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Vertigo

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Sherlock is lost. Has lost. He’s a loser.

Because love is a chemical defect found on the losing side. Because John Watson has somehow, someway wormed himself not only inside Sherlock’s heart, but also inside Sherlock’s head—where it counts. Lurking behind his waking eyes. A visceral rhythm. Pounding and pounding in the environs of his sinus cavity. Gunpowder and bullets.

Sherlock is confident he’s hallucinating. Drugged. Tripping on acid. Cocaine. Jonesing for nicotine at the very least. 

But no. It’s John. Or the memory of John.

Long years traversing Europe, the Americas. Hunting down and destroying the vestiges of Moriarty’s crime syndicate. And it’s always when he’s alone. Lying awake in a flea-ridden motel in the middle of East Jesus Nowhere at the crack of dawn. John thrumming though his body, his mind. 

John enables him. Makes Sherlock regard himself in a new light. Like he’s worth it.

Worth what, he can’t fathom. But definitely deserving of more than his fair share.

 

John hugs him, after.

After Sebastian Moran, after his sick and twisted spin on The Most Dangerous Game. After the gunshots and the surreptitious phone calls and empty warehouses rigged to explode. Hugs Sherlock like he’s worth more than any number of jade pins. Cradling the back of his head with the full width of his hand, nose buried in his collar. 

And oh.

The feelings John inspires are unquantifiable. Like the universe, larger than life, the consummation of light and thought and breath and panting. In and out and in again, noxious fumes burning inside Sherlock’s chest. Combustible, fissile isotopes uranium-235 and plutonium-239. He can’t—he can’t breathe! Wants to claw at his flesh, break open his body, relieve the pressure and the pain and the pleasure. But he can’t. He won’t. Because it’s John and he would suffer many deaths and resurrections if John just…

That’s all. Just. Him.

Sherlock would rather John punch him in the face. It would hurt less. 

God, how ordinary people must function! Caring interminably! A superior specimen though he may be, Sherlock is incapable of compartmentalizing the gratitude and admiration and sheer joy John arouses in his heart, his head, his bloody toes for all Sherlock knows. Every square inch hyperaware. Points of contact, live wires. The feedback nearly sends Sherlock over the edge. Scream with the intensity of it. Shout, bite, curse as he dissolves under the naked affection in John’s voice when he says, “Sherlock.”  

John is slowly destroying him, piece by piece.

Sherlock wants to destroy him back. 

“John.” Ignites within his mouth, open fire, semi-automatic. Sherlock wants to apologize. I’m sorry for leaving you behind, I’m sorry I made a mistake, I’m sorry you’re feeling what I’m feeling right now because it hurts. 

“I looked everywhere for you.”

I know, Sherlock doesn’t reply.

He missed this. (Well, not this. But this.) He’d almost forgotten home manifests itself in the shape, the sound, the scent of his dearest friend and John retreats. Damn near takes Sherlock’s heart with him. Lurching like it yearns to follow, to minimize the distance between the two of them because nothing on this Earth will separate Sherlock and John so cruelly ever again. 

Sherlock shuts his eyes. Preserving the raw twinge John leaves behind. Wavers where he kneels.

John cups his face in his hands. Watery laughter. “You look like shit.” 

“Yes.” It’s all he can manage. But he has time. He has all the time in the world.

Sherlock smiles. Trusting John with the weight of his head. He’s so tired. Quaking with exhaustion and relief like cocaine. Fuzzy wool threading through his veins. 

“Oh my God.” Forehead to forehead when John is finally able to ask, “How?” 

Sherlock opens his eyes. Transfixed by John’s crumbling restraint, his failure to rein in his happiness, his anguish, his fear, his fury. A familiar moue Sherlock cited on more than one occasion over the past three years.

His mouth.

Sherlock touches. Fingertips once calloused from abusing his violin grown soft from neglect. 

John chokes, “Why?” Derelict vowel on the tip of his tongue, on the pad of Sherlock’s index. 

“Later. I’ll explain everything later…”

“Fuck me,” John moans. A statement of resignation, not a request. (Probably.) “I believed in you.”

Not a reprimand. Not blaming Sherlock for living day in and day out with the burden of another human being branded on the backs of his eyelids, bloodied face tormenting him in the dead of the night. No, it’s an endorsement. John believed in him. Believed he wasn’t the fake he said he was. Believed he didn’t commit suicide.

“I’m sorry—“

John kisses Sherlock in earnest. 

If it were possible to retain John, compact and complete, Sherlock would swallow him whole. Because it’s excruciating. This healing atmosphere after years of restraint, of suffering. Like rubbing salt on an open wound. And it’s hardly any better, crushing John against him. It’s worse. Elevating, cataclysmic, to the left of his breastbone. A brewing storm in his throat and his ribcage rattles with his, “John.”

Respite. Begging, please. Please, like needles pricking his arms. And it’s John, John, John. Over and over and over again until Sherlock is speaking his name with reverence. Woolen jumper beneath his fingernails.

Then skin.

Then more.

Flushed and perspiring beneath the sheets of John’s bed. A cocoon of linen. Safe and sound in a tangle of limbs and a nest of pillows and discarded clothing. John loves him thoroughly, attentively, casing Sherlock’s lean frame beneath his body. Extols him past the point of no return with “What have you done to me?” and “Look at you.” and “Beautiful.” 

It’s too much. It’s way too much.

Sherlock, who never imagined someone—anyone—could (or would) worship him so shamelessly.

John cants his hips, kissing every inch of Sherlock’s face. Sighs, “Sherlock” and “oh, Sherlock” and “Don’t go where I can’t find you.” 

Sherlock is inert. Boneless. Undone. Can’t promise John anything. Not the way the world works. He says as much as he drowns, head lolling from the pressure and the pain and the pleasure and—John. 

“Then lie to me.” 

“Yes.” Okay. “Yes.” Whatever John wants.

 

Sherlock does not believe in love. 

Nothing, as of yet, has given him a reason to put faith in an ill-defined emotion. Love is patient, love is kind. Love is privy to murder. Love is the soft, white underbelly of altruism. Jealousy and illusions of control. Love is more than vicious, it’s an excuse. An excuse to screen calls, dictate wardrobes. Batter and bruise. An excuse not to be alone. 

Sherlock does and doesn’t understand the compulsion to avoid a solitary life. He would say he empathizes, but empathy and he haven’t gotten on since Uni and damn it all to hell if he feels the need to try and rationalize the reasoning behind: “It’s not you, it’s me.” 

Eyes shut against John’s flat, open to his mind palace.

221B. Just as he left it.

Where did he burry that—ah! He opens the bread box. Bats fifteen species of moths to disperse. A stack of envelopes, secured with the spinal cord of a Malaysian pygmy. 

Coffee stains. Smudges of ink. Water damaged pages inside. Signed Victor.

He keeps them to remind himself that love—or what workaday people call love—is, at its core, deception. Flattery, sweet nothings. Please. Sherlock tosses the letters into the fire. Ash, tendrils of smoke, and the sentiment bursts into flames. 

Sherlock moves on. 

His stores of information give way like the Red Sea before…before whoever it was. Gandhi? Sherlock doesn’t know. Doesn’t care to know. But he’s inside his own head. Statistics, encyclopedic configurations, bone and debris and mud. Granules of sand prickle the balls of his bare feet. The swish of his robe as he weaves down the hallway to his illusory bedroom. 

John Watson is there. Rather, everything he knows about John Watson is there. Missing pieces. Frayed threads. He’s not wearing shoes, either. Sherlock rakes his knuckles against his philtrum. Rests his elbow on the back of his wrist. Fingers drumming against his hipbone. Tchaikovsky. He’s having trouble visualizing a combination of John and love. Somehow, he thought the beatific chaos binding his lungs would change his opinion of John. Or of himself. 

But no. He still marvels at John. Still loves himself.

Love is disgusting.  

John patiently waits for Sherlock to make a decision. 

