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Cooperative Principle

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It’s called the Foot-in-the-door Technique, and at St. Bart’s, the foot in question belongs to one Sherlock Holmes. John was warned on his first day, but having already seen poor Molly Hooper flustered and running about for the man, the warning was unnecessary.

 

Rule One: Whatever Sherlock Holmes asks for, do not give it to him.

 

That’s really the only rule. A small favour leads to a big favour leads to giving the man a severed head. It happens anyway, all over the place. Well, not all over the place, and John has begun to think the severed head incident is more rumour than fact.

 

What is true is that there’s a pattern. There’s very little overlap in the people he targets. Molly in the morgue, Susan in the lab, Mike in the classrooms. Everyone else is used for something small, then dropped. Some mind it more than others and some don’t mind it at all.

 

“I try not to,” John had overheard from Molly one day in the canteen. “I know it’s only the morgue access he wants, but… I’m not usually like this. I swear, I’m not. But.” She’d giggled. “He notices things, all right? It’s nice to be noticed.”

 

John remembers having rolled his eyes at that, his back turned to her. That had been his first week, long before laying eyes on the man.

 

John has since laid eyes on the man.

 

Which is a problem, as now he can’t stop thinking about him. He has the lab reports to grade and lessons to plan, and all he can think about is that long neck and longer coat. PTSD is never known for its great timing, but releasing its stranglehold over his prick the exact moment Sherlock Holmes decided to sweet talk a resident is nothing short of cruel.

 

John grits his teeth, keeps looking over the lab reports, and hears a knock at his office door.

 

For one mad moment, he thinks it might be a student dropping in for office hours, but of course it isn’t. Not with the labs already submitted, and certainly not this late. Or not ever, in the case of most.

 

“Yes? Come in.”

 

Sherlock Holmes opens the door.

 

John’s mouth goes dry. He reaches automatically for his coffee, long gone cold.

 

“Hello-” grey eyes flick to the small sign on the desk “-Dr. Watson. You wouldn’t happen to know where Mike is?”

 

“He’s, um.” John stretches out his arm, the motion freeing his watch from his sleeve. “He’s gone home by now.”

 

“Oh,” Holmes says, and then does not leave.

 

It’s starting.

 

Holmes pulls out a mobile from an inner coat pocket only to pull a face. “Sorry, could I borrow your phone? I can’t get any signal on mine.”

 

John points his pen at the phone on his desk. He focuses on the paper in front of him.

 

Holmes doesn’t move. “I prefer to text.”

 

John hums.

 

“Could I borrow your mobile? Just for a moment. It’s important.”

 

John makes the mistake of looking up.

 

His cock makes the mistake of being a cock, which is less a mistake in itself and more a mistake waiting to happen. Preferably, a mistake waiting to happen to or with the man in front of him.

 

His mobile is in his hand before he even decides to reach for it. He holds it out and Holmes takes it, long fingers dragging against John’s. Deliberate. Has to be.

 

Holmes smiles. It touches his eyes, flushing cool colour with warmth. “Sherlock,” he says.

 

“Sorry?”

 

Pink lips twitch. “My name.”

 

“John,” John says. He points to the plaque with his name on it, the one Sherlock already read.

 

Grey eyes stay on John’s face. Not so much as a glance away. John tries very hard not to shift in his chair.

 

Sherlock’s smile relocates to the corner of his mouth as he finally begins his text. As promised, it’s quick. He hands the mobile back to John, reaching over the desk. Their fingers do not brush. John beats down his disappointment.

 

“Thank you,” Sherlock murmurs. His voice matches his eyes, as deep and tempting as the folds of his coat.

 

John smiles tightly in reply. “Sorry.” He taps the end his pen on the page. “I need to get through these.”

 

“Of course.”

 

John keeps his eyes on the paper.

 

Sherlock doesn’t leave.

 

John looks up.

 

“You missed two spelling errors in the first paragraph,” Sherlock informs him. When John doesn’t look, Sherlock points. John’s eyes track his hand. “Here and here.”

 

“Oh.” John nods. “Thank you. I must be getting tired.” Or distracted.

 

“I’m heading home myself. Care to split a cab?”

 

John shakes his head. “Tired doesn’t mean leaving.”

 

Sherlock flicks a polite smile across his face. It looks more like a flinch.

 

“Good evening.” John returns to the lab report, circles the two spelling errors, and continues until Sherlock leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

Briefcase put away, cane still in his hand, John sits heavily on his bed. He kicks off his shoes, lies down, and swears at pain that doesn’t have cause to exist. He needs a distraction. Something. Anything.

 

His first thought is of Sherlock.

 

Analysis. Analysis of Sherlock, he means.

 

The phone first—no, wait. Mike’s location first. Then the phone. Specifically, John’s mobile. Then the cab. Easy enough to draw a line there. No changing his schedule for the con artist of St. Bart’s.

 

He tries to imagine what Sherlock could want from him when he already has Mike. Their positions are exceedingly close.

 

Checking his mobile, the last sent text makes little sense. Rather, it makes perfect sense, but exactly the wrong way.

 

This is my number. SH

 

John stares at it. At the message, at the number it was sent to.

 

He doesn’t delete it, but he doesn’t add it to his contacts either.

 

 

 

 

 

A quick knock, and the door opens without permission. When it comes to literal doors, Sherlock doesn’t simply stick in his foot; he uses his entire body.

 

John raises his eyebrows.

 

 “Afghanistan or Iraq?”

 

John blinks.

 

“Which was it?” Sherlock asks, stepping fully into his shoebox of an office. “Afghanistan or Iraq. I asked Mike, but he has no idea.”

 

“You and Mike were talking about me?”

 

“No, I was talking to Mike about you,” Sherlock corrects, settling into the single chair opposite. “He thinks you were shot in the leg. I wouldn’t call him a reliable resource. Which was it?”

 

“Afghanistan.” John glances at his cane, hooked on the side of his desk. “Sorry, how did you know I wasn’t shot in the leg?”

 

“You forget your limp when you teach. Obviously psychosomatic.  As for the actual wound, it’s the left shoulder. With the cane in your right hand, the obvious choice of action would be to lift anything heavy with your left hand, not the right. You consistently avoid this.”

 

“‘Consistently’?” John repeats. “You’ve been watching me.”

 

“Obviously.”

 

“Er. Why?”

 

Sherlock shrugs.

 

“No,” John says. “Really. Tell me or leave. And I do mean leave. Really leave.”

 

“You leave the lecture hall door open,” Sherlock reminds him. “The limp is consistent when you’re writing on the board, but it disappears when you take questions, particularly questions pertaining to trauma or field surgery. You lean back against your desk but you distribute your weight evenly.”

 

“Okay, no. Get out.”

 

“Why? I haven’t--”

 

“You haven’t said why, no.”

 

A pause. Sherlock shuts his mouth, which is a shame. He runs a rough hand through his hair, which is well-worth watching, a lunatic and a creep or not. “I was getting to that.”

 

John pointedly checks his watch.

 

“Three weeks ago, I was walking by your door when a student dropped her textbook,” Sherlock says.

 

Oh, Christ.

 

“Three hundred pages, possibly four, hardcover,” Sherlock continues. “The last edition was three hundred eighty-four, definitely on the heavy side. It hit the floor flat, creating a percussive bang. Your reaction was unexpected.”

 

He ignores the rising flush in his face. “And you’ve been watching ever since? Waiting to see the ex-solider crack, is that it?”

 

Sherlock scoffs. “Obviously not. That was a highly trained reflex, not a flashback. I’ve never seen a man with a limp move so quickly. Fluidly. That was a controlled duck for cover, not a blind dive behind your desk. You intrigued me.”

 

Him and the rest of the bloody place.

 

“So few people are truly interesting, John,” Sherlock laments. He leans forward, elbows on his knees. “I thought it was psychosomatic then, but I couldn’t be sure without dropping by again. Only once, if that’s what you’re worried about. I say ‘if’. It obviously is. I’m not stalking you.”

 

“Do people often think you’re stalking them?” John can’t help asking.

 

Sherlock grins a little. “Sometimes. I’m a consulting detective. It’s a danger of the job. I take details and form complete pictures. Everyone does, of course, but I’m accurate.”

 

“You had to check for the country,” John reminds him.

 

The grin widens. “I narrowed it down to two. I know you invalided out in October. I know you attended Bart’s and were pulled in to teach by Mike after an unexpected maternity leave. You were well-liked at uni as well as talented – you and Mike could hardly have been in the same year, but the intervening time would have been enough to erase his deference to you if he hadn’t admired you in the first place.”

 

John digs his heels in, refusing to be impressed, but he can feel himself slipping.

 

“Coffee?” Sherlock asks.

 

“What?” He glances at the empty mug on his desk.

 

“Would you care for some?”

 

John can’t quite follow. Not the conversation, and certainly not to the canteen. There are stairs and long halls. The nearest lift is in the wrong direction.

 

“No,” John says. If Sherlock wants to study his limp, he’ll have to do it some other time. Or, better yet, not at all. “Why, were you about to tell me how I take it?”

 

Sherlock presses his palms together and peers steadily across the desk. “Black,” he says. “Initially, you used an excess of creamer and sugar when you returned to England, but old habits have since resurfaced. The dislike of the taste outweighed the sense of luxury. Which makes you feel uncomfortable in large doses as it is. Also, you don’t mind it cold because you’re often focused on long tasks through a single cup.”

 

John stares at him.

 

Sherlock doesn’t blink.

 

“How, um?”

 

Sherlock twitches his smile. “When I stopped by two days ago, you had an unopened creamer and sugar packet next to your mug. None today.”

 

“And about taking it cold?”

 

“That was the most obvious piece: it was cold two days ago. You drank it when I came in. You didn’t mind.”

 

“You remember the coffee on my desk two days ago.”

 

“Obviously.”

 

John nearly gapes at him, but he remembers Molly in time. The flustered protest: Sherlock notices details. It is nice to be noticed.

 

“Okay,” he says instead. “I suppose that’s a bit impressive.”

 

“‘A bit’?”

 

John laughs. He doesn’t mean to, but it’s the only response to indignation like that. “A bit,” he agrees, grinning.

 

“But still no to the coffee.”

 

“Still no.”

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “If you insist.” He stands and leaves, but he smiles at John before closing the door behind him.

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, Sherlock walks in, puts a coffee down on John’s desk, and walks out again without a word. It’s a Friday, unfortunately. John has to wait until his office hours on Tuesday to see if Sherlock will do it again.

 

 

 

 

 

He does.

 

 

 

 

 

On Thursday as well.

 

 

 

 

 

On Friday, there’s no sign of him. John tells himself the sense of expectation is from conditioning, which means the disappointment is as well.

 

After he leaves Bart’s and limps toward the Barbican tube stop, his mobile chimes. Stuck in skip with recording equipment. Armed man outside. Desperately bored. SH

 

John stares. Shouldn’t you be texting the police?

 

Already did. Waiting. Bored. SH

 

He keeps on climbing and only checks his mobile before he’s about to descend the many steps down to the Underground.

 

Be interesting. SH

 

Can’t, John replies. Not enough caffeine.

 

It’s a very long, very nervous ride toward his flat. Once aboveground, he still has no new texts.

 

You okay?

 

No reply.

 

He saves the number to his contacts. It doesn’t help exactly, but it’s something.

 

 

 

 

He Googles Sherlock Holmes that night, dreading news reports, and finds the man’s website instead. It looks like a mound of pretentious shite, but having seen the man do it in person, John’s oddly uncertain.

 

Another post goes up before Sherlock texts him back. No matter: that’s all John was looking for anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

On Tuesday morning, he catches himself mulling over his wardrobe. All day, he catches himself fussing with his appearance, which is terrible, because this is Sherlock, and of course Sherlock is going to know.

 

 

 

 

 

Sherlock does know, that much is obvious. He beams as he sets the cardboard cup on John’s desk.

 

“Thanks,” John acknowledges.

 

“You’re welcome.” His eyes fall to John’s chest and linger on his shirt. It’s not a particularly nice shirt and John isn’t wearing a tie, but it does go well with the cardigan, a faded blue to the strong brown. The cardigan makes John look a bit older and possibly a bit dull. “Wrong.”

 

John blinks. “Sorry?”

 

“You were thinking your clothing serves to make you appear uninteresting. Wrong.”

 

“And... why would I be thinking that?”

 

“To ascertain the degree to which you have my interest,” Sherlock supplies.

 

John smiles as politely as he can. “What degree would that be?”

 

“Did you realise the effect is very similar to that of your eyes?” Sherlock asks. “Brown from far away, blue up close? It’s the opposite of dull.”

 

As consciously as he possibly can, John digs his heels in. He reminds himself of Molly, in both senses of the phrase. He does that a lot, lately. “Sorry, what was it you said you wanted?”

 

“I didn’t.” As if on cue, his mobile chimes. He checks it, sighs, and stands. “I have to cut this short today. Suspect on the move.” He offers John his hand.

 

Using the arms of his chair to do so, then the surface of his desk, John stands. It’s that, or crane his neck up at the man and strain for the reach. He supports himself with his left arm, weight on his left leg. He shakes Sherlock’s hand. Sherlock’s palm is warm and slightly damp. To be fair, so is John’s.

 

Sherlock smiles and John waits for it, for something. A tug or a caress or something. John needs a motion to resist, a gesture to reject. Instead, Sherlock casually releases his hand and walks out of his office.

 

 

 

 

 

After mulling this over for hours, John realises what was wrong with that exchange. The first day, the very first time Sherlock had walked in, he’d claimed not to have reception. Obviously, he does. Where there’s one lie, there are bound to be others, and John responds thusly:

 

He talks to Mike. Mike doesn’t seem very concerned, but Mike thinks the best of everyone.

 

He talks to Molly. Molly sighs and talks about her version of Sherlock, who appears to be very different from John’s version of Sherlock.

 

He talks to anyone known to have been persuaded into something idiotic by Sherlock Holmes. Use of equipment, mostly. No stolen medication, no stolen anything. Though he effectively has run of the building whenever he cares to have it, he’s never taken anything that wasn’t given to him. He has been persistent in asking, however, and that’s why everyone reminds John of Rule One. They accompany the reminder with a gentle sort of pity, as if to say, yes, you’ll do exactly what he wants, but it’s hardly your fault. You’re not the first and you certainly won’t be the last.

 

By Thursday, he makes up his mind about the whole business. He emails his students, locks his office, and holds office hours in the lecture hall instead. He does not post a sign on his office door and he does not respond to texts on his mobile.

 

On Friday, Sherlock finds him. He does not bring John coffee. Instead, he sits in the lecture hall, all the way at the top, and watches John deal with the undergrads. John times the afternoon well and packs up to leave with the last two of his students. Convenient if annoyingly sympathetic, they keep pace with him up the stairs and into the hall. John doesn’t so much as glance at the man and the moment he’s outside, he hails a taxi.

 

The weekend is torturous. He expects texts which never come. He needs some sign of pursuit to justify running but finds nothing. Saturday night is full of twitching dreams, golden between the rust. He wakes for the last time mid-wank and finishes without satisfaction. He blots out tingling hope with simple fact: Sherlock is exactly the kind of man John never bothers chatting up in a bar for a very good reason. John never stood a chance before he became a limping cripple with a bad shoulder and grey in his hair. That leaves only one option, and John won’t be used.

 

Sunday, Sherlock updates his website with a short piece explaining the behaviours pertinent to being a consulting detective. There is an entire section on chase tactics and how pursuit must culminate in a form of confrontation.

 

Until the matter is resolved or a theory disproven, it must be pursued. To do otherwise is too great a risk.

 

Does Sherlock know John’s reading this? Is he hoping?

 

Monday isn’t entirely spent wondering what “matter” or “theory” Sherlock has regarding John, but it’s a close thing.

 

Tuesday morning, John decides confrontation is the only option. All that’s left is to wait.

 

 

 

 

 

A lot of waiting, it seems. His office hours drag on. He tutors and advises, keeping an eye on the open lecture hall door. His students leave, but he lingers, longer and longer still. Finally giving up when his stomach cries out for dinner, he packs up his things and limps around to the other side of the desk where his coat had fallen off earlier. Right hand on the desk, he turns his cane over and picks up his coat with the cane’s handle. This accomplished, he hooks the cane on the side of the desk and puts on his coat, promptly knocking his cane to the floor. It hits the floor at an angle and bounces away from the desk.

 

Fuck.”

 

Supporting himself with the desk, John edges toward his cane. He reaches the corner of the desk, but he does not reach his cane. He tries reaching out with his right leg, but his leg isn’t having it. He’ll have to kneel down and reach.

 

God, he hates this part.

 

Before he can move, the lecture hall door closes.

 

Arms braced, shoulders hunched, John swears under his breath to the sound of Sherlock Holmes’s footsteps down the stairs. He doesn’t need to look over his shoulder to see who it is. He keeps his back turned and his face hidden. The footsteps stop behind him, close enough to touch.

 

“I’m told most people find mixed signals off-putting,” Sherlock remarks. “I don’t.”

 

“Mixed?” Out of the corner of his eye, John fixes his gaze on his cane. Sherlock could pick it up and walk away with it. John would be trapped down here, too many stairs between him and the exit. The thought humiliates more than it frightens.

 

“You’ve been avoiding me. A strange tactic for a man as direct as yourself. If you wanted me gone, you would have told me. You have my number. You could have texted—it would have been enough. In your short time here, you’ve been a very strict enforcer of the sexual harassment policy. If my advances were unwanted, you would have explicitly said so.

 

“Instead, you avoid me. Not much, not well. It could have simply been a change of schedule, but you refused to look at me on Friday. Avoiding, it is.” He steps closer. His open coat brushes against the back of John’s legs and settles there, closer to an itch than a tickle. “Who decides to avoid a detective? Don’t tell me you’re that stupid—I won’t believe you.” His voice rumbles down into John’s ear. His breath is hot. “You wanted to see if I would follow. Here I am. A week ago, you wore this same cardigan in the attempt to appear boring. It would take a great deal more to do that.”

 

A light touch, two, three light touches. Fingertips on his sides, faintly felt through his coat. Soft heat finds the edge of John’s ear, the smallest touch of lips. John’s hands splay out on his desk.

 

“Your self-perception is skewed by your injury. This alters your assumptions and therefore your reactions. They’re wrong. Your assumptions are. Your reactions are fascinating.” He presses his mouth to John’s ear as he speaks, and John’s head slowly tilts beneath the soft, warm pressure of lips and breath. His neck offers itself up, lonely and wanting.

 

“Like this,” Sherlock murmurs against his skin, above his skin, the very edge of contact. “You’re responsive, you’re aroused, and yet you refuse to reciprocate. You want more, but you won’t say yes. Do you want to see how far I’ll take this?” Nearly a true touch, only nearly, all breath and no kiss. A deep, fond chuckle instead, the rumble so close to John’s back. The slightest tilt would lay him against it, against a narrow chest and a long coat.

 

“It’s unlike you to be so passive, John. You’ve told yourself you’re deciding, but that’s not true, is it? If you meant to refuse, you would have done so immediately. You... ah. You think I’m teasing. You have no idea why—your skewed self-image at work—and you think I’ll stop the moment you give in.” A warm pause, an indulgent silence. “Wrong. John, that’s when I’ll begin.” His mouth, firm, pressing below the ear. His open mouth, his tongue.

 

John’s neck surrenders. His head lolls onto his own shoulder, rolls against Sherlock’s. Arms close around his middle, securing him against Sherlock’s chest as his legs attempt to buckle. Sherlock blazes against the small of his back and John’s hips squirm for better contact even as they long to press against the desk. He’s hard, he is so hard.

 

Sherlock’s cheek presses against his in a rough and desperate nuzzle. “Say yes, John. Agree or I stop. John, please.”

 

“Wh-what,” John gasps. So much heat, so little air. “What am I agreeing to?”

 

“Tonight. Just to tonight. That’s all.”

 

“What else?”

 

“Just tonight. I promise.”

 

He makes a grab at Sherlock’s arm and has to try twice. “After this. Tomorrow. What...?”

 

Sherlock drags John tighter against him, achieving delectable impossibility. “I’ll ask for tomorrow night.”

 

“After that?”

 

“More nights.” Teeth now, nipping.

 

John reaches back, buries his hand in thick curls. Don’t stop. “Fuck.

 

“Yes, doing that.”

 

John bucks against the desk. Sherlock’s hips follow. They both groan.

 

He has to swallow, has to strain for air, and the sounds he makes are unintelligible.

 

“After that,” Sherlock answers anyway, “I would like to be exclusive.”

 

“You want to date me?” His fingers tighten in Sherlock’s hair. A bite, a hard one, and John’s trousers have never been so uncomfortable. He swears. He swears and he keens a bit and he grinds his arse into Sherlock’s cock until Sherlock is swearing too, clutching at John, hips snapping.

 

“John, fuck, too much- too much, I can’t-!”

 

John turns in his arms, struggling in the tight grip. Noses hit, teeth clack against teeth, and John grabs at Sherlock’s belt, undeterred. Sherlock’s no help, hands on John’s face, fingers curled around his ears. His mouth is hard and insistent beneath soft lips. His cock is the same beneath tight denim, under tented cotton. John slips his hand beneath the band.

 

The sounds Sherlock makes.

 

“Quiet,” John urges, and Sherlock drops his face to John’s shoulder. A scrape of motion, Sherlock biting his coat.

 

John strokes him harder, faster, slicking precome down the shaft with each motion, twisting his palm around the head to gather it. He sucks on the ear so close to his face and tastes hair. Doesn’t matter. Does not fucking matter, not when he has Sherlock Holmes falling apart in his arms.

 

Sherlock groans his name through a mouthful of fabric, thrusting deep into John’s hand, and John uses both to bring him off the rest of the way. In an old instinct born of supply closet shags, he catches the come on his hands, not their clothes. No tissues in sight, a problem. God, he needs to unzip his own fly.

 

Still panting against John’s shoulder, Sherlock presses John backward, forces John’s arse against the desk. Solid hands secure John’s twitching hips.

 

Then he drops. The man simply drops. He sets his forehead just above the button of John’s trousers and audibly inhales. Quick fingers make short work of John’s fly.

 

John swears.

 

John swears a lot. A blowjob blatantly offered, and he doesn’t have a condom.

 

Sherlock does. He rolls it onto John in an instant, his mouth following an instant after, and the wait between the touch and the heat is an eternity. That heat, that mouth. Sherlock on his knees, his coat a puddle about his feet. Dark curls fall across his pale face and John wants to touch, needs to see, and his hands are still covered in come. No touching. No touching anything. Not the desk behind him, not the man before him.

 

“I want to see,” John demands. If he can’t touch, he must have that. “I want, oh.”

 

Sinking lower, angling his face up, Sherlock brushes the curls off his forehead. Glazed eyes gaze up at John above flushed cheeks and pink lips. Sherlock has yet to tuck away his own cock.

 

For the second time, John’s neck gives up. His chin drops to his chest. His eyelids fight to fall. John comes until he’s shaking, and he pants until he’s limp.

 

Gently, almost tender, Sherlock cleans him up. He has tissues in his coat and he cleans John’s hands as well as his cock. He can’t seem to stop kissing John, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, John follows Sherlock quite willingly to the rubbish bin on the other side of the desk. He pulls back only once the height difference grows too painful for his neck.

 

“What do you think?” Sherlock asks.

 

“Do you always go around with flavoured condoms?”

 

Sherlock grins and they snog a bit more. Sherlock keeps moving and John keeps following, not entirely sure where this is literally going until Sherlock murmurs, “Step.” John does, and the stairs even out the height difference nicely. Sherlock slips his hands under John’s coat, between his cardigan and his shirt, and it only seems fair to respond in kind. The petting is heavy, if lethargic.

 

“John.”

 

“Mm?”

 

“You still haven’t said,” Sherlock prompts.

 

“Said what?”

 

“Tonight. You haven’t said anything.”

 

John blinks a bit. He looks at mussed hair and bruised lips and tries to suss out exactly when reality went from being a pile of shit to being incredibly kind. “What exactly does ‘tonight’ mean?”

 

“It means,” Sherlock answers, brushing his lips across John’s and migrating toward his ear, “that we are going to leave Bart’s together. We will take a cab to a restaurant—Italian, Chinese, or Indian—and then we will take a second cab to your flat. I’ll pay.” Beginning at John’s shoulders, his fingers smooth down John’s arms until they reach John’s hands. They thread through and squeeze tight. “Once there, you’ll decide whether to invite me in for coffee. And I do mean sex. After, you’ll decide whether you’d prefer to wake up with company. Is that acceptable?”

 

“Yes.” John nods. “Yes, that is, um.” He clears his throat. “Yeah.”

 

They kiss a bit more. The artificial taste of flavoured latex has long since faded. They keep trying to stop, but they might as well have magnets in their foreheads, keeping them forever in range.

 

“What are you considering?” Sherlock asks. “It’s my outline, but it’s your plan, John.”

 

“Oh, Christ.” John tries to think. “Can you come from anal?”

 

A burst of colour sweeps up Sherlock’s face.

 

“It’s okay if you can’t,” John assures him. “Blood flow and all that.”

 

“Considering for dinner,” Sherlock corrects.

 

John giggles. “Right. Man cannot live on rimming alone.”

 

Sherlock gapes at him.

 

John kisses his nose. “Italian. Italian is good.”

 

Sherlock recovers enough to grin back and practically chases John up the stairs. John lets himself be caught at the door, turning around to make a token attempt at smoothing down Sherlock’s hair. It quickly deteriorates into mussing Sherlock’s hair, and this is ridiculous. This is insane. He can’t stop giggling into Sherlock’s mouth, but Sherlock looks so delighted. As if seducing John ‘Hasn’t Had a Shag in Years’ Watson is an actual accomplishment.

 

Finally, they put themselves into something resembling order, but Sherlock catches John’s arm when he reaches for the door. “Forgetting something?” Sherlock prompts.

 

Frowning, John looks down to the desk with his briefcase still on it. His cane, still on the floor.

 

His leg gives out.

 

He doesn’t shout as he falls. He doesn’t grab at Sherlock or the wall. He tucks the way he’s been trained, refusing to hit the stairs with head or elbow or hands. He means to relax, but he hits hard enough and tense enough to bruise. He only skids down a few steps before he catches himself, planting his left leg. Aching, he sits up and stares at the long, long way down to his cane.

 

Belatedly, Sherlock secures him by the shoulders. John shrugs him off.

 

“I’m fine,” he says. “No harm done.”

 

“I thought it would hold,” Sherlock replies, agitated and distant, as if he’s just been slighted by someone far away. “That was well over twenty five minutes.”

 

“You- you noticed? You were keeping track?”

 

“Obviously.” A light touch to the side of John’s face and Sherlock easily descends to gather up John’s things.

 

John’s stomach twists. Molly, he reminds himself. Flirting for bits of things from the morgue, flirting for experiment components. Sherlock’s interest sparking at John’s reaction to a dropped book.

 

He forces himself to stand as Sherlock returns, leaning heavily on the last chair of the row. He takes his cane first, his briefcase second, and he forces a smile as he slings the strap over his good shoulder. The case settles against the small of his back, blocking Sherlock’s hand when he reaches. It saves John the effort.

 

“Sorry,” he says, shying away from an incoming kiss. “This looks like a sitting down kind of night.”

 

Sherlock adjusts his course, nosing toward John’s ear. “That won’t be a problem.”

 

John places his palm gently, firmly on Sherlock’s sternum and presses. Sherlock sways back with the touch, as fluid as any cat in claiming forced relocation as intentional.

 

“We could get takeaway,” Sherlock suggests.

 

“I, no. Thank you.”

 

“Another time, then.”

 

John smiles politely, unable to say no so soon after coming inside the other man’s mouth. Standing at the same level, the height difference makes a lack of eye contact nearly natural.

 

Sherlock opens the door, John exits, and he limps away in the opposite direction as soon as he can.

 

 

 

 

 

“Molly?”

 

She turns around, eyes flicking down to his cane. “Yes, hello?” She glances over her shoulder, biting her lip and clearly in the middle of something. “Sorry, was there something you wanted?”

 

“Right, you’re busy, sorry. I just need to ask about Sherlock Holmes.”

 

Molly’s expression closes off immediately. “What’s he done now?”

 

Nothing John can say without being fired. “I think he wants something from me, but I’m not sure what.”

 

“He’s done the observing bit? Where it comes out and it sort of sounds like a compliment, maybe, and then you realise he’s just saying facts?”

 

John nods before thinking. Because that’s not it, not really. That bit about the cardigan and his eyes, that was observation. Calling him interesting was... well, no, that was observation for Sherlock as well, if he meant it.

 

Before John can fully sort through the past few weeks, Molly begins to nod understandingly. “Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do,” she tells him. “He comes in, you forget how to tell left from right, and he leaves.” She shrugs a bit awkwardly.

 

“Right,” John says. “But he doesn’t actually, well. He’s only verbal?”

 

Molly nods. “As long as I’ve known him.”

 

“Right,” John repeats, because that makes no sense at all. “Thanks.”

 

“Not a problem.”

 

 

 

 

 

On Thursday, having forgotten to notify his students otherwise, he’s still in the lecture hall. It’s surprisingly convenient, as more than one student shows up for a change. They’re dwarfed in the room, every small sound amplified, and yet Sherlock’s entrance somehow goes unnoticed. One minute, the back row is empty. The next, Sherlock Holmes has arrived.

 

John successfully ignores him for the following half an hour, right up until he runs out of students. He stands at the bottom of the lecture hall, looking up at a man positioned directly next to the exit. The exit which is now closed.

 

“I’m making you nervous,” Sherlock states.

 

“No.”

 

Sherlock comes to him, more fluid and graceful than John could have ever hoped to be, even before Afghanistan. He settles in front of John. Despite his posture, he seems to lounge in midair. “I am.”

 

John tightens his hand on his cane. He shifts on his feet. “I’m fine.”

 

“I’m aware. Are you still in the mood for Italian?” he asks. “Or anal. I don’t particularly enjoy the fuss of penetration, but--”

 

“Sherlock,” John says. There’s meant to be an argument after that, but it’s terribly slow in coming.

 

“John.” A half-step, nothing more, but it puts him inside John’s space. The position pulls John’s chin up rather than simply his eyes. Sherlock’s hand hovers beside John’s neck. Sherlock leans down, his nose brushing against John’s. His breath kisses John’s lips. “We’ll do take-away.”

 

John shivers, nearly sways, and the small motion is enough. Sherlock tastes of sweetened coffee and smells like the morgue. John shakes his head, lowering his brow, and Sherlock seems content to rest his lips against John’s forehead.

 

“Done for the day, then?” John asks.

 

“John?” He pulls back. Grey eyes search John’s features.

 

“Had enough flirting with Molly for one day?”

 

Sherlock frowns. “I don’t flirt with Molly.”

 

“Sherlock, the entire hospital knows you do.”

 

“The entire hospital also knows you were shot in the leg,” Sherlock counters.

 

John lifts his chin. “They also weren’t there to see me shot. Everyone sees you with Molly.”

 

“You haven’t.”

 

No, and John doesn’t want to either. He’s very comfortable with having never punched Sherlock and it would be a shame to change this.

 

Sherlock chuckles and leans in. John’s body fails to obey basic commands such as move away and don’t kiss him back. Sherlock’s hand fits nicely against his cheek.

 

“You smile when angry,” Sherlock murmurs.

 

“I’m not angry.”

 

“No, you’re jealous.”

 

John tries and fails to lie to Sherlock’s face.

 

“You needn’t be.” One hand behind his neck, the other at his hip, Sherlock seems determined to drape himself over John. John really ought to refuse. “You’re the only one to lay a hand on me in quite some time. I promise.”

 

John is also the only one at St. Bart’s that Sherlock is trying to experiment on, not simply extract favours from. Saying this is difficult, as it would require having his mouth free. At last, Sherlock turns his mouth on John’s neck rather than his lips. John keeps his balance, holding tight to his cane. He means to speak. He ought to speak.

 

“You’re not reassured.” Sherlock’s lips buzz against his skin.

 

“I don’t, fuck, don’t know you.” He fists his left hand in the back of Sherlock’s coat.

 

An incredulous chuckle. “No?”

 

“We’ve spent more time snogging than talking.”

 

Sherlock hums. His hands slide under John’s coat, around his sides. They curl at the small of his back, bidding him inexorably to arch, to bare his neck and underbelly. Sherlock’s eyes stroke down his exposed, if clothed, body. “True.” He curls around John, returning, as always, to his ear. “Come with me and change that.”

 

“Not tonight.”

 

“No?”

 

“No.”

 

“Fine,” Sherlock allows. His fingertips creep lower, dipping between John’s tucked shirt and his trousers. His leg is very close to John’s crotch and would be so easy to press against. “And what about here?”

 

“Here, you’re trying to get into my pants.”

 

“Trying?” One hand dips lower, touches skin. “Succeeding.”

 

John gives up. The situation is racing towards another blowjob and far be it from him to stop it. He shifts forward as best he can, pressing against Sherlock’s thigh and feeling reciprocating heat against his stomach.

 

Sherlock groans his name, and John kisses him quiet. The hand on his bum slides lower, splays beneath his pants, and John rides those fingers as he rides Sherlock’s thigh.

 

“Oh, fuck. Oh, fuck. Sherlock, Sherlock, I, oh-!” A press, a deliberate press right over his hole. He groans into Sherlock’s neck.

 

“Imagine this on a bed, John. In your bed, John. Do you want that? Lie down and let me feel you between my legs. I want that. Do you want that, John?”

 

“Yes,” John gasps.

 

“We can fuck until we fall asleep. I haven’t done that in years. Or wanted to. Do you want to? Will you fuck me until you can’t move?”

 

John bites at his lips, too dizzy for speech. He drops his cane and grabs at Sherlock reflexively, and Sherlock tugs him eye-crossingly close. They rut against each other, clumsy and hard, desperate to the point of stupidity.

 

“Make me come, John. Please make me come.”

 

Blatantly pornographic, blatantly manipulative, and John nearly comes in his pants all the same.

 

“John, yes.” Sherlock turns him, sets him against the desk, and John clings to it, one foot planted on the floor, the other uncertain. Sherlock leans over him, against him, hurriedly unfastening their belts, their trousers. They pull at each other.

 

John’s head falls back, and the rest of him falls apart. He has to stop, has to hold onto the desk.

 

Sherlock takes a few moments longer, stepping back, staring at John, at all of him, face to his shoes. His eyes linger on John’s panting chest, on his softening cock, and Sherlock wanks himself faster and faster, biting his lip white.

 

John licks his hand, reaches forward, and says, “Fuck my fist.”

 

Sherlock does. God, Sherlock does. His hands slap onto the desk, framing John’s hips.

 

It is quite possibly the best thing John has ever seen.

 

Some point after they’ve regained their breath and Sherlock’s tissue packet has made a reappearance, Sherlock picks up John’s cane and sets it on top of the desk. He crowds John, his hands on top of John’s, and kisses him with obvious determination.

 

John blinks at him slowly.

 

“You were planning to be back in your office tomorrow, correct?”

 

John nods.

 

Sherlock smiles. He kisses John once more, indulgent and oddly sweet. Sweat damp, his curls stick to his forehead. John brushes them off, more than a little sweaty himself.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Sherlock promises.

 

“You’ll be trapped in another skip,” John replies.

 

The smile widens into a grin. “Not this week.” Yet another kiss. Their lips brush, but their breath lingers. Long fingers stroke John’s side, drawing tingling shivers. “Or,” Sherlock adds, “if you’re worried, you could come tonight.”

 

John kisses him no.

 

Sherlock kisses him yes.

 

Much too soon, they kiss goodbye. 

Chapter Text

The takeaway on his desk should not come as a surprise.

 

For all of three seconds, John considers resisting. Then he closes his laptop, stacks the papers on top of it, and sets the entire pile off to one side. Free food is free food. “I hope you brought forks.”

 

“And knives,” Sherlock replies, fishing two Styrofoam containers out of the plastic bag. “Gnocchi or lasagne?”

 

John feigns surprise. “You mean you don’t already know?”

 

Sherlock glares at him, then wordlessly hands John the lasagne.

 

John laughs. “Touché.”

 

There’s approximately three servings of wine in a small box, along with a pair of plastic cups, but John declines and Sherlock follows suit. Sherlock brings them coffee from the canteen instead, leaving John with a strange opportunity to run for it. John decides he doesn’t need to. In fact, he steadfastly refuses to rise from his chair. Sherlock will have to study his limp another day.

 

They eat, though mostly John eats. Sherlock picks at his food. They talk, though mostly Sherlock talks. John asks questions. The door is shut, the office is small, and John’s desk is in turns an imposing and flimsy barrier.

 

“You don’t actually talk about yourself,” John notes, closing his empty Styrofoam box and dropping it in the bin. Sherlock’s is still over half full. “I’m not sure how you’re managing it.”

 

“How so?”

 

“Well,” John says, “normally when someone tells you about a job they did, they say what they did, not what everyone else did.”

 

“What everyone else did is the interesting part,” Sherlock counters. “I already know myself—there’s nothing to uncover.”

 

From anyone else but a detective, John might not accept that response. As it is, he considers it. “Maybe not for you to uncover.” Though he personally doubts it. “Tell me something about you now.”

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes, clearly finding the request childish. “Like what?”

 

“What do you do besides the detecting and the consulting?”

