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The Slow Burn

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Sherlock always thought there would be a big, dramatic moment.

Deep within his mind palace, he pictured the two of them crashing into each other after an adrenaline-filled chase, their kisses frantic, violent with need. Unable to stop themselves, a wave of lust would carry them past the lines they had so carefully drawn around their relationship. The two of them would fall together at last, finally giving in to the overpowering desire that draws them together.

(Not that Sherlock ever contemplates things like that. Well, almost never. Well, not often. Well, not all the time, and never during daylight hours.)

But...that’s not how it happens.

In the end, the reality of it is nothing like the scenario (not fantasy, God, no; rather more like a hypothesis, yes, let’s call it that) that an ashamed Sherlock carries in his most secret heart.

It is slower. Sweeter. More deliberate.

It is so, so much better than he had ever imagined.

***

Four weeks have passed since Moriarty’s image called Sherlock back from exile, and whoever was behind the message has gone completely to ground. Every afternoon, Sherlock and Mycroft plan, hypothesise, strategise. The web of evidence pinned to the sitting room wall expands daily, but no tangible pattern has emerged, no loose string found to be pulled.

The entire enterprise is in a holding pattern. Sherlock knows that Moriarty lurks somewhere, a grinning, seething cobra, waiting for just the right moment to strike and bury his fangs deep.

Sherlock should be obsessed, consumed, unable to eat or sleep or do anything else but focus on the case in front of him.

But.

Sentiment. Stupid, distracting, frustrating sentiment. Sherlock has been contaminated by it, his mind irrefutably compromised.

Days of work grind by with no change, no new evidence, no new progress. Sherlock loses focus, finds himself distracted in a way he would never have allowed himself three years ago.

While his daytime hours remain dedicated on unraveling the mystery of Moriarty’s return, his evenings are given over to thoughts of another sort altogether.

John.

In his own careful, measured way, John is moving back into Sherlock’s orbit.

(Or maybe John is letting Sherlock move back into his orbit. Whatever. Semantics. Irrelevant.)

Something changed, it seems, some fundamental landscape within John shifted in response to the trauma and betrayal of the past months. Both of them have been demolished, torn apart over and over--and now, slowly, they are rebuilding yet again. Sherlock doesn’t have the emotional tools to ask why or understand the answer, but maybe the miracle of one last chance has resonated with both of them, because even an idiot like Sherlock can see that John is here again, now, present in a way he hasn’t been for the past year and a half.

John comes over every second or third evening after work. He makes tea and brings a cup to Sherlock without asking. He reads medical journals, sitting in his chair in front of the fire, and Sherlock pretends to ignore him half the time.

In truth, though, Sherlock is always, always measuring the slow return of John’s warm, exasperated fondness.

It thaws a deep, secret place in Sherlock’s heart that has been frozen for so very long.

The very presence of John takes up all the oxygen in Sherlock’s lungs, all the space in his brain, all the room in his heart. Some nights (most nights), the specter of Moriarty is completely forgotten as Sherlock steals glances at John’s bent head, at the rich glow of silver hair in the firelight.

I would stop it if I could, he thinks, but he knows it’s a lie. He’s different now, the change in him rooted and grown deep, and he can’t bear the thought of ripping his heart open again to pull it out.

***

“I’m starving,” John announces. “You have anything in?” He places his journal and reading glasses on the side table, stands, stretches his arms over his head until his back cracks once, twice. Sherlock mumbles a vague noise of indifference, pretending not to glance at the pale sliver of belly under the rumpled hem of John’s T-shirt. John pads into the kitchen in sock feet and Sherlock watches him, eyes tracing the outlines of his compact body, savoring his presence, wishing that he could get closer, close enough to touch, close enough to taste.

Sentiment. Sherlock knows now what will kill him, in the end.

And the worst part is this: as long as John is with him until that moment, he doesn’t even particularly mind.

***

They don’t talk about Mary.

John never mentions her, and Sherlock never asks. He knows that as much as John is choosing Sherlock, he is also avoiding Mary, putting deliberate distance between himself and the wife that has become a stranger to him. He gave her forgiveness in words, but his actions tell a different, much more difficult story.

Sherlock tries very, very hard to not feel like a second choice, a fallback position.

Most of the time, he succeeds.

***

Sherlock isn’t taking clients right now. (Nothing exists to tie him to Magnussen’s death, he is officially a free man, but he and Mycroft agreed it was wise to keep a low profile while trying to unravel the Moriarty puzzle.) There is a case, though, that he can’t bear to pass up, a spectacularly ludicrous tale that Sherlock knows John will love.

Case. Could use your assistance. -SH

Thought you weren’t taking cases.

Looks interesting. Missing girlfriend. -SH

Missing girlfriend? How is that interesting? Sounds like a matter for the police, anyway.

He claims girlfriend is a mermaid. -SH

Hmm. Okay. Give me twenty minutes.

There is no mermaid, of course. What they find instead is a gambling addict embezzling money from the family fruit and veg wholesale business, all the while gaslighting a lonely, gullible brother-in-law to distract him from the shady dealings going on right underneath his nose.

But there is a lovely chase across rain-slicked pavement, and John takes an unplanned swim in the Thames to rescue a drowning out-of-work actress in a silicone mermaid costume, and Sherlock saves them both in the nick of time, leaping in to rescue them just before the panicking woman drags John under the dark oily water.

After Lestrade takes their statements (rolling his eyes at the silliness of it all-- Jesus Christ, his face says, the two of you, where do you find these nutters?), Sherlock has to pay double the metered rate to find a cab willing to take them home in their condition, dripping wet and stinking of river mud. John laughs as he sprints to the door of 221B to claim dibs on the first hot shower as Sherlock is still peeling sodden banknotes out of his pocket to pacify an annoyed cabbie.

Sherlock is barefoot and stripped down to to his wet trousers when John comes out of the bathroom, scrubbed clean and warm and damp. He has a towel wrapped low around his hips, casually unclothed around in a way he’s never been before around Sherlock. Their eyes meet briefly, and there’s something there that Sherlock can’t quite parse.

Defiance, perhaps. Challenge.

John’s pink tongue flicks over his top lip, just briefly. “Can I borrow something to wear?” he asks. Sherlock finds a pair of pyjama bottoms that are slightly too short for him yet still slightly too long for the smaller man, and an old T-shirt of John’s that had long ago ended up in Sherlock’s laundry basket by mistake.

When Sherlock emerges later from the shower, toweling off his (blessedly mud-free) hair, the kettle is on as John texts Mary to explain how his clothes are in the washer and he can’t possibly come home tonight.

Under the warm yellow glow of the kitchen lamp, the thin fabric of the worn T-shirt stretches across the hills and hollows of John’s well-muscled shoulders.

He turns at the sound of Sherlock’s footsteps and smiles, shaking his head. “A mermaid in the Thames. This is one for the blog, absolutely.”

“I know it will be tempting,” says Sherlock, “because you are, well, you, but please try to stay away from dreadful fish puns.”

“Oh, I think I’ll throw in one or two,” says John, and his eyes crinkle at the corners. “Just for the halibut.”

Sherlock groans. “My friendship with you is the intellectual equivalent of a self-performed icepick lobotomy,” he says, rolling his eyes, but he can’t stop the ridiculous grin that steals across his lips.

John laughs.

Every single thing about right now, Sherlock thinks, is absolutely, utterly, perfectly brilliant.

He wishes they could stay there, in that moment, until the end of time.

***

After that night, John starts coming to Baker Street every evening, without fail.

***

Ostensibly, Sherlock and John are working the Moriarty case. In reality, in between idle speculations on the motives of whoever is behind the video stunt, they eat takeaway and drink wine and lounge in front of the fire.

The baby is due soon. Sherlock never asks. John never offers.

