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If Sherlock wanted to be technical about the definition of kissing – lips touching each other – then he supposes the first time they kiss is one he will never be able to remember because he was clinically dead.

The facts are these: After he pulls the trigger on Moriarty’s bomb, several things happen simultaneously: First, the bomb explodes. Second, John pushes him into the pool. Third, four snipers open fire.
The snipers hit Sherlock in the shoulder. He remembers this. He remembers pain, and water, and impact, and darkness.

What he doesn’t remember is that John drags him out of the pool, presses his lips to Sherlock’s to get him to breathe, and massages his heart for about a minute before cardiovascular activity recommences.

Technically speaking, this is their first kiss. It doesn’t merit the distinction as a kiss, of course, but the entire evening has a Before and After feel to it, a dividing line in the sand for his life and for his relationship with John, something that changes them forever.

Before, he was inclined to regard John’s presence in his life as a temporary luxury, something he would soon tire of or discard or watch as it walked away, a transient comet passing through his life, unique, beautiful, but not meant to stay.

After, after the fire and the bomb and the danger, after John saved his life the second time and Sherlock discovered that he couldn’t quite look away from John’s eyes during that interminable ambulance ride when John sat next to him and held his hand like Sherlock would vanish if he let go, after that moment of perfect clarity when he looked at John and felt the connection between them almost physically, when he could see through John entirely and John could see inside his head as clearly… after all that, he feels the shift as clearly as if the earth had moved under their feet.

Nothing really changes, and yet, everything does, a little, like his entire life has shifted a few inches to the left. Sarah slowly fades out of the picture. John starts coming along on most of Sherlock’s cases, not just the one he’s accidentally around for. Sherlock often finds himself starting sentences with We….

John isn’t a transient phenomenon anymore. Instead, he becomes more and more like oxygen.

So Sherlock feels somewhat justified to count John’s press of lips against his a significant beginning – he will later re-label this incident Kiss Zero in his head - even though it was only technically a kiss and he was technically dead at the time.

The first time they really do kiss is in comparison completely and utterly meaningless.

*-*

Sherlock’s legs won’t cooperate accurately. He’s trying to walk straight ahead, but something has happened to his sense of balance, coordination and his spatial perception. His legs feel vaguely gelatinous and his vision is slightly blurry.

He’s also currently leaning heavily against John, who is trying, rather ineptly in Sherlock’s humble opinion, to get him up the stairs to their front door.

“God, for somebody who never eats, you certainly weigh a ton,” John huffs.

“I do not,” Sherlock says, and something’s apparently happened to his tongue as well, because his speech is impaired as well as his vision and his legs. “My weight is perfectly appropriate for my height and my age.”

“Yes, yes, sorry, I didn’t mean to call you fat or anything,” John says, the eye-roll obvious in his voice.

“’Fat’ is imprecise, colloquial and insulting, so I should hope not,” Sherlock mutters into the side of John’s head. Apparently, and he has no idea how this happened, he’s currently leaning full-body against John, while John’s patting his pockets for his keys. “Left inner pocket of your jacket,” Sherlock mutters. “You always put your keys there in this jacket. Right outer pocket in the black winter jacket, and front left when you’re wearing jeans.”

“Thanks,” John says drily, but he finds the key more quickly after Sherlock’s instructions.

John shifts them around a bit so he can reach the door and unlock it, and Sherlock gets another whiff of John’s hair. It smells like tea and beer and antiseptics, laundry detergent and John’s shampoo. It’s oddly nice.

“Thanks,” John says again, and there’s a smile in his voice now, and Sherlock realizes he’s said all that out loud. “Good to know that being drunk disables your already malfunctioning brain-to-mouth filter completely.”

Sherlock huffs, indignant. “I am not drunk.”

“Yeah, right. That’s why you’re leaning against me like you’ll fall over any minute, and that’s why you’re dropping half your syllables when you talk.”

Sherlock wishes there was some way to refute John’s logic, but there isn’t, really, given that right now all that’s holding him up, or more precisely dragging him up the stairs one at the time, is in fact John Watson’s tiny frame.

