It’s exactly one week away, and John’s begun to feel the approach of the anniversary in his bones already. It’s there, in the itch of his skin and the pulse of his heart. He doesn’t need to look at the calendar; he knows this sensation and how it creeps up on him every year.
It doesn’t make sense. It’s never made any kind of sense. Like Sherlock he prides himself on being a man of science. The cane is long gone. He’s got no need for it.
And yet in the middle of June every year, something creeps in and darkens the shadows of every room John sits in. Nowhere is comfortable. The clamor of Londons Streets make his ears ache. Words grate and graze his skin. Food sickens him slightly, turning to sand in his mouth. Idly plucked sounds from the violin put his teeth on edge, a sensation like single hairs being tweezered from his scalp.
“Why should it affect you so much? It’s a mere day of the year.”
John’s only surprised that Sherlock’s taken so long to start dissecting this part of him.
“I know it’s just another day.” He doesn’t look up from his book, merely pushing his bare toes deeper into the slightly dusty hearth rug. “You don’t need to remind me of that.”
“It began on the 14th of June last year as well. Restlessness, insomnia, phantom pain.” Sherlock’s eyes are trained on the clock over the mantelpiece but he’s clearly somewhere else. “Irritability, loss of appetite-“
“And your point is?” The words come out sharper than John intended, but Sherlock doesn’t seem to notice.
“Merely that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is rather fascinating. Such a myriad of symptoms.” Sherlock’s voice is faraway, almost dreamy. He clearly isn’t noticing the filthy look John is now directing at him over the top of the pages of The Guardian.
“So glad I can entertain you.”
“I once dreamt I was able to get inside your brain,” Sherlock continues, his seaglass eyes drifting over to Billy’s grinning face and empty sockets. “I wandered your entorhinal cortex for days, perhaps years...”
“Are you high right now?” John inquires.
Sherlock blinks and finally meets his eyes. Perhaps he hadn’t been aware that he had been talking aloud. “I beg your pardon?”
“You just told me that you wanted to wander around my brain.”
Sherlock frowns. “Well obviously I’d like to, but medical science is unlikely to reach that point any time soon.”
John stares at him for a long moment. Once upon a time, he’d have reprimanded his flatmate for saying such a thing. The words ‘creepy’ or ‘inappropriate’ would have been used more than once. But they’ve shared these rooms for three years now. John has killed for Sherlock; he’s bandaged his limbs and sat with him through danger nights. He’d never admit it but he’s more flattered than unsettled right now. He doubts there are a large number of brains Sherlock would like to explore in more than a cursory fashion.
“You want to know what it was like?” he asks tentatively.
“I know what being shot looks like.” Sherlock says dismissively. “I’m not interested in the mechanics.”
“Then what?” John bites out.
“I want to know what it did to you.” Sherlock leans forward, his absent dreamy state now utterly evaporated. His fingers dart out and unexpectedly tap against John’s temple just for a moment. “In here.”
John takes a long inhale. Sherlock’s watching him avidly, fingertips pressed against his mouth.
“Because it’s you,” Sherlock says. As if it’s the most natural thing in the world. As if the words don’t make John’s heart clench horribly in his chest.
John nods and straightens up. He clears his throat and his voice is fairly measured when he starts talking. He has to close his eyes after a moment though, it’s not possible to go through this with Sherlock’s eyes boring into him from a couple of feet away. And yet when he does close his eyes he’s immediately transported back to the chalky dry earth and shards of hot metal on the ground beneath his back. The hard enamel blue of the sky pressing down on him. The sheer, exhilarating shock and terror of it; the pain still distant, behind the overwhelming sense of bodily intrusion. The rapid creeping flow of blood, sticky and slick as it soaked into his fatigues. In between the hammer of gunfire he could hear the screaming of birds, his clouding eyes tracing jet trails in the sky. His absolute fury when he felt hands dragging him away, making the pain explode and taking away his chance of death under the clean sun.
