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A Brand of Gold

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This was not how the night was supposed to go.

John Watson sank onto his bed at The Steward’s Cross and surveyed the room with a dismay bordering on unease. He’d been expecting a stay at the Fairmont Royal Crown, a sleek, modern hotel in the heart of Glasgow, but even if he could have anticipated the change, the cozy claustrophobia of the B&B—part Anne of Green Gables, part Norman Bates—would have unnerved him.

He’d met Lucy Blundstone two months earlier, at a local do sponsored by the British Medical Association and they’d hit it off at once. Since then he’d been pursuing her long distance, mostly through text and social media—he was shit on the phone, really—and tonight, at the Glasgow BMA summit, they’d had plans to meet back up and see where the evening took them.

Where John had seen it taking them was back to his room at the Royal Crown. He’d planned to steal her away from the afterparty with tipsy snogs and feather-light caresses and, ultimately—God, yes—a glorious shag. And then whatever came next. The start of something new, he’d hoped.

What he had not expected was this: a mistake with his credit card, a lost reservation, and an expensive taxi ride miles away from the post-conference action to a quiet, homely room where he now sat atop a twin bed with a lumpy, handmade coverlet, surrounded by an army of china figurines.

What he had also not expected was this: to be one of many Lucy was pursuing.

After the summit, he’d scanned the hotel bar eagerly only to find her at the center of a group of men, each vying for her attention. John cringed whilst remembering his eager approach, all smiles and swagger, stopping short when Lucy fluttered her fingers at him in mild recognition before turning back to her assembly and ignoring him completely.

And now, alone at the B&B, his chilled bottle of Chateau St. Sulpice looked especially sad dunked into the tin flower bucket he’d filched from the front hall and filled with melting chunks of ice. The bucket was drooling condensation, leaving a terrific ring on the antique wooden washstand but John couldn’t bring himself to care. Instead, he sat and cataloged his emotions, ticking them off one by one in preparation to cork them up again.

Making matters worse, John thought Mother Nature might be mocking him, too. A gentle wind whispered seductively through his open window, billowing the curtains inward like Salome removing her veils. Crickets chorused outside, their tricky, metallic song lulling and rhythmic. He could hear the ticks and creaks of The Steward’s Cross settling around him, comfortable noises that urged him to pull a sheet up around his ears and give in to sleep now that the other little death was not forthcoming.

John could not remember the last time he had felt this lonely. 

Back in London, there’d been plenty to distract him, to fool him into thinking he was surrounded by light and noise and purpose. Most recently, his ugly but bloodless divorce, and before that, The Fall. John swallowed. Even now, years away from the sight of his best friend’s skull cracked on the pavement like an imploded star, John could not keep his heart and stomach from switching places when he thought of it, a roller coaster plunge of fear and darkness.

He leaned onto one hip and wriggled his phone out of his back pocket. It was almost fully charged. He’d splurged on a battery extender to be sure he’d have access to Lucy’s texts throughout the conference but it had been a stupid expense after all. His message queue was void, mocking. John had never been a truly social man—he was prone to fits of bad temper and black humor—but he had a few mates: Mike, his rugby lads, even Greg when he wanted to complain about his barking flatmate over a pint. But now he gave no thought to any of them. He resigned himself to craving companionship from the person least likely to properly supply it.

He tapped out a message then erased it—too desperate. Composed another and erased it as well—God, he was pathetic when trying to be jovial. When his third attempt threatened hysteria, John furiously backspaced and then wrote the simplest plea he could muster, sending it off before he could think twice.

Hi.

Three dots danced in response almost immediately and relief coursed over John.

Alright? SH

Yeah. Just checking up.

You’re maudlin. SH

A stab in the dark but a good one. Sherlock Holmes bordered on spooky sometimes but this wasn’t mysticism, it was timing; John, texting too in early the evening. He should be drinking, dancing, conversing, seducing. Instead, he was trapped in a chintz nightmare, chatting with a madman. John shook his head.

I’m fine, Sherlock, really. Just wanted to see how the case is going.

Solved. Three hours ago. His dentist did it. SH

That was fast.  What happened to the victim?

Poison introduced into the gumline of the back molars while Jorgensen was under anaesthesia. It released gradually into his bloodstream, stopping his heart hours later. SH

Wow. What gave it away?

Ceramic filling colour was slightly darker than the rest of his teeth. Obvious. SH

Bloody fantastic!

Not for Jorgensen. SH

John laughed. Had his sense of humor always been this morbid or had it grown darker as his friendship with Sherlock progressed? He wasn’t sure he cared either way— he was starting to feel better for the first time all night.

No, I suppose not, he typed.

John toed off his brown leather shoes, not bothering to undo the laces, and then cracked each big toe against the opposite ankle before sitting crossed-legged on the edge of the bed.

What have you been doing since? Not paperwork, I assume.

Drinking. SH

He stared at the word. If Sherlock Holmes were the joking sort, John would have assumed he was having a go. Instead, John floundered for a response that wasn’t insulting. Or revealing. Alone? he wanted to ask.

Did Greg insist on toasting your fast work?

Who? SH

LESTRADE!

Oh. Yes. I agreed to one drink but now Donovan is holding my wallet hostage until something called a “buttery nipple” appears. So far, I have pickpocketed Lestrade’s badge, gun, cigarettes, and keys to keep busy. SH

John laughed out loud at this, too, missing London—missing Sherlock—more than ever. He imagined the scene: an odd swirl of aggressive camaraderie and in the middle, tall and haughty, Sherlock Holmes, his pockets full of stolen bounty, sneering at a drink best enjoyed by a tipsy American on spring break.

Wish I could see all that!

It would be less tedious if you were here. SH

John smiled down at the phone as if Sherlock could see him.

I suppose I could pour a glass and join you from afar. I had a pint earlier but there’s room for more.

John tossed his phone onto the bed and got up, rolling his sore shoulder whilst he made his way to the washstand. He pulled the sweating bottle of wine from the makeshift ice bucket and held it aloft, mopping condensation from the glass and the wood beneath with a copy of the Telegraph.

The earnest young man at the off-license had insisted that screw-top wines were currently the height of hipness and John had been grateful. The wine itself wasn’t extravagantly priced but adding in the cost of a corkscrew that he could operate without making a fool of himself was out of the question. He was even more grateful now while he cracked the metal seal and took a bracing swig directly from the bottle. It was a crisp white—not the pint he would have preferred but dry, strong, citrusy. Good enough.

The air had cooled considerably in the past quarter hour, a breeze rattling the loose windowpanes, and John considered closing the windows against the chill but then thought about the simple joy of falling asleep under the soft, heavy duvet and left it. He drank again, then set the bottle on the nightstand atop a doily he hoped wasn’t an antique and leaned back against the pillows. He picked up his phone and the wine turned sour in his throat immediately.

Ah. SH

Things didn’t go well with the blonde, I take it. SH

To be expected. You were an idiot to think she’d choose you from her harem. SH

John frowned and tapped out his response.

Thanks a lot. I do so love being kicked when I’m down.

She is a gold digger, John, and you are the wrong sort of gold. SH

It may seem unfortunate now but it has saved you some frustration down the road, I assure you. SH

He rolled his eyes.

Great. Relationship advice from a self-proclaimed sociopath. What sort of gold am I, then?

Heart of, etc. You deserve more. SH

John felt something go loose in his arms and legs. This was classic Sherlock—a near-compliment buried in a tangle of insults—but something about the phrasing was odd. Almost affectionate. John shook it off. Trying to deduce Sherlock Holmes from a text message was a fool’s errand.

Isn’t that the sort typically reserved for hookers?

If you managed a snog, I’d advise checking your pockets for extra change. SH

He laughed out loud yet again.

Pocket change!? You think so little of my sexual prowess.

Wouldn’t you be more disturbed if I thought a lot of it? SH

Too right, John began to type but then he paused, his thumb hovering over the “send” button.

