Actions

Work Header

The Case of the Dancing Cameras

Chapter Text

"Well, you’re obviously the man for the role," Sherlock said with a tone of finality over his tea, voice shushed not to wake Rosie, his other hand holding a bunch of photographs.

“Yeah. Doesn’t mean I’m gonna do it,” John threw back over his morning paper, his voice also quiet.

“My face is already recognisable. You, on the other hand…”

“Okay, go ahead. Tell me how plainly ordinary I am; I wanted to hear that. How long has it been? Three years?” John said with an eye-roll.

“I was going to say that you’re like a chameleon when you want to be… you can grow that moustache again. If you rather.”

“Ah. No. That’s settled. Never again.”

Sherlock snorted. “I’d prefer my masseur clean-shaven, anyway.”

“Still.” John laughed shortly. “It’s not going to happen.”

“One week -"

“No.”

“- or less if we solve it soon. Only four hours a day; they’re looking for part-time but they pay handsomely. Testing candidates for the week. You are able to give a decent massage, I’ve been informed,” John's eyes widened at this and he forcefully placed the paper on his lap. Sherlock made a placable gesture with his hand, almost dropping the photos.

“Why, hell, did she tell you that?”

“She mentioned it once.” Sherlock cleared his throat and intoned Mary’s voice and tone of speech, “Aaahhh it’s good to have a doctor for a husband; my feet were killing me yesterday, yah know… he…” Sherlock pointed at John at this, “…gives excellent massages.”

“Don’t start...” John warned, placing the paper back to eye-level.

“Look, you have to be there tomorrow, three o’clock sharp, CV in hand…” Sherlock stared at one of the photos, “…Slaney wants a man in his mid-thirties, responsible, well-mannered...”

“I’m going to be forty-two in a couple of months,” John muttered now behind the papers.

“You can still be there. You don’t look… forty,” John's eyes snapped up, looking at nothing in particular. Sherlock raised his eyebrows.

“If you were a woman I would’ve thought you were flirting,” John added after a moment.

“Only if I was a woman?”

When Mary died two years ago and John had accepted the offer of his old room at Baker Street with Rosie now a toddler and the nursery (thanks to godfather Sherlock), these moments were more and more frequent between them. John always brushed them off as if they were nothing important. Maybe they weren’t. Important. But sometimes, like now, Sherlock’s voice would go low, his demeanour carefree, as if he never imagined that these small comments could pass as flirting in other people’s eyes.

Take last week for example, when John had almost fallen from a broken chair in Elsie Patrick’s garden and Sherlock had caught him in front of their client, almost bridal style, and Sherlock had said in almost a whisper, “I thought you were more flexible than that…

“You know… you have to stop doing that,” John said after a moment.

“Doing what?” Sherlock placed the cup on the desk and looked at the photos at the same time.

“That thing with your…” John took a deep breath and hid his face behind the paper again, clearing his throat, “…voice.”

“It’s my voice,” Sherlock shrugged.

John forced the paper on his lap again, his face pure incredulity. He pointed his index finger at Sherlock, opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. “Never mind.”

“A second option would involve going to the States and find Miss Patrick’s earlier associations…” Sherlock added after a moment, eyes fixed on the photos.

“Elsie?” John placed the paper on the armrest of his chair for good. “I thought Miss Hilton didn’t want to know about that…”

She doesn’t. Her girlfriend Elsie, on the other side... she had told her before about her supposedly obscure past, and she wants to honour her wed-”

“Hang on… girlfriend?”

“Hm? Yes! Elsie Patrick!” Sherlock ruffled the photos, handing John two of the bunch, “She and Miss Hilton have been in a relationship for five years, they’re even thinking about marriage. Probably kids,” one of the photos had Miss Hilton's arm around Elsie’s waist, another with the two of them engaged in a passionate kiss; there was even a bit of tongue showing up, the photo obviously taken by a third party.

“All right,” John blinked several times as he watched Sherlock, who was now staring at the photo of the kiss.

“Even if Miss Hilton doesn’t want to know, it... doesn’t mean we can’t investigate about it… it’s clearly linked to Slaney’s Spa, anyway,” John narrowed his eyes at this. Sherlock returned the stare as if looking for something on his friend's face. “Oh, you haven’t figured it out.”

John threw him a look. Sherlock pressed his lips in a triumphant lopsided smile.

“Look at Slaney’s Spa’s logo.” Sherlock handed John another photo of the logo in question; a vector image that somehow fitted Elsie Patrick’s profile; her hair and sculpted nose, and in a red circle (Sherlock’s handy work), there was the drawing of a stick man holding a little triangular flag with the initials SS for Slaney’s Spa.

“Well, it does look like Elsie…” John frowned at the photos, and after a moment’s thought, his eyes sparked up. “Oh,” he said, “she has a stick man necklace, too…” he added, eyeing the picture of the kiss.

“Had. Exactly,” Sherlock smirked and got up from his chair, his camel dressing gown making a flourish as he gestured in the air. “She took the necklace off two months ago. She informed Miss Hilton that she had lost it, but that’s the thing, don’t you see?” Sherlock waved the photo of the kiss and pointed at the necklace. “She had said that it was a family relic but she never showed any sign of missing it. Hence, Miss Hilton came to us.”

There was a soft whine from the baby monitor on the desk. John and Sherlock’s head turned quickly to it, noticing that they had raised their voices in the excitement of the case.

“I get it… but how did you link the photos with the Spa?” John stood to go feed his daughter, but now his voice had that intonation, the one of incredulity, of amazement, the one that Sherlock missed, the tone that said without words 'you are amazing!' John’s voice carried as he turned his neck to watch Sherlock walking through the kitchen, something he didn’t do often, now.

“Google!” Sherlock shouted, closing the door of his room with his foot.

**..**

The next day, three o’clock in the afternoon, found John Watson, CV in hand, a couple of false references, false previous jobs as massage therapist (all courtesy of Sherlock’s network), and false client’s database (Gregory Lestrade, William Scott, Molly Hooper, Martha Hudson and four friends, William Wiggins), in Slaney’s Spa manager’s office, looking for a job.

**..**

“Well. Surprisingly, I got the job,” John announced as soon as he entered the flat. His now-client, William Scott, was dressed in the camel-coloured dressing gown, one arm around Rosie against his hip, looking at a series of photos of stick man necklaces. John got closer to look at the pictures and added, “Miss Eldridge had one of those, too.”

“Hm? Who?” Sherlock turned to look at John, and gave him a quick once-over, something that lately he found he did way too much. John didn’t seem to mind or notice, but to Sherlock, it was obvious yet irresistible. Each time he turned and really found John entering the flat – one of his favourites sights – he couldn’t help the smile, his eyes dancing from John’s shoes, knees, strong thighs, torso, neck, lips, nose, eyes, and the lovely – lovely? – shade of silver-gold of his hair. He was using the cheap shampoo again, the one that smelled like almonds. Sherlock had to fight the urge of clearing his throat.

“Yeah, Miss Eldridge, the receptionist? Well, hello there, darling,” he took Rosie from Sherlock with an already practised move. “Oh, and the owner, Abby Slaney is American. She tried to fake the accent the whole interview, but I could tell that it was somewhat forced.”

“American… interesting,” Sherlock moved to the kitchen to heat up some porridge for Rosie as she mumbled incoherent things in the background.

“I start tomorrow, they uh… they’ll give me a small induction in the morning and we open at three.”

“I’ll be there at five.” He didn’t have to look at John to see his expression. He took Rosie's bowl from the microwave as John grabbed a spoon for her.

“Sherlock, I’m not going to give you a massage.”

"Hm. Massages. Not really my thing," Sherlock turned back to the photos. He tried to picture John massaging him for a moment and noticed that he certainly didn’t want one. John had never seen the scars that playing hide and seek had left on his back, others at the back of his thighs and a longish one at the side of his right buttock. Not counting the bullet scar below his chest.

But John had touched Sherlock, before the wedding, dancing, and it surprised Sherlock how natural it was to be touched by John. He had - certainly - dreamed actively about it, when he was away, but it was one thing to imagine and a completely different one to be touched in reality. He had dreamed about returning to John and had imagined several scenarios about John’s reaction; he'd had the time for it sometimes. Other times, that was the only thing keeping him alive, breathing and awake. He'd imagined being punched, kissed, hugged or yelled at. He'd imagined weeks of indifference. He'd imagined John living in 221B, waiting for him with Mrs Hudson. He'd imagined John living in another flat, meeting Mrs Hudson a couple of times a week for a cuppa. He'd also imagined Mycroft keeping in touch with John a couple of times a month, having grown closer by the grieving. That particular little fantasy always made him smile. He had imagined John searching for him under every possible pebble in London.

Sherlock also imagined once a reality in which he came back with John being married and having a one-year-old kid.

The first time he'd imagined that, his captors poured ice-cold water over his head. He'd never truly believed in God, but in that state of mind, he'd believed it to be a sign; a voice in the shape of cold water telling him to stop thinking stupidly, that it couldn’t be possible. The second time his mind palace showed him that reality, he'd seen himself in his coat like a shadow, getting closer to a lovely little house, a big garden, John in the middle of it smiling to a small blonde child and hugging a faceless woman from behind, laughter and laughter until it turned into the laughter of his current captors.

But his favourite fantasy was this one: he entered the flat, John would be there in his chair, having a cup of tea and reading a book. Mrs Hudson downstairs wouldn’t have noticed him yet. He’d walk calmly, his heart at ease, he would make sure to look smug, confident. John would lift his head and look at him, then slowly, he’d leave the cup and the book on the floor and get on his bare feet. Bare feet, always bare feet in this fantasy. Perhaps that was his subconscious telling him how comfortable John was in their home. He would walk towards Sherlock with a smile and a frown (how did John’s face do that, even in a fantasy?) and then he’d put one hand on Sherlock’s shoulder (sometimes on his face, or his jaw) and say “Welcome home, I knew it was fake” (sometimes it was “Welcome home, I was waiting for you”) and then Sherlock would answer with a smile and slowly, tentatively, he would get his face closer to John’s shoulder (sometimes he lowered his forehead to John’s, sometimes he breathed against John’s neck) and ask cautiously “Did you miss me?” (Sometimes, according to his current mood or urgency to keep himself alive, it would change to “Please, tell me you missed me” or “Say you missed me” or sometimes a fact “You missed me”) and John would whisper “God, yes” (same answer, always).

It was a simple yet recurrent fantasy of his during that time, yet now it rested in a carefully labelled drawer. Under seven locks (seven, why seven? Always seven).

John had also hugged Sherlock twice. The first time at the wedding, after he – according to Lestrade, in a private conversation later – had declared to love and protect John Watson to a whole audience. The second one was after all the ordeal was over, and Sherlock had asked John to “Move back with Rosie, the bedroom upstairs is only gathering dust,” but it was that second hug which Sherlock had committed to memory, since he was able – after a couple of seconds – to hold John back. He had hugged John for what seemed a small eternity, feeling the muscles of his back move under his hands, John’s hair tickling his nose, the forced breathing, the hand moving in slow motion from Sherlock’s elbow to his scapular; John’s hand a constant pressure the whole way. Sherlock’s hands had done the same from John’s shoulders to the small of his back (he had scolded himself for this after, not safe territory for male friends, but he couldn’t help it and John didn’t seem to mind.)

The Knee Grope (Sherlock couldn’t name it any other way if he wanted), that small touch that had sent pinpricks high up his thigh, and had Sherlock thanking a God he didn’t know existed for booze and its ability to put down unwanted casual cock reactions (but sometimes he scolded himself for unwanted brain-to-mouth reactions that had him saying “anytime”).

The Holding (Sherlock’s name) always brought only sad memories (his ribs have been hurting, his eye had still been blurry, his hands were still shaking), so he never really counted that, since it was him holding – comforting - John in a not so particularly platonic way.

So, Sherlock's final conclusion was this: of course he shouldn't want to be touched by John, least of all receive a massage. It was too dangerous for them. For him. How would he react to John’s oily hands slowly tracing his back, counting his scars, discovering the one at his right buttock and trying to find where it ended, purely out of curiosity and – dare he think – friendly concern? How would John react if he knew that this particular scar would lead him to find two more at the back of his thighs? How would Sherlock react to John asking how he had gotten them all? What if John wanted to learn how he had survived? What could Sherlock say? “I survived because I thought of you waiting for me”? “I survived because Moriarty had to be stopped, or else he would’ve killed you”? “I survived because I kept on dreaming I would be welcomed back into your life - our life”? Or worse, what if John didn’t ask?

“Of course, they’re not,” John said picking one of the photos off the wall; this one showed an old man, on the corner of the photo there was Sherlock’s spidery writing Ridling Thorpe, jewellery store. “Is this…?”

“Hm?” Sherlock had zoned out for a while (he hoped John hadn’t noticed this: sometimes he would go into his mind, not his mind palace. He would just stand there, apparently daydreaming, thinking). “Yes. The jeweller. He custom-made the necklaces used at the spa…” John lifted his eyebrows at the new information. “It’s odd, isn’t it? Why is it odd?”

“It’s not really that odd, considering it really is a posh spa…”

“We’re missing something, John. We need to find Miss Patrick’s association with Abby Slaney and the case should be solved in a blink.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock slicked back his hair (amazing how a little touch to the hair could change the face so drastically), non-optical black-rimmed glasses, the comfortable, posh clothes were easy: thick black jeans, tight burgundy shirt, grey V-neck jumper (a sleeveless white vest below all that, just in case) and he was another person in front of the mirror.

“Good afternoon, sir. Do you have an appointment?”

“Yes, Miss…” A polite smile, flashy eyes at the receptionist, he looked at the batch on her breast, yes. “Miss Eldridge, right?” A smile and a wink. That should do it. “William Scott. I have an appointment with Hamish Watson? Called this morning. He told me he had changed his workplace?” If you raise your voice enough times, almost clueless, you’re opening yourself to conversation.

“Oh!” Recognition. Excellent. “Dr Watson is on duty at the moment. You’re a bit early.”

She was obviously used to the attention; even Sherlock recognised she was an attractive woman, attractive as in Janine kind of attractive, about thirty-two – thirty-five. Not really his thing.

“Here’s the price list. It may have changed from the place he used to work, but you will feel the difference in the skincare products we use.”

She handed Sherlock a glossy paper; it had the list of a dozen kind of different massages, the length in minutes of each at the side (what kind of massage lasts an hour and a half?) and the price at the end. Sherlock smiled and took it, scanning and committing it to memory.

“Thank you,” he added politely.

His eyes now scanned the big sofa next to Miss Eldridge, the little coffee table on the front, three candles on top. More candles and round stones at the reception, a big red stick man next to the door with a flag with SS initials. The position of it was different from the one on the logo. The vanilla smell was strong even though the window next to the desk was open. There was a faint smell to rosemary from the pot outside the window. Miss Eldridge’s necklace reflected the light coming through the open window and, just as John had mentioned the day before, it was a stick man in a different position then the stick man at the reception.

“May I see your computer software?” Sherlock asked abruptly.

“Sorry, what?” Miss Eldridge looked up from the computer, really looking at Sherlock – William – now.

“Your software. I’m a programmer,” he lied with a casual smile, adjusting his glasses (how were people able to wear them without feeling their weight during the day, was certainly a mystery left for later).

“Look, I’m not really allowed to show this to other people.” Her shoulders went down immediately and her smile faded somewhat. That would not do. Time to change tactics.

“Oh no, no. Please. I’m not after the data. I was curious because of the old software structure.” Sherlock made a gesture as if drawing in the air as he spoke. She smiled again. “Excuse me for my rudeness...”

“Oh!” She dragged her chair a little to the left and made a gesture with her hand. Permission. Excellent. “In that case, sure! It’s an old thing and you know? There’s no chance to contact the original programmer, it was custom-made, you see. Come round here.” She waved to the keyboard as Sherlock rounded the reception desk, getting closer to the screen.

“My back is kinda killing me.” It was a known fact that talking about a common problem - especially if you use enough mannerisms - led to chatting. Chatting leads to distraction. “Hamish is a great therapist. I’ve been in therapy with him for months,” he added as he committed the software to memory, “All day in front of a computer does that to people, don’t you think?”

“Oh, my God, yes.” Her tone was tired. She stretched her back. “How often do you get massages for that?”

“If tendinitis gets too bad then three to four times a week!” He flashed a grin, “May I?” He placed his hand on the mouse as he continued speaking. “I’m not going to lie to you, I’m always looking for a bit of freelancing… do you think I can apply to fix this?”

“Why not, we need to fix this. It works like a charm with the footage of the camera, but it doesn’t work with all the data we need from our clients.”

“Hm.” Sherlock nodded. “What happened to the previous programmer? You think I can contact him?”

“Don’t think so, no. He was from the States and we lost contact with him. His site and e-mail address are no longer working,” She frowned and as if remembering something, “We do have the CD with the font code if you need it but first, “She rummaged a stack of papers and handed one to Sherlock, “Here, you need to fill this form,” She stood and stretched again. Showing off, why is she showing off? “I’m going for a coffee, you want one er… Mr Scott, is it?” She walked around the desk and placed her elbow next to Sherlock’s hand on the mouse. Her white blouse opened up a little at the gesture and Sherlock had to remind himself to look at her breasts’ area and to look distracted.

“Hm? Sure. Would love to. One. Would love one,” He smiled. She smiled back. Two coffees meant more minutes for himself. In front of the computer. Excellent first day.

**..**

“I can’t believe it,” John said with an amused smile as he and Sherl- William walked into a small massaging room; it was completely white with a wheeled small table, a bunch of massage oils, skincare creams and oils on top. There was also a stretcher at the centre of the room, a big plant next to a red bench near the door and a sink on the other side. A computer screen with the name ‘William Scott’ and a countdown from thirty was clearly connected to the reception desk. “You were outside twenty minutes and you had her practically on your lap, with access to the whole database.” John shook his head. “How the hell do you do that?”

“Oh, you know.” Sherlock took off the heavy glasses, a red spot high on his nose, a smug grin playing around his mouth, “I have my charms.”

John sat on the bench near the door with a tired huff. He waved at the stretcher then at Sherlock. “We have a problem.”

“Does it have to do with the fact that right now we’re being recorded? Only images, not sounds. Thankfully,” Sherlock said as he pulled his jumper over his head. He started to unbutton the shirt and congratulated himself for the idea to wear a vest underneath.

“Yeah. Well,” John took a deep breath, his amusement from before completely gone, “I saw you just got in for arm massage, though.”

“Yep,” The P resonated and Sherlock frowned. “Heavily soundproofed, good, but why?” he muttered and then in a louder voice he added “John, I am a computer programmer; it’s only logical to get arm and wrist massages once in a while. Carpal tunnel is the fake diagnosis... I brought polycarbonate slides with different label colours. They are in my back pocket. If I sit right here,” he sat on the stretcher, “only your back, my head and right arm will be visible to the camera. You need to take the slides and place a little amount of every product you put on me today. I’m going to memorise the colour of each product.”

John lifted his eyebrows almost to his hairline and was about to complain, but the time on the screen indicated there were only twenty-six minutes left.

“Yeah. Alright.” He set to work, then. He cleaned Sherlock’s arms with a warm damp white towel; all the way from shoulders to the tips of the fingers.

The way John was working was slow but firm, probably the job’s instructions. His hands were steady and soft. Sherlock congratulated himself again this time for the idea of wearing thick, dark jeans.

“So,” John started, lifting the heavy, sudden and inexplicable tension in the air, “We were inducted to the politics of the spa today.” He moved to clean the other arm, “We were told that massages are not recorded, but randomly photographed. I was massing Mrs Turner’s feet -” Sherlock snorted at this, “- and I could hear a soft click in random intervals. It’s only to make sure we’re working and not… you know. Chatting with the clients…”

“Or testing the products,” Sherlock said with a smile. John smiled at this, too.

“Or testing the products, yeah. We were told the oils are Eldridge’s family business. They own a farm and all of the products are handmade. Over thirty different ones.” John turned to pick a small bottle which featured a blue almond sticker.

A click was heard on the room. Sherlock frowned.

“We?” John had never mentioned another person.

“Yes. A bloke called Martin that came in looking for the job. It seems we were both hired this morning.”

“I see,” Sherlock took a deep breath as if to say something else, but then noticed the time. Twenty-four minutes left, “Take the slides.” Sherlock’s voice was softer now, even if he knew the walls were soundproofed. “Take them all and place them at my left, behind me. Make sure you clean your hands when you place a new product in a new one, we can’t have them contaminated.”

“I can’t just reach into your pocket and not be seen by the camera. Not from behind, either.”

“We’ll have to get creative.” Sherlock took a good look at the position they were in. He was seated on the stretcher, it was high so his feet barely touched the floor. John was standing in front of him, his forehead almost at eye level with Sherlock’s nose. He took John’s hand and led him to the V between his legs. “Come closer.”

“What are you doing?” But John knew that if he fought it, it would look odd on the cameras, so he let himself be guided.

“Check my back. Your right hand should be able to reach my left pocket from behind,” Sherlock’s voice was still low and soft despite the soundproofed room. But he couldn’t help it. “Your left arm should be visible in the recording.”

“This is going to look terribly odd in the photos. I’ll have to explain later.”

As always, Sherlock projected, so John was talking in the same hushed voice. As he moved his hand around Sherlock’s shoulder blade over the vest, his own shoulder got somehow under Sherlock’s armpit, his stomach nearly flat over Sherlock’s crotch as his hand turned and tried to reach the pocket. He could feel a slide at the tip of his finger, so John pressed himself further against Sherlock and Sherlock… thanked the heavens for thick jeans. John’s heavy breathing (they were doing something incredibly illegal according to the spa policy, so that was John’s standard reaction) right over Sherlock’s collarbone.

Click.

John gritted his teeth.

“Relax, John. They know you’re a doctor, too. Tired of…” Sherlock couldn’t help a huff from his nose as he felt the vest riding up at the small of his back with John’s forearm. “Tired of sickness, you wanted to try massage therapy for a change, so nothing odd in a little check-up.” John snorted at this, the sound muffled by Sherlock’s vest.

“And a little tension between two grown men who meet a couple of times a week for a…” John could finally pick the six slides squeezed between Sherlock’s buttock and the stretcher. “… massage.” He smiled as he left them all sprawled over the linen behind Sherlock’s rear and then slowly came back to his position standing between Sherlock’s thighs. “I’m gonna make this a bit more believable, all right? I don’t want troubles on my first day.”

“Hm. Wise. Nothing good would -” Sherlock stopped talking when John moved his fingers to his throat, pressing here and there.

“Lift your arms for me.”

Sherlock did without question and John started to knead softly around his ribs over the vest, then moved his hands to Sherlock’s waist, sending an involuntary shiver to his body that wasn’t acknowledged, even if the touch was completely clinical. John’s hands went up and around to his shoulder blades and to the small of his back and Sherlock had to use all of his willpower to suppress a more notorious shiver.

“Hang on,” John said, walking to the table and picking up a glass of water and a small white pill, Sherlock lifted one eyebrow and put his arms down. “Here, take this… it will help with the swelling that’s not there and make you as good as new,” John explained with a wink, “As good as new as a well-placed candy can make you, anyway. Careful with the mint.”

Sherlock couldn’t help it. He laughed. He took the pill and tried to swallow around the glass of water. John never failed to surprise him with these little details. It reminded Sherlock that John was a soldier, a captain, a doctor and a surgeon. A person that always thought ahead, almost a strategist. John Watson may not solve the case, but these little details made the difference in a well-planned one. He had to suppress yet another shiver.

John placed the oil next to Sherlock’s thigh and put a bit on his hand as he moved to Sherlock’s right side, his hand casually smearing a bit of the oil on the first slide. “Blue slide, almond,” he murmured and Sherlock nodded. “So,” John added then in a casual tone, “Tell me about your day, William.”

He started to spread the rest of the oil on Sherlock’s right bicep. It was a firm rub, detached. Still, Sherlock could feel John’s fingers as if they were entering his skin, he could have sworn that his breathing was audible three blocks away.

Click.