“Touch me,” Sherlock says. 

John checks his pulse. Fixes the collar of Sherlock’s robe. Rubs his thumb under Sherlock’s eyes, noting the evidence of discoloration from lack of sleep. Tuts his disappointment, but he’s smiling. He leads Sherlock to where the bed (was) in reality and Sherlock follows. Drops his guard wholly and without hesitation. 

Regains consciousness.

Breathes deep. Evaluates the stages of sleep John undergoes in the wee hours of the morning. Spectral headlights span across the walls like some kind of Arthurian beast John always goes on and on about. 

John’s hand wanders toward Sherlock. Reaching for him. Protecting him. From bad dreams, from particularly painful memories that raid his mind while his body is forced to recuperate. 

Sherlock grabs John’s forearm. John sighs into his pillow.  

Sherlock does not believe in love. He believes in John Watson. 

 

John opens his eyes to find Sherlock staring at him. Not just staring. Sherlock never just does anything. His gaze is concerted. Intense. Attempting to bore directly into John’s amygdala with his eyes by sheer force of will, maybe. John smacks the taste of sleep out of his mouth, the taste of Sherlock out of his mouth and Oh my God I kissed Sherlock Holmes more than kiss him what if he regrets it what if— 

“Shut up,” Sherlock snaps. “It’s half nine in the morning,” White-knuckling the sheets. Hair in disarray. “I can’t do this.” 

Here it comes, John thinks. The John-last-night-was-a-mistake. 

“This…” Sherlock spits the word, “domesticity.” 

John blinks. He blinks again. Assumes Sherlock is referring to a lie in. How he’s forcing himself—literally forcing himself, if the tremors in his arms and legs are any indication—to stay in bed, doing something he would otherwise abhor. Like laundry, or the dishes, or the shopping. Sherlock frowns, recalcitrant.

God help him, but it’s endearing. “You don’t have to stay, you know. It’s fine.” 

Sherlock is out of bed. Naked as a jaybird. 

“You’re welcome.” John turns over, but he can’t go back to sleep. A small part of him worried Sherlock will take him too literally. 

 

“This is miserable,” Sherlock quips.

John brushes his teeth. Up and down, neat and precise. It makes Sherlock absurdly happy. He doesn’t like it. One night and suddenly the everyday and the ordinary and the mundane aren’t so mind-numbingly monotonous. Sherlock wants to cut them out and hoard them in secret places no one else can find even though they serve no purpose. It pisses him off.

“You’re killing me,” Sherlock voices his displeasure. 

“Turnabout’s fair play.” 

 

John has a lease agreement.

Sherlock has a Mycroft.

 

John unfolds the directions “so simple a child could do it”, according to Sherlock. He turns them upside-down. Right-side up. Garners full use of his I-am-disappointed frown. “So we’ve got…” Prods at the plastic casings. Filled with more screws than he can shake a stick at. “Big ones. Small ones. Medium sized ones. Bigger ones. Washers. These squiggly bits.” 

“Squiggly bits.” Sherlock is amused. John is irritated. 

“If you’re not going to help, you don’t get to criticize my methods.” 

“Your methods.” Sherlock sits on the sofa, his chin cradled atop his thumbs and his mouth hidden behind his intertwined fingers. “Pray tell.” 

John shakes the handle of his 10-in-1 at him. “I’ve assembled my fair share of cheap-arse furniture, thank you very much.” He also dated a number of women who purchased entertainment centers in the infancy of their romantic liaisons. Forcing slot A into remotely-resembles-conical-outlet B is almost a prerequisite for any relationship. But Sherlock won’t help. Even though he’s smart. Efficient. Good with his hands. (John is not blushing. He is not blushing.) He’s lazy.

Mostly, he enjoys watching John do things. The oddest things, really. Peel apples, the plumbing. Anything but type entries for his blog, which Sherlock rudely proposes is a sign of devolution. 

John drops the pamphlet on the floor. He’s not sure where to start because the instructions are in Chinese. “Remind me why you destroyed your old table?” 

“For science,” they say. Smile in tandem. 

Sherlock watches John use his 10-in-1 as a hammer. His face “goes all soft”, per John, and a surge of affection catches him unawares. “John,” he starts. “Would you stay if I—“ Tries again, reduced to stammering by the raw honesty in John’s eyes. “What if I couldn’t—“ Frustrated. “If I couldn’t give you what you need. What you want. Would you stay?” 

John doesn’t say anything. Taking too long to think. Makes Sherlock antsy. 

“I’m afraid I would keep you anyway,” Sherlock blurts. He’s surprised to hear himself divulge this heretofore heavily guarded secret. A bit not good. Admitting he would hold John hostage against his will. Because he would. Or not. Probably not. But he’d try. For a while. Sherlock swallows his uncertainty. Tastes like mercury. Vexed and impatient, he snaps, “Say something!” 

John touches Sherlock’s hands. Eases them apart. Fingernails leaving crescent moons on his skin. “You would keep me?” 

Sherlock nods. Can’t bring himself to explain how. 

“Ever heard of Stockholm syndrome?” 

Sherlock huffs. Closes his eyes because stupid, stupid! John kisses the corner of his mouth and Sherlock breathes him in. Doesn’t kiss him back, just breathes. Parting his lips. A taste. A little taste. An electrical shock. Ventricular fibrillation. Isn’t used to the cloying need of reassurance. Steals his breath even as John restores it. “I would let you go,” Sherlock admits, chest heaving. Doesn’t realize he’s told the truth until after he speaks the words on John’s tongue. Genuine surprise, a gasp of regret. Or delight. He’s not sure. Why would he do that? Why would he let John go if John wanted to leave? 

“Lima syndrome,” John whispers. Or thinks. They’re so close now Sherlock can scarcely tell the difference. 

This can’t be happening to me, Sherlock says/doesn’t say as John resuscitates a part of him he didn’t know he had. 

 

They are arranging receipts on the floor when it happens. The Kiss

The Kiss of Intent.

Sherlock very rarely finds it necessary to assign anything capital letters, let alone italics, but there are exceptions. Like The Work. Significant, a cerebral space-vampire on his hard drive, but The Work does not hold everything in the balance. Most things. Lots of things. But not everything. John isn’t everything, either, but he contributes a key element to Sherlock’s everything. Sherlock will be damned if he accepts a mimicry of John’s resplendence. Forced to revise his metamorphosis from a solitary creature of habit to a solitary creature of habit with a John. 

Romantic tripe. Sherlock doesn’t know himself. 

He pinches the bridge of his nose. Strikes through the nuggets and truffles, breaking his mental pen. Might as well tip the illusory jar of ink while he’s at it. Black as pitch. Sherlock dismembers Those Thoughts. (If he’s capitalizing willy-nilly, he might as well go whole hog.) Focuses on the fact that John is going to kiss him. (Or maybe punch him. John does surprise.) Sherlock is all thumbs when it comes to sentimentality and its trappings he eschews, but he can interpret a shift of the eyes, a nibble of the lip. Micro expressions. John wants him. 

Sherlock’s toes curl. He crosses his legs so John won’t notice. 

John is sexual. Sherlock is asexual. This is the first and most insignificant setback in a series of impediments for them as a…Sherlock shudders at the word Couple. First only because sexual compatibility seems to be ‘the basis of a stable relationship’, if Sherlock is to believe the internet. (Dull. And the other setbacks can go rot.) Sherlock doesn’t give a flying fuck about sexual orientation or gender identification unless it’s Work related. He doesn’t even identify as asexual. He identifies with no one. Labels make him itchy. Especially Sociopath, which gives Sherlock a sick sense of satisfaction to retain a term so unapproachable. It has served him well in the past. He does not plan to discard it now. 

But the point. And it is sex. Sherlock doesn’t care, to put it mildly. John does. Sherlock cares about John. So he will care about their sexual encounters.

Resolved. 

As for love? 