There are twelve stairs to their door. It’s a ridiculous number, twelve. Twelve. The sound alone. Twelve. Twelve. Twelve. He tries saying the word a few times. It still sounds ridiculous.

“Nah, you’re not drunk at all,” John says, dragging Sherlock into the flat, where they collapse on the sofa in a graceless heap.

“Now will you admit that drinking Anderson under the table was a bad idea?” John asks, voice muffled against Sherlock’s coat.

“I won, didn’t I?” Sherlock answers, shooting John a gleeful grin.

John rolls his eyes. “Yes, you won. And we both know that’s all that matters to you.”

“Not all that matters.” Sherlock shakes his head and instantly regrets it. “John?”

“Yes?” John asks, and he sounds exhausted. Sherlock guesses that’s the reason he’s still leaning against Sherlock. But then of course, John isn’t entirely sober himself.

“The room is spinning,” Sherlock states. “Why is the room spinning? It isn’t logical for a room to spin.”

“It’s your head that’s spinning, not the room,” John says, obviously amused, looking at Sherlock with that small, warm, affectionate smile John seems to have invented for Sherlock.

With obvious effort, John pulls himself off the couch and holds out his hand. “Come on, genius, let’s get you to bed.”

“I’m perfectly capable of putting myself to bed,” Sherlock states, then sinks back further into the couch. “I have been drunk before, you know, and I’ve survived the experience without your help.”

“What you did before doesn’t concern me, I’m here now and I’m not cleaning the blood stains off the carpet if you try to get up and break your nose when you face-plant on the floor,” John says, taking the lapels of Sherlock’s coat and hauling him bodily up until they’re practically nose to nose. Well, nose to chin, seeing as John is significantly shorter than Sherlock, which makes Sherlock snort with amusement.

“I should let you fall on your stupid, smug face,” John mutters, but he’s smiling, and Sherlock likes it when John smiles. John has nice smiles. And so many of them. There’s the adrenaline-fuelled mad one, and the Sherlock’s-done-something-brilliant one and the Sherlock’s-made-a-joke one, the I’m-a-war-hero-and-a-real-catch one, the relax-I’m-a-doctor one, and dozens more that Sherlock hasn’t yet catalogued. Right now he’s wearing the I’m-fond-of-you-you-mad-git one, and Sherlock likes that one especially.

John also smells good, like beer and pub and somehow always of tea and antiseptics, like they’ve infused his skin and have become a part of him. Sherlock wonders if John always tastes like tea and antiseptics as well, so he does the next logical thing his brain comes up with, he leans down and kisses John. John’s lips are dry and chapped, and they taste like beer and vinegar from the fish and chips he had at the pub.

John goes still, and Sherlock pulls back. For a moment, they just look at each other, quietly, and that’s another thing about John Sherlock appreciates, his ability to be absolutely, completely still. There’s something in John’s eyes, though, something dark and warm, something that feels ever so slightly dangerous, like Sherlock has poked a tiger or teased a rattlesnake. It’s wonderful. It makes him tingle all over. He moves back in, to taste that danger some more, but there’s a finger over his lips, and John shakes his head.

“Bad idea,” John mutters, and the dangerous, warm thing in his eyes is in his voice now as well. “Terrible idea, in fact. You’re far too drunk, and I’m not half drunk enough. Trust me,” he adds, removing the finger from Sherlock’s lips. “Bad idea.”

Sherlock’s a bit disappointed, but his head is swimming and his eyes won’t focus properly.

“All right,” Sherlock whispers, and lets John manhandle him into his room, lets him pull off his coat and scarf and shoes, lets John push him on the bed. He grabs at John’s arm, tries to pull him down with him, but John moves out of range, then out of sight, then out of the room.

Suddenly, Sherlock misses him intensely, the warmth of him, the security of him, the fact that he doesn’t spin, doesn’t look like he knows how, like he’s the axis of the world, the only fixed point in the universe.

But then John comes back and Sherlock smiles. “Knew you couldn’t stay away.”