He could play that game, certainly—pretend not to have had those thoughts in connection to Sherlock—but somehow it seemed rude to say so, even if Sherlock had been the one to suggest it first.

John backspaced and tried again, his head beginning to swim from the wine.

If you thought a lot of it…or thought of it a lot?

He blinked down at his phone; that message was a bit cheekier than he’d intended. Too late now. John took a drink whilst the three dots danced. He managed two more healthy swigs without the next line of text appearing. Sherlock was either considering his words carefully or he was starting to feel the effects of the buttery nipple. John found he was eager to see the response either way.

While he waited, a new text alert banner appeared at the top of his screen:

Can you two quit gabbing like girls for a sec? We want a group photo but he won’t stop texting long enough to look up. <Greg>

 John grinned down at the phone and switched back to his conversation with Sherlock.

You’re not getting your wallet until you agree to that photo. You know that, right?

The response was immediate.

I could have stolen it back an hour ago. SH

Yeah, but you didn’t. So, now take the photo and get on with it.

Dull. SH

John waited it out.

FINE. SH

He switched his attention back to Greg.

He’s all yours. Try not to get him bladdered or he’ll puke in my chair.

No promises, mate <Greg>

John threw his phone down by his feet and stretched, joints popping loudly in the quiet room. He snuggled back into the pillows, scrunching his shoulders into the downy softness and crossing his arms over his chest. Though he was all alone in Scotland, away from friends and colleagues having a night out, he felt better after having chatted with Sherlock. Calmer. He didn’t want to focus too closely on what that said about him. Through the open window, John could see the beginnings of a beautiful evening sky—indigo and fire dotted with faint pinpricks of starlight—and he sighed deeply, wishing it were the backdrop of a wild dash across London rooftops instead.

John glanced at his watch. Not even half-seven and he was edging toward restlessness at an alarming pace. Now that the conference was finished and he’d had his share of lectures and keynotes and mingling, John couldn’t face reviewing his files or even turning his laptop back on. Plenty of time for that on the train back home in the morning. Instead, he scanned the small built-in bookshelf for a reasonable title amongst the battered paperbacks.

The Devil She Knew.

Breath of Eden.

Forever in Satin.

John snorted. Jesus. Not even a James Patterson or an ancient Stephen King to entertain him until he could fall asleep. He leaned off the edge of the bed and slid The Seafarer from the shelf with his index finger. The back was torn off but the front cover promisingly displayed a second-rate schooner and an innocuous serif script. John scooted backward on the bed and nestled into the pillows, flipping past the copyright and dedication pages.

Lady Margaret Delacroix sighed with pleasure as Juan, her pirate lover, nipped playfully at—

“For fuck’s sake,” John barked, tossing the paperback onto the floor. He rubbed his hands over his face, torn between laughing and yelling with frustration.

Was the entire world out to get him then?

He’d been doing his best to treat this failed venture with good humor: he’d left the hotel bar without fuss or confrontation, he’d not sent Lucy an accusatory text, he’d admitted defeat. Now, he was stuck with bodice rippers and frilly curtains as his reward for taking the high road whilst his erstwhile date was off snogging half of Scotland and his mad genius flatmate was boozing about London without him.

This was really, really not how the night was supposed to go.

John was just eyeing the soggy but legible Telegraph in desperation when his phone pinged. He lunged for it with gratitude.

//Photo attachment 2 MB// <Greg>

John tapped the message icon to open the picture.

Lestrade's happy face at the forefront was white as a vampire from flash exposure, his mouth open and one arm extended to snap the photo. Next to him Donovan smirked with two junior inspectors, Foster and McDonaghey, their eyes wide and unfocused. And behind them all, looking bored and arrogant, Sherlock Holmes. Even with his mouth twisted in a moue of disgust, even with every angle of his body radiating discomfort, Sherlock was posh and polished and John hated him a little for it. How could someone so alien and aloof still look very nearly like he belonged, like an otherwise flawless drawing just barely smudged by a thumbprint?  John was still eyeing his best friend’s uncanny good looks when his message alert sounded, startling him.

I’m surrounded by morons and drunkards. SH

John smiled and shook his head whilst he thumbed his reply.

At least you managed to stay above it all. Nice photo, by the way.

Delete that, please. SH

Wouldn’t dream of it. Bored and sober? A dangerous combination.

I didn’t say I was sober. SH

John’s eyebrows shot up.

Really?

I didn’t say I was bored, either. SH

You’re always bored, Sherlock.

Not true. SH .

Funny, you always seem bored when I’m around.

I’m least likely to be bored when you’re around. SH

John’s heart sped up. That was—well, John wasn’t sure what that was. It sounded like a compliment—maybe even an honest one, if Sherlock was inebriated enough to drop the affectation for a moment—and it was so unexpected that John rushed to fill the gap before Sherlock retreated again.

I stand corrected. Excited and drunk? A dangerous combination.

Three dots. Stop

Three dots. Stop

John realized he was holding his breath. He forced himself to let it go. When he did, the three dots began again.

On my way home. SH

John felt a flash of disappointment.

Thought you were writing a novel there for a moment.

No response. No dots.

Sherlock, you okay?

Yes, John. I can manage to walk several blocks without a virtual bodyguard. SH

John frowned, palming his phone and then flipping it in circles by its edge. He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting—this was the Sherlock he knew and tolerated best—but he felt let down, regardless. John sighed and turned the phone upright once again. He backed out of his message history with Sherlock and scrolled through the last few texts he’d exchanged with Lucy.

THURS - 8:03 PM can’t wait for a spin on the dance floor!!! we’ll show up those surgery gits!!! {xo - Luce}

THURS - 8:04 PM What if I peek at your knickers whilst you’re twirling?

THURS - 8:05 PM i’d expect nothing less!!! {xo - Luce}

THURS - 8:05 PM What if I sneak a hand up as well?

THURS - 8:11 PM just wait and see!!! {xo - Luce}

John knew he hadn’t been crazy, that he’d read Lucy’s flirtations correctly, but he still felt foolish for looking forward to this weekend with such eagerness, for assuming he’d be wooing her in his room, plying her with wine and witty banter at the end of the night. He took another long pull from the bottle, tilting his head back to ease the flow of alcohol—was he that close to the end of it?—and his head spun a little when he tilted upright again.

The thing was, he reasoned, it wasn’t about getting off. Not exactly. He liked Lucy but if he examined his part of the misunderstanding more closely, yes, the mortification was there—he hadn’t imagined that—but it was tinged with something else. Something deeper, poking at a darker shame that ribboned through him.

Was he that desperate? Reaching for someone who didn’t reach back, just because she’d seemed like the best hope he had? And now that he’d given up without a fight, well, what did that say about his interest to begin with? He’d traveled to fucking Scotland to give this a go and here he was, in full surrender, without so much as an attempt to understand why.

You know why.

John felt a sense of despair creep around the edges of his consciousness, thick and suffocating. He shook it off at once; it was just the alcohol attempting to squeeze emotion out of an emotionless situation, that’s all. Intoxiwhinging, that’s what Harry used to call it when she would bawl drunkenly into his neck over another botched relationship.

It’s not that he hadn’t been interested in Lucy, he reasoned with himself. Of course he had—she was pretty, vivacious, flirtatious as hell. But she was missing something vital.

Or perhaps...it was John who was missing it.

It seemed his acquiescence was something he could only see through wine-colored glasses. Somehow, deep down—and he truly understood that this wasn’t self- deprecation—he knew this had always been a lost cause.

Not Lucy. Him.

Maybe...

God.

Maybe he was desperate to connect to her because she was his best hope of staying unconnected. Maybe because he was already connected—

Ping

John jumped at the noise but tapped the text banner immediately, eager to ignore his brutal self-examination by any means necessary.

When I was twelve, Mycroft taught me how to choose scotch and suits by price and origin. I hate that I still do. SH

You’re buying a suit at 7:30 on a Friday? :)

Hmm. Perhaps the off-license was a bad idea if I am laughing at your jokes. SH

John smiled and typed.

