January the sixth is a cold grey drizzle of a day; when John wakes there’s so little light coming through the curtains that he has to glance at his watch on the nightstand to find out whether it’s dawn or midday. Upon finding that it’s close to eleven o’clock, he only sighs and curls further under the covers. He’s booked the day off work, and isn’t sorry to miss all the usual complaints about Christmas over-eating and over-spending.
But as the reason he’s booked the day off stirs and mutters next to him, John smiles to himself. On this day, thirty-something years ago, a tiny, downy-haired baby entered the world, took one look at it, and gave the first of what was to be a lifetime of indignant howls. John has always liked making a fuss of people he loves on their birthdays, and while his first impression of Sherlock had been that Sherlock wouldn’t know self-effacement or modesty if it bit him on the arse, he now suspects that Sherlock makes such a fuss of himself precisely because no-one else will.
John rolls closer to Sherlock, pressing his chest against Sherlock’s shoulder blades and sliding an arm around his waist, and Sherlock shifts position, leaning back against John and sighing heavily. They wrapped up a case yesterday evening that had kept them going for several days, but they’ve now had something like eleven hours' worth of sleep and so John feels justified in nosing the curls behind Sherlock’s ear and whispering ‘Morning.’
His only answer is a sleepy moan, and he grins.
Sherlock groans something that sounds vaguely like an affirmative and John rubs aimless circles on his stomach. They’re both naked; they’d been too exhausted last night to do anything more than shuck their clothes and crawl into bed, but now – as Sherlock sucks in a deep breath and stretches – their bare skin slides together, Sherlock’s muscles flexing and tightening, and interest sparks low in John’s belly.
‘Hmm,’ Sherlock sighs, going heavy and boneless against John once more. It’s starting to get hot under the covers and John takes his hand away to push them down around their waists, smiling again when Sherlock fumbles to recapture his hand and draw it back to himself. Instead of resting placidly on his stomach, though, Sherlock nudges it lower, towards his groin, and John’s smile fades as his fingers brush Sherlock’s cock. He’s most of the way hard, and John presses his face to Sherlock’s hair as Sherlock’s grip on his hand slackens and John’s fingers scratch through the coarse hair at Sherlock’s groin.
In their early, rather more tempestuous, days together Sherlock would often be up and about by the time John woke, on the occasions that he deigned to share a bed at all. Up, or working on his laptop next to John and very definitely Busy And Unavailable For A Morning Cuddle. Furthermore, if John never again heard the words ‘Busy! Working’ in response to his suggestions that perhaps they might have an early night – i.e., go to bed and shag – then that would be just fine.
But John held his tongue, and his temper, and slowly Sherlock came to grips with the concept that having a relationship did not, in fact, mean forfeiting his entire life’s work and identity; a side-effect of which was that he was slower to get moving in the mornings and would now sometimes come to bed if John asked, although he was still liable to murmur a vague promise of being along in a moment, only to get distracted by a new experiment.
This morning looks set to be a lazy one, though; John takes his hand away and, at Sherlock’s imperious noise of displeasure and attempt at recapturing it, chides him softly.
Sherlock grumbles but loosens his grip on John’s wrist and John licks his thumb and rubs it lazily back and forth over Sherlock’s nipple. A nice, slow shag is what he’s in the mood for right now and His Royal Impatience is just going to have to put up with it, since it’s not as though either of them has the energy for anything more.
He rubs and plucks at Sherlock’s nipples, moving back and forth between them until they’re tight under his touch and Sherlock’s hips have started to squirm restlessly. At which point Sherlock, devious bastard that he is, lifts a leg to drape it back over both of John’s, not-so-subtly getting into position to be fucked, and groans John’s name. He sounds like pure sex, all husky with sleep and desire, and John slides his hand back down to Sherlock’s groin.
‘You,’ he says, kissing the point of Sherlock’s shoulder and cupping his balls in his hand, ‘will do anything to get your own way, won’t you?’
‘It’s your way too,’ Sherlock protests. His hips push forward, his cock pressing solidly against John’s forearm. ‘You want this, I can feel it.’
He fumbles behind himself for John’s cock and shifts, making to turn over, and John hushes him.
