearly a blatant admission of John’s complete indispensability to Sherlock, and that is no small thing.

Maybe Sherlock would burn him out in the end, but it’s worth it to know how much the man who does not need anyone needs him.

Sherlock’s foul mood clears instantly. “You’ve been doing this since we met,” he declares. “That explains everything! You’ve been helping me observe better, think better from the start, I just didn’t have a visual cue for it until recently.”  

He pulls John down next to him on the sofa so that they are all tangled up and Sherlock is kissing every part of John’s face and neck he can reach. John smiles despite himself. “How do I look now?”

“Mmm, like high noon in the desert.”

“You do realize that your precious visual cue is very possibly a permanent untreatable brain injury, right?”

Sherlock grins. “Isn’t it wonderful? Tomorrow we’ll go back to the scene together and it will be perfect.”

John settles into his shoulder. “Lunatic.”

Sherlock shivers with pleasure. “Bore.”

“Arrogant prick.”

“White dwarf.”

“Dark nebula,” John says, tenderly, and is not at all surprised when Sherlock manoeuvres himself swiftly on top of John, straddling him, and begins the systematic removal of his clothes. And soon it is very bright for both of them indeed.

Chapter Text

They arrive at the mostly-intact crime scene early the next morning – the body having been removed to the morgue. John rubs his neck self-consciously, and turns up his collar a bit. Blast that man. Sherlock knew John hated turtlenecks because they made him feel strangled, and the only one he’d owned had mysteriously gone missing several weeks ago.

He was pleasantly sore today, in several interesting places, and more than satisfied that he’d left Sherlock in the same state. He didn’t really mind when Sherlock left marks, he did enough of that himself, but at least John tried to leave them in discreet places.

“Feeling better?” Lestrade asks Sherlock smugly as they enter.

“Shut up,” Sherlock snaps and sets to examining the carpet.

Lestrade chuckles and turns to John. “Good to see you, John. Surprised you didn’t turn up yesterday. Finally found something better to do than trail after this bastard?”

John shakes his hand amiably. “Long story. Can you show me where the body was?”

Not much he’ll be able to tell anything from whatever’s left, but he’s not in the mood to just stand around. Lestrade points him to the dining room, with white tape on the floor marking the spot. John kneels to examine the area. There’s a little bit of blood on the floor and on the sharp corner of the table and residue of something on the hardwood that might have been saliva, but it had dried. A chair had been knocked over, but there are no other signs of a struggle.

He’s so absorbed in his examination that he jumps when Sherlock materializes behind him, asking “What have you got, John?”

How can he possibly be so silent, like a cat or a shadow? He should be too tall to hide but somehow always manages to go unnoticed until he wants to be.

John stands and clears his throat. “Well, I haven’t seen the body, so I can’t be sure, but with this little blood I’d have to say she was either poisoned, strangled, or her neck was snapped, although I think the room would be in more disarray if she was physically attacked.”

Sherlock flashes him a brief, genuine smile. “Good, John. Police are saying it was poison. I need you to go to the morgue and confirm for me – I texted Molly to expect you.”

He likes it when John does something particularly smart, even outplays him a bit. Of course that’s somewhat rare, but John doesn’t mind.

“What have you got, then?”

“Footprints, mud, and coffee! I’ll meet you back home!” He claps John on the arm and vanishes, leaving John smiling a bit stupidly at the praise and his friend’s enthusiasm. Very little could be as exhilarating as Sherlock on the trail of a murderer. He notices Lestrade staring at him with a knowing grin.

Of course Greg could tell. Hell, Greg had known before either of them had figured it out for themselves. But that didn’t mean John wants to hear an I told you so from him.

“Oh, shut up,” he mutters, and feels himself blush as he makes a quick exit and heads to Bart’s.

Molly looks disappointed when he arrives. “Sherlock not coming, then?”

“No, just me, sorry.”

She turns bright red. “Oh! No, I mean, I’m always glad to see you, just, you know, I thought, because he texted… anyway, I have the body ready for you.”

He feels bad for Molly, and wonders if he should tell her and put her out of her misery. She’d find out eventually; there was more than enough evidence now to have tongues wagging, especially on the force, but they hadn’t actually told anyone. He wasn’t really sure how he’d go about it, anyway.

Hey everyone, Sherlock and I are buggering each other now, just like half of you always assumed? Dating was not quite the right word for someone you spent nearly every moment of the day and night with. Partners? Lovers? None of them seemed exactly right. Best to just be themselves and let people draw conclusions as they might.

He isn’t ashamed of anything, far from it – he’s incredibly proud to be with  Sherlock. But it’s sort of nice having it to himself, not having to answer questions. Obviously people were going to figure it out sooner or later and, in addition to Greg, more than a few already had by the looks they’d gotten at the crime scene. He doesn’t mind, but he’s happy to keep it out of conversation as long as possible, which works so long he pretends he doesn’t know that they know.  

Truth is John doesn’t like sharing any more than Sherlock does. He wants to open as little of their relationship to prying eyes and well-meaning friends as possible. It’s his and Sherlock’s, no one else’s.

Molly is pestering him to talk about Sherlock and he decides it would be cruel to crush her now. She’ll find out soon enough. He manages to turn her attention to the body.

“Oh yes, definitely poison,” she says, pulling the sheet off the body. “Too bad, she was so pretty.”

John examines the mouth and skin very carefully. “Cyanide,” he says, and Molly nods.

“I’m running the test now, but yeah, judging by her colour…”

He finds a small wound on the back of her head. “She must have hit it on the table when she fell,” he mutters to himself. “Thanks, Molly, I think I have all I need. Just text me if the test shows something other than cyanide, okay?

“Sure,” she says, and opens her mouth like she’s going to say something else, probably about when Sherlock might be round again, but thinks better of it.

He opens his phone while waiting for the taxi.

Acute cyanide poisoning, secondary head wound from fall. Where are you?

The reply is nearly instant.

Home. Come at once. Skull missing again. SH.

That was Sherlock’s roundabout way of saying he needed to talk the case over. John gets home as fast as he can and hears Sherlock’s voice already in mid-deduction as he comes up the stairs.

Sherlock talks to him when he’s not there. It’s one of his favourite things about Sherlock, although the fact that he doesn’t always notice when John is gone can be a bit troubling.

Sherlock breaks off in mid-sentence when John opens the door. “What took you so long? It’s been ages! Never mind, sit down. It was the coffee!”

“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” John says patiently. “Remember, I can’t actually hear what you say to me when I’m not here.”

He rolls his eyes as if this is a minor detail, and begins pacing the sitting room manically as John settles himself. Sherlock begins firing rapidly in his clipped, precise way.

“So, what do we know to start? The victim was single, lots of friends and no known enemies. String of short term lovers, but nothing serious and lived alone. Footprints up the back walk show a man with very large feet in boots, wellies. They were muddy but no prints inside the house, which means he took them off. No sign of forced entry but a friend says she left the garden door unlocked often.”

“So he must have known her well enough to know that?”

Sherlock is just getting warmed up now, running his fingers through his tangled hair, fidgeting with random object he’s picked up and then discarding them. John knows well how this goes, but never gets tired of the show.

“Hmm. Or been watching. Or he could have gotten lucky, been ready to break in but then not had to. No way to tell. But what does tell is that no one reported a car or taxi anywhere near the house, which means he either walked from somewhere close or parked several streets away. Walked is more likely, since if you have a getaway car you want it right there. At some point in the day before our victim died, the murderer snuck into the house, planted the cyanide in something he knew she would consume, and left before he was detected. Which bring us to…”

“The coffee,” John finishes. “The cyanide was in the coffee.”

“Of course it was the coffee! What’s more she drank flavoured coffee, roasted almond to be exact.”

“So she wouldn’t have noticed the smell of the cyanide because she was already expecting to smell almonds, and the bitterness would have been hidden by the bitterness of the coffee,” John concludes “So he must have been watching her, to know her habits so well. But I didn’t see a cup or coffee stain.”

“It was in the sink in the kitchen. She put it down there when she started feeling ill and then stumbled into the dining room. You saw how neat that house was, even as she was dying she was worried about making a mess. Plus I found traces of cyanide in the hopper of the coffee maker.”

John prays he didn’t touch it with his bare hands, and disposed of it once he was done verifying its identity, but is by no means sure that Sherlock considered either of these things.

“Okay, that takes care of the means,” John says, making a mental note to rewash all the dishes and scour the kitchen before either of them eat anything. “What about the man?”

“Ah ha! No witness noticed a strange man in the neighbourhood, and in a posh one like that people notice strangers, especially dirty ones. So he must have done it when it was dark out, probably late the night before she died. Furthermore I analysed the dirt from the footprints and aside from the local clay one would expect, there’s also a mix of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Also known as potting mix.”

“So, someone who spends a lot of time gardening. Maybe a groundskeeper, from one of the nearby houses? Had a grudge…or…or an obsession of some kind?” John can tell the answer is close, he feels it and Sherlock has that expression he gets when he’s just on the edge of a solution, groping for it through the fog.