One night John brings Indian from their favorite place. They don’t even pretend to work on the case. Instead they sit on the couch, just a bit closer to each other than best mates probably ought, eating curry and watching Top Gear.

Sherlock takes the last samosa and complains about his cold feet and burrows them under John’s warm denim-clad thigh. John wraps his hand around a bony ankle absently, running his thumb along the hollow behind the medial malleolus.

They stay that way until John falls asleep, still touching Sherlock. When the news comes on at ten, Sherlock nudges him with his bare toes.

“You should go home,” Sherlock says, without much conviction.

John opens his eyes and blinks a few times, but doesn’t get up. He sighs, a small, sleepy sound. He turns his head, looks at Sherlock.

“It’s so hard,” he says quietly. “Going back there, pretending to feel things I don’t really feel.”

“The opposite is even worse,” offers Sherlock, not breaking eye contact.

“It is,” John agrees.

After John sits up to put his shoes back on, he reaches over and brushes his fingertips across Sherlock’s forearm as he says goodnight. Sherlock feels warmth flood into him from the touch, trickling through his veins, pooling low in a place in between his belly and spine, a sensation he never felt before he met this ordinary, extraordinary man.

***

Sherlock knows they are in a holding pattern, circling each other, waiting for something to break the orbit. He feels like he is underwater, holding his breath, unable to surface. He is dying from lack of air, but the suffocation makes him feel dizzy and lightheaded and untethered.

It’s terrible and wonderful at the same time.

***

A few nights later, midway through a bottle of Argentinian Malbec, Sherlock brings out his violin for the first time since Christmas. He starts in safe waters--Mendelssohn, Mozart, familiar pieces that John enjoys--but the red wine loosens the tight reins over his heart, or maybe that’s just an excuse, and Sherlock ventures into deeper waters, an improvisation just for this night, for the warmth of the fire, for the way he feels when John is here with him.

All the things Sherlock doesn’t know how to say pour from the strings and by the time he realizes he’s in over his head it’s far too late to take it back, so he closes his eyes and lets it all go, lets it all out.

The music flows and builds and ebbs and, finally, recedes.

Sherlock lowers the violin and opens his eyes to find John gazing at him, open and vulnerable, all his defenses lowered.

And he sees it. Sherlock observes, finally and at last.

John smiles, something small and private and for him alone, and Sherlock just...he knows. With a heart-stopping certainty, Sherlock suddenly knows.

It feels like falling off the edge of a cliff. It feels like falling off the edge of the world.

It feels like flying.

***

Before she was revealed as a liar and a fraud and a murderer, Mary used to text Sherlock all the time, chatty little notes about this or that inconsequential thing. That all stopped, of course, with the bullet she put in his chest, and he is certain she is relieved not to have to put on the act any longer.

He hasn’t seen or heard a single thing from Mary since they said their goodbyes at the airfield. Sherlock’s words to her that day were sincere--

(Oddly enough, he did have a lingering affection for Mary, does still, his hindbrain somehow holding on to the kindness she showed him, her willingness to touch him and smile at him, and what that says about his deepest nature, his desperate need for love, well, it’s just a little too frightening to contemplate)

--but he knows, now, that hers never were. Everything she ever said to him was a lie.

Sherlock wishes it didn’t hurt, but it does, a little.

The day after he spooled out his heart on the strings of his violin, Sherlock receives a text from John’s semi-estranged wife.

Are you fucking my husband?

No. -SH

Are you planning on fucking my husband?

We are both aware that’s not really up to me. -SH

When you finally do, I would appreciate the courtesy of letting me know.

In the interest of civility, I will take it under advisement. Again, however, not really up to me. -SH

Sherlock sends the final message and puts down his phone, knowing he is not the only one who sees something new and terrifying in John’s fathomless blue eyes.

Chapter Text

When it finally happens, they don’t fall immediately into bed. They don’t rip each others’ clothes off. They don’t even really kiss.

It’s a random unremarkable Wednesday evening. It’s growing late, and they’ve barely spoken all night. John is preoccupied, remote, and Sherlock is looking out the window, deliberately ignoring how John’s distant air makes his stomach knot with worry.

A little after ten, John takes off his glasses and sets aside the book he hadn’t really been reading. He pulls himself out of his chair, tugging the bottom of his jumper with great care.

“Right, then,” John says, seemingly to himself, straightening his spine as if steeling himself for something difficult. He crosses the short distance to where Sherlock stands. Sherlock mentally prepares himself for John to say something sharp, something accusatory; he doesn’t know what he did this time but God, he never does--

Sherlock turns to look at him fully, and the dismissive sneer on his lips fades away as he sees John’s eyes gazing up at him, soft with affection. For a moment John looks like he’s about to say something; but instead he licks his lip and slowly, so slowly, he brings his hand up to touch the side of Sherlock’s face with infinite, exquisite tenderness.

Sherlock can’t help but turn his cheek into the touch. A sigh escapes him, a tiny, breathy sound.

“Yeah?” John’s voice is quiet, dark with unspoken need.

Sherlock nods, feeling the warmth of the rough palm against his skin.

“We should talk about this,” John says.

“We really shouldn’t,” Sherlock murmurs, and dips his head down, deliberate, oh so careful, as John tilts his head back, meets him halfway. Their open mouths ghost across each other as they breathe in each other’s air. For the briefest of moments, their tongues touch, warm and soft and wet.

John pulls away, his pupils blown wide and black in the lamplight. He hitches in a deep breath, shakes his head.

“Wait,” he says, and Sherlock feels his stomach lurch and plummet. His terror must show on his face, because John’s hands come up to curl around his biceps, anchoring him, reassuring him.

“I mean...I want...God, Sherlock, I’m crazy about you,” John says with conviction, with reverence, and if John wasn’t holding him upright Sherlock is certain he would collapse with relief.

“But I’m not going to let you be...something I have on the side,” John says. “I’m not going to disrespect you like that. You mean so much more to me than that.”

Sherlock says nothing, throat tight, unsure of John’s meaning,

“I need to make things right,” John says. “Before you and I can...I need to figure out how I’m going to deal with her.”

For some reason Sherlock feels the need to be fair, to give John an out, to be the level-headed one. “You married her, John. You made a vow.”

“The woman I live with is a stranger,” John says, “a killer who basically murdered my best friend--"

“Hello, still alive,” Sherlock points out, even as he wonders why on earth he’s arguing against his own self-interest.

“I’m a medical doctor, Sherlock,” John says, “and not actually an idiot, and I know you survived a penetrating trauma that is for all intents and purposes unsurvivable. The fact that you’re here now? Solely due to you being a stubborn unkillable bastard. That shot would have ended anyone else, you know it and I know it. Ergo, she murdered you.”

Sherlock raises an eyebrow, shrugs in assent. He really can’t argue with any particular point.

“She’s murderer,” John continues, “an assassin, an unrepentant liar. I don’t know that woman, never promised that woman a thing, and even if all that wasn’t true, I never should have got married in the first place.” He takes a deep breath. “I was running from something else, wasn’t I?”

Sherlock nods, because at the end of the day, It’s the truth. John made those promises to a person who never really existed, and made them under an unfair emotional duress. That part, Sherlock knows, is his fault, and he feels it keenly.

He wraps his hand around John’s shoulder and presses his nose into John’s hair, breathes in his scent. Two-pound shampoo from Asda and a faint disinfectant smell from the surgery and something warm and musky underneath that’s uniquely John. It’s very comforting.

“Well, so much for not talking,” John sighs.

Sherlock exhales into John's soft hair, considering.

He's done what he knows he should do. He’s been considerate, he’s been truthful, he’s pointed out all the reasons John should walk away. He's been fair, a relatively novel concept for him.

And yet.

And yet, John is still here, still holding on to him. Looking at him like he’s the key to everything.

