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The Discernment of Spirits

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abort operation ming case solved GM in custody JW


SH 99999 -- JW 1 :-)


Sherlock eyed the texts narrowly. What on earth was John babbling about? He was meant to be bringing George Marks to the hotel room they'd taken, where John, in his persona as a fence, would offer him some Ming Dynasty pottery. Sherlock had particularly been looking forward to Marks' reaction when he realised they were his own fakes.

Sherlock, in the next room over, was lounging on a hotel bed with his laptop on the mattress beside him, headset over his ears. Marks already knew Sherlock's face, but John had insisted he could play the part. Sherlock had chosen to humour him, since it was obvious John would go sulky if Sherlock called in someone more capable.

John wasn't completely terrible at playacting when things were going smoothly. Of course if things went even slightly off-script, John would slip, so once John had set up his props and gone, Sherlock had taken the next room, slipped the lock on the connecting door, and installed some cheap surveillance equipment he'd liberated from a crime scene weeks ago.

For John's safety, of course. The option of bringing out the recordings to critique John's performance later was just a happy bonus. Although, he'd have to have weighed the fun of that against the massive wobbly John would throw over being spied on, which would likely involve ugly comparisons to Mycroft.

The phone vibrated with more texts.


ran into Sarah going back to hotel room do NOT meet me there


will bring fake ming home TOMORROW


NO intrusions NO calls NO fuckery


will think up threat later will involve globby stuff and your mobile


do not show up 2night or i will come 2 dinner @ yrs every weds night 4ever -Sarah


and I'll invite your brother too JW


Sarah? She'd broken it off with John ages ago.

Of all the women John had dated, she'd admittedly been the least personally objectionable. Were they going to try again?

John seldom brought his women home for sex. Sherlock had identified three contributing factors:

First, John worried that Sherlock would drive off his partner before they reached the bedroom. This was unfair; if John would bring home someone worthy of him, they wouldn't be put off when Sherlock tested them.

Second, John was slightly uncomfortable about Sherlock hearing him during intercourse. This was equal parts pointless conventional embarrassment and a rather sweet concern that Sherlock would somehow be upset by the sounds.

(The times John had brought someone home, the sounds Sherlock heard didn't make him upset. But certainly they were irritating, and he could well understand John being embarrassed about having made them.)

Third, John liked to keep an avenue of retreat open, as he was constitutionally incapable of throwing a woman out of his own flat even if he never wished to see her again. And he wouldn't let Sherlock do it either, even when it obviously needed doing.

So, John had apparently chosen to make alternative use of the hotel room. With Sarah. Because the case was solved.

Sherlock glared suspiciously at the mobile and sent off a demand for information to Lestrade.

The man would insist on a few tiresome delaying texts about being off duty before giving in. Sherlock knew better. Lestrade was, in this respect, very like Sherlock. He lived for the work and there was no such thing as off-duty for him. That was why his marriage had been unworkable from the go -- he'd never fully commit to something else, any more than Sherlock could.

Finally Lestrade confirmed that George Marks was in custody, and the contents of his mobile could be legitimately searched. Which would provide the necessary evidence for Lestrade to act on conclusions Sherlock had reached through simple deductive reasoning days ago.

And that had been the point of the exercise. But how had John done it?

As Sherlock was thumbing in another demand for information, the door opened and a woman chuckled.

Not the door of the room Sherlock was in, but the sounds were as clear through the headset. It was the other room, and the woman was Sarah. They must have been sending their texts from the cab on the way here.

"You were meant to bring that George Marks back here, then?" she asked. The door closed.

"Yep. I'm a dealer in stolen goods," John answered, a smile in his voice. "I'm a bad man, me. Very bad man."

Sarah laughed. "If that's your idea of playing the part, just as well it's taken care of."

"Yeah, that? Was bloody amazing," John said, "Christ, you'd have impressed Sherlock."

Sherlock blinked, head jerking slightly back. He knew that tone in John's voice; it was generally -- rightfully -- directed at Sherlock himself. Sarah had closed the case?

"No I wouldn't," Sarah said.

"No she wouldn't," Sherlock muttered. What on earth could she have done? John could only have met her by chance this evening, and somehow she had stepped in and ended the case? How?

"Well, you impressed me. I thought it was brilliant. You're brilliant."

