It was raining out, and John had gotten soaked to the skin on the walk from the tube to the flat, and he'd also had quite a frustrating half-shift at the clinic (made more frustrating by being a half-shift--he couldn't turn down the work, but it still felt pointless to spend over an hour on the tube to spend four hours doing the most mind-numbingly boring doctoring possible). He blamed these distractions for the fact that he did not notice what was different about Sherlock as soon as he walked into the living room.
No, he'd hung up his jacket, squidged out of his shoes, grumbled about the weather and his shift in the direction of the prone figure on the couch, and made a proper pot of tea (some days quite simply required the whole pot) before he returned to the living room and noticed that Sherlock was typing away on his laptop, sprawled out in his dressing gown and pajamas, his lips painted bright red.
John spent a moment ensuring this was not just a trick of the laptop's glow, and then sat down before asking the obvious question. Regardless of the answer, he was probably not going to want to be standing when he heard it. "Sherlock, are you wearing lipstick?"
Sherlock looked at him over the lid of the computer and narrowed his eyes. "I don't know why you insist on asking for confirmation of your senses."
John resisted the temptation to kick him. "Then let's try, Sherlock, why are you wearing lipstick?"
"Much better." The timer on Sherlock's phone sounded. He snapped the laptop shut, and slid it off his lap while sitting up and turning with his back to the windows. "It has occurred to me that it might be profitable to be able to detail the activities a person has been engaged in by the wear patterns of lipstick. Possibly other cosmetics as well, but lipstick is the most obvious. Lots of occasions when it can be affected by common actions. Slight problem that it's frequently re-applied, but some data is better than none." He picked up his phone and unlocked it. "I'm collecting control data today, in order to understand how lipstick ages without any interference. The actual tests begin tomorrow." He turned the phone around, pursed his lips, and snapped a quick photo. He spun his phone to check it, and then threw himself back down on the couch, reaching for his laptop and depositing the phone back on the coffee table.
John sipped his tea. "This is like the cigarette ash, isn't it. You're going to post some mad monograph to your website, explaining minor details that nobody but you is ever going to be able to see, and then you'll use the fact that you've written this ridiculous document to bludgeon the rest of us with our stupidity at any possible opportunity. Have I about got the gist of it?"
"Your narratives of my actions are sensationalized, as ever, but not factually incorrect." Sherlock reopened his laptop and began typing almost before the screen had lit up.
John had nearly finished his cup of tea before he made the connection. "Wait. Does no interference mean you haven't had anything to eat or drink today?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "It's been a mere six hours. I don't think you have any cause to be worried at the moment, doctor."
John tried to remember if he'd seen Sherlock eat or drink anything last night before bed. He vaguely recalled a cup of tea being lifted once or twice. "At ten hours, I'm tying you down and putting in an IV."
"Duly noted," Sherlock said, and kept typing.
And, when Sherlock consented to drink a glass of water, if John watched the way his lips pursed against the cool wet glass, leaving a soft red print behind; or if he couldn't draw his eyes away from the way Sherlock's lips curled around the tines of his fork as he picked at the spag bol that John practically had to hold him at gunpoint to get him to consume; if he looked up, each time Sherlock's phone timer went off, to watch him stare with total focus at his phone as he documented the state of his lush, sensuous lips--
Well. It was the colour, wasn't it. Just the novelty of it, really.
John didn't think it would be that big of a deal, in general. Sherlock was going to be wearing lipstick around the flat for a while. Well, that would be unusual, but it barely rated a three. (The head was a nine. He hoped to never see a ten.)
When Sherlock emerged from his bedroom at eleven-thirty, hair mussed from the pillow and dressing gown tied crooked, John did his best not to grin. He'd never seen someone wear disheveled quite as performatively as Sherlock did. He guessed it was a side effect of sleeping so inconsistently. He watched his flatmate flop onto the couch over the edge of his computer. His lips were pink and smooth this morning, bearing no trace of last night's color. "Experiment's off, then?" he asked.
"What?" Sherlock blinked at him with narrowed eyes. "No, of course not. I just haven't put it on yet."
John examined his lips more frankly than he'd ever done to anyone he wasn't trying to convince to kiss him. (Which he wasn't.) "How'd you get it all off? I thought that color would stick or something."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Make-up remover. There was a whole section at Harrods devoted to it. It's incomprehensible, covering oneself in hard-to-remove skin-damaging chemicals on a daily basis and then having to appeal to an entire industry of solvents to remove them. A classic case of manufactured demand."
"And yet you're doing it."
Sherlock rolled off the couch and walked towards the bathroom. "Make tea. And find a straw."
John considered not doing either for a minute, but he'd already drunk the whole press of coffee he'd made when he got up (at a civilized hour), so he'd end up drinking the tea too. He dug around in the drawers while the kettle began to rattle, pushing past a series of glass rods for stirring things in graduated cylinders, a turkey baster, a full set of piping tips (he'd lay twenty quid Sherlock didn't even know what piping tips were for), two packets of litmus paper, and a bunch of dead batteries before he found two lone straws, obviously sent home with takeaway at some point. He dropped them on the counter and poured the water over the bags, and then went to investigate Sherlock, since the toilet had flushed but he hadn't yet emerged. The bathroom door was ajar; honestly, he had no manners at all. He pushed it open, and watched Sherlock as he stood in front of the mirror, carefully tracing his lips with the color. The lipstick was smooth, matte without being dulling, and gave his lips a sort of plushness that wasn't apparent when they were their natural color. John ignored the strange twinge he felt watching the process; he'd watched girlfriends do their faces before, but it had never felt so personal, or like such a great transformation, as this. "Why did you go to Harrods, anyway? I'd have figured you for more a Space NK kind of shopper."
Sherlock recapped the lipstick and dropped it on the side of the sink. "Familiarity, I suppose. Mummy always went to the cosmetics section there when she was in town." He turned and examined John. "When have you ever been in Space NK?"
