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All the Rest (of What I Want)

Chapter Text

This was not, John knew, what his therapist had meant when she’d suggested that he try meeting people online.

Ella had probably been referring to one of those forums for people with common interests. It was only John’s romance- and sex-obsessed mind that had made the gigantic leap to dating sites and then a Google search for one that didn’t cost money to use that had landed him here. Seated in front of his computer, staring at the large grey-and-white “Sign Up Now!” button on the homepage of a fetish site.

He didn’t even have any fetishes. Not really. Sure, he didn’t mind ropes or cuffs, ordering or being ordered about, a bit of spanking—giving or receiving—maybe even something like a hairbrush or a paddle although he’d had no experience with either. Trying to meet people on a fetish site would be far, far out of his depth, he was sure of it.

But then John sat back in his chair and looked around.

His cold, poorly lit, dismal little bedsit.

His cane propped against his good leg like an awkward, overly friendly stranger.

Harry’s phone charging beside his computer, still full of Harry’s contacts and Harry’s photos and Harry’s music and Harry’s games.

His whole life a fucking disaster, like some higher power had glanced over what John’s life had been before his injury and then conjured a completely shit facsimile of it, hoping John would be too damaged to know the difference.

‘Oh well. What could it hurt?’ he thought, and clicked the button to sign up.

*

London was… good. Nice. Large and unpredictable, quiet at times and loud at others, simultaneously picturesque and brutal. It was loads of things, really, and consequently impossible to pinpoint exactly why John was drawn to it.

But he was drawn to it. Very much so. That two and a half months living in a bedsit with only one full meal a day and no frivolous spending had all but drained his savings, that his meagre pension wasn’t near enough to sustain him for much longer, that no one in their right mind would want to hire a former Army doctor with a limp and an intermittent hand tremor, all of that was… well, it was unfortunate, to put it mildly. Unfortunate, but unavoidable.

He hadn’t the faintest idea what he was going to do when his savings ran out and he could well and truly not afford to live in London any longer. It consumed his thoughts, although it probably shouldn’t have done. He was meant to be focused on other things, according to his therapist.

Like the blog. Which would, Ella had told him just that afternoon during their appointment, help him adjust to civilian life. And that was apparently the most important thing for him at the moment.

So John created a blog that evening before bed and spent several minutes in front of his computer, watching the cursor blink and wondering what to write for his very first entry.

“Writing a blog about everything that happens to you,” Ella had said, “will honestly help you.”

What happened to John?

Nothing, John typed. In both the subject line and the body of the blog. When he could think of nothing else to add, he saved the entry and published it, then spent the next few minutes staring at the new post on his blog page.

Rubbish. Ella wouldn’t be pleased.

With a heavy sigh, John rubbed his palm over his face.

‘This is my life now, all however many years of it I’ve got left,’ he thought and closed his eyes, seeing such an expanse of bleakness, of grey nothingness, behind his eyelids he had the urge to throw open his desk drawer just to glimpse the pistol inside. To remind himself that it was there, within reach.

He closed his blog, leaving only the window with his email open, and he nearly closed that as well before he noticed he had a new message. It had arrived less than a minute ago, according to the time stamp. The subject line read: “071411120418 sent you a message ‘A proposal’.”

It was from the fetish site he’d signed up for weeks ago. John had forgotten about it.

Well, no, given up on it would probably be more accurate. After an hour of browsing users and groups, followed by a day or two of sending messages without receiving any responses, John had stopped bothering.

And now evidently 071411120418, whatever sort of username that was meant to be, had a proposal for him. If 071411120418 even was a real user in the first place. Possibly it was only the fetish site version of spam.

Whatever it was, it was the most interesting thing that had happened to John all day. If not all week.

He clicked the message and read:

I am offering £100 if you agree to perform a benign, albeit potentially time-consuming, task for my benefit.

Please respond immediately if amenable, and I will provide details.

–SH

John stared. Then glanced away, blinking rapidly, before he stared at the computer screen again, but no, the message still said exactly what it had said the first time.

Curious, he clicked 071411120418’s username and was surprised to find that the profile wasn’t empty. There was even a photo: a rather suggestive shot of a person’s plain white shirt unbuttoned just enough to reveal a long, pale throat and the tip of a very prominent collarbone. Tantalising, seductive, in an effortless sort of way—it made John’s mouth go dry and his tongue stick uncomfortably to the roof of his mouth.

The information to the right of the photo revealed that 071411120418—or SH, John supposed—was 33 years old and male and lived in London, although all the other fields—orientation, relationship status, and so on—were missing. SH hadn’t listed any fetishes or joined any groups, but he had written something under the “About me” section:

If I am interested, I will contact you. Otherwise, don’t bother.

“You’re a charming one, aren’t you?” John chuckled. At the same time, he thought that SH couldn’t possibly be a real person. Or if he was a real person, he wasn’t a person with any actual interest in meeting someone on this site.

Probably best to ignore him, then.

Except when John returned to his inbox to delete the message, he found himself rereading it with interest, focusing on the “benign, albeit potentially time-consuming, task” and the £100. He wondered what this SH bloke would do if John responded.

No reason he couldn’t find out, John supposed. This was the internet, after all. What harm would there be in playing along a bit?

Did you even look at my profile before you sent this? he typed. Not sure I’m the best person for what you’re after, mate.

He sent the message and then, on a whim, popped over to his own profile, where he was greeted with a photo of himself, taken from a similar angle as SH’s except that John had been entirely shirtless and had made sure to keep his lips, stretched wide in a smile, in the picture as well.

It didn’t have quite the effortless air of seduction that SH’s did, but it also wasn’t wholly unappealing. In John’s opinion, at least. Which mightn’t have been worth anything—after all, no one had been intrigued enough to message him, had they?

Like SH, John hadn’t joined any groups or listed any fetishes, although he had written a fairly detailed two-paragraph “About me” and filled out most of the general information bits, including that he was 37, male, living in London, bisexual, “just curious right now,” and looking for friendship, a relationship, and/or events.

All in all, John was fairly certain that nothing in his profile said he was the sort of person keen to do… whatever it was that SH wanted.

Satisfied, he scrolled to the top of the webpage, intent on logging out and shutting off his computer for the night, but paused when he saw that he’d got another message. John clicked the inbox icon.

It was from SH. Of course it was—no one else had cared a whit about him in weeks. That not one but two people would have taken an interest in a single half hour seemed unlikely.

The message read:

Of course I did. You’re precisely who I’m looking for. And I assure you my motivations are entirely nonsexual. I only need someone to attend this month’s North London littles munch and remain in frequent contact with me during the event. I can provide you a phone if you’re uncomfortable allowing me the use of your mobile number.

£200.

–SH

There was a link at the end of the message, which led to another page on the fetish site: information about the North London littles munch—“vanilla” dress code, “relaxed” atmosphere, just a normal nonsexual gathering at a pub, by the looks. John skimmed it, still distracted by the bits in SH’s message about “frequent contact” and “the use of your mobile number.”

He should delete the message, he knew. Delete it and then block this SH person. There was innocently playing along, and then there was indulging a nutter on an internet fetish site who wanted your mobile number.

Still, although John let the cursor hover for a moment over the delete button, he found himself clicking the box to reply instead.

You want to pay me £200 to go to an event? Why don’t you just go yourself?

When that had been sent, John closed his internet browser—resolutely shoving away the part of him that wanted to see if SH would respond to this message just as quickly as the last, the part of him that wanted to know what odd answer SH would have to this question—and shut off his computer for the night.

*

He had two new messages from SH in the morning. The first, sent minutes after John’s last reply:

I’ve been banned from all future North London littles events, as I am evidently ‘rude’ and ‘insulting’ and my presence ‘off-putting’.

£500.

–SH

That made John chuckle. From the three brief messages he’d received from SH, not to mention his charming profile, “rude” and “off-putting” seemed bang on.

The second message, sent just past four o’clock:

After reviewing my last message, I’ve realised I should mention that I am not a stalker and I have no personal interest in the North London littles community. Rather, I am a consulting detective assisting the Metropolitan Police Service. A member of North London littles who may be attending this month’s munch is a prime suspect in the current investigation.

I trust I can rely on your discretion.

£1000. And I would be willing to offer half of that up front, in case you doubt my sincerity.

–SH

“Oh, right,” John said, still chuckling because this SH person was quite possibly the most ridiculous person he’d ever met. “Definitely a stalker, then.”

No one who actually said “I’m not a stalker” wasn’t a stalker. John was fairly sure of that. Also, John couldn’t imagine the police needing to consult someone like this SH bloke, nor that a man assisting the police would have to rely on attending a fetish event in order to investigate a suspect. Or, rather, rely on paying an utter stranger £1000 to attend a fetish event on his behalf.

You could buy a lot with £1000, John reflected idly. In fact, that amount of money would go a long way in allowing him to afford to continue living in London a bit longer. Even the initial £500 would help.

Not to mention, if John attended this event, he might get the opportunity to protect someone from this SH person. At the very least, he could warn the “prime suspect” so they could take the necessary steps to protect themselves.

Or John could refuse, of course, and carry on being a useless, damaged ex-Army doctor.

With a sharp inhale, John sat up in his chair, positioned his hands very carefully over the keyboard, and typed.

What exactly do I need to do? And how will you get the money to me?

Then, after several seconds of deliberation, he signed it: John. It was a common name, after all. Common enough that SH might even think it wasn’t John’s real name. There was probably little harm in giving it out.

He sent the message, then left to shower and dress.

When he returned, he found that SH had already replied.

Do you have a PayPal account?

–SH

John didn’t, but proceeded to spend the rest of the morning setting one up.

By the end of the day, a payment of £500 from “S. H.” was being transferred to his bank account.

*

The munch was at a pub a few minutes’ walk from Tottenham Hale.

John brought his gun, hidden safely in the inside pocket of his coat. He felt a bit bad about bringing a loaded firearm onto the Tube, in the same sort of way that he’d known it was a bad idea to give SH his mobile number, but neither could be helped. John wasn’t keen to walk unarmed into a totally unfamiliar and potentially dangerous situation, nor did he believe accepting and using a new phone from SH was ultimately safer than giving SH the number for the phone John already had.

Really, it was just a shit idea all around. Off the top of his head, John could imagine over a dozen ways this night could end in disaster.

But that was fine. If it hadn’t been John, SH would’ve no doubt recruited some other poor money-hungry twat. It was better that it was John. John had been to war, after all. John had been shot and ravaged by infection and nearly killed.

John had nothing to lose.

SH sent countless text messages while John was on the Tube—which arrived in batches, during the rare moments when Harry’s old phone actually had a decent signal—all of them reminding John about details they’d already gone over, as though SH thought John was some sort of imbecile likely to forget why he was attending a fetish event, albeit a nonsexual one, for people with a kink John did not share.

In short: John was to be most interested in a man called Jake. Not his real name, according to SH, but what he introduces himself as in these sorts of situations. Late twenties, Caucasian, average height with a muscular build, dyed blond hair, strong American accent. Fairly charming personality.

John was meant to keep an eye on him, mostly. Gather data, as SH put it: No amount of detail is too much. Take as many surreptitious photos with your phone as you can. A successful pickpocket of his belongings would be ideal, but as I suspect you couldn’t manage without being caught, best not to try.

So SH wanted this bloke’s belongings but would settle for loads of pictures and detailed descriptions.

“Right,” John muttered, silencing the phone and shoving it into his pocket when he’d had enough of SH’s barrage of texts. “Not stalking at all.”

The pub was spacious but nevertheless had the atmosphere of a cosy little place in the countryside. It was busy, for a Tuesday at seven o’clock, so it took John a few minutes of roaming about before he found the table in the back bearing a handwritten sign that read “Munch!” If not for that, John might’ve overlooked the table entirely because of how few people were seated at it.

There were three, aside from John: all of them dark-haired females who bore no resemblance to SH’s description in the slightest.

“Er,” John said, after he’d eased himself into a chair beside a tanned, smartly dressed woman who’d introduced herself as Lauren. “Is this… I mean, are you expecting anyone else?”

“Not really,” answered a pale heavyset woman called Tina who was sitting across from John, grinning widely at him. “This is only our second munch, and, well, we are a bit of a niche, I suppose, North London littles. Last month it was only Jennifer and me.” She nodded towards the rail-thin black woman beside her, who was fishing a wedge of lemon from her water glass.

That was… unexpected. John hoped he didn’t look nearly as taken aback as he felt. What about Jake? What about the task John was meant to be doing for SH?

“Well,” Tina added after a moment, “Jennifer and me and the arsehole who showed up at the beginning.”

Ah. That sounded promising.

“‘The arsehole’?” John asked, trying not to sound too eager.

“Oh yeah,” said Jennifer. “A tall, pale bloke. Had a really nice coat, but he was a right bastard. He had a weird name, I can’t remember it.”

“Sigerson,” Tina said. “I think. Doesn’t matter, though. He’s been banned from any future munches, so hopefully we none of us’ll be seeing him again.”

It mightn’t have mattered to them, but it mattered to John, and he’d have gladly listened to more about Sigerson. But it would’ve looked odd to push the issue, he supposed.

“So you don’t, erm, know anyone called Jake?” he said instead, and realised only after the question had left his mouth that that sounded just as odd as if he’d asked for more details about Sigerson.

The women all blinked at him, puzzled.

“No,” said Tina, screwing up her face as she thought. “I don’t think so. Why? He a friend of yours?”

Then why the hell, John wondered, was he here?

“Friend of a friend,” he said aloud with a shrug. “When I mentioned I was coming, someone told me I might see him here, that’s all.”

Maybe Jake would show up a bit later. After all, John hadn’t even been here 15 minutes, and the event page SH had linked him to had indicated this was a pop-by-whenever-is-convenient sort of thing.

So John grabbed a menu from the centre of the table and settled back in his chair to wait.

*

At a quarter past ten, Jake still hadn’t shown up, and John had had quite enough of the North London littles munch.

In part because the whole idea, Daddies and littles and Doms and babygirls and everything else, was foreign to him. Not offensive—it was hardly his place to judge what anyone did in their own home—but unfamiliar, and he was very aware that he was an imposter in what was meant to be a safe space. A feeling that was heightened by how understanding and supportive and generally welcoming Tina, Jennifer, and Lauren were when John said that he was new to this, still discovering himself, and all that.

Mostly, though, John was restless: his gun an insistent weight in his pocket, his adrenaline at a constant slow simmer. He’d come expecting some element of danger, expecting to be needed, and instead he’d spent three hours at a pub picking at fish and chips and feeling awkward.

So he left, trying not to duck his head guiltily when Tina told him, “Hope to see you next month!”

It was cold outside, even colder than John had expected, so as he left the pub, limping towards the Tottenham Hale station, he bundled his coat tightly round him for warmth and dug his phone from his pocket.

He’d not received a single text from SH in the time he’d been at the pub. Every time that John had been to the loo and checked Harry’s old phone, he’d been surprised, but now that the night was more or less over, he was completely baffled. The entire afternoon John had been bombarded with text messages from SH—‘Sigerson,’ he thought with a snigger—and now he was finally being left alone?

With a sigh that became fog in the cold, John opened his text messages and began to type: Jake was a no-show. He considered adding something else—an insincere apology? an admission that he might’ve stayed longer to wait but hadn’t wanted to?—but nothing seemed appropriate. He clicked the send button.

A reply came less than a minute later: Evidently he elected to explore the rope community this week instead. Your assistance is no longer needed. SH

“What the fucking hell?” John muttered and then, at a loss for how to respond, returned his phone to his pocket and walked on, a bit more briskly now as anger began to rise like steam inside him.

He’d been made an idiot of by an arsehole on the internet. There probably never was a Jake, never was any reason for John to come here and sit in a pub for three hours listening to three people debate brands of dummies and share stories about meeting people on the fetish site while John ate his chips and pretended to have any interest in what they were talking about.

At least, John thought, he’d got £500 out of it.

When he arrived back at his bedsit, he discovered he’d received an email from PayPal, informing him that the remaining £500 had been sent to him from S. H., along with a message.

Thank you for your assistance.

–SH

“My assistance,” John said, incredulous and utterly confused. “Are you kidding?”

This had been the oddest thing that had ever happened to him. He was sure of it.

*

He endeavoured to move past it.

(Mostly. He did begin, but never finished or sent, several text messages asking SH what the hell that had been about and calling him a colourful array of nasty names. He also visited SH’s profile on the fetish site, just to see if it was still up. It was, still bearing the rude “About me” section and the same photo—which looked a great deal less seductive now that John saw it again.)

Then John opened his morning copy of The Guardian two days later and read that Graham “Jake” Doss had been arrested for stalking and murdering two members of online fetish communities, and it was as though a very, very large stone had fallen in his mind, upsetting everything.

Unfortunately, the photo in the paper was a bit shit, so John turned to his computer to see if he could find a better one online.

He could. Graham Doss was youngish, probably still in his twenties, white, and muscular. His hair was blond with dark roots: dyed.

In short, Graham “Jake” Doss was exactly as SH had described.

‘Maybe he is a consultant for the Met,’ John thought, although the article said nothing about any consultant.

He was struck with the urge to message SH, but he wasn’t sure what for. To apologise for thinking poorly of him? To ask for more details?

It didn’t matter, he told himself. It was over now.

John thought for certain that that would be the end of it.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t the end of it.

A week later, John woke to find yet another text from SH.

I require a particular set of photographs. I will pay £100 per photo. Would you prefer to receive the details over text or email? SH

It had been sent just past half four in the morning, according to Harry’s old phone. ‘Does he even bloody sleep?’ John wondered, setting the phone back on the desk. He fetched his toothbrush and toothpaste, then went to the bathroom to clean his teeth while he considered how he felt about the text.

When he’d finished, indignation had won out over interest, confusion, and pleasant surprise. He grabbed the phone from the desk again and typed his response so angrily his finger made a loud tapping noise with each key he pressed.

Funny how that sounds more like an order than a request.

The response wasn’t as immediate as SH’s others had been, but neither did John have to wait long. The mobile screen lit up again in less than ten minutes, and John had to stop himself from lunging eagerly to read the incoming text.

I assumed you wouldn’t bother with the pretence that your answer will be anything other than yes. But if you insist: are you amenable? SH

Just because John had agreed once, now SH thought he would always agree? John should refuse for that reason alone, he thought, although the request itself had made him curious.

What sort of photographs?

This time, the reply arrived in less than a minute.

Photos of various public locations in London. Popular tourist attractions mostly. I’ll send you a list once you agree. SH

Again with the presumption that John would agree, although John’s indignation was fading quickly now. Overshadowed by his mounting curiosity. Questions fluttered about his mind like moths: ‘Why? Why me? What are you investigating now?’

In the end, though, practicality had to take precedence. I don’t have a camera.

The one on your phone will suffice. SH

Then, a few seconds later: That is, of course, assuming your phone has a working camera function. You indicated previously that it did. SH

John hadn’t done, actually. He just hadn’t argued when SH had assumed that it did. Fortunately, Harry’s old phone did have “a working camera function,” which John had used to take the picture of himself that he’d put up on the fetish site and then not touched again.

Just to be sure it hadn’t broken at any point in the last several weeks, he selected the camera icon on the mobile screen and snapped a photo of his hand. The result was a touch blurry, but it looked all right. The camera clearly worked, at any rate.

He answered: It does.

Good. Then you’ll do it? SH

Would he? John shifted his weight, then quickly shifted it back when his leg smarted viciously. He had to grab the edge of the desk so he didn’t fall.

‘Look at you,’ he thought, gritting his teeth as he eased himself into his chair. ‘What else have you got to do?’

Fine, he said. Text me the details.

*

“Particular” hadn’t even begun to describe SH’s instructions for the set of photos John was to take. “Meticulous to the point of absurdity” would’ve been more accurate.

John felt ridiculous. On the second floor of the National Portrait Gallery, in the Charles II room. Stand in the centre of the room, SH had instructed, just in front of the bench, facing the painting of the Earl and the Countess of Essex. Angle your phone upwards approximately 72 degrees, and zoom in 30 percent.

So John stood, pretending to be studying the painting intently, and decided 72 degrees must be somewhere around where the blue bit of the wall met the white bit up towards the ceiling, although he couldn’t imagine why SH would want a photograph of that. What crime could he possibly be investigating?

Still, John aimed Harry’s phone with one hand, the other still clasping his cane, then tapped randomly at buttons until he discovered how to zoom in about 30 percent and snapped the photo. To his horror, the phone made a sound like a camera shutter that seemed to echo in the quiet room, and the collective weight of the other patrons’ attention settled on him like a heavy bergen.

He was aware of how absurd he looked, a disabled man taking a picture of the ceiling in a room of priceless portraits, but he did his best to shove the embarrassment aside as he closed the camera, opened his text messages, and sent the photo to SH. Then he stuffed the phone in his pocket, ducked his head, and turned to leave.

He’d not got far when the phone buzzed with SH’s response.

Too low. That’s no help at all. Aim 4 degrees higher. SH

‘Are you kidding?’ John thought, dumbfounded and a bit annoyed. But he supposed that he had only done a quick estimate, and if SH was pernickety enough to specify an angle, he would notice if John was off.

Heaving a sigh, John gripped his cane tightly and spun round, returning to the Charles II room. Once he’d taken up the same position as before, he tried again with his phone, this time being sure to aim slightly higher. Again, the shutter sound rang out, and again he sensed the people around him turning to investigate the noise.

Ignoring them, he sent the photo and waited.

I said 4 degrees, not 10. Lower. Also, move one step to the left. You’re no longer in the centre of the room. SH

John was being jerked around. He must’ve been. He was taking photos of the ceiling in the National Portrait Gallery for a stranger he’d met over the internet, and he was surely about to be escorted out for suspicious behaviour. There was no reason for him to step to the left and lift his phone one more time, yet he did and then sent another photo to SH.

This time, John didn’t lower his arm, keeping his phone aimed. It would be easier to correct his aim if he wasn’t starting again each time. Dimly, he heard someone behind him snicker.

Hmm. Zoom in a bit more. SH

John did, although aside from the obvious zoom he saw no difference between that photo and the one he’d taken before. Nevertheless, he sent it and waited for SH’s reply, which came seconds later.

Close enough. That’s all. Don’t make any more progress on the list of photos I gave you until you’ve heard from me. SH

John blinked, feeling… well, let down, if he was honest about it. That was it? That was all SH was going to say? Then again, what had he been expecting? For SH to tell him he’d moved too far left and to make him take another photo? For SH to thank him profusely for managing to follow instructions?

He lowered his arm with a frown, although he didn’t return the phone to his pocket quite yet.

Is this for an investigation?

While John waited for a response, he left the portrait room and walked slowly to the lifts, which he took to the ground floor. As he approached the gallery’s main entrance, his leg suddenly aching so terribly that he winced with every step, his mobile buzzed, although he waited until he was outside and relatively out of the way to stop and read the text message.

An ongoing investigation, yes. Not especially time-sensitive. SH

John considered that, shifting more of his weight off his bad leg. What sort of ongoing, non-time-sensitive investigation involved a photograph of the ceiling of the National Portrait Gallery? He couldn’t imagine a single possibility. Maybe he’d been right all along, and SH really was taking the piss.

Can I ask for any other details?

He kept his mobile in his hand as he walked, so that when it buzzed again with SH’s response, he needed only lift it to read the screen.

Obviously you can. You just did. SH

Rude and off-putting was beginning to seem even more and more an apt description, John thought, and shoved the phone into his pocket with a disgusted huff.

*

He heard nothing from SH for days, during which time John grew unnaturally attached to Harry’s old phone. He checked it hourly, took it with him to the loo, and plugged the charger in to a socket closer to his bed, so he could hear more easily if it buzzed during the night.

‘You’re cracking,’ he told himself. ‘This man means literally nothing to you. You’re lonely and damaged, and he gave you something to do. What would Ella say if she knew what you were doing?’

(In fact, Ella knew nothing about SH. The idea of trying to vocalise any of what John had been doing—accepting money to do the bidding of a stranger on the internet, waiting on tenterhooks to be allowed to carry on doing the man’s bidding no matter how rude and off-putting he was—made John want to cancel all his therapy appointments and never leave his flat again.)

In an attempt to move past his fixation, John agreed to meet up with some of the rugby lads from Blackheath at a pub. They hadn’t changed since John had last seen them. Still downing pints like they were in their twenties, still taking the mick out of each other and laughing loud and long, while John was tipsy after only one pint and ducked his head when he chuckled weakly and said very little about himself.

None of them mentioned John’s leg, nor how the slight tremor in his left hand worsened as the night went on. He didn’t know if he was bothered or relieved.

