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The Meaning of Entropy

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Clouds painted in grey hues, heavy with the promise of rain. The subdued hums of car engines, interrupted by the occasional roar. Passers-by, passing by and minding their little lives, not unlike their own. Nothing seems askew on Baker Street. However, today is different, because 1. John had just cried in Sherlock’s arms earlier on in the afternoon, and 2. They’d had cake.

They’d shared inside jokes, laughed, avoided each other’s gaze, looked at each other too much- him, Sherlock and Molly. Just like the old times, almost (but not really) ignoring the heaviness of the past days. The hospital. The blood. The crying, the embrace. I just needed a hug. Sherlock had stolen approximately thirty percent of his cake. John remembered something an old girlfriend had told him. She was a psychologist. They hadn’t lasted long. She’d said- Sugar addiction is a substitute for affection.

They walk in silence towards the flat, which happens to be in the same direction as John’s tube station. John can’t measure the air between them, doesn’t know how to take its pulse anymore after their earlier embrace. Something has shifted, but he’s not sure what. He’s used to crossing lines all the time, taking risks, I said dangerous and here you are, but not these kind of lines. Not the ones that say “don’t beat your best friend up” or “don’t cry in his arms in front of him”. John takes a deep breath, remembers what his father used to tell him. Never ask for help. You can’t rely on anyone but yourself. He thinks of Sherlock almost dying for him. He thinks of his hand on the back of John’s neck, the quiet comfort of him holding space like no one else had before, then he thinks no more.

They’ve reached the flat. Sherlock has been looking at him the whole time. Deducing. John doesn’t want to know his conclusions. He feels raw, exposed, weary and strangely relieved. Mary has been gone for hours.

He clears his throat, shifts a little from one leg to the other.

“So. This has been… good.”

“Yes,” Sherlock replies immediately. His expression is guarded, but not unkind. Even though he keeps his hands clasped behind his back, a picture of quiet politeness, the stubble makes him look older and brings his chaos into full view.

“Happy birthday once again,” John says.

“Thank you, John.”

John nods shortly.

“Bye, mate.” Mate. The word feels like lead in his mouth, but he keeps saying it, if only for the sake of consistency. “See you tomorrow at ten.”

He turns around on his heels and takes a few steps.

“John.”

John breathes, clenches and unclenches his fists, turns around to look at Sherlock. Sherlock, who has been high for weeks, Sherlock, who almost died for on him, Sherlock, who seems to have lost his edges, watered down to this raw, vulnerable creature who looks at him with an honesty that he can hardly bear.

“Would you like to… stay?”

“Um…”

“Come up. For tea.”

“Well, I’ve got Rosie…”

“Her sitter’s currently chatting on Facebook with a man she met last weekend at a salsa course. He finishes work at 9. Your house is significantly closer to his office than hers, so you’d be doing her a favour by extending her work hours, allowing him to pick her up.” Sherlock smiles faintly, then something in his expression shifts. Bit not good? “Unless…” he adds rapidly, “you think that leaving Rosie with someone else for so long negatively impacts her development, so you’d rather…”

“Sherlock.” John laughs, releasing a breath he didn’t realize he was keeping in. “You’re a cock, you know that?”

After a moment’s surprise, Sherlock’s lips curl into a smile.

“Yeah. I’ve been told.”

-

The living room is familiar and foreign at the same time with all its edges and its shadows, tamed by years of history. Late-night violin, late-night cases. Boxes full of books, telly and serial killers. John sinks into his armchair, focusing on the warmth of the teacup, allowing himself two entire seconds spent in the blissful, thoughtless comfort of the place that used to be his home.

They don’t work like that, the two of them. Not anymore.

“So, we’re doing this, then,” he starts. “The tea and the… sitting.”

Sherlock swallows, looking down at his teacup.

“Problem?”

“No, it’s just that… “ John laughs, a short, nervous sound. “Yeah, actually. Yes. What you did, Sherlock. It was… “

John raises his hand, urges it to speak for him. After a second, he gives up and lowers it back, curling it into a fist on the soft arm of his chair. He focuses on the sensation. Anchoring, simple- unlike this.

“John, you don’t need to feel like you owe me something,” Sherlock says. “I did what I needed to do.”

