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The Low Road

Chapter Text

Nothing was quite right.

Even as the blankness of unconsciousness gave way to the vividness of dreaming, his mind filtered, sorted and concluded that something was wrong.

Maybe it was the sounds, or lack thereof. Maybe it was the smells that were somehow unfamiliarly familiar. Or maybe it was the weight across his supine positioned body that spoke of a bed with covers that his mind had no recollection of reaching. Maybe it was all or nothing of these, but by the time his conscious mind reassert itself, he knew for certain that something was not right.

Turning, shifting, stretching, he used the last moments of semi-consciousness to conclude that yes, he was in bed, but this was not his bed.

His eyes snapped opened.

Light flooded in and for a moment his brain screamed in protest, pain blazing bright across his brow, behind his eyes, before settling down into a steady thrum of discomfort. Dehydration, he realised, his mouth feeling tacky, his tongue heavy, even as he registered the first signs of needing to urinate.

He lay still.

The ceiling above his head was white and uneven before sloping away to exposed dark wood beams, slightly warped with age. It was a far cry from the plain stone and brick of his college, and further still from the wider urban township he had grown accustomed to.

This was definitely not his room, but also not somewhere he had ever been before. For a moment he considered the likelihood of his brother's interfering hand, but the simple yet warmly decorated room was a far cry from either the overblown Victoria extravagance his brother favoured, or the white clinical starkness he would have expected from a medical facility.

Anyway, Mycroft was busy utilising his unique meddling skills in Hong Kong on behalf of the Motherland. Even his reach did not stretch half way round the globe, at least not since Uncle Rudy had been taken ill.

Mummy and Daddy were also abroad, enjoying a cruise in the Caribbean. The absence of all authority figures had made this the perfect time for experimentation and discovery, free from the eyes of those who would protest and stop him.

Illegal drugs, it turned out, were surprisingly easy to get hold of among the nouveau riche and the lower landed gentry of his elite university. Cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, whatever he wanted, however he wanted it, and he wanted it, oh God he wanted it. Anything to break up the tedium; to release his mind; to take away the encompassing emptiness life inflicted upon him.

He had had a plan, and that plan had involved a week of uninterrupted cocaine solutions. The plan had not involved waking up in an unknown bed with no memory of how he had got there.

The last thing he remembered was prepping the solution, preparing his vein, and....

He tugged himself upright, the covers slipping down as he sought out his left forearm. The puncture mark burned an angry red against his otherwise pale skin. So he had injected, but this was not the come down from a cocaine high. This was... nothing. He remembered nothing. Everything was completely blank.

The creaking sound of movement below wrenched his attention back to his surroundings. He wasn't alone. Obviously. There was little chance he had managed to get himself into bed.

The noise was getting closer.

Throwing the covers completely off, he was relieved to realise he was still fully dressed, albeit missing his socks and boots. The air was surprisingly cool on his newly bared skin as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. His plan was to be up on his feet when the unknown person appeared, but a sudden bout of dizziness and faint nausea had him clenching tightly to the mattress edge even as a tap came on the door.

He didn't respond, just looked up warily as the door was pushed open.

Whoever he was expecting it wasn't who appeared. It wasn't one of his class or college acquaintances ready to spring some elaborate hazing event. It wasn't Mycroft, inexplicably called home from managing the empire by the siren of his baby brother's forays into mind altering drugs. Nor was it Uncle Rudy, risen from his sick bed, nor nurses in white confirming a section, nor Mummy or Daddy, tanned and fussing.

It was just a man of average height and build, of nondescript looks, and carrying a tray while being engulfed by a beige Aran jumper.

He was also vaguely familiar.

"Thought I'd heard you moving," the man said in a pleasant tone, offering a warm smile as he moved to rest the tray on the side table. "How are you feeling? Any dizziness, nausea? That's quite normal by the way."

Maybe it was the words, or the tone of voice, but something shifted in his mind as the kaleidoscope of mental images that formed part of his memory settled on a particular time and place.

He frowned because he was confused by the connections, but was certain he was right. "Doctor Watson?" he asked.

The resulting smile distracted him from the way his voice had cracked over the words. The smile was nothing if not absolutely genuine, broad and warm with a healthy dose of surprised pleasure.

"I wasn't sure you would remember me," the man said, turning away to bend over the tray. A moment later a tall glass of cold water was offered to him. "Here, this should help, but sip, don't gulp. It won't do any good if you bring it all up again."

The water was a balm for his dry mouth and he had finished half before it even dawned on him to be mistrustful of a beverage from a near stranger, even if that stranger was a doctor. Slowing his sips, he then lowered the glass, watching as the man in question perched carefully on the bed beside him.

"May I?" the man asked before motioning for his arm.

Momentarily unsure, he hesitated until cool fingers pressed expertly against his wrist directly over his radial artery.

"A little fast," the doctor said after a moment, "but nothing to be worried about. The water should help."

The water was helping. The pain in his head was starting to ease and the glass gave him something to grip onto, but that still left him with questions. The most pressing of which was-

“Where am I?”

The doctor raised his eyebrows and quirked his lips. “Can’t you deduce it?” he asked, his teasing tone tempered by the small, soft smile that inexplicably spoke of fondness and affection. It was a far cry from the scornful mockery he got when he revealed his 'trick' at university.

Looking away, he took a moment to take in everything he had previously glossed over. There was a barrage of previously ignored information already stored in his brain and he opened his mouth before he even really knew where to begin.

"The slanted, uneven ceiling and exposed old dark wooden beams says period property," he started. "The colour and warping pattern of the beams suggests oak, which says well-built and so likely initially expensive. The furniture is mahogany, in a Georgian style. From the wear and slight fading on one side I'd say original not mock. From the scratches I'd say used but not constantly. Fading on the wallpaper suggests pictures have been removed, some more recently than others. The room has been stripped of personal artefacts, but the rug on the floor shows that effort has been made to keep it comfortable. The sheets and duvet are clean but slightly faded from repeat washes so not new, but they match the curtains suggesting the bed has been slept in regularly so unlikely to just be a guest room.

"None of this, though, gives a clue as to location as period properties can be found all over. The fading of the wallpaper says south-facing. The shadows say early afternoon. It’s raining. There was no rain forecast for Cambridge, so either I’ve been out for a lot longer than I believe, or we’re not in Cambridge any…more….”

He trailed off as the doctor, who as he had been speaking had risen to his feet and moved across the room, tugged open the heavy curtains. Pale light flooded in, and although dampened by the greyness of the cloud cover and the light but steady rain, it did little to obscure the sight of the rugged sweeping landscape that was definitely not part of the Home Counties.

“Ceud mìle fàilte, Sherlock Holmes,” the doctor beamed. “Welcome to the Highlands.”

*

Nothing made any sense.

For a short while, Doctor Watson had been a part time GP at their doctors surgery. Polite and proficient, he had been liked well enough for the fifteen or so months he had been there. Then he had moved away and life in the village had continued as it always had.

That had been about four years ago.

There had been nothing in those fifteen months to suggest why he had now been abducted from his university and brought the best part of 500 miles north to the middle of nowhere. And, to all intents and purposes, the Scottish Highlands was the epitome of the middle of nowhere, at least for the British Isles.

The view from the window had revealed hills and heather, but nothing in the way of other buildings or people. Doctor Watson had likewise not offered anything tangible other than to say that there was tea downstairs and to come down when he was ready.

Tea? What did tea have anything to do with? Why was none of this making any sense at all?

It had to be the drugs. This was all part of some elaborate plan to get him away from the drugs. Mycroft, it had to be. Somehow. Probably a spy amongst his course mates. And he's pulled in the good doctor to oversee his rehabilitation.

Wrenching open the door, he ignored the closed door opposite and headed down the wooden stairs with a heavy foot.

"He's a meddling, interfering fat arse," he stated on reaching the bottom of the stairs.

It was open plan at the bottom, a large airy room that somehow managed to be both spacious and cosy. To the right was the living area, complete with sofa, armchairs and a sweeping view of the highlands. To the left there was a small kitchen area with table and chairs. Between them were bookshelves and a desk.

It was from the table that the doctor looked up from the newspaper spread before him. His hand clutched a mug containing the remains of a hot drink; his smile was one of amusement.

"Probably," the doctor agreed brightly, "but it depends to whom you are referring and why."

Sherlock slumped off the last step. "My brother," he clarified. "Mycroft."

Inexplicably the doctor's grin only grew. "I'll have to take your word for it," the doctor said. "Although I do recall that he was somewhat overweight. Your mother had hoped he would grow out of it. What's he done now?"

Sherlock frowned, the words throwing him off somewhat. "He put you up to this," he said.

He was met with further amusement.

"Why would he have done that?" the doctor asked.

"Because of the drugs." Obviously.

The doctor hummed slightly, sitting back as he cradled his mug. "Ah, yes, I can see why you would think that."

It had all gone strange again and Sherlock found himself off balance as everything once again ceased to make sense.

"He didn't hire you to abduct me?" he said slowly.

"Nope," the doctor said.

"Uncle Rudy then," he said.

"Nope."

"My parents-"

"No one hired me to bring you here."

He couldn't stop the questioning look, but the doctor failed to continue. It was almost as if he was taking great delight out of the situation.

"Kettle is on the stove if you would like a hot drink, although it may need reheating. Tea bags, sugar, and mugs are on the side. Or there is coffee if you would prefer. Milk is in the fridge."

The barrage of information almost distracted him from the questions at hand.

"Is this about the drugs?"

"No."

The weird thing was that the doctor actually appeared to be telling the truth. Mostly.

"Look,” the doctor continued, “I won't tell you the drugs aren’t an issue, but you're old enough to make your own decisions over what you do and don't put into your body. I won't lie, I find it sad that someone with such a brilliant mind as yourself would take such stupid risks with it, but I'm not here to stop you. I'm not that altruistic."

So if it wasn't the drugs, what was it?

"Then why am I here?" he asked.

"Because I want you to be."

"You kidnapped me."

"That's one way of looking at it."

"I'm your... prisoner?"

"I prefer guest."

"Which means you want something."

"Yes."

But what? Money? Leverage? Revenge? Nothing fitted.

"What? What? What do you want?"

"Can't you work it out?"

He shook his head in frustration.

The doctor's expression softened from amusement to something else completely, something almost predatory.

"You," the doctor said. "I want you."

*

The world shifted again, the jagged pieces leaping into the air, spinning around before falling back to create a new picture.

He stepped back.

"Me?" he mouthed.

The doctor stayed quiet, just watched him with a mild, calm expression.

"I don't-" he stuttered, even as his eyes darted around for possible exits. "I don't understand."

Again the doctor didn't respond.

"Why would you- What would you- I don't- You want-"

Me. Physically. Physically me? Me. Me? Sex? Was it sex? Was that what he was referring to? Was it sex with me?

Why? What? Why?

"Bathroom is the door through the kitchen to your left."

The soft words broke through the maelstrom of words pounding his head and his eyes shifted automatically to the door he had already made a note of. His weight shifted automatically, ready to run, to hide, to get away in any shape or form, but he forced himself to hesitate. Was it a trap? Was he missing something? Was there another meaning?

The doctor offered nothing more, just continued to sit calmly at the table, newspaper spread, mug in hand, just watching him.

Wrong, wrong, this was all wrong.

He could hear his breathing getting louder, his pulse getting harder and faster. The pressure in his head slid back into pain and his mouth felt dry despite the recent drink. The reminder that he still needed to urinate came back to the forefront of his mind.

He needed- he needed-

He went for the bathroom, shutting the door firmly behind him. Scrambling for the bolt lock, he breathed deeply as it slid into place, momentarily resting his head against the rough wood before pushing away to look around.

It was a bathroom - plain, simple and a bit old fashioned with a shower nozzle attached to the bath taps. A toilet was a toilet though, and the water from the sink was cool against his skin.

None of this made sense.

Why would- why would-

There was movement from the other side of the wall. Footsteps, running water and then a brief clunk of metal against metal. He waited. The footsteps retreated.

He was being left alone. There was only one way out of the room - the window was obviously too small to get through - but he was being left alone.

He breathed deeply.

Was he panicking? Why was he panicking?

He gripped the sink.

Alright. He was alright. He may have been drugged, kidnapped by an old vague acquaintance and brought to the middle of nowhere by someone who apparently wanted him in some way that may or may not be sexual in nature, but so far he was fine. The doctor had not moved to touch him, other than to check his pulse, and had in fact remained rather nonchalant about the whole thing.

Wrong. Wrong. All so very wrong.

The high pitched whistle brought him back to the present. It was an old sound, one from his childhood. Familiar. Almost comforting, like the smell of honey and old books. A stove top kettle rather than an electric one then, almost quaint.

Footsteps again, then further clunking, the tinkling of water, the tapping of a spoon.

Just a hot drink. Perfectly normal.

(Nothing here was normal).

Retreating footsteps and then quiet again.

He breathed out. Then breathed in again.

He couldn't stay here forever. (Why not?) Which meant going back out there. Maybe he had mistaken the doctor's meaning. Just because the other man said he wanted him didn’t necessarily mean he meant sexually. (What else could he mean?) .

He slowly slid back the door bolt.

Doctor Watson was back in his seat, facing towards him, the table and newspaper between them. A freshly made mug of tea sat steaming on the table, the opposite end from the doctor.

"Thought you could do with something hot and sweet," the doctor said.

He still held his own mug, although he hadn't refilled it.

"I haven't done anything to it," he added after a moment. "If that's what you're worried about."

They stared at each other.

"Okay, I probably deserve that," the doctor said ruefully. Reaching over, he picked up the drink and pointedly took a sip. He grimaced slightly as he swallowed. "Sorry," he apologised, putting the drink back. "Probably not a helpful reaction. It's the sugar. Never could get used to sugar in tea. I can make you another if you'd prefer. Or you can make one yourself."

Neither of them moved.

They each watched the other.

In the end it was Sherlock who broke the silence. "You drugged me," he said.

"Yes."

There was no apology on the doctor's face, and his confession was just a statement of fact absent of ethics or morality. It was... odd. Normal people didn't act like this. At least not the normal people he had come across.

"To be fair," the doctor finally added with what was undoubtedly going to be the justification or explanation, "you drugged yourself." The doctor nodded towards him, towards his arm. "I just switched the bags. But in essence, yes, I drugged you."

He automatically reached for his forearm, pressing his thumb against the puncture mark. Had it really been that simple?

"How-?" he frowned.

The doctor offered a small shrug. "A quick sleight of hand. A little misdirection. Just a common trick."

It sounded so simple when explained.

"Why?"

"I didn't think you would come willingly."

That was true. It was always easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.

He swallowed. His mouth felt dry again.

“You want me,” he repeated slowly.

“Yes.”

Sherlock blinked. "Is this… do you want… is this a sexual thing?"

“Yes.”

“You… you want to… have sex with me?”

"Hmm, yes. Very much so." The doctor's gaze didn't falter.

"Why?"

"Because I like you. Because I find you attractive. Because you're brilliant."

He frowned.

The doctor tipped his head as if considering something. "Is it really that hard to believe?" he asked.

Of course it bloody well was. While he knew he wasn't unattractive, he was also far from conventionally handsome. The very small number of people who had ever shown an interest in him physically had all retreated quickly the moment he opened his mouth. Yet here he was with someone who called him brilliant and wanted him so much they had resorted to kidnapping.

"What if I don't want-" He shook his head, unwilling to finish that thought. "You can't honestly think you're going to get away with this?"

The doctor said nothing.

"They're going to realise I'm gone and they'll come after me."

Again there was no reaction.

"My brother..." he started, was in Hong Kong. His uncle was indisposed. His parents were in the Caribbean. His lectures had been cancelled for a week for reasons he hadn’t bothered to pay attention to. He had no friends to speak off. The people in his halls would hardly miss him. And the only professor that really mattered was on sabbatical until the next term.

For a moment it became brilliantly clear just how well this had been orchestrated. He was alone, in the middle of nowhere, with an obviously clever man who could do whatever he wanted to him, and no one would find out until it was far too late.

"You're going to rape me."

And then kill him. Because that's how these things went.

The doctor shook his head, but that didn't matter.

Liar.

"You're going to rape and then kill me."

His legs hit the cupboard behind him.

"No."

Kidnapper. Abductor.

There had to be something here. Something he could use.

"Sherlock, calm down."

Psychopath.

"Rape me and kill me," he repeated.

"No. No."

Something about the word cut through the panic around him.

"Sherlock, listen to me. I swear I am not going to rape you."

The doctor was on his feet now, but hadn't made a move to get closer to him.

"I promise you that," the doctor continued. "I'm not going to lie, I want us to be sexually intimate, but I'm not going to force you. Understand? I'm not going to rape you. I'm not even going to touch you without your permission. Okay? And I'm certainly not going to kill you. Do you understand?"

He heard the words, he stared at the earnest, open face, he ran through everything he knew about this man and then slowly he nodded.

The doctor let out a deep breath. "Good. Now, why don't you...."

Sherlock bolted for the door.

*

The rain hit his face the same moment the realisation that the door actually was unlocked struck him. He honestly hadn't been expecting that, his body working more on instinct than cognitive reasoning. He had gone for the door because he had needed to try. He just never thought he would make it.

Outside and he was suddenly faced with a whole new set of issues. It was cold, it was wet, he was isolated in the middle of the Scottish Highlands in November, and he had neither a coat nor shoes on.

Although not particularly heavy, the rain was constant and insistent, soaking through his clothing and dripping down his face within moments. What had been a beautiful scenic view less than an hour before was now a monstrous wilderness, stretching outwards from him and ending in a haze of poor light. Behind the clouds the sun was already nearer the horizon than its zenith, stealing away the last of the natural light.

All in all, he was unlikely to get very far on foot.

He automatically headed for the jeep parked a few feet from him. He had no expectations for it to be anything but locked, so was surprised when that too opened under his hands. There were no keys though.

Diving in, he slammed the door behind him, breathing deeply as he locked both the driver and passenger doors. It was a stupid sense of false security, but it was something, and it gave him time. Time for what, exactly? He had many skills, but hot-wiring a year old jeep was not one of them. And disappearing into the gorse and heather on foot was definitely not an option.

He would not give into despair though. There was a man in that house who had kidnapped him and wanted sex. Staying was not an option.

If the door was unlocked there might be a spare set of keys in the vehicle itself.

He searched and he searched again; glove compartment, dashboard, visor, door compartments, under the seats, under the mats. There was no spare set of keys.

He jumped at the sound of tapping from the passenger window.

The rain ran through the doctor's hair and across the coat he had obviously taken the time to put on. For a dangerous kidnapper and potential rapist he looked remarkably innocent, with his mild expression and nonchalant attitude. Just another everyday man in his late thirties, early forties, a teacher, or vicar... or your doctor.

He motioned for the window to be unwound, then waited patiently, seemingly mindless of how wet he was getting.

Keeping an eye on him, Sherlock slowly leaned over, turning the window handle through one rotation to create a small gap at the top.

"Here," the doctor said, holding up what appeared to be the jeep keys. "You might want these."

Carefully, almost as if dealing with a spooked animal, the doctor reached up to push the keys through the slit in the window. They dropped with a clang.

"You should know, though," he continued, "the tank is sort of empty."

And there was the catch.

"When you're done here, come back in and we'll talk. Just talk. Alright?"

The doctor gave a small nod as he finished and patted his hand against the door.

"Oh, and in case it helps, I could have done anything to you while you were unconscious, but I didn't because that's not who I am. I'm a lot of things, some of them a bit not good, but I'm not that person. Understand?"

He stared at the man but made no other sign of comprehension.

Breathing out, the doctor gave him one last look over before turning back to the house, hands in packet as he went. The house door closed behind him.

Small drops of rain made their way through the gap in the window, some trickling down the inside of the glass. Sherlock barely registered them as he sat, the steering wheel gripped tightly in his hand.

It was true, his mind told him, anything could have been done to him while he was unconscious. But it hadn't, had it. He had awoken in a comfortable bed, with his clothes - other than his shoes and socks - still on. He could have quite easily have awoken to find himself handcuffed, or bound to the bed, or worse, but he hadn't. He had been given space, given a drink, been treated more like a guest than a captive, but there was no guarantee that that would continue. A man who not only considered abducting a near stranger but also carried it through could not be completely sane. Except, to Sherlock's rational mind he could understand the thought process the doctor must have gone through. In a twisted way it made a strange amount of sense.

Leaning over, he gathered the keys from where they had fallen onto the passenger seat. They were nothing special, just a key and a Gaelic knot keyring.

He slipped the key into the ignition. Somehow he wasn't surprised when the engine failed to turn over properly. The red blinking light on the dashboard told him that in one thing at least the doctor hadn't been lying.

The jeep was out of petrol.

He took out the key.

There was a certain madness about going back into the house, like walking calmly to your own execution. Yet that was exactly what he was going to do, and both he and the doctor knew it. He was being manipulated, he knew that too, but he couldn't see that he had any other choice.

It was still raining when he slipped out of the car. The gravel against his bare feet was a reminder of just how cold he was. And how vulnerable. His clothes were saturated; his shirt clinging limply to his skin, his jeans were already moving into the realm of itchy and uncomfortable. He was also tired and hungry, and he was just stalling the inevitable.

The doctor's coat hung still dripping from the back of one of the kitchen chairs. The doctor himself was crouched by the open fireplace in the lounge area, frowning critically at the small flame he was cultivating in the grid.

"Sorry," he said rising to his feet. "Been a while since I've tried to light one of these. Took longer than I expected. Give it a few minutes though and I'm sure it will go some way to warming you up."

The doctor had taken off his shoes and socks as well. No doubt because they were wet. It did draw some attention to his pale feet though, so innocent in appearance, much like the Aran jumper that almost swamped him.

The man was an abductor.

"I slung a towel on the radiator over there. Should be a little warm by now. You should change out of those wet things sooner rather than later. There's a bag of your stuff by the sofa there. I just grabbed a selection of your things, so apologies if they don't match. There are more clothes in the wardrobe upstairs though. You're welcome to help yourself."

Spotting the bag, Sherlock silently went to grab it, snagging the towel as he went. This wasn't giving in. This was just a sensible retreat to allow for recovery and regrouping.

He took the stairs two at a time.

It was noticeably cooler upstairs, the open fire downstairs having already made some difference to the lower floor, but the towel in his hand was warm enough to make stripping not as arduous as it might have been.

His bag had been packed with military-like neatness and it wasn't hard to pull out a new shirt and pair of slacks. There were socks and pants also in the bag, and he tried not think about the doctor going through his underwear drawer or what he might have done to his sock index. He added a jumper to his new, dry clothing and felt himself warm further.

There was nowhere for him to put his wet things though, so it was with some reluctance that he slowly made his way back down the stairs, towards the main heat source.

The fire was considerably larger now, adding brightness as well as warmth to the room. The doctor was once more crouched beside it, carefully feeding additional logs, seemingly mindless of the heat it was throwing off.

"Is it okay to hang up my wet things?" he asked when it became clear that his presence hadn't been noticed.

"Oh, of course," the doctor responded, his voice trailing off before he added, "make yourself at home."

The wooden clothes airer was the obvious choice and carefully pulling it out, he shook his clothing out before hanging them onto it. Then he added the towel he had borrowed.

Turning, he found the doctor now watching him, a somewhat distant expression on his face. It was the first time he had seen the doctor with such a look and it was somehow sad.

He was still an abductor though, Sherlock reminded himself.

"You're bound to be hungry," the doctor said after a moment. "There's plenty to eat in the kitchen, but I'm guessing you'd prefer to talk first."

He rose to his feet and took a seat in the armchair closest to him. That left the empty armchair closet to Sherlock, or the sofa.

Sherlock took the second armchair.

They sat in silence for a moment, each watching the other.

"One week," the doctor finally said, drumming his fingers across the armrest of the chair. "That's all I ask for. You stay here with me for one week. We interact, get to know each other, then at the end of the week you decide the final outcome. Either we have sex, or we don't. Either way the choice is yours. I will try to persuade you, of course, but I'm not going to force you, and I'm certainly not going to force myself upon you." He grimaced at that thought. "Whatever your choice, though, after that you can leave, and I swear I won't come after you. Just seven days, that's all I ask."

It was not what Sherlock had been expecting.

"Seven days?" he asked.

The doctor nodded. "Today is Friday, right? Let's say that by this time next Friday you will have made up your mind. Then whatever your decision, next Saturday morning, you will be on your way out of here, back to Cambridge, plenty of time before your lectures resume on the Monday."

"You'll let me leave?" Sherlock asked carefully.

"Of course."

The doctor didn't appear to be lying.

"I could go straight to the police," he pointed out. "I could have you arrested."

"Yes."

He narrowed his eyes. "You're not concerned?"

"No."

"Why?"

The doctor seemed to consider this. "I knew the risks," he said, "and I decided to do this anyway. I won't run from the consequences."

"I get to choose whether we-"

"Yes."

There was another long pause, the doctor staring at the fire, his fingers tapping without rhythm.

"I know you have no reason to trust me," he said finally, lifting his head so their eyes met again. "I haven't exactly given you reason to, but this is the truth. I will not purposely harm you, I will not touch you without your permission, and I will provide you with everything you need to leave this place the morning of the eighth day from now. All I ask that you give me a chance."

An abductor asking for a chance?

He considered the proposal.

"Seven days and I decide?"

"Yes."

"And then you'll let me go?"

"Yes."

"And I'll be able to say no without consequence or retaliation?"

"Yes."

He studied the doctor's body language. There were several tell-tell signs that a person was lying, but the doctor was not showing any of them; confusion, guilt, hope, sadness and a hint of desperation, but not deception. He honestly appeared to believe what he was saying.

Seven days bought him time. Even a day would surely put him in a better position to escape or to defend himself than he was in right now. A lot can be planned within seven days. Considering everything, was he really going to get a better deal than that?

"Okay," he said after a moment.

The doctor's expression lit up with a mixture of surprise and hope. What would have happened if he had said no?

"You'll do it?"

He gave a brief nod.

"Thank you," the doctor said, his face crinkling into another genuine smile. "Thank you."

*

Seven days, five possible outcomes.

Lying still, he stared up at the same ceiling he had awoken to a number of hours earlier. Decision made, word given, the hours that followed had been conducted with quiet restraint, the doctor leaving him alone other than showing him around the kitchen and then making food for them both. Sherlock had not bothered to hide his scrutiny of the doctor's cooking - trust was something that had to be earned and food was too easily poisoned - but the doctor had borne it with little more than a knowing glance and a rueful smile.

Initial observations had showed the doctor to be proficient with a knife and a more than adequate cook.

It transpired that the doctor had liberated more than just clothing from his uni room. A selection of his course books had been brought also, complete with some of his notes and journals. Non course books were also among the assortment, including the two books on forensic science he had just taken from the library.

His violin, however, was noticeably absent.

Of course he was to make himself at home and so could make use of anything around, including the bookshelves, but he had declined to do so as of yet - there was plenty of time for that, seven days in fact.

He had, however, availed himself of the newspaper the doctor had been reading, minus the sports pages which had been used as kindling for the fire. The date matched what he assumed to be correct and according to the receipt he found on the floor under the table, the paper had been bought at 07:27 hours that morning from a service station near Stirling. While the confirmation of Stirling offered no real information - they were in the Highlands, Stirling was pretty much the gateway - the time suggested that the doctor had driven almost nonstop through the night. There was no knowing, though, how far, in both time and distant, they now were from Stirling.

The doctor had busied himself around the room, first with the cooking, then with the clearing and tidying. Logs were added to the fire, a puzzle book picked up and later put down, a novel plucked from the shelves. The hours ticked by in relative quiet, until Sherlock made his excuses.

It was only then that he realised that he had simply presumed that the bedroom he had awoken in would be his.

"Good night," the doctor had murmured offering a small smile. "There are extra sheets and blankets in the wardrobe if you find yourself in need. I'll see you tomorrow."

That had seemed to confirm it, and he was a few steps up the stairs before he heard the doctor's voice again.

"There's a bolt, on the inside of the door, should you find it helpful."

He hadn't responded to that, just continued up the stairs. Closing the door behind him, he found the bolt and slid it home.

Now in bed, waiting for sleep, he turned over everything he knew and everything he thought he knew.

Five possible outcomes; the doctor lets him go with or without sex; the doctor doesn't let him go, with or without sex; he escapes, negating the issues of sex and whether or not the doctor would let him go

Question one, was the doctor likely to let him go in seven days’ time?

He rolled over to his side.

Second question, was escape even viable?

Tomorrow, he decided, he would observe and deduce.

Tomorrow he would decide.

Chapter Text

The new day brought grey skies and drizzle. The view from the bedroom window remained no less impressive in nature and grandeur, but the weather continued to make it imposing and virtually inaccessible. Even if the rain cleared, the ground would still be damp underfoot, limiting movement and speed.

The landscape created its own prison.

Resting his hand against the door, Sherlock slid out the bolt and paused. Once again there was movement downstairs which told him that he was not the only person up and about. The bathroom, however, was downstairs, and there was only so long that he could deny his physical needs.

Opening the door, he noted the closed door opposite before stepped out onto the staircase and making his way down at a steady pace he hoped would seem neither hesitant nor fearful.

At the bottom, he stopped to find that the new day had brought unexpected changes in the form of a new selection of cardboard boxes that had previously not been there. Dressed and obviously breakfasted, the doctor was standing by one of the opened boxes, frowning as he studied the books he had obviously just removed from it. Other books lay scattered on the desk and there were gaps on the shelves beside him. He had evidently been up for a while.

"Morning," the doctor greeted, half turning to offer him a smile. "There's some hot water if you want a shower. Tea and coffee are on the side. Help yourself to whatever you want for breakfast. There's cereal, bread, eggs in the fridge if you're feeling adventurous. Fruit if you would prefer."

Sherlock nodded in acknowledgement, before making his way over to where he had hung up his clothing and the towel the evening before. They were exactly as he had left them. That was… good.

He closed and locked the bathroom door firmly behind him.

Afterwards, he opted to stick to coffee and toast for breakfast. The unopened homemade honey had been a welcome surprise and he had helped himself but only after confirming to his satisfaction that it was indeed only honey.

The hunt through the kitchen allowed him to take close note of what was and wasn't there. The cupboards revealed tins, packets, crackers, biscuits, crisps, enough supplies for two for a fortnight, possibly longer, all with long best before dates. Several cartons of UHT milk pointed to the expectation that the fresh milk would not last the week and might not be replaced. Similarly, the freezer contained a couple of bags of frozen vegetables ready to supplement the fresh in the fridge.

It all added up to two obvious conclusions.

One, the doctor wasn't prepared for an extensive length stay - two points towards the likelihood of being allowed to leave in seven days, one point towards the likelihood of being murdered instead.

And two-

"This isn't your main residence."

He threw the statement towards the doctor without warning to see how he would react. True emotions tended to be shown when someone was caught off guard, and if he was to predict with any sort of accuracy how this was all going to end, he needed to know who the doctor really was under the layers of beige coloured mildness. It was time to prove that the doctor didn’t hold all the cards in this game.

The answering slight hum was a little disconcerting though, as was the small smile that suggested the doctor found the statement more amusing than startling.

"What gave it away?" the doctor simply asked, as if he was actually curious as to the answer and not at all concerned by the deduction.

Sherlock didn't reply and the doctor didn’t ask again, but neither did he offer any further information.

Eyes narrowing, Sherlock returned to the kitchen to wash up his plate and mug.

The kitchen was clearly period, in keeping with the general feel of the property. There were no modern convenience devices. No microwave, no toaster, no electric kettle, the fridge and freezer were clean but clearly dated, the sink and oven likewise.

Moving back into the main room, Sherlock looked round with an eye to see what wasn't in that room, as well as what was.

There was no television, no VCR, no CD player or tape deck. There was a record player and a much newer small black radio, but no other electrical or entertainment devices. Most significantly, there was no telephone.

Then again, they were in the middle of nowhere, to what would a telephone be connected? The same issue with a television he supposed, but a television connected to a VCR would still allow for the watching of purchased films or programmes.

There were no videos.

"If you want an excuse for a closer look, you could unpack that box, if you like."

