“What did you do?” John sounds more fond than angry, Sherlock thinks. That’s good, isn’t it?
“I don’t know what…” Sherlock gives his hand a little flourish for emphasis. “You’re talking about.”
The corner of John’s mouth jerks upward in the briefest hint of a smile. “You’re drunk.”
“Don’t be ridic—ridicu—ridiclous,” Sherlock finally manages.
“Right. Let’s get you home then.”
John reaches out, offers his hand, and Sherlock takes it, let’s himself be lugged to his feet. John wraps his arm around Sherlock’s waist and Sherlock leans against him. They walk.
“I’m taking this one home,” John is suddenly saying to Greg Lestrade, and a few other pointless officers from the Met. “Did anyone see how many he had?”
Sherlock is inclined to be miffed that John is speaking of him like he’s a child, speaking about him, rather than to him, but now he thinks about it, he does feel uncomfortably dizzy, and John’s fingers stirring at his waist are terribly distracting.
“Sorry, John. He dashed. Thought he was off on the scent of another case. You know how it is. Didn’t even know he was still here.”
“Right. Well, this is us done for the night. We’ll drop by the station tomorrow to wrap things up.”
A few more inane pleasantries are exchanged, but Sherlock hears none of them, because John’s neck is slowly flushing around his collar, and Sherlock is rapt. It looks warm, and inviting, and…
“Walk, you idiot.”
John guides him out to the kerb, and glares at the empty street. “Do your thing, will you.”
“The hailing the cab out of thin air thing,” John clarifies.
Sherlock mouths an ‘O’ of understanding and nods, almost toppling off the kerb in the process. John’s grip around his waist tightens. “Christ. How many did you have?!”
Sherlock thinks about it. “You talked to that woman for a vvvery long time.”
Oh. Not the right thing to say. Not…
John is looking at him.
John’s brows are knit with confusion.
They release suddenly, and John’s eyes do something—new.
John lets go of his waist and lifts a hand at an approaching cab. Miraculously it slows and then stops.
Sherlock lets John herd him into the back seat and shut the door. He leans his head against the cool glass of the window and stares out at the near empty street outside.
John’s warmth slides into the seat beside him. The cab pulls away from the kerb. The streets racing by outside blur. His eyes burn.
John’s hand settles over his, squeezes once, briefly, disappears again. “You okay?” It’s just loud enough to be heard over the hum of the tires against the pavement.
Sherlock nods, but doesn’t look at him.
Sherlock screws his eyes shut and feels them spill over.
John’s hand returns to his. Squeezes again. Stays there, warm and comforting, for the rest of the cab ride back to Baker Street.
When the cab pulls up in front of the flat, Sherlock stumbles out and heads inside without waiting for John. He would love to crawl into a tight, dark hole and not come out until he is sober enough to have his masks all well in place again. This is why he doesn’t drink. It makes him feel vulnerable and laid bare in ways that cocaine never has. And he’s had to be so careful since John’s come home again. He’s had to be sure he doesn’t seem too eager, doesn’t pressure him, doesn’t give him a reason to leave again.
He will want to eventually, of course. He will want a mother for Rosie. He will want female companionship. Sex. John desires these things. He needs these things to make him feel normal, to convince himself that he is checking off the boxes of a proper adult life, to prove that he deserves to exist.
Sherlock only stumbles once on his way up the stairs. It’s on the landing where things almost go wrong. He feels himself pitch to the left and then back, and realises he has nothing to grab onto, that he’s just going to fall back, down, down. He’s too drunk to care. It’s jarring then, to feel a set of strong arms clamp around his waist, to feel hot breath on his neck.
“Christ, you’re going to kill yourself. Up. Stand up!” John orders, and Sherlock’s body obeys of its own volition. “Come on,” John murmurs as they both right themselves. “I’m taking you to bed.”
Molly gets to her feet as they enter the lounge. She looks at Sherlock, eyes narrowed. They widen as realisation dawns. “Solved it I see.”
“Mmm. This one got a little too enthusiastic with the celebratory drinks.”
“So, it seems. Well, I’ll be off then. She went down at 8:00, no problem.”
“Was Greg still at the pub when you left?” She asks, stopping at the door to the lounge.
“Mm, for a bit yet. If you hurry you can probably catch him. They’re just down at The Beehive.”
“Alright. I might do.”
“Good-night, Mary.” Sherlock manages.
Molly frowns at him, looks over at John, and then back at him. “Good-night, Sherlock.”
And then they are alone.
John steps in front of him, and reaches up to loose Sherlock’s scarf. “I was serious. To bed.”
Sherlock stares down at the top of John’s head as he eases Sherlock’s coat from his shoulders. “Ssorry.”
“You’re a menace. Come on.” John drapes Sherlock’s coat and scarf over the arm of the chair by the lounge door, and then passes through into the foyer, and then the kitchen. “Come on!” He repeats from the hallway to Sherlock’s bedroom.
Sherlock follows quietly in his wake.
