When Moriarty threatened to murder his flatmate, his landlady, and D.I. Lestrade, who together represented a staggeringly high percentage of all the people he had ever, even remotely, cared about, Sherlock had done the only reasonable thing: he had leapt from the roof of a building, contrived to have himself pronounced dead, and lived under a series of assumed names on the fringes of London for over a year.
John, when he found out about this, had Not Been Pleased.
The following summer, Sherlock discovered that a contract had been put out on his life. Trivial enough to find out who had ordered it - Donald Margelis, who, thanks to Sherlock, had been convicted of quite an ambitious variety of crimes, from arson to fraud to perverting the course of justice. No, the difficulty was that Margelis had likely hired Robbie Grant, a pleasant-faced hitman of such competence and professionalism that there'd never been a whisper of evidence against him. Sherlock paced and considered, and finally concluded that he should disappear for a bit, become someone else; meanwhile, he would quietly gather evidence against Grant.
He'd been living in High Barnet for three days when there was a knock at the door. "Don't get me wrong," John said, after a moment, "you make an attractive enough woman in a horse-faced sort of way, but this is a completely shit idea. You can't disguise yourself as a yorkshire pudding or hide in Croydon under an assumed name every time someone wants to kill you. Fool me once," John added, glaring as he pushed into the room, "but twice: never."
Sherlock slammed the door shut behind him, then crossed his arms over his unpleasant and rather rubbery bosoms. "I thought it was rather brilliant, really."
"Well, I'm relieved to know that all your ideas aren't brilliant. Scratch that," John said, falling into the ratty paisley armchair and putting his feet up, "many of them are amazingly rubbish. I found you: Robbie Grant will find you easily enough."
You're better than he is, Sherlock thought but did not say. It was true, of course – John would have made a formidable antagonist, had he come back from Afghanistan differently damaged – but John's already overinflated ego required no additional air. Instead he enquired: "And what precisely is your plan for when he does find me?"
John reached behind his back, came out with a handgun, pulled back the slide.
"How very American," Sherlock sneered.
"It's German actually," John replied admiringly, turning the gun this way and that.
Fine. With this new and unexpected complication irritatingly taking up space in his armchair ("This room smells funny") and apparently determined to do violence, Sherlock boldly revised his plan. Grant would no doubt follow John directly here. Sherlock yanked the charming jersey wrap dress up over his head, ignoring John's wolf-whistles ("Take it off! Oh God, put it back on!"), and went to scrub all the makeup off his face. When he returned, more practically attired, he persuaded John to climb out of the bathroom window and circle round to the front via the pet shop at the end of the road. Having selected this location, he knew the best spots for surveillance, and was fairly certain that John would find Robbie Grant at one of them.
This inference proved true not twenty minutes later when the door banged open and John shoved Grant into the room. He was a boyishly attractive man in his late twenties whose clothes said "lad made good"--or if not quite good, then a shitload of money. Sherlock had positioned himself in the armchair with a cup of tea. Grant smiled and leant back on his heels, all charm. "Well, Mr. Holmes. Fancy running into you here."
John looked disgusted. "He hasn't got a gun," he told Sherlock.
"Of course I haven't," Grant said. "They're illegal." He watched John check the safety of his own gun and put it away. "I don't think my mother would want me to be here."
"No gun, no knife; a couple of cards in his pocket but no wallet," John said.
Sherlock ignored him; he was concentrating, eyes moving down him inch by inch. Something (haircut: pretentious: Stuart Phillips; no piercings, no visible tattoos) would betray him. Some clue (faint scar on the neck, left side; jagged, not a knife), some interesting discrepancy (shirt professionally laundered) would reveal him for what he was. He therefore paid only nominal attention to the conversation.
"How much is he paying you?" John asked him. (Moulded plastic watch: right wrist.)
"I don't know what you're talking about," Grant replied. (Buttons; not cufflinks.)
"Hypothetically," John insisted, crossing his arms. (Filed nails; no rings: ah, ah, yes.)
"Why'd you want to know?" Grant asked, smiling. "What's it matter?"
"I'll pay more," John replied, and Sherlock looked up, distracted from Grant's very interesting trousers. Grant was looking curiously at John, too. "That's what you're in this for, isn't it? Money?" John asked. "A suit like that doesn't come cheap." John's voice was relaxed, sensible, almost paternal, as if this was a reasonable conversation. "You've been given a price to kill him: give me your price to not kill him. I've got used to him. He's a bit of a twat, but I won't find another like him, you understand."
"I'm with you," Grant replied, "and believe me, I'm all sympathy, but it doesn't work that way. If it got out that I was for sale to the highest bidder – "
"But you are, aren't you?" John asked, crossing his arms.
"I am not. I've got a reputation to uphold," Grant said sanctimoniously. "You can't be killing the people who hired you. I'd get nowhere with that."
"Doctor Watson will be sure to leave you a good review on mumsnet local," Sherlock got up, went to the door, and pointedly held it open. "I won't wish you good day." Grant nodded politely to each of them in turn and sauntered out. Sherlock shut the door then turned and clapped his hands; no time to lose. "Hurry, John," he said. "We have to get to Lestrade, to the case files, to the database—" He packed things rapidly.