Sherlock has studied love for the purpose of navigating its convoluted justifications and breakable vows of monogamy. The masses fall in and out of it, trying on new partners like trying on new outfits to wear. What he has with John isn’t love. It’s More.  

There is no definition for More. Not the More Sherlock feels, and he’s pretty sure he’s feeling the hell out of it. 

Does John feel love? Or More

Sherlock wanted nothing to do with More, initially. An inkling John was interested in him Before. Shut him down Back Then, waiving John’s misplaced feelings because John was (and is) John and Sherlock was (and is) hopelessly fascinated by him. Didn’t want John to get the wrong idea. Didn’t want to jeopardize what he knew would bloom into something…dare he think Special

No. Ugh. Plebian. 

Something Interesting

Sherlock can’t pinpoint when More happened upon his heart. Maybe it was when John belted Bright Eyes at a karaoke bar in Piccadilly so Sherlock could steal a set of keys from under the bartender’s nose. Or maybe it was when John admonished Anderson in the middle of a crime scene for calling Sherlock a freak one time too many. Or maybe it was when John purchased a bottle of wine for Sherlock for his birthday: Educated Guess. John kept being perfect and Sherlock kept allowing his perfectness to affect him, damn it. 

To be subjected to something so Normal. So agonizing. Hanging in limbo because John needs Sherlock to be honest, open, and never to fake his death without John’s express permission.

It ends now. 

Sherlock rifles through his stack of receipts. He systematizes May through July while John assembles the whole of August. They work swiftly and silently. The whisper of Sherlock’s robe and the rustle of paper.

If intimacy is what John needs (Likely.), Sherlock will give it to him. If John wants platonicism (Probable.), Sherlock will give it to him. If he wants the sun (Doubtful.), Sherlock will find a way to give him the sun. Just one thing, though. Only one condition.

Don’t leave.

Sherlock says it. Quick. Like ripping off an Elastoplast. “I promise.” As if announcing he has a terminal disease. “And now I mean to have you.”

John smiles. “Yes, you do.” Continues sorting August. 

Wait. 

What? 

Sherlock is confused. Which doesn’t happen very often. 

John explains, “Your methods. I applied them. Also, you’re not the subtlest person.” 

“Subtle how?”

“You researched how to engage in homosexual relations while I was sitting right next to you.” 

Sherlock frowns. “When?”

“Tuesday.” 

“You returned to work on Tuesday.” 

“For half a day. You didn’t notice. Obviously.” 

Sherlock forgets about the receipts and the apparently not-so-subtle play for John’s affections. “Case related,” he lobs. 

“You Googled How to have sex with my flatmate.” 

Well, shit. “You didn’t say anything.” 

“The concept of timing must be foreign to you.” John idly scratches behind his ear, ducking his head. His face is ruddy from blushing. 

Sherlock wishes he didn’t find John’s conduct so charming. It’s inconvenient. “You’re inconvenient,” he grumbles. 

“Yes, well. Come here.” Reaches for Sherlock. A hand on the back of his neck. The crinkle of receipts under their knees. The Kiss of Intent. Something that should have been hot and fiery and maybe a little hungry. Clumsy hands, shaky breaths, and trembling bodies. But Sherlock is petulant, foiled in a strange turn of events. He accepts John’s kiss, but declines to accommodate him by tilting his head to one side or opening his mouth when John licks his lips. He can’t not kiss him back, though, as much as John irritates him. (More again.)

They’ve disturbed their work. 

Sherlock is just fine with that. 

 

Romantic gestures, words of affirmation, terms of endearment. Discarded, left fermenting in the deepest and darkest reservoirs of Sherlock’s hindbrain. 

When John looks at him like he can’t be real. Sherlock’s desire to procure a cerebral spade and dig for buried nuances he’s observed but never committed fully to memory is unprecedented. He wants to know. Now. Right now. What John’s thinking, what he wants, because John Watson is ruining him and it hurts so good

Sherlock honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. “What?”  

“W—nothing.” John is flustered. Rocks on his heels, hands stuffed in the pockets of his coat. Must find something interesting stuck to the toes of his shoes because he gives them his undivided attention. “Just.” Emphasizes the T, biding his time. “Thinking.” 

Sherlock leaves his keys to dangle in the lock. “About?” 

John meets his eyes, lips pressed firmly together. “Oh. About. Yes.” Unsuccessfully curbs a smile. Infective. Sherlock answers in kind. It’s unbearable. “This, tonight. It was nice.” 

Sherlock scoffs. “Nice. Nice is a word used to describe one of your dull acquaintances or your great aunt Silvia’s handmade doilies.” He taps a beat on the doorknob, his patience wearing thin. “John, you didn’t have to accompany me if that’s what you’re getting at.” 

“No, I. I had fun.” 

“You fell asleep.” 

“We should do it again sometime.” 

Sherlock is concerned for John’s sanity. “We solve crimes on a regular basis.” He pauses. With a hint of acrimony, amends, “Solved.” The Yard’s drudgework—hardly satiating, but anything to worm their way into Lestrade’s good books.

“I mean the whole us together thing. Eating takeaway and watching twelve hours of security footage.” 

“This wasn’t a date,” Sherlock says, bemused. 

“No. But it could have been, I think.” 

“Is this the part where I invite you upstairs for coffee we have no intention of drinking?” Sherlock invades John’s personal space and John closes his eyes, titillating Sherlock with his blind trust. Breath mingling in the night. Streetlights and headlights like mandorlas in the accumulating fog, twinkling in Sherlock’s periphery.  

They kiss. Lips brushing tentatively and, ah. Capillaries widening, flooding his face with heat. Cascading down and further down, pooling tender in the pit of his stomach. He. He wants to—he. Can’t think. Scrambles to gather his thoughts; the trifles he needed to examine more closely are swelling beneath his feet. Crawling up his legs like ants and he should take John’s face in his hands, shouldn’t he? Adjust the angle? There? 

Yes. God, yes. Huffing, burning, closer, and the mist is closing in around them. 

“I would have you be the death of me,” Sherlock admits. All the social conventions wither and die because that’s a bit Not Good

“Pretty sure that’s not until the third date.” 

Sherlock should have known archetypal platitudes would mean little to the man who is ending him. 

 

Sherlock’s threshold for pain is paradoxical, inconsistent. Knife wound? No problem. Oil of vitriol? Piece of cake. A cold? Lord have mercy. 

Sherlock flexes his theatrical muscles, flinging the offending phalange in John’s lap the moment he sits on the coffee table.

“Alright. Just. Hold still, will you?” John grabs his wrist, a pair of tweezers in hand.  

Sherlock makes an objectionable noise somewhere between a moan and whimper. John tightens his grip. Sherlock’s glare can curdle milk, which explains how they manage to consume three gallons a week for Christ’s sake. 

“Big baby.” Readies his weapon of choice. 

“I’ll die, John.” 

“From a splinter? Hardly.” 

“No,” Sherlock bites. If John weren’t immobilizing his left hand, he would swaddle himself in his robe and curl in the fetal position. “My reinstatement soiree.” Disdainful huff on point. “Press frenzy. Deerstalkers and fans, John. Can you hear it? The sound of my boredom reaching heretofore unimaginable heights?” 

“Mrs. Hudson promised to keep you entertained.” John sticks his tongue between his teeth. Pokes and prods at the pad of Sherlock’s finger. “Someone once told me,” he whispers, like speaking softly will lure the sliver of wood from Sherlock’s aggrieved pinky, “that nothing is impossible. Only improbable.” 

“What moron told you that?”

John plucks the splinter free. “One of the greatest minds of the twenty-first century.” 

Sherlock isn’t sure how to handle John’s compliment. It’s awkward, riveting, warm. A beating heart, and maybe it’s his own. “One of?”

“You can last a few days. You survived three years, remember.” 