He begged off a proper pub crawl and made sure to retrieve Harry’s phone from the table before he began the walk home, which seemed long and slow. It was frigid out and he was, perhaps, a bit drunker than he’d realised. His leg hurt mercilessly, and his cane seemed more cumbersome and frustrating than usual.

He considered giving in and taking a cab—he had the £1100 from SH, which had been sitting untouched in his bank account—but eventually dismissed the idea. Best to save and spend it wisely. Who knew when SH would be finished with him and he’d have no more opportunities to earn more?

At the reminder, John fished the mobile phone from his pocket, more out of habit than any real expectation that SH might’ve texted without him being aware of it, and was so shocked to find that SH had texted him that he stopped dead on the pavement and stared stupidly at the message on his mobile screen.

There is a café on Baker Street called Speedy’s. Do you know it? SH

No. Then, because John had been wondering for ages, he added: Are you really a consultaant for the met? Howw did yoy become one.

Yes. By being impressive and a presumptuous smartarse, mostly. SH

It wasn’t at all the sort of answer John had been expecting, and surprised laughter bubbled out of him and echoed on the quiet street. Then, figuring SH might as well know that John had been amused, he sent a quick lol! before he started walking again.

SH’s next text took several minutes to arrive.

You’ve been drinking. SH

A bit, John admitted, then realised there was no reason SH should have known that. How can yoy tell?

Not a difficult deduction to make. SH

John was squinting at his phone, reading through their previous messages to see what had given it away, when SH texted again.

In the next few days, preferably tomorrow, I want you to visit Speedy’s Café on Baker Street. Tell the employee there that the atomic number of bismuth is 56. SH

The last time John had paid any attention to the periodic table of elements had been at uni, but he’d memorised it then and still remembered enough of it that he felt confident enough to respond, That’s not the atonic numver of bismuth.

Obviously. SH

John didn’t know how that was obvious, but he decided to let it go in favour of focusing on the more pressing question.

Why?

There are at least two scratches on the lens of your phone’s camera, which renders it useless to me. So I’ve bought you another one and left it at Speedy’s for you to pick up at your convenience. SH

John frowned at the screen, then turned the phone over in his hand so he could peer at the camera. Or where he thought the camera was, anyway. He couldn’t see any scratches, although he didn’t doubt they were there. Harry had always been rough with her belongings, particularly when she’d been drinking.

Fine. So it was scratched. And SH’s solution to that, apparently, was to… buy John another phone?

‘Well,’ John conceded, ‘suppose it’s just an ordinary business expense to him, isn’t it?’ SH was clearly filthy fucking rich. What did John know about how rich people thought or behaved? He’d never been one, nor would he ever be at this rate.

John flipped the phone back over so he could respond.

Oh. Thanks.

SH didn’t reply, and by that point John was nearly home. So he returned the mobile to his coat pocket and walked faster, noticing as he did that the pain in his leg had all but disappeared.

*

Some part of John expected the waitress at Speedy’s, which was indeed on Baker Street and quite easy to find, to stare blankly at him when he told her, stuttering a bit, that the atomic number of bismuth was 56.

But she didn’t. She said, quite calmly, “Oh, right. Hang on a mo’,” then went into the kitchen and returned with a BlackBerry box and a steaming cup of coffee, both of which she set on the table in front of John. “I’m to tell you the coffee has already been paid for, and if you’d like something else to drink or anything to eat, that’ll be paid for as well.”

“Oh,” John said, startled. Maybe not just the ordinary business expense, then, if the man was buying John food as well. SH must’ve had so much money he didn’t know what to do with it all. “Erm. Thanks. Maybe in a bit.”

Once the waitress had left, John didn’t hesitate to open the box and investigate its contents. In part because he’d nothing else to do, but mostly because he was curious.

The BlackBerry was a great deal fatter than Harry’s old phone and also, by the looks, much more sophisticated and no doubt loaded with features he would never in a million years use. He tapped at a few random buttons on the little keyboard and was surprised when the screen lit up. It didn’t need to be charged before he used it, apparently.

Although, he realised after a moment, the phone wasn’t simply already charged—it was also already on. There was no welcome screen or spinning hourglass while it loaded. Instead, it had gone immediately to the home screen.

‘That can’t be good,’ John thought. ‘He’s opened and buggered with it before giving it to me.’ For all John knew, SH could have installed some sort of tracking device or a bomb… although he couldn’t imagine SH cared enough about John’s existence to go through the trouble of that.

So, with a mental shrug, John gave in and spent the next twenty or so minutes exploring it. He discovered relatively little, but what he did discover was significant.

Firstly, the phone was fully functional. He could ring and text Harry’s old phone, which could ring and text the BlackBerry back, and he could even access the internet.

Secondly, there was already one contact in the address book: Sherlock Holmes.

Thirdly, there was one unread text waiting for him in his messages, sent from the contact called Sherlock Holmes.

Reply when you’ve received this. SH

*

John waited to reply until he’d finished his coffee, as well as a full English breakfast, and then returned to the flat. He didn’t even bother to take off his shoes before he sat on the bed with the BlackBerry in one hand, Harry’s phone still buried in his coat pocket, and tried to think of what to say.

In the end, the best he could come up with was:

Is your name really Sherlock Holmes?

Probably not the best opening question, and it wasn’t as though there were anything preventing SH—or Sherlock, if that was his name—from lying, but he sent it anyway.

The response came a little over five minutes later.

Yes. You can look it up if you’d like. SH

John would do, although not now. At the moment, he was more concerned about other things.

Did you know the phone has service? Surely you don’t intend to keep paying the bill?

Yes. I do. Problem? SH

John could think of any number of problems with that, in fact, beginning with ‘I don’t know you’ and ending with ‘I don’t know a single fucking thing about you.’ Instead, he answered:

Do you often buy mobile phones for complete strangers and then offer to continue paying the bill?

No. You’re the first. SH

John had to set the BlackBerry down then and spent the next several seconds staring at the wall, breathing deeply through his nose while he considered what he had got himself into and whether he wouldn’t be better off if he got himself out of it.

Of course, he’d asked himself the same question about the Army more than once while he was in Afghanistan, and he didn’t regret that at all.

Finally, he picked up the BlackBerry again.

Why me?

The answer was immediate. SH—Sherlock—must have anticipated the question, typed his response while John was thinking, and simply waited to send it.

You’ve done everything I’ve requested thus far without demanding to know every detail of why I am asking it of you. No one else has come close to that level of trust and loyalty, and I think I and my work would benefit from it. SH

‘That level of trust and loyalty,’ John thought, and couldn’t help but snicker at the thought of what Ella, who jotted a lot of notes about John’s “trust issues” during their therapy sessions, would make of that. Probably nothing positive.

Have you tried the camera yet? SH

Not really.

Send me a photo. I want to verify the quality. SH

He couldn’t have done that himself when he had been adding his number to the contacts? But maybe SH—Sherlock, John supposed he could call him Sherlock—wanted to be sure that John could manage a passable photo with this phone. With technology, after all, a lot depended on the user.

John looked around for something interesting he could take a picture of and send to Sherlock, but his bedsit was plain and sparse. Dull. Not the sort of place he was keen to show other people.

Finally, he just aimed the BlackBerry towards the floor and snapped a photo. It was mostly the carpet, but the tops of his shoes were in the frame as well. Not terribly riveting scenery, but Sherlock would at least be able to judge the quality of the camera and John’s photography skill.

He sent it off and waited for Sherlock’s response, which came swiftly.

Acceptable. In the spirit of fairness… SH

There was a photo attached to Sherlock’s text, and after a little fumbling, John discovered how to make it bigger so that it spread across the entire screen.

It was a pair of bare, pale-skinned feet—Sherlock’s, he guessed—propped against some bit of brownish furniture. The arm of a sofa, maybe, although it was difficult to tell for sure.

John had never been particularly interested in feet, but Sherlock’s were… well, they were lovely, for feet. Long and slender and bony. John tapped a few buttons to see if he could zoom in and found that he could. Sherlock’s toes were curled, wrinkling whatever material they were digging into.

Inexplicably, John’s mouth went dry. There was something almost erotic about the sight. It made him think of all the ways he could make a man’s toes curl.

Then he recalled who he was ogling and promptly made himself stop, making the photo small again and returning to his text messages.

Okay. Good. Shall I go back to the list then?

Yes. The London Eye this time, I think. SH

Chapter Text

John’s nights were dull. During the days, he went to his appointments with Ella and toured various London attractions to take photos for Sherlock, but at night he had nothing to do. There wasn’t even a telly in the flat to watch.

So he amused himself online. Browsing groups on the fetish site, reading articles on news sites (many of them about the baffling suicide of Sir Jeffrey Patterson, which was apparently still being reported on although it had happened weeks ago), and finally (he couldn’t believe it had taken him days to get around to it) typing Sherlock Holmes’s name into Google.

The first search result was Sherlock’s website, which John browsed for an hour before he fetched the new BlackBerry from where it was charging on his desk and sent a text to Sherlock.

I looked you up on the internet. Found your website.

John had barely set the phone back down before it was buzzing and lighting up with Sherlock’s reply.

And? What did you think? SH

What did John think? John felt his lip twitch in amusement. ‘That you sound like an arrogant smartarse,’ he wanted to say. ‘That I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would be interested in reading an analysis of 240 types of tobacco ash.’ Instead, he said:

You can identify a software designer by his tie and an airline pilot by his left thumb?

Yes. SH

John waited for a follow-up text—it was the sort of thing that begged further explanation—but one didn’t arrive.

How?

Shall I provide a demonstration? SH

That was not at all what John had been expecting. He frowned at the phone before responding.

All right.

Sherlock’s answer came quickly, in under a minute, although it was massive: long enough that it had to be broken into multiple texts that arrived several seconds apart.

Your profile indicated you’re an Army doctor formerly stationed in Afghanistan. (The reason I contacted you in the first place, incidentally. Previous military experience suggests intelligence and a familiarity with, even a propensity for, dangerous situations.) What it didn’t indicate, however, was that you were invalided back to London following a traumatic injury. The first picture you sent from your new phone included a glimpse of your shoes. Both were scuffed, although the right was significantly more so than the left. That suggests an uneven gait; you favour one leg over the other and have done for at least several months. You likely wouldn’t have been sent to Afghanistan with a limp. So: you developed it after your deployment—wounded in action, then. However, the pattern of the scuffing isn’t consistent; you walk a little differently each day as though the source of the problem changes regularly. Suggests the injury is at least partly psychosomatic. In fact, I’d wager you weren’t injured in your leg at all, but rather your arm or your shoulder, which is possibly the cause of the tremor in your left hand that’s obvious in every photo you take. I could go on, but I believe I’ve made my point. SH

John stared, strangely breathless. That was… he didn’t even know what that was. ‘Amazing’ didn’t even really describe it, but it was close enough.

That was amazing.

No wonder Sherlock was a consultant for the Met. The man was probably a godsend on a crime scene, if this was an indication of his talent. They probably paid him handsomely for it as well, which explained his wealth.

It was? SH

John laughed softly. Sherlock knew very well how impressive he was. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have offered to show off.

Of course it was. It was extraordinary.

People don’t usually say that. SH

John didn’t doubt that. No one really liked to have their weaknesses and secrets exposed. Still, he couldn’t help but ask:

What do people normally say?

Piss off. SH

This time John’s laugh was loud enough that it echoed throughout the tiny, empty flat. Then, deciding Sherlock might want to know that John had been amused by that, he sent: lol.

Sherlock Holmes might’ve been a bit of an arsehole, John thought with a smile, but at least he was an interesting one.

*

When John jolted awake in the middle of the night, adrenaline surging through him and the word danger shrieking loudly in his mind like a siren, he assumed it had been a nightmare, although he couldn’t remember. His nightmares had decreased in frequency over the last few weeks, dwindling from several in a single night to one or two a week, and it had been at least four days since his last. He supposed he was overdue. At least his throat didn’t hurt, which meant he probably hadn’t been shouting.

With a sigh he rolled over, gathering the covers round himself, and only then, settling back to sleep in the silent room, did he realise it wasn’t a nightmare at all that had woken him.

It was the BlackBerry. Buzzing incessantly against the wood of his desk, the screen lit up (albeit facedown, muting the glow considerably).

He reacted on instinct, surging from the bed and lunging towards it. He scooped the phone up and, without a second thought, clicked the button to accept the incoming call.

“H’lo?” he said muzzily, leaning heavily on the desk as he tried to rub the sleep from his eyes.

“What is your medical opinion on spontaneous human combustion?”

The voice on the other end was male and absurdly low. So much so that John swore he could feel the rumble of it all the way in his toes. He wiggled them awkwardly, wanting to squirm as an inexplicable shiver trickled down his spine.

“I—” Uncomfortably aware of his own sleep-hoarseness, John cleared his throat. “Sorry? Who is this?”

There was a rush of static, as though the other person had sighed quite heavily into the receiver. “Do you often answer your phone without looking to see who’s ringing first?”

Scowling, John lowered the phone and peered at the screen. Sherlock Holmes, it said.

Oh. Of course. This was the BlackBerry, after all. Who else would be ringing him on it? John lifted it back to his ear.

“Honestly,” John said, a touch peevishly, “most people don’t ring me in the middle of the bloody night, so I was disoriented. And you don’t ring me at all.”

“Yes, I prefer to text, but you weren’t responding to any of my messages and this is a matter of urgency. I despise repeating myself, but as you seem to require it: what is your medical opinion on—”

“Spontaneous human combustion,” John finished, growing more bad-tempered as the conversation continued. “I did hear you the first time, thanks; I just wanted to be sure who was asking before I answered. And I don’t have a medical opinion on spontaneous human combustion because I know shit about it. You can’t just phone someone in the middle of the night and ask them random questions. That’s no way of getting a reliable answer.”

“Why not?” Sherlock sounded genuinely confused. “You’re a doctor. You have an understanding of the human body. Surely you’ve at least some idea about the likelihood of it combusting spontaneously.”

It seemed a bit like talking to a child. John suspected the man wouldn’t leave off until he’d got an answer, no matter what sort of answer it was.

“Okay,” said John. “In that case, I think it’s bollocks. The human body is mostly water, and, really, aside from fat tissue and methane gas, there’s nothing that would burn readily. So the likelihood of a person catching fire without any sort of external heat source is... small. Very small.. So there. That’s my ‘medical opinion.’ Satisfied?”

There was a pause, during which John wondered what the hell made this “a matter of urgency.” Had Sherlock been called to investigate some poor sod being burned to death under strange circumstances?

Finally, Sherlock said, sounding incredibly put out, “It’ll do, I suppose. Incidentally, do you use a walking stick?”

“I—” John shook his head at the subject change. “Yes. Why?”

“Where is it?”

John glanced down at his leg, which didn’t hurt at all at the moment, and realised for the first time that he didn’t have his cane. In fact, it was still—he turned, squinting across the dark room—beside his bed where he’d put it before going to sleep hours ago. He’d lunged for the phone and then stood for the duration of the conversation without even a twinge of discomfort.

“Ah, yes,” Sherlock said, although John hadn’t said anything. “I thought so. Good night.”

And with that, he rang off. John set the BlackBerry on his desk with a bewildered sigh that became a pained grimace as his leg abruptly began to ache.

*

In the morning, he had a notification from PayPal in his inbox, informing him that Sherlock Holmes had sent him £40 along with a message that read:

Had you put more effort into your response, I would have tripled the amount.

—SH

“Arrogant cock,” John muttered, although he transferred the money to his bank account all the same.

*

John moved the chargers for both Harry’s old phone and the BlackBerry closer to his bed, so he could more easily hear if he got a text message or a phone call in the middle of the night, although the next time Sherlock rang, it was during the day.

The very next day, in fact. The BlackBerry began to buzz just past two in the afternoon, when John was folding his laundry.

He didn’t even get out a proper “Hello?” before Sherlock was demanding, “On average, how long would it take a human body to burn completely?”

“To burn completely? What, like a cremation?” John set a pair of folded trousers on his bed and then bit back a grunt of exertion as he lowered himself to the empty space just beside them. “Is this to do with spontaneous human combustion?”

“Of course not,” Sherlock said, sounding disgusted, as though the idea were completely absurd. “Just a normal situation in which a body is reduced to ash.”

John snorted. “Oh yeah, very normal situation, that.”

“Female, late thirties. Height of 1.7 metres, weight of 72.4 kilograms. Is it possible it would take less than an hour for the body to burn?”

“A lot depends on the circumstances,” John answered, pillowing the phone between his ear and his shoulder while he adjusted the position of his bad leg. “Size of the flame, degree of heat, and all that. But in general, no, not likely. Most cremations take at least two hours, sometimes three.”

“Hmm,” said Sherlock. The silence that followed was long enough that John checked the BlackBerry’s display to ensure the call hadn’t dropped. Finally, Sherlock spoke again. “I see. Thank you for your assistance.”

In less than ten minutes, John was at his computer, transferring £100 to his bank account.

Three days later, Sherlock rang again a few minutes before ten in the morning, this time to ask, “Why the sister?”

John took a sip of his coffee—although it was still too hot by far and burned the tip of his tongue—before he answered. “I beg your pardon?”

“The sister. A woman’s husband of four years begins engaging in regular sexual activity with the woman’s older sister. When the woman discovers the affair, why would she take revenge on the sister but not the husband?”

“Dunno. That might’ve felt like the bigger betrayal,” John said, squinting down at his steaming cup. “She’s been married to her husband for four years, but she’s known her sister her whole life.” He thought of himself and Harry, the decades of resentment they’d built up between them. “Then again, siblings aren’t always close. Sometimes the problems between them are, well, deep. There might’ve been friction there even before the sister started—”

“Wait! Say that again. The last sentence.”

John blinked. “Erm… that there might’ve already been some sort of friction between them?”

Friction!” The word was half shouted right in John’s ear, and John fought the urge to flinch away from it. “Of course!”

Sherlock rang off without another word, and John lowered the BlackBerry with raised eyebrows. “Glad I could help,” he muttered, although he was a bit pleased that it seemed like he had managed to help.

He got a text a half hour later.

There might be a delay in your payment. Apologies. SH

There was indeed a two-day delay before John received an email from PayPal that Sherlock had sent him £1000, along with a short message.

Your assistance has been invaluable. SH

Invaluable. It was absurd, really, the jolt of satisfaction that surged through John at that one word. Wouldn’t it be nice if he’d helped solve a case? If even at this very moment a criminal was being put away simply because he had said “friction”?

The possibility was more even invigorating than the money.

Two days later, John left Ella’s office after his therapy appointment and checked the BlackBerry (stored in his left pocket of his jacket while Harry’s mobile was in his right) to find that he had four missed calls and one text message from Sherlock:

Matter of great importance. Phone immediately . SH

John did phone immediately, before he’d even left the building in fact—although not before he’d switched the BlackBerry off vibrate and turned up the volume, so he didn’t miss another important call—and Sherlock answered on the first ring.

Finally,” he huffed, without so much as a greeting. “As I was saying, the adder is the only venomous snake native to Britain, although they are not typically aggressive animals and no one’s died from an adder in bite in well over a decade, possibly two. Very slim chance, then, that—”

“Erm,” John said. “Sorry, but… who are you talking to?”

“You,” said Sherlock, sounding cross that John had even had to ask. “Obviously. In any case, the only venomous snake native to Britain does not necessarily mean the only venomous snake in Britain, so—”

This is your matter of great importance?’ John thought, bemused, but said nothing. He allowed Sherlock to bang on about venomous snakes and ignorant pet owners and walked—refreshingly briskly, as his leg wasn’t bothering him much today—to the nearest station. There, he decided it was probably prudent to warn Sherlock, even if it meant interrupting again.

“I’m about to get on the Tube,” he said, and Sherlock went silent immediately. “Just thought you should know. Signal might be a bit, erm—”

“Take a taxi,” said Sherlock, in a tone that said he thought John was an idiot for thinking of doing otherwise. “I’ll pay extra to cover the fare.”

“Er.” John didn’t mind the Tube, really, but he also wasn’t so fond that he was keen to turn down an opportunity to avoid it. “All right.”

Seemingly satisfied, Sherlock carried on, although John paid him little attention as he hailed a cab and rode it back to his block of flats. There was something about “phobia” and “antivenin,” then a great deal of static as the signal got spotty.

When it cleared, Sherlock was expounding on the diet and defensive behaviour of the false widow spider, and as John paid the cabbie, Sherlock switched abruptly to discussing bee sting venom and variations across different bee species.

While John waited for the lift on the ground floor, he heard Sherlock pause for a breath of air—the first decent one in over ten minutes—and took advantage of the silence to ask the question that had been floating idly in his mind since the cab ride: “Do you know all this off the top of your head? Or are you, I dunno, looking it up?”

There was a short silence, during which the lift arrived and John stepped inside. When Sherlock spoke, he sounded so offended, positively scandalised, that John nearly giggled. “Of course I’m not looking it up. I have a comprehensive knowledge of venomous creatures. If I had to waste valuable time looking it up, I—”

“Okay,” John said quickly, leaving the lift now that it had arrived at his floor. Although he wanted to giggle now even more than before, he made a dedicated effort to keep his voice even and soothing. “Okay. Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s just… well, it’s impressive. That’s all.”

Another silence, longer this time, and then Sherlock answered, “It is?” in a wary sort of voice.

“Oh yeah.” John stopped in front of his door and wedged the phone between his shoulder and ear while he searched out his key and let himself inside. “Very impressive, actually. So if I asked about, say, the bees in Africa, you could tell me about those?”

“Which of the bees in Africa?”

John knew nothing about bees, in fact, aside from that they existed on most continents (he thought?) and that most (all?) were capable of stinging a person. As he sat on the bed to remove his shoes, he racked his brain for any other bee trivia he might’ve picked up in a pub quiz or on a nature programme, but found nothing. “Honey bees?” he tried.

He received a heavy, long-suffering sigh in response. “There are several subspecies of ‘honey bees’ in Africa, including Apis mellifera scutellata, Apis mellifera capensis, Apis mellifera sahariensis….”

John scooted to the head of the bed and settled his back against the wall while he listened. Well, tried to listen, anyway. Because he wasn’t especially interested in honey bees, African or otherwise, and because Sherlock’s voice was deep, almost hypnotic, he began to doze instead and eventually drifted off.

He woke four hours later with a stiff back, numb legs, and a horrible crick in his neck. The BlackBerry’s battery was completely drained, and he’d dropped the phone onto the mattress at some point during his nap.

‘Oh wonderful,’ John thought grimly. ‘You offend him and then fall asleep on him. If you’ve not completely cheesed him off, it’ll be a miracle.’

John plugged the phone in to charge, then turned on his computer.

To his surprise, he found a new email from PayPal in his inbox. Sherlock had sent him £1100 and a message.

The additional £100 should cover your cab fare.

Thank you for your time. I enjoyed our conversation.

—SH

What conversation? John had said maybe ten words and then listened to Sherlock go on about snakes and bees until he’d fallen asleep.

For the first time, he realised that Sherlock must’ve been hopelessly lonely. Rich and lonely and happy to pay a perfect stranger to listen to him talk.

‘And you’re happy to take his money and go along with it,’ John thought, suddenly quite disgusted with himself.

But… it wasn’t hurting anyone, was it? And John wasn’t taking advantage of him, was he? He would even send Sherlock the difference between the £100 and the money he’d actually spent on the taxi (which was nowhere near £100).

Besides, John found Sherlock interesting. A bit rude, single-minded, and eccentric, but interesting. John thought he wouldn’t mind getting to know the man better, even without the monetary incentive.

Chapter Text

“Your shoes are hateful,” said Sherlock.

John, seated in front of his computer reading about the 18-year-old boy who’d killed himself in a sports centre the night before (same method as Sir Jeffrey, apparently—odd, that), glanced towards the door, to the left of which his shoes were sat side by side against the wall.

“What?” he said. Perhaps they weren’t the best pair of shoes in all of London, but they were reasonably comfortable and of decent quality despite how little he’d paid for them. ‘Hateful’ was more than a bit harsh. “How did you decide that?”

“By looking at them, of course. Or rather, your photo of them, which you sent over a month ago, so they’re no doubt in even worse condition now.”

“Oi! They’re in fine condition, thanks.” The soles were still intact, at least, which was all John really cared about. “And I like them.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, John. They don’t even fit you properly.”

Sherlock had never called John by his name before. John had forgotten Sherlock even knew his given name, actually, just as he’d forgotten that Sherlock had a photo of John’s shoes. Although Sherlock hadn’t forgotten, clearly, since he apparently still looked at it.