 

“Recently? I’ve been seducing an ex-army doctor for the past month. It’s a rewarding pastime. I highly recommend it.”

 

John decides to take a moment and busy his mouth with his coffee. He swallows. “How rewarding, exactly?”

 

Sherlock’s mouth smiles and his eyes do as well, but the expressions are separate and don’t match in the slightest. Amusement and the need to fuck, and absolutely nothing in between. “Very.”

 

“And, um. Is it the pastime you’re recommending, or the doctor?”

 

“The pastime,” Sherlock answers without hesitation. “I’ve no intention of seeing it become competitive sport.”

 

John sips his coffee. “But if it were competitive sport?”

 

“I would win.”

 

“You’re very confident.”

 

The way Sherlock’s lips stretch into a smirk reminds John of how they looked wrapped around his cock. The smirk widens and widens. “For very good reason, John.”

 

“Care to explain your reasoning?”

 

“We’re on a date.”

 

“Took you a month.”

 

“Three rounds of sex in four days. Very promising.”

 

“No,” John says once motor function of his mouth returns. “Two in three days, and I don’t think it counts in a lecture hall with your kit on.”

 

“Genital stimulation concluding in orgasm: this has happened four times. Oral sex: once. Three handjobs.”

 

There is an obvious question. John swallows. He says as casually as possible, which is not very casually at all, “That’s still two rounds in three days.”

 

“Mm, yes.” Sherlock sets the remains of his dinner on the floor and stands. He pulls his coat from the back of his chair to drop it in front of the door, along the crack at the bottom, and he secures the chair below the doorknob.

 

“Presumptuous.” But even as John’s mind insists this is a terrible, terrible idea, his cock simply loves it. John is not courted. John is the pursuer. John is in charge of chatting up, and everyone else is in charge of shooting down. It is stressful and occasionally rewarding. In no way does it involve gorgeous men tossing a pair of flavoured condoms onto his desk.

 

“As you said,” Sherlock replies, briskly shrugging out of his suit jacket, “I’m very confident.” The jacket goes on the corner of the bookshelf and Sherlock edges around to John’s side of the desk. He clears off a space, sliding the condoms to the side and reaching for, of all things, John’s laptop. He holds it out to John and plucks John’s mug from his unresisting hands. “Put some music on.”

 

John quickly complies. Internet radio, nothing special. This is hardly the time to risk a debate over his taste in music.

 

As John types, Sherlock sits on the desk and toes off his shoes.

 

John hands back the laptop and Sherlock aims the laptop toward the door. To see him reach behind himself is a joy. His shirt is absurd, buttons straining, the cloth a soft-looking off-white. His trousers aren’t quite as tight, but John can get him there. The fabric has an expensive feel beneath John’s fingertips. Then again, there’s always something so indulgent about the inner thigh.

 

Hands planted on the gleaming wood of the desk, Sherlock slowly brings his knees together, forcing John’s stroking hands to slow, trapping his touch below a very attractive bulge. “Not just yet,” Sherlock practically purrs.

 

“No?” John wiggles his fingers a bit, sliding one hand higher.

 

Sherlock inhales sharply through his nose. His head drops slightly, eyes closed.

 

“No? Top of the thigh? What about this?”

 

The buttons strain with each shallow rise of Sherlock’s chest. Sherlock catches his hands. “Not yet.”

 

“You’re sitting on my desk. What else could you possibly-”

 

Sherlock’s foot hooks beneath his calf.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Mm, yes.” Grey eyes grin green and dark. The touch rises, rises, and it slides between John’s already open knees. Sherlock releases his hands with a lingering caress.

 

“I’m not--” John shifts, sinking lower in his chair. He pushes back a little, letting the chair’s wheels roll, giving Sherlock more space to work with. “I’m not actually into feet.”

 

Heel at the apex of John’s thighs, Sherlock’s sock-clad foot slowly presses and releases, a foot pedal motion that has John’s hands gripping the armrests. Or kneading. It’s a bit like a cat kneading, if only in the languid pleasure clear behind Sherlock’s eyes. Constant pressure on his balls, temporary relief against his cock.

 

“This isn’t about feet,” Sherlock tells him.

 

“The foot on my crotch disagrees.”

 

“No,” Sherlock corrects, “this is about Tuesday and dinner at a restaurant. Specifically, doing this to you under the table.”

 

“You... Oh, God, you’re serious.”

 

“Mm. All three locations I offered have long tablecloths. Each has a table in a somewhat secluded nook. The tables are small. You’d sit facing out. Higher risk of being caught—you have a delightfully expressive face—but I know unseen crowds at your back make you uncomfortable. We can’t have that. Uncomfortable, certainly, but not of that sort.

 

“It would be a great deal like this. You wouldn’t have to look up, of course, but this is a marvellous angle, don’t you think?” Side-to-side motions now, working him through his zip. “Yes, that’s it, let your head fall back. Does it help you to fist your hands? Is that what you would do in public?”

 

“I have no fucking idea,” John manages to breathe out. It’s not much, the actual sensation, it’s really not that much, but the way Sherlock refuses to break eye contact is just, Christ.

 

“How long before you bring your cock out? If I don’t stop. If I kept on under the table. I could keep on with this. Not very difficult. If you do want to come, you’ll have to open your own trousers. I lack the dexterity. I might be able to fish you out of your boxer briefs, but I’m not sure. Shall we try?”

 

John opens his trousers. He pushes them down as best he can without standing, walking them down to the tops of his thighs.

 

“Sock.”

 

John peels it off him, a roll of thin brown fabric. There’s nothing particularly attractive or endearing about Sherlock’s foot and his hairy toes. It is, strangely enough, the only piece of the man John has seen unclothed besides his cock. This is getting ridiculous. No, not getting. This has never not been ridiculous.

 

“Again.” The other foot. “Good. Now lift.”

 

John does, pushing on the armrests, and Sherlock snags John’s trousers with his heels and shoves them down over his knees. The backs of John’s thighs stick to the seat as he spreads his legs wider.

 

Eyes locked on John’s clothed erection, Sherlock sets to work. He’s clumsy and fumbling, full of added friction. He errs on the side of too light and not enough, biting his lip until he gets it right. His trousers strain as much as his buttons, if not more. His hands clutch the edge of the desk, knuckles whiter than the rest of his pale skin. Holding onto his armrests, John feels much the same way.

 

“Hold still.”

 

“Can’t.” Utterly unrepentant. Horny as fuck and utterly unrepentant. He keeps rocking up into the contact until there, oh. Skin. John’s hands lock around Sherlock’s ankles. “Just, just let me...”

 

Sherlock presses his feet together, and John secures them. It’s tight, the gap between, the arches, it’s tight. And dry, precome or not. John reminds himself he has a cock to suck soon, repeats the thought in his head and stares at Sherlock’s crotch until his dry mouth waters. He spits, simply letting it fall, and he keeps at it until the slide is slick.

 

He hears Sherlock make some sort of sound, something strangled, but he can’t, his neck just won’t, he can’t seem to look up. All he can do is fold forward, arms wrapped tight about Sherlock’s shins, fucking his feet, humping into the contact. John’s head falls lower and lower, hanging between Sherlock’s knees. Strong, solid legs. Lean, still strong. John holds tight.

 

A hand. On his head. Soft and, and petting. Sherlock struggling to breathe. John struggles harder. The internet radio goes to adverts. John’s rhythm falters, nothing to model itself to. He speeds up. He’s rocking, thrusting. Don’t let the chair roll. For fuck’s sake, do not let the chair roll now. God, on the edge, on the edge, c’mon, c’mon, please...

 

“Don’t make a sound,” Sherlock whispers. “They’ll hear you. Don’t let them hear you. No one can hear you when you come. Come in my sock, hide the mess. John, quiet. You’ll get us thrown out.”

 

Fuck.

 

“Shh!”

 

“Oh, fuck.” He pushes and pushes, hips fighting upward, and there it is, there. John bites his lip and bites it hard.

 

“Quiet, John. Not a sound, not one.” His hand continues its gentle stroking until John can do little more than sag against his legs. Limply clinging. John will stay here for a while longer, cuddling shins, cheek against a very pointy knee.

 

Eventually, Sherlock remarks, “That would have been terrible in a restaurant.”

 

John laughs himself silly.

 

He manages to look up, and Sherlock smiles back and hands him paper napkins. John does what he can for clean up, though the sock really did catch most of it. “Sorry,” John apologizes. He partially means it. For coming, no. For Sherlock to be walking about sockless, a bit.

 

“Not important.” He touches John’s face, thumb light against his lips.

 

John hums, nodding slightly.

 

A bit of moving first. John tucks himself back into his pants. His trousers stay about his ankles, a request easily fulfilled. Smirking, Sherlock hooks his feet into the armrests of John’s chair and draws him forward. John retaliates by grabbing two handfuls of a very nice bum and promptly drops his face into Sherlock’s lap.

 

A hiss of breath. A hot twitch against John’s cheek. An arse squirming beneath his hands. All delightful, all temping him from his fatigue. He nuzzles a bit against straining cloth, taking his time, snickering at the hands tight on his shoulders. He’s warm and tingling and a bit sweaty, and a nice, slow suck sounds perfect right about now.

 

“John. John, hurry up.”

 

Slow, definitely.

 

He’s sure to smile up at Sherlock as he opens the man’s trousers. He doesn’t pull them down. Instead, he leans forward, presses his lips to tented cotton, and exhales. Long breaths, warm, nudging with his nose. He inhales musk, exhales damp heat.

 

“John,” Sherlock gasps, both hands running continuously through John’s hair, against his scalp. Narrow hips roll, covered cock straining for him.

 

John hums, letting the vibration travel.

 

“John.” His voice is a broken wreck, torn and melted. “If anyone has ever been beyond the need for foreplay, it is me. John, please.”

 

He gropes across the desk for one of the condoms, feels Sherlock press it into his hand. John takes care of the rest. He doesn’t check the foil for the condom flavour and the first lick leaves John giggling.

 

Sherlock flinches. “What?”

 

John shakes his head, adjusting his arm around Sherlock’s bum. The other hand holds his cock steady. “Banana condoms. For when a cock just isn’t phallic enough.” Another lick, longer, lingering at the head. “Not a bad thing.”

 

Sherlock groans. Not exactly in a good way, either.

 

That soon changes. It’s been a while since John’s last had thick heat sliding between his lips, and he’s missed it more than he’d realised. He cradles Sherlock to him with one arm about his waist, hand pressed to the damp small of his back. One tug is all he needs to untuck Sherlock’s shirt, to get his hand up behind it and touch the curve of his spine.

 

Rocking into his mouth, Sherlock begins to mutter. He grips John by the shoulder, at the nape. He touches the side of John’s face and so John changes the angle, lets his cheek bulge with cock under Sherlock’s fingers.

 

Sherlock’s entire body tenses.

 

Very mildly, Sherlock swears.

 

With steady strokes and tight suction, John makes him swear a bit coarser.

 

They settle, and a long moment passes before either of them moves.  Sherlock’s lap is hardly the best pillow, but John doesn’t mind. Warm and limp, he listens to Sherlock relearning how to breathe. The hands on his head are heavy and still, a patchwork blanket of touch.

 

John’s back begins to ache. His jaw announces over-exercise. He sits up. Sherlock’s hands fall from him slowly, as if uncertain where else to be. John arches his back and hears it pop. Then he sprawls back, too drained for anything beyond looking up at the dishevelled man on his desk. It’s a very worthwhile activity, especially before Sherlock tucks his cock away. Or after. After is still nice. Hell, during.

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes at the obvious attention, but he does make a show of it. He pushes back John’s chair in order to stand and bend very much over, picking up his shoes. The only response is to grin like an idiot, trousers still about his ankles.

 

The office doesn’t take much tidying. Fortunate, as John refuses to move. Sherlock puts his chair back. He shrugs on his coat, the long cloth framing his body, and he pulls a sock out of one pocket to replace his soiled one.

 

John gapes at him. “You... Okay. How far in advance were you planning this?”

 

Sherlock smiles brightly and sits to put on his shoes.

 

Shaking his head, John grabs his laptop and closes it. He returns it to its normal spot, which currently sports a foil packet. John checks the flavour. “You plan like that but brought an extra condom. And it wasn’t for flavour choice.”

 

“Contingency plan,” Sherlock explains. “If you objected to the foot idea, I was going to blow you under your desk.”

 

The mental image hinders speech.

 

Sherlock stands and plucks the condom out of his hands. “That will be for Tuesday.”

 

“Chinese,” John adds.

 

Sherlock’s eyebrows flick up, and John’s stomach twists round in tight little circles.

 

“For the takeaway,” John needlessly clarifies, hand fiddling with the armrest. “On Tuesday, here. The takeaway.”

 

His grin sudden and wide, Sherlock sweeps around John’s desk and bends himself in half. It’s a very nice kiss, as very nice kisses go, and John returns it past the protests of his craning neck. Sherlock tugs on his shirt, pulling him up, and John staggers up with his ankles trapped. Immediately, Sherlock’s hands are on his bum.

 

John giggles a bit, and Sherlock hums. They kiss. Playful, not deep, leaving John with no excuse for feeling so dizzy.

 

“You have plans for the weekend,” Sherlock murmurs.

 

“Yeah.” Saturday: physical therapy, laundry and forcing a blog entry. Sunday: chores and a session of lying to his shrink.

 

“Then I’ll see you in four days.” One last kiss, firmer than the rest.

 

“Right,” John agrees.

 

Sherlock grins, moving away, and he stops before he opens the door. “John?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Trousers.”

 

John swears and hurriedly pulls them up. Sherlock merely grins, watching him fumble with his belt. John comforts himself with the knowledge of residents walking into walls, their heads too far turned by the sight of one Sherlock Holmes.

 

“Decent?” Sherlock asks. His voice pretends to belong to an innocent soul.

 

“Shut up.”

 

Smug beyond belief, Sherlock ducks out into the hallway.

 

John listens to his receding footsteps until he hears the fire door open and close. And he sighs a bit, because four days is a long time when made of monotony. Will Sherlock fit under his desk? All the way under? Could John roll his chair in, just a little? Just enough for Sherlock to be totally hidden? Or is there not enough space between John’s lap and the desk for it to work in the first place?

 

Better to check now than be wondering all weekend. John sits down, feels around a bit beneath his chair, and, yes, the seat can go down far enough. John puts it to rights with a nervous giggle. This is the most unprofessional thing he’s ever done. It’s amazing. He keeps thinking of Sherlock’s smug smirk. The smoulder that turns his eyes green. The way he’d looked, as if making John stand up with his trousers down was—

 

John had stood up.

 

He looks at his cane, untouched for hours.

 

He had stood up. Unsupported. Hadn’t even touched his desk.

 

Okay.

 

All right.

 

Trying that again.

 

He takes a steadying breath and stands, keeping his weight entirely on his left leg. He puts his right foot down. Slowly, he begins to shift his weight.

 

Almost immediately, his leg cries out for him to stop.

 

John stops. He breathes. He tries again.

 

It hurts. It still hurts. It’s hurting a lot now. It shouldn’t do, but it does, but John was standing, he was, and he can do this. He can. He can do this. It’s one step. Just one. One step means he can walk.

 

His leg buckles, and he catches himself against the desk. The pain is sharp and fades as long as John keeps his weight off it.

 

Once he can stop biting his lip, he tries again.

 

And again after that.

 

And again after that.

 

When another attempt would make him scream or cry, John sits down. He stays there for a very long time.

 

 

 

 

 

“Sometimes, I forget it,” he tells his PT therapist. He likes Jacqueline better than Ella, all told, probably because Jacqueline reminds him of basic training. Sessions with Jacqueline leave him exhausted and occasionally hopeful. Emotional therapy leaves him exhausted and tetchy.

 

“My limp,” John clarifies. “Not my cane. The actual limp.”

 

“You’ve noticed?”

 

John blinks. “Wait, you knew?”

 

“It always comes back when you think of it,” Jacqueline explains. “Telling you seemed counterproductive. Like telling someone to breathe naturally. It’s why we’re focusing on your arm.”

 

“That and it being the real injury.”

 

Jacqueline laughs. “That too. Now, show me your stretches, and don’t overextend this time.”

 

 

 

 

 

“How’s the blog coming?”

 

“Fine.” He says it only the once. Repetition cannot help him here. He has half an hour more of them staring at each other.

 

“Did anything different happen this week?” Ella asks.

 

John makes the mistake of having a facial expression.

 

“Oh?”

 

“I, er. I had a date, actually.”

 

Ella makes a note. “Is that the first since you’ve been home?”

 

John nods.

 

“How’d it go?”

 

“Well.”

 

Ella waits for him to continue.

 

John does not continue.

 

“Will you be seeing her again?”

 

John smiles his blandest smile and says, “Yes.”

 

 

 

 

 

Sherlock Holmes is experimenting on him. Sherlock is also bewilderingly intelligent, stupidly daring, and good fun to talk to. He’s the best shag John’s had in ages and they’ve yet to share a bed. He brings John food. He is arrogant and vain in a way John doesn’t find annoying. He makes John laugh. He is known to drop anyone and everyone who has nothing left to offer him.

 

This arrangement will likely continue as long as John’s leg is worth Sherlock’s interest. Meaning that Sherlock will stay until John is cured or found incurable. Which would normally be depressing, but John’s feeling optimistic. He’ll be able to walk at the end, and he’d much rather be able to walk than have fantastic sex. To walk or jog or run or climb stairs or pick things up or get in and out of a car, all without pain. God, rugby. He might play rugby again.

 

Until then, John agrees to the fantastic sex.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday morning drags on and Tuesday afternoon does the same. John is wearing another cardigan, the dark green one, because Sherlock seems to like his cardigans. It’s soft. Encourages touching. He has some extra cash on hand too, ready for a cab ride home.

 

His office hours drag on the longest. He knows Sherlock won’t show until the last half hour. The dearth of students, normally depressing, is today a relief. It helps him finish as much work as he possibly can. There won’t be time after Sherlock comes. He forces himself to work and keep working, and he doesn’t look at a clock until after his stomach lets out a rolling growl.

 

Sherlock is late.

 

Half an hour later, John decides Sherlock is trapped in another skip. Are you trapped in a skip? he texts.

 

He puts his mobile down and tries to focus. His stomach growls on.

 

Half an hour after that, John sticks a post-it on his door and limps down to the canteen. Another quick text, just as an update on John’s position. He returns as soon as he can. No sign of anyone stopping by. He waits a short while longer, then gathers up his things. He goes home to his tidied bedroom and freshly vacuumed carpet and an unopened box of condoms sitting on his bedside table.  He sits on his neatly made bed and throws his cane across the room. He swears at it first, at himself second, and then he calms down. It’s a change of plan. That’s all. Just a change of plan.

 

 

 

 

 

On Thursday, he doesn’t stay late.

 

 

 

 

 

On Friday, he texts Mike to confirm that John’s phone is still sending and receiving texts. It is.

 

He’s in a terrible enough mood that his students notice, which is where John draws the line. This is what Rule One is for. Probably not to this extent, but Rule One exists for a reason.

 

Still, John made it through Afghanistan and he can make it through a few lectures. After each, he asks if anyone had planned to come to his office hours and at the end of the day, the response level is such that he sends out an email cancelling them. There are implications in referring to seduction as a pastime, and John needs to stop thinking about all of them.

 

 

 

 

 

His mobile rings while he’s brushing his teeth. He shouldn’t, but he answers it.

 

“Hello?”

 

“To be fair, neither of us specified which Tuesday,” Sherlock informs him.

 

John strongly considers hanging up.

 

“Don’t hang up. Please.”

 

“Where are you?” John asks. His tone is so level, marbles couldn’t roll off it.

 

“New Scotland Yard.”

 

“And what are you doing there?”

 

“Experiencing symptoms of exhaustion and fatigue. The children made it, the uncle might not, and we’re still waiting for word on the father.”

 

John hears shouting in the background.

 

“I’m not allowed to tell you any of that, but I don’t care,” Sherlock adds.

 

“Okay,” John says. “If you’re not allowed to tell me, why are you calling?”

 

“I need to eat. Do you need to eat?”

 

“Most people need to do that, yeah.”

 

“No, do you need to eat now? No, not now. In an hour. We’ll know about the father by then. Not the uncle, he’ll still be in surgery. Will you need to eat in an hour?”

 

“I was planning on being asleep in an hour.”

 

“Oh.” A long pause. “We can do that too.”

 

“‘We’?”

 

“It’s not a problem. But I think I need to eat first.”

 

John frowns at himself in the medicine cabinet mirror. “You sound drunk.”

 

“Oh, no. No. Exhausted. I do feel nauseous, but that would be the hunger.”

 

“Right...”

 

“Will you?”

 

“Sorry?” John asks.

 

“Need to eat in an hour?”

 

“Yes. Sherlock, is there anyone nearby? Anyone remotely in charge?”

 

“Lestrade, yes. He’s homicide, not abduction, but they threw me out.”

 

“Could you hand him the phone?” John asks.

 

There’s a bit of noise in the background. Sherlock must be covering the mobile as he speaks. After a moment, another male voice says, “Hello? DI Lestrade.”

 

“Dr. Watson,” John replies. “That man is exhausted. Let him go home.”

 

“I’ve been telling him to leave,” Lestrade insists. “There’s one more loose end needs tying up and then he might be willing to go. Not sure he’ll make it out on his own steam, though.”

 

“Right.” Decided, John limps back to his bedroom and pulls today’s clothes out of the hamper, mobile between cheek and shoulder. “I’m coming to get him. Which tube stop are you?”

 

“St. James Park. If you think you can get him to move, I won’t stop you.”

 

“Ta. Give him a glass of water, he probably needs that too.”

 

John hangs up, dresses, and limps out into the night.

 

 

 

 

 

When John finds him, Sherlock’s asleep on a couch, mouth open, face slack, hair unwashed. His shirt is missing one of its buttons. John can’t determine whether that tells him something about Sherlock’s week or about the structural integrity of thread.

 

“DI Lestrade?” John asks of the other man left in the room. The man’s loosened his tie and is going grey, neither of which seems very surprising.

 

A nod. Lestrade looks at John’s face, not at his cane. “Dr. Watson?”

 

John nods. “How long’s he been out?”

 

“Twenty minutes, give or take.”

 

“Good. Not into his REM cycle, then.”

 

“Sure you’re going to be all right on your own?” Lestrade asks. “We usually dump him in the break room at this point. He keeps fine until morning.”

 

“What, he does this often?” It’s entirely at odds with John’s mental image of the man.

 

“Not normally to this point,” Lestrade allows. “He’s been going since Sunday, though.” A slight shrug. “You know how he is at taking breaks.”

 

John doesn’t, actually. “Right,” he says anyway. The circles beneath Sherlock’s eyes are deep and purple, and a minute looking at him isn’t enough to dismiss the possibility of an actual black eye. He turns to Lestrade and fights down the urge to offer his phone number, to tell him in no uncertain terms to call him if Sherlock gets like this again. Because that’s ridiculous.

 

“Do you want to wake him, or will I?” he asks instead.

 

“All yours,” Lestrade tells him and promptly heads back toward his office. He looks like he’s evacuating a blast zone. The woman he passes looks as if she wishes she could do the same. “Thanks for this.”

 

“Right.” John shakes Sherlock by the shoulder, gently, then with a firm squeeze. “Hey.”

 

Sherlock squeezes his eyes tightly shut before peering out through just the one. “John?”

 

“Look, I can’t prop you up. Can you walk to the lift?”

 

“Yes,” Sherlock snaps weakly, petulant as hell. He stands and wobbles and the woman by Lestrade’s office snickers.

 

“C’mon,” John says over her. He does have to admit Sherlock looks ridiculous, but it’s far too worrying to amuse him. “I called for takeaway on the way in. We’ll pick it up on the way back to your place.”

 

Sherlock nods, then winces as if the motion is painful. Dehydration, definitely. They walk slowly to the lift. For once, John has to wait for someone else to keep up. Sherlock settles in at the corner of the lift, leaning back his head and closing his eyes as they ride down. Outside, John hails them a taxi as quickly as he can. Almost as soon as he’s buckled in, Sherlock falls asleep. John hesitates in getting out to grab the takeaway, but when he returns, the cab has waited and Sherlock hasn’t stirred in the slightest.

 

John gives the cabbie Sherlock’s address, glad to have gleaned it from Sherlock’s forum. The drive to Baker Street is quick this time of night, barely ten minutes. John spends it considering the empty seat between them and the way Sherlock’s head lolls onto his shoulder. That can’t be good for his neck.

 

John pays the cabbie, wakes Sherlock, and somehow gets them out on the pavement. Sherlock unlocks the door, they stagger inside, and John looks up the many stairs to the first storey where Sherlock inevitably lives. Sherlock is compliant enough to carry the take-away without protest, but he sways as he climbs in front of John. If he falls, that’s both of them dead.

 

They get up without mishap and Sherlock wanders straight into his bedroom. The room is neat and orderly, almost severe in its clean lines, just the way Sherlock dresses. Sherlock half-sits, half-flops on the floor. He leans back against the side of his bed, the bag of takeaway in his lap. He pats the floor next to him.

 

“Hold on.” John limps to the kitchen, or possibly to the laboratory. It’s difficult to tell where the one becomes the other. He opens the dishwasher on a hunch, grabs a clean glass and fills it from the tap.

 

When he returns, Sherlock has gotten into the lo mien. There must have been chopsticks in the bag. John passes him the glass.

 

“Not thirsty.”

 

“Just one sip.”

 

Sherlock looks pointedly at the floor beside him.

 

“Just one sip,” John repeats.

 

Sherlock scowls and complies. One sip turns into two, turns into steady swallows, and before John can tell him to slow down, Sherlock blinks at the empty glass in his hand. John goes to refill it before carefully lowering himself to the floor next to Sherlock, his leg out straight before him. Sherlock passes him the lo mien.

 

“How often do you do this to yourself?” John asks.

 

Sherlock shakes his head.

 

“What DI Lestrade said, it sounded like they’ve protocol for you like this.”

 

“Kidnapping.”

 

“What?”

 

“Kidnapping. First twenty-four hours are the most crucial. Except the first one was fake.”

 

“And... that means you do this how often?” John asks.

 

Head resting against his bed, Sherlock shrugs. His upper arm rubs against John’s shoulder.

 

“How’s your stomach?” He’s barely eaten.

 

“Full.”

 

That might be the water. “All right,” John says. “Give it twenty minutes, then off to bed.” Sherlock had mentioned nausea on the phone. Best to not push that.

 

“There were two,” Sherlock mumbles.

 

“Children?”

 

“Kidnappings. Three children, two kidnappings. The first was fake. Perfectly safe with their uncle.” He yawns, jaw cracking. “But people assume the worst about uncles, don’t they?”

 

“About kidnappings, generally,” John replies, not sure where this is going.

 

“The first one was by the father. He put them with their uncle.”

 

“Away from their mother.”

 

“No, she’s dead,” Sherlock replies. He wraps his arm around John’s shoulders, then rests his head on top of John’s. “Protection... thing. You smell good. And, and your clothes were in the hamper. You were going to bed. You’d brushed your teeth, even.”

 

“How are you doing that?” John asks. “You’re half-unconscious.”

 

Sherlock hums, shifting until he’s rendered John comfortable for sprawling on. His breathing grows soft and even.

 

“Sherlock,” John whispers. He whispers again, his stomach tightening when Sherlock groans. “Shh, okay.”

 

He stands and pulls back the duvet, then hauls Sherlock onto his bed, a smooth lift from where hospital and army training combine. The shoes come off first, then the socks. The belt too. It’s cinched tight, far tighter than it has any right to be on a man so skinny. He unbuttons the shirt as well, pleased to see Sherlock’s chest rise even slightly higher. John tucks him in and transfers the glass of water to Sherlock’s nightstand.

 

Picking up the remains of the takeaway, John consciously freezes. He reaches down, very carefully, and picks up his cane before he falls.

 

The stairs are difficult on the way out, but that’s hardly new.

 

 

 

 

 

Bleary-eyed from restless sleep, John watches the news while fixing himself breakfast. It’s habit, nothing more, but John jerks fully awake when a kidnapping is mentioned. The story takes a full ten minutes to come on and by that time, John has Googled it.

 

Two kidnappings, the first staged by the children’s father and assisted by their uncle. The article online is vague as to the type of debt the father was in, either gambling or drugs, but the threats against his children are clear. He’d kidnapped his own children and set the blame on those he’d owed money by taking their threats to the police. Once the accused cleared themselves of blame, they turned around and actually did kidnap the children. The father and uncle, now wanted by the police, took matters into their own hands. The police were tipped off in time to rescue the children and the father, but the uncle died early Saturday morning from his injuries.

 

Nowhere in this convoluted story is Sherlock mentioned by name. John feels a bit miffed.

 

 

 

 

 

He keeps trying to distract himself into forgetting his cane, but the process is self-defeating. If Sherlock can deduce half-asleep, can he also distract John from his limp? Intentionally, that is. John already knows he was distracted. It’s the presence of intent that escapes him.

 

He texts Sherlock just the once, a simple Tell me if you’re still alive, and late Sunday night, his mobile chimes to tell him I just woke up. SH

 

Lo mien’s in the fridge, John responds and goes to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of days later, a sharp knock against his office door announces the arrival of Sherlock Holmes, a bag of takeaway in one hand.

 

“Would you be willing to believe I meant this Tuesday?” Sherlock asks.

 

John responds by rolling back his chair and giving his desk a pointed look.

 

With a flash of a grin, Sherlock locks the door behind him. 

Chapter Text

“Excellent,” Sherlock announces out of nowhere, appearing at John’s shoulder.

 

Jesus Christ.” He successfully refrains from hitting Sherlock with his cane. “Don’t sneak up on me. I mean it.”

 

“I knew you wouldn’t hit me.”

 

John shakes his head and resumes his progress toward the exit. “I could have.”

 

“Yes, but you didn’t,” Sherlock concludes, as if this is solution to John’s complaint.

 

It’s been a long day, and John is already impatient with him. He’s locked his office door and is already most of the way out of the building. Topic change, now. “What was excellent?”

 

Sherlock gestures between them. “I caught you on your way out.”

 

John was hardly about to wait for him again. In fact, the thought that he might need to wait had gone a long way to negate Tuesday’s apology blowjob. Which isn’t very fair, considering Sherlock had only stood him up in the first place in order to save the lives of three children and their father. And then the dead uncle. It’s difficult to be angry about Sherlock’s texting silence when John remembers the uncle. No, not difficult to be angry, exactly. It’s never difficult to be angry, but it’s hell trying to feel justified about it. There is a man dead, killed, and John’s snippy over lack of response from a bloke he’s not technically dating.

 

“You’re conflicted,” Sherlock sums up neatly. His hand touches John’s shoulder but does not settle there. Which is good, because it’s aching, the weather as it is.

 

“And you didn’t bring food,” John replies.

 

“A strike against me, I know.” Sherlock opens the fire door, which is less an act of pity and more an attempt to make John brush against him on the way through. “I did bring an umbrella.”

 

“Is there anything you don’t keep in your coat?”

 

“By all means, check.”

 

Isn’t that a mental image. Fantasy, more like. Slipping his hands into thick folds, Sherlock’s eyes unwavering on his face.

 

Fuck, no. Stop that. He’s too old to be getting off in supply closets, even if the one they just passed is incredibly well-located.

 

Sherlock beams at him.

 

“No,” John tells him.

 

“I didn’t suggest anything,” Sherlock replies, so innocent he’s come out the other side. “You expressed interest in the contents of my pockets.”

 

John refuses to respond. It’s the only way to keep this remotely near stalemate territory. He keeps walking, and Sherlock keeps pace. Rather, Sherlock keeps walking, and John keeps pace. It’s a long stride to match, but John manages, experiencing pain but not difficulty.

 

They get more than a few looks on their way out, and John is fairly certain the intern at reception just mouthed “Rule One” at him. Seeing as John isn’t currently in a supply closet, Rule One is holding just fine.

 

Sherlock pulls a compact umbrella from his pocket as they step outside into the steady rain. John keeps close, but it’s coming down hard and not even having an umbrella to himself could get him through this with dry trousers. As they walk, Sherlock’s arm repeatedly brushes against John’s. When they stop for the light to change, the brushing becomes a solid press of contact.

 

John rolls his eyes. “Stop that.”

 

The umbrella tilts away, and John is immediately drenched.

 

John sputters, then laughs.

 

“Better?” Sherlock asks.

 

“Much, thanks.”

 

The umbrella returns over John’s head, though it’s a bit late for that. Sherlock grins down at him. John responds by wiping his face dry on Sherlock’s shoulder. He smiles after, polite as can be.

 

Sherlock doesn’t lean in. He curls. He stands straight and tall, his chin leading his face downward. Every inch of his body indicates where John ought to be, and something more compelling than obedience bids John’s limbs to obey. John holds himself still, unable to look away from Sherlock’s soft mouth. They are in public, he reminds himself. They are in public.

 

The light changes and Sherlock anchors him with his eyes. They don’t move. When the crowd around them pushes by, Sherlock grips John at the elbow, forbidding any stranger from coming between them. Sherlock brings his lips to John’s ear and whispers above the rain, “Do you really want me to stop?”

 

“Which answer keeps the umbrella over my head?”

 

“Not that one,” Sherlock replies and promptly closes it. With the most impish grin John has ever seen, he sets across the street.

 

John chokes on a laugh and follows quickly. The time limit is from the lights, not from Sherlock. The man stops at the kerb, striking a silhouette against streetlight. Drenched and grinning, he sets off with a swagger the moment John catches up.

 

He’s not the man at Bart’s, too soaked, too far in disarray outside of his control. Neither is he the exhausted man from last week, too sharp and without enough bite. He’s not even a cross between the two. He’s someone else entirely and John wonders how many times he’ll come to know this man before he knows him.

 

They reach the tube station and look at each other in the shelter of the overhang. They drip. Sherlock’s lips are cold, but his breath is warm. John shivers. His coat isn’t soaked through, but his socks certainly are.

 

“Cold?” Sherlock asks.

 

“It’ll be warm on the train.” It takes only one step to realize Sherlock isn’t following.

 

“Humid, too.” Sherlock makes an exaggerated face. “And crowded, can’t forget that.”

 

“Did you--” He did. Of course he did. “Did you get me soaked just to persuade me into a cab?”

 

Sherlock’s eyes are round and innocent. “You don’t have an umbrella. You would have been soaked anyway.”

 

“No, because I wasn’t going to walk here. I--” John sees the verbal trap the moment he walks into it.

 

“Oh, so you were going to take a cab home. Meaning I haven’t persuaded you at all. If anything, I’ve persuaded you into a walk.”

 

“True,” John replies and, really, it’s not a very hard trap to get out of. “Thanks, very helpful on the wallet. See you.”

 

Sherlock’s face twitches in something between a smile and a glare, but he doesn’t follow when John walks away. John knows because he waits for him at the bottom of the escalator, just in case.

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you realise you could have come twice by now. SH

 

John takes and sends a picture of his own hand in the two-finger salute.

 

Sherlock responds with a picture as well, two fingers between lips.

 

John inwardly concedes that he was never going to win that argument anyway and commiserates by wanking twice. It takes a while, but it’s worth it when he replies, I started late. Managed it well enough anyway.

 

Thinking of me? SH

 

Vain.

 

Confident. SH

 

Yes, he is.

 

 

 

 

 

It rains through the night, through the morning, and into Friday evening. John brings his own umbrella. They walk to the tube stop, Sherlock leans in but does not kiss him, and John takes the escalator down.

 

Half a minute later, he takes the other escalator back up. He limps toward the barrier and strains to see over the crowd, but Sherlock is tall and distinctive and has clearly already left.

 

 

 

 

 

He might be stalking Sherlock’s pretentious website. A bit. Maybe. When there are no updates all weekend, John’s somewhat disappointed.

 

This is probably a bad sign.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not raining on Tuesday and Sherlock still doesn’t drop by John’s office. Not that it would be a terribly good idea to have Sherlock back in his office. There’s only so much sex two people can have without it becoming a bit obvious. Which is a shame, especially considering how nicely Sherlock fits under his desk.

 

He limps to his tube stop only to see a familiar figure leaning by the entrance.

 

“Fancy meeting you here,” John says. Even with his cane, he doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands.

 

Sherlock smiles. “Dinner?”

 

“Starving.”

 

 

 

 

 

They go for Indian, walking to a place close by. John’s sure they’ll need a reservation, but the hostess recognizes Sherlock. Almost immediately, they’re seated and before John can ask what’s going on, the owner comes out to hand them a free starter. She shakes Sherlock’s hand, Sherlock asks her about her dog, and she shakes Sherlock’s hand a bit harder. That finished, Sherlock opens his menu as if nothing has happened.

 

John considers staring at him until the answers fall out. He tries it for a bit, but ultimately says, “I’m missing something.”

 

“Don’t worry, most people are.”

 

“No, what was that about? The table and the, um. These.”

 

“Dahi puri,” Sherlock provides without glancing up. “They’re very good.”

 

“What was that about the dog?”

 

Sherlock waves his hand. “It was a case.”

 

“Where you saved her dog?”

 

“Not intentionally.”

 

On second thought, staring at him until the answers fall out is a much more productive tactic. It turns Sherlock smug, an unfortunately good look for him. They order, John eats the dahi puri, and Sherlock watches him in turn. Sherlock leans back in his seat, his forearms on the tablecloth. The fingertips of one hand stroke the side of his glass, gliding through condensation. They’re very nice hands.