Sherlock feels something in his chest. It’s hope, that stubborn foolish ridiculous hope that’s persisted inside him for all these years.

"What happens now?" Sherlock asks.

“Now I have figure it out, somehow,” John says, "and I will, I promise, but..” he stops, takes an uncertain breath. “I just need to know you want me. Just tell me yes, Sherlock. I need to hear it.”

“Yes,” says Sherlock. “To anything. To everything. Yes.”

John leans his forehead into Sherlock’s chest, as if speaking directly to his heart. “I want you to understand something,” he murmurs. “Being here, with you. I’m not going for a second choice. I’m fixing a terrible mistake and I am so sorry. Please, please believe that.”

A weight lifts from Sherlock’s shoulders. “I know,” he says quietly into the soft strands of John’s hair, even though he hadn't, really, until this moment.

John shifts against him, pressing closer, and Sherlock feels the hardness against his hip, undeniable proof of John’s desire.

John wants him. John wants him. Sherlock has never been so overwhelmed with emotion in his life. Terror and exhilaration and the deep, demanding ache of arousal all war within him for supremacy, and his arms tighten almost involuntarily around John’s compact frame.

“Okay,” John says. “Good. Okay.”

A minute passes, then another, neither of them wanting to break the fragile spell of the moment.

Finally, John shifts and sighs. “I have to go,” John says, “because…” he tilts his hips just the tiniest bit, sending sparks racing along Sherlock’s nerve endings. “Because I want to be honorable, and respectful, and If I don’t leave, I’m going to do something that’s so very, very not.”

Sherlock leans down, tips up John’s chin with two fingers, and brushes his lips feather-light across John’s cheek. John gasps a little at just that minimal contact, making Sherlock smile.

“‘Go now,” Sherlock purrs, “or I’ll insist on it.”

John shakes his head, exhales heavily, and pulls away, leaving Sherlock feeling shockingly bereft. “I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?” John says softly.

Sherlock nods.

John breaks away, turns, and leaves, shrugging into his coat and walking out the door without looking back.

Sherlock‘s knees threaten to buckle and he sags bonelessly into his chair, devoid of coherent thought. He stares unseeing at the chair he put back where it belonged all those weeks ago, in the blindly foolish hope that John would come home.

John isn’t fully his, not yet, but the promise of something more than Sherlock ever dared wish for is right there, right in front of him, tantalizingly bright with possibility.

Sherlock is certain he won’t sleep, he may never sleep again, but sometime before dawn he collapses on the sofa and falls into a thin, restless slumber.

***

He sees Mary in her wedding finery, holding a revolver. Her eyes are flat, cold, reptilian.

This time, the bullet is aimed at John Watson.

Sherlock tries, he screams and he runs, but he is too slow, too late to save him.

Mary fires. Somehow, even though the bullet is meant for John, Sherlock feels the terrible ripping pain in his own chest.

Sherlock wakes with a panicked start, John’s name on his lips.

***

He holds out until almost noon before he caves and sends a text.

Being respectful is boring and tedious. -SH

But it’s the right thing to do.

I’m seldom a fan of the right thing to do. -SH

I know. Be patient.

It had better be worth it. -SH

It will be.

Later, Sherlock passes by the sitting room mirror, and he can’t help but roll his eyes and huff annoyance at the sight of the dumb, moony look on his own face.

***

Sherlock is stretched out on his chair, almost horizontal, as his mind whirs and spins. His head is turned to the far wall as he studies the constellations of papers and photos pinned there, mentally mapping the connections between the Crimean separatists and the Estonian mob leader gone missing just the day before.

John’s footsteps on the stairs jolt him out of his thoughts, back into the moment.

The spell between them still holds. John smiles, takes off his jacket, and drops a kiss into Sherlock’s hair.

“Long day. I’m thinking scotch,” he says. “You?”

“Hmm,” Sherlock says in a noncommittal noise of assent, as if John’s presence hasn’t lit a fire inside him, a crackling orange heat, a tipped candle that could set his whole being aflame.

John presses a tumbler into his hands. Sherlock wants to grab him by the shirt, pull him down and snog him senseless, but settles instead for eye contact and a smile, a small, genuine one that makes John’s eyes crinkle in return as he drops into his chair.

Sherlock drags his thoughts back to pressing matters at hand. “Eastern Europe, John,” Sherlock says. “That’s where the answer lies. I’m sure of it.”

John takes a sip of his drink and tilts his head. “Walk me through it, then. Maybe something will shake loose.”

Sherlock walks him through the more obvious of his deductions, speculates on the movements of the Kiev informants as John asks questions, makes observations that enable Sherlock to see the information before him in a new light.

Sherlock is surprised and pleased at how easy their interactions are, how natural this all feels, even as the lower levels of his brain are processing the torrent of emotions that are flooding his amygdala.

They still work, like this. They fit together, same as always. Even with the chemicals and the uncertainty and the emotion swirling around them, they still work. They could be like this and it could still be fine.

It’s reassuring, because the emotion of it all, the sentiment of it, is what had been the most difficult and upsetting revelation for Sherlock to process.

When Sherlock first realized he was attracted to John, he had foolishly assumed it only meant he wanted to have sex with him, a simplistic reduction that was easy to file away, dismiss, ignore. Sherlock was never so blind as to when it came to the workings of his own heart, and it had taken watching John marry someone else to make Sherlock realize the blindingly obvious: what he felt for John was far more than attraction, that he was, in fact, desperately in love with the man.

With that knowledge, though, came a suspicion that every statement to the contrary was merely a dodge, a clumsy attempt at misdirection; perhaps sentiment, in and of itself, was something Sherlock really did want, after all.

And now, here, the growing certainty that his feelings were valued and returned--that sensation itself was almost as intoxicating as physical contact. The slow but absolutely not chaste nature of this, of them, of whatever they are now--is somehow deeply and immensely satisfying in and of itself.

I am being courted, he realizes. Wooed.

It is an inexplicably marvelous feeling.

No, he corrects himself. Of course it is explicable. Obvious, in fact. Neurochemicals. Oxytocin and serotonin and dopamine. The rush of endorphins, the brain’s own opiate analogs.

Just drugs, with a different delivery system.

Sherlock knows it’s all absolutely true, but he can’t convince himself to care. After all, he’s never been able to say no to a hit of the really good stuff.

“Earth to Sherlock,” John interrupts his train of thought. “You okay? You stopped talking literally in the middle of a sentence.”

Oxytocin. Serotonin. Dopamine. Sherlock sees now he won’t be able to give it up.

Suddenly, desperately, he needs to know

“What are you going to do?” Sherlock asks.

John looks up in surprise at the sudden change of topic, but then he sighs slowly, a sound of resignation, not anger. He swirls the amber liquid in his glass, holds it up to the firelight as he considers his answer.

“I’ll never believe another word she tells me, not for the rest of my life. I don’t want to look her in the eye. I don’t want to be near her. I can’t stand to touch her. Whenever I’m with her all I can think about is when I’ll get to see you again.” He takes a sip of scotch and exhales. “I thought I could do it for my daughter at least, but it’s never going to work. It was never going to work, and I have to end it.”

“What about the baby?” Sherlock asks, his voice low.

John stares pensively into the fireplace, flames reflected in his eyes.

“I want to be a father to her, I do, but I’m not going to stay with Mary for the baby’s sake.” John pinches the bridge of his nose as if the conversation is hurting his head. “I don’t talk about it a lot, well, ever really, but I grew up with parents who hated each other. It’s a rotten thing to do to a kid, and I won’t do it to my child.”

Sherlock lets out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. It makes him selfishly happy to hear all of this, but he tries to focus, tries to remember the plan, predicated on the need to keep John safe.

“It would be safer for you and the baby to keep her close,” Sherlock points out. “I want you here, but if Mary is determined to keep you I worry that she could be dangerous.”