“Sit.” John orders when Sherlock enters his bedroom, and Sherlock does. Sits on the edge of the bed, and watches John go around the bed, hears him opening and closing drawers in the dresser behind him. He returns with a clean pair of pants and a t-shirt.
“I sleep naked,” Sherlock informs him.
“Not tonight. Now, change. I’ll be back.” John disappears to the kitchen, where Sherlock can hear him puttering about.
Sherlock struggles with his buttons for a moment, and then flops onto his back to stare up at the spinning ceiling. It’s embarrassing, this. He never does this. Last time he was this drunk was John’s stag do, and best not to think about the parallels there. He closes his eyes.
When he opens them again, John is staring down at him upside down. “You going to sleep in your clothes then?”
“Shoes off at least, though, yeah?” John moves around the bed, and gets to his knees between Sherlock’s legs. Sherlock forces himself to sit up. He stares down at John’s small, square hands deftly loosening the laces on his oxfords, fingers wrapping warm and strong about his ankles, easing the shoes from his feet. John rubs Sherlock’s right foot between both his hands, and gives it a squeeze before setting it back on the floor again, and getting to his feet.
“Up. You’re at least getting under the covers.”
Sherlock manages it, with a little help, and stands swaying, watching John turn down the covers on one side of the bed, fluff the pillow. He stands back and motions for Sherlock to get in when he does, and Sherlock looks at the empty bed with John standing beside it, slightly ruffled (the woman at the pub had kept touching his hair), clearly exhausted, a bit tan, and breathtakingly beautiful, and he cries.
“To bed.” John urges gently, so gently, so gently Sherlock hates it.
“No.” He sounds petulant. He feels it too. He suddenly wants John Watson out of his bedroom, out of his flat, out of his life, because he has been lying to himself these last few months, he realises. He doesn’t want John here, not with the way things are. He doesn’t want 221b Baker Street to be nothing more than rest stop John returns to on his journeys between women. He doesn’t want to play co-parent if Rosie is going to be snatched away from him and placed in the arms of whatever nameless woman du jour John lands on next. He doesn’t want to keep being so careful, so generous, so, so…
“You going to tell me what’s gotten into you tonight?” John sounds a little irritated, but not angry, not really. John hasn’t been really angry in a long time, and Sherlock thinks that’s good, that maybe that’s progress, but why should he care? Why should any of it be his responsibility? Why should he be John’s rock and foundation if someone else will be the one who actually gets to build a life and a future upon it?
John nods. “Okay. You angry at me?”
“That the truth?”
Sherlock doesn’t say anything, which he supposes is answer enough.
John sighs. “It was that woman? At the pub?”
Sherlock pushes past John and crawls into bed, turns his back and pulls the blankets up and over his shoulders.
Sherlock curls up tight.
The mattress sags behind him, as John sits down. There is a long stretch of silence, so long that Sherlock’s curiosity finally gets the better of him, and he peeks over his shoulder. John is staring down at his hands, picking at a hangnail in the corner of his thumb. He looks up and meets Sherlock’s eye.
“‘Married to my work’, that’s what you said. Thought you didn’t feel things that way.”
A rush of adrenaline floods Sherlock’s veins. He swallows dryly. “I don’t.” He mutters on instinct.
“Then what is this?” A muscle in John’s jaw jumps. His mouth is a straight line. His eyes look red.
“I don’t do that.” Sherlock attempts to explain. Everything is a blur. Nothing is easy. He doesn’t know, that’s the problem. He’s never known. All he knows is John, John, JOHN. All he knows is that when John is gone it aches so much he will do anything to stop the pain. All he knows is that of all the things he’s turned to to feel steady enough to keep on breathing, none of them have ever grounded him as firmly, made him feel quite as high, endangered his health, or filled him up quite as much as the man perched on the edge of the mattress beside him.
John’s adam’s apple bobs. “What? You don’t do what?”
Sherlock lifts a hand from beneath the covers and waves it about in an attempt to encompass all the nonsense John seems to think so necessary to his manhood. “All of it. Everything you do.”
John sniffs, and bites down on the corner of his cheek for a moment, before answering. “What? Flirting? Sex?” He sniffs again and stares down at his hands. “Love?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does, actually!” And now John does sound angry, his voice tight, his fists balled at his sides. Sherlock stares down at them, remembers the feeling of them slamming into flesh and bone, remembers feeling alive, and seen, and acknowledged, if only for a moment and for all the wrong reasons. He craves it for one brief moment, the feeling of John’s fists on his his face, the feeling of his shoes against his ribs, the rare and wonderfully intimate sensation of being murdered at the hand of an unwilling lover.
“You’re always leaving. It doesn’t.”
“You left me first!” John’s voice breaks.
John’s eyes spill over.
He lifts a hand to his face, to hide, just like he always does.
Sherlock watches the tears squeeze between John’s fingers and drip down on the legs of his trousers.
“I—I hate you so much.”
Sherlock’s heart stutters and stops.
“I hate you,” John repeats, voice broken and raw. “I loved you. I loved you so much. Do you have any fucking idea how much?!” His hand drops. “And you didn’t want me,” he whispers, small and lost.