John shrugged. "Christmas shopping."
"Isn't it a little insulting to buy a gift for a woman you're having sex with that implies she isn't attractive without outside interference?" Sherlock walked to the kitchen, brushing against him as he passed.
"When you put it like that," John said. Interested, he walked into the bathroom and picked up the lipstick. Ravish Me Red, the sticker on the bottom of the tube read. He shook himself to get the image out of his head, and went to pour himself a cup of tea.
Sherlock was sitting at the table with a cup of tea, a notebook, a pencil, the two straws, and his phone. "John, you've observed more women than I have. How long should I wait after applying the lipstick until I attempt to do anything with my mouth?"
And, well, John isn't fully responsible for the images that pop to mind at that. The thing is, the color, it's just so sexual, which is not something Sherlock normally projects at all. That's the reason why, despite being enough of a grown-up to recognize that he's attracted to Sherlock, John's been able to repress the fact without too much effort. It's so rare that Sherlock does anything that could be construed as sexual. Even his reactions to Irene Adler seemed more about confusion than about arousal. So, when suddenly confronted with his lovely roommate all tarted up about the mouth, John's hindbrain is necessarily going to drop all the hints that it's been suppressing this past year.
He came back to himself to find Sherlock scrutinizing his face. He rolled his eyes, hoping that Sherlock hadn't read anything too incriminating in his little moment, and went to pour his own cup. "It's not like there's a rule or anything. At least as far as I know."
Sherlock huffed. "Estimate."
John poured the tea and added milk from the carton Sherlock had, unsurprisingly, left on the counter. He tried to mentally reconstruct the post-lipstick morning rituals of Angela, who he'd lived with during his house officer years. "I think it's less about time and more about the lipstick…drying? Or setting, maybe? So that you'd be able to feel when it's changed texture. I mean, someone in a hurry might take a sip of a cup of coffee sooner than that, if she wanted it."
Sherlock was taking notes in his notebook. "I'll have to run this a few times, then. When you're out today, pick up a package of straws."
"Wasn't planning on going out," John said, putting the milk back in the fridge.
"The bread's grown mold, we're down to one can of beans, the cheddar is starting to look a bit rough, and you'll end up wanting those tortellini sometime this week, you usually do when it's rainy. And there's a fifty-percent chance you'll be called into the clinic tomorrow. You're going to the shops."
John sighed. "It's like having one of those robot-fridges that tells you what's in it. And you eat just as little. Wait, the bread's gone off? I had toast this morning."
"It's just a penicillium," Sherlock said. "As long as you don't feel ill, you probably didn't ingest enough to be toxic. Don't throw it out, I'm measuring it."
John sat on the couch with his tea, and picked up the book he was reading. But he kept glancing up to monitor the experimental procedure, which meant he kept seeing Sherlock curl his lips around the straw, take a long sip of tea, and then pull off to pout for the camera and take another photograph. He looked terribly bored while he was doing it, but every so often he'd glance over at John while he was sucking, and the hollow of his cheeks, the under-the-lashes glance, above all the red purse of his lips was so bloody hot that John kept having to look back at his book and stare at the page, reading nothing for a few minutes until he stopped envisioning getting that look from a Sherlock kneeling at his feet.
After two hours of sitting in silence, interrupted only by pencil scratching, the turning of pages, the timer beeping, and one trip to back to the bathroom to remove the lipstick and start over again with a new coat, John forced himself to go buy groceries. He threw in a box of straws, too, but when he got home it seemed Sherlock had moved on to experimenting on every type of drinking vessel in the house. John stared at the perfect lip-print on the carton of milk, and decided having a row while half-aroused was more trouble than it was worth.
Just as John was leaving the clinic, his phone beeped. Go to the McDonald's on Baker Street and buy one large coffee. Then go back up the street to Starbucks and pick up one dark roast coffee with two sugars and one cappuccino, extra foam. Then a cup of coffee from Speedy's. Try not to let them cool down excessively. SH
John was a slow texter when he was walking, plus he kept walking into street signs. You find McDonald's revolting. And you hate cappuccino foam.
Experiment. No sugar in the cappuccino, it destroys the bubble matrix. SH
You could go get them yourself, you lazy git.
You disapprove of me leaving the flat without pants. SH
John was at the tube station, so he doesn't bother responding to that. The bloke at Speedy's looked at him cross-eyed when he walked in to buy coffee with a cardboard tray of Starbucks and McDonald's, but he rolled his eyes and said, "Himself sent orders," which seemed to explain enough.
Sherlock was lying on the couch wearing a sheet and that bloody lipstick when he clomped up the stairs. "So, are we poisoning these or something?" he said, dropping the tray on the table.
Sherlock rolled to a sitting position and reached for his phone and notebook. "No, testing the effects of different beverages and lid shapes on wear. McDonald's has those ridiculous 'self-closing' lids that are totally ineffectual, Starbucks has the raised lid with a cut-out for drinking through, standard for most chain coffee shops, and Speedy's uses a flat lid that must be removed, so that's just testing the impact of the polystyrene." He shuffled, "science" supplies in one hand, the other holding the sheet draped over his shoulders closed around his waist, and took a seat at the table. "And the cappuccino is to test foam's effects. I shouldn't need to drink much of it to get the data, you can have it when I'm done."
"That's wholly unsanitary," John said as he hung up his coat. He didn't mention that usually the only people who shared drinks were blood relatives or long-time lovers, because he wasn't entirely ready to hear which category Sherlock considered him analogous too.
"I have no communicable diseases, I assure you," Sherlock said, and took the initial starting photograph of his lips. John knew he should head to his room to get changed out of his work clothes, should find some chores to do, should just go elsewhere instead of sitting around staring at his naked flatmate's experiments on his own lips, but the problem with Sherlock being mad was that it was synonymous with Sherlock being interesting. And he liked it when Sherlock was interesting. Plus, he was apparently getting a cappuccino out of the deal in however many minutes.