God, he’s sexy when he’s working things out, the intelligence mixed with a tiny hint of uncertainty, just for a moment. John doesn’t even mind when he can’t follow. The electricity crackling around him now is enough of a reward.

“I thought of that, but none of the local homes employ anyone who could fit those boots. He could have been a temporary worker, but then he wouldn’t have been there long enough to learn her habits. And everything about this fits a local crime.” Sherlock makes a noise of frustration.

“Wait,” John says, an idea growing. “What about someone who worked in a shop or garden centre? Are there any of those nearby?”

“Oh, yes! A garden centre, brilliant. That would explain why the cyanide was industrial grade not pharmaceutical grade. He didn’t buy it, he already had it! Probably for pests.” Sherlock begins typing furiously on his computer.

“Is that legal?” John asks in mild horror.

“Not any more. But it’s effective. I’m sure he’s not the only nursery owner or farmer who keeps an old tin around to kill rats with. Oh…fantastic! Only one garden centre that is within walking distance – Gentle Billy’s Plants and Garden Supply, a cheerfully ironic name. Text Lestrade right now, hurry up… ready? ‘157 Bridge Rd, St. John’s Woods. Garden shop. Look for something missing from the pesticide shed and a man with size 12 wellies.’ Got it?”

“Yes, hold on.” John was used to this by now, but he could by no means text as quickly as Sherlock could talk. “Okay, sent.”

Sherlock is standing again, but no longer pacing and twitching.  He lets out a long breath. “Oh, that was too simple, but at least it was interesting for a few minutes.” He turns to John and John feels that familiar warm sensation creeping up from his toes that he always gets when Sherlock’s full attention is on him. Thrilling and reassuring and unsettling all at once.

“You like to watch me work,” Sherlock observes, approaching John’s chair purposefully.

“I like to work with you,” John corrects, trying avoid inflating Sherlock’s ego any further.

But of course he likes to watch him – it’s like watching a well-bred racehorse run or a prima ballerina on stage. The incomparable sight of a thing of great beauty doing exactly what it was created for, and doing it superbly.

Sherlock is right in front of him now, with a glint in his grey eyes. John knows that look, and all that comes with it.

“You like watching me,” he repeats. “Look at you, breathing and pulse elevated, cheeks flushed…you’re aroused. Don’t try to lie to me.”

“Maybe I’m just pleased with my ‘brilliant’ deduction,” John counters, toying with him. “You didn’t get this one all on your own.”

“I would have,” Sherlock dismisses. “And that’s not what’s turning you on right now.” He leans over John slowly, and John can smell his breath, his cologne, the tang of chemicals from his analyses.

“No, it’s not,” John admits. They lock eyes for a long second and then Sherlock pounces, straddling his lap and kissing him forcefully and deeply, like he is trying to possess John with his mouth. John gives as good as he gets, and the kiss lasts at least a full minute – long enough for John to contemplate any number of filthy things he could do to his detective, right here in this chair – before Sherlock breaks it off and jumps to his feet abruptly.

“But no time for that,” he declares. “We have about twenty minutes to get something to eat before Lestrade has us come down to the Yard and look at the suspect.”

John gets up with bad grace, thwarted. “I can think of better uses for twenty minutes than lunch,” he points out.

Sherlock gives a little smile, flushed as well, but shakes his head. “You haven’t eaten since last night – I don’t want you passing out in front of the police. It would be terribly embarrassing for me.”

John snorts. “What about you, you haven’t eaten in at least two days.”

Sherlock waves him off. “We’re talking about you. We’ll go to that café with the pastry…things… you like near the Yard.” He throws John’s jacket at him and all but drags him through the door. John lets himself be manhandled out of the house.

He always finds it touching when Sherlock tries to remember to make sure he eats in the middle of a case, even if Sherlock himself refuses to. He may beg Sherlock for days to eat, without result, but his friend nearly always remembers to stop and let John get something at not entirely barbaric intervals. It shows a level of awareness about his needs which, for Sherlock, is practically doting.

When they reach the street, the taller man leans down and purrs in John’s ear, “After we wrap this up, I plan to finish what I started.” John manages to keep his knees from going weak, but it’s a close thing.

They have time for John to get soup and bread, while Sherlock gulps his coffee like he’s in a competition and then taps his fingers on the table, anxious, waiting for news. Finally his phone buzzes.

“Thirty-five minutes, he’s getting slow,” Sherlock mutters, annoyed, throwing cash down on the table on their way out.

The New Scotland Yard is only a five minute walk, but at Sherlock’s pace they make it in four, with John nearly having to run to keep up. Lestrade meets them in the lobby.

“You called this one,” he admits. “William Sterling, owner of the nursery at the address you provided. Size 12 wellies, traces of cyanide in the pesticide storage area, claims he was alone on the premises, sleeping, during the window we established, but no one to confirm. Everything, just like you said. And the fingerprints on the coffee maker match. You have five minutes, but you won’t need it – everything points to him.”

“Mmm. Well, you know me, like to be thorough. Come on, John.”

It does seem too easy, feels like something is off here. Sherlock’s face is unreadable, but John senses a spring in his step that means he thinks he’s going to do more than confirm what he already knows.

They follow Lestrade to an interrogation room, where sits a huge, rather grubby and sullen man, surrounded by several officers.

“Oh, no, no, all wrong!” Sherlock exclaims angrily as soon as they walk in. “You, Goliath, stand up. Now!”

The man stands warily and the officers tense. Sherlock looks him up and down, circling around and inspecting him careful. “This is the wrong man, it can’t be him! What are you playing at, Lestrade? Let this poor sod go and go get the right one, before he makes a run for it! He’ll know you’ve been sniffing around the shop, you’ll be lucky if he isn’t halfway to Bristol already.”

“Sherlock, all the evidence fits and neither of his employees match the description. And don’t forget the fingerprints. According to all we found and everything you told us, this is our man!”

“It most certainly is not! Idiots.”

“So, are you saying you were wrong this time?” Anderson asks nastily, his nasal voice grating on John, who unconsciously moves closer to Sherlock.

That man brings out all John’s basest protective instincts, the ones he couldn’t quite let loose even in the army. He’s used to people misunderstanding and disliking Sherlock, but he can’t tolerate the blatant vileness Anderson displays towards him.

“No, I’m saying you were. All the facts I gave you were perfectly in order, it’s hardly my fault you lot didn’t bother to pay attention. Look at him, there is no way he made those footprints, they were far too close together, couldn’t have been made by a man over five foot eight!”

“The prints match his boots exactly. Maybe he changed his stride to hide his identity,” Lestrade offers.

“Oh yes, a man smart enough to plot a complicated murder and fake a different height couldn’t remember to clean the mud off his boots beforehand or wear gloves in his victim’s house. Not a chance this clot managed to pull it off.”

“Oi!” says the man angrily.

“Oh, do shut up, I am actually trying to get you out of this, you magnificent oaf.” He turns to the DI. “Those prints may have been from his boots but he certainly wasn’t in them at the time. And look at his hands. Dirty. Old dirt too, haven’t been scrubbed properly in at least a week, but you found only clean fingerprints on the coffee maker, not a trace of dirt, yes? Not our man.”

Lestrade looks doubtful and Anderson outright scornful. John wants to punch his little ratty face, but restrains himself.

Sometimes he is alarmed by the violence and anger that lives within him, not even very far below the surface. But he knows Sherlock adores it when he lets it out at useful moments and some of those times have saved their lives, so he doesn’t regret it too much.

“Sherlock… you have some good points there, but there’s so much other evidence,” Lestrade says evenly. “Is it possible you’re seeing things that just aren’t there?”

“It’s not like you’ve never been wrong before,” Anderson adds. “Maybe you just need to get used to it.”

Sherlock opens his mouth to say something that will doubtless get him in trouble, but John beats him to it, stepping between Sherlock and the two officers.

“He’s wrong much less often than any of us,” John says furiously. “So just this once, why don’t you listen to him the first time and save all of us the headache of you jailing an innocent man while a murderer, apparently a very clever murderer who you might just need Sherlock to track down, goes free!”

His blood is boiling. After all these years they still don’t trust Sherlock. And maybe they shouldn’t completely, but if there was one thing the man knew, it was criminals.  

 All three stare at him in varying degrees of shock, and John steps back next to his friend and falls silent, still glaring, daring anyone to contradict him. Finally Lestrade says, “All right, Sherlock, if he didn’t do it, who did?”

“No idea. But it was someone who went to a lot of trouble to frame our friend here – planting fingerprints, using his chemicals, stealing and returning his boots. He was trying to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Suspect and victim didn’t know each other, but I’ll bet there’s someone who knows, and hates, both of them. Now if you’re wise, you’ll release this incredibly unlucky man and start looking for a mutual connexion!”

The Detective Inspector sighs heavily. “You better be right about this.”

“I am.”

“All right, let him go. But don’t you leave town, right?”

“Actually, it might be better if you sent him away for a bit,” Sherlock tells Lestrade. “If the killer realises he’s failed in his set up, he might try and finish him off. Best if it seems like it worked.