“But, I did!” Sherlock blurts and sees the words hit hard. He sees the pain as they sink in, and he realises, for the first time, just how utterly, horrifically idiotic they have both been.
“I do.” Because it needs to be said. He sees now. Even if it’s too late. It needs to be said. John needs to hear it.
John has gone so pale his lips look grey. “You helped her plan our fucking wedding.” A strangled whisper, eyes full, fingers gripping white-knuckled to his thigh.
“I wanted you to be happy. I’d hurt you when I left. I saw that, I—I thought it was what you wanted.”
“I WANTED YOU!” John shouts, hands shaking, more tears leaking from the corners of his eyes. He looks like he’s coming undone. “I wanted you every minute of every day I thought you were lying six feet under the cold hard ground. I wanted to sleep there. I considered it sometimes, did you know that? Just—just stopping. Just finding a way to buy the plot next to you. Just stopping so I could be there, with you, so I could stop feeling the hollow place you left when you…” John wipes his face on the back of his sleeve. “I just wanted to be near you.”
“When I was dead. Yes. I believe that. It was easier when I was dead and not coming back.”
John’s head snaps up, like he wants to contradict, but whatever it is he sees in Sherlock’s eyes seems to stop him short. Another tear spills over and he looks away.
Sherlock feels considerably more sober and he’s glad. He sits up, reaches out, and lays a hand on John’s arm.
John stares down at it, sucks in a breath. “You want me?”
“Yes. From the beginning. Yes.”
John sniffs. “How?”
“However you want.”
John shakes his head. “No. I want to know how. I need to know…” He finally looks up. “I’ve spent the last seven years trying to figure it out. So now I’m asking. What do you want? What do you need?”
“Stay. Just stay.”
John stares at him for a long time. “What if you accepting ‘enough’ isn’t enough for me?”
Sherlock frowns with confusion.
“What if I tell you that you deserve more than crumbs.”
Sherlock swallows down the sudden tightness in his throat. “John, I…”
“Tell me.” It’s the barest of whispers.
“I don’t know.” Sherlock whispers back. “I—I’ve never had to consider it.”
John stares down at the floor. “Do you love me?”
“Yes.” He doesn’t have to think about that.
“I love you too,” John admits. “But you know what I mean, yeah?”
“Yes. You mean ‘in love’. A distinction which means little to me, but is clearly important to you. So yes, I am. I’m in love with you.”
John sucks in a trembling breath, and some of the colour returns to his cheeks. “Do you…” Sherlock is delighted to see John’s cheeks begin to flare crimson. “Want me? Like that? Do you do that?”
“Do you?” Because that is the real question, Sherlock thinks, the thing they have been dancing around since before he can remember, the thing John flirts with, but can’t commit to, the thing that thrills and terrifies Sherlock in equal measure.
He sees John consider it. His cheeks are so red, Sherlock thinks they must be hot to the touch. He’s never seen John blush before. It’s charming, he thinks, and if not for the fact that he is here witnessing it himself, not something he ever would have believed possible.
John’s eyes flit upwards, meet his from beneath long lashes. He jerks his chin in the affirmative, and then grins almost shyly, and looks away again.
Sherlock’s heart expands in his chest. “Then yes. I would like that. I would like to at least try.”
John nods, still staring down at his hands, but he is smiling and Sherlock remembers afresh just how besotted he had been when they had first met, when John was clearly enamoured himself, and trying constantly to feel Sherlock out, to test the waters. Sherlock regrets his lack of readiness, his panic, then. It’s not a mistake he intends to make twice.
He slips from beneath the covers, slides to his knees between John’s legs, and blinks up at him. They’re nearly face-to-face, with John perched on the sagging edge of the mattress, and Sherlock kneeling there, propping himself up with hands gentle on John’s thighs.
To his credit, John holds his gaze, even though his cheeks continue to flame, even though his eyes look full and slightly terrified, even though his hands tremble slightly against the mattress beside his thighs.
“Then if you don’t mind,” Sherlock murmurs, pitching his voice low, and warm, in a timbre that never fails to get a response. “I think I’d like to kiss you.”
John’s lips part with a small puff, as though he had been holding his breath, and had just remembered to release it. He looks anxious in all the ways a person can be, but he nods anyway, in true Watson fashion. In for a penny, in for a pound.
And so Sherlock takes John’s face in his hands, and gazes into eyes the colour of a stormy sea, watches them swim and spill over, waits until John’s lips stop trembling, until his hands stop shaking, until he lets out a long, slow breath, and then he kisses him.
It’s chaste, Sherlock imagines. He has no idea what he is doing, can only base it on instinct. He lets the warmth blooming in his chest, radiating outward, tingling across his skin like the the electricity of an early summer storm, guide him. And it feels right. It feels safe, and thrilling, and wonderful, and when John’s hands lift to tangle in his hair, when his lips part and invite Sherlock in with a small, desperate whimper, Sherlock wonders why either of them ever waited so long.