“What? Of course they fit me.”

Sherlock scoffed, loudly. “They don’t. They’re at least a half size too large. That much is obvious from the scuff marks and patterns of wear in the leather. The abominably poor-quality leather. For someone who walks with a limp, even a psychosomatic one, it’s imperative to have proper-fitting shoes. So I’ve bought you a pair.”

John was briefly indignant at the ‘abominably poor-quality leather’ bit, but all that was forgotten when he’d processed the final sentence. “You… what?”

“Bought you a pair of shoes. Similar style to your current pair, but sized appropriately, with much more durable leather and stronger arch support. I’ve left them at Speedy’s just like before, so you can pick them up at your convenience.”

John gaped, holding the BlackBerry tightly against his ear and trying to decide which detail to comment on first. Because there were loads of things he wanted to say, starting with ‘There is nothing wrong with my shoes!’ and ending with ‘Look, mate, it’s all well and good to want to spend money on other people, but buying them things they don’t want is not on.’

Ultimately, he decided on “How did you know my shoe size?”

“I observed. Scuff marks and patterns of wear, as I just said. It was only a matter of judging proportions. Child’s play.”

If that was child’s play, then John was a bloody foetus. He shook his head and shoved his computer away so he could rest his elbows on the desk. “You don’t have to do this,” he said, rubbing his forehead uncomfortably. “You… I mean—”

Obviously,” Sherlock answered, in a tone like he thought John’s comment was completely inane. “Nevertheless. Because your… assistance has been valuable to my work, I wanted to reward you.”

‘Reward me?’ John thought, even more confused by the explanation. He’d have thought the money was reward enough. But before he could point this out, Sherlock continued.

“In any case, as I said, the shoes are at Speedy’s. You can decline, of course, but then they’ll likely languish behind the counter, as I’ve no intention of returning them to the shop.”

There was such a note of finality in Sherlock’s tone that John didn’t doubt he meant it. Or at least that he thought he meant it, although perhaps he’d change his mind if John did leave the shoes to languish.

But—and John glanced again at the shoes by the door as he considered—it would be nice to have another pair. For when his current ones were too worn to wear, if nothing else. And Sherlock evidently had the money to spare, didn’t he, so if he wanted to spend it on John….

“All right,” he said, sounding just as reluctant and awkward as he felt. “I’ll, um. I’ll do that.”

*

It wasn’t until John got to Speedy’s, just past three in the afternoon, that he realised Sherlock hadn’t given him any sort of code like last time. And he was loath to start spouting off nonsense about atomic numbers to strangers if he didn’t have to.

So as he approached the counter and was greeted by an older man—possibly the owner, John thought, there was something distinctly proprietor-like about him—John simply said, “Erm, hello. Sherlock Holmes said I should—”

“You’re John?” the man said, and when John nodded, he bent down and picked up a shoe box, which he passed to John.

“Oh. Um.” John took it. “Cheers.”

“I’m also to tell you,” said the man, “that you can have anything on the menu, free of charge. Mr Holmes insists.”

A phone, shoes, and now two free meals. This was getting a bit… odd, John thought. Although not quite odd enough that he wasn’t tempted to take advantage of another free meal, especially since the last one had been so good.

So he ordered a cup of coffee and a sandwich with crisps, then settled down to wait at the same table where he’d sat last time.

It might’ve been a bit rude to open the box and start examining the shoes in the middle of a café, but since he’d done the same with the BlackBerry the last time he’d popped by to pick something up, John decided not to care. He set the shoe box on the table in front of him and opened it.

The shoes were… well, nice would’ve been putting it mildly. John could practically smell fifty-pound notes wafting off them. They were a pair of tannish-coloured boots, leather with rubber soles, and so shiny he could see his reflection in them. The faint scent of expensive aftershave clung to them: musky with a touch of spice. Very, very nice. John fought the urge to raise them to his face and inhale as deeply as possible, while the maybe-owner approached with a steaming cup of coffee and his sandwich and crisps.

All concerns of rudeness now replaced by intrigue, John slipped off his own shoes and tried on the new ones. They were snug and a bit stiff, but not uncomfortably so. Not yet, anyway. He’d have to test them properly first: maybe wear them during the walk home after he’d finished here.

But even as he was admiring the boots, uneasiness niggled at him more persistently than before. This wasn’t something that could be brushed off as a business expense; Sherlock wouldn’t benefit from John’s new shoes at all. This was… John didn’t know what this was. And now that he was here, turning his feet this way and that, watching the light glint off the leather, he wondered if he shouldn’t have come to Speedy’s at all. If he should’ve refused to accept the shoes, despite what Sherlock had said about them languishing behind the counter.

And then what? Sherlock would be angry at him, John supposed. Offended because John had refused his gift. He might ask that John return the BlackBerry as well. He might stop communicating with John altogether.

No, John decided quickly. It was fine. The shoes were a gift. And he could pay Sherlock back for them, if he needed to. He had the money for it now, after all, even if it seemed silly to repay Sherlock using the money he’d got from Sherlock in the first place.

Before he began to eat, John sent a text to Sherlock.

These might be the most expensive piece of clothing I’ve ever owned. I don’t really know what to say. Thank you?

There was no response, although he kept the BlackBerry beside his plate while he ate just in case. John tried not to be disappointed. Sherlock couldn’t be available every minute of the day. Maybe he was asleep now, since he certainly didn’t seem to sleep much during the night.

John finished his food, as well as two cups of coffee, left a considerable tip for the maybe-owner, then stood to leave with his old boots stuffed into the shoe box and tucked under his arm.

Once he’d reached the pavement outside, he was halted by a muffled chime from his coat pocket. The BlackBerry. He fished it out so he could read the incoming text message.

How do they fit? SH

John lowered the phone so that he could watch as he wiggled his toes inside the new boots. Although he hadn’t taken many steps in them so far—just enough to put him in front of the block of flats next door to Speedy’s—he could already tell that they were a better fit than the ones he’d been wearing before. His feet slipped about less as he moved.

A woman stepped round him with an irritated huff, and John started, remembering that he was in the middle of the pavement and blocking other passersby. He caught a flutter of movement from the corner of his eye and glanced towards the block of flats to his right, where a curtain was fluttering closed as someone stepped away from an upstairs window.

Christ, not only was he getting in people’s way, but others were watching from their windows as he gawked stupidly at his own shoes. He shoved the BlackBerry hastily back in his pocket and continued walking.

So it wasn’t until John was back at his flat, sitting on the bed, that he finally replied.

They fit well. Your deductions were correct.

Then, on a whim, he stretched out his legs and snapped a photo of the shoes still on his feet, which he sent along with the text.

Sherlock’s response was nearly instantaneous.

Excellent. They fit exactly as I anticipated. SH

‘Because you’re apparently an actual bloody genius,’ John thought, hopelessly impressed and even a bit fond despite himself.

*

A week later, John woke to an email from the fetish site in his inbox: a notification that 071411120418 had added John as a friend.

John hadn’t so much as thought of the site in ages, at least a month. That Sherlock was thinking of it—and not only that, but doing things on it, when his profile had been all but empty the last time John had looked—was surprising.

Following the link in the email, John logged in to his account and, after a bit of clicking around, found his way to Sherlock’s profile.

It had been updated since John last visited it, albeit very little. His “About me” section was composed of the same single sentence, he still didn’t have any friends, and he still hadn’t listed any interests or fetishes. Sherlock had, however, uploaded a new photo. Like the previous one, he was shirtless, but in this photo, the lower part of his face was revealed: up to the bridge of his nose. Sherlock’s jawline was sharp and smooth, and John could see dark longish hair curled round his ears. His lips, full and soft-looking, were curled into a smirk.

He looked smug and self-assured and so incredibly attractive that John felt breathless at the sight.

After a long perusal of the photo, John noticed that Sherlock had also added his orientation (Gay) and what he was looking for (A Relationship).

‘Oh,’ John thought. ‘Christ.’

Did that mean something? Sherlock texted or rang John daily, he had bought John meals and a phone and an expensive pair of shoes, and now he was looking for a relationship with a man and adding John as a friend, practically inviting John to look at the updates to his profile.

John didn’t know if that meant anything. Perhaps he was leaping to conclusions. And if he wasn’t… well, he didn’t know how he would feel in that case.

He accepted the friend request, and tried to put Sherlock out of his mind—quite unsuccessfully, since an hour later the BlackBerry chimed with an incoming text.

I’ve just dropped off a watch at Speedy’s for you to pick up at your convenience. SH

A watch? John hadn’t said anything about a watch, nor had he taken a photo of the one he usually wore.

The niggle of uneasiness returned with a vengeance. Perhaps, John thought, this whole thing was getting a bit out of hand.

He responded: I don’t need a new watch.

And he didn’t. His own was battered and worn, an old Christmas gift from Harry, but it still worked all right.

Sherlock’s reply came a minute later: Of course you don’t. The one waiting for you at Speedy’s is more than adequate. SH

‘Oh yeah,’ John thought, his lips turning down. ‘Definitely getting out of hand.’

But what was there to do about it? Refuse? Tell Sherlock that this was all making him a bit uncomfortable and ask him to stop? Risk offending him and driving him off, the most interesting person that John had met… well, possibly ever? The only person anymore who seemed to think that John was useful?

Of course not. John knew very well that first thing tomorrow he would go to Speedy’s to pick up whatever watch Sherlock had apparently bought him. Just to see it, to continue going along with the insanity that Sherlock Holmes had brought into his life. John could always, like he’d considered doing with the shoes, refuse to accept the watch after he’d seen it or offer to pay Sherlock back for it. There wasn’t any harm in that, was there?

No, John decided. Of course there wasn’t.

*

John had been very determinedly avoiding looking up the price of his new pair of shoes online. He didn’t want to know, he’d decided. And he’d intended to do the same with the watch when he went to Speedy’s to fetch it.

Then he actually saw it. The strap was black leather, and the display, which said ‘Monaco Heuer’in little silverish letters, was sleek and smart, with four dials and three buttons on the side. It looked… fragile. Expensive.

Suddenly John was very, very curious what it had cost.

So while he sat with his coffee at what was becoming his usual table at Speedy’s, he opened the BlackBerry’s internet browser, looked up the brand of the watch, and started to browse the Tag Heuer website.

And he began to feel quite ill.

The average cost of Tag Heuer Monaco watches didn’t appear to be several hundred pounds, as John had dreaded. Rather, it appeared to be several thousand pounds.

Right. John shoved the phone and the watch away, taking deep breaths. He’d been right. This had clearly got out of hand. Sherlock was enamoured of him and spending a frankly alarming amount of money on him. He hadn’t met John, didn’t know a thing about John, really, and by accepting it all, John was leading him on. Letting Sherlock think that he was worth it, that what he could offer Sherlock was in any way comparable to the obscene amount of money that Sherlock had spent on him. Nothing that John had done, nor probably would ever do—not the photographs or the texts, not the random bits of conversation—would be enough.

It had to stop. Should’ve been stopped before, really. John had been an idiot to have put it off so long.

The maybe-owner of Speedy’s approached then, carrying the piping-hot fry-up that John had ordered.

“Erm. Hi,” John said, as the man set the plate down in front of him. “Do you know Sherlock Holmes very well? The bloke who keeps leaving things for me.”

One of the man’s eyebrows lifted. “Course I know him. He lives in a flat next door. Martha Hudson’s tenant. Bit of a rude bastard, if you ask me. The things I’ve heard since he moved—”

“Wait, hang on,” John said. “You—next door?”

Sherlock had been just next door the entire bloody time?

Of course he had. John could have kicked himself for thinking otherwise. Had he honestly believed that Sherlock had chosen a random café in London? No, he’d chosen one that he was familiar with, one that he lived close to, and then he’d lured John straight to it.

“Sorry,” John said. “Which flat did you say it was?”

Chapter Text

Bafflement became alarm and then, slowly, turned to fury.

John ate his breakfast, staring at the watch box, and thought about the block of flats he had stood in front of the previous week, the fluttering curtain in the upstairs window, Sherlock knowing when John was at Speedy’s and peeking at him from the window like a creep. Sherlock treating John like a pawn, going to expensive lengths to keep them on uneven ground, trying to catch a glimpse of John while continuing to hide behind his own phone and computer.

Not just rich and eccentric and lonely, after all. Rich, deceptive, arrogant, eccentric, creepy bastard.

After John had finished eating—which took no time at all, as he’d lost most of his appetite—he marched over to the door marked 221B, clutching the watch box tightly in one hand, and pounded the knocker against the wood.

When there was no response, he pounded again and listened closely, leaning towards the door so he could hear the knock echoing faintly inside. Maybe no one was home.

Then John heard the clatter of a door opening and shutting, followed by approaching footsteps, before the knob rattled and the door opened.

An older, kind-looking woman stood in the doorway, smiling at John but still managing somehow to look slightly harried. She wore a white apron with bits of flour sprinkled on it.

“Hello,” she said. “You’re looking for Sherlock, I suppose? You might’ve rang the doorbell, you know. Although he does often ignore it, doesn’t he…. Anyway, you can go on up, dear. He’s in 221B, just up the stairs.”

“Er,” said John. He hadn’t even known there was a doorbell. He must’ve been too fixated on the doorknocker to notice. “Sorry. I thought this was 221B. The number….”

He gestured towards the gold 221B on the door, and the woman rolled her eyes with a sigh.

“Oh, that was Sherlock’s doing. It’s terribly important that people know this is where he lives, apparently.”

There was a sudden crash from upstairs, then the sound of a door being thrown open and bare feet slapping on the stairs.

A man appeared at the bend in the stairway, wearing a grey t-shirt and what looked to be pyjama bottoms, a blue dressing gown, and a pair of protective glasses. He was slender, possibly a bit lanky, although it was hard to tell beneath the billowing dressing gown. John recognised the pale skin and sharp jawline immediately, as well as the dark hair curled round his ears.

Sherlock Holmes was a lot more attractive than John had imagined.

Which did not, John reminded himself, mean he wasn’t a creepy bastard—and a potential threat besides.

“Sherlock!” the woman said, spinning round. “There’s someone—”

“Yes, I see,” Sherlock said. “Thank you, Mrs Hudson.”

He nearly tripped as he descended the last few steps—John thought amusingly of a puppy with its too-big paws—and his pale cheeks flushed, although his focus remained on John. His gaze was so intense it might’ve been a physical touch, pinning John in place, raking over his clothes and skin, even peeling them back so he could glimpse the ugly gore that lay beneath.

“John,” he said solemnly. His voice was even deeper in person, which was absurd.

John had never felt so immensely uncomfortable in all his life, yet short of fleeing (which he would not do) or lashing out (also unacceptable, at least in front of an innocent witness) he wasn’t sure what could be done about it.

“Oh!” said the woman, Mrs Hudson. “I see. Well. I’ll just leave the two of you, then, shall I?”

“What?” John had a bad feeling about that, but Sherlock looked quite delighted.

“Thank you, Mrs Hudson.”

“Perhaps I’ll turn on the telly. Mine’s quite loud, you know. Very difficult to hear anything over it.”

“Thank you, Mrs Hudson.”

“Oh, no,” John said, finally understanding. “No, we’re not—”

But Mrs Hudson paid him no mind as she retreated hastily into what John assumed was her own flat, shutting the door firmly behind her. Immediately, Sherlock was taking her place in the entrance. In addition to being more attractive, he was taller than John had imagined, and also a great deal more excitable. He was practically vibrating where he stood, breathing quickly as though he had sprinted a great distance, and his eyes were wide and manic behind the bulky plastic glasses.

He reached out with one arm as though he meant to grasp John’s shoulder. John ducked away.

“Don’t,” he said, in his most grimly serious tone, “touch me.”

Sherlock didn’t appear nearly as alarmed by the tone as John would have liked. In fact, he seemed almost pleased by it. “You’re angry.”

“Well-spotted.”

“I should’ve expected that. Well, come inside, then. We can talk upstairs.”

And with that, Sherlock spun round and sprang up the stairs, apparently just expecting John to follow.

Well. Fortunately for him, John had never backed down from a confrontation. He did wish he’d had his pistol with him, although he comforted himself with the knowledge that even without a weapon he was far from defenceless.

John stepped inside, closing the door behind him, and climbed the staircase. Sherlock was waiting at the top, holding a door open and flattening himself against the wall as though he were a doorman at a posh hotel.

The flat that John entered was… well, it was not what he had expected. For one, it didn’t look as though the rent were exorbitantly expensive. It was nice, to be sure, but not the sort of flat John imagined Sherlock—who had now thrown thousands of pounds at John for performing menial tasks—would live in.

For another, it was cluttered by rubbish. There were books and papers, many of them wrinkled and ink-blotted, on every surface, four dirty mugs stacked on the coffee table and teetering perilously to one side, and an array of what looked to be torn magazine pages on the floor. The whole room smelt overwhelmingly of burnt rubber.

“Is that a real skull?” John asked, pointing towards the mantel and the very human-looking skull atop it.

“Yes. Friend of mine. Well, I say friend….”

Sherlock grinned at John, as though expecting him to share in some sort of joke, and when John only stared stonily back, Sherlock’s sunny glow of excitement finally began to dim. Grin falling, he glanced away, then plucked the protective glasses off his head and shoved them into the pocket of his dressing gown with a haste and sheepishness that said quite clearly he’d forgotten he was wearing them.

“Tea?” Sherlock asked, and swept off to another room.

Warily, John followed to see that it was a kitchen. Small, just as cluttered as the first room. There was a blow torch on the table, which John supposed explained the burning smell, although he couldn’t see anything that looked like it had been burnt.

“I’ve several bagged and loose-leaf varieties,” Sherlock said. “In fact—” He picked up a stylish-looking glass kettle, opened the lid, and peered inside, then returned it to its base with a grimace. “No. Perhaps not tea.” He spun, dressing gown swishing, and scanned the rest of the room. “Coffee! Or Mrs Hudson can—”

“Ta,” said John, “but I’ve just had coffee and a fry-up downstairs, so… not really interested just now.”

“Ah. Of course.” Sherlock stopped spinning and faced John, giving him a lingering once-over that made him feel as though he should cover himself. “Hmm. You’re angry. You feel deceived. I’ve been here this whole time, and you didn’t know it, and I knew you didn’t know it and took advantage. Although, to be fair, I expected you to figure it out weeks ago, for you to come knocking at my door the day you picked up the phone, but you didn’t. I’d begun to think you weren’t going to figure it out at all. And now look: you’ve surprised me. I didn’t expect you to be angry, but you are. Just like I didn’t expect you to comply with my requests, but you did. You’re turning out to be very unexpected.”

He said it as though he’d just discovered a chest of gold or a fountain of youth, like he had in his possession something that normal people could only dream about. John blinked.

“And you… enjoy that, do you?”

Sherlock lowered his chin, so he was looking up at John through his thick lashes. His eyes, John noticed suddenly, were absolutely stunning: sort of blue and greenish all at once. “Oh yes,” he said, in a voice so low it was practically a purr. “It’s not often that people are capable of surprising me.”

Discomfort spiking again, John licked his lips, and Sherlock’s gaze dropped to John’s mouth, following the motion with an intensity that made John’s breath catch. It was alarming.

“I assure you my intentions were… benign,” Sherlock said. “As were my gifts.”

Oh, Christ, that reminded John. How could he have forgot? He flexed his fingers, still clutching the watch box which he offered for Sherlock to take.

Sherlock glanced at it, but made no move to accept it.

“Here.” John shook it pointedly. “I don’t want it.”

“Why not?”

This wasn’t going the way John had expected at all. He hardly even felt like shouting any longer. He just felt… confused. “Because it’s expensive, and I don’t need it or want it, and more than that, I don’t need a… a sodding sugar daddy buying me—”

Sherlock’s expression twisted. Not in horror or mortification, as it bloody should have done, but instead in something like desperation or even—‘Fucking hell,’ John thought, eyes widening—longing.

“Dinner,” Sherlock said quickly. “With me. We can… there’s a good Chinese at the end of Baker Street.”

“What?” John was appalled. “When?”

“Now.”

Now? It’s… it’s barely ten. And I’ve just had breakfast.”

Sherlock blinked, seeming first taken aback and then terribly disappointed. “Oh. Yes. Well. Tonight, then. Six o’clock at—no, seven. Seven? No, perhaps six after all.”

John gaped. This was the oddest thing that had ever happened to him. None of the other strange things Sherlock had done before even held a candle to this. “I’m trying to tell you to fuck off, and you want to have dinner?”

“Yes.” Sherlock moved towards him. More of a clumsy and impulsive lurch, actually, and John tensed in anticipation of an attack that never came. Instead, Sherlock stopped a short distance away, looking earnest and eager, just barely holding his enthusiasm in check. Puppyish, like the stumble on the stairs. The sight was… something. In any another situation, it might’ve been endearing. “Dinner. Conversation. If you still want to give the watch back at the end of it, I’ll accept it.”

“You,” John said, shaking his head, “are completely….”

“Mad? Unbelievable? Impossible? All adjectives that have been used to describe me, yes.” Sherlock offered a hesitant half smile that John was bizarrely tempted to return. “So. I’ll text you the address?”

John knew very well that he should have said ‘Piss off’ or ‘Not on your fucking life, mate,’ something that would clearly and unequivocally communicate ‘NO.’ He was well and truly off his trolley if he said anything else.

Still, he hesitated. What if Sherlock responded poorly? If he became more insistent, if his obvious interest in John turned into a warped sort of obsession, or, worse, if he backed off entirely and turned his attention to some other poor sod?

Or maybe he would do none of those. Perhaps Sherlock’s creepiness was more the benign, awkward, and socially inept sort rather than the dangerous sort.

John supposed he could use dinner as an opportunity to better gauge whether Sherlock posed any threat to him at all—and as an opportunity to arm himself before he confronted Sherlock again, if it actually came to that.

Besides, everything that had led to this point had been completely mad: signing up for the fetish site, responding to Sherlock’s first message, continuing to respond and do Sherlock’s bidding. Why should John try to change his course before he’d followed this one to its end?

“Fine,” he decided.

Sherlock’s smile could have rivalled the sun in its brilliance. “Excellent. Very good.” The smile dimmed suddenly, and he cocked his head like a curious cat. “Incidentally. Did you know you don’t have your walking stick?”

‘Of course I have it,’ John nearly said, glancing down, only to discover that no, he didn’t have it at all. And he hadn’t, he realised, since he’d been seated at the table in Speedy’s, eating his breakfast and stewing over Sherlock.

He bent his knee experimentally, then bounced on the ball of his foot a few times. There wasn’t even a twinge of discomfort.

“Oh,” he said.

*

John’s leg didn’t hurt at all during the walk home, nor during the time he spent circling round and round the bedsit, altering his pace and the length of his stride, until he felt it was finally safe to conclude that the pain and the limp were gone.

He sat on the bed, staring down at his leg as he straightened and bent his knee effortlessly. “This is ridiculous,” he told it. “That’s not even how psychosomatic pain works.”

It was brilliant, though. He found it difficult to stop smiling.

When it was nearly time to meet Sherlock for dinner—which he absolutely wasn’t going to skip, John Watson had never backed down from anything in his life—John debated taking his cane with him, just in case, but ultimately dismissed the idea.

He did, however, wear his old ill-fitting shoes and tucked the new ones beneath one arm. No matter how dinner went, he would return them to Sherlock, he decided, along with the watch and the BlackBerry, both of which were stashed in his coat pocket. He didn’t need them, and he’d done nothing to earn them. So he would get rid of them and be done with it. Perhaps he would even offer to return the money as well—although the deepest, most selfish part of him hoped that Sherlock wouldn’t take him up on that particular offer, as John was very much in need of money.

Lastly, John retrieved his pistol from the desk drawer and slipped it into the inner pocket of his coat. The weight of it was soothing, grounding. He spent a moment examining himself, making certain the bulge of the firearm didn’t show, and then he left.

The address Sherlock had texted him was a restaurant on Northumberland Street, not Baker Street, and with a name like Angelo’s, John somehow doubted it served Chinese. Still, as John approached it on the pavement he noticed that it looked quite nice on the outside and it was reasonably busy, so he supposed it was all right.

Inside, he spotted Sherlock immediately: seated at an L-shaped booth beside a large window near the entrance of the restaurant. Turned sideways in his chair, he was devoting all of his focus to the mobile phone in his hand. In the restaurant’s dim lighting, he looked… oh, fucking hell, he looked unnaturally attractive. Smooth and creamy skin, cheekbones so sharp you could cut yourself on them, fringe falling artfully onto his forehead, his lips plumped and turned down in a pout of concentration.