“Well…” Sherlock tried to sound normal, a bit amused at this tacit game of theirs. “You know, the usual, lots of programming, lots of codes, lots of staring at a computer screen…”

“And lots of flirting with the receptionist, I see,” John said with a smile, keeping things light.

“I was just checking the database, John. Promise.” If there had been a time where Sherlock had dreamed of hearing John jealous… “I was able to check the eight cameras of the eight therapists that work here; yours included, obviously. They are named in a strange pattern whatsoever.”

“Pattern?”

“Yes,” Sherlock said, watching John clean his hands with a fresh towel and taking another bottle of oil which he opened to smear a bit on the second slide. He moved back to the opening of Sherlock’s thighs and started to massage both elbows at the time. Sherlock’s breath moved John’s fringe a bit. “They were named with hyphens and slashes. They all finished with O’s.”

“Green slide is honey and ginger.” John nostrils flared as if smelling the scent. It was fragrant in the air. “Odd pattern. Did you write them down?”

“Other pocket, my phone.”

“You show me that at home. I’m not taking anything else from your pockets today,” John smiled. Sherlock snorted. It was the first time they locked stares for this long today.

John moved to the other bicep and Sherlock felt as if John’s fingers burned his skin. John massaged dangerously close to his shoulder below the vest, his hands passing casually under the shirt with the circular movement he was using. Sherlock was completely tensed up and because of this, his arm looked muscular, masculine. He wondered if that did something for John. In his mind, Sholto immediately appeared, his defined and masculine body, the line of Sholto’s mouth right in front of John’s forehead as they spoke. The soft smile he had for John Watson. Were they ever close like this? Did John ever massage Sholto after a hard day of war? Just because he wanted, not under the pressure of a case?

Click.

“You do have serious knots here,” John said after a while, he seemed concentrated, professional.

“Hm.”

“I’ve been thinking,” John moved to the other bicep again. “If Abby Slaney had something to do with Elsie Patrick, in the past…” John stopped and looked over at Sherlock. Their faces were close, but they didn’t move away. “… I mean, this spa has been opened only for two months. You didn’t find Abby’s records from before that time.”

“Nope. But I will. Lestrade has someone on a lead right now. And Craig is on another one for a programmer from USA. Just sent him a text some minutes ago.”

“Craig?”

“Toby’s owner, you remember him? Lovely hound that helped us in the…” A dark shadow passed over John’s face. “Thatcher’s case,” he finished.

John didn’t make a sound; his hands continued the massage, this time with pressure over the muscles. Sherlock couldn’t help a small groan. John did it again and this time Sherlock huffed through his nose. He was obviously affected but John, again, didn’t seem to mind.

“Elsie has been living in London for six years. Why now? Oi. Come on. Relax for me.”

Sherlock looked where John’s hand held his upper arm, in fact, the muscles and now the veins were visible, too. What could he say? He relaxed, but he still felt his stomach tensed up. His penis had – to his mortification – completely firmed up as well.

Click.

“I don’t know. She is from New York, though. She left everything there, a big penthouse, her own laboratory… she was a scientist. Once a scientist, always a scientist. Why would she come here and become a florist instead?” Sherlock’s eyes followed John’s hands over his muscles, over his veins, sometimes John’s knuckles would brush the sides of Sherlock’s chest.

“Maybe she was running from something?”

“Or someone.”

“Abby? Old girlfriend?”

“Could be. Still, there is no way to link them together. It doesn’t explain the necklace, either.”

“I see.” John moved in-between Sherlock’s thighs again and took another bottle and to massage Sherlock’s upper arms, both at the time, softly, soothing them. “Red slide is roses.” Sherlock nodded again and John cleared his throat. “Sherlock… William. This… thing. Between us. Between William and Hamish. How do we keep on playing it without being suspicious?”

“Oh.” Sherlock thought for a moment. It wasn’t easy with John’s hand being there, his thumbs pressing into his inner elbows, “Let’s say, William has a big crush on Hamish, that’s because I have to come here for massages, so William comes often. He’s a computer professional so he lives with backaches and a bad clinical condition of carpal tunnel as well as tendinitis. The cameras are a new variable. As long as we keep on with arms and wrists massages, we’ll be fine.”

“Add another variable to your flow chart. I might have to massage you… for real… if we want to use the other products.” John walked away to clean his hands, took another bottle and smeared a bit on the third slide. “Yellow is mint and green tea. This is the last one I can use for this session. There are products for neck rubs, back, chest for male and a tightening one for female breasts, legs, cellulitis, there are two or three that I have to ask for directly from Abby... there are… even…”

“Even?” Sherlock lifted his eyebrows. John took a deep breath.

“Even edible oils.”

“Oh.”

That almost sent a shiver down to Sherlock’s spine when a quick image of John licking the oil off his arms crossed his mind. His penis jumped at the thought but it was quickly replaced with an image of a faceless woman and John licking oil off her body, her stomach, her breasts. He cleared his throat. John didn’t seem to notice.

“That’s… unfortunate. You said you wouldn’t massage me,” Sherlock stated, looking down at John’s face, his right eyebrow high up his forehead. “Should we ask for someone else?”

Click. A pause.

“Look, Sherlock,” John licked his lips and his voice went rough. “I’m not…” A deep breath. “I’m not against it.” John stared at Sherlock for a second. Sherlock’s expression was completely neutral. After a moment, John started to move his hands over Sherlock’s forearms. There was a silence as John moved and pressed his hands. Sherlock didn’t interrupt. When John spoke again, his tone was casual, not nearly as affected as before, “Look, I don’t care that much... if we really have to.” John pressed Sherlock’s wrists firmly. The mint was making their skin cold.

Sherlock took a deep breath. Who would have thought that this part of his body was overly sensitive? In his mind there was a cold and damp touch, a nose over his nose, a sensation of helplessness as he couldn’t move the touch away, a voice telling him that he would get used to it. Then a glove over his nose. The smell of latex. Mint. Latex. A voice. Insistent. Soft.

“Sherlock? Sherlock!”

“Hm?” He hadn’t realised he had closed his eyes. He opened them to find a frowning John staring right into his eyes. Close. Too close. He blinked a couple of times.

“You okay?”

“Yes. Yeah, I’m fine.” When had he started to pant?

“Your hand gave a volitional tremor for a couple of seconds.”

“What?” More panting.

“Your hands. They’re trembling now. Oi! You okay?” John touched Sherlock’s forehead and his hand came off damp.

“Yes.” Sherlock cleared his throat, composing himself visibly. He looked down and saw John’s oily hands holding his. Sherlock’s hands were huge, John’s hands were small. Efficient. Different. Surprisingly soft. “Sorry. Just-”

“Hey, it’s quite alright.” John cleared his throat too, the air suddenly tense. He let go of Sherlock’s hand. “We can stop here if you rather…” His eyes went to the screen. Only twelve minutes left.

“No, no. it’s… fine.” He took a deep breath. “Go on.”

“All right.” John took Sherlock’s hand again; he massaged the palm with his thumbs, the knuckles, fingers one by one and in-between them. For a couple of seconds, their fingers intertwined. No sound was made, but both of their eyes were fixed on their hands, on John’s movements.

Sherlock wanted to massage John’s hands back. Odd. He wanted to move his thumbs over John’s wrists. He wanted to massage John’s arms too, he wanted to squeeze his oily skin.

“Violin,” John said, breaking the silence as he touched a rough spot at the tip of Sherlock’s ring finger.

“Yes,” Sherlock croaked back, quickly clearing his throat and trying not to make any other sound.

“Sometimes I miss your music.”

Click.

“I haven’t.” Sherlock’s voice had turned so light that it sounded a bit like John’s.

“Play for me then, when we’re home. For us. I’m sure Rosie misses it.”

Sherlock smiled and John couldn’t help but smile back. Their eyes locked for a couple of seconds again. Sherlock’s eyes roamed John’s face at the same time John’s eyes went to his mouth. It was something that John used to do ages ago. Sherlock’s eyes went to their hands.

“It will be slippery,” he said, the air now charged with another thing.

To prove his point he grabbed John’s smaller hand in his and squeezed. John’s hand slid in between longer fingers, the sound of the oil between their hands seemed loud in the soundproofed room and Sherlock’s heart gave a serious misstep at this.

“Not if you wash your hands first, William.” Was John trying to clean the charged air? Back to the previous game?

“You can call me Bill,” Sherlock said with a wink, now trying to disassociate them from the heavy atmosphere that they had somehow created. John laughed briefly and cleared his throat.

“Seriously, though. We need to save the slides. I closed them all.”

“Good. Put them in the pocket at the back of my jeans. I can’t stand up since the colours would stand out if the random photo goes off.” Sherlock’s usual smug grin was back. A soft bell sounded from the computer near the door and they both turned to look at it.

“Oh, you’re gonna pay for this,” John said, amused once again at Sherlock’s quick change in demeanour. He was now the smug, flirty William Scott. “Can’t believe I’m going to say this. This never happened, alright? You have two minutes to give me a reason to touch your arse, before…” He made a gesture to the computer, “before the thirty minutes of the session are over.”

Click.

Sherlock snorted. “If that’s what you want.”

He lifted his hands and was about to place them at both sides of John’s jaw, but he could see how John’s face made a little frown and how he steeled himself. Sherlock knew right then that this game of theirs had its limits. Several scenarios came rushing to his mind. He could even kiss John and John would let him (this never happened, after all), he could…

He stood up and placed his hands firmly over John’s shoulder. “You said...” Sherlock-no. William put his face right next to John’s, his lips a caress over the other’s ear, “…a little tension between two grown men…” Sherlock’s arms went around John’s neck, hugging him, “…who meet a couple of times a week to…” Sherlock felt how John’s hand went to his hips keeping them firmly in place. He dug his fingers into the bone and Sherlock gave an involuntary moan.

“Massage?” John sounded angry. He sounded so angry that Sherlock thought to abort the whole operation, but then he felt John’s hands moving to the side of his buttocks and Sherlock’s penis gave a really interested jump. “I said that. You still haven’t given me a reason to touch your arse.”

“Is a hug not enough?” Sherlock sounded genuinely puzzled. “You already have the slides, just put them inside.” Sherlock’s hips moved closer to John’s in a movement so forceful that John lost a bit of his balance. His left hand grasped the edge of the stretcher, Sherlock supporting the small of his back there.

“I kind of have a different idea. No arse included, for your disappointment.”

John pressed the side of his face to Sherlock’s chest. Sherlock knew his heart was beating loud and fast. John reached for the slides, placed them against his palm and made his open hand travel from Sherlock’s hip to his calf, hiding the slides safely in Sherlock’s left sock. Sherlock’s leg was lifted in the process, his left ankle pressing against the back of John’s right thigh.

Then, everything was a blur.

Sherlock reached to lower the hem of the jean but in doing so, he lost his balance a bit and tried to support himself with his calves against the back of John’s knees. John's legs were about to give up, so he braced himself on the edge of the stretcher with his slippery hand which caused him to fall completely over Sherlock. When Sherlock tried to get them upright, they lost their balance again.

This time John fell flat on his behind.

Now Sherlock was straddling his lap, both of his legs painfully trapped between John’s weight and the floor.

There were two or three second of silence and then hysterical, much needed childish laughter filled the place.

“The slides!” John managed between gasps and laughter. He supported his slippery hand on the floor, falling backwards again. Sherlock tried to follow, supporting his slippery elbow next to John’s neck, only to slip off over John’s chest.

Sherlock was actively panting now, each exhale a little moan of uncontrolled laughter.

“This is a mess… how do people even… with oil?” John was laughing so hard that even Sherlock was being physically moved over him at the rhythm of his breathing.

Click. Sudden silence. Another beep from the computer screen.

John looked over at Sherlock, his face right next to John’s and his thighs around John’s hips. They looked at each other no doubt thinking the picture that was going to come off that last photograph.

“Great.” John frowned but he was still laughing.

Sherlock noticed that John didn’t want to laugh but he couldn’t help it. Sherlock stood carefully with a groan. He stretched his hand to help John up. John took it, hard, and it slipped away with the oil. He fell flat on his arse. Again. A new fit of laughter enveloped them.

“Mr Watson. The client for six o’clock is here,” Miss Eldridge’s voice came through the speakers of the computer and John stood up carefully. Sherlock washed his hands in the sink.

John went to the screen and lifted an old phone. “Give me two minutes.” He turned to Sherlock who had already pulled the grey jumper down his head, “Mrs Hudson. Hip. Cannabis soother.”

**..**

When Sherlock was leaving the spa, he came face to face with a man; six feet tall, between thirty-six and thirty-nine years old, light-brown hair, amicable smile, golden-brown skin, well-kept stubble and brown eyes.

“I didn’t think I’d find you here, Mr Holmes.”

“Inspector Martin,” Sherlock said in a staged whisper, “I recommend you to lower your voice.”

“Sorry. Hello, yes. Call me Martin.” He presented his hand for a handshake. "It’s an honour to meet you, sir."

Chapter Text

“No, no!” Rosie’s high-pitched voice and laughter filled John’s ears as soon as he closed the main door to 221.

He stopped to listen.

“And why…!” There was Sherlock’s low rumble, barely audible. The rest of the sentence got lost in the distance.

“Hear that? Daddy!” Steps, swift and small.

“Calm down, Watson!” That was Sherlock’s voice again. A pause and then, calmer, “He’s going to come up, let’s…” The rest of the sentence was lost again, and then, “Smell this, what do you think?”

John was sporting a huge grin on his face; listening to Sherlock and Rosie’s exchanges wasn’t at all new, but it still shocked him somehow. Even when Rosie was very small and Mary was alive, Sherlock would take care of her with an efficiency that left even Mrs Hudson as a novice.

The clock struck eight o’clock, his stomach rumbled. Right on cue Mrs Hudson came out of her flat.

“Oh!” she said, relieved, placing her hand on her chest. “I heard the door closing but then I didn’t hear any steps.” Her walking was smoother than usual, John noticed (a bit relieved, truth be told).

“Sorry,” he approached her, “Mrs H, uhm… Have you got any beans?”

“I think I do, let me check! Come in,” she said as she went into her kitchen, John following and nearly throwing himself on the chair next to the door. “How was the rest of your day?”

“You were the last client today, actually,” John said, still beaming, as she rummaged through her pantry. “I had another induction to something else after you left,” he added and immediately cleared his throat. “Did… did Rosie get any sleep after nursery?”

“Just half an hour, as you asked,” she replied, waving a can of beans and making a small triumphant sound. John smiled up at her and made a mental note to buy Mrs Hudson that magazine she liked. “My hip is so much better, dear. When this case is over, you will let me pay you for massages once in a while.”

There was something about Mrs Hudson’s smile that John found a bit charming and always made him unable to say no. He snorted and looked down nodding.

“Oh! Oh my God, you win!” That was Sherlock’s voice, perfectly audible all the way down and then Rosie’s laughter in full mode on. Mrs Hudson chuckled and looked up as if searching the source of the voice. John frowned but was unable to contain a smirk. He turned his face up, too.

“Lemon! Lemon!” She was shouting at the top of her lungs and then she sneezed, John could hear Sherlock’s new fit of laughter in the background.

“Mrs Hudson!” That was Sherlock’s scream, again. “We need ginger!” A pause only filled by Rosie’s continued laughter. “Powder or root!”

“Oh my God, what are they d-?” John couldn’t finish his sentence, Sherlock’s voice resonated around the flat again.

“And cinnamon! Anything with cinnamon will do!” More of Rosie’s laughter and squealing and then her voice screaming, too. “Mrs Hanson! Ginga! Digimon!”

Mrs Hudson sighed through her grin.

“I don’t know what they’re doing up there!” she said, waving her hands and going to the pantry again, “Sherlock has been requesting chocolate, lemon, almond’s scent – I had to go and buy that last one! – and…” She thought for a while, then quickly turned and finished, “oregano.”

“Oregano?” John asked and laughed.

She placed the requested items in front of John. “Yes. You see now why I need to take better care of my hip.” She shook her head. “Take these up with you, will you, dear?”

“You’re a saint.” John stood up from the chair and gave Mrs Hudson a light squeeze on her shoulder. Even with all the clatter, her smile had never left her face.

**..**

“Hello, John.”

John only lifted an eyebrow. Sherlock and Rosie were on the living room floor; Sherlock on his back between their chairs and Rosie, sweet Rosie, was sprawled over Sherlock’s chest, pressing a lemon to his nose and grass in her other hand. She had turned as soon as John appeared.

“Daddy!” she screamed with a toddler’s typical enthusiasm, “Shlock smells lemon!”

Rosie’s lips tended to move a lot when she spoke and her teeth were slightly crooked. John smiled slowly at the sight.

**..**

“Let me get this straight,” John said, reheating rice from yesterday’s lunch and opening the can of beans. “You are making Rosie smell the things you brought home from the spa?”

Sherlock was wearing a white T-shirt, a pair of tracksuit bottoms and his camel-coloured dressing gown. He has sat down at the kitchen table with Rosie at some point, polycarbonate slides with samples in front of him, carefully marked with Sharpie (since Rosie, Sherlock never used small glass objects anymore, John could tell), Rosie on his lap and small plates next to each slide. Each one was covered with something: a lemon, ginger root and cinnamon John brought from downstairs, a colourless liquid, rose petals, oregano, grass and some other things John couldn’t identify.

“Of course! She has been a great help in this investigation,” Sherlock said. If John didn’t know any better, he would have said Sherlock was a proud father.

“I helps!” Rosie said pointing at the ginger root. “Grass in ginga!”

“That’s right, Watson. Ginger lotion had some unidentified grass in it.” Sherlock nodded solemnly. Rosie mirrored the head movement. Her face was also very serious. “Sensitive children tend to have strong reactions to simple and known scents, whereas an adults’ reaction to scents is usually far-fetched.”

John frowned as he watched the pair. Sherlock looked at ease and relaxed despite being in the middle of a case. This new version of Sherlock made him feel disoriented and a bit alienated at times. Like having the fanciful version of Sherlock he had prayed for before, when they were just good friends sharing adventures and a flat.

Sometimes he detested it. He wanted Sherlock to be his old self, leaving John the responsibility of being the well-behaved of the duo. Now that Sherlock was the one in focus, where did that leave him? Two years – almost three – of a life without Mary and he was still self-loathing. He wondered if people noticed how infuriated he was with himself at times, even if he tried to hide it. The last two years he had been generally happy, and therapy helped him a lot, but every few times there was a case, a woman, a colleague, Sherlock’s odd behaviour that triggered something in him, leaving him depressed and extremely emotional.

Ella had said that it was normal, but she also said that he still had to work on that.

“The label of the spa just said lemon and ginger, why does it have grass?” John said with a frown, serving rice on three plates and spreading beans on top of each.

Sherlock placed Rosie on her high chair and handed her a spoon at the same time John put the plate in front of her. “We don’t know. What do you think, Watson?”

Sherlock was already setting the table for him and John when Rosie finally replied “Daddy looks!”

As soon as the sentence left her mouth, there was a deafening noise of cutlery falling on the table and Sherlock’s barely audible intake of air. When John lifted his head, he noticed that Rosie had spoken while looking at Sherlock. Sherlock’s wide eyes were directed at Rosie.

“No, no. I’m not…” Sherlock blinked a couple of times and cleared his throat. He didn’t turn to John for help, as he often did.

After a beat, Rosie made a noise in her throat – very similar to Sherlock’s frustrated groan – and lifted both her hands to her face in a dramatic gesture. Something was distressing her and she’d clearly learned from the best.

“Shlok,” she said, gesturing as if explaining something to really thick people, “Daddy looks!” she repeated, this time clearly talking to Sherlock but her tiny index finger pointing at John.

John noticed Sherlock sighing deeply and giving Rosie a small smile. He said something that sounded important – everything Sherlock said sounded important – but he didn’t hear it. There was that irrational anger again, this time pointed at Sherlock. If Rosie ever called Sherlock Dad, would that be the response she was going to get? Did Sherlock hate to be a father that much? Hell, he was amazing with Rosie, he was sensational! Why would he have that mediocre of a reaction?

“John?” Sherlock’s voice was soft and his hand, palm down, hanging in the air between them. John frowned and clenched his fist but didn’t move away.

“Yeah, I’ll have a look at it later.” He managed a smile and walked to Rosie, giving her a soft peck to her forehead. “Let’s all eat now, shall we?”

**..**

Rosie’s routine was very simple to go through; after dinner she and Sherlock said “night-night” to each other (which John found odd at first, now adorable would fit a bit better), but it was John who usually picked her up, gave her a quick bath (they were quicker before Sherlock insisted on massaging her fine hair with beaten raw eggs, anyway. Its for strength, John!) and then put her to bed. As she grew older, John would ask her to tell him everything she did that day, especially now that she was going to nursery in the afternoon.

In these nocturnal conversations, he’d perceived clearly Sherlock’s influence on her speech; the words she was memorising and, of course, in the deduction area. Sometimes she would say “Lips on the cheek. Gran Hanson?” as she ran her small hand over a lipstick stain. Or “Headache?” and pass her fingertips over his frown.

Tonight, the deduction had been “Tired?” as she touched his eyelids.

After John settled her into her small bed, he moved downstairs only to find Sherlock completely absorbed in his phone, transcribing something to a notepad. John sighed as he switched on the kettle, took a clean cup from the cupboard and placed it on the counter. He cleared his throat, pursed his lips and grabbed Sherlock’s red mug too, placing it next to the previous one, trying to keep as quiet as possible.

“Mrs Hudson was over the moon this afternoon.” Sherlock spoke first, his tone light, “you do give excellent massages.”

There was that tone again, the flirty tone that made John want to scream. He smiled instead.

“The chemicals in the slides could have been dangerous, you realise,” John said between gritted teeth as he poured the water in both cups.

“Oh.” There was a pause behind him and then Sherlock cleared his throat. “No. Completely safe business. I checked all the slides before asking Rosie to stick her nose into them.” Sherlock’s wording and hard tone showed that the accusation had irritated him. Shit. John didn’t want that at all. He wasn’t angry, damn it!

“I know. I know.” He grabbed the cups and sat on the chair opposite Sherlock. He left Sherlock’s cup within reach.

“Are you alright?” Sherlock didn’t lift his head from the microscope. Lately, John had assumed Sherlock did that so there was no room for self-consciousness if John had to say something he was not comfortable with.

“Of course, yeah,” John said, managing a smile.

Sherlock looked up now and smiled as he lifted his cup and took a sip. “You had another induction with Miss Abby this afternoon.”

John lifted his eyebrows as if waiting for an explanation. When none came, he just snorted and started to take his phone from his pocket. He tapped on it a few times and placed it on the table.

“Listen,” he said. Sherlock moved closer.

“…in our products. You already noticed the fragrances, the textures, and the variety.” The voice of the recording was a calm voice, the British accent seemed somewhat forced. Sherlock mouthed ‘Abby?’ and John nodded.

“The Cannabis’ one you used this afternoon is the only medical one we can have inside the therapist’s studies.” There was the sound of paper and then a slam on a table, “Here, read this. This is the medicinal spectrum for products with a more powerful composition. One of them is this one” – there was paper noise – “for scar-removing. I’m telling you this because your CV shows that you’re a doctor. Before the clients use this natural treatment, they have to be evaluated. No diabetes, no HIV, no glaucoma, no lupus and no hypertension… Hamish, can I count on you to follow through a patient evaluation? I know you wanted a break from medical treatments, but this is really important for us, one of our star-products. It is still a thing about aesthetic, though.”

There was more crackle in the recording and John’s voice was heard, loud and clear. “Of course.”

John tapped pause on the phone and looked over at Sherlock, who was now staring at his half-full cup. John’s cup was mostly empty.

“Well?” John prompted, “What do you think?”

“I –”

“I know about your scars,” John interrupted, his eyes on the phone. He was planning to make the delivery of this information something casual, in a way that didn’t seem so big of a deal. Hey mate, I saw the shite on your back, oh and by the way, dont forget the milk, eh? But he wanted this to be finally dealt with. He couldn’t wait any longer. He was expecting a retort from Sherlock, but he didn’t want to look over at him just yet.

When there was no reply and several seconds had passed, John finally peered over. Sherlock lifted his face allowing John to observe every second – almost in slow motion – how Sherlock’s face morphed from surprised, affronted, angry to, finally, dare he say, scared.