 

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Sherlock murmurs. His eyes belong in a bedroom or three inches above a cock. Preferably both.

 

“You know what I’m thinking.”

 

“Enough to want it said aloud, yes.”

 

“Not in public,” John tells him. 

 

Especially in public.”

 

John smiles into his glass, freezing his teeth on ice. Bit unpleasant, certainly enough to push him through this warm, slightly flustered haze. “And what are you thinking?”

 

“That three dates in a month is less than I’d hoped.”

 

“Three? No, last week under the desk doesn’t count.”

 

“I brought food,” Sherlock reasons.

 

“We didn’t eat it.”

 

“Hardly my fault.”

 

John thinks about this. Possibly, he thinks about this longer than strictly necessary. “Still not a date,” he says.

 

“Fine,” Sherlock says. “How’s Friday?”

 

A giggle wells up John’s throat and pops out his mouth.

 

Sherlock waits, eyes locked on John’s face.

 

The giggle worsens. The giggle itself becomes funny, and John tries not to laugh at it. He puts his hand over his mouth and keeps it there until adult function returns. There is a short stage of biting his lip and snickering before this occurs. Finally, he says, “Friday’s fine.”

 

“Then why did you laugh?”

 

John nearly laughs again before Sherlock’s tone registers. Instead, he clears his throat. “Nerves? Let’s go with nerves.”

 

“Nerves? Why nerves?”

 

“Being asked like that would do it for most people,” John points out mildly.

 

Sherlock waves a dismissive hand. “You’re not most people. Why nerves?”

 

Christ. “Look, it’s fine. It’s not—I didn’t say it was bad nerves.”

 

“Oh.” That seems to please him immensely.

 

“Though I do have to ask why Friday. Are we skipping Thursday?”

 

 “We don’t have to. You simply have work Friday morning.”

 

John wets his lips with a dry tongue. “Um. True.”

 

“Saturday morning is open, I presume.”

 

John nods.

 

Sherlock smiles.

 

John becomes much less certain of his ability to wait for Friday.

 

“Of course...” Sherlock adds.

 

John has time for the briefest moment of confusion before he feels Sherlock’s foot press down on his. “Sherlock,” he hisses.

 

“Yes?” Toes behind his ankle now.

 

“You really can’t do that here.”

 

“Technically, I can. You simply can’t be quiet through it.”

 

John’s warning glare has taken down drunken soldiers. It manages basic restraint against Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock sulks and lets his shin rest against John’s.

 

“Thank you,” John says.

 

Sherlock’s eyebrows shoot up.

 

“What?”

 

“Thanking me for not giving you an orgasm. That’s precedent I’d rather you didn’t set.”

 

“Thank you for not getting us thrown out of the restaurant,” John amends, glancing around to make sure no one heard Sherlock.

 

“Much better.”

 

Their food arrives. John eats. Sherlock talks. John prods Sherlock to eat. Sherlock picks at his food. John wagers he can distract Sherlock from eating, Sherlock scoffs, and that is how John Watson plays footsie on a second date at the age of thirty-seven. It is exactly the type of thing he will never put on his blog. It makes Sherlock eat, so John counts it as a victory.

 

They eat largely in silence, which is fine. The contact under the table is steadying, now that they’ve gone still. It’s quiet and comfortable, and if Sherlock would come to his office to simply sit with a book, John can’t imagine how much he could get done. He realises with a bit of a jump that he’s not sure where all the exits are. Without missing a beat, Sherlock gestures, indicating them with all the bored patience of an airline stewardess.

 

John pushes rice and lamb around his plate, smiling faintly down at it. He considers his phrasing, tries to, but about that lack of orgasm is too blunt and it’s a bit too early to pull off fancy a coffee. Any attempt at fancy a coffee looks odd unless it’s to begin the date or there’s already a flat in sight.

 

Before John can make up his mind, Sherlock’s mobile rings.

 

“Hello,” Sherlock answers in the instant it takes John to look up. How the hell did he get his mobile out so quickly? Whatever the response is, Sherlock sits up straighter to hear it. His eyes focus on a spot past John. “Have you confirmed that it’s locked box? If it doesn’t lock only from the inside, it doesn’t count.”

 

John pushes his rice and lamb around a bit more. His own phone is on silent, the way it ought to be on a date.

 

“Good. Now, why don’t you think it was a suicide?”

 

John looks up. Oh.

 

Sherlock nods along for a moment. “Do the details of the note check out?” A pause. “Read it to me.” A far longer pause. Sherlock rolls his eyes. “That’s an atrociously common grammatical error. Why would-”

 

Whatever the person down the line says, Sherlock’s face lights up. John smiles back, but Sherlock isn’t paying attention.

 

“To be fair, that is a perfectly legitimate reason for a copy-editor to kill herself. Where did she work?” A pause. “Check for Oxford commas.” A pause. “No, the opposite of a Cambridge comma. The one before the ‘and,’ yes, that one.” A pause. “Oh? Definitely fabricated. Brilliant. Who’s on forensics?” Sherlock nods. “Good.” Another pause. “Yes, obviously,” Sherlock says, and it’s the happiest condescension John’s ever heard.

 

Sherlock hangs up, pockets his mobile, and is halfway out of his chair before he realises John is still there. John smiles tightly.

 

“Locked box as in, everything locked from the inside?” John asks.

 

Sherlock nods, eyes bright. “We have a spatially-aware killer who can’t tell a possessive pronoun from a contraction.” He takes his coat from the back of his chair and pulls it on, shaking it the once so it falls in line. He pulls out his wallet and throws a pair of twenties onto the table.

 

“Right,” John says. He puts down his knife and fork.

 

“No, take your time.” He sweeps around the table, comes in for a kiss, and John startles back. John’s never kissed a man in public before, let alone one running out in the middle of a date. Sherlock stares at him, eyes narrowing. “Do you mind?” Sherlock asks. “You do. You mind.”

 

“No,” John says. He’s been on the other side of this too many times to say anything else. Too many nights on call, too many times interrupted. Sherlock’s sudden joy isn’t exactly on par with John’s past reactions, however.

 

Sherlock frowns, gaze flicking between John’s eyes. “You’re a very bad liar,” he notes.

 

John pats him on the chest. “Go catch the bad guy. It’s important.”

 

“I know it’s important,” Sherlock says. “Do you know it’s important?”

 

“I just said it was.” John gives him a slight push. “Go on.”

 

All hesitation gone, Sherlock grins and darts away.

 

 

 

 

 

John limps back to the tube stop and experiences a bit of nausea at the sight of the station. No, he’ll keep walking. He needs to clear his head. Cool off. Just keep moving and not let the thoughts catch up.

 

His leg hurts. It really does. It hurts. It is very painful and maybe it will get better and maybe it won’t, and this is good, really. Realising this. Not realising the pain, John knows the pain well, but about Sherlock. Because, broken as he is, and as interesting as Sherlock claims that this makes him, John still can’t compare with an unusual murder. Which is not something John typically looks for in his love life.

 

If it were a real injury, John might respect the pain. Real pain is a warning to stop. It’s all in his head, and that means John can press on without damaging himself. He can push through it. Never to the other side. There is no other side. But he can keep pushing.

 

He walks half of the way back to his flat before he realises the ringing noise isn’t from a mobile. It’s not someone keeping pace with him, it’s the phone booths. They’re ringing as John walks.

 

John watches one man approach the booth and open the door, and the ringing immediately stops. The man looks at John, and John looks at the man. They shrug at each other, and the man moves on.

 

The phone resumes ringing.

 

John opens the door.

 

The ringing continues.

 

John weighs how shit his night has been so far against the possibility of having a James Bond-esque moment. Considering he’s already been stupid enough to shag Sherlock Holmes not just once but four times, he’s also stupid enough for this. He climbs into the booth and picks up the phone.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Good evening, Doctor Watson.” The voice is posh and polished. The title is audibly not abbreviated. “It’s time we had a talk.”

 

 

 

 

 

The car pulls to a stop on the empty third floor of a parking garage. John climbs out. He fights the urge to look for more security cameras.

 

Across the concrete floor, standing on one painted line, there is a man in a suit. He carries an umbrella. Before him is a folding chair. Beyond him is a concrete railing and the sky, cloudy and dark beyond the yellow light of the garage.

 

“Good evening, John. Would you care to sit down?” The man indicates the chair with his umbrella. “Your leg must be hurting you.”

 

“I’ve had a nice sit on the ride over,” John replies. He sets his cane solidly against the floor. When he’d wanted a Bond moment, he hadn’t actually expected to be threatened into a car.

 

The man’s polite smile doesn’t falter.

 

Neither does John’s.

 

“I do have a phone,” John says, breaking the silence. “Right here. In my pocket. It works and everything.”

 

“Yes. It’s also on silent.”

 

So it is. John knows it’s true but still has to fight the urge to disprove him. He keeps his hand out of his pocket. “And what was so terribly urgent?”

 

The man sets the tip of his umbrella against the floor and shifts, standing on both feet rather than crossing one behind the other. His stance mirrors John’s. “A matter of concern,” the man says. “What is your connection to Sherlock Holmes?”

 

“None of your business,” John answers simply.

 

“How very wrong you are. It is my business. Moreover, it may yet become my concern. What are your intentions toward him?”

 

John tightens his grip on his cane. “I don’t have any.”

 

The man’s eyebrows arch. “Curious. How is it you keep sleeping with him? If it’s not your intention to--”

 

“It’s casual.”

 

If anything, the eyebrows arch higher. “Is it now?”

 

“It’s still none of your business.”

 

“You’re very loyal for a casual man without intentions.”

 

“I’m very private,” John corrects.

 

The man laughs. It is not a pleasant sound. “Oh, John. When near Sherlock Holmes, there is no such condition.”

 

“Because he sees everything, or because you have the CCTV?” John asks.

 

The man smiles. It’s not very pleasant either. “Would you like a way out, John?”

 

“I can see the exit sign fine from here.”

 

“Perhaps, but when will you go?”

 

“When I need to,” John replies. He stands his ground.

 

The man shakes his head. “I see you don’t understand, John. That will be much too late. I’m offering you an immediate way out.”

 

“I’ll be fine with the stairs.”

 

“Perhaps.” He swings the umbrella a small, flicking distance. “Perhaps not.”

 

“You’re not going to tell me who you are, are you?”

 

“An interested party.”

 

“I could see that for myself, thanks.”

 

The man smirks. It plucks at something in the back of John’s mind. “If you have no intentions, John, why are you so determined to stay with him?”

 

“I’m not with him.”

 

“Not at the moment, no. But, should the opportunity present itself...?” He tilts his head, looking at John as if bidding him to be reasonable. To be a good boy and confess.

 

“It will still be none of your business.”

 

“Should you decide otherwise,” the man informs him, “my number is already on your phone. If you suffer any change of heart, do call as quickly as you can.”

 

“I’m not interested.”

 

“That is the question, isn’t it?” The man gives him another polite smile, one which suggests John is wearisome. “Do decide soon, Doctor Watson. I hate for matters to become... messy.”

 

A sharp bang splits the air.

 

John snaps around, facing the direction of the shot. No, not a gunshot.

 

“A car backfiring,” the man tells him.

 

“I know.” His body won’t move. He’s trapped at attention, three feet to the left of where he was just standing. Once he realises what he’s doing, he unfreezes. There is no need to be a human shield for a civilian. Certainly not here, and certainly not this civilian.

 

John turns around to face the man. He expects the amusement of a Bond villain, but finds instead consideration. His gaze is long and weighing.

 

“Be careful of your instincts, John,” the man advises. “They may not always apply.”

 

John sets his jaw.

 

“Until we meet again.” He gestures to the car.

 

John gets in it, if only because he hasn’t the cash for a taxi.

 

 

 

 

 

He hears the beep and says, “Mike, hi. It’s John. Um. I was wondering if, I mean. In the time you’ve known Sherlock, have you ever... Well, have you ever been kidnapped off the street?” He groans and presses the pound key. He selects to re-record his message.

 

“Mike, hi. It’s John. I was wondering. I know we have Rule One about Sherlock and all that, but is there anything actually, I don’t know. Anything off about him. I mean beyond the obvious. In a bad way. I only ask because he’s been dropping by, and someone tried to warn me off him today. Bit odd, thought I’d get a second opinion. Right. Thanks.”

 

 

 

 

 

Mike meets him for lunch. They have a bit of shoptalk before Mike nudges the conversation toward Sherlock. He looks a bit concerned. “What kind of warning?”

 

“Sort of a ‘get out now’ type of deal,” John admits.

 

Mike gives him an odd look. “Get out of what?”

 

As a grown man, John absolutely does not experience the urge to fidget. “He’s been dropping by a bit. I think he’s trying to date me as an excuse to experiment on my leg.”

 

Mike laughs a bit. “We all wondered what the next stage would be. Flirting body parts out of the morgue—we couldn’t tell how he’d escalate from that.”

 

That is a bit funny, John has to admit. “It’s a little strange.”

 

“Yes, but you’re smiling,” Mike replies, pointing his fork at John. “Don’t think I’ve seen that since uni.”

“Right, well.” He searches for a rebuttal but only winds up smiling a bit more. He covers his mouth when the smiling won’t stop. “Shit.”

 

“Not following that warning, then.”

 

“No, but it was more of a threat than a warning, really,” John says.

 

“Have you told Sherlock yet?”

 

John shakes his head. “He’s on a case.”

 

“A case?”

 

“Detecting,” John says. “He’s a detective.”

 

“Oh, that’s what he does. I’d wondered.” Mike Stamford: incredibly friendly, incredibly unobtrusive.

 

“I’ll pass it along on Friday and then maybe we’ll go to the police,” John continues. “There’s a DI Sherlock works with.” Somehow, this sets John off explaining Sherlock. He knows more about the man than he’d thought, and he tells Mike all about the double-kidnapping case. He talks and he keeps talking until he feels a bit silly, but Mike nods along in amused fascination. Eventually, John winds down and the conversation turns to more usual things, but not with nearly the same enthusiasm.

 

Mike swears abruptly.  “Sorry, I just remembered. Percy Phelps. He was in my year, do you remember him?”

 

“Vaguely.” To be honest, he’d only vaguely remembered Mike. Mike had always been the odd man out type, someone who stood off to the side at parties and was approached by those more awkward than himself. It does mean John trusts Mike’s word as to Sherlock’s particular brand of strangeness.

 

“No, I remember,” Mike continues. “He asked me once if you liked men and I told him no. God, he was put out.”

 

“Ah.” John struggles to remember anything remotely like this. “It wasn’t going to happen anyway.”

 

“Oh.” The guilt visibly lifts. “Well, that’s good, I suppose.” The conversation turns to other things. All told, it’s probably the smoothest John has ever come out to anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

On Friday, John walks to the tube stop, waits for about five minutes, and rings him up.

 

“Sherlock Holmes.”

 

“Hi.”

 

“Hello. I’m still on the case.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Sherlock hangs up and John goes home.

 

 

 

 

 

Later that night, he remembers to send a text about the warning in the parking garage.

 

Hours later, he’s startled out of a nightmare by his mobile chiming. Once the shaking stops, he manages to grab it. He squints at the blazing screen through the dark.

 

I’ve taken care of it. Won’t happen again. He had no right to involve you. SH

 

The timestamp is 4:28 am. He rolls over and slowly drifts back to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

“John.”

 

“Oh, hello. Case solved?”

 

“Not yet. How are you at highly repetitive tasks?”

 

“I was in the Army.”

 

Sherlock audibly grins. “Good. Two-two-one-bee Baker Street, quick as you can.”

 

“What, now?”

 

“Problem?”

 

“I... Yeah, sure. Give me half an hour.”

 

 

 

 

 

The highly repetitive task is an attempted replication of the murder technique. John spends a great deal of time resetting the mechanism. Sherlock takes notes on everything. When success occurs, John doesn’t even recognize it, but Sherlock makes more noise over it than a bad porno actor. It sounds about the same too.

 

Sherlock grabs him by the wrist and drags him off to a cab, hurriedly explaining the locked box case as they ride to Scotland Yard. Then up the lift, back to the same floor as last time, and, bemused, John is left to sit outside while Sherlock gestures frantically behind the glass walls of Lestrade’s office.

 

“Here again?” a woman asks him.

 

John turns. It’s the same woman from last time, the one who had laughed. “Sorry?”

 

“Do you let him drag you around?” she asks, nodding toward Lestrade’s office. She leans back in her chair, arms crossed.

 

“I’m not supposed to be in here, am I?”

 

“Not so much, no,” she replies. “Why are you?”

 

“I was helping Sherlock with an experiment. For the case.”

 

The look of frustration on her face is incredible. “He’s leaking information again. Wonderful.” She leans forward to do something quickly on her laptop. “Look,” she says as she types, “I can understand wanting to help. Police sergeant: I can understand better than most. But getting involved with Sherlock Holmes isn’t the way to do it. What are you doing with him anyway? Did he follow you home?”

 

“Not all the way,” John replies. “Mostly, I take him for a walk and leave him at a tube station.”

 

“Do you think this is a joke?”

 

“No. No, sorry.” He sticks his hands in his pockets. “Do I need to sign some sort of non-disclosure agreement?”

 

She sighs. She looks very tired. “The problem isn’t you. It’s our friendly neighbourhood sociopath.”

 

“That’s quite the term to throw around.”

 

She blinks. “Oh, God. You actually don’t know.”

 

“Know what?”

 

“He really is a sociopath,” the sergeant tells him. “No, I mean it. You call him a psychopath, and he’ll correct you. He’s a sociopath.”

 

“Ah, Sally!” Sherlock warmly exclaims from behind John. Sally jumps in her chair, John does not, and Sherlock sets his hand on the small of John’s back. “Lestrade wants you.”

 

Sally rolls her eyes and stands. “No guests, freak.”

 

Sherlock’s fingers curl. “He’s not a guest. He was assisting.”

 

John decides to keep his mouth shut. It’s not until they’re back in the lift that John turns to the man beside him, intending to speak, to ask, and sees Sherlock leaning heavily against the wall. “Is it always like this?” John asks instead.

 

“Hm?”

 

“You go until you’re exhausted.”

 

Sherlock smiles faintly and shakes his head. His curls don’t quite fall right. “It doesn’t usually take so long.”

 

“But you do keep going until you’re exhausted.”

 

“If I have to.”

 

“Sherlock--”

 

“No. Listen.” He takes John by the sleeve above the wrist, nearly takes both. His fingers brush against John’s hand on his cane and drop. “The work comes first. It has to.”

 

“I understand that.”

 

“I don’t think you do. The work comes first, John. Because it has to. There isn’t a choice in it. It’s not a decision.”

 

“Why not?”

 

The lift opens as Sherlock’s mouth does, and the words which come out are, “I’ll tell you back at the flat.”

 

John hesitates, then nods. The cab ride back is longer than the one out. Traffic, this time of day. Sherlock twitches and fidgets and begins to rant about the sheer number of cars and spill the secrets of everyone he can see. His hands twist in his lap. He seems utterly unaware of it, but when John reaches toward him, Sherlock immediately shifts his hands to the other side of his lap, out of reach. John rests the back of his hand against Sherlock’s thigh. Sherlock falls silent. John takes his hand away, and Sherlock snatches it back to leave it at its prior position. There it stays.

 

On Baker Street, Sherlock abandons John, forcing him to pay the cabbie, but he does wait for John at the street door and again at the top of the stairs. Rather than speak, Sherlock begins to put away the remains of the earlier experiment. Watching, John considers the state of his leg before deciding to sit down in an armchair. It puts his back to Sherlock, but this one is obviously the guest chair. Eventually, Sherlock comes round and sits opposite.

 

“You were saying,” John prompts.

 

“Have you ever been good at something?”

 

“I have, actually.”

 

“No, don’t be like that. I don’t mean it like that.”

 

John manually takes hold of his temper. “Then what do you mean?”

 

Sherlock shifts in his chair, drawing his feet up. He perches rather than sits. “Have you ever encountered an activity at which you excelled? Not a skill, John. Not being handy around the house, not being good at sport. A specific task that was suited to you.”

 

John thinks, unbidden, of his gun. “How do you mean?”

 

Hands pressed together, Sherlock looks to the side, staring into the unlit fireplace. He rubs his fingertips against his lips. “There is an activity. To which you are suited. More than suited. Which is suited to you. The performance of it accepts your mind.”

 

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

 

Sherlock’s mouth twists. “I didn’t think you would understand.”

 

“No, keep explaining.” John leans forward, sets his elbows on his knees. “I’m listening.”

 

Sherlock closes his eyes. His hands move and his lips shape syllables, but not words. He turns his head as if listening to something.

 

“Sherlock?”

 

Sherlock doesn’t respond.

 

After the cab ride, John knows better than to reach for Sherlock’s gesticulating hands, but it is worrying. It’s not a fit, not a spasm. It’s very controlled and it stops as inexplicably as it began.

 

“Picture the human mind as a body of water,” Sherlock instructs. “A body of water from a spout on the side of a mountain.”

 

“What’s the mountain?”

 

“Life.”

 

“Okay. So it’s going to run down?”

 

“Yes. It’s not in a basin. It’s simply spouting out and will go in whichever direction it can best follow gravity,” Sherlock narrates. “Now, a small amount of water could form a spring or a creek. The contours of the mountain are such that there are paths for the water to follow. For a small amount of water, a single creek occurs. It stays together. It does not scatter.

 

“For a larger amount, not so. The water will fill all the paths, but this divides it. It becomes scattered. If there were a contour in the mountain wide and deep enough, a river could occur, bringing it all together. This would be vastly preferable.”

 

John cocks his head to the side as he listens, watching the rhythm of Sherlock’s hands conduct the flow of his voice. It’s lovely and oddly musical, and the more Sherlock speaks, the more exhaustion fills his words.

 

“If given a choice, a body of water meant to be a single body would be a river rather than scattered. Does this make any sense to you?”

 

“You... need the cases to channel your mind,” John summarizes. “It’s how you work best. Think best?”

 

“Yes! Yes.” His eyes grin. “Do you understand? It’s not a choice. It is my default state, John. My brain is constantly trying to reset to it. I need password permission: a convoluted scenario, something unusual.”

 

“A locked box murder.”

 

“Not as good as a serial killer, but close,” Sherlock agrees.

 

“Okay,” John says slowly. Eventually, he needs to ask if the victims matter to Sherlock at all, but this doesn’t seem the right time. First, he needs to wrap his mind around this.

 

“Do you understand?” Sherlock asks. He fidgets on the armchair. “Or can you? Will you try?”

 

“I...” John holds up one hand. He thinks. “Is it, um. Is it like it hurts when you’re not doing it?”

 

“Not physical pain, no.”

 

“But it’s not optimal?” John asks.

 

“No.”

 

“It’s... It’s like something’s wrong when you’re not doing it. And when you are doing it, it’s extraordinary because of the contrast, but it shouldn’t be,” John says. “It’s supposed to be normal. How you usually are, or how you think of yourself being, except something is stopping you all the time. And it’s really fucking frustrating.”

 

As John speaks, Sherlock’s eyes focus harder and harder on John’s face. They blaze into him.

 

“Is that it?” John asks.

 

“Yes,” Sherlock breathes. He looks as amazed as he often makes John feel. “How did you...?”

 

John rolls his eyes and gives Sherlock’s leg a hard tap with his cane. “Idiot.”

 

Slowly, cautiously, Sherlock begins to grin. He visibly stops himself. “The work comes first. That is non-negotiable.”

 

John thinks of the simple act of standing up from this chair. It’s not the pain he dreads, simply the knowledge that the pain will always be waiting. He can’t even imagine relief. “I know,” he says. “That’s fine.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

John nods.

 

“I need to hear you say it.”

 

“The work comes first,” John says. “I’d prefer that you tell me when you’re doing it, and you definitely need to eat more, but it comes first.”

 

Over the next half-minute, Sherlock proves just how long thirty seconds can be. His eyes search John’s, search his face. They investigate the curl of his hands and the set of his shoulders. They analyze and categorize him.

 

“You mean that,” Sherlock realises, and he looks at John as if seeing a creature of wonder, as if he has no idea what John is willing to do if only to walk again. 

Chapter Text

Mouth slack, John sinks lower in the armchair. His cock sinks deeper between Sherlock’s lips. His toes curl against the rug.

The sound Sherlock makes is incredibly smug. It vibrates, lovely, all around him, and John spreads his knees wider to provoke a repeat. He stops when his leg protests, but that has Sherlock making indulgent noises, condescending comfort hummed around his cock.

“Ohhh, fuck you.”

Sherlock pulls off, wet and slow. He keeps stroking as he asks, “Insult, or requested relocation to bedroom?”

“Insult,” John replies, pressing on the back of Sherlock’s head.

Sherlock turns his head to the side. His teeth scrape over the inside of John’s thigh before the biting, before the sucking, before hot, pressing tongue. A lock of his hair clings to the spit-damp condom, clings to John’s cock above his slowly pumping hand.

John drags him up, no choice about it. He pulls by the shirt, not by the hair, but Sherlock still glares at him in confusion before catching on. Fortunately, John’s tongue in his mouth is a good hint and Sherlock is a very intelligent man.

Faster strokes, twisting toward the top. Sherlock’s thumb. Fingers knocking against John’s stomach as John bends forward into the snog. Sherlock tries to rise up, tries to press John into the chair and loom over him, climb onto him, but John catches him mid-motion.

“Stay.” A puff of breath between their open mouths. “There. There is good.” Where Sherlock’s hand knocks against his shirt, his stomach.

“Just my hand?”

John nods as best he can, their noses brushing. Sherlock’s other hand immediately grips John by the nape, securing John precisely where he is. If he really wanted to, he could drag John down out of the armchair. They’d wind up rutting on the floor. Fuck.

“No, open your eyes,” Sherlock instructs.

John does. Eyes dark and piercing, Sherlock stares back. John groans into Sherlock’s mouth. He reaches down, palm riding the back of Sherlock’s stroking hand. Not guiding but following, too lost to do otherwise. He doesn’t quite understand when Sherlock drastically shifts his grip, not until the condom is pulled off and tossed onto John’s discarded pants.

“Lick.”

Sherlock’s palm is already damp, but that is no reason to refrain from doing obscene things to it, to his fingers, his thumb. John pulls off with a pop, gazing directly into Sherlock’s eyes.

A failed attempt at a glare answers him, but anger is not the reason Sherlock’s entire face has gone red. “That wasn’t licking.”

John pulls Sherlock’s hand back to his cock. “Nope.” Christ, is that better. Sherlock immediately begins to play with him, toying with his foreskin, being a terrible fucking tease with light touches of the thumb.

Their noses brush. “John, eyes.”

He opens them. Panting shallow breaths, he stares into grey and blue and green. His eyelids twitch and fight to fall. Too close. Their faces. Uncomfortably intimate, unreasonably intimate. He’s splayed open, examined, secured, all by a hand on his neck and a fist around his cock.

“Keep them open when you come,” Sherlock whispers, urgent, his breath hot on John’s lips. “Will you do that for me?” The way he asks it, deep voice taking on a needful whine, it’s the dirtiest piece of begging John’s ever heard.

John opens his mouth and sound fails to follow. He nods, a quivering little nod that brushes his forehead against Sherlock’s hair, and it’s damp, the brushing, damp from Sherlock’s spit on John’s cock, and John comes. Everything blurs. Around the edges. Blur.

Mouth. Sherlock’s. On his. Teeth tugging lip. Eyes still open.

John slumps sideways onto the arm of the chair. Sherlock shifts with him.

“Christ.” Breathless.

Sherlock is still staring.

John stares back dumbly. He reaches. What for, he doesn’t know. Reciprocation. Nothing specific. The general area of Sherlock Holmes. He encounters a shoulder.

Sherlock downgrades to watching.

This, John can match. He should do something else, something more. At the moment, the best he could manage would be to let Sherlock fuck his mouth, and the logistics of the armchair are poor for that.

Time passes slowly, Sherlock’s hands warm on the skin of his knees. The fabric of the armchair begins to feel a bit odd against his bum.

“Oh  dear ,” Sherlock murmurs, finally releasing John from his gaze.

“Hm?”

“Your shirt is a mess.” Sherlock touches, hooking one finger between the buttons but avoiding the come. “I’ll put it in the wash.”

“You did that on purpose.”

“It’s your semen, not mine.”

“You still did that on purpose.”

“Without apology or shame,” Sherlock confirms. “Shirt off.”

“Sneaky bastard.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes and begins unbuttoning John. “Offering to do your laundry.”

There’s a tiny moment of panic and invasion before John remembers that he’s wearing a vest underneath his shirt today. Thank God for the chill of England. Reassured, John takes over, careful not to spread his mess—Sherlock’s mess?—on the armchair.

“There you are.” John hands him the bundle with a polite smile.

“John, you are very close to being naked in my sitting room.”

He glances down at himself. “So I am.”

“Very close.”

John nods. “Yep, you said.”

“You’re being obstinate.”

“And you like having to work for it.”

Adjusting himself through his trousers without any trace of shyness, Sherlock stands. “John,” he says. He indicates his own crotch. “Your efforts to draw this out have been very satisfactory. You may now stop.”

John merely smiles and crosses his legs, left ankle over right knee. When Sherlock looks, John casually folds his hands in his lap. Sherlock glares at him, more exasperated than John has ever seen him, but when John reaches out for a quick manual check of the situation, Sherlock’s knees nearly give way.

“Sorry,” John says, “what was it you wanted me to stop?”

Mouth slack, eyes straining to remain sharp, Sherlock’s expression is mixed parts “What have I unleashed?” and “Prepare to be thrown against the surface of my choosing.” An unexpected move, Sherlock takes John by the wrist and pulls his hand away with clear reluctance. Quick about it, he swipes up the rest of John’s discarded clothing and walks to the closed sliding doors to the kitchen.

John twists around in the armchair. “Oi!”

“Bedroom!” Sherlock replies. He slides open the door and keeps going.

Quite abruptly, John is alone and largely naked in another man’s sitting room.

“...dammit!”

Cane in hand, John climbs to his feet and follows. He is a doctor and a soldier and not at all afraid of nudity, but Sherlock’s landlady did pop in to give them biscuits an hour or so ago after they’d finished the post-case takeaway. There are certain things John would rather not risk.

That being the case, he keeps his tone relatively quiet as he approaches Sherlock’s room at the end of the hall. “You’d better be naked by the time I get there.”

John gets there.

Sherlock is entirely naked. John’s clothes are a heap on the floor, and they have made well-tailored friends. Back to the point, Sherlock is entirely naked. He’s hanging up his suit jacket in his closet. While naked. Still aroused. While naked.

“Right,” John says. “I’m going to need to be on my back, my right side, or sitting up.”

“You mean on the bed?” Sherlock asks.

“You cart off my clothes to your bedroom and you don’t want to use the bed?”

“No, that was the point.” Almost absently, Sherlock begins to wank. “You’re simply not in the habit of complying.”

John’s eyebrows shoot up. “‘ Complying ’?”

“You insisted on food first, you--”

“You hadn’t eaten in days.”

“--wouldn’t come in here in the first place, and you like to be difficult but never get the chance. It makes you feel immoveable. Strong. And a bit impish. Except you’re usually too polite. Not so with me.” Sherlock stalks forward, forcing John to look up and up at the fluid infiltration into his space. “You consent but you do not comply. You’re unyielding. You want me to make you move.”

“You want me to suck your dick.”

“How fortunate you want the same.” Sherlock brings his hand to John’s face, the touch jarringly gentle for his tone, for his eyes. His thumb rests before John’s lips, but does not brush against them. “Slight oral fixation. You are constantly, yes, that,” Sherlock tells him as John’s tongue encounters Sherlock’s thumb of its own volition. The taste of skin startles, arouses. “You don’t want to be forced. You want to be persuaded. You want it to be made clear you are worth persuading.”

His other hand snakes around John’s hip. Rather than slip down to his bum, Sherlock’s palm slides higher, sneaking beneath John’s vest. Sherlock’s face, his eyes, his mouth; all so very close to John’s own. Beneath John’s hand, he is desperately, frighteningly thin.

Lips brushing across John’s cheek, over John’s ear, Sherlock steps against him, into him. So much skin. Skin, and the bone beneath. Heat presses against John’s stomach. Sherlock’s hips nudge it closer, hotter. John wraps his arm around that lean waist, his other hand tightening its grip on his cane. He shifts, and Sherlock shifts with him. They groan.

“Clear enough?” Sherlock murmurs into his ear.

Secured by Sherlock’s arms as well as his own cane, John feels dizzy. His body has renewed interest and struggles toward renewed ability.

“If I asked you to sit on my bed,” Sherlock asks, “would you do it?”

John takes a risk. He shakes his head.

“Hm...” Mouth lower, nibbling on John’s earlobe. Sherlock pleasures himself against him, a slow drag of his cock over John’s belly, across fabric. “Even now?”

“Maybe,” John permits. Too long choked by arousal, his voice rasps.

“I could come from this.” More informative than flirty, all truth, no exaggeration. “I don’t  need  you on my bed. I don’t need to be inside your mouth when I come. That’s optional.”

His fingertips stroke the underside of John’s arm, a tickling touch John would twitch away from, except for the necessity of his cane. Sherlock’s breath is hot and damp on John’s neck, a heady prelude to the soft lips and tongue that follow. He keeps going until both of John’s hands are in his hair.

Sherlock’s mouth leaves his neck with a wet smack. “Unless you’d like that best. Would you like that best, John?”

“Yes.” God, yes.

Sherlock grins with his eyes alone and draws John with him onto the bed. He guides John first to kneel, then to sit, then, absolutely predatory, to lie down beneath him. The first movements are awkward, as manoeuvring on a strange bed always is. The last are much too comfortable, Sherlock impossibly light across John’s chest and thighs. While they snog, John grips as much of him as there is, certain there must somehow be more. Sherlock gasps into his neck, rutting against his thigh. John’s vest rides up between them. The rub of Sherlock’s stomach against John’s cock builds into sweat-slick frottage. Oversensitive, John rolls them over, breaking their rhythm.

“I thought-!” John gasps. Short fingernails dig into his nape. “ Fuck .”

“Yes,” Sherlock agrees, cheeks flushed, lips bitten plump.

John tries to stop. He does. He was going to, he still can. It’s the most turned on he’s ever been after coming, but any second orgasm is far away and his body knows it. “Blowjob?”

Straining against John, Sherlock shakes his head. “This.”

“Thought you...?”

“Your suggestion,” Sherlock corrects.

“What? No, no, I...” John can’t think like this, can’t be expected to think like this, not with Sherlock under him, against him, but he can’t, he can’t remember Sherlock actually saying, oh shit.

It shows on his face. It can’t not show on his face. Even if it didn’t, Sherlock would see it anyway.

Sherlock sees. Sherlock looks at him in a way no one has ever looked at John Watson, smug and triumphant, aroused at skin and success in equal measure. As if John is a prize and this is a game and Sherlock has just won.

John slaps a hand down on the headboard and thrusts,  shoves  their bodies tight together. Not cock-to-cock, but thigh-to-cock. Can’t do more before his tests and he keeps putting them off, oh  fuck . He makes Sherlock ride his leg. He bites Sherlock below the ear, bites down and growls his frustration until Sherlock is clinging and shaking and chanting his name. Wet heat spurts against John’s thigh. He lifts his head to see Sherlock’s face, expecting grey eyes shut tight and finding them wide open. Like flipping a switch, Sherlock’s eyes clear from their haze and snap to John, stare into John. They stare at each other, a conversation of the eyes.

When Sherlock draws him down, brings him close, John can’t resist. His stomach on the bed, his cheek drops onto Sherlock’s chest. John’s vest has bunched up beneath his armpits. Sherlock’s hand is a light touch around his nape.

Under John’s fingers, Sherlock’s heart still races. His breaths lengthen. They puff against John’s forehead. Reassuring proof of exertion. John is not alone.

“Towel,” Sherlock mutters. A motion John feels more than sees, Sherlock gestures vaguely.

“You get it.” As Sherlock came on the outside of John’s leg, not the inside or the crotch, John doesn’t care in the slightest.

“Can’t.”

“S’ your flat.”

Sherlock taps him on the forehead. “I’m pinned.”

“...right.” John rolls onto his back, one last exertion before collapsing. Sherlock ruins the effort by following part-way. Slow snogging is lovely, lovelier still when bits of John still feel as if they’re vibrating warmly under his skin. He can’t quite tell if that’s fading orgasm or approaching arousal.

A soft haze later, Sherlock peels away. John hums a question and Sherlock reminds him, “Towel.” John turns his head to watch the marvel that is Sherlock Holmes naked and unabashed. When Sherlock exits with John’s soiled shirt in hand, John lets his eyes fall shut. He has a vague thought about nightmares and REM and how long until the Underground closes for the night. He feels movement and rough, warm damp across his skin. Then air, a cloth. A sheet. The mattress shifts. There’s a thought that John might be having or trying to have or failing to have. It’s very soft and very far away.

It snaps into his mind, and hours have passed. Sleep falls off him like poorly stacked books on a table edge. Resounding silence follows the crash of awareness. He turns his head and peers through the dark.

Sherlock is asleep. Probably asleep. Hard to tell from the hair alone.