“Whatever you say,” Lestrade says, more than a hint of resentment in his tone.

The man nods gratefully. “Thank you, you won’t regret it. And thank you…sir… I owe you my life!”

Sherlock focuses on him briefly. “What? Oh yes, probably. John, let’s go. Text me when you have something!”

He sweeps out and John follows, pausing for a quick thank you to Greg and avoiding looking at Anderson at all. John is unprepared when instead of heading for the exits, Sherlock makes a sharp right turn and pushes him into the loo, jamming the door behind them.

“You,” he says rounding fiercely on John, “look like the asteroid that killed the fucking dinosaurs.”

If this is what he gets for standing up for his friend, he’s not going to complain. Sherlock is focused and hungry and that only makes John want him more, even if he can’t think of a less desirable locale than the New Scotland Yard toilets.

“Is that good?”

“Very,” Sherlock growls, slamming him up against the outside of the nearest stall, working his hands under John’s shirt and chewing on John’s lower lip, not quite kissing, but breathing in his breath. John bucks his hips into Sherlock almost automatically, instantly hard, and can’t help a soft moan as Sherlock works a leg between his thighs and starts unbuckling his belt with one hand.

“No, Sherlock, not now,” John manages with difficulty. “People will hear!”

Sherlock puts his mouth to John’s ear while continuing his progress southward. “I want them to hear. I want to make you scream until every last person in this building knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that you belong to me.”

John’s insides turn to jelly at that, but he says, “I think they already know, Sherlock.”

Sherlock freezes, shocked briefly into stillness. “Did you tell them?”

“I didn’t need to. Between the feel you copped last week at that bank case when you thought no one was looking, but at least three officers were, and this –” John points to the livid bruise just below his left ear, showing clear teeth marks, “I think they may have worked it out.”

“Mmm,” rumbles Sherlock, pleased, resuming his attentions, “Then let’s drive the point home, shall we?” He thrusts sharply into John’s hip, and John can feel the point, as it were, very well.

Oh, fuck it. If Sherlock wants him this badly, why on earth would he say no?

“All right,” he says at last, body on fire and thoughts rapidly dissolving in his head. “But there will be no screaming.”

“I’ll take that bet,” Sherlock tells him, finally getting a hand inside John’s trousers and biting at his collarbone.

John pushes him away playfully. “Well, if you’re so eager then better get on your knees, Mr. Holmes.”

Sherlock grins and obliges with enthusiasm. John doesn’t scream, but only because he bites the sleeve of his jacket hard enough to make a permanent imprint. Sherlock is bringing all his considerable skill to the table in the blatant attempt to get John to cry out, but John isn’t going to let him win today. It’s bad for his megalomania.

How incredibly delightful it had been to learn that Sherlock’s mouth was talented at more than snappy comebacks and elaborate insults. Quite a lot more, actually.

When John’s finished, trembling with the aftershocks, he hauls Sherlock to his feet by his lapels and kisses the still-sloppy mouth. “You are a very bad man,” he informs Sherlock, as he puts himself back together. “A right wanker. You’re going to pay for that when we get home.”

“Oh? How exactly?” Sherlock asks in his most insufferably arrogant tone.

John tells him in his ear. The speed with which Sherlock manages to get them out of the building and procure them a taxi is nothing short of miraculous.

Chapter Text

A week passes and there is still nothing to connect Sterling to the victim, other than that a few of her acquaintances may have frequented his shop. But most everyone in that neighbourhood had. Despite a considerable amount of legwork on Sherlock and John’s part and the best research by the Yard, they are as lost as they were seven days ago.

At first Sherlock is exhilarated by the difficulty of the case, but when no progress is made he grows sullen and John prays for something to distract him.

Not that very long ago, the idea of hoping for a crime just to cheer another person up would have been repulsive to him. But a man can get used to almost anything.

Nine days after the murder of the woman the Yard calls them out on another murder, in a completely different part of town. A man this time, stabbed violently in an alley near his home. John hopes this one will be solvable, and interesting enough to make Sherlock let the other case go.

“Nothing mysterious about the cause of death here,” Sherlock proclaims, skirting the pool of blood around the body. “Unless you disagree, Doctor?”

“What? No, not at all. The wounds clearly match the weapon, there are defensive wounds on his hands…”

“Don’t you think that’s odd?” Sherlock raises an eyebrow. He wants John to notice something.

Sherlock often tests him like this, and John is always pleased when he can get it right. He’s still not sure whether the man does it to encourage John to think or to showcase his own brilliance. Possibly both.

John mind races, looking over everything. “Perhaps it is a bit strange that the murder weapon was left here…he must have panicked and run off.”

“Oh, you don’t give him enough credit, John. I feel that anyone with the nerve to wait for his prey in the dark and stab him seventeen times, including at least five times after he was dead, probably can keep his head well enough to remember not to leave the doubtless fingerprint-ridden knife for the police to find. Don’t you agree?”

John may not the best detective, but when it comes to Sherlock he’s pretty damn good at seeing when he’s heading somewhere. “You think… you think this has something to do with the poisoning don’t you? But they’re completely different in every way.”

“Yes. Impressively different. Different gender, different location, different method… but same type of cleverly subtle but easy to follow evidence. If we trace where the knife was purchased, which will probably be surprisingly simple, and run the fingerprints on the handle, they will almost certainly both lead back to a person with no alibi and nothing whatsoever to do with the victim, but who will fit all the evidence very nearly perfectly.”

“So, it’s a serial killer who frames other people for his crimes? Don’t they usually like credit?”

“Indeed. This is new.” His enthusiasm is palpable and it infects John as well.

New is the ultimate compliment Sherlock can give something or someone, followed closely by surprising and interesting. John knows too well how exciting new can be for both of them, and how dangerous.

“Lestrade, when you locate the very obvious suspect, don’t arrest him – let me go and talk to him first. Wouldn’t want another cock-up like the last one…”

The DI looks unconvinced about the serial killer theory, but agrees reluctantly.

“We’ve got work to do,” Sherlock tells John. “I want you to find every scrap of data about this man, and when they find him, the other one. There has to be a connexion, somewhere, maybe years and years ago. Talk to friends, family, his employer, anyone.”

“Yes, I know the drill,” John grins a bit more than he knows is decent. “And you? More footprints?”

“Fibres!” Sherlock calls back to him, leaving him to find his own taxi.

The next few days are a whirlwind of research and interviews, and they barely get to see each other, though texting is constant, both as an exchange of information and suggestions for each other that would make a whore blush. John hopes no one else ever gets a hold of his phone.

When the police finally track down the ostensible murderer, to a natural foods shop in Islington, Sherlock and John go in to talk to him. Lestrade and his officers wait impatiently down the street, ready to apprehend their suspect, but John has a feeling they are going to be disappointed.

The shop has the unique scent of patchouli and wheatgrass that marks it as a firmly hippie establishment. Sherlock instantly transforms into someone else when they walk in the door. John knows this one. Pretentious Homosexual Sherlock. John can easily guess what his part is supposed to be.

Sherlock loves to set characters for both of them when questioning people, and takes great pleasure in making John guess what his roles are on the fly. John’s developed a knack for it. And this one is easier to work with than Average Bloke Sherlock, who makes John cringe, or Universally Slutty Sherlock, who makes him see red with jealousy.

John slips a hand into Sherlock’s and takes the lead. “Oh, come on, it’s not that awful,” he scolds. “You said you wanted to be healthier this year…”

Sherlock sniffs. “Not this healthy. Spelt and tofu? Does that even qualify as food?” he asks in a new, posh accent.

John tsk-tsks at him and approaches the counter, where their wan, rather ungainly target has been listening to the conversation.

“Hi,” he says, trying to keep his voice in a slightly higher register, and slipping an arm around Sherlock’s waist, who looks bored and examines his fingernails. “I’m trying to get this silly bugger to see the error of his ways. Terrible diet, this one – red meat, processed sugar, just awful. Of course he doesn’t gain a pound and I get fat off salad. The injustice.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes, the reluctant but indulgent boyfriend.

The clerk nods sympathetically. “It’s hard to maintain a lifestyle change without support of your loved ones.”

“Exactly!” John says, elbowing Sherlock in the ribs harder than is strictly necessary. “What was I saying this morning about being supportive?”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Sherlock says testily.

“Anyway,” John continues cheerfully. “Would you mind giving this one some information about a more healthy and humane way to eat while I look around. He might listen to you, he’s gone stone deaf to me!”

“Of course,” the clerk says, eyes shining with an evangelical fervour. He rummages through his drawer and pulls out pamphlets, while John goes down an aisle and pretends to consider various types of nut butter, while remaining in eye line.

Sherlock shoots him a look that says clearly, I hope you’re having fun and John returns it with a sharp one of his own reminding him whose idea this was.

John is most definitely having fun. Turning Sherlock’s schemes back around on him has become one of his primary amusements.

“You see, a vegan lifestyle like mine has many benefits, both physical and spiritual…” the man is saying earnestly.

“Vegan?” Sherlock cuts him off in a snotty and appalled tone. “You mean no meat at all? A man would starve.”

