John wavers on his feet on his way to the bar, squinting against the strobe lights, being careful he doesn't accidentally trip over anyone. Any men. Any fucking handsome blokes. The place is full of them. Naturally: it's that sort of place. One could, if one wanted, flirt, a lot. One could go home with a bloke, if one wanted.
Not that he wants to. Not that he would. Not now, anyway. Not since—well, he's supposed to be getting married. He's engaged. He's here to celebrate that, although he keeps forgetting. Mary. He's committed. He should be committed. To her, that is.
But Sherlock could, flirt, if he wanted. He could go home with someone, if he—does he? Given the looks he got as they were coming in, Sherlock could have his pick of the place. Of course he could, with his cheekbones and curls and his lithe-yet-muscular body and good God, John is drunk.
His head spins and his belly churns and he assures himself for the fifteenth time in five minutes that Sherlock wouldn't dare abandon him, not on his stag night. He's a dickhead, but he's put so much effort into planning everything. He brought them here because it's part of his murder theme. (Come on, John! You must remember the chef we found pulverised in the alley behind the restaurant across the road. Good times!)
It isn't, John assures himself, because Sherlock's looking to get lucky.
Sherlock doesn't feel things that way.
Unless he does.
It's that tiny spark of hope that John's been carrying in his chest, lately, that's keeping him on the knife edge of a decision tonight. He can't bear it, and he can't let go of it, either.
John hands the graduated cylinders over to the bartender with a shrug and a smile. He shouts over the pounding music. "Lager. Any kind. Just lager."
The bartender holds the cylinders, amusement marking his handsome face. He mouths okay, and winks.
John turns his back on the bar to watch people dance. He's long since given up worrying about the weirdness of the cylinders. He wonders, with a trace of acidic regret, what might have happened if, say, a few years ago, when he first met Sherlock, he'd given up worrying about the weirdness of—other things.
He's left Sherlock by the edge of the dance floor, leaning against a wall. The long, lean line of Sherlock's back, outlined by his form-fitting suit, makes him look like a heartbreaking actor from some 1940s movie about a private eye, a man doomed to a solitary life.
Sherlock seems to be speaking into the empty air, his hands gesturing freely. He's probably still muttering about ash. He hasn't talked about much else, since the last place. The alcohol has made him combative, but in an adorable, ineffectual way.
John thinks about the way Sherlock relaxed into his arms, as John hauled him away from the fight he was trying to pick. Those macho blokes didn't give a crap about ash, but they might, given a bit more time, have been interested in taking a swing at the tall, elegant poof in the swoopy coat.
John knows. Of course he does. He's known, if he's honest with himself, since that first night at Angelo's.
Girlfriend. Not really my area.
It's fine, it is. Fine for Sherlock.
A long forgotten emotion squeezes John's throat as he watches a bloke walk past Sherlock and do a double-take. The bloke—a clean-cut guy in jeans and a t-shirt—pauses, smiles, claps Sherlock on the shoulder, and laughs.
A friend? An acquaintance? Just someone who decided to say hi? It's none of John's business at all.
The bloke moves on. John sends up a silent prayer of thanks.
Sherlock's fingers tap against his leg and he nods to the music. Thinking about dancing, then. John chews his lower lip and vows that, once they've had their drinks, he and Sherlock will dance together.
It isn't like he doesn't know how. He sighs, and feels the beat moving through him, the hard thump of it against his chest and eardrums, the subtle throb and pulse of it moving up through his feet and legs.
John loves dancing. He's always loved it, even if he's never said so.
Let's go in here.
I don't know.
Come on, John, it'll be good for a laugh.
He is twenty years old, and he's finally got friends—well, blokes who take him with them when they go drinking. They are standing, the three of them, in a short line outside the Sundowner. It's past midnight, and they're halfway to completely legless. It's a Thursday night and John has heard, he knows what goes on at this club, as do Larry and Sal.
Larry puts his arm around John and kisses his cheek. "Come on, honey. Cheer up! We'll have a couple of drinks and dance a bit, no harm done."
Sal laughs nervously and watches Larry with something akin to worry. In a state of high panic, John wonders if they know about him, if they know that he's thought about it, that he sometimes thinks about men. Nothing lasting, just the odd crush, the occasional temptation.
Of course he's never acted on it, especially not since Harry came out. He couldn't do that to the family. Couldn't put them through all that again, not when he likes girls just as much.