John huffs, a mixture of bitter amusement and disbelief.

“What you needed to do? What you needed to do? You almost went and got yourself killed, you lunatic! You found a case- the most complicated case you could’ve picked- and tried to solve it while you were entirely off your tits on drugs!” John feels the anger rising, traveling from the pit of his stomach to the tip of his tongue. He wants to pack it up in a concentrated form and send it directly to Sherlock’s brain- his brilliance, his utter stupidity. “Did you ever think for a moment that you might not make it out alive?”

Did you ever think that instead of saving me, you might put me through all of that again?

“Yes,” Sherlock says in a small voice. “Of course I have, John.” He looks vulnerable again, like someone (John) has shrunk his bigger-than-life personality and turned it into something else. Something that he needs to control, to repent for, to slowly suffocate in a treacherous hospital room.

John feels his anger subside as fast as it had risen, replaced by nausea. He takes a deep breath and looks away.

“Look, just listen to me. What I did back there, it wasn’t good. I should’ve never… hit you like that. Yes, I was angry. Yes, I was scared.” He meets Sherlock’s wide-eyed look. “I was scared, Sherlock, because for a moment, I thought we were doing… that thing again. That thing where you tell me that it’s all a lie, a game, then you disappear for two years making me think you’re dead.”

“Oh.”

Understanding dawns on Sherlock’s face. He looks at John with… empathy? Pity? It feels like entirely too much.

“Anyway, none of that was a good reason for…doing what I did,” he continues, fixing his gaze somewhere in the area of Sherlock’s chest. “Nothing would’ve been a good reason for doing what I did. I’m sorry. Forgive me.”

In his peripheral vision, he sees Sherlock nodding.

“Thank you, John.”

“Don’t thank me, you git,” John huffs. “I put you in the hospital, then you almost died because I somehow decided it was time to throw away years of friendship. Because I was hurt- as if you weren’t. I didn’t give you anything to thank me for.” John feels moisture gathering in the corners of his eyes, entirely unwelcome. He doesn’t want to cry in front of Sherlock, not again. He swallows, wipes at his eyes, squares his shoulders. Looks up.

Sherlock is no longer in his chair. Instead, he’s bridged the gap between them, crouching in front of John. Oh. John’s brain provides him, entirely inappropriate, with the memory of his stag night. The proximity, the comfortable oblivion. The warmth in his chest (and in various other areas of his body), his hand on Sherlock’s knee. He- absurdly- feels like laughing. It wouldn’t be a pleasant sound, so he keeps quiet.

“John,” Sherlock says, his voice steady, his gaze unfaltering. “You gave me more than I could ever expect from another human being. Your friendship, your loyalty, your care, were… more than I ever thought I would receive in this life.” He looks away. “You have experienced terrible loss and grief, right when you thought you’d had enough of it for a lifetime. Is it not normal to expect an imperfect reaction?”

“Yeah, see, you always find excuses for other people. You always find justifications,” John replies, not thinking about the warmth pooling in his chest alongside ugly, clawing guilt, not thinking about saying You were more than I expected, too. God, how much more. “Some things just aren’t okay, Sherlock. What I did wasn’t.”

Mary’s bullet wasn’t.

“I don’t find excuses for you, John,” Sherlock answers promptly, his voice steady once again. “I see the man you can be.”

John blinks, remembering how he’d thought the same thing about Mary. (Even though she hadn’t, right? She hadn’t seen the man he could be. If she had, maybe she wouldn’t have felt the need to run away from him, again and again.) He thinks of Sherlock and his unwavering trust, laying his own life down as an offering. He thinks of their earlier talk, when he’d used the same sentence- Who you thought I was is the man who I want to be- to talk about his wife. His partner, his lover.

He clears his throat, blushes, looks away. Suddenly, the air around him feels too oppressive to be distilled by words. He feels Sherlock’s warmth inches away from his skin. He wants to get closer almost as much as he wants to run away.

Sherlock returns to his chair.

John is almost thankful for it.

-

“I think my best friend might be in love with me.”

He blurts it out without realizing, chastises himself for saying it one second later.