John huffs a laugh into the darkness, and Sherlock wishes he could see his face, see what smile he’s wearing now. “Good to know you’re not a maudlin drunk. A chatty one, though.”

Something cool is pressed into his hand. “Drink the whole bottle, or you’ll feel like death warmed over in the morning,” John says, perching on the edge of his bed.

Sherlock discovers that the cool thing is a bottle of water, and he obligingly drinks most of it. The room doesn’t spin quite as badly anymore, but everything is very heavy.

“Sleep,” John whispers.

Brilliant idea. Sherlock does.

*-*

In the morning, everything is sharp and heavy and dull, and in the cool daylight, there’s nothing warm and dark and dangerous in John’s eyes at all.

Still, some things are better not left to fester. “I hope there won’t be any awkwardness between us because I kissed you,” Sherlock says when John hands him a cup of tea with an amused expression.
John shrugs. “You didn’t, not really.”

Sherlock takes a sip of tea and allows himself to enjoy the warm smoothness of it. “I did, I distinctly remember it.”

“It doesn’t count. You were drunk, “John says, opening his newspaper, and that’s the last that’s said over the matter.

Around lunchtime, John tries to get him to eat something. Sherlock ignores him in favour of his violin, until the music gives him a headache and John gives him paracetamol and he falls asleep on the couch. When he wakes up the second time, John has made some more tea, and neither of them mentions the night before again.

*-*

Life goes on. John discovers a new takeout Indian restaurant just around the corner from their flat. They solve several dull cases – insurance fraud, adultery and an ingenious bank robbery –and one brilliant one – ciphers, hangmen and dead bodies. John orders satellite television. Sherlock gets a new spring coat.

In the clear, cool, sober daylight, Sherlock sometimes looks at John and tries to see what he saw that night. But John doesn’t look warm and dangerous anymore, even though he is, and he doesn’t seem like the only fixed point in the universe anymore, though Sherlock suspects he still might be.

*-*

Sherlock’s memory of their second kiss is somewhat fuzzy, but he supposes he can’t be blamed for it under the circumstances.

*-*

Everything is hot. Everything is glowing, brightly. Nothing is in focus; the entire world has hidden between a gauzy tapestry of translucent silk.

“Sherlock?”

Sounds make little sense. Bright lights flash into his eyes.

“Sherlock!”

He tries to focus on the source of the sound. A face comes into view. He knows this face. He likes this face. He smiles. It’s a strange feeling, like his face might break.

The face smiles back, but it’s dulled by something. Worry, maybe, Sherlock thinks. Yes, that’s the word. Worry.

“Sherlock, what have they given you?”

Sherlock is utterly incapable of making sense of the sounds the voice is making, but he’s able to connect the voice to the face hovering above his.

He tries to say something. He isn’t sure what comes out of his lips. His voice vibrates pleasantly inside his body, but the sound is indistinct and unidentifiable.

“Do you know where you are?”

Sherlock tries to focus on the face. John. Watson. Nice smiles. Smells of tea. His eyes are very blue, and his face is very expressive. He might also be the only fixed point in the universe. He certainly seems so now.

He makes another sound, enjoying the way his voice vibrates through his chest and throat. It’s a wonderful sensation, a little bit like scraping over his insides with rough velvet.

There’s a hand on his face. The hand is calloused and cool and feels breathtakingly good.

“Fuck. Sherlock, look at me.”

Sherlock does. He sees faint lines and freckles, grey-green flecks in John’s very blue eyes. A small frown line between his eyes. Short hair, too short for gripping, but it feels wonderful under Sherlock’s fingers all the same when he lifts his hand to stroke over the back of John’s head. He can feel the bone of John’s skull. If his hair was shorter, or maybe if it was gone altogether, Sherlock might be able to feel where the individual bones have knit together to form the back of John’s head.

He traces John’s skull, naming the bones in his mind, wonderful names, lovely names. Occipital, Parietal, Temporal, Mandible. John hasn’t shaved this morning; Sherlock can feel the rasp of stubble when he slides his fingers over the skin of John’s face. It’s entirely fascinating.