He's watched Harry struggle. Watched her get called names and cry over it. He's sat on the sofa with her and listened to her sob as she tries to explain how hard it is. He's gotten drunk with her, tried to cheer her up as she goes through more pain and heartbreak than he thinks her body can hold.
He chooses male friends he isn't attracted to. Macho blokes who would never, not in a million years.
So it's fine, it's all fine, coming here, on the night when the Sundowner becomes Bang, and attracts a different clientele than the usual. He wonders if the bouncer will even let them in, three chums who are clearly straight, clearly here for a lark.
The bouncer lets them in. "Evening, boys," he says, his smile friendly. John avoids eye contact.
They go in, and his heart is pounding like a rabbit's. He looks for the bar immediately. He offers to go get their drinks. He orders shots, four whiskeys. He downs one before he takes the rest back to Sal and Larry.
They're standing at the edge of the dance floor, watching the crowd. The music is bright, optimistic.
Keep feeling fascination, passion burning, love so strong
Keep feeling fascination, looking, learning, moving on
On a far wall, a movie screen shows a dance routine from a black and white movie, dozens of women in white dresses sweeping down a curved staircase.
John hands Sal and Larry their drinks, and they clink glasses.
"Chin chin," Larry says. He leans in. "You think that means 'cheers,' but in Japanese, it means 'penis.'"
John laughs, because he's supposed to, but he's watching the men on the dance floor.
It isn't only men out there: there are women too, and people who are not easily categorised at first glance, in the dark. But it's the men John has his eye on, men in tight-fitting jean shorts and Doc Martins, vests with sequins and leather and elaborately gelled hair. They're moving and shouting and turning and touching. God, yes, they're touching each other.
Larry punches him on the arm. "Come on, Johnny boy, let's go!"
Sal stays back, watching the two of them like he's watching them drown, sadness and anxiety marking his features. John will not be cowed. It's all in good fun. No one needs to know how much he wants this.
They push their way to the middle of the dance floor, find a spot, and start to dance. John feels like he's all awkward angles at first, but Larry is gyrating like a fiend, and that makes John relax a bit. The song changes, and suddenly he's feeling it, all the sadness and confusion and inhibition clearing, transforming into something hopeful.
John watches the other dancers through heavy-lidded eyes, and he moves like they do. His whole nervous system syncs up with the crowd, with this place, and it's good, it's very good. It's okay for him to be here, okay for him to like it.
Larry bounces away, off toward the movie screen, leaving John by himself. John doesn't mind one bit.
The song changes again, a disco tune, and everyone around him goes wild. He hoots and cheers to match the crowd, adding his voice to theirs.
You make me feel mighty real
He can't see Sal any more. In the distance, over by the far wall, he thinks he sees Larry pogo-ing above the crowd. The dance floor is absolutely enormous, and without making any conscious decision about it, he retreats into the crowd, creating more distance between himself and his friends, feeling the crush of the bodies around him.
Make me feel mighty real
His heart bursts open and he shouts and he sweats and he lets himself have a nice time. There's no harm when no one he knows is watching.
The song goes on forever, and he's panting and boiling by the time it's done. He seeks a spot on the edge of the crowd and leans up against a wall. He mops his face with the hem of his t-shirt. He's all alone: Larry is nowhere to be seen. He wouldn't be surprised if Sal has gone home.
Someone sidles up to him, a bloke with dark hair swept back from his forehead. He's got a round, cherubic face and full lips. He leans in.
"Hello," John says. The bloke's shining forearm presses against John's elbow. He's just as slick with sweat as John is.
John's stomach drops. His whole body says yes.
"Haven't seen you here before," the bloke says. He holds out his hand for John to shake. "I'm Tony."
Tony gives him a look.
John laughs. "No, actually, that's really my name."
"Do you want to dance some more, John? Or would you like to go somewhere quiet and talk?"
How much does Sherlock know?
It's the eternal question.
The bartender is busy on the other end of the bar, filling the orders he got before John's. The graduated cylinders sit on the counter, by the beer taps. John fidgets. Apparently this bar has a retro theme. The DJ is mixing bits and pieces of Do You Wanna Funk? in with whatever rattle and bang he's playing, and it's keeping John stuck in sentiment, stuck in memory, at the same time as he watches Sherlock's long, lean back, watches his fingers tap. John chews the inside of his lower lip.