“I know that you think that, and I honestly don’t disagree. But Sherlock, I... I know you asked me to forgive her. I know you think it’s better to keep her close. But every day, it gets harder to live that lie.” He drains the tumbler, places it on the side table, and regards Sherlock evenly. “She would never do anything to endanger the baby, I’m sure about that. As for me, well…” John’s voice tightens, rises in pitch as his anxiety increases. ”Answer me this, Sherlock. How long, then do I have to be her hostage? A month, a year, a lifetime? When will it be enough?” John leans forward in his chair. “I’m not a prize, or a trophy, or a pawn. I don’t want that to be my life. Is that what you want for me?”

“No. Of course I don’t.” Sherlock says quietly, and he doesn’t. All the discussions with his brother about keeping Mary close to keep John safe seem ridiculous now; knowing how miserable and trapped he feels, Sherlock can’t bear to inflict it on him anymore.

Sherlock can’t help but feel like it’s all his fault. It’s a habit by now.

“I’m sorry, John,” Sherlock says. “If I hadn’t left, if you hadn’t been alone…”

John holds up a hand. “No, Sherlock. No. You’ve apologized enough. I made this bed, not you. I mean this in the most non-dickish way possible, but I do have a hand in my own destiny. I am responsible for this mess, and I’m the one who has to get us out of it.” He sighs a bit, rubs his eyes. “I just wish I could wake up tomorrow and be here with you, and not there.”

“I want you here,” Sherlock says, impulsively. “More than anything, I want you here. With me.” He summons up his very last reserve of courage. “Please, John.” His voice catches on the words. “Please come back to me.”

John blinks, once, twice, and Sherlock can see unshed tears glittering in his eyes.

“Okay,” John says softly. It feels like slow motion as John slides off his chair, settling on his knees into the vee of Sherlock’s legs, warm hands resting on his thighs. “I’ll do it tonight, then,” John says, gazing into his eyes, voice barely above a whisper. "I won’t put it off another minute. I promise.”

“Can I…” Sherlock licks dry lips. “I know what you said, about not wanting to...until your situation is resolved. But I want to kiss you. Say I can kiss you.”

“Oh, God, yes,” John whispers.

Sherlock cups his large hands around John’s head and kisses him, gently at first, then with growing hunger as John’s mouth opens to him, warm, welcoming. His tongue finds John’s and they meet, slide against each other, as John sighs, shifts, buries his fingers in Sherlock’s hair to deepen the kiss. Sherlock kisses him and kisses him and John responds in kind, his tongue wet and hot in Sherlock’s mouth, his teeth biting gently and not-so-gently on sensitized lips, and it’s brutal and gorgeous and scorching and it burns Sherlock from the inside out.

In desperate need of oxygen, Sherlock breaks away and rests his forehead against John’s. Both men are breathing in heaving gulps, as if they’ve just run a punishing race.

“Tomorrow. Not tonight, not at home. Do it in public,” Sherlock says, and kisses him again, greedy, already addicted to the taste of John’s mouth. “Ask her to come to lunch. The park, or a busy cafe. Somewhere in sight of the CCTV. Text me the address.”

“You really think she’s that dangerous,” John says.

“I think your safety is that important to me, and I don’t want you taking any chances. In fact, I’d rather you stayed here tonight.”

“I can’t,” John says. “If I did, well,” he chuckles, low in his throat, and kisses Sherlock again to make his point.

“I would be okay with that,” Sherlock says, and it’s true.

“I know, but I’m not. I meant what I said before,” John says. “It’s bad enough I’ve put us in this situation, but I’m responsible for getting us out of it, and I’m not going to begin our relationship with dishonesty. It’s bad karma.”

Sherlock raises an eyebrow. “Karma, John, seriously?” he asks in a gently mocking tone.

“Seriously. And you might not call it that, but you know I’m right.”

“I know,” Sherlock sighs in resignation. “I don’t like it, but I know.”

Then John’s hands are roving across his back, his shoulders, and they’re kissing again, frantic and wet, end of day stubble scraping against sensitive skin. John’s hands are in his hair, fingers twisted into his curls. John’s lips slide down his neck, tongue hot against his skin, tasting him, and it feels like all the blood in Sherlock’s body has been diverted to his already-hard cock. Desperate for contact, Sherlock is about to pull John up on top of him, pull his hips down against his own, when John stills and breaks away, breathing hard. He puts a hand on Sherlock’s chest.

Sherlock embarrasses himself with a little involuntary whine.

John smiles, something sweet yet predatory. “Yeah,” he says. “Me too.” He stands, adjusts himself in his jeans. Sherlock feels a proprietary sort of pride in the visible proof of what he’s done to John, how much John wants him.

“I really do have to go now,” John says, running his fingers through Sherlock’s hair, clearly reluctant to stop touching him.

Sherlock wraps his arms around John’s middle, leans into the bit of softness over John’s belly. “Promise me you’ll text me where you go with her.”

“You’re going to get Mycroft to spy on me, aren’t you?” John asks without heat.

“I’m worried. You know I don’t respect boundaries when I’m worried.”

“You don’t respect boundaries ever, but okay. I promise.” John presses one final kiss into Sherlock’s hair.

Both of them remain still for several long moments.

“I’m going now,” John says, not moving.

John winds soft fingers through his hair, just once more. Sherlock doesn’t release his hold.

“This is me, going,” John announces.

Sherlock sighs and unwraps his arms, gives a little halfhearted push, and closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to watch John put on his jacket and walk out the door.

That night, Sherlock tries desperately not to think about John lying in bed next to Mary, not to wonder if Mary will notice the stubble burn on John’s cheeks, not to picture Mary shooting John in his heart as he sleeps.

He does not succeed.

Chapter Text

A little past nine a.m, after a brief “good morning” text from John enables his lungs to work properly again, Sherlock places a necessary phone call to his older brother.

Mycroft is not pleased about the turn of events, to say the very least.

“Your timing is, as ever, atrocious,” he says sourly, voice dripping with annoyed disdain.

“When would be a good time, exactly?” snaps Sherlock. “When, and how, is this situation ever going to get any less fucked?”

Mycroft makes a noise of annoyance, and Sherlock easily imagines the pained shake of his head that accompanies that particular timbre of exhalation.

“Sherlock,” Mycroft begins, a bit more gently this time, “There are forces in play here that are far beyond--”

“Mycroft,” Sherlock says, his voice a warning growl. “If you’ve been withholding something from me, if you know something I don’t, this would be a very, very good time to come clean about it.”

There is a long pause, verging on too long. Then Mycroft sighs.

“No, there isn’t,” he says, and Sherlock is somehow inclined to believe him, even though God knows his brother would lie without the slightest compunction, even about something like this. “There really isn’t. I have...suspicions, though. Likely the same suspicions you do. But no proof, and no tangible evidence. Hence, the holding pattern that you are screwing up right now.”

“He’s absolutely miserable,” Sherlock says. A pleading note creeps into in his voice and he hates it, yet he can’t seem to stop. “He doesn’t deserve this.”

“And what he deserves, of course, is to share your bed rather than his wife’s.”

“That’s not fair.” Sherlock pushes aside the surge of anger that tells him Mycroft is rather close to the truth of the matter. “You know he’s far more to me than that.”

“This plan was designed for John’s safety. You would jeopardise that to satisfy your heart?”

“I can keep him safe,” Sherlock declares with maybe a shade more conviction than he feels.

“Can you?”

“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to keep him safe.”

“Nothing, that is, except stick to the plan we agreed to earlier,” Mycroft notes in the driest of tones.

“He’s not a pawn,” Sherlock argues, remembering John’s words from the night before. “This isn’t a game. This is his life.” He pauses. “This is our life.”

Mycroft says nothing. A minute passes. Two.