Unbidden he tells Sherlock of the night terrors, his refusal to look at the festering mess when the nurses change the bandages. The delirium, the monsters, the dust that gathered in the corners of the field hospital. The smell of lime jelly in foil covered cups mingling with the scent of rot from his own body. The self loathing that accompanied the weakness of his body. The eventual crushing knowledge that his life was saved but now heading in a direction he never wanted or foresaw. His flayed nerves and hopelessness upon his arrival in London. The tedium of grief and the utter shame for feeling it.
He doesn’t know how long he talks. His throat is dry before his words dry up. It feels like a damburst of thought and expression. The heels of his hands are pressed into his tightly shut eyes, elbows propped on his knees. Where has this come from? His therapist has all but given up trying to crowbar these experiences from him after months of evasion and stony silence.
When the words finally run out, he still can’t move. It’s dark and safe behind his hands. He’s hollow and the quiet is ringing in his ears. For all he knows, Sherlock might have wandered off or fallen asleep while he rambled on. He might still be sitting across from John, idly scrolling through the internet and totally absent once more. John doesn’t know what would be best. Because the floor between them is still littered with his words, with the things he hasn’t told anyone, ever.
There’s a movement in the air. The creak of furniture and floorboards and the sudden sense of filled space nearby. Suddenly there are hands on John’s shoulders, large and warm and steady.
“I feel the shadow of it again every year,” John hears himself murmur and he can’t stop himself now. “It’s like a bad dream. I came so close to dying so many times. Not just in Afghanistan. But here in London, before I met you. I’m haunted by it. That I came so close to never meeting you.”
The sharp inhale of hair is audible and the hands holding him together tighten on his shoulders. He drops his hands but his eyes are still squeezed shut. He can feel the brush of Sherlock’s hair and then the press of warm skin as their foreheads meet. It lasts for several breaths, the air from their lungs mingling and dispersing through the silent room.
“It was worth being shot, Sherlock.” John whispers. “It brought me back to London, to a chance meeting in the park, to that lab in Barts. But it so easily might not have happened.”
He hears Sherlock swallow. “I don’t believe in fate, John. I can’t.”
“And yet, here we are.” John says. He opens his eyes and he knows his attempt at a smile isn’t working. Sherlock’s closer than he’s ever been now, so close he’s a blur of pale skin and strange angles. His heart is hammering; John can feel it as he reaches to clasp his wrist. “We’re here, and god help me I’d let you wander around the inside of my head if I could.”
The press of their lips is tentative. God knows this is new to him, but it also feels like a slide into the inevitable. Sherlock’s still on his knees in front of John and his breathing is hitching, hands gripping John’s upper arms like he’s scared to let go. It’s strange to wrap his arms round the large angles of Sherlock, to feel the softness of his lips and the rasp of his cheek. His mouth is lush and warm as he lets John in, an odd helpless sound slipping from his throat.
John pulls back, just an inch. “You want this? God, just… please tell me that you want this Sherlock…”
Sherlock doesn’t reply. He just surges forward until he’s pinned John back into his armchair and he’s kissing him again like his life depends on it. It’s as if he can’t quite decide where to touch John and so his hands roam restlessly, long fingers tracing the line of skin along John’s neckline and cuffs, slipping behind his head and palming the back of his neck. His mouth is bruised with kisses and the scrape of John’s teeth. His eyes become hazy and half lidded when John presses his mouth under his ear. The moan he makes is so deep it’s almost inaudible.
Sherlock’s oddly off balance, his face flushed and his eyes wide as he pulls John to his feet. He won’t let go of John’s arm, practically dragging him down the hall and into his bedroom. As if John might possibly have a change of heart; might decide to push Sherlock away if he doesn’t seize his chance. It would be a little funny if it wasn’t so damn painful, John thinks.
Sherlock’s body is revealed swiftly as he strips off his worn shirt and striped pajamas before impatiently plucking at John’s sweater and hauling it off him.