‘Stay there, just like that.’ He lets go of Sherlock to pet at a hipbone. ‘Let me do this for you.’
Sherlock subsides against him, and John kisses the side of his throat as a reward. But to tell the truth he’s not in the mood to deny Sherlock too much longer and so he rolls away briefly to fumble the tube of lubricant out of the nightstand. Sherlock knows exactly what he’s about, of course, and gives a lazy hum of pleasure when John returns to press his chest against Sherlock’s back. He’s touching himself, John finds when he follows the slant of Sherlock’s arm down his body; his bicep flexing slowly, rhythmically, and John nips the back of his neck.
‘Oi,’ he says, and tugs Sherlock’s hand away. ‘None of that.’
Sherlock grumbles at him again, but it turns into a gasp when John smears cold lubricant between his inner thighs.
‘Squeeze your knees together,’ John orders, and Sherlock’s legs shift and tense against him as he obeys.
‘Really, John.’ Sherlock’s voice is deep with arousal and amusement as John pushes his cock into the warm, slick space between Sherlock’s thighs. ‘Feeling nostalgic for Ancient Greece, are we?’
‘Piss off, I’m not that much older than you.’
John pokes him between his fifth and sixth ribs – in precisely the spot that usually makes Sherlock squirm – and Sherlock writhes, his spine arching and buttocks tensing where John’s hips are pressed flush against them. John catches his breath, thrusts once or twice before stilling.
‘Now then,’ John says, reaching around with a warm, slick hand to draw idle patterns on the soft skin of Sherlock’s stomach. ‘I was going to give you a nice, slow wank while I get myself off between your thighs. But if you’re going to be an arse–’ he presses a kiss to Sherlock’s messy hair, ‘–then I’ll assume you’d rather just take care of yourself without my help.’
But it’s an empty threat and they both know it; John finds Sherlock utterly irresistible like this, all loose-limbed and sleep-warm, entirely soft and pliant except for where he’s hard and insistent. So Sherlock catches John’s wrist and pushes his hand down between his thighs, and John only presses his face to the back of Sherlock’s shoulder as he lets Sherlock manhandle him. Sherlock is fully hard, his cock heavy and stiff with blood, and he exhales a soft moan as John curls his fingers around it and pulls, a slow stroke that drags his fingers along the length of it and up over the head as Sherlock arches into his hand. His legs shift as he moves and John stills to remind him ‘Knees together.’
Sherlock growls a little at the loss of stimulation but he squeezes his thighs tighter and John resumes. He braces himself up on one arm – his good one, he couldn’t do this without his bad shoulder screaming bloody murder at him – to look at Sherlock.
Sherlock’s eyes are closed, the last strands of sleep lingering in the softness at his eyes and the corners of his mouth. He looks younger like this, gentler, and the thought of how Sherlock would scowl at that description makes John lean over to kiss Sherlock’s cheek, still flushed from sleep. Sherlock murmurs in pleasure at this and twists to kiss John properly, mouth soft and clinging.
The whole encounter takes on an almost dreamlike quality: the rain rattles against the window pane, hard and cold, but under the covers all is languid warmth and softness. Sherlock’s mouth moves gently against John’s, one of his hands cupping the back of John’s head to hold him in place and – for a wonder – he doesn’t complain when their kisses make John forget the rhythm of his hand on Sherlock’s cock. Sherlock moves several times, spine arching slightly in pleasure that makes him lose his grip on John’s cock, and John loosens his hand and mutters ‘Knees,’ breathlessly against Sherlock’s mouth to make Sherlock moan and squeeze his legs together again. After a short while, John’s hand starts to be wet with more than just lubricant and he pulls back from kissing Sherlock to mutter ‘Grab your pyjama top off the floor for me.’
Sherlock opens his eyes to look at John, the faintest beginnings of a scowl between his eyebrows. ‘I like those pyjamas.’
John shrugs as best he can in his current position. ‘They’ll wash. And if you’re volunteering to change the sheets afterwards…’
‘Oh fine.’ Sherlock rolls away to lean over the side of the bed and fish around on the floor, making John bite back a noise as his cock slips free of the hot, slick space between Sherlock’s thighs, and returns with his pyjama top. ‘Here.’