So he sat down at the table and let himself watch, the repetition: photograph lips, drink from coffee cup, photograph results, record the timestamps for the photographs and experimental conditions in the notebook. He'd never noticed how mobile Sherlock's lips were before, how they could twist and move, the orbicularis oris and the buccinator tensing and relaxing as he went through his process. His lips were so lovely; not a thought he was having for the first time, but still a revelation, to see them so defined, so strongly colored, as if their mobility was just a trick of the color, and not a natural property. Sherlock was gleefully excited at the differences between the effects of the types of lids; he flipped back and forth between the two identical-looking photos on his phone, pointing out an area that he said showed a different distribution of pressure. "Think of how useful this would be when trying to determine a victim or suspect's actions before a crucial moment! I wonder if we could get more granular with more lids. John, will they be calling you in tomorrow? I'd like to extend this study."
John groaned. "Can't you go and order your own drink lids? I do have a life that involves more than being your errand boy."
Sherlock ignored him to zoom in on the photo. "Look at the differential impression of the tuberculum labii superioris! Oh, this is excellent." He looked over at John then, and broke out in a smile, a wide, happy one with red lips stretched over white teeth. John couldn't help but smile back.
Sherlock pulled the lid off the cappuccino. "Hey, isn't that mine, yet?" John said, folding his arms. It was going to be cold before he got handed it, he was absolutely sure.
"One more test." Sherlock took a long sip of the cappuccino. When he pulled the cup away, his upper lip was covered in foam. He set the cup down, and licked across it, just once, his swift, agile pink tongue wiping away all the foam that clung to the burning red of his lips. "That is how they do it, correct? I have no idea why people tolerate the foam, it gets everywhere."
"Do--" John cleared his throat, which was feeling a bit--occupied at the moment. "Do what?"
"Women. Get cappuccino foam off their lips. With their tongues, instead of using a napkin like civilized persons." He demonstrated again, passing his tongue across his lips, its paleness a shocking contrast to the lipstick.
He forced himself to stay in the moment, and not get lost thinking excessively about Sherlock's tongue. "You realize you've just ruled all women ever as outside the class of civilized persons."
"I'm certain some are reasonable." Sherlock slid the cup across to John as he reached for his phone to document the condition of his mouth.
The startling red lip print was facing him, now, as the cup sat in front of him. He picked it up, and, as casually as he could, lifted it to his mouth. He could taste the bitter dullness of the lipstick as he curved his own lips against the cardboard, and felt it chase the taste of espresso and milk down his throat. He glanced across to see if Sherlock had noticed him take advantage, but Sherlock was staring at his notebook while he recorded the information about the test in pencil scratches. There was a small brush of foam clinging to the skin above his lip, hanging there. "Sherlock," John said, clearing his throat a little. "You've um. Still got some foam there."
Sherlock looked up. "Where?" He ran his tongue over his lips again, pushing this time, as if to cover more territory, to greedily occupy more of his face.
"It's. Um." He hadn't even come close to doing it. With hands perfectly steady, John reached out and brushed his thumb across Sherlock's philtrum and cupid's bow, gathering the foam and feeling the waxy silk of his lips. "There. Got it." He showed his thumb.
Sherlock frowned down at the thumb in front of him. "You've smudged the lipstick."
"Um. Have I?" John couldn't see any difference, and he was watching Sherlock's lips very, very closely right now.
"I'll need to reapply," Sherlock said. He picked up his camera, took a quick photo of his lips, and then sprung out of his chair, barely remembering to hold onto his sheet as he skittered away. Once he was in the bathroom, John brought his thumb to his mouth, and licked the remnants of cappuccino foam off, tasting the lipstick, imagining he could almost feel the warmth of Sherlock's lips. There are only a third as many layers of skin on the lips as on the rest of the face; the color of them is blood, and the heat, too. John curled his tongue around his thumb for a moment, and then pulled it out. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, and went back to drinking his coffee.
He couldn't blame them for staring. When Lestrade had texted, Sherlock hadn't mentioned that he'd be showing up at the crime scene with his lips colored Ravish Me Red. So now he was prancing around the crime scene, holding up his magnifier at the scuff marks on the lamppost and twirling around the stop sign in a way that would have been balletic if he hadn't kept his spine at an awkward angle to his pelvis the whole time.
John had his hands in his pockets, standing next to Lestrade. He was trying not to think about how Sherlock looked better in natural light than in their flat. The colors suited him better.
Lestrade cleared his throat. "John," he said, a little hesitantly. "Um. Is this something he usually…" The sentence drifted off.
John briefly considered making up an entire story about Sherlock's secret life as a burlesque performer, but thought that was a bit much. Plus, for all he knew, Sherlock did have a secret life as a burlesque performer. He was remarkably good at doing his face. "It's an experiment. Been on since last Thursday. Came home yesterday to find him trying to determine the difference in lipstick wear from eating with a fork and eating with a spoon." At least that had resulted in Sherlock eating (although it had also resulted in John needing to go get more food, since Sherlock had demolished the contents of the fridge).
"I can't believe I find that a relief," Lestrade said. "Not that it would have been a problem, if, you know, the other."
"You're a model of tolerance," John said.
"Well, you know me. I try." He crossed his arms. "It's, well, a rather striking shade, don't you think?" John didn't know how to respond to that, but was saved when Lestrade continued, "Shame it's wasted on him."
I don't really think it is, John thought, and then mentally kicked himself about a million times.
"Well," Sherlock said, snapping his magnifier shut. "The robbery wasn't a random event, but it wasn't designed to steal the briefcase, that was incidental, it was actually intended to convey a message to the victim from a blackmailer, which you would have noticed if you weren't all staring at me." He stuck the magnifier in his pocket. "It didn't surprise me when the cabbie was put-off, or the people on the street. I suppose I was giving you all too much credit. Certainly one should expect nothing but convention and the pointless defense of it from Scotland Yard. I don't know why people are so horrified by transgressions of the gender binary, it's a pointless cultural convention that men don't wear cosmetics, and while certainly it's unusual--"
"It's not that you're a man," Sally muttered, from her position on the other side of the crime scene, taking notes on the placement of a series of broken planters.