And then there was the damp sound of snogging, and clothes sliding against clothes. Sherlock was impressed at the audio fidelity on what was hardly high end equipment.

"Want you," John murmured. He had his mouth nearly against skin, but not her mouth now. Cheek? Neck? Shoulder?

"No," Sarah said in mock-disbelief, "I thought you'd asked me back to your hotel room to show me your ming."

"Yeah, I did," John said, archly. Sherlock rolled his eyes as the two of them giggled in his ears. He'd seldom heard John laugh with other people; this feeble innuendo hardly seemed to merit it.

"I have missed you," Sarah said.

"Yeah. Me too."

"But this is just . . . tonight."

"Just tonight," John agreed. "God knows I understand why you chucked me."

"John -- "

"It's fine."

Sherlock could visualise the expression on John's face very clearly from John's patent long-suffering self-abnegating voice. He used that tone at least twice a week when he was making a production of his supposed patience with something Sherlock had done that delayed his tea or interfered with Top Gear.

"You -- " Sarah sighed, and then they were kissing again. John made a little muffled surprised grunt, then groaned.

Sherlock slowly lifted the headset away from his ears, taking away their sounds.

Sherlock had been kissed. Sometimes on the cheek, usually by women whose cases he'd solved, showing their appreciation and admiration. Sherlock didn't mind that.

Sometimes on the lips. That had been surprisingly nice when Victor had done it to say goodbye, leaving uni. And it had been not nice, but good, from Alice in rehab who'd done it once when he was in tears with the cravings, and once when she was. But otherwise it was usually people who were trying to have sex with him.

Sex, like most bodily functions, was uninteresting, messy in several ways, and entirely tedious. The entire point was to produce the same repetitive sensation in the same part of the body often enough and fast enough to achieve orgasm, which did, admittedly, leave one nicely relaxed; but that lasted so little time it really wasn't worth the trouble.

Actual physical arousal, keen enough that he'd notice and consider masturbating to relieve it, happened to Sherlock occasionally, usually after a particularly exciting case, part of his transition to a following lassitude. But that was the extent of his interest.

It was incomprehensible that most of the world's human population was so obsessed. People generally grew out of preoccupations with defecating or breaking wind by the time they left school, and yet fully grown adults would choose to sit and watch videos of other people having sex.

When necessary for a case, he'd done that, watched people have sex on film, and once in person. It had been only marginally more interesting than watching other people eat dinner.

But John was nearly always interesting. Even the way he ate dinner, rapidly stabbing little bites into his little mouth, well-conditioned by war and their lifestyle to eat when he could, but always wishing to savour his food.

Item: If John knew Sherlock had eavesdropped, he would be livid.

Item: This was a unique opportunity to gather data on John. (Without the bother of installing the surveillance equipment in John's room at home and manipulating him into bringing a woman back there.)

Item: Sherlock had been deprived of the end of his case and genuinely had nothing else to do for the evening.

Item: John would likely never find out, and would forgive him, eventually, if he did.

Item: Sherlock felt like it.

Having gathered these salient facts, given them appropriate weightings, and made the obvious decision, Sherlock put the headset back on, and with his finger on the laptop's trackpad, clicked the green button on the software monitor for the video feed.

The camera was tiny and wireless, and he had been able to hide it the hardware of the curtain rod, giving him nearly the whole of the room from a high vantage. Miniaturisation had come at the expense of video quality; the scene was a blotchy black and white image on his laptop's screen. It had seemed enough, he'd only wanted to make sure he could watch for George Marks pulling a weapon if John turned his back.

John was in a suit, which fit his persona for the evening. Dressing up flattered John, emphasising that despite his height he had a trim build and broad shoulders. In most of his casual clothes, bulky and layered, you could mistake him for stocky, except for his few tight-fitting summer shirts, which, conversely, made him look positively slight. In the black and white, the suit made him look like a second-string film star from 1934.

Sarah was dressed up too. Knee length dress, dark, probably black, with a scoop neck. In the video feed he could just make out a blot on her chest that would be a dangling necklace pointing at her modest cleavage. Dark lipstick. She'd been looking to pull, and so she had, but she couldn't have known John would be there.

But the shoes. One inch heel at most, boxy rather than pointed at the toe. Without a better image he couldn't identify the brand, but hardly fuck-me pumps. No, a doctor's compromise for professional daily wear when she had to be on her feet for hours. So, yes, looking to pull, but only because she felt she ought to get out of the house, not really ready to put in the effort for someone new. The coincidence of meeting John must have fitted her mood exactly.