He feels the pull of this place, like he's just opened a forgotten photo album. The music throbs, and a thin sheen of sweat breaks out across his forehead.
There's always a chance Sherlock knows it all. John has turned this over and over in his mind. That first night, at Angelo's, it seemed like he knew everything. Knew it, considered it, and rejected John out of hand.
It was the last time John put everything out there, but not the last time he thought about it, thought about them. Not the last time he wondered if Sherlock saw it all, and wanted it too, and just didn't know how to say it.
He wonders, briefly, if Sherlock knows all this, if Sherlock brought him here, on purpose, to stir up memories of times when he was so much happier, when he felt so much more free.
Ultimately, he doubts it. Sherlock isn't trying to fix him anymore, or manipulate him. He's been so contrite, since he returned, since John made it clear that Sherlock hurt him.
The bartender is still busy on the other end of the bar. Good, it's good, John supposes. It's all right because he needs a moment, needs to remember why he's here. For stag night. Because he's getting married. To Mary. Everything is different now. He's moved on. He's not the same man he was.
Neither of them are.
As if he can hear what John is thinking, Sherlock looks over his shoulder toward the bar, his keen gaze searching, then landing on John himself. Sherlock's gaze combs down John's body, hovering somewhere around his crotch, then back up again, his eyes intent on John's face, the faintest hint of a smile on his lips. John is held in place, absolutely riveted, until Sherlock turns back to watch the dancers, finally releasing him.
A trickle of sweat runs down the small of John's back. If it were anyone else, John would assume he's just been cruised.
John and Tony dance. They dance to Always On My Mind and You Spin Me Round and a couple of songs John doesn't recognise at all.
He's pouring with sweat and he rolls up his t-shirt sleeves, baring his shoulders. Tony squeezes his bicep and makes a face like he's impressed and he shakes his hand as if he's hurt himself, and John laughs and laughs. They dance until last call, and they dance until the lights go up—thankfully, not much: John is a sweaty mess, although Tony looks wonderful, all flushed cheeks and bright eyes. They tumble out onto the street with the other blokes, and John has no idea what's happened to Larry or Sal, and he doesn't care. It's wonderful, it's amazing, and he's happy, for once he's so happy.
He doesn't mind (in fact, he loves it), when Tony pulls him into an alley and snogs him hard. Tony's lips are firm. He tastes of salt and lager and the cigarette he's just smoked, and John returns the kiss, John loves it, loves the secrecy of this, the forbidden beauty of it.
He doesn't know how far it will go, how far it could go. He wonders, he wonders, as they kiss and kiss and he holds Tony's face and he makes a noise in the back of his throat he's never made before. It's different from being with a woman, maybe, maybe it's not too different. It's blood rushing to all the right places and everything singing and hands and tongues gliding.
All at once it's a bit too much. He breaks the kiss and pushes Tony back, smiling into his face, touching his hair. It's soft under his fingers and somehow, that's a surprise.
"I don't usually do this," he says. "Sorry, I don't know what I'm doing."
Tony laughs and kisses his cheek. "None of us do, John."
John watches as another man—tall, handsome, Jesus, why is everyone here so beautiful and at least eight feet tall?—approaches Sherlock, talks to him. Sherlock smiles.
Laughs. Sherlock throws back his head and laughs, and nods, and John realises with a flood of shame that it's been an age since he's seen Sherlock laugh.
Sherlock leans in, to speak into the man's ear. It's necessary, John supposes. It's loud in here, the music thumping. John's heart is thumping, too, his fists clenching, his whole body ready to rush forward and stake a claim.
He's remembering things he hasn't thought about since before Sherlock jumped from the roof of Barts Hospital. He shouldn't be, but he's starting to hope.
"Walk away, handsome," he says, under his breath.
It isn't his place. He doesn't deserve a say in what happens here. If Sherlock wants to flirt, wants to dance, wants to go home with the guy, it's his right, but dear God, the timing is terrible. All John can do is hope that Sherlock's more abrasive qualities are the ones he chooses to show right now.
Sherlock is still chatting, laughing, touching. He can be so charming, when he wants to be. Lovely, even. He deserves to be with whomever he chooses, if he chooses. John knows that in his heart and in his gut. He also knows he would cut off his right arm if it meant that Sherlock would choose him.