“I know you plan for every contingency. I know you have a plan for this contingency. Nothing ever surprises you.”

Silence.

Sherlock does something he swears he never does. He begs.

“Please, Mycroft.”

His brother sighs.

“All right, Sherlock,” he says at last, and his voice is kinder than Sherlock expected. “All right.”

***

Sherlock is twisted in knots with anxiety, nervous fingers knocking over a flask and adding a new chemical burn to the collection on his right forearm. He’s unable to concentrate, unable to take a deep breath until he receives a text from John a little after ten thirty, giving him the address of the Pret a Manger where he will be meeting Mary.

He forwards the address to Mycroft, mentally deliberates over the advisability of going there himself. He almost does it, then decides against it in the end. Mary is much more observant than John and has a much higher likelihood of seeing through any disguise he could put together.

Also, Sherlock reminds himself, not a pawn, not a pawn, not a pawn. If the past several years have taught Sherlock anything, it is that trusting John always yields a better outcome in the long run, and right now is the absolute correct moment to put that knowledge into practice.

All that doesn’t change how helpless, how useless Sherlock feels as he frets and paces and waits for John to manage the Herculean task of breaking up with a remorseless psychopathic pregnant assassin spouse, a task undertaken completely on his own without his best friend there to help.

Sherlock snatches up his phone, glaring as he texts his brother.

If ANYTHING appears out of the ordinary, let me know immediately. -SH

I’ve sent two agents over there to have a long lunch. They’re both armed. Feel better? -MH

Yes -SH

Thank you. -SH

I do care, you know. Also, imagining the look on your face when you had to type those words out makes it all worthwhile. -MH

***

At twelve thirty-five, he receives a text from John.

It’s done.

Was it bad? -SH

Went okay. She was upset, but could have been worse. Said she wasn’t surprised.

No new bullet holes? -SH

Nope, just the one I brought with me.

Come home so I can check for myself. -SH

The pensioners of London still need their heart pills. I’ll be there at six.

To stay? -SH

Yes. To stay.

***

The stupid, lovesick grin that Sherlock’s been wearing all afternoon is wiped away instantly by the thud of slow, wide-footed steps ascending the stairs.

He places the beaker of hydrochloric acid carefully on the table, assesses his surroundings, calculates key vulnerabilities. He’s not going to run, not in his own home. He’d really rather not fight a pregnant woman unless he absolutely must.

Conversation it is, then.

She is still blonde, and short, and positively spherical. Other than that, this woman is a stranger to him, any trace of the Mary Watson he knew long gone.

“You could have just had sex with him,” she says, shaking her head. She's voluminous in her red wool coat, larger than life, a living danger sign. “Why couldn’t you have been satisfied with that? I wouldn’t have minded, and we could all have got on with our lives.”

“Sorry to ruin your plans.” Sherlock says cordially.

“Not as sorry as you will be,” she replies, her tone perfectly civil. They could be discussing the weather.

“You’re here to kill me, then,” Sherlock says. “Word to the wise? It won’t get him back.”

“Oh Sherlock,” she sighs. “You’re so bloody thick sometimes. Of course I’m not here to kill you.”

“That’s a relief,” notes Sherlock dryly. “Tea?”

“No time. I have places to be.”

“Why are you here, then?”

“I’m here because I want you to give John something for me.”

“And what would that be?”

Mary pulls a manila envelope from her handbag, crosses the small kitchen, offers it to Sherlock. “A little unfinished business.”

Sherlock takes the envelope. He knows what it is without even opening it.

“He’s yours, then, free and clear,” she says. “But I can see from your face you’re not exactly shocked.”

He shakes his head. Of course he’s not. The baby was only insurance.

“What about you, then?” he asks.

She gives a short, nasty laugh. “John needn’t worry about me. I’ve secured a means to support myself.”

“Have you, now?”

“I’ve been in touch with a former employer, and as it turns out, he’s got a position open. I'm guessing that doesn’t surprise you, either.”

Sherlock closes his eyes, breathes through the anger and disappointment. He notes, however, that among his many emotions there is precisely zero surprise. He exhales, reassembles his calm. Opens his eyes.

“You never deserved a man like John Watson,“ Sherlock says, keeping his voice low and even.

She sighs theatrically. "Oh, Sherlock. Neither do you.”

He shrugs noncommittally. “I suppose that’s John’s decision to make, not yours.”

She smiles, a false, brittle thing.

“Can I tell you something?” she asks. “A secret between pals?”

“Please do.”

She leans close, her teeth gleaming and feral.

“I have a fantasy about you, Sherlock, a dirty little daydream, where I put my gun in that gorgeous cocksucking mouth of yours and blow your pretty head clean off. That would be a wonderful surprise for John, wouldn’t it? Coming up here to fuck you, and finding your brains splattered across the kitchen table instead. Wouldn’t that be amazing?” She giggles, an ugly braying sound scraping across Sherlock’s flayed nerves. “Oh, I’ve thought about it for absolutely ages.

Sherlock regards her silently. How thoroughly she deceived him, he thinks, how willingly he bought into her act. This whole time, her bone-deep evil has been right in front of him, and time and time again he failed to observe. Beneath his impassive facade, nausea roils through his gut.

“Sadly, though,” she continues with a grotesque mock pout, “my boss would be ever so put out if I ruined his big plans. Oh well, needs must when the devil drives, isn’t that what they say?”

She snaps her handbag shut with a definitive click. “So, not today. But make no mistake, darling. The next time we meet? I will put a bullet right”--she leans over, taps the middle of his forehead with a manicured nail--”here. Count on it.”

She turns to leave, stops at the kitchen doorway, looks back at him. “But I think I’ll kill him first, in front of you, so you know how it feels to lose John Watson.” Her eyes narrow, her face twists into pure hate. “I will make you pay. No one steals from me, Sherlock Holmes. No one.”

And before Sherlock can answer or even draw a breath she’s gone, her heavy tread going down the steps and out the door, the scent of Clair de la Lune fading from the air.

Sherlock is frozen in place for a minute, staring at the envelope on the table.

Oh, John, he thinks. How I have failed you, again and again.

I am so sorry.

He pulls out his phone, taps out a single code word to Mycroft.

Carthage. -SH

Total war.

Destroy her, raze her, salt the earth.

The child? -MH

Don’t care, Sherlock thinks, then reconsiders. What would John say? He would say the baby is as much a victim in all of this as anyone else. More than anyone else, really.

Just the tiniest pawn of all in this twisted, endless game.

The manila envelope in clasped shut, but unsealed.

Spare the child if possible. David Alistair Sanford. 39. Lives in Kew. Reach out to him if target is acquired. -SH

Agreed. -MH

He drops the phone heavily on the table, scrubs fingers through his hair.

Afternoon shadows lengthen slowly into twilight.

Sherlock’s mind returns to practical matters.

John will be here soon, he thinks, and rouses himself to put on the kettle and take a needed shower.

***

John drops his bag in the hallway, hangs his jacket up on its hook. He enters the sitting room, his steps happy yet tentative somehow, walking up to the edge of something new and huge and more than little terrifying.

Sherlock is looking out the window, blue dressing gown over shirt and trousers, envelope held in loose fingers. He turns to look at John as he enters the room. On John’s left hand, there is a white line where his wedding ring once lived. The sight makes Sherlock smile, but there must be something else on his face, something sad, and regretful, and afraid, because John stops halfway to Sherlock and cocks his head.

“What’s wrong?” John asks, his voice careful, tight with concern.

Sherlock wordlessly holds out the envelope. John takes it, opens it, scans the contents. His face is resigned, disappointed, but not surprised. He refolds the report, slides it back in its envelope, drops it on the cluttered desk.