Just admit that you find me charming.

Three dots. Stop

Three dots. Stop

John didn’t want to wait through another quarter hour of silence so he typed again.

I’d forge ahead with the scotch. You probably need something to get the taste of buttery nipple out of your mouth.

Not a phrase one reads every day. Thankfully. SH

I’m not wrong.

No, you’re not. That was a repugnant enterprise. SH

What part?

All of it, really. SH

But it would have been better if I’d been there?

John was fishing; he couldn’t help it.

Three dots. Stop

Three dots. Stop

Three dots. Stop

And then:

This is the best part of my night so far. SH

John felt his face go warm, pliant, crossed with a sloppy grin.

What am I doing? he wondered. The answer came back at once:

Flirting.

He sank deeper into the pillows, let the mist and blur of the wine settle around him, let it shore up his nerves and dim the warning signals that flashed dully in the back of his mind. He let the rest of the disappointment about Lucy and his strange accommodations and about the weekend as a whole fade into obscurity. He let the vital, missing piece snap into place as surely and as cleanly as if it had always been there.

He was flirting with Sherlock Holmes.

So far? he typed, still grinning.

You might say something else to amuse me. SH

Like what?

You could forward the texts you thought were sweeping Miss Blundstone off her feet. That would be quite amusing. SH

I never told you her last name, Sherlock. When are you going to stop breaking into my phone?

When you stop using such obvious passcodes. SH

John shook his head. It was impossible to stay mad at Sherlock when he was being himself. It was even more impossible when John wasn’t really mad to begin with.

What’s on for the rest of the night, then? You’ve got scotch (or perhaps a new suit)…

Three dots. Stop

Three dots. Stop

John held his breath.

I’ve got plans with someone. SH

John’s grin disappeared at once. He pushed back against the pillows, struggling to sit upright. What the hell was he supposed to say to that? What could he say to that? He stared down at his phone as if it would reveal the proper response. It was not forthcoming.

John began to type:

Why the hell didn’t you—

Backspace.

Since when—

Backspace.

Who’s the lucky—

His fingers fumbled as he tried for nonchalance. He was aware that Sherlock was now seeing his own dancing dots so he struggled to type something quickly lest Sherlock think he was struggling to type at all. Lest he think John cared one way or another.

When the cat’s away, eh? You should have told me, I’d have cleared out sooner.

Spur of the moment, really. SH

John gritted his teeth. Even my sociopathic flatmate is having more luck than I am, he thought balefully. But he knew that wasn’t the source of his distress, knew full well why he felt hot and cold all at once. He couldn’t stop his fingers from fumbling across the surface of his phone.

Someone you chatted up at the pub, then?

In a manner of speaking. SH

Someone I’ve met?

Would you like me to provide you with a full dossier, John? SH

John felt himself flush. Right, then.

Nope, just being nosy. I’ll sign off, shall I? Don’t get arrested.

Why would I get arrested? SH

I don’t know. Showing off, solving a murder, shooting someone.

Is that what you do on first dates? SH

John thought back to their beginning, all the way back to the pink case and the bad bottle and the dead cabbie. The man he shot for Sherlock Holmes. John’s flush deepened.

Maybe it is, he thought. 

He couldn’t type that response, certainly, but he couldn’t think of another, so he let his phone fall onto the bedcovers and stared down at Sherlock’s last message until the screen went dark. Then he leaned over and grabbed the Chateau St. Sulpice, downing a quarter of the bottle in one go, pushing down errant thoughts of Harry’s history and his own slippery parallels whilst he did.

He had just closed his eyes, had just started to let the second, larger disappointment of the night swallow him, when his phone pinged.

John? SH

Yep.

He could hear the pettiness he’d typed into that one word so he tried again.

Are you headed out soon?

Too brisk. I thought I’d use the flat. SH

John felt his face sour into a grimace. His tongue felt tingly though he couldn’t have said whether it was from the wine or the numbness that was spreading through him. He typed with fingers that no longer belonged to him, barely aware that he was sitting ramrod straight, shoulders aching from typing his response with arms lifted in mid-air.

Brilliant.

Sherlock was blissfully silentno, worryingly silentfor a moment. John tapped his phone against his leg, his knee, his bottom lip. He wracked his brain for something to say, some way of continuing the conversation. Some way to

Sabotage? John stopped tapping.

His phone pinged again.

So, is that what you do on dates? SH

He fought his way back to the conversation, trying to follow whatever Holmesian logic was at play, admonishing and congratulating himself on the skill.

Shoot someone? Not usually, no. I just start with talking.

I meant show off. SH

Sort of the same thing with you, though, yeah?

Perhaps. SH

What do you say? SH

John thought about reminding Sherlock that he was talking to someone who had just struck out quite spectacularly—twice, really, he thought— but decided the less attention focused on that fact, the better.

Are you asking me seriously?

Obviously. SH

Why me? I haven’t had a proper date in months. No thanks to you, by the way.

Jesus, he thought, I can’t even get this right.

I assumed a nickname of “Three Continents” meant you had a modicum of experience, your latest efforts notwithstanding. SH

John barely recognized the high, incredulous laughter as his own.

I seriously don’t know whether to be chuffed or humiliated right now. How the hell did you hear that?

Irrelevant. SH

We are coming back to that, mind you. In the meantime, you’re overthinking this. Just be yourself, Sherlock.

I anticipated you’d suggest the opposite. SH

Well, I might not start off with thumbs in the crisper drawer but your person’s obviously interested if they agreed to the date so I’m sure you’ll come up with something.

Such as?

John looked down at his phone in horror, understanding and dread hitting him in equal measure.

You’re asking me to feed you lines for your first date?

Yes. SH

Please. SH

I’ll keep body parts away from the kitchen for a month. SH

The corner of John’s mouth turned up.

He thought back to Sherlock’s return from the dead, to his terrible laughter ringing through the abandoned Tube car after switching off a bomb and covering it up as a joke. John recalled reluctantly joining in, his inability to keep this mad idiot from charming him, no matter how many times Sherlock proved his inhumanity. John gave himself up for lost.

Fine. But the moment you call me Cyrano, we’re done here.

Wouldn’t dream of it. SH

John smiled at Sherlock mirroring his earlier text.

And then he waited. He’d agreed to participate in this madness but he sure as hell wasn’t starting the whole thing off.

John? SH

Oh, I see. SH

Three dots. Stop

Three dots. Stop

What are you wearing? SH

John burst out laughing, nearly dropping his phone.

Wow.

Not good? SH

A bit not good, yeah. And maybe a little obvious.

What’s obvious? SH

Will you ask if my legs are tired next? If it hurt when I fell from heaven?

Why would I ask such idiotic questions? SH

He’d deleted the solar system. Of course he’d deleted this, too.

“What are you wearing” is the oldest pickup line there is.

I simply wanted to know if I’ll be forced visualize one of your hideous jumpers. SH

Why are you visualizing me at all? Shouldn’t you be visualizing him or her?

Mind palace, John. I’m studying dating tropes, anticipating expectations. Learning the rhythm of dialogue. SH

You’re memorizing how to chat someone up, you mean?

Precisely. SH

And “him.” SH

John swallowed audibly. Okay, then. One question properly answered.

He tried not to imagine the type of man to have caught Sherlock Holmes’s attention but before he could suffocate them, the images arose: fit, aristocratic, brilliant. Someone deserving.

Surely, given the choice, Sherlock would date someone much like himself. Wouldn’t he?

God knows I would.

John frowned and shook that thought away.

Well, perhaps you could start with something simple. Ask how the trip was.

I’ve been to Scotland. Craggy. Damp. Full of sheep. SH

John barked out a laugh.

The trip over to the flat, you git.

Boring. SH

Did you actually want help, or…?

Sorry. I meant, “Do go on.” SH

It’s your go.

Three dots. Stop

Three dots. Stop

John braced himself for an argument. But then—

How was your trip? SH

He smiled.

Brilliant, thanks for asking. A lovely evening for a stroll.