John kisses him approvingly as he shoves the wadded-up material down in the region of Sherlock’s hips. The break in the proceedings hasn’t diminished Sherlock’s excitement; if anything he feels harder than before, unsurprising given that John has successfully turned his thoughts in the direction of his imminent orgasm and dealing with the resulting mess. John breaks away to nuzzle kisses into Sherlock’s hair and to hide his smile: Sherlock might be a master at manipulating other people's trains of thought but John is getting bloody good at guiding Sherlock’s mind along particular routes when it suits him.
‘Now come on,’ Sherlock grumbles, grabbing John’s wrist and trying to pull it back to himself. ‘When you said slow I didn’t think it was going to take all bloody day, now just–’
He shuts up as John takes him in hand again, beginning a brisk stroke that makes Sherlock inhale sharply through his nose.
‘God you’re pushy,’ John tells him, trying to sound severe but ending up just sounding fond. ‘Anyone would think you were in a hurry, or something.’
Sherlock only squirms, moaning a little. One hand is plucking at the undersheet, clutching and kneading it like a restless cat, and the other is shoved beneath the pillow; John follows it to find that Sherlock has knotted his fingers in the soft fabric.
‘Here,’ John pants, uncurling Sherlock’s fingers and winding his own between them. ‘Here, take my hand.’
But John doesn’t like this position: he’s had to lie back down to stretch far enough to reach Sherlock’s hand and he can’t see Sherlock’s face any more, so he drags their clasped hands back out from under the pillow and braces an elbow under him, propping himself up again. This puts their hands near Sherlock’s face, and John watches as he turns his head to mouth clumsy kisses across John’s knuckles.
‘Oh,’ Sherlock groans suddenly. John felt it too: a shiver running the length of Sherlock’s spine, a faint twitch of his cock. Sherlock’s legs are trembling against John’s and he’s apparently forgotten entirely about keeping his thighs squeezed together, but John pushes his own pleasure down for a moment and concentrates on Sherlock. He fists his cock tightly and laces their fingers more closely together, pressing his mouth to Sherlock’s ear to mutter filthy encouragement to him, while Sherlock’s breathing grows short and ragged and, at the last, stops entirely.
A second later his cock starts to pulse in John’s hand, the spasms strong and steady, and Sherlock draws tense as a bowstring. He pushes his open mouth against their twined hands, his teeth just this side of painful on John’s knuckles, but the moment he’s finished he collapses back against John with a long groan of pleasure and relief. John gentles his touch on Sherlock’s cock, and kisses his hair as he murmurs ‘Good?’
John’s only reply is another groan and the slow, sensual squirm of Sherlock against him.
‘Come on, then.’ Sherlock’s hand unclenches from the sheet and he reaches down to pull John’s hand away from his groin. ‘You’re lagging.’
John wipes his hand briefly on Sherlock’s pyjama top, avoiding the part where Sherlock’s come is already soaking into it, and grips Sherlock’s hip. God, he really, really needs to come now, and his fingers dig in as he thrusts into the tight, hot space between Sherlock’s thighs. The head of his cock rubs up against the back of Sherlock’s balls, and Sherlock gives big, lazy rumbles of approval as he grinds back against John. John is aware of him unlinking their hands, and then a moment later Sherlock’s noises grow muffled as he slides John’s index and middle fingers into his mouth and starts to suck on them.
‘Fuck,’ John swears, collapsing back down and pressing his face to the back of Sherlock’s shoulder as he thrusts harder. Sherlock’s tongue slides over and around and between his fingers, Sherlock’s thighs are tense and slick and perfect around his cock, and he groans loudly as he comes, finally, fingers clenching hard enough to bruise on the pale skin of Sherlock’s hip.
Sherlock holds his position while John gasps and shudders through it, but when John’s grip loosens then Sherlock relaxes, heaving a bone-deep sigh and letting John’s fingers slide out of his mouth. He presses a last messy kiss to John’s knuckles, and then John has to pull his hand away to grip Sherlock quickly and stop him rolling forward.