They were still kissing. Sherlock could mostly see John's back, and Sarah's arms round his waist. But Sherlock had got glimpses of John kissing before. He'd seemed to be good at it -- not all wet mouthing and churning tongues -- though just now looked a bit on the cruder end of things.

One of Sarah's hands groped up John's spine and wrapped around the back of his neck, and, Sherlock thought, squeezed hard there. In the image it was just a small grey blur, and Sherlock had to guess at the motion.

John's hair just now was halfway between one of his typically severe haircuts and the next, grown out a little, but not enough to be soft around his head. Just when it got long enough that John started complaining about it and went to the barber, it sometimes curled, just slightly, there at his nape.

Sarah might be feeling the beginnings of that curl, a texture in the hair there sensible to touch but not sight. To those John allowed to touch him.

Sarah's hand pushed up around the curve of John's skull, against the grain of hair not long enough to really be mussed, and then stroked down to squeeze his nape again. John's hair generally smelled of cheap shampoo and was many shades of gold, going patchily grey, which was impossible to see on the video. Sherlock had collected strands of it from the bathroom when he needed a comparison sample, so it wasn't true to say he'd never touched it, but not like that, not in situ, not its texture en masse or how it was warmed by the heat of John's scalp.

John sighed and broke off the kiss to tuck his head in against Sarah's neck. Mouthing there, maybe biting, Sherlock couldn't see. She hummed approvingly and stroked John's back.

The disparity between the crystal clear audio and the atrocious video annoyed him.

They turned, swaying together, enough that Sherlock could see John's hand sliding down Sarah's side, stroking her as they kissed.

Eventually, Sarah pulled back, hands trailing over John's body and then away. "Get your gear off, John Watson," she declared, grinning. "You've pulled."

John swept off his suit jacket and threw it aside, then tugged his tie off with one long pull-- a careless manoeuvre that would never have worked if he'd taken five minutes to listen to Sherlock about more interesting knots than a half windsor. Sherlock didn't wear ties himself, but he knew how they should be worn.

With his back to the camera, John was unbuttoning his shirt. Sherlock watched his shoulders move, the change in the shadows on the back of the white shirt he'd chosen for his fence persona. John seldom wore white shirts. He liked dark, muted colours, liked his camouflage.

Playfully, John twitched his shoulders, and, from what Sherlock could see, was likely pulling the vee of open shirt wider over his vest. Sarah managed a weak wolf whistle, giggling. "Take it off," she encouraged, "take it all off."

Sherlock rolled his eyes.

John's head drooped down for a moment the way it did sometimes when he was laughing, as if the quiet giggles loosened his strings. Then he tugged the shirt and the vest beneath sideways to display his shoulder for a moment, sniggering, before hurrying the last few buttons open. He threw the shirt aside.

"Right, is there actually a sexy way to take off a man's vest?" he asked, and Sherlock could hear the grin in his voice.

And Sherlock was abruptly furious. Playing. John was playing. He wasn't having sex, he was being silly, having fun. He didn't need sex for this. He didn't need Sarah for this. It wasn't fair.

Sarah hurried up to John and did something that made him squeal, undignified and raw. The nipples. She'd tweaked his nipples through the cotton. Then she pushed aside the vest to bare his shoulder and put her mouth there. It pushed John around slightly, gave Sherlock more of his profile.

The worst thing about the way John typically dressed was the way he covered up his throat -- always either high collars or else buttoned up with a tie. John's chin and neck and clavicles were excellent-- lovely masculine architecture. Sherlock got to see them when John was in his robe, fresh out of the shower. Sherlock got to see them because they lived together, because he was the one with John in the morning when John was still sleepy and not dressed yet.

It was annoying that John's throat should be shared with people who had sex with John. Technically, he didn't have to bare his clavicle for sex. He certainly didn't have to joke and laugh and be playful. He ought to just get the act over with and come home.

Intercourse was tedious enough without all this faffing about.

Sarah pulled up the vest and bent her head down, going after John's nipple again. John's head tilted back and he sighed. He sounded so pleased, like this was something special, something fantastic.

Sherlock had seen John's nipples; they were soft pale pink things, and he'd never thought them one of John's better features. Oversensitive, it would appear.