“When I found out about her lies,” John says quietly, “I started thinking hard about a lot of things. You know how easy it is for a 41 year old woman to get pregnant for the first time? Not very. In fact, it’s bloody difficult. And I was always careful...I would have loved my child, but I wasn’t looking for one. So you put all that together, and…” John shakes his head. “I think I already knew.”

Sherlock nods. There’s nothing else to say about it. He looks out the window, out at the city, where at that very moment evil is moving, inexorable as the tide.

“She had more to say than that, didn’t she?” John asks.

Sherlock considers lying, sparing John the weight of this knowledge.

Not a pawn. John deserves nothing less than the truth. Sherlock understands this, now.

“She’s going back to work for Moriarty. And the next time she sees us, she’ll kill us both.”

“Back to work for Moriarty. As in, she worked for him before.”

“Yes.”

“Did you know?”

Sherlock feels the worry claw at him, the fear that John will blame him for this.

“No. I didn’t, John, truly. She’s good. More than good. Whatever Magnussen had on her, the physical evidence is long gone. Nothing at all exists to tie her to Moriarty. I had suspicions--the timing of your meeting, the unlikely coincidence of it all--but I didn’t know. I swear.”

John rocks back on his heels a bit, looks up at the ceiling, and smiles, the pained, reflexive smile he gives when nothing at all in the world is funny. “Honestly? I see it now too. Of course I do. I don’t know what else I possibly expected.”

“Mycroft is looking for her,” Sherlock says.

“Do you think he’ll catch her?” John asks.

“No,” Sherlock admits. “He has a plan, but I really don’t think he will. She’s too good.”

The two men are silent for a moment.

“You would have been safer not knowing,” Sherlock says softly. “I’ve put you in danger.”

John shakes his head. “No. The danger was there, all along, and it’s obvious now that it was never going to end any differently. And for God’s sake, Sherlock, you have to stop blaming yourself. Martyrdom is not a good look on you, and it’s not actually your fault, okay?” John pauses, takes a breath. “It’s not even mine, either, particularly. It just...it just is. This is how things go, in our world.” He stops, glances at Sherlock, looking a bit uncertain. “And this way, at least we have each other, yeah? That’s something.”

Sherlock hears the question in John’s voice, and can’t help but smile a bit in relief and fondness.

“Yes,” he says softly. “It is, in fact, a great deal more than ‘something’.”

John rubs the back of his neck, lowers his eyes, then looks up at Sherlock through his eyelashes. A smile plays at the corners of his mouth, something bemused yet tinged with sadness.

“So,” John says, “to sum up: My psycho ex has joined forces with your insane arch nemesis.”

“Yes.”

“Once again, the odds are completely against us, and the situation is grim.”

“Also true.”

John moves closer to Sherlock, enters his orbit. “And all we have is each other. The two of us against the rest of the world.”

The corner of Sherlock’s mouth twitches. He turns around to fully face John, reaches for him, draws him in. “Yes.”

John presses himself up against Sherlock. His tongue wets his bottom lip as his eyes glitter with something that looks like a grim, fatalistic amusement.

“Sounds like fun,” he says, voice low and deep.

John Watson, Sherlock thinks, Brave, loyal, foolish man. You are absolute perfection.

“I agree,” murmurs Sherlock as he curls his hand behind John’s head, pulls him close, and kisses him. Warm hands slide under Sherlock’s dressing gown, rest on his hips as John’s mouth opens to him, invites him in.

The kiss is lush and soft and full of promise. John breaks away after a moment to smile at Sherlock, his blue eyes dark with intent.

“I think you should take me to bed immediately,” he says. “In light of, you know, our inevitable demise.”

Chapter Text

Sherlock takes John by the hand and leads him into his bedroom.

Honestly, he’s not entirely certain he’s not having some kind of hallucination or mental breakdown. His pulse is pounding, his ears are ringing.

It’s almost too real to be real, he thinks.

That thought doesn’t even make any sense.

The light from the streetlamps filters in through sheer curtains, giving Sherlock’s bedroom a soft, dim glow. His palm is growing sweaty in John's. It’s embarrassing. He lets go.

He shuts the door, turns, and faces John, now standing an arm’s length away. Everything that seemed so natural and easy last night seems impossibly distant now.

Sherlock has absolutely no idea how any of this works.

John’s arms are crossed and he’s rubbing at his own biceps, a classic anxiety tell. He takes a deep breath, exhales. “This feels like...this is a big deal, Sherlock,” he says. “I’m, well. I’m nervous.”

John saying it? It helps, a bit.

“I know,” Sherlock says. “Me too.”

They look at each other for a beat. Sherlock suddenly feels like it’s far too much, he’s exposed and scared and overwhelmed and--

Sherlock’s panic is obvious, and John drops his arms and moves closer, his eyes full of concern.

Always ready to care for me, no matter what, Sherlock thinks. It makes him feel annoyed and defensive and deeply tender all at the same time.

It’s too much to process.

How do people do this?

“Hey,” John says, softly. He reaches up, cups Sherlock’s face in his hands. “Hey. It’s okay. Don’t run away from me, please. It’s fine. It’s all fine.” He kisses Sherlock on the edge of his jaw, dry lips pressed gently against stubble. “It’s just us. Whatever we do, or don’t do, it’s all okay. We can play Cluedo, if you like. I’m just glad I’m here with you.”

“Why, though?” Sherlock asks him, the doubt and fear gaining the upper hand. “Why are you here? After all of this, after everything I’ve put you through, everything you’ve suffered because of me, tell me: why are you here?

John takes a deep breath. Thinks for a moment.

“Because there’s no one else,” John says, simply. “There’s no one else for me but you, and there never will be.” he kisses Sherlock on the mouth, just a soft press of lips, gentle, undemanding. “Is that enough?”

Sherlock’s fear recedes at John’s words, a little, enough for Sherlock to breathe, enough for him find his bravery again.

“It’s everything,” Sherlock says and kisses him back, tentative at first, but then the tumblers turn, one by one, and the door opens, the light and heat flooding in, and he remembers. He remembers and he wants, overwhelmingly so, and the kisses grow needy, hungry, desperate. John’s mouth opens to him and their tongues meet, searching, and Sherlock tastes him, scotch and apples and desire and he’s--

“You’re perfect,” Sherlock murmurs into John’s mouth, and John gives a low and breathy laugh.

“I’m not,” he says. “Oh, God. I’m so not. I’m a catastrophe.”

“You’re my catastrophe,” Sherlock says softly, and it’s so perfectly ludicrous and yet totally true at the same time that he can’t help but laugh a little at his own words.

“And you’re my hurricane,” says John as he kisses Sherlock’s throat, making him gasp and sigh. “You’re my tsunami,” he says, unbuttoning Sherlock’s shirt, “you destroy me, we’re such a disaster we could hold a goddamn telethon, and I can’t live without you.”

Hands slide under his opened shirt and John touches his naked flesh with intent for the first time, making Sherlock’s nerve endings spark and sing. John growls once, low, as his teeth find the juncture of Sherlock’s neck and shoulder, biting him, marking him. Sherlock wrestles with John’s plaid shirt, growing frustrated halfway through the buttons, trying to yank it up and over John’s head instead--

“Wait, before you strangle me,” John says with a huff of laughter, and steps back to strip off his own shirt and vest. Sherlock immediately sees the merit in this approach and follows John’s lead, taking off his own shirt and unbuttoning his trousers, letting them drop to the floor unfolded for the first time in many years. He’s already barefoot, and steps out of his trousers easily, naked except for his gray boxer briefs. John stops undressing, eyes wide, and looks Sherlock up and down with a deliberate, almost predatory air.

“Jesus, Sherlock,” he growls. “Just...Jesus Christ. You’re fucking gorgeous. Come here.” He reaches out and yanks him down into a rough, possessive kiss, their tongues frantically exploring as their hands map the contours of each others’ bodies. Sherlock has never been kissed like this, with such heat and desperate lust, and it makes his head spin and his cock strain hard against his pants.