“Oh,” Sherlock muttered. Several seconds of silence followed again.

“I was -”

“You don’t -”

They spoke at the same time and, as they often did, which made them stare and then snort with amusement. Sherlock waved his hand at John as if to say, ‘you go first’. He sipped on his cold tea.

“You don’t have to talk about it if you -”

“Do you want to know?” Sherlock interrupted.

John frowned. He was tired, damn it, even Rosie had noticed. Massaging other people left little energy for yourself, so he thought about just denying for a couple of seconds. Why would Sherlock want to talk about this with him, of all people. He looked down, at his empty cup. He could feel Sherlock’s sharp eyes on him like a force of gravity.

When he peered up again, Sherlock was looking right through him; his eyes were focused on John but not really seeing him. His expression was lost. John had seen this before and he had always assumed the man just got lost in his head; sometimes when Sherlock finished playing the violin, or when Mrs Hudson teased him about sentiment, or when Rosie was talking to John. But the only thing John could remember clearly was, ages ago, when he had said in this same living room, “Happy birthday”.

“I want you to show them to me.” The words were out before John could control them. He saw how Sherlock’s eyes immediately focused on him – really on him. It was too late to go back, now. Sherlock’s eyes narrowed and seemed to scan his face for a couple of seconds, searching for something John couldn’t grasp and then, as if making a great decision, he stood up from his chair and muttered:

“All right.”

His movements were confined to the small space he had between the table and the chair and, when Sherlock’s first arm came free from the dressing gown, he looked at it for a couple of seconds as if following a vein right from the wrist to the inside of the elbow. The marks from the past drug abuse were almost completely faded now. John had seen those; they had been awful a year ago. But at least those were actually fading. Sherlock had excellent cicatrisation. In the early days, he would cut himself and the spot had been completely healed in three to five days. That’s why, when Sherlock turned his back to John with just his T-shirt on, John braced himself for what was coming.

“When Mary was alive,” John started and Sherlock stilled, his back to John, who continued, “You remember when we were following her GPS… I had left my wallet here and when I returned…” John cleared his throat, “Mrs Hudson was in the kitchen... You just removed your shirt. You were usually so careful when I was around, but you weren’t with Mrs Hudson.”

“John -”

“Why did she know?” John growled. The and I didnt was left unsaid but implied and clearly understood. He knew his voice sounded angry, but he needed to know, too. He had kept quiet for too long about this already.

“Because she asked.” Sherlock’s voice was tired, John could tell. “When I came back, she asked Mycroft for any permanent trauma or medical condition she should be aware of.”

There was a long pause before John could talk again. “Who else?” He cleared his throat, “Who else knew from the beginning.”

Sherlock hesitated and then firmly said, “Mycroft, Anthea, my father, Mary. Rosie too, probably.”

“Oh my God.” John stood up and walked away to the living room. He moved his fist to his mouth and breathed deeply for seconds that felt like hours.

Sherlock hadn’t moved.

“John, I think that -”

“No, Sherlock. I’m going to do this. We are going to do this. ” John moved closer, his breathing loud. He stopped a foot behind Sherlock, “I’m your – I thought I was your best friend.”

“It has nothing to do with friendship,” Sherlock said drily. “Things happen, John. And sometimes things that happen are… shit.”

John smiled at that, he knew it was a bittersweet smile. Sherlock wasn’t looking at him.

“Okay,” he said softly, “remove your shirt.”

Sherlock did.

There was a gasp and a thud as John let himself fall onto the chair behind him and then heavy, rapid breathing.

“Are you okay?” Sherlock asked.

John composed himself, taking deep breaths just like Ella had taught him. When he finally processed the question, he snorted and added, “I should be the one asking that.”

“It’s fine.” John saw Sherlock taking the shirt from the table and putting it back on quickly. John thought about stopping him, but it was way too much now, so he let him. John was rooted to the spot, he couldn’t get up if his life depended on it. The scars weren’t extremely dreadful but it was the story John could see in there the first time all those years ago; a story of torture, infection, neglect.

“Sherlock,” John croaked, clearly affected for what had just transpired. Sherlock turned around. He hadn’t put on the dressing gown again and his expression was blank. John soldiered on, “I’ll do my best,” he said, standing up and walking over to Sherlock. He cleared his throat and looked Sherlock directly into the eyes. “Even if I have to massage you for months with the scar-remover, I’ll… I’ll do my best.”

The corners of Sherlock’s mouth went down and he took a deep breath. John felt an ache in his chest.

“Thank you, John,” Sherlock said, “unrealistic as it is, I…” he swallowed, breathed deeply and hung his head. “I appreciate the sentiment.”

The pause that followed had John awake for the best part of the night: Sherlock breathed, just breathed. Deep, slow, deliberately. John was stuck there, his presence known but not acknowledged, soldiering on again through Sherlock’s small breakdown.

Sherlock didn’t cry but he just inhaled and exhaled profoundly. It was the breathing pattern John had whenever he woke up from a nightmare, like the pattern Rosie had when she was about to cry for food.

John thought for a moment about putting his arms around Sherlock, just like as Sherlock had done a couple of years back with himself. But for John, the cards weren’t over the table just yet. He wanted to ask more, like how/when/where did Sherlock get those scars? How long were they infected and why? Were all of them done by the same people? Where did that long one finish? The people who did this, were they all dead? Hell, they better be.

Instead, he took the empty cups and moved them away to fill the kettle and put it back on. Sherlock’s breathing was far from hyperventilation, so John stayed with his back to him as he fixed chamomile and honey for Sherlock and waited for his breathing to go back to normal.

**..**

“Greg has three scars,” Sherlock murmured after the minutes of silence that followed the chamomile. He seemed so tired that, for a moment, John thought about leaving everything else for tomorrow.

The clock struck quarter past eleven.

“He does?” John was still processing everything. He was deeply shocked, even though the knowledge wasn’t exactly new.

“Stab wound on his right arm.” Sherlock pointed to a spot on his own arm. “Chemical burn on his left shoulder.” He pointed to a spot on his shoulder. “And the shape of an iron on his right thigh.” He laughed and added, “He’s rubbish at playing house.”

“Sher-”

“There’s no way to explain my scars to Abby if the random photo goes off, but I’m going to text… Greg. If that medical lotion is so powerful I need to isolate the ingredients by centrifuge. Look at this,” Sherlock passed John his phone, “the grass in the ginger lotion is not from London, nor from anywhere in Europe. I isolated a herbicide that’s no longer used in here, just in some areas from the States. It’s completely harmless in little doses but it was prohibited in Europe in the ’40s.”

“All the paths point to the States,” John sighed, taking his own phone and waving it at Sherlock, “There’s more in the recording. I didn’t think this was relevant to the case until you told me that grass bit, but I recorded it anyway.” He tapped the play button and Sherlock listened intently.

Over the speakers, there was the noise of a chair being dragged against the floor and then the woman’s voice again. “Before you go, Hamish, it is pertinent to let you know about the other aspect of this spa.” Noise, probably John sitting down again, “but before I tell you, you need to have an open mind about this business. You have complete judgment in deciding if you want to take this or not.” There was a pause and then John talking in the recording, “Okay, go on.”

“People need to feel good,” the record – Abby – continued, “when I opened this spa in London I wanted people to feel good in every aspect of their lives. You know sex is an important human feature; having someone they can rely on and a place they trust when they are alone and need a release – there was more paper noise – here. This is the erotic spectrum of our spa and here… are the services provided and the price for each. We have colourful names for the service and they’re always gender-free. You can pretty well bring a woman to orgasm or a man, it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s sanitary and the two parties ag-”

The recording stopped. John muttered a curse and then, “I need to buy a new memory.”

Sherlock snorted, his shoulders moving with the sudden effort. “I have an eight gigabyte SD in my wallet.”

John smiled and lifted his gaze. “All right. Sherlock, there are other cameras activated when asked for those services: each studio has two cameras: one with 360 degrees that shows everything, remember the clicks?” Sherlock nodded, John continued, “and one that shows only the patient – the customer – from the chest up with a blurred image. That camera is activated every time anyone signs for an… erotic service. Not the other one. Privacy, she said.”

Sherlock frowned at this and John cleared his throat. They both snickered and Sherlock asked, “Are there any special products for these… services?”

“Look, she never told me, but over a counter I saw… edible ones, remember? Even if I haven’t the faintest idea of the purpose of those,” John said with mirth in his eyes, Sherlock just smiled, possibly clueless. “There is vaginal tightening and a general tightening, a… uh…” John cleared his throat again and Sherlock waved with his hand indicating for him to continue. “A muscle relaxant.”

“Hm? What’s so abnormal about a muscle relaxant?” Yes. Sherlock was clueless, apparently,

“The picture on the jar,” John said, clearly amused now. He had relaxed a bit after all the tension but he was still exhausted. “There was… a black… hol – circle, in it. Printed. In the label.” He couldn’t help but laugh at Sherlock’s lost expression. “Sherlock, it said it was water-based…” As he explained, he could see now that Sherlock understood; his eyes were huge and he blinked a couple of times. “…long durability, sweet strawberry taste, doesn’t stain the undergarments, latex-toys friendly and… and it said, and I quote, paraben- free so it doesnt irritate your partners prostate.”

Sherlock was still blinking and John was left in doubt if the colour across Sherlock’s face was that of the lamp, the reflection of the red mug or something mundane like blushing.

**..**

When John finally excused himself to go to bed and could actually fall asleep, he dreamed of Sherlock.

He dreamed that he poured water over scars and that it erased them all. He dreamed that he massaged Sherlock’s muscular and firm arm with water (or water-based… something) and Sherlock massaged his left arm back.

In the dream he was suddenly in the middle of the living room, Rosie on the carpet screaming “Lemon!” and Sherlock looking down at nothing and breathing hard. Mary was there, too – or probably not Mary, since she looked more like an older version of Rosie – and she had made a gesture with her head as if nodding to Sherlock but looking at him; her eyes huge and scornful, her mouth firmly closed as if he was doing something horribly wrong. In the dream, he had walked over to Sherlock and had raised his arms a little, Mary – older Rosie – had smiled and, as he was about to hold the man, little Rosie on the carpet had screamed Daddy, hug! Now!

He woke with an armful of Rosie and the same scornful expression he had seen in the dream.

“Daddy! I want porch!”

Chapter Text

It was easy to turn into William Scott for a second time: slicked hair, thick jeans, jumper and a shirt different from last time.

Sherlock was standing in the middle of his room, observing himself in the mirror. He was blushing, embarrassing as it was, he was blushing. Hard. Completely red from whatever was visible above the neck up to his forehead.

The thing was, he wasn’t used to watch porn.

And, less of all, he wasn’t used to watch porn and memorising the actors’ O-faces.

After the conversation last night with John, he had been… tempted. To use a needle. He had wanted to stop feeling the hollow in the middle of his chest. He’d wanted the caress of something warm inside his veins, he wanted the tender sensation of his blood cells singing with something stronger. Of something else telling his brain what to do instead of the shame left in the middle of the rollercoaster of the events of last night.

As soon as he had recognised the temptation, though, he had returned to the case as soon as John had gone upstairs to sleep.

He eyed the clock on his bedside table and sighed. There were still 30 minutes left to take Rosie to the nursery and then back to the spa. He closed his eyes and went to his mind palace, looking for an alternative to what was about to happen this afternoon.

He entered the small room he had temporarily made up for this case; there was John, a white coat over his clothes, massaging yesterday’s William Scott in slow motion as the mental Sherlock moved freely around the scene:

The stretcher. He was sitting on it, his face was a bit of a blur, but he could see a silly expression on his face. He ignored it. There were the slides on the stretcher behind him and made a mental note to bring more today just in case, different colours for each.

The wheeled table. Too many bottles. All of them where carefully labelled with a small sign for the main component. Most of the products had more than three natural components, many of them not even recognisable by smell. Hence the experiment-turned-into-game with Rosie. Wheeled table had four wheels; two of them had brakes and the others two didn’t. That was one more deduction than expected.

The sink. He moved around the slow-paced scene and observed himself with John again. Now he was grabbing John’s hand and it was sliding through his fingers. The sound of the slippery product was loud in the silence and he fought the need to clear his throat. He moved to the sink. In the background he heard John’s voice, ‘Not if you wash your hands first, William…’ He shook his head. The sink! Focus! Two products for hand washing. One of them was an antibacterial gel from a known brand. They had the same brand in the bathroom. Check later. The second was a parsley-scented soap. Why parsley?

The massage products. The components that were listed in the label were usually the one with the highest percentage in the product. Except for the ginger and honey that had a higher amount of lemongrass. The almond one also had gum from Ficus Elastica, big quantities, around 35%. More data needed. The mint and green tea had 20% of oil from leaves of a lemon tree. No need for more data, it’s only there for consistency. Many use citrus oils.

The massage. He had to. It was easier this time because only his face and part of his torso would be visible on the photos. He could ask John to turn around. He had headphones in his pocket just in c– ping.

Sherlock opened his eyes and lit up the screen of his phone: still 27 minutes left and Lestrade’s name tinkling. He answered.

Im on my way.” Lestrade was completely out of breath, walking, about to cross the street. On foot. He was wearing trainers. “Im getting a scar-removal massage with Martin in half an hour.”

“Good. Do you have the slides?” Sherlock asked. He looked in the mirror once again only to discover he was still blushing. He frowned at his own reflection.

Yeah. Hey, Martin asked for your number. Should I give it to him?” Lestrade was clearly smiling, why was he smiling? “Or should I ask for Johns permission, first?” Ah. There it was.

“I have no idea what you mean.” He knew exactly what Greg meant.

I mean, hes interested in... He personally wanted to tell you things about the place. He told me he oh shit. Hold on.” Sherlock could hear some brakes. Small car, careless driver, not strong enough to control the wheel. He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Scotland Yard! You cant drive if youre on the phone like that. Hey! You officer over there! Detective Inspector Lestrade.  Give this poor kid a speeding ticket. How old are you? What! Really? Shit. Sherlock, Ill get back to you. Im on my way.

He heard the tone of the ended call. Sherlock sent a text.

Give Martin my number. SH                                                

He looked at himself in the mirror and bit his lip. His face was ridiculous and the longer he looked into the mirror, the more unconvinced he was. He mimicked one of the actors’ orgasmic face. It looked so unnatural that he grimaced in the middle. He lifted his eyebrows. That gesture was more like him. What if…

He looked around him and checked the time. Still twenty-two minutes to go. He went to lock the door and came back to the mirror, his back to the door. Sherlock closed his eyes for a while and evoked John’s smell.

Sherlock wasn’t one to masturbate regularly. He often did quickly and efficiently but there were times when he really, really wanted to. This was not one of those times. Still, he couldn’t help but think of his favourite fantasy when he… indulged himself.

John’s smell was quite unique. Sherlock could physically feel how it invaded his nostrils and his mind. He moved his hand to unbutton his trousers, his hand easing inside his pants. He grabbed the base of his penis and stroked just once, teasing it. He wasn’t hard but he could feel the muscles on his face contracting at the sensation.

When he opened his eyes, what he saw made him frown. There he was, like a teenager, with his right hand inside his pants. He memorised the way the muscles of his face were and he noticed that, when teased, his expression was completely different to those of the actors.

He gave himself another stroke and the only word his mind could come up with was: “John”.

He imagined John touching him, massaging him, he remembered the slippery noise and conjured the contact of John’s delicate hands massaging his biceps, his free left hand moved to his own right arm and squeezed, hard. It was a simple move but his brain was deeply into it and, as he massaged his arm, all of the air in his lungs went out. His penis was almost half-erect now.

He breathed deeply as he removed his hand from his pants. He buttoned up again and looked at himself in the mirror once more. His face was soft, almost like when just waking up. His pupils were dilated and his breathing was somehow faster than usual. That wasn’t his orgasm face, he was sure, but this he could work with.

It looked less fake than that of the actors, at least.

Ten minutes left, so he washed his hands, took a deep breath, thought of Anderson and marched down the stairs to take Rosie from Mrs Hudson.

**..**

“I never thought you’d actually sign up for the full-body massage,” John stated as soon as Sherlock was inside the white room. He was putting on his white coat and holding a white towel. “Take off your clothes behind that screen,” he continued loudly as he passed Sherlock the towel, he meant to be heard from the hallway, “You can keep your pants on if you’d rather. Put this towel around your middle and lay on the stretcher, face down, I’m going to grab the oils. I’ll be back in a tick.”

When John closed the door, Sherlock sighed and shivered shortly but violently. No way back now. He moved behind a bamboo screen in a corner and started to undress.

As soon as Sherlock had arrived at the spa, Miss Eldridge had smiled brightly, telling him Abby Slaney had wanted to contact him because of the software development application. She had been interested in updating it for a while but hadn’t had the time to find a software developer in London. So he had been given her phone and the task to contact her in the evening. He was meant to call at seven, so he still had two hours to get the massage and grab a cab to Craig’s place.

Also, he had been informed that Hamish Watson had upgraded his massage menu and had added the spicy ones – only for selected clientele – and she gave him a wink. He allowed himself to blush (he was getting used to it, apparently) and appeared coy as he chose the full-body massage, to Eldridge’s delight (it was actually pretty expensive).

He was securing the towel around his hips – no pants, he was too decided by now – when he heard the first click. The place it was coming from was different from last time, it was on the ceiling, above the head of the stretcher, pointing down. Odd. It wasn’t there before.

It confirmed his theory that all the spicy ones – silly name – were only randomly photographed from the chest up. The small wheeled table with the products should be on the range of the photo, too. Sherlock mused for a couple of seconds why the products were being so securely held, even if he hadn’t found anything out of place with them, maybe except for the extra ingredients.

He was walking to the stretcher when John entered the room, he had a tray in his hands and was about to place it on top of the small table when he turned and saw Sherlock.

John stopped for a microsecond, his eyes roaming from curls to toes. Sherlock felt so naked that he also stopped walking. But it was over soon when John spoke.

“Lay. Face down.” John sounded professional, detached. The warmth he radiated the night before was almost completely gone.

Sherlock did as he was told, trying hard to hold onto his William Scott persona. His eyes were firmly checking the tightly secured door as he positioned himself, face down, over the stretcher. He didn’t know what to do with his arms, so he just crossed them below his head, the side of his face resting on his forearm.

“The slides are between my toes,” he said as he was ready and John snorted. “I just heard a click going off from the camera that’s right above my head. No need to hide them if you keep them anywhere below my waist.”

There was a pregnant silence as John got to work, Sherlock could feel the slides being removed from his toes and then heard the acrylic being placed next to his knee. When he looked down there was also a pencil. John was the strategist again.

“Okay, all set. There are several new products today,” John said as he opened a bottle, wrote something on the label of the slide, opened it, took a small amount of product and closed it. All with great efficiency. Sherlock observed the process with a smile.

John squeezed some of the content in his palm and continued, “Did you know that there are over 500 different species in the family of aloaceae? It’s one of the genus with the largest list of benefits.”

“It’s closer to five hundred and fifty.” Sherlock turned his head to look at John and faked offence. “You took your time because you were reading Wikipedia?”

John laughed aloud, “No, you moron.” He was left with the hand mid-air. “I was forced to listen to a small conference about the benefits of aloe when I went to Abby’s office to take the products,” he smiled and positioned his open palm on Sherlock’s warm back, the aloe gel liquefying at the contact between their skins. John stopped laughing.

Sherlock stopped fidgeting when John spread the gel across his back and he couldn’t help but think about the scars and how John was completely ignoring them. He was silently thankful for that. But if he was completely sincere with himself, he wanted to be asked. He wanted to be asked and he wanted to refuse to talk about it. Still. He wanted to be asked.

Click.

The silence was deafening.

“Is…” John cleared his throat and continued, “Is this okay?”

Sherlock wanted to ask what was okay. Is massaging your back okay? Is your back okay? Are you okay? Is this case okay?

Instead, he just answered, his voice deep and a bit raw, “Everything’s okay.”

There was another silence in which John talked with his hands, Sherlock noticed; his finger trailed one of his scars and then it was followed by both of his palms rubbing firmly over shoulder blades with a circular motion. Then there were thumbs; they moved from the back of his neck down to the upper part of his hips. John circled the small of Sherlock’s back with his thumbs and then moved them up again, the rest of his fingers circling Sherlock’s sides; they passed by his hips and waist, all the way up to his armpits.

Sherlock was quiet and still, John’s hands were burning his skin and he didn’t… there were so many things he could say about the case, about Lestrade collecting data of products for scars right at this moment, about Martin that might have information, about himself calling Abby herself later, about Craig and the lead he said he had found, about Miss Hilton’s missed call this morning and how he completely forgot to call her back because he was watching porn – that might be better to be left unsaid – and how this case was slowly turning from ‘The adventure of the secret spa and its connection to a possible international mystery to ‘The effect of Johns hand on Sherlocks body and how to prevent your friend from noticing your massive erection when you think of it’ or maybe ‘Twice John massaged his best friend and once the best friend rehearsed O-faces from porno films. For a case.’ That would look lovely on John’s blog. He could almost see the comments; ‘You finally turned gay? Harry Watson’ ‘Im not, he might be. I dont know. John Watson’ ‘Mate, Im glad Sherlock finally told you! Lestrade’ ‘I always knew it. Im Mrs Hudson by the way Mrs Turner.

“Aloe provides help for collagen to develop below the dermis,” John said, completely taking Sherlock away from his mind. “It mitigates scars tissue over time.” John squeezed more product into his hand and continued his ministration on Sherlock’s back. “You know…” John paused and took a breath, “Mrs Hudson has this aloe plant she never uses and it’s huge. I’m… thinking about massaging you with the substance from the leaves. At home.” John knew he was blabbing. He cleared his throat and went on, “At least once a week, or…”

“John,” Sherlock spoke for the first time in a while. “It’s fine. I appreciate your concern, but you don’t –”

“I want to help,” John interrupted with a firm voice; he stopped massaging and searched for Sherlock’s face that was barely visible over the arm he was resting the side of his face on. “Sherlock, I want to help. Let me help. With this,” John motioned to Sherlock’s back.

Sherlock smiled and said in a small voice, “Does it look that terrible?”

“Ye – No, not really. I can see some of them were infected for a while but most of them healed nicely.” John smeared more gel and traced one in the middle of Sherlock’s back with his thumbs, applying pressure to the tissue. “This one was healed badly, though. It had a serious internal infection then was re-opened, cleaned and stitched.” Sherlock was facing John, his smile wide as he listened, John looked straight into his eyes, frowned and added, “It wasn’t here in London, for the stitching pattern is slightly different than the UK standard.”

“It was attended by a Serbian surgeon on the flight back to London,” Sherlock said. “Very good, doctor.”

John snorted and Sherlock couldn’t stop looking at him, even if the position of his neck was a bit odd. It was easy, talking about this with John, even if he was not asking what Sherlock wanted to be asked about. He thought about the years they knew each other and was secretly thankful for the deep understanding they already had of one another.

Click.

“I’m going to move to your legs, alright?” John repeated the process of the slide with a new product and with a grin he said, “I told Abby that you were really fat before, so you supposedly have stretch marks on your back and legs. She recommended castor oil.”

Sherlock giggled. His palms were a bit sweaty by now and his back felt like jelly. He was relaxed but oddly nervous at the same time.

“One more product to test. I believe we’re not missing many products now,” Sherlock said trying to concentrate on another thing that wasn’t John who was about to massage his legs.

“No, with Greg taking the scars-removal we should be… almost done,” John said, purposely avoiding the thing about the muscles relaxant. He placed his oily hand over Sherlock's calf when Sherlock moved his leg away.

“John.”

“Hm? You okay?” John asked with his hand mid-air, trying not to lose the oil in his palm. He looked at Sherlock who turned a little to face him.

“John, the camera only photographs the upper part of the torso. So there’s no need to…”

“Sherlock,” John said with his Captain Watson voice. “Look. I told you, yesterday. I don’t mind if I have to…” He inhaled quickly through his nose, his eyes were burning into Sherlock’s, his mouth was set and his tone was dangerously clipped. Sherlock already knew how to recognise this: John didn’t like a change when he had already set his mind. “Look, if this case is already getting ridiculous – because it has – I’m going to go along with it. If the gathering of information this time means I’m massaging you, so be it. Lay down and enjoy it. I’m not holding back unless you hate it.”