Sherlock stopped mid rant, and swung around. "What did you say?"
She glanced up at him warily. "I said, it's not that you're a man. This is London. I've seen stranger things than a bloke wearing lipstick before breakfast, and that's not counting days I see you before breakfast." She shook her head. "Never mind. Rant away. Get it out of your system."
"No, absolutely not," he said, marching over to her. "You've just become interesting, Donovan. Explain yourself."
She stood up and sighed. "It's not the lipstick. It's the colour."
He scrunched up his face. "This is a fine colour. The clerk at Harrods picked it. She said it complimented my skin tone and brought out my eyes."
Lestrade made a muted choking noise.
Sally studied Sherlock's lips more closely than John really felt comfortable with. "In the abstract, yeah, though any salesclerk who tells you lipstick brings out your eyes is trying to upsell you on something. That's what mascara's for. No, the coloru's fine on you. It's just an evening colour."
"But women wear lipstick at all times of day." Sally tried to turn away, but Sherlock grabbed her arm. "No, I am not letting you go without explaining this."
She yanked her arm away, and slapped him hard on the arm. "Hands to yourself, madman. OK, look. The colour you're wearing is dramatic, attention-getting, blatantly sexual." Sherlock's forehead creased a little at that. "It's a date lipstick, maybe a formal occasion if you're of a dramatic bent and want to draw eyes. For daywear, women wear lipstick that closely matches their natural lip colour. See?" She pointed at her own mouth.
Sherlock pulled out his magnifier, leaned down, and used it to examine her lips. "But that's pointless. Why would you apply a pigment that matches the colour you are covering up? Isn't the point of lipstick to change the colour of the lips?"
"Sometimes. Maybe you want to make them a little darker or pinker or whatever." She shoved him away a bit. "Did you delete personal space?" Yes, John thought. "But it also evens out the tone, and allows you to make the shape more symmetrical. Moisturizes too, which matters when it's cold out."
Sherlock returned the magnifier to his pocket, and studied her face for a moment. "There's a Boots around the corner."
She wrinkled her forehead. "And?"
He grasped her by the wrist this time, and started striding away. "I require your expertise. Lestrade, count the broken flowerpots, and then check the pockets of the victim, you'll find a note there. Back in fifteen." He held up the crime scene tape, pulled Sally under it, and let it snap down behind them.
"What the bloody hell?" she said.
"Oh, calm down," Sherlock said, and marched her, stumbling behind him, down towards the high street.
When they returned twenty minutes later, Sherlock was wearing a light pink lipstick that was nearly identical to his natural lip color, but which made his mouth look warmer, rounder, more inviting. Sally, slightly shellshocked, was clutching a Boots bag. Sherlock marched over to Lestrade to ensure that the case had been solved to his satisfaction. John went to check on Sally. "You all right?
She looked over at him, eyes wide still. "He asked me about fifty times which lipsticks were sexually provocative and why. And then he bought me a hundred pounds worth of makeup and a Yorkie."
"So, normal, then," John said, remembering the Sherlock-has-a-theory-of-pasta incident which had resulted in them being kicked out of the Tesco.
Sally looked over at Sherlock, who was gesticulating wildly to Lestrade about the meaning of a particular piece of shattered terra cotta. "This is why you stay with him, isn't it?"
John watched his beautiful madman with the pink lips flail at the police. "Yeah, pretty much."
Sally shook her head. "Right. I'm never doing that again. I can't cope. He's yours."
John wished to hell she was right.
He was nodding politely and writing prescriptions when his phone vibrated. He glanced over, but the text started with SHOPPING LIST so it clearly wasn't urgent. (Once it had said ARMED GUNMEN. He doesn't quite remember how he left the surgery that time, only that it had been a fairly brilliant day after that point.) Once his patient had left, he picked it up to see what His Majesty was ordering.
cucumbers (English or Persian) (Japanese acceptable)
carrots (whole ones)
stick-shaped hard candy (preferably peppermint, absolutely not cinnamon) (variable diameters if possible)
beverages in long-necked glass bottles (liquid irrelevant) (nothing orange flavoured)
John gaped at the message for a moment. And then he gathered his wits about him, and typed back, No. And then he had to put his head on the desk for a minute to recuperate.
"Are you all right, Dr. Watson?" asked his next patient. "You look a bit flushed."
He could tell as soon as he walked in the front door; the smell was distinctive. He pinched the bridge of his nose and steeled himself for the fight. Then he heard a feminine laugh from up the stairs, and he just rolled his eyes. Of course he's got a bloody co-conspirator.
"Oh, I don't like him," Mrs. Hudson was saying, shaking her head at the TV. "Look at his hair." She tapped the ash from her cigarette into the crystal ashtray on the coffee table.
"Mmm, the hair's not the problem," Sherlock said. His elbow was bent and propped on the arm of the chair, and the cigarette dangled from it languidly, a bright red ring around the filter. "Look at how he cuffs his trousers. No wonder she's cheating on him." He brought the cigarette to his lips, and wrapped them around it smoothly.
John forced himself to look away from Sherlock's mouth and clear his throat. "I thought you quit. Both of you."
"John!" Mrs. Hudson said, and at least she had the decency to look embarrassed. "I did quit. But, well, I came up to tell this one to stop, and I suppose I got distracted." She sighed and put her cigarette out. Sherlock automatically held up a hand next to her, and she used it to balance herself into a standing position. "I'll let you boys be."
"See you later," John said, as she passed him on the way out.