The box in question held an assortment of records. Some were reasonably new, some considerably older, a couple were even still in their wrapping. Queen's Greatest Hits 1 and 2. Nigel Kennedy playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Soundtrack from some movie called Braveheart.

The records lined up in the cupboard were much the same. Well-known pop from the sixties like The Beatles and the Beach Boys joined the classical likes of Bach, Paganini and Mendelssohn. Gaelic music stood next to Vera Lynn and Glen Miller. Jazz and swing slid into Motown. Although all clearly sorted by genre and then date, the tastes were surprisingly varied, and the rhyme and reason were harder to determine.

Picking the new ones out of the box, he sorted them by genre as best he could. The likes of Queen and the Bee Gees went into one pile, classical music into another, the Braveheart soundtrack into one of its own.

"You can put something on, if you want."

He glanced up to see the doctor looking over at him.

He shrugged in acknowledged but figured it would at least break up the quiet. He pondered for a moment, hand drifting across the classical section, before he found himself pulling out one from the new pop selection. It wasn't one he recognised - unsurprising since his popular music knowledge was very limited - but he was curious as to the type of music the doctor listened to. This one in particular showed signs of repeated use.

He almost regretted the choice the moment the bass started on the opening track and the doctor raised an eyebrow at the choice.

Well, he thought with a hidden sigh as the singing started, it was certainly catchy and they were in Scotland after all.

When I wake up, well I know I'm gonna be,
I'm gonna be the man who wakes up next you.
When I go out, yeah I know I'm gonna be,
I'm gonna be the man who goes along with you

"Wouldn't have picked you for a Proclaimers fan," the doctor said with a wide smile.

If I get drunk, well I know I'm gonna be,
I'm gonna be the man who gets drunk next to you.
And if I haver, yeah I know I'm gonna be,
I'm gonna be the man who's havering to you

He shrugged again, reluctant to admit that in truth he had no idea who they were. "They seemed as good a choice as any."

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

The doctor mercifully dropped the subject.

The records didn't take too long to finish sorting after that, even with him meticulously going through both the new additions and the original collection searching for clues about the owner.

He was of the belief that a person's book and music collection could tell you a lot about them. This collection was diverse and confusing; recordings of all fourteen Gilbert and Sullivan collaborations owned by the same person who knew and appreciated the lesser known works by Paganini?

Closing the cupboard behind him, he made his way over to the bookshelves. He didn't bother disguising his interest in what was there and the doctor said nothing, offering only a small smile.

The doctor, it seemed, had been busy. Three boxes and two bags lay open around him, and gaps on the shelves spoke of works being removed as well as added.

Floor to ceiling, the shelves held a collection a small library would have been proud of; fiction and non-fiction; plays, poetry, novels; essays and text books; what looked to be an early publication of Origin of the Species; a first edition (and also two later editions) of Gray's Anatomy; several publications by Stephen Hawkins.

There were even a surprising number of texts that weren't in English, from their covers all clearly having been read, so not there solely for ornamental purposes; Grimm's Fairy Tales in the original German; Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo in the original French; Don Quixote in the original Spanish; the works of Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes and Euripides in Greek; Seneca and Virgil in Latin; One Thousand and One Nights in Arabic.

"Do you know many languages?" he asked in an offhand manner.

"A few," the doctor replied absently.

Sherlock hid a small smile as he turned back to the shelves. He wondered how long it would take the doctor to realise that the question had been asked in German and that he had responded in kind. The doctor was a man of surprises it seemed.

He ran his finger across some of the tomes; Elizabethan and Jacobean classics; Shakespeare, Marlowe, Kyd, Spencer, Sidney, Jonson, Webster, and more; poetry by John Donne; various works by John Milton. Then more poetry. Actually there was a lot of poetry. All the Romantics, but also a completely separate section for Scottish poetry; Gaelic, low scots, English, far more than just Robert Burns.

"Have you read all of these?"

"Most of them," the doctor admitted. "Or tried to, at least."

There was also a surprisingly large selection of rather obscure gothic stories; Thalaba the Destroyer, The Bride of the Isles, Le Chevalier Tenebre.

It was… surprising.

A stack of newer books lay on the shelf obviously ready to be added to the gothic section.

Salem's Lot, The Silver Kiss, Interview with the Vampire.

He cleared his throat, shooting the doctor a raised eyebrow as if to say, you, really?

The doctor merely answered with a shrug.

There were other books waiting to be shelved as well. The Spy Who Loved Me, Nobody Lives Forever, Goldeneye. Cheap but popular thrillers, he concluded; not exactly literary.

"If you're done critiquing my book collection," the doctor said with a mild hint of amusement, "there's a box of games behind you which need storing. Cupboard under the stairs. Move stuff around, but there should be enough room."

Turning, he spotted both the box and the cupboard. Inside the first he found a curious array of board games, some that he recognised from his own childhood, some that he didn't; Jenga, Uno, Scattergories, Rummikub, Othello, Cathedral, Escape from Atlantis.

Frowning slightly, he crossed to the cupboard itself. Something was nagging at him, something about the games, something his conscious mind couldn't quite pull together.

For a cupboard under the stairs it was considerably well organised. The left was taken up with coats and other outdoor wear, while the shelves to the right were stacked high with well used games. Old classics such as chess and draughts sat with newer classics: Monopoly, Cludeo, Battleships, Ludo, Risk, Coppit, Operation, Sorry!, and more. Boxes with bent corners and dented sides. Some boxes mended with sellotape, held closed with discoloured string. Well used. Well loved. Well played games.

His brain clicked and suddenly the deductions rushed in quicker than he could consciously process, but they all pointed to the same thing with an obviousness that he couldn't believe he had previously missed; the wide eclectic taste in records and books, the alterations and missing pictures from the bedroom, the sheer number of two player games. The fact he was here in the first place.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

He spun round to look at the doctor himself. There, ring on his right hand; two bands interwoven in a Gaelic pattern; ring finger but not a sovereign ring; no other jewellery; the ring cleaned and cared for; sentiment. There were multiple possible reasons for wearing that ring, on that finger, on that hand, but only one obvious one when put with everything else.

A flash of a memory; Mrs Fenchurch talking to Mummy. "Tragic really, to be a widower so young."

So obvious!

"Sherlock? Something the matter?"

A dozen questions all clambering around his mind fighting to escape; where to start, what to say? Who was he? What happened to him? Do I remind you of him?

In the end it was four words that slipped out in an almost strangled tone.

"What was his name?"

The doctor froze, the first true reaction he had witnessed from him so far, and all the confirmation he needed to know that he was right.

"Who?" the doctor started to ask but then stopped, looked towards the ceiling as he sucked in a breath and then shook his head. "Sorry," he said after a moment, "I should have thought-". He stopped again for a moment, an odd, almost pained expression on his face. "Harry," he said finally, his voice quiet. "His name was Harry. Sorry. Excuse me." With that the doctor put down the books he was holding and walked across the room to the front door, then through it and outside, the door closing surprisingly softly behind him.

Harry.

The doctor had a past. Of course he did. You don't just kidnap a near stranger for sex for no reason, especially when the near stranger was an awkward, unpopular misfit more acquainted with being called a freak than being complimented on well, anything.

(Because I like you. Because I find you attractive. Because you're brilliant.)

Harry was dead then. Probably. At bare minimum he was long gone, but the most likely possibility was that he was dead. Sentiment. The doctor had described himself as a widower when he had moved to their village - although the true gender of his partner had obviously not been known. Mrs Fenchurch, for one, would not have been nearly as sympathetic towards the young doctor had she known that his lost love was a man not a woman.

(Disgusting. Perverted. Unnatural.)

(Gay. Queer. Poofter.)

(Bum bandit. Pillow biter. Sodomite.)

(Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!)

Ring on the right ring finger. Widower.

(Or homosexual. Sometimes homosexual, possibly, he thinks. Mainly widower.)

You don't keep a ring and call yourself a widower if your partner just left you. Sentiment. You do move to a new area, though, start a new life, remove pictures from the wall if you find the memories associated with them too painful to contend with.

This was their place, their getaway, where they could live and be lovers without fear or condemnation.

The tins all had long best before dates because the cupboards had been stripped bare at least four years previous, before the doctor had moved to their area. All the tins that had been there before that had already been removed.

Obvious.

The doctor was trying to recreate what he had lost. He had returned to the old house and had kidnapped someone who was probably very similar to his lost love.

It wasn't about him – Sherlock – after all. It wasn't him the doctor really wanted. It was about the doctor. About Harry. About what had been. He had just been caught up in someone else's story. Here, no doubt, because of his uncanny resemblance to someone dead and gone. The doctor could have chosen to kidnap anyone who matched the right criteria. Being here didn’t mean he was special.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

(Of course it wasn't about him. Why would it be about him?)

He looked up as the door reopened. The doctor was quiet when he re-entered, his face drawn. In a way he looked older, the tired lines ringing his eyes and mouth suddenly seeming deeper and more pronounced.

"Sorry," he said softly. "I've spent so long pretending that Harry was my brother that your question rather caught me off guard. Realistically, I knew you would work it out, I just thought I would be more ready."

He slowly crossed the room, pausing to poke the fire and add another log, before making his way to the sofa. He chose the far end to sit down on.

"Come, sit," he said. "I'm sure you have questions."

Sherlock paused to consider for a moment, then carefully crossed the room to sit at the other end of the sofa.

The doctor folded his hands in his lap. "Should I talk, or would you prefer to ask questions? Or maybe you can share what you've deduced and we can go from there?"

Sherlock didn't initially respond but the doctor waited patiently nonetheless.

"Harry was your lover," he said slowly, deciding to go with the third option. "More than a lover in fact, a husband in all but name. He gave you that ring. Symbolic. Two metals entwined. Probably meant to symbolise the two of you. He's gone now though, but you kept and cherish the ring, so most probably dead then. You call yourself a widower and avoid questions about your past, slipping a non-existent wife into the lover's role and your lover into a brother's because society isn't so accepting of homosexual relationships.

"You made your home here, away from prying eyes and judgemental minds. You were happy with your joint record and book collections, and your two player board games. Then he died and you couldn't bear to be here alone, even after you removed the pictures from the walls and got rid of his stuff. So you moved down south. Found work again as a GP. Tried to settle, but couldn't. So you moved again. And again. And again. Until finally you've come back to the last place you truly called home."

The doctor was silent, his fingers absently twisting the ring while he stared blankly towards the floor.

"I loved him," the doctor said finally. "More than you would believe. More than anything in this world. He was my rock. My North Star. My better in every way. He was an artist with the brain of a mathematician. Or a mathematician with the eye of an artist. He was brilliant in so many ways and when I lost him, it was as if I lost the best part of myself."

The doctor stopped, hand clenching tightly in his lap.

"Sorry," he said after that moment. "You're the first person I've spoken honestly about him to in a long time. A very long time."

The doctor lapsed into silence, eyes barely focused, fixed on nothing in the middle distance.

"What happened to him?" he asked once it became clear the doctor had run out of words.

"He died," the doctor replied after a moment. "There... was an accident. He was injured… and I couldn't save him. So he died in my arms and there was... nothing I could do."

It was kind of tragic.

In truth, Sherlock didn't know how to respond. Emotions were not things he really understood. Comfort even less so. Compounding that was the fact the doctor was practically a stranger. A stranger who had kidnapped him for sex complicated it even more.

Was he the replacement for Harry?

"Lunch," the doctor suddenly said, seemingly from nowhere as he rose to his feet. "Any objection to tomato soup and sandwiches?"

Was it really already lunch time? A quick glance at the clock said that it was and more. He must have lost track of the time with all the sorting.

He confirmed that soup was fine with him and let the doctor go.

There were so many unanswered questions though. What had the doctor meant by 'there was an accident’? What had Harry been like? What had he looked like? What sort of mathematics? What sort of art? When did he die? Whose were the Comic Operas?

What was it about him that reminded the doctor of his lost love?

Rising to his feet, he went back to the cupboard. No television or VCR, but plenty of games and books to while away the long winter evenings by an open fire in the company of a loved one. It was almost... comforting.

He ran his fingers over the thistle carving on the first of the wooden boxes. What would he find if he opened the box? A hand crafted chest set? A well-worn set of dominoes? Multiple packs of cards in various states of decay?

And what about that box? And that box? And that one?

What secrets would he find if he opened them? What memories?

Turning away, he reached for the box of new games and wordless started to add them to the cupboard.

*

"You're not a replacement for Harry."

Neither of them had said much over lunch. It was perhaps the doctor's greatest attribute that he did not feel the need to fill every silent second. The memories of a shared life were obviously still very near the surface for the doctor, but he neither asked for a distraction from them, nor chose to inflict them on his companion by sharing.

Post meal, the doctor had returned to his shelving, until finally there was nothing more to be done. That was when Sherlock had suggested perhaps a game of something.

The doctor had hesitated at first, his expression searching, before agreeing, leaving the choice of both game and music while they played up to Sherlock.

Michael Rabin on violin was a straightforward choice. Generationally he was without equal and even with the wide musical selection choice on offer, there was no match to his technical brilliant. Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy was therefore the obvious place to start.

The doctor had offered a small smile in acknowledgement at the Scottish link and they had settled down for the first game.

It was only after the Scottish Fantasy had been followed by Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto that the doctor had broken the silence.

You're not a replacement for Harry.

It was Sherlock's go. He flicked his eyes up from the game in acknowledgement, but returned quickly to calculating the most likely next moves. The doctor had been watching him for a while, a warm, fond expression on his face, one that was almost more disconcerting to Sherlock than if it had simply been overtly sexual. He wasn't used to people being fond of him. Tolerating him, mocking him, even needling him, but not liking him. Certainly not someone outside the family. It was almost... nice.

"I bet it crossed your mind," the doctor continued, his head tilting slightly to the side. "Did I choose you because you remind me of him?"

The question just hung there like a disliked, uninvited guest. Sherlock tried not to shift in his seat, aware that any response to the question would also be seen as an acknowledgement that the thought had crossed his mind.

It had done more than just cross him mind, to be honest.

"I'm not looking for a replacement for Harry," the doctor said finally, his voice pitched softly. "It's not him I see when I look at you."

Sherlock placed his piece. If nothing else it meant the doctor had to break from his confession to respond to the move.

The doctor took his turn.

Sherlock concentrated on the game’s development.

"Not going to lie," the doctor continued after another moment of quiet, "you are quite similar in a lot of ways, but that's more because I like a certain type; slim, lean, athletic geniuses, with sharp intelligence and brilliant minds. Mhm, yes, definitely a type. And look at you, all of those things and more. You're incredible. Your deductions are, well, they're amazing quite frankly, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool and an idiot. The things you see while the rest of us stumble around like moles above ground. I could live a thousand years and I still wouldn't be able to do what you do."

Sherlock carefully placed his next piece.

The doctor barely considered the board before playing his piece.

Interesting. Sherlock frowned as he considering where to go next.

"Of course there is also the undeniable truth that you're physically gorgeous."

Sherlock's eyes shot up at that. The doctor was grinning now and Sherlock quickly averted his eyes and desperately tried to stop from blushing.

"Yeah, that," the doctor continued. "I can't believe you don't know it. Okay, you’re perhaps not typically handsome, but you’re still striking nonetheless; your artful curls, your Cupid bow lips, cheekbones to die for. You're beautiful now, but I swear, give it fifteen years and you'll be stunning. And your eyes; the colour of the ocean after a storm, always changing.

"Sectoral heterochromia," Sherlock murmured, placing his disk.

"Mhm," the doctor hummed approvingly as he took his turn, "who knew genetic mutations could be so sexy? I guess though, what I'm trying to say is that you're not him, you're not Harry. I know you're not Harry. But more than that, I don't want you to be Harry. You're Sherlock. I just want you to be Sherlock. You're brilliant and talented and gorgeous, and anyone who has ever told you otherwise should be taken outside and beaten."

That was likely to be the nicest thing anyone had ever said about him, possibly ever. And it came from a man who had kidnapped him for sex. But on top of that, from someone who not only seemed to find him physically attractive, but also appreciated his mind.

Who was this doctor?

He placed another disk.

"Are you trying to distract me?" he asked as lightly as he could, considering how dry his mouth felt.

The doctor laughed as he played his own piece. "Is it working?"

"No."

Considering, Sherlock took another turn.

"Doesn't mean it's not true though," the doctor said warmly. He played his piece.

They both stared at the game in silence for a moment.

It was the doctor who finally pointed out the obvious. "Have we just played Connect Four into a draw for the third time?"

"It appears so."

They stared at the vertically suspended grid of yellow and red discs and both started to giggle at the same time.

"Enough," the doctor declared once he'd caught his breath. "Go pick something else. Preferably something quicker, like, I don’t know, Chess or Risk or something. I'll pack this away."

Rising to his feet, Sherlock headed towards the cupboard, glancing over his shoulder once along the way. The doctor had given him answers it seemed, but he still had questions. It was strange really, the more he found out about the doctor, the more he wanted to know.

Chapter Text

The new day had dawned cool but bright. The cloud blanket had broken and the pale winter sun found gaps to shine through, lighting up the landscape in an array of green and burnt orange.

Pressing a towel to his damp curls, Sherlock stared out of the bedroom window while considering his options.

Day two of the agreed week. Day one had been… informative. Unexpected in a lot of ways. Almost… pleasant… in others.

They had played board games into the evening. They had talked, about nothing in particular really. After the initial mention of Harry, the other man wasn’t spoken of again. Neither was the reason why Sherlock was there in the first place. In fact, almost as if by silent agreement, they had avoided the personal after that.

They had switched Connect Four for Backgammon, Rabin for the Beatles. They had talked a little about music, about strategy and luck, about chemistry and anatomy. There had been a lot of silence, but it had never felt invasive or uncomfortable.

He had gone to bed having lost nearly as many games as he had had won.

The question he now faced was what to do next.

Other than the locked room opposite, he had investigated the extent of the house. Or at least the interior of it.

His current options, therefore, involved either getting into that room somehow, or taking his exploration outside. Curiously, he found himself unable to accurately predict the doctor’s reaction to either option. It was true that the doctor had been unexpectedly mild and open so far, but that still needed to be held against the fact the doctor had abducted him in the first place.

Then there was the Harry problem.

There was always the possibility that the doctor had fabricated the whole story about Harry in order to gain his sympathy, but the emotion he had shown while doing so had been too raw not to have had some grounding in some sort of reality.

Then there was always the possibility that Harry had been just like him, an unwilling victim of another man's attention, brought and held here against his will, but the property showed no sign of a struggle. There were no questionable stains, no scratches on the furniture, no broken locks, and the simple matter was that it wouldn't take that much to overpower the doctor. There were knives in the kitchen, scissors in the drawer, even the Complete Works of Shakespeare could be used to render a person unconscious long enough for them to be more securely incapacitated. The roll of duct tape under the sink could certainly be used to bind even the strongest of people to a kitchen chair. A GP in an oversized jumper shouldn't pose too much of a problem.

And yet nothing like that had happened. Instead there was a joint record collection, a well-loved library, and an extensive, well used games selection. Occam's razor, therefore, led to Harry having been both real and a willing half to the relationship.

Of course the locked door could be hiding the doctor's torture room of horror, but given the current evidence that was hardly likely.

He was still a kidnapper though.

The fine weather did however give the opportunity to escape the confines of the property. Fresh air would do him good, and it would help him to judge the likelihood of escape on foot just in case it came to that.

Mind made up, he settled on a course of action.

"I'm going for a walk," he declared firmly on reaching the bottom of the stairs.

The doctor offered a greeting smile as he looked up from his mug and book. "Sure," he said. "Your boots are by the back door. Coats and waterproofs are under the stairs. Help yourself. There should be something that fits. There are thermal flasks in one of the kitchen cupboards. Take food and water with you, especially if you're planning on being out for more than an hour."

That was hardly the reaction Sherlock had been expecting. He paused for a moment, carefully scrutinising the other man. Nothing suggested anything other than complete honesty.

"You're not trying to stop me?" he said slowly.

The doctor looked at him quizzically before turning his gaze to the large French windows. "It looks fine out," he said. "Likely to be wet underfoot, definitely boggy in places, but the forecast said it should be clear until this evening. Perfect Scottish hiking weather. Just try not to get lost."

And there was the second surprise. He had just presumed that even if he was allowed out, the doctor would be following very closely on his heels. After all, there was no guarantee that he would come back.

"You're not coming with me?" he asked after a moment.

The doctor almost looked surprised. "I can if you want," he said. "Do you want me to?"

"No."

The doctor shrugged. "That's alright then. What time were you planning on being back by?"

"I-" hadn't really got that far, Sherlock thought. He honestly hadn't considered that he would be allowed to leave the cottage on one hand, or to do so alone on the other.

"Okay," the doctor said after a moment. "Well sunset will be around four. We normally get a couple of hours of twilight, but with the rain coming in this evening I'd say there's a good chance it'll be pretty dark by five, five thirty. So, how about, if you're not back here by three then I'll come and find you and make sure you're okay."

Sherlock's eyes narrowed, but he nodded. If he left within the next hour he could be a considerable distance away in that time.

The doctor turned back to his book. "Take a torch with you, just in case," he added. "And a compass. There should be one around. Oh and dress warmly and eat before you leave."

The suggestions were oddly caring and the lack of suspicion was almost unsettling.

Nodding absently, Sherlock made his way to the kitchen and breakfast, mentally making a note of what he would need.

*

It took him longer than he had expected to eat and get ready, but everything was where the doctor had said it would be. With the coats he found a small rucksack that was big enough to take his sandwiches, crisps, biscuits and drinks. He filled a flask with black coffee and slipped it into the side holder. He added two of the small unopened bottles of water, then threw in an extra packet of ginger nut biscuits when the doctor was out of the room.

The lack of maps was somehow unsurprising, but the compass and torch would come in useful, and he slipped in a box of matches just in case, although he was certain he would find some kind of civilisation or habitation before long.

It confused him how readily the doctor seemed to be allowing him to go, but the other man made no move to either follow or stop him. Yes, he might have given his word that he would stay seven days, but surely the doctor was not naive enough to believe that he would necessarily keep it, especially when given the opportunity to escape.

His Doc Martens were indeed by the door and, in lieu of anything better, they would suffice for the plan and terrain.

"Don't wander too far from the paths," the doctor called as Sherlock finished lacing his boots. "And back by three, remember."

He nodded and stepped out the house.

The air that smacked him in the face was cool and a bit sharp, very different from the soft warmth he had become accustomed to inside the house.

Well, cottage really, he corrected as he finally got a look at it from the outside. White walls, slate roof, despite the utter remoteness it had been kept in top condition.

Closing the door behind him, he shouldered his bag and set off on the road. His plan was still rather vague, but for the most part it consisted of following the gravel road until he was definitely out of sight and then cutting southwards on the first path, trail or track he could find. While the road would be easier to walk on, it would also make him too easy to find, and he had no intention of being back at that cottage by three.

He had no idea what the doctor would do when he failed to return, but with a bit of luck he wouldn't have to find out. Regardless of where he was in the Highlands, he would have to hit civilisation at some point, especially if he travelled in a southerly direction. Even if no one believed the 'kidnapped from my university by a man with a sexual predilection for intelligent gay men' story, they would certainly believe the 'foolish, lost English student'. Someone would help him. He just had to get far enough away not to be found first.

While the going was not the best, the scenery was stunning. A layer of white already painted the tops of the tallest nearby hills, while the valley clung onto the last colours of autumn; leaves of dark red and ochre, long grass of yellow and brown, heather of dark green and orange.

At Cambridge he had barely taken notice of the changing seasons, more caught up in his books, lectures and labs to really notice the physical world. Intellectually he knew that Cambridge was an attractive place to live in terms of architecture and setting, but that was hardly something that mattered to him, any more than the other university activities he had failed to partake in.

For a brief moment he wondered whether the doctor would amenable to taking a punt out on the Cam, but banished the thought with some horror once he realised the direction his thoughts had gone. At the very least the doctor was a kidnapper and, regardless of what happened at the end of these seven days, they were unlikely to see each other again.

And that was even if he wasn’t murdered at the end of all this.

Cresting a hill he checked his watch and decided he had gone far enough. He was at least a mile away from the cottage now and once he followed the hill down he would be completely out of sight of it. All he had to do now was find somewhere suitable to turn off.

He continued to plod onwards, the road running in a not disastrous south-easterly direction. Two miles at least covered and he still hadn't yet seen any other sign of civilisation, not even a telegraph pole.

Frowning he continued until the road reached a river, curving over it on an old stone bridge. Perfect he thought, holding up the compass. The river was running almost due south and it had to lead to somewhere, probably to a Loch of some sort, which could well mean tourist attraction, which equalled people. In contrast the road was shortly about to bend northwards so this was a good place for them to part ways.

Not wanting to make it obvious as to where he had gone, he carefully jumped from the bridge into the shallowest part of the river. The water splashed up his trouser legs, but at least there would be no broken bracken to give away his new direction.

Repositioning his rucksack, he continued with his trudging, first along the shallowest part of the river - well stream was more probably more accurate, or burn, that was the Scottish word, wasn't it? Either way, whatever it was called, he continued along it until he found a wide gravely area that formed a shallow bank. Checking that he was not about to leave footprints, he left the stream for the springy heather and somewhat waterlogged grass.

By now the sun was climbing steadily higher in the pale blue and grey sky, and he paused for a drink. The coffee added warmth to his chest and a caffeine kick to his system. As physically fit as he kept himself with his boxing and Bartitsu, he was finding this tougher going than he had expected, and he still had many miles to go in order to put sufficient distance between himself and the doctor, even if he failed to find civilisation before complete darkness.

He trudged onwards, following the general direction of the river until the small clump of trees hugging the foot of one of the hills became a much more significant forest of trees, into which the river plunged merrily.

Between the foot of two not insignificantly sized would-be mountains, he found himself facing the unenviable question of whether to follow the river and brave the forest, or go high, risking non-existent paths on treacherous terrain but staying in the open.

Taking a deep breath, he plunged into the forest.

Twenty minutes in and he considered how much of a mistake this might have been. The going was slow at best, hazardous to his wellbeing at the least, and probably no easier than had he decided to go up the hill front. It was no tame, ordered forest of the likes he was used to. This was wild, tangled woodland.

The river wound lazily through it, gouging out a deep channel that was too deep to walk in. The bank was crowded with trees and bushes, so he quickly gave it up and headed for higher ground where the trees were wider spaced. He paused for a drink and to relieve himself, but the coldness away from the sunlight had him pushing onwards to conserve body heat rather than stop for food.

An hour passed and another ticked ever closer. It was gone midday, so if he was to return to the cottage he would have to turn back now to have a chance of returning even by sunset.

He pushed onwards.

It was a relief to realise that the wood wasn't endless. Throwing up a hand to protect his eyes from the sudden influx of light, he finally broke the tree line and stared silently down at the sweeping valley below.

The river joyfully exited the wood with a bright twinkle before racing away downwards, breaking into a series of mini waterfalls as it went. At its end, sweeping outward in a silver shimmer lay a loch, enticing and still in the afternoon sunshine. Near one edge, grey and dull, rose the walls and towers of a former stronghold.

Suddenly weary, Sherlock sank down on a nearby rock, shucking his bag from his shoulders. He ate his sandwiches in silence, staring down into the valley. The breeze bit coolly into his cheeks despite his turned up collar. For a moment he wished he had brought the silly looking hat he had found with the coats. As ridiculous as he would have looked, the ear flaps would have added some protection from the elements.

Above it all, two birds danced on the wind, wings outstretched as they hovered from side to side.

There was no sign of human life, and it occurred to Sherlock that perhaps the doctor would have known this. He could well have been aware of how far someone would have to travel before finding civilisation.

That was an uneasy thought.

He broke into the packet of ginger nuts.

The valley stretched in two directions; south south-westerly broad and green, round the curve of the line of hills; and south south-easterly, lost from view by the hills on his left.

At some point he would have to decide which metaphorical road to take.

His coffee had lost some of its heat, but he was no stranger to cool or cold coffee so swallowed it down without thought. It was just over two hours to sunset, an hour to the deadline he was obviously not going to meet.

He wondered for a moment what the doctor would do when three o'clock ticked round and there was no sign of him. Would he grow angry: at himself, at Sherlock? Would he climb a ridge to stand like a sentinel at watch? Would he try to deduce where he had gone?

Would he simply sit and stare into the fire, drowning in the memories of his former lost love and the thoughts of what might have been?

Would he try and come after him?

He packed the food and flask carefully away again. If he was prudent he had enough food and drink to last him another two days at least. It wouldn't be pleasant spending the night in the open, but he would do it if he had to.

He set off carefully down the hill, striking out for the valley and the ruin.

It was farther than it looked, the ground often sinking away beneath his feet despite his best efforts otherwise. Another hour ticked away and the sun hung heavy in the sky.

There was a sense of melancholy about the whole area, a sadness that seeped through his clothing to make him shiver. Signs of former habitation were being lost under the nature reaching out to reclaim it. Tumbled down walls marked enclosures that were now barely more than piles of rocks and battered stones. Faint paths weaved through heather and ferns, whispering of once wider, well-trodden routes. Brown rusting metal, their form and purpose now completely obscured, poked out between stones, all but buried.

As he walked he could almost see what might have been; outbuildings and stables, paths where burly men had once guided laden carts, over there a garden or vegetable patch. Then more when he reached the ruins themselves.

Bigger than he had expected, it was far more than just a fortress; it had been a castle, a stronghold, a home. Here the courtyard with the imposing towering walls. There the arch through which all would come. At the centre, the keep with imposing towers. Beside it the steps that would lead you home.

All broken and forgotten now.

Roofs gone, walls tumbling, ivy grew across the stones and in the halls. He walked slowly, hand running across the uneven structure, pushing aside plants as he went.

Part of him wondered why he was even stopping. He should be marching onwards, farther from the cottage, ever closer to civilisation and rescue, but another part of him was transfixed, fascinated but also mournful, as if this place mattered to him. It was a disconcerting feeling, one that only grew stronger as time went on.

Twilight or not, it was less than an hour to sunset and he had to decide what to do. This was the only shelter he had seen since setting out, so staying the night in one of the still mostly enclosed rooms would not be the most outrageous idea. He could do with a fire though, as the night would not be kind. He also needed to do a sweep of the immediate area to make sure there was nothing untoward that he might have missed.

There was a small hill to the east of the castle. Although small was only comparable to the would-be mountains around him, it would still take the best part of an hour to ascend. But once up he would have a decent view of the immediate valley and would be able to scavenge for wood as he went.

Shouldering his bag, he started towards it, scrambling up parts, slipping in others, gathering brush wood in his hands until finally, just as the sun was completing its final descent, he reached the top.

There he froze, shocked at the sight he found. At who he had found.

"Out of the thanages, mormaerdoms, Legendary shires and kingdoms, Defunct boundaries and the lost Dynastic certainties – a ghost Light on the grass, a shivering Transparent wing," the doctor quoted as he watched the sun sink behind the western hills. "Listen to twigs scratch as a broom Swishes across a vanished room Trembling on this venerable And enigmatic hill."

Sherlock said nothing. Exhaustion washed over him as the shock gave way to a numb sort of despair. Everything pointed to the doctor not being here, on a random hill, miles from where he had last been, and yet here he was, sitting on a simple wooden bench, watching the setting sun. The surrealness was overwhelming, and he could do nothing but sink wordlessly onto the vacant end of the bench.

For a long time neither of them said anything. Twilight fell and the shadows lengthened before the doctor turned towards him.

"Come on," the doctor said softly, pushing himself to his feet. "Jeep's down there. Let's get you back before the cold really sets in."

Wordlessly he got to his own feet, looking down at the sticks in his hands.

He had been planning on staying here overnight and starting a fire, he remembered. That seemed such a long time ago now.

"Keep them if you like," the doctor said, following his gaze. "You can add them to the fire when we get back."

It was as if the air had been punched from his lungs. He was going back.

Of course he was going back.

His eyes fell, his gaze catching on the small piece of metal pressed into the bench, previously obscured by their bodies.

Neach-gaoil , he read. For Harry. No regrets.