“Well, it’s actually a bit beyond that, sir. No animal products at all, not in food or cosmetics or clothing.”

Sherlock makes an appalled sound. “Not even milk? What about wool? Those don’t hurt your preciously fluffy creatures.”

The man looks offended. “Vegans believe any kind of exploitation of our animal brethren does us all karmic damage.”

Sherlock picks up a small paring knife from a bin of them by the counter and toys with it. “Well, that’s very noble of you but I’m sure I could never survive on that. And I’ll never give up my leather.” He winks a bit naughtily at the man, who fails to notice completely.

“It’s not hard once you get used it,” he forges on with the optimism of youth and conviction. “I’ve been a strict vegan since I was nine.”

Just then the knife slips in Sherlock’s hands, slicing a long, shallow cut from his index finger to his wrist.

The clerk pales instantly and covers his mouth, looking ill at the sight of blood.

“Oh dear, how clumsy of me, so sorry! John, dear, I think we’d better go, I’ve had a bit of an accident.”

John had seen that one coming, but he still gasps a little the blood welling up on the pale skin, then is instantly furious at Sherlock for doing it.

John clucks over his wound appropriately and they exit, the real Sherlock resurfacing as soon as they cross the threshold, whipping out a pocket handkerchief and wrapping it efficiently around his hand. “Well, that was informative.”

“Not good, Sherlock!” John exclaims. “Bloody hell.”

“I didn’t know you found playing my boyfriend so distasteful.”

“Sod off, I mean cutting your hand wide open on purpose.”

“I needed to see how he reacted to blood.”

Here was a man who thought nothing of slicing into his own flesh to gain a bit of information, of shooting street drugs into his bloodstream because his brain felt sluggish, of running alone into a situation he knew was a trap just because it was... new. John wonders if it’s possible to explain how terrifying it is to care about someone like that.

“Barmy arsehole!” John snaps, and Sherlock smirks. “Oh, and that wasn’t a term of endearment.”

Sherlock ignores him. “In any case that man was clearly not capable of stabbing someone once, much less repeatedly and viciously. Terrified of blood, physically weak, and I found wool fibres at the scene that didn’t match the victim’s clothes and certainly weren’t from him.”

“Glad it was worth it,” John says, still angry. “In the future could you please not hurt yourself deliberately in the pursuit of a case if you can possibly avoid it?”

Sherlock shrugs off his concern and doesn’t answer. They tell Lestrade he’s not the guy, but that they ought to take him into protective custody. The DI does not look happy about this, but upon seeing the suspect is forced to agree that horrific murder on his part does seem unlikely. “I’ll be in touch,” Sherlock tells him and they head home.

They walk in silence for awhile and then John offers, “It wasn’t distasteful, by the way. The playacting. It was kind of nice.”

Sherlock groans. “God save us both if I ever become that snobby or you that flamboyant.”

“You are that snobby. And that’s not what I meant. Just being together in public…like that. I didn’t hate it.”

He certainly was no fan of public displays, and they had no place on a case, but it would be nice to feel like he could touch Sherlock’s hand in a restaurant or put an arm through his at the symphony. Not that it had been said that he couldn’t, they just… didn’t.

Sherlock looks contemplative. “Hmm. I suppose I didn’t either. We may have to test this. Sometime.”

John smiles, but does not immediately reach for his hand despite being sorely tempted. The idea is in Sherlock’s brain now, he’ll work around to the experimental phase in his own time. Instead, John changes the subject. “That place was ghastly. I mean I’m all for health food but fermented bean curd? Millet seed? I don’t think I’ll feel quite right again until I’ve had a had a gigantic steak.”

Sherlock gives a low chuckle and makes a sudden turn. “Ricco’s down this way does a nice strip. I exposed his daughter’s fiancé as a con-man before she could marry him.”

“I do enjoy not having to pay for meals when I’m with you,” John admits. “Mostly that’s why I keep you around.”

Chapter Text

The case, or cases, become an obsession for Sherlock in the next few weeks. There are two more murders, each different and seemingly unconnected, but with ample evidence pointing to a suspect who Sherlock is able to determine is not actually the killer. None of the victim-suspect pairs know each other or appear to have any mutual friends.

The flat fills with evidence and chemical tests, and the sitting room walls are covered in photographs and clippings, connected by strings, with illegible notes scribbled on them.

“Do you realize that our flat looks more like a serial killer lives here than the actual killer’s home probably does?” John mentions tiredly after the sixth straight hour of internet research one day.

“Got to think like one to catch one!” Sherlock tells him, not looking up from whatever file he’s poring over for the third time.

“I think that was my point,” John mutters and goes to make coffee. He’s starting to feel like this case is eating their life. Literally every waking hour of Sherlock’s and most of his own are devoted to it and they are making almost no progress. Sherlock hasn’t gotten properly dressed in several days, though at least he still showers and grooms himself meticulously.

Sherlock is a breathtaking slob about the flat, but he’s fastidious about himself to a level that is unbelievable given his general disregard for his own body. He always showers, puts on lotion and cologne, shaves, and only wears custom tailored suits and shirts of the highest quality fabric. His bedroom is Spartan and spotless, his sheets changed at least twice a week. He once told John he can’t bear the sensation of dirt or grime or roughness or ill-fitting clothing on his skin – unless he’s in active pursuit of a criminal, when he barely notices blood, much less dirt.  

John can tell Sherlock admires this criminal mastermind, whoever it is. “He’s brilliant, John!” Sherlock exclaims more than once. “Framing someone is hardly new, but this is a whole other level. He must be trying to knock out all his enemies two by two.”

John’s not surprised by this infatuation, but it does trouble him, as does Sherlock’s increasing level of frustration. He’s always moody, particularly when working, but he’s been growing more and more randomly destructive and morose lately, usually a sign of boredom in him. Sherlock’s dangerous when he’s bored, but he can’t possibly be bored now.

And yet it’s only the next day that John finds Sherlock high and his heart leaps into his throat. This is unprecedented – he never resorts to cocaine while on a case. It’s for the between times, and that’s bad enough.

In John’s mind a scene plays out in a constant loop, clear as a filmstrip. He sees himself come home one day to the pale body on the floor, already cold, empty syringe by his side. It lives behind his eyelids when Sherlock is like this, just waiting for him to shut them.

John doesn’t know what he’ll do if it gets any worse – Sherlock isn’t going to rest until he finds this man or it kills him, and John is afraid the latter isn’t at all unlikely the way he’s going. And he’s getting more and more unreachable.

This could be another Moriarty, and then they would be completely buggered. The last time Sherlock’s obsession had nearly gotten them both killed.

Finally, John manages to lure Sherlock away from the case for something longer then a quick tumble and a short nap, for the first time in a couple weeks. It takes all John’s not-insignificant seductive wiles and the argument that he might see something new if he looks at it with fresh eyes in the morning, to get Sherlock to go to bed with him, but it’s something.

“It’s dark in here,” Sherlock complains, even though his bedroom is well lit enough.

“Do you mean me?”

“Yes. You’ve gotten so dim lately.”

That is a bad sign. John kisses his shoulder and pushes him gently onto the bed. “You’ve been overworking your brain, that’s all. It needs to rest. Let me see if I can make things brighter.”

Sherlock is tired enough to let John take control without complaint, and John takes his time, hoping to restore a little sanity to him with his body. John is good with his hands and knows it.

Maybe his touch can convey all the things he can’t tell Sherlock, remind him what’s important, ground him when he’s in danger of getting lost in a maze of clues and logic and unfruitful leads. He knows that’s too much pressure to put on one night of passion, but it’s all he’s got at the moment.

At last, though, John is in his favourite place in all of time or space, feeling Sherlock surrounding him, rutting up against him greedily until John is completely buried in his friend. John holds his hips firmly, refusing to let him dictate the tempo. He wants this to last a very long time. He wants to melt every last neuron in Sherlock’s brain before he’s through, obliterate all thoughts of self harm or murder or detection from his head for at least twelve hours.

And it’s not just for Sherlock’s sake, either. Hearing this gorgeous man moaning his name softly, watching his muscles ripple under his ivory skin while John rides him like prize stallion – it’s intoxicating. Beads of sweat form on his back, shimmering like diamonds as he lays flat beneath John, held by his powerful thighs, and it’s as close to perfect as John can imagine. He lets himself forget his fear for the time being and loses himself in the moment, trying to remember every detail.

John leans over to lick the sweat from between sharp shoulder blades, dragging his teeth gently across the nearly translucent skin, and Sherlock makes a sound like the rumble of a bull elephant, completely outside his head now. Good. John keeps them on the edge for as long as he can stand, and when it’s over with a last, deep thrust from John and an almost feral cry of pleasure from Sherlock, both are utterly exhausted.

If there’s anything better in the universe than this, John hasn’t found it and doesn’t want to look. The mere fact of being trusted, being permitted to do such sacred and intimate things to such a private and guarded man is nearly better than the sex itself. And sex was phenomenal.