John grabs the pyjama top and shoves it perfunctorily between Sherlock’s thighs to clean him up, and when John releases him Sherlock flops onto his stomach, pushing his arms up toward the headboard and stretching until his muscles crack. He gives a luxuriant, sleepy groan, clearly fading fast, and once John has finished wiping himself down he drops the abused pyjama top over the side of the bed and tweaks Sherlock’s ear.
‘Oi. No falling back to sleep.’
Sherlock rolls his head loosely, just enough to squint one eye at John. ‘Why? There are no cases on. Nothing to get up for.’
John tuts. ‘That’s a dreadful thing to say, today of all days.’
Sherlock narrows his eye and John looks at him – pillow creases on his face and sleep in his one visible eye and dandelion-clock bed-hair – and a sudden surge of tenderness makes him lean down and kiss Sherlock’s flushed cheek. ‘Happy birthday, gorgeous.’
Sherlock’s expression softens at this and he rolls over to face John properly.
‘Did you think I’d forgotten?’ John continues. ‘I bet you did, you wanker, you’ve no faith in me at all. But, flattering as that assessment of my character is, I’m afraid I’m going to have to deprive you of your lie-in. We’re on a schedule.’ He snaps the sheets and blankets back and takes a second to admire the view before poking Sherlock’s hip. ‘Come on, get up and get your arse into the shower.’
‘Where are we going?’ Sherlock demands, not moving, before looking hopeful. ‘Bart’s morgue?’
‘Because nothing says “I love you” like a fresh cadaver,’ John says affectionately, but quickly shakes his head before Sherlock before starts to look too enthusiastic. He smiles at Sherlock fondly, amusedly. ‘I’m touched that you think I’d come out and tell you just like that. It’s like you don’t know me at all. Come on.’
John deftly prods Sherlock in the ribs again, right where Sherlock is sensitive, and Sherlock jumps and glares at John.
‘I thought that tradition dictated that you had to be nice to someone on their birthday.’
John grins. ‘Yeah. Because you’re such a supporter of tradition.’
That’s not entirely fair; on John’s last birthday they’d been in Marseilles, on a case, and John woke up on the morning they were due to leave to find that Sherlock had extended their stay for a couple of days. He followed John tranquilly while they wandered at leisure around all the places previously glimpsed from the window of a speeding taxi; he saw the sights without a murmur of complaint, and lingered for hours over lunches and dinners, and was generally so calm and docile that John started to harbour dark suspicions of returning to London to find that one of Sherlock’s unattended experiments had done something dreadful to the flat.
Now Sherlock gets out of bed – unable to resist the lure of a good mystery – and John goes to make coffee. It’s more for himself than Sherlock; once Sherlock sees where they’re going then it’s going to be more of a case of restraining him than energising him.
Lestrade is waiting outside NSY when the taxi pulls up, and Sherlock shoots John a narrow-eyed glance as he gets out and strides over to him. John lingers only to get the change from the taxi driver and tip him before following; left to himself Sherlock would dispense extravagantly large tips everywhere he goes simply because he so often can’t be bothered to wait for change.
‘I assumed that you would have texted if there was a case,’ he catches Sherlock saying, ‘so obviously it’s not that.’
‘Obviously not.’ Lestrade would hardly be human if he didn’t enjoy having one up on Sherlock Holmes, and he glances at John as he approaches. ‘Hello.’
‘Hi.’ John returns his boyish grin. ‘All set?’
‘Yeah. If anyone asks, I’m in a meeting to–’ the quotes are almost audible, ‘–“improve relations between the department and its external liaisons.”’
He looks like a boy playing truant from school and John laughs. ‘Excellent.’
‘Would either of you care to enlighten me?’
Sherlock’s tone is a little austere, and John turns to him.
‘Lestrade,’ he says, savouring the moment of revelation and watching Sherlock’s face carefully, ‘has arranged for us to have a look around the Black Museum.’
Sherlock’s brows lift and he turns to Lestrade. ‘You’ve been telling me for years that it’s not possible to get in there.’
‘Yeah, well.’ Lestrade smiles at him. ‘Happy birthday. Congratulations on not being killed by any of my lot for another year. Long may it continue.’