“Sherlock? Do you understand a word I’m saying?” John asks, and Sherlock can feel his face move with the words, can feel the vibrations of John’s voice.

He wants to eat that voice, wants to swallow it down so it will vibrate in his body, too, not only in John’s. He tugs and moves, and then he’s kissing John, biting at his lips and his mouth, trying to pull that voice out of John’s body and into his own. John tastes like worry and anger and bad coffee, like violence and thunder and gunpowder. John’s breath hitches, his lips quiver, a small moan escapes him, a tiny little sound Sherlock feels down to his toes. It’s entirely, bone-shakingly perfect.

Gentle hands push him away, settle on his forehead and his chest, stroke down the side of his face, and that’s nice too, that’s wonderful, in fact, and Sherlock rubs his face against these hands, listens to John mutter, “Bloody paramedics take ages.”

The world is coming ever so slightly more into focus. Fireplace. Skull. Baker Street. Blurry shapes in the distance. Emergency lights, red-blue-red-blue-red-blue-red-blue.

Lights shining into his eyes. John is talking, not to him this time.

“… given him something, I don’t know what.”

They pick him up and put him on something soft and warm. Then there’s sunlight. John doesn’t let go of his hand. Sherlock sleeps.

*-*

What happened, he later deduces, was this: When he came home from helping Lestrade put away a completely boring criminal on an entirely unremarkable Thursday, three thugs working for an international drug-smuggling ring he and John busted up a few weeks ago held him down, shot him up with a very interesting drug cocktail, planning to watch him writhe before he died. At which point John came home, severely injured two of the thugs, while the third fled the scene. Sherlock was taken to the hospital, admitted, treated, and stabilized.

Sherlock remembers nothing except warmth and vibration and hitched breathing and colours and kissing John.

Under the fluorescent hospital lights John looks like he’s been dragged through a wringer. Sherlock watches John’s face, his worried, tired, very blue eyes, and isn’t capable of saying anything at all, because somehow they always end up here, him in a hospital bed and John worried, and if he was a better man, he’d ask John to leave, to walk away, to find a safer life, a safer person. But he isn’t a good man, and he doesn’t want John to leave, ever, and so he says nothing, and John doesn’t leave Sherlock’s hospital room until Sherlock does, too.

When they get home, Sherlock stands in the doorway for a few long moments. “About the kissing…” he says, trailing off because he has no idea how to end this sentence.

John huffs, a tiny sound that’s stuck between a laugh and a sigh. He looks at Sherlock with a mix of sadness and amusement. “It doesn’t count. Forget about it.”

*-*

Sherlock does forget about it, mostly, once the drugs are completely out of his system and the fuzzy warmth fades with them. He almost misses it, the feeling he knows so well, the soft, mellow glow of a morphine-derivative high. But then he looks at the bags under John’s eyes and puts another nicotine patch on his arm to slap the softness from the edges of his mind, and deletes the incident save for the moment his lips were on John’s, and John’s breath hitched. Some things are too precious to delete.

*-*

Life proceeds as usual. They investigate a complicated fraud case, unravel a human trafficking ring and put two of Moriarty’s old henchmen in jail. They’re so busy that John quits his job at the clinic, but he occasionally picks up night shifts at the A&E at Bart’s. Sherlock spends most of these nights in the Bart’s lab and they take the tube back together in the early morning, when it’s still dark and cool and empty, when London seems to belong just to the two of them.

And if Sherlock sometimes, in the early hours of the morning, when the night’s coldest and the strings of his violin won’t calm the noise in his mind, if he sometimes at this time thinks of that moment when John’s breath hitched, well, nobody needs to know.

*-*

Of course, now that Sherlock’s life is going relatively smoothly, he just has to do something to nearly fuck it all up completely. The incident is labeled in his head, oddly enough, as kiss number three.

*-*

An hour ago, Sherlock was bored.