John grabs his t-shirt in a daze and wipes them both reasonably clean before settling perpendicular to Sherlock, head on the taut stomach. Sherlock digs his fingers into John’s hair, sated and speechless.

“Better?” John asks finally, twisting to look up at him.

“Better. Like a Venusian volcano. The lights of an oncoming train. A Catherine wheel at midnight,” Sherlock murmurs sleepily.

“Mmm, don’t use up all the good ones at once,” John tells him, planting a kiss on his chest and getting something approximating a tiger’s purr in return.

Sometimes Sherlock sounds more animal than human in bed. He wonders if he has any idea how much John likes it. Of course he does. He probably does it on purpose.

Sherlock is typically calmed by sex, particularly after playing the submissive, but this is a surprising degree of mellowness even by that standard. John decides that this, if not an actual good time to bring it up, is the best he’s likely to get for awhile.

“Sherlock…I’m…worried about you. Not just because you’ve been working too hard.”

“I’m fine John, everything is fine,” Sherlock responds hazily, completely blissed out.

This is not going to be easy. John tries again, rolling on his side so he can look at Sherlock properly. “I know this has been an unusually long and difficult case, and I’m sure things will get better when it’s over. But it’s not just this case, it’s a lot of things. I’m…concerned.”

Sherlock finally pays attention. He blinks rapidly for a moment. “What are you… concerned…about?”

“That you are careless with yourself. I don’t mean the not eating or sleeping, I know that’s just how you’re wired. But…you hurt yourself on purpose and you think you have a reason, and maybe sometimes it is the fastest way to accomplish something. But it’s not… it’s not good enough to justify cutting yourself up on a whim or risking frying your brain or letting someone try to kill you just to get data!”

John hates every scar on Sherlock’s body, from the acid burns on his hands to the knife wounds on his back that John’s never asked about, with the same intensity that Sherlock worships John’s own scars. To Sherlock, scars are proof of John’s bravery and battle-hardness; to John they are a sign of how quickly Sherlock could be lost to him.

Sherlock tenses beneath his head and he feels guilty for destroying the moment, but there hasn’t been any other time lately that he could get Sherlock to be still and listen. John can nearly hear the gears in his mind grind as he tries to comprehend what John is saying to him.

“Don’t I get to decide what the best way for me to accomplish something is?” he asks, not angrily, but as a genuine question. “The most expedient way is usually the best, especially on a case – who cares about a few drops of blood or a bruise? It doesn’t matter. It’s just flesh, it will recover.”

John wants to shout at him that he cares, that Sherlock’s body is something precious and beautiful to him and he despises the way Sherlock treats it so much of the time. But he knows Sherlock won’t understand.

“And I’m very moderate with the drugs,” Sherlock continues. “I know the precise dosages I need to make my brain function better, and if I can’t think then I can’t work and if I can’t work… I have to work, John. And if there’s something new to be learned, I have to learn it. I have to.” His eyes are little bit pleading now.

John knows this is true. It’s the motivating factor of Sherlock’s entire existence. He wouldn’t wish it away even if he could, but does hope for it to be expressed in a less nearly-fatal way.

“Even if it kills you?” John asks quietly.

“It hasn’t yet. I’m too clever.”

“Trying to prove that nearly has killed you, remember?”

Sherlock is getting annoyed now. “You knew what I was from the beginning, John. This is how I will always be. I calculate risks before I do things, far better than most people. I’m not careless. I know exactly what I’m doing.”

“Okay, reckless, then. You put too little value on your own safety.”

“Because it’s my safety, not anyone else’s. It’s my business. I’m as careful as I want to be. Besides,” he adds harshly, “I’m careful with you. Because you’re mine and not anyone else’s. That’s what should matter to you.”

Sherlock is careful with him, for a given value of careful. He’ll jump in front of a bullet for John, he tries to leave him behind when he thinks things are too dangerous, he pays ten times as much attention to John’s feelings as to anyone else’s – when he notices that John has them. The problem is, his interpretation of what an acceptable risk is and whether something emotionally or mentally scarring counts as dangerous is more than liberal.

Maybe that’s the whole problem. Sherlock doesn’t understand about something being an emotional ordeal and he views his body strictly as a tool. As long as he and John both come out of a situation with repairable physical damage, he counts it as a win. It’s not that he doesn’t care, it’s that he weighs everything differently.

“I know you are,” John tells him, even though it doesn’t always feel that way. He runs his lips over the inside of Sherlock’s arm by way of apology. “I know. Just…this case… it feels wrong. Can you at least promise you’ll be cautious on this one? Please.”

“I’m always cautious.” Sherlock pauses and sees this outright lie is not enough for John. “I’ll try,” he says at last.

John gives him a tight smile, knowing that’s the best he’s going to get tonight.

“I’d like to sleep now, I think,” Sherlock says, stifling a yawn. “Not too long though. Need to get back to work.”

John nods, figuring Sherlock will probably be out for at least eight hours after this, a vast improvement on the two to three he’s been getting. He shifts so his head rests on Sherlock’s shoulder and he is half laying on him, one leg thrown over Sherlock’s and one hand resting on his opposing hip.

Sherlock’s hips are high on the list of John’s favourite body parts. So narrow, so prominent, so graceful. Falling asleep with his hand on the bare, bony curve of one hipbone is one of the best ways he can think of to drift off.

“Fucking nightmare,” he murmurs into Sherlock’s side, but the detective is already asleep.  

Chapter Text

When John wakes he is alone, and the sun is up but it’s so cloudy it’s hard to tell what time it is. It’s not particularly alarming to find Sherlock gone – he can count on one hand the number of times he’s woken with Sherlock still next to him. He smiles to himself as he remembers the previous night’s activities, then frowns as he also recalls their deeply unsatisfying conversation afterward.

Sherlock said he’d try. He did. And after the loveliness of their time together, he had to have meant it. Didn't he?

John throws on his dressing gown and heads for the shower, expecting to see Sherlock perched on some piece of furniture, deep in thought. But the rest of the flat is dark and quiet. He calls Sherlock’s name out of habit, but can tell from the stillness the man is gone. He grabs his mobile.

Sherlock, where are you?

Wait.

This isn’t funny.

Wait.

Sherlock, answer me. At least let me know you’re all right.

Wait. There is no response.

What if he’s dead? What if he’s left for good? What if he’s lying hurt in a gutter somewhere and no one knows where he is and John can’t find him and he’s alone?

John tries to not to panic, coming up with places Sherlock might have popped off to for just a moment. Innocuous places like the corner shop or Scotland Yard. It doesn’t work. He scans the flat for a clue to Sherlock’s whereabouts. There is no trace of where he’s gone, but some of the evidence on the mirror over the fireplace has been rearranged, new notes written over the pictures. He must have figured something out in the night.

He texts Lestrade quickly. Seen or heard from SH today? Think he may have found something.

Not yet. Problem? - L

Maybe. I’ll keep you posted.

Goddamn that selfish, cold-hearted son of  bitch. John’s mind is filled with equal parts anger and fear. He forces himself to calm, pushing the emotions down until they are seething under the surface, but at least he can function. The only way he has a hope of finding Sherlock is to retrace his steps.

Keep calm, keep it under control. This is a combat situation. Got to keep your head, got to think if you want to save your mates. These feelings would only get you and your friends killed on a battlefield.

He examines what Sherlock was last working on, paired photos of the victims and the intended suspects. The man’s handwriting is a disaster but John has mostly learned to decipher it. There are strings running crosswise between the eight individuals.

John reads:

            Victim 1 –  Former Bridgeworth Day School student and consultant at CRT Information Systems.

            Suspect 3 – Bridgeworth Day science teacher, retired.

            Suspect 1 – Judge at Greater London Flower Show (succulent plant division)

            Victim 4 – Vice-president of Westminster Garden Club

            Suspect 4 – Employee of CRT Information Systems (mid-level manager) and amateur burlesque dancer (weekend open mikes only)

            Victim 2 – Bouncer at Le Chat Noir burlesque club.

            Victim 3 – Founder of CRT Information Systems and member of Bridgeworth Presbyterian Church

            Suspect 2 – Former choirboy at Bridgeworth Presbyterian and entrant in Greater London Flower Show (succulent plant division)

Of course, John thought. He was too smart to pair up victims and framed suspects who had even a tangential connexion to each other, but all knew him from different places. In the middle, where the strings crossed, Sherlock had written on the mirror with a permanent marker “??” and then below:

            1: Bridgeworth Day Student, years overlapping with victim 1 and suspect 3.

            2: Attended Bridgeworth Presbyterian for some time (as a child? same age as suspect 2?)

            3: Member or former member of Westminster Garden Club (lost or disqualified from competition at Greater London Flower Show?)

            4: Former employee or failed job applicant at CRT Information Systems

            5: Frequents burlesque establishments – trouble maker, often ejected?

Lost in all the seemingly random trivia about these people’s lives was all the information they had needed to figure out who the killer was, just so obscure and mixed up that they hadn’t been able to see it. But Sherlock had, finally, after a decent night’s sleep and some fresh perspective. And then he had run off after him alone, without out a thought for John or anything else but the hunt.