John places a palm flat in the centre of Sherlock’s bare chest and pushes him firmly down onto his bed. Sherlock obeys the unspoken command, stretching onto his back as he watches John toe off his shoes.

“Goddamn socks,” John mutters, standing on one foot. “Nothing less sexy than taking off socks.”

“It’s still working for me,” Sherlock says, and it’s true, everything that John is doing right now is unbelievably arousing to him.

“You’re a bit biased at the moment,” John answers with a grin as he slides his belt out of the loops, undoes his corduroy trousers and shimmies them off his hips. Sherlock is struck, not for the first time, by the lovely body John Watson hides underneath his unassuming clothing, his cardigans and button down shirts and sturdy cotton fabrics. He is small but sturdy, fit without being overly muscular; his shoulders are broad, his hips narrow, and he is invitingly padded with a bit of flesh that Sherlock finds much more attractive than his own bony angles.

John leaves his pants on--whether out of his own nerves or concern for Sherlock’s, he isn’t certain-- but the evidence of his desire is undeniable, the bulge in the front of his black cotton briefs impressively large in relation to his frame. He doesn’t flinch from Sherlock’s gaze.

“See anything you like?” John asks, a ghost of a smile on his lips.

Sherlock can’t help but smile back. “Absolutely.”

“Good answer.” John climbs onto the bed, straddles Sherlock’s hips, making him gasp involuntarily at the sensation of John’s hardness moving against his own. John places his forearms along the sides of Sherlock’s head, caging him within his limbs.

“Is this okay?” he asks softly, the gentleness of his words in counterpoint with the hard insistence of his body.

“Oh, God, yes,” sighs Sherlock. Johns moans in pleasure as he grinds himself hard against Sherlock and kisses him, mouth needy and wet, and Sherlock’s world dissolves into a dizzy blur of heat and friction, lips and tongues and bodies moving against each other, separated only by two thin layers of cotton. Sherlock’s fingers explore John’s naked back, grip the curves of his arse as he tastes the salty slickness of his collarbone, the dip between his pectorals, the silvered landscape of his scar. His mouth finds a nipple, feeling the pink flesh harden and pebble, making John shiver.

“Jesus, Sherlock, I want you so much,” John breathes against his ear. “So much, for so long. I’ve thought about this so many times.” John thrusts against him with an excruciatingly deliberate slowness and Sherlock hears a breathy, whimpering noise. He dimly realises he’s the one making it.

John nibbles at his earlobe, licks at the corner of his jaw. “I want to see all of you,” John murmurs against his neck. “Can I, Sherlock? Can I see you?”

Sherlock nods, and John slides down his body, hooking his fingers into the waistband of his briefs and tugging. Sherlock lifts his hips to allow John to slide the pants down and off his body. Released from constraint his erection springs free, dusky pink and so hard it’s almost flush against his lower belly.

“Oh, Sherlock,” John sighs in a reverent tone that makes Sherlock close his eyes, feeling almost like he wants to cry. “You’re so beautiful. I can’t stand it, you’re so beautiful.” He pulls away just a bit. “I want to keep going, love, but I need to know you’re okay with it.”

Sherlock nods, not opening his eyes.

“Sherlock,” John says, gently but firmly. “I need you to look at me.”

Sherlock opens one eye.

“Have you ever...well, have you ever?”

Sherlock opens both eyes in order to roll them. “We have to have this conversation now?” he huffs.

“Yes we do, so stop being a prat just because I care.”

Sherlock turns his head away. “A few times. Not many. No actual penetration, though, and I’ve never…” His erection is disappearing. He’s embarrassed now, mortified. “I’ve never found it pleasant.” He’s such a freak, how could he ever think John could ever want him, stupid sodding sentiment has made him vulnerable and exposed and now he--

“Hey,” John bends his head, brushes his lips against the tiny bit of soft flesh above Sherlock’s navel. “Hey, no, stop that, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel like--” he kisses Sherlock’s belly--”I think you’re perfect, you’re amazing, I just.” His pink tongue licks the crest of his hip, kisses the hollow of his pelvis. “I just didn’t want to push for too much too soon. I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable, and I did just that. I’m an arse. Forgive me, please.”

Sherlock relaxes a little, exhales, brings his hand up to card through John’s soft hair as John tastes his skin, tracing circles with his tongue, peppering his torso with small kisses of contrition.

“What about you, then?” Sherlock asks. “Fair’s fair. Tell me what you’ve done and I’ll think about forgiving you.”

John looks up. “You mean with men, I take it.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes again--really, he should stop doing that, no wonder everyone finds him so rude--but smiles a little to soften it.

“Well,” John hems a bit, and his discomfort makes Sherlock feel a bit better. “It’s almost all been women, but in the past I’ve been fairly adventurous--”

“A bit of a slag, you mean,” Sherlock teases, knowing he’s not being nice but needing to regain some kind of equilibrium.

“Open-minded.”

“Town bike.” Sherlock knows he’s gone too far, unkind in his defensiveness and vulnerability, but John sees through it and just clucks at him with a grin.

“Alright, that’s enough,” he says, “and what I’m getting at, if you’re done slut-shaming me, is yes, I’ve encountered a penis once or twice. Well, four times. Two handjobs and two blowjobs. None of which were particularly romantic or memorable.” John mouths at his left nipple, flicks it with the tip of his tongue, making Sherlock shiver and squirm. “And none of them made me feel anything remotely like this,” he says in a softer tone. He lavishes attention on the other nipple, sucking gently as his fingers trace patterns on the inside of Sherlock’s opposite thigh.

“So,” Sherlock breathes in between small groans as John teases him, “not entirely straight.”

“Going by how much I want to suck your cock right now, I’d say not.” John moves back down Sherlock’s body, tasting him. His fingers ghost over the edges of his pubic hair, followed by his mouth, nipping and sucking at the sensitive skin at the very top of his inner thigh. John wraps a callused palm around his hardening shaft, fingertips gently nudging the foreskin back fully, making Sherlock suck in a sharp breath. “Is this all right?“

Sherlock nods, whimpering as John strokes him, gentle at first then more insistently.

“God, I want to do so many things to you,” John murmurs, vibrating against his skin.

Sherlock groans, absolutely hard again. “Then stop talking,” he breathes, “and do them.”

In response John dips his head and licks the entire length of his cock, swirling his tongue at the tip, making Sherlock arch and cry out in pure pleasure. His fingers grip in the soft cotton of the duvet as John’s tongue slides along the underside of his shaft, explores the slit, making Sherlock’s breath come out in panting, gasping moans. John’s nimble fingers slip under his scrotum, brush teasingly against his perineum, cup against his balls.

“You’re so full,” John purrs against the skin of Sherlock’s belly as his fingers tease and massage at his scrotum. “So heavy. All those nights, all that waiting. And it’s all for me, isn’t it? It’s all mine.”

The lewdness of those whispered words send a violent jolt of pleasure through Sherlock’s body, making him shudder in a way he’s never felt before. “Yes,” Sherlock whimpers as his hips flex, wanting to push into something, wanting to thrust, wanting to move. “For you. All for you.”

“You’re so fucking beautiful like this,” John says, his breath hot against Sherlock’s cock, then takes him in his mouth, all the way down to the root. Wet velvet heat heat engulfs him, and Sherlock convulses with the intensity of sensation. His hips stutter upward of their own accord, and John’s hand wraps around the base of his shaft as he moves, mouth sliding expertly down his length, alternating shallow bobbing with taking him deep into his throat as his hand works him in counterpoint, making the pleasure spark and slither along Sherlock’s spine.

Nothing in Sherlock’s limited experience has ever, ever prepared him for this.