Well, John thought, there wasn’t any harm in simply finding someone attractive, was there?

Then Sherlock glanced up, spotted John, and froze, his expression twisting into one of wide-eyed, open-mouthed, deer-in-the-headlamps awe. Like John was royalty about to approach his table, like he could scarcely fathom the sight.

The reaction seemed especially ludicrous after John’s most recent train of thought.

‘Nutter. It’d do loads for my self-esteem, being around you,’ John thought wryly. Even when he was younger and someone actually worth fancying, no one had ever looked at him like that.

“You came,” said Sherlock.

“Erm, yeah? I said I would.”

John set the new pair of shoes neatly on the floor and slid into the booth. His knees knocked Sherlock’s beneath the table, and John caught the strong scent of Sherlock’s aftershave. Which was the exact same aftershave that the new pair of shoes smelt of, he realised after he’d inhaled two full breaths of the stuff.

Of course Sherlock smelt amazing. He was rich and gorgeous. Why should John have expected anything different simply because he was also eccentric and socially awkward and more than a touch creepy?

“Yes, of course,” Sherlock said. “A strong moral principle. You’ll go to great lengths to keep your word, won’t you? Even at potential risk to your safety and despite your considerable misgivings.”

John blinked. “Did you just admit that my safety is at risk?”

Sherlock cocked his head, looking thoughtful. “Would you prefer it if it was? I could probably arrange it…. Oh, no, you’re worried that I’m a threat. Dull. I’m a consultant for the Metropolitan Police Service. Why would I be a threat?”

That might’ve been the stupidest thing John had heard all day. “Ever heard of police brutality? Corruption? Misconduct? You working for the Met means bugger all, mate.”

To John’s surprise, Sherlock’s lip quirked into a crooked little smile. “Fair enough. You’ll just have to trust me, I suppose.”

Oddly enough, John found that some of his apprehension had been assuaged by that. Or at least, it was better than if he’d launched into a passionate speech about how very sincere and trustworthy he was. But before John could respond, Sherlock was barrelling on.

“And now if that’s finally settled, I hope you’ll permit me to say that you look… handsome this evening, John.”

John glanced down at himself. An off-whitish cable-knit jumper beneath his black coat and a pair of jeans—the very same outfit he’d been wearing this morning when he’d met Sherlock, actually. Then he looked over at Sherlock, who was dressed in a smart suit with a crisp white shirt beneath the slim-cut jacket. The suit was bespoke too, no doubt, and just one piece of it probably cost more than all of the clothes in John’s meagre wardrobe.

Possible risk to his safety aside, John was certain that no one would look twice at him when there was Sherlock sitting beside him, looking like he did.

“Oh,” John said stupidly. “Um. Thanks?”

To avoid thinking any more of appearance or worth, John took up one of the menus on the table and began to scan its contents, which confirmed what the name and the décor already suggested: Angelo’s was an Italian restaurant, and not a terribly expensive one at that.

“I thought you said we were having Chinese for dinner?”

“Mm. I thought better of the suggestion.”

John stared, waiting for more, but Sherlock merely stared back and said nothing further.

“Is that it?” John began to ask, but was interrupted by a waiter approaching their booth. The man wore dark trousers, a white shirt and a tie, and a welcoming grin, and he carried a glowing tea-light candle in a glass bowl, which he set in the centre of the table.

“You must be Dr Watson,” he said, to John’s shock—he didn’t recall telling anyone his surname—and then proceeded to take up one of John’s hands and give it a thorough shake. “An honour to meet you. You’ve managed to snatch up one of the best men in London.” Still grinning, he let go of John’s hand and reached over to clap Sherlock on the shoulder. “This man, he got me off a murder charge.”

“What?” John said.

“This is Angelo,” said Sherlock, looking chuffed by the whole scene. “Three years ago I successfully proved at the time of a particularly vicious triple murder that Angelo was in a completely different part of town house-breaking.”

“He cleared my name. I’d have gone to prison but for him.”

“You did go to prison,” Sherlock said, although if Angelo heard or cared he didn’t show it.

“Anything on the menu, whatever you want, free of charge. Anything to drink, Dr Watson?”

“Erm.” John looked down at the menu, saw the words ‘wine’ and ‘beer,’ and decided alcohol was the last thing he needed tonight. “Just water, I think.”

“Right you are.”

Then Angelo was gone, and John wasted no time turning to Sherlock and hissing, “Dr Watson? He got that from you, I assume, so how the hell do you know my name is Watson?”

Sherlock raised his phone, thumb tapping and swiping at the screen rapidly. “Your full name is connected to your PayPal account. I assumed it was a conscious decision on your part.”

He held the phone out so that John could see the screen. He had an email from PayPal opened, with the words ‘Receipt for Your Payment to John Watson’ highlighted.

“Oh. Right.” That hadn’t even occurred to John. He felt somewhat chastened, and terribly inept, but tried to push past it. “Another thing, then. You and I, we’re not in a relationship. This isn’t a date. I know I might’ve been giving off mixed signals, but—”

Angelo reappeared, carrying two glasses of water, which he deposited on the table. After giving John a wink and an enthusiastic thumbs-up, he left again.

“Obviously this isn’t a date,” Sherlock said the moment Angelo was out of earshot. He pulled his water glass towards himself, fingers drumming against the side of it. “You’re a war hero recently invalided home from Afghanistan and experiencing symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress. Not the best circumstances under which to begin a new relationship. Not to mention, I have until now been an entirely abstract concept for you. Hard to form a meaningful connection with an abstraction. It’s my hope that after tonight my existence will seem more… concrete.”

“No,” John said, clinging to his calm. “You’re not getting it. Look, I’m not interested. And beyond that, I’m not whoever you seem to think I am. I’m….”

Damaged, John thought. Useless. Untrusting. Plain. Greying and dim and hopeless.

“I’m dull,” John said. “Really. Nothing ever happens to me. You’d be bored to death.”

But Sherlock only looked amused. He clasped his hands beneath his chin, and a corner of his lips quirked up. “Hmm. We’ll see. In the meantime, surely there’s something about me that you’re interested in? Something you’re curious about, perhaps?”

There shouldn’t have been anything John was curious about. He wasn’t meant to be getting to know Sherlock; he was meant to be returning the gifts, ascertaining whether Sherlock was a threat, and maybe apologising for giving him the wrong impression.

“The murderous fetishist,” he found himself saying anyway. He’d been wondering about the details of that since the very beginning, after all. “The case you were working when you first messaged me on the site. How did you solve it?”

John wouldn’t have thought it possible for Sherlock to look even more pleased, but it evidently was. He fairly glowed at the question.

“I could describe my methods, of course. But I think it might be more effective to show you. Come back to my flat with me after dinner.”

It was among the least subtle attempts at pulling that John had ever been on the receiving end of, and he gave Sherlock a look that he hoped communicated that.

“Oh, for god’s sake.” Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I made sure to masturbate quite thoroughly before I arrived. It’ll be hours before I’ll be capable again of physical arousal. You have my word that you’ll remain unmolested.”

“That really doesn’t make me any more comfortable going home with you,” John said. “Also, a bit not good, telling your date you masturbated before meeting them.”

He heard his slip a second too late. ‘Your date.’ John wasn’t his date, had just got done explaining that this wasn’t a date, and the subtle widening of Sherlock’s half smile left John with no doubt that he’d registered the slip.

All he said, however, was “But you’ll come?”

The worst thing was that John was tempted, even though it would go against everything he’d come here to accomplish.

And… well. If Sherlock wasn’t a threat, if he was just a harmless, eccentric, and socially awkward rich genius—the same one who had texted John at all hours of the day, given him something to do, relied on John for assistance, and nattered on about bees that one time until John had fallen asleep—then what would happen when John gave the gifts back?

Sherlock would leave him alone, he supposed. There would be no more money. No more texts or phone calls. No more bizarre tasks or requests for photos. Just John in the bedsit with Harry’s phone, his blog, his cane, his gun.

“Yeah,” he finally said aloud. “I’ll come.”

Chapter Text

The rest of dinner was largely uneventful, marked by long, surprisingly unawkward silences and Sherlock fidgeting ceaselessly in his chair. Occasionally, his knee would knock against John’s beneath the table, and once or twice he trod quite painfully on John’s foot. Each time, he apologised profusely, his cheeks flushing pink and his eyes growing wide as saucers.

It was hard, John reflected, to be intimidated by someone who squirmed in his seat like a child.

When their food arrived, Sherlock ignored his own spaghetti bolognese in favour of watching John devour his lasagne with the intensity of a hyena watching a lion feast on a gazelle, waiting for its turn at the carcass. Although, John supposed, this hyena was rather more interested in the lion than the carcass.

“You’re very... intense,” John said, around a bite of pasta. “Has anyone ever told you that?”

“Occasionally, yes.” Sherlock cocked his head, birdlike. “Not good?”

“A bit, yeah.” Then, on a whim, John added: “Might make a person think you’re not someone they want to go home with after all.”

Immediately Sherlock snatched up his fork, and spent the rest of dinner utterly absorbed in his food.

The worst thing was, if it was all a ploy to make himself appear as harmless and ridiculous as possible, it was sort of working. John found himself smirking down at his lasagne, terribly amused.

Afterwards, Angelo saw them out with a grin (and an exaggerated wink at John), and on the pavement outside Sherlock hailed them a cab—disgustingly easily, John had never seen a taxi stop so fast—and insisted on holding the door open for John and then clambering in after him.

“Baker Street,” Sherlock told the driver, slamming the door behind him. Once the taxi had begun to move, he turned to John. His bluish-green eyes—more blue now, probably a visual effect of the blue scarf he was wearing—were bright, his smile a touch too wide. Nervous. “Shouldn’t take long. Are you comfortable?”

John blinked at the odd question. “Er, yeah. I’m all right.”

He adjusted his grip on the shoes he was holding—which he’d forgotten about entirely while he was at the restaurant, until he’d stood from the booth to leave and nearly tripped over them—and Sherlock’s gaze flickered downwards at the motion, fixing on John’s hands.

“Good. That’s—” Sherlock’s throat bobbed, and he looked away. “—good.”

*

The flat had been cleaned since John had been there that morning. The magazine pages on the floor, the dirty mugs, the hordes of papers, all of it was gone, and the carpet bore the tell-tale lines left by a hoover being dragged repeatedly across it.

“Sit,” said Sherlock, shrugging off his coat. “I just need to fetch the case file.”

Then John was alone in the living room, glancing between the sofa and the armchairs near the fireplace. The sofa seemed the better option, somehow less presumptuous and intimate than an armchair, so that was where he sat to wait.

Sherlock returned quickly, carrying a folder, thick with papers, which he dropped onto the floor near John’s feet. Unbuttoning his jacket, he knelt down and began to spread the folder’s contents across the carpet.

“Detective Inspector Lestrade contacted me after the second body was discovered,” said Sherlock. “The first—”

He plucked a photograph from the folder and handed it to John. It showed a man and a woman standing together in front of a Christmas tree. Both were grey-haired, pale-white-skinned, and overweight, and both were smiling wanly at the camera.

“—Robert Bower, pictured there with his wife Cynthia. She discovered his body when she returned home from visiting her sister in Sussex.”

Sherlock handed over another picture: a crime scene photo of Robert’s corpse. He was on his knees in the centre of an ornate rug. His head was bowed, his hands tied with rope behind him, but he had no injuries that John could see.

“Cause of death?” John asked.

“Poison. Arsenic, to be precise. Probably hidden in his dinner, which was poached halibut with a glass of sauvignon blanc according to his stomach contents at the time of his death, although no one knew where or with whom he’d eaten.”

Sherlock held out a stapled stack of papers. The autopsy report, John saw as he took it. He scanned the first page but saw nothing that contradicted or added to what Sherlock had said so far, so he set it aside.

“The second body—”

Another photograph, which John accepted eagerly. This one showed a young man, barely older than twenty if that, East Asian, smirking cockily into the camera.

“—Kenny Tsai. A student at King’s, an introvert, and an aspiring writer. Discovered in his bedroom by one of his flatmates.”

The next photo showed Kenny dead, in exactly the same position as Robert, although he was knelt on a stained and dirty carpet rather than a neat rug.

“Also poisoned with arsenic?” John asked.

“Probably in his curry, which was his last meal,” Sherlock confirmed, handing over Kenny’s autopsy report. “Lestrade’s team was lost. Identical cause of death and treatment of the bodies indicates the same killer, yet aside from the victims’ gender, there was no obvious connection between them. Different ages, races, parts of London, financial situations, circles of friends and family.”

John set the autopsy report atop the pile of photos and documents he’d built on the cushion beside him. “Let me guess. You found a connection?”

Sherlock’s lip twitched upwards. “I did. As I said, Kenny was an introvert and a writer. He spent a lot of time online. Not a great leap to assume he might’ve met someone on any of the social sites he frequented. Robert was more difficult. He and his wife didn’t own a computer or a mobile phone, and both were retired—thus, no access to the internet at work. However, when I examined his body, his fingertips showed indications of regular computer use.”

“He used a friend’s?” John guessed.

“An internet café.” Sherlock smiled faintly. “Also, Cynthia claimed her husband had been acting unusual in the last several months. Withdrawn, secretive, spending a great deal of time outside the home. She might’ve suspected an affair, she said, had he not been physiologically incapable of achieving an erection.”

John couldn’t help but snort. “You don’t need an erection to have sex. Hell, you don’t even need to have sex to carry on an affair.”

Sherlock’s smile widened. John was momentarily distracted by the little wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. “Precisely. From there it was easy to narrow down the websites that Kenny frequented.”

“Which brought you to the fetish site,” John said. “And me.”

“Yes. Kenny’s profile indicated a general uncertainty about his specific preferences but an overall curiosity about submission. Robert’s expressed an interest in being urinated on by a younger man.”

“Which is sometimes a form of submission,” said John. All the tendrils of the case Sherlock had laid out were beginning to twine nicely in his mind. “Quite submissive positions the bodies were found in, too. Naked, on their knees, hands tied.”

“Degrading,” Sherlock agreed. The folder had been abandoned, and now he seemed interested solely in John. “The murderer sought out submissive men to make a mockery of them. The result of ingrained homophobia and outdated ideas of masculinity, and a deep hatred of his own desires. He visited newly formed groups to find his victims—lots of new faces, everyone blurs together, and no one thinks anything of it if someone never returns.”

“So you had me go to the second meeting of North London littles. As bait, I assume: a male little. And someone else went to… what, some sort of rope thing, was it?”

I went to the first of a series of shibari workshops in Chelsea.” Resting his elbows on his knees, Sherlock folded his hands beneath his chin. He was still smiling. It hadn’t dimmed at all, in fact. “There was never anyone else aside from you. I was reasonably certain that North London littles was safe, but preferred not to risk the very slight possibility of my being mistaken. I thought that a former Army doctor with an addiction to danger and a tendency to carry an illegal firearm would be capable of handling himself.”

The last bit was said with a pointed glance at John’s coat, which John hadn’t removed and which still concealed his pistol in the inner pocket. He considered denying the insinuation, but it would be far too easy to prove he was lying.

“I’m not addicted to danger,” he said instead.

“You went along with my instructions to attend the North London littles munch, despite having no idea what sort of situation you were entering into and despite your distrust of me. Then you not only agreed to dinner with me tonight, but also to return to my flat with me. Not to mention how much you miss the war you were invalided from—you’re languishing without it.”

Sherlock’s voice, not terribly loud to begin with, grew abruptly quiet, a soft rumble that John could almost feel.

“In short, you are very much addicted to danger. You are also content to listen to me, to follow my instructions, to cater to my whims, and to be more or less unaffected by my considerable social deficiencies. So when you said earlier that you aren’t who I think you are, that I would be bored to death by you, you are very, very mistaken. I know precisely who you are, and you are quite possibly the least boring person I have ever met.”

And how was John meant to respond to that? Especially with Sherlock staring at him as he was. Like John was a patient on the slab, mid-surgery, and every breath, every heartbeat was crucial to monitor. John swallowed thickly and ground his teeth, loath to squirm under the scrutiny.

“I’m making you uncomfortable,” said Sherlock. “Sorry.” Glancing down, he began gathering all the documents he’d spread about the carpet but hadn’t passed to John—other crime scene photos, printouts of emails and messages on the fetish site, some other things John hadn’t identified—and stuffing them back into the folder. “So that was how I solved it. Did that answer your question?”

It answered his question about the case, yes. There were still other questions, though, arguably more significant. So John took a deep breath and asked the one that burned most hotly in his mind.

“Why the gifts? And the money? You… I mean….”

“I enjoy it,” Sherlock said with a shrug. “It’s surprisingly… pleasurable. And you need the assistance, John. Your shoes are abysmal, and your watch is old, and the quality of your camera is less than ideal.”

John’s hackles rose like spears. He didn’t need the assistance. He’d been doing perfectly fine before Sherlock had messaged him, hadn’t he?

Before he could retort, however, he realised that, no, he hadn’t been. He’d been wondering how he was going to continue to afford to live in London, dreading the day when his savings ran out. He’d been a miserable, lost, and useless bastard, dangerously close to eating his gun just to be rid of it all.

Gradually John’s defensiveness wilted, replaced by general dissatisfaction with his own sodding existence.

And then another thought occurred.

“You organised this entire bloody night,” John realised, “to get me to trust you. The man at the restaurant singing your praise, this whole show with the photographs and the autopsy reports—”

“I didn’t know you would want to talk about the case.” Sherlock shrugged one shoulder. “But it did occur to me that proving I had official access to the case”—he gestured towards the folder—“would win me points in your favour, yes. And it worked. You’ve relaxed; your body language is open and accepting.”

John glanced down at himself. He was leaning back into the sofa, his knees apart. He felt calm, not threatened in the slightest.

“So you’ll keep the gifts?” Sherlock asked after a brief silence. “You’ll continue to assist me, and I’ll continue to reward you?”

John should have said no. Even if Sherlock was just a normal, socially awkward bloke, their… relationship, acquaintanceship, whatever it was, was already so unbalanced John suspected he would never be able to right it. He would always be in Sherlock’s debt.

But at the same time, John couldn’t deny that he was enjoying the attention. It made him feel important. It made him feel useful.

‘Pathetic,’ he thought. ‘You sorry fucking sod.’

“All right,” he said aloud. “But nothing like the watch. A thousand pounds for one watch—”

“Three thousand,” said Sherlock.

John felt ill. No, he would certainly never be able to repay Sherlock for any of it. “Three thousand. Yeah, that… that makes me uncomfortable, frankly. Nothing that extravagant.”

“It’s not extravagant to me. How should I know what you’ll consider extravagant?”

Christ. John was ready to leave now, he decided. Go back to his flat and have a long shower and think about what the hell he was doing with his life. He grabbed the shoes beside him and stood.

“You could tell from a dead man’s fingertips that he used a computer regularly,” he said. “I think you’ll manage. Now, is that all?”

To his surprise, Sherlock’s answering smile was soft and distinctly fond. His affection for John shone so brightly that John felt both warmed by it and uncomfortable.

“Yes,” Sherlock said, “all for now, I think. I’ll walk you out.”

*

After his shower that night, John returned to his room to find that he’d got a text message from Sherlock.

I’d like to see you again. SH

Draping his damp towel over his shoulders, John sat on the bed to respond.

Not a date, remember?

The reply was, as always, immediate. (Did Sherlock always answer so quickly, John wondered, or only when he was communicating with John?)

Yes. I’d still like to see you again. Sooner would be preferable. SH

John refused to allow himself to smile, although his lips kept twitching upwards, trying to spite him.

There is such a thing as coming on too strong.

Is there? I’ll keep it in mind. When can I see you? SH

John’s resolve broke, and he chuckled, then ducked his head and hid his smile in his palm. This was absurd. This entire situation was completely absurd. But before he could respond, the phone chimed. Then it chimed again.

Never mind. I’ll text you. SH

Good night. SH

The BlackBerry was silent for the rest of the night. By the fifth time that John checked it, to be sure Sherlock hadn’t texted and the phone had just forgotten to chime, he had to admit that he was maybe the slightest bit disappointed.

Chapter Text

“You seem cheerful today,” said Ella during their next appointment. She scrawled something on her notepad—‘good mood,’ John caught before she set her pen down, obscuring the rest. “Any particular reason?”

John blinked. Was he cheerful? He didn’t think so. No more so than usual, anyway. “Erm. No, I don’t think so. I slept well last night, though. That might have something to do with it.”

Ella took up her pen again. “Really? That’s good. No nightmares?”

John had had nightmares, actually, although he didn’t remember what any of them had been about. He only vaguely recalled jerking awake gasping and sweating, a shout in his throat. Then he’d noticed that the screen of the BlackBerry was lit up, making the whole room seem to glow, and all thoughts of his nightmare had been dashed from his mind. It had been a text from Sherlock, of course. He’d sent a close-up of bright-red blotches on pale skin and asked if it looked like anything communicable or deadly. (It hadn’t. It had looked to John like eczema.)

In fact, in the two days that had passed since their dinner, Sherlock had been texting incessantly. The chiming of the BlackBerry had startled John awake just past four one morning (Are violent outbursts a known paradoxical side effect of diazepam? SH), interrupted one of his afternoon walks (How common is it for surgeons to forget tools inside their patients? SH), and caused every person in the entire bloody corner shop to turn and gawk at him whilst he fumbled with the loud, noisy phone (Why the secretary? SH) (Why is it always the secretary? SH) (Never the neighbour or a friend or an in-law. SH) (Never an equal. SH) (Always a young, pretty, subordinate female, pressured by his power over her. SH) (DULL. SH) (He’s nothing but a cliché. SH) (His wife should be glad to be rid of him. SH).

Sherlock hadn’t said anything about meeting again, but John suspected it was only a matter of time. Perhaps John’s comment about coming on too strong hadn’t fallen on deaf ears after all.

Ella was writing quickly now, her notepad tilted up so that John couldn’t see it. “You haven’t been using your blog.”

There wasn’t any accusation in her tone, although it stung as though there had been. John almost wanted to flinch. “Er, no,” he said. “There… I mean. I haven’t got anything to write about, do I?”

Ella frowned. “What do you mean?”

Christ. John clenched his jaw, holding in a sigh, and shifted in his chair. What did he mean? He meant that his life was so uninteresting that making a public record of it seemed absurd. After all, the brightest part of his day was receiving a text from Sherlock, a man he hardly knew and who was so clearly keen on him that it made him a bit uncomfortable—how pathetic was that?

“I mean,” he said slowly, “that people with interesting lives have blogs. Not… not people like me.”

“You don’t think your life is interesting?”

John did sigh then, and slumped low. This was shaping up to be a long session, he thought.

*

If John had been cheerful at the beginning of his therapy appointment, he certainly wasn’t by the end of it. He left Ella’s office feeling defeated and useless: a morose, ungrateful sod. He shuffled down the pavement towards the nearest Tube station, passing a young woman trying to shush a screaming infant in a pram and a balding man leaning against a parked car and shouting into his mobile. John wondered if they even noticed him as he did them, or if he was nothing to them: as silent and invisible as a ghost.

Then the BlackBerry chimed.

He dove into his coat pocket for it, eager for the distraction, for whatever brand of unpredictability Sherlock could bring to his life today.

What would you say is most likely to prematurely kill a 40-year-old man, white, 1.85 metres tall, perpetually fluctuating weight, balding, lazy, frequent smoker of low-tar cigarettes, with a frankly embarrassing weakness for sweets? SH

John stared. For unpredictability, Sherlock certainly never disappointed. John never knew what to expect—and he hadn’t a clue what to say to that text.

No idea, sorry. Is this for a case?

Oh, please. Use your imagination. SH

John was so taken aback that he nearly ran into someone, a teenager just as distracted by his own phone as John was by his. He dodged to one side, murmuring an apology even though the boy still wasn’t paying attention.

What the hell did his imagination have to do with anything?

Sorry? You want me to imagine someone being murdered?

Killed, not necessarily murdered. Although murder is certainly a viable option. SH

John wished he were back at the bedsit, so that he could set the BlackBerry down, rub his palms on his knees, maybe pace a bit, while he considered his response and why Sherlock would even be asking in the first place.

Okay. And how much are you planning to pay me to imagine someone being killed?

It was meant to be a sort of joke, although he soon began to suspect that the tone hadn’t translated. Sherlock’s previous texts had been nearly instantaneous, arriving seconds after John had sent his. The next one wasn’t. It was a long, full minute—during which John arrived at the station, then simply stood awkwardly on the pavement outside, not wanting to miss Sherlock’s reply—before the BlackBerry chimed again.