Very carefully, John sits up and finally pulls down his vest. It’s not much help, but it’s better than being completely naked. He slides out of Sherlock’s bed and stops at each creak of the floor as he tries to find his clothes by stepping on them. Trousers and pants, check. No sign of his shirt. Laundry, he remembers.

The bedroom door lets light in when opened, but not directly onto Sherlock’s face. It’s enough to see him by, not enough to wake him. Asleep, he’s a younger man. Not innocent, no, not with his hair so mussed and a patch of purple along his neck. More tired, possibly. More vulnerable. Exactly the sort of man who shouldn’t sleep next to a time bomb. John exits and closes the door quietly behind him.

In the kitchen, John’s shirt is in the dryer. Bit wrinkled. He leaves it. Sleeping in it won’t help. By the streetlight sneaking through the sitting room windows, John takes the blanket off the back of an armchair and relocates onto the sofa. It’s a tight fit that puts him on his side, but with his feet toward the doorway and his back to the back of the sofa, he’s on his right side. He can manage this. His mobile reports the time as a bit after half three.

He closes his eyes and breathes and promises himself he won’t wake crying. God, what was he thinking? How difficult would it have been, a simple “Sorry, can’t spend the night” over dinner? He berates himself until the world begins to bend. He jerks awake. And again. Again.

An eternity of a half hour later, it’s four am.

Christ.





“...sitting room...!”

Mrs. Hudson -!”

“He doesn’t look terribly comfortable.”

“Leave. Shoo. Thank you for the help, now get out.”

Softer, yet closer: “Are you sure he’s all right?”

“He’s  fine .”

“Maybe it was snoring,” the woman’s voice continues. “Do you need nasal strips?”

“Mrs. Hudson, leave. Now. Out.”

A laugh, so amused that John’s mouth twitches in echo despite the pain in his back. Footsteps down the stairs. “I’ll leave you two to it.”

John cracks an eye open. Daylight. He closes his eyes.

Sherlock huffs loudly. He does something in the kitchen for a bit and John considers waking up, officially. He needn’t bother. Sherlock comes round to the sofa and sits down in the obtuse V of John’s thighs and torso. “Caffeine,” Sherlock announces.

John hums.

“Breakfast?”

John blinks up at him. He immediately wants to pull the dressing gown off the man, which is probably the point. “When did you get food?” They’d ordered out for a reason, last night.

Sherlock shrugs. “Mrs. Hudson.” He drinks from a kitten-adorned mug that clearly isn’t one of his own before lounging back, using John’s knee and shoulder as armrests. “She enjoys being helpful.”

“You don’t snore, by the way.”

“Mm. Which is it for you?”

John frowns. “Snoring or what?”

“Nightmares or panic attacks?” Sherlock corrects.

“The one into the other,” John answers without thinking.

“Hm.” Sherlock drinks his coffee, entirely unfazed. “Preventative measure?”

“What?”

“The sofa. Preventative?”

“Yeah,” John admits. There’s no reason to say otherwise, not when Sherlock can look at him and know. The question sounded half-rhetorical as it was.

“Necessary?” No judgement, merely curiosity.

“Yes.”

“You’re certain.”

“Yes.”

“You think you’d attack me if I woke you.”

John doesn’t answer.

Sherlock leans forward and sets his cup on the coffee table. John’s middle goes cold with the loss of touch. “Shall we test it?”

“No.”

“I’m not asking you to sleep.” Sherlock stands and pulls the blanket off John. “Come back to bed.”

Curious and caught by the phrasing, John follows.

“You typically sleep on your back, correct?”

John nods.

“Lie down. Far side.”

John does so.

Sherlock lies down next to him. “Visualize the counterattack you find most natural.”

“Counterattack to what?”

“To the attack your body expects. You must have some idea. This fear is too specific for the cause to be so vague.”

Generally speaking, John tries not to let himself think about that.

“While I’m conscious and you’re asleep, I will never establish physical contact without verbally alerting you. You will be aware for all instances,” Sherlock promises. “While I’m asleep, the scenario may vary. I propose we cover the basics.”

The basics are all variations on Sherlock reaching for him or sprawling out onto him. They talk through each one before John can permit himself to respond, even simply to act it out. Sherlock reaches; John counters; Sherlock breaks John’s hold. There’s a bit of rolling back and forth and an alarming near miss of a knee toward a crotch. Their coordination improves. It’s calm and fluid. They take a short break for John to do a few of his shoulder exercises. Sherlock watches with undisguised fascination, turning his head this way and that as John’s scar peeks out from under his vest.

In a moment of forced courage, John shucks the vest to sit bare from the waist up. He expects Sherlock to stare and study, but Sherlock simply follows his lead and, quiet moments later, follows him down.





Cold eggs and toast in his stomach, John nearly makes it down the stairs. He makes it around the landing on his own two feet and, if not for Sherlock, would have completed the trip down on his bum. Instead, they smack onto the staircase, Sherlock spinning them and John spun. John hits the stairs, Sherlock at his back, Sherlock securing him.

John swears. Foully. He bites his own mouth shut. He forces an apology.

“It’s fine,” Sherlock dismisses, climbing off John and stepping carefully, agilely around him on his way back up. Getting John’s cane, no doubt.

With the railing, John manages to hobble the rest of the way down. He can feel Sherlock watching him. Observing. John reaches the end of the railing and there his mobility ends.

Sherlock follows him down and hands John his cane. Sherlock doesn’t press for another time. He doesn’t touch John or reach for him. He doesn’t get the door for John either, and this is all that keeps John from screaming.

“Bye,” he manages. He closes the door behind him without looking back and limps away just the same.





The nonsensical part of it is, it doesn’t stop. Sherlock keeps pressing for dinner, but only ever on nights John has already decided to give in. Whenever John remembers that it really is long past his turn to pay, they wind up in a restaurant where the proprietor believes in giving Sherlock free food.

The more they shag, the less the sex distracts John from his leg. Sherlock adapts. He takes to hiding John’s cane before treating John with such an assumption of mobility that John assumes it too. Those times don’t last as long, but Sherlock is now always certain to reintroduce the cane before risking John on a staircase. Some nights, John is too unrelentingly aware to fall for any of it, and those are the nights they fight. The nights after the fights are always distracting in the extreme, and they both spend longer than they ought pretending they’re annoyed enough to keep having vigorously angry sex.

It remains one of the stupidest things John has ever done. They stop shagging in his office or in the lecture hall before John’s position is in danger, but that’s far from being the worst of it.

At work, caught between truth and estrangement, he chooses truth. Reactions are many and annoyingly low in variety. John answers “You’re gay?” with “No” and “I thought he was asexual” with “Apparently not.” As irritating as they are, those are the simple questions. Worse by far are “Are you sure you’re all right?” and “You do know he uses people, mate?” He hesitates a moment too long at “Are you sure he’s not using you?” and decides he’d rather not try to explain why he doesn’t care. He throws himself into the teaching in the attempt to avoid his co-workers, but he’s not very good at either. Special field surgery module or not, he doubts he’ll be invited back for the following year.

At therapy, he keeps lying to Ella about the basics. He has enough fuss and worry to deal with at work. He doesn’t need to bring yet more down on himself. Physical therapy is a different case entirely, but only due to an accident of timing. As John’s weekends slowly shift into Sherlock’s flat, he leaves to his physical therapy appointments from Baker Street. On those days, his limp is vastly improved, though present, while the rest of his body has a penchant for sex-related muscle strain. Jacqueline spots it straight away and immediately launches into a matter-of-fact outline of shoulder-friendly sex positions. She refers to Sherlock exclusively as “they” and “your partner” until John specifies. From then on, Sherlock is “he” and “your partner” until John mentions his name. She is fluid and flawless, and when John says “Thank you”, she doesn’t feign confusion.

At his flat, everything grows stale. It’s always resembled a hotel room, but now he treats it as such. Not in terms of cleaning or stealing toiletries—the one he can’t do without and the other would make no sense—but in terms of his movements. He goes to work early. He comes home late, if at all. He never invites Sherlock up and never asks Sherlock to follow him home. His own bed is for sleeping when he’s exhausted and only then. Or when Sherlock is on a case. His definition of normal sleep has somehow altered to feature Sherlock next to him, wide awake and typing on a laptop until the small hours of the morning.

He has to be careful not to leave too many of his things at Sherlock’s flat. First is the toothbrush, easily enough replaced. Then a shirt here and a pair of trousers there. Something quick and convenient if John stays over on a school night. More follows. One too many missed references and that’s John’s Bond DVDs making the migration. If he keeps this up, he’s going to move in by accident. Bit not good there. Whatever else he and Sherlock have going, the man is still a detective with the police on speed dial and John is still a damaged veteran with a temper and an illegal firearm. This in mind, John makes sure to take his clothing back to his own flat regularly. This averages out to something neutral: for all Sherlock claims to be bored by them, the Bond DVDs already at Baker Street seem to have grown attached to their new home.

The cases are the terrible bit. Sherlock runs off. John limps home. It’s not as frequent as it could be. To be fair, John’s past relationships had suffered more from John being on call. Each time John lets him go or helps him turn his shirt right-side-out, Sherlock grins a little wider and kisses him a little harder. They both understand the strain. John makes the mistake once, just once, of attempting to compete for his attention. The case lasts five days after the failed attempt, enough time for John to move from anger, through self-disgust, and into quiet determination. He will not repeat his error. He will not let himself believe Sherlock could need him the way he needs the cases, not even with the added interest of the limp. The progress on the limp has stagnated, and they’re no longer feigning any of the angry sex.

A moment of surprise crops up during the next case. No one ever comes to John’s flat, not even Harry at her most desperate to reconnect. Hearing the buzzer ring, John is certain there’s been a mistake, but it’s not. It’s Sherlock. John buzzes him up.

“Solved already?” John asks, opening the door. It’s not rhetorical either. Agitation fills Sherlock’s frame, twitching out into his hands and burning behind his eyes. It’s either the case or John is about to be dumped, and Sherlock crowds into his space too far and too quickly for the second.

“No.” If there’s such a thing as a rough murmur, Sherlock has just made one. If there isn’t, Sherlock has just invented it. Close to a growl but lacking in rumble, the sound commands John’s body to wake, to be abruptly, achingly aware of his own skin.

John tips his face upward. “Then you’re here because...?”

“Fifteen hours until the test results, John. I can’t do anything until then.” Sherlock leans in, crowds in impossibly more, but he still does not touch.

“Okay,” John says. He doesn’t touch either. “Until then, what’s your plan?”

“I don’t have one! I can’t have one until the test results--”

“For the next fifteen hours,” John interrupts. He nearly puts his hand on Sherlock’s chest. There’s not enough space between them and John’s aborted motion touches both their chests anyway. “Are you eating, sleeping, anything? You could use my shower.”

Sherlock shakes his head. “I was talking to you.”

“And I’m sorry for interrupting...?”

“No. Before. Earlier today.”

“I wasn’t around earlier today,” John reminds him.

“I know,” Sherlock says. He takes John by the wrist. “I’m not hungry, but I’ll shower.”

John points, not that pointing is necessary in a flat so small, and Sherlock pulls John after him. “It’s nothing as big as your tub,” John warns.

“Fine.”

“And one of the pipes burns you if you lean against it.”

“I won’t.” Sherlock pulls John into the loo after him. There’s barely enough room to shut the door with both of them inside. “Sit.”

John puts down the toilet lid and is treated to the spectacle that is Sherlock Holmes monologing while stripping. And while showering. Sherlock lifts his voice over the spray and John watches even after the glass of the shower stall turns opaque with steam. The case is fascinating in its own right, but John does get a touch sidetracked when Sherlock finishes and steps out. Eyes resting always on John’s face, Sherlock towels off without pausing in his speech. Once dry, he simply stands and speaks, towel hanging from one hand as the other gestures.

“There’s nothing to do but wait now,” Sherlock concludes. “I spent the last six hours making sure of that. There’s nothing else left, John.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

“I don’t want to eat.”

“Not what I asked.” John plants his feet on the tile, knees spread wide. He pointedly glances down and Sherlock shifts toward to fill the space. “When was the last time?”

“What day is today?”

“Wednesday.” John’s hands settle on the sharp bones of Sherlock’s hips.

Sherlock visibly takes a moment to think. “Monday.”

“How long to wrap up the case once the test results are in?”

“Only a few hours.”

John strokes his sides. The ribs and the concave stomach. “Drink some water and I won’t yell at you for not eating.”

“I’m not thirsty.”

“We could shag a bit. You’d be thirsty then.”

“I don’t want to shag.”

“Mm, it’s looking that way.” John is far from offended, likely due to the unabashed nudity. The body before him is a statement of trust, not a demand of sexuality. Sherlock is long and pale, vulnerable in every inch. Beneath John’s hands, beneath his own skin, there’s a tremor in Sherlock’s body that refuses to surrender. “This isn’t that kind of tension.”

“Obviously,” Sherlock snaps. “If it were, do you honestly think you’d still have your clothes on?”

John looks up at him mildly. “To be fair, we’ve done a lot of shagging with our clothes on.”

One long glare later, Sherlock smiles faintly.

“Right,” John says. He stands, hands sliding effortlessly to the small of Sherlock’s back. “Are you going to get dressed, or should I pull the blinds?”

Sherlock pulls John’s bathrobe from its hook on the loo door. “This will do.” Sherlock shrugs it on and it falls over John’s hands.

“Bit short.”

“So are you.”

“That’s right, mock the man with a low centre of gravity. I’m sure that will end well for you.” Empty threats double as endearments, and this one gets him kissed.

“Exceptionally well,” Sherlock murmurs.

“Exceptionally well doesn’t involve a cramped loo.”

Instead, it involves John’s cramped bed, his laptop, and one of the Bond DVDs yet to make it to Baker Street. They sit up at the head of the bed, Sherlock’s back against the wall, John nestled between his legs. John’s head rests against Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock’s hands rest over John’s stomach.

“Your torso is ridiculous,” John tells him. “You’re not tall, you’re  long .”

Sherlock sets his chin on the top of John’s head. Smug bastard.

“God, I hate you.”

They watch the film without paying it any attention. John tries not to think about the work he ought to be doing. Sherlock performs a manual inspection of John’s hands. Impossibly soon, the credits roll. John checks his watch.

“We have time to start another,” he lies.

“Your pick.”

“You have to let go of me if I’m going to get it.”

Sherlock sighs, the world’s most inconvenienced man. Released, John pads across the room to his lower desk drawer. Removing his laptop from the top drawer had been an act of terrible bravery, the gun beneath and Sherlock in the room, but there’s nothing illegal stashed with his DVDs. He comes back to bed, but Sherlock stops him from climbing back in, a hand on his arm.

“What?” John asks.

“John, there’s something you ought to realise.”

John pulls his arm away.

Sherlock lets him. Sherlock watches him. An impossibly intelligent, impossibly gorgeous man in John’s bed, in John’s bathrobe and nothing else: the situation is abruptly unreal.

“What?” John asks.

Sherlock’s eyes flick downward.

John looks as well and, oh. He’s standing again. As always, the pain returns the moment he notices its absence. Not sharp, not shooting. An ache today, just that. Carefully, John shifts his weight from one foot to another. He can stand, but he wouldn’t want to walk. He turns around, weight on his good leg, and sits on the bed.

“How, um. How long?” John asks.

“The entire time I’ve been here,” Sherlock responds.

“You mean I answered the door without it?”

“John, that’s what I said.”

“Right,” John says. “Sorry.” He switches the DVDs in his laptop. “This one is  Goldfinger . Even if we stop halfway tonight, finishing it later is mandatory.”

Unmoving behind John, Sherlock doesn’t say a word. If John turns around, Sherlock will have that analysing expression on, the one where John is something fascinating and theoretical. John is a puzzle almost unravelled, something to work on between the better, larger life-and-death challenges.

“Sherlock,” John prompts.

“Finishing it is mandatory,” Sherlock confirms in a bored drawl. His hands slip around John’s sides and clasp before his stomach. He draws John against him, and John shouldn’t, John truly shouldn’t comply. His body doesn’t understand what his mind knows. His body feels Sherlock behind him and goes pliant, turns malleable. His body shivers and obeys when Sherlock murmurs “Press ‘Play’, John” into his ear.

He needs to tell Sherlock to stop touching him. He ought to. He needs to back out of this before Sherlock walks away. He has to end it.

Sherlock drapes himself around John, chin tucked against his good shoulder. Sherlock’s hands investigate John’s limbs, repetitive motions all.

Now is too soon, is clearly too soon. If he backs out now, he loses Sherlock and keeps his limp. He refuses to lose one without losing the other. It’s already going to hurt anyway, so why not keep going?

One hand keeps stroking John’s stomach, a circular motion. It bids him to relax, to lean back and have done with it. John’s hands settle onto Sherlock’s knees, knobby and bare. Sherlock nuzzles his neck.

“That’s very good, John.” Soft and low, words kissed against his skin. “You’re doing well.”

John’s throat clogs up.

Sherlock continues his petting as the opening sequence plays. “You’ve made extraordinary progress, John.”

John squeezes his eyes shut tight.

“You’re remarkable,” Sherlock praises. “You can acknowledge the limp now without succumbing to it.”

John acknowledges the hands slipping beneath his shirt. He succumbs. The title sequence plays on, and Shirley Bassey sings an ill-timed warning against golden words in the ear.

“You’ll soon be walking unaided, regularly,” Sherlock continues. His breath is hot and his lips are soft. His voice is proud. John as no idea if “unaided” means without the cane or without Sherlock. He assumes both.

“If you don’t pay attention to the film, I’m going to restart it,” John warns.

“Oh dear.”

“I mean it.”

“I know you do,” Sherlock agrees, his words a low rumble against the side of John’s neck. “I can watch like this.”

“Sherlock, stop.”

Sherlock freezes. Then he lifts his lips to John’s ear and instructs, “Specify.”

“What?”

“Stop what?” Sherlock asks. “Speaking over the film while nothing’s happening or touching you with no intentions toward intercourse tonight?”

John shakes his head. Sherlock strains to look him in the eyes, and John turns his face away.

“John?”

John shakes his head and shakes his head and he folds himself in half and this hurts his leg. Sherlock’s hands slip away from his front to reappear upon his back. John curls away from the touch. His heart shakes rather than pound. He needs to sit up and be normal, but he can’t, it’s too far away.

He can’t go back. He can’t. He’d never been so alone before. He can’t do it again. He doesn’t need people, not like this, but he does, and it’s Sherlock. He can’t go back to sitting in his office and hoping someone will drop by with a question or a care or a concern. The moment Sherlock leaves his flat, the space will be small and drab, all traces of warmth vanishing into the folds of his coat.

He can walk or he can have Sherlock. It’s that simple. Without the limp, John is a dull cliché of a traumatized soldier, one of the many, nothing special, nothing shining. John bores himself. A broken man in his late thirties with a wounded shoulder and greying hair; what the hell could Sherlock want with a man like that?

The future stretches out in front of him, blank and even. He’s a soldier who can’t serve, a surgeon who can’t operate, and a teacher who can barely teach.

“John. John, look at me.”

John presses his face against the duvet. The cloth is damp. He can’t breathe.

“You’re having a panic attack. Tell me what helps.”

John shakes his head. His heart shakes into his throat, pulsing, pumping the contents of his stomach and bidding them to rise.

“Fine, don’t. I’ll work it out. Keep breathing.”

John tries. He nearly vomits.

“John, we’ll have to restart the DVD.”

A giggle wells up, shrill as it scrapes John’s throat.

“Should I restart it?”

God no. John can’t listen to the theme again.

One hand steady on John’s back, Sherlock shifts behind him. The laptop’s volume increases. Sherlock begins to complain about how epidermal suffocation is a ludicrous way of killing someone and how the dead woman obviously didn’t fight her assailants. He lists the evidence, accusing the sheets of the bed most of all. On and on, Sherlock complains, a voice of reason and irritation at once.

Lightheaded, John only knows he’s breathing once he’s begun to laugh. It bubbles out of him, pours out of him, and leaves him shaking.

“John, ‘Pussy Galore’ is not a real name,” Sherlock whinges.

John shushes him. He shifts onto his side, still curled, his back still turned. His head is near the radiator. Sherlock’s hand moves to his hip.

“I’m paying attention. Restart it and I throw your laptop out the window.”

“Don’t you dare,” John rasps with a ruined voice. He’s not sure when that happened.

Sherlock scoffs. His hand on John’s hip is heavy and stable. His thumb doesn’t circle. His fingers don’t dip beneath cloth. His palm simply warms. “Don’t be an idiot. I dare anything I like.”

As John begins to relax, his legs begin to slide off the side of the mattress. The bed isn’t terribly wide and even a man John’s size cannot lie across it for long, not without being completely curled up. He has to shift and sit up. He keeps his back to Sherlock and his eyes on the screen.

“God,  finally .” Sherlock scoots forward to resume their earlier position, his arms wrapped around John’s stomach. The long line of him moulds against John’s back. “I refuse to sit through this if you won’t watch too.”

John reminds himself to breathe. “Could you not do that right now?”

Sherlock tilts his head so his hair stops tickling the side of John’s face. The sensation is immediately missed.

John takes Sherlock by the wrists and peels his arms away. Sherlock takes a moment to adjust, but he gives John space easily enough. It would be more awkward if John weren’t exhausted.

Eventually, Sherlock reaches forward and pauses the action in the middle of a fight scene. “You typically go to bed this time on weeknights.”

John nods.

“Fine.” Sherlock climbs out of bed, pulling John’s bathrobe shut around him. He dresses in the loo.

“The bed is tiny and you’re not sleeping anyway,” John says when Sherlock exits in his shirt and trousers.

“The desk chair is fine.” Sherlock takes John’s laptop and relocates there.

John watches him for a bit, not sure what just happened. Finally, he shucks his clothing down to his boxer briefs and slips under the duvet. He warns himself that Sherlock may leave before he wakes. That the lanky man in the glow of his laptop is and always has been a temporary feature.

He closes his eyes and sleeps.





Sand and pain blur his sight. He struggles awake only to fall, to slip down. He thinks he wakes. Maybe he’s dreaming.

No, he is. He’s dreaming. He must be: his cane is gone. Sherlock’s hand fills his instead, which is strange. John isn’t one for holding hands and Sherlock actively avoids it. Today, tonight, Sherlock drags him by the hand. John runs and runs, but Sherlock’s legs are longer. John can’t keep up. Their hands slip apart. Sherlock doesn’t notice, running on through dust under the unrelenting sun. John yells after him: Sherlock has forgotten his helmet. John chases.

Wheeling around, Sherlock shouts, “Brilliant! The test results are in.” John reaches for him and Sherlock kisses him the once, not hard, on the corner of his mouth. Sherlock bounds away in a flurry of excitement, and John stares stupidly at the door before flopping down and letting the world shift again. The following dreams don’t make much more sense, but when John wakes with damp cheeks and a shaking body, his flat is mercifully empty.





John throws himself into his work with army discipline. He focuses, and he networks a bit. He even goes so far as to communicate with his TA about something beyond university and the weather. He stays longer after the class periods end, talking to students while slowly leaving for his office.

The timing of his new passion surprises more than a few members of the faculty and student body alike. Spring break is rapidly approaching with exam periods on the other side. Most have begun to run themselves down or crack up under the final stretch, but it’s far from the amount of stress John was once accustomed to daily. He’ll have his research once the break begins.

He talks to Mike about that, and Mike counters with the idea of possibly using the first few days to relax. Possibly the first entire week. John hedges his answer and says he’s getting back in contact with an army friend. He emails Bill to keep himself from being a liar and is promptly invited down to Devon for a weekend. He accepts.

By rescheduling his therapy and PT away from that weekend, he has them sooner, during the week. Sheer coincidence divides his appointments onto the two nights Sherlock comes to fetch him. When John kisses him goodbye, it is understood that John will want to be left alone for the remainder of the night.

Sherlock texts and John always texts back promptly if he’s not actively doing something else. He says that he’s busy, that this time of year is hectic, that he wasn’t warned about this part of teaching. As students discover this to be their last chance at making office hours, John’s small office seems smaller still, absolutely cramped. There’s a queue outside, a real one, and the sudden rush and barely suppressed anxiety in the undergrads is something John remembers well. Not something he experienced himself, but something he remembers seeing in his classmates. He begins to make time, stretching the end of his office hours as long as he can.

The Friday before holiday begins, Sherlock waits outside his office, confusing his students. John refuses to hurry on that account, but he might do anyway. He tells the last student out to send in the man in the big coat. She leaves and Sherlock enters. John doesn’t get up.

Wordlessly, Sherlock closes the door behind him. He crosses the office and sits down where John clears his desk for him. John rolls his chair forward until he’s framed by Sherlock’s legs. He wraps his arms around Sherlock’s waist, drops his head into the man’s lap, and sighs at the indulgent hand on his nape. All turns soft and quiet. Sherlock’s breathing. The light rasp of John’s stubble against expensive trousers. He could fall asleep like this and not care.

“Come home with me, John.”

“Meeting in twenty minutes.”

Fingertips rub circles into John’s shoulders. “After, then.”

“Can’t.”

“Too tired. I understand. You’ll come back to my flat, I’ll get us takeaway, and you’ll sleep in my bed however long it takes to overcome your exhaustion. Alone, obviously, but I’ll make enough noise in the kitchen that you’ll be able to relax. When you wake, call for me, and I’ll suck you off. If you’re too tired to reciprocate, I’ll straddle your stomach and have a lovely wank. Your hands on my thighs, my come on your chest. It’s an attractive image.

“We’ll shower, possibly separately. You will eat breakfast. You can have a slow morning. I’ve an experiment that needs seeing to. You could help, if you like. Mrs. Hudson will likely give us lunch. She doesn’t think I know how to feed you properly. We could watch more of your films in the afternoon. We can’t finish  Goldfinger  with the DVD back at your flat, but there are others you’ve left by my telly.

“For dinner, we go out. Italian or Chinese, possibly Thai. Or Vietnamese. We had Indian last time. I’ll slide my foot between your thighs. I won’t do anything else. I want to feel you harden. It’s up to you whether to try for friction. I imagine you’ll counter by being pornographic with your spoon again. You’re subtle enough that it’s not crass. It’s surprisingly effective.

“We take a cab home and hope Mrs. Hudson has taken her herbal soother for the night. If she hasn’t, we’ll relocate to the upstairs bedroom. I can move the storage boxes and make up the bed. Noise won’t be an issue, provided you don’t make much more than usual. I plan to. If it’s both of us, it might become an issue. I don’t care. I want to be as creative as possible, but if we’re already too involved to get beyond the basics, that’s fine. We have Sunday for that. We recover on Monday,” Sherlock concludes. His fingers curl in John’s hair. “Say yes.”

John nearly does, train tickets to Devon or not. He lifts his head and rubs at his face instead. “Next weekend.”

“Your meeting can’t possibly go that long.”

John chuckles a bit. He tiredly grins up at Sherlock and Sherlock looks down, still waiting for the answer he wants. “Sorry,” John says. “Already have plans.”

Sherlock frowns. “You never have plans.”

“I do this weekend.”

“Since when?”

“Last week.” He pats Sherlock’s knee. “You do know I have friends besides you, right?”

The stunned look on Sherlock’s face suggests otherwise. “And these plans include tonight?”

“A train in the morning. That means actually sleeping tonight.”

“When will you be back?”

“Monday,” John answers. “Well, late Sunday night. Effectively Monday.”

Sherlock is very quiet, and then says, “John, in the future, I’d like you to keep me apprised of relevant complications.”

“‘Complications’? Sorry, how is visiting Bill a complication? It’s called a social life, Sherlock.”

“If it interferes with my plans enough to require their revision, it’s a complication,” Sherlock condescends. “That’s what a complication is.”

“Fine, but I’m going.”

“I haven’t asked you not to. Who’s Bill? Besides an Army connection. That much is obvious.”

John lifts his chin. “Bill was the nurse who responded when I was shot. He and his wife live down in Exeter. I missed the wedding because I was in hospital and haven’t spoken much with Bill since.” He hates the way he wants to emphasize Jessica’s presence, the way it is somehow necessary to mark Bill as just a friend and only a friend.

“He understands PTSD and reverse culture shock?” Sherlock asks.

“Probably, yeah.”

“Good.”

John nods and waits for the argument to continue. It does not.

“You’re going to be late for your meeting,” Sherlock prompts.

“You’re sure it’s all right?” John asks.

Sherlock frowns. “What now?”

Apparently, it is. “I meant to tell you sooner,” John apologizes instead of prodding Sherlock back into a row. “I guess I’m used to you already knowing everything.”

That gets John a grin. “I typically do.” Sherlock plants both feet on John’s chair and pushes him back. He stands in the resulting space. “I expect to see you on Monday.”

“You will.” John reaches around him for his cane and stands as well. Immediately, Sherlock kisses him. John giggles into it, oddly breathless. They haven’t properly touched in over a week and every inch of him reminds him of this lack.

“I expect to see you in my bed on Monday,” Sherlock murmurs. The words brush his lips against John’s, soft and lovely.

“I can arrange that.”

“Can you?” They kiss.

“Yeah,” John answers. They kiss again.

Sherlock’s hands stroke down his arms, up his forearms, down and up and again. It’s tempting and distracting, and John pushes Sherlock to lean on his desk. “Naked,” Sherlock specifies.

“What?”

“Naked in my bed on Monday.”

John groans his agreement. He snogs deeper, presses harder, and he nearly doesn’t notice when Sherlock tries to ease the cane from his hand.

John breaks away immediately. He nearly falls, but he stabilizes. “Leave it. Why the hell can’t you just--” He bites the words off, turns his face to the side. “I’m going to be late.”

“John--”

“No,” John snaps. “No leg experiments today.”

“It helps you!” Sherlock’s wild gestures come close to hitting John in the chest. “How is it bad if it helps you?”

“I didn’t ask you to!” John shouts, then swears. “We’re not doing this in my office.”

“You’re avoiding me. I wasn’t certain before, but you are.”

“Yes, fine, deduce me. Go on. The open book of John Watson, let’s hear it.”

“You prefer to ignore your limp. You refuse to acknowledge it, and on the rare occasion you do, you forbid me to touch you afterward.” Sherlock reaches to prove his point and John forces himself not to flinch, not to recoil, but the tremor shakes beneath his skin all the same. “You  want  to be rid of it, John!”

“And that gives you the right to come in and mess around with my head?” John demands. “Does it really? Everything else, you ask.  Everything  else, Sherlock. I didn’t agree to this.”

Sherlock stares at him as if John has gone deranged. “You’ve had months to object.”

“I’m objecting now!”

Grey eyes search John’s face. They stroke across his shoulders. They dart down to John’s fisted hands, one trembling at his side, the other white around his cane. “Fine,” Sherlock says.

“It’s not fine.”

“Obviously not,” Sherlock replies. “No need to worry, John. It won’t happen again.”

“Good!”

“You’ll be late for your meeting.”

“Fine!”

“Have a nice trip.”

“I will!”

Sherlock leaves and closes the door behind him.

John shakes. His fists first. Then his leg. He sits, and he shakes a bit more. He can’t catch his breath, can’t find any air in his cramped office. What remains is terribly cold, winter sharp in his throat. He has breathing exercises and he forces his lungs to obey, but his heart won’t stop pounding. Anger gives way the bare amount required to let him see what he’s done.

If he could stand, he would run. He would chase. He would catch Sherlock and have nothing to say, nothing to promise, nothing to give worth having. He tries to stand anyway.

When Mike finally finds him, he’s still shaking on the floor, pathetic and afraid.

Chapter Text

Exeter is small after London, but everything is small after London. He and Bill spend the morning catching up, which means they spend it talking about nothing in particular. They don’t mention anyone who’s died until the late afternoon. Soon after, Jessica comes home, and John’s ability to keep talking, really talking, vanishes.

She’s nice, though. She would have to be, the way Bill’s always gone on about her. When she speaks, Jessica fills the silence rather than breaking it. The two of them are obvious newlyweds, but it’s endearing. Jessica sets John up peeling potatoes at the kitchen table, and he watches the casual touches of unconscious coordination as they cook dinner. The three of them head out to the pub after, and although Jessica offers to drive them, John insists on walking.

“Why the leg?” Bill asks halfway through his second pint.

“Hm?”

“None of your injuries had anything to do with your leg,” Bill says.

John shrugs a little. “Sometimes, there isn’t a reason. At least, not a clear one.”

“Suppose so.”

“Sorry,” Jessica says, “this might be inappropriate.”

John gestures for her to continue.

“What does it feel like? Does it hurt?”

With every step. “A little. I know it’s all in my head, though.”

“So paracetamol doesn’t help?”

“It helps my shoulder,” John answers. He drains the rest of his pint. “Next round, anyone?”

John may be small, but his liver is mighty. Walking back from the Black Horse, his gait is close to even. Bill and Jessica walk in front where the pavement grows narrow, his arm around her shoulders, her thumb hooked into one of his belt loops. Bill murmurs something, she giggles, and John bites his lip to keep from shouting at them. Maybe he has had too much.

Once back, Bill sets up the fold-out sofa for him in their sitting room. They make it up with hospital corners and flawless coordination. They sit down on it.

Bill ventures, “Do you ever miss...?”

“God, yes.”

“Oh, thank God. It’s not just me.”

John shakes his head. “Not just you.” He laughs a little and it doesn’t sound right. “Trust me, it’s not just you.”

They sit for a bit longer.

“Jess doesn’t get it. She knows she doesn’t get it, none of that ‘I know what you’re going through’ shite. My mum, though. Christ. She keeps comparing me to Dad, like that’s going to be any help.”

“Do you think you’ll go back?” John asks.

“Two years until redeployment, minimum,” Bill says. “We might have a kid on the way by then. I don’t know. Would you go back?”

“Yes.”

They sit a bit longer.

“Right, well,” Bill says and stands.

“Yeah.”

“’Night.”

“’Night.”





Staring at shadows cast by streetlamp, John tells himself it’s a bad idea. He tells himself it’s a terrible idea, but he reaches over the side of the bed and fetches his mobile. Still no new texts.

Are you awake?  He watches the screen dim on his message. He thinks it through, then thinks it through again. He presses Send anyway.

Nine agonizing seconds later:

Yes. SH

John dials immediately.

“John.” Sherlock’s voice sounds odd. Deeper, rougher.

“Did I wake you?”

Sherlock clears his throat. “No.”

“Oh. Okay. Good.”

“You’ve been drinking.”

“Not that much,” John answers. “We went out to the pub.”

“And now you’re mellow and lonely.”

“I’m always mellow and lonely.”

“No, sometimes you’re shouting,” Sherlock corrects, fact rather than accusation.

“Yeah,” John acknowledges. Still lonely, though. He thinks it but doesn’t say it. Instead, he listens to Sherlock breathe.

“Mike texted,” Sherlock tells him. He waits for John to respond, then continues, “I didn’t realise touching you would result in a panic attack.”

“It’s fine. I’m fine.”

“Presently, yes.”

“Can we not talk about that please?”

“Possibly. Is there anything else worth talking about?”

“Yes,” John answers immediately. He fails to think of anything.

“Such as?”

“I...” John closes his eyes to the ceiling. “I have a temper.”

“I noticed.”

“Sometimes I say stupid things.”

“Again, I’ve noticed.” The eye-rolling is audible.

“I mean,” John says, “I wasn’t exactly at my rational best.”

“How long are you going to state the obvious?”

“Look, do you want the fucking apology or not?” John harshly whispers.

“The--oh. Oh.” There’s a short pause. “No, it’s fine without.”

“Oh,” John says, abruptly nauseous. He rolls onto his side. It’s the safety position, not the foetal position.

“I’ll avoid triggering you in the future. It’s a non-issue.”

John begins to breathe again. “Just... don’t take it out of my hand again.”

As if making a sacrifice, Sherlock sighs. “I won’t.”

“If you don’t do that, um. You can. If you want. Keep at it.” John cringes as he speaks, but he can’t seem to stop. “If you still wanted to.”

“How many drinks have you had?”

“Four. I’m not drunk.”

“Say it again in the morning,” Sherlock tells him.

“Okay.” He should ask in the morning as well, but he can’t wait. “Can I see you on Monday?”

There is a long silence.

“Sherlock?”

“What time does your train get in tomorrow night?”

“Eleven and a bit,” John replies.

“Paddington is closer to my flat than yours,” Sherlock informs him, sounding for all the world as if this information is of little consequence.

“It is, isn’t it.”

“During daylight hours, it’s walking distance.”

Always with the leg. “Well, in that case. I’ll see you on Sunday.”

“Mm.”

The next silence is much better. Soft. John rolls over and sets his mobile against his other ear, resting it on the side of his head.

“You’re in bed,” Sherlock deduces.

“Yep.”

“Alone, I hope.” Less a warning, more a flirt. The deep sound makes John grin against his pillow.

“Does it still count as alone if I have you on the phone?”

“Only if you have me over the phone,” Sherlock replies.

It takes John two attempts to process that statement, then another to be sure he’s correct on the innuendo. “I need to be quiet,” John whispers.

“Pity.”

“You don’t need to be quiet,” John hurries to tell him. “You can be... not quiet.”

“You’re not going to touch yourself, are you?” The phrasing is a question, but there is absolutely no doubt in that voice. “You’re too polite a guest. You’ll be frustrated.”

“Bit late on that warning, Sherlock.”

“Oh?” Sherlock rumbles. “How late?”