A miracle happens. Sherlock shakes his head, no. Sherlock waves his hand, extravagantly, flipping it in John's general direction, then turns and looks toward where John is standing. His eyes find John, and he shoots him the most tender, openly affectionate smile. John's breath catches in his throat.
The man steps away from Sherlock, hands up, hands off. He shrugs and points his thumb toward the dance floor, and off he goes.
"John? Hey, John!"
The sound of his own name hits John's nervous system like a punch. The voice is high and bright and eager and he would know it anywhere.
"Oh, hi." John takes a step back as Tony jogs across the street toward him. Larry's eyes are all over both of them. John can feel it, feel Larry's reaction to Tony. He anticipates Larry's every lascivious gesture.
Ho ho ho, John, who's this?
Tony stops about six feet away, hands going into his pockets, pulling up short. He gets it. Of course he gets it. John has told him over and over that he's not out, has agonised over it, in fact, at length, on more than one occasion. Tony has held his hand, figuratively and literally, and listened, and been great about everything, great in more ways than one.
Under any other circumstances, John would be calling Tony his boyfriend. But they aren't like that. They can't be.
"Uh, Larry, this is my friend Tony. Tony Bishop, this is Larry Schnell, from my Biochem class."
"Oh, the famous Larry." Tony grins and sticks out his hand. "Pleased to meet you."
Tony wears a torn white t-shirt and jean shorts so snug, John can see the outline of his cock. His mind flashes on the night before, and that cock in his mouth, held there while he ran his tongue over the head again and again.
"Same," Larry says, sizing Tony up. John is absolutely certain that Larry has Tony figured out. You'd have to be half blind not to know. Tony is flamboyant and free and hot as hell.
Larry, annoyingly enough, is as friendly as he always is. He smiles at Tony. "We're just off to grab a bit of food. Join us?"
Tony glances at John, then back at Larry. His smile is gorgeous, as always, crooked and a bit toothy. It doesn't reach his eyes.
John sees Tony's whole internal monologue, sees him process the fact that John told him he wasn't free tonight. Larry is that school chum John has talked about a great deal, and although Larry has no problem with Tony coming along, John wouldn't like it, wouldn't be comfortable, because he's not out, he's not open about who he is. That means he and Tony can meet at Bang, or one of the other clubs Tony frequents, and dance. It means that John can spend time with Tony's friends, but Tony doesn't ask to hang out with Larry or Sal. It means that John can go to Tony's place and have sex with him, can tell him he likes him, can hold his hand and take his phone calls and talk long into the night about their lives and the things that matter to them and their hopes and dreams and stupid fears, but Tony isn't part of John's life, not his social life, and he can't be.
John doesn't know how to bring the two halves of himself together in a way that won't upset people. He doesn't know how to be who he is without hurting Tony.
"That's kind of you, Larry, but I can't, unfortunately." As Tony says the last word, he fixes his eyes on John, and his smile fades.
"How do you know him?" Larry asks, as he and John carry on toward the pub. "Seems like a nice bloke. Bit of a poof, though."
John shrugs. "Friend of my sister's." The lie comes so easily, it frightens him.
Later that night, Tony calls to tell him it's over. John is not surprised.
The bartender comes back with their graduated cylinders, brimming over with lager. John sips from one and then the other, so he doesn't pour beer all over himself, and it's time to go back to Sherlock. He takes a deep breath. There's more at stake than he'd thought there would be, when they started this evening together.
"Here we are," he yells, struggling to be heard over the music. They clink cylinders. John's hand is shaking as he lifts his to his mouth.
They stand together companionably as they drink, faster than they did at the first three places. They can't talk—it's far too loud—so they watch as people dance. A few feet away, the man who approached Sherlock a few minutes earlier laughs and puts his hands on another man's shoulders. John finishes his drink and places his cylinder down on a nearby table. He leans into Sherlock, his shoulder resting against Sherlock's upper arm. Sherlock's entire body relaxes, pressing into John's. The backs of their hands brush.
The song changes. John doesn't recognise it. He doesn't have to.
"Dance?" he asks.
The Major is drunk, but so is John. They've stumbled back to Sholto's quarters—his flat, John corrects himself, they're in London, on leave—from the pub down the road. John has no idea what he's doing here.
No: he has every idea what he's doing here, just no idea what Sholto is thinking, what he could possibly be interested in. They've had their moments, sure. They've even been a bit flirty, but a lot of people flirt when they think they might die any moment.