Why hadn’t John seen it, why hadn’t he put it together sooner? He’d been staring at all those facts, amongst many others, for weeks now and he’d never made the connexion. If he’d been smarter, if he’d been faster, Sherlock wouldn’t be out there now.

It’s then that John notices Sherlock’s computer is open. A few minutes scan of his internet history gets the most recent address Sherlock looked up, just under an hour ago. It’s just outside town, a large estate in an unfamiliar neighbourhood.

John doesn’t waste a second throwing on clothes and grabbing his gun and jacket. He bursts through the door, not even bothering to lock up behind him. He leaps down the stairs two at a time and nearly runs over Mrs. Hudson on his way out. He grabs her shoulders to steady her. “So very sorry, Mrs. Hudson, emergency, have to go!”

She blocks his way firmly and looks him up and down. “You look awful! What’s wrong? Where’s Sherlock? Something’s happened.”

“Mrs. Hudson, I really don’t have time…” Then he gives in, unable to keep his worry completely to himself any longer. “Sherlock’s gone after a dangerous man alone. A very dangerous man and I don’t know if…” He chokes any further words back.

Keep it down till it’s over, one way or another.

She takes his hand and pats it reassuringly. “You’ll find him, dear. You always find him, don’t you?”

John always finds him. Sometimes just barely in time, but he always does. At least he always has, and must always do.

He nods, swallowing hard.

“See? I’m sure it will all work out.” 

Her calm certainty does make the tightness in John’s throat ease, just a bit, and he murmurs a thank you and kisses her on the cheek before continuing on, just as quickly but slightly less frantic than before.

It takes too long to get there, and the cabbie has no idea where he’s going so John reads him directions off his phone. The house, looming and shabby, is down a long, overgrown lane in an area that was fashionable for summer homes at one time, but has since become neglected and undesirable. All the estates they pass have an air of disuse about them, but this one has been let go to seed completely. The gardens have turned into a small forest filled with brambles and nettles and young trees, shading into the dark, true woodland behind it. The paint on the house is peeling and signs of rot are everywhere.

John approaches warily, unable to convince the taxi to wait or even drive to the end of the lane. As he draws nearer, he spies a few signs of recent habitation and wonders what kind of person could live like this without even attempting upkeep to the place.

A serial killer, he answers himself. This is the home of a brilliant, vicious, lunatic and John’s own lunatic is in there with him, alone.

He makes a quick perimeter around the house, gun drawn, but sees and hears nothing. It’s gotten very dark now, and is starting to rain. The wind is picking up too. John vaguely remembers hearing something about a bad storm in the forecast, but he hasn’t been paying much attention.

The back door is ajar, and John pushes it open as quietly as he can manage, entering into a filthy corridor, tensing for attack. None comes, but he can see in the dust Sherlock came this way. He gets his bearings. The house seems to be a dark warren of hallways and rooms leading into other rooms. Ambush could be anywhere. This is place is a death trap and smells of mould and rotting things.

He takes a step forward, intending to follow Sherlock’s path. He hears a click and instinctively dives to the floor as something zooms just above his head and sticks in the opposing wall. Crossbow, mounted out of sight. Jesus, the whole place was probably rigged – that was the kind of mind they were dealing with.

Would he find Sherlock somewhere inside, skewered to the wall like an animal, no time even to call for help?

Regaining his breath, he starts again, more carefully this time, avoiding touching anything or stepping on any suspicious-looking boards or rugs. He checks each door handle for a trigger. He sets off one or two more ingeniously hidden and fatal devices, but is quick enough to hear them coming and suffers nothing worse than a scratch above his ear from a blade intended to take off his head.

It’s completely nerve-wracking, and does not play to his strengths. He much prefers the rush of an outright firefight than skulking through a maze of things trying impale, hang, or decapitate him. His only consolation is that Sherlock seems to avoided nearly all of them entirely.

Sherlock is good at this, noticing when something was off, smelling it before he could spring it – the hidden blade, the trap door. He can move as stealthily as a stoat, when he wants to. John is less observant, but at least as quick.

Carefully, still following the tracks, he mounts a long, narrow, turning staircase, stepping only where he sees a footprint. The tightness of the space and the blind corners make him even more jumpy.

At last, a floor above him, he hears the familiar baritone voice talking to someone. There is a rush of relief. Sherlock is alive, at least for now. He can hear Sherlock’s words and that someone is answering him, but he can’t make out what the other person is saying – he seems to be rather far away.

“It wasn’t a bad plan,” Sherlock is saying. “Rather ingenious really – gave me quite a lot of trouble. That is a compliment by the way. So why don’t we stop this? You’re beaten, but you played a good game – I’d really like to meet you in person before you’re arrested.”

The other voice says something. It seems to be echoing through the vents of the house, which means the man could be nearly anywhere.

“Well, you may be clever but that doesn’t mean you weren’t also monumentally stupid. I know what you were doing – is it really worth a life in prison to avenge all those inconsequential slights?”

John moves to the top of the stair. He can hear the voice clearly now, and just make out Sherlock standing at the end of a long hall lined with doors.

Never has John been so glad to see that rangy silhouette. It’s all he can do to stop himself from calling out, from running to him and very possibly punching him in the face.

“Inconsequential!” The voice is agitated and shaky, but also filled with a deep hatred. “Every time I turned around, every time I tried to do something, someone stood in my way, mocked me, shut me out, rejected me. My entire life! Everything I wanted to do, one thing after another was taken from me.  I’m done with it! I wanted everyone to know that I was always smarter than them. I want them to be sorry they put me down.”

“Tedious!” shouts Sherlock. “I really was hoping for a more original motive than ‘I’ll show them’. Very disappointing. A proper genius should have a far more interesting reason to go on a murder spree. You don’t even have the decency to be truly insane and kill people because your alien overlords are telling you to. You’re just a petulant child. Ten points for execution, zero for backstory.”

“You’re mocking me!” the voice says, sounding more unstable.

“Of course I’m mocking you! You think you’re the first person to be bullied at school or discouraged by an awful teacher? Rejected by a girl, fired from your job? What, did a priest touch you when you were a kid? You got kicked out of your garden club because you made the ladies uncomfortable? So what! You think your pain is special? It’s not. Almost no one’s is. On the grand scale of human suffering your pain isn’t even a blip at the bottom. And there are plenty of people with far worse of a lot than you who didn’t decide to deal with it by murdering or framing everyone who was mean to them when they were in short pants! What a spectacular waste of a mind.”

Sherlock sounds disgusted and John knows it’s not just a show. He was hoping for an equal, someone he could hate and respect, and he’s gotten a snivelling coward with a persecution complex and more knowledge of weaponry than is good for him.

John can’t help but be jealous when Sherlock finds a new archenemy to set himself against. He speaks about them so passionately, goes to meet them eagerly, in secret. Moriarty. Baines. The Cabbie. He might as well be running to a lover, and John can’t take it because he know he will never be able to shine as bright as a man or woman who can baffle Sherlock Holmes.

“You won’t be saying that when you try to get out of here alive. You and your friend.” After that there is silence.

Sherlock finally turns around and spies John at the top of the stair.

“John!” he hisses angrily. “What the hell are you doing here? Don’t move, the house is booby trapped.”

“Yeah, I kind of noticed that,” John said, rubbing the cut on his head. “And I could ask you the same damn thing. What do you think you’re playing at, running straight into a trap after I specifically asked you… you promised me…”

“I didn’t promise you anything John. I didn’t want you here. It’s too dangerous.”

“Oh, dangerous for me but not for you!”

“I had it under control.”

“Didn’t sound like it.”

Sherlock controls himself and says coldly, “Do you mind very much if we finish this later? Seeing as how there’s an disturbed killer tracking our every movement?”

He’s right and John can’t stand it. As furious as he is, this is no time for a domestic - however much he wants to slap that icy expression off his friend’s face.

John steps carefully down the hall towards Sherlock and stops when he reaches him. “Agreed. So, any ideas?”

“Several. But judging by the distortion and echoing of the killer’s voice, he’s likely near the top of the house. We’ll have to go up one more flight. Cover me.”

Together they make their way up to the fourth floor, John watching their flank, tense and at the ready. Sherlock successfully navigates them past several more traps.

“I take it back,” John whispers as they reach the top of the last flight. “This looks much more like a serial killer’s home than our flat does.”

The ceiling up here is lower, rooms mostly used for storage – basically a glorified attic. Sherlock is alert, all angles and restrained energy.

Despite his anger, the magnetism of Sherlock on the hunt, of being part of that is strong. He finds he has to work to maintain his righteous pique, though he’s sure he won’t have any problems recovering it later.

“Shh!” Sherlock whispers, cocking his head and listening intently. “Do you hear that?

“No,” John says. It’s all silence to him.

“It’s the whine of electronics. Very high pitched, not surprised you can’t pick it up. It’s coming from the third room on the left.”

They pause outside the door. “Ready?” John whispers, and Sherlock nods, poised near the opening. John kicks the door in, and Sherlock springs forward, gun drawn, ready for his opponent. John follows and checks behind the door, but the room is empty save for several monitors connected to security cameras placed inside the house and around the grounds.