Sherlock hadn't yet acknowledged him, and continued to smoke aristocratically. His cheeks hollowed when he pulled on the cigarette, and his lips developed fine creases that highlighted how tightly pinched he held them. He removed the cigarette, dropped it, still smoldering, in the ashtray, exhaled a fine cloud of smoke, and picked up his phone, which was lying next to it. With utter calm, he photographed his lips. Then the turned the phone around and began examining the photo. "Hmm," he said. "The creases are shallower than in the straw experiment, but are more visible because of the irregular suction. Interesting." He made a note in the notebook, which was next to where his phone had been.
"Very interesting," John said. "Now put it the fuck out."
"Impossible," Sherlock said, picking up the cigarette. "I've only been smoking for twenty minutes. I need to give it at least an hour to watch the progression of the creases." He slid it back between his lips and pulled again.
"Absolutely not," John said. He walked over and snatched the cigarette away, which left Sherlock coughing with the sudden influx of air. "You're an idiot." He marched to the window, threw it open, and dropped the burning filter out it. "This place stinks."
Sherlock sniffed and curled up on his side against the arm of the sofa, wrapping his arms around his legs. "If I'd known you were this fussy I'd never have offered you the flat."
John knew he should say if I'd known you were this much of a tit I'd never have taken it, but he can't even imagine it. Sherlock made life worth living again; keeping him from smoking was merely a way to prolong the existence of a Sherlock in the world, in the end. "You didn't offer it, you ordered me to move in," John said, and flopped down on the couch where Mrs. Hudson had been.
Sherlock pressed his heels against John's thigh. He glanced over, and Sherlock was watching him, intensely. The lipstick on his lips was visibly creased from all the smoking, and yet the fracture in his mask was somehow more appealing; it made him seem like someone who could be rumpled, could be touched. John looked away, and focused on the ashtray. Three of the butts in it bore Sherlock's lip print; two Mrs. Hudson's. "Right. No nicotine patches until tomorrow."
"You're cruel," Sherlock said poutily, and returned his attention to the television.
John thought, quite a lot, about possible ways to get the experiment to end. Or at least to get him to stop wearing the red all the time. (Ravish Me Red, he thought, every time he saw the color slicked on Sherlock's face, in lip prints on cups, smeared on white towels on the bathroom floor, and they had had a good row about precisely whose job it was to figure out how to get an oil-and-wax based stain off terrycloth, but John had still been thinking the name, over and over again, an infinite loop of sexual agitation.)
But how, precisely, do you have that conversation? How do you tell your flatmate that his new habit of wearing lip color, for entirely non-sexual, non-aesthetic reasons, has driven you into a mad frenzy of lust? How do you tell the person whose friendship you value most in the world that every time you see his mouth now, you want to shove him to his knees and cut off his air supply? Is there any possible way to ask, politely, if Sherlock would mind switching to one of those more neutral shades he prefers when leaving the house, just so that John could get through one sodding day without having to wrestle his prick into submission?
No, any form of the conversation would be bloody awkward and entirely too revealing. So John gave up.
He stepped into the sitting room. Sherlock was sitting on the couch, holding a lime ice lolly in one hand and his phone in the other, mouth still painted that lustrous red. Without ever taking his eyes from the phone or slowing down the movement of his thumb, he slid the lolly into his mouth, so deep it must have practically been going down his throat, and then pulled it out, extending his tongue and swirling it around the frozen tip as he went.
John turned around and went back up the stairs. Some things were truly more than he could handle.
"John. John. John."
John blinked into his pillow. Of course Sherlock can't, you know, shake his shoulder or something like that to wake him up, has to stand there saying his name like a stuck record. "Is anything on fire?"
"Fuck off, then." He pulled the second pillow over his head to make clear his intentions.
There was a moment of silence, and then Sherlock's feet stomped off. John was nearly asleep when the stomping feet came back up the stairs and into his room. It took a second for him to process the smell of carbon and campfire.
He sat up. Sherlock was standing next to his bed. In one hand, he held a paperback novel that John had bought in the train station two weeks ago when they had to go to Manchester for a case. It was on fire.
John was out of bed before he'd thought about it. He grabbed the book with one hand, and with the other reached for the half-drunk bottle of water on the bedside table. He poured the water over the book; it hissed and spit, but the flames died out. Then he dropped the book on the floor, stepped into his slipper with one foot, and then used that newly-shod foot to stomp on the smoking, wet remains of his book. Which he hadn't finished yet.
"Are you awake enough to talk, now?" Sherlock asked mildly.
"Jesus Christ, Sherlock," John said, and smacked him hard on the arm.
"You made your conditions perfectly clear."
John was about to launch into a massive tirade on the topic of why "only wake me if something is on fire" and "if you want me to get up, set something on fire" were not actually synonymous when he took a deep breath and realized two things. First, it was half-past three, and he doesn't want to wake Mrs. Hudson. He was fairly certain that the volume at which the tirade would emerge would make that a distinct possibility. Second, if Sherlock had sone to the trouble of finding something non-essential and flammable, setting it on fire in a way that would not cause permanent damage to either of them or the other objects in the flat, and bringing it to John, then he actually very much did want John awake, which implied that there was something going on. Something personal, because if it had been a case he would be leaping around and making excited noises, not standing there in his dressing gown with staying-in lipstick on. (Still fresh, even so late; maybe he had plans to see what more than 24 hours of wear did, or something.) He cleared his throat and crossed his arms. "Bit not good, Sherlock. Listen, in the future, if you think you have a good enough reason to wake me up, just tell me it's important, and what it's about, and I'll decide whether it's important enough to actually have woken me at arse o'clock, okay? No need to set my possessions on fire." He paused. "Also, you need to buy me another copy of that."
Sherlock huffed. "But it's patently obvious that the cryptokey has been sold by--" John gave him a look sufficiently evil to cut off that sentence. "Fine, yes, I understand."
"Right. So, what is it?"
Sherlock smiled, and stepped a little closer. "I realized that there was valuable data my experiment was missing."