It must be something about his new therapist. Ella used to unnerve him with her inquisitive gaze, her serious attitude, her grave questions. He would’ve never opened up to her like this. But her- there was something familiar and comforting about her distance. She seemed miles away from him, even when she was listening. She felt like home.

“Interesting,” she says, looking at him with curious eyes. “What makes you think that?”

“He… did something. For me. Something dangerous. Hell, he did many dangerous things. He risked his life. He almost got sent away for… doing something he shouldn’t have.” John laughs nervously. “I do realize I’m not making any sense, but the point is… it’s not easy for me. To ask for help. Maybe that’s why I brushed it off. What he did. How he looks at me. People don’t really look at each other like that.”

“How do people look at each other, John?”

John blinks away a strange feeling of deja-vu. God, she really does feel familiar.

“I don’t know. Well, he stares at everyone. He either looks too much or not at all. But they don’t matter to him. He looks at me like I matter, all the time.”

John feels a weight drop simultaneously on and off his chest as he’s talking. He’s never really said these things out loud. Lestrade knows, Stamford has been suspecting, but he’s always played it safe through denial. A barely plausible cover story.

Mary had known from the start. She’d looked at him like you look at a broken thing. Pity and amusement, dancing in synchronized steps on her face at his run-of-the-mill line- I’m not gay. He’d loved her for understanding what he wasn’t ready to accept, for loving him in spite of it. He’d hated her for loving him in all the wrong ways. The lies (her past), the bullet (Sherlock’s chest), the lies (leaving him and Rosie), the bullet (Go to hell, Sherlock).

“You aren’t used to it,” the therapist says in a neutral tone. Distant, comfortable.

“I’m not used to what?”

“Mattering to other people.”

John laughs before she finishes her sentence, a steady wave of bitterness coursing through his veins, a soldier’s retreat. He feels his entire body getting ready for flight: rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, muscles contracting. Ready to run. Not ready to fight back. In less than a second, he’s already planted his palms on the arms of his chair, body half-way towards sitting up.

Then he remembers. John Watson, get the hell on with it. Instead of Mary’s ghost, it’s his internal voice speaking to him now, words and thoughts reclaimed as his own.

“Yeah,” he says, taking a deep breath- a white flag, a victory-, relief and exhaustion washing over him as he sinks into the armchair once again. “I guess not.”

-

They find a strange kind of comfort in their routine, John minding Sherlock a couple of hours each day as Rosie either remains with Mrs. Hudson (sometimes) or joins their silences and their stories in the sitting room (often).

“Where’s Watson?” Sherlock asks as soon as John opens the door, letting the violin fall from his shoulder as the melody comes to an abrupt halt.

“You’ve just seen her yesterday,” John smiles. “I left her downstairs. Mrs. Hudson was really keen on letting her play with chocolate cookie dough, for some reason I can’t fathom.”

“Please, John. Just because you prefer to avoid- and I quote, ‘making a mess’ to cater to a toddler’s developmental needs doesn’t mean that everyone else…”

“Yeah, stop talking now, Sherlock?” John says in a light tone, making his way towards the kitchen. “I was thinking we could do that. If you wanted to,” he adds rapidly. “Playdough. You could show her how it interacts with… whatever you’ve got in here,” he says, pointing towards the warzone that is Sherlock’s chemistry-lab kitchen. “As long as nothing blows up and, you know, you don’t irreparably alter the health of my daughter.”

Sherlock is beside him in a second.

“Yes,” he replies.

John looks up at him. He’s wearing that expression of bewilderment and eagerness, wide eyes scrutinizing John as if expecting to find the opposite of his words somewhere in the angle of his brow or the crease of his shirt. John feels a pang of affection and looks down as he sets the kettle to boil.

“You’ve really taken a liking to her,” he says.

“Yes, well. She is your daughter,” Sherlock replies.

His resolute gaze and the solemnity in his voice take John by surprise. It sounds as simple and as real (obvious) as if he’d stated a universal truth. The Earth goes around the Sun. I like Rosie because I like you.

John clears his throat, looks away. Remembers himself. He could brush it off once more, just another misplaced reply too strange to warrant a second thought, except. Well.

He doesn’t want to, not anymore.