And Sherlock glowers at him from under his eyebrows, but murmurs ‘Thank you,’ in a not entirely ungracious tone of voice.
In the museum, as John imagined, Sherlock darts off to examine the nearest case while John and Lestrade follow at a more leisurely pace.
‘The curator’s on leave,’ Lestrade says, watching Sherlock practically flatten himself against a case to get a better look, like a child outside a sweet shop. ‘I had to swear that this visit was for an important visitor who couldn’t reschedule for another day, and that I’d take personal responsibility for the place while we were here.’ He adds, as an afterthought: ‘Not to mention that sparing her from Himself’s particular type of enthusiasm might be the kindest thing all round. It wouldn’t do for him to get thrown out of here on his birthday, after all.’
‘No,’ John agrees, watching Sherlock’s coat-tails flick as he whisks from one display to another.
All in all, it’s a fascinating couple of hours: the museum is tiny but Sherlock examines the items as closely as he can from the other side of a pane of glass, calling John over to point out various minor details. He’s fascinated by Charles Black’s printing plates, and peers up at the row of Newgate prison death masks on their high shelf with keen attention. Some parts of it are a bit much even for John; he turns away from Dennis Nilsen’s case feeling faintly sickened, and Sherlock at least has the sense to keep any remarks over Nilsen’s originality to himself.
‘It’s pretty grim when you see it all together, isn’t it?’ Lestrade says, catching sight of John’s expression. ‘They bring trainees down here; sort of a lesson on the various horrible ways people have thought up to kill each other. Here. Look at these, they’re from the nineteenth century.’
He leads John over to a display of what look like ordinary Victorian walking sticks but, upon closer inspection, turn out to be canes with a blade concealed in the shaft of the stick. They’re impressive, both as concealed weapons and also as works of art, since some of them are inlaid with silver and mother-of-pearl. In another life John could quite fancy one of them; certainly they’re miles better than the horrible grey plastic thing he was given by the NHS, and he wonders if perhaps, when age starts to make its presence felt…
‘I’m sure we can find you something better-made than those,’ Sherlock says, coming up behind him. ‘Look, you can see the join on that one. We’ll get you a better one.’
John laughs. ‘Then you’re going to have to teach me how to fence so I don’t end up putting my own eye out.’
Sherlock’s hand is ghost-light in the small of his back. ‘Done.’
‘In case I forgot to mention it,’ Lestrade’s voice is heavy with irony, ‘these things are all highly illegal these days. So I’ll be taking an interest in any walking aids that might arrive in your old age.’
John grins at him. ‘Understood.’
The museum is small, albeit densely packed with artefacts, and eventually – after longer than John could have imagined anyone could entertain themselves with the contents of a few medium-sized rooms – even Sherlock announces that he’s done.
‘Unless you have the keys to the display cabinets?’ he asks, but Lestrade shakes his head and Sherlock falls silent, clearly choosing not to mention the soft, calfskin roll of lockpicks that he usually secretes in one of his capacious coat pockets whenever he leaves the flat.
They say their goodbyes outside the museum. Sherlock’s cheeks are still flushed with schoolboy giddiness and his enthusiasm has even infected Lestrade, who has a smile playing about the corners of his mouth.
‘See you around, then.’ Lestrade shoves his hands in his pockets, jingling at some loose change distractedly. ‘Although not too soon, I hope.’
Sherlock snorts a little at this, but lets it pass without comment and instead holds out his hand.
‘Thank you,’ he says, his tone almost warm as Lestrade clasps his hand. ‘That was fascinating.’
‘You’re welcome.’ Lestrade manages to keep the surprise out of his voice. ‘Glad you liked it. And likewise. I mean, I think I could have lived without hearing Haigh’s equipment called “ingenious”, but on the whole… yeah. Wouldn’t have missed it.’ He sticks his hand back in his pocket and clears his throat. ‘Happy birthday, then.’
And with no more than this, he nods at John and heads back to his office, and Sherlock and John start to stroll away. After a couple of minutes Sherlock turns to John, who smiles up at him and says ‘Good?’
‘Marvellous.’ In the orange glow of the streetlights Sherlock’s skin looks back to its usual pallor, but his eyes sparkle. ‘Thank you.’