An hour ago, Sherlock was sure that the world had stopped, that nobody would ever do anything interesting ever again, that nothing would ever happen again.

An hour ago, Sherlock felt frozen in time and space and his own brain, stewing in its own juices, like a trapped animal, ready to devour itself to get free, get out, get away.

Now, though. Now Sherlock has solved three cold cases from the files Scotland Yard gives him occasionally to peruse at leisure. He’s developed a formula for a new experiment involving the longevity of blood stains.

Now, everything is buzzing and moving and shifting and bright. Everything is sharp and clear and wonderful and shining around the edges. Everything is transparent and obvious and just waiting for him to turn his genius brain to it.

He’s scribbling out complex formulae on the walls with thick permanent marker. He writes over the papers tacked to the walls, the cold cases, crime scene pictures, newspaper articles, pages of chemistry textbooks, all firing his synapses with tiny sparks of input, setting off a reaction of deductions and inferences and information. It’s glorious.

He can hear John long before he can see him. The tread of his feet on the stairs is heavy, he favours his right leg. It’s five in the morning, just before dawn. He’s exhausted, just coming home from a night shift at Bart’s.

John opens the door to their flat and predictably stills. Sherlock doesn’t look at him yet, closes his eyes to focus on the sounds he makes. It’s interesting how sometimes John can pull Sherlock’s entire attention to himself without doing more than stepping into a room.

John sighs, predictable annoyance about the walls. He clears his throat, but hesitates forming words, which tells Sherlock that John doesn’t want to fight, but can’t help asking, “What’s all this, then? New Case?” His voice is rough and Sherlock can hear the bone-deep weariness in the scrape of his throat and the heaviness of his vowels.

Sherlock shakes his head. “Bored.”

The answering huff of air means John’s torn between being annoyed and amused, and Sherlock knows he’s won. It feels good, winning over John. It always feels good, getting this self-sufficient, upright, sober, serious man to concede something to mad, delinquent, messy Sherlock.

Sherlock smiles. He opens his eyes and turns around.

John is looking at him, the dim lamplight making him look like a sepia version of himself, all drained of colour, something soft and unfathomable in his eyes, and Sherlock’s smile fades because he doesn’t know what John is thinking about right now, what he sees when he looks at Sherlock like that, and he wants to know, he needs to know.

He stares at John like his eyes are scalpels, wishes he could crack open John’s skull, and John stares right back, inscrutable, unreadable, unpredictable, and normally Sherlock likes this about John, that he’s sometimes as opaque as stone, but right now it’s infuriating, because he’s brilliant and radiant and high and John is ordinary and normal and Sherlock should be able to know what he’s thinking, but he isn’t.

Carefully, Sherlock moves closer until he is in John’s personal space, and even more carefully, John backs away until he hits the wall and Sherlock looms over him, arms against the wall on either side of John’s head. They’re staring at each other like rabbit and snake, and it’s thrilling that Sherlock doesn’t know who is who in this scenario. He has no idea what he’s doing here, he only knows that it feels dangerous, like chemically unstable explosives, and that John looks calm and still like the ocean, but his eyes are wide and flashing and uncertain, and it’s wonderful because Sherlock loves upsetting John’s carefully kept balance almost as much as he loves crime scenes.

And then John’s eyes flick to Sherlock’s lips, briefly, unconsciously, and Sherlock feels white-hot triumph float him like another hit of the cocaine he consumed so generously not thirty minutes ago, because now he knows exactly what John is thinking about.

He leans down, slowly, incrementally, and brushes their lips together. John doesn’t move, he doesn’t even blink, but there’s a tiny hitch of breath that’s as telling as a thousand light bulbs going on, and Sherlock leans in for a proper kiss. He presses his entire body into John’s, and when their lips meet, it’s electric, perfect. He pries John’s lips apart with his tongue, and licks over John’s mouth. John tastes like early morning and tea and cheese sandwich and antiseptics.

And then there’s a hand in his hair, and John pulls Sherlock’s head away from his, puts a bit of space between them. “What have you taken?” John asks, quiet and serious and even a bit dangerous.