“He saw us coming.” Sherlock swears. “He could be anywhere.”

Sherlock starts looking around the room for clues, while John checks the hallway again. As he is looking back the way they came, he suddenly feels red hot pain slam into the base of his spine.

Fucking hell, he hasn’t felt anything like this since the war, since bullets tore through his shoulder, bone and sinew. For a moment he’s sure he’s going to die in this corpse of a house and for some reason the thought upsets him more than the notion of death ever did in Afghanistan.

He manages a strangled howl of agony and spins around with difficulty before he falling to his knees, finding himself face to face with a youngish man, short, scruffy, and unattractive, with wild eyes. He is holding an fire iron, with which he has just struck John on the small of his back. He looks frightened, but ready to finish the job. Before he can raise his hand again Sherlock bursts out of the room, pistol aimed at the unkempt head.

John can’t help but cry out again, as the initial shock recedes enough for the pain to start intensifying. Sherlock involuntarily looks to him, giving the killer the moments he needs to turn tail and run.

“John! John, what happened, are you all right?” He drops to his knees beside the doctor.

“Leave me,” John pants, now determined that this man will not escape them. “It’s fine. Don’t let him get away. Go! For fuck’s sake go!”

Sherlock looks uncertain, but at John’s firm command he at last hurtles into the darkness after their quarry.

Jesus Christ. That hurt. He attempts to get the pain under control and runs his hands carefully over his own back, feeling for shattered vertebrae.

He’s intact. He’s full of adrenaline. He can walk. In theory, he can walk, at least until the real swelling starts, which will likely paralyse him for awhile. If he’s going to help Sherlock at all it has to be now, before his body realises the full extent of what’s been done to it.

“Nothing’s broken,” he tells himself. “You’re fine. Get up. Nothing’s broken.”

He is far from fine but he’ll be damned if he’s going to let Sherlock continue after that maniac alone. He manages to scramble to his feet and retrieve his gun, forcing himself to take slow, normal steps and using all his willpower to keep the pain at bay.

First he hobbles then he runs. He hears a shot, and shattering glass, but it’s not from Sherlock’s pistol. He forgets his injury as he races down flights of stairs, heedless of traps. He’s ended up in the front of the house now, grand sweeping staircase and large windows before him. He spies the murderer outside on what passes for a lawn, with a rifle, having just shot at Sherlock through the window.

Sherlock is halfway to the first floor in pursuit, careless now that’s he so close, when John notices something uneven about the next step in front of him. “Sherlock, stop!” he screams at the very instant the detective’s foot hits the step.

It crumbles beneath him and Sherlock falls straight through, at least four metres to the stained marble below.

Chapter Text

John vaults after Sherlock, heart in his throat, carefully avoiding the other weakened steps. He pulls pieces of wood and plaster off the unmoving form, trying to get the dust out of his eyes and mouth, panicking despite all his training. If Sherlock’s head had connected with the marble… He lets out a long breath of relief when he sees that Sherlock is not dead, just momentarily stunned.

Sherlock coughs several times and carefully gets up with some help from John. He winces when he stands and John can see his right ankle is hurt, but Sherlock ignores it stoically.

“All right?” John asks, hiding his fear, and Sherlock nods.

“He’s outside. He could get anywhere in these woods, and in rain this heavy the footprints won’t last. We have to follow him now!”

Yes, a bruised and bloodied back and a sprained (at least) ankle are just the things for chasing after a madman in what has become a full-on thunderstorm. But he knows they will do it anyway. It’s what they are for.

John starts running after the man’s trail, which leads into the mess of briars and saplings that have taken over most of what used to be grass. It’s pouring, he can barely see anything between the rain and the uncanny darkness, except for brief flashes of lightning and the accompanying thunder, so loud and near that John thinks they could easily be struck at any moment. But the man has slipped in the mud a lot so John still manages to follow, as does Sherlock, close on John’s heels but limping. They tear through the undergrowth as the wind and rain whip around them, and it seems they are gaining on him but it’s hard to be certain.

Shots ring out, going wide, and John fires back even though he has no hope of hitting anything. John’s back is throbbing but he pushes on, at last catching a glimpse of a shape up ahead. Just for a second. He wipes the water from his eyes and fires another shot, which is returned immediately. He thinks it’s missed entirely, but he hears Sherlock gasp behind him. He turns and looks and sees the bullet has grazed Sherlock’s left thigh – a flesh wound, but enough to stop him running.

He’s shot Sherlock. Now he’s going to pay. John will make him, John will give him ten times whatever he’s done. He feels thirst for revenge rising up from his belly, a terrible and ferocious thing that he can’t entirely control.

“It’s nothing, John! Keep after him. I’ll catch up. You’re the only chance now. ”

John goes on reluctantly, torn between helping Sherlock and tearing his assailant to shreds. He speeds up as the brambles give way to old oak forest, dark as night in this weather. There’s a shadow up ahead, darting from the cover of tree to tree, and John pushes himself to go faster, hoping for a clear shot. The wind howls above the canopy and the huge trees around them creak alarmingly. The man seems to be out of rounds and John doesn’t intend to give him time to reload. He has him in range, but the killer is clever about keeping himself protected by fat tree trunks.

Suddenly a flash of lightening illuminates the sky above them, deafening thunder sounding at the same instant, near enough to physically feel it. The murderer is taken by surprise and stumbles for a moment, just long enough for John to use the light to aim and fire. He doesn’t startle - he’s quite used to loud bangs and flashes of light very close to him.

A thunderstorm crackles with electricity the same way a war zone does, and what has he to fear from thunder and lightening after bombs and shells and the screams of his comrades? A thunderstorm is almost comforting, disorienting those not used to the chaos while he remains still in the centre of it.

His bullet finds its mark in the Achilles’ tendon of the criminal, felling him neatly. John approaches him with caution, in case he has another weapon. He doesn’t but takes a swing at John with a stout tree branch he’s managed to grab. John avoids the blow easily.

“Don’t,” he says with hard eyes. “Don’t. Believe me, after what you’ve done you don’t want to give me any more excuses to kill you than I already have.”

The man freezes and John wrests the branch from his hands and bludgeons him hard in the back of the head. He falls, out cold.

He was young, younger than John had thought – no more than 25, the age John had been when he joined the service. How could he have cultivated so much hatred in so short a time? John had been so close to killing him, wanted to. Would have had he still been a threat. But he has enough power over that awful part of himself to stop it from killing in cold blood. Even for Sherlock.

John lets out a long sigh and realises he is shaking. He also realises he doesn’t know if it’s from fear, pain, or fury. He can’t possibly drag the man anywhere, but he’ll be out long enough for the police to take care of him. John has few qualms about leaving him in the cold rain, all things considered. He might be young but he murdered at least four people – John’s pity only extends so far.

He stumbles back the way he came, his back screaming louder with every stiff step. Sherlock has managed to reach the edge of the forest.

“Oh, thank God,” he says, sinking to the ground against a nearby tree, his body having finally caught up with what’s happened to him now that the adrenaline is used up, swelling pinching nerves along his spine. No amount of willpower will make his legs carry him further.

“The police are on their way but might be an hour. You didn’t call them earlier?”

“I was afraid if he had you, they might accidentally get you killed.”

“And the suspect?”

“Wounded and unconscious, few hundred metres that way. He’ll live. I propped him against a tree so he wouldn’t drown.”

“Can you make it back to the house?”

“Not on my own. You?”

“Probably not. Best just to wait here.” Sherlock is barely able to stand, with injuries to both legs. He’s bound some cloth from his shirt around his thigh wound, and his ankle is definitely sprained badly but not broken. Both their faces are covered with scratches from where thorns tore at their flesh as they ran, and Sherlock is doubtless mottled in developing bruises underneath his clothes.

John is completely unable to get up now, so Sherlock lowers himself carefully down next to him, with their backs to the enormous tree. At least it provides a little shelter from the downpour.

“You look –” Sherlock begins breathily, but John cuts him off sharply.

“I don’t want to hear it right now, okay, Sherlock? There is a very long list of names I could think to call you at the moment, but I won’t because you would probably like it.”

There’s that justified anger at Sherlock back again. John knew he could rely on it to show up when they were out of danger. And now’s as good a time as any to have it out. Plus, Sherlock can’t get away.

Sherlock looks hurt. “I have just as much reason to be angry with you as you do with me.”

“Oh, not even close!” John spits. He’s spent too much of the day suppressing things and he’s done. “You come out here alone, not telling anyone, to what? Confront someone you think might actually be an equal? And what if he had been? He was clever enough for a gormless twat, but what if he had really been your match? Would we be sitting here now?”

“You did the same th—”

“No, it is not the same thing! I came here to make sure you didn’t die, because you didn’t leave me any other option. I wouldn’t have had to come here alone if you’d brought me with you in the first place, called for back up, gave anyone even the slightest hint of what you were up to! Tell me, what is it with you and sneaking off by yourself, especially with the really smart, really dangerous ones? Do you need to prove that you can handle the worst ones by yourself? Do you need quality time with another psychopath that badly? Or are you really, honestly trying to get yourself killed? Because I’d hope that you can come up with one or two things worth living for! Tell me because I really would like to know.”