Sherlock does not consider those three years as surviving. More like subsisting. (On the promise of present day.) Sherlock cannot begin to fathom his good fortune lest the figures rankle him to the bare bone. Reflection, no thanks. Like a thorn in his side. A splinter in his finger. 

“I remember,” Sherlock mutters. 

John kisses him. 

Hard.

Levers Sherlock down and down.

Goes willingly. Because he’s curious. Not because heat, salacious and swelling like a balloon in the pit of his stomach. Every breath Sherlock takes inflating and inflating and more and yes. Breathing deeper. Faster. Desire bubbling from within. Like a kettle: Water boils. (John exhales against Sherlock’s cheek.) Steam is created. (Sherlock keens. John kisses his throat. Sweat and spit.) Limited room within the confines of the kettle, pressure begins to build. (Sherlock undulates, arching his spine.) More steam, has nowhere to go. Begins to escape through the spout. 

Sherlock sighs audibly, “John?” 

“Sherlock?” 

“Why?” 

John noses down his neck. Kisses his clavicle. 

“Why not?” is John’s response. Closer, which involves elbows and knees and as urbane and tactile as John has proven to be in the past, their couch is only so big. 

Plus, John is a heavy man. Not too heavy, but heavy enough to bully the air out of Sherlock’s lungs. Increasing the pressure and the oh. Oh. “Oh,” Sherlock grouses. Or tires to grouse. Sounds like he’s caught between being incommoded and aroused. Frowns when John appreciates his sensitivity with an ‘mhm’, eyes twinkling.

“You’re heavy.” 

“Bedroom?” 

Sherlock doesn’t want the bedroom. Sherlock doesn’t want to move. Doesn’t want John to move. “Idiot,” he says instead of ‘stay’ or ‘no’. 

John is fluent in Sherlockian. “Berk.”

Mushrooms and cheese and none of these flavors are particularly savory secondhand. Doesn’t stop Sherlock from licking any semblance of risotto off John’s mouth. His lips buzzing with the stimulation. Yes, again, yes, Sherlock thinks. “John.” Less a question, but the query remains. Sweet. Alluring. And John pursues it with a single-mindedness Sherlock loves. He loves. He—“I...” his voice betrays him. “I…” 

John counters with, “You.”  

Mouths against John’s chin, “Why are you doing this?” 

“Because we want to.” Knuckles across his ribcage. “You’ve been desperate for my attention all day.” 

Sherlock objects to desperate. 

John settles for impatient. Explores Sherlock's chest, his belly as they argue semantics. Sherlock pretends not to notice, but cards his fingers through John’s hair when John nuzzles against his bare skin. Arms wrapping around Sherlock’s back. Pulling him closer. And, and, and. Sherlock squirms. The tipping point. He braces himself, teetering on the brink of feelings and emotions he never let himself succumb to before John. 

John is different. The pleasures he inspires are different. No longer meaningless. 

He knows why. 

Sherlock allows himself to be overwhelmed because John longs to overwhelm him. 

 

Sherlock is refulgent and pale, surrounded by women dressed in bedazzled eveningwear. In his veins courses the fire of his city, his circulatory system a percussive map of London’s streets. Seventy-two beats per minute. 

He lifts a flute of wine to his mouth. Takes a sip. A grimace John adores in spite of himself. Sherlock watches the couples mingle with desultory curiosity. Reading every gesture, tick, wrinkle and word. Quicksilver eyes roaming from person to person. Indolent. Until he sees John among the multitude. His gaze. Caustic during one of his blacker moods. But today John decides undiluted is appropriate. Transient at first, a brief moment of acknowledgement. Then intensifying, blinding. No holds barred. 

John’s stomach rolls pleasantly. 

Sherlock deposits his glass on a passing tray without looking. Doesn’t need to, really. He’s consciously aware of everyone in the room, regardless of their position on his Relevance Scale because “No man is an island, entire of itself, John.” 

Sherlock is a contradictive little shit when it suits him. 

John smiles. 

Sherlock does not weave through the crowd. The crowd breaks upon Sherlock’s resolve, receding, slipping into the sea of bodies. This, John thinks—Sherlock’s boundless poise and grace casting a spell on the variability of his musings—is Sherlock’s sincerest declaration of love. 

“There you are,” Sherlock may or may not speak aloud. John can’t be sure. 

“Here I am,” John replies in kind. 

They stand together, conversing on a level unremitting. Their love masquerades as an alleyway, winding strategically around Sherlock’s heart. 

 

“Excuse me?” Sherlock boggles at John over the morning paper. Well, not boggle. Sherlock hardly boggles. He will admit his eyes widen at John’s proposal. Mouth falling open for the briefest of moments. Not exactly gaping. But close enough. 

“Me, you,” John clarifies. “Date. Saturday. Dinner and a movie.” 

Gobsmacked? Yes. That’s what he is. Gobsmacked. Sherlock doesn’t know how to respond. John is a friend. He enjoys going out with John. Having fun with John is never boring. So why can’t he draw the necessary oxygen into his lungs in order to answer yes, yes, yes? Because. Reasons. They exist. Inconsequential reasons like: We don’t date. A pathetic argument. While it’s true they do not in fact date, their romantic relationship is subject to change. Just like everything else on the face of the Earth. Logic eases Sherlock’s mind, but not his respiratory system. So he nods. 

“Good. Be ready at noon.”  

Shit. 

 

Sherlock is not good at dating. Or dates. He finds them predictable. Tedious. Sherlock wouldn’t call himself a connoisseur, per se, but he’s disrupted enough of John’s half-arsed attempts to woo the fairer sex to have a good idea of what to expect. Dinner. A movie. Heinous. 

Sherlock buttons his aubergine shirt. Chest flushed, creeping up his neck. His body is betraying him and he hates it. Nerves. Why would he be nervous? There’s absolutely nothing to be nervous about. Unless the date goes poorly and John decides it’s in his best interest to get while the getting is good. 

Sherlock frowns at his mirror image. No. Not an option. He will be polite. He will be courteous. He will endeavor to pretend he’s having the time of his life. John’s worth it. 

Sherlock spends exactly ten minutes more than usual preening in his bedroom. Not a second more even though his hair refuses to cooperate, damn it. At twelve on the dot, he meets John on the landing. He’s irrationally pissy, surges of adrenaline causing his insides to squirm, his heart to palpitate, his palms to sweat. John is dressed to the nines. (John’s version of the nines.) Best trousers, best shoes, best cologne. (Gift from Harry. Expensive. Rarely used. Wants to make an impression. For me.

Sherlock wants to throw up. Wonders, abstractly, if he’ll vomit rainbows and butterflies.

 

John takes Sherlock to Angelo’s. Not exactly creative. Sherlock keeps his mouth shut. Sits in his usual spot. Tries to suss John out. Not his style. John prefers lavishing his dates with expensive, three course meals he can’t afford. Piano music, candlelight, and the susurrus of intimate conversation somewhere in the dark. 

John smiles. “I know what you’re thinking.” 

“Do you?” 

“Boring.” 

“No!” Sherlock is quick to deny his mounting ennui. Too quick. “You’re doing…well. Really well. And.” Don’t be pernicious, don’t be pernicious, don’t be pernicious. “I’m…having a…great. Time.” 

John snorts. Good humor. Not insulted. “You’re terrible at this.” Sherlock is affronted before John concludes with, “I’m worse.” Licks his lips. “I’m not—I don’t know what I’m doing,” he admits, exhaling his admission in confidence. “I’ve never done this before. With a man. And I feel stupid, but I want to pursue you. Not like this,” he flounders. “But. Um. Obviously. With murder. But not murder, of course. What I’m saying is, I…” John sighs. “…I like you. I fucking like you and I honestly can’t think straight, Sherlock, Jesus Christ.” 

Sherlock might be boggling now. “Pursue me?” 

“Yeah, you know. Bring you chocolates and flowers. In your case, toes and femurs.” 