Another wave of sadness swept through him, an emotion that had been almost alien to him before this week. He could almost picture the doctor having the bench made and positioned. This was Harry's favourite spot, he would have told himself. This was where he would want to be remembered, overlooking the castle and the loch.

"What happened here?" he asked, motioning to the ruined castle as he caught the doctor up. It wasn't the question he most wanted to ask, but it was the one that seemed safest.

An odd look crossed the doctor's face though, like a shadow of a painful remembrance. He paused for a moment, looking across at the ruin, almost as if seeing it with new eyes.

"The same thing that happened to all these sorts of places," he said lightly as he started downwards again. "Time... and the English."

The last part was added with a flicker of a smile, but even without deductive reasoning it would have been clear that the doctor only spoke partly in jest. While Sherlock’s historical knowledge was rudimentary at best, even he knew of the tensions between the two nations. Words such as Jacobite and Culloden sprung to mind, although precious little came with them. For an inexplicable reason this brought a sense of guilt, although he was unsure why he should feel guilty.

They lapsed back into silence, broken only when the doctor paused to point out the hovering birds. A Kestrel mated pair apparently. Falco tinnunculus. The fading light made them hard to see though, so they quickly continued onwards and downwards.

The Jeep was parked a farther distance away, obscured by trees and the angle of the rocks. It was no wonder that Sherlock had missed it during his initial ascent. It was also at the edge of what looked like a gravel road, not too dissimilar to the one the cottage was on.

The doctor said nothing, just unlocked the doors and helped him stow his bag and brushwood.

Climbing in the passenger seat, Sherlock couldn't help but feel a sense of dread as he buckled his seat belt. For a brief moment he wanted to flee, to jump down and run off into the growing gloom. A prehistoric part of his mind was screaming for him to escape, that he was nothing more than prey trapped in a maze, being toyed with by a much more advanced predator.

Then the doctor climbed into the front seat, all oversized tartan jumper and easy expression.

"You alright?" the doctor asked, honestly looking like he wanted to know the answer regardless of what it might be.

Considering the question, he looked ahead and gave a short nod.

The doctor watched him for a moment longer before strapping himself in and carefully pulling back round onto the gravel road. He drove slowly, humming to himself as the stones crunched under the tires. There was no sense of urgency, nor was there one of anger. As limited as Sherlock was in understanding human emotions, the doctor continued to perplex him.

"You're not angry," he said after a moment.

"Should I be?" the doctor asked, still with that almost frustrating mildness.

Sherlock considered it. "You knew I had little intention of coming back."

"Yes."

"Yet you let me go anyway."

"Yes."

"Why?"

The doctor shrugged. "Because you wanted to. Because you needed to try."

And the doctor must have known he would fail then.

"How did you know?" he asked.

"How did I know that you were going to use the opportunity to try and escape?"

He nodded.

"You mean other than due to human nature and your surprise that I would let you go out alone?"

Well, when he put it like that.

The doctor inexplicably seemed to find the whole thing overly amusing. "You took a second packet of biscuits," he said. Paused, then added, "I mean, you also took matches, which while useful are reasonably superfluous if you also take a torch, which you did, unless you planned on needing them for something other than light, which you also did. But for the most part, it was the biscuits."

The biscuits.

So he had noticed then. For all his mild persona and easy going attitude, the doctor was intellectually sharp. Not perhaps at his level when it came to making deductions, but certainly, despite what he claimed, far more attentive than the average person.

"You knew where I was going to be," Sherlock said.

"Wasn't a difficult deduction," the doctor said with a wry smile. "Distance, terrain, speed. You wanted to make me think you were following the road, then turned off when you thought you were out of sight. You took the river south because regardless of where we are, England is south. Even if you had stayed on the road, I likely would have passed you on my way out. How'd you like your steak, by the way? I got some while I was in town."

It took a moment to register that the doctor had said 'steak' not 'stake' and to figure out that he was being asked a question about food.

"You bought steaks," Sherlock said slowly.

"Sure," the doctor said as if it was a perfectly normal thing to go and do while your kidnapping victim attempts and fails at escaping. "You don't have to have one if you don't like them. There's plenty of other things. I just thought it would be something nice after your long day."

The doctor was utterly perplexing, especially as he appeared completely sincere about it. He had tried to escape and now he was being treated to steak?

"Isn't it Sunday today?" he said, his eyes narrowing.

"Uh, yes, yes it is."

"Aren't there," he waved vaguely with his hand, "laws about shops on a Sunday?"

"Yes, yes there are," the doctor confirmed. "Which changed a few years ago. In England. And which have never been relevant here. In Scotland."

The tone was light and amused without being mocking. Was this what teasing is? Was he being teased?

"Sorry," the doctor said, temporarily covering his mouth with his hand. "It's a common... no wait, did you seriously not notice when shops started opening on a Sunday?"

Had he?

"Sorry," the doctor said again. "I'm not... it's not you. Well, actually it is you, but I'm not making fun of you. At some of the things you do or don't do, like not noticing that shops now open on a Sunday, but not actually you you. Do you get the difference? I would never laugh at you."

It was like when Daddy had tried to explain things when he had been a child. When they had moved to that new house and suddenly they were being introduced to other children. And it had been horrible and all, 'it's not you they don't like, it's just that they don't like people who are a bit different'.

But the doctor liked him. Liked him enough to abduct him. Had told him how much he liked him. Then even though he had tried to escape, the doctor hadn't been angry, had just come to find him as he said he would, and waited patiently for him, and had bought him steak as a treat for dinner.

That was definitely different.

"Medium rare," he said after a moment.

"Hmmm?" the doctor said.

"How I like my steak," he said quietly. "Medium rare."

"Oh. Oh good." The doctor's smile was beaming. "I'll remember that."

They were nearly back now, the jeep having rounded the bend of the hill, turning down onto the road that would end back at the cottage. Although by circumventing the hill lines, the road was markedly longer in distance, it was considerably shorter in time.

"You’ve got petrol," he said absently before his brain caught up with his mouth.

The doctor chuckled. "Yeah, sorry about that. Ran the tank down on the way up here because I knew you'd try to escape. Always keep some spare though. You never know what might happen out here and it's not as if you can simply call for help. Topped up while I was in town. Anyway, I promised you could leave at the end of this, didn't I? Well now it's all filled up for you and ready to go."

It sounded as if the doctor truly was going to let him go at the end of this.

"The second bedroom is locked and you've been sleeping on the sofa. Why?"

It was yet another example of mouth before brain, but that didn't stop it from being an important question.

"That was Harry's room," the doctor said after a moment. "I don't often- that is, there's all sort of things in there now. There's no bed. We never needed a second bedroom."

So not a torture room or a prison then.

The doctor drew them up smoothly beside the cottage.

"Here we are then," he said quietly. "Why don't you go grab a shower and warm up a bit? I'll stick the chips on while you’re at it. They'll take twenty minutes or so, so there's no need to rush."

Sherlock opened the passenger door, slipping out with a crunch under foot. The doctor had left the lights in the cottage on, which gave a welcoming feeling. Also it would be warm, or at least warmer than it was out here, and he was becoming increasingly aware of how damp his clothing were. Staying out overnight would have been miserable, even with a fire.

Locking the jeep, the doctor grabbed the bags he had taken from the vehicle and made his way to the cottage. For once the door was locked, the doctor fishing a set of keys out of his pocket.

"What's your name?" Sherlock suddenly found himself asking.

Key in lock, the doctor paused in surprise, turning back to look at him.

"Your first name," Sherlock clarified. "I only know you as Doctor Watson."

The confusion melted into something that Sherlock couldn't quite recognise.

"John," the doctor said after a moment. "John Watson."

Then opening the door, he led them in.

*

The evening was spent quietly.

There was no comment when Sherlock exited the bathroom only after emptying the hot water tank. The steaks, though, were excellent, although the chips took longer than expected, probably due to the old oven.

They ate in quietness and afterwards Sherlock joined the doctor by the sink, drying off the dishes as the doctor washed.

There were no games that evening. Instead, Sherlock browsed the bookshelf while the doctor read through the copy of The Sunday Times he had bought while out. It was... nice.

The fresh air and extensive exercise making him more fatigued that usual, Sherlock excused himself for bed earlier than he normally would.

He locked the door behind him.

Staring up at the ceiling he tried to go through everything that had happened that day, sorting and ordering them by relevance and importance. When it came to the doctor though, he still found himself strangely off balanced. For someone who appeared so ordinary, the doctor was clearly anything but. It was... intriguing.

He closed his eyes.

The next day, the doctor was nowhere to be seen, the blankets he had used folded at the foot of the sofa. The note on the table said that he would be back soon. Beside it, innocent and unassuming lay the keys to the jeep, and the key for the upstairs room.

Chapter Text

Sherlock stared at the keys while he ate his cereal.

A day earlier he had been planning his escape even at the expense of his text books and spare clothing. Today, with a means of escape easily within reach, he was hesitating.

The doctor was giving him a choice. It was no accident that both the jeep keys and the key to the only room in the property he had not yet been in had been left in clear view. On top of that, the doctor had also removed himself from the premises on a no doubt extremely flimsy pretence in order to give him the choice.

Or at least the illusion of choice.

He could pack up his things, take the jeep and go.

Or he could take the second key and find out what it was the doctor had chosen to hide away.

Harry's room, he had called it. He was probably counting on Sherlock's innate curiosity and inability to leave well alone to stop him from automatically reaching for the jeep keys and getting out of there. It was mildly frustrating that in that the doctor was apparently correct. The man knew him surprisingly well, better than anyone outside of his immediate family, and in some respects better than even them.

Who was this man?

Who was he really?

Would the upstairs room give him further answers?

So far the doctor had proven rather adept at predicting his actions. Almost frighteningly so. Was this just another version of that? Was he nothing more than a gambler, staking the entire enterprise on being able to predict the outcome? There had been a chance, after all, that the day before could have had a very different outcome. If he had headed away from the road right from the start, if he had gone north, not south, west rather than east, he could have been back in Cambridge by now, but he wasn't.

So was this just another gamble with weighted odds? Had the doctor left the keys and vacated the property solely because he was betting that Sherlock’s drive to uncover the unknown was stronger than his desire to escape?

Of course, the choice may merely be nothing more than an illusion. He was only presuming that that was the key for the upstairs room, likewise that the other was for the Jeep, and from experience could he really assume that escape was truly possible? Or would he simply find himself back here in a few hours regardless, following some convoluted, seemingly inexplicable, highly improbable series of events?

The doctor obviously expected one of two outcomes, but Sherlock was a little fed up with always trying to catch up. Clearly his opponent was a better player than he had originally given him credit for, but there were two players in this game and it was about time he got off the back foot.

*

"The Norrmalmstorg Bank Robbery."

The doctor was quiet when he re-entered the cottage. The dampness to the bottom of his trousers spoke of a walk, his expression as his eyes flicked to the two unmoved keys on the table spoke of surprise and uncertainty. He didn't comment on the keys though, just took off his coat and boots before taking the armchair opposite the one that Sherlock was occupying.

"The which bank robbery?" he asked.

"The Norrmalmstorg Bank Robbery," Sherlock repeated, pressing his fingers to his chin. "1973. Sweden. Two robbers, four hostages, six days."

The doctor tapped his fingers on the armrest but did not break the eye contact between them. "Stockholm syndrome," he said quietly after a moment.

Sherlock gave a slow nod to confirm they were both on the same page. "You asked for seven days and the chance to persuade me to become intimate with you," he said.

"Yes."

"You're also a doctor, versed in at least the basics of psychology. You knew the longer you keep me here, the more likely I am to develop a form of Stockholm Syndrome and agree to your terms."

The doctor kept his gaze steady. "I just wanted you to get to know me."

"Yet today you provided me with the means to leave."

"Yes."

He cocked his head. "Why? Because yesterday I showed to what extent I might go to escape? Or because today you were reasonably certain I would not go?"

"Because it's the right thing to do?" the doctor said softly.

He looked away, stalling what Sherlock had been going to say next.

"Look, I know what this looks like, but honestly, I just wanted the chance for you to get to know me. And as strange as you might think it is, I wanted to spend time with you. Because I like you. Because I think you're funny, and incredible, and so much more than you believe yourself to be. But you were never going to notice me. Why would you? So I came up with this quite frankly ridiculous plan, because even if you said no, then I still would have had the seven days."

"But you do want to be sexually intimate with me," Sherlock said.

"Yes, but I told you, I'm not going to force you. If this was just about sex then, god, I could have plied you with alcohol or drugs or something back in Cambridge. But that's just wrong."

"So you kidnapped me instead."

"Yes." The doctor averted his gaze. "And it was stupid, and crazy, and I must have been out of my mind to have even considered it, and I thought- well it doesn't matter what I thought. But you asked me yesterday what my name was and it made me think about who I am and what I've become, so I left the keys because at least then, if you did stay, and if you did somehow agree to one night with me, I would know that it wouldn't be down to, well, Stockholm Syndrome."

The doctor looked sincere. He also looked tired, his skin pale. Like the castle ruin the day before, there was something sad and defeated about him, a slump to his shoulders that hadn't been there the day before.

"What's really in the upstairs room?" Sherlock asked.

"What? Oh. Stuff," the doctor said. "That's all. Some of Harry's stuff. Some of mine. Some things we bought together. Some things inherited."

Getting to his feet, Sherlock crossed the room to the kitchen table, picking up the single key. "Show me," he said and tossed the key over.

The doctor caught it, looked first at it, then at him. Then nodding, he rose to his feet.

*

It was not what he had been expecting. Jammed full of all sorts of things it was a preverbal treasure trove; paintings and pictures, but also books and journals; display cases, both large and small; a moose head and a skull; a wardrobe with a faded red uniformed arm poking out; far more than he would have thought.

If before Harry had been little more than a distant barely formed shadow with a name, in this room he was a flesh and blood person. Here were all the things the doctor had stripped from the property, everything that was overtly Harry.

There was no need to ask why the doctor kept the door locked, it was painted across his face with every shadow, every line; memories and unresolved grief from an unexpected, traumatic death.

It seemed almost silly now that he had once thought the room might have had a more nefarious purpose.

As he looked round, took in the mess and clutter that comes from so much in such a small space, Sherlock considered the truth that up until then had been not fully formed in his mind: the doctor was lonely.

The new board games had been unopened, waiting for someone to play with. The books he had bought out of habit for someone now gone were still unread. The comments and observations once shared with a smile had gone unsaid.

A life of hiding a relationship, then a life of hiding the loss of it, had created a desperate, lonely man who had somehow come to the conclusion that one week with a virtual stranger was better than nothing.

And as idiotically unhinged as his plan might have been, in a twisted way it made sense. How better to break the loneliness than trying to recreate lost intimacy? Yes, the doctor wanted sex, but he also wanted someone to talk to, to share a joke with, someone to play a game with.

In a weird way, it was flattering that he had been chosen.

"You don't come in here much," he said, touching his finger to a thin layer of dust.

"No. It's... difficult."

So he keeps it locked, to keep himself out as much as to keep everything else in.

"Is that him?"

Half hidden photographs poked out from between miscellaneous items.

"Yes."

Picking it up, Sherlock stared at the picture.

His mental image of a Harry, he realised, had been based upon himself. In his own words, the doctor had said he had a type, and yet the man who looked back at him from the fading scene was nothing as he had presumed. For one, it had never crossed his mind that Harry would be the older one of the pair. But the photographic evidence was clear; there was the doctor, perhaps ten years younger than he was now, arm slung casually around a man with greying brown hair the wrong side of forty.

Another one; a picnic on a shore, legs out stretched, a book in hand ignoring the world.

A close up shot; thinning hair nearly all silver, eyes ringed with age and laughter.

"He's..." older, shorter, not what I had been expecting.

"Yes," the doctor said, eyes fixed on the pictures but seeing something more.

Tell me about him, Sherlock wanted to ask. But what could the doctor tell him that wasn't already in this room? Wasn't that the point, the reason it was all in there? This here was Harry, or at least, what was left of him.

"Look through," the doctor said. "Someone else should remember him too. I'll be downstairs if- well, I'll be downstairs."

A brief lingering tap on the doorframe and then the doctor was gone, his footsteps uncharacteristically heavy on the stairs.

Turning back to the room, Sherlock stared at the hundreds of untold stories unfurling in front of him. It was difficult to even know where to start, his brain bombarding him with data from every surface.

Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and forced his mind to slow. He had time.

Today was only day three of seven.

He had plenty of time.

*

In one thing, the doctor had been completely truthful; Harry had been both a mathematician and an artist. He had also been equally brilliant at both.

Journals attested to an inability to separate the two, cramped mathematical equations scrawled around and across flowing artistic renderings, often in the same pen. Scratched exultations of frustration were followed by a detailed study of a rose.

Despite only having a basic knowledge of advanced mathematics, Sherlock could see the genius behind what he was seeing.

Several journals were given over to a half dozen or so of the 23 Hilbert problems, with a variable degree of success, including what appeared to be the solution for at least one problem Sherlock thought was still only partially resolved.

One journal even contained what appeared to be credible work on Fermat's Last Theorem.

Other journals were solely artistic. Sketchbooks of all size and use littered the room; some bulging with additional pages, some barely used. Nature, landscapes, pencil, and colours. A beautiful reproduction in pencil of a human skull. Then people, figures, abstract body parts.

And then the doctor.

So many of the doctor.

Laughing. Reading. Sleeping. Walking. Sitting. Lying. Stretching. Standing.

A hand clasping a mug. Part of a tilted head. A shy half smile.

Then a series of pictures in an array of clothing; Edwardian double breasted coat; second World War soldier; Victorian tweed with period moustache; Highland garb with what he presumed was Watson tartan.

Then another book, even more intimate than what had gone before; asleep nude except for the falling sheet, light streaming through the window; off angled, upper body close up, neck strained, mouth open, head tilted back from unseen pleasure; two hands clasped together beside a turned away head.

And yet the one with the soft smile for the unseen artist felt the most intimate of the lot.

"He adored you," he said absently as a plate of sandwiches was placed beside him on the floor.

"Yes," the doctor said simply and turned away, the mutuality of the feeling not needing to be spoken.

Paper and pencil was not the only medium used. Two oil paintings rested in frames on the floor, their size and slight fading telling them to be the missing bedroom pieces. The first was of the castle from the day before, thin sunlight softening the rugged stone while somehow emphasising the sense of loss and loneliness. The second was the exact same scene but this time of an imagined past, the brighter sunlight warming the magnificent whole structure while casting a shadow of what was to come.

Time and the English, the doctor had said.

Pencil was scribbled across the backs of each frame. Dubhloch Castle, 1967 read the first. Dubhloch Castle, 1746 read the second. 221 years apart. He couldn't help but wonder if that was significant.

He left the art in favour of seeing what else there was. Beneath a battered pipe and a Persian slipper that smelt of tobacco, he found a stack of books. The Art of Bee Keeping. Practical Handbook of Bee Culture. The Science of Deduction.

The thin third book, as innocent as it was plain in unassuming appearance, was an impossibility.

And yet here it was, and it was just as he remembered it being.

Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study....

Always approach a case with an absolutely blank mind, which is always an advantage. Form no theories, just simply observe and draw inferences from your observations....

Never guess. It is a shocking habit - destructive to the logical faculty.

The smell of the book was different, but it was still a version of the one he had devoured as a child amongst the gravestones. The one he had found in that box in the attic.

The one that had been lost in the fire.

He had search for it, but there had been nothing left. His bedroom had been almost entirely gutted.

Later he had tried to hunt down another copy of the book only to be met with blank looks and sympathetic head shakes. In the end it was confirmed to have been a vanity publication, no more than a dozen in existence, and no record of any other surviving copies. Grieved, he had been forced to give up, accept the loss and move on.

Yet here it was.

Once you eliminate the impossible, he read, tracing his fingers across the familiar inscription on the first page, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

The doctor looked up as he came down the stairs. "Something the matter?"

He dropped the book onto the coffee table before taking the second armchair. The doctor looked quizzically at the book, then back to him, a questioning expression on his face.

"Did you know?" Sherlock asked slowly, clenching his fingers together.

"Did I know what?"

Would he have known? Could he have known?

"Where did you get this book?"

"This one?" The doctor picked it up, turning it in his hand. "Harry probably got it somewhere. Unless, no actually, I know, it was part of the stuff that came from the cottage in Sussex. There was a whole load of things in the attic when we cleared it out. Harry liked the sound of it, so he kept it. Why? What's wrong?"

Could it really be as simple as that?

No matter how improbable...

"Do you know who wrote it?"

The doctor looked down at the front cover. "Uh, E.S.G. Holmes." He raised an eyebrow. "Any relation?"

"Edwin Sherlock George Holmes," Sherlock said, emphasising each name. "My double great grandfather's first cousin. And my namesake."

The doctor looked at the book, turning it over in his hand before replying, "Seriously?"

He studied the other man carefully. "You didn't know?" he said.

"Know what? That it was written by some distant relative of yours? How could I? I'd pretty much forgotten we even had it. I take it you know of it then? Have a copy yourself?"

"Had a copy," Sherlock said after another long moment. "There was a fire. I was told it was unlikely there were any other copies still in existence."

The doctor looked down at the book, turning it over in his hand.

"Well, in that case," he said, leaning over and holding it out, "you have it."

Sherlock stared at him.

"Seriously. Take it, keep it," the doctor insisted. "It's not like it's doing anything here and it obviously means something to you. So you have it. It's yours."

He slowly took the book.

"So who was he?" the doctor asked. "This distant relative? You said he's your namesake?"

"They like funny names," he said after a moment. "My parents. We were originally the cadet line of the family. Grandfather inherited in the 40s after the last surviving male of the main line died. His," he tapped the book, "nephew by an older brother I'm led to believe. Grandfather hadn't been born expecting to inherit, but the man's only son died in the Great War. No issue."

It was a story common to many landed gentry families.

"The family history fascinated Daddy, so they gave us old family names."

"And this Sherlock?" the doctor said.

"No idea," Sherlock admitted with a slight shrug. "Born 1854. Died obviously before 1948. No children. Never married. A confirmed bachelor by all accounts. There was a letter from him in 1918 commiserating his nephew's loss. The address was London. A press cutting from 1895 makes reference to a Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, London, who had aided Scotland Yard in the capture of a murderer, so likely to be the same person. Then there is this book."

He turned it in his hand.

"The Science of Deduction. This was my bible as a child. Mycroft was naturally better at it than me, but I read it nearly every night. When the fire started I wasn't allowed to go back for it. Too dangerous, or so they claimed. I'm told that for a while I was inconsolable."

The doctor's smile was small but understanding. "I bet you were rather vocal about it."

"Many efforts were made to replace the book, but to no avail."

The doctor shifted forward to the edge of his seat. "Well I'm glad you found this then," he said. "You deserve to be able to take something good away from this week."

He got to his feet before Sherlock could register what he meant by that.

"All that dust though, you're probably parched. I'll put the kettle on before you go back up. Unless-"

The doctor shook his head as his words faded out. "I'll just put the kettle on."

Unless, what? Sherlock considered. Unless he would prefer something different? He shook his head. Unless he would like something else, something to eat perhaps? Possibly, he thought glancing at the clock, but he couldn't have eaten that long ago and dinner wouldn't be for another hour or two.

Unless the doctor didn't want him to return to the room quite so soon? It had come after mention of going back up, so that would follow. Sherlock had spent a considerable number of hours alone up there and it had been previously observed that the doctor was bereft of company in general, even going to great lengths to kidnap someone. His mood could be considered more melancholy than even the day before, his body language increasingly weary. Company was what he was craving.

Rising to his feet, Sherlock went to where the kitchen started.

"My brother tells me that one of the popular pastimes in Hong Kong is the consumption of tea while playing Mahjong."

The doctor's smile was small but wonderful. "Is that right?" he said. "Although, the two player version isn't as challenging as the four player," he added. "I wouldn't want you to get bored."

"I'm sure I will manage," Sherlock said. "And if not, there's always chess."

*

"The Paganini's," Sherlock said as he laid out his tiles, "they were his."

"Yes," the doctor said as he considered his own tiles.

"But the Gilbert and Sullivan's?"

There was the beginning of a smile as the doctor conceded the game. "They're mine," he said. "He hated them. Called them an affront to music and taste, but he still knew all the words to A Modern Major-General."

Sherlock returned the smile.

*

He jumped four spaces and sunk his little blue hat over the doctor's red one. "Bee keeping," he said, with a look of challenge to his opponent.

"His," the doctor said, the dice landing on a six. "It was something he wanted to do when he finally retired. The cottage in Sussex had hives. That was what probably gave him the idea, and when he got an idea like that in his head..." He offered a slight shrug before rolling another six. "Bees seemed to fascinate him. He kept talking about the way they were mathematically perfect. Something about the shape of the honeycomb. He was working on some sort of proof, but I don't know if he managed to finish it."

He rolled a three, considered the board, and then with a flash of a grin, sunk his hat on top of Sherlock's.

*

"All the gothic books. Those are yours?" He laid a red eight.

"His actually," the doctor replied, a green eight added to the growing central pile. "It was one of his things. He found them funny, for some reason."

Sherlock frowned. "Why?" Draw two.

"Because they're ridiculous?" The doctor reached for the deck.

"And the cheap thrillers aren't?" Green three.

"Hey!" the doctor protested. "James Bond is not ridiculous." Blue three.

Sherlock raised an eyebrow. Blue five. "Uno."

*

"Worst thing about him?"

The doctor shot him an unamused look as the wooden tower wobbled for a brief moment, his hand stilling from where it was attempting to extract the wooden block. There was silence for a moment, then the tower started to resettle and the doctor breathed out. A moment later and he resumed his painfully slow easing out of the block, until it slipped out and with a flourish he added it to the top of the tower.

"Forgetting he actually needed to tell me things for me to know something."

Crouching, Sherlock considered the tower, mentally rating the blocks from easy to folly before reaching for his choice. It slid out reasonably smoothly with only a slight wiggle needed at the end.

"Not a mind reader then?" he said. "Pity."

The doctor's bark of laughter was surprising but not unwelcome.

"Yeah, I'm a lot of things'" the doctor said. "A mind reader, that's not one of them."

*

He was having fun.

Before he realised just how late it was, before he remembered why he was where he was, before he remembered why he shouldn't be laughing so much, it hit him that he was enjoying himself.

He was actually happy.

(When did that happen? How did that happen? Why had it happened?)

The doctor was funny. He was quick-witted and sharp tongued. He found humour in things other people would typically find too bleak or dark. Death did not disturb him, nor did talk of experiments on body parts. He was knowledgeable about a number of things, and although was not of exceptional intelligence, he was willing to listen to and encourage it in others.

(When was the last time he had truly been happy while being with someone else?)

As the games stacked up, he lost track of the time, unconsciously revelling in the warm comfort of the shared enjoyment.

It was a shock then to realise that he liked the doctor.

(You like him.)

Liked playing games with him. Liked talking to him. Liked being with him.

(More than just like. Enjoyed. Relished. Revelled in.)

More than that though, the doctor truly seemed to like him back. Not tolerated him. Not humoured him. Not faked. Honest expressed enjoyment in sharing company. Easy to be with. Easy to like.

(Admit it.)

Easy to forget that the other man had kidnapped him in the pursuit of sex. But even that was not as-

He shook his head, stopping that thought right there.

"-you okay? Sherlock?"

He blinked, taken back to find the doctor suddenly close to him.

(When had that happen?)

A hand stretching towards his shoulder without actually touching.

(He promised not to touch you without permission. Remember?)

He frowned, pulling away, looking around. "What?"

"You didn't respond there for a moment," the doctor said, sinking back onto his chair. "You sort of zoned out."

Had he?

"Alright," the doctor said, rising back to his feet, "at the risk of sounding like your mother-"

(Lover.)

"-off to bed with you. We can finish up tomorrow."

He wanted to protest, point out that he was fine, that it had been nothing, that he was more than capable of going a day or more with no sleep, but he didn't. Because the doctor was looking at him with a mixture of sympathy and concern, with a soft smile that spoke more of fondness and caring than anything else.

(Had he looked at Harry like that?)

He found he didn't want that expression to turn into something else.

(Disappointment. Disapproval. Distaste.)

He nodded after a moment, rising to his feet, eyes dropping back to the game; Escape from Atlantis - less mentally demanding than Chess, less physically demanding than Operation, less chance than Snakes and Ladders.

"I promise not to move anything or peek in any way," the doctor quipped with that half smile of his.

He matched the smile before making his way slowly up the stairs.

After the inviting warmth of the downstairs open fire, the bedroom felt cold and dreary, chilly to the skin. For a moment he was tempted to turn back around and return to the fire's embrace, to curl up in the drowsy warmth, a cushion for a pillow and a borrowed blanket for his bed.

One of the doctor's blankets.

Stripping, he changed quickly, grateful for the heavy duvet.

How often had they done the same thing? The doctor and his lover? Changed quickly? Rushed for the bed's warmth? Cuddled to share body heat?

He rolled over, pushing away the thought, cocooning himself as his eyes fell to rest on the door. He hadn't slid the bolt closed.

The door was unlocked.

The door was unlocked.

He stared at it, his mind churning with the possibilities. He should get up and lock it. That was obvious. Asleep was when anyone was the most vulnerable. Anything could happen.

And yet.

He stared at the door.

Trust needed to be earned.

And yet trust was not trust until it was tested.

The doctor had promised to not even touch him without permission and so far had kept his word. He hadn't been back into this room since the first day. He hadn't even made a move towards anything untoward.

He would regret it, of course, should the doctor take it as an invitation to join him in the room, in the bed. Of course he would. But the doctor wouldn't try. Would he?

Rolling over, Sherlock snuggled further down under the covers and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

The case was hidden at the back of the room, obscured from view by the Gladstone bag and a stack of manuscript paper. In hindsight, the case's existence could have been hypothesised from the number of music books and handwritten manuscripts he had found, but that barely prepared Sherlock for the sight that greeted him on opening it.

The violin was beautiful.

He lifted it carefully from its silken cradle, marvelling at the smooth maple wood body, darkened with age. It was a beautiful piece of workmanship, elegant, stylish, precise, a piece of art in its own right. Early 18th century. Italian. Spruce, willow and maple. Deep colour. Powerful arching. Extended f-holes. Intricate purfling. Delicate tracery.

He almost fumbled as the information coalesced into one incredible fact.

A Stradivarius.

No, it couldn't be. He had to be mistaken. And yet everything and more brought him back to the same conclusion. He was holding in his hands, an example of the work of one of the most famous, illustrious, sought after violin makers that had ever existed. This violin, hidden away in a spare room in the Scottish Highlands, was the most exquisite instrument he had ever come into contact with. And it was worth thousands. Hundreds of thousands, in fact. Depending upon its age and condition, possibly even a million.

Improbable, not impossible.

He ran his finger across the body noting the texture and feel, then up the back of the neck and round to the strings. The body was dust free, the neck undamaged, the pegs neither loosened nor jammed. A piece of soft fabric had been placed under the tailpiece, no doubt as a precaution against damage should the bridge have collapsed, but the bridge was perfect and the strings intact.

Carefully easing out the soft cloth, he used it to carefully wipe over the strings, pleased to see it come away free from dust and rosin residue. Whoever had prepared the instrument for storage had done an excellent job.

Mechanically, he gently plucked the G-string, hearing the discord, before tightening the corresponding peg and repeating until the note rang clear and true. At once the instrument seemed to quiver in his grasp, as if desperate to be once more fully heard.

He moved onto the D-string and repeated the process until all four strings sang out their voice.

He lowered the instrument.

If there was one thing he had missed this week, it was his violin, and here, here was the most exquisite example he could have ever imagined. And it belonged to a dead man.

It was so unfair it was almost painful.

Jealousy was an emotion he was no stranger to. He hated the effortlessness with which his brother held his superior intelligence. He ignored those around him who revelled in their easy friendships and human connections. And now he found himself desperately envious of the stranger who had shared this cottage, his time, his life with the man downstairs. The stranger who had owned this instrument. The dead genius who had been so markedly loved and so painfully mourned.

He had never wanted to be another person as much as he did then.

It was utterly perplexing, illogical even. The man downstairs was a kidnapper, an abductor, his actions far beyond what society would consider acceptable, and yet he was intelligent, funny, surprisingly unpredictable, and curiously easy to spend time with.