“I don’t…” Sherlock had been left speechless, his eyebrows were high in his forehead and his mind was in a weird state of blank. He narrowed his eyes at John and he just… smiled.

That's all it was needed. John’s smile always made everything better and that was not Sherlock being biased. It was a scientific fact. As factual as the sun rises.

Sherlock smiled back, he knew it was that goofy thing that made him look like a child, only one side of his mouth going up and his teeth showing up. He laid back in his original position on the stretcher and added, still smiling: “Do your worst”.

John laughed softly, then placed both of his hands on each of Sherlock’s calves. He moved them up to the back of his knee, kneading the flesh on the way. He repeated the notion four times, each of them pressing into different spots and each time going a bit up to Sherlock’s thighs.

When John’s hands were clearly and surely moving up to massage Sherlock’s upper legs, Sherlock shuddered and sighed audibly. He had been silent, and he really was relaxed under John’s ministrations. So he decided to praise John’s efforts vocally.

He took a breath through his nose when John massaged up the back of his knees with his thumbs.

He let his breath go almost inaudibly through his mouth when John kneaded right in the middle of his thighs, pressing firmly.

He hissed through his teeth when John’s fingertips casually grazed the underside of his buttocks under the towel.

“Sorry,” John said at that. “It was kind of bound to happen, the towels here are damn small.”

“Well,” Sherlock replied, his voice almost a purr. “You know where this is supposed to lead.”

“Behave, William,” John said, mocking stern.

John had stopped what he was doing, his hand mid-massage on Sherlock’s thighs. Sherlock squirmed a bit, but John was clearly not paying attention. That was the moment Sherlock realised he had an infamous erection pressing against the soft linen covering of the stretcher.

“John.”

“Hang on,” John said, completely oblivious to his effect on Sherlock, a frown on his face, his hands soft over Sherlock’s thighs, his eyes on the door. “Sherlock you know, this is not normal behaviour for a spa. Look, this is the largest towel in here and it’s supposed to cover your whole… bits, and here, listen to this. Every bottle you see here is clearly labelled as edible. I’ve never… I mean, I’ve been in therapy. I’ve seen the bottles they use. The edible bit is usually right at the bottom in a very small font. Also, when I went over to get the products for this session, Abby, she…”

“Hm?” Sherlock opted for not speaking.

“She winked at me and told me to… have a good time,” John snorted and continued, remembering. “There was also a box in her office with small packages that at first I thought were oil samples, but now that I think about it, I think…”

“Condoms,” Sherlock interrupted, amused. “I see. Makes sense, it’s not legal to have this kind of recreational business. Sex-spa, then?”

“I didn’t even know those existed,” John laughed.

“No, neither did I…” Sherlock took a breath, looked at the screen with the countdown, and added, “Thirty-five minutes left.”

“Right.”

John looked down at his hand and got wide eyes; his hands had been unconsciously caressing Sherlock’s skin mid-thighs. He pressed the skin again with purpose now.

“I’m going to need you to turn around.”

The countdown on the screen ticked three times.

“That might not be a good idea, right now,” Sherlock said, his voice muffled by his arm. There was clearly mirth in his tone and John had to come closer to hear.

“Why’s that?” John asked, his eyebrows high on his forehead.

“Check the labels,” Sherlock said with a small groan, he was still smiling, though. “One of those products was clearly labelled as an aphrodisiac.” He shrugged. “I can’t turn. Not now.”

Click.

John’s eyebrows shot up even more and regarded Sherlock’s face for a small eternity. He had clearly understood. He moved to the small table where the products were and said, deadpan, “There is no aphrodisiac.”

“Perhaps is not labelled, then.” Sherlock squirmed a bit, not really much point in hiding it if John already knew. “Give it a minute or two for it to go away and…”

“There have been three clicks –”

“Four.”

“Alright. Four clicks and in all of them you’re facing down…”

“In three.”

“Jes – Fine! You know what? Whatever, I don’t mind. Turn around before another click goes off. We’re already in the last half of the session.” At Sherlock’s incredulous face, John added, oddly calm, “I had to sign a fucking contract that very clearly stipulated that if I do not keep with the session lengths, products or any material in the spa, they could – and I cite –  take legal actions. Do you have any idea of how that would look in my resume? Case or not.”

Sherlock swallowed and sighed, then in a small voice added, “Fine! God’s sake.”

He turned around.

There was something about John’s voice that clearly affected Sherlock’s erection a bit more, since he had gone from partially to fully erect in two minutes, if the countdown on the screen was to be believed.

He grabbed the edge of the towel and covered what he could, but he was completely sure that his erection was in full-view for a couple of seconds. He could not see John’s face at the moment, instead, he focused on turning around with as much dignity as possible for an almost-mortified man.

“It’s fine,” John repeated, calmer now. He was clearly trying to reassure Sherlock and himself. “There must be something in the products, I’ve learned that there are non-conventional aphrodisiacs. Means that whatever affected you does not usually affect people. These things happen.”

John had been cleaning his hands with a fresh towel. Sherlock could see how his eyes were on the task, but at times, John’s eyes would move to Sherlock as if by force of nature, he was probably curious about the whole process.

As soon as Sherlock was on his back he covered his bits as best as he could, cleared his throat and muttered, “Apologies.”

“I mean it. It’s fine,” John turned to look at Sherlock and Sherlock noted with horror how John’s eyes roamed over his body, stopping for a second on the tented towel. He didn’t seem uncomfortable, which told a great deal about John Watson’s personality. “I can turn around for a bit if you… need…” he cleared his throat as he motioned with his hand in the direction of Sherlock’s groin.

Click.

Sherlock sighed. There he was, on his back, his arms at his sides, an erection tenting a towel around his hips, back and legs completely melted thanks to John’s hands and John right there, looking at his face.

Sherlock knew he must look completely tense. He visibly relaxed and rolled his shoulders.

“No. I’m okay.” Sherlock closed his eyes for a second and evoked William Scott’s personality, not really getting it but close. “Just…” he gestured to his body with a flourish of his hand and added, “Do whatever it is you have to do, Doctor.”

John snorted with a shake of his head. He took another oil, spread a bit of it on a clean slide, put his oily hands on Sherlock’s stomach and said, “I told you to behave, William.”

Sherlock smirked, trying for humour, he took John’s wrist with his hand and purred, low and slow, “I doubt William would want to behave, considering the circumstances.”

There was a small pause in which John seemed as if he was going to fly and disappear on the spot, but then as always, he surprised Sherlock. He looked like a man throwing all caution to the wind; he removed his hand from Sherlock’s grip, slid both hands up on Sherlock’s torso, letting his fingertips almost graze his nipples as he whispered, very serious and looking right into Sherlock’s eyes, “Then don’t.”

There was a very visible – according to Sherlock – jump inside the towel at those words and touch. The texture of it felt soft against his testicles and in contrast felt rough against the tip of his sensitised penis. Even the seam of it felt incredibly sensual as it skimmed the skin over the bones on his hips.

If someone had told Sherlock that someday there would be a possibility of him getting off with John in the same room, he would have laughed aloud for days. Of course, they had flirted, before. Loads of times, even before The Hiatus, as Sherlock called his two years disappearance in his mind. But after Mary, things were a bit tenser. This wasn’t simple chemistry anymore, and apparently, they both understood that. This wasn’t just a whim, and couldn’t be brushed off as some simple heat of the moment impulse. But there was something about being William Scott, Hamish’s client, that for some reason, Sherlock wasn’t about to give up now.

Even though he had to think multiple times if John was thinking about the consequences, too.

“Then I won’t,” Sherlock replied, rolling his hips softly once, soft enough to let himself feel the touch of the towel, but not hard for it to fall off and leave him exposed.

Sherlock’s eyes were intent on John’s face, so he noticed how John’s eyes roamed all around his torso, never lowering his gaze enough to see, but enough to notice the movement of Sherlock’s hips. He moved his hands over Sherlock’s shoulders and neck, rubbing his fingers behind Sherlock’s ears and following the path back to his shoulders and then to his arms.

“Relax,” John said, firmly. Only then Sherlock noticed that his hands were tightly closed on his sides and that he had been holding his breath. “Breathe,” he added.

So Sherlock did, actively panting now, hips still rolling subtly again, and again, his eyes never leaving John’s face. John’s hands massaged from his arms to his hands, eyes stubbornly on front, face a bit closer to Sherlock’s chest. He massaged from hands and then stomach again, fingers crooking at the sides, rubbing his waist, going up, up.

When John’s thumbs deliberately passed over Sherlock’s hard nipples, Sherlock closed his eyes, exposed his neck, and moaned.

Sherlock became aware of his own reaction when half a moan was already out. There was no way back. He would stop the whole business, then. His mind quickly supplied excuses, white fonts floating like water over his closed eyelids: Thank you, John. This has been most informative, ‘There must be an unlabelled aphrodisiac, after all, also, oddly, ‘This has, somehow, something to do with Elsie Patrick… He heard the last half of his moan already resonating in the air when he felt John stopping and removing his hands from his chest.

He braced himself for the worst; he stilled his hips and sighed loudly, his body sagging a bit on the stretcher. He didn’t dare open his eyes, not yet, lest he sees John’s regretting face. He could hear his own soft breathing and John’s steps.

He was about to open his eyes when he heard the cap of another bottle being opened, he felt the linen move where the slides were and then John’s warm hands on his calves.

The twitch of his penis did move the precariously placed towel, this time. The head was left exposed to the room.

There were no words needed as John now massaged the front of his legs.

Sherlock’s hips started moving again, same as before, delicately, just to feel the texture of the soft towel against his skin. He opened his eyes and kept them fixed on the ceiling, his neck no longer tense, his breathing pattern close to panting once more. There was something inexorably surreal about the whole situation. He couldn’t help but remember that time in Uni when he was so far gone with arousal that, even when he had heard one of his teachers going to the bathroom next to his room, he couldn’t stop masturbating for his life.

Click.

John’s hands were on his knees now, the massage still firm and slow.

“First, he passed his hand on mine, but so gently that I could hardly feel it…” Sherlock whispered as if reciting prose, he was aware of his own throaty voice barely resonating in the room. He couldn’t open his eyes. “Then, slowly, his fingers began to lock themselves within mine, just like this; for he seemed to delight in taking possession of me… inch by inch.”

“Sherlock?” John had stopped massaging. Sherlock was still moving his hips, in a semi-circular motion now.

“One of his arms encircled my… waist.” Sherlock panted a few times and continued, “Then he put the other 'round my neck, and the tips of his fingers twiddled and fondled my throat, thrilling me…” he opened his eyes and dared to look right into John’s eyes as he lifted himself on his elbows; he was completely unaware of his facial expression, nor did he want to analyse it now. Words came to his mind, words written a century ago used for furtive wanks with a book on his lap.

He felt John’s hands returning to his legs, up his knee, cautiously. Sherlock continued, his eyes never leaving John’s, “As he did so, our cheeks slightly grazed each other; and that touch – perhaps because it was so imperceptible – vibrated through all my body, giving all my nerves a not unpleasant twinge.”

John was biting the inside of his cheek. He was clearly a bit nervous now, but apparently, he couldn’t take his eyes off Sherlock’s.

“Our mouths were now in close contact, and still he did not kiss me; his lips were simply tantalising mine, as if to make me more keenly conscious of our nature's affinity.” Sherlock licked his lower lip slowly, as if savouring his own words.

“Sherl –”

“The nervous state in which I had been these last days rendered me ever so much the more excitable.”

“What –”

“I therefore longed to feel that pleasure which cools the blood and calms the brain,” Sherlock’s eyes closed and his hands twitched at his side. He wanted to touch himself, he wanted to take himself in his fist and end the whole case, but he found himself powerless to break this. He watched as John let his eyes roam his body, stopping deliberately on the small towel and the erection beneath. He saw how John sucked a breath as his hands massaged up his thighs, dangerously close to his groin.

How many times his erection had twitched under the towel he could no longer count.

“But he seemed disposed to prolong my eagerness.” He saw how John moved from the foot of the stretcher to the side, so the back of his head would be visible if the camera went off. He also noticed how John had started to pant but Sherlock couldn’t pinpoint when. He was too preoccupied with the hands that were roaming below the towel by his sides, thumbs grazing the protuberance of the bones of his hips.

“Oh God… and to make me reach that pitch…” Sherlock’s hips rolled with purpose now, his eyes on John’s face, helpless. “That pitch of inebriating sensuality…” John’s hands pressed hard on the bones, he got a bit closer, so the fabric of his jeans was rubbing against the side of Sherlock’s thigh.

“That verges upon madness.” Sherlock’s hands moved frantically to cup the tip of his penis, all of his torso convulsing in orgasm. He was as silent as he could, biting his lips and breathing hard through his nose.

In the blur of the moment, as he felt the wetness in his hands, he heard John’s soft Oh my God and his frantic grab of Sherlock’s hips, as if unable to move his hands away from Sherlock’s body.

When the last click went off, there were only four minutes left on the screen.

Chapter Text

At eight o’clock John was not opening the front door of 221B. He was in his office at the surgery where he still did part-time work every morning. He had gone there under the excuse of paperwork but he found himself googling instead.

His arms encircled my waist, he wrote on the browser, adding the quotation marks as Sherlock taught him years ago. Several books popped out, all of them were written by women.

Sherlock had been clearly reciting something written by a man, though. The way he said the ‘he’ and the way it was phrased… he took a deep breath and scrolled down on the results. Nothing.

I wanted to feel that pleasure, he wrote again. He mostly found BDSM sites. John’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline on their own volition.

Calms the brain, found him sites that spoke of yoga and meditation.

The thing is, he had been quite sure he had committed every word to memory, but sitting in front of his computer with Google right there, he realised he hadn’t. What he had committed to memory were the feelings; that’s why when he closed his eyes he could see Sherlock again… having an orgasm, words like honey drifting from his mouth, something about sensuality, about madness.

Ha. Yeah. Madness and sensuality pretty much defined the afternoon.

When he saw Sherlock with his hands firmly over his crotch with the towel after that orgasm, he had been tempted to ask… so many things, he didn’t even know where to start. So, he had stepped aside and tried to calm himself. He was curious, yes, but being the witness of this side of Sherlock put him at ease, for some odd reason. He had seen Sherlock trying to calm down, seen those hands trembling a bit over the precariously placed towel. And, odd at this whole thing was, he felt at ease, knowing that Sherlock could do this, with him. It felt a bit as a privilege. Like going to the ocean and taking a photo of a jumping dolphin.

But there was still something nagging in his head, something small that had been implied so many times by so many people. He couldn’t avoid it now, could he? Could Sherlock? But then, this was a case. Would this have happened if there had been no case?

What about his own physical reaction, then? What about the hard-on he had sported and successfully ignored the last half of the session? What did it say about himself? He was a grown man, he could ignore an erection! It’s not as if he had never considered… and maybe five years ago, before Sherlock disappeared, he would have… even though he had never thought about Sherlock as something more than…

His mind was so tired that those half-made thoughts couldn’t get to an end. He didn’t want to think much about his own implications. He was still curious, though. Mostly about Sherlock, who was now occupying much of his thoughts. But he nearly always was, anyway.

John closed the browser and his laptop. The clock behind his head struck half eight. His phone pinged to announce a message.

 

Rosie is asleep. She was tired early. She' s going to wake up tomorrow at six. Beware.

Thank you. I'm  trying to train her to sleep the entire night!

I know. She still needs one hour and a half in the afternoon, minimum. Not half. A nanny told me that.

John smiled. Sherlock giving him lessons on sleeping patterns. He wondered for a moment when had he fell into this dimension with Sherlock as the responsible adult. Besides, Rosie was not a sleeper. She could go to sleep at ten and wake at four and not fall asleep again until six. If John was lucky.

 

 Mrs H bathed her. She couldn' t resist my bedtime story.

He was about to reply asking what he had been reading to her when the screen showed that Sherlock was typing. He stopped. Continued. John’s heart started to beat faster for no apparent reason. What was he going to write? Sherlock was typing non-stop, now. John’s eyes were glued on the phone; he was shaking. Several thoughts went through his head and he couldn’t explain one of them if he tried.

His treacherous mind supplied a track of Sherlock’s voice instead, his quick panting, his soft groans. That – rather spectacular – first moan that had escaped his lips in the massage room completely uncensored, completely pornographic.

Sherlock had stopped writing, but there was no new message yet. John closed his eyes. Sherlock’s nipples came into view, now. Odd. That. Because he had never touched a man’s nipples like that before. There wasn’t a big difference to a woman’s, except what was below. Sherlock had a muscular body, even more so after his return, and his chest had been… it was a pleasant chest.

Only now did John notice that a pesky “for a bloke” followed after every little thing he thought about Sherlock. He grimaced at the realisation.

His mind supplied an image he had of Sherlock from many years ago; he had been on a date and, as soon as he had arrived, was lured by the screeching from Mrs Hudson’s kitchen. There was a mouse running loose inside her flat and she had called Sherlock, who had been sleeping, apparently. John entered the kitchen just to see Sherlock lifting a wooden table with his left hand as he threw a saucepan face down with the other over the grey little fellow. He had sleepily smiled at John with a, ‘Oh. Hello, John.’ And, leaving the table right where it was with little fuss, saying “There you have it,” to Mrs Hudson, then he yawned and he was out. After dealing with the mouse, John had secretly tried to lift the table. He could do it one-handed too, but his arm had trembled under the weight.

He remembered that he had been staring at Sherlock’s chest, stomach and arms for days after that, wondering where that strength came from and whether he did some kind of sport or went to the gym.

He thought of his own hands, then. Sometimes he would do that. He couldn’t help but remember how a few years ago when things were so messed up, when he had beaten Sherlock so bad that he had been left bleeding in a morgue floor, how his hands had hurt for days after, every time he flexed his fingers.

He looked at his palm and asked himself if giving Sherlock pleasure – or helping him to reach that climax – would, somehow, redeem him a little bit.

Not for the first time he wanted to put a hole through the wall with his skull.

There was a thud as his phone rolled on the carpet below his desk. He cursed and crouched to retrieve it. There was a new message.

 

 Found a component which might act as an aphrodisiac: PEA , also MAOI. Not labelled. You might still be under the effects. If you're not feeling well, drink more than a litre of water or eat something salty. Better if you do both.

I don't  think it affected me, not that much at least.

That was probably not the best thing to write. There was a small pause and then a new message.

 

 Where are you?

Office.

Spa is closed.

Surgery office.

Are you alright?

Yeah. Coming.

Home.

I m coming home.

I m going to take the bus, now.

There was no response; John didn’t want to leave it there after the unconscious innuendo. He waited thirty seconds and added:

 

 Do you want to eat?

Mrs H brought us some chicken broth. Rosie said it s yummy.

: )

**..**

John opened the door to 221 at half nine. Mrs Hudson was watching that old karaoke show with celebrities which for some reason was half-hosted inside a car. He recognised a rerun that he had watched with Sherlock and Rosie with John trying to sing along to Elton John, Sherlock rolling his eyes at the questions that ‘he could easily deduce if he was a good journalist, Rosie hitting his eyes with her little fist. This was almost two years ago. He smiled as he bizarrely remembered Sherlock’s contemplative face when Sir Elton started to talk about his adopted kid.

Oh, the wonders of the human brain.

He shook his head and headed up the stairs. He could hear muffled voices, Sherlock and a man. The pitch was not as rough, so not Greg, then.

“… and the list of the cameras,” the man finished. He was dressed in the Yard’s uniform.

Sherlock’s eyes were on the door as if waiting for John to enter the flat. There was an empty bag of crisps and half a glass of water on the small table next to him.

 “That’s what we’re checking tomorrow,” Sherlock replied to whatever the man was saying.

There was something in the Yarder that John found fairly familiar. He was in his early thirties and a bright-looking bloke with cheerful eyes, broad shoulders and thin waist, things that John noticed first. The ratio between waist and shoulders should have been completely anti-aesthetical but for some reason, it wasn’t. “Oh, Ham- Dr Watson!”

“Yeah, evening,” he said walking to them but his eyes were trained on Sherlock.

“John, you already know Detective Martin.” Martin stood and offered a handshake and a confident grin.

As soon as his eyes were on the man, John recognised the lanky git that was his co-worker and his eyebrows went up in surprise. “Yeah, my God, I didn’t recognise you!” He looked taller now and less of a dork; even his voice was a bit different.

“I’m used to that by now, with undercover work.”

John laughed. “Yeah. I suppose you are.”

“We were talking about the cameras,” Sherlock added quickly. He cleared his throat and didn’t look at John in the eye.

“What about them?” John sat down in his chair. He did a small victory dance in his head when he noticed that Sherlock had left his armchair to him and made Martin sit on the client’s chair.

“Well, you see, Ha- Dr Watson, sorry, got a bit used to it…” Martin said with a little grimace, “I am working undercover in the Spa, only Mr Holmes and DI Lestrade know about this. We were asked by the Health Department to go investigate since they found irregularities in the water supply and water wastes. I asked Mr Holmes for help…” He gave a little laugh as he looked over at Sherlock. It looked more like a once-over. “People in the Yard are always going about how fast Mr Holmes is, better and faster than any lab, so I thought about to give it a go. Thank heavens, he agreed, nobody wants to alert the press about water testing by going to a lab full of nosy idiots.” Sherlock snorted at that. “He has been checking if the components of the products are any match to those of the water.”

Sherlock’s eyes locked with John’s for a moment – or two – and John could clearly see that Sherlock was deliberately trying to calm his breathing. John’s eyes went to Martin, but as he was turning his head, he could see Sherlock licking his lips, swallowing and straightening his spine in the chair.

“Any luck?” John asked.

“Yeah!” Martin answered, oblivious of whatever was happening. “Mr Holmes found something absolutely brilliant! Let me show you.” He stood up and walked to the coffee table and started to sort some papers.

John’s eyes went back to Sherlock, who now was looking intently to the carpet or John’s feet. John made a gesture with his hand and lifted one brow (‘you okay?’). Sherlock nodded through an intake of air.

Martin came back with a bunch of photographs, handing them to John and Sherlock cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry, Mr Holmes, but…” Martin said as he sat back down.

“It’s fine. He was there.”

John looked into the photographs and what he saw made him frown: the photographs taken by the cameras had different colours than a normal camera. He had seen images like this.

“Thermal cameras,” John breathed out. There was a loud, “Yes!” from Martin in response and a softer “Obvious” from Sherlock.

“It’s brilliant, isn’t it?” Martin repeated, “They are testing products according to the reaction of the patients…”

“They’re using stimulants in order to get the strongest reactions from clients,” Sherlock added.

“I… see…” John was flipping through the photographs and then looked at Sherlock, incredulous. “And how did you get these? Craig?”

“Craig,” Sherlock confirmed, his usually pale cheeks an alarming shade of pink.

The photos were composed of a whole gamma of purple, red, blue and green. John got to one which clearly showed Sherlock, various images in which his hair was completely noticeable in an alarming green, his mouth open in mid-speech was black and red, his exposed neck was completely red, his nose a bit purple, and a few things green in the back. The photo was dated to today in the afternoon, almost six pm. John could feel his own blush creeping up his collar.

One of the photos also showed a bit of John’s neck in a startling red.

“Below these are Greg’s photos,” Sherlock said to John, “Martin told me that he also felt a tingling in his hands when massaging him with the scar-removing oil, but as soon as he used the soap they provided to both of you, he lost the sensation.”

“That’s correct!” Martin said with a tone of admiration that wasn’t missed either by Sherlock – who smiled, the cheeky git – or John, who felt himself frowning against his will.

“Hm. I also found they’re using a milder version of capsaicin… the parsley is to cover the smell.”

“Capsaicin?” Martin asked.

