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Through the Layers

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Everything about Sherlock Holmes screams dom.

From the moment of first impact, as John later thinks of it, in the classroom at St Bart’s, there was no doubt that the consulting detective was a dom through and through. There was just something unmistakable about the way that Sherlock carried himself, a subtle bit of self-confidence that John has never been able to figure out how to replicate. Strangely, in spite of that there is none of the cocky assurance that John has come to associate with most doms: Sherlock does not have to expect anything, it just is.

The situation is dangerous from the beginning, hardly ideal and no sane sub would willing go along with it, which is why – even though he would normally choose to ignore a command from a random dom – John cannot resist showing up at 221b Baker Street. It all escalates so quickly that before he knows it he’s agreed to move in and then killed a man just to keep Sherlock safe from harm. That’s not usually what subs do, and when he and Sherlock walk off to have a dinner together in the aftermath of the case John can sense that he’s managed to pique Sherlock’s curiosity.

Nothing about John Watson screams sub.

Not many subs make it into the army, and there’s extensive and regular psychological testing for the few that do. John passed all of those tests with flying colours, to the point where one of the therapists felt the need to sit him down and ask point blank if he was sure that he was a sub. That had opened the possibility of doors for him, and to this day one of the hardest things in his life was saying yes. But he’s not ashamed of being a sub and he wasn’t ready to deny that part of his life.

In retrospect, he probably would’ve said no. It might've kept him in the army even after his injury, instead of getting sent home.

Only then he might not be here, and he honestly can’t decide whether or not that would be a bad thing. Here is on the edge of his bed, trying to figure out what to do about Sherlock. Because the thing is, Sherlock has made it abundantly clear from day one that he is not interested in having a sub. He’s unattached and that’s the way he likes it. Most doms have a deep-seated desire to protect and provide for someone, to be given the right to control, to use their push to coax a sub down into bliss that echoes back. For some of them, not using the push for a prolonged length of time can even be painful.

Sherlock doesn’t seem to suffer from that, possibly because he uses fleeting touches of his push every day to get his way. Even other doms are susceptible to it, though John can hardly blame them: when Sherlock Holmes is looming over you demanding your cooperation, he has the upmost respect for anyone who can shove back with a stern no. It’s one of the reasons that John is a little bit in awe of Detective Inspector Lestrade, who may be a sub but can throw off Sherlock’s push with the best of them.

It’s an ability John has never learned, try though he might. Any dom in the army… every dom but one since the army… but it just feels natural to give in to Sherlock even without the push. Thank god Sherlock hasn’t used it on him, seems to realize that’s a line he’s not permitted to cross, and that’s fortunate because John’s fallen far enough as it is without it. He can’t help but think that if Sherlock were to use his push… if he were enveloped in the warm, soothingly metaphysical version of Sherlock’s deep voice that invites him to let go and submit…

“No,” John whispers harshly, hardly aware of how hard he is scrubbing his hands through his hair. It’s a bad habit he picked up from Sherlock when he gets frustrated, and he stops as soon as he realizes what he’s doing. He can’t want this. Not with Sherlock. Not with anyone who will expect him to be a sub, and that’s what Sherlock would (rightfully so) want.

That’s the problem, though. He does want it, wants it so badly that sometimes the craving is physical and makes him shake. It’s too easy to pretend that the little orders Sherlock gives carelessly, never pausing to think that they could mean something, actually do. Too easy to dream at night about Sherlock’s hands on his body, giving both pleasure and punishment or some deliciously twisted blend of both. Too easy to let himself believe that the intensity between them is fraught with sexual desire and not just Sherlock’s normal state of mind.

Too easy to think about letting go of the past and giving in, because maybe with Sherlock he could forget –

“No!” Uttering the word louder this time, John stands up and stalks over to the window. His breath comes too fast, like he’s been running instead of sitting on his bed trying not to think about the man just downstairs. Shame and desire course through his belly and he clenches his fists with a shake of his head.

“Get your head in the game, Watson,” he mutters, glaring out at the brilliantly sunny day. This is getting out of control. He’d nearly kissed Sherlock earlier over a cup of tea, had leaned down to hand Sherlock the full cup and been seized by the urge to lean a little closer. Had lingered too long, torn up with wishing that Sherlock would take the choice out of his hands even if John would fight him over it, until Sherlock blinked at him and asked with a spiteful mutter if there was something he needed.