Pursue suggesting to follow. To catch. Which doesn’t make sense. He’s already caught. Sherlock touches John’s hand. Sliding his fingers around his wrist. Surreptitiously taking his pulse. Elevated. 

It’s John’s turn to boggle. “Gun,” he whispers. 

What? 

Gun, John mimes. Sherlock checks the reflection in the window. Table three, bald German with acute gingivitis. He either has a gun in his pocket or he’s very excited about his lasagna. John isn’t so much mouthing, We have to do something! as he is pulling a face that speaks volumes of heroism and Sherlock stamps on his foot when the German reaches for his concealed weapon. (Murdering his wife on their anniversary. Classy.

“AHhhh-ahh!” John shouts. Stands. Hesitates, but only momentarily. “Eee—I have an announcement. To make.” Picks up his wine glass. “First, I’d like to thank Angelo. A fine man. A damn, fine man.” 

Polite applause. Angelo is bashful as hell. 

“Second, I—“ Like he suddenly remembers Sherlock is there. “—my date.” John takes a swig of his Pinot. “We’ve been through a lot of shit and you drive me ‘round the bend, but I. Um. Marry me.” 

Sherlock is stony-faced. 

More polite applause. 

Sherlock says, “No.” 

John struggles not to glance at table three. “Why?” 

Downcast expression. A dash of humility and, “You’re married to your work.” 

“You’re an arsehole. That was years ago.” 

Their audience has lost interest in their food. An out-and-out soap opera is unfolding before their eyes. 

“Three of which you spent traveling the world so you could find yourself.” 

“Yeah!” John snaps. Not acting anymore. “And I found that I love you, so there!” 

Sherlock simulates distress, leaving the table. Head bowed, feints left, tackling the German out of his chair before he can put a bullet through his wife’s head. 

 

John dabs at Sherlock’s eyebrow with a cotton swab. Sherlock flinches at the sting. 

“What a punch.” 

“I can see why he wanted to kill her,” Sherlock mutters. “She has a mean right hook. Best. Date. Ever.” 

John pauses for thought. “Yes, I think so.” Sweeps the trash in the bin beside the loo. “Only one thing can make it better.”  

“What’s that?” 

John tugs on the collar of Sherlock’s shirt and Sherlock stoops. Fully expects John to kiss him. Cliché. Romantic. 

“We’re out of milk,” John whispers in his ear. 

Sherlock evaluates John’s cheeky grin. The smudges of blood on his shoulder where he cradled Sherlock’s head while the German’s wife rebuked their interference and he kisses him. Because no one surprises Sherlock Holmes like John Watson. The inside of John’s mouth is velvety and warm. Breathe. Slow. Quick, quick. Slow. More breathing, less kissing. Just John’s lips on his lips and it fits, Sherlock thinks. This fits. 

 

Dragging Sherlock to the theatre is like pulling teeth. Funny, that. Considering John covered for Sherlock while he nicked molars from a number of dead bodies at Bart’s while Molly was on coffee break. (Not her coffee break, technically. Sherlock’s coffee break. But that’s neither here nor there.)

Sherlock doesn’t have the patience to sit still and watch anything exceeding the length of a YouTube video, let alone a film over two hours long. But, damn it, John’s tried to see a movie by himself and Sherlock always—always—texts him something dire and life-threatening and it usually involves either guns or milk. 

Sherlock can’t get into trouble if he’s sitting (sulking) in the dark next to John. 

Can he? 

John and Sherlock take their seats. Sherlock makes an unappealing face at the floor where his shoes are kind-of sort-of sticking in a I-can’t-tell-if-it’s-fizzy-drink-or-piss way. “I think I’m getting hives,” Sherlock says. 

John ignores him. Nibbles on his popcorn. 

Sherlock states he’s dying of boredom twice before the previews roll. 

“Behave.” 

“Have you noticed we’re the only adults in here?” 

John has noticed. “Well. It’s sort of a family friendly film. I think.” 

The first preview plays. Dark, teen love, angst, kissing in the rain. Sherlock makes gargling noises throughout. “Are you trying to kill me? I think you’re trying to kill me.” 

“I have no control over previews.” 

Sherlock wraps his coat tightly around his midsection and props his knees against the vacant seat in front of him. 

Next preview: Dark, teen love, angst, kissing in the rain. John almost wonders if it’s the same movie aside from the fact that the actors are different. 

Sherlock shoots him a nasty look. 

Next preview: Dark, teen love, angst, kissing in the rain. 

Really? 

John looks behind him at the projector. “These previews are kind of weird for The Hobbit.” 

Next preview: Dark, teen love, humor, kissing in the rain. 

“Finally some variety,” Sherlock sneers. 

Title sequence. Trees, landscape, yes. Here we go. 

Breaking Dawn, Part II.

John blinks. “We’re in the wrong theatre.” He stands up. 

Sherlock refuses to budge. 

“What are you doing?” 

“Watching a movie.” 

“Twilight?” John hisses between his teeth. “No. We’re here to see The Hobbit.” 

“Not my fault. I’m already comfortable.” 

Twat. 

“We don’t have tickets for Breaking Dawn.” 

“Do you seriously think someone is going to check our pockets, precious?” 

John scowls. He sits back down amongst irate demands from the patrons. Sinks deep in his seat. What must people think? Two, grown men watching Twilight? 

Sherlock is already laughing. 

And, okay. It is pretty funny. 

“Oh, they live forever. Sex must never turn boring after five hundred years.” 

John giggles. “I can’t tell. Is that a smoldering look or is he constipated?” 

“That’s a little pedophiliac, isn’t it?” 

“She looks like a sexy rabbit.” 

“Are they promoting underage sex?” 

“He’s one hundred years old or something.” 

“How did she have a child if he’s dead? His sperm should be dead.” 

“His sperm is probably sparkly.” 

“Mmm, they’re killing each other now.” 

“All the joys of parenthood, but none of the responsibility.” 

“And sex again. Horny bastards.” 

The movie stops abruptly. Members of the cinema staff make a beeline for their seats. Shine flashlights at them unnecessarily. “Gentleman, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” 

“What for?” Sherlock wants to know. 

“You’re disturbing the other customers. We’re evicting you from the theatre. Please leave.” 

Sherlock sighs in relief. “Thank God.” Hops to his feet readily. “Come on, John.”

“You should be ashamed of yourselves.”  

“Sorry,” John apologizes. He wonders if one hundred years of Sherlock Holmes would become boring. Decides it’s not important. Not when Sherlock is informing the theatre manager that the soles of his Leeds are ruined and he’s threatening to sue for damages in what appears to be a serious tone of voice, but not really. 

John can’t stop laughing.  

 

Sherlock and John walk through the park on their way home. Because John has an insatiable desire to eat morning, noon, and night and Sherlock knows that if John isn’t fed in a timely manner, he’ll lapse into a stropy silence. Wistful little noises in the back of this throat when they pass an establishment that barely resembles a restaurant. If his hunger reaches critical levels, John will moan like a cat in heat until Sherlock relents and carries his starving arse to the nearest vending machine. 

John is eating a basket of fish and chips. Licks his fingers, wiggling on the bench. A happy-dance of sorts. Kin to Sherlock’s yay-murder leap for joy. Only, instead of blood and bullets, it’s ketchup and carbohydrates. And it’s probably one of the…cutest…things Sherlock has ever seen. 

Sherlock hates the word cute. A bit twee and la, but the fact remains. So he doesn’t understand why John is fascinated with kittens tumbling off of shelves, so what? Like many things in the world, endearing behavior is subjective. 

Sherlock hates the word subjective, too. It’s outright lazy. 

John looks up at the sky. At the clouds. Cirrus, Sherlock thinks. He watches John log and classify the random data supported by tiny droplets of water and ice crystals. Apophenia, meaningful patterns or connections, pareidolia.

Sherlock is pleased to note his observational skills are rubbing off on John. First clouds, next dead bodies. 

“What do you see, there?” Sherlock asks, pointing. 