“Who says I’ve taken anything?” Sherlock asks, even though he knows how obvious it must be for John. Elevated heart rate. Dilated pupils. Wetness around the nose. Constant sniffing. And of course John has surely tasted it on his tongue, sharp and bitter.

John sighs. “Don’t insult my intelligence,” he snaps. “And get off me.”

Sherlock doesn’t move. “Why?”

They’re still pressed together thigh to shoulder, and it’s entirely obvious that John likes it. Physically, at least.

“Because you’re high as a kite. Because I said so,” John says, slowly, and there’s something in his voice that sounds like a warning.

Sherlock doesn’t move. He bends his head to nose along John’s throat, enjoys John’s hitched breath, the way his body squirms, trying to get away from Sherlock, but Sherlock grabs hold of John’s wrists and pins him there, against the wall.

A shiver runs through John’s body, and Sherlock feels a sudden, violent urge to rip John’s clothes off, to pin him down and ravage him, to make him bleed and sweat and come and shatter that eternal calm, and maybe in return get shattered himself by the violence he knows is somewhere within John. He knows that right now they could easily destroy each other, and a part of him wants to experience that, wants to know what it would take to break John, what he would do once broken, what it would be like to see this man erupt in the deadly, calm, remorseless violence he is capable of but always hides so well. It’s a rush like standing on the edge of a very tall building and thinking of jumping.

But then he locks eyes with John, and John says, very slowly, very gently, “Sherlock. Let me go.” There’s no fear in his voice or his eyes, no submission, no danger.

The rush fades as quickly as it has come, and Sherlock lets John go immediately and backs up a few steps. He’s reminded that when you jump off high buildings, things get broken. Things that aren’t replaceable. He feels nauseous and his head is spinning.

“I’ll get us some breakfast,” John says, gently, calmly. “God knows I could use some coffee right now.”

Sherlock only nods. He’s crashing, and fast, and he sits down on the sofa heavily, listening to the front door close.

He wouldn’t blame John if he didn’t come back.

*-*

When John comes back (Sherlock doesn’t know why he comes back), the sun has risen. Sherlock is sitting in the living room with his violin out. John doesn’t say anything, just settles down in his chair with his laptop and a croissant. He puts another one on the table before Sherlock. Sherlock eats it even though it tastes like ashes and sand. Then he plays Mendelssohn.

John types slowly, two finger system. He always misspells the same words, the plunks of his auto-correct program an odd counterpoint to Sherlock’s violin.

Sherlock stops playing, and the silence is nearly deafening.

“It doesn’t happen often,” he says into the quiet of their sun-flooded living room, looking at the patterns the dust makes in the shafts of sunlight. “I’m clean, really. Today was… an aberration.”

“Why?” John asks, and Sherlock admires the way his voice is so completely calm, so very expressionless. His eyes are still trained on his computer screen, and he’s pointedly not looking over at Sherlock, like he wants to give him privacy.

Sherlock tries out several answers. It was that or shoot myself in the leg, and I know how much you hate blood stains on the carpet.

I was bored, bored, bored, and nothing was happening, nothing was interesting, everything was empty and two-dimensional and I couldn’t breathe in this flat, flat world.

In the end, he says the thing that’s closest to the truth without being completely incomprehensible. “I needed to get out of my head. It’s a nasty place to be sometimes.”

John nods, almost imperceptibly, but doesn’t answer.

It suits Sherlock perfectly, because they both know there’s something more to say. Something Sherlock needed to build up to. He swallows. “I’m sorry.”

Finally, John turns his head to look at Sherlock. “Well, that’s certainly a Dear Diary moment. Sherlock Holmes apologized. I’m stunned.” The words are harsh, but John is smiling ever so slightly, and Sherlock knows he’s forgiven, even though he also knows that he doesn’t entirely deserve to be.

“It seemed appropriate, seeing as this is the third time I’ve kissed you,” Sherlock says, but John interrupts him.

“None of that counts, you know,” he says, wearing that curiously patient expression he reserves for moments when he thinks Sherlock is being dense.