"I've missed something, thank God," John said, relaxing a bit. "What have I missed?"
"Didn't you notice? Even you must have noticed. And now that we know what to look for, we can search all unsolved murders and—" Sherlock stopped, entranced by the thought. "And there'll be others. I'll bet Grant's done ones we never even suspected!"
John scratched thoughtfully at the neck of his jumper. "But what are we looking for?"
"Ceramics!" Sherlock said triumphantly, zipping his case. "Polymers and plastics!"
He was about to elaborate when John flung up a hand. "Wait!" he said, face turning inwards. "I saw it, I saw it, I just don't know what it fucking was. Ceramics," he muttered. "Plastics," and then he was blinking rapidly. "I've got it: he's allergic to metal!"
"Yes," Sherlock said, agreeably impressed. "Very good."
"No cash, no jewellery, plastic watch--"
Working backwards; still, a start. "Yes. Moving on--"
"No zip on the trousers even. It must be a bad one."
"Of course it's a bad one," Sherlock snapped. "He wouldn't bother if it weren't a bad one."
"We'll be looking for Glocks. Mostly. Smith & Wesson make a polymer frame," John mused. "No lead bullets, and even some of the jacketed ones might—"
"Excuse me, but will this go on for much longer?" Sherlock asked.
"You go on for hours when it's you!" John objected, and they were still squabbling when they arrived at the Yard. Lestrade listened to what they had to say and then gave them a laboratory near evidence lockup. It took Sherlock four days to crack the case-–four days during which John insisted that he eat and sleep at the station; four days during which he scoured evidence from crimes scenes where murder was committed with polymer handguns, ceramic knives, or nylon rope. He found bullets with synthetic casings. He found partial prints. He found ceramic fragments and fibres from expensive suits.
John, he noticed, was doing subtle little fist pumps of glee when he thought Sherlock wasn't looking. Lestrade, in contrast, grinned like a maniac and banged his fist on the table really a lot and said, "Fuck a duck, boys, we've got him. First pint's on me!"
They were on their third when John said, suddenly serious, "You know, Grant's really, really not going to like handcuffs." They paused to consider this for a moment, then burst out laughing and clinked glasses. John got in another round. Robbie Grant went to prison. Things went back to normal, for a while.
There was of course always someone trying to kill him, but normally it was a last ditch effort, an impulse born of frustration: sudden, rising rage, hands reaching for his throat. John was usually there to stop it. A knife would be pulled from an unseen pocket just as the police rounded the corner. There would be last minute violence: curses, punches, hands clawing at his face. One apprehended criminal had simply let loose and kicked him in the shin, which sounded like nothing but hurt like a bastard. Still it was nothing unusual: Sherlock was used to being attacked to the sound of sirens.
But then there was a night when the door to his bedroom opened, revealing a rectangle of white light and John Watson, in silhouette. "Sherlock," he said, and Sherlock came awake at the sound of his voice. He lifted his head from the pillow. He smelled the gun before he saw the glint of it in John's hand. John was wearing a t-shirt and faded blue boxer shorts, and he came to Sherlock's bed without putting on the light. Sherlock rolled over and pushed up on his elbows, his limbs entangled in the sheets.
John got on the bed beside him and leant down over him, bringing his face close. His face was blank, but Sherlock could see the underlying distress. He let his head fall back to the pillow and stared up at John through the darkness. "Tell me," he said.
John got straight to it. "Peter Dunlop escaped from the DSPD unit at Whitemoor," he said. "Six prisoners got out; four have been recaptured – not Dunlop. Three prison officers were killed: others were wounded. But Sherlock," John said, and Sherlock realised that John hadn't got straight to it after all. "Hawkins and Goddard are both dead."
Sherlock closed his eyes. Jeremy Hawkins, plump, round metal glasses; dim-looking but actually a terrific barrister. Wendy Goddard, one of two women judges at the Old Bailey.
"Lestrade?" Sherlock asked, opening his eyes; if Dunlop was going to kill everyone involved in his arrest and prosecution, Lestrade would certainly be on the list.
"Off duty; they're putting him under protection. And you," John finished. "There's a car outside and teams on both ends of Baker Street. They're telling us to stay put," and then John lay down on the bed beside him and stretched his arm across Sherlock's chest. Sherlock turned to look at him; he could feel the weight of John's gun against his ribs.
"And you are…?" Sherlock asked.
John tucked Sherlock's pillow under his head and closed his eyes. "Staying put."
"Here?" Sherlock asked.
"Here," John agreed. "Right fucking here," and there didn't seem to be anything to say to that. Sherlock stared up at the ceiling for a few minutes, then glanced at the bedside clock. 3:32 a.m. He closed his eyes. John's body warmed his right side. Dunlop wasn't a rational man. He was prone to obsessions and rages. He had killed guards, a barrister, and a judge; he would come for Sherlock, too, like the violent animal he was. Nothing would stop him; only bullets. John's conclusions were certainly reasonable enough.