John swallows. He presses the phone harder against his ear. “Very.”

“John, I feel you ought to know. When you texted, I was already occupied.”

Christ. “How occupied would that be?”

“The usual degree. I could specify further, or I could simply show you tomorrow night.”

“Or,” John manages to say, “you could tell me how you’ll show me.”

There is a delicious noise followed by a promising pause. “Are you near the loo?” Sherlock asks.

“What? Why--Sherlock, I’m not going to wank on the toilet,” John whispers into the phone.

The chuckle against John’s ear sounds like something John should put in his mouth and suck on.

“Sherlock, I mean it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Pity. I’m enjoying the image.”

“What, me on a toilet?” At long last, Sherlock has found one of John’s turn-offs. He hadn’t known it to be a turn-off, but he is immediately turned-off.

“The location is irrelevant. Easier clean-up, a door to close: convenient.”

“Sorry, what part of any image is left if you take that away?”

“First, you,” Sherlock answers. No hesitation, no indication of noticing the giddy squirming heart attack Sherlock gives him. “Second, the... not desperation. Negotiation of priorities. You love risk but would hate to be caught, and it... It, um. Um...”

Very quietly, as quietly as John has ever said anything, he whispers, “And you’re going to keep talking until I do, is that it? You don’t think I can hold out. Too bad.”

“No, you can,” Sherlock is quick to assure him. “You could. If you wanted to. But you obviously don’t.”

“I don’t know. Calling to apologise? I don’t think I get to come.”

“Rubbish. You’re apologising, I’m telling you to come, there we have it.”

“Nope,” John answers. “I’m going to listen to you, and I’m not going to touch myself.”

“Why not?” Sherlock demands.

“Because you want me to.”

The line goes so quiet, John nearly believes he’s misjudged this and Sherlock has hung up. Then, stunned, voice deep and thick, lust-drunk: “John, why... I don’t understand.”

“Yes you do.”

“You... you consent, but you don’t comply. You’re stubborn. You...”

“I won’t do what you tell me to,” John whispers. “You can’t make me.” He’s almost sure of that. “Try and I’ll hang up.”

“Daring, for an apology.” The words are hoarse and low.

“Maybe I know what turns you on,” John counters.

A sharp inhale. A slow, shaking exhale.

“Are you, um.” Keep going, John can keep going. He doesn’t sound that much like a ridiculous porno. “Sherlock?”

“Ngh?”

“Are you touching yourself?”

John.”

“Are you?”

“...Yes.”

“Okay,” John says. “That’s good. That’s really good. Tell me about it. Because I’m not, y’know. Over here. It’s a bit uncomfortable, and I’m holding onto my phone and my pillow, because otherwise, well.”

“Do it,” Sherlock urges.

“Nope. I’m going to listen to you come.”

“No, I’m... I’m going to... you.”

“Not tonight,” John replies. “Maybe tomorrow.”

“‘Maybe’?” Arousal and indignation combine oddly, beautifully, so much like Sherlock’s face itself.

“I’ll be tired,” John says. “Most people sleep, Sherlock. I might lie down on your bed and fall asleep.”

“Don’t.”

“I might.”

“John.”

“I might not.” In for a penny: “I still won’t have come. That might keep me up.”

A muffled groan rumbles across the connection.

“Please don’t bite your hand?” John asks. “Let me hear you.”

Heavy breathing. Panting. And beneath, such familiar sounds. Flesh on flesh.

“That’s lovely,” John whispers.

“Ah. Ah.” Louder. Again. A long, tight moan that dwindles into a sigh.

Doing everything he can not to move, John listens to him breathe.

“How... was that... ‘lovely’?”

“I know what you look like when you’re about to come,” John answers honestly.

“Oh. Um.”

John actively does not touch himself. They breathe together in the dark until John can risk shifting. They breathe together a bit longer still.

“Are you asleep?” John whispers.

“No.”

John closes his eyes. Distantly, he thinks his mobile plan will be all right with this.

A warm haze of time later, his mobile begins to beep. “...s’ry, what?” He yawns.

“That would be your mobile battery,” Sherlock replies. The sound of typing accompanies his speech. “It’s three eighteen.”

“...oh.” He should plug that in. He drifts away instead, soft and slow and unafraid to dream.





His battery is dead in the morning. Reassuringly so: in the light of day, last night’s conversation takes on a dreamlike quality. Spending Sunday tired and horny doesn’t make the memory any less surreal. There’s not too much to do in Exeter, and Bill has always been excellent at sitting in silence. John wonders if Bill heard any of John’s phone call last night, but if he had, he never mentions. Thank God.





Mrs Hudson saw you’d be coming over. Have persuaded her not to wait up for you. SH

She saw? How?

It’s obvious. SH

Everything’s obvious for you.

So was my change of mood, according to Mrs H. SH

Jessica noticed too. Maybe Bill.

Does she know it’s because you’ll be in my bed tonight? SH

No. She noticed me texting under the table all through dinner. She asked if I have a girlfriend.

Did you correct her? SH

Yes.

I want you to fuck my mouth tonight. I want to feel you sliding between my lips. You wouldn’t choke me. SH

Jesus Christ.

Do you want that? SH

I wouldn’t say no.

But will you say yes? SH





John? SH





This is neither amusing nor clever. SH






Sherlock opens the door.

“Yes,” John says.

“That wasn’t suspenseful at all,” Sherlock replies, practically dragging John into the foyer.

“Wasn’t meant to be.” John shuts the door behind him. “I wanted to say it in person.”

“Sentiment?”

“I was hoping you’d pounce, actually.”

Sherlock smirks. “Come upstairs.”

“No pouncing? In that case.” John reaches for the door.

With a light shove, Sherlock presses him against it. He slides John’s bag off his shoulder. Angular face in shadow, the ceiling light casting a corona around his curls, Sherlock softly tells him, “No.”

John lifts his chin. “No?”

“No.” Sherlock’s curls brush John’s forehead.

John lifts his chin slightly higher.

Eyes gleaming, Sherlock rocks back with John’s bag in hand. Another smirk across his lips, he turns without a word and walks to the stairs. No backwards glance: only a confident climb.

John grins and follows.





Sherlock is gorgeous with a cock in his mouth. Particularly gorgeous, make that. The man is photogenic even when exhausted, but this? Christ.

It’s worth the strain in his leg, kneeling on Sherlock’s bed, knees straddling the man’s torso. It took some arranging, propping Sherlock up against the headboard to the proper level, but the pain is too constant for John to forget it, even now. He can’t simply stand with Sherlock sitting or kneeling, and he’s hardly about to do press-ups down into Sherlock’s mouth, not with a bad leg and a bad shoulder.

Head steady, mouth welcoming, Sherlock lets himself be used. His eyes glaze, half-hooded. He hums around John’s shallow thrusts in a way that threatens to bring them deeper. John’s hands hold tight to the headboard. Sherlock’s hands play with John’s arse.

He’s too close, has been too close since last night, and the naked pleasure on Sherlock’s face is just too much. Sherlock sucks hard at the head, fingers digging into his bum, and John shakes his way through orgasm trying not to choke his bedfellow.

He doesn’t quite collapse afterward, but he’s not entirely sure how he ends up on his back with the condom removed. Finding Sherlock straddling his chest, he doesn’t complain, merely watches Sherlock’s hand on his own cock.

“The usual,” Sherlock explains.

“Uh, what?” John looks up at his eyes, his dark eyes and his bruised mouth. “Usual what?”

“Last night,” Sherlock says. “I said I was occupied to the usual degree.” His words fall into the rhythm of his strokes.

John slides his hands up lean thighs, around a narrow waist, and down. Sherlock fills his hands perfectly. “You, ah, usually wank on top of naked veterans?”

One of Sherlock’s hands falls to the mattress beside John’s head. “I’m, I’m considering it.”

“The chest is fine.”

“What?”

“I said, you can come on my chest. Face is right out, though.”

Eyes shut tight, Sherlock bites his lip, wanking faster.

John swears.

Sherlock’s eyes snap open. More than simply falter, his rhythm disappears entirely.

“Sorry,” John apologizes. God, he’s breathless. Why is John the breathless one? “Can’t sort out where to look.”

No wounded ego has ever flourished so quickly as that of Sherlock Holmes. The moment of hesitance vanishes, so entirely overwritten as to leave John doubting it was ever there.

But John thinks, John realises, John hopes, and he asks, “Let me touch you? Please?” No waiting for an answer. “Sherlock, please. I want to. Please let me. Just a little. Please? I want to touch you. I want, God, I want you. Sherlock, please,” John begs, not stopping until Sherlock groans and come hits John’s chest. “That’s it. That’s it.”

“Fuck,” Sherlock gasps. Looking lost and dazed, he sits on John’s stomach. He stares down at John as if about to collapse. He falls forward a little, one hand on John’s good shoulder.

John strokes the sweat-sleek curl of his spine. “More begging. Got it.”

“John.”

“Yes to the more begging?”

Sherlock nods. “I...” He nods again. “Yes.”

“Right,” John agrees. “Okay.”

They stare at each other a bit longer, unsure of what else to say, and then Sherlock fetches John a damp flannel.





“Have you had your tests done yet?” Sherlock asks over breakfast. Over John’s breakfast, rather. How the man isn’t starving, John will never know.

“Doing that this week,” John replies automatically, not looking up from his plate. Now that it’s said, he’ll have to make an appointment.

“I would have thought a doctor would be quicker about these things.”

John shrugs a bit, cutting his eggs with his fork. Why is morning-after breakfast always eggs? “I was clean before Afghanistan, and I didn’t do anything there.” He chews his eggs. He swallows, still waiting for a reply Sherlock won’t give.

Eventually, Sherlock notices John’s staring. How he does it from the other side of a newspaper is uncertain. “What?”

“Sorry, is that the end of the conversation?” John asks. What about the bit where Sherlock sees through him and rattles off how John is using the latex as a barrier between them in more ways than intended?

“I asked a question, you gave an answer. I cited the reason for my impatience. You cited your reasoning for the delay. Is there anything else that needs to be discussed?”

John thinks it over. “When did you have yours done?”

Sherlock turns the page, then shakes the paper into order with one good snap. “The Wednesday before I first stopped by your office.”

Despite having nothing in his mouth, John chokes a bit.

“Yes?”

“I think that’s the definition of overconfident,” John tells him. “I’m certain, actually.”

Sherlock lowers the newspaper. “How so? It’s common courtesy. Besides, why attempt a seduction without planning for success?”

“We hadn’t spoken yet.”

“Your point?”

How did experimenting on John’s leg translate into shagging John stupid? The first time Sherlock observed him was the instance of the dropped book and John’s hurried response of hiding behind the lecture hall desk. That’s one hell of a first impression to overcome. Or, maybe Sherlock had simply decided to put John in more stress situations and couldn’t arrange anything simulating combat. Potentially triggering John into self-defence would be one hell of a risk. That Sherlock’s mind had leapt from there to sex ought to have been worrying, but Sherlock had been right.

“John. Your point?”

John blinks a bit. “Sorry. Not sure I had one.”

“It was more efficient to be prepared from the outset,” Sherlock explains anyway. “Besides, isn’t confidence considered attractive?”

“And now he’s vain.”

“It’s not vanity. It’s observation.”

John grins a bit and returns to his breakfast.

“It is,” Sherlock insists.

“Oh, I believe you.”

John.”

“I said I believe you.”

“Don’t lie so blatantly. It’s annoying.”

“Oh?” John asks, grinning wider. “I hadn’t realised. I’m so sorry.”

Sherlock glares.

“You could try and shut me up,” John suggests.

“Your behaviour hardly deserves positive reinforcement.”

“It does a little. Or do you not like me flirting with you? I mean,” John adds more seriously, “do you only like the hard to get bit? And the begging bit.”

“I don’t see how lying qualifies as flirtation,” Sherlock answers. “It’s not clever and is in no way endearing.”

“But the other two? Begging and playing hard to get, you can’t have both. That’s a contradiction. How is that not ‘lying’?”

“Simple,” Sherlock explains. “Each is an exaggeration. You pull back to see if I’m willing to pursue. We’ve already been over this. You want to see what I’m willing to do to have you, and you want it to be obvious that I cannot treat your presence and participation as a given.” His eyes keep scanning across the newspaper as he speaks. “Moreover, the constant negotiation prevents you from feeling trapped.

“The begging is different. The question is not what am I willing to do to have you, but how would I respond to having you. It’s primarily for my benefit but you do enjoy my reaction.”

John thinks about that. “No, I just wanted to talk you off in person.”

Sherlock shrugs.

John finishes his breakfast and busses his plate to the sink. He limps back to the table and kisses the top of Sherlock’s head. “Think I’ll head back to my flat before work.”

“Ugh, why?”

“So I can repack my bag.”

“Don’t bother with pyjamas.”

“No, I was thinking the bathrobe instead.”

Sherlock smiles up at him, eyes crinkled. “Excellent. Don’t forget your DVDs.”

John huffs a laugh against his mouth. “Yes, dear.”





His tests come back clean, and John’s immediate reaction is to worry. His body tenses, his heart pounds, and he has to hold still until the rush of dizziness passes. He successfully does not fall out of his chair. Somehow, he keeps his eyes moving over the piece of paper, some basic pretence of being a functional human being. No point to it: he’s alone in his flat, an empty envelope in one hand, a letter in the other.

The moment he can breathe again, irritation takes over. It’s a better reason for the shaking, though that also needs to stop.

There’s really no reason they can’t keep on using condoms. Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it must be done. Sherlock will bring it up, John will say no, and if that’s not the end of it, then Sherlock is an absolute prat and a wanker. Simple enough.

Well, no, because Sherlock will ask why or, worse, he’ll deduce why. Trust issues, problems with intimacy. He can’t shake the sense he’ll panic the moment Sherlock takes him into his mouth. Christ, John hasn’t always been like this. John used to be better than this. He should be better than this.

He closes his eyes and simply breathes a bit. The sensation of shaking fades.

“It’s only sex,” he reminds himself aloud, which is how he hears the lie in it. It’s fantastic sex with a bloke who makes John laugh harder than he has in ages, and that is terrifying. John can’t shake the sense that he’d roll over on anything Sherlock asked him for. He can’t ignore the feeling that he wants to.

That feeling is confirmed less than two hours later when his mobile chimes.

Rendered flat inhospitable. Coming to yours. SH

Before John can sort out a reply, his mobile chimes again.

Mrs Hudson has found alternate shelter. SH

How worried should I be?
 John asks.

Not very. Mycroft is sorting it. SH

John frowns at his mobile screen, but he doesn’t ask the obvious question until after Sherlock arrives at his flat. Until well after, actually, as Sherlock is immediately put into John’s shower by unanimous decision.

“It’s not actually toxic!” Sherlock calls through the loo door over the spray.

“You smell like sulphur!” John shouts back. “Put the fan on!”

Once Sherlock is out of the shower, John’s bathrobe riding high on his thighs, John asks the obvious question:

“You said Mycroft is sorting it?”

“Hm?” Sherlock pauses in towel-drying his hair. “Yes. Shouldn’t take too long.”

“And Mycroft is...?”

Sherlock frowns at him, pulling the towel down around his shoulders.

John frowns up at him, craning his neck where he sits at his desk chair. “What?”

“You’ve met him,” Sherlock answers. His eyes flick back to the letter on the desk, left out for his benefit. For John’s as well, if it means they don’t have to talk about it.

“Have I? Think I’d remember a name that distinctive.”

Sherlock’s expression escalates from “why are you being an idiot?” to “you are mentally deficient beyond my most pessimistic expectations.”

“What?” John asks.

“You texted me after you met him,” Sherlock says.

John stares at him blankly.

“The man in the parking garage,” Sherlock prompts.

“Oh! Wait, no, that makes no sense.”

“Of course it makes sense.”

“Um, no.” Not to John’s mind, it doesn’t. “Why is a Bond villain knockoff taking care of your flat?”

“He’s overprotective. It’s annoying. Convenient in this case, but typically very annoying,” Sherlock tells him, and there’s something in his tone, some vague hint of an impression that catches in John’s ear. No, not an impression. A resemblance.

“Wait,” John says. “Are you two related?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes, an unspoken “obviously” condescending its way through the air. “Unfortunately. If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not discuss my brother.”

John stares at him. “So when he asked my intentions, he actually meant...  intentions.”

“Mm, yes. Out of curiosity, what did you say?”

“Said I didn’t have any,” John replies.

Sherlock raises his eyebrows.

“It was that, or talk my way into charges for sexual harassment.”

Sherlock’s expression immediately takes a turn for the better. “You’re not harassing me.”

“No, but there’s only so much about exhibitionist gay sex one bloke can say to another before—mrph.” John manages to avoid biting Sherlock’s tongue. He tastes of John’s toothpaste. The damp towel about Sherlock’s shoulders falls against John’s chest, and John takes it by either end. Secured, Sherlock attempts to climb into John’s lap, John’s bathrobe opening wide with the motion. Which is possibly one of the best things John has ever seen, but the point remains: “My leg. Need you off it.”

Sherlock pouts against John’s mouth with an accompanying petulant sound. “Fine. Bed.”

John wraps his arms around Sherlock’s shoulders, and Sherlock hauls him up. Regardless of the hands cupping John’s bum, there’s no actual lifting, only staggering the short distance to John’s small bed. Once close, Sherlock practically flings him onto it, and, laughing, John catches himself before he can hit his head against the radiator.

“Naked,” Sherlock commands, pouncing on top of him. “You should have stripped while I was in the shower.”

“Right, because you smelling like rotten eggs was such a turn-on.” They strip John with alacrity and fumbling coordination before fighting the epic struggle of kicking the duvet off the bed while still on it. Victorious, Sherlock flings John’s bathrobe onto the floor to join it. John pulls at him, and Sherlock pushes him down. His forearms bracket John’s head, his knees press in between John’s, and, oh.

Sherlock lies against him, fully against him, hard heat and the curl of hair, their balls heavy and overlapping. Between their stomachs, a twitch of blood flow moves Sherlock against him. Pressed together, all of them pressed together, chests and stomachs, cocks and thighs, the inside of one leg to the outside of another. Forehead to forehead, both of them panting rather than kissing.

“Oh my god,” John gasps.

“Can you feel it?” Sherlock nuzzles at his face, an extension of the motions of his body. Light rocking, tense and restrained. Desperate to make it last. “I’m leaking on you.”

John can. John can feel it. The mingling damp. The pressure of Sherlock’s body, the lingering mint on his breath. John wraps his arms around Sherlock’s neck, his shoulders, his back, his waist. For such a thin man, there’s too much of him to hold at once.

The sharp bones of Sherlock’s hips press into John’s own, and John presses back. A proper rhythm begins, builds, and Sherlock drops his face against John’s neck. Damp curls stick to John’s cheek. Sherlock’s chest presses down hard as Sherlock reaches back, reaches down, his hand curving beneath John’s thigh.

Swearing, John wraps his legs about Sherlock’s thighs, his hips. He clutches, clenches, and Sherlock gasps out a string of garbled noises.

“Come on me,” John begs. “Sherlock,  please .” That’s all it takes, Sherlock’s body snapping tense and taut, Sherlock groaning into John’s neck as his hips buck, shove, thrust John hard against the mattress. Wet heat spurts between their stomachs. Sherlock grunts, still rocking against him, again and again, before collapsing limply onto John.

So hard, so close, trapped beneath Sherlock’s stomach and unable to gain leverage, John struggles toward orgasm. There’s not enough space to roll over without falling onto the floor. Sherlock paws at him, clumsy. Only once John does a bit more begging—frightfully honest, this time—does Sherlock flop his way down John’s body. His mouth closes about the head of John’s cock before working lower, tongue seeking, toying with his foreskin.

John swears, and swears, and swears. He bites his hand. He runs out of air. His other hand taps a fluttering warning against Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock does not pull off. Everything trembles.

When John can breathe again, he swears a bit more, but only weakly. Sherlock chuckles against his chest, now burrowed under John’s arm. John’s not sure when that happened. His heart won’t stop pounding, but he’s not sure he minds. His entire body is thrumming. He sinks his hand into Sherlock’s curls and closes his eyes.

He wakes an untold time later, the lights off, the night dark. Sherlock, climbing back into bed. Waking John first, because he always wakes John first. John has a vague sense of having been cleaned up.

“Hm?” John hums.

“Needed water.”

“Mm. Me too.” By which John means, bring a glass.

“Ask nicely.”

“Mm, okay.” John scoots down, none too coordinated. He noses at Sherlock’s stomach.

Oh.” Sherlock lies back.

John hums and pulls Sherlock into his mouth. He has a lovely time of it, warm, languid. His jaw aches a bit by the end, more than a bit, but it aches well. Too lazy to find something to spit into, he swallows, gagging a little at the texture.

“Water,” he prompts, crawling back up to the pillow.

“Exhausted,” Sherlock counters.

John means to kick him in the shin, but it comes off as more of a nudge. “Water.”

Well into an attempted cuddle, Sherlock groans, but, eventually, he complies.





Beyond shagging him and having a psychosomatic limp, John’s not entirely sure how to entertain Sherlock for longer than a few hours at a time. Somehow, that becomes a nonissue. He’s still busy, but his workload is significantly lighter. Even better, they learn how to ignore each other. Occasionally, Sherlock rants at John while John’s checking his emails, and it doesn’t matter in the slightest that John isn’t paying attention. John makes idle talk and Sherlock replies flawlessly, but if asked, Sherlock has no idea what John is going on about.

John learns that if he brings back some shopping and cooks, Sherlock will eat. Moreover, he learns that doing this will make Mrs. Hudson extremely happy and much less annoyed about all the noise. If all of the noise were from sex, John might be a bit more embarrassed. Unfortunately, it’s not.

“That’s not realistic!” Sherlock bellows at the telly. Incidentally, his mouth is right next to John’s ear.

“Ow!”

“John, these began ridiculous. This is imbecilic.”

“Could you maybe stop shouting it?” John asks.

Sherlock makes a sulking noise and cuddles John against his chest. Sprawled on his sofa rather than a bed, the position is somewhat slanted. “I don’t see the point,” he grumbles into John’s shoulder. “This is convoluted and formulaic. The only question is which unfortunate woman will be trapped in a life raft with him at the end.”

“‘Unfortunate’? Sherlock, that’s Sean Connery!”

“He has a toupee.”

“Considering the number of helicopters involved, that’s actually impressive when you think about it.” It is to John, at least. There are certain things his teenaged self hadn’t picked up on, too busy discovering other bits of excitement.

“What?” Sherlock asks abruptly.

“What what?”

“You grinned.”

“I do that,” John agrees.

“No, that was your dirty thought grin.” Sherlock noses against John’s ear. “Tell me. I’ll jerk you off during the next fight scene. Unless you have a better idea.”

“You could start now,” John suggests.

Sherlock hums. His hand strokes down John’s chest, his stomach, and cups his crotch. “Tell me what you were thinking.”

John tilts his head to give Sherlock better access, but Sherlock only hovers, his lips above John’s skin. “I, um,” John says. “Well, James Bond was how I realised I was bi.”

There are very few instances when John can hear Sherlock’s mind stall.

This is one of them.

Sherlock relocates his hand to John’s thigh, a cool distance. “...You’re attracted to Sean Connery?”

“Not since I was sixteen, no,” John says with a bit of an awkward laugh. “Figured that one out after Harry stole my porn mags. Wound up staring at my poster a few too many times.”

Sherlock makes a disgusted noise.

John cranes around, his arm pinned between his side and Sherlock’s chest. “What?”

“You mean, we’ve effectively been watching porn this entire time.”

“You’re against porn?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I don’t see the need for it.”

“Oh. Anti-porn industry or do you keep deducing everyone involved?”

“Neither. Eidetic memory.” He looks at John significantly.

John’s mouth goes dry. “You... remember every time you’ve ever had sex?”

“Vividly,” Sherlock confirms. “For example, three days ago, your oral technique changed drastically from what it had been four days ago. A marked improvement, well done.”

“You mean you like coming in my mouth without a condom.”

“Exactly,” Sherlock murmurs, tilting in. The kiss is much too light, no matter how John presses into it. Sherlock breaks it to complain, “Oh, god, he’s doing it again. This makes absolutely no sense.”

John glances at the screen expecting improbable physics and only sees James Bond enjoying a snog of his own. “What?”

“One man having sex with that many women.”

“Sherlock, it’s James Bond. That’s what he does.”

“It’s not realistic.”

“Of course it’s not realistic. It’s James Bond. Anyone who actually treats women like that is mental.” John goes back in for the kiss, but Sherlock’s frown won’t be appeased.

“You don’t find it strange?”

John blinks a little. “It’s fiction.”

Sherlock absently strokes John’s thigh. “Objectively, I understand that there are those who are attracted to anyone they consider good-looking.”

“But not you.” For a man as turned-off by idiots as Sherlock is, that attitude makes a good amount of sense.

“No. I don’t see the appeal of being attracted to that many people.”

“I don’t know,” John says. “It’s not really optional.”

Sherlock looks at him.

“What?” John asks. He goes over what he just said. “That’s not, no. Let me rephrase.”

They watch the film a bit longer.

“When I came back from Afghanistan, my libido had dried up,” John says eventually. “It didn’t want anything to do with anyone.” Not even with his own hand, half the time. “Then it turned itself back on, and here we are. The switch wasn’t optional.”

“When was that?”

“What, when I came back?”

Sherlock shakes his head, smirking. He leans in. His hand adjusts higher, hotter. “When your libido was turned on.”

John shifts in his arms, between his legs, the easiest target he can fashion himself into. He lowers his zip and guides Sherlock’s hand inside. “Like it is right now?”

Drawing John out, Sherlock chuckles against his ear. “By me, you mean.”

“Yeah...” John moans softly.

“Was it startling?”

“Ah... ah. Not, um. In hindsight, no.”

“No?” Sherlock echoes. “Why not?”

“Told you.” Oh, Christ. He tries to curl his back, pressing against the heat behind him, but the urge to thrust is strong. He stays where he is, anchored by Sherlock’s arm around his middle, the lips on his neck. “Figuring out I was bi.”

“How is this about Sean Connery?”

“It’s not. S’ about really fucking deep voices.” He tilts his head a bit more, palms stroking Sherlock’s thighs. Fuck. “And, um. Wanting, um.”

Sherlock hums, dark and low. “Wanting to hear me as you come.”

John melts.

“It must have been so difficult, John, listening to me wank over the phone.” Impossibly, Sherlock’s voice reaches new depths. Sherlock’s chest rumbles against his back as his lips buzz against John’s ear. “I did want you to come, John. I do want you to come. I want to keep you like this. When you squirm for contact, you begin with your upper body. Then your back, if I’m behind you. You still find this position unusual. You’re not sure you like it, but you enjoy my mouth on your neck. You enjoy looking down and seeing my hands on you. Only my hands.”

They’re lovely hands. They’re, fuck. Sherlock won’t stop talking.

John comes. Sooner than ought to have been possible, John comes and groans and Sherlock sucks hard on his neck for an extra jolt of hip-bucking pleasure. He goes a bit limp, after, and there’s something delicious about watching the rest of the film with Sherlock hard against his back.

The moment the credits roll, Sherlock scrambles off the sofa and pulls the drawstring bow of his pyjama bottoms. Hard and bare and destined for John’s mouth, Sherlock’s cock bounces as John reaches for him. Eyes closed, mouth full, John groans. No more latex. Only them, and skin, and the absolute torture that comes of a beautiful man saying beautiful things to a man who sorely wants to believe them.






By the last week of holiday, John has effectively moved in. He returns to his flat only one night out of every three. Sherlock tends to assume John will be staying the night anyway. On one memorable occasion, John wakes to a three am text asking where he’s gone.

What do you mean?

You’re not here. SH

I went home after work.

Why? SH

I wanted to sleep, you arse.

Why not here? You should sleep here. SH

Because you keep me awake. Right now, for instance. Good night.


As if to prove Sherlock right, John’s subconscious calls up all the nightmares John hadn’t realised he’d stopped having. He wakes twitching, sweating, and terrified. The tears stop eventually. He drinks some water. He realises, standing in the kitchenette, that he is standing in the kitchenette. Heart pounding, he finishes his glass of water. He nearly manages to walk back to his cane before his leg tries to give out.

He doesn’t tell Sherlock about that morning, and Sherlock never broaches the subject of John’s limp. By an unspoken mutual decision, they keep on shagging anyway. John ought to be thrilled. John wants to be thrilled. Or perhaps John ought to be cautious. He is cautious. Sherlock won’t stop looking at him as if John’s presence in his flat is an accomplishment, and John can’t suss out what for.

The final Friday of holiday, it suddenly becomes clear.

At a stake-out. May require assistance. SH

Where and what with?


Sherlock texts him the address and detailed instructions on where to find him there. Then he adds, Bring your gun. SH

John’s heart stops. It must do. It ought to be pounding but he can’t feel it, can’t hear it through the roaring in his ears. I think you have an auto correct typo, he answers.

Sherlock responds with the exact specifications of John’s gun. It was in your desk drawer. SH

It’s still in John’s desk drawer. He checks, just to be certain. His hands are steady. They shouldn’t be. His phone chimes yet again.

Not asking you to shoot anyone. Simply prefer backup. SH

John sits down and waits for the shaking to come. It doesn’t. He waits for something, anything, some physical sign of panic.

Nothing.

Give me half an hour.

Of course. SH






John sits in the cab with his gun at the small of his back, pressed between his shirt and his jumper, a bump in his waistband.

This is a bad idea.

This is a bad idea growing so much worse.





They sit in a warehouse behind a stack of crates, neither making a sound. The wait is calm. Either something will happen or it won’t. Stiff and aching, they take turns watching and resting long past the small hours of the morning. Toward the end, they sit shoulder to shoulder, or as close to it as John will ever manage with someone as long as Sherlock.

Long after John has given himself over to the numb stretching of time, there’s a noise. Movement. Something far bigger than a rat and too far away to be Sherlock shifting. John puts his hand on Sherlock’s arm, Sherlock puts his hand on John’s, and they squeeze tight before releasing.

Footsteps, two sets. They move along the next row over and Sherlock begins to rise. John catches his arm. Sherlock touches John’s shoulder before pulling away. He’s off to take a picture, nothing more, and though Sherlock explained it wouldn’t use or need flash, the thought of the sound in the stillness is worrying.

Sherlock’s gone before John can stop him and certainly before John can follow. John is meant to wait in ambush should anything go wrong. The tap of his cane would be far too obvious. Ears straining, John tries to hear any sound over his own heart and breathing.

There’s some hushed talk. Sounds like a man and a woman. Smugglers, John knows, hiding hay in haystacks. What kind of hay, Sherlock didn’t mention. It feels like the sort of thing John ought to have asked. How much danger is Sherlock in?

The talking stops.

John leans forward, listening.

The silence drags on.

John is meant to stay where he is. For very good reasons, at that. John cannot run. John is noisy. John is an ambush and Sherlock needs to know where he is at any given moment.

The reverse is not true. John has no real compulsion to know where Sherlock is. As such, he does not need to follow. As such, following would be incredibly stupid. Quietly, hands on the crate before him, John climbs to his feet. He’s a better shot, standing. The lighting is too poor for him to be anything other than his best. In the dark, he could hit Sherlock.

No, better to be certain. The gun is an absolute last resort, one that could easily send John to jail. His cane, on the other hand, is blunt and solid. He picks it up. Not as good as a cricket bat, but it’s a bit late to go fetch one. He holds it ready to swing.

He waits.

After an agonizing pause, the sounds of movement resume. Some shuffling. Something being opened. If they thought Sherlock was near, they’ve dismissed him.

More whispers. More movement.

Then, distinct and sharp: “What was that?”

John does not hold his breath. He breathes very quietly, a conscious rhythm, not about to make himself noticeable through noise or sudden silence.

The pair walk away. John hears the outer door open and close, and then he hears Sherlock walking back to him. He sees a tall shape in the dark before a familiar rush of scent and heat presses itself against his front. He expects a kiss that he does not receive.

Instead, an abrupt light: Sherlock’s mobile aimed at the floor. Sherlock sweeps the light in a quick scanning pattern before turning to John. The light falls on the cane in John’s hand. It stays there.

Holding his cane as he would any other blunt object, John doesn’t move. If he moves, it might return. The pain, the limp, everything.

Sherlock shines the light into his face, and John lifts his hand from the crate to cover his eyes. He mouths an angry “What the hell?”

“Is it the gun?” Sherlock whispers. “Or the situation?”

“What is?”

“You’re standing.”

“I know I’m standing. I do that.” Of course that’s what this is about. He’d thought—it doesn’t matter what he’d thought. The moment Sherlock has no further use for it, John’s gun is no longer the focus of attention. It’s almost reassuring that all of this is still about his leg. It’s always going to be about his leg, and there’s nothing John can do to change that.

Hand clenched around the middle of his cane, John turns around and walks toward the exit. Sherlock follows close by his side, his grin visible even through the dark.





They take a cab. John squirms in his seat, wide awake against his body’s heavy pull. Sherlock’s gaze presses against the side of his face, the length of his leg, his hip.

John wants to yell and scream and stand. He does none of these things.

The cab stops at 221B. Sherlock climbs out. John does not.

“John,” Sherlock prompts, holding the back door open.

“What?”

Sherlock’s eyes are blue when he condescends. Or maybe it’s the early morning light. “We’re here.”

“You’re here,” John corrects. “I’m going home.”

“More sleep to be had here.”

“I’m going home.” He rubs at one eye. “Close the door.”

Sherlock doesn’t move.

“Would you mind deciding?” the cabbie gripes.

“Here is fine,” Sherlock tells the cabbie. “John, I’ve already paid. Get out.”

“I’m going home.”

“You have to climb out of the cab eventually,” Sherlock says. “It might as well be here.”

No. I’m going home.”

“John-”

“Will you shut the damn door!”

Sherlock slams it.

Terse, John gives the cabbie his address. For a moment, he thinks the cabbie might kick him out instead, but the man drives.

“Sorry about that,” John says shortly thereafter. “Five in the morning without coffee, you know how it is.”

He’s let off at his flat, pays the cabbie, and heads up the stairs without any trace of pain. His cane is warm where his hand has been closed around it, for once on the shaft of the cane rather than the handle. He leans his cane against his desk. He walks around in tight little circles. He paces.

Lightheaded, he risks it. He sits down. He stands up again.

He keeps walking.

Next, he lies down. Exhaustion pulls at him beyond the adrenaline and he nearly doesn’t get up. The thought that it might fade, that it must fade drags him back to his feet.

Still no problem.

He sits on the floor. He squats. He stretches. A hand on the wall for balance, he stands on one leg. Remembering Sherlock’s question—gun or adrenaline?—John puts his gun back in its drawer. He experiences absolutely no change.

He’s fine.

His leg is fine.





After a bit of a nap, his limp is still gone, and there are no new texts on his mobile.

A day later, the same.

And the next.





He’s cured.

Chapter Text

“Oh!” Mike gasps when John walks into his office. “Oh, that’s wonderful!”

 

John twitches a smile in reply, but Mike is already getting up from his desk. With his set-up aimed at the window in the side of the room, there’s no barrier in the room, and it sets John on alert automatically.

 

No attack here, not from Mike, though the hug is rather unexpected. Rather extremely.

 

“Whatever you did over holiday, it worked,” Mike needlessly tells him, beaming.

 

“Yeah,” John agrees.

 

“I want to offer you a seat, but at the same time, I really don’t. Oh, that’s wonderful.”

 

“Yeah, I’m chuffed.”

 

“How’d it happen?” Mike asks.

 

 John’s face must do something without John’s permission, because Mike immediately backpedals.

 

“Or not,” Mike adds. “Sorry, you must be dropping by for a reason and I’m prattling on.”

 

“I... no, no reason. I just...” John bites his lip, head tilting to the side, eyes closed. Steady. Stay steady. He flexes his left hand. “It’s all anyone’s wanted to talk about all week. I’m sick of it, to be honest.”

 

“And it’s only Wednesday,” Mike says, just enough sympathy to count. There’s almost an edge to the words, but only almost. In his tone, there’s only a vague trace of what would be biting annoyance in Sherlock’s voice: irritation by proxy at multitudes unendingly stating the obvious. “I imagine you’d like to sit after all.”

 

They sit. They talk shop. Mike goes over the finer points of exam season with him, routine things John already knows and is soothed by. Mike talks about his own life a bit, and John tries to be interested in stories that Mike inevitably forgets the endings to. John tries and fails to add to the conversation. All he has is work and therapy and Sherlock, and all three of them are drawing to a close.

 

When the conversation well and truly dies of exhaustion, John is forced to ask or leave, and he doesn’t want to leave. Mike takes the question out of his hands with a simple, “How’s Sherlock?”

 

“I... I haven’t seen him since Friday, actually.” John hasn’t, but Molly has. John checked in with her yesterday morning. Sherlock has been to Bart’s. Sherlock has been to Bart’s at a time John was also at Bart’s, and Sherlock decided to sweet talk poor Molly around a pile of paperwork rather than stop by.

 

Maybe John should be jealous. No, he is jealous, so that’s wrong. He shouldn’t even be jealous. John should be angry, and not at Molly. The one bit of sanity present is that he’s not angry with Molly in the slightest. Instead, he wants to grab Molly by the shoulders and tell her that he understands, really, he does. All of the stupid favours she does and keeps doing, John understands. He wants to propose that they stand in a corner, stick their fingers in their ears, and hum loudly until the feelings lessen and the problem abates.