“Why, because I was intoxicated?” Sherlock says, and he can’t help the acid that creeps into his voice, the irritation that John can dismiss Sherlock kissing him this easily, like it’s an everyday occurrence, like it doesn’t matter, like it doesn’t mean anything at all. “If that were true, most of my sexual encounters wouldn’t “count” either.” He indicates the quotes with his fingers, the gesture as harshly biting as his words.

“I don’t care what you did with other people when you were high. You. Will. Not. Do. This. With. Me,” John says, low and angry, smile completely gone now. “I will not be an experiment, Sherlock.”

Sherlock swallows. “You aren’t,” he says, barely audible.

“Good,” John says, and the vehemence in his voice surprises Sherlock. “So if you want me to “count” you kissing me, then you’d better be stone cold sober and you’d by God better know what you’re starting.”

Sherlock has no answer to that, so he just nods once, stiff and stoic, and then he raises his violin to his shoulder and starts to play again, aware of John’s eyes on him, boring into him like John wants to x-ray his skull to make sense of him.

He plays until John’s exhaustion catches up with him and he falls asleep in his chair. Then he goes into the bathroom and flushes the rest of the horribly expensive, high-quality, wonderfully good cocaine he bought only the previous afternoon down the toilet.

*-*

Nothing changes, not on the surface. They eat and sleep and work and chase criminals through the dark streets of London. It rains for what seems like solid five weeks and John puts them both on vitamins so they won’t get sick. John gets sick anyway. Sherlock gets him tea and soup and mostly leaves him alone, sitting grumpily in front of the telly.

They get bad takeout and solve murders. They watch quiz shows at three in the morning that John is always better at. Sherlock discovers that John is a fantastic poker player and they play for hours, but Sherlock isn’t sure that they’re not both just using it as an excuse to stare at each other.

Because something has shifted between them, during that night. They’re both aware now that there’s something between them, something electric and dangerous and possibly fantastic, something that has the potential to make them into so much more or wreck them completely, something they both might want.

And John often watches him like he’s waiting for something, possibly for Sherlock to make up his mind, or to kiss him again. And Sherlock admits to himself now that he wants to, something that, apparently, his subconscious has known all along. He wants to kiss John while he’s wide awake and in full control of his faculties and his body. He wants to touch John, take him to bed, strip him naked and crawl inside him, and obviously sometimes this shows on his face, because John sometimes gives him this look that says, Why don’t you?

And Sherlock answers, silently, Because I’m terrified, because I’ll be the death of you, because you’ll leave and it will break me if you do, because sexual relationships never last, because of what it will mean, because if I start, I won’t ever stop. Because I think I love you, and because that’s the scariest thing that ever happened to me, ever.

*-*

Sherlock will never, ever, ever think of the fourth time he kisses John ever again.

It’s a dark alley and John is unconscious, Sherlock’s hands are slick with blood and he has spent the last eighty-seven seconds breathing air into John’s lungs and willing his heart to start beating again.
And when it finally does, when John finally draws a long, shuddering breath, Sherlock presses a wet, sloppy kiss to his lips. John’s cheeks are red where Sherlock has gripped them with his bloody hands.
Sherlock washes his hands at the hospital and while he watches the bloodied water drain out of the basin, he slowly and surely deletes everything about this night.

*-*

By the time John is released from the hospital, Sherlock has taken up smoking again. On the first day back, John throws out his cigarettes, some moldy bread, the remains of Sherlock’s last experiment, untouched since John got injured, and the entire contents of their refrigerator. When Sherlock complains about the cigarettes, John gives him some biscuits to chew on and a twenty-minute rant about the many ways smoking kills.

Sherlock nearly kisses John right then and there, nearly throws him against the wall and mauls him, because he’s missed him so goddamned much. He doesn’t. But he makes a decision, right then and there, that he will. Soon. Life is just too short to be a coward much longer.