“Sort of looks like a rabbit wearing a strap-on.” 

Sherlock bristles. Not exactly what he thought John would say. 

“Why? What do you see?” 

“The small intestine of an adolescent gibbon, obviously.” 

John squints. “Seriously?” Nudges Sherlock once he realizes Sherlock is having him on. “What do you really see?” 

“A rabbit wearing a strap-on,” Sherlock is loath to admit. 

John laughs. 

“Power of suggestion.” Gestures to John’s empty basket with his chin. “Ready?” 

John bins his dinner. They make for Baker Street, falling in stride. Before they leave the park, John stops Sherlock with a quiet “Um.” and his eyes are trained on the kinky rabbit somewhere to the right of Sherlock’s ear. “Thank you. For.” John shoves his hands in his pockets. “Coming.” A pause, pregnant with implications. “And dinner, of course.” 

Sherlock feels the stirrings of what he’s discovered is referred to as butterflies. He doesn’t like that word, either. Not in this case. Not butterflies. John inspires something more manly. More dangerous. Medevac, air ambulance, Sikorsky S-76. An entire war, even. “You were hungry,” Sherlock reminds him. 

“Yes, I—“ John smiles. Leans forward on his toes to kiss Sherlock on the mouth. “Yes.” 

 

The streets are a symphony of London nightlife. Crisp, autumn air. Teasing Sherlock’s fringe. Aimless conversation gives birth to brave, new worlds inside John’s chest. 

An afflux of galaxies, twinkling like the stars. John chuckles with the improbabilities. 

Sherlock grabs John’s hand. 

John stiffens, turns. On his guard, sweeping darkened alleyways for signs of— 

But Sherlock isn’t pulling. Pushing. Leading him into danger. 

He’s blushing. 

John’s Sherlock-effused universe collapses on itself, a black hole of emotion sublimating an impression of infinity. It’s just the two of them. One anchoring the other anchoring the other, tethered to a single moment in time. 

John draws the back of Sherlock’s hand to his lips. Plants a kiss on his knuckles. 

Sherlock is silent. John doesn’t let go.

 

Sherlock associates intimacy with an intense familiarity that goes beyond memorization of facts, committing to memory thoughts and feelings and honest to God pabulum. 

For the longest time, John doesn’t perceive the implications. Why would Sherlock resort to filling his head with nonsense like how John’s left ankle makes a grinding noise when he flexes his toes, how John received a pellet gun for his twelfth birthday, how Harry’s pet hamster died and John buried Pete in the backyard with the neighbor’s grilling utensils? Then it hits him like...something hitting something really hard. (John needs to work on his similes.) Sherlock constantly gripes about his hard drive. Finite space for an infinite subject matter. He can’t just File, Save everything. Not enough room. Not enough incentive to remember the Earth goes around the Sun. 

But he remembers John’s favorite color is green. 

“What is your B.M.I.?” 

John hates to tell him, “I don’t know.” Because if questions are a sign of affection, John’s answers need to deliver. Clears his throat. Heart skipping one beat. Two. “I’ll find out.” 

Pianist fingers calculating the exponential curvature of his elbow. “What is your first memory?” His voice so soft, so private. John’s breath hitches. 

“Gladstone. I was three years old. Almost four. He bit me. A woman came to take him away. I remember standing at the front door, crying. I didn’t want him to go.” 

“Interesting,” Sherlock murmurs. As crazy as it sounds, being called interesting by Sherlock Homes is equally as satisfying as sex. 

John rolls them over. A smile budding on Sherlock’s mouth. John kisses it into full bloom. “You’re amazing.”

Sherlock surges beneath him. Long legs stretching, toes catching the sheet and the covers slide off of John’s shoulders. Sherlock basks in the praise like a cat basks in the sun. “Yes,” he sighs. Acknowledging his own genius as well as inviting John to tell me more, tell me more. Again. 

“You’re fantastic.” 

“Oh?” Strives for nonchalance. Misses by a mile. Breathless. Beguiled. 

“Brilliant. Spectacular. Miraculous. Incredible. Amazing.” 

“Mmm. You said amazing already.” 

“Well, you’re doubly amazing.” John drags his nose through Sherlock’s hair, across his forehead. Plants a kiss on the bridge of his nose. Then down, down, returning to Sherlock’s lips and they welcome him back with languid enthusiasm. “God, your mouth,” John continues to lavish Sherlock with compliments. “Your eyes,” he says, pulling back far enough to look into them. “You’re beautiful.” 

Sherlock’s brow is pinched, as close to dumbstruck as is possible. It wrenches John’s heart, his wonder. His disbelief. He wants to flatter Sherlock over and over until praise no longer renders him speechless. Renders him indolent, gasping under his hands, his tongue. Unmoored. 

He doesn’t care how long it takes. 

 

“You’re desperately in love with him.” 

Sherlock stops texting. Glares at John’s editor (Mary? Morstan? Sort of sounds familiar.) who cradles her chin atop interwoven fingers. Imperturbably. Like she’s one up on him. Sherlock doesn’t have time to waste, to rejoinder with passive-aggressive body language. Undertones contending that John Watson his HIS. Belongs to HIM. And she—with her little, black dress and fuck-me slingbacks—will have no stake in John’s future if Sherlock has any say in the matter. “A rather bold assumption. We’ve only just met.” 

“But you know all about me, don’t you?” Painted lips. Polished nails. Eyeliner applied with a practiced hand. She’s gutsy. Definitely a trait John would admire, along with her sizeable breasts. Mary smiles at Sherlock without humor. He can see it in her eyes. That cold, calculating look oft referred to as woman’s intuition. A lioness on the prowl. “I’ve read John’s blog. Seen the papers.” Mary sizes him up. Her assessment: Not a threat. 

In Sherlock’s opinion, it’s a mistake to theorize without all the facts. “John is characteristically romantic in his depiction of me and my work. And the papers? Oooh,” he purrs. “Must be true.” 

A waiter approaches the table to refill Mary’s wine glass. He must feel the tension between them because he neither asks after John, who excused himself to use the loo, nor inquires whether Sherlock will be joining their party of two. 

Has no intention of eating. As he’s wont to do, Sherlock disrupted John’s meeting with Ms. Morstan, a fabricated narrative his excuse to trouble John for his opinion regarding a set of crime scene photographs. John, as he is won’t to do, was irked Sherlock imposed on him during the main course. But the twinkle in his eye was unmistakable. Sherlock reveled in it. 

Mary, however, was unimpressed. The moment John was out of earshot, she pounced. 

“Those pictures couldn’t have waited twenty minutes?” 

“Lives are at stake,” Sherlock lies. 

“You’ve done this before. You’re jealous,” Mary giggles. As if Sherlock’s behavior has reverted him to a child-like status. His jejune attitude toward her more amusing than challenging. “It’s adorable.” 

Sherlock bristles. Fury threatens to overrule the schooled expression on his face, dictate his hands, but he’s already tapping the tabletop agitatedly. His dander is rising to critical levels. He has to speak. Unleash, lest hateful words wither and die in his chest and he’ll have to dig them out of his throat later, petrified insults sticking to his esophagus and a seven percent solution will ease his suffering, but he can’t. He can’t do that anymore. Sherlock opens his mouth, the muscles in his shoulders ape the ebb and flow of Violin Concerto #1. A string of deductions, rapid-fire and unforgiving. One after another. Legato. He doesn’t take a breath: “You’ve been engaged to marry twice before. You broke it off. Both times, if I’m not mistaken. The first unlucky bastard you seduced and dumped was a menial laborer, probably construction, and his job embarrassed you, yes, because you deserve better. Isn’t that what your mother always told you? That you deserve better? Shame she didn’t take her own advice. Father a sot, died of liver cancer three—no—four years ago. Irrelevant. You were in love with your second fiancé, but he cheated on you. Men are all the same. And your pride. Wounded because look at you. Nice figure, smart, sexy. All those praises your girlfriends have erroneously bestowed on you over the years. So now you’ve fixed your sights on John. A good man with a good job and relatively handsome by your standards, but he isn’t good enough, is he? He lives with a flatmate—an attractive flatmate, you think—and he’s at my beck and call. I am not the jealous one, Ms. Morstan. You are.” 