And that was as far as John got, because Sherlock leaned over and pressed his lips against John's. Softly, mouth closed, lips notched into each other, not even moving, really. All John could think was soft and all he could feel was the waxy-slick press of the lipstick between the skin of his lips and the skin of Sherlock's, as if it were a third party to the kiss, bringing them together and holding them that way, close and entangled. Sherlock's hands loose at his side, and John's were pinned between their chests, his elbows pressing into Sherlock's ribs. After a moment exactly long enough for John to be fully aware of Sherlock's heat against him, and too short for him to have managed a reaction, Sherlock pulled away. He looked uncertain for a half second, but then he smiled. And then he pulled his mobile out of his pocket and took a picture of his lips.
That was the moment at which John lost it.
"You can't do this, Sherlock!" he yelled, no longer caring if Mrs. Hudson and all of Mycroft's bugs and Mrs. Turner and probably half the population of bloody Marylebone heard them, gesticulating wildly. "You can't just, just kiss someone out of nowhere in the middle of the night and have it just be an experiment! You can't play with people like that, you can't just turn them into, into little toy figurines for you to pose as you will. I'm a person, Sherlock, I have feelings, and I just because you're shit at dealing with those doesn't mean you get to trample all over mine, or that you get to yank me around like this for two bloody weeks and then treat my mouth like it's a straw or a coffee cup or the fucking mirror." Some part of John realized he was being too truthful, but it was the middle of the night and he was done. "You can't do this to me," he said, and his voice broke on it. He closed his eyes and pressed his hand to his mouth to hold in how close he was to breaking, to shouting out we're supposed to be friends and I though you cared about me and I love you, I love you, don't do this to me.
There was nothing but silence from the person in front of him. He opened his eyes, expecting to see that Sherlock was looking puzzled, or had put on his apologetic face. But that wasn't how he looked. He looked--John had only ever seen him look like this once, for that thirty seconds when he thought John was Moriarty, and then when he knew John was a bomb but couldn't do anything about it. It was surprise, but it was also terror, and it was also honest, which is not what John was expecting at this juncture.
Deep breaths. He brought his arms back up to cross over his chest, and meant the gesture as much as comfort as a barrier. "All right," he said. "Explain yourself."
"John," Sherlock said, and you could see that he was rapidly trying to reassemble a house of cards in his head while it was in the process of falling. For a moment, that seemed to be all he could produce. "John," he said again. And then, "I seem to have--I did not anticipate--it appears I misinterpreted--" He blinked rapidly, as if rebooting, and finally managed to choke out a complete thought. "I thought you wanted to kiss me."
"I do," John snapped. "I don't want to be an experiment."
Sherlock seemed taken aback by that. For a long moment, he stared at John's face, and let his brain work it out. "So this is--it is a question of intentions, for you. Not a question of--the act itself. Or the identities of the participants. Those were all--acceptable."
John was very tired, and his entire body was torn between the adrenaline of the fire and the shouting and the endorphins of Sherlock's lips pressed to his (and the traces of lipstick they had left). So it took him a moment to wrestle the full meaning out of this. "Why did you kiss me, Sherlock?"
Sherlock's mouth hung open a little, as if words wanted to escape but couldn't find their way. "John," he said again, and there was a longing in his voice that he didn't usually let out.
The right thing to do would be to wait, to force Sherlock to use his big-boy words and express whatever he was feeling in a full, coherent sentence. But John recognized the look of ragged desperation that Sherlock was struggling to conceal, because he spent a great deal of time fighting it too. Sherlock had lit his book on fire and called the kiss an experiment, and what he meant is I want you with me and I want to kiss you. John was quite good at realizing what Sherlock meant at this point.
He stepped forward then, put one hand on Sherlock's cheek, and leaned up to kiss him. Sherlock's mouth was still open, and so John took advantage, pressing his upper lip into that space, and then gently using the tip of his tongue to trace the line on Sherlock's lower lip where external skin became the oral mucosa, where lipstick stopped and the warmth of his mouth began. Sherlock's mouth opened slightly more, and John pressed in, curling the hand on Sherlock's face to angle him properly, and wrapping the other around his hip to pull him closer, so their bodies were just barely brushing against each other. Sherlock's hands came to rest lightly on John's shoulders. And then the kiss began to change. John's hand on Sherlock's hip gripped tighter, pulled him closer; Sherlock's hands grew more confident, and one slipped down his side to push against the small of John's back. Their mouths were fiercer, wetter, hungrier. Sherlock stumbled back slightly to lean on the doorframe; John rocked his pelvis against him, and Sherlock moaned sharply. John pulled his mouth away from Sherlock's and fastened it on his neck, running his tongue over the skin and brushing it with his teeth, just to hear Sherlock's ragged exhale and the shiver that ran through him. When he pulled away, he saw that around the teethmarks were a blur of red, transfer from Sherlock's lips to his, and then to Sherlock's neck. He looked up. Sherlock's eyes were closed still, and he was breathing heavily. His hands were still clinging to John (John's were doing likewise), and he very slowly pushed his face against John's hand where it lay on his cheek. John stroked his face with his thumb, and Sherlock responded like a cat, pushing into it, his long shaking breaths purring out of him. His lips looked nearly black in the darkness of John's room, and most of the lipstick seemed to have escaped past the vermilion border to end up above his lips. John breathed out a faint laugh. "You'll definitely want this picture, then."
Sherlock's eyes opened slowly, and the look in his eyes was just slightly dazed. "What?"
"For your experiment." John ran his thumb over Sherlock's lips, and let his own curve into a small smile. "It's a very distinctive pattern."
Now this was the puzzled look John had expected to see after his explosion. "I thought you didn't want to be experimented on."
"I'm fairly certain that I experimented on you, there," John said. "Besides. Intentions."
Sherlock seemed to be coming back to his senses. Frankly, John was impressed he'd gotten him away from them at all. "So. I was right."
"Mmm." John didn't want to admit precisely how right he was. "I'm certain it was a very simple deduction."