Sholto puts on music. John doesn't recognise it. It's instrumental, something that sounds like it belongs in a 1940s film about a gumshoe or tragic love, or both.
Sholto holds out his hands. "Dance, Watson."
John steps into his arms, and just like that, they're moving. His hand rests on Sholto's shoulder. Sholto's arm slips around John's waist.
"Not a bad war," Sholto says. John has no idea what he's talking about.
"Major." John starts the sentence without knowing how to continue it. He's dizzy with booze and proximity to the man he's come to admire and respect and—let's face it, Watson—desire.
He feels these things from time to time, these little blips of longing. They never amount to much. It's just the way he is. When he likes someone as much as he likes Sholto, he gets confused. They're just crushes. Men like Sholto impress him. They make an impression.
They don't usually ask him to dance, though.
"James, please. Call me James."
The idea terrifies and thrills John. "Well, you'll have to stop calling me 'Watson.'"
Sholto chuckles, a soft rumble in his chest. John inhales the faint scent of his cologne, and closes his eyes. Sholto's hands are warm.
Sholto stops moving. His hands are on John's face. John can't open his eyes.
Sholto says his name, his first name, over and over, as he kisses John's cheek, his temple, his jaw. When their lips meet, John sighs, the pain and frustration of a thousand lonely nights leaving him on his breath. It's like coming home, this kiss. He's exactly where he should be, exactly where he's always known he should be.
He loves Sholto. Would follow him anywhere, even to his own doom.
"James," he says, finally, as they break the kiss and clutch at each other, as Sholto unbuttons John's shirt. "Christ, James, you don't know how much I've wanted this."
In the morning, they share breakfast. Sholto barely speaks. "No one can know, Watson," he says, looking into the middle distance. "It's unfortunate, but there's no use in failing to face reality."
"Of course," John says. It's a reflex, this agreement. Sholto is his superior officer, and a better man than he is, by many measures. He swallows against the sensation that he should argue, that there is more at stake here than their careers in the army or a potential scandal. He's never been that brave. He's always accepted the status quo. If anything, he's always been the one to do what's practical.
He feels his face redden as the two of them stand at the window that looks out onto a tiny back garden. Outside, ivy covers the wooden fence and loops around the metal legs of a small table. It grows where it shouldn't, and will have to be torn out, eventually.
They shake hands before they part. They'll see each other again, when they return to Afghanistan. They agree to stay on friendly terms.
"Dance." Sherlock agrees, and he heads toward the dance floor, his whole body moving like pure liquid tiger. He's stalking a place in the centre of everything, and John has no choice but to do what he always does, follow, even if this time, he desperately wants to lead.
Sherlock makes room for himself in the place he's chosen, amid the press of warm bodies. He doesn't hesitate; he closes his eyes and he starts to dance. John shuffles a bit to find his rhythm, ignoring the stares of the men around them. They aren't looking at him, anyway. They're all watching Sherlock, and rightfully so.
Sherlock's head is thrown back, his face ecstatic, his body moving in a response to the beat as fraught and complicated as the man himself. It's passionate and it's uncompromising and it's damn amazing, brilliant, incredible. It's all the words John uses to describe Sherlock at his finest.
He can't believe he's never seen this before. His fault, really.
"Dance," John says, staring at the wedding day schedule Sherlock has drawn up. It's the first time he's seen it. He can barely read the words on the page. Now that he's looking at the whole day, all laid out for him in black and white, his mind stutters over it. He's staring down at a future he didn't choose.
John is seated at the desk in the sitting room. He feels as though he's bolted to the chair.
"Dance," Sherlock says, leaning over his shoulder to take the paper from him. Too close. Not close enough. "It's traditional among, well, people who care about these sorts of things."
John glances at Sherlock's face long enough to see that he is watching John carefully, his brow furrowed, his eyes critical.
John both hopes and fears that Sherlock will read him precisely. If Sherlock can see that he's miserable, see that John wants out—
He does. John wants out. He only started seeing Mary in the first place because he thought Sherlock was dead. If Sherlock hadn't gone and bollocksed it up—running off to save the world without him, the nerve—John would never have been interested. He'd already decided, before, that there wouldn't be anyone else. He hadn't worked out exactly what that would mean. He'd thought they might have time to work it out together.
There was never time.
Now, it's up to Sherlock to figure it out. John sits back and folds his arms. Go ahead, deduce me. Please. Deduce me.