John returns not a moment too soon. “Behaving yourself?” he asks Sherlock. 

“Marginally.” 

Mary stands when John sits. She grabs her purse. “I’m sorry, John.”

“You okay? Something wrong?” 

“Something,” she answers stiffly before sauntering out of the restaurant. 

John folds his arms across his chest. Clears his throat. “Explain.” 

“Don’t explain me. She’s…”

“…a frigid bitch?” 

A callous insult for John Watson. Sherlock is surprised at him. He loves being surprised at him. 

“Spent the whole appetizer calling your methods into question. Plus, she hates the way I dress.” John is wearing a suitable dinner jacket, an unassuming dress shirt, and a lilac ascot. It’s the most daring accessory John owns. “But she’s a damn good editor.”

“Meretricious.” 

John snickers into the remainder of his boeuf bourguignon. 

 

Sherlock is not a romantic. 

He will never wax poetic on the fine and/or coarse texture of John’s hair or wage war on his brain in order to define John Watson’s eye color. No. Why would he? 

But if he did, Sherlock ruminates, he would settle for cerulean. In classical artistry, the term cerulean was applied to all blue pigments. Mixtures of copper and cobaltous oxides, early attempts to create the ever elusive sky-blue. Rayleigh scattering, molecules of oxygen and nitrogen and white light. When the pigment cerulean was first invented, it superseded its predecessors. 

John supersedes his predecessors, too. Sherlock has known a few companions in his lifetime, some of which more invigorating than others. (In every sense of the word.) Stimulants, appetite suppressants, anesthetics. Anything and everything to tame the pandemonium inside his head. To gag the ghosts of his past, peeling their vitriolic accusations from the synarthrodial joints of his neurocranium. John, though. John looks at Sherlock and his consummate loyalty needles his veins. Hot. Potent. Incredibly addicting. Washing away his insecurities, his reservations. 

John Watson is cerulean.  

And Sherlock isn’t a romantic. 

 

Sherlock has been lost inside his head since dinner. 

Not lost-lost, John hopes. But definitely itinerant. It’s half one in the morning and Sherlock is staring at himself in the mirror over the fireplace. E-mails printed and taped to the mantelpiece. His eyes dart from one to another intermittently, hands pressed against his mouth. Otherwise, he doesn’t move. He hasn’t moved in so long John begins to worry. Sherlock needs to move, if nothing else. Not because standing in one place is bad for him, necessarily, but because it is. 

John plays music. He discovered that while Sherlock’s mind is occupied thinking on a level that would incapacitate mere mortals, his body—failing to respond to stimuli like touch or smell—is vulnerable to sound. It isn’t much, granted, but it’s something. John composed a CD of orchestral pieces, mostly strings. He stashed copies in the kitchen for just such an occasion. 

Sherlock sways. Rocking from side to side, feet shuffling against the rug. His eyes are still trained on the e-mails. He doesn’t say a word. The flat is dark. Sherlock’s only light source originates from outside. Curtains drawn wide and the city pours into their living room, flashing and pulsing like a living, breathing thing. Sherlock exhales, a silhouette, framed in gold. He closes his eyes; he doesn’t need to see the evidence anymore. Hasn’t had to since the first time he read them. He tilts his head back and he continues to sway. 

John approaches Sherlock from behind, somber and a little concerned. It probably shouldn’t bother him, but it does. John wonders, some days, if Sherlock will visit his mind palace and never come back. He touches Sherlock’s arm. Doesn’t expect Sherlock to acknowledge him. Honestly surprises John when Sherlock turns, seeking him out like a flower bending toward sunlight. John rests his hand on Sherlock’s waist. Sways with him, hums a little under his breath.

“John,” Sherlock whispers. John wonders to hear him speak at all. “What are we doing?” 

“I may be wrong, but I think we’re moving rhythmically to Bach.” 

The music is sweet. The movement of their bodies even sweeter. Barely. Going nowhere. John doesn’t mind. And neither, apparently, does Sherlock. He trails his fingers up, down John’s jumper. Feels him there with him. (Always with him.) They rock in tandem, breathe in tandem. “What are we doing, John?” Sherlock asks again. 

John isn’t entirely sure, but he thinks it’s exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. 

 

“You know why I’m here.”

Of course he does. It’s obvious. Sherlock can’t help but curl his lip in response. Mycroft sits opposite him in John’s chair. Legs crossed, umber sock garters just visible up his trouser leg. Makes Sherlock want to break something. Of Mycroft’s, preferably. John would not appreciate finding a mess upon his return from the shops.

“Sherlock…” Mycroft begins. The ellipsis hovers between them. Like bullet holes in limbo. “Put him back.”

Sherlock narrows his eyes and Mycroft sighs. More bullets. A cache.

“Have you considered the repercussions?”

Sherlock scoffs. Has he considered the repercussions? Ha! He’s considered and reconsidered to the point of razing his mind palace to the ground, insecurity imbued with hesitation and inexperience. Can I do this? Am I capable? Will I break him? Raining down and filling his head, his heart with repugnant doubt. Heavy. Heavier than the guilt he carried with him for three years. Maybe because keeping John Watson isn’t as altruistic as saving John Watson.

Sherlock will finish him.

He knows he will. So does Mycroft.

The question is: Why would Mycroft care?

Must be written all over Sherlock’s face because Mycroft grins wryly. “He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you. I’m afraid,” he says, picking lint from the arm of John’s recliner, “that if he were to sever ties during this particular juncture of your…” Ratta-tatta-tat. “…acquaintance, you will not recover.”

Perceptive bastard.

Sherlock digs his fingernails into the cushions. “I’ve determined it’s worth the risk.”

Mycroft has a way of frowning with his entire body. Brow furrowed. Shoulders tense. Fingers tighten on the handle of his umbrella. “The risk of what?”

Addiction. Subtext almost as loud as the proverbial gunfire. And this. This is where Mycroft fails to understand. Sherlock is already addicted.

Sherlock leans forward in his seat. “Everything.”

“Oh, Sherlock. You believe yourself to be in love with him, don’t you?”

Sherlock swallows. Exhales shakily. (Damn.) “I have—“ he tries. “We are prepared for any eventuality.”

“I wasn’t aware Dr. Watson’s sexual orientation included men.”

“No,” Sherlock answers.

“You’re the exception, are you?”

“Obviously.”

“Since when are you interested in anything other than a puzzle?”

“Since now.”

“How long before you grow tired of him?”

Sherlock’s glower is ferocious. “Get out.”

 

Sherlock broods until John comes home. He continues to brood until John stands in front of him.

“You okay?” When Sherlock doesn’t answer, he hazards a guess, “Mycroft?”

Sherlock’s eyebrows disappear behind his fringe.

“You’re only ever like this after he’s paid a visit.”

“He sends his regards,” Sherlock grumbles.

“Does he?” John bends down. Nudges Sherlock’s face with his nose until their mouths meet. Kisses him chastely, the sound of their lips parting, touching. Sherlock’s heart vacates his chest, tries to find a new home in his throat. It’s mildly uncomfortable. Sherlock doesn’t like it. Except not really. Because it’s fascinating. Hasn’t felt this way before. Hasn’t been rendered speechless before. Breathless. Wanting more of something legal, something good, something alive. “He didn’t threaten to break me if I break your heart, did he?” John kisses Sherlock again. A little kiss. Gentle, sipping shallowly at Sherlock’s lips.

“No.”

“Does he approve?”

“Do you care?”

“Nope.”

“Good.”

They feel each other smile. Bullet holes spackled with yellow spray paint.

“Very good.”