 

It would never work, but it’s the only plan he has at the moment.

 

“That’s not unusual, is it?” Mike asks.

 

“Sorry, what?”

 

“Sherlock drops off the face of the planet every so often,” Mike explains. “Less than a week is hardly unusual.”

 

John runs over his mental calendar of the past several months.

 

“It... is unusual?” Mike asks.

 

“We’ve, um.” It’s the longest they’ve been apart since John tried avoiding him, and that was before holiday. It’s not simply another month, it’s now another world. The geography there is strange and uncertain, and John’s not sure how he once walked it.

 

“It isn’t that man with the car and the phones again, is it?”

 

“What? No. No, it’s not that.”

 

“Was that ever resolved?” Mike asks.

 

“It was Sherlock’s brother,” John answers. “Works in the government. Not sure how he pulled it off, but Sherlock didn’t seem concerned about it.”

 

“So,” Mike says, “a simple case of ‘break his heart, I’ll break your bones’?”

 

“Yeah,” John lies. He’d had that thought before, if only as a vague hope. He knows better now. Get out while you still can is a difficult warning to misinterpret, but John had managed it all the same. To be fair, John’s not trapped. He’s on his way out and he knows it, just as he knows the way will be long and painful. Possibly, it might involve getting his DVDs back, but he’s almost tempted to give up on them. The associations are too strong between one deep voice and another. John clears his throat and adds, “I don’t think it’ll be a problem.”

 

John knows his poker face is improving when Mike responds with a grin. “That’s good to hear,” Mike says. “No, it is, really. He’s always had a bit of an odd man out feeling to him. Confident, mind you.”

 

“He is that,” John agrees. Dryly, not wistfully. Not wistfully at all. Subject change, now. Something. Anything. Nothing. He can’t focus.

 

“You all right, mate?”

 

“Yeah, I’m, I’m fine. Sorry, got a little distracted there.” John sits up straighter. “You were saying?”

 

“About Sherlock? Oh, right. Well, you’d see him about, but he’d always be detached. Not distracted, per se, just...”

 

“Like he’s watching from a higher vantage point,” John finishes for him.

 

Mike points at him. “Just like that. That’s a good way of putting it. Bit removed, sees everything.”

 

“So you’ve never known him to, I don’t know. Connect with someone?”

 

Mike gives him a grin. “Not like with you, no. I’ve known him, oh, two years? I’m not sure he’s ever spoken about himself.”

 

“He doesn’t, as a rule. I think it bores him. You wouldn’t think it, a man that vain.”

 

Mike laughs and there’s a knock at the door. “Yes, hello?”

 

The door opens. Sherlock’s eyes fix on Mike and only Mike. “I’ll come back later,” he says, and the door shuts again.

 

Twisted in his chair, John stares at the door.

 

“Must be in a hurry,” Mike muses. “You’re right: it is a higher vantage point he’s working from.” Mike continues a bit longer, mercifully oblivious of the sudden stab wound through John’s gut.

 

“I,” John says. He stands. “I need to. Go. I think I should go.”

 

“Oh, right, sorry,” Mike says, as if John’s muddled sentences make perfect sense.

 

“See you.”

 

“Bye!”

 

John closes the door, looking up and down the hall, but Mike’s office is near a stairwell on one side and near an intersection on the other. The stairs are closer and he checks them first, listening rather than climbing. No sign.

 

He doubles back quick as he can, strides to the end of the hall, and looks right and left in time to catch a glimpse of the coat. Left, it is.

 

John walks quickly, but Sherlock and his impossibly long legs do as well. John wants to shout his name, workspace be damned, but he can’t trust what his voice might put into the word. “You know I’m behind you,” he calls instead.

 

Walking on, Sherlock doesn’t respond.

 

John quickens his pace. He quickens it and quickens it again. He catches Sherlock by the arm, Sherlock glares at him, and John crashes their mouths together. He sinks his fingers into lush curls, hands fastened to either side of Sherlock’s head. The kiss itself is terrible, all pressure, no technique, two pairs of lips bruising between two sets of teeth. Such a terrible kiss and off-centre besides, but John is touching him, John has him, John might be able to keep him.

 

The hallway, they’re in a hallway, that’s good. Sherlock’s exhibitionist kink, maybe John could, no, no getting sacked. Experimenting? Propose they test his leg. Or the begging. If John means to beg, if he does it on purpose, if he does it for Sherlock’s benefit and not his own, there’s no humiliation in that. It’s just a game. Just another experiment.

 

“Take me home with you,” he gasps the instant their mouths part. “Right now. Let’s go outside, find a cab, and fuck ourselves hoarse in your flat. Yes or no?” A bargain, not an entreaty, but John still kisses him again before he can reply. He works at Sherlock’s mouth with his own until he wants to shout at the man to respond, to touch him back, to slam John into the wall before John shoves him there first. John has no idea what Sherlock wants or doesn’t want, and he has to keep his hands in Sherlock’s hair to keep from grabbing at his crotch to check. “Say yes or I stop.”

 

Sherlock groans into John’s mouth, a low noise that might be anything.

 

John breaks away entirely, breathing hard around the stone in his throat.

 

Eyes closed, lips bruised red, Sherlock staggers forward. He reaches. He reaches and grasps, each hand fisted in John’s cardigan. John has never seen him look so confused, so indecisive, but that’s fine, that’s enough. It’s John’s turn to be a bastard.

 

He pulls Sherlock back in, one hand curling at his nape, the other slipping beneath the long coat and into a very tight back pocket. Sherlock’s mouth seeks his blindly, but John drags him off-course and puts his lips to Sherlock’s ear.

 

“Anyone could see us right now,” he whispers. “Long hallway and us in plain sight.”

 

John.”

 

Yes. God yes. “Anyone could turn the corner. Catch me half-under your coat.” It’s no exaggeration, not in the slightest. His entire right side is beneath it. “I used to be fucking mortified as a kid. Couldn’t even hold a boy’s hand. Thought everyone would go after me the way they did Harry. Sod that. I don’t care anymore. I want you to take me home with you, I want to hear you say yes, and if anyone else hears, I want to rub it in their fucking face.

 

“Because you, you are, you’re a prize. You’re an absolute prize, and I know that. You’re the most brilliant man I’ve ever met. Fucking hell, Sherlock.”

 

There is so much more to be said and none of it fit for saying. He has Sherlock clutching at him and hard against his stomach. He’s sent Sherlock’s breathing out of control, shallow panting. He wants more. He kisses Sherlock’s neck, again and again and again until he can think of something tempting.

 

“Let’s find a cab,” John proposes, low and quiet. “I’ll take the fold-down seat behind the driver, you take the normal one, and I’ll let you use your foot on me.” He pulls back to adore the blatant want in grey eyes turned lust green. “But I refuse to come until I’m in your bed.”

 

“Refuse?” Sherlock challenges. He tugs John’s hips against his and works a slow, obscene grind. “Your office is much too close. You won’t refuse.”

 

John’s forehead drops onto his shoulder. “Cab. Now.”

 

“You’ve forgotten your coat.”

 

“No,” John says. “I’ve left my coat. Unless you don’t think you can keep me warm enough.”

 

“Prepare to overheat.” Sherlock seizes his hand and drags John after him. Their progress is hindered by arousal, but equally so. They take the nearest way out and pass a pair of janitors and a few people John might be able to put a name to if he were even vaguely in his right mind. Sherlock has his coat buttoned and John keeps close behind him.

 

With impossible speed, Sherlock summons them a cab. They climb in and sit as John had specified, and Sherlock, the git, gives the cabbie John’s address rather than his own.

 

“No, two-two-one Baker Street, actually!” John corrects over the radio.

 

“Why not your flat?” Sherlock demands.

 

“Because my keys are in my coat,” John says as the cab pulls away from the kerb.

 

Sherlock’s mouth opens, a plump pink circle of surprise. His hair is ridiculous, his cheeks flushed. John has seen him look more well-fucked than this, but never before the actual fucking.

 

Sherlock swallows and his throat is a thing of beauty. “Are they.”

 

“Yes.” Not by design, entirely by accident, but John knows when to take credit for being a sexual mastermind. Right now. Right now and for as long as he can. He needs to keep pushing and sidestepping and challenging. When John can no longer hold Sherlock’s interest, John will let him go without begging or tears, but until then, John will fight for every inch of warm skin, every moment of watching Sherlock’s eyes widen until they’re blue.

 

When that moment is nearly past, John brings it back in full. He plants his feet wide in the cab and spreads his knees.

 

Elbow at the base of the window, Sherlock bites the side of his index finger, looking steadfastly outside, refusing to meet John’s insistent gaze.

 

John spreads his legs wider still, leaving his hand on his thigh.

 

Sherlock looks. He doesn’t do anything, but he looks.

 

“Change of plans?” John asks.

 

Sherlock’s eyes flick from John’s crotch to his own foot, then back.

 

“Are we still on?”

 

Again, the glance. This time, Sherlock shifts one foot forward, just enough for John to see that Sherlock’s legs are patently too long for a footjob in the cab.

 

John feels his own face fall.

 

Sherlock looks as if he may pass out from arousal.

 

There must be another way to indulge Sherlock’s exhibitionist, voyeuristic kinks, and John stumbles into the first way by accident. He has to adjust himself in his trousers, nothing more, but doing so while staring into Sherlock’s already glazed eyes turns the motion into intentional seduction. He strokes his thigh with his fingertips, and Sherlock’s gaze fastens to his hand.

 

John risks as much as he can, too close to the point of no return to put his hand too much on himself. He lets Sherlock see it, makes him see how much John wants this, wants him, wants to take him apart until even Sherlock’s mind can no longer think.

 

Sherlock bites his index finger, his hand now fisted. The radio masks the sound of his shallow breathing. It might mask a bit more.

 

Before he can think better of it, John toes off his shoe.

 

Sherlock’s lips move around his finger, but no whisper or mutter reaches John’s ears. Sherlock drags his gaze away from John and stares steadfastly out the window, face turned.

 

John waits.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock glances back to him.

 

John lifts his eyebrows.

 

Sherlock stares at him, unreadable, indescribable, before sliding down in his seat. He adjusts his coat over his lap. He looks out the window, then nods.

 

John peels off his sock and tucks it in his pocket. Easy enough. Reaching out is more difficult, particularly with the right leg when he has the door for support only on his left.

 

He starts with his toes, his foot a gentle wedge between Sherlock’s knees. Sherlock presses his thighs together tightly, stalling John’s progress. John stops, confused, until Sherlock sinks down a bit farther, pressing John’s foot a little higher. The message is clear: work for it.

 

The distance between Sherlock’s knees to his crotch is absurd, an impossible penetration between clenched thighs. John wriggles his foot deeper and deeper, watching Sherlock’s face contort. No matter what John does, Sherlock never makes a sound. The only risk is the cabbie catching sight of Sherlock in the rear view mirror, which must be why Sherlock again turns his face toward the window.

 

John pulls back his foot before pushing forward, a drag of skin-warmed cloth between them. He works farther in and in, and Sherlock’s ear turns red. John presses down with the ball of his foot, detached from the sensation, enthralled by the sight. Sherlock readjusts his coat over his lap and John’s leg, then grips John hard by the shin. His crotch is entirely out of sight.

 

John taps his toes against Sherlock’s stomach, insistent. Sherlock risks a glance at him, twitches under John’s foot, and squeezes his eyes shut. John eases off as much as Sherlock will let him. He waits until Sherlock looks at him and nods, then mouths unzip.

 

Sherlock frowns, more disbelief than disapproval. He glances down. He looks at John. John nods and mimes it himself, unclenching his fists to do so.

 

Sherlock stares at him.

 

John moves his foot a bit.

 

Sherlock squeezes his shin, looks out the window, and casually slips a hand under his blanketing coat.

 

The first touch is a bit odd and the strangeness never does decrease. It’s clumsy and paranoid and fumbling, too much pressing and sliding in the attempt to truly stroke. Sherlock clearly does not mind. Fingers clutching at John’s trousers, he jerks his hips forward, tiny thrusts from little more than flexing his legs against the seat.

 

Every time they reach a stoplight, Sherlock times a thrust as inertia carries him forward. Every time the light turns green, Sherlock secures John’s leg as inertia nudges John further toward the edge of his seat. Sherlock’s other hand dedicates itself to keeping his lap covered.

 

When the cab turns onto Baker Street, Sherlock mouths a curse. John pulls away and shoves his foot back into his shoe. Sherlock merely adjusts his coat. The cloth is heavy and the bulge blends into its natural folds.

 

John climbs out first, paying the cabbie. He doesn’t trust Sherlock to speak at this point. He can barely manage it himself, putting on a bit of a cough when his voice sticks its way through a lower octave than expected.

 

Before he can cope with what he’s just done in a cab, Sherlock gets his front door open. John bounds after him, up the stairs and through the door to be snagged, an arm tight around his waist.

 

Sherlock slams the door shut behind them. “On your knees, now,” Sherlock rasps.

 

John looks over his shoulder, an involuntary check toward 221A, but Sherlock catches his cheek, forces John’s eyes to his, and repeats, “Now.”

 

It ought to be quick. They might manage. “Lean against the door,” John counters.

 

With a great swish of coat, Sherlock complies. He unbuttons and there he is, exposed for John’s mouth.

 

John kneels. He tugs a bit more of Sherlock’s briefs through his zip, some protection from the metal teeth, and then wastes no more time. A few slicking licks, his hand steadying the base, and John takes him deep. His hand and mouth work in time and he presses Sherlock against the door, his forearm a bar across a concave stomach. A long sweep of fabric tries to envelop him.

 

Sherlock’s hands flutter at his face, his hair, his shoulders. All of the noise absent from the cab spills out now, one desperate groan after another as Sherlock struggles toward John’s mouth. Sherlock bucks forward hard, much too hard, and John gags. He pulls off, coughs, and gives himself time to breathe by tugging down Sherlock’s trousers and easing down his pants. With Sherlock cursing and on display before him, John relocates to safer ground. If Sherlock’s cock was heavy in John’s mouth, his bollocks are even more so.

 

“Look up,” Sherlock pants. “Look up, look up.”

 

John shakes his head, tugging one of Sherlock’s balls this way and that with his lips.

 

Sherlock grips him by the hair, a hard hold that hurts almost as much as a tug, and the pain goes straight to John’s already aching cock.

 

John growls a bit and switches sides.

 

John.” A sharp pull now.

 

John glares up at him, and Sherlock’s tense body trembles under his hands. John swears and gets his mouth there in time, closed about the head. It’s more than he can hold. He lets his mouth overflow and remembers his sock in his pocket.

 

The grip on his hair turns soft and shaking. John spits onto his sock, and Sherlock slides down the door. His eyes are wide, glassy, his mouth slack. Sitting in a pool of dark fabric, he’s more out of breath than John is. Wet and shining, his cock lies softening outside his unzipped trousers.

 

“Upstairs,” John instructs, voice consciously soft. “Before your landlady pops round for a chat.”

 

“She’s, ah.” Sherlock shakes his head, or perhaps his head simply lolls. “Not in.”

 

“You arse.” John bites at his mouth before climbing to his feet, his legs framing Sherlock’s hips, his shoes on top of folds of coat. Sherlock’s hands immediately rise to John’s bum, tugging him closer. “You fucking arse.

 

John presses his hips forward, presses his aching crotch against Sherlock’s mouth and cheek. Sherlock groans, turning his face into the pressure. He tries to mouth John through the fabric, through his zip. John cards his hands through sweaty curls and gives into the urge to fuck Sherlock’s mouth a little. He can’t much, can barely at all, but when Sherlock breathes hot all over him, when long fingers dig into his arse, it’s still much too much.

 

“Stop,” John gasps. “Bed.” He’d wanted it. Naked.

 

“Here.” Sherlock’s fingers hook into his trousers. He looks up at John, drunk on orgasm. His flush is even darker in John’s shadow. “Can’t move. Let me...”

 

“Let you suck me?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Let you suck me against your front door?”

 

“Yes,” Sherlock rasps.

 

“Let me do the work,” John tells him. “I won’t choke you.”

 

Sherlock unfastens John’s zip. John hisses before he groans, the transition from confinement to wet heat quick and endless. Sherlock wraps a loose hand around him, a guideline, and John fucks his mouth. Forearm against the door, brow pressed to the back of his wrist, John pants as he thrusts, this far, this far, this far, don’t go too far.  “Okay?” John gasps. His other hand shields Sherlock’s head from the door.

 

One hand riding John’s hip, Sherlock groans around him. Not one of his usual blowjob sounds, no mocking hum or aggressive encouragement, but the sound of a man having too much sex to keep track of. John’s balls slap against the side of Sherlock’s hand, and Sherlock squeezes, Sherlock hums and swallows, and John comes until his knees threaten to fold.

 

Sherlock pulls off and swallows and coughs, and John sinks down on top of him, kneeling over the man’s thighs. Sherlock’s head meets the door with a soft thump. His mouth is wide and pink and gasping. His chest is caught between a heave and a flutter, his breathing deep and rapid and slightly worrying. A damp sheen lingers at the corners of Sherlock’s closed eyes. John wipes it away with his thumbs, spreading twin trails of saline over Sherlock’s temples.

 

“Sorry.” He brushes kisses over Sherlock’s sweat-damp forehead.

 

“Hm? Oh.” Sherlock hooks two fingers in the buttoned V of John’s collar. “Forgiven.”

 

“I’ll try not to, next time.”

 

Sherlock’s reply is to lean his forehead against John’s as his breathing slows. John sits across his lap, waiting for confirmation. There has to be a next time. The only question is how far John can keep pushing until they’re arrested for public indecency.

 

“We should go out sometime,” John suggests. “Before it’s too warm for your coat, I mean. Before summer.” He pets the impossible lines of Sherlock’s face, feels returning tension fall away beneath fingertips. “Start close to home in case we need to run back, so Regent’s Park. We can stand at a bridge and play at looking out, having a cuddle. You wear the coat, I’ll have a t-shirt under my jumper, and you can put your cock up under the t-shirt.”

 

Sherlock groans and drops his head into the crook of John’s neck.

 

“You wouldn’t be able to move too much, but the coat should cover everything. Tucking you away would be the tricky part. Might be best if I did it, less obvious. You can sort out the logistics.”

 

“John, I need you to stop talking.”

 

John bites his lip. He tries to pull back but Sherlock secures him in place, arms looped around John’s back. John’s knees begin to hurt. Sherlock’s coat provides very little padding between his legs and the floor. Unsure of where to put his hands, John settles for tucking himself away and laying his hands carefully on Sherlock’s sides, slipped beneath his coat.

 

When Sherlock continues to not move and not speak, John edges further into a cuddle. Sherlock seems content to go limp on him, as soft as he ever gets. After an absurd length of time, John feels the movement of eyelashes against his neck, a blink, and Sherlock lifts his face from John’s skin. “You were saying,” Sherlock prompts.

 

“You all right?” John asks.

 

“I’m fine. I was... sorting.”

 

“Into what, wizarding houses?”

 

The reference makes a nearly audible thunk against the door as it flies over Sherlock’s head. “It’s a memory technique.”

 

“You were memorizing that? Us? You’ve never done that before.”

 

“Not immediately after, no. This warranted it.”

 

“Oh,” John says. “That’s, that’s good. Did I make top five?”

 

“That’s no new achievement, John.”

 

“Oh.” He kisses Sherlock rather than say something incredibly stupid. He climbs to his feet, pulling Sherlock along with him, and the snog needs no interruption at all. They each taste of the other. There’s a quick break to retrieve the soiled sock and then a fumble upstairs. Sherlock tosses the sock on the kitchen floor, and that’s when John’s giggles make an abrupt reappearance. He laughs and can’t stop laughing, because, honestly, a footjob in a taxi? Jesus Christ.

 

“That was completely ridiculous. I don’t, I cannot believe how ridiculous that was.”

 

“Ridiculous?” Sherlock repeats, more than vaguely offended.

 

The bottom of John’s stomach drops out. “Unless you fancy another go,” he amends. “I, um.” He swallows. “We could do that again.”

 

“Even though it’s ridiculous.”

 

“Sex is always ridiculous.”

 

Sherlock’s gaze drills into John’s skull before Sherlock concedes the point.

 

“I can’t say I’ve ever thought of myself as a bloke who plays with cocks in taxis,” John adds.

 

“I’ve told you before,” Sherlock replies. “You have a skewed self-image.”

 

“No, that one was self-discovery.”

 

“Ah. Not at all a bid for my attention, then.”

 

John’s stomach drops to previously unknown depths. “Just an offer.”

 

Sherlock smirks. “Just that?”

 

“Just that.”

 

“It seemed much more like a demand at the time.”

 

“Sherlock, you haven’t seen demanding yet.”

 

“And yet here you are. Without your keys.”

 

“Then I might as well stay until morning,” John muses.

 

“I’m working on an experiment.”

 

“That’s fine.”

 

“I’m not having dinner.”

 

“Also fine.”

 

“I won’t be going to bed tonight.”

 

“I don’t mind sleeping alone.”

 

“I won’t be in the mood tomorrow morning.”

 

“Good, I’ll be on time for work.”

 

Grey eyes pierce his face. There are flecks of yellow in them today.

 

“Is that all?” John asks, lifting his chin, feet planted.

 

“If I address the matter of your leg, will you respond civilly?”

 

John’s mouth twitches into a polite shape.

 

“I suppose that counts as civil,” Sherlock states.

 

“What are we addressing?” John asks.

 

“You’re standing unaided.”

 

“Have been since Friday,” John confirms.

 

“Continuously.”

 

“Would have been, yeah, but then I went and sat down in a cab.”

 

“Continuously,” Sherlock prompts a second time.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Five days without pain or loss of mobility,” Sherlock summarizes. His gaze goes distant, travelling somewhere John can’t hope to follow, doesn’t want to follow. “I should have taken you to a stake-out months ago.”

 

Somehow, John keeps breathing. He doesn’t look Sherlock in the eyes. Neither does he vomit. The urge is there, the sick twisting of bile, but it sits inside of him, patient and almost numb, an expected guest.

 

“If I touch you now, will you have an adverse reaction?”

 

Eyes locked on a point along Sherlock’s collar, John doesn’t answer.

 

“Yes,” Sherlock answers himself. He leaves John in the hall and shuts the door to the kitchen between them.

 

John stands in the hall.

 

When the urge to vomit worsens, he stands in the loo.

 

When the urge passes, he retreats to the sitting room and perches on the edge of the sofa.

 

Occasionally, Sherlock comes out to look at him for a long ten seconds, but he always returns to the kitchen.

 

John lies down and wonders if it isn’t too late to go back to Bart’s for his keys. He’s sure the cleaning staff must have locked his office door by now, but surely someone would let him back in.

 

He falls asleep. He wakes to Mrs. Hudson’s voice.

 

“...can’t keep leaving him on your sofa, Sherlock.”

 

“He’s there of his own volition.”

 

“He doesn’t look very comfortable.”

 

“Acknowledging weakness aggravates his PTSD,” Sherlock replies. “Acknowledging former weakness aggravates his PTSD.”

 

“Oh, poor dear.”

 

“Yes, just like that. Don’t do it.”

 

Mrs. Hudson sighs. “You haven’t left the poor man to starve on the sofa, have you?”

 

“John can feed himself. He’s a grown man.”

 

“Sherlock, dear, so are you.”

 

“Dinner would be lovely, Mrs. Hudson!” John calls out.

 

Mrs. Hudson laughs, Sherlock’s silence broadcasts his annoyance, and John slips away after dinner. It’s a cold walk to the tube station and then again to Bart’s, but he retrieves his coat and keys without difficulty.

 

 

 

 

 

His mobile rings at three in the morning. He grabs it blindly. “This had better be an emergency.”

 

“Where are you?” Sherlock demands.

 

“Home, you arse. Sleeping.”

 

“Oh. Good,” Sherlock says and hangs up.

 

John swears in the dark but isn’t annoyed enough to call him back.

 

 

 

 

 

Sherlock opens his office door without knocking. John knows it’s him without looking up from his desk.

 

“You can’t be that angry I woke you.”

 

“Bad day,” John answers.

 

“You want me to leave.”

 

John nods.

 

The door closes, and when John looks up, he’s alone.

 

 

 

 

 

For the second day in a row, Sherlock doesn’t knock. This time, he closes the door behind him.

 

“Any attempt to discuss your panic attacks and thereby reduce their effect only prompts another panic attack,” Sherlock informs him.

 

“I do have a shrink for that. She’s licensed and everything.”

 

“You’re seeing her this weekend.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Tomorrow,” Sherlock guesses. It must be a guess. “And the physical therapist on Sunday.” He sighs as if personally inconvenienced. “You’ll want to be alone the entire weekend.”

 

John nods.

 

“I see.”

 

John refuses to feel guilty.

 

“When you change your mind,” Sherlock says and sets something down on John’s desk with a clink. It’s a pair of keys.

 

“No,” John says. “No, take those back.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I’m breaking up with you.”

 

“Now?” Sherlock asks.

 

“Yes.”

 

“No.”

 

“Yes,” John insists. “You can’t just veto it.”

 

“I can when you’re not making rational decisions.”

 

“Gaslight me again, and I’ll throw your keys at your head,” John warns.

 

Sherlock slides the keys out of John’s immediate reach. “John, two days ago, you were plotting acts of public indecency involving my coat and park bridges.”

 

“Fine,” John says. “That was an irrational decision.”

 

Sherlock sets both hands on John’s desk, gaze insistent, mouth pained. “I mishandled your panic attack. I thought you wanted to be left alone. I knew not to touch you, and I was fairly certain you didn’t want me looking at you. In the future, I will remain in the room. I will not touch you, but I will speak to you. I will not leave you alone.”

 

“I don’t need you to take care of me.”

 

“No,” Sherlock agrees, “but you wouldn’t be this angry if you didn’t want me to.”

 

“Fuck you.”

 

Sherlock doesn’t so much as blink.

 

“No, really,” John says. “Fuck you.”

 

“I’ve struck a nerve.”

 

“Get out.”

 

“You chased me down the hallway two days ago,” Sherlock reminds him. “You demanded I take you home with me.”

 

“You left me to have a panic attack. You closed the fucking door in my face.”

 

“And when I realised you weren’t with Mrs. Hudson, I called you to be sure you were safe,” Sherlock continues. “You wanted space yesterday and I gave it to you. This isn’t beyond me, John.”

 

John rubs at his temples. “Can we not do this right now?”

 

 “Obviously not. The only time to persuade you not to leave me is before you do. To do otherwise would be to persuade you to come back.”

 

“I can’t do this right now.”

 

“Take your time,” Sherlock tells him, his voice infuriatingly level. “Think about it for longer than two days.”

 

“Sherlock, please.”

 

“No,” Sherlock says simply. “Not until you have a consistent course of action. That’s perfectly reasonable.”

 

John presses back in his chair and turns his face away.

 

“You’re shutting down. When emotionally uncertain, you retreat. You’d rather be out of sight than overtly emotional.”

 

“Shut up,” John grits out. “Just, just shut up. For once.”

 

“Tell me why you want to leave me and I will.”

 

John gropes toward words he no longer has.

 

“Was it because of the panic attack on Wednesday? I explained my reasoning. I’ve revised my protocol. It won’t be a problem again.”

 

“You’re too much,” John says, and there is a defeat in this.

 

“I give you space. By Mrs. Hudson’s standards, I neglect you.”

 

“That’s not what I mean.”

 

“Then what?” Sherlock demands, an abrupt show of temper. He lifts his hands from the desk, sets them back down. He takes a breath. “You enjoy challenges. You have no difficulties contradicting or denying me. You’ve never minded the gap between our intellects before. If we were arguing about anything else, you wouldn’t respond this way.”

 

“It’s mucking with my head, and I need it to stop.”

 

“‘It’,” Sherlock echoes.

 

“This.”

 

“Us?”

 

John hesitates.

 

“Me?” Sherlock narrows his eyes, then nods. “You mean me. Why would you mean me? How am I mucking with your head?”

 

John gapes at him.

 

“What?” Sherlock demands. “John, when have I ever done that?”

 

“All the bloody time!” John shouts.

 

“When?” Sherlock looms over his desk, hands planted on either side of John’s laptop. “Give me a concrete example.”

 

John refuses to lean away. “My leg. All of that.”

 

“What about it?”

 

“You were experimenting on me.” Unflinching, he meets Sherlock’s gaze. “You’d take my cane. I’ve called you on it before and you never played dumb.”

“It helped you.”

 

“You were experimenting on me.”

 

“Yes, and it helped you,” Sherlock insists.

 

“You don’t see the problem.”

 

“I’m looking for one.” His eyes search John’s face. It’s not the usual inspecting gaze, the eye-to-eye check of mere mortals. No, this is Sherlock Holmes, and that involves staring at John’s forehead and the left corner of his mouth.

 

“You don’t see it, do you?”

 

“Perhaps you could explain it to me,” Sherlock replies.

 

“That you don’t see it is worrying enough, actually.”

 

“John, I am going to repeat myself,” Sherlock tells him, the condescending bastard. “I am emphasising this because you missed the significance the first time. Are you ready?”

 

“Yes, what?”

 

“I need you to explain it to me. This mess in your head, John. Because it’s not rational. I can’t follow it. I can’t respond to it, but I can’t dismiss it, because then you would have actual grounds for leaving me. That is unacceptable.”

 

“‘Grounds for--’ Sherlock, this isn’t a divorce. We’re not—We’re not that.”

 

“Ignore the semantics, John,” Sherlock instructs. “Instead, do something useful and tell me the problem.”

 

“I did,” John says. “I have.”

 

“You’ve complained that I assisted your recovery,” Sherlock replies. “Why would that upset you after the fact?”

 

“I was upset during the fact.”

 

“Your response to personal failure is anger.”

 

“How is you experimenting on me my personal failure?” John demands. He bites his lip at his own volume. “Look, we can’t do this here.”

 

“I’m staying until you explain.”

 

“I have work.”

 

“I’ll wait in the hall,” Sherlock says.

 

“Don’t.”

 

“If I leave, you’ll begin a painful and unnecessary attempt to avoid me. It will fail. Nothing will change. We are trapped in this argument until you talk to me. It’s common sense, John. Even you must see that.”

 

“Right, of course. Insulting me helps loads.”

 

Sherlock groans, ruffling his hair with both hands as if to tear it out. “Depression operates as a filter on perception. As does PTSD. I am not insulting your intelligence this time.”

 

“No, you’re just saying I need you to tell me what’s real and what’s not,” John shoots back. “I don’t.”

 

“You’re misinterpreting,” Sherlock tells him. “It’s possible you’re trying to recognize a pattern that isn’t present.”

 

“I’m not.”

 

Sherlock stares at him hard and long. He presses his hands together and worries at his lower lip with the sides of his fingers. “If I could prove that, that this, that whatever you think is a problem is instead a nonissue, would that fix this?”

 

John frowns. “Fix what?”

 

“Would you want to stay with me,” Sherlock clarifies.

 

The “yes” is in John’s eyes before an answer can be found for his throat.

 

“You would,” Sherlock says immediately. “You’ll stay if I can prove it.”

 

There’s a trembling beneath John’s scalp, an odd form of dizziness. “You can’t even see the problem.”

 

“Not yet, but I will,” Sherlock promises. “Come home with me once you’re finished here. You’ll explain, I’ll fix it, and we’ll move on.”

 

“I don’t...”

 

“Please.”

 

The trembling worsens, a breathless sensation where there can be no breath. John’s mind fumbles around something it can’t quite touch. He sees the tense lines of Sherlock’s body, the pained insistence of his eyes. He is either the personification of sincerity, or a caricature of it.

 

“You don’t want me to leave you,” John realises, or perhaps he hopes.

 

Sherlock stares at him as he would at the worst idiot in the world, which is no answer at all.

 

“Do you?” John asks. His voice does not break.

 

The stare turns from condescension to disbelief. As John waits, the expression falters further. His sharp face turns soft. So gently, as if John has become something impossibly, unexpectedly fragile, Sherlock says to him, “Stay.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock won’t stop drumming his fingers in the cab. The last time they made this cab ride, John’s foot had been on Sherlock’s cock. It’s exceptionally surreal.

 

John takes a steadying breath before he asks, “Do you have to do that?”

 

Sherlock’s eyes dart to his face. They flick down to his hands. “Yes.”

 

“You’re nervous.”

 

Immediately, Sherlock reaches over and sets his palm on the back of John’s hand. The tapping continues onto the seat cushion. “Is this better?” The question is sarcastic and biting in a way John doesn’t know how to answer.

 

“A café would have been fine,” he says instead. He’d wanted this conversation out of his office, not in Sherlock’s home.

 

Sherlock shakes his head, staring straight ahead. He waves the suggestion away with his other hand. “My flat is better. You detest public scenes but prefer shouting. Were you to leave, you’d want to take your things with you. As it is, you’ll be grateful for the private setting once matters are resolved.”

 

John opens his mouth, the ever-recurring complaint of Sherlock’s overconfidence on his lips. Except that’s not right. Sherlock’s barely able to sit still.

 

“I’m sure I will be,” John says instead, and looks out the window. Reflected, Sherlock strains to catch his eye.

 

Watching John’s face in the window, Sherlock leans toward him. He leans and leans, chin close to John’s shoulder, lips encountering fabric. The motion is delicate, so very tender, and entirely too deliberate to trust. “You will be,” Sherlock promises.

 

 

 

 

 

Sherlock hands his keys to John and pays the cabbie. Except, no, these aren’t Sherlock’s keys. They’re the pair of keys Sherlock had dropped on John’s desk. John opens the front door but immediately sets the keys down on Mrs. Hudson’s table in the foyer. Close behind him, Sherlock snatches them up.

 

Sherlock crowds him up the stairs and into the sitting room. John tries to veer into the kitchen and Sherlock snaps at him.

 

“We do not need tea! This is not a tea discussion.”

 

“It is a bit.”

 

“No,” Sherlock forbids. “You are going to tell me what’s wrong, I am going to fix it, and that will be the end of it. Now sit.”

 

“You really are crap at conflict resolution,” John notes, sitting.

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes, then perches on the edge of his seat. “You’re hardly facilitating the process.”

 

John looks down at his folded hands. He waits for Sherlock to begin prodding at him, maybe provoke John into shouting.

 

“What are your demands?” Sherlock asks.

 

Provoke him just like that. John flounders. “My what?”

 

“Your terms, if you’d prefer it,” Sherlock rephrases.

 

“Sorry, when did this become model UN?”

 

“Don’t be facetious.” Sherlock steeples his fingers. “You don’t actually want to leave me, therefore your behaviour is an attempt to resolve an issue by negating it entirely.”

 

“On second thought, could we not have this conversation?”

 

“I’m familiar with your avoidant tendencies. If you were paying any attention, you would have noticed that.”

 

John fights down the urge to bolt out of his chair.

 

Sherlock watches his restraint. “There’s a simple solution. Tell me what you’re trying to avoid, and I will give you a realistic estimate of how unavoidable it will be within the current context of our relationship.”

 

John watches Sherlock’s hands. They’re very steady now. John envies them.

 

“If you would prefer to have this conversation in another way, tell me how to revise my approach and I will.”

 

John looks down at his own hands.

 

“Ah, but you won’t tell me, will you? John, if you continue to retreat into yourself, I will shout at you until it draws you out. It will drastically increase both the odds of communication and you leaving me. I would prefer another approach.”

 

“Why?” John demands.

 

Sherlock grins and leans forward, bright and eager and just asking for a punch. “Why what?”

 

“I’m not,” John begins. “I’m not interesting. I’m boring. I’m, I’m boring as dirt.”

 

“Dirt isn’t boring,” Sherlock corrects. “The components within soil--”

 

“Fine, bad example.”

 

“It’s apt. It’s a mistake anyone unfamiliar with proper analysis is likely to make.” Sherlock’s gaze is harsh in its steadiness.

 

Looking away doesn’t help. “Please don’t.”

 

“Please don’t what, John?” Sherlock asks. “Don’t tell you—yet again—that your self-image is skewed?”

 

“I know who I am!” John shouts. “That’s the one bloody thing I do know in this mess!”

 

“Wrong.” Sherlock’s refutation doesn’t include eye rolling, but it’s clearly close.

 

“Right, that’s not obnoxious at all.”

 

“Being right is often considered obnoxious,” Sherlock replies.

 

“No, saying you know someone better than they know themselves, that’s obnoxious.” He stands up. “Sod this.”

 

John.

 

“I’m making tea, lay off.” He storms away into the kitchen. The space does him little good and he spills water on the outside of the electric kettle as he fills it. Having left Sherlock standing in the sitting room, John never turns around to look at him. He glares at the kettle instead.

 

Naturally, Sherlock can’t leave well enough alone for longer than a minute, so of course the man has to follow John and stand behind him and press his solid gaze against John’s skin.

 

“I don’t consider myself an attractive man,” Sherlock states. “I do, however, recognize the indicators of being viewed as attractive.”

 

John turns around, if only to stare. “If you’re fishing for compliments, I swear--”

 

“I’m not.” Something like a smile lurks at the corners of his eyes all the same. “I am establishing a scenario wherein you accept that you may, to the proper observer, be an object of fascination.”

 

John’s jaw works.

 

Sherlock frowns. “What?”