So, beyond the remains of whatever self-preservation instinct he had in the first place, he looks back.

-

“So,” John starts, sensing a good moment to break the silence between them. It still doesn’t feel natural, the two of them in their armchairs, sipping tea as if it’s just another dull, lovely, danger-could-step-through-our-door-at-any-time day, but it’s more than John had expected. “How’s it going?”

“John, I thought we’d established early on that small talk is not one of our fortes,” Sherlock replies. He looks better than before, his watery eyes and lithe frame slowly replaced by increasing clarity and sinew. It makes him look less like a ghost and more like the fawn-like creature John had grown used to- familiar, reassuring, sharp with a new edge of sobriety.

“I meant how are you,” he clarifies. “With… the drugs.”

“Oh,” Sherlock replies quietly, throwing a suspicious gaze in John's direction before looking away. “Good. It’s… good.” He nods resolutely in a way that certainly means it's not good at all. “Oh, who am I kidding. I need a distraction! At this point, I would probably murder someone myself to have a good case on my hands.” He rolls his eyes, sounding more tired than exasperated.

“You’d have blood on your hands,” John says, amused.

“Mmm… literally, no. You know me, I’m too careful for that. Metaphorically? Yes, but it wouldn’t be the first time.”

John smiles despite himself, remembers how easily Sherlock had killed. For Mary. For him. He would do it again, no doubt. Or would he? Would John deserve that anymore?

Did he ever?

“You need to recover, Sherlock,” he says, only half-aware that he’s deflecting. “Maybe it would be a good time to learn some self-care for a change.”

“Self? Yes. Care? Mmmnot really,” Sherlock replies with a tone of feigned boredom.

John huffs shortly. His approach: not working. It's becoming increasingly difficult, suppressing the urge to reach out (for real, beyond advice and empty words), to say something, anything, to bridge the gap between him and this impossibly different, impossibly similar human being. His mirror. He wants to (get the hell on with it). He opens his mouth, stares at Sherlock, then closes it again.

“What? What’s happening?” Sherlock asks, suddenly alert. A silence, a mystery, a crime scene (John).

“Nevermind. You’ve deduced it already, probably years ago,” John says. For a second, he feels like a fool for wanting to share his secrets with someone who’s mapped them all out from the first day they’d met.

“So? Say it anyway,” Sherlock replies, looking straight at him with those piercing eyes. John feels a shiver run through him, a tiny spark of barely-there pleasure. He remembers the army, his commanding officer, those times when similar blue eyes bore into his with a heady mix of resolve and kindness.

He clears his throat, looks down into his teacup, now half-empty.

“It’s about my dad.” Sherlock’s expression doesn’t change, so John feels encouraged (well, not discouraged, at least) to continue. “I know how this sounds, and this is precisely why I avoid talking about it. I don't fancy myself a victim of my childhood.”

“Of course you don't.” Sherlock's voice is reassuringly even.

“But I've been thinking and it made me who I am more than I'd realized. My dad, he used to drink all the time. He would shout at mom, at Harry and I, that sort of thing, then he’d sulk for hours. The beatings started later on, when Harry had already left home and started to build… well, rather to ruin her own life. It’s just… I always had the idea that addiction makes you weak, turns you into some kind of monster.”

John looks down at his hands, realizing that he’d set down his teacup at some point while speaking and he’d curled his hands into tight, tense fists. When he looks up, he sees Sherlock’s earlier aloofness changed entirely. His eyes are soft, kind, full of warmth. He’s learning forward in his chair, as if trying to get closer on instinct.

“So you understand why it’s difficult for me,” John continues. Sherlock’s receptivity makes things even more difficult; dirty, complicated. A part of John wishes he’d be indifferent, so they’d both brush it off and return to their usual dance of distant companionship. “To see you like that. Makes me think of him, of how I always had to be the sober one. But I know what a hypocrite I am when I'm judging you, because God knows I’m not a fucking saint either,” he finishes bitterly.

“Good. You’re human. I was beginning to have doubts again,” Sherlock replies on a quiet, almost whispered voice, but there is also a lightness in his tone, an invitation to play, to let go.