Sherlock shakes his head as if he's trying to knock a stray thought loose. "Don't worry about the dance, John. It's nothing. It's trivial. A trained monkey could do it."
Of all the times for him to fail to get it, this is the worst. John toys with the idea of moving forward, of being brave, of saying what he needs to say, what he's ached to say. Or he can step back. Be realistic. He sighs, defeated. A little redirection, then. "I know how to dance."
"You know how to shuffle."
"I've danced before, Sherlock." Unbidden, memories of Tony, of James, come to the forefront. John's eyelids flutter. "I can dance."
"Can you lead?"
John blinks, watching him. It's your turn to do that, you git. You left. You came back. Now you tell me what you want. Take care of me. Take me out of this accident of a life. Take me. He can't say it. "No."
Sherlock sighs heavily. "Come on, we haven't got all day." He holds out his hands.
John manages to stand, but his body is so full of tension, he doesn't think he'll be able to move. Sherlock does it for him, steps toward him, and takes John's hand, and places it on his waist. "You'll have to get used to leading. Might as well start now."
Sherlock's hand is on John's shoulder, resting lightly there. He holds up his right hand. "Here." He looks at it, meaningfully.
John's palm is sweating profusely as he takes Sherlock's hand. "Now, it's unacceptable if your partner's arms are like noodles, so here." His arms stiffen. "This is a good frame. You use it to steer me around the room. Take a step toward me, and use this—" he gives John's hand a shake— "and your hand on my waist, to make me step back."
John manages it, somehow.
"Good. And again."
John steps forward; Sherlock steps back. Together, they move across the sitting room. Sunlight slants in through the windows, onto the worn rug. Sherlock watches John closely as John walks him back, and back, and back.
"You'll want to stop a bit shy of the wall, I think." Sherlock's voice is a murmur, huskier than John has ever heard it.
He doesn't want to stop shy of the wall. He wants to push Sherlock into it and hold him there and kiss his mouth until it's red and his cheeks are flushed and he's gasping for breath.
"What do I do?" John asks. It's a big question.
"Take me back across the room," Sherlock says. His voice is still quiet, ragged around the edges. "If that's where you want to go."
John panics, and steps back, and takes Sherlock with him. The moment is over, and they're still touching, still so close, but he feels the opportunity pass. He's missed it, and he doesn't dare do anything now.
Sherlock coaches him through some basic steps, and teaches him how to waltz. Once he gets the hang of it, John's mind drifts, and he imagines dancing with Sherlock, instead of Mary, in front of their friends. Not all those people they're inviting to the wedding, whoever the hell they all are. John and Sherlock, they would dance in front of just their close friends, people who've been there for them, people Sherlock will tolerate. He imagines what it would be like, just dancing, just like this. Maybe it's something they could do. Maybe it would be wonderful.
"That's good, John," Sherlock says, as he lets go of John's hand, and takes a step away. "You'll be fine, I think." He drops his gaze to the floor, blinking hard, before turning away and taking up his violin.
John stands there for a long moment, looking at anything except Sherlock. "Thanks," he says, after an aching silence that holds all the things he can't say.
Sherlock begins to play. John doesn't recognise the song: it's something new. It's sad and mournful and sweet.
John has to go, soon. He has to go meet Mary and have lunch. He has to be the man who is looking forward to the wedding, to a life spent with her.
He moves to his old familiar chair, and adjusts the pillow. He sits. He leans back, and closes his eyes, and listens to Sherlock play.
You'll have to get used to leading.
Maybe he can.
The lights strobe. The disco ball overhead casts its shards of rainbow light everywhere. There's nothing here but the hard throb of the beat, and men dancing all around them. There's no waltz, just Sherlock being Sherlock, brilliant, gorgeous, in his own separate world, totally oblivious to everyone around them.
Rules change. People change. They can. They have to, sometimes.
Someone bumps into John, and he snaps out of his reverie. It's the bloke from before, the one who tried to pull Sherlock, earlier. He's staring at Sherlock as he leans in to shout in John's ear.
"If I were you, mate, I wouldn't let these fuckers get the impression that my boyfriend was here by himself. Not if he danced like yours does."
John shakes his head. The words are there, on his lips. Not my boyfriend. Not my date. Not mine.
But he looks at the bloke, who is licking his lips as he watches Sherlock hungrily. "I dunno. I sort of like to watch you lot burn," he says, and the bloke laughs and claps him on the back, shaking his head as he walks away.