“It’s in pepper spray,” John answered absentmindedly, still looking at the photographs. “Hang on,” he said as he lifted his head from the shot of Lestrade’s pink-red face (it wasn’t as red as Sherlock’s, but there was clearly heat in it, too), and his eyes immediately locked on Sherlock’s, who was looking at him with that look that told him he had been correct with something. It was normal by now, to be at the receiving end of that proud expression. “Is that the reason for that nasty-scented soap?”

“Apparently.” Sherlock took his glass of water and emptied the rest in one big gulp. John unconsciously cleared his throat and Sherlock’s face got even pinker (nearly unnoticeable unless you really knew Sherlock’s face) and John remembered of the afternoon with vicious force and how his own body felt after a good release.

He wondered what Martin had said to Sherlock after seeing the photos and noticing what was clearly happening in those.

Martin should be a professional about it; he did say he was used to be undercover and this must be quite common if he worked in the opiates department.

John was pulled from his thoughts when Martin started to stand up.

“I thought I was the only one being irritated by the smell. It kind of clings to you when you’re out of there…” he said, clearly ready to leave, when Sherlock’s head snapped up to look at him. He was on his feet in a second.

“Does it!” Sherlock exclaimed and he quickly lifted Martin’s hand to his nose, inhaling deeply, holding it hard by the wrist and causing a gasp from Martin and a -the hell are you doing from John.

“Have you washed your hands with anything else today?” Sherlock asked in a hurried tone, his face inches from the surprised man. All Martin could do was to shake his head. Then Sherlock looked at John. “John?”

“I washed my hands at the clinic with another soap.”

“Why?” Sherlock asked, Martin’s hand still close to his face.

“Out of habit, I guess.” John left the photographs on the armrest of his chair and stood up. “Sherlock?” He prompted, looking at the poor confused bloke with his hand still in the air. Sherlock’s grip was clearly uncomfortable but he was not complaining, either.

“Yes. Hold this for a moment,” he said as he took John’s hand and placed Martin’s wrist into it like you would do with an object before disappearing into the kitchen. There was some noise of cutlery and then Sherlock came back with three clear slides and purple nitrile gloves.

John had to smile and shrug at Martin’s confused expression.

“Hold still.” Sherlock took Martin’s wrist from John’s hand and rubbed the slide around Martin’s palm like putting butter onto a piece of bread. John sat back down to look at the process. Martin’s eyes were glued to the concentrated face inches from his own, but flicking back to the scientific process that was going on around his and Sherlock’s hands.

Sherlock placed the first slide carefully next to the empty bag of crisps, and then slid the other slide in-between Martin’s fingers.

John was observing the scene and couldn’t help but notice the – according to him – very small bulge in Martin’s trousers. It was pure luck that it didn’t occur to Sherlock to lick Martin’s hand. He would have, some years ago.

When the third slide had been satisfactorily rubbed under Martin’s nails, Sherlock had completely forgotten about the two men in the living room, having gone back to the kitchen to check the sample under his microscope.

“Well, we won’t be hearing much from him now.” John got up from his chair and headed to the kitchen. “Thanks for coming over. Are you going to Slaney’s tomorrow?” he asked over his shoulder.

Martin cleared his throat.

Well, neither John nor Sherlock were overly known by their hospitality, were they?

“Yeah. See you tomorrow then, Dr Watson.” There was a moment of hesitation before he took the photos from John's chair and then walked to the door. “Mr Holmes?”

“Hm?” Sherlock did what John secretly called the automatic response. Unless Sherlock lifted at least one eyebrow he wasn’t going to answer whatever this was. He walked to the fridge to take the chicken broth.

“Are you going to think about my proposal?”

“Which one?” Sherlock replied, but he wasn’t looking up. He had lifted both of his eyebrows, though. John put the casserole on the stove and turned to look at the scene.

“Both.”

Sherlock sighed. “Regarding the first, everyone knows I don’t work exclusively for the Yard.” He straightened in his seat and grabbed a full glass of water John hadn’t noticed was beside the microscope, took a big gulp and added, “About the second, William only allows Hamish the massage bit.”

John couldn’t help a little smirk as he turned back to stir the broth.

Martin nodded with a fake pout, but still in very good spirits. “I see. Okay. If you ever change your mind, though…” And he winked. John noticed because the door of the microwave had a reflection, of course he was going to see it. He also saw Sherlock smiling and wanted to make gag noises.

“Thank you,” was Sherlock’s soft response. John frowned to his own reflection. What the hell…?

Martin turned and disappeared from view. John didn’t move a muscle until he heard the front door closing and Martin’s steps on the pavement outside.

“What was all that about?” he turned to look at Sherlock.

“Hm?” Sherlock was back to his microscope and the glass was now empty next to him. He lifted one eyebrow, though. Good.

“That thing with… Martin. You did realise he took the photographs with him.”

“Of course he did, we have copies, too.” Sherlock was still busy with his microscope.

“Splendid.” John turned as he stirred the broth again. He noticed that Sherlock had cut enough croutons for them as well. They smelled like butter and garlic. Heavenly.

“The croutons? Rosie likes them in the broth, so I fried enough fo-”

“No, I meant… Martin. You did notice that he was flirting, with you.”

“Was he?” Sherlock lifted his head a bit. Then he frowned. “But I wasn’t, with him.”

“That’s not what I- look.” John turned around, the stove was still on. “What happened?”

“What happened when?” That was Sherlock’s response to something he already knew. Oh, the bastard. John was angry and amused, his face was doing a strange thing. Irene Adler came to his mind. It was an old thing he could never get a grasp on.

“Martin proposed to be your masseur.” The casserole started to boil. John reached behind him and turned it off.

“Well… not in those terms, but yes.” Sherlock looked back down at the slide and added, “I declined, obviously.”

“Okay-”

“It wouldn’t do any good to Hamish and William’s relationship.” Sherlock looked up and smiled briefly, John couldn’t help but smile, too. Was that all? No conversations, no apologies, nothing? Should he apologise? Should Sherlock? Well, he did say there was an aphrodisiac.

Sherlock seemed to want to say something else, but then looked down again. Back to science. John was back to food serving.

**..**

Dinner was usually about Rosie, there were very few times when John and Sherlock had dinner without fussing over her. Sherlock was talking about the products and the findings of the thermal cameras by Craig. A small shadow had passed across Sherlock’s face when he remembered how sick the old Toby was. After that, he was all about the big mafia that this could lead to, and how NSY didn’t want anything leaked to the press for it could jeopardise the whole operation.

“Is that what it is, then? An international operation that came right into your hands by one Miss Hilton? Isn’t that much of a coincidence?” John left the spoon on his empty plate as he took a glass of juice.

Sherlock lifted his spoon and stopped right in front of his lips. “No, not a coincidence. The universe is rarely so lazy.” Sherlock smiled that smile that reached his eyes, that teasing smile that could easily pass for flirty. It was a bit of an inside joke, whenever he repeated one of Mycroft’s slogans.

John smirked and looked down at his empty plate. “So, we stick to the plan and see what happens? Are you going to tell me all of it now or…”

“Depends.” Sherlock left his spoon on his empty plate and crossed his fingers in front of his lips. “What do you want to know?”

“A lot of things.” John couldn’t help but feel the air tense like it had been in the spa. Maybe it was the manner in which he and Sherlock were talking, hushed but clear. “First of all, are you going tomorrow for a massage?”

“No. I do have an appointment with Abby Slaney, but not for a massage.”

“Why not?” The question was out before John could stop it. Sherlock frowned a bit.

“It could arise suspicions, don’t you think?” There was a small pause and then Sherlock started a crescendo of giggles when he added, “I’m going to send Mycroft in my place.”

John could barely stifle his laughter to point a finger at Sherlock with the hand holding his glass, almost choking on the liquid. “Don’t you dare.”

Sherlock’s laughter was silent, only his shoulders moving. John could feel tears coming to his eyes as Sherlock made a circle with his arms and hands in the air, as if massaging a big ball in front of them.

“I’m not…” John breathed through his laughter as it slowly died down and they composed themselves. He put the glass on the table as he casually added, “I’m not touching your brother like that.”

Sherlock snorted softly. There was caution in those eyes and John felt like he had to put a seatbelt on.

“Touch him like what?” Sherlock’s voice was soft and his hands were back in front of his lips like a prayer, he had a soft smile, like John did when testing the waters approaching a woman.

But Sherlock was looking at him, clearly waiting for an answer. His eyes were intense but John couldn’t stop looking at them if he tried. He swallowed. Yeah, where was the seatbelt? Was Sherlock aware of what was going on? Completely?

John blinked deliberately slowly as he contemplated his friend’s face. Sherlock’s jaw worked, notoriously clenching, then he opened his mouth a little and his lips separating sounded like a kiss, loud in the silence of the kitchen. He drew a bit of air and was about to say something when John interrupted, his voice hushed.

“Like Hamish touched William.”

Sherlock held his air visibly and his lips closed again, his eyes focused on John’s.

Those were probably the longest three seconds in John’s whole day.

Sherlock’s mouth did something like a little smile, not really reaching his eyes. John didn’t know what his face was doing anymore. It was probably petrified this whole time.

“I should probably apologise, though,” Sherlock said solemnly. His hands went to his lap beneath the table and John lifted his brows in confusion. “I should have known what was going to happen, but then I found the phenethylamine…”

“No.” John found himself smiling too, despite the tension and his fast heartbeat. He wasn’t mad at Sherlock. He was… he had no idea what he was feeling. “No, there is no need to apologise.”

Sherlock lifted his brows in a silent question.

“Sherlock, look. I didn’t do anything I didn’t want to do. Hey.” Sherlock was frowning now, John couldn’t help but smile a bit wider, trying to channel some peace into Sherlock, who still had the same expression which was a bit self-conscious now. Ella’s voice resonated inside his head, What would you like to hear in Sherlocks situation?

So he took a deep breath, cleared his throat and used a firm voice. “Look. It was intended for William to act like that.” Maybe if he tried to extrapolate a bit the whole situation. “And it was intended for Hamish to touch William like that. We…” he sighed, his smile softening as he said, “We followed the rules as we always do in cases. Though I have to admit that somehow I doubt there will be another case that verges upon madness, like this one.” And he winked, without a second thought. He winked at Sherlock, using Sherlock’s masturbatory text. God, had he just… And only a nanosecond after he realised what he had done but it was too late.

Or maybe some of the aphrodisiacs had been actually absorbed by his body, going by his wild heartbeat and the throbbing feeling low in his gut.

And Sherlock’s face was… actually priceless. His mouth was open a little, his head tilted to the side with a frown, but then he closed his mouth with a snap, swallowed heavily and let out a deep breath through his nose. Then he blinked rapidly as he opened his mouth again to talk.

“Well,” he said, still blinking and waving a hand, “you never know and there it is.” He cleared his throat and added, “I’m going to see Abby tomorrow with Craig… As William.” He added as an afterthought, he took the phone from inside his pocket. “We’re going to see the databases and all we can get from the cameras.”

There was a pregnant silence. Sherlock swallowed and bit his lips from the inside, fumbled with his phone, cleared his throat again and said, “Did you notice every room is marked with a letter?”

John lifted his eyebrows. He didn’t know where the conversation was going to go. “A letter? The D that’s outside my door? There’s also an I on Abby’s door.”

“There is also an A on Martin’s.” Sherlock found something on his phone and showed John the screen with Martin’s chat. It wasn’t a long chat. There was a photo with the A and it showed a bit the I from Abby’s office. It was clearly a photo taken aiming to be unnoticed. Sherlock’s hand was trembling a bit so he retrieved it quickly from John’s face.

“Do you think the letters have something to do with the case?” John got up himself from the table and removed the dishes, quickly turning to the counter. He still felt the faint blush in his cheeks, the wink he had unconsciously thrown at Sherlock replaying non-stop in his head. And Sherlock’s face afterwards.

“They’re not random letters, John.” Sherlock answered and let out a shaky sigh. “I’m going to investigate this. Have some studying about databases to do tonight.”

**..**

John entered his room, put some pyjamas on, gave Rosie a kiss and got under the covers. His mind was still tormenting him with the wink. The Wink.

Shit.

When he was 14, he had said something to a girl and he could still remember it clearly. And sometimes, when he recalled the whole scene, even now with 42, he would still groan in agony and shut his eyes tightly in embarrassment.

He was pretty sure that The Wink was going to be one of those moments. And Sherlock’s shakiness afterwards, even though he tried to act normal, had been too obvious.

On the other hand, he had made Sherlock visibly nervous. He didn’t want to give it too much thought, but it was still a sight to behold, to see his friend so shaken by a little flirting. It was about time, though, usually it was Sherlock doing the flirting with him, even if he didn’t know what was going on. But well, Sherlock should be kind of used to be flirted with (at him, he never replies said a nagging voice inside his head). He remembered Martin. What had he said to Sherlock, though? Hey, gorgeous, why dont you come over to my booth? We could put the edible oils to good use. And a wink at the end. For drama.

But he could also remember Sherlock’s smile, the soft, “Thank you”. It was true that Sherlock was mostly flirted at by criminals, before. John grimaced. That was an awful thing to think about. Hadn’t anyone made Sherlock feel cherished? Wanted? Or maybe Sherlock misinterpreted The Wink as a joke? Did he – John – mean it like a joke? Like a laugh in lieu of what Sherlock had shown him this afternoon?

His thoughts were interrupted by the muted sound of the violin downstairs. Sherlock had bought that rubber violin mute two days after he started to live here with Rosie. It wasn’t the same, though. He missed the reverberation of the strings hitting the walls with force, the energy of Sherlock’s allegro appassionato he was playing now. He remembered the talk yesterday, when he said he missed the playing, and sighed.

As he drifted to sleep, right at the border of slumber, Sherlock’s body came to mind, muted and trembling like the string below. He thought of Sherlock as a string about to snap, as something to make music with. And it was mute. John didn’t like mute strings. What was a muted allegro appassionato for, anyway?

Chapter Text

“Okay, that’s enough of that, Watson,” Sherlock said as he lifted Rosie from Mrs Hudson’s lap. She had been nodding off for the last five minutes, right after her bath. “Are we clear on everything you need to do tomorrow?”

“Let’s see,” Mrs Hudson showed no signs of wanting to get up from John’s chair. “I take five slides and hide them before passing them to John. I ask for a green tea-based antioxidant massage for my feet. Then I leave the slides with Jo-" Sherlock frowned in warning. "Hamish.”

Rosie was trying to play with the stuffed animals at her feet, drowsily making the noises to each one Sherlock was showing.

“Ask for tea, too. You won’t be denied tea anywhere in London. Make sure you don’t contaminate it with sugar or milk.” Sherlock took a small syringe without the needle from his pocket and put it on Mrs Hudson’s lap. “Take a sample of tea with this but dont drink it.”

Dont drink tea!” Rosie scolded one of the stuffed animals.

“Oh! I could spill it on the floor!” Mrs Hudson said with obvious glee; Rosie clapped and Sherlock snickered. He secretly enjoyed to see her so joyfully cooperating with their cases.

“You do that, with a lot of fuss if possible.” He winked. Mrs Hudson’s grin grew even wider in understanding.

**..**

There were only a few times when he really needed to put Rosie to sleep so early. This had to be one of those times: she was terribly sleepy, John had to be back home in an hour or so, and he seriously needed some time alone.

So Sherlock rocked her softly, talking in hushed tones, making up a story that he could barely remember, something about a prince and a homeless man that looked exactly the same. Well, in his version, the prince was an idiot called Mike and the homeless was an abandoned genius called Billy. He laughed with Rosie when she repeated ‘idiot prince Mike!’ and then mentally scolded himself for forgetting Rosie was still picking up random words.

Then he realised he had scolded himself aloud then Rosie repeated ‘stupid’, too.

As soon as she fell asleep and was safely in her cradle and there was still no sign of John, he went back to the kitchen table only to observe the solution he was waiting for had been tested positive for MAOI and the other for PEA; components mostly found in food and completely harmless… if ingested. The quantity was still unknown.

It was difficult to know if his body was reacting to an aphrodisiac or if it was just his mind being biased, anyway. He was too aware of that topic being completely subjective when John was involved; he felt his body tingling and about to implode.

He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to will the excess of energy away, but when that didn’t work, he walked over to cut and fry some bread, only to realise he had already made croutons for Rosie’s broth earlier. He groaned out loud, exasperated.

He paced the flat a couple of times, looking for something, anything to keep him occupied. He walked down to the entry where his coat was hanging, took the crisps he’d got on his way back from Craig’s, went back to the living room, sat on his chair, and ate like a starved man. He was absurdly ravenous; had even eaten half of the croutons earlier, too (much to Mrs Hudson’s delight). The crisps were gone all too soon and he carelessly left the empty package on the table next to him, where he had another glass of water waiting. He drank half of it in one go.

But even after eating, his body was still restless. He closed his eyes to calm down, but John’s hands were a constant ghost on his back, his shoulders, his neck and his thighs. He searched his mind for something to calm his treacherous body, but he found himself thinking about John again and the reaction he was going to witness as soon as John crossed the threshold: what would it be, angry-John? Indifferent-John? Regretful-John? I’m-not-gay-John?

But no matter the version of John he imagined; Sherlock was still aroused in all of the scenarios. Better to test the waters, then. He sent a text:

Rosie is asleep. She was tired early. She's  going to wake up tomorrow at six. Beware.

Safe territory, Rosie. And a warning as something light and good humoured. Because what else could he text, right now? You are a great masseur? Im still feeling your hands on me?

Thank you. I'm  trying to train her to sleep the entire night!

Good. Normal-John it is. He sent another text.

 I know. She still needs one hour and a half in the afternoon, minimum. Not half. A nanny told me that.

No response. What else could he write?

 Mrs H bathed her. She couldn't resist my bedtime story.

After that, there was no response. Angry-John? On the other hand, was John without a signal? Improbable; he appeared online.

He should tell John about the aphrodisiacs found in two of the products. He started to type but then his mind took over.

He is probably used to it,’ said mind-palace-Mycroft. ‘What happens when a man goes on service for Queen and country?

They are away for long. With other men,’ he answered.

And what are the consequences of living in a closed space? With no privacy whatsoever? Under war duress?

Modesty is probably nil. You have to get used to uncomfortable situations.

Such as?’ Mind-palace-Mycroft lifted a brow.

Bathroom sharing, room sharing, body odours probably spanking the Frankie in communal showers’ Because even in his Mental Palace he liked to exasperate his brother (the Mind Palace Dictionary: British Slang Edition was surprisingly large).

Rude.’

Sherlock shrugged in his mind.

And he was probably sharing a room with?’ It was still hard to believe how mind-palace-Mycroft’s pedantry was even worse than real-life-Mycroft.

Shut up, Mycroft.’

You do realise John has lost some sense of civil life, dont you, brother mine?

Shut. Up!

He opened his eyes and continued the text.

 Found a component that might act as an aphrodisiac: PEA , also MAOI. Not labelled. You might still be under the effects. If you re not feeling well, drink more than a litre of water or eat something salty. Better if you do both.

I don t think it affected me, not that much at least.

Well, that pretty much confirmed his theory. It wasn’t a big deal for John, then. Normal-John was good, better. He could work with that.

But his body was still reigning over his mind, now. He needed time to…

 

Where are you?

Office.

Spa is closed.

Surgery office.

Are you alright?

Yeah. Coming.

There were a few more texts but Sherlock couldn’t be bothered, that last one catching his attention more than the others. He stood up and walked to the bathroom. He opened the door and had to brace himself when John’s smell hit him with force. His towel was right there, on the rack by the sink.

He supported himself with his left hand at the edge of the open door and touched the front of his jeans with his right. It felt so electric he nearly confused the ping of his phone with the jump of his heart.

He barely answered the last text one-handed, put the phone back in his pocket, and his right hand seemed to have a life of its own as it roamed from the pocket to the front again, the rough fabric of the jeans was too much against the sensitised skin of his crotch, and squeezed. He hid his face on his left bicep next to his head and closed his lips tightly when he felt an unintentional moan coming up. His hand slid up to his chest, his mind supplying the needed fuel as he remembered John touching the same spots earlier.

This was not good, he knew. He hadn’t masturbated to thoughts of John in a long time, not consciously at least. Even if he thought of John the few times he did it, he never actually finished thinking of him. He usually ended his business fast, enraged, frustrated. It was rare the occasion in which he did it with John in his thoughts till the very end.

He didn’t like those times because he never knew what to think about afterwards, panting and looking at the ceiling.

Sherlock opened his eyes and, even only having the light of the kitchen, saw the proof that John had been in the bathroom this morning, the facts as clear as a film in his eyes: John taking a shower, his towel around his hips as he shaved, brushing his teeth, taking his towel off and leaving it hanging right there, and had walked nude – passing close to the frosted door to Sherlock’s room – and crouched a bit to retrieve his pants from above the toilet lid.

The soft groan that escaped his mouth sounded loudly in the silent hallway as he pressed his hand to his left pectoral, his nipple there sending electric waves to his penis. Sherlock bit down on his bicep, hard enough to evoke a massage done there, testing if that part of him felt as erotic as it did yesterday. It did.

His hand moved back to the front of his jeans, teasing the button as his eyes closed again, his now intense panting moistening his shirt; more and he would hyperventilate. He set the button free and was about to open his flies when he heard steps on the stairs, not John – impossible – and he had left the door to the flat open, like he always did when John was not home yet. His mind supplied three situations of immediate danger and Rosie was sleeping upstairs. His feet and instinct were faster than the reasoning that it would be pretty much awkward opening the door with all of the obvious signs of being caught in the middle of a wank.

Sherlock stood nose to nose with Inspector Martin lifting his hand to knock on the open door.

He looked different from the spa, his muscular body on display with the tight uniform of NSY, nothing like the man who was working with John.

Sherlock took a step back and lifted one eyebrow trying to find his usual composure.

“I thought you were going to be here tomorrow morning,” he said as imperiously as one could with a breathy voice and a nearly open trouser.

But Martin was unflappable.

“Yeah, hi. I’m sorry for not calling first, Mr Holmes. I was on my way home when DI Lestrade called saying you have the pictures of the cameras, so I thought about making some progress in my investigation tonight at home.” Martin gave Sherlock a look from head to toe and asked, “Is this a bad time?”

Sherlock frowned. “Not at all.” He turned and subtly buttoned the jeans up as he walked to his chair, tried to control his racing heart and needy lungs. So mundane, but he was nervous, besides heavily aroused and completely prickly. He needed. Savagely. He sat down on his chair. “The photos are right there, I had them copied so you can take those with you.”

Sherlock nodded to the client’s chair and Martin sat, taking the copies.

“Thank you,” Martin said. He smirked and nodded after a moment, when he saw the first photograph. “Wow, okay. This is new.” He looked at Sherlock. “I never even imagined they would be using thermal spectre to test the clients. It’s brilliant!”

“I suspected.” Sherlock cleared his throat. “Some of them are pretty graphic, even if you can barely notice who is there, so I am going to have to ask you that only you and Greg have access to them. Until the case is closed, at least.” He finished with a flourish of his hand in Martin’s direction and had to close his eyes tightly when the fabric of his shirt grazed his chest at the movement. John’s touch was immediately conjured.

As soon as he opened his eyes, he saw Martin looking at him with a condescending smile. Sherlock was not used to be on the receiving end of this, but he found the way Martin did it didn’t bother him as it would have years ago.

“Mr Holmes, I’ve worked undercover in the opiates’ department for five years, basically since I got recruited. I lived in the suburbs for a year pretending to be high. These,” he lifted a bit the photos, “are not really that awful. I’ve definitely seen worse.”

Sherlock snorted. “That’s reassuring.”

“No, I mean it.” Martin pointed a finger to Sherlock’s body. “What’s happening to you right now is quite normal, if my suspicions are correct.”

Sherlock raised both of his eyebrows in question.

“Sex-spa,” Martin replied and Sherlock smirked at the deduction. “It’s quite obvious if we look much into it. Even if it’s not the main course of my investigation. I might have to add that later.”

Martin was back to the photos and Sherlock could see them upside-down on Martin’s lap, even if they had outrageous greens and reds, the expressions of obvious pleasure were extremely notorious and he could feel himself blush. His body was welcoming it, though, the heat that started low in his gut and spread to his neck, cheeks and ears. Although, Martin taking this professionally helped quite a bit.