"No, actually," Sherlock said, and he looked annoyed. "I've conditioned myself not to notice when people are sexually attracted to me. The likelihood of my actually being interested in sexual contact with any given individual is incredibly low, and I find it quite distracting. Frustrating, to realize that what seemed like a useful data-management technique had such a central blind spot." The hand on John's back was stroking, slightly. John leaned against the wall, letting his body curl against Sherlock's, so that they were leaning against each other, entangled there by the door. "I only started collecting relevant data after the cappuccino foam incident. And even then it took me a while to try to determine the extent to which the lipstick was the causative factor, whether you were only interested in me because of my sudden change in appearance. That was the real experiment tonight; would your reactions be about a fetishized interest in my mouth wearing this lipstick, or would it be more about a holistic attraction to my person?"
John was fairly sure of what the answer was going to be based on the way Sherlock was still stroking him with gentle fingers, but thought it worth asking for some kind of verbal expression. "And what did you think of the results?"
"They were…unexpected. Not that your attraction is generalized, but the strength of emotion attached to your response. I was…not expecting that." He looked almost embarrassed to have missed it.
"You do miss the most obvious things," John said, and kissed Sherlock gently on the cheek. They were going to fall over shortly, unable to balance properly on the corner of the doorframe, but John wasn't quite sure whether he should invite Sherlock to come the rest of the way into the room, or bid him goodnight.
Sherlock cleared his throat. "John," he said, and the tentativeness was back. "If I am understanding the situation properly, you are not opposed to my gathering experimental data in this circumstance, provided that my reasons for desiring to collect that data are specific to you, and not merely a function of your proximity. Is that it?"
John sighed. "Would it kill you to say you fancy me?"
"Yes, it would, because it would be an entirely insufficient way to describe my affection for you. Which contains a component of sexual attraction. A strong component, if I haven't made that clear."
"No, I caught that." John smiled and leaned his head against Sherlock's shoulder, closing his eyes. The adrenaline had faded, and left a strange mix of contentment and arousal. "I don't mind you photographing the effects of snogging me, as long as you are actually expressing affection and attraction via the snog in question."
"I was wondering if that consent was generalizable to other activities with experimental merit."
John pulled his head back and looked up at Sherlock. His eyes were glowing in the darkness, and his lips appeared to be curling slightly in what almost might have been a smile. "Try that again."
"I am saying," Sherlock said, and he had to be pitching his voice that low on purpose, "that there are other things I can do with my mouth that I would like to document the effects of."
John actually stared at him in open-mouthed shock for a moment. "That is," he said, "literally the worst pick-up line in the history of sex. Seriously, Sherlock, have you ever pulled anyone before?"
"You're exaggerating," Sherlock said, huffily.
"Fine," John said. "It's the worst pick-up line that's ever worked, then."
"And of course I have done, I am perfectly capable of playing a role when req--" Sherlock stopped talking. "Wait. What did you say?"
"Guess," John said, and kissed him.
They reached the bed by means of stumbling and groping, with John tripping over the damp remains of his book and Sherlock getting his elbow stuck in John's armpit as they fell to its surface. John flailed for the bedside light. "Wait, I want--the light, turn it--"
Sherlock's arms were longer, though his aim was substantially distracted by the fact that his mouth was attached to John's neck. The light clicked on, and oh, Sherlock was glorious like this, his lips smeared red, his pupils wide and his cheekbones pink with exertion. John curled his hands into his hair and took that mouth again, to feel it open for him, to feel himself permitted the luxury of taste. He pulled away. "You brushed your fucking teeth," he panting. "I hate you, for the record."
"I didn't want to be rude," Sherlock said, but his gasping breaths took the haughtiness out of it, left him sounding almost truthful. "We're doing this wrong. You need to lie back."
"I'm certain you could handle it the other way," John said. He wondered, vaguely, if that was too raunchy for Sherlock's taste, but it was probably a bad idea to get gentlemanly now, it would just make Sherlock annoyed. He flopped over onto his back, head on the pillow.
Sherlock was clearly contemplating. "You're right, that hadn't occurred to me. We'll have to try it both ways to see if there are changes in the wear patterns. Take your clothes off."
"You could be putting the tiniest bit of effort into seduction here," John said as he pulled off his shirt.
"To keep the experiment to affection ratio balanced. If it goes off course, I'm liable to kick you out of bed." He reached for the waist of his pajama bottoms and pushed them down, keeping his pants on out of some bizarre sense of propriety. In principle, he felt there should be some sort of transition between a lead-in snog and actual genital contact.
Sherlock straddled him, still dressed, and examined his body closely. It was sharp, the feeling of those eyes tracing his body, and John felt it more strongly than he would have if it had been those soft, supple lips. The lower lip was the densest concentration of nerve cells on the body, but Sherlock processed visual data better than tactile. Sherlock's eyes snapped up to his, and then he was reaching into his pocket and pulling out his phone. Slowly, deliberately, he documented the state of his lips, and cast a glance at the photo. Then, dramatically, he held out his hand toward the edge of the bed and dropped the phone away from them. "Now that experimental parameters have been established," he said, "we can begin."
John wanted to find something snarky to say in response to that, but Sherlock was leaning over now, his hands braced on either side of John's shoulders and the muscles of his inner thighs rocking against John's cock through their clothes as he lowered himself. He expected a kiss, but instead Sherlock pressed his nose into John's cheek and used it to turn his face to the side. John closed his eyes and caught his breath as Sherlock's nose slid down his cheek to his ear, where he exhaled softly. John's hips arched up instinctively, and Sherlock pushed back; their rhythm was slow and deliberate, but they kept going as Sherlock slowly pushed his nose down John's neck, along the line of his collarbone to his suprasternal notch. Then down, down, down the line of his sternum, just the pressure of the tip of Sherlock's nose, slow and deliberate, pausing again at the infrasternal notch, and then again at his navel, taking the slightest moment to nuzzle against the soft flesh around it before continuing. John had no idea what to do with his hands, but when Sherlock looked up at him as his nose slipped down past the waist of his pants and nuzzled deliberately against his cock through the material, he reached out instinctively and buried his hands in his hair. "I thought," he gasped out, "this was going to be about lips. Oh, fuck, Sherlock."