Except this wasn't about reason. He could feel it in the way that John's arm was quivering. He could hear it in John's irregular breathing. He could feel it in the pulse of his own erection, the mirroring pulse in his throat. This was about emotion: about John's almost desperate need to protect him from the senseless, the improbable, and the tragic, all the things he couldn't outwit. This was about Sherlock needing him to do it.
He put his hand on John's and gently tugged at the gun. "John," he murmured. "Please." John sighed and let go, and Sherlock slid the gun onto the bedside table. Without the gun lying between them, they were suddenly, and obviously, two men in bed, and Sherlock leaned in and touched his mouth to John's. John's hand came up to stroke Sherlock's hair. They had both known this could happen. The sexual possibilities had been discovered, acknowledged, and politely deferred from their very first meeting.
John pushed him away, breaking the kiss. He looked breathless and a little bit wild.
"Are you sure?" John's voice was so soft it was barely audible. "Because I'll take you."
Sherlock closed his eyes, cock throbbing. John was one of the few who knew of his sexual inexperience. He knew what he was asking, what he was offering.
"Yes," Sherlock said, throat tightening. "Please. Do it," and John surged over him like a wave, warm and heavy, pushing him back and down. John began to kiss him, mouth covering his and opening: a kiss as different from Sherlock's as a storm from a breeze. Sherlock had just enough self-awareness left to formulate the humbling thought that theory and information were not, after all, everything. John's kiss was hot, a little dirty, very experienced. Sherlock began to moan a little, without meaning to. He tried to kiss back, clutching desperately at John's shoulders, at his hair, but it was all he could do to hang on. He was distracted by John's tongue, and by his own body's responses. He didn't even notice that he was humping John's hip until John murmured, "shh, wait, not yet." He felt every single minute of the five-year age difference between them.
No one had ever touched his body. He had never had another person's hands on his genitals. John wormed him out of his clothes and touched him everywhere: John stroked his cock and played with his balls, kissing and kissing him. Sherlock ran clumsy, desperate hands down John's sides. His fingers had gone dumb, they spoke no language. John's hands said shh, and easy, and fuck, yes, and lift up, slide up, like this.
Sherlock had thought he had a reasonable understanding of the mechanics as well as the likely emotional trajectory of sex. It was not, he often thought, an undocumented experience. But he was wrong. His ignorance was shattering. John massaged behind his balls and pushed his fingers between his buttocks and brought him to the sobbing edge of orgasm three times before finally tumbling him over, and then he held Sherlock like you'd hold a suicide - pinning his arms, letting him fall safely apart.
"Sorry," John murmured against Sherlock's temple, all tenderness. "I may have overdone."
Sherlock tilted his head to meet John's eyes. "Keep going," he panted. "Don't stop."
John laughed. "You're joking."
"Sorry, have we met?" Sherlock asked: difficult to get the tone, breathless as he was.
John let himself fall back on the pillows. "We've more than met," he told the ceiling. "Christ. Trust you to want third helpings. I'm not sure I can get it up again."
Sherlock struggled up to his elbows and looked fondly down at John's face. "I have every confidence in you," he said, and John scowled but was, Sherlock saw, secretly pleased.
"Should have taken double vitamins this morning," John groaned, but after a while he rallied and took the rest of Sherlock's virginity – or, he thought hopefully, perhaps not: always always a mistake to theorise before data. This go round, Sherlock felt more psychologically prepared, and he distracted John with kisses and little nips and a tongue in his ear--that is, until John flipped him over and worked his cock into him, whereupon he lost it entirely, scrabbling for leverage while gasping and moaning in the most undignified way imaginable. Behind him, John's made a choking sound and clamped a hand over Sherlock's mouth. "Shh! Mrs. Hudson! She'll think you're being murdered, and the fucking police are outside!' Sherlock convulsed with laughter at the thought, which--Christ--sent another unbelievable shock of ecstasy through him. Drugs? Who the fuck needed drugs?--and John sucked air through his teeth and said, "Oh. You. Seriously," and dragged him up, onto his lap, onto his cock. John fucked him with an athletic intensity that (not that Sherlock was complaining) really was just showing off.
"Oh, fuck," Sherlock said when it was over, falling down into the tangled sheets, hair damp with sweat at the base of his neck. John collapsed beside him, panting.
Sherlock turned to him. "You're fantastic," he said, meaning to echo every single conversation they'd ever had, and hoping that John heard and understood.
He saw by the John's crinkled half smile that he did. "No, you are," he replied, and then: "You really are. You're extraordinary: the most amazing person I've ever met. I don't say that because I want to shag you. Here: I've shagged you and I'm still saying it."
Sherlock squinted a little - saw the lines around John's eyes, saw the worry. "They'll catch him, you know," he said slowly. "He'll never get near me. You do know that?
"Yeah," John said. "And if they don't, I'm going to shoot him."
"Oh," Sherlock said. "Yes."
"I won't let anything happen to you if I can help it." John sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Not everything's brains, you know. Where's my gun?"
"Where are you going?" Sherlock asked, frowning. "I don't want you to go anywhere."
"I'm just going to check the locks," John replied. "Unless you'd rather put on a false nose and set up shop in a flat on the wrong side of--" and Sherlock leapt up and tackled him back to bed.