Train. SH

Sorry?

It’s a train ride over. SH

Sherlock.

Followed by approximately twelve minutes of brisk walking. SH

Sherlock.

What? SH

This isn’t working.

Isn’t it? Why isn’t it? You told me to be myself but now you’re reprimanding me. SH

John squeezed the phone to mime wringing that long neck.

You should be yourself, you giant tit, but maybe start with some general niceties. Warm him up a bit before you start in on the nitpicking and the general dickishness. Give him a chance to like you.

Ah, yes. SH

Before he no longer does, you mean. SH

John stared down at the phone, feeling his jaw slacken in shame.

Of course that’s not what I mean!

No? SH

No! I just mean give him a chance. Full stop.

And that was it, wasn’t it? That was the most John could offer. Free reign to let someone else weave his way into their lives and possibly—probably—between them. After all of John’s clumsy attempts to forge a relationship with someone else, perhaps it was Sherlock’s turn. Who was he to be so selfish?

John took a steadying breath.

The train wasn’t very full tonight, he typed carefully. I got a whole row to myself.

So? SH

So, that’s why my—John stole a look downward—blue checked shirt and khaki trousers still look so nice.

Hmm. Is that the shirt I exchanged for the alarming red plaid? SH

Try again.

What? SH

Try that again.

John waited, jogging his knee up and down.

Oh. SH

Yes. Well, I’m sure you look fine. SH

Fine?

The blue of that shirt is four shades lighter than your eyes. You tend to wear it when you want to detract from dark circles and puffiness. SH

You’re trying to date this person, not profile him. Say something else. Something complimentary.

Your shirt mostly fits. SH

Except around the middle. SH

John’s nostrils flared.

I’m going to pretend you didn’t fucking say that. Look, are you having trouble talking because you know it’s me?

Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I know it’s you. SH

And I’m not having trouble talking. You just don’t like what I am saying. SH

I don’t know anyone who would like what you just said.

You’re right. This isn’t working. I apologize for wasting your time. SH

Wait!

John ran a hand through his hair, riled up in that particular way that only Sherlock could stimulate. Frustrated, climbing the walls, and yet completely engrossed.

I’m sorry. Blame the wine, you know I’m a mawkish drinker.

There was no response, no dots. John held his breath. He knew better than to push too hard, look too eager, but now he worried he’d blown his chance to have this conversation—this kind of conversation—no matter how fabricated.

Train not full, he typed again. Whole row to myself.

No dots.

Plenty of time to think about you. Seeing you, I mean.

After a moment, the dots began and John released a shaky breath.

I’ve been thinking about that, too. SH

John heard the caution in that response.

Have you? Care to share?

He took a small drink, trying to make the latter half of the bottle last since it seemed this conversation would age him several decades in one night.

I have been looking forward to tonight with no small measure of anticipation. SH

John washed down a spark of jealousy with another swallow of wine.

Me too, Sherlock, he replied, allowing himself for a brief, dangerous moment to step into another man’s shoes. And then, because no dots seemed forthcoming, John added even more truth to his statement.

It feels like a long time coming, this.

You’ve thought of it before now? SH

I think about it often. All the time, praticitcally.

John frowned down at his words.

Practically. Sorry.

Are you drunk? SH

Ah, no. Let’s go with pleasantly buzzed.

What’s the difference? SH

Well, spelling, for one thing, he typed. I’ll turn back on the autocorrect.

Don’t bother. Easier for me to track your progress this way. SH

My progress?

Into drunkenness. I’ll just look for mawkishness and misspellings. SH

John grinned.

Mad scientist even when prepping for a date, he thought. Got it.

What should I look for, then? Surely you’ve had a glass or two by now.

Three. And you’ve seen me inebriated. SH

True. Though not often enough to tell from your texts. Maybe we should do this more often so I don’t have to ask.

The dots began and then stopped again almost at once.

Whilst he waited, John considered the last time he witnessed Sherlock deeply, properly, deliciously in his cups. John’s stag night. He thought about tumblers of smoky whiskey and thick, loose laughter. About the slip of his own hand on a knobby knee and a feeling of heat and familiarity. Of rightness. He shivered.

But perhaps this was not the opportune moment to reference his ex-wife no matter how circuitously. If his and Sherlock’s lives were diagrammed, Mary deserved to be…the least amount of Venn possible. There were only the two of them, John and Sherlock, intimately overlapped.

The silence lasted long enough for John to realize that night had fallen completely. The cricket chorus was now a full orchestra. The wind had picked up enough to waft the curtains inward even more forcefully. They caressed the side of the damp bucket and stuck there, wrapped around the tin like lovers spooning under the sheets.

When the text came, it came at once, with no warning dots.  Typed with lightning fingers, must have been. As close to a spasm of speech as one could get, textually.

I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to make this work.

And then, before John could fumble through a reply:

I’m distracted from my Work by thoughts of you. Constantly. SH

John physically sat back, his shoulders hitting the pillows with the force of that statement.

Have you? That’s good. Lovely, in fact.

It’s really not. SH

Isn’t it? You don’t want this, then?

I do. SH

John bit his lower lip. To encourage or discourage? Gently, he, thought.

But?

But the stakes may be too high. SH

It’s a date, Sherlock, not the takedown of an international crime syndicate.

The stakes are lower than you’re imagining.

And if my feelings are not reciprocated? SH

John was up and off the bed in one move, feeling the room swing around him. This was Sherlock, vulnerable. Questioning himself. Was it wrong for John to ride this conversational wave, knowing it was directed elsewhere? Sherlock deserved whatever he wanted but he’d asked John to help him get there. This was shakier ground than he’d anticipated. The fact that he felt as though he’d stepped off a playground carousel was not helping. John held his spinning head in his tented fingers for a moment.

You know I can’t promise anything, he began. But anyone would be lucky to have this chance. To have your focus and attention.

He felt the braided mattress ticking dig into the backs of his knees like an anchor.

Even if it’s not reciprocated, Sherlock, you have nothing to lose by trying. This is how it’s done. You try, you hope, you win or lose.

Nothing. No dots.

Right, John thought. I’ve scared him off.

Perhaps it was time to switch back to fortified ground. Humor.

Well, I never thought I’d see the day. Sherlock Holmes, at a loss for words :)

I have the words, John. I’m just not certain I should say them. SH

John grimaced at the leap of his heart. His stupid heart, gusseted by even more stupid hope.

I’m certain you should.

Come on, Sherlock, you’ve absolutely nothing to lose with me, of all people.

Three dots

Three dots

Three dots

I have absolutely everything to lose with you, of all people. But that doesn’t seem to be stopping me. In fact, I am quite certain I cannot stop, even if I wanted to. Which I do not. SH

He frankly did not fucking care in that moment that he was meant to be playacting, that he was funneling his real emotions into a fake character and handing them over, thinly veiled, to the cleverest and most perceptive man he knew.

I wouldn’t want you to either. I don’t want you to.

Shit, he thought.

Shit, he typed.

He wouldn’t want you to, either, I mean.

Shit, he thought again.

I can’t tell how I am supposed to respond.

What do you mean, “supposed to”? Respond as you are. Respond as you would. SH

No, I mean I can’t tell if I am supposed to be responding as someone else or myself.

Oh. SH

Interesting. SH

John felt his face go hot.

And you need clarification. SH

No, he said. I’ve got it. I’m just trying to keep it straight.

That gave him pause, too.

I mean, not as straight as I’ve let on, apparently.

Apparently not. SH

Leave it to Sherlock to clutch pearls at being called a drama queen but take John’s heretofore unconfirmed bisexuality in stride.

You’re more compelling like this. SH

When I am drunk?

When you’re honest. SH

He snorted.

I’m typically honest, Sherlock

With yourself? SH

What’s that supposed to mean?