A new series of connections: the twitch when Sherlock reached past John's chest; the blush when Sherlock made John reach inside Sherlock's jacket. So, there was new information, proof that this observation was a useful exercise.

In his ear, John gave a guttural sigh. "Yeah, that will never stop being lovely. You're lovely."

Sherlock wanted to go in there and demand John explain. What was the attraction? Surely John could touch his own nipples. He'd know exactly how hard and how long to pinch them, or whatever it was he wanted done to them.

Sherlock pinched his own nipple through his shirt, lightly, then harder, grinding his finger past his thumb to intensify the feeling. It hurt, but not very much. Pointless.

As Sarah pushed the vest up, John brought up his arms and bent forward so she could strip it over his head, like a child being undressed.

The poor quality of the video didn't pick up John's scar. His back was a pale grey blur, looked unblemished. Sherlock felt his teeth grit in annoyance. Sarah could see the scar, and Sherlock could not, which was unutterably backwards.

After that the clothes came off quickly, at least. That was a blessing; amateur striptease was always a mess of embarrassing motions, awkward pauses, and uninteresting outcomes. Also, Sherlock found the obviousness of Sarah's matching black underwired bra and skimpy knickers irritating and was just as pleased to see them go.

Then they were standing there, at the foot of the hotel bed, arms-length from each other, naked. He knew Sarah would be unhappy with the smallness and slight flat droop of her breasts, with the soft swell of her belly below the navel, because it was so obvious she worked hard to be slim. But Sherlock, having no particular expectations of her body, couldn't be bothered to find fault with it. John, with no gear to hide behind, looked like what he was: a small slim man in early middle age who kept mostly fit but wasn't too bothered about it.

"Look at you," John sighed, and they embraced.

Sherlock understood embraces. Warmth, reassurance of contact with cooperative fellow humans, the swaddling security of compression -- all perfectly reasonable physical cravings for the pre-verbal human animal. Harmless, pleasant even. When he could trust that it would be welcome, and wouldn't be misinterpreted, Sherlock quite enjoyed it. For the most part that meant Mrs. Hudson.

He could easily put his arms around John's shoulders, tip his head to rest his cheek against John's temple, hold John. John was strong and small, and Sherlock thought his body might buzz with the compaction of all that steel, all those old angers under the mask of pleasant cheerfulness. But John wouldn't like to be embraced by Sherlock. He'd wince and get nervy and misunderstand.

Sherlock supposed someone else might have some equivalent idea about Sarah, who, taken apart from her status as a distraction to John, was mostly unobjectionable.

Why naked, though? Was it better naked? Skin reaction of some kind? More direct transfer of heat?

They were just standing there, holding each other. John's hand was at the back of Sarah's head, in her hair. Hers were both spread on John's back, and then one stroked down, so her fingers rested on the top of the swell of John's right buttock.

"You were so amazing today. You're so amazing," John whispered in Sherlock's ear.

Sherlock would experience the texture of the entry wound on John's back, if he held John naked and then cupped his palm over it. Without John's clothes, his cheap jumpers and his good denim, there would be no bulk to blur the muscle in John's shoulders and arms and back. The wound would have influenced the shape of those muscles, re-balancing John's body around the damage, and his limp, however psychosomatic, would have had some effect too, might have left one side of his arse subtly different from the other.

And if Sherlock were bare too, he supposed, he could test more of John's skin's texture and elasticity -- an important measure of health -- at once, with the pressure of his own.

They kissed again, swaying a bit and turning until they were in profile and Sherlock could see both of them. John's little mouth pressed at hers, drew slightly back, bit softly at her lower lip, pulling it out a bit, and then pressed again, lips opening just a bit. Sherlock thought he could see John's tongue just flicker. John hummed. They'd started off the evening with hungry snogging as soon as they'd got in the door, but by now John had made it this delicate, intimate act.

"God, you gorgeous thing," Sarah murmured, and Sherlock winced.

Traces of sweat, oils, dirt were smearing onto each other. John would smell of her until he showered.

John walked backward around the side of the bed, backed out of Sarah's arms and lay down on the mattress. Sherlock could see his face, simplified to a few expressive shades of grey. Big eyes, humorous smile.