*-*

The case is glorious. A locked room mystery, a hidden treasure, cryptic messages, old grudges and mysterious poisons. In the course of the case, they climb up the rain-gutter of a two-story building, break into a garret, search for a stolen boat and a missing captain, and finally, incredibly, chase their criminals on the Thames in a racing boat. There’s even a shoot-out between John and one of the criminals.

They manage to catch up to the criminals, board the boat, overwhelm them, get a confession and find the treasure that belongs to their client. Altogether it’s an absolutely spectacular night.
When Scotland Yard has taken custody of their prisoner, they’re told to go home and get dropped off at a convenient pier. They stumble off the boat on unsteady feet, the ground too solid after the rocking of the river.

They walk home side by side, touching occasionally, stumbling into each other, smiling at each other like loons. Sherlock’s heart beats an extra mile, and he feels like the most brilliant man on Earth, followed closely by one John Watson.

Just before they round the corner to Baker Street, John grabs Sherlock’s wrist and pulls him around to face John. “Hungry?” he asks, smiling that cracked, mad, brilliant smile Sherlock remembers from their very first night together. The question, echoing Sherlock’s that night, when they were walking away from a crime scene, makes Sherlock remember the rush he felt when he realized that John had killed for him, that John was capable of killing a man at this distance this precisely and then standing around the crime scene as if he’d just incidentally stumbled on it. The moment when he realized just how extraordinary John is.

Sherlock doesn’t answer, just smiles, and turns his wrist to grab John’s arm, just over his pulse point. He pulls, and John goes with it willingly.

Their lips are already parted when they meet. It’s a good kiss – it should be, it’s the fifth time they kiss, after all - real and solid and breathtaking, hot and heavy. John’s lips are soft and wet and feel amazing against Sherlock’s. John’s hands are in his hair, and Sherlock is gripping at John’s clothes, holding him in. His heart is beating wildly, and he thinks that right now he could defy gravity and actually fly.

When they part, John’s hands are still all over him, running through his hair and down his back. He’s smiling at Sherlock wistfully, licking his lips as if Sherlock’s taste is something to savour.

“Still doesn’t count,” John says, but he’s slightly out of breath, and he can’t let go of Sherlock.

Sherlock frowns. “Why the hell not?”

“Adrenaline is a mood-altering substance,” John says, but there’s mischief in his eyes and he can’t seem to help laughing at Sherlock’s outraged expression.

“Come on,” he says, disentangling them and grabbing Sherlock’s wrist. “You can buy me dinner.”

So Sherlock does. And while he watches John eat Thai and eats a few bites too to stop John from frowning at him disapprovingly, he realizes that he could have this, that this could actually work. It’s the scariest and the most exhilarating feeling he’s ever had in his life.

*-*

It’s the following Tuesday. It’s three in the afternoon. There’s nothing on the telly, and Sherlock hasn’t even had coffee today. There are no nicotine patches on his arms, and nothing exciting has happened to them in over 24 hours.

John’s sitting on the sofa, reading a novel. Sherlock has been staring at him for about fifteen minutes.

Finally, he can’t take it anymore. He goes over to John, plucks the book out of his hand and plants himself in John’s lap. John is smiling at him like he’s an especially adorable idiot, which Sherlock concedes might be true, because he can’t figure out why it’s taken him this long to get here.

No more time to lose. He grabs John and kisses him, only this time it is nothing like the ones before, because this time, John kisses him back. This time, John takes over, holds his face still and ravages him completely, kisses him thoroughly, deep and soft and sure, tongue and teeth and banked heat. John kisses his mouth open, bites at his lips, licks at them, then delves into his mouth to tangle their tongues, and Sherlock can’t do anything but respond, and moan, and hold still and allow John to kiss him stupid. Sherlock is undone, unstitched, the warmth of it saturates him down to his toes. He’s incapable of thought, incapable of speech.

After an indeterminable time, John draws back a little. “This counts,” he says a little breathlessly, against Sherlock’s lips, “this definitely counts.”

Sherlock grins. Sixth time’s the charm, apparently.

He pulls John back in for another kiss, number seven now.

He stops counting after that.