Between £40 and £100, depending on the quality of your answer. SH

‘The quality of your answer.’ John grinned, reminded of their very first phone conversation.

Well, statistically speaking he’ll probably die of heart disease. Leading cause of death and all.

It was a bit of a neutral reply, not especially imaginative (if that indeed was what Sherlock wanted): a safe reply. Still, it was honest, and as he didn’t understand why Sherlock would want something imaginative anyway, he was satisfied with it. Or at least he was until Sherlock’s subsequent text.

Yes, I suppose so. Thank you. SH

That was it?

And suddenly John was keenly aware that he had disappointed Sherlock. Brilliant. The one sodding person in this world who, however misguidedly, thought that John had hung the bloody moon, and even when John wasn’t actively trying to dissuade him, he was proving how very dull and disappointing he was.

John thought quickly, remembered the balding man leaning against his car that John had passed earlier.

Does he travel much, your 40yo bloke?

He had barely pressed the button to send the text before the BlackBerry was ringing, its lit screen displaying Sherlock’s name. John answered on instinct, even as his mind seemed quite content to wonder ‘What the hell?’ on a running loop.

“He travels a lot, yes,” Sherlock said, before John could say a word. He sounded excited, almost giddy. John could easily picture him fidgeting, squirming in one of the armchairs in his flat and bouncing his knee, grinning so widely that the corner of his eyes crinkled. “Both within the country and worldwide. For, hm… business.”

“Er,” said John. “Okay.” He thought about the hazards of frequent international travel, about everything he knew of Sherlock and his cases, about every news article highlighting medical oddities he’d read in recent months. “Does he have allergies, by chance?”

“Very, very mild hay fever in the spring. Nothing that would kill him, unfortunately.”

“Under normal circumstances, no,” John agreed. “Probably not. Does ‘business’ ever take him to America?”

“On occasion, yes.”

Sherlock’s strange and morbid enthusiasm was catching, apparently. John found himself biting back a grin. If Sherlock wanted John to use his imagination, then John would use the hell out of it.

“Okay then. He travels to a part of America he’s never visited before. One of the states in the south, maybe, somewhere with a lot of weeds and pollen he’s never been exposed to before. And he gets an allergic reaction like nothing he’s ever experienced.”

Sherlock scoffed, loudly. “Oh, dull, John. An allergic reaction?”

John’s grin broke through. “I’m not done,” he said, and if he sounded a bit nefarious… well, he was being asked to envision an imaginative end for some hypothetical man seemingly only for Sherlock’s amusement. “He’s congested and miserable and desperate for something more than what an antihistamine can do. So he pops by a chemist’s and buys a neti pot.”

“Neti pot?” Excellent—Sherlock sounded intrigued now.

“Mmhm. A little plastic watering can you use to flush your sinuses. He buys one, brings it back to his hotel, and uses it. Fills it with water from the tap, dumps a little packet of salt into it, and pours it in one nostril.”

John paused, and in the brief silence that followed he could fairly feel Sherlock’s interest. He imagined Sherlock leaning towards him, hanging on his every word. It was a heady feeling.

“But…?” Sherlock prompted.

John smirked, turning on his heels so he could pace a bit while he continued. “But. The problem is, tap water can be a bit dodgy, can’t it? And the lining of the sinuses is very, very thin.”

“Bacteria?” Sherlock pressed eagerly. “Toxic chemicals?”

John had him now. “Parasite. A microscopic parasitic eukaryote that just slips into the man’s brain and makes itself at home.”

Oh.” Sherlock sounded awed. “Oh, John—”

Fucking hell. John felt like he was glowing. “It’s usually the sense of smell that goes first—dead nerve cells in the olfactory bulbs. Then it’ll progress to increasingly severe headaches, nausea, maybe a fever as well. Unfortunately, the man won’t think much of it—it doesn't sound terribly dissimilar from a very bad flu, does it? And of course there’s also the confusion. By that point, he’ll probably start finding it difficult to think clearly. And even if he does catch on that something is really wrong—when the seizures start, for example, or when he starts losing muscle control—it’ll be too late. The infection will have spread to his brain stem, and the parasite eaten all the bits of his brain he needs to breathe.”

He perhaps said that last bit too loudly. Two passing women turned to gape at him and then hurried away. Although it shouldn’t have, it made John laugh, and he ducked his head and covered his mouth (and the telephone receiver) with his hand. God, look at him—having just left therapy and now pacing outside the Tube station, gleefully envisioning someone’s very messy end.

“Sorry,” he said, still giggling helplessly. “Sorry. I’m apparently horrifying everyone around me. People are staring.”

Then he realised what exactly he was doing: trying to impress Sherlock, arguably the last person John should’ve been worried about trying to impress. His giggling died suddenly, leaving him uncomfortably aware of Sherlock’s silence and the strangers passing him on the pavement.

“John,” Sherlock said eventually. His voice was so warm and soft that John fancied he could have wrapped himself in it like a quilt. “That was—” A pause, and John was mortified to realise he was holding his breath, waiting anxiously for whatever would follow. “Good. That was very good.”

Good. John’s breath left him in a whoosh, and then he grimaced, disgusted with himself and very, very confused.

‘Why,’ he wanted to ask, ‘did I just narrate some poor bloke’s death? Does the balding 40-year-old man exist, or was this just for shits and giggles?’

Instead, shuffling his feet awkwardly, John said, “Right, well. I have to go now, so I’ll… talk to you later?”

Sherlock’s response was a low hum, like the rumble of a blissed-out housecat. Bit of an odd reaction, that—John felt his eyebrows rising up his forehead. “Mm. Later, yes. Goodbye.”

Then he rung off, and, after several seconds of blinking down at the mobile screen like an idiot, John carried on into the Tube station.

*

When John returned to the bedsit, he checked his email and found a PayPal notification—Sherlock had sent him £125, as well as a note with his payment.

See? Not boring at all. —SH

John should have left it at that, especially after his ridiculous attempt to show off during their phone conversation, but somehow he couldn’t quite resist the urge to reach for the BlackBerry and send Sherlock a text.

£125? What happened to ‘between £40 and £100’?

As usual, the response was quick.

The quality of your response exceeded my expectations. SH

John felt a little surge of pride at that. Well, he supposed, although he shouldn’t have tried in the first place, at least he’d succeeded in being impressive. But before John could respond, Sherlock had texted again.

Is £96 too extravagant? I’ve found a jumper online that would suit you far better than the one you wore the other day. SH

Apparently John hadn’t looked as “exceedingly handsome” at dinner as Sherlock had said, John thought wryly as he typed his response.

A bit extravagant, yeah.

What’s your address? I’ll have it dispatched directly to you. SH

John sighed. What’s the point of asking if you won’t even listen to what I say?

Then another thought occurred to him.

How easy would it be for you to find out my address if I refused to give it to you?

Exceedingly easy. SH

‘Brilliant,’ John thought wryly. ‘For god’s sake, Watson, this is who you were trying to impress?’

One day you and I are going to have a talk about you being creepy and presumptuous.

I look forward to it. Address? SH

With another sigh—not as heavy as it should have been given the situation, John recognised, nor was he as put off as he should have been, and for god’s sake, what was wrong with him today?—he texted Sherlock his address.

Thank you. The parcel should arrive in 3 to 5 days. SH

*

The parcel arrived in two, actually, and it contained a bit more than the one jumper (which was striped and black and white). There was also one plain white t-shirt, one pair of blue socks with little black skulls on them, and one red silk dressing gown with a satin stripe design.

John spread the items out on his bed, then perched at the edge, staring down at them. If the jumper alone had cost £96, then the rest of it—

Christ. He stopped that line of thought. He wouldn’t try to calculate the cost. If Sherlock wanted to spend thousands of pounds on John—and he heard the echo of Sherlock’s voice in his head, saying “surprisingly… pleasurable” with such genuine satisfaction in his tone that John shivered just remembering it—then fine. It was fine. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t needed or even really wanted new clothes. And it certainly didn’t matter that John would never be able to do the same. That John had quite literally nothing to offer Sherlock in return.

“Fuck,” John sighed. He retrieved the BlackBerry from where it was charging on the desk and sent a text message to Sherlock.

What happened to just the jumper?

Then he set about putting the new articles of clothing away while he waited for Sherlock’s reply, which arrived within two or three minutes.

I never said I’d bought ‘just’ the jumper. What do you know about organ theft? SH

That was quite a non sequitur, although it was a welcome distraction. John let his blossoming intrigue shoo away the concern and self-pity that Sherlock’s gift had brought with it. His toes curled into the carpet as he pecked out his answer.

People waking up in bathtubs with a kidney missing, you mean? That’s an urban legend. Never happens outside the telly.

No: three bodies missing all their organs, discovered in a skip in Islington. Interested? SH

Oh yes, John was interested. Aside from the parcel arriving, which he wasn’t keen to consider any longer, his day had been utterly dull.

Yes, he said. Shall I ring and you can walk me through what you find?

Wait on the pavement outside. I’ll have my taxi pick you up on the way. SH

Then, while John was putting on his shoes—the new ones that Sherlock had got him—the BlackBerry chimed again.

Wear the jumper and the socks. SH

Chapter Text

“What do you mean he turned himself in?”

Sherlock’s voice was loud, almost booming. Beyond the crime scene tape that he, John, and a grey-haired man in a blue coverall (whom Sherlock had identified as Detective Inspector Lestrade when the taxi had dropped them off) were standing outside of, various police officers stopped what they were doing and stared. John (already a bit on edge after the way Lestrade had taken one look at him and growled “Who the hell is he?”) tamped down on the unfamiliar and frankly absurd urge to hide himself behind Sherlock.

DI Lestrade, however, didn’t seem bothered by Sherlock’s volume. “I mean he turned himself in. He’s a junior doctor, lives in a flat not far from here. Apparently, he heard the sirens, panicked, and took a taxi to Scotland Yard. Donovan’s interrogating him now. And if you ever deigned to answer your phone, you’d know all this by now.”

Sherlock’s cheeks were flushed a light pink, growing darker by the second—from anger, John assumed—and he was slicing his arms through the air like a madman. “You brought me all this way—”

Brought you?” Lestrade’s eyebrows flew halfway up his forehead. “You begged me—”

Sherlock spoke even louder. “You brought me all this way to tell me he turned himself in? And why are you still here if that’s the case?”

“Because I knew that you were coming and that you wouldn’t leave off until you’d pissed off my entire team.” Lestrade shifted his focus back to John, fixing him with a flinty-eyed stare that reminded John very keenly how much he didn’t belong here. “Course, I didn’t expect you to bring someone else with you. And speaking of, you still haven’t told me who the hell this is.”

At that, Sherlock turned to John as well—the first time since they’d arrived that he had acknowledged John’s existence. His gaze flickered over John from head to foot, lingering on his face, and then Sherlock’s lips went so thin and tight they nearly disappeared. He flushed even more, all the way to the tips of his ears.

And John realised abruptly that Sherlock wasn’t angry at all. He was embarrassed.

“He’s with me,” said Sherlock, his voice clipped. He turned back to Lestrade. “My assistant, Dr Watson. His considerable medical expertise will be invaluable to my investigations.”

Lestrade peered searchingly at John, who tried to seem benign and not at all out of place by Sherlock’s side (even though he knew very well that that was exactly what he was). “I have an entire team of—”

“None of them will work with me,” Sherlock snapped. “As you just said. And you need me. Do you know how common it is for people to turn themselves in for crimes they didn’t commit? Knowing that someone’s ‘confessed’ can introduce bias, can lead to overlooking or misinterpreting crucial pieces of—”

“He could describe the bodies,” said Lestrade, widening his stance and crossing his arms, “perfectly, and as you can see, the media hasn’t caught wind of this yet, though I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. Actually, I’d be interested to hear how you found out, since I sure as hell didn’t—”

Again, Sherlock simply talked louder. His spine was ramrod straight, his muscles so tense by that point that he was nearly shaking. “One look. Just to verify your ‘junior doctor’s’ story. Both of us.” He nodded to John.

For a very long moment, Lestrade appeared he might argue, but finally he simply threw up his hands. “Fine. One quick look. My crime scenes are not your sodding playground, and the next time you interrupt my work so I can cater to one of your bloody whims, I’ll have you banned from all cases. All cases, Sherlock. Also, your ‘assistant’ suits up in full.” He gestured towards a police car nearby, with its boot open revealing several open cardboard boxes inside, one of which looked to be full of blue coveralls identical to the one he was wearing.

John didn’t hesitate to comply, dressing quickly in one of the coveralls as well as a pair of white cotton shoe coverings. Sherlock, however, only slipped on a pair of latex gloves—to John’s considerable confusion. “You’re not wearing anything else?”

Sherlock shot him a glance as though to say, ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

John was disgusted. After Sherlock had just been banging on about the possibility of botching the investigation! “You’ll contaminate the crime scene.”

Another quelling glance, this one with a hint of bewilderment. “Of course I won’t.”

But John refused to be deterred. Not taking precautions was one thing, but hypocrisy was not on. “You bloody will. Your wool coat and your shoes, you’ll get dust and fibres all over everything.” In his peripheral vision, he saw DI Lestrade gaping at him. “Put something on.”

Sherlock’s lips went thin, and he drew back like an offended cat.

Now,” John told him. Then wondered what the hell he was doing, ordering Sherlock around as though he had any business doing so when this was his job, not John’s.

And he might’ve recanted, if Sherlock continued to refuse. But then, jaw clenching, Sherlock reached for a coverall with one hand while he unbuttoned his coat with the other.

John was surprised, but pleasantly. “Thank you.”

“Jesus,” Lestrade mumbled, and then simply stood silently, looking stunned, while they waited for Sherlock to finish.

*

Lestrade’s scrutiny didn’t even compare to what John got when he ducked beneath the tape and followed Sherlock onto the crime scene, where the small team of busy men and women all stopped and gawked at him.

It made John very, very aware of how useless he was, standing off to the side while Sherlock flitted about the place, darting between three bodies in various stages of decay (each of which was nude and male and had been transferred to a gurney to be hauled off) and kneeling down and occasionally blurting out seemingly random observations—in short, ignoring John entirely.

Lestrade’s team (who apparently knew Sherlock well enough to step back even before he’d shooed them off) cast fleeting sidelong glances at John that he could feel like the tiny scuttling legs of a millipede along his spine. Wondering who he was and why he’d been allowed here, judging him and no doubt finding him wanting. John felt cornered and choked, hot, surrounded by strangers in a tiny alleyway that stunk of death and rot, every exit blocked—

‘You are John Watson, Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers,’ John told himself, breathing deeply. ‘Three years in Afghanistan, a veteran of Kandahar and Helmand. You just bullied a grown man into putting on a coverall, for god’s sake. You will not have a panic attack right now, over nothing, in front of Scotland Yard and Sherlock bloody Holmes.’

“—have failed the Foundation Programme’s clinical assessment,” Sherlock was saying, “and he feels excruciating shame because of it. And… ugh, dull. He didn’t kill these men at all. They were homeless—you can tell by their feet. He found them dead.”

“Yes,” said Lestrade with a sigh. “I know. And don’t pretend like you deduced all of that when I just finished telling you—”

Lestrade’s sigh was nothing compared to Sherlock’s, which was so heavy and dramatic—complete with arm waving and eye rolling—that John was reminded of a child mocking an adult’s very justified exasperation. “Oh, for god’s sake. Look. No defensive wounds or indications of a struggle on the bodies—he didn’t kill them; he only found them dead. Why steal the organs of dead bodies? Not to sell them—organ harvesting is an incredibly delicate process, not something this person seems capable of. Look at the Y incisions, the stitches!”

‘Well,’ John thought in dismay, ‘so much for being helpful.’ He mightn’t have even been there at all for how little he’d contributed.

“They’re shoddy,” Sherlock continued, the words coming gradually more rapidly and loudly the more he spoke. “Clumsy. Indicates a lack of experience.”

‘He called you invaluable,’ John told himself. ‘Do something. Say something clever.’

So he took a breath and blurted, “Not completely.”

Sherlock spun around to face him, his eyes almost comically wide with surprise. Probably he’d forgotten about John entirely.

Oh yes, so much for John being invaluable to Sherlock’s investigation. Still, John swallowed his shame and his disappointment, and pushed on. “It’s clumsy, yeah, but it’s not totally unskilled. It’s the proper technique, anyway, and those are good-quality polyglycolic acid sutures. I’d say whoever did this has at least some sort of medical background, and access to medical supplies.”

The surprise melted from Sherlock’s expression, replaced with such an intense fondness and longing that John’s insides twisted. Sherlock looked torn between either falling to his knees or pinning John against the wall. John wasn’t sure which he would prefer, if he would prefer either at all.

“Oh my god,” said a man standing a short distance away, “can you believe it? He’s actually got himself a boyfriend.”

That seemed to flick a switch inside Sherlock’s head. Blinking rapidly, his eyes lost some of their intensity, and then he was simply looking at John—surveying him, scanning him. John tried to release the tension in his shoulders, to appear perfectly at ease and not at all miserable and useless. But Sherlock’s lip turned down, and John suspected that he had failed.

“Yes, precisely,” Sherlock said. He whirled back towards Lestrade. “Just as John said. He has the knowledge to properly open the thoracic cavity, the tools to do it, but lacks the practical skills to do it well. Inexperienced, seeking the training he feels he needs to succeed. I didn’t need him to turn himself in. The evidence against him is all right here.”

“Well, fortunately he did turn himself in,” Lestrade said dryly. “So if you’re finished—”

Sherlock made a disgusted sound. “Now that you’ve wasted my time, yes.”

Wasted?”

“Our time.” Sherlock glanced at John, something like chagrin on his face, and then hastily back to Lestrade. “Our time. Yes, obviously. John and I had dinner reservations, you know.”

That was certainly news to John, and Lestrade too looked taken aback. “You did?”

“Well.” Another glance at John, this one even quicker—and yes, that was definitely a flinch of chagrin on his features. “Perhaps not reservations. But plans for dinner, yes.”

“I can’t believe it,” said the man who’d spoken earlier. “He actually—”

“Come along, John,” Sherlock said loudly. He began swiftly stripping off his coverall. “We’re done here.”

John, more than a bit disappointed—in himself mostly, his own worthlessness—hurried to follow.

*

Afterwards, Sherlock was in a foul, foul mood. He hunched and glowered and scowled, gnashed his teeth at regular intervals, and occasionally let out a long, disgusted groan and swiped and tugged at his hair like it was the source of his frustration. There might as well have been a storm cloud above him, complete with rolling thunder and ominous flares of lightning.

Dull,” Sherlock spat, for perhaps the hundredth time. “I miscalculated. If I’d known it would be such a waste, I’d never have agreed to it.”

And just like all the previous ninety-nine times, John shook his head. “It’s fine. Not every criminal can be clever, I suppose.” Sherlock’s countenance darkened even further, so John hastily added, “Besides, this is nice.”

And it was. Sherlock had led John to the Chinese restaurant at the end of Baker Street he’d mentioned before, and it was small, warm, and cosy. Plus, the food was exquisite.

Sherlock made a soft noise of agreement, and—oh good, finally, John was beginning to tire of his mood—the figurative cloud above him parted, chasing away the shadows in his expression. He was quiet for several long minutes, sipping his water and sighing. His fingers seemed unusually long against the condensation-wet glass.

Which was not a thought that John should have been having. He made himself look away.

“You’re wearing the jumper I bought you,” Sherlock said eventually. He sounded pleased.

John glanced down at himself. He’d forgotten about that. “Er. Yeah. You told me to. I’m wearing the socks as well.”

“Excellent. Let me see.”

John stared dumbly, wondering if he’d misunderstood. They were in public, after all. Did Sherlock want him to take off his shoes and put his feet on the table?

“Here.” Sherlock switched chairs, practically leaping from the one directly across from John’s and plopping down instead in the one to John’s right. There, he scooted the chair backwards and patted his thighs. Like someone coaxing a dog or a child into his lap, which was more than slightly absurd.

At a loss, John chuckled awkwardly. “I’m not putting my foot in your lap.”

“Why not? The staff served me once after I’d spent four hours in the sewers, you know. Not a single complaint. They won’t even bat an eye at something as normal as your foot in my lap. Besides, I paid for the socks. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to see them whenever I want?”

This time, John’s chuckle had a rather dangerous edge to it. “Yeah, no. That’s not how this works. You don’t get to buy me things I don’t need or want and then try to hold it over my head. If you want to be a manipulative arsehole, you can take your socks and your jumper and everything else you’ve bought and piss off.”

If it was possible, Sherlock seemed even more pleased. Giddy, even. His smile took on the sunny sort of glow that John remembered vividly from their first meeting, when Sherlock had been bouncing and nipping at John’s heels like an excited puppy. He stared at John with his head cocked, smiling stupidly, until John finally gave in with a heavy sigh and lifted one foot to Sherlock’s thigh, wondering even as he did so what the hell he was doing because this was certainly not how he’d intended to spend his night.

Still, it was hard to regret the decision when Sherlock appeared so genuinely delighted by it. “Ohh,” he said, breathless with marvel, as though John had just presented him with something more significant than a sodding foot. Then Sherlock’s smile widened even further—and there were those wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, even deeper than when John had first noticed them days ago—and gave a soft “Thank you” before he brought a hand to John’s ankle, his thumb sweeping over the prominent knob of John’s medial malleolus.

John didn’t expect it to last long. A quick touch and a good look, and then he would be allowed to lower his foot to the floor again. But Sherlock seemed intent not merely to look, but to explore. He angled John’s foot this way and that, tracing the top line of John’s shoe.

Oh,” he said again, sounding gutted as his fingertips rubbed curiously along the cuff, feeling how the cotton stretched over John’s ankle.

In short, the whole thing moved very quickly from generally bizarre to the most intimate experience John had had in years. He was keenly aware that they were in public, that a smattering of other restaurant patrons were gaping at them, that his heel was only inches from Sherlock’s crotch. He squirmed, toes wriggling in his shoe and jostling his foot in Sherlock’s lap.

Sherlock’s breathing visibly and audibly hitched, and then he reached into the pocket of his coat, which was draped over the back of his chair, and pulled out his mobile phone.

“Do you mind?” he asked.

Did John mind what? If he interrupted the awkward moment to make a phone call? John shook his head.

But no, he soon realised that wasn’t what Sherlock had meant at all. Sherlock wanted to photograph John’s foot.

Which was precisely what he did. He turned John’s foot onto its side and held his phone above it, staring at the screen as though to look away would be to ruin far more than a single pointless picture.

While John watched, confused and embarrassed, the waitress appeared and began to clear the table. Just as Sherlock had claimed, she didn’t seem at all bothered by the spectacle Sherlock was making. Without a word, she gathered their plates and left.

By that point, Sherlock had evidently got his fill of photographing John’s foot, as he returned the phone to his coat pocket. Still, he still made no move to let go.

“They’re comfortable?”

It took John a moment to realise Sherlock was addressing him. “Oh, um. Yeah, they’re… nice.”

They should have been nice, anyway, considering what they probably cost, although they didn’t feel especially different from John’s other socks. Perhaps a bit smoother, more solidly made.

“They fit well,” said Sherlock. “Although they don’t match the shoes like I’d hoped. Still.” He let out a soft contented-sounding sigh. “My shoes, my socks.”

‘Jesus fucking Christ,’ John thought. The room suddenly seemed much smaller and warmer than it had before. “You’re… you’re actually getting off on this, aren’t you? Like, really getting off on it. Me wearing what you’ve bought me.”

Snorting, Sherlock finally let John’s foot fall from his lap. “Obviously. And anyway, you get off on it too. You can’t deny that. You find me attractive.”

“I—” John began, absolutely intending to deny it (albeit more on principle than anything—who the hell was he to say what John thought or felt?), but before he could, Sherlock looked him in the eye, sucked in a deep shoulder-lifting breath, and said, “Come home with me.”

It felt for a moment like the air had been knocked from John’s lungs. He sputtered. “What?”

“I’ll pay you.”

And just like that, the air surged back, along with a healthy kick of anger. John jerked backwards in his chair. “I beg your pardon? At what point did I give you the impression that I’d fuck you for money?”

With a disgusted “Ugh!” Sherlock threw up his hands. “I didn’t mean for sex. I meant for tea, or for—for other things. I have hundreds of other case files you might be interested in, and Mrs Hudson has been pestering me endlessly about meeting you properly. Also, there’s another bedroom upstairs. It’s painfully obvious you despise your current living situation, and if we split the rent, you should be able to afford—”

“I’m not moving in with you,” John said, horrified. “That… no, just no. That would be an awful idea. And so would going home with you for tea or anything else. Actually, you know, I should probably go back to mine soon. I have things to do.”