Sherlock had never had a friend, a proper friend, but he imagined that this was what it might be like.

He had never felt his own isolation so keenly before.

This Harry - a genius by his own hand, unacknowledged by his peers, an outsider in society on account of his sexuality – had had a home, pastimes, and a devoted lover who had adored him and who he had adored in return. In additional to all of that, he had also owned a unique piece of history, the pinnacle of musical perfection.

The man had probably never realised just how lucky he was.

It was infuriating.

Sherlock considered the instrument. Without a bow he was limited in what he could play, but slipping the violin under his chin, he closed his eyes and started to pluck. He was a little surprised when what came out was Edvard Griegs' In the Hall of the Mountain King, his fingers dancing quicker and quicker over the notes until the frenetic finale.

The final note still vibrating, he pulled the instrument away, slowly lowering it back to the case. Despite his fingers being unused to the particular instrument and a little out of practice in general, it had still managed to sound rich and magical.

It was frustrating.

Given everything, it might have been better had the instrument not have been in such good condition, if the neck had been cracked, or the strings frayed, or the sound hollow and empty, but it was perfect.

And it would never be his.

The footsteps on the stairs were both timely and unwelcome.

"There's no bow," he said, not bothering with a greeting or even with looking up from where he was on the floor. Even to his own ears his voice sounded a touch hollow.

The movement stopped.

"Is there- wait, no, I'm sure I put- yes definitely- there's one here somewhere."

Further movement. Steps around boxes and books, the opening of the wardrobe, cloth against cloth, pause, a puff of breath, further rustling, then the pleased exhalation of success.

"I thought there- yes, here. No idea what condition it’s in though."

The expression was apologetic, the package carefully wrapped.

Accepting it, Sherlock unpicked the string, carefully folding back the fabric. The bow was considerably newer than the violin, although considering the wear from fingers and use, still thirty years old at least. The bow hairs had survived the storage better than he might have expected. There were a few loose, broken hairs, but nothing that a quick trim couldn't take care of. The remaining bow hairs were strong, undamaged and plentiful, and only required a single turn to tighten them back into place.

Returning the violin to under his chin, he paused before then raising the bow. The notes were hesitant at first, but grew bolder with a subsequent down-bow.

The doctor offered a small smile of encouragement before once again retreated out of the room.

Sherlock lowered the instrument again.

A Stradivarius violin.

Improbable or impossible?

*

"What do you know about this?"

He took it downstairs where there was better light and more room.

"The violin?" the doctor shrugged, glancing up from his latest book, some rubbish on the pseudoscience of reincarnation. "Not that much. I know it's old. It was left to Harry. He hadn't played for years before that and I think it frustrated him that he had lost some of the skill. Why?"

Sherlock collapsed onto the second armchair considering his options. It was obvious that the doctor had no idea what the instrument was. If he did it was inconceivable that it would have remained buried under years of dust and clutter. Harry must not have known either, ignorant about things outside of his twin pursuits and casual interests. Which raised the question of how much he should say.

If the doctor knew what it was, what it was worth, would he still allow some skinny, chemistry student to so casually handle it?

"It's good," he said, making a point of eyeing the instrument.

It was also the understatement of the year.

"It's kept very well. Good... sound."

"Good," the doctor said with a supportive smile. "I take it you play. Well obviously you play." Sheepish grin followed by a lick of his lips. "Any good?"

Sherlock offered a nonchalant shrug.

"Can you play me something?"

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "What would you prefer?"

The doctor shrugged. "Whatever you would like."

Sherlock considered it. Bach would normally be his go to composer. Sonata No 1 in G minor would be the obvious choice. Air on the G string was another possibility. They were both pieces in the doctor's record collection though and would have been played in the records better than anything he could manage, even with the instrument in his hands.

Used manuscripts for Elgar, Schubert, Vivaldi, and all of Paganini's Caprices, amongst others, belied the doctor's comment regarding Harry's abilities. Out of practice Harry might have been perhaps, a novice unlikely. He was, therefore, loathed to pick anything that Harry might have played.

His gaze drifted to the cupboard of records, considering and discarding each mental image, until... yes, maybe, something more modern, more popular might work. The Beatles, possibly. The Beach Boys? Elvis? Something newer into the collection. Something Harry may not have known? Something newer that the doctor had only just brought with him?

Something worthy of such a regal instrument.

Could he? Should he?

Fixing the doctor with an appraising look, he raised the instrument to his chin and tried to visualise the music. The moment the first few notes rang out it all came rushing back; the hours he had spent playing it, the confusion he had felt the first time he heard the haunting melody, the poignant five word question at the centre of the song.

Who wants to live forever?

It was only then that Sherlock realised the irony of his choice. Moving and haunting, yes, but was it really the best tune to be playing on the doctor's dead lover's instrument? It was too late to change though and doing so would be admitted his error in choice, but he darted his eyes in the doctor's direction just to see his reaction. He expected a frozen smile, or a pained acknowledgement, or even the thin lips of anger.

He did not expect the half smile of recognition with the cocked head of curiosity. Once again the doctor was surprising him.

And we can have forever

He drew out the long notes.

And we can love forever
Forever is our today

Emboldened, he let his fingers fly over the strings, dancing up to the high notes, even double-stopping to create moments of harmony. For a moment everything seemed to coalesce into a warm perfection where even the unfamiliarity of the instrument melted away. It was just him and the music, as it has been from the first time that he had heard the song a few years earlier.

Who lives forever anyway?

He resisted ending with too much of a flourish, preferring to let the final question and the notes slowly fade away into the stillness.

"Amazing."

The doctor’s quiet word sounded suddenly loud to his ears. Amazing? He wanted to ask if the doctor really thought so. Or even to simply ask the doctor to repeat what he had said, but even that felt too much.

He didn't need to ask though.

"No really," the doctor reiterated, "that was something, something really quite special. What made you choose that one?"

He gave a small shrug as he averted his eyes. "You said play something. It seemed..." appropriate?

"Highlander fan, then?" the doctor asked. "Or is it just our location?"

And now he was lost. Leaps of thought had been made and he was obviously failing to go with it.

"Ah," the doctor said with an amused shake to his head. "You have no idea what I'm talking about. So, just a random choice then? Your favourite?"

Not his favourite. Did he have anything as mundane as a favourite? Other people had favourites. Favourite songs. Favourite bands.

Favourite sexual activities.

He jerked to his feet, violin bow automatically rubbing at his neck.

"Let's go out," he said with a false brightness that the doctor could not have missed.

Blinking at the rapid turn of events, the doctor automatically glanced to the window, which showed grey sky and a muted landscape, but at least it wasn't raining.

"Okay," the doctor said slowly. "Where would you like to go?"

"Don't mind," he said darting to the kitchen. "Up to you." Plucking the jeep keys from the table, he tossed them into the doctor's lap. "You drive."

*

The journey was relatively quiet. It started to rain eight minutes out, but it was light and for the location practically inconsiderable. The windscreen wipers went no higher than their first setting.

The doctor drove carefully but leisurely, at times tapping his fingers on the steering wheel as if to a melody only he heard. Other than the odd observation to do with their surroundings, they didn't speak.

It was nice.

It was a journey they had covered before, albeit last time at dusk and in the opposite direction. Even so, he noted the turn off that would have taken them to the castle ruin and the loch.

"We can go there if you like," the doctor offered, slowing as they neared the turning.

"No," Sherlock said.

The oil paintings, the bench, it had obviously been Harry's place. He had no desire to be reminded once again of the dead man who had had so much - a Stradivarius, really? - even if part of him wanted to know more about the history of the place.

Dubhloch? Black water? Dark water? Named in relation to the loch, obviously, but had it been important? A stronghold? A clan base? Who had lived there? Why was it so forgotten?

He didn't ask and the doctor eased them past and then later turned onto a proper official road.

The rain eased, then stopped completely.

The first real road sign gave the distance and direction of Inverness. They both made a point of ignoring it. It did, however, give him a better reference as to their location, a fact the doctor would also not have missed. Then again, he was hardly attempting to escape.

Not now at least.

Signs of habitation grew; further signs, buildings, the odd vehicle. Then they reached the town.

Or at least what passed for a town while in the middle of nowhere. Large enough for a small petrol station, a church, a laundrette, and a few shops, including the butchers from where the steak had most likely been purchased.

Also a pub.

They ended up in the pub. It was a warm, cosy offering, all dark wooden beams, comfy armchairs and open fire that was as reassuring as it was stereotypical. The name proclaimed it to be The Cock and Fiddle. No doubt a corruption of something lost to the winds of time, but the hanging sign embraced it enough to at least show a cockerel clutching a violin.

Words were murmured and heads turned as they entered, but their presence was deemed otherwise unremarkable.

They took seats in a corner, to one side of the fire. The warmth was welcome, even after the relatively short time spent outside between the jeep and the pub, and was more than enough to justify the removal of his borrowed coat.

"Drink?"

"Yes." The response was more automatic than anything and it was a beat or two before he realised how he had answered.

The doctor's smirk was rich in amusement. "Care to be more explicit? Ale? Scotch? Irn Bru?"

He rolled his eyes. "Coke."

He expected a reaction to his choice - a scoff, a jesting comment, at least a raised eyebrow - that was what everyone else did, but the doctor merely nodded and headed to the bar. Truth was, he wasn't much of a drinker, another thing that made him an outsider at university. He had never enjoyed the deadening affect heavy imbibing had on his brain, nor the tribal ridicule from those who had deemed him a 'light weight'. He also had no intention of losing his inhibitions in current company, or of putting himself into a potentially compromising situation.

Or of looking like a fool.

The doctor returned with two drinks; a coke and what looked like some sort of ale.

"So, go on then," the doctor said as he took his seat, "tell me, what can you deduce?"

Sherlock frowned, eyes darting around before they settled on the doctor. "You want me to-" he made a vague motion with his hand.

"Sure, why not," the doctor said, lifting his drink.

It was mildly unsettling, because no one else had ever truly been interested in his deductions. Mummy and Daddy had humoured him more than anything, and Mycroft had always been better at it. His classmates at school had not liked it, and his university acquaintances had either hated it or tried to use it to their own advantage. A little trick they called it.

Yet, despite everything so far this week, the doctor had only praised and encouraged him, even when some of the deductions had raised things the doctor no doubt would have preferred to have kept hidden. Like the dead lover, perhaps.

But the man had asked and was looking at him expectedly.

Looking round, he took in the sights, the building, the furniture, and then the people. Taking a breath, he paused, and then he began.

He talked about the age of the place - 200 years or so for most of the property - although there were signs of an older building having existing there earlier. The side and back extension was obviously considerably newer.

He talked about the particular wear on the flagstones - a band, tapping feet, dancing - about a fight that had left groves in the wooden beams - most likely from a wildly swung broad sword - and a hole in the crossbeam - pistol shot.

He pointed out the tables where cards had been played over the years, the burn marks from cigarettes and cigars, the darker stains that suggested bloodshed rather than alcohol.

He pointed out a few of the people around them. The woman behind the bar whose family had owned the place for at least four generations. The man in the corner who owed a farm, although he no longer ran it day-to-day if the cuffs on his trousers were anything to go by. The older retired couple who always sat in the same place, at the same time of day and ordered the same choice of food and drink.

He spoke until he ran out of words and the doctor ran out of questions. The smile never went though and it warmed him to have such an expression aimed in his direction.

"Amazing," the doctor declared. "That never ceases to- well- amazing."

"Hamish!"

Sherlock jerked as the main door swung open with a crash. The single word cry that accompanied the entry was loud and unapologetic, much like the cause of the commotion. The newcomer was a large man, who, despite being no more than average in height, seemed almost giant-like; his build broad, his chest deep, his hair and beard a vivid red that declared his native heritage as loudly as his distinctive burr.

For a moment, Sherlock looked round, confused as to which of the other occupants the stranger was addressing, but then, much to his shock, the newcomer was heading in their direction and the doctor was rising to his feet.

"Hamish, ye auld wee bastard!"

The hug was as large and encompassing as the greeting was loud and warm. Sherlock wasn't sure what threw him more, seeing the doctor willingly physically embracing this man, or the fact they knew each other in the first place.

Despite owning property relatively nearby, it had failed to occur to him that the doctor might actually know some of the real locals.

"Adair!" the doctor responded warmly, although at a lower volume than his companion.

"Aye," the stranger said with a tone of amusement. "So ye haena forgot me then." The stranger didn't stop there though, but whatever came next was lost in a stream of vowels and guttural noises that took Sherlock a moment to realise wasn't English, and another moment to realise was good for honest Scots Gaelic.

Scottish Gaelic, his brain helpfully informed him, sometimes referred to as Gaelic, not to be confused with Scots. A Celtic language native to Scotland. Once spoken widely, now spoken by less than 2% of the population of Scotland. Not an official language of the United Kingdom.

He knew the facts. Until then he hadn't heard anyone converse in it.

It was... fascinating.

Even taking into consideration body language and gestures, and his knowledge of other languages, he had little chance of following what was being said. The doctor, however, had no such problem, responding in kind and without hesitation, the words falling from his tongue as smoothly as if they were his first language.

It couldn't be his first language. Could it?

He looked between the two men, stacking up the deductions around probability, upbringing and linguistic ease. No, he decided, not a first language, but close.

Then his thought train was broken by the doctor chuckling and motioning in his direction. "Sherlock, Adair MacKenzie, an old... friend. Adair, Sherlock."

Offering a small smile and his hand - because that was what you did - he was taken back when the stranger ignored both, slapping two strong hands onto his shoulders and looking deeply into his eyes.

"Oh aye," the stranger said the whole exchange moved from odd to downright uncomfortable. "Chì mi. Chì mi," he said before breaking into a broad toothy grin. "But by devil's teeth, Hamish. He still naught but a wee bairn."

The doctor's look was pointed, but it was enough to make the stranger laugh again and release his shoulders with a firm pat. It was all Sherlock could do not to stumble.

"Starve yersel nae mair, Hamish. Something to live for ye hae."

The rest ended back in Scottish Gaelic and then the stranger was off, firm slap to the shoulder for Sherlock, clasped arm shake for the doctor, before a near bellowed greeting to the bar lady, and then off back into the cooling afternoon.

For a moment the room felt emptier and quieter.

Breathing out, the doctor sunk back into his chair, hand twitching against the armrest. He looked thoughtful, almost lost, and Sherlock wasn't even sure that the doctor remembered he was still there.

He retook his own seat in silence, watching the doctor with some interest, until the need to ask the most obvious question overtook him.

"Hamish?" he asked pointedly.

The doctor startled for a moment, eyes snapping towards him, but then he gradually relaxed, a small smile crossing his face.

"Question or address?" he asked teasingly.

"Question." Obviously. Sherlock cocked his head to one side. "Unless you'd prefer it as a form of address."

"Ah, yeah, no," the doctor said, straightening himself. "My middle name. John H. Watson. Not something I really use down south. What?" He trailed off.

"So you are then," Sherlock said.

The doctor frowned. "Am what?"

"A Scot."

A smile. "Oh. Aye. Born and bred, as ye might say."

Outside of the previous conversation, that was the most Scottish he had ever heard the doctor be. Up until that point, the doctor's Scottish identity had occurred to him more intellectually than in actuality, little different from the fair weathered Scots he had come across down south. The type of person who was proud of their Scottish heritage, but who believed a holiday cottage in the Highlands, a kilt, and some Gaelic poetry made them as native as the next Highlander.

"You speak Gaelic."

"Gal-leck," the doctor corrected the pronunciation almost absently. "And yes. But you already knew that."

Did he? Had he? Sherlock frowned. Yes, he had known that, or at least had filed it away as a strong possibility, before it got buried under a lot of other new information. But it had never been fully confirmed in his mind. Why? Where had the deduction first come from? The poetry books? Some of them had been in Scots Gaelic, but that as evidence spoken little about oral ability. The doctor had never spoken Scottish Gaelic to him.

Or had he?

"You said something..." he said slowly, "back at the start, when you opened the curtains."

He hadn't really thought anything of it at the time, too caught up in all the other things he had been bombarded with. But he had automatically absorbed the information, filing it away for later.

"Kay-ut meel-"

"Ceud mìle fàilte ," the doctor corrected smoothly. "A thousand welcomes."

A standard greeting, Sherlock thought, acknowledging it with a nod.

"So who was that then?" he asked, automatically motioning to the door the stranger had disappeared through.

"Ah," the doctor said, something flickering across his face. "That was Adair."

"An old friend."

The doctor chuckled. "Pretty old, yeah," he admitted.

"You introduced us."

The doctor frowned. "Of course. Why, should I not of?"

Not if you planned to murder me, Sherlock thought. Too many people have seen them together now. There was too much evidence to deny a connection between them.

He decided to change the subject.

"He seemed to have some things to say to you."

"Hmmm," the doctor said. "My fault really. Didn't exactly mention I was back in the area, and I haven't been here much, not since...." He trailed off with a false smile.

Not since Harry, Sherlock finished silently. This Adair had clearly known Harry then, known what their relationship had been, and had not been bothered by it.

"Were you and he," he waved towards the door, "ever, you know?"

The doctor looked blank for a moment, eyes darting back to the door as if they might hold the answer until the full question finally dawned on him.

"No. Oh god no," the doctor said quickly, balled fist suddenly pressing against his mouth. "That's just... no." He shook his head, his lips curving into a small smile. "Slim, athletic geniuses, remember. And he definitely prefers the curvier, busty types."

Sherlock looked away, something he couldn't quite identify easing back down within him.

"Good. That's... good."

The doctor watched but said nothing.

"So, uh, what was he saying then?"

"Just the usual. Keep in touch. Look after myself. Eat more. Which reminds me, what do you say to an early dinner since we sort of missed lunch?"

With his late breakfast and terrible eating habits, he had hardly noticed the missed meal until the doctor pointed it out. He also recognised a deflection when he heard it.

He nodded and waited as the doctor went to fetch a menu.

True Highlander, Scottish Gaelic, lunch, he had missed things. Question was, what else might he have missed?

*

The answer came to him during the slow journey back.

It was like an epiphany. Seemingly random pieces suddenly slotted together into such a vivid picture that he wondered how the hell he might have missed it in the first place. As it was, it was all he could do not to gasp out loud. That would not have done, as even with as simple a mind as the doctor possessed, even he could not have missed such an obvious expression.

As it was, the journey continued in a comfortable silence, slower now than going as the lack of sunlight and any streetlights made the journey more hazardous.

"You okay?"

He should have thought his realisation would not go fully unnoticed.

"Fine," he said shortly, keeping his eyes on the road ahead. "Just tired, that's all."

"Well, yes," the doctor agreed. "Last night was a late one and you were up early, going through the room."

After an early morning trip to the bathroom, he had been meaning to return to the warmth of the bed, only to be distracted by the unknown still undiscovered in the second upstairs room. Sleep could wait, he had decided, and he was hardly getting less than he usually would, anyway.

The spare room had beckoned and he had gone, and it was good that he had too, or else he might have overlooked the dark case. Although the additional sleep may have allowed him to reach the obvious truth more quickly.

And it was obvious, now that he realised it. He just had to find the final piece of evidence that he was certain existed.

There was only one place where it might be, though, and the doctor was unlikely to allow him to simply waltz over and have a good rummage. He would need a plan.

He yawned.

It wasn't a particularly good plan, he conceded, but it was at least a plan.

Leaning his head against the side window, he ignored the doctor's curious glance for staring at the headlight lit road.

*

The desk was the obvious place. He had been through all the other likely places already; the cupboards, under the stairs, Harry's room. True, he hadn't then been looking for what he was certain to exist if his deductions proved right, but it was hardly something he might have glossed over had he seen it.

No, the desk was the most likely place. So far he had only given it the most cursory of interest. Partly because what he had seen in it had been completely straightforward. And partly because by it being located in the main room, it was impossible to show an interest in it without the doctor knowing.

True, the doctor had so far shown no sign of minding where Sherlock looked, but there was always the exception.

Calling it a night, he had waited until the doctor had retreated to the bathroom for his nightly ablutions. Then, descending the stairs, he made as if to get himself a drink before crossing to the desk.

As old fashioned writing desks went, this was certainly a beauty. Georgian in age, probably around 1780 or so. Well maintained, but the scratches and hinges told of usage over the years. A beautiful polished mahogany on the outside, it opened to a beautiful writing surface dominated by an inlaid burr walnut oval. Stylish and well-made, it was not too dissimilar to the one he remembered being in his father's study at Musgrave. Another victim of that fire.

Crouching, he looked critically at the interior drawers and cubbies, eyes narrowing as he studied them, before reaching for the central section. Carefully he drew it out, noting the weight, until finally it fully left the table. Turning it, he found the secret compartment, easing open the latching and reaching in for the content.

In silence he took out the very item whose existence he had deduced.

He was still holding it when the bathroom door reopened.

"What the devil do you think you are doing?!"

It was the first time, he realised, that he had heard anything akin to anger in the doctor's voice and this was definitely anger, but of the quiet, understated type rather than the overblown, ranting type. All colour, what little there usually was, had drained from the doctor's face, while his eyes flashed with ire tinged with a hint fear. Physically he had gone still, hand clutching his used towel, his body seeming smaller and yet somehow more dangerous now he was in pyjamas and no longer in one of his oversized jumpers.

"I could ask you the same thing, doctor," he said back equally quietly. Without breaking eye contact, he slowly raised the Victorian pistol.

To his admittedly inexpert eye, it was a well maintained hand gun, recently oiled, and, despite its age, in perfect working condition.

The doctor's eyes tracked the gun.

"Hardly the more expected hunting rifle considering the surroundings, and certainly more than one would expect for a simple GP," Sherlock pointed out.

Another deep in-breath and the doctor's posture straightened further, his shoulders pushing back, his chin tipping up a notch, no doubt unconsciously.

"This- this isn't what it might look like-"

"Oh," Sherlock drawled slowly, "I'm sure this is exactly what it looks like. Not exactly the legally mandated locked cabinet, is it, doctor?"

He watched the doctor pointedly as he carefully tipped up the secret compartment until half a dozen bullets rolled into his hand.

".450 Adams?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

The doctor's jaw twitched, but otherwise he didn't move.

"Basic, but would get the job done. Isn't that right, doctor?"

"Sherlock-"

"Single bullet. Head, obviously. Would need to make sure first time. No room for mistakes."

"Sherlock-"

"But where? Not the front of the head. Gun that old, underpowered bullet like that, you're more likely to simply damage the cerebral cortex, which may not be life threatening."

"Sherlock-"

"Could do the temple, but that runs the same risk. Chin, ditto."

"Sherlock-"

"Mouth though. Point straight, or even better, slightly downwards, and it's bye-bye spinal column, which does tends to be rapidly fatal. Which is the point, after all, isn't it, doctor? To. Be. Fatal."

"I would never hurt you," the doctor said quietly into the sudden stillness.

"Yes," Sherlock acknowledged. "But this isn't for me, is it?" he said. "This is for you."

And that had been the final deduction.

It had been there, at the edge of his consciousness without ever forming enough to produce a corporal image. It had been something Adair had said in the end. A throwaway comment, nothing more.

Something to live for.

It had all suddenly made sense. The floating facts that hadn't quite fitted together into a coherent image had finally slotted together; the jumpers that were too big; the comment about not eating properly; the complete lack of snacking between meals.

Together those all pointed to a plausible eating disorder, but there was more when other factors were added in.

The isolation. The lack of socialising. The loss of a loved one. Grief could account for all of that, and yet there was more still.

The kidnapping. The bargain. The calmness in the face of unmitigated possible consequences. They had started to build an altogether more unpalatable picture, but he hadn't been, couldn't be, certain, until he found what he had partially dreaded to find.

The pistol had been the last piece of evidence; the final piece in the puzzle.

"This was your fall back," he said slowly. "The solution to your final problem. You knew coming back here wouldn't be easy, but you did it anyway, because you knew that regardless of everything you had a plan."

"Sherlock-"

"But not just a plan, a way out. And not even a bad one at that. Because you had already thought about it. Already toiled with it in your mind. Already made your decision as to how this all ends."

"Sherlock-"

"And you've been building towards it all this time. Haven't you? So tell me doctor, how long?"

"Sherlock-"

"How long have you been planning on killing yourself?"

There was a moment, as the words hung between them, that he thought the doctor would protest, as he had been throughout, but then it was like the air had been let out and the doctor seemed to deflate before his eyes, hands covering his face in all the confirmation that Sherlock needed that he was right.

A small part of him really wished that he hadn't been.

"You may have no intention of hurting me," he said quietly, "but you also have no intention of seeing out the consequences of kidnapping me either. Or at least not in the legal sense. You could promise not to hurt me, because in the end it wouldn't matter if I reported the abduction or not, the outcome was always going to be the same.

"So what was it going to be? A bullet to the brain and the house set to burn? Old place like this, full of wood and books and old furnishings. Open fire, no neighbours, miles from anywhere. Such a tragic accident. You wouldn't even need the spare petrol stored in the woodshed outside, but that would make it all the more certain."

"Stop it."

"Douse the room upstairs of course," he continued. "Harry's room. That's where it has to be. Because that's where it matters. That's where it hurts. Drop a match and watch it catch. All those notebooks, those canvases, the old clothing in the wardrobe. Watch as the memories are consumed by the racing yellow lines of destruction."

"Stop it."

"Watch as you physically do what has already emotionally happened. Watch as all you hold most dear crackles and burns and melts, before you raise the gun, Harry's gun, another heirloom, to your mouth, your finger tightening on the trigger as everything you care about burns around you and then you-"

"Enough!"

The single word sliced through the room like a scythe through grass, cutting through his speech, halting his words.

For a moment the doctor was radiant. All pent up emotion, barely contained in his compact frame, body virtually vibrating as his eyes bore into Sherlock's, pinning him in place, holding that moment for one second... two... three.

Then with a blink the moment was gone, the air releasing from the doctor's lungs as he pulled in on himself and looked away.

"Enough," he repeated, quiet and broken. "Put the pistol back. Please."

"No."

The word surprised even him.

The doctor looked impossibly tired as he rubbed the side of his head. "Sherlock, look, I'm really not in the mood for-"

"No," he repeated, cutting the doctor off as he looked down at the weapon in his hand. "No, I will not simply hand back the means to your own destruction."

That got a reaction. First surprise, then confusion, then anger.

"Why?" The tone was incredulous. "Why do you care? In case you've forgotten, I kidnapped you. For sex. Sex. Look at you. You're barely legal, and look at me. Look at me. I am not nice a man. Oh so far from it. So why the fuck would you care what I may or may not do with my own life?"

"Because you're not boring!"

It continued to be a day of surprises.

The words startled them both into silence. The doctor looked away at that, lips pressed tightly together, and then he started to laugh. It was more of a giggle at first, but then it was definitely a laugh, a full, contagious, body laugh. And then there were tears. Which again seemed to catch them both equally by surprise. And then the doctor was sinking to the floor, the sofa and armchairs apparently too far away. And he was still laughing.

"Sorry-" the doctor said between breathes. "Sorry- it's just- oh god- sorry. Sorry."

There was another long pause, the doctor's chest rising and falling as he sucked in deep breathes between the hysteria that had gripped him.

"You should go to bed," he said finally.

Probably, Sherlock conceded, yet he did not move.

"Sherlock?"

"I'm not giving it back."

There was a long look, the hysteria having given away to weariness, and then a slow nod. "Alright," the doctor said softly. "Alright. Goodnight, Sherlock."

So there was to be no further conversation, no discussion, it was over and he had been dismissed. He shifted awkwardly for a moment, trapped in indecision. There was more he felt he should say, yet he had said so much already and reassuring platitudes were far from his expertise.

"Goodnight, Sherlock."

The pistol felt heavy in his hand as he made his way to the stairs. Part of him was conscious that he had left the desk a mess, but that was no longer his problem.

His feet felt laden as he climbed each step. Behind him he heard nothing to suggest the doctor had moved from his place on the floor. It took effort not to look behind him, back down, when he reached the top of the stairs. Instead he pushed the bedroom door open.

The room felt even colder than usual.

Perching on the bed, he studied the pistol. It was nothing particularly special and far from unique. Despite its age, there would still be hundreds of its like around. The most obvious course of action would be to destroy it. To take it apart bit by bit. Or to put it somewhere it would never be found - like the bottom of the loch, for instance.

And yet another part of him could not do it. Could not even face doing it. Not to something this... beautiful.

Could a gun even be considered beautiful?

It perhaps spoke of his mental state that he was even debating it in his own mind. The doctor was right in that respects, he should probably get some sleep, even if he had already slept more this week than he normally would.

He looked back down at the gun.

He would have to keep it, hide it, take it with him, if need be, when he left.

He slipped it under his pillow.

He would keep it safe.

Rising to his feet, he crossed to the door and slowly pushed the bolt home in the door lock.

Chapter Text

There was noise and movement and flickering light that was spreading hotter and brighter. Everything was burning, crumbling, falling. People were shouting, crying, screaming.

Then he heard his name, cutting through the rest, drawn out and desperate, searching.

SHERLOCK!

He bolted upright, eyes wide but unseeing, chest tight as he sucking in deep lungfuls of cool air. His heart thudded; in his chest, in his throat, in his ears, deafening in its loudness.

He breathed.

There was no fire, no smoke, no fumes. He wasn't choking. He wasn't trapped. He wasn't lost.

He breathed again.

He was Sherlock Holmes and he was in his bed. He was in the bedroom, in the cottage, in Scotland.

He was fine.

He was fine.

It was just a dream.

He fumbled for the bedside lamp until with a click soft light cut through the oppressive darkness. A glance at his watch said it was still early. Very early in fact. Too early.

Ducking his head, he took a moment to simply continue breathing. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

He was alright. More sleep was unlikely though, at least not right now, not with the amount of adrenaline currently coursing through his body. That was something he knew all too well from experience. This was hardly the first time he had woken up feeling like this. Nor was it the first time he had dreamt about fire. Gone, though, were the days when he would seek out his brother. Now he had replaced the familial with his books, or experiments, or, on the odd occasion, cocaine.

The chill hit him as he lifted the heavy covers.

Wrapping a blanket around his shoulders, he padded over to the wardrobe. So far he had ignored the clothes that hung in there, unwilling to don anything that might have belonged to his predecessor, but with the chill, the call of the heavy wool tartan dressing gown was too much to ignore. To his surprise it fell low enough to brush his calves, unlikely, therefore, to have belonged to either the doctor or his dead lover. It was, however, warm and somehow comforting, not too far removed from something he might have bought for himself should the need have arisen.

Pulling on a pair of thick socks - unworn, still in their packaging - he kept his footsteps light as he crossed the room. One hand on the wood, he carefully eased back the bolt and opened the door.

He was expecting the darkness and stillness. He was not expecting the soothing voice of Vera Lynn.

When the lights go on again all over the world
And the boys are home again all over the world

He hesitated. He had not expected the doctor to still be awake. His vague plan had involved slipping down and slipping back up again while the doctor slept, or at least pretended to sleep, in order to avoid interaction. Now though, the music meant that neither of them could pretend that they hadn't known the other to be awake.

Considering the pros and cons, he stepped out and pulled the door to behind him, before carefully making his way down step by step.

As expected, the lights were off, the only real illumination coming from the glowing remains of the open fire and the little moonlight coming through the uncurtained windows.

"Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."

He jerked slightly, the voice coming from much closer and the opposite direction from where he had been expecting. He had thought the doctor to likely be on the sofa, stretched out, staring at the fire. Or perhaps in his armchair, wrapped within a blanket. Or even maybe a statuesque figure by the record player, unmoving since setting the LP to play.

He hadn't expected the doctor to be so close beside him, almost entirely engulfed by the shadows that darkened the kitchen.

"You didn't," Sherlock said, stepping off the last stair.

There was far too little light to see the doctor's expression, but he could make out the acknowledging nod of the head.

"Couldn't sleep either then?"

"Thought I'd get something to read for a bit." He motioned to the kitchen table where he had left all his books scattered.

"Of course."