John gladly accepts it. He laughs affectionately, almost surprised with himself, mirroring Sherlock as they both sink back into their chairs. He feels a little lighter, a little clearer, now that his mistakes are out in the open, known by himself and by one of the two people who matter the most in his world.

John finds himself hoping that this small act, this confession makes it less probable for Rosie to find out about his past in all the wrong ways in which he could replay it.

He also wishes that Sherlock would be upset with him. Shout at him, punch him, kick him out, so at least the tension between them takes palpable form and dies off with a bang. There is nothing that his guilt craves more, yet Sherlock keeps looking at him with an odd expression, miles away from any kind of anger or resentment. It's hateful and absolutely perfect. It's a feeling that he could shelter in his chest for ages to come, stinging and warm, turning his blood right.

They keep each other's gaze for a brief moment before Sherlock speaks.

“In the time when I dismantled Moriarty’s network,” he starts slowly, sounding like he’s picking every word with the utmost care, “I… couldn’t get high. Obviously. But it was…” He stops, as if reconsidering his words, rewriting them. “What I never told you, John, about that day on the rooftop is that there was a sniper for each of you. You, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade. Moriarty made me choose between your death and mine. I had several plans laid out, but none of them involved you knowing. I didn’t think it would affect you as it did, I thought… you would just get on with your life, wait for me and welcome me back whenever I came.”

John blinks, breathing into the silence between them, unsure about which part of Sherlock's words is the most difficult to process.

“I was a ridiculous man, John. I know that I’ve compromised what we had. And I’m sorry.”

They’d never talked about it again, after that time in the subway car. John had hidden his two years of panic and grief in a dark place beyond the reaches of his conscious mind, in the hope that time, married life and the occasional adrenaline would make them fade away completely.

They hadn't.

The wave of emotions washing through him, familiar hot-cold-hot grief and anger and self-loathing, is punctuated by something else as well. A sense of rightness, puzzle pieces finally falling into place.

Sherlock had jumped because he wanted to save his friends. His kindness, his self-sacrificing streak had been there even as John had left the lab at St Bart’s, calling him a machine.

Sherlock had wanted to save him.

John had saved people all his life. He was shit at letting himself be saved, yet being Sherlock's damsel in distress had apparently been the main theme of their friendship all along.

What might we deduce about his heart?

Stopped, flatlined, blood seeping out onto the pavement-

“So you’re saying that…” John starts, startled by how weak his voice sounds. He clears his throat, feeling the tangy taste of metal in his mouth. Blood, the muzzle of a gun- simple, straightforward. Unlike this.

They speak at the same time, voices mixing in cacophony.

“I may be bollocks at showing it, but I deeply care for you.”

“You faked your death so you could save your friends.”

The confession steals the air right out from his lungs. It should be nothing, really- Sherlock had expressed his affection, even his love for John before - the two people who love you most in all this world- but it had been through the protective image of Mary, a third party to contain the raw, vulnerable truth. The two people that I love and care about most in the world.Neither of them had said it directly to each other.

John is petrified and exhilarated by the sudden realization that he, John Watson, is the intended recipient of Sherlock’s message- no third person, no alibi. I deeply care for you. You. It shouldn't be such a big deal. It is.

“Jesus, Sherlock… “ he breathes out. His chest feels tight, full of something both desperate and blooming. He didn't sign up for this. It's all-encompassing, crushing the last remnants of his resistance and turning him into a raw body with a raw heart, ready to love. He did not sign up for this. Did he sign up for this? When he chose to start this conversation, when he moved in with a brilliant madman on a whim, years before?

"Well, that’s not entirely accurate,” Sherlock intervenes. He seems, and probably is, entirely unaware of the chaos that his words had unleashed inside John. “Part of the motivation was saving you, yes, but the other part was bringing Moriarty down once and for all, which hadn’t been possible if not for…”

John shakes his head, covering his mouth with his hand to hide a smile. He feels giddy, entirely unreasonable with the warm glow of affection clawing its way, further and further, into the cage of his chest. To hell with everything. Sherlock had confessed. If this is a crime scene, Sherlock's words have just wrapped it up, bringing years of investigations, false tracks and dead ends to their overdue death.

“What? Where am I wrong?” Sherlock asks, looking scandalized, not seeing how he is finally, gloriously right.