A lie, of course, but suddenly John didn’t fancy sticking around any longer. Who knew how the night would end if John went along with this? A strange request on Sherlock’s part, an impulsive decision to go along with it on John’s, and his foot might well find itself in Sherlock’s lap again—this time without his shoes and much, much closer to Sherlock’s cock.

Not good. God, what the hell was John doing?

Sherlock looked stricken, but he didn’t argue as John thought that he might. “Fine,” he said instead, sticking out his bottom lip in an exaggerated pout. “If you insist.”

“I do.”

Sherlock heaved himself to his feet with a sigh and skulked to the counter to ask for the bill.

*

As John got off the lift on his floor, the BlackBerry chimed and then continued to chime four more times as he walked down the corridor to his flat, unlocked the door, and let himself inside.

He slipped off his shoes (allowing himself a grimace when he caught sight of the skull socks and remembered Sherlock peering and rubbing at them, apparently getting off on just the sight of them) before he dug out the phone and read the five new text messages that had just arrived.

I lied. I did mean for sex. At least partly, although I shouldn’t have said anything about money. SH

I was thinking of you nude but for that jumper and those socks, in my bed, pulling my hair and sobbing and arching into my mouth. SH

Sorry. It’s been years since I’ve felt desire this strong. I’d forgotten how consuming it can be. And how much of an idiot it makes me. SH

Although I’m more than capable of controlling myself, if you prefer. SH

Thank you for your accompanying me. Apologies for the disappointment of the ‘case’. SH

John couldn’t deny that it was flattering, Sherlock’s blatant interest in him. Flattering and baffling. There was no reason Sherlock should’ve been interested in him. Even considering Sherlock’s personality—the creepiness, the eccentricity, the social ineptness—he was attractive enough, rich enough, that he could’ve pulled almost anyone, and certainly someone who was better suited for him than John.

The phone chimed again in John’s hands.

Do me a favour--consider it? Think of me the next time you masturbate? I want you to come thinking of my lips around your cock. Please. SH

John sucked in a sharp breath. God did he love a man who was up-front about his interest. It was absurd, how many of his buttons Sherlock was pushing seemingly without even realising it.

Bit forward of you.

Yes. Sorry. Not good? SH

And even though John knew that he shouldn’t, just as he knew that if they’d been having this conversation in person John would have answered very differently indeed, he found himself incapable of saying anything but: No, it’s fine. I suppose.

John remained practically glued to the BlackBerry for the rest of the night, even when he lay in bed stroking himself to the thought of Sherlock’s plump lips painted with come (which was, god, not exactly an unappealing idea… quite the opposite, in fact), although Sherlock didn’t text again.

Chapter Text

In the days that followed, John wore the skull socks more than was strictly hygienic, which gave him ample time to admit that, although they were softer to the touch and probably more well-made, they really weren’t that much more comfortable than his usual socks. Walking around, he didn’t even notice a difference.

He definitely preferred them, though. He found himself glancing down and admiring the sight of them on his feet, wriggling his toes just to savour the hug and scrape of the fabric against his skin. In some small part, he supposed, because it seemed luxurious and impractical to own £55—he’d done a bit of research online—socks.

But mostly they reminded him of Sherlock. Not just because Sherlock had bought them for John—sought them out specifically for John, then sat at a table in a restaurant and fondled John’s feet just to relish the feel of them—but also because the skull design brought to mind the skull on Sherlock’s mantel. Which might’ve been the entire point, John supposed.

Sherlock was right—John was getting off on this, at the same time that he was deeply discomfited by it. He didn’t need anyone to buy him expensive clothes, didn’t want anyone to buy him expensive clothes, and still, it was a wonder he hadn’t wrapped one of the socks around his dick and used it as a masturbatory sleeve.

Ridiculous. John didn’t understand any of what was going on in his own head.

Sherlock hadn’t requested to see John in person again, although he had been in constant contact via text messages and phone calls. Sherlock texted to ask if paying John’s rent from now on was too extravagant (it was); he rang to ask if John knew how long it would take a body to decay inside an oil drum (John didn’t, but he hazarded a guess that seemed to suffice, if the £50 John received through PayPal was any indication); he texted to ask what would happen if he ate a packet of silica gel (Probably nothing, John admitted, but please don’t).

Have you worn the white shirt I bought you? SH, Sherlock texted one morning, and when John said that he hadn’t: Try it on. I want photos. SH. Then, while John stood pondering the odd request (it was a plain white t-shirt, without a doubt the least interesting item in the parcel of gifts, why on earth would Sherlock care?): Please? SH.

And because John had nothing better to do, he obliged.

Once he’d put the shirt on, he realised why Sherlock wanted a photo of a plain white t-shirt.

Because the t-shirt was… well, tight didn’t even begin to describe it. The cotton was stretched so thin it was almost transparent. John’s nipples, his navel, the scar on his shoulder, and even his darkest patch of chest hair were visible. It was obscene, and if it had been anyone besides Sherlock who had bought it, John might have thought he’d simply misjudged John’s measurements and ordered the wrong size.

But Sherlock had accurately guessed John’s shoe size from one photograph and a glimpse from a first-floor window of John on the pavement below. That he should get a simple t-shirt size wrong was unthinkable, even if he hadn’t seen the shirt in person first.

‘Sherlock, you filthy fucking bastard,’ John thought, staring down at himself. He’d lost some of the muscle he’d built during his time with the RAMC, but even still he had to admit that he looked… well, not awful, anyway. Maybe even attractive, if shortish, scarred, plain-looking men were your thing.

Apparently, they were clearly Sherlock’s thing. And Sherlock had asked for a photo.

‘You’ll regret this,’ John told himself. ‘You know you will.’

He did it anyway.

It took several attempts with the BlackBerry’s camera to get a decent picture of his own torso that wasn’t blurry, off-centre, or partially obscured by his own arm, but finally he managed. It wasn’t perfect—his outstretched arm was still in the frame, and it was angled more towards his stomach than his chest—but considering he’d simply held the phone out, aimed at himself, and snapped wildly, he thought it was fairly good.

He sent it to Sherlock, then sat on the bed to wait anxiously for the response.

He only had to wait five or six seconds.

Good god. You look better than I imagined. SH

John felt his cheeks heat, and pleasure swept through him like dust on a breeze. The BlackBerry chimed again.

Another. Lift your right arm above your head this time. Please? SH

As he raised his arm experimentally, John realised what Sherlock was after. The shirt had begun to ride up a bit, exposing the waist of his jeans and a sliver of his bare skin. So he stood and repeated the motion, then snapped photo after photo until he had a shot he was satisfied with: his nipples just beginning to pucker, a thin strip of his stomach bared.

“Hm. Not awful,” John muttered. If he hadn’t known it was a photo of him, he might’ve even said it was a tiny bit hot.

He texted it to Sherlock, and again the response arrived in seconds.

Oh, John, your nipples. Are they sensitive? SH

John glanced down, eyeing the dark little lumps beneath the thin, tight shirt. Christ. When was the last time he’d been touched? Or had even wanted to be touched? It had been ages—and quite literally years since anyone had showed more than a perfunctory interest in his nipples. Sherlock’s interest in them now made him feel… naughty, reckless.

He flopped back on the bed while he typed his response.

Not really. Occasionally after someone’s been very, very rough with them.

Struck with inspiration, John didn’t send the text immediately. He set the BlackBerry aside and rucked up his shirt until it was bunched beneath his arms, exposing his nipples to the cold, dry air of the flat. They tightened further, and he flicked his thumbs over them until they were fully hard, easy to pinch and twist and tug.

The touch itself didn’t feel like much of anything, but the idea—the image of himself lying on his bed fondling himself, toying with his nipples, showing Sherlock how pink and tight they could become—was enough to make him arch up and groan. His groin felt heavy, and his cock twitched with interest.

When John thought his nipples looked sufficiently enticing, he grabbed the BlackBerry again and held it above himself, trying to aim the camera at his chest as he snapped a series of photos.

They all turned out a little blurry, but not enough so that it wasn’t obvious what was being photographed. He picked the best of the lot and sent it to Sherlock, along with the text he’d written before.

Sherlock’s response took a little longer this time to arrive. John fancied he might’ve needed a minute to compose himself, and he grinned, feeling wickedly chuffed with himself.

Tease. Do you like clamps? I’ll buy you tweezer clamps, clover clamps, maybe something with little bells on them. We can use clothespins in the meantime. Or teeth. SH

Then, before John could respond, the BlackBerry chimed again.

Have dinner with me? SH

It was as good as a jug of ice-cold water poured onto John’s bits. He jerked to a seated position, cringing and grimacing and wanting to shove the phone away because god what the hell was he doing? A matter of days ago John had fled at the suggestion that he go home with Sherlock, and now he was engaging in something he was reasonably certain could be considered ‘sexting.’

‘You’re probably confusing the hell out of him,’ John scolded himself. ‘You’re certainly confusing the hell out of yourself. Brilliant. Well done, Watson.’

Sorry, he typed, but couldn’t think of anything to say after.

Fortunately, he was saved the trouble of having to finish his message when Sherlock texted first.

I’ve scared you off, haven’t I? We don’t have to have sex. Just dinner is fine. More than fine. Indian? I know several good Indian restaurants. SH

John thrust the t-shirt back down, feeling ridiculous and guilty. He was basically stringing Sherlock along now, wasn’t he? Accepting his money and gifts without providing anything in return. Sherlock really couldn’t have chosen someone worse to pursue.

The BlackBerry chimed once, then twice, startling John from his thoughts.

John? SH

No sex. No touching. Just dinner. Tomorrow if you’d prefer. Please? SH

John breathed deeply and began to type as quickly as his fingers would allow.

Sorry. Still a bit wary, I suppose. Dinner tomorrow sounds all right.

His thumb hovered over the send button, and after a long moment of consideration, he added a little more.

Tell me about yourself. I still feel like I don’t know you very well.

He set the phone down on his thigh and rubbed his palm over his face. Not for the first time since he’d been invalided, nor even the first time today, John wished he were back in Afghanistan. There might’ve been war and death, the stuff of nightmares, but at least he’d always known where he stood in a situation and how he was meant to react.

The BlackBerry chimed, and John took it up again.

What do you want to know? SH

Probably best to start with something simple. Something that wasn’t ‘What the hell you see in me.’

Dunno. Favourite colour?

Do people have favourite colours? SH

John laughed. That was probably the last response he’d expected.

Of course they do. Mine’s purple. My sister’s is green. My mum’s was pink. No one’s ever asked you before?

No. I’ve never thought about it. What shade of purple? SH

John frowned, taken aback. I don’t know. Just plain purple?

A series of texts arrived in quick succession.

There is no ‘plain purple’. SH

For instance: plum, lilac, aubergine? SH

Is it a dark or light shade? SH

Or do you mean violet? SH

Shades of violet are closer to blue, usually brighter. SH

Purples are more red. SH

There are literally dozens of shades, John. SH

“Christ,” John sighed, and heaved himself off the bed with a groan. He suspected that if he tried to describe the particular shade that he favoured or arbitrarily chose a name that sounded about right, he’d regret it at some point or another.

Hang on.

He sat down at his desk, took out his computer, and googled ‘shades of purple.’ When he’d finally narrowed it down to the closest match, he took up the BlackBerry again.

My favourite colour is byzantium, apparently. So there. Happy?

Sherlock’s response took several seconds to arrive. John imagined he was googling the colour to see for himself. It was strangely gratifying, the idea of Sherlock sitting down at his computer in his flat while John was doing the same in his own.

Yes. Thank you. SH

Another text arrived a moment later. I’ll think about my favourite colour and give you my answer at dinner tomorrow. All right? SH

John was amused. Sure.

Excellent. I’ll text you the address. SH

Then, several minutes later: Thank you. SH

*

John thought it when he first glimpsed Sherlock in the crowded Indian restaurant, but it wasn’t until he was seated across from him at a tiny two-person table that he finally gave in and asked, “Is your shirt byzantium?”

Sherlock didn’t glance up from the menu he held open in his hands. “Of course not. Byzantium is more reddish. This is closer to blue.”

That might’ve been true. It was hard to tell the exact shade in this low lighting. But the colour was similar enough that John suspected it wasn’t a coincidence.

“Oh,” he said anyway. “Well, it looks good on you.”

It really did, too. Not only the colour, but the fit of it. It was tight across Sherlock’s chest, and the first two buttons were undone, baring the smooth and frankly gorgeous column of his throat.

At the compliment, Sherlock sat up a bit taller. One corner of his lip ticked up. “Thank you.”

They ordered—a curry for Sherlock and tandoori chicken for John—and then the waiter took their menus and left them alone. Sherlock leaned forwards, his elbows on the table, and clasped his hands beneath his chin.

“Even if it isn’t for sex,” he said, and John promptly choked on his water at the bizarre segue, “I hope you’ll come home with me soon. Mrs Hudson’s been insufferable.”

John wiped the water from his chin and cleared his throat. “Mrs Hudson… your landlady?”

“Yes. You’ll like her. She’d be willing to give you a special deal if you wanted to move in, I’m sure—”

“Not moving in,” John reminded him sternly, but Sherlock talked right over him.

“—She owes me a favour. A few years back, her husband got himself sentenced to death in Florida. I was able to help out.”

John stared, trying to imagine the woman he’d met at Baker Street married to a man on death row. “Oh. You… sorry, you stopped her husband being executed?”

“Oh no.” Sherlock smiled brightly. “I ensured it. He ran a drug cartel and was arrested, quite rightly, for double murder. Not a very nice man. Don’t worry, she’s much, much better off without him.”

John was sure he was gaping like a fish. A drug cartel. The cheerful woman with the flour-covered apron. Christ. “Er. Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I imagine so.”

“Ah. That reminds me.” Sherlock groped behind him for his suit jacket, which was draped along with his coat and scarf over the back of his chair. He pulled out a folded sheet of printing paper, unfolded it, and passed it to John. “I put together a list of favourites, including my favourite colour—which is ash, I’ve decided.”

The paper was covered front and back in writing, the first line of which did indeed read ‘Favourite colour: ASH.’ Also listed were things like favourite composer (NICCOLÓ PAGANINI) and favourite animal (IRISH SETTER), but as John flipped the page to scan the back, he noticed things like favourite method of murder (RARE SLOW-KILLING POISONS) and favourite method of body disposal (DUMPING INTO LARGE BODY OF WATER) and even favourite unsolved disappearance (LOUIS LE PRINCE, FRANCE, 1890).

It was so strange, so very far from the sort of thing you were supposed to give someone you wanted to seduce, that John ducked his head and bit his lip, holding in a giggle. It was… endearing. Stupidly, stupidly endearing.

“—don’t watch enough films to have a favourite,” Sherlock was saying, fidgeting in either excitement or anxiety. Perhaps both. Their table began to wobble and shake, and John realised Sherlock must’ve been jostling it with his feet. “So what I’ve written was the last film I recall watching that didn’t bore me to the point of—”

“Okay,” John cut in, and now he couldn’t help but laugh, which rather than offend Sherlock actually seemed to delight him. The table wobbled and shook even more. “Okay, that’s…. Thanks. I’ll look over this, um, later, I suppose.” He refolded the paper and then, at a loss for what to do with his hands, scooted his water glass closer towards him. “What’s your family like?”

The table-shaking stopped.

“My family?” Sherlock wrinkled his nose. “My parents are still alive and married, seemingly quite happily. Well. Aside from an incident of… infidelity on my father’s part when I was a child, that is.”

John blinked, not sure if that was the sort of thing you offered condolences for or not. Sherlock didn’t seem bothered, however, and carried on as though he hadn’t just revealed a potential childhood trauma over dinner.

“They’re pleasant people. Ordinary, or so I’m told. Mummy was a mathematician. Very well-respected, especially for a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field. Father was a musician. Spent several years as a cellist for the London Philharmonic Orchestra, although he was actually capable of playing several instruments, not just the cello.”

He looked intently at John, as though gauging his response.

“Er,” John said. “Any siblings?”

The expression of distaste, which had faded as Sherlock spoke about his parents, returned and deepened. “One older brother, Mycroft. A pompous, interfering ass, but occasionally useful to have around. Like Mrs Hudson, he’s very, mm… keen to meet you. I’ve had to resort to bargaining to keep him away.”

“You….” John licked his lips. Sherlock’s eyes followed the quick motion, then blinked rapidly and looked away. “Sorry, you told your brother about me?”

“Of course not. I didn’t need to. He’ll tell you he works in the British government, but it would be more accurate to say that he is the British government. I’ve found that there are frustratingly few things Mycroft doesn’t know or can’t very, very easily find out.”

That was slightly alarming, wasn’t it? But at the same time, John wasn’t sure he really wanted to know any more. He was quite content to carry on believing he had any privacy from the government, thanks.

Sherlock cocked his head, trailing one of his thumbs thoughtfully across his bottom lip. It was embarrassing, frankly, how intently John was tempted to watch its progress, and as though sensing the thought, Sherlock beamed, giving John a good long look at the crinkles at the corners of his eyes. His dimples as well. And his cheekbones. His full, pink lips, with his thumb still stroking back and forth along the bottom one.

God. He was so, so out of John’s league. What was he doing here, wasting time on John, who was so damaged he couldn’t even manage a round of sexting?

The waiter approached their table then to refill their water glasses. Sherlock let out an “Ah!” as though something else had occurred to him and pulled a small Harrods bag from his coat pocket, which he passed to John.

“I bought it this morning,” Sherlock said, smiling even more brightly. “I noticed you don’t have one, or if you do, you don’t like it enough to wear it.”

It was a scarf: grey in colour and cashmere, so impossibly soft to the touch that John was struck with the urge to bury his face in the fabric. And, judging by Sherlock’s self-satisfied glow, he knew it too.

It was… it was too much, somehow. After John had been enjoying himself so far, just him and Sherlock without a mention of expensive gifts or money, and now the memory of yesterday’s disaster was being dragged up again like fish from a pond. John replaced the scarf neatly in the bag and set it on the table. “Thank you,” he said. “It’s… nice. It’s very nice.”

Sherlock blinked, then narrowed his eyes. “You’re uncomfortable. Why are you uncomfortable?”

“Because I think you’d be better off finding someone else to be your—” The word stuck in John’s throat. Just thinking it in any relation to himself was mortifying. He wanted to hide his face and groan. “—your ‘sugar baby.’ There must be loads of people who’d suit you a lot better than I would.”

Sherlock’s mouth had become very small and tight. “You were the one who brought that ridiculous idea into any of this. And you’ve clearly never metanyone in that sort of arrangement. It’s a business relationship, rarely anything more than a trade of—”

“Whatever it is,” John interrupted, as he really didn’t care to quibble about terms. “My point is that all of this, the buying me things and the taking me to dinner and the—the trying to have sex with me. That’s not who I am. I don’t sleep with people for money and nice things.” He shoved the bag towards Sherlock, who actually flinched away from it as though stung. “So if that’s what you want—”

“I don’t!” Sherlock’s eyes had gone wide in alarm, and he seemed quickly to be approaching outright panic. “I’m not trying to pay you for sex.”

“You said you got off on it,” John pointed out. “You bought me a skin-tight shirt and told me to take a photo of myself in it. You talked about nipple clamps. You… groped my feet.”

“You get off on it too!” It was nearly a shout, loud enough that other patrons raised their heads from their own dinners and stared. Their waiter, who had been coming towards them, turned swiftly around and hurried away.

“Shh!” John hissed, and Sherlock lowered his voice immediately, leaning over the table and hissing back.

“You love the socks. You’re wearing them now. And the shirt… you were turned on. You liked it.”

Of course Sherlock was right. John did love the socks; he was wearing them right now. But, god, he shouldn’t have. It didn’t make sense. This wasn’t who he was. He didn’t like Sherlock because of the money, not really; he liked Sherlock because he was odd and intense and interesting—

“It’s not the buying you things that gets me off,” Sherlock said. His chest was actually heaving a bit now. “It’s the, the—”

Oh fuck, John realised. He was absolutely, utterly besotted with Sherlock. The creepiness and the presumptuous arrogance and the making John uncomfortable—all of that, and what had John done? Lost his bloody head over him.

“I don’t know what it is,” Sherlock was saying. He looked… miserable. Pale and stricken. “I want—” His gaze flickered around the restaurant, at the patrons who were still sending them curious glances, then down at the table and the Harrods bag. He seized the bag and thrust it back towards John. “Take the scarf.”

John stared. “I don’t want the scarf.”

Please.”

Startled by the vehemence in Sherlock’s voice—tinged with a desperation so stupidly overdramatic that it actually reminded John of when he had lain clutching his bleeding shoulder and begged whatever deity who happened to be listening to please, please, god, let him live—John took it.

Sherlock relaxed immediately, sucking in a deep breath. His eyes lost their manic gleam, and he sat up straight, fussing with his collar and sweeping his hands over his shirt as though brushing off dust.

“Thank you.” Sherlock’s tone was stiff, overly polite, and the sort of deadly serious that would be more suited to a conversation about cancer or divorce. “Thank you. I… I won’t invite you home with me. If you would prefer.”

John didn’t know what he would prefer. He didn’t know what had just happened or how he’d got himself into this mess in the first place.

“Maybe,” he said. “That… yeah.”

Sherlock nodded solemnly just as their waiter approached, eyeing them warily and carrying a tray of steaming plates. And that was that.

After dinner, Sherlock said nothing about John going back with him to Baker Street, and as they parted just outside the restaurant—with Sherlock visibly distracted, his enthusiasm as wilted as his posture—John finally admitted to himself that perhaps that hadn’t been what he’d wanted after all.

Chapter Text

John slept poorly that night, tossing and turning and tangling himself in his bedsheets while smatterings of thoughts like ‘mixed signals’ and ‘you stupid cock’ fluttered through his mind like ripples in a pond.

When at some point a noise started him awake, he assumed that it had been the BlackBerry and reached muzzily for it. The illuminated phone screen read ‘4:29 a.m.’ and it was only after several seconds of staring at it, blinking blearily, that John realised he hadn’t got a text message after all. It had been some other sound that had woken him.

Then came a heavy knock, not quite a solid pound, on the door.

John was alert in a second, jerking upright as adrenaline began its heady throb through his body. A knock on the door in the early, early morning was generally suspect, he thought, but no one had any business visiting John at half four in the morning. In all the months he’d lived here, he’d not had a single visitor at even a decent hour.

He fetched a dressing gown—he’d gone to bed in nothing but a stained grey shirt and a pair of white Y-fronts, and no matter who was at the door, he wasn’t keen on meeting them dressed like that—before he went to the door and threw it open.

On the other side, he found Sherlock, mobile phone in his hands and typing furiously. He appeared more or less the same as he had when they’d parted outside the restaurant, wearing his long black coat and blue scarf, although his hair looked a mess, like he’d got caught in a strong wind.

Spotting John, he grinned toothily and shoved his phone into his coat pocket. “Excellent! You’re here. Can I come in?”

John nearly goggled. “Where would I be? It’s four in the morning!”

The grin dropped. Sherlock blinked several times in quick succession, then stepped back and glanced about the corridor like he’d only just realised where he was. “Is it? That explains the traffic.” He turned back to John, giving him a thorough head-to-toe look that made John want to wrap his dressing gown more tightly around himself. “Oh. You’re—”

“I was sleeping, yeah,” said John crossly, at the same time that Sherlock said “—wearing the dressing gown I bought you.”

Oh. John peeked down at himself. Apparently he was. He hadn’t even noticed that he’d reached for the red silk one instead of the dull cotton one he usually wore.

It was worse than being naked. Hours ago he had berated Sherlock for buying him things, and here he was wearing yet another bit of clothing that Sherlock had bought him. Brilliant. How many mixed signals could John send in 24 hours?

Sherlock didn’t seem bothered, though. Rather, he seemed… transfixed. His expression was similar to the one he’d worn during the dinner where he’d fondled John’s foot. John wondered if he was in danger of having his chest or arm stroked and photographed.

A touch self-conscious and more than a touch grumpy at having been woken at four in the morning, John folded his arms, startling Sherlock from his trance. “Why are you here?” John demanded.

“Because I’ve realised what it is that I enjoy.” Sherlock shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “About buying you things, that is. Can I come in?”

And, well, John supposed it would be better to get out of the corridor so they didn’t disturb anyone else who might’ve been trying to sleep at four in the bloody morning. John stood back and waved Sherlock inside, then shut the door behind him.