Nothing inflammatory. You’ve told me in the past that you find this sort of thing difficult. But your forthrightness tonight has been quite helpful. Thank you. SH

And there they were, back on solid ground again. John felt sobriety slip in around the edges and was both relieved and a little disappointed. This would likely all be over soon and he’d be back to Lady Delacroix and an empty bottle and, if he were being as honest as he’d just claimed, hours of re-reading these texts and imagining a very different outcome.

Well, perhaps you can tell me that when I see you after approximately twelve minutes of brisk walking.

You’re teasing. SH

John smiled.

A little. Do you mind?

Not particularly. SH

Three dots

Three dots

I quite like to be teased. SH

John took a deep, slow breath, sinking onto the bed again. Oh, he thought.

Do you?

Under the right circumstances. SH

He felt his toes curl, just a little.

Are these they?

They could be. SH

What would ensure it?

Keep texting and perhaps you’ll find out. SH

A slow grin crept across John’s face.

Oh, I think you’re about to have a good night, Sherlock.

Am I? SH

If this conversation is any indicator, yeah. I never knew you were such a flirt.

You never caught on to my previous attempts, then. SH

John laughed out loud.

Must have been too subtle for me. Hope for your sake he’s more aware :)

Anyway, I think you’ve got this nailed down. Shall I go?

Did I say something wrong? SH

John frowned down at the phone.

No. God, no. Just. Isn’t your bloke arriving soon?

Yes. SH

So I should shove off.

Not just yet. SH

I don’t want it to be awkward.

Does this feel awkward? SH

It felt anything but.

No, but look.

He let out a shaky breath.

Truth is, I don’t want to get too deep into something and suddenly have to stop.

Ah. You’re done for the night. SH

John blew out a frustrated breath, rifling his own fringe with boozy breath.

No, I’m not, Sherlock, God knows I’m not. But. I thought the point of this was to prepare you for your date.

Yes, SH

Which is happening soon.

Shortly. Presently. SH

John paused, his thumbs hovering over the keys.

What do you mean “presently”?

But Sherlock was silent. No dots.

John’s mouth dropped open, horrified.

Shit. Sherlock, is he there already?

No. SH

Yes. SH

John blinked at the phone, his forehead creasing in consternation.

What is this?

Would you rather be? SH

He reeled back. This was a level of cruelty he’d not been expecting. Would he rather be there instead of Sherlock’s date? Some fit bloke. Aristocratic, brilliant—

Imaginary.

John felt his body go cold.

Then hot.

And finally, the penny dropped.

It took several attempts to make his fingers work. They were shaking worse than ever they had with an intermittent tremor.

Sherlock, am I your date?

Three dots

 (If he was wrong…)

Three dots

 (Fucking Christ)

John knew he was breathing shallowly. He could feel his heart racing in his chest, fast as a hummingbird’s, whilst his limbs filled with helium—lighter, lighter.

Oh, do keep up, John. SH

He stared down at his phone, frozen. Could a blow to the chest be wounding and exhilarating simultaneously?

He wanted to say everything all at once. Why didn’t you tell me before? Why did you wait so long?  How long have you known? How long have we been dancing around this? Was this what your best man speech was all about? Why nowwhy tonight?

John? SH

But in the end, none of that mattered. All that mattered was this moment, and the next, and the one after that.

Sherlock. John licked his lips. What are you wearing?

A pause.

Three dots

I’ve been informed that’s the oldest pickup line there is. SH

John smiled down at the screen.

I imagine you’re not immune to the classics.

You imagine? SH

All the time.

Oh. SH

Good. SH

Anyhow, you’ve a photo from earlier. SH

Yeah, a group one. You lurking about the back in your big coat with your public school face on.

I want to know what you look like right now.

At home, flirting with me

Is that what we are doing? SH

What did you think we were doing?

The faceted base of the bedside lamp cast a warm pattern of concentric circles on the walls and John counted them, waiting for Sherlock’s response. He got to seventeen before—

Ping

John’s eyes readjusted to the harsher, bluer light of the phone screen.

// Photo attachment 5 MB //

He was somehow a quiet night at home and full-tilt danger in one sharp rectangle and John’s breath caught. Sherlock looked slim as a rail, the rolled cuff of his charcoal-blue shirt rucked up against the strain of his outstretched arm. His hair was a proper wreck, dark curls smashed against the arm of the couch and his brows arched over his long, pale forehead like malevolent birds of prey. He wasn’t smiling but good holy fuck that mouth told stories. They held promises. John could see that in every solemn line and curve of Sherlock’s lips.

Your go. SH

“Jeeesus,” John croaked.

He’d have to alter his ways, rethink everything he knew. All his best, most recent lines had to do with soft curves and cuppable breasts, or with delicate fingers tugging his hair whilst he buried his face between plump thighs. He’d have to find new language for this. Forget even the backdrop of ragged tents and humid shadows. Forget the soundtrack of gunfire and stifled grunts and hissed admonishments to keep quiet. This was something transcendent.

But he didn’t have time to make it poetic. It was happening now, when he’d least expected it.

He swallowed and began to type.

Is that a new shirt?

Is that really what you want to say? SH

You chose it for tonight, so you must have given it some thought.

I did. SH

It’s lovely.

Thank you. SH

Take it off.

During the pause, John closed his eyes, imagined Sherlock tossing his phone aside, frowning down at himself whilst his nimble fingers slid buttons from buttonholes, exposing unexplored acres of skin, the flat planes of his stomach folding into tight creases whilst he maintained his position on the couch.

Instantly, John’s body was aflame, as if someone had touched a torch to his petrol-licked toes.

Will you demand another photo as proof? SH

Demand?

Request. SH

I’m just requesting, generally.

And do you take them as well? SH

Requests?

Demands. SH

John was floating above his body now.

I will take anything you’re offering, Sherlock, he replied, all coyness gone. Anything at all.

He would be happy to spend the rest of the night—the rest of his life—flirting, toying, offering slippery words and ratcheting his desire higher and higher, but he would waste no more time on vagaries. Sherlock needed to know that he was all in and he needed to know the same about Sherlock.

This isn’t simply convenient? SH

John laughed. It sounded hollow and a little bit ugly bouncing against the cramped walls of his room.

There’s nothing simple or convenient about you, Sherlock.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

The texts came back in a rush, the incoming alert noises stuttering as they overlapped.

I’m offering everything. SH

There’s no in between state for me, John. I’m all or nothing. SH

I don’t know how to be anything else. SH

John swallowed against the lump in his throat. He tested the words silently against his tongue before committing them to text.

I know, sweetheart.

He could not remember the last time he had felt this calm.

Above the noise of the crickets, John could hear muffled rattling in the hallway outside his door. He lifted his head from the pillow but a moment later, the noise disappeared. He sank back down.

Did you really not know it was you? Before, I mean? SH

Of course not. Do you think I’d have gone away this weekend if I’d known?

You’d have stayed for this. SH

I’d have stayed for a lot less.

You never said. SH

You figured it out anyway, genius.

John thought he could feel Sherlock curling into the compliment, even across the miles.

So. SH

You “imagine.” SH

John grinned.

Thought you might come back to that.

Is this what you imagined? SH

Better. So much better.

Tell me. SH

What do you want to know?

John reached out and lifted the bottle, light as a feather now. He let the last of the wine trickle into his mouth, lukewarm and cloying.

Have you imagined me as your lover? SH

John coughed against the stab of shock. He’d anticipated this—or something like it—but Sherlock’s frankness still managed to steal his breath. He thumbed a response before his inhibitions could take over.

Yes.

What do you think I will be like? SH

John sucked his bottom lip into his mouth.

Not would be—will be. Confirmation, not conjecture.

A lick of flames flared bright in his groin and abdomen, making him roll his hips involuntarily. He yanked out his shirttails. The points were limp with sweat.

John suspected that Sherlock might be testing him, giving him full-force bluntness to see if John would backtrack or voice second thoughts. He thought for a long moment and then pressed the small microphone icon next to the text field on this phone.