Sherlock could see John's erect penis, which might have been of some interest, because particularly large or small genitals tended to have excessive influence on aspects of male personality. But John appeared to be entirely average in this respect.

Then John was guiding Sarah to straddle him and her back blocked Sherlock's view while they kissed again.

John's hands came up to her waist, then smoothed down over her hips as she sat up. "Look at you. What do you want?" He was getting repetitive, brain flooded with electrochemical hindrances. John, under the influence of sex hormones, was sadly capable of becoming boring.

Sarah reached out and touched John's mouth. John's lips were thin, and typically chapped; Sherlock ran his finger across his own, but the comparison was pointless, as he, unlike John, was familiar with the use of moisturiser.

John opened his mouth, caught her fingers inside. Was he sucking them? Yes. And then he took them from his mouth and, holding her hand, pushed it between them. Sherlock couldn't see, but he thought John was making Sarah penetrate herself, using her own fingers inside her vagina. She swayed on her knees over him and made little sounds like a cat stuck on the other side of a closed door.

How odd. It seemed like a deliberate demonstration that this mutual act of supposed connection was really no different than masturbation. And yet that could hardly be John's intention.

Abruptly John rolled them over and moved down the bed with an undignified wriggle that put his head between Sarah's spread legs. Once they had settled, they were more or less static, John presumably using his tongue. Sarah made little sounds and tossed her head, and her legs shifted fretfully, but Sherlock could see the tension as she held herself back, trying to live up to some idea of ladylike behaviour, not too noisy, not too wanton.

With a particularly good camera angle, Sherlock supposed it might have been interesting to observe how much time John spent using tongue vs. lips and how that related to the shifting of Sarah's knees and how often she made incoherent encouraging statements such as, "Yeah that's--" and "You, you, yes," and "There, oh."

But with the angle of view he was limited to, Sherlock had nothing of real interest to watch.

Eventually John shifted, to bring his hand into play. Sherlock found himself staring at John's shoulder blades shifting under his skin, the way a man on a long train journey through plains would stare at any tree or cow in fascination until it passed from sight.

Boring. They could have achieved orgasm by now, if they'd gone about it prudently. Instead they seemed to be drawing it out on purpose.

Eventually they swapped places. John shoved the pillows together behind his back while Sarah, panting a little, crawled across the bed, rather than just rolling and wiggling as john did. More evidence that women tried harder to avoid looking ridiculous in such situations, but that was hardly a new observation.

John bent his knees up and splayed his feet wide around Sarah. She made a sound too vague to be properly either a giggle or a sigh and reached forward. She wiped at the corner of John's mouth with her thumb, and he grinned and licked showily at the other corner. Then Sarah -- now definitely a giggle -- wiped the tip of his nose as well.

Sherlock stared at the screen. Really? John was not, as a rule, a messy eater. Before he could tell whether this was pertinent information about John, a counter to his elegant kissing, Sherlock would need to know whether it might be simply a matter of Sarah's personal secretions being unusually plentiful-- data he had no wish to gather.

Sarah settled in to suck John's penis. John was less controlled, far more interesting to watch. He groaned and hummed and gasped, face screwing up and teeth gritting, head eventually thrashing from side to side. It looked very like pain, very much the way John looked when someone was applying cigarettes to the webbing between his fingers.

Sarah didn't know that. Sarah might -- depending on her current angle of view -- know how John looked when he was receiving oral sex. But only Sherlock knew how he looked when being tortured and (now) how he looked during fellatio. Sherlock smiled.

Abruptly Sarah pulled off and moved up John's body to mouth his nipples.

"You're trying to kill me," John muttered. But he was smiling, hand stroking her head then gently combing her hair with his fingers.

"I'm trying to get you inside me, berk."

"Oh, right then," John said. "Carry on. Good show," and then he giggled. Sherlock sighed. Why must they try to ram all this lightheartedness into it? If they wanted to be having sex, why not just have sex?

"Condom," Sarah said, and got up to walk over to to where she'd left her little clutch bag.

Another incomprehensible part of the politics of this pointless act. They'd already rooted around in each others genitals without benefit of dental dam or condom, but despite both being competent doctors, they'd waited until now to bring any sort of protection into play. It wasn't worry about pregnancy, Sarah was undoubtedly still on the pill.

It was a superstitious ritual, Sherlock supposed. Warding off the evil spirits of STIs with this particular fetish object.