"Not yet," Sherlock said, and his breath vibrated against the damp material he was hovering over. "It wouldn't do to have worn it all off before the main event." And he curled out his tongue, slowly and sinuously, to run it along the visible ridge of John's frenulum.
John barely managed to avoid pushing Sherlock's face down into his cock. "Better get to it, then." He closed his eyes against the sensation of Sherlock's low chuckle vibrating through his balls as he peeled off his pants, and rocked his hips up to allow Sherlock to slide them down his legs. "How do you want me?" he panted, as Sherlock's hand slowly began to work him.
"Let's go for naturalistic," Sherlock said. And he licked a long stripe up the underside of John's cock and swallowed him down.
John forced his eyes open, and oh, yes, the eyes boring into his as sharply as ever, studying his every reaction, and the curve of those lips, so deep and red, were everything he'd found himself inappropriately fantasizing about since the moment this started. He watched the slip of Sherlock's pink tongue dart out, the way his lips tensed and released as he slid down and then back up again, and how the shadows of his cheekbones deepened as he sucked in. Oh, and the faint ring of red at the base of his cock, a fucking set of lip prints as proof that this mad and brilliant thing was actually happening. After only a minute, Sherlock's eyes slipped closed and John realized that he was sliding one of his hands down his own body. He could feel the moment when Sherlock took himself in hand, and he groaned at the realization. "That good?"
Sherlock pulled off and rolled his tongue under John's foreskin. "Extended anticipation is a powerful aphrodisiac." He slipped down to tongue John's balls enthusiastically for a moment, and then returned to his cock, probably just to muffle the undignified moan he let out.
John dug his fingers in further to Sherlock's hair, and pulled a little, feeling experimental himself; the sudden extra tension in Sherlock's forehead and the way the tempo of his hand picked up was suggestive. He let his hips begin to work in time with Sherlock's rhythm, let himself get noisier. He wished he could keep them here all night, but orgasm was pressing up against him, desperate and hungry. "Close," he said, loosening up on Sherlock's hair so he could move more easily.
Sherlock groaned again, which nearly set John off, but then pulled off. John wasn't disappointed, but Sherlock gasped out, "Fuck my face. And talk to me," before bracing himself on the hand not busy in his pyjamas and lowering his head to take in as much as he could of John's cock.
"Jesus Christ, Sherlock," John said, and he let his hands tighten again, let his hips snap up more sharply. Sherlock's eyes were open now, half-glazed, but desperately focused on John, as if only being entirely centered in this moment could get him over the edge. "Your fucking mouth, Sherlock. So gorgeous, and so, so fuckable. That's it, love. Teasing me, all these weeks. This is what you wanted, wasn't it. Fucking starving for my cock." He nearly lost it then, but he could see how close Sherlock was, how desperately he needed this to keep going. "Let me see you. Pretty little filthy thing. Let me see what this does do you. Fuck, come for me, Sherlock, come on." That was it, he was gone, groaning as he came in Sherlock's dirty gorgeous red mouth. Sherlock kept sucking even after the last pulse had gone down his throat, and then he felt why, the shudder and gasp of him coming before he let John's cock fall out of his mouth. John used his hands to guide Sherlock's head to rest just above his hip, and smiled when Sherlock dug his teeth in hard.
Before either of them had really caught their breath, Sherlock climbed up the bed and flopped down next to John. With one hand, he groped blindly for his phone. When he found it, he took the photo, and then examined it. "Hmm. That is interesting." He leaned in and squinted. "You know, with proper calibration, I believe you'd be able to determine the diameter of the penis fellated using this method. Look at the creases." He dropped the phone on his chest. "Probably silicone has a different drag coefficient than skin, though, so I can't test it properly. Ah, well."
John reached out and made contact with Sherlock's shoulder. He felt his way up until his hand was brushing Sherlock's general ear and side of head area. He'd never stopped to think about whether Sherlock was a cuddler before, but he found himself wishing he were, that he were curled up in John's arms rather than eighteen inches away, still wrapped in his dressing gown, while the sweat cooled on John's chest. "Are you going to include photographs in your report? Because I think I might be the tiniest bit embarrassed if you did."
"Mmm, no. Not truly necessary. Besides, the untrained eye would be distracted by the specifics of my lips if there were photos, and unable to generalize to other lip shapes and structures."
John huffed, too out of breath to properly laugh at him. "Ah, yes. The real issue is that people are stupider than you, and not that you have any modicum of privacy."
Sherlock sat up, and for a moment John's chest hurt at the idea of being left alone here. He knew Sherlock was just like this, that it didn't mean he didn't care (he'd said as much, actually used real words to explain, he had to take that seriously), but God, he didn't want to be alone right now. But Sherlock wasn't leaving; he was unknotting the belt of his robe, sliding out of it and his damp pajama bottoms, cleaning himself up along the way. John tried very hard not to stare. Sherlock returned to a prone position, and--and curled up on John's chest, kicking for the blankets until he could get them properly up around them. John slid his arms around Sherlock's narrow chest and let himself smile. "Anyway," Sherlock said. "Readers would be distracted by the prurient elements of the experiment if there were visual data. I honestly had no idea how often things done with the mouth can be turned sexually suggestive until I began this. Your reactions are fascinating." Sherlock rubbed his head into John's shoulder. He'd positioned himself, John realized, so that the scar was right at eye level; when Sherlock did it, it was sweet, not creepy.
John held him closer. "What percentage of your behavior these past few weeks has been an attempt at seduction?"
Sherlock made a contented little noise. "Hardly any."
John smiled, and thought about what his lips must look like, and smiled wider.