“Are you okay, Mr Holmes?”

“Hm?” Sherlock noticed that he was just about to enter his Mind Palace and his body was completely tensed up. Almost automatic response to arousal when he couldn’t engage in it. “Oh, I’m fine.”

Martin narrowed his eyes and gave him a quick look from head to toe, much as he had done when entering the flat. “Well, I’m almost off anyway. All I wanted was to analyse the photos and … well, I have two proposals for you before I leave. May I?”

“Oh?” Sherlock lifted his brows when Martin left the photos back on the desk and placed his elbows on his knees, all business-like.

“You see, I really need a chemist in the opiates’ area. I didn’t want to open any vacancies without trying to cajole you first. If you want the stable job it’s one of the best paid in our division and I really need someone trustworthy and brutally honest to work with me. And the second,” Martin smiled and looked around but he held himself confident. “I’ve been working on this and I know body reactions pertaining drugs. If you want to change the masseur, I could help with your investigation too, from here on.”

“Well,” Sherlock sat straighter in his chair, his half-arousal somewhat tamed for now. “That’s kind of you, Martin, but” he placed his joined hands in front of his lips and said, “First, I don’t work for the Yard and second, we are undercover as well, detective. We can’t blow or charade.”

Martin held both hands in the air as though in surrender. “I made my own conclusion and I apologise. I just thought that maybe, you two also being publicly friends, it could be a bit…” He lifted his right brow and looked right into Sherlock’s eyes. “What I mean is… I worked with my companion, we became friends. In a big operation, we were given something that I never knew what was. We had sex in the end, the violent kind. We couldn’t continue being friends afterwards, and I regret it immensely. Don’t get me wrong.” Martin smirked. “I do think you’re insanely attractive, but that’s not why I’m offering. I just wanted to leave the option open, in case you needed…”

There were feet coming up the stairs – clearly John’s now – and Sherlock panicked a bit. His eyes went straight to the door and Martin skilfully changed the subject.

“Anyway, you saw the photo of the door I sent earlier, yeah? I certainly hope it can help with your case because I think it has to do with the database and the list of the cameras.”

John entered the room and a quick deduction told Sherlock that John had definitely been on his surgery office, sitting in front of the computer going by his trousers at the back of the knees and his red eyes (he needed glasses) and had taken the tube, going by his shoes and jacket.

“That’s what we’re checking tomorrow.”

**..**

After an eventful dinner, as soon as the door closed upstairs, Sherlock pulled himself up from the table and sighed deeply and slowly, all of his lungs emptying. He looked down and noticed the completely neglected erection that was still tenting his jeans.

He panicked a bit when noticing the wet spot in the centre. At least that was the only reason he could find to explain his body shaking, his teeth clashing and his knees about to give way.

And all of this because John Watson had flirted with him. Not that it was the first time, but still first time with today’s background. Also, it was the first time after five years and it had never been this intense before.

And now, there were still things he could never risk, though. Even if his body was screaming for release, he knew John was upstairs with Rosie. Rosie was going to sleep for about three more hours, and John usually needed 20 to 30 minutes to be fully asleep. Plus one hour for him to reach REM, that left him with one hour and a half to kill. He thought about going to one of his boltholes, but walking at this hour of the night with his tenting jeans wasn’t a tempting option.

He opened the articles about databases saved on his phone and started to read.

After a very useful video tutorial about database hacking, he checked the time and noticed with horror that only five minutes had passed. The video had been only four minutes long.

He walked to his violin case and looked inside.

Its a rubber violin mute, John.’ His own voice resonated in his mind as he pressed it securely over the bridge of his violin. ‘Basically, it prevents the strings to vibrate, so the sound is less intense because they dont disturb the air as they normally would.’

John’s smile after that had been filled with gratitude and amazement. Had he really thought that Sherlock was going to wake Rosie up at 3am, playing the violin? (Maybe when she’s older to make her come down and play Cluedo when he’s bored. He had to teach her chess, too).

But now Sherlock’s music needed to be vibrant. He needed to make the strings vibrate, the sound was not enough to calm his mind, his body or the wild pace of his heart. He was too tempted to take the mute off the strings so he could feel the sound in his body, but Rosie and John’s comfort were always above his own, now. Still, his body was throbbing, aching, vibrating in mute. A particular high note made him bit his lower lip and flop onto the arm of his chair, crossing his legs so he could feel a bit of much-needed friction. The vibrato that came from that made his arse cheeks clench tightly and that simple and involuntary movement made his penis throb inside his pants.

And, as sometimes happened in these moments, words started to appear in front of his eyes. This time in the shape of an old book, probably forgotten in his father’s bookshelf.

“As an imperfect actor on the stage, who with his fear is put besides his part…” Sherlock’s voice was barely a breathy whisper, his lungs were feeling completely empty.

He couldn’t take it anymore.

He left the violin on his chair and fled to his room, closed the door as silent as he could and stripped himself, sighing in relief when his penis was no longer trapped in his clothes.

Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage, whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart. Read the book in his mind palace.

The feeling of his duvet felt completely alien and sensuous on his naked back, arse and legs and his hand closed with purpose around the base of his penis for the first time in ages. He started with two slow strokes and grabbed the pillow next to his head to bury his face in it. This time he didn’t want to be aware of his voice.

So I, for fear of trust, forget to say the perfect ceremony of …’

“Love's rite…” Sherlock moaned aloud, muffled by the pillow, his hand stroking the fabric shouldn’t have felt that good. “John…”

The usual overwhelming shame that came after calling that name in the throes of passion never really came, quite the contrary. He couldn’t stop, now. Besides, the pillow was a great improvement for noise isolation. He was aware of this fact even if his body was so beyond that he was unconsciously thrusting his hips as the hand that wasn’t clenching the pillow roamed to his chest to pinch and massage his nipples, travelling down and pressing on his thighs, squeezing his buttocks.

'And in mine own love's strength seem to decay …’

The pillow on his face turned into a toned and salty shoulder. His hand clenching the abused fabric would have been right between two shoulder blades. If it went down it would have touched the small of a back shorter than his and – who was he trying to fool, anyway – he would be touching John’s buttock, now, pressing on it so his groin would be right next to Sherlock’s.

John’s name was repeated between moans into the safety of the fabric. Sherlock could feel a drop of sweat and saliva sliding from his neck and it felt huge, like a tongue.

And his stimulated mind could perfectly invoke a much-wanted mouth, right there on his neck, panting. If so, John’s nose would be pressed against his jaw, and his own nose would be pressed against a cheek. He could easily make his way to John’s nose with his own.

'O'ercharg'd with …’

He came the second his hand closed for the second time around the head of his penis and, even so, his hips were still thrusting, his mind was still conjuring up John’s body, his touch, his voice, his face against his own.

In the front of his mind, Sherlock felt the compulsive need to praise John, to tell him how amazing he was, how good he smelled, how sweet the vibration of his vocal cords felt against his eardrums. And in the back of it, he was completely aware of how intense and long this orgasm had been, if John was awake, if his bed had creaked, that it was a cold night, that his legs were trembling, if his heart would ever calm down today.

Sherlock sighed loudly and moved the pillow from his face. He was panting like a drowning man. The pillow might be a big improvement for noise, and maybe other things – but not for air.

“…Burden of mine own love's might,” Sherlock said in a whisper, still fondling his still half-erect penis and looking at the ceiling. His eyes closed on their own volition.

**..**

Sherlock woke to the sound of his phone pinging in the early morning and the chill of his naked body exposed to the cold night of London, never realising having fallen asleep. His hand was still over his crotch and the pillow that was completely drenched in sweat, semen and drool in the other. And his body, even if cold, felt like new, as if he had slept for months. All energy was finally restored and correctly channelled.

He went to the bathroom and washed his face, hands and stomach (and chest, that had been definitely intense) and walked around the pile of clothes in his room to grab his phone. He was consciously avoiding to think about the night before.

 

Sherlock, I found the name of 10/12 cameras:

O=8=U

8U22

O=6=R

6R4 (last two are from Dr Watson s booth I think)

O=6=Q

6Q1

O=6=R

6R5

O=7=S

7S11

Toby says hi and thank you.

Sherlock’s mind started to work, not really caring about the cold in his room. He stared at the phone and moved it several times, remembering the digits, the 0’s, the symbols that he had a glimpse of, before.

You saw the photo of the doors I sent earlier, yeah?

Look at Slaney s Spa s logo.

A letter? The D that s outside my door?

Miss Eldrigde had one of those, too.

There s also an I on Abby s door.

Then everything in his mind just fitted.

“Oh…” Sherlock’s eyes opened wide and jumped in glee. “Oh!”

 

Excellent. 4pm, Slaney Spa. We need the two other names ASAP.

Chapter Text

There were two cameras in Abby’s office: a normal one and a 360° one. It wasn’t a surprise Abby allowed Sherlock and Craig to enter her office unsupervised just after introductions, what with the amount of surveillance. Sherlock wondered is those were thermal cameras as well.

“I brought the wireframe of the software we’re going to offer; I uploaded it to my site with that other thing,” Craig whispered as they sat in front of a big desk, his curly hair tickling Sherlock’s cheek. “It’s going to take us 20 minutes – give or take –, if she asks questions maybe more.” He chuckled and added, “You look so weird in glasses.”

“Shut up. Twenty minutes is more than enough,” Sherlock whispered back. “Remember to call me William.”

“Just Billy. We’re supposed to have been working together for years!” Craig gesticulated in the air. Sherlock only frowned and his eyes went to the door where Abby was coming in.

“Sorry for the delay, I had to supply one of my workers with some oils and a customer asked for tea while she waited for her turn,” she chatted absentmindedly, sitting down. An air of overconfidence surrounded her, the same Sherlock had heard in the recorder when talking to Hamish. Her looks were nothing extraordinary, but the way she held herself reminded Sherlock of Irene Adler. She was completely dressed, though. “Straight to the point, boys. William here told me by phone that you two can do better than our previous programmer, he also said the software structure is old. He had a glimpse of the data structure and told me it wasn’t updated?” Her eyes moved from Sherlock to Craig, not lingering in either.

Sherlock smirked. That glimpse was the one that had given Craig access to the photographs, the thermal cameras and the names of most of them.

He nodded and furtively started a chronometer on his phone. “Exactly. We’ve done software design for other companies with requirements similar to yours.”

“Can you tell us what you’re looking for?” Craig asked. “We brought some standards for you to look at, but Billy here and I would really like to serve your company well, if you let us work for you.”

“All of the information is confidential, you realise. Not even Sidney has access to it,” Abby said, her voice strong. At Sherlock’s lifted brows she added, “Sidney Eldridge, my secretary”.

“Of course,” Sherlock nodded. “This is all without compromise. If you don’t want to work with us after knowing what we have to offer, just feel free to say so.” Sherlock smiled as sweetly as he could. “We brought the standard ERP software model to show you, if you’d like to see it.”

“That’s fine. Please show me,” Abby said, clearly appeased.

Craig took his laptop and Sherlock checked his watch. Ten, nine, eight

“May I have the Wi-Fi password?” Craig asked. Six, five

“What for?” Abby frowned, but she passed a small paper from her desk to Craig. Four

“We need access to our website so we can show you the…”

Two… There was a crash at the end of the hallway. Just on time.

“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry!” Mrs Hudson’s voice resonated in the spa. No soundproof for Abby’s office, then. She could hear everything going on outside. “It just slipped right through my fingers!”

Abby was about to get up when Miss Eldridge’s voice came up.

“It’s okay, Miss Hanson, don’t you worry!” Sherlock couldn’t help but smile at Mrs Hudson’s thought of changing her name to Rosie’s attempt to her last name. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, I’m just sorry, it was such fine pottery!” Mrs Hudson said. “Oh, I’m so embarrassed!”

“Sorry, gentlemen, I need to make sure my customer is alright.” She stood up. “I’ll be right back.”

With that, she left the office but kept the door open, so they started their plan as soon as Abby was out of sight and Craig had logged in to the internal Wi-Fi.

“Are you okay, Miss Hanson?” Abby’s voice sounded concerned.

Craig downloaded a single file to help them crack the password of the database.

Sherlock’s eyes never left the door.

“Oh, I’m fine, dear. I’m just so sorry for the china.”

They opened the whole database; it was on display on the laptop, so Sherlock put the lid down a bit, making sure none of the cameras caught the screen.

“It’s no problem, we have plenty of those. You didn’t burn yourself?”

Craig made a copy of the files. “Come on, come on, come on!” he whispered under his breath as the green bar loaded very fast. It got stuck at 97%. Sherlock held his breath.

“Not at all! It just gave me a fright!”

98%.

“Well, if that’s all, I’m having a meeting right now.”

99%.

“No problem,” Mrs Hudson said and Abby’s heels sounded twice; she was coming back.

99%. “Come on, come on!” Craig was still chanting, like a prayer.

“Oh! May I ask you something?” Mrs Hudson said and Abby stopped.

“God bless, Mrs Hudson,” Sherlock breathed, his whole demeanour never showed how fast his blood was pumping. Oh, how he loved this. 99%.

There was no response from Abby, she probably made some gesture for Mrs Hudson to go on. “It was that Oolong tea, the one with the blue and gold box? How is it called?”

100%. “Yes!” Craig whispered.

“Hurry!” Sherlock whispered back.

“Oh no, it’s a blend of our own!” Abby said and Miss Eldridge added, further back, “It’s very good!”

Craig saved the copy to a hidden folder and put a password on it.

“How long?” Sherlock whispered, his eyes trained on the door. “Thirty seconds!” Craig answered as he wrote something on a black screen.

“Is it for sale?” Mrs Hudson asked again. Abby laughed softly.

Craig closed the windows on display. The copy of the database finally securely saved in his hard drive.

“I’m afraid not. Sidney, honey, could you please show Miss Hanson the catalogue of the products for sale?” The heels of Abby didn’t stop this time and a Sure thing! was heard from Miss Eldridge’s desk.

Craig loaded the wireframe they were going to show Abby and then opened another window with a chess board. His hands were shaking and Sherlock felt a small pang of sympathy for the poor bloke.

“Horse to A4,” Sherlock said, deadpan. At the same time Abby was appearing behind them, her face was distrustful for a moment until she saw the screen.

It read “Checkmate!” and a little horse was dancing around the website. She snickered at the same time Craig said “Yes!”

**..**

Sherlock was eager to go back to the flat and check the data they had collected. Fifteen minutes had already passed and Craig was all but ready to close the deal; Abby was slowly getting captivated of the idea of a new, completely controlled software. Craig clearly knew what he was doing and the service he was offering. He was also talking about asking a few things off the staff for improvement in the software model.

There was a knock on the door and Sherlock tensed, automatically. That was part of the plan, too, but he didn’t imagine it was actually going to come to him as natural as it was.

“Abby, I need the oils for Miss Hanson’s appointment.” That was John’s voice from behind the door and he gasped audibly. John’s voice was a bit different and the way he carried his vowels were definitely not his usual speech.

“Yes! Come on in, Hamish. I’m sorry, boys, I won’t be a minute.” She stood up and walked to a cupboard to retrieve the supplies.

Craig eyed Sherlock suspiciously who just shrugged and, as soon as John was inside the office, he stood up making a big fuss with the chair.

“Ha-Hamish,” Sherlock said, William’s personality coming easily to him. He cleared his throat and added, “You look good, today.”

“You know each other?” Craig asked, it was not part of the plan but still worked.

“I told you I was coming here for massages,” Sherlock’s voice came out nervously, trembling, and the air turned completely different when John bit his lower lip and gave Sherlock a very obvious once-over.

They were acting, but there was still a dangerous disturbance in Sherlock’s lower abdomen.

“I’ve been missing you, though,” John was talking differently, a bit high-pitched and a bit slurred. Sherlock had to control a giggle when John made if awfully obvious.

“Today I came for work,” Sherlock said and noticed how Abby was watching them from the corner of his eye. That was good.

“I see,” John looked down, his face sad. “But you are coming back, aren’t you?”

“I wouldn’t miss you for the world,” Sherlock answered and, even in the middle of a stunt, it was a very honest answer anyway. Because the you should have been an it.

“Oh, boys!” Abby returned with green tea oil and other supplies in a basket and handed them to John. “You’re making me blush, here,” She turned to John. “Are you on schedule?”

“I have five minutes left before Miss Hanson’s appointment,” John answered, turning to his booth.

“That’s good! Why don’t I give you a few moments so I can show Craig here what the cameras connections are and the models we use? He wanted to know for our new software. Meanwhile, William, you can ask those questions you needed from the staff to Hamish, he’s new, but already knows how we work around here.”

“Sure!” Craig nodded to Sherlock, who responded with a nod of his own.

“Okay, then,” John turned in the middle of his way back to Abby’s office when the woman passed him and put a hand on his forearm, stopping him. Craig was still inside with Sherlock.

“Distract him for me, would you?” she whispered, secretive. “I’m going to try to convince the other one to lower the price. It’s a good offer but it can always be better. Also, you can make sure the tall one gets into the paid VIP section.” Her smile was sure and full of mirth as she disappeared into the hall. Craig jogged to catch up with her.

“Well,” John entered the room and left the basket with products on the desk, closing the door behind him and completely dropping his Hamish persona. “That was… odd.”

“She’s the oldest of four brothers. What else would you expect?” Sherlock smirked, also fully himself now, the pitch of his voice lowering. John would never stop at being amazed by that. He dropped his voice to a whisper and added, “But I think she’s getting suspicious.”

“Why?” John got closer.

“She cringed at the questions about business, payments and treatment of the products. Nearly imperceptible, but I know what I saw,” Sherlock sat back down and put Craig’s laptop securely over his lap. “I really need to interview you.”

John smiled with a little snort. “And I really need to seduce you. What do you prefer we do first?”

“Oh, I’m sure we’ll figure it out,” Sherlock turned and smirked.

“Right,” John stood behind Sherlock and placed his hands on his shoulders, massaging lightly. “I thought I was shite at this.”

“You’re clearly not,” Sherlock could barely control a full-body shudder as John’s thumbs worked over the collar of his shirt. “Abby really has an American accent, as you said. I’m thinking about the north of the States. Illinois, maybe Wisconsin.”

“What gave her away?” John asked and moved his thumbs around Sherlock’s nape.

“Gentlemen,” Sherlock said, then threw his head back, looking at John upside down, his face serious. Then in another accent repeated, “Gentlemen.”

“I see,” John moved his face closer to Sherlock’s shoulder, still massaging. Sherlock desperately missed the Brilliant! coming from John’s lips. Instead, John asked, “How do you think this is going to look on the cameras?”

“Like you’re succeeding,” Sherlock sighed, in a low rumble.

John gave a short laugh. “You haven’t written a thing in that file.”

“Well, I am very distracted. What did Abby want?” Sherlock reached for John’s nape with his left hand, holding him in place. John made a little noise that felt like a warning to Sherlock, so he lifted his hand a bit; enough to fool the cameras but not really touching John.

“She wants you to become a paying VIP member.”

“Is that so,” Sherlock’s fingers brushed John’s nape by accident when John’s hands moved to Sherlock’s collarbones over his shirt.

Sherlock was glad the laptop was covering his groin, even though he was sure his galloping heart was giving him away.

“Yeah, she is also trying to convince Craig to lower the price of the software,” John’s face moved a bit. If Sherlock turned his face to look at him now, their noses would probably collide. He remembered last night and closed his eyes.

“She’s the one not succeeding,” Sherlock whispered and then his body went tense. “They’re coming back.”

“Finally, my back is killing me,” John snickered and added, “I’m going to act startled, then,” His voice was oddly calm, his lips grazing Sherlock’s shirt as he spoke. “Hamish and William caught red-handed, how does it sound?”

“Red-handed it is,” Sherlock gave a short chuckle. “Let’s give her something to think about, maybe we can distract her if she’s getting suspicious of us,” he whispered and placed his open palm fully on John’s nape, then closed it over John’s hair, exposing his own neck entirely and pressing John’s face to it, aware of how John would be able to feel his pulse on his lips. At the same time, John moved his open palms to Sherlock’s chest and rubbed hard on his pectorals.

Abby and Craig were getting closer but they stopped when Craig asked her something. John cussed under his breath, but with his face pressed to Sherlock’s neck, he could clearly feel a low rumble inside Sherlock’s chest; it was laughter.

“Shut up!” John whispered.

“They stopped! They were supposed to come in right away!” Sherlock could barely suppress a whispered outburst.

“Well, this is not looking convincing if you’re fucking laughing,” but John had started to laugh too and the steps resumed at a slower pace, Abby and Craig were still talking. “We’re going to get caught, stop it!”

“You’re not convincing either-” The words died down on Sherlock’s lips when John’s hand slapped over his mouth and the other pinched one of his nipples. Hard. Sherlock’s grip on John’s air tightened and John groaned, laughter completely forgotten when, with all the sudden movement, one of John’s fingers went inside Sherlock’s mouth and Sherlock had to struggle to keep the laptop over his knees.

The door started to open and, after a second for dramatic effects, John was a good metre away from Sherlock, both of them breathing fast, and really looking as if caught in the middle of something. Sherlock’s shirt was rumpled and John’s face was scarlet.

Abby lifted one eyebrow as John cleared his throat, picked up the basket with the oils and gave the thumbs up to Abby for appearance's sake before he said, loud and vowels long:

“You gonna find the papers for the VIP subscription in the reception, William.”

**..**

Hours later in the evening, around 8 pm, John had to stop as soon as he entered their flat in Baker Street.

“What are you doing?”

Sherlock sat in his chair, eyes fixed on his phone. Rosie was sitting in John’s chair, a pretty dress on, also on her phone. Basically mirroring the man in front.

John lifted his brows as he observed his daughter and Sherlock in one of their many weird interactions. He frowned as he remembered how Sherlock configured one of his old phones just for Rosie to use, it was full of images of animals, letters, and numbers. He also had configured it (rooted, he had said) so the brightness was on minimum low and never let her use it unless he was really working and in need of peace and an ‘assistant.

Then John frowned because he had the strange impulse to go and ruffle Sherlock’s hair. He also noticed a gold card with the Slaney’s Spa logo sitting on the desk next to Sherlock’s chair.

“Borking,” Rosie answered, her face solemn and her eyes never leaving her phone.

“You’re just assisting me, Watson,” Sherlock said, serious. His voice nearly a purr and eyes still on his phone.

“Afistinting, then,” Rosie answered, her little hand making a Sherlock-like flourish, her voice firm, her eyes on the phone with a deep frown and her little feet barely reaching the end of the chair so they dangled just a little bit.

John lost it.

A growl of laughter escaped his mouth; a laugh that started from his belly and had him doubling over in a matter of seconds. Sherlock had been halfway about to check on him before he noted John was actually laughing so hard it seemed he was having a stroke.

When Rosie turned to look at him with a frown, offended, John howled, laughter from so deep his stomach Sherlock started to giggle softly, too.

“What’s wrong?” Rosie asked and this time, John went over to her and lifted her in his arms, despite her weak protests and his still shaking body.

“Wrong: that’s a word you can say without a problem,” John said between roars of laughter. “Wonder why,” he looked at Sherlock who just shrugged and returned his gaze to his phone, but there was a small smile still playing around his lips.

“And why is the missy dressed so nicely, hm?” John asked, kissing her soundly on her cheek.

She laughed and protested, asking for him to let her assist, so he lowered her back on the chair. He couldn’t stop grinning when she returned to stare and drag small pictures of grass around the screen, he also noticed that there was a photograph of some plant next to her.

John lifted his brows and looked over at Sherlock. “She’s looking at photographs of plants.”

“She’s associating. I told you she is assisting,” Sherlock stood from his chair and walked over to check over Rosie’s shoulder. “What do we have, then?”

“This one,” Rosie pointed to a photograph on her screen that looked awfully similar to the photograph next to her.

“Very good,” Sherlock checked something on her phone and then gave Rosie another photograph from his pocket. “Now I need you to check this one.”

“Okay,” her little face had a frown so profound John was worried her face was to keep on growing that way.

He walked to the kitchen and Sherlock followed. He stopped next to the counter, crossed his arms over his chest, mocking offence. “So am I being replaced, then?”