When he looks back toward Sherlock, Sherlock is watching him, wearing an uncertain smile. He keeps dancing, putting a little distance between them, head dropping as the song changes again and he takes up a different beat.
John steps in toward Sherlock, toward this man who means everything to him, toward hope. Sherlock's head is still down, he's still finding his way into the new song, so John places his foot forward, right on the spot on the floor where Sherlock is looking. Sherlock raises his head and stares at him. John steps closer and runs his hand down Sherlock's arm, and takes his hand, and places it on his own shoulder.
Sherlock is watching him closely, his gaze so intent, John feels like he's burning under it. He wants to burn. He's catching fire, and it's wonderful. He steps in and wraps his arm around Sherlock's waist, and they aren't even dancing any more. Sherlock is frozen in place, blinking hard as John's hand seeks the nearest bare skin he can find, the side of Sherlock's neck.
Sherlock says something, maybe John's name. His brow is furrowed and he looks absolutely terrified.
"It's okay," John says, over and over. He leans in and he pulls Sherlock down and murmurs in his ear, daring to let his lips brush the soft flesh of his earlobe. "It's okay, it's okay." It is because it has to be. It is, because this is exactly what he's meant to be doing, what he always should have done.
The music pounds and they sway a little, and John buries his face against Sherlock's chest, nuzzling the skin where his shirt opens. He knows, on some level, that this isn't quite right. He's supposed to be getting married. He's supposed to belong to someone else.
None of that matters. It isn't real. It can't be, because this is where he really belongs, where he's always belonged, his body pressing into Sherlock's, drinking him in, revelling in the way the muscles of Sherlock's arms shift under his hands.
He'll sort it out. Whatever he needs to do, he'll do it. He'll call Mary in the morning, and explain. He never should have pretended he could get over Sherlock. He'll move out, immediately. He never has to go back to that sad flat again. Sod all of his stuff. He never liked his stuff anyway. He'll leave it all behind.
Because he's gone, that former, hesitant, John Watson, replaced by this person who he's never dared to be. Dear God, he's going to take Sherlock home, to their real home, to Baker Street, and undo these buttons, climb inside Sherlock's clothes, climb into the life they never got to have together, and never, ever leave.
Sherlock's lips are on his forehead, Sherlock's hands are in his hair, and Sherlock's mouth is pressing against his ear, murmur-shouting to be heard above the thumping music. "John, stop this. You need to stop."
John will never stop. He does what he should have done, ages ago. He takes the lead. He takes what he wants. He takes Sherlock's face in his hands and pulls him down, crashing their mouths together. It's sloppy and it's wet and it's needy, and Sherlock meets him there, tentative at first, then relenting to John's persistence, kissing him back, grasping him, holding him tight, tracing the lines of his back with trembling hands, and the two of them are all lips and tongues and teeth for a long, desperate moment.
Sherlock breaks first, stepping back, taking John's hands and searching his face, eyes shining with hope and desperation, the line of his mouth turned down. He's gasping, panting for breath like they did that first night, chasing each other through the streets, chasing this, John realises, exactly this.
The music bumps and heaves and changes. The lights swing and strobe and the bodies around them crush and groove and slide and press. John grins at Sherlock, and pulls him down so he can shout in his ear.
"Change of plans," he says. "Please, if you don't mind. Let's go home."
Sherlock grasps John by the shoulders, his eyes searching, the expression on his face so soft, so tender, it makes John want to cry for love and pity.
John kisses him again. "I can't go through with this marriage, Sherlock. It would be wrong. I gave myself to you already. Maybe you don't know that. God knows I spent enough time saying otherwise. But I'm here now. We're here now. Please."
Sherlock is blinking hard, taking a step back, watching John. It's too loud to keep talking. There isn't anything left to say. So John stands very still, as men dance around them. It's Sherlock's decision now. He's always been alone, but he doesn't have to be. John doesn't want him to be.
A small half smile moves across Sherlock's lips. He holds out his hand, and John takes it. Sherlock leans in, his lips brushing against John's ear. "Just the two of us," he says. It's a statement, and a question. He searches John's face for the answer.
John's grinning as hard as he can. "The two of us," he shouts at Sherlock, loud enough that he knows he can hear. Sherlock's smiling now too, and then they're leaving, tugging each other toward the exit, finally going home.