He needs to deal with this once and for all, get it out of his system before even Sherlock – clueless though the man can often be when it comes to matters of the heart – notices.

When he first returned to London, Ella had tentatively suggested that he visit one of those clubs that everyone always whispered about back when he was in school. Little places where doms will take care of subs for free or vice versa, subs willing to go on their knees for the lonely dom. She’d encouraged him to visit, even pointed out that the army would pay for it to help him get reacquainted to civilian life.

“You’ve spent too long fighting against doms, John,” she’d said with that patient, knowing head tilt he hated so much. “You have to start learning how to let them in again, remember that not every dom is your enemy. The anonymity of these places could be an excellent fit for you.”

At the time he’d refused, fed up with her continual lectures about trust and the need to submit that left him aching with hunger at night. Now he seizes his coat and walks out of his bedroom, pulling it on as he clumps down the stairs. The flat is quiet, to the point where he wonders if Sherlock left while he was upstairs trying to get a hold on himself. God that would be wonderful, being able to slip out without bloody Sherlock trying to deduce everywhere he goes (because there’s a part of him that gets a thrill from that, thinks it means his dom is keeping tabs on him).

Fortune, however, rarely smiles kindly on him, and today proves to be no different. Even though he barely pauses long enough to jam an old set of trainers onto his feet, Sherlock still has time to walk into the room. He's actually dressed, notable only because he's spent the last two days camped out on the sofa in his dressing gown and speaking only to order John to fetch the laptop or make a new cup of tea. John doesn't need to look at his face to know that a new case is in the air. He can sense it just from the way Sherlock is moving around the room, collecting his jacket, putting a delicate experiment aside so that Mrs Hudson won't bin it while he's out, and fetching his mobile phone from where it's be stuffed between the sofa cushions.

"John," he says as he tugs his coat on and pulls the collar up, and John has to look away, nearly missing the added, "good, you're ready. Lestrade texted me."

"What?" John says.

"A new case! Lestrade's been sending me some photos, apparently there were two bodies found in the middle of -"

"No." John doesn't want to hear it, because if he stands there and listens he knows he'll feel compelled to go along with Sherlock to find out what exactly is going on. Already he can feel the familiar thrill in the pit of his belly, the desire to fall in line behind Sherlock like a good sub and follow him into whatever danger Sherlock chooses to put them in.

" - a crowded parking lot, loads of witnesses and no one saw anything, not that I'm surprised -"

"I said no, Sherlock."

This time it gets through. Sherlock trails off and stares at him hard, one eyebrow raised. John stiffens under the intensity of that look, refusing to wilt. It's both addictive and terrifying when Sherlock looks at him like this. He can never get enough of it, having all of that attention to himself, but at the same time he's never quite sure what Sherlock will see. There's too much risk that Sherlock will be able to see below the surface to what John so desperately needs to keep hidden and he turns away, almost staggering, catching himself with a hand to the door. He leans there for a few seconds, the craving a dull buzzing humming jagged underneath his skin.

"I said no," he repeats slower, forcing his voice to come out steady. "I have an appointment that I can't miss. You're going to have to go to this one on your own. I'll - I'll text you later, find out where you are, maybe I can join you if you haven't already solved the case."

"John, it will be -"

He can't stand here and listen to whatever else Sherlock is going to say, because if Sherlock actually asks him to come instead of just assuming that he will John knows he'll fold. He's not that strong. He pushes the door open and propels himself out, down the stairs and past Mrs Hudson's flat. The icy cold London air is like a punch to the gut and he gasps, turning quickly to the left and shoving his hands deep in his pockets. This is the first time he's ever turned down a case with Sherlock and it sits heavy on his chest, mocking him. If he could only keep himself under control, he would be able to join Sherlock whenever he wanted, wouldn't need to miss out on whatever fantastic case Sherlock is going to be a part of.

"Next time, Sherlock," he mutters under his breath, panting slightly from the fast pace. "Next time, I swear, I'll be alright. I'll get this out of my system and we'll go back to normal. Just give me a couple of hours, you can give me that much. That's all I need. I swear."

Just a couple of hours.