“Come here,” John says on a low, casual voice before he can think better of it. It sounds playful and inviting, even to his own ears. The disparity of it strikes him, but only for a second: he’s using his bedroom voice on Sherlock. He briefly wonders if he’s going mad. If he does, it feels absolutely delicious.

Sherlock freezes. He blinks, looking like John has suddenly grown two heads, and opens his mouth, shifts slightly in his chair, then closes his mouth again. He’s gripping the arms of his chair with more force than it would be strictly necessary, brows furrowed in an (agonizing) attempt to understand.

“Oh, for Christ’s sake…” John gets up, squares his shoulders, extends his arms towards his back, avoiding Sherlock’s gaze and hoping, maybe foolishly, that he will catch on. During what seem to be the longest ten seconds of his life, he watches Sherlock in the mirror, out of the corner of his eye, getting up from his chair with the same (amusing, maddening, endearing) expression of bewilderment.

John looks at him questioningly, takes a tentative step closer and keeps moving as Sherlock’s expression starts shifting from surprise to understanding. He brushes his hands lightly on his waist, towards his back, stepping close enough to feel Sherlock’s body heat through his robe, but not enough to fully embrace him. Sherlock freezes.

“Is this alright?” John asks, trying to keep his voice steady. He’s looking down, fixing a point on Sherlock’s chest, blue satin with white cotton beneath - warm, alive and incredibly close. He wants to trace the line where the world ends and Sherlock begins, to feel the steadfast comfort of his sinewy muscle, the maddening drum of his heart.

“Yes,” Sherlock answers immediately, as if John’s words had shaken him out of his stupor. He takes a step forward and wraps his long arms around John as he did before: one hand on the back of his neck, another one heavy and warm on his back. John’s breath hitches at the contact, his muscle memory leading him back to the first time he’d felt these touches. He’d tried not to think about it, then, and he’d forced himself to stay still even as a part of him despaired for more.

Now, he’s startingly aware of every meeting point between their bodies. The hand on his neck is an electric, stinging heat. Sherlock’s cheek is a warm comfort against his ear, his hair. Their chests, almost meeting, parallel heartbeats. There are no more shields to hide them from each other. He could breathe on Sherlock’s collarbone, if he wanted to, he could tear the fabric of his shirt and taste the skin beneath. John closes the distance between them until their bodies are no longer isolated from each other and revels in the continuous, merged line of them.

He registers himself letting a deep breath out at the contact. For how long had this need been lodging inside his chest, dying to come out? It’s different from their hug from a few weeks before, when John had grieved and Sherlock had offered and offered. Grief and fear, replaced by curiosity and the warm bloom of affection. John rests his head somewhere between Sherlock’s shoulder and chest, inhaling the mixed scent of cigarette smoke and black pepper shower gel and Sherlock, and he allows himself to truly, madly feel at home.

“John,” Sherlock whispers, his warm breath dangerously close to John’s ear, doing things that John would rather not think about, not yet. Well, what did you expect, a friendly hug and a pat on the back?Mary’s amused voice echoes in his mind. He smiles against Sherlock’s shirt.

“Mm?”

“There wasn’t a single day during those two years when I didn’t think about you. I thought I was craving a hit, but I was missing you.” A shudder runs down John's spine at the words as he feels Sherlock’s voice vibrating in his chest and echoing in his own, a low, heady rumble. This is it, he supposes; the point of no return. “That doesn't mean you need to save me, or always be the sober one. It just means I'll always prefer a life with you than without.”

“Yeah,” is all that John manages to say. “Me too.”

Sherlock’s low, magnetic voice coupled with their closeness slows John's rational brain down and gives way for other parts of him- immediate, instinctual, needy- to take control. He lets his hands shift a little lower on Sherlock's back, holding tight. Safe, loved, wanting; all the things he'd felt in Sherlock's arms dream after dream, before waking up and pushing it back under the rug, he feels now, thousandfold. He wants to take every inch of warmth between them and meld it into closeness and pleasure.

Before John gets a chance to panic at the thought, Sherlock buries his nose in his hair and… sniffs? the top of his head. John blinks, as if awakened from a reverie, then pulls back slightly in surprise.