“Oh Jesus, slow down! Just… oh god, just let me look at you-“
“Off!” Sherlock insists, tugging at his belt until John half-laughs and slaps his hand away. He pulls Sherlock down to sit on the edge of the bed with him, taking in the expanse of skin rarely touched by the sun. Sherlock’s beautiful and unselfconscious, his skin tinged with pink here and there in the tenderest places. His shoulders are flecked with faded freckles and John aches at the sight of him. His eyes look green in the diffuse light of his bedroom, his hair dark as ink.
John unbuttons his own shirt, leaning forward to kiss Sherlock’s faintly pouting lower lip. He’s trying to be restrained, to give them both time to catch their breath but it’s so hard when Sherlock’s determined to peel his clothes from his body. John’s heart is hammering; he’s out of his depth and he suspects Sherlock is too. He takes a first, deliberate look between Sherlock’s carelessly parted thighs and his stomach clenches at the sight of flushed, hardening flesh. John doesn’t know if he’s scared or exhilarated but his hand is reaching out before he realizes. Sherlock gives a startled gasp when John’s fingers make contact with the warm, smooth skin. He gives him a tentative stroke, transfixed as the deep glistening pink of the head emerges from the paler foreskin.
“I… I didn’t think-“
“You didn’t think I’d want to touch you?” John murmurs, clasping the back of Sherlock’s neck with his free hand. He presses their foreheads together and looks down at the steady pull of his hand. Sherlock makes a soft noise in the back of his throat. “I’m not sure what I’m doing here. But I’ll always want my hands on you. You’re gorgeous…”
“Please, John…” Sherlock’s hips are hitching a little as he pushes himself through the circle of John’s hand. John’s not sure if he’s even aware he’s doing it. He’s hard and full, his skin smooth and so warm as it glides through John’s fingers. He can feel every raised vein, delicate under the thin skin. Sherlock’s slick at the head, it’s smearing along the curve between his index finger and thumb.
“I want you… I want your skin against mine.” Sherlock grasps his wrist and stills his hand. “I want to see and touch every inch of you.”
The words have John shuddering as he finishes pushing off his clothes. Sherlock’s fingers trace the broken lines of his scars, the hair on his chest and the faded lines where sun once bathed his body. John’s squirming under his gaze, the way his eyes flicker over every corner of his skin. He’s never had a man in his bed, never had that kind of hunger directed at him. He feels a distant anxious thrill as Sherlock runs his hands up his thighs, but it’s far outweighed by his desperation to have Sherlock’s hands, mouth, breath, anything on him. He almost sobs at the wet heat when it finally engulfs him.
Sherlock’s mouth is maddening and clever. He pins John to the mattress with splayed hands after he chokes on his length, glaring up at John briefly before swallowing him back down. John can’t even apologise for the instinctive buck of his hips; he’s spiraling in an odd thrumming mixture of panic and overwhelming desire. What are they doing? He buries his hands in Sherlock’s disheveled hair, feeling the hidden warm planes of his skull. He’s fucking into a beautiful man’s mouth and it’s glorious and it’s unknown and it’s terrifying.
This, what he’s doing now… there’s no denying that this is gay. He doesn’t want to close his eyes and pretend it’s a woman devouring his body, holding him down and moaning wetly around his erection. He can’t take his eyes off Sherlock, the line of his broad shoulders, the dip of his spine. The tense, curved muscles of his arse as he grinds himself against the sheets. The strength of his huge hands on John’s hips. John’s never been held down by someone stronger than him and with a pang of shame it’s thrilling him to his core, this sense of being overpowered and taken. Sherlock moves one of his hands down to knead gently at John’s balls, just running his clever fingertips over and around the tender skin. The resulting flood of desire, of blossoming want leaves John gasping under his touch.