It was surreal, having Sherlock in the bedsit, like seeing a unicorn in a dirty stable eating hay amidst a bunch of ordinary horses. A little embarrassing too, not that Sherlock seemed to give a toss about John’s dull, empty little bedsit. As soon as he’d entered, he spun around and focused solely on John. His attention was as sharp and heavy as an axe.

“You gave me your address,” said Sherlock. His lips crooked into a smirk. “That’s how I knew where you lived.”

John stared. “Okay?”

“I didn’t look it up.” Sherlock paused, clearly expecting John to understand the import of that. When John only continued to stare, Sherlock sighed, but still didn’t lose his air of self-satisfaction. “I wasn’t creepy and presumptuous.”

John almost laughed. “Yeah, no, that—showing up uninvited at four in the morning is still a bit creepy and presumptuous.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Debatable. And not important right now. Have coffee with me.”

John stared even harder. “What?”

“I want you to have coffee with me.”

Now?

“Of course!” Sherlock still sounded terribly pleased with himself, apparently not grasping what was gravely wrong with that suggestion.

“Sherlock,” John said grimly, “it’s four in the morning.”

Sherlock only shrugged. “Well, you’re awake now. And you and I both know you won’t go back to bed. You’re prone to insomnia. All forms of it: waking early, difficulty sleeping through the night, and of course difficulty falling asleep in the first place. After something like this, you won’t be capable of falling back asleep. Best to just get up now and save yourself the frustration.”

John swallowed, trying to keep his temper from flaring. After all, four in the morning or not, hadn’t he already upset Sherlock enough for one night? Even if showing up like this was invasive and rude to the point of absurdity and no one in their right mind would go along with it, not even if they were besotted with said invasive and rude prat—

“Please?” said Sherlock. His eyes were wide and his lips were full and pouty, almost sad.

‘Manipulative arse,’ John thought without heat. He sucked in a deep breath, squeezing his eyes shut to block out the sight. He said aloud, “I know it’s called the magic word, but saying ‘please’ really won’t get you everything you want.”

There was a rustle of movement, and Sherlock hummed thoughtfully. “Stop responding to it, and perhaps I’ll stop saying it.”

John’s lip tried to twitch into a smile. It was a fair point, he supposed. He opened his eyes again and was greeted with the sight of Sherlock gazing at him with his head cocked, his eyes impossibly soft.

This time when his lip tried to twitch, John let the smile form. “You… fine. All right. Give me five minutes to get dressed.”

Sherlock beamed, as warm and bright as the sun. “Of course.”

*

Sherlock didn’t have a plan for where they were to have coffee, apparently—and in fact seemed panicked when John suggested that he might—so they wandered until they found a Costa that was not only open, but surprisingly not deserted inside. There was a group of what looked to be uni students huddled together with textbooks and notebook paper, a haggard-looking woman sitting alone with a computer, and an older man and woman deep in murmured conversation.

It was quiet in the coffeehouse, with the music just barely audible. The barista was alert and bubbly, and she took their orders with a cheery smile.

A smile which dimmed slightly, probably more from John’s reaction than anything, when Sherlock turned to him suddenly and said, “Oh, I should’ve mentioned. You’re paying.”

John was so surprised he actually took a step back. “I’m what?”

“Paying.” While John gaped at him, Sherlock scooped up both of their coffees and shot John a winsome smile. “I’ll just get us a table, shall I?”

Then he was off, a little skip in his step, and John was left frantically checking his pockets—ah, good, he had grabbed his wallet before he’d left—and handing the barista (who now looked a bit wary, no doubt worried she’d have to deal with two non-paying customers) the money for two coffees.

Sherlock had chosen a little two-person table in the centre of the coffeehouse, just beneath one of the dimly lit overhead lights. He’d unravelled his scarf and was unbuttoning his coat as John approached. But rather than immediately removing it, he reached inside and pulled out a thick manila folder, which he slapped in the middle of the table. It was so heavy that it thunked loudly against the wood.

John swiftly forgot about having to pay for the coffee. As he took his seat, he peered at the folder, which bore a few stray illegible scribbles on the front and was overflowing with papers. “Have you had that in your coat this whole time?”

“Yes.” With the folder removed, Sherlock shrugged off his coat in a single graceful movement and draped it over the back of his chair along with his scarf. He was wearing the same purple shirt he’d been wearing last night, albeit without the smart black suit jacket he’d worn over it.

“Have you slept at all?” John wondered.

“Sleeping.” Sherlock rolled his eyes, primly straightening his shirt collar. “Sleeping is boring. I was busy putting this together.” He nodded towards the overstuffed folder. “Lestrade is still being annoying. He’ll only talk about suicides.”

John perked up, intrigued. “Suicides? The—what, Sir Jeffrey and the boy, you mean?” It must’ve been. All the papers insisted that Scotland Yard was investigating, and if DI Lestrade’s team looked into suspicious deaths, that would almost certainly be his area.

Sherlock wrinkled his nose. “The what?”

“You don’t know about the two suicides? It’s in all the papers.” Still, Sherlock only looked puzzled, even indignant about John pointing out his lack of knowledge, so John shook his head. “Never mind. So what’s this, then?”

He tapped the folder with one finger and then, realising his coffee was still just sitting on the table growing cold, scooted one of the cups towards himself and popped off the lid, letting loose a little cloud of steam. At the question, Sherlock sat tall in his chair, practically glowing with pleasure, although he waited until he had John’s full attention again before he answered.

“Notes on some of my more interesting cases. Autopsy reports, crime scene photos, a few signed confessions.”

It wasn’t the last response that John expected, considering what he knew about Sherlock, but he was still taken aback. “You brought a folder of case notes to get coffee?”

Sherlock shrugged, still looking pleased and proud. “You enjoyed hearing about the ‘murderous fetishist,’ as you called him. I thought you might like hearing about my other cases.”

John tipped his head in a half-nod. He suspected there was more to it, or something he was missing, although he wasn’t sure why he thought so. He decided to prod a bit. “And… the coffee?”

Another, more languid shrug. “You like coffee. You always ordered it at Speedy’s.”

That was true enough. At the reminder, John lifted his cup and gingerly took a sip. It was bitter and too strong. He’d also have preferred a splash of milk, but it didn’t seem worth it to get up now to make it the way he liked it. He swallowed, fighting a grimace, and set the cup down again.

Sherlock was watching him intently. “You don’t like when I pay. It makes you uncomfortable. You also don’t like when I invite you to my flat.”

‘Oh,’ John thought, stunned. ‘Oh god.’ Aloud, he said, “So you invited me to get coffee somewhere that isn’t your flat, and you made me pay.”

Sherlock smiled, set his elbows on the table, and folded his hands beneath his chin.

‘Oh god,’ John thought again, and wanted to bury his head in his hands. ‘Look what you’ve done. You’ve got him staying up all night thinking of how not to offend you.’ This was ridiculous. John couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind around that level of desire, and for John of all people.

“So.” Sherlock sat back, still smiling, and picked up his own cup of coffee. He took such a generous gulp of it that John couldn’t imagine how he didn’t burn the hell out of his tongue and oesophagus, but he only gave a little nose twitch and smacked his lips, then set the cup aside. “Cases!”

Sherlock hauled the folder closer to himself, smoothing his hand over the front and drawing John’s attention to the scribblings there.

“That’s not your handwriting,” John said. Thought aloud, really.

Sherlock froze, not even seeming to breathe as he peered across the table as though John had just done something terribly astonishing. “You know my handwriting.”

Abruptly John felt like he had tipped his hand, which was absurd. He wasn’t sure he even had a hand to tip. “You did give me a sheet of paper covered in your handwriting just last night,” he said, perhaps too defensively.

Sherlock’s expression was so fond it made John want to squirm. “Yes,” he said, sounding deeply pleased, “and you observed. No, it isn’t mine. It’s… Lestrade’s, possibly.” Finally, he returned his focus to the folder and opened it.

And John’s eyes went wide because Jesus fucking Christ.

Right at the very top of the jumble of papers was a series of photographs of what looked to be very messily amputated body parts. A tanned muscular upper arm, a pale long-toed foot, an assortment of dark-skinned well-manicured fingers—

“The ‘chopper’ of Croydon,” Sherlock said, a bit too cheerily considering what they were looking at. “That’s what Anderson called him anyway, but Anderson’s an idiot—he didn’t actually ‘chop’ anything; he used piano wire to saw. Very clever, this one. He took the bodies and left the trophies. Usually it’s the other way around.”

Sherlock turned the photos facedown on the table. Then there was a flurry of paper-flipping. Mostly reports of different kinds, both typed and handwritten.

“Ah!” Sherlock stopped on one such report, tapping it excitedly with his forefinger. He spoke so rapidly, a long string of words with hardly a space between them, that John had difficulty following. “Arsenic poisoning. Not rare, obviously, but in this case it was very slow-acting. Contaminated drinking water. Jealous ex-boyfriend, not very smart. Killed the flatmate but not his ex-girlfriend; she drank strictly bottled water and was mostly unharmed.”

More paper-flipping. Photos of a dead woman and toxicology screenings were passed over and deposited facedown in a pile. John watched, baffled and dumb-struck. He wasn’t sure what he was meant to be getting from this; it was nothing like the time at Sherlock’s flat. He raised his head, looking quickly around the coffeehouse, and was surprised to find that the other patrons and the barista as well were all staring, mouths agape.

“Oh, this was a good one!” Sherlock exclaimed. Loudly. Too loudly, John realised, oh god, he was nattering on about murderers and calling attention to himself in a quiet coffeehouse. “Strangler. Assaulted the corpses of the men he’d killed too, but didn’t leave so much as a trace of DNA behind. Very hard to do. And very messy, considering the effects of strangulation.”

More photographs, this time an entire envelope of them which Sherlock upended, scattering pictures of murdered men—all of them naked and bound with rope to a bed, their bodies smeared with faeces—all over the table. John stole another glance around the room and found everyone still staring, horrified.

“You’re going to get us thrown out,” John hissed.

Sherlock scoffed. “Oh please.” He rolled his eyes and carried on.

*

He got them thrown out.

Possibly less because of the talk of murder and graphic photographs and more because of Sherlock’s response to being asked to stop (“It’s not even the death that offends you,” he’d sneered at the barista. “It’s the nudity. Your haircut says repressed, your shoes say conservative, the gold crucifix hidden beneath your shirt says devoutly religious—tell me, does it offend you to know that if I thought my companion would be receptive, I’d crawl beneath this table right now and take his cock as far down my throat as I could manage?”).

Brilliant. Before he’d met Sherlock, John had never been kicked out of anywhere before, and now he’d been kicked out of a Costa before even the sun had come up.

He was less bothered by that than he probably should have been.

So they wandered, still carrying their coffees and Sherlock having replaced the folder in his coat. Or rather, Sherlock wandered—at least, if he had any sort of destination in mind, it wasn’t obvious to John—and John followed silently (because Sherlock was silent, his forehead creased as though he was deep in thought). Eventually, they neared Russell Square, and Sherlock veered towards it and walked until he’d found a bench, where he sat on the right side and then gestured for John to sit on the left. John did, keeping at what he thought was a modest distance, although he did find himself angling his body slightly towards Sherlock.

The sun wasn’t quite peeking over the horizon yet, but it clearly wasn’t far off. The sky towards the east had begun to lighten.

“Do you get tossed out of places often?” John wondered. A genuine question, but Sherlock smirked as though it had been a joke.

“Now and then, yes. I suppose we could find somewhere else if you’d rather. There’s a café just over there.”

John shook his head. “I’m not buying you another coffee when you haven’t even finished the last one.” Not to mention, the folder of interesting cases wasn’t as interesting as Sherlock obviously hoped it would be.

Actually. That reminded him.

“Is there a case in that folder to do with all the photos you had me take?”

Sherlock stared, confusion clouding his eyes and drawing his eyebrows lower.

“The London Eye?” John prompted. “National Portrait Gallery?”

The confusion dissolved. Sherlock cleared his throat and looked away. “Ah. No, not—there’s nothing in there about that.”

A suspicion, long-held but recently forgotten, resurfaced in John’s mind. “There was no case, was there?”

“Of course there was a case.” The offense in Sherlock’s tone was belied by how very determined he seemed to be to stare straight ahead. “A long-term case. I’m still—”

“There bloody wasn’t. You were… testing me. Or something.” John shouldn’t have—how much time had he spent performing silly tasks for Sherlock? how many times had he made an ass of himself in public to perform them?—but he found himself laughing. “I rode the London Eye three times, you cock. You made me get thrown out of Madame Tussauds so I could take a picture of the door I was escorted from.”

At that, Sherlock finally looked at him, just a quick sideways glance. His lip quirked up minutely and flattened again almost immediately. “I stopped eventually.”

He did at that. John hadn’t got any requests for photos of tourist attractions in ages. John laughed again and ducked his head.

“Well,” Sherlock said after a moment. His voice had gone a great deal deeper and softer, like he was imparting some secret. “If I was testing you… you were very impressive.”

John’s giggling dried swiftly up, and his face felt warm. With his chin still tucked under, his gaze lowered, he got to watch as Sherlock’s left foot sidled closer to John’s. Not quite enough for their shoes to touch, but very, very near to it.

John didn’t even think about it. His own foot seemed almost to move on its own, pressing not just the full length of his shoe but also the lower part of his trousers against Sherlock’s. He could feel the warmth of Sherlock’s calf through the fabric.

They remained like that, quiet, for several moments. John ran his forefinger around and around the top of his coffee cup, scarcely breathing. His heart felt as though it might pound right out of his chest.

Finally, Sherlock spoke. “You haven’t tried on the scarf yet, I suppose?”

The scarf. John had completely forgot about it. He couldn’t even remember what he’d done to the Harrods bag when he’d got back to the flat last night.

“You can return it if you’d like,” said Sherlock. From the corner of John’s eye, he saw Sherlock’s shoulder lift and fall. “I only thought it might suit you. It’s a nice colour, ash.”

John blinked, then turned towards Sherlock, who continued staring straight ahead. “Ash?”

Sherlock made an affirming “mn” noise.

“Oh,” John said stupidly. He didn’t know what to think of that. It was significant, obviously, but what it meant…. Sherlock trying to dress John in his favourite colour, Sherlock dressing in John’s. He moved his head in a sort of jerky nod. “Right.”

He wasn’t going to return the scarf. The possibility hadn’t even occurred to him.

John cleared his throat and sipped his coffee. It was cool by that point, fairly undrinkable. He set it back down and, although he hadn’t a clue what he intended to say, he spoke.

“Today’s been nice. I mean. Four in the morning and getting us kicked out of Costa aside. It’s been good.”

And it had too, he realised. It had been different, very out of the ordinary, but in a welcome, refreshing way.

‘Besotted,’ he thought ruefully. ‘Completely besotted.’

“And?” said Sherlock, sounding impatient. Although the leg touching John’s stayed perfectly still, his right one began to wiggle, his heel tapping and his knee bouncing very slightly

And,” John said, half-smiling, “if the scarf could be the last thing you buy me for… for a while at least, I think I’d prefer that.”

Sherlock’s leg-wiggling stopped. “Ah. That’s—I should warn you that, erm, a parcel is due to arrive for you… tomorrow, I think. Possibly the day after. It’s—”

A pause followed, and when John glanced at him, he found Sherlock licking his lips with a pinched, uncomfortable expression.

“It’s not something you might be able to return,” he finished eventually. “I was browsing online a few days ago and got—” He grimaced, and John saw that he was gripping his coffee very, very tightly. “—carried away.”

That was ominous, wasn’t it? What couldn’t be returned after you’d bought it? Food? Something from a dodgy shop? Something with a short expiry date?

“What is it?”

“Nothing you’d find morally objectionable. Hopefully,” Sherlock said quickly, which confused John even further. Images of decaying body parts, like the fingers and foot from the photos in Sherlock’s folder, flitted through his mind. “Anyway. The point is, the scarf won’t be the last. Nor, erm, will the next gift, actually. I’ve got—that is, a few weeks ago I bought an item or two that I’ve been holding on to—”

Dear god, John thought, it was like some sort of sickness. A buying-John-things sickness. Was he like this with other people? John didn’t know. He’d never really seen Sherlock interact meaningfully with anyone else. For all he knew, Sherlock inundated everyone in his life with money and expensive gifts.

Somehow, though, John doubted it.

He thought of the ash-coloured scarf, remembered Sherlock’s wilted posture from the night before. He shook his head.

“How about,” he said, and Sherlock cut himself off mid-word, “we compromise? No more money through PayPal, and one gift a month—maximum.”

Sherlock glanced at John and then stared off in the distance, his eyes narrowing as he considered. “Money if you provide invaluable assistance, one gift a week.”

John snorted. “I’m not really sure you know what ‘invaluable’ means. I once said a single word, and you thought that was ‘invaluable.’ How about money if you and I agree to it, verbally, beforehand, and one gift a fortnight? Again, maximum.

Sherlock’s eyes became even more squinty. The crinkles at the corners weren’t as attractive when he wasn’t smiling, John decided. Not that they were unattractive now, but John didn’t feel particularly moved to reach out and trail his finger over them.

“All right,” Sherlock said. His face smoothed out, and the crinkles melted away. “Good.”

The sun was up now, and the traffic heavier. John watched two women walking a German shepherd a short distance away, holding hands and laughing. It made him think of Harry and Clara, still muddling through their divorce. Both of them miserable and heartbroken, even Harry who had been the one to leave.

“Thank you,” said Sherlock, startling John. Then he surprised him even further by standing and tossing his barely touched coffee into a nearby bin. John’s leg without Sherlock’s against it felt immediately cooler. “I’ll walk you back to your flat.”

‘Seriously?’ John wanted to say. ‘It’s not even seven yet and you want this to be over?’ But swift on the heels of that thought was: ‘He’s giving you space. He’s not being pushy. Exactly what you wanted.’

So he said, “Oh, right. Thanks,” and stood to throw his own coffee away.

*

It didn’t occur to John until he was poking disinterestedly at his dinner (Pot Noodle, original curry flavour) that evening that Sherlock had never actually told him what it was that he enjoyed about buying John things. So he set aside his dinner, fetched the BlackBerry from where it was charging, and texted Sherlock to ask.

John tried to mentally prepare himself for anything, but somehow he was still surprised by Sherlock’s answer, which arrived a minute and a half later.

I want you to feel wanted. SH

And that was the thing, wasn’t it? John had never felt more wanted in his life. He felt so wanted that he didn’t understand it. It felt… impossible. As impossible as being sent back to Afghanistan, as impossible as being asked to ever perform surgery again.

He debated his response, pacing back and forth and staring down at the floor, for what seemed like ages, until he finally settled on the simplest, safest reply.

I do.

Chapter Text

John slept well that night. No tossing and turning, and he dreamt that he was a teenager again and tasked with cleaning the tub for his mum, who was alive and happy and sharing a fag with one of John’s ex-girlfriends from sixth form.

He remembered the dream so vividly only because he was woken in the middle of it by the phone buzzing loudly on top of the desk.

‘Sherlock!’ he thought through the thick fog in his head. Sherlock being considerate this time and ringing ahead before he showed up at John’s door.

John hauled himself to standing and stumbled groggily towards the desk.

He reached first for the BlackBerry, but there was nothing: no texts, no missed calls or voice mail. Then he recalled that the BlackBerry didn’t buzz; it rang or chimed. Harry’s old phone was the one that John had left in vibrate-only mode. He couldn’t even remember the last time anyone had rung or texted him on that. It had been weeks at least, maybe even a month or longer.

Feeling quite awake now, he replaced the BlackBerry and took up Harry’s phone instead. It felt strange in his hand: thin and poorly shaped and wrong. Even more surprising was that the display read 8:58 a.m. John had not only slept through the night, but he had slept in.

The display also informed him that he had one new text message—from Harry, not Sherlock, which sent a sharp pang of disappointment through him. There wouldn’t be another unconventional coffee date with Sherlock this morning, apparently.

Helloooo still alive???

It was rather less exciting than John’s wake-up yesterday had been. He heaved a sigh as he responded. Yeah still alive.

John went to empty his bladder and brush his teeth, and when he got back, he had another text from Harry: Ok lol u should update ur blog sometime!!

For once, it didn’t sound like an awful idea. Things were happening to him now—all of them centred on Sherlock, which might’ve been pathetic. Still, it was more than he’d had a few months ago, and Ella (not to mention Harry, the only other person reading John’s blog) would probably be thrilled to know that he was dating someone.

He thought they were dating, anyway. They’d been on dates, and Sherlock certainly seemed keen.

John hoped they were dating. And there really wasn’t any reason he couldn’t finally admit that to himself, was there?

So, determined, John booted up his computer, logged in to his blog, and began to type.

I don’t know how I’m meant to be writing this. I’m not a writer. But I met someone. Not sure where it’s going yet, so I won’t say much else except that I suppose sometimes things do happen to me after all.

Short, but it would suffice. John clicked the button to post it and then went to get dressed.

*

John hadn’t quite forgotten about the parcel that Sherlock had mentioned, but neither was he actively thinking about it until it arrived late that afternoon.

The parcel wasn’t large—about the size of the box his new shoes had come in—and it was plain, nondescript. According to the label, it had been sent from somewhere called L H Trade in Bath.

From its unremarkable appearance, as well as Sherlock’s comment about not being able to return it, John thought he knew what he would find inside, and opening it confirmed his suspicion. He dumped the contents onto his bed and fetched the BlackBerry to text Sherlock.

A sex toy. Really?

It was a Fleshlight, in fact: one meant to look like the arsehole of a female porn star that John had never heard of. There was also a small bottle of lubricant included in the parcel, although John was somewhat less concerned with that at the moment.

He examined the packaging, turning it over and over in his hands and trying to decide if he really wanted to open it, until Sherlock finally replied.

Rest assured I’m not trying to imply anything. As I said, I got carried away. By the time I’d reconsidered, it was too late to cancel. SH

The shop unfortunately has a strict no-returns policy. Bin it if you don’t want it, and I’ll never mention it again. SH

Bin it? That seemed a waste. John could try to sell it, he supposed, or just give it away, but… well. He’d never owned a sex toy, and the only ones he’d ever considered were insertable ones: anal plugs and the like. It had never occurred to him to buy something to stick his cock in, even though he knew penis sleeves like the Fleshlight existed.

Now that he had one in his hands, though, John couldn’t deny he was intrigued.

He sat on the bed, the Fleshlight package balanced on his thigh and the BlackBerry still in hand.

Why this one? I assume there are other, um...models?

Reviews . I calculated the average score of twelve different Fleshlights using reviews submitted to four different online shops. SH

I chose the one with the highest average. SH

John snorted, picturing Sherlock—or anyone, really—using maths to shop for sex toys. The BlackBerry chimed again.

Would you have preferred something else? A different orifice? I could buy you a mouth or a vagina to replace it. SH

John’s snort became a chuckle. God, he wondered what the hell Sherlock had been thinking, what exactly he’d got “carried away” doing when he’d bought this. Probably he hadn’t been thinking at all, except with his dick.

John could relate. He was beginning to do a bit of that right now, it seemed, since he felt conspicuously not bothered by this particular gift of Sherlock’s.

No, this is fine.

Does that mean you’re keeping it? SH

It did. Of course it did. John hadn’t given back any of Sherlock’s other gifts. Why would he start with this one, when it was the only one that couldn’t be returned to the shop?

Sure. But remember, this is the last gift for at least the next two weeks.

Giving in to his curiosity and the urge to be a little naughty, John tore open the packaging and removed the Fleshlight. The white plastic case was cold to the touch, as was the sleeve itself, although it began to warm quickly in his hands. Propping it against his knee, he circled one finger around the wrinkled arsehole. The material felt vaguely skin-like, as it was probably meant to, although not enough so that John imagined it could ever actually be mistaken for human skin.

Then, in a move that he would never, never consider doing to an actual person, John jammed his forefinger and middle finger into the hole.

The sight was tempting. Very, very tempting. A tight, hairless arsehole opening for him. It would be better if the sleeve weren’t so single-toned and pale, if it could flush like actual skin—and also if it didn’t smell overwhelmingly of rubber—although it was easy enough for John to ignore all that.

He wondered what Sherlock would do if he got a photograph of this.

John shouldn’t have. He knew that he shouldn’t have, and still, he snapped a photo with his free hand and sent it to Sherlock.

While he waited for the reply, he investigated the inside texture. There were closely packed ridges just past the entrance that loosened into spiralling waves as he delved deeper. The material was surprisingly flexible and adjusted easily as John moved his fingers in wide, slow circles.

The thought of his cock inside it… oh, that was a nice thought.

When the BlackBerry chimed, John almost wanted to ignore it in favour of toying some more with the Fleshlight. Almost, except that he was far too curious about Sherlock’s response.