Sarah flipped the little foil packet through the air and John caught it, opened it up, and put the thing on his erection, an action reduced to mime by the terrible video.

Then he reached out and took Sarah's hand, as if she needed help to climb back onto the bed, to climb back onto him.

And then it all got terribly, horribly, maddeningly boring. How on earth did peeping toms keep themselves awake watching such monotonous drek? It was worse than golf, which he had been dragged along to all too often when he was still young enough not to have built up proper defences against Mycroft.

For a little while, Sarah rode John, until she complained of tired thighs, and dropped to her back.

John got on top of her and started thrusting. Tighten of buttock, flex of spine. John's musculature might have been of momentary interest, if Sherlock could have seen it properly.

"Yes, like that you beautiful thing," Sarah said, stroking John's sides.

"Here, can you-- " John said, breathless, and pulled at her leg until it was bent back and her heel rode the middle of his spine.

"Brilliant," Sarah said. From the way her shoulder and arm had moved, she had worked her hand in between them, presumably masturbating. So at least she was capable of acting for efficient orgasms, even if very belatedly.

John's breath was coming faster, groaning, working hard. Sherlock couldn't see it on the screen, but he knew John's back would have a sheen of sweat. He was moving and breathing the way he did when they were running on the chase, when it was all night and weapons and thrill.

"Fuck," John started to chant, softly, "Fuck, fuck, fuck, oh fuck. Are you --"

Sarah made a rough shrill noise, a stifled screech.

"Yeah, oh, you-- fuck!" John gasped. And then he whined, a whine that caught and stuttered in his throat while his spine arched and his backside juddered.

John sounded like this was something more intense than a cigarette burn. John sounded like something amazing and shocking, something exciting and dangerous, was happening to him. And Sherlock could not see his face. Sarah could see his face.

Sarah held him tight when he stilled, was allowed to wrap her arms round his shoulders while he was making that sound, and allowed to stroke him when John finally stopped, and eased, and tucked his head down against her. "God," he was breathing, "oh my fucking god."

Sherlock was fairly certain John had not seen or spoken to Sarah in at least six months. And yet apparently all it took was a little sex and she was allowed to see him in extremis.

The price for John pushed to his limits like this was sex. And that was unspeakably unfair.

Sherlock sat there, sneering at the screen as the two of them in their ridiculous knot of surely-sweaty limbs panted away like tired dogs. Had they no idea how idiotic they looked, how undignified the whole thing had been? He ought to send them the recording, to show them.

Finally John pulled away, walked on his knees -- absurd -- across the bed, and got rid of the condom. Then he settled on his back and did an odd shameless sort of writhe against the sheets, stretching and settling himself. Now John's penis was a small and inoffensive smudge of pale grey at his groin.

After a moment, Sarah, with a long cheerful sigh, settled against John's side, her back against him. "Yeah?" he said, rolling to drape an arm over her.

"Yeah," she answered.

What did that mean? Was it the telegraphic communication of a familiarity developed through having so much sex? Wait, had they had a lot of sex? When, during their relatively short relationship, had they had time for a lot of sex if it took this long? Or was this some idiolect shared by all practising heterosexuals? Or were they simply now too high on their own biochemistry for any meaningful communication?

"I forgot to ask -- your cousin, how's all that?" John asked

"Yeah, good. I mean, Ashley was acting up for a long while after they moved, but she's settled in now that she's got her routine back. We Skyped last week."

Sherlock sighed. Dull sex followed by dull details of dull lives. Perhaps John hoped for another go if he feigned interest politely enough.

"I can never get that to work," said John. Sherlock smirked. No, he couldn't. John was a complete luddite in many respects. He needed Sherlock to handle that part of things for him.

"Computers can smell fear," Sarah said with a stupid little growl. "Did you ever even get all the numbers onto your new mobile, after whatever happened to the last one -- what was it, sewer?"

"Yeah, actually that was two mobiles ago. One got dropped off a fire escape, and one was in my pocket when I got hit with a bust of some ancient roman bastard. Broke when I hit the floor."

Sarah laughed at him, but John didn't seem to mind.

"By the time I got back up," John said, "the bastard who hit me is out the door, so I find a land line and try to ring Sherlock, but of course he refuses to actually pick up, so I walk out into the street and I'm begging people walking by to let me text from their mobiles. Finally this girl hands hers over, and right that moment she gets a text from her boyfriend, and it's a picture of his dick."