They moved around each other, him to the table, the doctor to his armchair, which he sunk into, leaning back, eyes lidded as he listen to the music. The music choice seemed out of character for the doctor, yet it was clear he was very familiar with it. Perhaps that was less surprising considering the age of his lost lover, who from Sherlock's calculation had likely to have been born around the 1940s.

Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
'Till the blue skies chase
Those dark clouds far away

Turning away, he moved to gather his books to take them upstairs. If he couldn't sleep, then perhaps forensic pathology could keep him company. That way at least he would be out of sight and no longer intruding in the doctor's makeshift sleeping area.

He startled as the doctor got once more to his feet.

"Would you like a drink? I'm making one."

"Caffeine is a stimulant," he replied without thought. "Alcohol is a mood enhancer. Neither will help you sleep."

Because it was obvious the doctor hadn't even managed that much. He was still dressed as he had been those hours earlier, his blankets still neatly folded beside the sofa.

"I was more thinking Horlicks."

Oh. It had been years since he'd had one of those. Daddy had been fond of them. Or at least, fond of making them for Mummy when she was in one of her more manic moods and her mind was stuck in a high gear. Half the time she didn't even notice she was drinking it in her distracted state.

"Oh. Yes. Thank you."

He shifted awkwardly for a moment, suddenly aware that in accepting the drink he was now unable to facilitate a quick retreat to the bedroom. Even if he ignored standard curtesy and took the drink to his room, he was still required to wait for it to be made.

Fortunately it seemed that the doctor neither required nor expected further conversation while he busied himself with the task at hand. That gave Sherlock the opportunity to flick through his books in an act that made him look occupied, while subtly watching the doctor out of the corner of his eye.

Until that night, he couldn't remember having ever seen the doctor in anything other than full dress, and certainly not in something as casual as pyjamas. Or in this case, pyjamas bottoms and a t-shirt.

Actually, the bottoms he might have seen before, on the one or two occasions when he had ventured downstairs before the doctor had fully readied himself in the morning, but they had always been accompanied by an oversized jumper, so he hadn't taken particular notice.

Without the jumper, and despite the lack of light to see by, the doctor appeared smaller than he might have expected, in stature and in build. There was definite definition to him though, a muscle tone that spoke of both strength and stamina, without seeming overworked or unnecessary.

It was different from Sherlock's own more wiry tone, which had been acquired honestly, initially through cardio, dance, martial arts, and more recently, boxing.

The doctor had a different type of strength, one that was... pleasant to look at.

"You okay?"

Startled, he quickly looked away, trying to stop his cheeks from colouring on realising he had been caught staring.

"Yes. Uh. Sorry. Thanks." He reached for the offered mug, shivering slightly as the warmth from the drink met his cooler skin.

The doctor frowned at the reaction. "Cold?" he asked.

He hesitated but then gave a small nod. It was silly really, especially considering that he was wrapped in the dressing gown while the doctor only wore a thin layer of cotton. But while the air did feel warmer down here than in the bedroom, it was only marginal. Then again, he had never really tolerated the cold for as long as he could remember, often opting for a thick coat all the way into summer.

"Sit," the doctor said, guiding him to the second armchair, which was the closest to the fireplace. "Give me a moment and I'll sort the fire. Provided you trust me enough not to actually burn the place down."

There was a flash of a smile at the acknowledged weak joke, but then the doctor had turned away and busied himself relaying the fire. He did so quickly and smoothly and it wasn't long before both the light and the warmth added to the room.

"Drink okay?" His own drink retrieved, the doctor sank once more into the second chair, cradling the mug.

Sherlock nodded, and then with nothing else to say, added, "My father used to make this. Mainly for mother, when she was having one of her moments. Sometimes for me or Mycroft as well."

The doctor smiled encouragingly. "Tell me about them," he said.

He looked up with a frown. "My family?" he asked.

"If you want," the doctor said.

He looked questioningly. "You know them. Knew them."

"I met them," the doctor said. "Your parents, that is. But I didn't exactly know them. I know about your brother, but I don't believe I ever met him."

Sherlock snorted. "You would remember if you had," he said.

"Memorable?"

"Fat."

The doctor's lips twitched as if torn between remonstrating and laughing. "Overweight, certainly, from what I picked up," the doctor conceded. "But you make him sound obese."

"He got worse," Sherlock said. "He was always chubby, always eating, but then he piled on the pounds, especially after uni. Mummy blamed Uncle Rudy."

"Uncle Rudy?"

"Daddy's brother. Works for the government. Civil service, MI5, not exactly sure what. Official Secrets Act and all of that. He got Mycroft a position. Mycroft got fat. Or at least even fatter than he had been."

He pulled his feet up under him on the chair and sipped at his drink. The warmth from the fire was nice. Relaxing.

"What about you?" he asked. "What about your family? Brothers? Sisters?"

"No," the doctor said, offering a drawn smile. "Or at least, not any more" He tapped his fingers. "My mother died when I was very young. I don't really remember her anymore. I had a sister, but she's gone too now. Long time ago. My... father, I haven't seen him in a long time. He has... other children. Another life. We're not close. I suppose that means I have other siblings around somewhere, but-" he trailed off.

Other siblings? Even half siblings? What were they like? Did the doctor know any of them? Were any of them like him? Would it be rude to ask further?

"So, what about you?" the doctor asked instead, breaking the awkwardness. "Just you and your brother or are there more of you out there?"

"Just us," he said. "Mummy was a mathematician before Daddy. She gave that up after they had Mycroft. Mind you, it doesn't take a mathematician to work out that Mycroft was born just five months after their wedding."

The doctor raised his eyebrows, pressing his lips together in a smile. "Scandalous."

"Mhm," Sherlock hummed. "Then there's seven years between Mycroft and me. I've never asked, but I don't believe that was planned either. The gap that is. I think they had hoped for something smaller."

"But then you came alone."

"I did. And then-" he frowned, suddenly uncertain as to where the thought had been going. "I think they were hoping for a third, but it's just us."

A girl, he had sometimes thought, a daughter for Mummy, one with dresses and hair clips and another funny name.

"Did Harry have family?"

The words slipped out before he knew what they would be.

The doctor looked momentarily surprised.

"Not to speak of," the doctor replied. "Only child. Older parents. His mother passed when he was nine, his father when he was in his late twenties. It was different then, but I don't think they were particularly close. He had a cousin, ten, twelve years his senior, who he kept in touch with, but that was about it."

"But he had you."

The doctor tilted his head, mouth curving into an acknowledging smile.

"But he had me."

*

They talked, exchanging stories as the fire continued to spread its warmth. It was nice. Pleasant. Easy. The memory of the nightmare faded away with the cold and he found his eyelids becoming heavy and then it was more of an effort to keep them up.

"Come on, you should get back to bed."

He resisted the hand guiding him upwards out of the chair. "S'nice here," he said. "Warm. Cold up there."

The fingers paused for a moment but then resumed their pressure. "I know," he heard in the quiet. "Sorry. I should have thought. You need to get up now though. Up you get. Your back will thank you tomorrow."

Heavy of limb and with great reluctance, Sherlock allowed himself to be brought to his feet, but it was with surprise that he found himself guided to the sofa and not to the stairs.

"Here. Now down you go. There you are. All stretched out."

The sofa wasn't bad, more comfortable than the chair, warmer than the bed. The blanket draped over him was warm and soft with a smell that was almost familiar. It was nice.

"Sleep, mo ghaol," he heard as fingers gently brushed his curls. Then he remembered no more.

*

The fire was low but still burning when he awoke. For a moment he blinked absently as he stared at it. This wasn't the bed. He wasn't in the bedroom. In fact, he was still downstairs but he had no recollection of how he had got there. Then it slowly started to come back; the nightmare, the late night drink, the conversation by the fire, then his protest at being moved.

Rather than force him back into the cold, unwelcoming room, the doctor had let him sleep in his own makeshift bed, on the sofa, wrapped in his blanket.

The doctor.

Jerking up, he looked around, searching for his companion, but found only still emptiness. He could hear the hiss of water through the old pipes, the gentle hum of the fridge, the soft crackles of a dying fire, but little else. He certainly couldn't hear any sign of shared occupancy.

The doctor was not there.

The gun.

A wave of panic sent him scrambling from the sofa to the stairs. Had the doctor taken the opportunity to retrieve the pistol from his hiding place? Was that why the doctor had put him to sleep on the sofa rather than insisting he go back to his own bed? The cottage was too silent and still, was it already too late?

Rushing into the bedroom, he made directly for the bed, thrusting his hand desperately under the pillow even as he mentally berated himself for letting his guard down. He had completely forgotten about the weapon and the danger it represented.

How long have you been planning on killing yourself?

Relief rushed through him as his fingers curled around the cool metal, and pulling it out he cradled the weapon in his hands. His heart thumped with a force that felt unhealthy and certainly extreme for someone who had been a virtual stranger just a few days earlier.

Not just a virtual stranger, but a kidnapper and possible rapist as well.

He slipped the pistol back under the pillow. He would have to come up with a better hiding place, if only for his own peace of mind. First, though, he had a doctor to find.

*

The note had been left on the kitchen table. Gone to get some things. Back around lunchtime. Don't wait for me if you get hungry. Additional wood by the hearth if you get cold. Try not to burn the place down. JW.

The jeep was also gone, but a set of keys to the cottage had been left on the table, just in case he also wished to venture out in the meantime, Sherlock concluded.

His books were also still on the table, but had been tidied and neatly stacked. Their mugs from the night before had been washed and left to dry on the draining board. The doctor's pyjamas were neatly folded in a bag near the doctor's armchair. Other than that there was little sign of change, which made it hard to estimate how long the doctor had actually gone for.

Or how much sleep he might have gotten.

The day was overcast, the cloud cover heavy, which blocked out any sight of the sun. It also did little for his mood. It did not take much time to realise that he missed the presence of the other man.

Retreating back upstairs, he returned to the other room as he thought of it, primarily to seek an alternative hiding place for the pistol. A traitorous part of his brain pointed out that it wouldn't matter in the long run, as a man determined to end his life would find a way regardless of what anyone else might do.

Perhaps he should reiterate that he had no desire to report the doctor to the authorities? On the reassurance, of course, that this was indeed a one off, that the doctor had no intention of kidnapping another slim, homosexual genius for sexual intercourse.

While he sought a potential hiding place or two for the gun, the thing he did find was further manuscript paper, each page carefully annotated in neat musical notation, all apparently for the violin. Gathering them, he retreated to the clearer light of downstairs and looked through them as he thought.

His first realisation was that the vast majority of the pieces were either original pieces or unique arrangements of familiar tunes. His second realisation was that the main handwriting was not of the deceased lover.

It was not necessary to have made a study of handwriting or be an accredited forensic document examiner to determine that.

The odd scribble, correction or addition did match the copious lines of mathematical equations in various notebooks, but the original writings were in a different hand. Or, in fact, in two different hands if the even older manuscripts were to go by, and in this case, old was indeed old. Late nineteen and early twentieth centuries for the 'newer' manuscripts. Early to mid-nineteenth century for the 'earliest'.

Bound in ribbon and stored with everything else, the doctor clearly did not appreciate just what he had here. It was almost criminal. So too was the thought that it could so easily be lost.

Watch it burn.

Spreading the manuscripts across the dining table, he lifted the Strad to his chin - truly a prince among instruments - pulled the bow across the strings and started to think.

*

He circled around the central facts as he knew them, tipping them, twisting them, viewing them from all possible angles until he was certain he had considered all eventualities, motivations and possible outcomes.

Finishing one piece of music, he shuffled the pages and moved onto the next.

He considered what he wanted and the best way of getting it. He considered the doctor and the type of man he was. He considered the pros and cons of the options, the immediate likely future, and the wider circumstances.

He continued to play as he thought, moving from one piece to the next, his fingers dancing over the strings as if they belonged there.

He considered the likely consequences of each option, and then he considered them even more.

He was so lost in his thoughts and his playing that he failed to notice the time passing, or hear the door opening and the quiet entry of his companion who stopped to watch him play.

It was only as the final note of the current piece died away that he realised he was no longer alone.

"I haven't heard that in a long time," the doctor said, his voice soft but still startling in its unexpectedness. "That arrangement at least. It was one of my favourites."

Confused, he looked down at the papers spread before him. Despite having only just finished, he had no recollection of what he had been playing. So caught up in his own thoughts he had barely taken notice of his music choice.

Ye'll tak' the high road and I'll tak' the low road, he read as his eye scanned the page. And I'll be in Scotland afore ye.

Loch Lomond he realised, his chest doing an annoying tightening; the tale of two lovers separated by death.

"Sorry I wasn't here, but I hope you didn't mind me going out. I passed a shop so got you a paper, but more than that, here, it's for your room."

The doctor beamed as he motioned to the object he was now standing beside. It was a portable electric space heater, Sherlock realised after a moment. Not massive, but designed to plug into the wall and would certainly make a positive difference to the temperature in the upstairs bedroom. It was also obviously the primary reason for the doctor deciding to go out.

He stared at it, his thoughts awhirl until they settled on the one overriding fact that had started his mental maelstrom.

"I want the violin."

Those were not the words either of them were expecting.

The doctor blinked for a moment, frowning as he looked from Sherlock to the space heater and back again.

"Did I miss something?" he said.

Sherlock straightened his shoulders. This was not how he had been planning to broach the subject, but he had started now. This was where he was now going from and he would only settle on one outcome.

"I want the violin," he repeated firmly. "And some of the sheet music," he added motioning to the pile on the table, "but mainly the violin."

"Right," the doctor said, frown still on his face. "You, uh, want to borrow it?"

"No."

Borrow it? As if he would ever be able to give it up.

"I want to keep it. You're going to give it to me."

Something shifted in the doctor's expression at those words. It was almost as if something had hardened across the eyes. That was... unexpected.

"That's Harry's violin," the doctor said slowly. "It's also an heirloom. No offence, but it's not like the book. Why would I just give it to you?"

He met the doctor's gaze head on. "Because you want sex," he said.

"Excuse me?" The hardness had given way to confusion. He had obviously failed to make the rather obvious connection between the two things.

"You want sex," Sherlock repeated. "With me," he added as if that hadn't been clear. "I want the violin."

The doctor blinked. His eyes pulled briefly together, then he blinked again.

"Sex."

"Sex," Sherlock confirmed. "That's what all of this is about, is it not? Ultimately that's why you kidnapped me. You want to have sex with me. Well if that's the case, I want something in return."

"And you want the violin?"

"Yes."

Because how could he possibly live with himself having played such a fine and beautiful instrument and then walk away knowing that he was leaving it in the hands of a man who not only did not know what it was but also had profound and lingering suicidal tendencies that could well end with the instrument being lost forever. The mere thought of this building burning down with all the treasures and histories contained within was bad enough, but the idea of this Stradivarius, this rare, priceless instrument going with it was a nightmare that had the potential to haunt him forever.

He simply could not let that happen.

The fact that the instrument felt right in his hands - in a way that transcended verbal communication - just strengthened his resolve. It had to be his.

And if he had to have sex to secure the instrument, then so be it. That was the price, he had concluded, that he was willing to pay. At least the sex would then be on his terms, and his body was only transport anyway.

The doctor was still staring at him. "Just to get this right," he said with a slight shake to the head. "You're saying that if I agree to let you keep that, the violin, then you'll have sex with me."

"And some of the sheet music," Sherlock confirmed, "but ultimately yes, the violin. You want me to have sex with you. You've been rather clear on that point. Since you rather illegally kidnapped and abducted me to that end, it seems only fair that I get something in return."

The doctor blinked again. "Something in return." A wry smile slid onto his face. "You mean other than the chance to be sexually intimate with someone who would use all of their practical knowledge and experience to make it as easy, gentle and pleasurable as possible?"

Sherlock swallowed. Teasing, that was teasing he realised. Teasing was... good. Although that was teasing about sex, and while sex didn't alarm him - it didn't! - he did recognise that he was not without... issues. A lack of practical experience, for one. A lack of want of practical experience for two.

The second had led to the first, but the first in turn compounded the second. It meant that even if at some point he did find himself wanting to experience sex, there was a good chance he would be held back by his lack of experience.

This was another factor he had considered extensively.

Having someone - the doctor - guide him through the experience the once would at least give him further data to work with and reduce the first issue dramatically.

He could also get a priceless violin out of it.

He took a deep breath. "While for most people, the outcome of the mere physical act would be enough to warrant participation in the act, I am not one who-"

"Yes."

He froze, the words dying suddenly in his throat. For a moment he undoubtedly looked like an imbecile, mouth moving but no sound emerging, brow deeply furrowed, but that was the price he was more than willing to pay if he had really heard what he thought he had heard.

The doctor met his gaze head on, eyes not wavering, expression open but serious.

"Did you- yes?"

"Yes," the doctor replied, tongue flicking at his lips to moisten them. "You don't need to confirm now, but if you have sex with me, then yes, you can take the violin with you when you leave."

"I can keep the violin?"

The doctor nodded. "You can keep the violin."

He fell silent. Despite the fact that this was the outcome he had been going for - he had already concluded that the doctor would not relinquish the violin for anything less than the very reason he was here in the first place, and highly likely not even for that - he still felt taken back in surprise that the doctor was so readily agreeing. Truly the doctor must be unaware of the origin of the instrument.

That and the fact that he really did want to have sex with him.

Or he was lying.

Could he possibly be lying?

He raked his eyes over the doctor's form. The other man was back in one of his oversized jumpers, but his skin was a touch pale, the lines around his eyes and mouth a little too pronounced, his stance a little weary. There was nothing though that screamed liar, and so far he had been proven to be honest, if unusual.

Still, this was an issue of trust. Until the moment came, Sherlock could not be fully certain that the doctor would let him go, let alone with such a precious instrument, despite all the evidence that pointed in that direction.

"I want you to swear it."

He thought the doctor would be scornful, or that he would be laughed at, but the doctor merely gave a nod and straightened his shoulders, chin tipping upwards as he raised his right hand.

"I, John Hamish Watson, swear on the blood of my ancestors and the memory of my lost lover, that on upholding your agreement to actively and willingly participate to the best that you are able, activities of a sexual nature as mutually agreed upon, you William Sherlock Scott Holmes will leave this place, freely, in sound body and mind, without obstacle or restraint, with all that you came with and in full legal possession of the violin you are currently holding. This I solemnly vow."

It was more than he had expected and more still than he had even dared hope for. There was no reluctance, no teasing or jest in the tone, no compromise or leeway in the words. It was straightforward, comprehensive, and most of all honest in its conviction.

Swallowing, Sherlock accepted it with a nod, averting his gaze in an attempt to lessen the built up intensity.

"Good," the doctor said after a moment. "Now," he motioned to the heater, "should I take this to the bedroom, or would you prefer to?"

*

Nothing had changed and yet everything had changed.

The doctor had taken the space heater to the room and set it up under supervision and had then hummed to himself as he made lunch for them both.

Nothing more was said regarding the agreement and yet it seemed to fizz under everything they did. Or at least that was how it felt to Sherlock. It was... distracting.

For the first time ever he found himself intensely aware of the other man; physically and sexually.

Until this point he had rightly and obviously refused to consciously consider the doctor in a sexual manner. Five days ago the doctor had been nothing more than an abductor, a kidnapper and a potential rapist. Today he was still all of those things, and yet he wasn't, because now he was also a man, a bereaved lover, and a surprisingly easy and interesting companion.

I just wanted the chance for you to get to know me.

Stockholm Syndrome indeed.

Sherlock pushed that thought aside, uneasy as it was, and went back to considering the matter at hand, namely that regardless of how inconceivable it might have been a few days earlier, he was now likely to become willingly sexually intimate with the man sat opposite.

He was surprised to find that the concept was not as repugnant as it had once been. It helped, he supposed, that the doctor seemed to hold him in high esteem, both intellectually and physically. Indeed, he had hardly been lacking in his praise or appreciation around both.

Slim, athletic geniuses indeed.

"You've been planning this for some time," he said, finally breaking the silence between them.

Meal finished with, the doctor looked up from the newspaper he had spread beside him.

"Mhm, what makes you say that?"

"You know my name. My full name."

"Public record," the doctor said, a hint of a smile. "Not that difficult to find out."

"You knew about my intelligence, my abilities."

"You're studying Chemistry at Kings, and as young as you were, your deductions were the talk of the village even when I was there."

"You knew my habits well enough to drug me and my timetable enough to pick the most opportune time."

"Only sensible if I wanted to succeed."

"You knew I'm sexually inclined towards men."

The doctor tipped his head. "Of course," he said. "Bit pointless otherwise."

He narrowed his eyes. "How? How did you know?"

The doctor's expression took on a curious tone. "How did I know you were attracted to men?"

Sherlock gave a short nod.

The doctor sat back, a thoughtful look on his face. "You don't know many gay men, do you?"

Sherlock didn't respond.

The doctor tapped his fingers against the table.

"Alright, I'm going to make a statement," he said. "You can think of it being based on a deduction. Scoff if you like, but if my deduction is right, you have to take what I say under advisement."

Sherlock waited.

The doctor considered, tapped gently at the table again, and then raised his gaze to look him in the eyes. "You," he said slowly, "are not a freak."

Sherlock jerked slightly, unable to completely suppress his surprise. He had braced himself for all manner of statements. That had not been one of them. "Why- what- why would you say that?"

"Because that's what they told you, is it not?" the doctor continued, still holding his gaze. "The children at that school you were forced to go to. The parents who smiled to your face, but said things behind your back. Even the teachers who should have helped you but instead felt threatened by your intelligence. They called you a freak. A loner. A weirdo.

"Then as you got older, the insults became more creative. They picked on your unusual name. They picked on your family. They picked on your interests.

"Then came the gay slurs. Gay. Queer. Fairy. Fag. Faggot. Poofter. Bummer. Bum bandit. Gay lord. Pillow biter. Cocksucker.

"Normally you would have just ignored them, as you had before, but then it dawned on you that they might actually be right. You just might be one of those, those... degenerates. But they were idiots anyway, so you ignored it, chalked it up to the ignorance of youth - theirs, not yours - but then you went to University, to the hallowed halls of Cambridge no less, to Kings College, where some of the best and the brightest had gone before you; Frederick Sanger; Patrick Blackett; Alan Turing.

"But so too went the jabs, the snide comments, the insults. 'Too curvy for you, Holmes? Prefer a flatter chest, Holmes?'. And on and on, and despite your efforts to hide they still seemed to know. And they were still right.

"Which left you with a little, quiet but persistent voice at the back of your mind, wondering, always wondering, because if they were right about that, then maybe they were right about all the other things as well. Maybe you are the weirdo they always thought you to be. The loner who doesn't need any friends anyway. The freak they always claimed you were.

"Then there’s me. Practically a stranger. Someone who has for some reason picked you out of a crowd, someone who somehow knew you were one of those, and that just reinforces your thoughts.

“But listen to me now, Sherlock Holmes, as someone who has seen so many different places and people, there is nothing wrong with you. You are a brilliant, creative, amazing young man, with an astonishing mind and an incredible gift. You are clever, funny, insightful, and so far beyond me it is unreal. There is nothing wrong with being homosexual, and there is nothing wrong with being different. You may dance to a different beat to the rest of us, see the world through different eyes, but that does not make you a freak. It just makes you you. Do you understand?"

Did he understand?

"Sherlock? You still with me?"

"You never answered my question."

The faintly worried look on the doctor's face gave way to a slightly bashful smile.

"True," the doctor admitted, sitting back in his chair, the tension flowing out of his shoulders- had the doctor been worried? How long had he been lost in thought for?

"How did I know you prefer men?" The doctor shrugged slightly. "Experience. Intuition. Gut feeling. Play the hiding game long enough and you start recognising others who are doing the same."

Sherlock tipped his head as he tapped at the table. "You deduced me."

"If you like."

He held the doctor's gaze, then he slowly smiled. "Liar."

The doctor raised his eyebrows, lips twitching in what could have been amusement. Remarkably there was no sign of tension in his body, which meant he didn't feel threatened by being called a liar. Interesting.

"Why do you say that?"

"You said intuition. Intuition is a survival mechanism, an inbuilt warning system representing data processed too fast for the conscious mind to comprehend. Intuition is the feeling of being watched, the prickling sensation at the back of your neck, the warning that things are more than they seem. Intuition is for the prey, not for the hunter.

"You would have needed more than a hunch before you acted. At no point have you proceeded with any doubt. You didn't suspect that I prefer men, you knew. To know you would have needed more than intuition, you would need evidence. You may have followed me, researched me, talked to people with whom I have acquaintance, but at no point would you have been able to find enough to draw a firm enough conclusion. Because I didn't leave enough to be found. There are no exes to kiss and tell. No fumbles in a closet. No dog-eared magazines hidden away. And yet here we are.

"This though," he swept a hand across the room. "This was planned. Meticulously. Specifically. You have left nothing to chance. So tell me, doctor, how did you know?"

"Your mother told me."

What?

There was laughter in the doctor's eyes, but not mockery or deception.

"No."

"Yes."

"Don't be absurd." Because it was absurd. His mother didn't know, couldn't know. She barely took notice of half the things that happened around her. Busy thinking about more important, more abstract things Daddy had told him when Mummy just suddenly seemed to stop while doing something. Nothing to worry about.

The doctor raised his eyebrows.

"Impossible," he repeated. "Mummy doesn't know and she certainly would not have discussed the matter with you."

The doctor grinned and shrugged, and then offered no more.

It was ridiculous. Preposterous.

And yet.

Once you've eliminated the impossible...

"Fine," he declared with a huff, "tell me."

"She booked an appointment with me," the doctor said. "It was about a week after Freddie Mercury died. Not something I connected at first, but then she wanted to know the facts around HIV and AIDS; what it was, how it spread, how to prevent getting it."

"Why would she..." he started to ask in all confusion. Then it dawned on him. "Oh."

"You would have been how old?" the doctor pointed out.

"14," he answered absently. Freddy Mercury’s death, 24th of November, 1991. A date he well remembered. "Nearly 15." He frowned. "Mycroft would have been 21," he pointed out. "That was the age of consent. It is just as likely that she was-"

He stopped as the doctor gave him a pointed look. "Fine," he said, slumping in his chair. The doctor was right, it was far more likely to have been about him. After all, he had been the one who at that time had been playing Who Wants To Live Forever over and over again on the violin.

Freddie Mercury. Queen. AIDS.

He had a vague recollection of Mummy trying to talk to him about sex - he had honestly not had the slightest comprehension at the time of why she had wanted to talk to him about it, or why a box of condoms had suddenly appeared in his sock drawer. The condoms had been put to good use though, just not for their original purpose.

"Fine," he muttered. In all likelihood he had been the reason for her concern. "Mummy suspected." And yet- his lips curved up into a half smile. "Although that means she probably suspected about you too," he added.

The doctor blinked as if taken back by the comment.

"How do you mean?" the doctor asked.

Oh, so he had not thought about it then.

Sherlock let his smile grow and tipped his head in a thoughtful manner.

"Doctor Sutcliffe was our family doctor," he pointed out. "We had been seeing him for years. So why would she book an appointment with you?"

He raised an eyebrow.

"Unless she knew you would give her honest answers and advice, free from prejudice and misinformation." He paused and then concluded. "One gay man to the mother of another."

The doctor's eyes widened for a moment as he absorbed the implications. They both knew what Doctor Sutcliffe would have advised - No need to worry yourself about it, Mrs Holmes. Normal people run no risk of catching such a dirty disease.

"She never said anything."

Sherlock hummed and reached for his drink. "I do have one question about what you said though."

The doctor looked at him questioningly. "Go ahead."

"Frederick Sanger, Patrick Blackett, they speak for themselves." He frowned, "But who's Alan Turing?"

*

"Was Harry your first?"

He continued to stare at the board even as he asked the question. He was losing. No, he was going to lose, the outcome was inevitable. The only question was how long it would take.

"No."

The doctor moved his knight.

Sherlock cocked his head, frowning as he considered both the answer and the move. Both were... unexpected.

"I thought-" he started, but then stopped himself, because just what had he though? That the doctor had only really come into being when he had met Harry? That it had been some sort of love at first sight. That they had been together for practically ever?

He didn't know that. He didn't even know how they had met or how long they had been together, or how old they had been.

What did he actually know? Not what he presumed or surmised or deduced, but actual confirmed fact.

"Who was your first?"

He moved a pawn, knowing he was still only delaying the inevitable.

The doctor considered the board. "No one important," he said. "Just someone I grew up with. Nothing special. Fumbles in the dark, you might say."

He moved his rook, ignoring the temptation of the pawn

It was not entirely the move Sherlock had been expecting. He tapped absently, the queen he had captured early in the game between his fingers.

"Do you regret it?" he asked.

The doctor arched an eyebrow. "Should I?"

Sherlock looked back at the board.

"How did you meet?"

He was running out of constructive options.

"Harry and me?"

Sherlock nodded and reached for his knight.

The doctor considered the move.

"Through work," he finally said. "It was, let's say, unexpected. He was brilliant but awkward, but even then I knew he was the one. It wasn't the right time though. The age gap for one thing." He gave a small smile. "When I left I promised we would meet again. I don't think he really believed me. He told me later that part of him feared I would forget him, move on, find some else, someone better, and part of him feared that I wouldn't, that I would come back but somehow find him wanting. I suppose part of me feared the same thing."

He paused for a moment, rolling his fingertips across the table.

"I did go back," he said after a moment. "A few years later. I promised I would. He was at Cambridge, Trinity in fact. I watched him for a while, just to be certain. I didn't want it to be another wrong time, you know. I knew there would have been other people in the meantime. That was to be expected. For me as well. But none like him."

He moved his castle. "Check."

Sherlock stared at the board. Somehow the doctor had managed it even sooner than he had thought he would.

He pushed his King to the only possible square.

"A mathematician and an artist. Tell me, did you ever beat him at this?" he asked with a sigh.

Because there was only one plausible explanation as to how he had been trounced so quickly and so expertly.

The doctor's smile was knowing. "On occasion," he said, "when he was distracted."

He moved his final piece. "Checkmate."

*

The hour was late, or rather early, when they finally called it a night. Chess had given way to Operation, then to Battleships, and then to cards. The hours had slipped away as they talked and they played. It was only when he realised he couldn't be certain which cards had already been played that the lateness of the hour became significant.

He threw in his hand. "I should-" he motioned to the stairs.

"Of course," the doctor said, looking round as if only just realising the lateness of the hour.

Sherlock got to his feet, his gaze falling onto the cards of the Jack and Ten of spades face up on the table. For some reason it sparked a thought in his mind of something he for some reason hadn't yet asked.

"The age gap, between you and him," he said slowly. "How big was it?"

The doctor was quiet for a moment, gaze drawn also to the cards.

"Similar to the gap between you and me," he said finally.

Just the other way round, Sherlock added mentally.

"Goodnight, Sherlock."

He went.

The space heater had made a considerable difference to the bedroom temperature, and he changed slowly for bed.

Would he come back, he wondered to himself as he switched off the heater and slipped under the bedcovers, in a few years, when the age gap was less important. Would the doctor come back to him too, if he asked him too?

Chapter Text

The game had changed.

It had changed with the pistol, and it had changed with the violin, and it had changed when it turned out the doctor was far more than a kidnapping potential rapist.

(He probably should stop thinking of him that in way.)

It had changed because rather than doing everything in his power to avoid the whole point of the doctor's rather ludicrous endeavour, Sherlock was now considering what the whole thing would actually entail.

Activities of a sexual nature as mutually agreed upon.

Activities that would take place tomorrow if everything went to schedule.

Had it really been nearly a week? So short a time, and at the same time it felt like a lifetime, in a good way. Sort of.

So tomorrow would be the day. Or tomorrow evening at least.

But what sort of activities?

Sex, obviously, but there were varieties, weren't there? Actively and willing, the doctor had said. So just lying there passively would probably not cut it. He would be expected to respond, to fake it if necessary.

He could fake it.

Probably.

There would have to be touching. A lot of touching, actually. Skin against skin. And kissing. The doctor would most likely want to kiss him. The whole point of this was to mimic a real and loving relationship, right, if only for one night. Which meant there would be kissing. Because that was what couples did. That was expected. Also, the doctor seemed to have a bit of an oral thing going on, what with the frequency he licked his lips or moved his tongue.