Sherlock stops walking, stepping in close to John and taking his hand before bringing it up to brush his closed lips across John’s knuckles. The leather of Sherlock’s gloves is cool and smooth against John’s bare fingers and Sherlock’s lips are faintly chapped; it’s an odd, rather old-fashioned gesture that arrests John’s attention and Sherlock’s breath warms his fingers as he says ‘That was an utterly glorious way to spend an afternoon.’
‘You’re welcome.’ John winds their fingers together and rubs his thumb across the back of Sherlock’s hand; temporarily icy hands are an acceptable exchange for prolonging this moment of Sherlock in a rare demonstrative mood. ‘I’m glad you liked it.’
‘I did.’ Sherlock steps closer again, tucking them against the wall while the occasional pedestrian hurries past them, intent on getting home; it’s a cold night and only madmen like them would dally outside, lingering and exchanging fond words as though it were a balmy summer’s afternoon. Sherlock tucks John’s cold hands inside his coat – under his jacket and over his shirt, close enough to soak up Sherlock’s warmth – and takes a gentle grip on John’s coat lapels as he purrs: ‘Let me take you to dinner.’ His hands slide down to John’s waist, intent clear in his touch. ‘And then take you home.’
John reluctantly extracts a hand to check the time. ‘Yes to the second part of that plan and yes in theory to the first, but only if said dinner consists of a sandwich in that Pret over the road.’
Sherlock’s voice is sharply inquisitive, but he shifts accommodatingly to allow John to tuck his hand back inside; John flexes his fingers in pleasure at the warmth, and says ‘My inside jacket pocket.’
Sherlock gives him a dry look at this role reversal, but he obligingly burrows his hand into the inside pocket of John’s coat and extracts the two tickets that John squirreled away in there while Sherlock was finishing his coffee earlier that afternoon. They’re for a classical concert at the Royal Festival Hall, a concert that John knows to be sold out.
He’d seen the artist’s name in Sherlock’s music collection and last autumn – after reading an article that spoke of her upcoming UK tour – he’d almost fallen over himself to bookmark the ticketing website link. He’d been checking it daily, waiting for them to go on sale, until his patience was rewarded.
Sherlock glances at the information on the small rectangles of card, and when he reaches the artist’s name his lips part and he looks gratifyingly pole-axed.
‘But this… I looked at this weeks ago and tickets were gone!’
‘Well I looked at it months ago,’ John says, sleekly pleased with himself, palms still pressed to Sherlock’s chest and fingers splayed to soak up as much heat as possible. ‘I started checking the booking site back in September.’
Sherlock still looks amazed, and John says wonderingly ‘My God, this feeling of self-satisfaction: is this how you feel all the time? Because that would explain a hell of a lot about–’
Sherlock’s kiss swallows the rest of that sentence, and John kisses him back and generously allows that the gesture might have more to do with affection than a desire to shut him up.
‘Thank you.’ Sherlock touches the side of John’s throat with his fingers, the precious tickets still clutched in his other hand and a look on his face as though he can’t believe that John is really real.
‘Yeah, well.’ John can’t look at him suddenly, and busies himself with fishing his gloves out of his pocket and tugging them on. ‘Just thought you might like it.’
‘I do.’ Sherlock’s smile – his real smile, not the one he uses when he’s trying to cajole information out of witnesses – could light up the street, and John can’t help but smile back at him.
‘Best get going,’ John says. ‘Let’s get something to eat at the Hall; it wouldn’t do to be late.’
And as Sherlock whirls around and strides off to flag down a taxi, John laughs to himself. He doesn’t know anyone else who’d want gore and crime for a birthday gift, but the look on Sherlock’s face says that this is easily one of his best birthdays ever.
‘Coming,’ John says, and allows Sherlock to shepherd him into the taxi, barely waiting until John is inside to swing the door closed and tell the driver to get underway. The taxi pulls away, streetlights dancing shadows across the back seat, and John glances across at Sherlock’s profile, loving the smile at the corner of his mouth and the way Sherlock’s hand stretches across the seat to brush against John’s thigh. He can’t wait to see what the next year with this extraordinary man will bring.