    “I think you’ll be a true scientist. You’ll catalog everything, won’t you? All my scars and freckles. Christ, Sherlock. You know when I’ve had too much wine with dinner or when I’ve not flossed, hmm? Maybe you’ll use your mind palace to track what I like and don’t like while you, ah—while you touch me. Do you have a system already in place? I think about you memorizing the thousands of different ways I will say your name — and I will say it, Sherlock. Over and over again. Sherlock. I imagine you more than you could possibly know. It’s my favorite pastime.”

In the end, his breathing was ragged, his voice filled with a longing even he could hear. Before he could think twice, he pressed send, pushing his words into the ether. The insects chirped on steadily outside, paying no mind to the monumental change that was taking place in the room beside them.

Ping

You were smart to switch to voice recording, John. Texting has become difficult. SH

Why’s that?

I find I need the use of both my hands. SH

John made an involuntary noise.

Jesus Christ, Sherlock.

Not good? SH

Oh, quite the opposite. Very, VERY good.

Show me. SH

John glanced about for a mirror. The one above the washstand was primitive and warped so he ignored it in favor of his phone. He hated the way the self-camera distorted his face—small vanities—so he stayed where he was, flat on his back, holding the phone out as far as his arms could reach and turning it back to front.

The result was laughable but forged an honest portrait. His shirt collar was damp and skewed, his hair tamped down across his forehead but sticking up in the back from where he’d rolled his head against the embroidered pillow shams. His face and neck were splotchy with heat, damn it, but his eyes were shining and he was showing an indecent amount of his neck and chest. He’d never have sent this kind of photo to Lucy—to anyone else, really—but he knew it was exactly what Sherlock would want. A photo packed with information to parse.

Whilst he waited for a response, John pulled off his socks, scrunching his feet into the duvet and feeling the cool air between his toes. Then, he unthreaded his belt, wincing when it dropped to the floor with a clank. He had to remind himself that he was alone, that no one was listening in or peeping through keyholes whilst he waited for his best friend to debauch him across the miles.

By the time the message came through, he was restless, practically sitting on his hands to keep from winding them underneath his shirt and stroking down his chest and stomach. He wanted it to be different from all the times he done this on his own, thinking about Sherlock: in the dark, furtive, and a little ashamed.

Ping

John’s heart jerked at the message, a grey voice text icon. He pressed the play button.

    “And you—”

John stabbed the button again, switching it off, laughing with just the slightest edge of hysteria. Sherlock’s voice was so achingly, intimately familiar that John needed a moment to adjust to it being directed at him, fully. 

“I’m not going to fucking survive this, am I?” he said aloud.

John took a deep breath and pressed the button again.

    “And you are going to take me apart with that that bizarre, fascinating thing that you do, caring and commanding in equal measure. You’ll tell me what you want, hopefully in the filthiest manner possible, yet somehow using the fewest words. You can name every bone in a man’s body while fracturing them but I imagine it works the same when you’re putting a man back together. I want you to heal me while you’re breaking me, John. Start at the top and work your way down. Or the other way around — surprise me. You always do, you know. Whisper all the proper names for the improper things you’re doing to me, John. Start now.”

“Jesus jesus jesus jesus,” John found himself panting. Sweat popped out on his brow and under his arms. He licked the slight furrow above his upper lip and his tongue came away salty. His arm sank to the bed, phone in hand, and he stared at the ceiling for a long moment. Then, in a rush, he fumbled with the button of his trousers, yanking his shirt up and out of the way, the night air breathing across his damp belly.

He closed his eyes whilst he slid a hand into his open zip and past the waistband of his pants, pressing his cock flat against his stomach. Then, he raised his other hand, tapped the grey icon once more, and nestled the phone against the curve of his ear.

And you” Sherlock began again, and John started to stroke. “—are going to take me apart with that bizarre, fascinating thing you do—” “Fuck, Sherlock...” “—caring and commanding in equal measure—” “Christ. Oh, fucking Christ!” “—You’ll tell me what you want, hopefully in the filthiest manner possible,” Sherlock...”  “yet somehow using the fewest words.”

There was a loud vibration against his ear and John yanked the phone away in surprise.

Do you make a lot of noise? SH

John shut his eyes against the waves of desire and embarrassment that rolled over him. It was becoming a familiar combination.

I could do. If you liked that.

Yes. SH

The flames licked higher. He was breathing them in now.

I was, actually. Just now.

Did you say my name? SH

Several times, yeah.

As I typically do when I’ve got my hand down my pants.

Ping

// Photo attachment 7 MB //

Sherlock’s phone was newer than John’s, the camera finer, so it captured the subtlest of details. Even in the dim glow of his bedroom—God, when had he moved from the couch to his bed?—Sherlock was lit like a pre-Raphaelite, his bare shoulders and the angles of his face softened by shadow. John took in the tension of his forehead, the way his eyes were screwed tight with concentration. It was amazing he’d managed a photo like this with his eyes shut. Some brand of sorcery. 

Sherlock’s bottom lip was shiny. Had he been licking his lips—or, Jesus, his fist—whilst reading John’s words? John’s grip tightened on his cock. Sherlock lapping at his palm then sliding his hand up and down.

John mirrored this fantasy, working his tongue across the roof of his mouth to gather moisture and then licking it across his fingers. When he slid his hand down again, the noise was unmistakable, familiar from a thousand nights of working himself over with Sherlock’s imagined gasps filling his head.

He stole another look at the photo, seeing new details he’d somehow missed before—a damp curl plastered against Sherlock’s ear in the shape of a question mark—and lifted his hips up to meet the circle of his thumb and forefinger. He managed several more strokes before his thighs began to shake and a tightness in his abdomen warned him that he was getting too close, too fast.

”Fuck!”

John pulled his hand out of his trousers, wiping the excess dampness on the front of his shirt and tapped the record button on his phone.

    “Here are a few of the filthiest, most commanding words I know,” he growled into the receiver. “I want you here, doing this to me with your hands and mouth instead of just your voice. Jesus Christ. I think about your mouth so much it’s obscene, Sherlock. I probably miss half the times you insult me to my face because I am too busy watching your lips form the fucking alphabet.” He groaned aloud, dimly aware he’d recorded the noise, and shook his head against the pillows. “I just wish—fuck, Sherlock, I just wish you were here.”

There was a tap at the door.

It was mild, polite, but it shocked John so badly that he jumped out of bed in one go, throwing his phone at the pillows and tripping over his pant legs. He managed to steady himself on the washstand and yank up his trousers before stumbling to the door, bracing a hand on either side of the frame.

He glanced down to make sure he was semi-decent—tented trousers but nothing exposed—and then threw open the door.

The hallway was empty.

Panting, rattled, he peered down the corridor but whomever had been there was now gone.

At his feet was a dark green bottle, its neck and head wrapped with cheerful, gold foil. A note handwritten on creamy cardstock was tied to the neck. John stole another glance down the hallway, then picked up the bottle and turned over the card.

hey cutie! sorry we missed each other @ the meet-up.
heard u had some trouble with ur hotel. come back to mine -
and save a little bubbly for me!!! XO - Luce

John stared down at the card, dumbfounded, his racing heart beginning to slow after his fright. He read the note twice—did she really pen an “@” symbol?—before glancing back into his room. The soft lamplight bracketed his bed in arc of warm circles and as he watched, his phone lit up with multiple messages, the soft vibrations reaching his ears even from the door, and the screen colored a few surrounding inches of the duvet an ethereal blue before it winked out again. John considered the bottle again—Lucy must have paid a fortune to have it couriered across town—then he shrugged, untied the ribbon, and dropped the card into the rubbish bin just inside his room before gently nudging the door shut behind him.

He set the champagne on the floor and then slid headfirst onto the bed, cradling his phone in his hands. There were three unread message icons glowing on the lock screen. John swiped to unlock, and tapped the first message, trepidation and anticipation battling for victory in his head.

At first, he could hear nothing but Sherlock breathing unsteadily, each exhale ending in a tiny shudder. John was so focused on the sound that, for a moment, he missed the background noise, a thick, regular slap of skin against skin. His mind caught up a beat later, just as the recording stopped.