Oral fixation. Definitely.

So kissing. Most probably.

That probably wouldn’t be too bad. A bit wet, a bit weird, but he could do that. Probably. It wasn’t exactly something he had much experience of, but the mechanics looked simple enough. Mouths, lips, tongues – apparently.

He could do that. It might even be nice. They could kiss, and it would be nice.

But that would only be the start, surely.

What else would there be?

Hands, lips, skin. Manual stimulation. Hands in particular. That was… not too alarming. He was no stranger to his own hand after all, even if the desire to do that was far less frequent than for some of his peers.

That might be nice too. With the doctor. But only with him. Touching and being touched. The doctor probably knew how to do things, things that would be nice. He could do that. They could do that.

Good. Hands. Skin. Not alarming. Manual stimulation. Good.

What about oral stimulation then?

Oral stimulation. Hands and mouth.

Hands and mouth.

And penetration.

Oh. Yes.

There would be penetration, because that was what sex was, wasn't it. Even he knew that.

So, penetration.

Penetration.

The doctor penetrating him. Entering him. Moving into him.

Moving.

"Sherlock?"

Fucking.

He had considered that – he had, he had; in his calculations; in his decision making in regards to the violin. He had considered it, thought about it, factored it in.

It was what he was he had concluded he was willing to endure to acquire such a beautiful instrument.

"Sherlock."

It was just that he had never really thought he would ever do it. He had never really thought there would be someone he would actually want to do it with. Never really thought he was really truly like that.

Fag. Faggot. Pillow bitter.

Because he wasn’t really one of them. One of those people.

Degenerates.

He didn’t want it. He shouldn’t want it. Shouldn’t be thinking about it. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t a good thing to want.

Not normal.

But it could be good, with the doctor, it could be good.

It could be-

It could be-

It shouldn’t be though.

It shouldn’t-

He shouldn’t want it.

Shouldn’t-

Shouldn’t-

"Sherlock!"

He jerked, his thoughts flying everywhere as his surroundings came flooding back.

"Breathe. Easy. That's it. Slowly does it. Slowly."

He was in the cottage, downstairs. He was still clutching the violin. The doctor had abandoned his most recent ridiculous book and was now beside him, near but not encroaching, and certainly not touching. Talking to him. Talking. There were words. He was saying words.

"Slowly. That’s it."

The tone was gentle and somehow reassuring, drawing him back into himself and reality.

"There you are. You disappeared for a moment there, which is fine, just so you know, but then you started to hyperventilate, which, as a doctor, I consider to be a little less fine. So, you okay there?"

He stared at the other man, at the lines around his eyes, his mouth, at how familiar they had become but at the same time somehow strange, as if they weren't right, that they shouldn't be there. He had the sudden urge to touch them, to feel them, to smooth them away. And then more. To do more.

"I've-" he said, hand already half outstretched, "got to go."

Abandoning the violin, he spun away, aiming for the main door.

"What? Wait. Where are you going?"

He grabbed his boots, barely stopping to sufficiently loosen then before tugging them on.

"Out. Walk," he said.

"Do you want me to come?"

He pulled the door open. "No." And shut it firmly behind him.

*

He somehow managed to get as far as the bridge.

Four days ago he had used this bridge as a diversion, leaving the road for the river to hide his path in an attempt at escape.

Today he wasn't thinking of escape.

Stockholm syndrome.

Four days. That was all it had taken. Four days.

Four days. Three days. Two days. Yesterday.

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow was the last day. The last full day at least. The day after tomorrow he would walk away, with or without the violin, and he would likely never see the doctor again.

He should be happy about that.

He should be.

Happy. Glad. Ecstatic.

Over the bloody moon.

But he wasn't, was he? Here he was, in the rain, without a coat, boots unlaced, water dripping down his neck, and he was not, he was not happy.

He wanted to scream. To beat his chest. To declare to the world that this was not fucking fair.

John Watson was not fucking fair.

"I hate you," he said, as against orders, the smaller figure that had followed him approached and then stopped beside him.

The doctor said nothing.

"I hate you," Sherlock repeated. "You and your life, and, and your books, and your games, and your stupid jumpers. And I hate him. Oh, I really hate him; his genius, his art, his flawless fucking violin. And your perfect little love story, with your perfect little life, and all those perfect little memories. And I hate him, and I hate you, because you did this to me."

Spinning, he thrust his finger against the centre of the doctor's chest.

"You- you just wanted sex, but then you went and showed me all these things, things I never thought I would ever have, things I never thought I might even want. And you've- you've got me considering things, impossible things, sexual things, and you have me wanting them, with you, and it's wrong. So wrong. And I hate you. I hate him. And-"

Grabbing the doctor's coat, he barely considered what he was doing before he pressed their lips together. He felt the doctor's surprise, but then it was over and he stumbled back, eyes wide as he tried to process what he had done.

He had grabbed the doctor and kissed him.

He had kissed him.

"Sherlock-"

Kissed him.

"You want me," he whispered, because that was where all of this had started. "You want me. And I don't know- no one has ever- he was perfect, it was perfect, but now you want me. You chose me. And I- and I-"

The doctor's hands felt cool as they gently caught his and held him. Nothing intrusive. Nothing encroaching. Nothing compared to what Sherlock had just done to him.

(You kissed him. You grabbed him and kissed him. Without asking.)

Just hands within hands.

"It wasn't perfect."

The words were quiet, almost sorrowful, but completely sincere. "Me and Harry. We weren't perfect. Far from it in fact. We argued. We cursed. We lost our tempers. We could go months without even seeing each other. He could get caught up in his work. I sometimes needed more than he could give. He called me an idiot. I called him a fool. The age thing, I won’t lie, it was sometimes an issue. But we made it work. We made it work, but it wasn't perfect."

His thumb rubbed against Sherlock's hand. "But it wasn't supposed to be perfect. It was what it was. Nothing more, nothing less. Understand?"

Not perfect, but it didn't stop him from wanting it though. That was the thought that had buried itself deep within his mind and then somehow found the cracks to grow in. He had never thought he would ever find anyone he would actually enjoy spending time with and who enjoyed his company in return. A home, a partner, a shared life had never been his dream, not because he hadn’t ever wanted it, but because he had never thought it would be possible.

This week, this sham of normalcy, had not only shown him what was possible in general, but that it was possible for him as well.

But it wasn’t real.

Was it?

"Will I see you again?" he asked, looking first at their hands, then down and away. "When all this is over?" When the doctor had gotten what he wanted and Sherlock walked away with the violin. "After we- after I leave here."

"Would you want to see me again?" the doctor asked.

Yes. No. How could he possibly answer that, Sherlock thought?

"If you would like," he heard the doctor say after a small pause. "If that is what you would like."

Yes. No. Maybe. Probably.

"Come on," he heard the doctor say. "Let's get you back before you catch a chill."

Then a beat, a small smile and that slightly twisted sense of humour. "If I'd known you’d keep bolting outside in inadequate clothing, I would have considered doing this in summer."

*

"You want to tell me what that was really all about?"

The cottage was welcomingly warm. The doctor had taken the time to add new wood to the open fire before venturing out after him. He had also thrown a towel over the drying rack to warm while they were out. It was all annoyingly thoughtful.

Stripping out of his now wet things, Sherlock changed quickly and quietly in the bedroom before heading back down into the warmth. It was the second time he had done this now. Maybe the doctor had a point about him bolting out into the rain. At least this time he had managed to have shoes on.

Looking up, he accepted the mug of tea the doctor passed him. It was just as he liked it.

What had that really been all about? That was the question, wasn’t it? It wasn’t just about what he couldn’t have, was it? It was also about him; about the part of him that he had tried to ignore; the part of him that was wrong.

Gay. Bad. Broken. Wrong.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

"What was it like," he asked as he stared into the liquid, "when you first realised that you weren’t like everyone else, that you liked-" He trailed off.

"That I liked men?"

He nodded.

The doctor was quiet for a moment, taking his own seat, studying his own drink.

"It wasn't as you might think," he said after a moment. "It wasn’t a big thing for me. There was no struggle, no self-hate, no big moment of realisation. At least not about this. I was young. Curious. Unconstrained. There were girls. There were boys. Then there was Harry, and that was that."

It sounded so simple.

"I've never told anyone," Sherlock admitted softly. Until now he had thought that no one had known. Well, not really known. Finding out that his mother probably knew had been strange. "I've never-"

Had sex.

Really wanted to have sex.

Met someone he actually wanted to have sex with.

For whatever reason.

Until now.

He put his mug down and consciously straightened his shoulders.

"I don't know what you want from me and I have... little experience to draw on. Mutual agreement, you said. Active and willing participation. Activities of a sexual nature. But what activities? What will you do? What do you actually expect from me?"

"Nothing you're not willing to do."

Sherlock watched the doctor carefully. "But there are expectations. For the violin."

"Yes." The doctor was nothing if not straightforwardly honest. It was refreshing.

"You want to- penetrate me."

The doctor held his gaze for a moment before putting down his own mug. "I'm not going to lie," he said, "yes, I want to, as you say, penetrate you. It's not for everybody, but I want you to be willing to at least give it a try. But more than that, by the time we get that far, I want you to want it too. If I've done my job right, then you will. If not," he raised his hands, "we will stop and try something else."

Sherlock considered the words. "You would stop," he said, "if I asked you to?"

"Of course I would stop!" The doctor tapped at the armrest of the chair then ran his hand over his face. "Look," he said, "I'm a lot of things. God knows you're not exactly seeing the best of me, but I am not that man. You say stop, I will stop. You say wait, we wait until you're happy. We try something and you don't like it, we don't do it. All I ask is that you're willing to at least try. Alright?"

Sherlock looked at him, really looked at him. Had it been anyone else he might have considered them to be at least partially lying, but there was no deception in the doctor's face, no fallacy in his posture. Lies or no, the doctor honestly believed what he was saying.

"And if I try, but it still- if things don't- do I still get to keep the violin?"

Because that was ultimately why he was going to do this. Wasn't it?

The doctor was silent for a long moment. "Promise that you will trust me," he said finally, "genuinely give me the chance to show you just how good it can be, and yes, regardless of what then happens, you can keep and leave here with the violin."

Holding his gaze, Sherlock gave a slight nod. Then looking away, he licked his lips. "What else would there be?" he asked, looking back. "Kissing?"

The doctor's gaze flickered briefly. "I would hope so."

"On the lips."

A small smile. "To start with."

A shiver ran down his spine at the words.

"A lot?"

"A fair amount," the doctor said. "It's all part of it. It's very... enjoyable, and I'm rather good at it." His smile was bordering on cheeky. It was a good look on him.

Sherlock automatically licked his own lips. "Prove it," he said.

For a moment the doctor didn't react, then he raised his eyebrows. "Prove it?" he said, a questioning tilt to his head.

"Kiss me."

There, he had said it.

"Now?"

"Yes."

There was another pause and for a moment Sherlock considered that perhaps he had gone too far, that this was something that-

"Alright."

Decision made, the doctor was suddenly getting to his feet, moving his book to the side table and looking around as if searching for something. Sherlock blinked, at a loss as to what the doctor might need to consider since, as far as he was aware, kissing didn't exactly require anything other than the two participants.

The doctor seemed to study the coffee table for a moment, then dismissed it. Stepping towards the armchair Sherlock was sitting in, he looked at it thoughtfully, took another step, moved to crouch, but then shook his head.

"Okay, up," he said, motioning for Sherlock to get to his feet.

Frowning, Sherlock did so, until with a small chuckle the doctor dismissed that too.

"Yeah, that's not going to-" He eyed the room critically again. "Sofa it is then," he said, pointing to the far end. "Sit."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow but did so.

"Don't look at me like that," the doctor said, joining him on the sofa. "It’s not my fault you're too tall. Now, a kiss you said."

Sherlock nodded.

The doctor angled his body towards him but somehow managed to keep their legs from touching.

"Okay, for the sake of clarity, I'm going to press my lips against yours for the kiss. I won't touch you anywhere else, just my mouth against yours. Try not to tense up, but if there's something you don't like, you can pull away. You have room behind you. Or, if it's easier, push me away. Probably easiest if you meet me at least part way, so you're going to need to lean towards me. That's right. And... relax."

It was gentle, some light pressure and small movements and with a start, Sherlock realised they were in fact kissing. It was... nice. The doctor's lips moved gently across his own, exploring, caressing, the light touch of the tongue every so often, and then it was over.

He opened his eyes as the doctor drew away.

"You okay?"

He frowned, running his mind back through the experience, making sure he hadn't missed anything.

"Sherlock?"

"Is that it?"

Was that what the poets extolled, the lyricists revered, his college acquaintances had laughed about but indulged in every chance they got? It had been... not unpleasant, but it had hardly been earth shattering.

He looked at the doctor who was watching him with an expression torn between amusement and affront.

"Um, yes?" The doctor said.

"No," Sherlock said. "No. Do it again. Properly this time."

The doctor looked a touch amused. "Properly? Alright."

The doctor shifted slightly, body turning so their legs brushed.

"In that case, properly means I'm going to touch you." The doctor's gaze held steady with his. "Nothing... inappropriate. The only skin to skin will be my hands," he held them up, flexing the fingers, "to your face and head. Except for our mouths, of course," he amended. "Anything you don't like, tell me. The rest, just trust me, and relax."

The finger stroked gently at his cheek, drawing them nearer.

"Trust me."

He felt the doctor's breath against his skin and then their mouths met again.

It was somehow different this time. Firmer. Warmer. The finger on his cheek turned into a palm and somehow they were closer still. The doctor's mouth moved with more purpose. No longer limited to just his lips, the doctor trailed a line of kisses across his cheek, his jaw, then back to his mouth, which he met willingly, lips parting to a caress by the tip of a tongue. Then suddenly everything was warmer and wetting and the doctor's tongue was doing things, and it was hot, and it was good, and he wanted more....

He leant in, chasing the sensation that was suddenly racing through his body. It wasn't like the drugs, and yet it was, and he liked it. He wanted it.

He wanted-

His mind stopped. Why think when he could feel? When he could feel this?

Warm breath against his skin, against his lips, into his mouth. Fingers bringing to life nerve endings across his face, his neck, his scalp. Skin tingling. Mouth seeking. His own hands reaching to sink into soft wool, fingers curving around solid muscle.

Heat growing and moving and pooling, building around his body, building to something, building to-

"Stop."

It stopped. The heat, the sensations, the intensity, it all stopped, even as his body screamed in protest.

He gasped, sucking in cool air that he hadn't even realised he had been short of. His lungs heaved, his eyes prickled, his groin throbbed.

The weight and warmth against him moved away and he was partially aware of the doctor rising to his feet, of the sound of running water, then the coolness of the glass as it was pressed gently into his hand.

He drank, the water sloshing against his face, cooling the skin there. He felt ablaze. Heated. His groin felt-

He gasped as he pressed his palm into his lap, then scrambled to his feet, stumbling for the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind him.

*

He stayed for as long as he needed, then he stayed a little longer.

The intensity of his arousal shocked him, dwarfing as it did even those first moments from his early teenage years. One kiss, that was all it had taken, one deep, proper, all-encompassing kiss.

The doctor had been telling the truth, he was very good at it.

The laughter at that thought caught him off guard. Perched on the bath side, he pressed his fist to his mouth, stifling the sound that even to his ears sounded a little hysterical. Was that all it took to rend him nonsensical? One kiss and all the blood in his body pooling in a lower extremity?

Cold water and shock had been enough to force back the arousal. It was bad enough that the doctor could not have failed to miss his resulting condition, he didn't need him also thinking he had rushed in here to finish himself off, so to speak. He wasn't that... virginal.

It was the second time he had taken refuge in here this week. He was going to get a reputation.

Running the tap, he took his time rinsing his hands under the cold water. The face in the mirror still looked flushed, but there was nothing he could really do about that.

He switched off the tap.

The doctor was waiting for him when he emerged. That was, he was sitting in his armchair, fingers between the pages of that stupid reincarnation book, but it was obvious that he was basically waiting.

"You okay?"

He stared at the man, at the slight pinkness of his lips that was the only sign that anything had happened.

"You stopped," he said, his voice hoarse to his own ears.

"Of course," the doctor said, his face pulling into a frown. "You told me to."

It sounded so simple. But the doctor had promised to stop and at the time of asking had done exactly that. That was... good.

"Uhm, kissing," he said, feeling himself flush again, blood rushing around at the mere thought of a repeat of that last act. "We can do that."

*

Kissing was not going to be the sole act, though, this he was certain. Even with penetration as the ultimate goal, Sherlock was certain there would need to be other activities that would bridge the two extremes.

"Oral sex."

It took him lunch and an extended violin session before he could say the words.

The doctor's laugh was counterproductive to what he had intended, but his words did get the doctor away from the crossword puzzle he had been frowning over.

"No," the doctor said giggling, motioning to what he was struggling with, "that's two words. Too long, won't fit."

Sherlock rolled his eyes before depositing himself into the opposing armchair.

"Do you want oral sex?" he said.

The creases on the doctor's face deepened as he fought a smile. "Is there anyone who doesn't want oral sex?"

Scowling, Sherlock moved to push himself upwards. "If you're not-" he started.

"No," the doctor said, the humour having gone from his tone, the word pinning him to the chair as surely as a hand would have. "Sorry. That was uncalled for."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes but allowed himself to relax back down.

"It's a perfectly valid question," the doctor continued, his tone now serious. "But the answer is no. I'm not asking or expecting that of you."

That was... good.

"But I would very much like to do it to you, though."

Sherlock stared. "You, uh," he licked his lips, "want to, uh, to me?"

"Yes," the doctor said with all certainty. "Of course," as if it was a given.

"But-" why would the doctor willingly offer such a thing, especially with no expectation of the same in return? It didn't make sense. It was all about the receiver, wasn't it? At best it was a sacrifice on the behalf of the giver. In certain circumstances it was downright degrading. His fellow college mates had always talked about it in the most derogatory terms, often bragging (lying) most crudely about their previous night's conquest and what their companion (female) had done for them. No proper man would willingly do such a thing.

"You would-" he started, but was suddenly at a loss of how to put it. He knew the words, but they just seemed unnecessarily crude. "You want to-" he made a vague waving motion that he hoped conveyed his meeting.

"Yes," the doctor said, eyes never wavering, "I very much want to suck your cock."

It was like the air had been pulled from his lungs. It wasn't the words... Okay, yes, actually, it was very much the words, but it wasn't solely the words. The image the words brought about was at least part of it, but the words-

He stared as the doctor sat forward, tongue reaching out to press against the lower lip. "I've shocked you." The head tilted a little to the left. "Is it what I said?" Tongue now swiping across the upper lip. "Or was it how I said it?"

Both. Neither. He would say something but his mouth had gone completely dry.

"W-why?"

The doctor's brow furrowed in the beginning of a frown. "Why? Why would I want to do such a thing?” He gave a small shrug. “Because I like it. Because I enjoy it. Because it's a thrill."

He sat back in his seat again. "I'm guessing you've always heard it spoken of in a demeaning way, something demanded, something taken. And yes, it can be. A man can take their pleasure, demand it as their due, and leave it at that, but it can be so much more. When offered it can be a beautiful gift. When freely given it can shift the power from the receiver to the giver."

The doctor stopped for a moment, a thoughtful look on his face. "I can't play that," he said, pointing to the violin. "Certainly not the way it's supposed to be played." He leant forward again. "But I can play the human body. And what I most want to do is to coax every musical note I can out of you. I want to know what makes you moan, what makes you groan, what it takes to have you scream my name.

"I want to explore your body. I want to hear you pant, hear you beg, hear you sigh. I want to make your back arch, your legs flex, your fingers strain to find something to grasp onto. I want to kiss you and suck you and bite you. I want to make you feel things you never thought possible, show you things you never thought pleasurable, and take you to places you never knew existed.

"I want to build you up, and up, and up, and up... and then I want to tip you over and watch you soar.

"So yes," he said with a lick of the lips and a tilt of the head, "amongst other things, I want to suck your cock."

Fuck.

"And," a slanted smile, and a flickered gaze towards Sherlock's lap, "it seems you'd like that too."

Sherlock swallowed, because this time there was no use hiding his reaction to the words. In a matter of hours, the doctor had twice managed to arouse him, and this time he hadn't even touched him.

(Thank goodness he wasn't wearing jeans.)

He closed his eyes, willing himself to breathe deeply. Mind over matter. It was just transport.

It really wasn't working.

"I've got to-" Scrambling to his feet, he briefly considered the bathroom - again - before fleeing up the stairs, pulling the door firmly closed behind him.

*

He wasn't a coward - he wasn't! - he just needed time and space to himself. There was also a room he still hadn't fully looked through, and very little time left to do so.

That was at least what he told himself, even going so far as to decline food because he was busy. Perhaps the bigger surprise was that the doctor allowed him to.

It was the music and not the need for food that eventually drew him back downstairs. Or maybe not even the music, maybe it was more the singing that accompanied it.

Stop me if you've heard it all before, girl
Stop me, there'll be no more to say.

The singing was in tune, which was good, but it was hardly anything special. And yet it had him putting down the old microscope and quietly making his way down the stairs.

Oh, darling you and I, oh, we could light up the world.
An ordinary guy and a wonderful girl, yeaheah.

It was, he realised, the first time he had heard the doctor sing. It was also the first time he had seen the doctor dance. It was... compelling. The tea towel the doctor was drying up with as he did so, only added to the whole picture. As did the lack of shoes that somehow allowed him to move more smoothly across the wooden floor. It should have been ridiculous.

It somehow wasn't.

If your love is still unsure love
Then stop me, there'll be no more to say.

"There’s pasta bake cooling in the oven, if it’s food that you’re looking for."

A flick of the wrist and the doctor relinquished the tea towel to a hook to dry. His face was almost flushed as he beamed a smile, although there was not one hint of embarrassment or self-consciousness about him or what he had been caught doing at all.

Then he was moving away again, humming and still sort of dancing as he put away the recently used mugs.

There'll be no more to say.

"You're singing."

It wasn't a question, or a statement, it just was, and it wasn't even any good at that. He kicked himself for saying it, but the doctor didn't seem to notice the idiocy of it, or else didn't care.

"It's Billy. Always sing along to a little Billy."

The LP moved onto the next song. A slower one this time. Again he didn't recognise it, but presumably from the way the doctor hummed along, it was also by the aforementioned Billy.

"He's pretty good to dance too as well," the doctor offered.

Yes, the heavy beat would certainly lend itself quite well to dancing, even to the most inept novice, of which the doctor did not appear to be.

"What about you? Do you like to dance?"

He frowned for a moment, the question having caught him off guard. "I- yes," he said.

The doctor's eyebrows shot up, a delighted expression crossing his face. "Really?"

He gave a small nod.

He supposed it was one of his little secrets. Dancing was really one of few social activities he indulged in, although never where anyone could recognise him. Music was one of the few things he could lose himself in. Add in a few drugs and for a few glorious hours he could lose himself completely.

"Come on then. I know there's the perfect one- ah, yes, there."

A quick fiddle with the record player and suddenly there was a keyboard, then a tambourine, then the drums, and the doctor was laughing - laughing - as he first clicked his fingers along and then started singing.

You run around town like a fool and you think that it's groovy
You're giving it to some other guy, who gives you the eye
You don't give nothing to me.

"Come on."

And then it was all a little swing, and a little disco, and even a little folk in the moves, and Sherlock found himself joining in, arms raising, feet stepping, hips twisting, and it was... joyous.

Baby, love really hurts without you.
Love really hurts without you.
And it's breaking my heart, but what can I do?

The doctor was laughing, then they were twisting around each other, then swinging each other round.

Baby, love really hurts without you.
Love really hurts through and through
And it's breaking my heart, but what can I do without you?

It didn't stop with that song though. The doctor barely paused as he plucked out record after record, leading them through Stevie Wonder, The Jacksons, and then the Bee Gees.

It was another side of the doctor, one he hadn't seen up until now; a carefree, almost younger side, unconstrained by the loss that fell like a shadow over him. Seeing him unreservedly strut his stuff to Staying Alive was worth the whole thing alone.

"Ahh, I needed that. Thank you."

It could have been an hour, or two, or more, when the faster tempo of Motown and disco gave way to tired feet and noticeable hunger.

"Can't remember the last time I did something like that, and even then it wouldn't have been to music like that."

Sherlock frowned, thinking back to the records he had unpacked that first full day. Billy Ocean and the Bee Gees had certainly been new additions that the doctor had bought with him. So definitely the doctor's music rather than anything shared.

"Harry didn't like to dance," he said, more of a statement than a question.

"Not so much," the doctor admitted as he slipped the records back into their sleeves. "He didn't so much mind slow dancing, but anything faster, I think, made him feel clumsy. Two left feet, so to speak."

That was... good. Being able to share with the doctor something he hadn't had with his previous lover, that was good.

"Come on, there's no way you still lack an appetite after that. I'll warm up your dinner for you."

And with that the dancing was definitely over.

The doctor was right of course, he could do with some food, but he also still had questions.

"You've had some training," he remarked as he joined the doctor in the kitchen. "Dance wise."

"I guess I do," the doctor admitted, smiling slightly as he gave a half look from where he was dealing with the pasta and vegetables. "So do you."

Ah, Sherlock hadn't realised he had noticed.

"Ballet?" the doctor enquired.

Sherlock gave a short nod. "Eight months," he admitted. "It... helped... with my coordination."

"Rapid growth spurt?" the doctor said.

It seemed a little silly now, but it had only been three years ago that he had been lagging behind his peers in terms of height. Then he had put on five inches in fourteen months, with a further two inches in the year that followed. For a while, his new, longer limbs had left him feeling clumsy and like an alien in a strange body. Ballet had gone some way to retraining himself and taking back control.

Then there was the fact he had rather come to enjoy it.

"Why did you stop?"

Because being called queer for no reason was one thing, realising they were right and doing ballet was just adding unnecessary fuel.

He didn't answer and the doctor didn't press.

"Well, I'm glad I got to dance with you," the doctor said, his expression one of complete honesty as he handed over Sherlock's dinner. "Thank you."

Unsure how to react, Sherlock accepted the food and took it to the table.

"Now, tell me," the doctor said, joining him at the table, "have you ever played a game called Tafl?"

Chapter Text

The sheet of paper was on the table when he went down that morning. Beside it was the nib pen that had been obviously used on it. Catching his name amongst the plain but flowing script, he paused with a frown.

"I thought you would appreciate everything in writing," the doctor said. Standing by the hob, he clutched a newly made steaming mug of tea, wearing, Sherlock found himself noting, the same beige jumper he had when they had first talked a week earlier.

Seven days.

He looked back at the paper, carefully reading what had been written. In essence it was somewhere between a contract and a statement. The doctor had reiterated the vow he had made two days before and had then listed the agreements they had come to in precise, technical language.

I, John Hamish Watson, of sound body and mind, do willingly swear on the blood of my ancestors and the memory of my lost lover, that William Sherlock Scott Holmes will leave this place freely, sound of body and mind, without obstacle or restraint, with all the possessions he came with. In addition, I willingly and freely gift to him, without duress or recompense, the book The Science of Deduction by E. S. G Holmes for him to keep and do with as he so pleases.

In addition to the above, on the upholding of the agreement to actively and willingly engage and participate in to the best that he is able, activities of a sexual nature as mutually agreed upon and documented below, William Sherlock Scott Holmes may also leave this place in full legal possession of the violin, including case, bow and any relevant accessories, and also any sheet or book music that may be desired.

This I solemnly vow.

Below that, the doctor had listed the activities they had agreed upon, made clear the activities they would not even attempt to partake in, and the clauses should they try but not succeed in a particular act. It was exactly as they had discussed, with the exception of the excluded list that contained things Sherlock had not even thought of - bondage, impact, sensory deprivation.

He raised an eyebrow in the doctor's direction.

The doctor's expression was deceptively mild, but if there was one thing Sherlock had learnt over the week it was that when it came to John Watson, the emphasis should always be on the deceptively rather than the mild.

"Alright," he said with a nod, "where do I sign?"

The hand over his was almost startling as he reached for the pen. It was, he realised as he found himself looking into the doctor's eyes, one of the few times the doctor had touched him without first asking express permission.

"Not yet," the doctor said. Then he was stepping back, breaking the contact. "If you're happy with it, I'll draft a second copy. Then we will both sign each of them and keep a copy apiece. But not until later."

But not until later?

Just get on with it, Sherlock wanted to protest. Today was the agreed day, he had made up his mind, they should just-

"Fine," he said, clipping the word, and headed to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

*

The waiting was intolerable.

Tea made, he pressed the doctor again on the issue of time. What was the schedule? When was the contract going to be ready to sign? What was the deadline for the final decision?

For a moment, the doctor looked like he might make light of the situation, but then he answered without question or hesitation.

"Three o'clock."

It might have sounded like an arbitrary time, but it wasn’t, although it took a moment for Sherlock to figure it out. Seven days, the doctor had promised him right at the start, when they had sat in those armchairs facing each other as near strangers. Seven days to get to know each other followed by the final decision, the decision that either way came with the promise that the following morning would see him free to leave and return to his life in Cambridge.

Three o'clock that afternoon. Seven days. Just as the doctor had promised.

It was funny to think that just six and a half days ago he had lain in the upstairs bed debating the likelihood of the doctor actually letting him go, letting him live, with or without the sex. Now the question seemed almost silly.

It was also funny that after six and a half days, returning to his life in Cambridge didn't hold the same allure it once had. Funnier still was the realisation that even if this was a form of Stockholm syndrome, he wasn't sure he really cared.

Come with me, he wanted to say. Come with me back to Cambridge. Forget their history, the age gap, the circumstances of their acquaintance. Forget Harry. Come and see if they could have more than just seven days.

He left the words unspoken though. There would be better time and opportunity, he concluded. Tomorrow, he decided. After the night. After what they would do. Then he would see.

It didn't make the waiting any easier though.

Seven hours. Six hours. Five and a half hours.

He made himself breakfast and even cleared up after himself.

He sorted through his clothing, separating out his from what he had borrowed. His repacking lacked the precision neatness of the doctor's original, although he did manage to get it all in his bag. Just. The doctor's estimate of what and how much clothing he would need had been near spot on. It was almost as if he had cleverly planned and engineered this whole endeavour.

He tried catching up on some of his course reading that had been somewhat overlooked during the week, but his mind did not want to settle.

He played the violin and watched as the doctor copied out a second version of the contract with the practised ease of someone who knew how to write in ink without smudging.

The seconds ticked on, but the hours stubbornly remained.

"Alright, here," he heard just before his view was obscured first by legs, then by heavy fabric that was dropped unceremoniously onto his face. "Put that on and get your boots. We're going out."

Perhaps the question of why was unnecessary considering the command had been followed by a reason, but also because lying listlessly with his head hanging off the sofa was perhaps reason enough for the doctor to suggest a change of activity.

He still asked, "Why?" though, even as he rolled onto the floor, retrieving the coat that had fallen from him in the process.

The doctor paused long enough to give him a pointed look, then went back to packing a rucksack with what looked like lunch. Six minutes later the doctor was locking the cottage and unlocking the jeep. This at least was a surprise, as Sherlock had expected them to be walking straight from the doorstep.

"Dubhloch?" he asked cautiously as he buckled his seatbelt.

The doctor gave him an apprising look, but shook his head as he put the vehicle into reverse. "Not this time."

There was an odd relief about that. Harry's ghost fell heavy in that place. He didn't need further reminders of that particular part of the doctor's past.

They stayed in silence as the doctor drove. The clock ticked round to eleven. Four hours left.

They turned the other way down the main road, then pulled off again ten minutes later.

"So where are we going then?"

"Anyone told you that patience is a virtue?"

He rolled his eyes. "My brother. Constantly. 'You need to learn to wait, Sherlock.' 'Waiting is good, Sherlock'. 'No, I get to go first because I'm older and bigger and smarter, Sherlock.',

"Well, my apologies. Can't be sounding like him," the doctor said with a wry smile. "I thought we could go for a walk," he continued. "Fresh air, exercise, a view."

"You wish to distract me."

"Seemed like a good idea."

He offered a small smile against the doctor's broader grin.