 

“That? Not actually what I was after.” He’s tired of being a specimen.

 

Sherlock’s frown deepens. The expression lines his forehead and draws John’s gaze to his lips. It’s clueless and concerned and frustrated, but it’s far from the anguish in John’s gut. “You’re sufficiently concerned I’ll lose interest in you that you’ve decided to pre-emptively leave me,” Sherlock summarizes. “I am not going to lose interest. I have now addressed your concern. What else do you want?”

 

The kettle begins to boil and John turns back to it. Sherlock crowds closer behind him. John fights the urge to lean back.

 

“How will you react if I touch you?” Sherlock asks. “To be specific: if I were to lean forward and wrap my arms around your abdomen.”

 

“I’d tense a bit,” John lies.

“Hm.” Sherlock steps forward, steps against him, winds around him. “That’s the opposite of tensing, John.”

 

“You’re warm,” John accuses, trying to hold this against the other man. Already, his resolve is crumbling. It wants to crumble. Stay with Sherlock, be an object of fascination, and stay quiet. He could live like that a while longer. He has no idea what he’ll do once he reaches the breaking point, but he’ll have some time to think that through.

 

The kettle clicks, still rumbling with the boil. John pulls away, reaching up into the cabinet for mugs, but Sherlock’s hands linger on his sides.

 

“You’re still not satisfied. You should be relieved I want to keep you.”

 

“Christ, you think a lot of yourself,” John gripes as he pours hot water. Comfort in familiarity.

 

“True but irrelevant.” Sherlock’s fingertips rub circles into John’s sides. “You want something more from me. You—oh! No. No, that’s not right either.” Sherlock mutters to himself, occasionally pressing his mouth against John’s shoulder to stopper pesky words. “You could want to escalate, but you refuse to take the keys. You could want distance, but you’ve followed me home. You’re unsatisfied with the status quo, that much is certain. Which is it, less or more?”

 

John shakes his head.

 

Sherlock kisses his neck.

 

Until warm lips lift from his skin, John can’t breathe. “Stop that,” he mumbles.

 

“I enjoy your nape. Particularly from the side and slightly above. Specifically this area.” A soft nuzzle. “You have your hair cut with a tapered neck, but when you reach the point of needing another cut, it becomes a square neck. It begins to curl just here.”

 

John decides the tea can steep a while longer.

 

“Escalation,” Sherlock decides, a rumble below John’s ear. “You’re still willing to be seduced. It’s escalation. You want more from me. What more do you want?”

 

John shakes his head.

 

“Take the keys.” In the sweet curve between supplication and demand, Sherlock’s words coax their way into John’s ear. “They’re overdue, John.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I don’t always remember to let you in and Mrs. Hudson’s schedule prevents her from rectifying this.” Sherlock’s hands bury themselves in John’s coat pockets, transform the garment itself into an embrace. He nuzzles. “It’s the next logical step.”

 

John’s head wants to loll back onto Sherlock’s shoulder. John fights it, turning his face toward Sherlock’s. “Step to where?”

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “To you living here.”

 

“That’s... one hell of a step.”

 

“No, breaking up with me is one hell of a step,” Sherlock corrects. “Take your coat off, you’ll be too hot for tea.”

 

John sets his shoulders and Sherlock slides his coat down his arms, an unexpected motion accepted out of disbelief. His coat goes onto a kitchen chair.

 

“If I moved in,” John asks slowly, setting his back against the counter, “what then?” It’s less a question, more an opportunity for Sherlock to say something that sounds less like he wants a live-in fuckbuddy.

 

“We’d convert the room upstairs into a second bedroom. You could sleep separately without hurting your back on the sofa. Alternatively, I enjoy waking next to you enough that I might sleep more often. The move wouldn’t be terribly difficult: all of your things are still packed, save for the essentials. Your flat has always looked as if you were about to leave. A day of shifting boxes and here you are. We’ll split the rent and negotiate utilities. We’ll eat in more, by which I mean you will. Your presence here would also cut down on travel expenses. It’s all very economically feasible.”

 

“And then what?”

 

Sherlock’s eyebrows rise at the question, but he answers all the same. “I’ll continue my work. I imagine you’ll continue yours, unless you’d care to switch. If you wanted to be more involved in my work, I wouldn’t object.”

 

“Then what?”

 

“Then what, what?” Sherlock asks.

 

“What after?”

 

Sherlock frowns at him. “There is no after.”

 

John waits for Sherlock to look slightly less serious. It never happens. “Are you saying,” John pieces together, “you want me to move in, for life?”

 

“Oh!” Sherlock says. “You want a timetable. Average female life expectancy is eighty-two point four years, meaning we can reasonably expect Mrs Hudson to stay with us for approximately a decade. Possibly longer depending on mobility and her ability to rent out the basement flat. She may decide to sell sooner, at which point we would have to negotiate with the new proprietor.

 

“Regardless of what happens with this flat, I want to remain in London. There, we’re agreed. Yes? Yes. Average male life expectancy is seventy-eight point four years. Barring accident, that is forty-one years to work with, at least ten of which we should be able to spend here. Twenty years after that, I’ll consider a working retirement. Armchair cases, no legwork. We could retire outside the city, but it depends on your plans, whether you intend to continue teaching or return to practising. And if you can drive. Can you drive? I mean to check your wallet, but you distract me.

 

“It’s a vague outline at the moment and obviously requires your input. Societal conventions dictate that I bring this up piecemeal, but you did ask.”

 

John turns around, fishes the teabag from his over-steeped tea and drops it in the sink. He drinks the bitter, warmish liquid without milk and without fetching the milk because tea is safe and moving toward the fridge is not. Drinking tea is currently the only action he trusts his mouth to perform.

 

“Do you need space?”

 

“I, I, what?” His body turns, involuntary. He grabs Sherlock’s mug and hands it over.

 

Sherlock takes it and sets it back down on the counter. He steps closer rather than reach. “You retreat into yourself when startled or upset. You’re startled. Do you need space? If yes, how long do I need to wait?”

 

“Jesus Christ, Sherlock.”

 

“John, I’m trying to be sensitive to your emotional wellbeing. You could try to cooperate.”

 

John downs the rest of his tea. “Um. Okay. Thank you. I guess. Um, sorry, no.” He sets his mug down and promptly has no idea what to do with his hands. “Are you, are you proposing?”

 

“Obviously not. Proposals are given on one knee and accompanied with a love token, traditionally jewellery.”

 

John attempts to process this. He shakes his head and utterly fails to clear it. “Then I’m confused.”

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I don’t care if we get married. If you want to propose, that’s your doing. It is a touch soon to consider, though.”

 

“Says the man who’s planned out the rest of our lives.”

 

“On a small-scale, step-by-step basis,” Sherlock confirms, gesturing, one hand on his hip. His frown deepens. “Is that too much? Am I pressing? I’m not pressing, am I? I’ve tried not to. I like pressing. I prefer it, but apparently one is meant to ask about these things.” Both hands on his hips, then one ruffling his hair. “You’re confused, you look confused, why are you doing that?”

 

“You’re babbling,” John says. It’s adorable.

 

“No I’m not. Not really. All right, fine, I’m babbling. It’s not that noticeable, is it? Is it?”

 

John starts to giggle.

 

“Why are you laughing?” Sherlock demands, hair sticking up in every direction. “John, stop it. You shouldn’t be laughing, stop it. This is a significant conversation, and you are detracting from it.”

 

John loses it. He’d tried to contain the giggles as snickering, but they burst out into full-fledged laughter. He reaches for Sherlock. Laughing, leaning, he cracks up against Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock grabs him by the nape as if about to shake sense into him, and that only makes it worse.

 

“I, oh, God,” John gasps. He’s shaking inside, outside, and his face hurts already. His hands fail to grip the tight fabric of Sherlock’s shirt, so he settles for the jacket instead. “When did-- How long have--” John shakes his head against cloth. Christ, there are tears in his eyes, stop that. “You want--” He takes a breath. “Long-term. You want long-term.”

 

“John, I’m not going to restate the entire plan.”

 

The giggles threaten to return.

 

Sherlock eases him back and stares at John as if John’s gone mental. And maybe John has. Maybe John has a great deal, because there are important things to ask that he’s not asking. Things like “when did I become more than an experiment?” and “so you’ll stop flirting with Molly, then?” He should ask, should demand. Nothing is ever as good as this.

 

John reaches for him, pulls him near, and drags Sherlock’s head down to where John can get at his mouth. It’s meant to be a good kiss, really, it is. It’s meant to be like in the films or a happy version of a fairy tale. He intends for a soft press of the lips followed by something harder, something fuller, something that will mean John never has to explain what the hell was going on inside his own head, but the giggle wells up at the back of his throat, worse than any sneeze.

 

What?” Sherlock snaps.

 

“Nothing,” John says. “It’s nothing, I’m happy, come here.”

 

Sherlock complies enough for John to kiss the petulant line of his mouth. John kisses him open one nudge of the lips at a time. His hands trace the paths of Sherlock’s arms, well-known trails of warm cloth.

 

“You’re staying.” Sherlock pulls back to say it, but only barely. This close to John’s nose, Sherlock’s eyes are a grey optical illusion. His hands catch at John’s fingers. “Say it.”

 

“I’m, yes. I’m staying.”

 

“Will you move in?”

 

Brushing their noses together, John nods.

 

“When?”

 

John closes his eyes, thinking through his schedule. “Next Saturday? Week from tomorrow. Is that too quick?”

 

“No,” Sherlock answers immediately.

 

“It’s the end of the month and that’s easier to sort out, rent-wise.”

 

“It’s fine.”

 

“Good.” John kisses him again.  

 

Sherlock responds by backing him against the counter. His arms bracket John, a slim cage.

 

John closes his eyes and lifts his chin, but nothing more than breath touches his lips. Sherlock will swoop in any moment now. He likes doing that. Swooping, pouncing. He’s good at it, but he’s not doing it. John opens his eyes.

 

Sherlock peers back at him.

 

“What?” John asks.

 

“You.”

 

John smoothes down Sherlock’s lapels. “Me what?”

 

“Your behaviour is erratic.”

 

“It’s not that bad.”

 

Sherlock looks at him.

 

“All right,” John allows. “I’m absolutely mental. Happy?”

 

“No.” Sherlock leans deeper into John’s space, pressing against his hands. The suit turns him sleek, a creature in need of stroking. “You make irrational decisions when upset.”

 

“Everyone does that.” John slips his hands under the jacket entirely.

 

“Leading to wide-scale annoyance, yes.”

 

“You don’t look annoyed,” he murmurs, going for the neck. When Sherlock leans into the contact, John grabs his bum and drags him closer. They groan. “Definitely not annoyed.”

 

John.” Sherlock presses him against the counter hard, sets it digging into his back. Sherlock goes after his mouth, keeps pressing, practically folds him backwards. John widens his stance, straining for balance, and Sherlock grinds into him, rough and needful. It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous, Sherlock wanting him like this. John’s done nothing new, nothing interesting. He needs more, now. He needs to, to something.

 

A shove at one hip and a sharp tug on the other. He barely has enough leverage for it, but the motion turns Sherlock, frees John from the pin against the counter. Sherlock staggers as their mouths part, reaching, and John wraps his hand around Sherlock’s belt buckle. He looks into eyes dark and wide and green, and he steps backward, drawing Sherlock with him.

 

Immediately, Sherlock tries to crowd forward. The grip on the belt was meant to be sexy, should have been sexy, but Sherlock won’t let himself be reeled in, won’t be guided to his bedroom. Instead, Sherlock is a one-man stampede, herding John in front of him before kicking his bedroom door closed. The belt move was either entirely ineffective or an overwhelming success, and John honestly cannot tell. It leaves John perfectly situated to get the belt off him, which is consolation enough.

 

He moves for Sherlock’s trousers, but, going after John’s belt, Sherlock blocks him. Sherlock draws the belt from its loops slowly, deliberately, sensation snaking around John’s hips. Sherlock drops the belt, the buckle clacking against the floor, and nods for John to continue. Next goes Sherlock’s jacket, countered by John’s cardigan. John takes forever to manage Sherlock’s straining buttons. Sherlock has him rid of his shirt in an instant. A moment’s hesitation, and they fumble at their own watches.

 

The giggle wells at the back of John’s throat, high-pitched, but he doesn’t let it out. Sherlock grins at him, bright and a bit manic. John kneels to remove his shoes, for the chance to duck his head, and is utterly unsurprised when, on his way back up, Sherlock’s clothed cock reintroduces itself to John’s face.

 

John sinks back onto his heels, ready now, but Sherlock drags him up. John leans up for a kiss only to be shoved half onto the mattress. A startled bounce before he recovers, and that’s time enough for Sherlock to bully between his legs and open John’s trousers.

 

“Lift.” Chest blotchy, face flushed, his hair an incredible mess, Sherlock towers over him. “John, lift.

 

John bucks his hips up, more instinct than compliance, and some tugging completes the move. He reaches down for his pants, and Sherlock catches his wrists. Sherlock’s trousers first, right, yes.

 

Even then, Sherlock still won’t touch John’s pants. Fingertips press against John’s stomach, a warning touch as Sherlock looks at him. Inspects him. John squirms under the scrutiny, his breath stuck on an inhale. Sherlock is much too tall, still standing.

 

The touch on John’s stomach lifts and he sucks air in. Eyes grinning, mouth serious, Sherlock crawls onto the bed after him, over him, straddling John’s chest. With John’s back on the bed but his feet on the floor, there’s little leverage to be had for John, and they both know it. Blatant provocation, John licks his lips, eyeing tented cotton.

 

“Do you want it, John?” Sherlock prompts. “Tell me. Say it. Say it, John.”

 

“Please,” John groans. “Sherlock, please.”

 

Sherlock’s mouth twists into a beautiful shape. He rubs his thumb over John’s lips. “Please what?”

 

“Please suck me.”

 

Aroused bewilderment suits Sherlock’s features perfectly.

 

“Please?” John begs in hushed, furtive tones. “Christ, I want your mouth. I want, I, fuck, please.”

 

Sherlock stares down at him. Lust takes his eyes, and frustration occupies his lips.

 

The moment stretches too long, long enough to realise John may have teased out of turn. Then Sherlock scrambles off John’s chest and drags John fully onto the bed by one knee.

 

John yelps and quickly chokes on an expletive, but it’s a small price to pay for Sherlock’s mouth, even through cotton pants. Sherlock sucks the damp patch damper before pulling off and rearranging.

 

“Hold still,” he urges, stripping off his own briefs. “Lie there. Don’t move. I can, yes.” The mattress sinks above John’s head as Sherlock kneels. Oh, Christ.

 

John opens his mouth, and Sherlock strokes his jaw as he lowers himself down. The angle is strange, unfamiliar. The head doesn’t nestle against John’s palate the way it’s meant to. Breathing hard, Sherlock adjusts until John can feel warm air where it counts. Pinned, practically smothered, choking is a close thing. John can’t quite seem to get a good grip on Sherlock’s arse. The attempt is delectable in its own way, and Sherlock groans against John’s cloth-trapped cock.

 

Sherlock’s hips set a restrained pace, shallow thrusts, and the more John relaxes and moans, the more Sherlock sucks John’s balls through fabric. Sherlock switches sides, one and the other and back and again and then Sherlock doesn’t do anything at all, nothing but fuck John’s mouth and pant John’s name. It counts as a warning and, unlike someone here, John is not a complete bastard. He strains for all the suction he can muster, flicking and flicking his tongue, and he’s so vocal, he’s nearly louder than Sherlock when the man’s climax hits.

 

Breathing hard through his nose, John manages not to choke too terribly. He swallows as Sherlock collapses onto the bed rather than on John. Sherlock tugs him close immediately after, flopping in John’s general direction until their bodies align the usual way.

 

“That was lovely,” Sherlock murmurs, nosing against John’s cheek. His hand rests on John’s stomach, a steady presence. “Can you wait a few minutes?”

 

John hesitates, then nods.

 

Sherlock kisses his temple. Together, their breathing slows. Sherlock melts into John’s side, limp and pliant.

 

“If you fall asleep now, I’m taking advantage of you,” John warns.

 

Sherlock chuckles low in his throat, the exact sort of sound dark chocolate would make if it stretched after a lovely nap. “Some other time.”

 

John chuckles a bit before the tone registers. “Wait, are you-- You’re serious.”

 

“Mm,” Sherlock hums. His fingertips trace circles on John’s stomach, not at all helpfully. “I’d want to be under for at least one REM cycle and to wake before either of us climaxed. And you’d have to remember exactly what you did. There’s no point in mentally reconstructing a scenario if you don’t remember.”

 

John turns his head.

 

As close to placid as he ever comes, Sherlock gazes back.

 

“Okay,” John says, because Jesus Christ. There’s no hope, is there? He can give up now or burn out trying to keep him. He adds, “Just never do that to me.”

 

Sherlock scoffs. His hand slides over to John’s far hip. “Obviously not.”

 

“Okay.” John closes his eyes, but can’t shake the feeling Sherlock can peer through his eyelids. Much too close. He feels Sherlock sit up through the mattress’s shift beneath him.

 

Sherlock kisses his neck.

 

John’s entire body twitches.

 

Warm, stable, Sherlock’s hand returns to John’s belly. “Still sensitive.” He kisses John’s sternum. “What would you like, John?”

 

Eyes still shut, John sets his jaw and lifts his chin.

 

Sherlock sighs, thrilled exasperation. “Oh dear. You won’t say. Whatever shall I do.” More than a kiss, an open-mouthed press of lips and tongue. A scrape of teeth, just below one nipple. It’s the exact opposite of satisfying. Sherlock pulls back immediately after and John tries to school his face.

 

“No teasing,” Sherlock concludes. “You’ve reached a plateau of urgency. You want down, not higher. All right. All right.” His hands stroke John’s sides, a gesture which entirely fails to soothe, before finally easing down John’s pants. John lifts up, arching his back, and Sherlock sucks him.

 

Fuck. John tries to hold, tries to stay arched, but there’s only so long he can manage. His back hits the bed and Sherlock follows him down, taking pity at last. Just another little ploy then, checking what John would do for him. John turns his face to the side. He needs to come. He needs to come and not have his bare cock in the heat of Sherlock’s mouth. He needs a barrier, or the lights out, anything to be less exposed.

 

Despite Sherlock’s best efforts, a decided level of difficulty enters into the situation. John covers his face with his arm. That is, that is impossibly poorly timed, that is just, that is not fair. Sherlock pulls off with a wet pop and John’s cock flops damply against his stomach. As if this weren’t mortifying enough.

 

There’s a brief pause before Sherlock remarks, “We have all night.”

 

“Dammit!”

 

“You want to keep going.”

 

John nods behind his arm.

 

Sherlock climbs out of bed.

 

Heart pounding, John sits up immediately, but Sherlock merely flicks off the ceiling light. He returns, pushing John down onto the sheets. “Better?” Sherlock murmurs.

 

John nods, his throat shut.

 

Sherlock hums against his skin. Slow kisses press into him, down his neck, across his chest. Though deliberate, this is no tease. Each motion is an end in itself. Relax, each touch bids him. John can’t. His lungs are much too tight.

 

“Watch me,” Sherlock bids, prodding him up toward the head of the bed. John complies and Sherlock settles between his legs. Looking is easier when he can’t see Sherlock’s eyes. Teabagging works better than the blowjob proper, and there’s some hope after all when Sherlock grips John by the arse, keeping John under his mouth. John squirms in his hands, and Sherlock says, “Oh. John, turn over. You won’t be desensitized here.”

 

John asks “What?” but turns over all the same. He kneels, and Sherlock presses on his shoulder.

 

“No, down.”

 

Oh,” John says. He doesn’t move. “Are you, um?”

 

“About to put my tongue in your arse?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

A lone fingertip traces down John’s spine. “You tell me.”

 

Warmth curls in his gut. Yes. Definitely yes.

 

He lowers himself down, cock against the sheets, and okay, yes, that’s coming back now. That’s, that’s good. That’s—

 

“Oh, fuck.

 

Sherlock chuckles against his skin. He switches sides, bites the other cheek, and this time, John manages not to cry out. “I should bite you all over,” Sherlock muses.

 

John groans into the pillow as Sherlock urges his arse higher. The raised position isn’t nearly as good, is much too vulnerable, but Sherlock begins to use his tongue, and John’s hesitations are forgotten. Damp heat flicks against the cleft of his arse, trailing lower, skipping lower, and Sherlock nips him where his thighs become his arse. John jumps away from the contact before he presses back, and his cock hangs heavy.

 

Back up Sherlock comes. His hands stroke John’s skin as if smoothing sheets. They grip him at the hips before pulling John toward his mouth. John can feel him, his lips, his breath. Oh, Christ, he’s looking. Of course he’s looking, it’s Sherlock, what else would he—

 

“Oh, God, fuck-!”

 

Sherlock takes him by surprise and never relents, the hot flicking of his tongue just where it should be but still not enough. His hands, his thumbs press into the cheeks of John’s arse, holding him open, exposed, bare. Long licks are only a precursor before Sherlock presses deeper. The first dip inside, then deeper, wet and soft and wiggling. Sherlock’s lips around John’s hole, his tongue pulling out, shoving in. Sherlock exhales hard through his nose, air over sensitive skin, and it sets John shivering, his cock slapping against his stomach.

 

He reaches down, takes his weight on his shoulder, face pressed into the pillow. He reaches and it’s good, it’s back, he can do this, and Sherlock catches his wrist.

 

“I need,” John protests, gasping.

 

Sherlock stops fucking him with his tongue long enough to say, “No, I want to,” and immediately resumes.

 

John reaches back, both hands, and holds his arse cheeks apart. He has to turn his face to the side, can barely breathe against the pillow.

 

“John, yes.” Sherlock wanks him and licks him, pressing inside and holding around, and it’s too much, it’s entirely too much. Gasping and twitching and trapped on the edge, he can’t, he can’t, fuck.

 

Hard and fast, Sherlock strokes him through it. There’s no chance to recover, no chance to even breathe, and Sherlock drags him onto his side and secures John against his chest. John strains for air, trembling internally, and Sherlock orally molests his shoulder.

 

“Not a problem at all,” Sherlock murmurs.

 

“Smug,” John accuses. He barely makes a sound. Water. Definitely in need of water. He can’t seem to move for it, though.

 

“Obviously.” Sherlock noses against his ear. “I’m always smug when you come.”

 

“You’re always smug, period.”

 

Sherlock’s grin is audible. “I’m marvellous, John. I deserve to be smug.”

 

John pats his hand. “Yes, you’re a brilliant shag, well done.”

 

Sherlock squeezes him, arms tight around John’s middle. He’s adorably pleased. “How brilliant?”

 

“Um, very.”

 

“John,” Sherlock whinges.

 

“You’re very, very good,” John dutifully answers.

 

“That’s a step down from brilliant.”

 

“Well, the pillow talk is lacking.” John tugs Sherlock’s arm tighter around him, arching against his human blanket.

 

Incredibly, Sherlock lets the matter of his prowess drop. Instead, he touches John’s chest and belly, not at all subtle in his inspection of chest hair versus pubic hair. John tries to let his mind go numb under the sensation, beneath the exhaustion. He can’t. He’s agreed to move here in a week, and he doesn’t think he can take that back.

 

“You could have anyone you wanted,” John says.

 

“Mm.” Entirely no surprise from Sherlock. The man accepts it as his due.

 

“I mean it,” John says.

 

“Sixty-seven percent of the time,” Sherlock corrects.

 

Jesus Christ. “That’s... That’s one hell of a pull rate, Sherlock.”

 

Sherlock scoffs against the back of John’s neck. “An average of one attempt per decade is hardly a pull rate.”

 

John blinks open his eyes. He does the maths several times. It still comes out making no sense.

 

Sherlock groans. “What is it now? You’ve gone tense all over.”

 

“Sorry, are you leaving out the people who have pulled you, or am I, um. Number two.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock says, and the world makes a bit more sense. John’s not number two. That would be ridiculous. “No one ‘pulls’ me, John.”

 

John’s heart attempts to stop beating, but to no avail. Sherlock’s hand glides up John’s chest to rest over it.

 

“Is that all right?” Sherlock asks, tense against John’s back.

 

John moves his jaw a bit before he can find his voice. “Fine, it’s fine. You can touch there, I don’t--”

 

“I don’t mean my hand, John.”

 

“I’m confused,” John says.

 

“No,” Sherlock counters. “You’re incredulous.”

 

“You’ve only ever wanted three people? Ever?” It’s a conversation John should roll over to have, but he doesn’t want to. Sherlock holds him tightly in place, and John uses that as an excuse.

 

“It’s not that unusual. For some, that’s quite high,” Sherlock says to a man who has, on multiple occasions, attempted to chat up more than three women in a single night.

 

“Why, um.”

 

Sherlock sighs, the sound overblown but deeply felt. “It’s an established sexual orientation, John, not prudishness.”

 

John chokes on a startled noise. “No. No, you’ve had your tongue up my arse—I know you’re not a prude.”

 

“Then why, what?”

 

“Why me,” John says.

 

Sherlock’s grip loosens. Not relaxes, not releases. Sherlock’s arms unbind around him, a quiet invitation for John to roll over, to converse face-to-face.

 

John stays where he is.

 

“Because I saw you,” Sherlock answers.

 

Too perplexed to do otherwise, John stares at Sherlock over his shoulder. “You mean in the lecture hall? Running away from a book?”

 

Sherlock’s eyes are grey in the dark. “Yes.” A breathless word. “Combat instinct. You immediately followed it to safety, recognized your mistake, and corrected your course of action. You played it off well.”

 

“I was fucking mortified.”

 

“It hardly showed.”

 

“People laughed. My students, they laughed.”

 

Sherlock’s fingers stroke across John’s ribs. “You told a joke.”

“No I didn’t.” He remembers running at the mouth, then laughter. “Did I?”

 

“You did,” Sherlock confirms. “You told them the practical exam would include ducking for cover during simulated combat surgery, and that was the only example of proper technique they would see. You told a boy off for not paying attention. That was when your students laughed.”

 

“Oh,” John says. That explains some of the stranger questions he’s received during his office hours.

 

“You resumed your previous topic without prompting and before the girl managed to pick up her dropped book,” Sherlock continues. “You were wary, on alert for further surprises. Even I nearly thought you were in complete control.”

 

Nearly.

 

John turns his face away.

 

Lips brush his neck. The touch of a nose. Breath. “You pressed through a highly vulnerable, significantly public moment without hesitation. You stood evenly. Not simply your stance: your shoulders were level. You looked... competent. Strong.” Sherlock shifts against John’s back, tucking John against him more tightly. “You were magnificent,” he murmurs.

 

John shakes his head.

 

“You were.” There’s no heat to his words, no force or insistence, merely the ever-present assumption that Sherlock has the right of it, of this, of John.

 

“I really wasn’t.” His voice scrapes through his throat. Dark or not, he can’t have this conversation naked, but there’s no stopping Sherlock.

 

“You were,” Sherlock repeats. “It was problematic. Do you have any idea how disruptive sexual attraction can be when unfamiliar? It’s annoying. I waited a week to be sure it would last. It worsened, obviously. I asked Mike about you, but he was hopeless. He thought you were straight. When I was certain I had a chance, I gave you my number and you know the rest.”

 

John lies very still. “Sorry, when did you decide to shag the limp out of me?”

 

“The general idea occurred to me the second time you refused to come out for coffee. You wouldn’t stand in my presence until our sixth encounter: it was obviously a problem. Shagging it out of you was simply effective multitasking.” He sighs against the back of John’s neck. “I was certain it would take after the first time. It was meant to be much more impressive, John.”

 

“You were showing off?”

 

“I’m always showing off. You know that.”

 

“Yeah,” John says, a quick rhythm within his chest and absolute silence between his ears. “I do.”

 

“It was still impressive, though, wasn’t it? You seemed more annoyed most of the time. I hadn’t counted on your complete inability to let anyone help you.”

 

“Very impressive,” John says.

 

“Is that sarcasm or a panic attack? Your heart rate and respiration have picked up.”

 

“It’s fine. I’m fine.”

 

“Shall I talk about something else?”

 

“Please.”

 

Sherlock immediately launches into a monologue, detailing the plethora of minor cases his website has received recently. The flow of his voice, the leaping logic of deduction, these are regular, soothing. Regardless of his idly roaming touches, his focus palpably shifts away from John. In the dark, with his back to Sherlock, it’s the closest John can come to privacy, full-body press of nudity aside.

 

Revisionist history or the truth?

 

Revisionist history: experiment leading to attachment, leading to a new, more sentimental version of events.

 

Truth: lust at first sight because of a PTSD-fuelled panic attack.

 

John knows which he’d prefer, but it’s absurd. It’s patently ridiculous.

 

It doesn’t matter, he realises. Truth or lie, Sherlock wants him now, wants to keep him. John wants to stay. John wants to stay, he’s going to stay, they’ll be flatmates in a week. This is legitimately happening, and it’s all right.

 

He rolls over, interrupting Sherlock’s ramble. Sherlock’s hands settle on his back, and Sherlock asks, “Better?” This is taking stock; this is inventory. As if pity is a foreign concept.

 

John presses his answer to Sherlock’s lips. His hands cup Sherlock’s face, his head, fingers catching in his curls. John eases open Sherlock’s mouth, eases inside, eases Sherlock down and lies on top. Sherlock pulls him closer still, until John’s forearms frame his head. The motions of Sherlock’s mouth are lazy and slow, the taste different for a reason John can’t immediately place. Then he does, he places it, and protective affection brings his hand to a jaw which must be sore. Sherlock hums, appreciative confirmation. John relents, turns to lighter, closed-mouth brushes. He stops when his shoulder protests. He lies down and presses close.

 

“Yes?” Sherlock prompts with an indulgent chuckle.

 

John hums a yes.

 

They stay as they are until thirst and hunger finally prompt John to move. Sherlock complains, because he always complains, and John kisses him compliant, as tender as he dares.

 

“You really should eat something,” John insists, pulling his pants on. “Say you won’t need the energy for later, and I’ll be insulted.”

 

“Are you cooking?”

 

“If you have any food in the flat. D’you want first shower?”

 

“Mm, fine.”

 

John leaves Sherlock to move at his own pace, either a crawl or a race and never anything in between. Dressed, he puts his shoes on out of sheer self-preservation and tries to find something in the catastrophe of a kitchen that still counts as edible. The post-coital Tesco run may yet become a staple in John’s future, and the thought is oddly appealing. He starts to grin and can’t quite stop. He hears the shower start and actually giggles. He spends a moment smiling fondly at the mug of tea still on the counter, cold and at least an hour over-steeped.

 

There’s some soup in tins left from the last post-coital Tesco trip, and it hasn’t had time to heat up fully before Sherlock’s out of the shower. Bit of a surprise. Sherlock’s showers usually run long.

 

“That was quick,” John calls. “Would you mind watching the stove...?” He trails off as Sherlock appears in the hall, hair straight with wet, dripping weight. His pyjama bottoms are untied, his feet bare. Framed in the blue of his dressing gown, his t-shirt sticks to his chest. The chaos of his appearance is startling enough, but it’s his expression that strikes John silent.

 

“You didn’t think I was showing off.” It’s no question. Sherlock waits for John to answer him all the same.

 

“The timing is wrong for that,” Sherlock continues when John fails to make a sound. “You were convinced I was about to leave you, but why would I leave when I can finally gloat? No, you didn’t think I was showing off.

 

“What then? In your office, you said I was experimenting on you. You said it three times in total. You accused me of intentionally warping your perceptions or otherwise misleading you. You explicitly used the term ‘gaslight.’ You told me not to gaslight you again,” Sherlock emphasises. His speech tumbles out faster and faster, never losing coherency. His gestures turn sharp and broken, but his eyes remain locked on John’s face. “Again, so multiple times, a recurring problem. In the context of the experiment theory, a reasonable concern. Call it an experiment and the timing becomes obvious.

 

“What is the only significant change of late? You’re walking unaided. That’s all. An experiment on your limp would conclude a relatively short time after its disappearance was confirmed. It vanishes and you decide it’s time to go. Am I wrong?”

 

Avoiding eye contact, John turns off the stove.

 

“When you were uncooperative, I assumed you were protecting your pride. It wasn’t an unfounded assumption. You do not ask for help, you do not reach out, and you rebuff most efforts for anything more than a casual connection. Additionally, we’ve already established you enjoy putting me through my paces in order to have you. I assumed this was simply more of the same, but you deemed my efforts to help you as actively invasive.

 

“Am. I. Wrong?” Sherlock demands.

 

“No, but I--” John swallows hard, starts again. “Look, I’m glad I was wrong.”

 

“You’re glad,” Sherlock repeats.

 

“Yes.” John nods emphatically.

 

“You’re glad our relationship wasn’t a sexually exploitive psychological experiment, is that what you’re saying?” Sherlock smiles, all teeth. “Or are you glad I approached you as a person, not a test subject? Perhaps you’re glad I never planned to abandon you after you’d served your use.”

 

“Hold on. I never said--”

 

“You never say anything!” Sherlock shouts. “God, now I can see why!”

 

“I know better now!” John protests. “We’re on the same page now, it’s fine--”

 

Sherlock laughs in his face. “It isn’t fine.”

 

“I misunderstood.”

 

“No,” Sherlock snaps. “You assumed I was using you. I repeatedly, explicitly stated my intentions, and you disbelieved them.”

 

John sets his feet, stands his ground. “When the hell did you do that?”

 

“The first time in the lecture hall, you asked my intentions and I provided my short term goals: to date you, eventually to the point of exclusivity. The following week, I told you to your face I was seducing you,” Sherlock lists. “Despite ample evidence in my favour—otherwise known as reality, John—you didn’t believe me.”

 

“I thought--”

 

“You what?” Sherlock demands. “You thought you’d stay for the sex until I cured you and then run off.”

 

“I thought you’d leave me.”

 

“So you decided to leave pre-emptively. You, you decided to stay and fuck but hold back the rest.”

 

“Hold on.” John lifts his hands. “Just hold on. I, I do, I...”

 

“You can’t say it, can you?” Sherlock pulls his dressing gown tight around himself, arms crossed, shoulders hunched and damp from his hair.

 

“No, I can,” John insists, and he forces the words through his throat. “I care about you.”

 

“But you don’t trust me.” There’s no question in Sherlock’s face, no doubt in his eyes. Pain, stark and visible, has forced everything else out. “You don’t think I’m capable of having feelings for you.”

 

“I knew we were getting to be friends,” John says and immediately regrets it.

 

“Getting to be?” Sherlock demands. “Oh, God, we’re not even friends now!”

 

“That’s not-- No. That’s not what I meant.”

 

“No, you meant to shag me until you could walk away without a cane. And look, you can!” Sherlock exclaims. “Good-bye, now.” A pair of shooing motions flick John toward the hall, but John doesn’t move. “I’m sure you’ll manage the stairs just fine.”

 

“Sherlock--”

 

Leave.”

 

“I do care about you.” He fists his hands to keep from reaching. “You know I have perception problems. PTSD, it--”

 

“I know,” Sherlock interrupts. “I researched. I observed. I made certain you’d never feel cut off from exits or encounter triggers. I reassured you. When you made it clear you’d prefer space, I gave you that instead. I explicitly stated my plans to avoid surprises, and I never do that. I have explained myself. I have obtained explicit consent. I have done everything right, and I haven’t even bragged about it!”

 

“You know I have trust issues.”

 

“And that entitles you to using me?”

 

“No, I—I care about you.”

 

“You became emotionally compromised,” Sherlock corrects. “That is your problem, not mine. Your coat is on the chair. Get out of my home.”

 

“Sherlock--”

 

Sherlock plucks up John’s coat and throws it at him. “I have Lestrade on speed dial and will not hesitate to call. Leave. Now. Or I could shout, and you can explain the situation to Mrs Hudson. I’m sure she’d be highly sympathetic.”

 

“Look, I did hope you were, that we were... I hoped, all right?”

 

“Oh, how lovely. You hoped I wasn’t heartless.”

 

John opens and closes his mouth. He looks down at the coat in his hands and puts it on.

 

“I’ll return your things by post,” Sherlock informs him. He sweeps down the hall to his bedroom and slams the door.

 

In the following silence, John’s hands are absolutely steady. They are steady as he turns the stove on and off, as he transfers the soup from the pot to a bowl and the bowl onto a tray. They are steady as he puts a plate over the top of the bowl to keep the soup warm and a spoon on top of the plate. He sets the tray down in the hall, far enough from Sherlock’s door that it doesn’t count as approaching. Halfway down the stairs, he remembers his DVDs. If he told Sherlock to keep them, he wouldn’t.

 

In the foyer, he stands with fingertips on the door handle, waiting, listening. He expects to hear the smash of china from above, continued shouting, a concerned cry from Mrs Hudson. All the phones will begin to ring or a police car will arrive. Something will happen, and the argument will go on until it stops in a better way.

 

John holds out hope for as long as hope will hold, and then he simply leaves. 

Chapter Text

“John, that’s wonderful!” Ella smiles as John enters, and John grits his teeth in the politest way he can before realising she means his lack of limp.

 

“It’s been gone for a week,” he reports and sits.

 

“What changed?” she asks, leaning forward over her notepad. “That’s amazing progress.”

 

“I, um. I needed to stand up, and I did.” With the intent to shoot or bludgeon someone, if pressed. “Broke through that block.” Though hardly on his own.