Sarah turned over and pressed her face against John's shoulder and laughed. "At least nobody was shooting at you."

"No," John said, grinning. "No, that was hours later."

Sherlock had laughed too, they'd laughed together, when he'd told Sherlock the story. But Sherlock hadn't been able to put his face against John's shoulder and feel the tremors of his giggles.

They lay quiet long enough that Sherlock thought they were going to sleep. But then, "Fuck," John muttered, a bit of a giggle still in his voice. "I wish we could have worked out."

"Yeah," Sarah sighed. "And not just 'cos I need to get laid like that a lot more often."

They both chuckled again, and, Sarah turned back over.

"Um," John said, "it's the kind of thing people say -- online I had this one complete git and I kept deleting the comments, but... You never thought we were, um -- "

"No, John, I didn't break up with you because I thought you were cheating on me with your flatmate," Sarah said, sounding irritated.

"Good. Because it it's not like that. I mean, Sherlock's amazing, but -- "

"I know, John, but, with Sherlock-- that's your life right now. Maybe it won't always be like that. You'll grow apart, or you'll meet someone who'll change everything. But that wasn't going to be me."

John's gaze was towards the ceiling. He swallowed audibly.

"You're amazing," he whispered at last, "and I wish things were different."

"Me too."

Sherlock turned off the video feed, took off the headphones. He didn't want to listen to John wishing him away anymore.

After glaring at the empty room for several minutes, Sherlock deleted the video file with vicious stabs of his fingers at the laptop. Best dispose of the evidence and entirely avoid John's middle class bleating about privacy.

For the first time Sherlock understood the idea -- which he'd always dismissed -- that eavesdropping might be a bad idea for the eavesdropper himself, not just a transgression against silly social mores.




In the weeks after what John insisted on calling Sarah's Case, Sherlock found himself thinking about John's physicality far more than was reasonable.

It wasn't unpleasant, to be very close to John. Sherlock liked to look at the way John's prim, economical little mouth went suddenly immoderate when his tongue emerged, and at the crudely blunted shape of his nose, and at the soft ageing sag of the skin below his eyes. And in the morning, he liked to look at the private territory of John's throat and clavicles and few inches of pale chest. John mostly smelled nice, even though his feet did go a bit sweaty and rancid by the end of the day. When they sat quite close to each other, which Sherlock engineered a few times, it felt easy and comfortable, didn't make Sherlock nebulously jumpy and tense, the way it had with most of the other people who'd ever wanted to sit close to him.

Those people had always wanted sex.

The question of whether it was remotely possible that John wanted sex was secondary, only worth addressing after Sherlock had formulated and run an experiment to determine whether he himself was capable. It seemed possible; it wouldn't actually be worse than the Bond films, and he'd sat through those with far less incentive.

He managed to once skim a hand across the back of John's head reaching to hold a door, and felt the nap of John's hair momentarily against the side of his thumb, soft, yet coarse.

He contrasted the way John smelled just after his morning shower with how he smelled at noon, and at the end of the day. (Sweat crossed the line from interesting to unpleasant around 7pm on a normal day, but much earlier if they'd been very active.)

Twice he deliberately brushed his elbow across John's chest to make John jolt and hear his catch of breath.

None of the resulting data was conclusive, and Sherlock found it humiliating to be so indecisive. But at least the only part of this John seemed to notice was the smelling, and he took it in his stride with the usual eye rolling and an eventual, "Sherlock, have you slipped me something I'm supposed to be sweating out?"

"What? No." It was an idea though.

"So you're sniffing me, why, exactly?"

"Mrs. Nelson is pregnant."

"You're sniffing me because Mrs. Nelson -- who's Mrs. Nelson, by the way? -- is pregnant."

"You smell of the sauce from those revolting pulled pork sandwiches which you only ever eat from the street stall Squeak Squeak, run by Arnold Nelson, who made an advertising stunt of his wedding six months ago. Squeak Squeak's usual set up is at the Black Heart, but you didn't go to Camden today. So, they've moved their stall. Why? Not been moved on, because the Kimchi Cult stall is still there, according to their twitter feed. In fact, as it's a prime spot, the only reason to move is the smell of fermented cabbage from the competition. But would that bother the stomach of anyone who spends their life up to their elbows in pulled pork? Not unless they'd suddenly developed a dodgy tum. Why? Morning sickness. You smell of pulled pork today therefore Mrs. Nelson is pregnant."