 

Words are powerful. Inflection can make or break a case. Timing, cadence, body language, micro expressions, accents belie more than people realize. Words like a vapor tumbling from their mouths, visible if only to Sherlock. A map he can follow to determine where they live, how they live, and whom they live with. Typically. It’s not a perfect science, but a useful one. 

Sherlock grinds the heels of his palms against his eyes. He bows his head, allowing the torrent of water to beat against the back of his skull. He’s spent an inordinate amount of time trying to delete certain words. Lies, same difference. Lies like candy stuck in Mycroft’s teeth. 

Sherlock grunts. Braces himself against the wall of the shower. Inhales the scent of his shampoo. He’s overreacting. Stop. Listen. Breathe. He can hear John in the kitchen. Cooking dinner? Or demolishing his chemistry set, one. But John wouldn’t do that. No, John is the oil to the brine of opinions of people who don’t matter. And John’s words… 

Sherlock rakes his fingers through his hair, tangle in his soppy curls. John’s words bandage the evidence of insults past. Enfold him, a second skin, and it’s John’s assertions how he’s fantastic, brilliant, and marvelous that support Sherlock as he shrugs off the freaks or the we all hated hims. Sherlock doesn’t need John’s edification to withstand a blitz of slurs. He survived on his own, mending his self-esteem long before John Watson invaded his life. 

Invaded. How appropriate. 

When John said, “I found that I love you.” 

Sherlock gasps. Tilts his head back, emotion stirring low in his stomach. 

I love you is being struck by lightning. 

The bathroom door opens. John draws the shower curtain. 

Sherlock frowns at him. “Do you mind?” 

“You’ve been in here over an hour.” 

“Your point being?” 

“You’ve used all the hot water and you’re pruning.” 

There’s an eighty-five percent chance that what John really means is, “I’m worried about you.” Lots of things John says translate into, “I’m worried about you.” 

John shuts off the water and pulls Sherlock out of the shower. Sherlock considers going boneless just to irritate him, but he’s naked and wet and quite cold, actually. (So perhaps another time.) John forces him to sit on the toilet. Produces a towel to protect Sherlock’s modesty. Produces another to dry his hair. John resolutely scrubs Sherlock’s scalp and it shouldn’t feel this good. But it does. Easier to forget all the words worth forgetting. Sherlock leans into his touch. 

“Wanker.” 

It’s said affectionately. Warm, reliable, much like John himself. 

Sherlock shakes him off. Pulls John down against him. Kisses his lips. Exploring every tooth, the palate of his mouth, his tongue. John whispers Sherlock’s name: the vastness of the snowfall outside 221B. Immeasurable. John is so much bigger, so much greater than the melanin of his hair, the marrow of his bones. His eyes are the ocean, his skin is the desert. Sherlock could fall into him and never find his way out. Sometimes, he thinks he already has. 

 

Sherlock depends on John. Relies on him like he relies on his cardiovascular system to carry blood cells and nutrients through his body. John is Sherlock’s reason for living. Saccharine and sordid and true, unfortunately. Give the man a puzzle and watch him dance. Give the man a friend and watch him die for three years. 

John hasn’t always been there, but he’s always been there. Ready and willing to bend the laws, break the rules. A nudge in the right direction. Follow Sherlock’s lead no matter the risk or the reward. He’s quintessential. So fucking quintessential, the thought of living without John is unbearable. 

John is washing dishes in the sink because body parts do not belong in the dishwasher, Sherlock! Sodden jumper sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The sound of water sloshing and cutlery clinking. John is barefoot, posture perfect. Stands at parade rest be it conversing with Mycroft Holmes or scrubbing congealed pasta sauce from Mrs. Hudson’s good spatula. 

He’s humming a tune Sherlock recognizes. One of his scores. Mediocre, Sherlock thinks, but John seems to be enjoying himself. 

Sherlock pads closer, abandoning his microscope. Something more interesting has caught his attention. Grey hairs. Reaches out to touch, leans in to smell. To taste. Kisses the back of John’s head. 

John stops humming. Stops washing the dishes. Stutters at the contact, Sherlock’s hand at the small of his back. He closes his eyes. 

“John?” 

“Mm?” 

“I…” It’s almost a question. 

And “You…” is almost an answer. The way he kisses Sherlock most certainly is. John is soaking wet, but Sherlock doesn’t care. John’s hands are slippery and warm against his belly, prune-y fingers sliding across his skin, skating under his ribs. Water trickling down his torso and John says, “Yes.” Feeds on Sherlock’s sigh of relief. “Yes. Anything. Yes.” Their lips slide together aimlessly. Tongues graze, eliciting delightful moans from the both of them. 

Sherlock crowds John against the sink, deepens the kiss. His chest hurts. He has to say it. He has to say it or he might die. Bottled up inside him—deep inside him, where it’s dark and dank and loveless—and he had no idea how lethal these feelings would prove to be. Like methane. And his heart is the canary in the coal shaft.

Evidence, the kind that changes the course of an entire case. It needs to be said. It needs to be said. It needs to be said. 

“I…” Full to bursting. John’s fingernails scratching softly at his shoulders. Sherlock cups John’s face in his hands. “John, I…” Grits his teeth. John exists, soft and strong in all the right ways, and he can say it. He can say it for John. “I love you.” 

 

John undresses Sherlock slowly. Loves him slowly, meticulously. Once it’s been said, it’s easier to say again and again and again, punctuating John’s hands just there, his mouth on his—yes—and gasping, gasping, gasping for more. I love you. I love you. I love you. Each caress, each kiss. Each roll of John’s hips is his reply. He whispers the words in Sherlock’s ear, “I love you, too.”   

 

John wakes to Sherlock muttering what sounds like numbers at random. He’s lying flat on his back, staring at the ceiling. Chest rising and falling. Light pollution seeps through the curtains of Sherlock’s bedroom window, a blush of oranges and reds and yellows enliven the pale expanse of his torso. He’s unashamedly naked, one leg dangling off the side of his bed and the other lost under the covers. 

It makes John’s skin ache, he’s so stunning. 

“What are you thinking?” 

Sherlock breathes in and he breathes out. “Lestrade is going to phone me about a case within the hour.” 

“At this time of night? It had better be a case.” 

Sherlock lobs him a funny look. John loves the crease between his eyebrows when he’s confused.  

“Sherlock,” John tries his hand at an imitation of Greg, albeit a sleepy Greg. “Fancy divulging this week’s lottery numbers? Thanks, mate.” 

Divulging, John?” 

They gravitate toward one another. Their legs tangle, skin on skin. John breathes in and Sherlock breathes out. 

“Cerulean,” Sherlock hums on John’s forehead. 

John can’t decide if cerulean is case-related or something Sherlock thinks Lestrade would phone them about at half three in the morning off the record. 

Sherlock can read John’s unspoken question in the flutter of his eyelids. “It will suit you. Bring out the color of your eyes.” 

“Suit me for what?” John asks softly. 

Sherlock pushes himself over and on top of and looking down at John. He’s smiling that predatory smile John associates with serial killers or that one time Molly text Sherlock about a body in the morgue. Situs inversus. Sherlock’s jealousy, coveting the inversion of internal organs because then their hearts would beat against one another, wouldn’t they? Lying like this? 

The air is suddenly different. Sherlock is electric. Magnetic. Charged particles like an aura, blanketing John’s person with heart-racing, adrenaline-stimulating euphoria. John loves him, he loves him, he loves him. And Sherlock loves him back. Whatever Sherlock has in mind, John is up to the challenge. After tonight, after everything. John sighs, his hands on Sherlock’s waist, and they fit together like skeletal bones. Ball and socket, hinge, pivot. Sherlock breathes in, John breathes out. So good. It’s so good and God yes. John respires this love, this man, this moment. 

Sherlock says, “Marry me,” like he would say Save me. “I want you. Marry me.” 

“You have me,” John assures him. 

“I want you more.” 

There is nothing wrong with more.