 

Ella is quiet, perhaps waiting for him to continue, but they both know from experience that John won’t speak again without prompting. Sitting in her office without his cane to occupy his hands is a strange and restless experience.

 

“You don’t seem optimistic,” Ella understates.

 

The corner of John’s mouth twitches. “No, I don’t.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Giving up all pretence of meeting her gaze, John closes his eyes.

 

Ella waits.

 

“Why not, John?” she repeats.

 

John swallows. “I was, um. My friend. We were... fine. Before my leg was, we were fine. I didn’t, I didn’t think we were, but we were.”

 

“And now?”

 

John shakes his head.

 

“Why didn’t you think you were fine?”

 

“Because he’s a prat,” John answers. “An absolute prat and he’s one hell of a reputation on top of it.”

 

“What did he do?” Ella asks.

 

John looks away.

 

Ella waits.

 

“Nothing,” John says. “He didn’t... He only wanted to help. And to show off, but he’s always showing off.”

 

“Did he help with your leg?”

 

John nods.

 

“How?”

 

A strangled laugh catches in John’s throat as he glances down. Not at his own crotch, at his foot, but the distinction is little help. “He, um. He’d distract me from it. That’s not the important part.”

 

Ella folds her hands.

 

John clears his throat. “This is usually the part where you write ‘still has trust issues’.”

 

“Are you acknowledging them as a problem?” Ella asks.

 

Just barely, John nods.

 

Ella writes down a note and then turns the pad around so John doesn’t have to read it upside-down.

 

Acknowledges trust issues, it reads.

 

John’s lips quirk. “So. What now?”

 

“What do you want to do about your friend?” Ella asks.

 

John’s stomach twists and tightens. “I don’t think he’s willing to talk with me.”

 

Ella shakes her head. “What do you want to do? Before you decide what to do, you need to know that.”

 

“Apologise? I don’t know, I apologise a lot.”

 

“What for?”

 

“Losing my temper, mostly.”

 

“You’re very controlled,” Ella states.

 

John looks away. “Not enough, apparently.”

 

“John.” Ella leans forward. “It’s not a matter of ‘enough’. The tighter you try to hold onto your temper, the harder it will fight to escape. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

 

The same as not trusting someone not to leave, it seems. He considers this.

 

“I’m not sure what else to do,” John says at last.

 

Ella has a few suggestions. More than a few. John listens with a strange sense of having heard all of it before without actually listening. The idea of calmly expressing his anger still sounds like a contradiction.

 

“When you apologise, what do you do?” Ella asks.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“What do you say? What do you talk about?”

 

John frowns. “I... apologise. I say I’m sorry and what for and then we move on.”

 

“When you say what for, what do you say?”

 

His frown deepens. “‘I’m sorry I lost my temper,’ that sort of thing.”

 

“Do you explain why?”

 

“It’s usually a bit obvious why I’m sorry.”

 

Ella shakes her head. “Why you’ve lost your temper, John.”

 

John’s eyes flick down to the floor.

 

“Can you explain why you lose your temper?”

 

John nods.

 

“Can you explain why you lose it to that degree?”

 

John hesitates, then nods.

 

“Do you explain?”

 

It takes John a long moment to shake his head.

 

“Do you think that might be why your friend won’t accept any more apologies?”

 

“I never said he wouldn’t,” John corrects. “I mean, I haven’t... Honestly, I haven’t tried. It was pretty final.”

 

“When was this?”

 

John swallows, but his voice still comes out odd. “Yesterday.”

 

Ella nods, making a note. “Do you want to apologise?”

 

John wants to grovel. He hates the feeling. He nods.

 

“Do you think you’ll explain your temper this time?”

 

“It, um. It wasn’t about my temper this time. I don’t think he minded the bits with my temper that much. The way he interacts with things, it’s just so... detached. It’s like he’s operating by remote control sometimes. You could punch him in the face and he wouldn’t even feel it, he’d just stand there and criticise your technique. I’d storm off and the prat wouldn’t even care--”

 

John cuts himself off. He closes his eyes. “No, sorry. That’s unfair, that’s wrong. It looked like he didn’t.” Except even that’s not true, not when put through a Sherlock filter.

 

“He knew not to take it personally,” Ella suggests.

 

John nods.

 

“What did he take personally?”

 

“I was an arse,” John says.

 

Ella waits.

 

John looks away.

 

They both wait.

 

“The trust issues are a problem,” John says.

 

Ella makes a note, then turns her pad around. It now reads: Acknowledges trust issues as problematic.

 

A tiny laugh bursts out of John’s mouth, surprising them both.

 

“How were they a problem?” Ella asks.

 

“How did the trust issues make trusting someone a problem.”

 

Ella gives John a look which informs him his daily allotment of understated sarcasm has been depleted.

 

“Well, I didn’t trust him,” John says more seriously.

 

“Why do you think that is?”

 

“The first time we met, he, um.” He’d lied about reception in order to swap mobile numbers. He’d offered to split a cab when John said he was tired and backed off when John said no. “Bad example. Um.” He’d offered coffee before actually providing it for a week. He’d kept asking John out to dinner even after shagging in the lecture hall, immediately after.

 

He’d walked John to the tube, which should still border on stalkerish in hindsight, except for the fact that it doesn’t. The first time had been in the rain, John remembers, and John had changed his own plans by walking with him. If Sherlock had never done that, they would have never progressed beyond takeaway in John’s office. After all of this, Sherlock had run out on him over dinner, but he’d taken obvious pains to explain why. That’s more than John’s ever done over his temper.

 

All of the panic attacks. All of the fights. Sherlock’s always known—almost always known—when to back off and when to return. It’s appalling for John to realise he has no idea how to duplicate that feat.

 

“I don’t know,” John says at last. “No, I do know. The man comes with one hell of a warning label. A police sergeant he works with called him a sociopath. Not as an insult, as a personality disorder. She says he calls himself that, but I’ve never heard him mention it.”

 

Ella’s eyes widen only slightly, but she does sit up straighter. “Do you think she was exaggerating?”

 

John shakes his head. “I don’t know. But I don’t think he is one. I didn’t ask. Not exactly a question you can bring up without ending things one way or the other. But I’m sure he isn’t. He does... um. Form attachments. Sociopaths don’t do that.”

 

“No,” Ella confirms. “Does he learn from mistakes or correct his behaviour?”

 

John thinks of his last panic attack and nods. “Sometimes, he’s the most emotionally immature person I know, but then there was medical school. The exceptional ones, the gifted kids, they could act a bit like that too. Easily frustrated. And Sherlock, Christ. If he’s not constantly going, he’s tearing up the walls.” Or tearing off John’s trousers, either one.

 

Ella nods along.

 

John keeps talking. Not about his feelings or any of that, but about Sherlock. How Sherlock is and the things he does, the research and the experiments, the way it’s entirely plausible Sherlock could have helped him out of curiosity alone.

 

It feels good. To talk about Sherlock, that is. To be relentless in his use of the present tense. Determination hurts, but an ache is better than agony. He complains as much as he praises.

 

“You sound very close,” Ella says.

 

“We were,” John says.

 

“You sound surprised.”

 

“I, um.” He shifts in his chair. “I hadn’t realised, actually. I mean, I... Not in those terms.”

 

“Are you sure you don’t want to try apologising?”

 

John shakes his head. “I don’t want to be that bloke.”

 

“Who do you mean, John?”

 

“The bloke who mucks everything up forty-eight times and then begs for a second chance.” John had been an idiot like that up until uni, at which point another boy was an idiot like that toward him. At which point: never again. It’s incredibly annoying. More to the point, Sherlock would tear him to shreds. John would probably let him.

 

“I didn’t say asking for a second chance,” Ella corrects. “I said apologising.”

 

John frowns. “You mean as closure.”

 

Ella nods.

 

John doesn’t want closure. He didn’t know that three seconds ago, but he knows that now.

 

Their time runs out soon after, and John still doesn’t know what to do.

 

 

 

 

John braces himself for more of the same the following day, but out of everyone he knows, it’s his physical therapist of all people who doesn’t comment on his limp. Jacqueline runs him through the usual stretches, and it’s a full twenty minutes before John realises her assumption.

 

“I haven’t forgotten the limp,” John says. “It’s actually gone now.”

 

“Oh, brilliant!” Jacqueline exclaims immediately. “Sorry, I was trying not to remind you.”

 

“No, it’s fine now.”

 

She gives him a steady look. “I’ll be the judge of that.” She proceeds to put John through more paces than he’d thought he’d had. It’s not quite exhausting, but it is numbing, and that’s good.

 

“You’ll still need to mind your shoulder,” she reminds him. “That said, there are a few more positions you could try now.”

 

John frowns. “For stretching?”

 

“No,” Jacqueline says. “I mean positions.”

 

John says, “Oh.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“We’re not together anymore,” John says.

 

“Oh,” Jacqueline says. “Okay. Are you planning on having sex ever again with anyone?”

 

The corners of John’s mouth twitch.

 

“Some people don’t,” Jacqueline says. “I just thought I’d ask.”

 

“It wasn’t that bad of a break-up.” Just bad enough to let him know he shouldn’t try dating anyone in the foreseeable future. Trust issues first, smashing his own heart against a brick wall later.

 

“Some people honestly don’t,” Jacqueline repeats, and it’s impossible to miss the way her tone shifts toward a professional timbre.

 

“Sorry?” John asks, honestly confused.

 

 “My little sister’s grey ace.”

 

John’s confusion only grows. “Ace at what?”

 

“Asexual,” Jacqueline corrects.

 

“I didn’t know they were colour-coded.”

 

Jacqueline’s lips quirk. “Only sometimes. About that shoulder, though? Stop overextending. I’m serious, don’t do it.”

 

“If I break myself, I won’t blame you,” John promises.

 

“That’s all I ask.”

 

 

 

 

 

John goes home and researches a bit. Then he calls Bill and confuses his friend by asking to talk to Jessica.

 

“Hello?” Jessica asks down the line.

 

“Hi,” John says. “This is going to sound a bit odd.” He forces himself to say it. “I need some advice.”

 

“Oh, fun. What?”

 

“How do you cope with a soldier who has PTSD?” John asks.

 

“You don’t mean Bill, do you?”

 

“I wasn’t sure he had PTSD, honestly.”

 

Jessica pauses, a tense silence where John can picture her checking her surroundings. “Yeah,” she says. “You know, it was really good to have you over. I do think it helped.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah,” she emphatically agrees.

 

John twitches a smile at the surface of his desk.  “If you two ever want to come up to London for a day.”

 

“That’d be lovely.”

 

“I’d offer to let you stay the night, but I’ve barely enough space for me.”

 

“No, just a day is fine. The train’s quick.”

 

John nods. The silence stretches a bit. “So about handling a soldier.”

 

“Is there someone I should be giving this advice to?”

 

“No one who’d take it at the moment.”

 

“Well,” Jessica says, “when he’s willing to take it, I can pass it along.”

 

John nods again. “Thanks.”

 

“One thing?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“I know recovery is about the person who needs to recover,” Jessica says. “That’s pretty obvious. But it’s a lot easier to watch when you don’t only have to watch, you know?”

 

“That... makes a lot of sense, actually.”

 

“Mm. Do you want me to put Bill back on?”

 

“Yeah. Thanks.”

 

“Not a problem.”

 

She passes off the phone, and John and Bill talk about nothing important. It’s the best part of John’s weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

Exams begin in full, a flood of lab reports drowns John’s desk, and John starts to think he lost Mike in the divorce. They have lunch together at the canteen, but it’s stilted in a way things never are with Mike. It’s been proven Mike wouldn’t know an awkward moment if it began breathing heavily in his ear.

 

“Something the matter?” John finally asks mid-week.

 

Mike gives him the look of a man trying very hard to remain neutral.

 

“Ah,” John says.

 

“Mm,” Mike says.

 

“I’m an arse.”

 

Mike looks very uncomfortable. “I’m not taking sides.”

 

“Mike, even I’m not on my side.”

 

Mike looks very uncomfortable and a bit sad.

 

“Sorry, how much do you know?” John asks.

 

“I’d really rather not be in the middle of this,” Mike says.

 

John bites down his questions. Instead, he asks, “D’you want to go to the pub after work?” Because John needs one hell of a pint, and after life with Harry, he knows not to go after it on his own.

 

Mike smiles and says, “Yes.”

 

 

 

 

 

Even keeping an eye out for him, John doesn’t see Sherlock at Bart’s that week. He asks Molly if Sherlock’s stopped by and finds Sherlock must be avoiding Bart’s entirely. Sherlock’s website doesn’t update either, not even to reply to questions in his forum.

 

He and Mike have two nights out before it’s obvious even to John that the social substitution is no kind of effective replacement. He keeps from whinging to Mike, but only just.

 

The third night out, Mike surprises him with an apology.

 

“He confided in me,” Mike says. “Before he would even go near you, this was. I’d never seen him so nervous.”

 

“Are you serious?” John looks up from his pint. “You’re serious.”

 

“I thought you’d notice,” Mike laments.

 

“It’s not your fault.”

 

“If I’d told you, though.”

 

John sighs. “Not sure how much of a difference it would have made.”

 

They feel a bit sorry for themselves.

 

“What do you mean, before he’d go near me?” John asks after a bit.

 

 “He’s not the most well-liked,” Mike says. “I think you’ve noticed. So he worried.”

 

If the table weren’t so sticky, John would bury his face in his arms. As it is, he closes his eyes and says, “I get the idea, thanks.”

 

 

 

 

 

When Sherlock finally updates his blog, the entry is a treatise on the ability of an initial bias to overpower all subsequent evidence. He presents the matter of diagnosis bias from two sides: a scenario of undue suspicion and a scenario of unearned trust.

 

It takes four tries, a break for tea or even for the night in between, but John reads all of it. He tries to post a comment, merely something to say the message has been received, but he’s been blocked from the site.

 

 

 

 

 

Two and a bit weeks after the break-up, his things finally arrive in the post. Sherlock has kept Goldfinger.

 

You hated that film, John types into his mobile.

 

He stares at the message for long moments before sending it. He watches his mobile all night for a message that doesn’t come.

 

 

 

 

“Hello,” John greets when the other man finally picks up his phone.

 

“Doctor Watson, if you believe speaking with me will return you to my brother’s good graces, you are sorely mistaken,” Mycroft Holmes warns.

 

“Yeah, I got that, thanks.” Alone in his flat, John stands up a bit straighter. “You told me I couldn’t trust my instincts about Sherlock. Hell, you told me to leave him. Why?”

 

“To prevent this exact scenario,” Mycroft drawls. “Goodbye--”

 

“No, hold on! You told me not to trust him.”

 

“I told you not to trust your instinct to mistrust him. Goodbye, Doctor Watson.” The line goes dead. Absolutely dead: when John immediately calls again, the number is no longer in service.

 

 

 

 

 

The exam period finishes and the grading period stretches on, unending. John puts away his cardigans as the weather warms, and something in him threatens to give way without quite knowing how to. It’s nearly time for his next session with Ella, and the idea of closure won’t leave him be.

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs Hudson is too kind a woman to shut the door in John’s face, but the urge to do so is clear in her eyes. “No,” she says. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to leave.”

 

“I’m here to apologise,” John says. “Please.”

 

“I don’t think he wants an apology, dear. Maybe not for a long time.”

 

“Could you ask?” John presses his fisted hands down deeper into his pockets. He can hear Sherlock playing the violin above. “Please.”

 

Mrs Hudson looks at him, then looks back toward the stairs. “All right,” she says. “Stay here.”

 

John waits at the street door. The customers at Speedy’s watch him, and it’s all a bit uncomfortable. The violin music stops. It resumes. Mrs Hudson returns.

 

“You can go up,” she says, but she doesn’t look terribly certain.

 

“Thank you.”

 

Mrs Hudson stays behind as John climbs the stairs, something to be grateful for.

 

Upstairs, the kitchen is more of a disaster zone than ever, but that’s the only significant change. More experiments to fill Sherlock’s time. Distractions? Part of a case? The simple fact of his own ignorance makes John ache.

 

Sherlock is in the sitting room, because that’s where Sherlock plays his violin. He likes the windows. The instant John sees him, Sherlock stops playing. With Sherlock facing away, his back a forbidding line, the timing is an unlikely and dramatic feat: perfectly Sherlock.

 

It’s shirtsleeves today, off-white. The fabric is still too tight on a too-thin torso. It can’t be less so than the last time John saw him, but John realises he’s worried.

 

Not looking back at John, Sherlock sets the instrument on his armchair in an obvious message: Sherlock will not be sitting. John should not sit either.

 

“What?” Sherlock snaps.

 

“I’m sorry,” John says.

 

“Fine. Get out.”

 

“Can I have two minutes? Please.”

 

Sherlock sighs. John could ask to confirm this as permission, but he can already hear the clock ticking.

 

“Nothing good happens to me,” John says. “I spent all the time between my tours waiting to go back, and when I got there, I saw people die in ways I wasn’t ready for, because you can’t ever be ready for that. And then I was shot. I’ll never operate again, and I thought I’d never walk again. Not normally.

 

“I’m not, I’m not just complaining. It’s important you understand: nothing good happens to me.

 

“If something good happens, I don’t...” He fists his hands, addressing the floor. “It doesn’t make sense. It’s like when you’re little, and the good people get happy endings and the bad ones get what they deserve. If you’re useless, why the hell would you expect something good?

 

“It made more sense. It’s not that I thought—I didn’t think you were heartless. You’re not malicious. I’ve never thought that. But I’m a crap emotional investment, and I thought—I mean, you notice everything. So. I thought. It had to be something else. Because I honestly don’t know what you see—sorry, what you saw in me.

 

“And I’m not, I’m really not asking you back. I could, I want to, I could do a spot of begging even, but nothing’s fixed. So that would be shit. I’ve actually thought it out this time, and it would be. I’d be waiting for something else to go wrong. That’s a crap way to live, and I don’t want to do that to you. So this is just that, me apologizing and trying really hard not to be an arse.

 

“One more thing. Um. If you ever, you know. If you need back-up, I’m still your man. And if you just want me to fuck off, I’ll do that too,” John promises.

 

Sherlock still stands with his back turned, still faces the window. He hasn’t moved beyond to tilt his head slightly. His hands are fisted, shoulders tense.

 

“Right,” John says. “I’ll fuck off now.”

 

He doesn’t wait for Sherlock to say anything, simply turns and leaves. The music resumes where it left off, the sound of it neither sad nor angry, merely forceful.

 

Unapologetically waiting in the foyer, Mrs Hudson hesitates but ultimately hugs him.

 

John hugs her back for all he’s worth, and then they say goodbye.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s research and grading and enough paperwork to clog a black hole. There’s a minor Harry emergency that amounts to nothing, thank God. There are more nights out with Mike Stamford and the realisation that Molly is drooping a bit. There’s the approaching return of the new mother John was brought in to replace. There’s the offer to stay on in a reduced role. John thinks about it and has no reason not to accept.

 

It’s a long month.

 

Just when John thinks it can’t get any longer, he’s startled awake at nearly four in the morning by his mobile ringing. He’s on his feet before he registers moving, his mobile against one shoulder as he pulls yesterday’s trousers over his boxers. “Harry, please tell me you’re not in a car this time.”

 

“I am neither Harry nor in a car.”

 

John’s hands freeze on his fly. “Um, no. Hi.” He rushes to zip himself up the rest of the way.

 

“I see your alcoholic brother is taking poorly to his divorce from Clara. Curious, as he initiated it.”

 

“How the fuck.”

 

Sherlock doesn’t make a sound, but his smug flicker of a grin is clear down the line.

 

“You’re wrong on that one, actually. Harry’s butch, but she’s not a man.”

 

The sense of smugness lessens, and John immediately wants it back.

 

“Sorry, what’s going on?” John asks.

 

“Serial arsonist. I know which building she’s after next, but there are two entry points excellent for fire-setting.”

 

“Right,” John says. He grabs his keys and his coat, not actually sure when he put on his shoes. “What’s the address?”

 

A few hours later, sitting together on the back of an ambulance as the sun rises and the EMTs treat them for smoke inhalation, their knees touch. Sherlock’s eyes are largely blue, and he looks at once incredibly annoyed and wholly relieved at the oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. He goes a bit cross-eyed, glaring at it, and John starts to giggle under his own. The EMTs attempt to separate them and ultimately decide the fuss isn’t worth it. Their knees stay pressed throughout.

 

The DI who shows up isn’t Lestrade, but she is going grey and has a very similar way of riding out the storm that is Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock monologues at her, stopping only to inhale from the oxygen mask. He doesn’t need to nearly as often as he should.

 

John has to give his statement as well, and by the time DI Minaj lets them go, it’s already mid-morning.

 

“Breakfast?” John asks.

 

Sherlock stands with his hands in his coat pockets. He still smells of smoke and petrol. His hair is a bit greasy, and there’s a curving red mark on his face from the oxygen mask.  “Not hungry.”

 

John’s expression doesn’t change. It might have if he were surprised. “Okay,” he says. “See you.”

 

Sherlock doesn’t contradict, and John walks away grinning.

 

 

 

 

 

He passes Molly in the hall, not quite able to make eye contact due to the sheer number of books she’s carrying. That she sees him at all is surprising.

 

“Oh, John!” she exclaims once she’s passed him. Somehow, she manages to whirl around without dropping anything. “Were you looking for Sherlock?”

 

He hasn’t asked her that in months. “Sorry?”

 

“It’s just, he’s dropped by again.”

 

That explains the books. “Oh,” John says. “Are you okay with those?”

 

“It’s fine,” she says brightly. “I know it looks ridiculous, but I like helping. Most of the people I talk to are dead, so. It’s nice to help.”

 

“Do you want to go out for drinks?” The words pop out. Where from, John’s not sure. He thinks there might be some new part of him dedicated to sensing extreme loneliness.

 

Molly blinks over the book pile. “Uh.”

 

“Mike and I—Mike Stamford—we go to the pub most Thursdays. Do you, um?”

 

“Oh! Oh, um. Yes!” She turns a bit red around the edges. “Oh, that came out louder than I meant.”

 

“Could barely hear you around the books.”

 

Molly laughs a little. “Sorry, I need to—these are heavy.”

 

“Right. See you.”

 

“Bye!”

 

 

 

 

 

His research is going well, and he’s teaching a pair of summer modules. Pub night expands, mostly due to Molly. They switch to Saturdays for the pub quiz, and three months after the first proposed meeting, John finally meets Mike’s wife. Madhuri and Molly hit it off immediately, if in a vaguely disconcerting how-are-you-finishing-her-sentences kind of way. Mike thinks it’s the most endearing thing he’s ever seen, and John’s not about to judge.

 

One pub night in June, his mobile chimes with a text, and he excuses himself. He doesn’t have too far to go before he sees Sherlock through a restaurant window and ducks inside.

 

“What are we waiting for?” John asks, taking the inward facing seat.

 

“I am waiting for a jewel thief. You are waiting until I no longer need a second person to make me less conspicuous.”

 

“Okay,” John says, glad to have only finished his first pint. He has dinner. Sherlock does not.

 

“Harry must be improving,” Sherlock says apropos of nothing.

 

“She is, yeah.” John pushes the remains of his rice around with his fork. “Right, how did you know? Not just improving, all of it. I never mentioned Harry.”

 

“Your phone,” Sherlock says. Eyes fixed out the window, Sherlock explains what he’s known since the first day he entered John’s office and borrowed John’s phone. It’s remarkable, both brilliant and sobering. Sherlock’s mind and memory, they’re incredible, and if Sherlock hasn’t forgotten the minutiae of John’s phone in half a year, John knows his own behaviour won’t ever be overlooked.

 

“Stop that,” Sherlock tells him abruptly. “Your guilt is distracting.”

 

“Right, sorry.”

 

Sherlock’s focus immediately returns to the shop across the street. Stationary and silent, he can’t be mistaken for relaxed, but neither does he appear uncomfortable. He’s a cat about to pounce, and John is just the furniture concealing him from the mouse.

 

They stay long enough, just sitting, not talking, that the waitress brings the bill and occasionally comes round to pointedly ask if they need anything. Sherlock never seems to notice. Finally, Sherlock’s eyes widen.

 

“Now?” John asks in an unnecessary whisper.

 

Eyes still locked behind John, Sherlock nods slightly. They hurriedly stand, grabbing their coats, and John is glad to have paid half an hour ago. Sherlock drags him across the street, the night late enough that traffic is scarce. Sherlock drags him a bit farther still down an alley, and that’s how John gets into a fistfight with a man armed with a lockpick set.

 

This time, John sits on the back of the ambulance alone while Sherlock talks to the DI. He doesn’t need stitches, and it’s not a concussion.

 

“That was fun,” John says when Sherlock sits down beside him.

 

Sherlock’s eyes go to his forehead. “You need a new bandage already.”

 

“Yeah, I know.”

 

Sherlock immediately begins to make a fuss, but as he aims it at other people, John and the painkillers don’t mind. John holds steady for the change of bandage, and then drops the side of his head onto Sherlock’s shoulder. Bony, but the perfect height. Which it shouldn’t be, actually. It should be a bit too high, it’s usually a bit too high or he would have done this before.

 

“You’re slouching,” John realises without lifting his head.

 

“I’m tired,” Sherlock says.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Are you certain there’s no concussion?”

 

“Mm,” John hums. Sherlock’s coat isn’t exactly soft beneath his cheek, but it doesn’t scratch either. The night air is warm, nearly too warm for their coats, and John likes to remember that Sherlock is only wearing a shirt beneath, no jacket. The metal of the ambulance is hard, but the discomfort isn’t enough to bring John to move. “This is nice,” he murmurs.

 

Sherlock scoffs. The sound is oddly gentle, as if restrained to keep from dislodging John.

 

“We’re friends again,” John decides.

 

“Are we now.”

 

“You would have shoved me off, otherwise.”

 

Sherlock audibly grins. “Perhaps.”

 

“You would’ve shoved me onto the pavement,” John tells Sherlock’s shoulder.

 

Sherlock says nothing.

 

Confused, John lifts his head.

 

Lips twisted to keep down a smile, Sherlock promptly shoves him.

 

Staggering onto the pavement, John laughs until it hurts, and then Sherlock joins in.

 

 

 

 

 

Sherlock begins to call him when the cases come in. Not always to summon him, but always to speak. He rants and rambles. Deductions bounce, prompting theories to crawl, then stumble, then fly. Sometimes, John doesn’t say a word the entire time, but he never notices until afterward.

 

Once, John is vaguely in the area when Sherlock calls and spends ten minutes of humming agreement walking to Baker Street. He stops in front of Speedy’s, looking up. From the window above, Sherlock effortlessly establishes eye contact, gesturing as he speaks without interruption or surprise. It makes John think of Romeo and Juliet gone film noir.

 

Sherlock breaks off his monologue to demand, “What?

 

“Sorry?”

 

“You giggled.”

 

“It’s nothing,” John says. “Can I come up?”

 

“Obviously. What are you doing down there?”

 

“Waiting for someone to unlock the door?”

 

Even through a window and a storey removed, Sherlock’s disdain is clearly visible. “I did that five minutes ago.”

 

John’s inside without another thought, upstairs before Sherlock’s finished his next sentence. They hang up in unison and Sherlock keeps right on talking.

 

 

 

 

 

“Dinner?” Sherlock asks one night in August.

 

“Starving.”

 

 

 

 

 

When John begins to fall asleep in the middle of an all-night cipher cracking session, Sherlock checks his watch and says, “You haven’t slept in over thirty hours.”

 

“Noticed that, thanks.”

 

“Sleep.”

 

“I’m fine.”

 

“Your yawns are infectious. Sleep.”

 

John straightens up, cracking his back as he does so. “Fine.”

 

“No, not the sofa,” Sherlock interrupts before John is halfway there. “Don’t be distracting. Use the bed.”

 

John stares at him, at the hunched line of him bent over the table, at the hairs forever curling at his nape. “What, really?”

 

Without looking at John, Sherlock points to the ceiling with his pen. “Upstairs.”

 

John blinks but goes upstairs. The storage room now stores very little, and the bed is made up. The sleepless world is full of thick air and blurring images, so John takes care as he looks. Inside the closet, there is nothing at all. In the dresser, there is a single pair of socks that John recognises as his own. He rubs at his eyes, dry and burning from the hour. He goes to the desk and opens the second drawer. Sean Connery looks out at the ceiling from the DVD case inside.

 

John turns around and gets as far as the doorway before stopping. No distractions during a case. He closes the door, shucks his clothes down to his pants, and climbs into bed. The pillow still smells of Sherlock. John aches his way to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

In the morning, there is a manual toothbrush in the loo beside Sherlock’s electric one.  It appears to be brand new.

 

“Is this safe to use?” John calls.

 

“Don’t be a moron!”

 

“You do realise that sounds like a ‘no’ from you, right?”

 

Sherlock doesn’t respond, likely to make John writhe, so John errs on the side of caution and uses his finger instead.

 

 

 

 

 

Bored. Bring DVDs. SH

 

John brings all of them.

 

 

 

 

 

The A/C died again, John types into his phone. That’s what comes of buying a cheap, third-hand window unit. Can I spend the night at yours?

 

Move in. SH

 

John turns up with his overnight bag. “I don’t know if I can,” John tells him honestly, walking into the sitting room.

 

“You mean you want to have sex,” Sherlock presumes. Standing with shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows, it’s a safe assumption. His collarbones glisten with sweat between the soft-seeming lines of his shirt. “We can be friends, but we can’t be flatmates, because then you’d want to shag me more than you already do.”

 

“Do you want to have sex?” John asks.

 

“I’m sweating enough already, thank you.”

 

“I mean ever,” John says, and, Christ, why does he feel like he’s shaking?

 

Sherlock’s eyes drift from John’s face to focus in the middle distance. He’s too pensive for a yes, considers it too long for a no.

 

John waits, one hand fisted, the other clenched tight around the strap of his bag.

 

“I haven’t been physically attracted to you for the past three months,” Sherlock informs him. “It was an abrupt change, and I have no conscious control over it.”

 

“Are you sure?” John asks. Immediately, even before Sherlock’s eyebrows shoot up, John feels like a complete arse. “No, sorry, I’m not—I know you’d know.”

 

“I can check,” Sherlock says, stepping forward. He looms, abruptly close, and John’s hands reach for his hips as naturally as they would for the railing on the stairs. Sherlock’s hands are much slower to rise, and they settle on John’s shoulders as if expecting foreign terrain. He looks so stricken, so unsure, that John begins to say no, to tell him not to force this, but Sherlock’s mouth presses his shut. Sherlock’s lips are warm, and John immediately loses all power of self-sacrifice.

 

The kiss is as soft as Sherlock’s breath on his face. The hands on John’s shoulders are steady. John’s arms slip around his waist, encircle him, and Sherlock permits himself to be held. He is receptive, but not welcoming.

 

John is the one to ease back. Sherlock frowns and tugs him close, arms tight around John’s shoulders until John closes his eyes with a sigh. It’s much too hot for this, but when Sherlock tucks his chin against the top of John’s head, neither of them complains at the way hair sticks to damp skin.

 

“This still feels right,” Sherlock reports, observational tone entirely at odds with the sentimental position. The movement of his jaw scrapes John’s hair against his own forehead. “We can do this.”

 

“You want me to move in and cuddle you.”

 

“What’s wrong with that?”

 

“Well, the urge to hump your leg is a bit awkward.”

Sherlock laughs, but John’s not joking. He can’t seem to let go, either. He presses his face into the sweet curve of Sherlock’s neck and simply wants. He wants to have had this from the start, the certainty that is Sherlock Holmes in his life, if not in his bed.

 

“Will you?” Sherlock asks. “Move in.”

 

“Why do you want me to? No—not like that,” John hurries to say the instant Sherlock tenses. “I’m not... I’m not doubting. I’m just... gathering data.”

 

Sherlock’s jaw presses hard against the side of his head. “It annoys me when you leave,” he says at last.

 

“I think it might be a bit more annoying to have me sitting around the flat trying not to jump you,” John confesses. He’s not entirely sure Ella would be proud of his communication skills, but he’s getting better.

 

“No, I still like that,” Sherlock replies.

 

“You just don’t want me to act on it.”

 

Again, a pause for consideration. “I’d prefer you didn’t.”

 

“Ever?”

 

Sherlock groans and pushes him back. His hands are tight on John’s upper arms, his eyes piercing John’s face. “John, my libido is incredibly antisocial. I can’t make it come out to play if it doesn’t want to.”

 

John nods, managing eye contact and little more. His ego lies gasping on the floor, punched in the solar plexus.

 

“If that’s not enough,” Sherlock begins.

 

“It’s enough,” John promises. “This is about moving in, not dating, so. So I’ll move in.”

 

“Do you want to?”

 

“Yes. It’s a great location, and my landlord right now is shit.”

 

Sherlock’s eyes crinkle, and John’s pulse immediately leaps. “At the end of the month, then?” Sherlock suggests, biting his lip. He’s never looked so hopeful, not even for sex.

 

“Yeah,” John says, and it’s settled. They spend the night doing nothing in particular, and when John returns to his flat two afternoons later, his overnight bag is empty.

 

 

 

 

 

September comes round, and Mike is thrilled and confused at the news. John rather feels the same way. Sherlock, on the other hand, goes through cycles of demanding all of John’s attention and forgetting he exists. Back to normal, then.

 

Not entirely normal, not when John can’t help feeling as if he’s about to burst out from beneath his own skin. Never entirely normal, not when Sherlock’s experiments wind up in the fridge with a distinct lack of proper containment.

 

John loses his temper over that one, shouts long and hard, and Sherlock—the absolute bloody tosser—Sherlock starts laughing.

 

“What?” John demands. “What the hell is so funny?”

 

“You’re not going to back down, are you?” Sherlock asks, clearly rhetorical.

 

“Not over the fridge, Sherlock. That’s where the bloody food goes. Metaphorically bloody food, not, not this!” He jabs his finger at the mess, nowhere close to touching it. “Some of us actually eat in this flat.”

 

Sherlock only grins wider. His eyes scan John’s face, up and down, then dart to John’s hands and back to his mouth.

 

What?”

 

“You’re only angry.”

 

“No, I’m furious.”

 

“Yes, but you’re not worried,” Sherlock states.

 

“You’re not using proper containment, of course I’m worried.”

 

 “You’re not, actually. You’re yelling with no fear of consequence.”

 

“Because the only fucking consequence is a clean fridge,” John snaps.

 

Sherlock beams at him.

 

John crosses his arms, plants his feet, and lifts his chin.

 

Sherlock escalates from pleased to thrilled. It changes his face the way smiling always changes his face, but more so. He’s younger and brighter, absolutely shining, and it simply makes John all the more stubborn.  

 

“Out with it,” John says.

 

“I’m not sure,” Sherlock begins, more excited than hesitant, “but I think I want to kiss you.”

 

John stares at him.

 

Sherlock inches closer.

 

“Not until you’ve cleaned the fridge,” John says flatly. “We have a literally bloody fridge, Sherlock. That’s not good.”

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Fine.”

 

John relocates to the sitting room before Sherlock can drag him into helping. That means sitting on the sofa, entirely out of sight of the kitchen, and never looking up from his book regardless of the sounds Sherlock makes. Sooner than expected, Sherlock emerges with bin bags, sulks down the stairs, and returns.

 

That done, Sherlock invades the sofa with a flop, sprawling into John’s lap and forcing his head under John’s arms like a nosy dog. John fluffs his hair to cement the comparison, and Sherlock glares up at him. John keeps his eyes steadfastly on his book.

 

“You’re not actually reading anymore,” Sherlock announces. “Your eyes are scanning, but in the same spots.” A pause, a smug one. “You’re letting me chase you. Are you? Are you letting me--”

 

Sherlock’s mobile rings.

 

The transition of phone from pocket to ear is nigh instantaneous, even without lifting his head from John’s lap. “Sherlock Holmes.”

 

John keeps his hand on Sherlock’s head, inwardly cursing. Maybe not so inwardly, the way Sherlock pets his arm.

 

“Who’s on forensics?” Sherlock asks. He promptly makes a face. “Anderson won’t work with me.” He looks up at John, eyes wide and blue and yellow and somehow not at all green. “Could I bring my own?”

 

There’s a slight pause down the line.

 

“If I had my own medical expert,” Sherlock says. His hand settles on John’s arm, proprietary. His eyes never leave John’s. “If I had one, could I bring him?”

 

Some sort of response.

 

“Brilliant,” Sherlock replies. “I’ll meet you there.”

 

He hangs up. Otherwise, he remains stationary. There’s no question in his eyes. It’s not even an assumption. Assumptions aren’t so stable, so unthinking.

 

“Where are we going?” John asks. “And don’t say ‘crime scene’.”

 

“Serial killer,” Sherlock replies, oddly sedate in John’s lap. Blissful, John wants to say. Would love to say.

 

“Right,” John says. He taps Sherlock on the forehead with his book. “Let me find my shoes.”

 

Sherlock sits up and immediately crowds back in. “Under your armchair,” he says, hands on John’s shoulders.

 

“Oh,” John says. He licks his lips, watching Sherlock watch him. “Thanks.”

 

Sherlock kisses him just the once, just for a moment before transforming into a flurry of motion, more movement than man. He’s away and down the stairs before John can do more than stand.

 

John grins, tugs on his shoes, and follows.