Sherlock snorted and stopped in front of John. “Relax. You still have some years before she learns how to use a gun,” he wore that lopsided grin he often had after a joke and John, smiling, couldn’t look away if he wanted.

A moment passed in which Sherlock, even with the case right on, couldn’t stop but wonder if John was thinking about what happened this afternoon. He had recalled the feelings of John’s breathing on his neck, of the groan escaping from John’s lips, of John’s hands firm over his chest, the feeling of John’s nose right below his jaw. It was too much. The man in front of him hadn’t stopped looking at him either, so Sherlock looked down at his phone, breathing deliberately slowly.

“Back to business, then,” he started, his voice soft. “I found the lead we were looking for. We need to go to Elsie Patrick’s house tonight.”

John turned to fill up the kettle. “Tonight?”

“I’ll explain more when we arrive.”

“We?”

“I spoke to Mycroft, you know he has that full-time nanny working for us.”

John turned as he left the kettle to boil and raised his eyebrows.

“John,” Sherlock looked down to his feet with his hands at his back now and John could see the vein in Sherlock’s neck throbbing alarmingly fast, but he trained his eyes back on Sherlock’s. “Would you be afraid to spend the night with a lunatic –” Sherlock came one step closer, his eyes never leaving John’s, “An idiot whose mind sometimes loses its grip?”

Even though John was used to Sherlock being close, always around good fifteen centimetres between their faces, this hadn’t happened in a while. He was tempted to take a step back, but he stood his ground, his eyes inevitably going to Sherlock’s lips and back to his eyes.

“Shlock!” Rosie called from the chair and Sherlock actually jumped a bit. The noise of a car stopping could be heard in front of the flat.

“In a second, Watson!” Sherlock called, his eyes never leaving John’s. Clearly waiting for an answer, even though there were steps on the stairs that Sherlock could recognise everywhere. He didn’t move an inch.

Something in John’s face changed, his lips curling into a grin, “When are we leaving?”

Sherlock’s smile reached his eyes. “Two hours,” he turned his face towards the door but his eyes were still on John’s.

“Mycof!” Rosie stood up and ran to hug Mycroft’s legs.

“It’s utterly bizarre how she took a liking to you,” Sherlock sighed as a greeting, dramatic, “It’s going to be years and years and I will never get used to that.” He walked back to the living room to take Rosie’s phone and checked the pictures. “Psychologically, big noses usually create the sense of trust, interesting facts you find on the internet.”

Mycroft rolled his eyes. “And good evening to you too, brother, John, Rosie.” He didn’t even look down to the girl glued to his legs as he greeted, but he was careful to leave his umbrella out of reach. “She is a Watson after all, completely Holmes-proof, apparently.”

“Evening,” John called from the kitchen. “Tea, Mycroft?”

“No, thanks, I have Celia waiting in the car.”

“Celia!” Rosie cried in obvious glee, “Mycof! Look my dress!” Rosie made a little turn and a very old-fashioned bow.

“You look like a princess,” Mycroft looked at her for the first time, his face going soft for a second.

“Goldfish,” Sherlock murmured as John went to hug his daughter. He frowned, it wasn’t the first time hearing that but he had never asked. Sherlock and Mycroft’s communication was something to be left to experts, in his opinion.

“You’re drowned in a fish tank, brother mine.”

Sherlock smiled and John’s eyes went to Sherlock and then to Mycroft under his frown. Definitely, something to be left to experts.

Rosie was already running to Sherlock’s side asking for a hug. He lifted her and kissed her cheek as she kissed back with a wet “night-night!” on Sherlock’s face.

“Do tell Celia to take care of her, and to add a splash of vanilla to her porridge, she developed a liking to it.”

“Duly noted,” it was still a weird sight Mycroft opening his palm to grab a much smaller one. Rosie walked from Sherlock to take Mycroft’s hand as John took Rosie’s nappy bag and the three of them walked downstairs, making one of the uncanniest pictures Sherlock had ever seen in his life.

He chuckled as Rosie started to tell Mycroft and John about the genius Billy and the idiot prince Myke, then he sat on his chair and closed his eyes, his mind back on the case.

The lead he had was already clear, and John’s eyes were really blue when close, he hadn’t seen them that close in long. The names of the cameras were finally solved and they could even get a huge lead tonight, Lestrade was already on alert about it. The touch of John’s hands was surprisingly soft for someone with so many years handling a gun. He had already called Miss Hilton and everything was ready. Tonight he would be completely alone with John, with whom he had shamelessly flirted not fifteen minutes ago. He sighed. John was already coming up the stairs.

“I’m going to serve that tea,” he murmured walking back to the kitchen; Sherlock could hear the smile on his face.

“Come on,” he purred, throwing his head back on the chair, eyes still closed. ”Just say it, you always do.”

John scoffed. “Okay. How can she like Mycroft so much?” There was a small pause and then he added, “Not that Mycroft… after everything. God, it’s been years and I’m still surprised he insisted on having a nursery at his own flat.” There was the noise of water being poured into cups. “I’m not complaining, though. I doubt there is a safest place in the world…”

“John.”

“Hm?”

“He has a photo of her on his phone.”

There was a little rattle in the kitchen, as if John had let a spoon fall on the table. “You’re joking.”

“I’m not. Don’t tell him I told you.”

“Oh, Jesus…” John’s laughter was high-pitched and contagious. Sherlock opened one eye to look at John’s shaking shoulders.

He still couldn’t believe they weren’t talking about the case. At all. Part of him wanted to, part of him wanted to continue the teasing, the easiness he missed so much.

John appeared with one cup in each hand, giggling finally subsiding, and passed one cup to Sherlock before sitting down on his chair.

There was a small moment in which neither talked, both just sipping their tea in companionable silence, stealing glances at each other from time to time until Sherlock’s eyes stayed fixed on John’s hands around the cup. A throat clearing took him back from his reverie.

“P-I-E-D-R-A,” Sherlock spelt, blinking rapidly.

“Sorry?”

“You wanted me to explain part of the case now, I could hear you thinking about it,” John’s lips curled at that. “The cameras were dancing men, like the necklaces and the logo of the Spa. Look at this.”

Sherlock passed a paper to John with the transcription of the names of the cameras on it.

“Craig sent me a text last night with the names of the cameras. Each camera was named so if you rotate it 90 degrees…”

“They look like dancing men,” John said, turning the paper in his hand.

“Exactly. The camera 0=6=R was yours, it’s the letter D on your door. If you rotate the name, it looks like a stickman holding up a flag and with one knee bent,” Sherlock made the position still sitting, holding up his arms – nearly dropping his tea – and bending his left knee, “We had the names of four cameras, we were missing one.”

“The data recovery from this afternoon?”

“Yep,” Sherlock leaned in his chair to point one of the names on the paper. “This one, it was the hallway camera, with this, the letters were, in order: A-R-D-E-I-P. Turn them and you get PIEDRA.”

“But the letters… how?”

“You see, in computer coding, there are many ways to store data; so this is a code; the equal signs tell us it’s a system called base64, with this, we can get part of the letter, so the first camera in each room is coded that way. Both of your cameras, for example, give us 0, 6, R, 6 and 4. That’s the letter D that’s on your door, remember? Since all letters start with zero in the binary system they all start with the letter O. You see?” Sherlock had started to gesticulate with his hands, his cup precariously holding the tea in, clearly excited about his discovery. “Then the letter D decoded in decimal is 68, in base64 is RA, and the octal code is 104, there is a repeated number in each, but it’s because it’s twice in the same number in the base64…”

“Sherlock!” John made a gesture with his hands. Sherlock went still. “In proper English, please.”

“It’s a pattern, John! Take the first of each of those codes and put them together along with the last of the octal code, it’s going to give you the name of both cameras. Hence, the letter.”

John frowned at the paper, his eyes moving along the names of the cameras. “That…”

Sherlock held his breath.

“…sounds very complicated,” John finished.

Sherlock pressed his lips together.

“And the word? Piedra? It’s a Spanish word, I think…” John asked.

“Spanish for stone or rock, yes. Two previous cases. The first was documented in 2008 and the second in 2010, both in America,” Sherlock checked his phone. “We are leaving in an hour.”

“Fine, you’re going to tell me the rest, though.”

Sherlock’s lips curved in a small smile. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk.”

They finished their tea in silence until a text alert took them from their reverie. Sherlock’s smile grew wide while he read it and showed the screen to John after.

 

Plot twist: Myke was an impostor all along. The Kingdom discovered how the real Mike was the smart one, not Billy. Watson girl loved the new development.

Don t you think that s a tad complicated for a bedtime story?

I used to tell you worse. You usually changed the end.

Chapter Text

His trained ear heard muffled, ragged and shaky breathing, the wet sound of flesh against flesh and the unmistakable sound of rustling clothes in a steady rhythm coming from behind the half-closed door of the small bathroom in which he and Sherlock had been earlier. As soon as he came a few steps closer to the place, all of the sounds ceased, turning into a pregnant silence.

“John, I appreciate your concern, but I assure you I’m completely fine just… please do not come any closer,” Sherlock said in a rush, his scratchy voice carrying along the corridor with no fear of the cameras that had been turned off by the Yarders.

John’s internal voice urged him to leave Sherlock alone, to go and wait for him with the Constable guarding the front door. He even knew the bloke - Miller was his middle name - they could even spend the time chatting. But he walked a few steps closer instead, approaching the bathroom. The adrenaline felt like an invitation, like all those years ago.

**..**  

Seven hours earlier

Chloe Hilton showed up at 9 pm behind a small tree, outside her and Elsie Patrick’s residence; a big house with a vast green area surrounding it. Even if it was clear she was the woman in the photos Sherlock had shown John earlier, the vitality she showed in them was lost to a pale face and weary eyes, even when her whole face came to life when her eyes fell on Sherlock.

John couldn’t stop recalling how, years before, most of their clients rolled their eyes whenever they saw his partner. This was nice, for a change, even if Sherlock himself hadn’t changed much. Had he? He was quieter, maybe. Happier, definitely. More considerate with a few exceptions, of course, but all in all, same old Sherlock. What had happened, then, with the spurn he was treated with before? Maybe those were changes that only age brings? Maybe the thin lines around his eyes? His reputation? The overconfidence of his steps? His whole demeanour that seemed to say “ calm down, I’ll fix this ”?

With Sherlock’s guidance and fast-talking, they went over the facts for more than half an hour; she reckoned how Elsie had been secretive for these past few weeks, getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night more often than usual, coming back home twenty minutes later than she used to as well. Then she told them about the personal changes she had noticed in herself, how she had been waking up with a sour taste in her mouth and how she’d been thirsty most of the time.

Sherlock had asked a few questions about symptoms, sleep quality, smell and taste perception with John diligently writing notes next to them and asking a few things himself.

When Chloe Hilton apparently had nothing else to say, Sherlock blurted out, “I need you to tell us about your sex life as well.”

John was quite worried they were going to be kicked out, or if her positive attitude and acceptance towards Sherlock were going to change but then, even in the darkness of the place, he could clearly see her blush and hear the clearing of her throat. She supported herself against the trunk of the tree and covered her face with her hands.

“Mr Holmes…” She made a pause, gave a short laugh and a sigh. “I never thought you… I mean… I never thought it was going to be case-related, so I…”

Sherlock’s eyebrows went up. “So there is a change.”

“Yes.” She looked at John and sighed again, giving up, her arms falling to her sides. “Look, I never thought it was going to be relevant. I’m…” Sherlock made a gesture for her to continue, but she seemed hesitant.

“I’m a doctor,” John said, and even if it sounded completely out of the blue, it seemed to put Chloe at ease.

“My libido has gone crazy,” she said, both men could see her cheeks still completely crimson, she nodded once, her eyes looking everywhere except John’s face. “I’ve always considered that… we have a normal sex life, but these past few weeks everything has been completely out of control.” She laughed and then added, “Not that I’m complaining.”

“I see,” John said, “Is there a time of the day when it’s more noticeable to both of you?” Sherlock’s spine went visibly rigid, but John’s voice was gentle, completely in doctor’s mode.

“Oh my God…” She huffed a laugh. “In the mornings. She usually has a horrible temper when she wakes up, but now she’s... let’s say her mood has improved which in turn improves mine if you catch my drift.”

“Have you considered the possibility that she might be having sex with someone else?” Sherlock asked and then bit the inside of his lips when he saw, out the corner of his eyes, John’s eyes grow large and his jaw drop down, looking at him with obvious disapproval.

But Chloe Hilton sighed and let her head fall back. “Is that it, Mr Holmes? Of course, I have! I have, yes. I’m not an idiot.” She looked at Sherlock and placed her left hand on his chest. Surprisingly, Sherlock didn’t attempt to remove it. “I don’t want to believe it, though. Whenever I think about it, I can’t believe it.”

“If you have a… hunch not to believe it, then don’t.” Sherlock moved out of her reach, taking a single step back. “It’s usually your subconscious deducing at a speed your conscious self can’t. I’m counting on it.” Sherlock smiled at her and she smiled back again, wide and bright.

He never saw John’s confused frown and headshake.

“And I’m counting on you, Mr Holmes.” She turned and started to walk to the back entrance of the big house. “Shall we? I must warn you, the security cameras are triggered either by sound over 60 decibels or light, so please no torches and no talking.” She turned around and apologetically added, “I couldn't’ deactivate them because if I do, there’s also a notification to Elsie’s phone.”

“How loud are 60 decibels?” John asked in a whisper, walking next to Sherlock and behind Chloe.

“Mrs Hudson’s laughter from the ground floor, with her and our doors open, are 50. You can do the math.” Sherlock said, his voice low.

John turned his head to him with a mixture of a frown and a grin.

“I thought about suing, but I needed 70 decibels or more to do so,” Sherlock explained, his face mock-serious.

John snorted and had to put his hand over his mouth. Chloe’s soft ‘ sshhhh’ sobered him.

They walked in the dark around the backyard, the smell of freshly cut grass surrounding them. They looked at the ground as they walked, crouching a couple of times to take samples of the soil, grass, a few leaves here and there, all neatly stored in small zip bags. Sherlock stopped in front of a small, green plastic garden shed and asked to take samples of the fertilisers and disinfectants stored there. He made quick work of it with surgical gloves and small bottles, inspecting the contents, lids, and the shed’s plastic door.

Sometimes John wondered whether Sherlock’s pockets were kind of magical with all the stuff he carried inside, even if they were all small laboratory supplies. He had been following silently, observing and stopping when requested. He frowned whenever Chloe stopped because they were making a small noise, careful not to trigger the cameras.

When they finally reached the door at the back of the house, she stopped, deactivated an alarm before it went off, walked inside and then turned it on again.

They walked through a neat kitchen, old in style, painted in pink and purple colours, some plants here and there. They passed a corridor with a high and old fashioned ceiling, yet everything was clean and arranged like in an interior design magazine, some lamps hanging low in some corners.

They followed her to a very big square room with high ceilings like the rest of the house but it had a huge picture window on one side facing the front yard and garage. The curtains were made of tulle so everything outside was visible from any part of the room without having to move the curtains to the side, but it also meant that any light in the room could be seen from the outside as well.

As soon as Chloe closed the door to the room, she breathed at ease as the tension that had accompanied them the whole way seemed to fade. She supported herself on the door and gave a short, nervous laugh.

“I asked the cleaner not to touch this room as you asked, Mr Holmes. Elsie rarely comes in here so you can be sure you’re going to be able to see everything you want to see from that window.” She nodded to it and then to John she added, “Bathroom is over there. Just be careful not to close the door and not to turn on the light. The trigger on the security cameras is sensitive and if there’s any noise they send a message to mine and Elsie’s phone.” She took the phone from her pocket and waved the screen. “If you want to check your phone, you have to go to the bathroom there but do not allow the light to face this direction,” She made a gesture with her hands to the camera behind her. John and Sherlock nodded at the same time in understanding.

“What time is Elsie coming back?” Sherlock walked closer to the window and looked outside through the curtain.

“Anytime now, I will go to our room to wait for her like I always do. We had dinner already, but sometimes she’s in the mood of a drink before bed, so you might have to wait for a bit longer.”

“Noise insulation?” Sherlock asked, now walking to look inside the bathroom.

She frowned. “Not much, but you can talk here just fine as long as you don’t raise your voice much because of the echo of this bare room.” She made a gesture with her hands at the empty space and smiled at John. “If you want anything to drink or eat before I go…”

“No, no. We’re -”

“Water,” Sherlock said as soon as he came out from the bathroom. “A bottle and a glass.”

**..**

When Chloe Hilton closed the door to leave John and Sherlock with a bottle and two glasses full of water on a side table, Sherlock hurried to the bathroom and took a glass of water with him while fussing on his phone. John, familiar with Sherlock’s ways, stood silent next to the big window for a few moments, looking at the room.

He walked quietly from one side of the room to the other, his military training never lost, noticing how the curtains moved when he passed close to them. He walked to the opposite corner of the room, in which he found five medium-sized boxes of a brand he had seen before - but couldn’t recall where - and a convenient hiding spot behind them just in case.

Having seen it all, John touched the gun at the back of his jeans, checking it was still there even though he felt it against his skin, and walked to the bathroom where Sherlock was still looking at his phone with a frown. The bluish light made his cheekbones stand out. He looked young even though his eyes revealed lines and creases that weren’t there before and which John had been noticing far more often than usual. For some reason, John’s heart gave a little twist.

Sherlock was perched on the edge of the tub somehow, there was a toilet next to it and a small sink on its other side with a mirror above that covered the upper half of the small wall. There was also a window above the mirror and - with the moon high in the sky - John could see his reflection from the waist up from the door.

“I’m still waiting, you know,” John said, his voice barely above a whisper, conscious of the 60 decibels. He closed the toilet lid and sat on it, resting his elbows on his knees. He and Sherlock weren’t physically close in their positions, but John felt as if they were touching and it burned. He fought the need to sit further away.

Sherlock gradually lifted his face, his eyes big as dinner plates and his pupils so small he looked a bit alien. He swallowed and exhaled slowly. “What are you waiting for, John?”

Just then John realised the enormity of the implication of what he had just said and the way Sherlock could have read into it. Just when he was about to try and clarify, the corners of Sherlock’s mouth went down and he nodded once.

“Oh,” he said, understanding John’s original question. He cleared his throat and his face was quickly back to normal, a soft smile playing around his lips. “You heard what Chloe Hilton described. She’s being poisoned, obviously.”

John frowned. “Obviou- sorry, what?”

“She wakes up in the morning with the after-effects of an aphrodisiac. You heard she’s thirsty, her libido has gone up… she wakes up with a sour taste in her mouth-” Sherlock’s phone lit up with a new message and he hurried to check it. His face broke out into a soft smile and John’s curiosity was piqued.

“What is it? Rosie?” he asked, getting closer to Sherlock’s phone only to find a message from Craig: ‘ Got the money. Toby is going to be taken tomorrow afternoon. We are forever grateful. I’ll let you know the results. And BTW I was able to connect your phone to the cameras without the need of a noise/light triggering. From your browser go to 10.10.10.45 with the VPN we created the other day. Good luck!

“What’s that?”

“A message from Craig with access to the cameras, obviously,” Sherlock said as he sent a thumbs up symbol to Craig’s message – John was forever amused how Sherlock started to send a thumbs up whenever he didn’t want to reply to something – and opened an app on his phone.

“Right, got it,” John said, nodding.

“Glad you’re finally catching up.”

“I’m not, you berk!” John couldn’t help but give a little laugh and a headshake, “I understand close to nothing of what’s going on. What happened to… Toby? And what is that about the cameras?”

Sherlock sighed and his eyes looked at John once before returning to his phone. “Well, now we have access to the cameras of this place without the need of triggering, I can choose which cameras I want to monitor here, you see?” Sherlock turned his phone to John and it showed the backyard, the front garden, the main door. Then he swiped the screen and it showed the infrared cameras from Slaney’s Spa. John’s eyebrows went up.

“Okay, now I get it.” There was a brief silence and then John frowned and added, “He also mentioned his dog, Toby. Are we going on a hunt?”

Sherlock smiled softly, his eyes still glued to his screen. “It’s nothing to do with the case.”

“Of course it has, I’m sure it has.”

Sherlock turned his screen off and looked outside the bathroom as he spoke.

“It really doesn’t; Toby needs surgery because a tumour was found in his stomach. The surgery is expensive and I was informed Craig was looking for a loan when this case popped up.” Sherlock’s screen lit up again with a message from Mycroft at the same time John’s phone vibrated; the message showed a fast asleep Rosie and both men smiled at their screen. John’s eyes searched for Sherlock’s expression and his smile grew wider. “I asked for his assistance since he happened to have the skill set I needed to get into their camera network. He played his cards well; he helped to decode the names of the camera, made a small demo of a software Abby needed. She liked it, so she transferred some money this afternoon to his account covering 30 per cent of a software that might or might not be actually developed, and Toby goes into surgery tomorrow.” Sherlock made a small pause and added, as an afterthought, his face now completely turned towards John, “Everything is completely legal, John, even if Abby goes to prison for murder attempt by poison, the money is still rightfully earned.”

John looked at Sherlock the whole time, his mouth a bit open and an obviously amused smile on his lips. His eyes were completely open, as if he saw the man in front of him for the first time. At seeing this expression, Sherlock gave a long exhale and suddenly he had no idea of what to say, he began to blink, and he opened his mouth to say something but he could never remember what it was.

“Rosie is asleep,” he said instead, turning the screen of his phone back on.

“You… brilliant man,” John said. Even in the dark, he could see Sherlock’s head snapping to frown at him in surprise and his mouth opening in a small and silent gasp.

“I was just using my resources,” Sherlock said. He was so pleased with John’s remark he felt the need to cough or scream. He wanted to squeeze something with his hands. He was nearly mortified when he felt his heartbeat going faster as John’s eyes were still following his every move.

How long has it been since John had looked at him like that?

That you were, but in a good way.” John looked at his own phone and then to the door of the bathroom, without really knowing what to do. He gave a short laugh as he straightened in his improvised seat. “I never imagined I was going to be locked in a bathroom today, the open lid is more comfortable than the closed one.”

“Well, open it and sit, I don’t mind.” Sherlock snorted softly, his voice betraying nothing of his troubled heart. “But if you’re uncomfortable you can also kip in the bathtub if you’d rather,” he added with a flourish of his hand, the same Rosie had come to imitate so well.

“Ha! Funny, but no. I’m good.” John cleared his throat and pursed his lips to a side, Sherlock turned the screen of his phone off. “So. What do we do now?”

“We wait.” Sherlock stood up and stretched his spine and his arms above his head. “We need to see who is poisoning Hilton. She wants to know if Elsie is doing anything differently but she doesn’t want to suspect her partner.”

“She could’ve just checked the security cameras,” John pointed out. He wanted to stand but Sherlock occupied the whole space when standing to his full height. Suddenly it struck John how big Sherlock actually was; his shoulders were broader than before and his arms were muscular and long. His legs, too. He was also pretty sure it might just be an exaggerated perception inside the small bathroom.

“We did but the cameras had nothing at all, there is no change in the background or-” The sound of an engine could be heard in the distance and Sherlock shut his mouth as the light filtered through the curtains next room. A car was being parked in the drive.

“That’s Elsie Patrick,” Sherlock whispered over his shoulder, his body covering almost the bathroom door completely. He was talking very quietly and John didn’t dare to lift himself off the closed lid. “Here, look at the cameras and tell me if you see any change on them.” Sherlock passed John his phone with two cameras on display on the screen: the front door and the back door from which they had entered. He moved to look outside the bathroom window.

“She’s coming from the front door.”

“I lost sight of her from here, where is she now?”

“Still at the front door, she’s doing something to the camera.”

“Let me see.” Sherlock walked two big steps and got closer to John, their cheeks nearly glued together as they both clearly saw Elsie doing something to the camera and it moved only a bit and then the image changed to a deserted front garden.

“She… disappeared.”

“Stop motion!” He sighed in disappointment. “I thought she was going to be clever !”

“Well, she is, if her own partner hasn’t noticed…”

“The cameras never triggered because she does it before turning the lights on, that’s why Hilton’s phone never warned her.”