Was that?

With unsteady fingers, he pressed the icon again to replay. On second listen, he heard the near-inaudible grunt on each exhale and he felt the world close in around his ears.

John pressed his face into the duvet and moaned aloud, his hips canting into the dips in the mattress underneath. He rutted into the bed hard enough to make his thighs ache, until he was afraid he’d fuck right through the ancient bedframe.

The next message was no easier. Just one syllable, drawn out on a long, undulating moan:

    Johhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhnn!”

John was  more turned on than he’d ever been in his life, and at the sound of his own name. He searched for the shame that he might automatically link with that level of narcissism but it was conspicuously absent. All he felt was a desire so heady it was almost a presence taking up occupancy in his heart and lungs and groin.

I made him sound like that.

His hands faltered whilst tapping the last icon.

    “I want to devour you. I won’t let any part of you go unexplored. I would perform the alphabet on your—on—anywhere you liked—” John managed a weak grin at this stumbling statement. “But I need you to know, John. I can’t go back, If I touch you, I won't be able to tolerate not touching you again. Not ever.”

Sherlock’s voice was something silky that had been dragged across sharp coral at the bottom of the sea. Waterlogged. Ruined.

This was enough. John stood up at once and pulled his shirt and vest off over his head, dropping them to the floor next to the champagne. He shimmied out of his trousers and pants, then pulled back the duvet and crawled into bed, reaching out to shut the light off completely. In the darkness, he fumbled for his phone.

He scrolled through his short contact list and then, heart in his throat and limbs vibrating with excitement, he rang Sherlock.

The call was declined immediately.

John frowned and tapped again.

Declined.

“What the hell?”

He was a bit bruised. Was this all meant to keep him at a distance, even still?

Ping

Not yet, John. I need. SH

Please. Just a moment more. SH

To preapr. SH

Prepare. I’m. SH

Sorry. SH

John relaxed back into the soft bed, hearing the springs creak gently under his shifting weight.

It’s fine, Sherlock. Really. Text is fine.

Thank you. SH

The next set of messages arrived simultaneously.

Is it still okayI can’t stop thinkingto do this?about my mouth on you. SH

John sank deeper into the pillows.

How you’d feel. How you’d taste. SH

God, Sherlock. Are you thinking about that now?

John, I am always thinking about that. SH

John slipped his hand under the covers again.

He was harder than ever now, leaking onto his hand whilst he circled the head of his cock. God, he should feel guilty about smearing the underside of the ancient coverlet with unspeakable fluids but he didn’t. The thought of that ridiculous, gorgeously outsized mouth on him, of Sherlock’s hologram eyes boring holes into his whilst he worked John into a writhing mess—it was too overpowering for him to stop.

What else are you thinking about?

Gold. SH

John’s hand paused halfway way up his shaft, his thumb quivering in midair.

What?

In your blood. SH

0.2 mg of it. SH

You’re thinking of that now?

No dots.

And then—

I said you were the wrong sort, earlier. SH

I meant for someone else. SH

But I'm the right sort of for you.

If you *bled* gold, John, I'd wear it like a brand. So everyone could see. SH

John Watson looked up at the ceiling, a laugh like a sob at his lips, wondering how he could possibly be lying in lumpy bed in Scotland, his cock in his hand, blinking away tears at the most romantic, absurd confession he’d ever heard, and from his mad, brilliant best friend no less.

What luck, he thought wildly.

Sherlock, you don’t need a brand to know I’m yours, golden or otherwise.

Perhaps not but you did ask what I was thinking about. SH

True.

I like to think about someone else seeing that mark and knowing. SH

That we belong to each other. SH

John’s heart gave a deep tug.

I like that very much.

I am also thinking about pulling your prick deep into my mouth and liberally applying my tongue to the underside. SH

John bucked up into his hand at the unexpected return to their lustier conversation.

Oh, hello, again, he typed, one-handed. And is that turning you on as much as it is me?

He closed his eyes whilst the message sent, losing himself in the feel of his hand, in the rhythm he’d perfected after decades of practice.

What if these were Sherlock’s fingers, he thought. Long, precise, grasping. Dripping in gold.

“Christ,” he said aloud, and he could hear the shake in his own voice.

I feel like I could explode any second. SH

It should be humiliating. SH

But we are beyond that, aren’t we? SH

God, yes. Far, far beyond.

He had to pause again, panting. Too much. Too fast. He pulled his hands out from underneath the bedclothes and typed two-handed again, catching his breath.

Tell me what you think about when you touch yourself.

What you imagine I am doing to you.

You are touching yourself now, yeah?

I’ve been “touching myself” — so quaint, John, really — since you demanded I remove my shirt. SH

John smiled at the abrupt shift in his tone. Sherlock typically showed disdain for what he wanted most. Commanding and caring in equal measure.

Sherlock needed more of the former, less of the latter to take him apart. Proper names for improper things.

The edges of his smile turned up wickedly.

Oh, lovely. Fucking your fist like I hoped you were, he typed. Good lad.

Three dots. Stop

GOd,, John. SH

Sherlock was always so fastidious in his texting. Flawless spelling, never a missing punctuation mark. And now this. Two tiny typos meant he was coming undone and John was going to unravel him completely.

Do you know what I want you to think about right now?

What?n SH

John lifted the covers and snaked his dominant hand down to his stomach, twisting his wrist to ensure it was the only thing in view. He bent one knee to keep the duvet tented and then adjusted the flash and snapped a photo, sending it off to Sherlock at once.

He pressed the voice text icon.

    “I was just using that hand to touch myself — quaint of me, I know. That hand could be anywhere you want, though, Sherlock. In your hair, pulling hard. On your chest, pinching or caressing. Your choice, really.”

Send

John let himself imagine, for a moment, his hands splayed across that pale chest, running his tongue through the sparse black hairs whilst he thumbed Sherlock’s nipples into peaks.

Three dots

Three dots

Thr hair puling. SH

John pressed the icon again.

    “Or I could wrap it around your cock, hmm? Is that what you’d like best? I could do that, Sherlock. Bring you off with my hand.”

Send

John’s fantasy unwound. Now he was sucking a welt into the fold of Sherlock’s groin and thigh, flattening the coarse hair with his lips and pulling skin into his mouth to bring blood to the surface. He imagined Sherlock's cries as John squeezed the flesh of his arse in his strong, blunt fingers, perhaps dipping a damp thumb into the crease to remind Sherlock of everything they'd have time for in the future.

John, I don’tt. SH

Think I can last,much. Longer. SH

He stabbed the voice text icon.

    “I don’t want you to last, Sherlock. I want you to let go.”

Send

,j SH

Jhn. SH

With that, John slid one hand between his legs again, thumbing at his phone with the other.

When the call connected, John felt as though he’d been dropped into the centre of a battlezone.

Noise filled his ears immediately—Sherlock crying out, his voice higher and more frantic than John was expecting.

His hand stuttered against his cock for a moment.

“Sherlock?”

“John. John! Oh, God—I—Ohhh.”

Sherlock was wrecked, his voice collapsing at the end of his words.

The flames hadn’t been flames after all. They were lava, bathing John from head to toe in liquid heat. He groaned whilst his hand flew, faster and tighter than before.

“I'm here. Let me help.”

“Oh, God!”

“Are my—do I have my hands on you?”

“John,” Sherlock gasped. “Oh, please.”

John wondered mildly how he could still be conscious with his heart pounding like this. Was he about to pass out? He was a doctor. He should really know these things.

“Yes, Sherlock,” he crooned. “Whatever you need. Tell me what you need.”

“I need your—I need. Ah! John, fuck!”

John could count on both hands the number of times he’d heard Sherlock use that word. And never before in this context.

He snapped his hips up, pounding into his fist, rolling his pelvis on the back way down. The pressure had gone from a mild warning to the point of no return in a matter of seconds. He threw the duvet back with one hand. The heat was suffocating him and his own noises were nearly loud enough to drown out Sherlock’s high, desperate cries on the other end of the line. He tried again.