“John,” he moans, low and and desperate, a voice Sherlock didn’t even know he had. “Oh my God, John. Yes.”

It’s unbelievable, it’s too much, overwhelming, and Sherlock is already sliding close to the edge when he winds a hand in John’s hair, tugging gently. “Not yet,” he says, breathing hard. “Please. Not yet. I want to see your face when I come.”

John pulls off with a wet, filthy noise and slides up the length of Sherlock’s body. Sherlock kisses him, tasting himself on John’s lips. It’s incredibly arousing.

“So you find it pleasant?” John asks with just the barest hint of a smirk.

“Shut up and take off your pants,” Sherlock says, the words coming out much less demanding and much more needy than he intended. He bites at John’s neck as he pulls at the waistband of his briefs. “I want to see you naked. I want to touch you.”

“Bossy,” John says with a chuckle, and then makes a noise of surprise as Sherlock manhandles them around, flipping them over so he’s on top of John, covering his body with his larger frame. He moves to the side and none-too-gently maneuvers John’s pants down and off, rendering him gloriously naked, and then finds himself positively transfixed by the first sight of John’s cock. It’s hard and flushed, foreskin fully retracted, glans almost purple, shiny wet with precome. It’s absolutely beautiful, close to nine inches on first visual estimate, and much thicker than his own. Sherlock wraps his hand around it, feeling the satiny heat of John’s flesh, making John groan and throw his head back into the pillows.

“Jesus, Sherlock,” he moans, “God, yes.” Sherlock strokes him firmly, root to tip, brushing his thumb across the leaking slit, then again, again, looking raptly at John’s face, watching him bite his lip and moan as he receives pleasure.

“Yes. Fuck. You feel so good,” John breathes, thrusting his hips into Sherlock’s fist.

“Wait,” Sherlock says, “I’ve got--” and he takes his hand away, making John whimper a bit at the loss of contact. He leans over, opens the bedside table drawer, finds a half-full bottle of lube. John gives a strangled laugh.

“I wasn’t even sure you did that,” John admits, making Sherlock grin.

“I do,” Sherlock says, uncapping the bottle and slicking his hand. “Frequently.” He bends down to lick at the shell of John’s ear. “And I think about you when I do it.” He straddles John’s hips with his knees. “Show me, John,” he growls into his ear. “Show me how you like to be touched.”

“Jesus Christ, your voice,” John groans. “It’s actually killing me. It should be illegal to sound like that. Here, shift up a bit.” John adjusts the angle of their hips so their cocks slot up against each other, and guides Sherlock large hand as he wraps it around them, shows him how to move.

“Oh God, oh fuck, your hands, Sherlock, yes, just like that,” John moans, rolling his head against the pillow as Sherlock strokes them together, over and over, with a slight twist of the wrist, their cocks sliding hot and smooth and wet against each other. The sensation is exquisite, incomparable. John whimpers low in his throat as he pushes up into Sherlock’s hand. “God, that’s perfect. You feel so good. Please. I want us to come like this, with you against me.”

Sherlock exhales, nods. “Help me, then,” he whispers. John wraps his smaller hand around Sherlock’s, guiding his strokes, tighter, shorter.

“Oh yes, Jesus, fuck, that’s so good,” John breathes, “You’re beautiful, you’re amazing.”

It feels better than anything Sherlock had ever thought possible, the tightness building low in his belly. Oh,” Sherlock moans, soft and throaty, as he fucks into their joined hands, against John’s feverish heat, his orgasm edging ever closer. “Oh, God.” The sensations are spiraling in him, overwhelming him, and he closes his eyes against the onslaught.

John brings his free hand up to grip Sherlock’s bicep. “Open your eyes, love,” he says, his voice low and ragged and desperate. “I want you to watch. I want you to see what you do to me, see me come for you, please.” Sherlock opens his eyes, looks at the space between their bodies where they are thrusting and sliding against each other.

“Fuck, yes, yes,” John pants, sliding into incoherence. “it’s so good, so good. I want to come on you, I want, I--” he thrusts once more, hard, and stills for just a fraction of a second before he climaxes, his body drawing up bowstring-tight as he comes hard with a strangled cry. Sherlock watches, transfixed, as John’s cock twitches and spurts, spilling hot and white over Sherlock’s fingers, onto his belly, into his pubic hair, dripping warm and slick and wet and it’s the single most erotic experience of his entire life.

“Oh my God,” John sighs, pulling away with a bit of a hiss as he grows sensitive, but he keeps his hand wrapped around Sherlock’s as Sherlock continues to thrust, up at the very edge of the abyss. The pleasure spirals hot within him, a sparking live wire coiled around the base of his spine. His balls tighten and draw up as the tightness builds and clench grow almost unbearable.

“I’m so close, so close,” Sherlock whimpers brokenly, unable to stop the words spilling from his mouth as the pressure builds and builds. “So close, John, so close, I need, please, oh please--”

“Look at me,” coaxes John and Sherlock obeys. “God, so gorgeous,” he murmurs, his free hand coming up to stroke a thumb across Sherlock’s cheekbone.“ Come for me, love, It’s all right, come for me, I want to see you--”

The gentle words push Sherlock over the final edge and his orgasm takes him, a desperate keening cry torn from him as he comes harder than he ever has in his life. His body shakes with spasm after spasm of indescribable bliss, the pent up desire of so many weeks and months and years releasing as his come stripes hot across John’s belly and chest.

It feels like it lasts forever, all of existence coalesced down into wave after wave of blinding white pleasure. John holds him, strokes him gently through it until the sparking aftershocks recede and Sherlock finally collapses against him, spent and panting.

John’s fingers weave soothingly through Sherlock’s his hair as his breathing slows, his body calms. Minutes tick by as Sherlock comes back to himself, slowly. His body is warm, satiated, his mind blissfully empty and at peace.

Cooling stickiness squishes wet between them and John laughs quietly. “God, this is a bit of a mess,” he says, and Sherlock grunts his indifference as John twists himself around to swipe a discarded item of clothing--pants or vest or shirt, Sherlock doesn’t know or care-- to clean them up a bit, swiping somewhat ineffectually at their sticky bodies before tossing the cloth over the side of the bed. He pulls Sherlock close to his side, kisses the top of his head. Sherlock mouths sleepily at the sweat-damp skin of John’s shoulder.

“Amazing,” John says softly.

“Better than Cluedo,” murmurs Sherlock, making John groan and chuckle and pull him even closer. Sherlock doesn’t resist, wrapping long limbs around John’s warm, sleepy body.

“I knew you’d be a cuddler,” John says teasingly, and Sherlock answers with a noise that’s meant to be an annoyed growl but instead comes out as something rumbly and affectionate.

The two grow quiet, and the room is silent for several minutes except for the sound of their breathing. Evening moves deeper into night.

Just before he falls asleep, Sherlock stirs. He has to tell John something important.

“They’re not going to win,” he says. “I won’t let them.”

We won’t let them,” John murmurs, his voice scratchy and warm in the dark. “We won’t let them take this away from us.” He tightens his hold on Sherlock. “We’re in this together. No matter what.” John pauses a moment, as if in contemplation, then dips his head, whispers three soft words into the curls behind Sherlock’s ear.

Sherlock turns, mouths the words back against John’s warm, sweet-smelling neck.

“Well, then,” John mumbles sleepily. “That’s settled. No matter what happens now, we’ve already won.”

Moments later John’s breathing deepens, evens out. Sherlock soon follows.

Sentiment, he thinks as he drifts towards slumber. Tomorrow or twenty years from now, It’s going to kill us both in the end.

Oxytocin. Serotonin. Dopamine.

Just chemicals.

And yet.

At this moment, as he falls asleep for the first time in the safety of his lover’s arms, Sherlock can’t imagine anything else he’d rather die for.