Sherlock took his phone back from John’s hand and they saw in silence another camera showing Elsie Patrick walking to the kitchen and to the backdoor, every light still off. They heard her yell a greeting to Hilton to the second floor and the cameras turned on; a small red light on Sherlock’s app warning the cameras had been triggered and soon they were off again. They could see her standing in front of the camera at the back door and applying another stop motion to it.

John turned to Sherlock in silence, their faces close. John just lifted one eyebrow - ‘should we go?’ - and Sherlock shook his head as if reading his mind.

Sherlock sat on the edge of the tub again and John took the notepad he usually had in his pocket and started to scribble what Elsie was doing and the time as he usually did when stalking a suspect. He knew the notes would help later.

In silence, they heard – and saw via the camera in the kitchen – Elsie pouring herself a drink and walking upstairs. A couple of thuds let them know she had discarded her shoes. Laughter told them she was talking to Chloe.

“Do you think we have to wait long?”

“If the cameras in the spa are any indicator, we won’t.”

Sherlock held his phone in front of John and they both watched on the thermal cameras as a woman – Abby, going by the shape of her hairdo – checked her phone, stood up from her desk and walked to the exit.

“The phone is showing bright red on the camera. If it’s hot then that means she had some heavy app loaded. And she’s leaving 20 minutes after Elsie applied stop motion on the cameras. Coincidence?”

They watched Abby leave the spa and Sherlock opened a map on his phone to follow Abby’s route. It was relatively close, only 30 minutes by car. That gave Elsie and Chloe 30 minutes to fall asleep.

“Do you really think Elsie is not cheating?” John asked. Sherlock sighed.

“I have six theories, the fifth one is cheating.”

“That would be the first one in most of the cases.”

“Not always is.”

“What is the first one?”

“Can’t tell you, John. Your opinion is going to be predisposed by my theories. I’ll need a fresh canvas later.” Sherlock winked at him and then added, “But I did tell you the first case was in America, in 2008. I’m sure you can deduce where Elsie was living at the time?” Sherlock sat back on the edge of the bathtub and looked at John with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh,” John breathed. “Blackmail?”

“Could be.” After a pause of watching John writing on his notebook, he made a gesture to John’s improvised seat and asked, “Do you want to swap places now?”

“Ah? No, I’m pretty sure that one is a lot less comfortable than this one. If you want me walking and moving in a while leave my arse where it is, thank you. Your arse can take that.”

If they hadn’t been as close as they were, John wouldn’t have noticed the change in Sherlock’s eyes nor him taking a gulp of air, clearly about to retort when John’s eyes got wide and he lifted his index finger close to Sherlock’s face saying as firmly as he could and trying to suppress a laugh, “Not a word.” He cleared his throat and continued, “Go on, then; Elsie was living in America, let me guess: Wisconsin?”

“Excellent deduction, but a few miles to the south; Chicago, Illinois.”

“You said she was from New York…”

“Yes. She moved to Chicago where Abby is from. I have to assume they met there. After that, Elsie moved back to her flat in Brooklyn around the time Abby moved to Huntington.” At John’s confused face Sherlock added, “It’s just one hour or so by car, do you see?” John nodded and Sherlock continued, “Something happened in 2008 that made Elsie return to Chicago. Abby remained in Huntington. Then something happened in 2010 when she moved to a temporary home in Cherry Hill, Philadelphia. She stayed in a charity home and then she came to London. Why charity? She’s a chemist, she had plenty of job opportunities but she preferred to keep a low profile. Then she met Hilton, they moved in together and, well,” Sherlock made a gesture with his phone in the other room direction, “you know the rest.”

“If Elsie poisoned someone in 2008 and 2010, do you think she’s trying to poison Hilton?”

“No. I think she perfected the formula. PIEDRA formula had the victim feverish with a stomach ache first caused by the change of the pH of the gastric acid. Now the victims are just thirsty…”

“And aroused,” John added, absentmindedly taking his phone from his pocket and checking messages so he couldn’t see Sherlock nervous blinking.

“Well, that…”

There was noise upstairs; a few bangs as if someone had fallen, a muffled scream and a thud and then silence. Two, three, four seconds…

Sherlock was quick to stand but John grabbed his upper arm firmly.

“Don’t tell me you can’t recognise those noises.”

“Obviously it’s an…” At John’s face, Sherlock frowned, “...attack?”

John’s smile was tender as he lifted his index finger in the air as if waiting for something. Ten seconds passed, Sherlock made another attempt to free his arm when a very loud moan - Chloe’s - was heard from upstairs, clearly letting them know what was going on so not to be interrupted. The message was very clear to John.

“Ah, well…” John giggled, his high pitch dangerous in the dark and the cameras, he let go of Sherlock’s arm and he sat back quietly.

“Clever,” Sherlock muttered.

“Hm?” John was still giggling softly and for once Sherlock didn’t join in.

“She needs to orgasm.”

“Wha- Why? What do you mean?”

“Increasing blood flow. She needs the toxins released in orgasm to counteract the aphrod-” Sherlock was interrupted by a loud moan, Chloe again. John lifted his brows to the ceiling. “It’s also a strategy, John. REM cycle is deeper and longer after an orgasm.”

“Can you please stop saying that word?”

Sherlock looked at him with a frown. It looked comical, his serious face with the moans in the background.

“I mean,” John laughed through his nose. “I don’t know. Pick another one, just stop that.”

“Hm… what about petite mort ?” Sherlock asked all serious again and John let out a silent giggle, it wasn’t loud but he put his hand over his mouth anyway. Sherlock smiled. “Don’t worry, John.” He showed John his phone with a constant red dot over the camera in the hallway. “They’re being louder than 60 decibels.”

That made John snort louder and Sherlock followed with one of his smiles. The noises got louder so now three cameras on Sherlock’s phone had a red dot over them. For each loud moan, they looked at each other and snickered like little kids.

“What about climax , then?” Sherlock asked out of nowhere. John started a new fit of silent laughter.

“You crazy man.” John started to write in his notebook again.

Ten minutes passed with Sherlock’s eyes on his phone and John writing down times and which cameras had been triggered, when Sherlock purred in a soft voice, “Abby is here.”

**..**

Abby had keys to the house. John made an incredulous noise when the cameras in the kitchen showed Abby taking a glass from a cupboard. She poured something from a crystal bottle and waited patiently sitting on a chair at the dining room, one leg over the other and occasionally watching the way to the stairs as she sipped away. All this just a few rooms from where they were watching the whole scene.

About half an hour passed when Elsie came down the stairs with notes in her hands and a few small jars full of liquid and white cream. She passed them to Abby to inspect. Both women were whispering too softly for John and Sherlock to hear therefore they stared intently at the cameras on Sherlock’s phone.

The next thing they saw made them look at each other with eyebrows close to their hairline: as soon as Abby had taken the jars and put them inside a bag, she grabbed the back of Elsie’s neck with her free hand and kissed her. Hard.

Elsie was frozen, her hands going to Abby’s hair when she started to move.

“There goes your theory of not cheating,” John sighed.

Sherlock just pressed his lips. “She’s fighting,” he pointed out. “Look.”

Right at that moment, Elsie grabbed a glass jar full of clear liquid with a closed lid from behind her and held it in front of her face as a shield. They talked some more. Elsie was angry, her arms moving around frantically, the liquid inside the jar catching the light as she did so. Abby seemed calmer. She had the same confidence Sherlock had witnessed before in the spa.

The bag with items was next to Abby’s feet, her right hand holding its handle and her left moving occasionally as she responded to whatever Elsie was saying. Even though the image was only the size of Sherlock’s screen, they could clearly see when Abby’s free hand opened the lid of the jar in Elsie’s hand and the liquid spilt on the floor. Abby grabbed Elsie’s shirt, kissed her again and left the house with the full bag as quietly as she had come.

Sherlock sighed, stood up and walked to the door surprisingly calm. Once there he dipped part of his scarf inside a glass with water and put the wet cloth around his neck, John started to follow right away.

“John, I need you to stay here. Call Lestrade and tell him to go to Ridling Thorpe. Follow Abby’s possible route and ETA on the GPS. Stay alert, you’ll know when to come out of this room.” Sherlock walked towards the door, sniffed the air and added, “Put your jumper over your nose when you do.”

“How will I know?” John whispered fiercely behind him as Sherlock stopped right in his tracks below the door frame, he looked back at John over his shoulder and with his voice very low and serious he simply said, “You will.”

He put the wet scarf over his nose and one hand in front of himself as if calming a dog, and then he was out of the room with a soft click.

Elsie jumped in fear as soon as she saw him, almost falling over the table full of jars with liquids behind her. With quick reflexes, Sherlock grabbed her by her arms just in time, his scarf falling from his face and the remaining liquid of the jar wetting Sherlock’s right sleeve. She started to struggle and Sherlock’s soft chant of, “ It’s okay, Elsie, it’s okay ” finally calmed her down enough to stop struggling and support herself on her feet. She was panting and trembling like a leaf.

“What… who…?”

“Elsie Patrick, my name’s Sherlock Holmes and I’m here because Chloe Hilton asked me to. Calm down, I’m trying to help you.”

She looked around with a frown, breathing fast, her eyes frantically searching Sherlock’s frame. “Who? You’re not one of her staff, then?”

“Staff? No. I need you to focus and tell me if Abby usually comes with more people?”

“No. No… I don’t know. Abby usually comes here with…” Suddenly Elsie’s face lost all colour and she freed herself from Sherlock’s grip and started to run upstairs, “Chloe? Chloe!”

Sherlock followed, his nose telling him something definitely was not okay. He was feeling that burn in his gut, unwanted and unjustified arousal pooling between his legs.

As soon as he got closer to Chloe and Elsie’s room, he sniffed out of curiosity at the new smell – a small part of his brain reproaching him, will he ever learn…! – He was hit by the strong scent of cinnamon, grass, lemon and parsley. All of them strong scents to cover for another. A sweet aroma underneath but completely unidentified. At the same time, Sherlock’s brain was processing Chloe’s Davidoff Cool Water and Elsie’s Hugo Deep Red on top of all that.

His brain was still processing, he knew what he was going to find inside the room, so it wasn’t really a surprise when he saw Sidney Eldridge pouring liquid after liquid onto the bed. Chloe was deeply asleep, obviously sedated and naked below the sheets.

What really caught Sherlock by surprise was the sight of Elsie’s hands being forcefully grabbed by an old man. He started to walk to help her but a younger man assaulted Sherlock from behind.

Almost in slow motion, Sherlock saw Sidney Eldridge’s eyes opening wide in recognition, even in the darkness of the room before the man attacking him from behind threw him to his knees. The sound that escaped Sherlock’s mouth was worthy of an adult’s movie and just then he realised how much the chemicals had gotten to him.

“I should have known…” Sidney said as she got closer to Sherlock, still on his knees, the strong man behind him keeping him down. “Private Detective Sherlock Holmes, I’ve heard your name but never saw your face... you got me completely fooled.”

Consulting detective,” Sherlock corrected.

The surprise and anger in Sidney’s eyes left plenty of milliseconds for Sherlock to release the man’s grip on one of his wrists, grab Sidney’s jar from her hand and spill the contents of the scented liquid over his captor and Sidney’s eyes in a whoosh. Both shouted in shock. With quick movements, Sherlock grabbed a blanket from the bed and threw it over them, successfully trapping Sidney and his mysterious attacker.

Sidney still had her hands on her eyes, the jar on the floor, leaving a strong scent in the air. Elsie was watching the scene behind them. She struggled to get free but the old man was obviously stronger than her with her weakened body. Sherlock fought the need to sneeze as the man underneath the blanket struggled to get free in time with Detective Martin coming into the room with two Yarders behind him, all of them wearing air-purifying respirators. Sherlock hissed when Martin switched on the light.

The two Yarders could barely grab the strong man Sherlock was holding and Sidney, at the same time Martin quickly went for the old man behind Elsie, releasing her from the man’s grip. She fell with a thud on the bed next to the sleeping Chloe.

For a moment, Sidney got free and tried to hit Martin’s head with her fist but Sherlock quickly grabbed both of her hands at the same time Martin handcuffed the old man who didn’t resist to the arrest.

“Miss Eldridge, you don’t have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court,” Sherlock said, panting.

“Anything you do say may be given in evidence,” Martin finished. Sidney was being handcuffed. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“No,” Sidney retorted.

Sherlock just rolled his eyes and muttered, ‘ Ugh, a classic ’. He turned to Martin and the old man and said in a low voice, “Don’t let Miss Eldridge call Abby Slaney, she doesn’t know we’re after her.”

“Consider it done. But I’ll need more explanations later,” Martin said, his face inches from Sherlock’s.

“And you’ll have them, inspector.” Sherlock made a pause as his eyes scanned Martin’s face and then glanced at the old man. He looked over his shoulder as the Yarders took Sidney, the mysterious attacker and the old man away and he looked at Martin again who was now busy handcuffing Elsie Patrick. “Is the ambulance for Chloe here as requested? Remember she’s my client.”

Elsie had started to cry and Martin put two fingers over her neck, then gave a look to Chloe over his shoulder. “If my experience is of any use, I’ll say she needs this ambulance more than Chloe does. She’s tachycardic while Chloe’s breathing looks just fine.” He moved his hand to his pocket and handed Sherlock a green disposable mask. “I know it’s a bit late, but use it anyway. I asked for another ambulance for you and Chloe. We can’t have these two together now, either.”

“I don’t need an ambulance. Where’s John?” Sherlock put the mask in his pocket as he spoke, still out of breath but more composed than before.

“I asked him to check the perimeter. We didn’t know if Abby was still around since we didn’t find her car on the normal route to Ridling Thorpe. DI Lestrade is on that.” When Sherlock lifted his right eyebrow Martin whispered fiercely, his face inches from Sherlock’s again. “Look, I know he has that illegal firearm and I couldn’t bring more men with me, okay? Besides, Mr Watson is not authorised to make arrests and neither are you, by the way.”

Doctor Watson,” Sherlock corrected, watching attentively the door as one of the Yarders came to take Elsie away with John whose face was also covered by a green disposable mask and his gun already in the safety of his jeans.

“You okay?” John asked as soon as he saw Sherlock.

From the corner of his eye, Sherlock noticed Martin eyeing him furtively from head to toe, his eyes resting along his middle, and lifted his brows.

“Fine,” Sherlock said, his breathing coming faster now and his eyes shooting a silent warning to Martin.

John looked doubtful for a second, his eyes scanning Sherlock’s body but then he turned his gaze on the still sleeping Chloe. He rushed towards her and put his ear above her mouth to check her breathing, his doctor mode coming back right away.

“Don’t touch her!” Elsie screamed between heavy breaths and mucus, her voice high-pitched and desperate in the middle of the quiet room and then told Martin: “I’m not leaving her alone! Not with two men in the house! Not in the state he must be in!”

When she looked at Sherlock, Martin yanked at the handcuffs she was in and dragged her out of the room.

“Sherlock Holmes would never lay hands on a victim,” he said to her and then to Sherlock, “I’ll let you know what’s going on as soon as I have news!” There was a pause in which Elsie started to cry again. “I’ll leave her in your hands, Doctor Watson! I’ve called an ambulance!”

“Positive!” John shouted back sitting next to her on the bed, “She’s fine but completely knocked out.” He waved a package of pills and tossed them to Sherlock. “Sleeping pills. Found them in the kitchen when I returned. They weren’t there when we arrived.”

Sherlock acknowledged this by nodding once, then he circled around in the spot he was to take in the room, checking for details. When he got closer to where John and Chloe were he couldn’t help but notice how John tensed. He took a step back. Of course, John had noticed as well - the bulge in his trousers. With the lights on it had to be clearly visible. Just because he was doing his best to ignore it didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

“I just need to…” Sherlock gestured to the bedside table on Chloe’s side.

John cleared his throat. “Of course. Let me…” He moved around the bed as Sherlock politely gave him more space to move.

Sherlock was in the process of checking stains on the said table when the ambulance arrived. John got startled where he was reading receipts on Elsie’s bedside table. They looked at each other and Sherlock made a gesture to the door. John just nodded and Sherlock made himself scarce.

**..**

John had to explain the nurses from the ambulance he was a doctor and the one to take care of Sherlock, so they left only with a very drowsy Chloe. The Yarder at the door insisted on waiting to take them wherever they needed to be. John was grateful; he was tired, sleepy and worried. Even when he trusted Sherlock as a chemist, he couldn’t help but wonder if the aphrodisiacs were going to have a secondary effect. Whatever it was, he just didn’t want it to be hospital-related.

His doctor mind insisted to go check on Sherlock but some other part also insisted on giving him a little privacy. He had fought and won even in a very obvious state of arousal, so he should be fine, now should he?

With those thoughts in mind, he never registered when he walked down the corridor in which they had been before, only when the room door fell shut behind him with a click and took off his disposable mask.

His trained ear heard muffled, ragged and shaky breathing, the wet sound of flesh against flesh and the unmistakable sound of rustling clothes in a steady rhythm coming from behind the half-closed door of the small bathroom in which he and Sherlock had been earlier. As soon as he came a few steps closer to the place, all of the sounds ceased, turning into a pregnant silence.

“John, I appreciate your concern, but I assure you I’m completely fine just… please do not come any closer,” Sherlock said in a rush, his scratchy voice carrying along the corridor with no fear of the cameras that had been turned off by the Yarders.

John’s internal voice urged him to leave Sherlock alone, to go and wait for him with the Constable guarding the front door. He even knew the bloke - Miller was his middle name - they could even spend the time chatting. But he walked a few steps closer instead, approaching the bathroom. The adrenaline felt like an invitation, like all those years ago.

Sherlock had obviously stopped what he was doing. In John’s mind, the word masturbation felt like child’s play compared to this; this was thrill, confusion, apprehension. He noticed how Sherlock was trying to be as quiet as he could, breathing through his nose and a clenched jaw, even though the mirror above the sink gave his expression away.

“You okay?” John asked from outside the half-closed bathroom, his voice timid.

Sherlock stood upright in the dim light, facing the sink, his back to John. He put his hands over his crotch but not really trying to cover himself and gave a very loud sigh. “John,” he said again, the N stretched a bit, making his exasperation obvious. “I’m sure that, whatever it is, it can wait five minutes, don’t you think?”

“Chloe started an arrhythmia as soon as the ambulance arrived…”

“John…”

“Hear me out.” John came one step closer, stopping a meter or so behind Sherlock. Two more steps and he would be able to touch him if he wanted to. Their eyes met in the mirror. “You inhaled the same thing probably... you never wore a mask.”

“The masks were too late for me.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

John could hear and see Sherlock’s little snort and his shoulders slumping. “If you’re worried, doctor , you can go back. I’ll finish here and you can wait for me with the Yarder at the door. I’ll let you do anything you want to me, then.” He shut his mouth abruptly, not trusting himself any longer.

There was silence where Sherlock didn’t know what was really going on, but going by John’s silhouette and the light coming from his hand...

“Seriously, John. Your phone? What could you possibly-?”

“When… when our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale,” John’s voice was firm if not a bit shaky as he interrupted.

Sherlock stilled in recognition of the text John was reading from his phone. He drew a quivering breath through his nose and was about to turn around when he remembered he just couldn’t with the way he jutted obscenely from his zipper. He tried to find John’s eyes in the reflection but the man was looking down, completely absorbed by what he was reading.

“A curious instinct of terror came over me,” John said slowly approaching again. “I knew that…” He paused. His dominant hand was busy with his phone so he placed his right hand between Sherlock’s shoulder blades, applying pressure as if supporting himself. He felt Sherlock shudder beneath his hand. “I knew that I had come face to face with someone...”

Sherlock started to shiver; his teeth chattering and his eyes fluttering trying to keep them open in the darkness. His left hand sought for support on the sink before him as he panted and trembled. His right hand was completely frozen over his crotch, he didn’t dare to move it.

John could feel - and hear - Sherlock’s hesitation and drew a breath as he fisted the fabric under his hand. In his head, he couldn’t stop reproaching his selfishness because, deep down, he knew he was trying to redeem himself from everything he had done in the past by helping Sherlock now. He had decided he wanted to help the moment he walked inside the corridor and heard him from the bathroom. But this would never work if he could even smell Sherlock stalling. “Sherlock…” he whispered, his hand moved slowly from Sherlock’s back to his right bicep applying the same pressure he used days ago on that first massage. “Go on.”

Sherlock’s teeth were still grinding, his breath rushing out of his lungs as he closed his fist around himself and moved it experimentally down, down, up, up.

“Yes, that’s it.” John was aware of the doctorly tone until he felt the movement of Sherlock’s arm. He looked down at his phone again and cleared his throat loudly in the otherwise silent bathroom. “With someone whose mere personality was so, so fucking fascinating that…”

Sherlock gave a full-body shiver. His back bent as he leant his forehead against the mirror. John moved a bit to Sherlock’s right side and dared to look up but could only see Sherlock’s hair. He stopped reading but gave the moving arm a firm squeeze. Sherlock moaned and looked up at John’s reflection, panting hard and expression pained but clearly trying to restrain any more noises he could make.

When their eyes met John had to gulp. His eyes went soft around the edges and a gush of air left his lungs. He couldn’t take his eyes away from his friend looking back at him with hunger, with lust. It was an expression he never thought he would ever see.

That expression, the raw want he saw right there, was his last straw. All of his thoughts about redeeming himself, of the selfishness that was there in his brain, constantly nagging him, were forgotten and replaced by a genuine desire to make Sherlock feel good.

“That… if I allowed it to do so, it would…” John supported his forehead on Sherlock’s shoulder again as he continued to read, inhaling a shaky breath and clearing his throat. “It would absorb my whole nature and… and...” He pressed on Sherlock’s arm with purpose as he moved his hand up and down imposing Sherlock’s rhythm on himself. He could feel Sherlock’s ragged breaths that seemed to increase the more he pressed his skin. Inspired, he moved that hand to Sherlock’s waist, finding the hem of his trousers - now loose - and dipped three fingers inside, touching Sherlock’s bare skin over his right hip, applying pressure on the bone he found there.

“Jo-!” Sherlock’s moan was a surprised whisper. His left hand flew to the mirror in front of him for better support and he bizarrely thought about fingerprints and dust. He was too aware of the points of contact between them now; too aware of the noises he was making even though he didn’t want to. In the back of his mind, he recalled a pillow.

He wanted those fingers to go lower, wanted John to be bolder, wanted to be bolder himself... if there wasn’t so much at stake maybe…

In the mirror, their reflections were looking at each other now. He saw his own reflection forming and calling the other’s name just the once.

“And my whole soul…” John’s reflection was getting closer to his own face, those lips next to his ear. He held his breath as he felt something akin to lava flowing up his body. He moved his hand a little faster and his hips thrust in his own fist. John’s hand was completely curled around his hip now, encouraging him to move, with his thumb almost over his bare buttock.

“...my very art itself.”

Sherlock stilled as his climax hit him with force, painting the sink and part of the mirror with gushes of white. John was breathing hard, harder than he should have. He quickly put his phone in his pocket to avoid it getting messed up and pressed two fingers against Sherlock’s neck. Their reflections met again but now John’s eyes were serious and concerned.

“My pulse is elevated, you could have just asked,” Sherlock managed between shuddering breaths.

“If you can be an arse then I assume you’ll be fine.” They smiled at each other. Sherlock removed his hand from his crotch and he shivered. “Is there… anything you need?” John asked, he was relieved when he noticed how truly concerned he was.

Sherlock closed his trousers and started to wash his hands and the sink. His voice wasn’t as steady as it usually was when he spoke next, but his eyes were on John’s reflection, a small smile playing around his lips. “As always, you surprise me.” He turned around and John was right there, his face set and his stance confident. “John, are you…?”

“No, I’m fine. I didn’t inhale anything.”

There was a moment where their eyes met for what seemed hours. This time it was Sherlock looking down at John’s lips and back to his eyes. John cleared his throat and turning around, asked, “Did you... uh... recognise the text?”

“Of course.” Sherlock’s smile was small, his eyes going from John’s retreating back to the floor. “Dorian Gray.”