"Okay. I'll, yeah, I'll tell her mazel tov next time I'm by," John said, faintly. "Christ, you need a case."

He did. A decent case and he'd likely forget the whole stupid business of John's scent and John's sensitive nipples and John's proficient kisses.

It took another week, but he got one, a delicious case that took four glorious days to solve. The last day, they stole a lorry containing one hundred and seventeen lamps and only broke forty one of them in the ensuing chase, and at one particularly thrilling juncture John threatened to cut a woman's throat with the ragged glass of a broken light bulb unless she dropped the nail gun she held pointed at Sherlock's skull.

With the last of the industrial spies caught and three sizable payoffs from three different software firms paid into their account, John settled cheerfully into his chair at home while Sherlock paced and explained a few details of the solution that he'd had to abridge earlier when things got particularly hectic.

John was listening, smiling and avid. His eyes looked big and dark and blue. He was impressed and Sherlock was fantastic, and John didn't even have to say it.

And Sherlock just bent over and kissed him, fingers briefly wrapping round the back of John's neck, where the hair was getting shaggy and starting to curl. Sherlock's mouth was closed, but John's lips were just very slightly parted, so that Sherlock could feel the dryness of the thin lower lip but also just a hint of the humid silk inside. It didn't last long, and it was very soft, and it was certainly the most intimate physical experience Sherlock had ever had. As he pulled back and straightened he was already saying, "John-- I didn't -- "

John was staring at him in quite a different way now, but he put his hand up, palm toward Sherlock. "No. It's, no, no, no, it's okay. It's -- I mean, don't do it again, but... it's okay, um, that you did that. It's -- Sherlock, it's okay."

"John -- "

"No, no, listen. It -- look, we don't have a problem -- unless, Sherlock, do we have a problem?" John's brow and the tilt of his head suggested that, as usual, he was willing to clear up the debris from the explosion if Sherlock came clean about any biohazards involved.

John had not, to Sherlock's certain knowledge, contacted Sarah again beyond a phone call the morning after they'd had sex. John had not spent the last four days running around with Sarah. John had not threatened anyone with a broken lightbulb for Sarah, his colour high and his breath fast and his eyes so focused it was as if all the life in his body were concentrated on that one moment when he was saving Sherlock.

Sherlock smiled, because: John. Just John. The kiss had been very good. It had also been enough. Quite enough.

He wished that things were different, and yet he was perfectly happy with how things were. The wish ached a little, a kind of pain he wasn't used to. The happiness ached too. Seemingly contradictory, but undeniable.

"No, we don't have a problem."

"Well... hmm... okay, yes, good then. Good."

Sherlock nodded and turned around and went to the kitchen. That hand he'd been working on ought to be just about ready now. He took it out of the refrigerator and started pulling the nails with a pair of tweezers.

When he'd noted down his results, he said, not looking at John, "I might. Do it again. Later..." He turned and did look. John was just waiting, face on the apprehensive edge of neutral. "On... New Years?"

That seemed reasonable. Yearly was infrequent enough that John wouldn't get the wrong idea. And he was fairly sure that kissing was a New Years tradition.

"Not New Years, Sherlock," John said. He said it as if it should be obvious why not, but also as if the date, and not the prospect of another kiss, were the main problem.

"Yes, fine," said Sherlock. "Then, Christmas. No. That's inappropriate. Is that inappropriate? Why is that inappropriate? Never mind. Not Easter, I never remember Easter. Your birthday? No, no. I might not remember that either. My birthday?"

John shook his head, "Yeah, fine." He sounded only about as exasperated as when Sherlock filled the kitchen basin with viscera. Then, more forcefully, he said, "Not in front of people."

"No," Sherlock agreed. He had no intention of sharing that with anyone else. He'd remember to check for bugs, just in case Mycroft got any ideas.

"Okay. Right. Yeah. Well... I was just after chips and a cheese sandwich tonight. Unless you're in the mood for takeaway -- "

"Not eating," Sherlock said. "Busy." He went back to the hand. The discolouration in the nail beds was several shades darker than his initial prediction. He wondered how many more samples he could get out of Molly in the next day or so. Sherlock was tremendously interested in the human body.