“Yes, love,” he panted. “ Sherlock, I—”

“John,” Sherlock keened. “Please. I need you to fuck me. Please.”

John froze. He was only able to imagine it for a split second—his body draped across Sherlock’s, a hand braced on his hip, sweat slicking them down whilst he buried himself deep—before he was arching off the bed, spilling across his chest, shouting Sherlock’s name.

For a long, weightless moment, everything disappeared. He allowed the bliss-tinged nothingness to claim him. Just a humming in his ears. Maybe the crickets had gone to sleep at last.

John thought he could hear Sherlock’s voice from very far away.

He sounds younger this way, he mused. All that arrogance gone, all of his defenses down.

At that, he came back to himself. Shit. He’d meant to be taking care of him, hadn’t he? Sherlock’s voice cut through the blur like a knife.

“John. I—oh. Are you—?”

“Here—” John cleared his throat, jumpstarting his ruined voice. “I’m here, Sherlock. So sorry, love. I got—ah, carried away.”

He imagined Sherlock waiting for him on the other end, perhaps stilling his hands in anticipation of John’s voice.

“It was you, you know,” John mused. “Took me over the edge.”

“Was it?” Sherlock’s voice was a croak.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “Just the thought of you, leaning forward on your elbows. Me running my hands over your back and stomach. Your fucking perfect arse.”

Sherlock said nothing but the sound of his breath was steady, heavy.

“You’d like that, would you, Sherlock? My hands on you?” John swallowed noisily. “Working you open with my fingers.”

He wasn’t sure if Sherlock was laughing or crying. It sounded like both at once.

John bit his lip to keep from asking if he was okay. He might not have heard Sherlock like this before but he was pretty fucking sure he was okay.

“Do you have something for it? In the bedside table, perhaps?”

Johnnnn.”

“No matter. I’ve a tongue. Quite a skilled one, in fact.”

That note of hysteria again. John tried to gentle his tone, moving in for the kill.

“What color are your sheets?”

“Wh—w—my what?” Sherlock gasped.

“Your sheets,” he snapped. “Quickly now—what color?”

“Bl—ue,”

“Good. I’m going to lick you open, Sherlock, and then I’m going to fuck you right down into those blue sheets.”

Sherlock went off like dynamite. “Oh, John, I’m coming!” he wailed, the phone vibrating against John’s cheek. “You're making me come!”

There was a slight accusatory note in his voice and under any other circumstances John might have laughed but Jesus Christ, there was nothing remotely funny about this moment.

“That's right, Sherlock,” John coaxed. “Come on, sweetheart. Oh, oh, that's gorgeous.”

Sherlock broke into long, sobbing breaths.

“That’s right,” he said again. “So lovely.”

It took a liberal amount of time and John’s gentle, wordless murmuring for Sherlock to settle down. After, Sherlock cleared his throat and the timbre was low again, closer to the octave John was most used to hearing.

“Hey,” John said, a clear smile in his voice.

“Hello,” Sherlock said quietly.

“That was—”

“Quite.”

They both fell silent. John could hear the chirps of crickets once again, joined by a susurrus of trees rustling, and he felt his cheeks burn at the memory of shouting Sherlock’s name into the darkness. If anyone had passed by the open window, they’d have got quite a show. Nothing could make him feel sorry for it, though. He nestled deeper into the soft, creaky bed, smoothing a hand over the sheets and feeling the warm cotton under his fingers.

Sherlock spoke first.

“John.” His voice was guarded. “When you’re back home—”

John heard the question and rushed to respond.

“You'll let me kiss you, won't you, Sherlock?”

“Yes.”

“And I'll tell you everything I've not said over the phone.”

Sherlock’s chuckle was a low rumble in John’s ear.

“You've just had sex with me over the phone, John. Surely you can't be embarrassed by a few more words.”

“It's not embarrassment—I wasn't embarrassed before either, mind you—I just have things I want to say to you. In front of you.”

“Of course, John,” he said quickly. “That's how I want it too.”

And then: “I miss you.”

John felt his heart squeeze

“I miss you, too, Sherlock. I wish we were talking in my bedroom—”

My bedroom. Less ambient light from the street, closer proximity to the bathroom.”

John laughed again.

“Your bedroom then, fine.”

“What would we talk about?”

“Nothing in particular. Just something to send us off to sleep.”

“I don’t want to sleep, John. I want to be awake every second. I don't want to miss a thing.”

“Nothing to miss, sweetheart. I’m not going anywhere.”

“That’s what you’re calling me now.” A statement, not a question.

“Between us, anyway. You don’t mind?”

“Mmmmm.” The response was noncommittal but John could hear the satisfaction in his tone.

His phone vibrated and John pulled it away from his ear, frowning.

U coming by cutie??? champanges getting warm and so am i!!! {xo - Luce}

John grimaced. He’d forgotten all about Lucy in the momentum of him and Sherlock—which, he mused to himself, was and would likely continue to be the story of his life. Still, he felt a twinge of guilt.

“Hang on a sec, Sherlock.”

John hid the call screen and brought up his message queue with a few taps.

Sorry, no. I’m actually seeing someone new. It all happened quickly - I’ve not been flirting idly - but still no excuse for not texting sooner. No hard feelings?

The dots began right away and John grimaced, bracing himself for the reply. Would she be angry? Accusatory?

ooh naughty dr watson!!! fair play to you. quite alright. U and your BF can take me out when im in town next!!! {xo - Luce}

John snorted in surprise.

How’d you know it was a boyfriend?

U talk about UR mad sexy flatmate all the time. i just assumed ;) i’ll be @ the QEII in november for soft tissue oncology conf!!! keep the champers - drinks on U next time!!! {xo - Luce}

Ta, he typed, grinning. Looking forward to it.

John returned to the call and pressed the phone against his ear to hear quiet breathing on the other end, intimate in a way that clutched at his heart. Sherlock was waiting for him like a lover. Which of course he now was.

“I’m back,” he said. “Sorry.”

“I told you it would save some frustration down the road,” Sherlock replied.

“Yeah, yeah. Know-it-all. You tired at all?”

“No,” Sherlock said, and then yawned.

“So I see. Shall we say goodnight? The sooner we sleep, the sooner it’s tomorrow.”

“It’s tomorrow now, John. 1:30. Besides, I’ve found something to read to you.”

“You did?”

“You said you wanted something to ‘send us off to sleep’.”

“And you have just the thing.”

“I do.”

“Notes from a crime scene?” he teased.

Sherlock paused, and John could hear the shuffling of papers in the background.

“Noo—oo,” Sherlock replied with quiet caution and John smiled.  

“Let’s skip the bad dreams tonight,“ John said. “Maybe something a little more Hans Christian Andersen—”

“—And less Philip Anderson, yes, I understand.”

John huffed.

“I can’t believe you know his first name but not Greg’s”

“Who?”

“LESTR—”

“—I’m joking, John.”

“Git. What else do you have for us, then?"

“A poem, perhaps?  One of my favorites. Modern, but not dull.” John heard the dismissive hand-wave in his voice.

“Lovely.” John yawned. “Fair warning, if I fall asleep, Sherlock—”

“Yes, goodnight, John. Just in case.”

Sherlock’s voice was low and soft and clear.

"Honey at the Table, by Mary Oliver
It fills you with the soft
 essence of vanished flowers, it becomes
 a trickle sharp as a hair that you follow
from the honey pot over the table and out the door and over the ground,
 and all the while it thickens, grows deeper and wilder, edged
 with pine boughs and wet boulders, pawprints of bobcat and bear, until
 deep in the forest you / shuffle up some tree, you rip the bark
you float into and swallow the dripping combs,
 bits of the tree, crushed bees - a taste
 composed of everything lost, in which everything lost is found."

John Watson fell asleep under the soft, heavy duvet with the cool night air against his golden cheeks and the sound of Sherlock Holmes reading apian poetry in his ear.

And this was precisely how the night was supposed to go.