“What are you doing?”

“Sniffing the top of your head,” Sherlock replies dismissively, as if he was stating something entirely obvious. “Isn’t that what everyone does to show affection?”

“Sh... “John laughs, giddy with affection. “No, it definitely isn’t,” he smiles. They still haven’t let go of each other and John is looking, really looking now- the ivory angles of Sherlock's cheekbones, the tempting line of his lips, his impossibly dilated pupils. His head is swimming a little with the unlikeliness, the strangeness of it all. Sherlock knows he's looking. He can't stop.

“Oh. Dull,” Sherlock replies, but his eyes are in an entirely different conversation with John's. “Not good?”

“Bit different from my day,” John explains, cocking his head slightly, “but… good. Very good.”

If he’d been reluctant to meet Sherlock’s gaze only minutes before, John realizes that he can’t stop looking now, years of avoidance, tension and unbridled loyalty alchemized into the taut, invisible line connecting their gazes. There’s desire there, woven tightly with a whole lot of affection, and John can’t stop smiling as he takes in the flush spreading on Sherlock’s cheeks, breath by shaky breath. He looks at me as if he adores me, John’s brain barely processes, engulfed by Sherlock’s warm eyes. A similar feeling has found a way into his own chest, like a wild animal lodged there for comfort. Soft, flushed, chaotic.

He lets his arms fall to his sides, lifts them again to Sherlock’s shoulders. Licks his lips.

“If you want to,” he says, not even sure about how he would finish his sentence if he felt lucid enough to see it to its end. His heart is beating wildly and he feels light-headed, entranced somewhere between god, yes, now and too much.

“I do,” Sherlock says softly, raising his hand to cup John’s cheek. Long fingers, slightly cold; the promise of warmth. The gesture gives John the courage to lean in and press their lips together in a chaste touch, feather-light and firm at the same time, more of a question than a statement. He pulls back, taking in Sherlock’s reaction.

His eyebrows are slightly furrowed and he’s licking his lips, as if trying to catalogue the pressure and the taste of John’s. It’s such a Sherlock-like reaction that John can’t help but smile, moving one hand to cup this impossible man’s cheek and running his thumb over the smooth skin there.

“Alright?” he asks. Sherlock’s face softens up and he smiles back, pressing their foreheads together, his breath ghosting on John’s lips. Warm, alive. There’s nothing John wants more than to taste it.

“God, yes,” Sherlock breathes, closing the distance between them. They share small, tentative kisses (this is really happening), cupping each other’s faces like they’re holding something incredibly precious (which they are). It’s tender, unfocused, a little tense; uncharted territory. Sherlock’s eyes are closed (John knows because his aren’t, not entirely) and his lips are incredibly soft, a contrast to the sharp sinew of his body. John isn’t surprised that Sherlock doesn’t seem to entirely know what he’s doing. It allows him to take the lead, finally threading with surer steps on a path that he knows all too well- the action and feedback loop of pleasure, the simple, straightforward dance of bodies melding together. He slides his hand down to rest on the warm skin of Sherlock’s neck as he sucks on his bottom lip.

It feels like lightning after soft rain, intensified by the way Sherlock looks at him through half-dropped eyelids. Intoxicated. Thirsty. Loving. This is, it turns out, less simple than it has ever been before. John runs his fingers across the silky skin of Sherlock’s neck, his jaw, his lips. Settles it on his chest, where his heart is thumping wildly, and kisses him again, this time allowing his hunger to get the best of him as he tastes and sucks and bites. It starts building up slowly and ends up a frantic rhythm that has them opening their mouths to each other, John’s thigh sliding between Sherlock’s long legs, bodies pressed together insistently. They both moan into the kiss when their tongues meet, sharing heat and breath and sound, sharing- finally- the parts of them that they’d kept hidden all along, while their bodies inhabited the same space and their minds played the same frenzied, adrenaline-fueled game.

John alternates between kissing and sucking on Sherlock’s lips and going deeper, taking his mouth with all the thoroughness and patience that he can muster. God, it’s enough to make his blood boil; feeling Sherlock warm and pliant and fiery beneath his lips, beneath his wandering hands. The heat between them is crackling fire, impossible to hide as their erections brush through the (maddening) layer of their trousers.