"If it helps," the doctor said after a moment, "I brought the ginger biscuits."

It wasn't far after that, and then the doctor was parking them up and opening the door. He shouldered the rucksack himself, shaking his head at the offer to share, and then led them onto a near hidden path and upwards.

"The highlands were once ruled by Clans," the doctor said as they walked. "Mackenzie, Frasier, McDonnell, Chisholm, Grant, this area has seen them all. Been fought over more than once. Of course that all ended after Culloden."

Ah, yeah Culloden. History wasn't his strong point, Scottish history even less so than English, but Culloden was one of those names that stood large in the general cultural collective consciousness, along with the likes of Hastings, Agincourt and Trafalgar.

1746, the Battle of Culloden. Decisive victory for the Hanoverian King George over Charles Stuart's rebellious Jacobites. The last pitched battle fought on British soil; one that had not ended well for the Scots.

"Dubhloch Castle," he said slowly, piecing together what he knew of the events that followed and what had already been said, "the ruin, that was the English?"

"The red coats. Yes, it was." The doctor's voice took on a more distant tone as he spoke. "Burnt the lot to the ground, they did. Or at least tried to. Looking for someone who wasn't lost, and for a Jacobite who didn't exist. Or at least that's how the story goes."

There was that feeling again. A faint wash of guilt mingled with sorrow. He wanted to offer his apologies, but was unsure as to what he would be apologising for? For being English? That was ridiculous, and he was no more responsible for actions two hundred years before his birth than the doctor was.

"This area was hardly what you might call peaceful before that, anyway," the doctor continued, brushing off his previous tone. "Before the British and the Clans, before a Saxon King tried to unite the southern kingdoms against the Vikings, before even the Romans came with their army, this was the land of the Caledonians and the Picts. Rival groups that lived, fought, and died side by side on this very ground."

What followed was an informative and actually rather fascinating instruction on ancient Scottish groups, the doctor surprisingly well versed on the pre-Roman civilisations, the land and the way of life.

As they walked, Sherlock could almost see the land changing as the doctor spoke, pointing out the original course of a particular river, the odd rocks that spoke of walls or paths, the odd pattern in the heather and grass that spoke of previous cultivation.

"And then, there was this," the doctor said as they finally reached the top of their ascent.

A few more metres and it suddenly became apparent why the doctor had brought him there and by that route. Before him lay the ruins of a stone structure, thousands of years in age, and yet somehow obvious in its feel and function, as behind it, stretched out in panoramic beauty, lay the loch and all it touched.

"This was a broch," the doctor said as he led them to the ruin. "A stronghold for those who lived and defended this land. A place of shelter for those under attack. The perfect plot to be able to see for miles, but still easily overlooked by new invaders. More than one ambush was orchestrated from here. More than one massacre as well."

There was certainly something military about the place, but also something ancient. It was the same feeling he had gotten when Mummy had taken them to Stonehenge. Something old and forgotten.

"What are you thinking?"

What was he thinking?

Pressing his palm against the cold stone, he stared at the rough texture. This place had seen death, he somehow knew, but also life. Caledonians and Picts, Romans and Saxons, Vikings and Normans. One group displacing the last then being displaced themselves, but all through that something else, someone else.

He tore his hand away, turning and fixing a smile to his face.

"I think," he said, aiming for light and breezy, "this would be a lovely spot for a picnic."

They sat on a blanket on the grass away from the broch.

"Better not be too close," the doctor had reasoned. "It's not the most stable structure around."

It wasn't the warmest weather wise, but the tea was hot and the view was stunning. They spoke little and stayed until the chill caught up with them.

Packing up, they started the careful descent.

"Mackenzie," Sherlock suddenly said. "One of the clans around here you said."

The doctor gave a nod.

"Your friend," Sherlock continued, "Adair, he's a Mackenzie."

"Aye," the doctor said.

"Any relation?"

"Direct descendent of a clan chief," the doctor said, "if you take his word for it. Probably is too, through a younger son and a couple of daughters, but don't let him hear that."

"And you?" Sherlock asked. "Watson's not a highland name, is it?"

"Not as such," the doctor admitted. "But we were Highlanders once. It's definitely in my blood, so to speak."

"Your mother's side?"

There was a distant look, then a small nod. "Aye. Definitely on my mother's side."

*

The clock chimed the third hour less than ten minutes after they returned. For a moment, Sherlock froze, trapped between action and inaction.

"You don't have to do it." The doctor's voice was soft, but it was enough to snap him out of his indecisiveness.

Crossing the room, Sherlock lifted the pen besides the two identically worded contracts.

I, John Hamish Watson, of sound body and mind, do willing swear...

The violin, he thought, and the experience.

The pen felt unfamiliar and a little awkward in his hand, but he was more than capable of using it to scratch his name across first one page, then the other.

He replaced the lid and held out the pen.

The doctor's gaze flickered, but he accepted the pen, and shortly after, the doctor's signature joined his own.

Sherlock Holmes. John H. Watson.

The doctor carefully rescrewed the lid.

It was done.

Sherlock waited. He had agreed, he had signed, the doctor was going to get what he had set out to get.

So what was he waiting for?

He watched in confused as the doctor offered a smile with a nod and then turned away, crossing over to the cupboard of LPs. He paused while looking through, as if considering the selection, before pulling out his choice and slipping the record into the player.

Whatever Sherlock had been expecting, it wasn't the sound of Glen Miller's saxophone.

The doctor held out a hand. "Dance with me?"

He frowned, eyes darting between the contracts on the table and the doctor's outstretched hand. The doctor didn't move, just waited, expectedly.

The hand was cool when he took it, then his left hand was entwined with the doctor's right, and his right was around the doctor's shoulder, the doctor's left across his lower back. It was nothing more than a standard hold with some gentle sway, but, other than the kiss, it was the closest they had bodily been.

It was not unpleasant.

"So, what happens now?"

He watched as the lines crinkled beneath the doctor's eyes.

"Now we dance."

He raised an eyebrow. "Just dance?"

"For the moment."

"And then?"

The doctor smiled. "Are you always this demanding?"

"Yes. We've already established that."

There was laughter, a few steps of a waltz and then an answer of sorts.

"What do you know about systematic desensitisation?" the doctor asked.

"Also known as graduated exposure therapy," he replied automatically. "A type of behaviour therapy used in the field of psychology to help effectively overcome phobias and other anxiety disorders...." He let his words trail off as the facts filtered into their current situation. The situation where he had just agreed to have sexual contact with someone he had barely had any physical contact with up to this point.

"Ah," he said with an acknowledging nod, "now we dance."

The doctor's smile was brilliant. "And now we dance."

They continued to sway as the music slipped from one track into the next, the beat picking up briefly but their movements staying much the same.

"Systematic desensitisation relies on the identification of an anxiety inducing stimulus hierarchy," Sherlock said as the music once more slowed with the next track.

"It does," the doctor agreed, still smiling.

"One that the patient is aware of in order to reduce the anxiety of the unknown," he expanded.

The doctor's smile deepened. "True," he acknowledged.

Sherlock raised a pointed eyebrow as he waited.

The doctor grinned. "In that case, this is how it is going to go. First, we are going to dance. Then we're going to kiss. Then... I'm going to bring you climax."

The words hit Sherlock like a lightning bolt, a weird fluttering sensation forming in his stomach as an equally weird sensation ran up his spine to the base of his head. He stumbled, even as he registered the doctor's hand tightening slightly in his, the other arm offering support.

He had known where this was going, of course he had known, but once again the doctor had managed to make something so significant into a simple statement and had delivered it with his deceptive mildness.

"You still with me?"

Sherlock blinked to find that they had stopped moving, although they were still in the closed dance position. Their hands still grasped, he could feel the doctor's thumb gently stroking his, his other hand immobile but supportive.

He nodded and then with a shift of weight, they were swaying again.

"Good."

The music eased from one piece into the next.

"We have time," he heard the doctor say. "We'll take it slow. And I'll take you through it. Nothing to be anxious about."

"I'm not anxious." He looked away as he realised he had said that far too quickly.

"Good," the doctor said with a smile, but refrained from further comment.

They continued to sway.

"You said about me," Sherlock finally broached, the words awkward on his tongue, "but what about you? Will you be-"

"No," the doctor said. "No, not yet." His smile was almost apologetic. "Not as young as I used to be. Once will be all I'm really good for. But at your age, I'd consider myself a failure if I couldn't get you to climax two or three times before we're done."

One for the doctor, two or three times for him, he licked at his lips.

"You can, uh, kiss me, if you like."

The doctor's giggle was adorable. "Good to know."

Their lips met less than a minute later. It was somehow different this time. Almost lighter. Maybe it was because they were standing up, which meant he was leaning down, giving him a certain amount of control over the amount of pressure.

A light run of the doctor's tongue against his lips and then the kiss was broken, the doctor stepping in so they were dancing closer together, bodies pressing together.

The hand that slipped under his shirt was surprising but not unpleasant.

"Alright?" The doctor's expression was genuinely questioning.

He rolled his eyes to signal his exasperation as much as to hide his nervousness.

"I'm fine," he huffed. "You really don't need to keep asking."

He expected a defensive comment back, but the doctor merely seemed to find it amusing and took it as a sign to slip the tips of his fingers under the waist band of Sherlock’s jeans.

After that there was no more movement, other than the swaying of their bodies. It was nice, but now he was over the initial surprise, Sherlock found himself impatient for more and the doctor wasn't- oh.

He stopped their swaying as the thought hit him like a thunderbolt. Oh, of course.

"Something wrong?"

He looked down to see the slight frown on the doctor's face, the way the lines deepened and his eyes jumped, searching for answers. It felt good, to know that regardless of the circumstances, the doctor cared enough for him to want it to be the best experience possible, but that wasn't what he wanted right now. What he wanted was more, and if the doctor wasn't going to actively move things forward in a timely manner, then it would be up to him to do so.

Pulling his hands away, he quickly cupped the doctor's face, brushed his thumb across the lines below the doctor's eyes, and swooped down for a kiss.

He felt the doctor's surprise, then it was all heat, warmth and sensation. The gentle kisses of earlier were quickly forgotten for full on opened mouthed exploration that had him delving deeper in for more. He had a vague awareness of the smile he was kissing and the hands now both under his shirt, but they were secondary to the feeling of the mouth and body against his, the eagerness of the tongue that met his like for like. His awareness of himself was fading in favour of the sensations he was freely clinging to and sinking into. And he wanted more.

No, he needed more.

His body tingled and he pressed it further against the solid form before him, searching for the sensation, arching into it when he found it, keening when it was indulged. He felt gloriously engulfed, yet safe due to the support surrounding him.

Still he wanted more.

Was desperate for more.

Then it stopped and he gasped like a man surfacing for air.

"It's okay," he heard, even as he felt the soothing strokes on his bare back, even as he arched forward, desperate to recapture the welcoming warmth. He shifted his hands, trying to find a grasp that would keep the sensations where they should be, and yet it still all stopped again and, from a distance, he heard a moaning sound that echoed his disappointment.

Warm air rhythmically caressed his face as he tried to recapture what he had had, until gradually everything started to lessen and a growing awareness started to creep in.

"There you are," he heard murmured.

The warm puffs of air were joined by a gentle caress down his cheek that was somehow both soothing and sustained the sensations lower in his body. He leant into it, wanting more, but was confused when he didn’t get it.

Opening his eyes, he found John looking up at him, even as his own right hand was curled around the nape of the doctor's neck, his left bunched in the doctor's jumper at the base of his spine. As controlling as the clasps were, the doctor neither showed concern nor moved to break the hold.

"Guess I deserved that," the doctor said, eyes crinkling in amusement. "Going a bit slow, was I?"

The doctor’s lips were a touch swollen and pinker than they had been. Had he done that? Was that the kisses?

Sherlock slowly relaxed his hands, uneasy about what he had unconsciously done. The doctor didn't comment, just caught one of his hands and tugged him gently towards the thick fur rug in front of the fire.

The movement drew notice to the uncomfortable pressure at the front of his jeans, the bulge straining against his flies. His spare hand moved without thought, but stopped suddenly as if torn between hiding it and pressing against it.

The doctor's gaze was almost predatory as he followed the movement, his tongue automatically coming out to wet his lips.

"You, uh, might find it more comfortable to unzip yourself," the doctor said, then he was sinking to the floor, holding out a hand in invitation.

This whole part was going to end with him climaxing, so unzipping himself certainly made sense, and yet to Sherlock it seemed like a big step. It brought the inevitable that bit closer.

Flicking the button out, he edged down the zip, but couldn't bring himself to untangle himself from his underwear. Exposing himself seemed too much, too blatant. Unzipping was enough though, and he took the doctor's hand and sank down onto the rug.

A bit of manoeuvring, they settled with him in front, caged in by the doctor's legs on either side of him. It was nice. The fire was warm in front of him, the doctor solid behind him.

"Relax."

The next kiss was surprisingly gentle, but prolonged, parting for air but never fully separating. The first press of the doctor's hand to his crotch startled him, light though it was.

Hand stilling, the doctor held his gaze. "Okay?"

This was it, he realised. This was the moment.

He swallowed but then gave a small nod. Next he knew, they were kissing again, and it was nice. And then the hand at his groin started moving, flexing rhythmically, then stroking up and down his length over the fabric, and that was nice too. And then the hand was somehow now touching his bare skin, holding him, feeling him, stroking him, and that was surprisingly nice too. And then there were lips at his neck, and an arm round his waist, and the steady hand on his prick, and the heat from the fire, and it was all so nice that he found himself sinking deeper and deeper into it, letting more and more of himself go, and then-

"John!"

He gasped the name as everything suddenly shattered. His back arching, his groin rose as his fingers grappling at the body around him, and then there was nothing.

It was brief… and fleeting… and perfect… and he hovered there, peaceful, content, free, and then it was gone, swallowed up as he slammed back into his body, noise and sensation flooding back in a way that was almost overwhelming.

"Shush, I've got you.”

Hands held him without moving, a solid figure supported him without somehow adding to the maelstrom around him. It was like an unmoving force to which to anchor against. And he sought it out, sinking his fingers into fabric and muscle, clinging on with all he had.

"Beautiful. So beautiful."

The breath against his neck was warm, the hand against his cock cool in contrast to his overheated skin. Blindly he turned his face, seeking further connection, and then their lips were meeting again, gently, almost lazily, and everything felt so good, so right.

"John."

The name slipped passed his lips as easily as if he had been using it all his life.

John.

"I've got you," he heard in reply, and then the arms were tightening around him as his head fell to rest against a broad shoulder.

I’ve got you.

And he breathed in the scent that was both comforting and somehow familiar. And for that moment he never wanted to move. He just wanted to stay there, warm, safe… loved.

I’ve got you.

It was the gentle touch of a cloth that finally roused him, and he opened his eyes to find himself tucked carefully back away and the doctor wiping his hand on a small towel. It was then that the realisation of what they had just done, what he had just done, hit him with force.

I’ve got you.

It was strange moment; one part of him wanted to jump up and run away, retreat from this, this place; another part wanted to stay there forever, held, cherished, warm and content, lounging in the pleasant afterglow that was dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins; a small part even wanted to do it all again.

"So, good?"

He rolled his eyes but allowed the doctor to brush an errant curl away from his forehead. "Are you going to be smug from here on out?" he grumbled, although the chemical cocktail swimming around his body stole any real bite from it.

"Absolutely," the doctor... John, he mentally corrected, said. "Who wouldn't be while having the smartest... sexiest... most sensual being around, in their arms... calling their name... accepting their kisses."

Each word was punctured with a kiss against shoulder, neck, ear, chin, cheek, and then, while holding gaze, lips.

Sherlock welcomed the kiss, meeting it half way, relishing in the languid feeling that meant it was more for the sensation than it was for the desire for it to go anywhere.

It was only when his cock starting to try to thicken again that the kiss was finally broken, the doctor's smile rueful in a way that said he knew exactly what was happening.

"Rest assured, Mr Holmes, I plan on being plenty more smug before this day is out. But not yet," he added, a small lick to his lips, "because the night is young, and anticipation is everything."

*

As frustrating as it was, the break gave Sherlock the time to both compose himself and process what had happened.

His first orgasm at the hand of another was something that needed categorising and saving, and that wasn't something that could be done without space and quiet. What surprised him though, was that the doctor seemed to know that and so gave him both without needing to be asked.

As the sensations had faded, the doctor had slowly drawn away, first by ensuring that he, Sherlock, was fully clean and back away, then by guiding them off the floor to the sofa. Sherlock had watched then as the doctor had quietly busied himself - stoking the fire, filling the kettle, even quietly putting on Hermann's violin and piano arrangement of Mendelssohn's Lieder - but with every action clearly keeping Sherlock in mind.

Their hands brushed when the doctor handed over a freshly made mug of tea - exactly as Sherlock liked it - but a short nod to the unspoken question was all that was needed for the doctor to then leave him to his own thoughts, well aware as Sherlock was that the doctor was right there should he require him.

The warmth, the drink and the concerto was more than he needed, and he allowed himself to sink into a pleasant meditative state where he could sieve through the recent events, marking them and sorting them so they could be stored.

The ease to which the doctor had brought him to orgasm was surprising, as was the strength of his climax. Although limited in his sexual experiences with others, he was more than capable of sating his own biological needs. Nothing had ever felt quite like that though.

"John."

He should have felt more anxiety about the whole thing, and yet he didn't. The doctor had told him point by point what was going to happen, and then he had done exactly as he said he would. Nothing more, nothing less.

Just like he had promised to stop if Sherlock requested it, and had then kept his word when told to stop.

Not that type of man. Just like he had said.

"John."

It certainly boded well for what was to come.

"John."

"Sherlock."

The hand on his arm startled him and he snapped his head round to find the doctor beside him, a warm expression on his face.

"Come, dinner," he said, then moved back to the kitchen.

Sherlock blinked owlishly for a moment, scanning the room for the obvious changes in time. Darkness had fallen outside, while inside new logs had been added to the fire, and Mendelssohn had been exchanged for Elgar.

Joining to doctor at the table, he took the offered plate and started to eat. The food, cottage pie with veg, was warm and filling, and although they shared conversation, the doctor didn't mention the time he had lost while he had been organising his thoughts.

Afterwards, they washed up in silence, Sherlock shifting from leg to leg with growing impatience as he waited for the next item for him to dry.

"I'm going to want to take a shower," the doctor... John... said as he rinsed the last plate and went to cover the remains of the meal. "Freshen up a bit. Do you want one as well?"

Yes, Sherlock suddenly thought, that would probably be a good idea considering what was coming.

"Do you want to go before or after me?"

"I'll go first," Sherlock decided. "Now."

"Sure," the doctor said. "I'll go in after you then, and after I'll join you upstairs. If that's alright with you?"

And then they would have sex, proper sex, his mind unhelpfully supplied.

"Yes," Sherlock said, and headed for the bedroom.

This was where it was going to happen, he realised as he stepped over the threshold. In this room, on that bed, that was where they were going to have full, penetrative sex.

It was suddenly very real.

But not yet. It wasn't going to happen quite yet.

Switching on the space heater, he grabbed his towel and bathroom kit, and headed downstairs.

*

He was pale and skinny, he decided, but not all together unattractive. But this was the first time anyone else would see him naked with an eye to sexual intercourse, so some effort was required.

He opted for a shave, taking care to neither cut himself nor miss a bit. For a brief moment he considered shaving places other than his face, but dismissed that as quickly as the thought came. The doctor had, after all, never voiced a preference for such personal grooming other than in his sexual preference for men, and with men came hair. He did however, make sure to trim various areas, but that was as much for own vanity as for anyone else's sake.

The doctor would just have to take him as he found him.

Pun not intended.

He showered carefully and thoroughly, paying greater attention to particular parts of his body than he normally would.

Then he was drying himself off and realising that this was it. This was the end game.

The doctor was crouched by the fire when he left the bathroom. Their eyes met, the doctor rising back up to his feet.

"I'll be up when I finish," the doctor said. "Twenty, twenty-five minutes."

Sherlock nodded then moved for the stairs.

Twenty to twenty-five minutes to go.

The room was warm when he got there, but somehow empty. All his things had already been packed away leaving the room even more bare than it had seem when he had first woken up there.

Far more informed than he had been a week ago, he could now picture just how the room once might have been; with the two missing paintings on the wall, notebooks and pens scattered across the bedside table, a terrible jumper thrown over the back of the chair.

He could imagine Harry scribbling away, barely glancing up when John brought him a hot drink, only reacting when John slid into bed beside him, pressing cold toes to his calves.

He could imagine the growing pile of dirty laundry, both of theirs mixed together, until one of them - probably John - took an armful and did something about it.

He could imagine Harry standing by the large window, looking out across the sweeping landscape, violin clasped loosely under his chin, whatever he had been playing lost to his thoughts, while behind him, John quietly approached, slipping his arms around his lover's waist, resting his chin on a shoulder, looking out to share in what the other saw.

He could imagine the life that had once been shared, and now here he was, encroaching on someone else's space, in someone else's room, in someone else's bed, and he was glad.

Because Harry was gone, and even if it was only for one night, he was going to have everything Harry had had, and afterwards, he was going to walk away with a priceless violin and there was nothing the dead man could do about it.

Hanging up his towel, he set about making the final adjustments. The throw was the first thing to go, pulled off the bed, folded twice more and tossed into the wardrobe for safe keeping. Next he pulled the duvet from the bed. It made sense. If it stayed it would only get soiled and he had no intention of hiding under it like a Victorian maiden wanting to protect her modesty. If they were going to do this, they were going to do it and he would give the doctor no excuse to mistake exactly who it was he was being intimate with.

Now there was the question of the space heater; off or on. On would keep the room warm, but at the risk of it getting too warm considering what they were planning on doing. Switching it off though ran the risk of having to halt part way through to warm up.

He left it on, but turned it down. That just left the door. Unlocked, obviously, but also unlatched and slightly open. Not too open, but welcoming, expected.

Studying it, he moved it to and through before deciding on the best position. There, done.

Looking round, he tried to decide what else he could do. There was nothing more he could do to the room, so the only thing left was, well, him.

He decided on pants, only because he thought the doctor might appreciate being able to take them off. He certainly hadn’t made the decision based on his own modesty and discomfort in being so undressed.

After that he was unsure. Should he dress fully? Trousers, shirt, that sort of thing? But that seemed a little ridiculous considering what was going to happen. Why dress when you were only going to undress again? Yet just wearing pants was a step too far in the opposite direction. He needed something that said ‘here I am, I'm ready’, but not, ‘here I am, leave the money on the dresser’.

What he needed was something he could cover himself with but would be easy enough to remove. Something like... the tartan bathrobe.

Perfect.

The robe was warm and soft against his bare skin and as he heard the rattling in the water pipes stopping, he hoped he had made the right decision.

Tidying away the last of his things, he took a seat on the edge of the bed, took some deep breathes and then waited. He listened as he heard the water pipes start running again - sink rather than shower this time - then quiet, then more water, sink again – shaving probably - then silence. Then the door opening, closing, footsteps across the kitchen into the main room, silence, footsteps - back towards the kitchen - silence, footsteps, silence, then finally steps towards the stairs, a brief hesitation at the bottom, then firm steps - every other stair - slowed to every stair near the top, then finally... finally... a soft knock on the partially open door.

"Sherlock?"

"Come in."

The doctor's hair was still a little damp, parts sticking up more than usual. It was an odd detail to notice, but it was what it was.

The doctor's gaze racked over him, eyes narrowing just briefly, and then he was stepping to the side, pushing the door to but not fully closed behind him.

Sherlock frowned. It was almost as if the doctor was treating him like a trapped or wild animal, making sure exits were available and not making any sudden movements.

He rolled his eyes at the realisation. "I'm fine," he said, rising to his feet.

The doctor raised an eyebrow, nodding to the bed. "Forgive me if that was telling me otherwise."

Confused, Sherlock looked back, surprised to see the bunched ceases on the bed sheet, which could only have been caused by his inadvertent clutching of it. That was perhaps a bit not good, but nothing to be concerned about. He wanted this.

Or more to the point, the doctor wanted this, so that was what he was going to get.

Pulling himself up straight, Sherlock fixed his eyes on the other man and crossed the room. Stopping in front of him, he looked down, watched as the doctor automatically licked his lips in response, and decided that enough was enough. He swooped in for the kiss.

The doctor's hands caught him easily but did nothing to stop the kiss, their lips meeting and parting and suddenly it was all heat and wetness and tongues and teeth and the doctor's hands were moving, and his own were moving, and there was clothing where there could have be something else, and it was good, so good, and this was happening, actually happening and he couldn't stop it, didn't want to stop it, and then his fingers found skin and they were tugging at fabric, and-

He gasped as they drew apart, fingers tightening as he registered that they were clenching the doctor's polo shirt, but then the doctor's arms raised above his head and there was only one thing to do.

Up and over, he tossed the clothing to the floor and stepped back.

It was his first time seeing the doctor topless, without a shirt, without a terrible jumper. He had already deduced exactly what he was going to see, but the reality was somehow more. Defined but not overly defined. Broad shoulders, toned arms, a light dusting of mid to light brown hair. A few faded scars, thin and pale.

It was John, but even more than that.

Tentatively, Sherlock raised his hands, pressing his palms against the skin, tracing the contours, across, around, then down, eyes following to the bulge now distorting the line of the doctor’s trousers.

"Okay?"

Fingers slid around to circle his wrists as the question was gently asked.

Sherlock nodded, averting his eyes from the doctor's arousal, thumb absently following a scar diagonally up from navel to lower rib. Something sharp, possibly a blade of some sort, but not a surgical scar, his mind helpfully supplied, but he pushed it aside in favour of grasping the waist and pressing his mouth back against the parted lips, picking back up from where they had laid off.

Part chuckle, part moan and the doctor responded with all eagerness, his own hand seeking out the ties to the dressing gown, loosening it, but pausing in an unvoiced question.

Turning his face away, Sherlock gave a nod and strove for the distraction of a kiss as he felt the material being parted. He knew what he was, what the doctor would find. Pale and skinny and not nearly as well defined and-

"Beautiful."

The hand rested squarely on his chest, palm over his heart. The second hand slid around his waist and then the lips were against his neck, his collar bone, his throat, and the sensations made him gasp.

"You- are- the most- amazing- stunning- beautiful- being-"

The remaining words were lost to frantic movement and heated kisses. His knees hit the bed before he even processed they were moving, and then the dressing gown was on the floor and they were on the bed and there was skin and heat and sensation and sound and someone asking for something, someone asking for more, and it could have been him, or it could have been anyone, and the touch of his groin against a thigh was enough to have him rearing up, arching his back, thrusting forward, searching for more.

"If... you'd... let me," he heard, and then the pressure was gone, and the heat, and the skin, and he blindly sought for it, wanting it back.

Where had it gone?

Why had it gone?

Where was it?

Slowly coming back to himself, he found the doctor perched between his parted legs, topless, trousers undone, looking down at him as if he was the most amazing thing in the world. It was a look that was almost hungry in raw need, a faint flush to the doctor’s cheeks that Sherlock had never seen before.

The only thing between them now was the thin fabric of his boxers, which did little to hide his arousal. The doctor made no attempt to hide his interest, gaze lowering to that very place, his tongue wetting his lips once and then again. There was something shockingly heady about being looked at in such a way, with such want. Whatever it was the doctor was seeing, it wasn't a pale, skinny, friendless freak. It wasn't the misfit, the outcast, the queer boy by all meanings of that term. It was something desired, something wanted, something worth sacrificing everything for.

Then those eyes slowly lifted to meet his and suddenly there was even more. More heat, more want, more need.

Hands slid up the outside of his legs, over his knees, up his thighs, thumbs under the fabric, bunching it as fingers curled up and over the waist band of his boxers. Another lick of the lips and the gaze remained challenging.

"May I?" The doctor asked, ever the gentleman, but the question only brought other words to mind.

I want to play you... I want to make you moan... make you groan... make you scream.

I want to hear you pant... hear you beg... hear you sigh.

I want to take you to places you never knew existed.

"Yes."

The smile was brilliant and it sliced through any anxiety he still had to the point where he almost wanted the boxers off already just so the doctor would keep looking at him like that.

Anticipation, the doctor had said earlier, and holding to that the doctor moved slowly, drawing the fabric carefully up and over his erection, then down and under his bum, until he pulled his legs up to get them over his feet. Then the fabric was tossed away and the doctor was looking at him.

The stillness that followed was unexpected, almost reverent. It wasn't even as if the doctor was just looking at him there, his gaze was wider than that, but he was looking at him, looking at all of him.

Lifting his hand, he reached out to press his fingers against the doctor's face, but then his hand was caught, lips pressing against it in a kiss, and then the doctor was back with him, momentarily sucking on the soft skin on his wrist before layering kisses down his arm and onto his chest.

"Now," the doctor said, breathing in deeply before tipping his chin so their eyes met straight on, "I believe I promised you the full oral experience."

The smile was again brilliant, and then the head ducked and there was heat and wet and so many sensations.

There was nothing for him to do but lie back and enjoy, the doctor kissing and licking and sucking and... god, yes... and finding places he had never thought to be sensitive, and then, ahhh, fuck yes, and if he thought that was good, it was nothing to the moment the doctor took the whole of his length into his mouth.

It was... much... so much... too much... not too much... not enough... so not enough... not, ahhh, god, yes... more... good... so good... there... fuck... yes... god yes... yes....

There was once again a brief moment where he was in balance, when the sensations, the pleasure, the moment, were all aligned, and it was so clear, and sweet, and perfect, and then....

There was a suck, at the head of his prick, a swirl of that tongue, a bit more pressure, and once again everything exploded, but this time it was even better. This time there was more heat, more suction, more everything, and it was like cocaine and heroin and that moment where suddenly everything in the universe briefly makes sense, and he was coming harder than he had ever come before, and he wanted it to stop, and he never wanted it to stop, and he was there, and he was not there, and it was good, but also too good, too much, too everything, and then he was coming down, coming back, and he wanted to cry, but he couldn't, but it felt right, and it felt good, and he was feeling in the first place, and that in itself was alarming, because he didn't do feeling, and was this what everyone else talked about and joked about when they spoke about sex, because if it was then how, how could it be, because this was so much, so very very much, how could they go through all this and still be so... so... so... fundamentally unchanged?

"Shush, it's okay. I've got you. I've got you. It's okay."

There were words being said, and he knew he should be listening, should be understanding them, but it didn't seem to matter, because even he knew that what was being said wasn't nearly as important as the fact something was being said in the first place.

There were other sensations to consider as well, touch in particular, the body pressed up against his, the press of lips to his hair, the stroke of hands over his back and arms. Soothing. Comforting. Loving.

John.

And it was so nice.

John.

And once he again he just wanted to stay there, his face pressed against the chest, his body wrapped within those strong arms, where he could just forget the world, forget himself, forget everything, everything except-

John.

He jerked as reality crashed back in.

John.

The arms loosened immediately, letting him move, essentially letting him leave. Everything within him cried out to stay, to go back to putting his safety and wellbeing into someone else’s arms, to just be, but he couldn't give in to it. Giving in would be a mistake.

Giving in would mean he would want more.

Breathing deeply, he looking quickly around, reorienting himself. They were on the bed, side by side, the doctor a touch higher up, allowing for the embrace Sherlock had just wrenched himself from. Sherlock was naked, flaccid, the doctor not quite on either account. He was being watched, carefully, but not judgementally or disappointedly. Just carefully. With care.

He sucked in deep breathes.

The air was warm, almost unbearably so. Maybe he should have switched off the space heater. Maybe he should have opened the window slightly; got some fresh air into the room regardless of the temperature outside. Maybe he should have-

"Hey, hey, stay with me, Sherlock."

The hand was the only thing to touch him, but it was enough to shake the spiralling thoughts from head, grounding him back in the present.

He collapsed back down, allowing himself to go limp.

He was safe. It was just the doctor. He was safe.

"Sorry if that was a bit much."

He turned his head as the doctor slumped beside him, the pair of them lying on their backs, only partially touching.

"I didn't fully take into account just how touch sensitive you are."

Touch starved would have been another way of putting it. He couldn't remember the last person, other than his parents, he had physically embraced.