He can see Sherlock is startled by the viciousness of his attack. He never, ever calls Sherlock a psychopath, not even as an endearment. But at the moment he doesn’t care – something has to be done to get this through Sherlock’s head.

Sherlock’s nostrils flare and his eyes scan, unfocused, not getting it. “Are you angry because I got you injured?”

“No, I’m angry because you got yourself injured, nearly killed, and I almost had to watch! I’m not sure which is worse really, the thought of watching you die or the thought that it might have happened while I was sound asleep in our bed! I woke up and you were gone, Sherlock. Just gone. And it could have been forever.”

Sherlock looks at him helplessly. “I’m sorry,” he says at last, pushing closer into John’s side in that way he has when he knows John is angry and is trying to gauge by feel whether he’s been forgiven.

John sighs, worst of his rage spent. “You’re sorry, but you keep doing it because you don’t understand why you need to be sorry for it.”

This is not Sherlock’s area, he knows it, but he has to make him understand somehow. How do you explain to someone that their version of caring for you hurts more than indifference sometimes?

He pauses, trying to think how on earth to go about this. “Look, you told me last night that you are careful with me, right? You try to protect me, you don’t like it when I’m hurt. Why is that?”

“Because… because it’s wrong,” Sherlock says, frustrated at his inability to communicate. “You’re mine and you shouldn’t be hurt. It’s not right. It’s cold and dark when you’re hurt. Like now.”

“Okay. And what do you feel when I’m in danger or badly hurt? I know you hate feelings but you do have them. Tell me.”

Sherlock swallows. “I suppose the appropriate word would be angry. And… afraid…” he adds reluctantly.

“Afraid of what?” John coaxes, trying not to sound too much like he’s talking to a child.

“That you’ll be gone. That you will be gone forever and I will have to keep on without you.”

That may be the most ardently devoted thing Sherlock has ever said to him, and he says it like a fact, like the distance from the earth to the moon. John has to fight the urge to let this conversation go completely, to just curve into Sherlock and put his head to his heart and rest. But the need to never go through another day like this is stronger. 

John squeezes his arm through his soaked coat. “Now, do you think it might just be possible that it’s similar for me when you’re in danger, when you're hurt?”

Sherlock considers this gravely. “But it’s not the same,” he concludes.

“Why not?”

“Because you’re—”

“Yours?” John finishes for him. “I am. Unreservedly, hopelessly, and permanently yours. But as much as you need me, I need you. As horrible as the thought of my death is for you, yours is at least as bad for me. Maybe you can tolerate the thought of you being gone and me having to continue on without you, but I can’t. That’s the trick of the thing, Sherlock… if I’m yours, you’re going to have to be mine.”

Mine. A word he thinks a hundred times day, but never has the nerve to say because that’s not how this works. But it needs to be how this works.

Sherlock looks stunned, as if he’s never considered that before, then wary. John can see in his eyes that dread of being possessed, controlled, of having his freedom, his self taken away from him. Of having to transform into someone he can’t possibly be.

“What… what does that mean?” Sherlock asks carefully.

“It means accepting that I care about you at least as much as you do me, that it hurts me to see you hurt. And that your death would be the end of me, too. It means valuing your safety as much you value mine, not doing things that purposely harm your body or your mind if there is another way. It means not keeping important things to yourself until they end up hurting us both. It means weighing more than just odds when you weigh the risks of something.”

Sherlock frowns. “What I do… what we do… is inherently dangerous. You can’t keep me in a bubble, John.”

“I don’t want to. I don’t want to tame you or cage you. I want you wild and free and impossible like you are. But just because I accept, hell, love the danger doesn’t mean I’m okay with things bordering on self-abuse and suicide for no real reason. I just want us to stick to necessary danger. It’s not like we’ve a shortage of it.”

Sherlock still looks unconvinced, though John can see he is wavering. “I can’t change who I am, John. You can’t ask me to.”

“I’m not! I don’t want you to. I…” He catches himself. “I…want you as you are. I’m just asking you to think about changing some of the things you do.”

He’d nearly said the word, which would have ruined everything. He wants to say it, but Sherlock wouldn’t hear it, wouldn’t understand it the way he meant it. Sherlock understands ownership and loyalty and desire, those are the greatest things that can be aspired to for him. John can work with that, can speak that language.

“What’s the difference?”

“Plenty. You’ve already done it, haven’t you? You stop in the middle of cases to let me eat. You let yourself be distracted by me. You go to bed sometimes when you’re not tired just so we can be together. You even made me breakfast that one time. You made room in your life for me. Has any of that made you someone else?”

“No… but this is more fundamental.”

“I changed nearly every single thing about my life when I moved in with you. Am I fundamentally different person because of it?”

“Of course not, just…it’s who I am…”

“I’d hate to think that nearly dying all the time, in and of itself, is a vital piece of your identity. All I’m asking is that when you’re about to do something extraordinarily risky or harmful – whether it’s walking into a trap or shooting up cocaine – that you ask yourself if it’s actually necessary, really worth it. Worth maybe losing all this. Take a second and remember that you’re mine too, and what it would be like for me if you’re gone. And then if you really have to jump, have to risk it all… at least let me jump with you.”

“And…what if I don’t?” His tone is defiant. “What if I just continue on the way I have done and ignore this completely? What will you do? Will that be the end of all this, then?”

“I’ll die inside every time I think you might,” John tells him simply. “I can’t pretend I won’t. But it won’t change the fact of us. It’s too late for that. I’m not ordering, I’m not threatening, I’m just…asking. Either way, I’ll still be yours.”

Sherlock could not be bound by ultimatums or manipulation; that was the surest way to lose him. And as much as walking away might be best for John if this keeps up, he knows he can’t. Or that he doesn’t want to try, and aren’t those really the same things?

Sherlock closes his eyes for a long time and John can see them darting back and forth beneath his delicate lids. Clearly this is all new territory for him, he needs time to work it through. The last thing John wants to make him feel is trapped, he just can’t let this pointless recklessness go on any longer without at least trying to prevent it. Without at least asking.

At last, having rearranged the necessary space in his brain for this new concept, Sherlock dips his head and rests it against John’s temple. “Okay, John,” he murmurs.

“Okay?”

“I’m yours, too. I’ll try to remember that. I can’t promise about the danger because I don’t… I don’t always realise what I’m doing, what it looks like to other people. But I’ll try. And you can keep me as long as you like.”

John feels something loosen in his chest, a weight he hadn’t even known was there is lifting for the first time since he’s lived with Sherlock. He turns his head carefully, trying not to jar his spine, and kisses Sherlock’s dripping face on every single scratch, and finally on the lips. He tastes of rainwater and blood and a hint of illicit tobacco that John won’t mention right now.

“I’ve never belonged to anyone before,” Sherlock observes. “A few people wanted me to, but it’s not…not what I do.”

John know Sherlock is right. He never even really belonged to his own family, much less a lover or a friend. But now he was John’s, in words and fact alike. The one and only thing like him in the universe, and he belongs to John and no other.

“Good or not good?” John hazards.

“Good...so far. I thought it would be like being chained up or held down, but doesn’t seem to be. It’s more like having a centre of gravity that can bring me back even if I go very far away.”

“Yes,” says John. “That’s exactly what it’s like.

They huddle closer together in the cold. It’s less stormy than it was but the rain is still coming down hard and the leaves above are dripping on them.

“Now can I tell you what you look like?” Sherlock asks.

“Yes.”

“You look like our flat when there’s a fire in the fireplace and all the lamps are on, and I look in the window at night  from on the street before I come in.”

John is home for Sherlock. That’s all he ever needs to know about how Sherlock feels, really. And of course he has no home other than with his consulting detective. 

“Glad you’re happy then,” John tells him.

“It’s not all me, you know,” Sherlock says, settling against John gingerly. “The light. It’s you on your own, too, and me and you together. It’s not just a reflection; wouldn’t exist without you.”

“It wouldn’t exist without your head wound,” John says dryly, to hide his pleasure at that.  

“Literalist.”

“Recalcitrant maniac.”

“Stubborn imbecilic grunt.”

“Irrationally ridiculous sociopathic berk.”

Mine.”

“And mine.”

“Yes,” agrees Sherlock, shifting his coat so it partially covers John too. John feels a happiness so deep, despite the incredible pain spreading out into every part of his body and the bone shattering chill, that he feels like he can barely speak and yet that he can’t hold it in either. He strokes Sherlock’s hand and dares to whisper almost inaudibly, “Oh, my very, very dark thing. So dark it’s blinding.”

Sherlock makes a soft sound into John’s hair, and they wait in silence for the police, soaked, freezing, bleeding, together.

It’s enough. All of it. It’s mad and exhilarating and frightening and confusing, but it’s also completely perfect for a moment, and enough for at least two lifetimes.