“Chair,” John breathes, pushing Sherlock towards his usual sitting place as gently as he can before straddling his hips. Sherlock looks dazed, glassy-eyed, but the affection in his eyes makes him look more sober than John had ever seen him. His surrender lights up something primal in John’s blood, a desire to take him even further, to see him come apart at the seams; the bare honesty in his eyes, in his shaking hands, in the thirst with which he kisses back, make John want to shelter him from the world in a cocoon of gentleness and praise. Between the two, John dances.

Had anyone touched Sherlock like this before? God. John had thought about it, in the dark privacy of his own mind, the only place that people couldn’t see, couldn’t talk about. Just like he’d done with James in Afghanistan, after long hours of staring at the sun and talking with no filter, except- that one. The one that said- don’t think of him like that.

But he had.

And now, he wants Sherlock. He wants his mouth, his neck, his cock, his mind, his heart. There is no single part of this man that he would not have, and the immensity of his desire is both a weight and a relief.

I’ll have no queers crossing my threshold, do you hear me?

Then Harry’s voice, bold and broken: But Dad, I’ve been here all along.

He sighs into Sherlock’s mouth, the sense of wrong wrong wrong crushed by something much more powerful and brave and beautiful. That something has him moving his hips of their own accord, moaning against Sherlock’s open lips, running his hands through Sherlock’s hair as he leans in.

“I want to hear everything,” John says, surprised at how hoarse his voice sounds. “You, before. College. The Work. Those two years, those we never talk about. I’ve been wondering for ages, you know. Your brilliant mind is always on display, but this.” He splays his fingers on Sherlock’s chest, where his heart is. “Will you let me?”

Sherlock looks up at him with an expression that does unspeakable things to John’s heart. There’s tenderness and there’s fear, affection, lust and sadness, bringing John back to the days when they’d first met and Sherlock had been so young, so restless and reckless. Impossible to break. And now he’s here, having been broken time and time again, his eyes glassy and pleading, his lips swollen under John’s thumb as he leans in and…

“John. I can’t.”

It’s barely a whisper, but it sends a chill down John’s spine nevertheless. He pulls back immediately, removing himself from Sherlock’s chair, and crouches down in front of him, steadying himself with one hand on Sherlock’s knee.

“Jesus. Are you okay?” he asks, his brain taking command over his body as he looks at Sherlock, scanning for damage, rummaging for mistakes.

He’d messed up. He suddenly feels cold all over, pulse hammering away at the realization that the man in front of him has been hurt, again, by his doing, again. John shouldn’t have let his heart and his hunger loose. He shouldn’t have spoken to Sherlock, out of a sudden, as if he had any right to his past, to his heart-

“Yeah. No. I don’t know!” Sherlock says, frustration creeping into his voice as he sits up, almost causing John to fall over. He starts pacing through the room. Picks up his violin, puts it down again. Finally, with his back at John, he speaks.

“You should go, John.”

He’s trying for indifference, but John’s not buying it for one second. Sherlock’s voice is trembling and… are his hands shaking? John takes two steps and he’s immediately at his side, hand on his shoulder as worry coils in his stomach where arousal had been just a minute ago.

Sherlock shakes him off instantly, jumping as if he’d been burnt.

“John, I said go!” he says, his tone frustrated, but not sharp enough to be mistaken for anger. “Please,” he adds in a weaker voice. He looks years older than he’d looked mere minutes ago. His eyes are weary, vulnerable. They’re asking for something, but John doesn’t understand what it is, and he doubts that Sherlock himself has access to that information. The detective’s cheeks are still flushed, but his body is that of a scared animal- disorganized, trembling, working against him. Trying to protect him. From what?

John wants to take him in his arms. He can’t.

“Alright,” he says, clearing his throat. “Okay.”

He doesn’t know what else to say. I’m sorry would be laughable, a cheap plaster over the wounds that John has inflicted on him time and time again. What happened to you? You don’t have to be afraid of anything as long as you’re with me?

John knows that’s not true, not anymore. Despite his raging instincts to stay and to protect, he picks up his coat and closes the door behind him once again.