"I hope it was good though."

Good? It was like the best high of his life.

Offering a shy smile, he gave a small nod before scooting over until they were touching properly and propped himself onto his side.

Turning his head, the doctor looked at him quizzically. "Alright?"

He nodded before tentatively reaching out a hand to press against the doctor's chest. "Alright," he echoed, reaching down to press a gentle kiss to those lips. "But I do believe it's my turn," he added.

The doctor's smile was lost in their next kiss, but no attempt was made to deny him the control. In fact, just the opposite.

The trousers and pants were the first things to go, and other than using his hands and lifting his hips to help, the doctor made no other direct movement. Even when their kisses started to become more heated, when it was clear the doctor wanted more, he made no move, just let Sherlock continue to explore his own way in his own time.

Sherlock found more scars, on the chest, on the hip, small, thin, almost invisible, but perceptively there against his lips. He traced the muscles, the shape of the doctor’s pecks, the strength in his arms. Then there was the penis, swollen and upright in arousal, of good size and girth within the upper tiers of average, but so obviously there.

"You really don't need to-"

Circling the head with his hand was enough to stop the doctor's words. A slight tightening of his fingers was enough to elicit an exhaling of air and a small chuckle. After that it was merely a task of trying different things and judging from the reactions what the doctor particularly liked.

There was a small amount of oddness in doing it to someone else. This was his first time touching anyone in such a way, but as different as it was, it felt so familiar too.

"Oh god, yeah. That's... good."

There was something heady about watching the doctor's reactions, taking in the lowered eyelids, the hips moving in counterpoint, the breathy sounds of pleasure. It was easy to see why someone like the doctor would take so much enjoyment in giving someone else pleasure.

Stretching, the doctor brought one arm up behind his head in a move so reminiscent of the drawings he had found that Sherlock felt the breath caught in his throat. Beautiful was his first thought. Mine was his next.

Swooping down, Sherlock caught the parted lips with his own, even as his hand became awkwardly trapped between their bodies. It didn't seem to matter as the doctor's arms moved to encircle him and everything else was forgotten in favour of mouth to mouth, tongue to tongue.

Their bodies slotted together as they moved and stroked and flexed and kissed. For the first time he truly understood why people claimed that sex was like a dance.

They danced.

His arousal built slower this time, but no less passionately, and by the time he found himself on his back, the doctor grinning as he crouched over him, he was right there.

"Trust me?" The doctor asked quietly.

The breath caught in his chest. Trust him? Trust him? He gave a small nod.

"Roll over."

Trust wasn’t real until it was tested.

He rolled over.

The hands at his hips guided him upwards until his knees were resting on pillows that were slipped beneath him.

"Trust me. It's easier this way."

He closed his eyes and braced himself.

He did not expect the lips to his spine, or the teeth to his hips, or the kiss to his bum. He certainly didn't expect the tongue against him there.

He gasped, he swore, he almost fell over forwards, he jerked his head around just to confirm what he thought had happened, and then....

"Fuck!"

The doctor's answering hum was half lost amongst the sounds of enjoyment. His sounds of enjoyment, Sherlock realised. Until now he had never realised just how many nerve endings there were there, or how good they could feel, or how-

The first finger caught him by surprise. There was pressure and then there was more, and he could feel it inside him. It was strange, but not painful. More like a steady presence, then his awareness was distracted once more by the cleaver tongue and he barely noticed when the second finger slipped in.

Head hanging, he panted as once again the doctor stopped. The stretch was more intense now, not painful, just intense.

"So beautiful," he heard the doctor say. "You're doing so well. Now, just let me-"

The fingers moved, just slightly, flexing, bending and then-

Sherlock jerked, cursing automatically as a shock of pleasure shot through him different from anything else he had ever felt.

The doctor's laugh was one of delight, then the fingers flexed again and the sensation only increased.

"Sherlock Holmes," the doctor said, "meet your prostate."

Oh fuck.

"I'm happy to say that it is hale, healthy, and very, very responsive."

A lighter brush made him groan and push back against the hand in an attempt to get greater contact. He was rewarded with a quick double press that had him bucking forward with a cry. It was good, so good, and he widened his legs automatically, his cock brushing against the pillow for a dual sensation.

Oh god, if this was what being buggered meant then he would never think of it in a derogatory way again. For this he would give up a lot if that meant he could keep having it.

Another brush of the fingers and then he could feel them scissoring, stretching the muscle further. It was uncomfortable but that somehow only made it feel better.

Then the fingers were withdrawing and he whined in annoyance, head twisting to see why. The answer was suddenly obvious though, thick and hard as it jutted from the doctor's groin, and in an instant everything became even more real. That was what all of this was about, and that was about to go in him.

"Okay?"

He awkwardly raised his eyes, meeting the doctor's gaze. There was warmth and affection there, but also a hungry longing barely contained behind the soft smile.

He nodded, dropping his head again. "Do it," he said, not quite able to mask all his anxiety beneath the bravado.

"Okay."

He was startled when the mouth returned to his opening, tongue lapping at the softened muscle before finally drawing away. A shift on the mattress and then he felt it, the tip of the doctor's erection resting at his entrance.

"Just relax, Sherlock. Do that for me. Relax and if you can, bare back. Okay?"

He took a breath, forcing himself to relax as the pressure started to increase.

It hurt, at least at first. This was more than just fingers and his body wasn't supposed to stretch this way. Instinct told him to pull away, that nothing good could come from this, but then the discomfort was lost within other sensations, and the feeling of wrongness gave way to a feeling of fullness as the doctor finally slid in.

John was in him.

Oh god, John was in him.

"That's it, just breath. Beautiful. So fucking beautiful."

He gripped at the sheets, breathing deeply as neither of them moved. It felt impossible. It felt filling. It felt right. Like he was supposed to do this. Like he had done this before.

The doctor's hands cradled his hips, one part support, one part control. Then just as he thought he would go crazy with inaction, the doctor moved.

He gasped and he swore and then the doctor moved again and again and again and again and then finally he hit the spot and it was good.

Oh god, it was good.

Pressing back, he searched for more and was given it, the strokes going deeper and harder, every one rolling against his prostate in a building wave of pleasure. His cock bounced with every thrust and he wanted to touch it, or have it touched, but also didn't want this to end.

Never end.

He met each thrust, harder and deeper, losing himself in the building pleasure. Every part of his body felt alive, and it was so good.

So good.

He whined as the movement suddenly stopped, then strong hands were pulling him upright, pressing him down until he was fully seated on the doctor's lap. An arm wrapped around his chest, anchoring him, mouth burying into his neck, kissing and licking, all tongue and warm breath.

"Ride me."

The words sunk into his brain and then he was doing just that, he was moving, flexing his legs to rock back and forth against the hard cock within him. The doctor hips met his with every thrust and the words tumbling from the doctor's mouth washed over him in a wave.

"Beautiful... so beautiful. I can feel you. So warm. So long. It's been so very, very-"

The rest was lost into his shoulder where the doctor buried his head, but it didn't matter, all that mattered was this; the movement, the build-up, the sensation. It was glorious. He could feel it, the end they were racing to. He didn't want it to end, but what an end it would be. So bright. So glorious. So-

"I'm sorry," he heard suddenly, the words ghosting his neck as they were breathed into his shoulder. "Forgive me." And then fingers flexed around his cock as the mouth and teeth against his neck suddenly tightened against his skin. He gasped at the sudden sharp pain that stabbed through his neck as something pierced him.

And then he was there.

His climax rolled over him like a crashing wave of pain and pleasure. It burned through him with ecstasy and devastation. For a moment he was more alive than he had ever been.

And then there was nothing.

Chapter Text

Sherlock dreamed.

The images flickered without rhyme or reason, a tangled web without pattern or sense. One moment a beach on the edge of a shining loch, the next London, heavy in yellow fog, the next a full-rigged sailing ship cutting through a blue ocean.

They mixed with other images; of a dog that wasn't a dog, a house that no longer was, and a young girl who didn't exist.

Fire followed; the smell of rubble after a bombing raid, of a musket just after it’s fired, of London choking on open fireplaces, of the flames that licked through an ancestral home, of a castle set alight by the soldiers in red.

He tossed and he turned, one name on his lips, one face repeated through so many of the images.

"John."

"Shush, I'm here, my love."

Cool fingers running through his hair. Impossibly strong arms holding him.

"Sleep, mo ghaol , sleep."

The words commanded, so he slowly stilled, sinking into a deeper state, of sleep without dreams. And he slept.

*

Nothing was right.

Awareness creeping back in, Sherlock lay still, eyes closed as he once again tried to take in his surroundings. He was in bed, the covers heavy and warm over him. Not his bed, but the one he had been using for the past week.

And he ached.

Scotland. The Highlands. The sex.

John.

He snapped awake, hands flying to his neck as he yanked himself upright and sucked in a deep breath. There was nothing there, no mark, no puncture, no pain even, just smooth, unbroken skin, and a hazy memory of what had happened.

What had happened?

They had been having sex. The doctor had penetrated him. It had felt surprising good and he had been just reaching climax when-

I'm sorry. Please forgive me.

A shiver ran through him at the memory of the words. His fingertips scratched aimlessly at his neck, the steady beat of his pulse drawing his attention. His external carotid artery. The conductor of oxygen rich blood to the brain. The carrier of life and the exact place he had been bitten.

He had been bitten. The doctor had bitten him. He remembered the pressure, then the pain, then the overwhelming everything, then the nothing.

The doctor had bitten him and now nothing made sense.

Once you've eliminated the impossible, no matter how improbable-

No. He shook his head, alarmed at the foggy, sluggishness he was feeling. His brain felt heavy, useless. Dehydration, he concluded.

Blood loss, another small part of him whispered.

A glass of water rested on the table and he reached for it gratefully, drinking half before being struck by the similarities of the first time he had woken up here. Fuzzy headed, confused, the biggest difference was that this time he could hear nothing. No water pipes clunking, no movement from below, no footsteps on the stairs.

He was alone.

The doctor was gone.

Slipping from the bed, he was surprised to find himself clean and in boxers, as if the doctor had wanted him to retain a measure of modesty. As if that was possible after what they had done. More surprisingly though, was the lack of soreness or discomfort. He ached, that was true, but it was the full body ache that often followed intense exercise. The parts of him that he had expected to be sore were actually all fine. Apart from the deep muscular ache there was nothing physical to suggest what they had done. Nothing to mark his loss of virginity.

It had happened, hadn't it?

The room certainly bore signs that it had. Clothes that had been discarded during the event had been picked up and neatened, his old boxers were folded on the chair, the dressing gown was hanging from the wardrobe door. The space heater had also been switched off. Most of all though, the smell of sex still faintly hung within the room.

He rubbed absently at his neck before reached for the dressing gown, slipping it on for the warmth and headed for the door.

Downstairs, the rest of the cottage held the same empty feeling as the bedroom. The fire had been raked but was now cold. The blankets had been folded and put back in their place. Mugs that had been left to drain had been dried and tidied away. There was a stark finality about the place. Everything was as it should be, tidied, stored, in its place.

The doctor was gone and he wasn't coming back.

In fact the only things out of place were Sherlock's own belongings; his bag neatly packed was by the door with his boots, and on the centre of the table, was everything else; the Stradivarius and bow in the open case, a map and compass, a hundred and fifty pounds in cash, the Science of Deduction, and an envelope with letter propped between the violin case and the book.

Picking it up, he ran his fingers over the familiar cursive script that made up his name.

Sherlock.

He opened the fold and started to read.

Dear Sherlock,

Forgive me for not facing you in person one last time. I won't deny that this is the coward’s way out, but there are also needs and desires that can override even the strongest of wills and the noblest of intentions. I swore that you would leave this place freely and without obstacle or restraint, and for all that I am, I am a man of my word. Not being with you there now is the only way I can guarantee that outcome.

No doubt you have questions, and I, at the very least, owe you answers. The answers, however, are not as straightforward as you might believe and some of them you are better off not knowing, even if you never believe me on that.

There are many words for what I am, and many more still for what I have done. You will have already drawn your own conclusions, and having gotten to know you as I have, I can confirm that you are probably correct in your suspicions. Now you know the once impossible to merely be highly improbable, I am sure you can join the final pieces together and close off the loose ends I know have been subtly bothering you all week. To that end, I enclose with this missive the final evidence to support your conclusion.

Dearest Sherlock, while my reasons for doing this are my own, please know I never wished you harm. It may be of limited comfort to you now in the cold light of day, but my desire for you and you alone is genuine and true. I may not have been completely truthful with you, but I spoke to you no lie. You are a brilliant, beautiful, unique young man with so much spirit and potential. Your company this week brought colour back into my otherwise lifeless existence. There has been no one else for me since Harry died. No one until you.

I will not try and justify what I have done. At best it was selfish. In reality, I may already be the monster I have fought so long not to become. Please know, though, that your final decision was genuine. While the game was certainly stacked in my favour, I did nothing to “unnaturally” alter the outcome. I will admit that I did at points “compel” you, but only as a last resort and only as a calming method when nothing else worked. The final decision was yours and yours alone, and I truly would have honoured any decision you made.

As promised, the Stradivarius is yours. Take it and keep it. Play it with my blessing and the knowledge that no deception on your part was involved in the acquisition of it. I am fully aware of its origin and worth, and as its guardian I willingly relinquish it into the possession of one more deserving than I.

The book, too, is yours. An honest surprise on my behalf. I had not known of your previous attachment to it. I do know, however, that your namesake would have taken great pride and delight in your wish for it. Yes, I knew your namesake. A remarkable individual, not too dissimilar to yourself in interests and outlook. You are a credit to him and all he advocated. He would have been gratified that at least one person in his family still practices the methods he developed.

I leave too all you might need in order to return to Cambridge. As promised, the Jeep is outside with enough petrol to get you to where you need to go and beyond. I have provided a map and directions to Inverness, and the money should cover both a train ticket back to Cambridge and a night in a hotel should you need one. Travel safely.

Goodbye, Sherlock. For all you might believe, you are a remarkable young man. It is my deepest regret that I could not know you longer, but that is the price I must pay for what I have done and how I chose to do it.

I hope one day you find it within yourself to forgive me.

Yours Always,

John H. Watson

Lowering the letter, Sherlock reached for the envelope. Three old photographs was not what he had been expecting, but the doctor was right about one thing, they were the final needed pieces of evidence.

The photographs each showed two men, the same two men, obvious even to the casual eye, but with one subtle, impossible detail; while one man clearly aged, the other did not.

Dates were neatly written across the backs of the photos. 1974 across the first, 1962 across the middle, 1949 across the last, and through them, Sherlock recognised the man Harry had been, grey and middle aged in the first, to a young man surely only a few years older than Sherlock was now in the last. With him stood John Watson, younger and healthier than he looked now, but, fashion aside, near identical in each picture.

The man who did not age.

That was what he had missed, what had been niggling at him throughout the week without him noticing; all the dates had been wrong. He had presumed that Harry had died not long before John had come to their village, but that was an assumption he should never have made.

Lifting his head, he looked round the cottage with new eyes, finally really seeing what was there and what was not. There was no television, no VCR, no CD player or tape deck, and the kitchen lacked modern conveniences like a microwave, toaster or electric kettle. He had put it down to the cottage being retro in style, but it wasn't retro, it simply had not been updated in over 20 years. Not since Harry had stopped updating it.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.

Moving to the bookshelf, he pulled out a couple of the newer books he had helped shelve a week ago, flicking to the publishing dates. 1991, 1988, 1983. All the way back to 1976.

The LPs told him something similar. They were all recorded between 1976 and the present. The board games had been published likewise. All newer than 1976, and all initially unopened, because there had been no one to play with.

That must have been when Harry had actually died. Sometime around the mid-1970s. Which meant that Harry had been dead longer than Sherlock had been alive for.

And the doctor had been lost in his grief for all of that time.

He ran his fingers across the gothic books. Harry's books.

He found them funny for some reason.

Of course he did, because they weren't just gothic books, were they? Thalaba the Destroyer. The Bride of the Isles. Le Chevalier Tenebre. They were all on the same theme. Even the new books the doctor had bought out of habit.

Salem's Lot. The Silver Kiss.

Interview with a Vampire.

It had all been there, right in front of him, right from the start.

He had just been too blind to see it.

#~#~#

The figure loitered by the jeep, eyes scanning, searching, but then shoulders slumped as he obviously failed to find what he was looking for. The bags were placed slowly into the passenger seat footwell, and again the figure then stopped and looked round, tapping his long fingers against the jeep door. Another minute, another seemingly endless wait, then finally the figure climbed into the jeep and closed the door.

The engine starting, there was another pause, then slowly the vehicle began to back up, turn and then carefully pulled away.

John watched as the vehicle drove away, his eyes closing only after it had been lost even from his sight.

Sherlock had gone.

By biological rights, he had not felt so alive in years, and yet it came with such a heavy price. The blood link meant he could feel Sherlock moving farther and farther away from him, the action only heightening the siren call; life, blood, love.

He sank his fingers into his palm, the brief spark of pain a pleasant side effect of his newly awoken senses. He had forgotten the rush that came from feeding from a living subject. Or not exactly forgotten, he had repressed the memory until it had become a much smaller, less important thing, making it easier to live without.

Do not entreat me with that look, Watson. You are as much a slave to your desires as I am to mine. Mine just comes in a seven percent solution.

Naturally, Holmes had had the truth of it - of course he had. And oh how much he had wanted Sherlock. Wanted the warm body and the blood, oh the blood. The whole week had been an exercise in restraint. Of holding himself back from taking what had been right in front of his nose. It would have taken nothing to pin the boy down, to have taken everything he had craved, and after one kiss Sherlock would have craved it too, but he hadn’t because that wasn’t what he wanted, that wasn’t the person he chose to be.

That wasn’t the person Sherlock needed him to be.

Scrubbing his hands over his face, John turned and returned to his walk. It was a path he had done countless times over the long years, one that only he currently knew of.

The energy that thrummed through him from the recent feed was slowly fading into melancholy. The crash after the high. Moving was good for him. Inactivity gave way to dark thoughts, dark thoughts to even darker deeds.

Like kidnapping a nineteen year old for sex and blood.

He shook his head and pushed on. Step after step, mile after mile, the distance nothing to him and his inhuman strength and stamina, until finally he found himself climbing up the watchman's hill overlooking what remained of Dubhloch Castle.

He stood for a moment, watching the view, the faint ripples on the surface of the loch, the mated kestrels circling above. Closing his eyes he could almost see it as he had once known it, bustling with life, all people and animals, shouts and screams, the farrier hammering away, the women with the washing, children playing, Mrs MacEwan shouting her displeasure as one of them stole an apple.

But that was a lifetime ago. Several lifetimes in fact. Before Harry and Cambridge, before the destruction of two world wars, before an Empire and lodgings in Baker Street, even before Madagascar and those pirates.

It was gone, long gone, and he was all that was left.

Silently he made his way to the bench, taking a seat on the free end, barely glancing at the companion already sat on the other end.

"Hello Harry."

The figure on the other end of the bench acknowledged him with a small smile before looking back over at the water.

"Well," John said, sucking in a deep breath, "I've done it now. For good or ill. It is done. No going back now."

"Yet here you are," Harry said.

"Yet here I am," John said. "I never could understand your particular attachment to this place, you know. It's just so... sad."

"Which is perhaps why I liked it," Harry said. "There is a time for everything."

"I brought you back here," John said softly. "I scattered your ashes from this spot. I did as I promised."

"And you took the low road while I took the high," Harry said. "But you still blame yourself."

"Of course I blame myself!" John snapped. "We both know you would still be alive if it wasn't for me."

"Maybe," Harry continued. "Or maybe knowing you saved me from Turing's fate. Either way, no regrets. I have never regretting knowing you, John Watson, and neither will he."

Sherlock.

The boy was too far away now for him to feel, an obvious emptiness where the link had been.

"You can't know that," John whispered. "Even if this works, even if he is who we both think he is, I took away his choice, and I did it because I'm weak and selfish and-"

"Because you need him," Harry interrupted.

"Gods help me, I do."

"Man is not meant to be alone. You even less so."

John offered a weak smile. "I thought that was why you were still here?"

"Except we both know that I'm not really here."

John closed his eyes in acknowledgement. He had been alarmed the first time Harry had appeared to him. He hadn't been sure if it was the onset manifestation of a new ability he hadn't been aware of, or a symptom of the madness growing within him.

For all he knew, it was both.

"I miss you,” he whispered. “So much.”

"Yes," the figment of Harry said. "But I'm not real. He is though. Time to start living again, my love."

Harry was right. Harry was always right about these sorts of things, even when he was dead. It was time to do more than just existing. It was time to reengage with the world. To face that which he had turned his back on.

The sun was sinking by the time he returned to the cottage. The door was locked but the spare keys weren't on the inside mat. Sherlock must have taken them with him. Yes, that was the sort of thing he would do.

The place felt colder and emptier without him though. Everything in its place. Well, that was hardly surprising.

The note was on the centre of the table. Just five words and the initials.

This is not the end. SH.

No, he agreed, it probably wasn't.

He made the cup of tea more out of habit than anything else. He had no need for normal food or drink, but the routine was comforting. As was the fire that he re-laid and lit. External cold was a thing long past for him, and no amount of external physical heat could banish the chill within him. There was something alluring about the flames though, something to watch.

Sorting through the LPs, he slid one onto the turn sty, and sank into his armchair to watch the dancing flames and get lost in the centuries of his memories.

He felt the growing presence before anything else. Weaker than it had been that morning –
the blood link was already dissipating – it still strengthening as it neared. Then he picked up the noise of the jeep. Five miles away. Then four. Three. Two.

Walking to the windows, he stood and watched the setting sun. Waiting.

He heard the jeep approach. He heard the engine stop. He heard the door open and close, heard the feet crunch on the path. He heard the strong heartbeat, steady and only slightly elevated.

He heard the door open, the keys put down on the table, the figure approaching.

Then he heard it stop, and still he waited.

"We danced to this, the last time we were here."

He finally turned at the sound of the now familiar voice.

Head bent as if to listen better, Sherlock's brow furrowed as they both listened to the sound of the Righteous Brothers.

Oh, my love, my darling
I've hungered, for your touch
A long, lonely time

Sherlock took a step closer, his expression a mixture of remembrance and confusion.

"I led and you laughed when I dipped you."

And time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?

"I didn't want to dance at first. The bee conundrum felt to be within my grasp, but you were insistent, and it had been so long."

Lonely rivers flow
To the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea.

"It was worth it though. Just to hear you laugh, see you smile."

The blue, green eyes fixed solely on him, so different from Harry's brown.

"We thought we had all the time in the world."

Lonely rivers cry
Wait for me
Wait for me
I’ll be coming home
Wait for me.

John looked away, the memories once again threatening to overwhelm him. They had been so happy back then, so carefree. They had had no inkling then that that would be the last time they would be here together.

Until now.

"You bribed me," Sherlock continued, another step forward, his voice more certain now as he moved from the past to the present. "You bribed me, with my own violin."

Another step forward.

“You manipulated me, every step of the way.”

Another step forward.

“Just enough of a mystery to entice me. Just enough company to seduce me.”

Another step forward, then another until John had to lift his chin to keep meeting that gaze.

"You took a lonely, insecure, teenage virgin and you tempted him with everything he so desperately wanted. You even let me think you were suicidal. As if bullets could do anything to you.

“You're a bastard, John Watson."

The small smile undercut the seriousness of the words.

"You're a coney-catching, blood sucking, lily-livered, muck snipe, gillie-wet-foot, skelpie-limmer, heartless, nickum lamiae bastard ."

The eyes raked over him thoughtfully.

"And you look terrible."

John laughed. He couldn't help it. The words - oh god the words - it had been so long, so much. He could feel his legs beginning to buckle as the relief washed over him. It had worked. The plan had worked. Sherlock was Sherlock. The right Sherlock. His Sherlock.

"Sherlock."

With his superior reflexes he could have easily avoided the fist, but he didn't. There was something cathartic about letting it land; the burst of pain as his head snapped round; the rush of energy as his fangs sprung out; the sudden heightening of all his senses as instinct took over to confront the immediate threat.

It was only long taught self-control that stopped him at clenched fists and a mere teeth bared growl.

"Oh good, there you are. I was starting to wonder."

Sherlock was looking at him with a look of amusement, already noticeably different from the boy he had been. Gone already was the gangly, awkward teenager, still a stranger in his newly grown body. He was more upright now, head high, shoulders back, self-assurance evident in every cell. This was the new him. The proper him.

Then the amusement dissolved into disapproval.

"Oh for god's sake, man," Sherlock said. "Look at you. Centuries and you barely age. Twenty years without me and suddenly you're an old man at death’s door." Then he was striding away, throwing open the cupboards as he went. "Where is it? Where have you put it?"

"Sherlock?"

"You've hidden it. Pretty well considering I didn't find even the barest hint of it. Not that you’ve been looking after yourself properly. Starving yourself indeed. Idiot. So where is it? Where’s your blood stocks? I know you have some here somewhere. You drank last night, or we couldn’t have done what we did. So where is it? Where is the rest?"

"Sherlock."

The cupboards were slammed shut again, an annoyed but determined look on the face.

"Fine. If you're going to be such an idiot about it, drink."

He wanted to rear up as the pale, bared arm was thrust under his nose, but instinct was strong and he could see the pulse beating enticingly, already calling to him. His mouth salivated in readiness and it took all his will to push it away.

"You always were the noblest of men," he heard and then the mouth crushed down on his.

He registered lips and warmth and then sweetness as blood burst across his tongue.

The bastard, he thought, as he groaned into the sensation. The sneaky, underhand bastard had taken advantaged of his descended fangs and sliced his own tongue and lip on them, spilling the first drops of blood.

Gasping, he wretched himself away, breathing deeply even as Sherlock pressed a finger to the already healing cut. Even that small amount of blood was enough to make his cock twitch, part blood lust, part Pavlovian response built up over the centuries. Oh god he wanted him; wanted this young, passionate lover; wanted the blood and body of the latest reincarnation of the only soul he would ever truly love.

His Sherlock, whose life had been entwined with his since before modern time had begun. His artistic mathematician, his Victorian detective, his Regency zoologist, his Culloden boy-soldier, all the way back to his Roman captive who had refused to cower before the impossible.

So many men, so many lives, but all of them Sherlock; born, lived, died, and then born again, no memory of who he had been previously until John found him, bit him, and reawakened him.

The same man, the same soul, always the same, yet always unique.

And god he wanted him.

"Go on then."

Growling, he clawed at the figure in front of him, hearing the shirt fabric rip as he aimed for the throat, teeth scoring without puncturing as he dragged his mouth across the skin, across and up until he could once more reach that mouth. The bottom lip throbbed between his teeth, then he was biting, groaning at the shots of blood even as he ran his tongue against the cuts to heal them.

A hand in his hair pulled his head up and back, but he went willingly, meeting the dilated pupils of his lover.

"Now do it properly."

The words spoken in Scots Gaelic were enough to short circuit what remained of his rational mind. He issued the command to submit without thought, pushing his will onto the other man, but there was no come back, no resistance, just an easy acceptance, the command followed most willingly, as was the command to strip, then later the command to come.

He sank his teeth in and drank even as the hot, virile body arch beneath him, fingers raking across his back. The blood was like ambrosia, warm and alive, the pulse throbbing against his tongue. His cock swelled with the imbibing of it, heavy and thick with want. But even in the frenzy that gripped him, he knew the limits of what he could take, and gasping, he ripped his teeth away, sealing the wound with his tongue.

Beneath him Sherlock looked the very image of debauchery. Back arched, mouth open, pupils blown, spent cock already showing signs of recovery. The fire light added a glow to his skin. The long legs begged to be thrown over a shoulder. Relaxed by the chemicals in John's saliva, everything about him screamed to be pinned down and taken.

By the gods John wanted to take him.

And take him he would, over and over, driving into him again and again, wringing climax after climax from the beautifully responsive body, taking him to higher and higher heights, until finally satisfied, he would finally let himself go, and tip them over the final edge together.

Finally together.

And it would be glorious.

But before that, as gone as he was though, John could only stop and stare, his palm moving to rest over the beautiful beating heart. Twenty years of not having faded beneath the strong beat. The grief, the pain, the fear, nothing compared to having this again.

His Sherlock.

"I love you," he murmured fiercely, sliding his hand up until he could toy with a sweat laden curl, so unique to this version. "I love you so much."

"I know," came the reply, head tilting to press a kiss to his palm. "I remember."

*

The warmth was soothing.

He had been cold for so long that he had forgotten what it was like to be warm; to be fed and content, wrapped in the arms of someone who loved him. To know he was safe, to be able to let his guard down, even for a moment.

Sherlock burned like a furnace, hotter behind him than even the newly stacked fire in front of them. He could feel the heart beating beneath his ear; hear the thrum of blood rushing through the veins. Soothing. Familiar.

The arms that held him spoke of care and of affection. If he could, he would stay like this forever.

"It wasn't your fault, you know. How I… how he died."

The words caught him off guard, completely at odds to their mood and position. He braced to pull away, but a firm tightening of the arms around him told him not to.

"The last thing you said to me, to him, was to forgive you, but I don't need to because it wasn't your fault. How I died wasn't your fault."

John closed his eyes. "You remember?" he said.

This was the part he hadn't been looking forward to, the part where Sherlock remembered how his previous life had ended, why he had died.

"Bits," Sherlock said. "A lot of it is still hazy, but I remember that you came for me. I remember you being there. And I remember it not being your fault."

"Of course it was my fault!"

Because they had taken Sherlock – Harry – to get to him. They had held him, and hurt him, because of John. Because of what he was.

They hadn't even been anything special, just hired thugs, humans tasked with hurting a forty-nine year old artistic academic for reasons they were never made privy to. And hurt him they had. By the time John found him it was already too late. The internal damage was too great, even for his healing abilities, and his hands, Harry’s beautiful artist hands, had been shattered and twisted beyond recognition. Even so, he might have tried, would have poured every ounce of healing power into his lover had it not been for the blood loss.

The jagged cuts down each wrist had been expertly done. Deep enough to bleed out, light enough for it to be slow. A parody of a feasting bite.

Harry had been barely conscious when he found him, skin already unhealthily cool to the touch. But his words had haunted him ever since.

"Knew you'd come, mo ghaol . No regrets. No regrets."

"It wasn't your fault, John." The arms tightened further around him. "The person behind it, the person who ordered it, did you find them?"

Cashed in favours, a path littered with the dead at his hand, both human and otherwise, and a fifteen month hunt that had ended with a burning chateau in France.

"Yes," he said.

"And are they dead?"

"I didn't know. I didn’t know it was you. He didn't tell me. Mercy, I beg you!"

"Harry was my mercy."

"Yes."

There was a pause but the heart rate didn't change.

"Good."

They returned to watching the fire, time slowly ticking away.

"I'm still him, you know," Sherlock said after another long while. "William Sherlock Scott Holmes. I'm still the nineteen year old you brought here a week ago."

John turned his head away, because despite the words, he wasn't. For better or for worse, that boy was gone. And he was gone because of John’s selfishness, because the loneliness and the pain and the grief had become too much. He should have waited, had intended on waiting, for the boy to become a man, for time and life to shape him into a more fully form person, but in the end it had become too much.

Everything had become too much.

"But I am them as well," Sherlock continued. "Henry Arthur Sherlock. Edwin Sherlock George Holmes. Sherlock Charles Havering. I am all of them, but I am still me, and you are still mine.

"You don't know what it's like. To live feeling as if you're missing something. It's not living. It’s barely existing. Trying to find something to fill that hole within you. But this, this is who I am, who I am supposed to be. I know now what I have been missing, and now I have it, even if I could, I wouldn't go back.

"So let go of that guilt, John Watson. Let go of the grief and the pain and the fear. If you need me to forgive you, then I will, I do. I forgive you for not being able to save me in my last life, and I forgive you for not giving me the choice in this life. But close your eyes and rest now, my love, mo ghaol. I have you. I'm here. You're safe. Close your eyes and rest."

Warm and held and absolved of the weights that had burdened him for so long, John allowed himself to sink down, to finally give in. And for the first time in twenty years, he slept.