“Come… come here-“ he demands, the words coming out more weakly than he’d planned. Sherlock lets his cock slip from his reddened, wet lips after one last swipe of his tongue over the head. The sight of that sharp, soft mouth slipping over his aching flesh nearly makes John come on the spot; picturing his seed dripping from Sherlock’s lips.
Their bodies come together and twine, a little awkwardly at first.
The fact that it comes out as a question threatens to break John’s heart all over again.
“Oh god yes- of course, always…“
The strangeness of it all is steadily ebbing away, to be replaced by the wonder and sharp delight of their skin pressing together. The way they move together is unfamiliar to them both and yet within seconds it’s as natural as breathing. John runs his tongue wetly across Sherlock’s palm and then his own, moaning at the increased slickness on their flesh. There’s nothing else any more, nothing beyond the scent of skin and arousal and the sound of Sherlock’s labored breath in his ear. They stare at each other, hands restless between their bodies.
John wonders what Sherlock’s seeing, what he’s thinking of with his pupils blown wide and damp lips parted. A stray curl of his hair is sticking inelegantly to his temple and John kisses it, warm salt under his mouth. Sherlock takes a small, sharp breath and finds his John’s mouth again, greedily rolling his tongue over and around John’s own. It’s overwhelming. It’s as if they’ve finally come home.
Sherlock sinks his teeth into John’s scarred shoulder, his back arching as he comes and it hurts and it also turns out to be the most erotic thing John’s ever seen and felt. It tips him over the edge, their hands and thighs coated with slickness. Sherlock’s chest is hitching against his own, and John kisses the hammering pulse on his throat. It’s glorious when Sherlock wraps his arms tightly around him with a sigh, John’s thigh pushing between his. They both ignore the tangled sheets and their tacky skin.
“What just happened?” John murmurs, the wonder of it seeping through his bones.
Sherlock opens his eyes and the sudden uncertainty in their depths is shattering. He’s clearly trying for nonchalance when he swallows and offers: “Sex?”
“No, not- well I mean, obviously yes but-“ John shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath. The panic is threatening a return. But this is the kind of panic that accompanies the realization that the words he says next are possibly the most important he’ll ever say. He can’t mess this up. It’s not an option.
“I’ve never been good at relationships,” he says finally. There’s a blooming coldness in Sherlock’s eyes and his limbs are suddenly stiff, immobile against John’s body. “No, no- just listen, Sherlock!” He surges forward, pressing his palm against Sherlock’s cheek. “Listen! It’s true, I’ve never been good at relationships. I’ve never trusted anyone enough to let them know all of me. I’ve got too much mess inside, I’ve got broken edges and I don’t want anyone to pity me or be afraid of my nightmares. But… but you don’t, do you? You don’t see me that way…”
“I believe that I see you just how you are, John.” Sherlock’s so close now John can’t see his face properly. But he can hear the rawness in his voice. “There’s a special kind of beauty in broken edges, you know.”
“And what I told you earlier, all that stuff- I’ve never told anyone that. Ever. I couldn’t. And then you asked me and then it all came out, just like that. And that means something, doesn’t it? Because you want to see inside my head and I’d let you, I’d let you see it all. And…” John swallows hard, painfully. “That’s it, isn’t it? I’ve realized that’s what love is.”
A quiver runs through Sherlock’s body when the word leaves John’s mouth. He doesn’t reply at first, merely nodding into the crook of John’s neck. The flat of his palm is pressed to John’s heart, feeling the stuttering pace of it.
“I meant it when I said I don’t believe in fate, John. But I can’t explain the sensation I felt when I looked up and saw you in the lab at Barts. I was shocked to my core, because there you were. As if I’d been waiting for you to arrive for the longest time without even knowing it. As if we were magnetized filings, with all incidental obstacles finally lifted from between us.”
“I was homesick for you and I hadn’t even met you…” John half laughs, and he presses a clumsy kiss into Sherlock’s tangled hair. “And here we are.”
Sherlock’s strong fingers wrap around his own, holding fast.
“Here we are.”