John. You’re teasing. SH

A flash of guilt. Because that was what John was doing, wasn’t it? Being a horrible tease: dangling sex in front of him when they were apart and then acting skittish when they met.

Sorry.

He would have put the Fleshlight away for the time being if not for Sherlock’s subsequent text.

That wasn’t a complaint. But it looks too dry. It came with lubricant, yes? Get it wet. SH

“God,” John said. Arousal washed over him, so strong that his cock twitched in his pants and he had to close his eyes while he gathered his wits enough to comply with Sherlock’s suggestion.

He used too much lube, probably. He upended the bottle and tried to squeeze it into the toy’s canal, although most of it dribbled down the sides instead, making a mess of his trousers and the duvet. Quickly, John set the bottle aside and scooped up some of the lube dripping down the plastic case so he could stuff it inside. This time, his fingers made slick, squelching noises, and it sounded so good, so filthy, he moaned aloud.

He did it again, and again, experimenting with different angles and depths until he found a good one: with his fingers half inserted and crooked upwards and the toy’s material stretching around him, wet and glistening. He took another photo and sent it to Sherlock.

The phone rang.

Not the BlackBerry, but Harry’s old phone, which was still on the desk where John had left it this morning. Funny that he’d just been thinking about how little he used it anymore, and now Harry had texted him and someone—probably also Harry—was phoning him all in the same day.

John climbed off the bed and walked close enough that he could read the lit-up mobile screen.

S. H.

John had never bothered to change Sherlock’s name on that phone. There didn’t seem much point when Sherlock insisted that John use the BlackBerry to communicate with him. So why was he ringing the other one now?

Frowning, John answered. “Sherlock?”

“Tease.” Sherlock’s voice was so deep, so rumbly it was sinful.

John gulped and gripped the edge of the desk, smearing lubricant on the wood. “Um.”

“Still not a complaint. It’s all right. I understand now. It’s not that the distance makes me an abstract concept; it’s that it allows you to think of yourself as one. Oh, John. You’ve been so bored, haven’t you? You’ve felt miserable and useless in London.”

That was quite the departure from what John had been thinking, and he blinked dumbly for a moment, trying to understand. “Um.”

“It’s all right. I’m working on it. And in the meantime, I can be patient. Are you aroused?”

John had been, of course, although at the reminder of what his life had become, his cock had gone soft. Since that wasn’t really something he felt like explaining, he simply said, “Getting there, yeah. Why did you ring this phone?”

“Because I doubt you could manage taking photos, sending photos, and talking on the same phone, and the camera on your old one is abysmal. I want you all the way aroused. Take all the time you need. I can wait.”

They were going to have phone sex. Was John all right with phone sex?

Although he’d barely even asked himself the question before his prick began to stiffen again. Just a bit, but it was enough to make him want. Apparently he was very all right with phone sex.

“I’m going to set the phone down,” he said. “Take off my clothes. Okay?”

Sherlock’s “Fine” sounded distracted and faraway, as though his face were turned away from the receiver. He was doing the same thing, maybe. Unbuttoning his trousers or his shirt, peeling the fabric off, revealing inch after inch of pale, creamy skin.

Jesus. John’s breath caught, and he practically slammed the phone on the desk in his haste to get on with it.

When he was undressed, he picked up Harry’s old phone again and said, “All right. Done,” just as the BlackBerry, still on the bed where he’d abandoned it, chimed.

“Excellent,” said Sherlock, sounding breathless. John ached at the thought of what he was doing to make himself short of breath. “I just texted you a photo.”

John lunged for the BlackBerry, gripping it with slick and sticky fingers so he could enlarge the photo that had popped up on the screen.

It was a cock. Sherlock’s cock, he assumed, with Sherlock’s long slender fingers wrapped around the base of it, just below a mess of curly black pubic hair. It was thin and a fairly average length (although the angle made it a bit difficult to tell for certain) with an exceedingly prominent head: mushroom-shaped and flushed. Sherlock was standing, it looked like, and wearing an unwrapped dressing gown. The whole photo was grainy and purple-tinged.

“Did you take that with—”

“A webcam, yes. Much easier that way. I thought you might appreciate evidence of my arousal. So you can see for yourself how badly I want you.”

It was reminiscent of Sherlock’s text from last night. ‘I want you to feel wanted.’ John’s mouth went dry, and he had to swallow several times before he could speak.

“How did you manage to text me a photo from—”

“I could explain the wonders of modern technology if you want,” Sherlock interrupted with a hint of impatience, “but I’d much rather listen to you put your cock in that nice, slick hole that’s waiting to be fucked.” There was a beat of silence, and then: “Please.”

Oh. Another surge of arousal swept through him, and John laughed breathily. “Right. In that case.”

“But before you do that… can I see?”

John had never taken a picture of his prick before, much less sent such a picture to anyone. So it was with a fissure of hesitation that he obliged: stroked his cock with his lube-sticky hand until it was fully erect and then taking a photo of it for Sherlock.

It wasn’t the most attractive cock. The head was a bit small, and the shaft was long, veiny, and exceptionally thick. All of it fell within the range of what could be considered “normal,” but it didn’t exactly make for an aesthetically pleasing sight.

But the sound Sherlock made after he’d sent it, a low hungry moan, made John want to puff up with pride and take another photo, then another, then another, if only Sherlock would make that sound again and again and again.

“John.” His tone was breathy, rapturous. “It’ll have to stretch so wide to fit all of you.” Another moan, not as low as the last but twice as hungry. “Penetrate it. Please.”

John slicked his cock some more, wedging the phone between his shoulder and his ear while he dribbled lubricant onto the tip and then used his fist to spread it along the shaft. It wouldn’t do to chafe himself, after all, and he hated having to stop mid-wank to refresh the lube.

He drew the Fleshlight towards him, close enough that he could drag the head of his prick over the wrinkled, still-slippery hole. That made a pretty picture, he thought, so he snapped another photo and sent it before he pushed inside.

“Unh!” he said, and heard Sherlock echo him, although whether it was in response to the groan or the photo, he didn’t know. Didn’t care, really. He slipped so easily into the sleeve, so quickly and smoothly he barely felt the ridges as his cock skidded over them, hardly felt any friction at all in fact. Just the quick, wet glide and then the suction. Like he was being sucked right in and cradled sweetly.

“That’s it,” Sherlock was saying. He still sounded so hungry, so desperate for John to continue. “Is it good?”

“Yes,” John gasped. Even after testing it with his fingers, feeling how pliable the material was, he’d expected the sleeve’s grip to be unforgiving, wringing his cock mercilessly, but it wasn’t like that at all. It moulded to him like a damp sheet.

He stopped when his prick was halfway encased, then dragged the cylinder slowly off. Too slowly. His leg jerked, and he let out a little sob.

Sherlock whimpered, soft and shuddery. John would be fantasising about that sound for months. “How does it feel? It’s supposed to feel realistic.”

It did, in a way. At least, it didn’t feel like he was sticking his erection in a cylinder of rubber, or whatever it was made from, but it also was nothing like sex, anal or otherwise. Real penetrative sex for John meant feeling his partner’s muscles ripple, hearing them gasp and groan, watching their chests heave and their expressions go slack with pleasure. None of which was possible with a toy.

“Not exactly.” He jerked the sleeve back down, letting it go as far as his pubic hair this time before he eased it off.

“We can try others. I’ll buy the full collection of Fleshlights, and you can try them all. Other brands too. You can have a new one every time you want to fuck something, and when you get bored of them, I’ll buy you the real thing. Hundreds of sex workers in London, John, and you can have them all. All the ones that offer penetrative sex, at least.”

It was a ridiculous idea. It didn’t even sound hot. John chuckled. “Seriously? You’d want to pay for me to have sex with other people?”

Sherlock groaned, as much in exasperation as pleasure. “You still don’t understand, do you? I want to give you everything. I want to take care of you.”

All right, that was hot. Just a bit, and only in a sexual context. John’s laugh was weaker this time, half moaning. “Right. Okay. You’re, unh, you’re not expecting me to call you Daddy, are you?”

Silence was Sherlock’s answer, which was even more telling than a proper yes or no, and the humour John had found in his own question withered like the leaves of a scorched plant.

‘Are you kidding?’ he thought. He remembered the North London littles munch, the conversations he’d listened to about dummies and Doms and—no. Absolutely not. But before John could say as much, Sherlock was speaking again.

“No, of course not.” He said it quickly, and John could easily picture him looking away and grimacing in embarrassment. “Just… delete that, forget it. It doesn’t matter. Think about the sex workers, John. A woman or man of your choice beneath you, spreading for you, your fat cock in their arsehole—”

Ugh, no. It was all so, so far from what John wanted to imagine that he found himself snapping, “Can’t I just imagine my cock in your arsehole?”

It was a stupid thing to say, and he immediately wanted to kick himself. Perhaps Sherlock didn’t want a cock in his arsehole, didn’t want to think of it any more than John wanted to think of sex workers and Daddies. Anal sex was far from a universally loved activity, and perhaps now Sherlock thought that John was more keen on it than he was.

But Sherlock only said, “Of course,” sounding surprised. “Your fat cock in my arsehole.” Rather than disgusted or offended, he sounded impressed by the suggestion, possibly even—oh god—enamoured of the idea. “Oh. John. Would you let me sit on it?”

Fucking hell, that was a lovely thought. John began to move again. Thrusting the Fleshlight more vigorously onto his cock—god, he wondered if Sherlock could hear any of the obscene slurping noises his dick made as it pumped in and out, or how his breathing had sped up until he was nearly panting—John allowed himself to indulge. Imagined Sherlock straddling him, pinning his hips in place, riding him hard and fast until John was trembling and arching and aching to come.

“Fuck.” John’s arm was flying now, grinding the Fleshlight into his pubic bone on every downwards stroke and slipping off on the occasional upwards one.

It was surprisingly tiring, not at all like wanking himself with just his hand. Sweat dripped down his temples, back, and chest, and soon his pace began to falter, then drop off altogether.

He gritted his teeth and pulled out, gasping. “I can’t. My arm’s….”

“Turn over.” Sherlock was touching himself. John could hear it in his voice: a pitiful little waver with every stroke. “Hold it still with your pillow.”

John obeyed, although he felt perfectly ridiculous like that. With the Fleshlight in the middle of his pillow and John gripping the cylinder with one hand, putting his weight on it so the sleeve part of it was tilted up: ready for his prick. He needed his other hand to hold the phone against his ear, which left him nothing to use to keep himself upright and steady. He found himself pitching forwards, lying almost flat atop the pillow with his forehead mashed against the headboard.

Awkward, uncomfortable, yet not enough to put him off. John nudged his cock head just past the entrance and, in one swift glide, buried himself inside it. Then he cared about nothing but humping that slick, warm hole until he was panting and shaking from the exertion.

Sherlock crooned encouragement in his ear. Things like “That’s it” and “Fuck me” and “John, you’re so big” and “Please, right there, yes,” until eventually he just lapsed into little gasping moans that matched the rhythm of John’s thrusts perfectly.

So that John had no difficulty picturing Sherlock beneath him, trying not to squirm as John pounded him past the point of words, desperate to give John what he wanted—taking care of John, satisfying his need to roger something so hard the bed jolted and creaked.

“Fuck.” John’s legs ached and his lungs burned. He was close. He was so close. “I’m—please—”

“Yes.” Sherlock’s voice cracked. John imagined his head falling back, his eyes squeezed shut, sweat dribbling over those gorgeous eye crinkles. “Give it to me. Please.”

And that was it. With a growl, John let go of the cylinder so that he could plant his hand on the mattress and raise his chest, driving his hips down once, twice, before his prick pulsed and spilled into the sleeve.

Sherlock kept moaning, even as John’s orgasm passed and his aftershocks weakened. Still touching himself, still not satisfied. As John rolled off the pillow and eased his limp and sticky cock from the Fleshlight, Sherlock’s cries took on a frantic, despairing edge. John winced in sympathy.

‘Give it a try,’ he told himself. ‘It’s just one word. He helped you get off; you could at least try to return the favour.’

John bit his bottom lip, staring up at the ceiling, but he couldn’t say it. The thought of being someone’s baby, of toddling around in a nappy and crying for his Daddy, made his hackles rise like spines and something in his chest roil.

He banished the idea from his mind and stayed quiet, catching his breath, until Sherlock gave a sharp “Ah!” and then went quiet. For several long seconds, there was no sound from the phone but for the occasional burst of static as Sherlock panted against the receiver.

John closed his eyes, shuddering. He’d had sex with enough people to know that there was nothing more gorgeous than the face of a person who went silent when they came. He wondered what Sherlock’s looked like right now. Rapturous, wide-eyed and slack-jawed? Overwhelmed, pinched and tight?

“Throw it away,” Sherlock said suddenly.

John started at the break in the quiet. “What?”

“The Fleshlight. They’re notoriously difficult to clean properly. Require a bit of upkeep too. Easier just to bin it.”

“Bin it?” John goggled. “I’m not binning a Fleshlight, Sherlock.”

“I’ll buy you more. I told you, I’ll buy you the entire collection.”

“That’s wasteful,” said John, scandalised. “Which is even worse than extravagant. I’m not going to throw away a perfectly good sex toy.” No, he would look up how to clean a Fleshlight online. Easiest method, what materials to avoid, and all of that. “Also, you’re meant to be limiting the gift-giving, remember? Not buying me hoards of sex toys—or sessions with sex workers.”

Sherlock sighed as though John were behaving irrationally, but said nothing. In the background, John could hear the whisper of movement: something scraping against fabric, something else being gently closed. Sherlock was cleaning himself up, possibly, something that John should also do.

He sat up, still clutching the dirty Fleshlight in one hand, and realised that they’d just had phone sex, that it hadn’t seemed strange at all—in fact, it had been bloody fucking hot.

And John was, he decided, very open to repeating it.

‘Right,’ he thought, determined. ‘Bugger the money and the gifts and the—the everything. You fancy him. You want to be dating him. Time to stop wobbling and start doing something about it.’

Sherlock would grow tired of him eventually, of course, because that was just how things were. But that didn’t mean John couldn’t have him in the meantime. John should’ve been having him all along, god, what was wrong with him? He should have been appreciating Sherlock’s attention now while he still had it.

“Let’s have dinner,” John said. “Tonight?”

In the brief pause that followed, John knew very well that Sherlock was turning the question over in his mind—realising the implication in John being the one to ask this time, after what had just transpired. Possibly he was getting excited too. Fidgeting and squirming, beaming at the phone—

“Yes,” said Sherlock, although there wasn’t a smile in his voice as John had anticipated. “Yes to dinner. Tonight is… complicated. I’m meeting with a suspect. Too many unknown variables. How long it will take, how easily he’ll tell me what I need to know, what I’ll need to do after….”

“Oh.”

It was… devastation. That was the only word that accurately described the feeling of something large but fragile crashing and sinking in John’s chest. He’d gone with Sherlock to the crime scene in Islington a matter of days ago. Had John been such an embarrassment, such a distraction, that Sherlock would never invite him to another one again?

Sherlock was already growing tired of him, apparently. Brilliant. John had bungled everything with his mixed signals, his skittishness, his miserable uselessness, before it had even got properly started.

“Oh, right,” John said weakly. It felt as though there was a thick, heavy stone bobbing in his throat. “A new case?”

“Yes. Dead dull so far. Seemingly a tragic accident, but the wife insists her husband was murdered. I’d have refused, but… mm.”

“Oh,” John said again. He had an urge to ask if he could come along and watch Sherlock solve the case, but he ignored it. He wasn’t going to be needy and demanding. “Then… after the case is done?”

“Yes.” And there was the smile in Sherlock’s voice. Something surfaced among the crashing waves of devastation and fluttered with life in John’s chest. Still, it wasn’t enough to improve his mood, which was now quite dire. “Dinner after, yes. It shouldn’t take long to solve.”

Chapter Text

John’s mood continued to worsen. It carried on throughout that evening and into the next morning, when he woke at half four and remained in bed staring at the ceiling for nearly two hours.

He thought about Sherlock—how he had called John invaluable and repeatedly rewarded John’s assistance—and about the case in Islington—John’s no doubt glaring discomfort, John’s failure to tell Sherlock anything he hadn’t been able to see on his own. He thought about sex—John’s refusals (numerous now, from the gifts to the ‘Daddy’ bit on the phone) to engage in any sort of behaviour that would bring Sherlock pleasure.

‘How much more obvious can it get,’ John thought, ‘that you won’t live up to his expectations? Wouldn’t it be better to end it now, before he’s well and truly bored of you?’

No, John decided almost as soon as he’d thought it. No it really wouldn’t.

Finally, John gave up trying to fall back asleep and got up—and heard Sherlock’s voice in his head: ‘You won’t be capable of falling back asleep. Best to just get up now and save yourself the frustration.’

‘You need a job,’ he told himself as he showered. ‘Something in your life that doesn’t revolve around Sherlock bloody Holmes.’

Except that when he sat down at his computer afterwards to look for open positions at nearby surgeries, he found himself instead poking around various news sites in hopes of distracting himself from all of it.

There’d been another suicide, apparently. The Junior Minister for Transport, this time. It only served to direct his thoughts back to Sherlock. He wondered if Sherlock would be called in to investigate, and if so, if Sherlock would even bother coming to John with a folder of autopsy reports and photographs after the case had been solved or if he’d have lost interest in John entirely by then.

Before shutting down his laptop, John checked his email and was surprised to find he’d received a new message. Even more surprising was that it was from Sherlock.

Apologies for yesterday. I’d intended there to be more exchanging of photos than there was.

You are very distracting.

The attached was taken earlier. Hope it is to your liking.

—SH

“The attached” turned out to be the most explicit photo John had seen outside particularly raunchy pornography. It had the same grainy appearance and purplish tinge as the webcam photo from last night. In it, Sherlock was nude, facing away from the camera, and bent over, holding his arse cheeks apart and giving John a perfect view of his arsehole, which was tannish and wrinkled and partly covered by a dusting of dark curly hair.

“Fuck,” John said. He ached to put his mouth there, until the hair was damp and the hole loose and flushed.

In addition to being absurdly hot, the photo also cheered him slightly. Maybe John hadn’t bungled everything completely up, if Sherlock was still sending him dirty photos and flirty messages.

Licking his lips, he clicked the button to reply.

Christ, Sherlock. Which of us is the tease?

The response didn’t come for seven whole minutes, during which John stared stupidly at the photo and imagined all the ways he could make a mess of that man, if Sherlock would still let him.

Still you. I was only trying to improve the accuracy of your fantasy.

Off now to investigate a house.

—SH

John’s fantasy was certainly improved—as was his mood. Even the mention of the case John hadn’t been invited to didn’t put him off spending the rest of the morning dirtying the freshly cleaned Fleshlight all over again.

(Although he did, on a whim while he was humping into the tight channel, slow his strokes and utter a hesitant “Daddy” just to see what would happen.

It had no effect—it neither turned him off nor turned him on—so with a mental shrug, he carried on wanking.)

*

“So you’ve met someone?” Ella asked during their next appointment.

John blinked, at first startled that she knew, but then he remembered that he’d written about it in his blog. The only person who’d commented had been Harry, whose “OHOHO! Good for you!!!! When do I get to meet her??” hadn’t seemed worth responding to.

“Yeah,” John said, shifting in his chair. It was still weird, somehow: coming to therapy without his cane. During every appointment, he half expected his leg to spontaneously start aching again. “Yeah I, erm, met him on a… well, an online dating site. I wasn’t sure at first, but I think I like him.”

“Good! That’s great.” Ella smiled. It was probably meant to be an encouraging sort of smile, as though John had accomplished something significant, but instead, John felt a bit like a child being rewarded for not ripping apart a colouring book. “What do you like about him?”

John shifted again, rubbing his palms uncomfortably up and down his trouser legs. How was he meant to answer that? ‘He’s a touch eccentric, but makes up for it by also being bloody gorgeous and interesting as hell’? ‘He’s brilliant and, I think, a little dangerous’? ‘He’s filthy rich and wants to buy me a collection of sex toys’?

The tip of Ella’s pen tapped idly on her notepad, leaving a growing assortment of black ink blots. What would she write about John’s interest in Sherlock—or, worse, about Sherlock himself?

He shrugged, faking a thoughtful frown. “Dunno. I just do.”

In his pocket, the BlackBerry chimed.

The timing was so perfect it was comical. John bit his bottom lip to hold back his laughter and dug the phone out with a mumbled “Sorry, just have to check this.”

‘Tragic accident’ definitely not an accident. SH

A case update. John hadn’t asked for case updates, nor had Sherlock indicated that he would provide them, and yet he was. That meant something, surely? Like that John was not being as purposefully excluded as he’d originally feared?

John replaced the phone in his pocket and tried to wipe the stupid grin from his face.

“Sorry,” he said. “Thought it might be my sister.”

After that, they talked about his family, the Watsons’ long history of alcoholism and erratic behaviour, for the rest of John’s appointment.

*

John’s improved mood continued into the evening, even though Sherlock hadn’t sent any further updates.

He spent an absurd amount of time in front of his computer, browsing the Telegraph’s online death announcements in search of some mention of a man who had died of a “tragic accident” and been survived by a wife. After nearly an hour of turning up nothing that could provide insight into the death that Sherlock was investigating, John finally left off and instead began browsing different websites for news about the “serial suicides,” as the papers were calling them.

Each article John read ventured farther and farther from the facts and into something more suited to fantasy. One speculated about the deceased being members of a secret cult. Although it was clearly all rubbish—it was The Sun, after all—something about it moved him to open his blog and start a new entry.

He’d written three sentences about the suicides before he started to think, again, about Sherlock and the possibility of the police asking him to consult, especially now that the Met had announced they would treat the deaths as linked.

John hit the enter key and began a new paragraph.

I went on a few dates with that person I met. He’s strange. Some people might think he’s mad, and he’s clearly a bit public school. Probably not safe. But he’s also likeable. He’s fascinating. I’m not going to be bored with him around, I think.

So yes, I do think he and I are going somewhere after all. I hope we are at least.

A little soppier than John meant it to be, but it was honest, so he supposed it would do. He posted it and then got up to make himself a cup of tea.

The next morning, the blog had three comments. The first, unsurprisingly, was Harry (“HE?! Is he fit? Send a pic x”). The second, surprisingly, was Bill Murray (“Hi John. I tried emailing you, but it bounced back. How are things? I’m in London till the end of the month. Do you fancy meeting up?”).

The third, though, was the most surprising of all.

The feeling is quite mutual.

Case is nearly solved. Pieces are beginning to come together.

Looking forward to seeing you again soon.

—SH

John supposed he should have suspected Sherlock would discover his blog eventually. After all, John had put his full name and his photo on it when he’d made it, and it was probably easy to find through a simple search, as Sherlock’s had been.

He wondered how long Sherlock had been reading, and whether John really wanted to know.

He didn’t, he decided. It only mattered that the feeling was still mutual, that John hadn’t put him off, that he was looking forward to seeing John again.

‘But what,’ a little treacherous voice in John’s mind piped up, ‘are you going to do about the “Daddy” bit?’

John ignored the voice, wrote a simple Good in response to Sherlock, and left it at that.

*

He tried to ignore it, anyway, although as the day went on, he grew less and less successful.

He popped into the nearest sandwich shop for lunch and, while he poked at his crisps and watched the other patrons file in and out of the shop, turned the word ‘Daddy’ over and over in his mind. It made him think not just of littles and dummies, but also a tearful woman in a plaid skirt and pigtails being hauled over an older man’s lap and given a sound thrashing.

That was even worse than the nappies.

On the walk back to the flat, John’s thoughts drifted to his actual father, or what he remembered of the man anyway: a functioning alcoholic with a wicked temper. Mum had thrown him out when he’d reacted poorly to discovering Harry with her then-girlfriend. John had seen him once since then, although only long enough to break the man’s nose for ever laying a finger on Harry.

John had never called him ‘Daddy.’ Hadn’t called him much of anything, actually, aside from a few choice swear words when he hadn’t been around to hear.

He’d be horrified to know that his son sometimes fancied men. He’d be even more horrified to know that John was contemplating getting into a relationship where he was the submissive partner.

It was almost reason enough, John thought with a glint of grim satisfaction, to go along with Sherlock’s fantasy. Almost.

The dilemma was still weighing on him that afternoon when John received another parcel in the mail: a plain, nondescript box from L H Trade in Bath just like the last one.

He opened it with no small amount of apprehension, and maybe also a glimmer of vexation. Hadn’t John said one gift every fortnight? It hadn’t even been a week since the last.

He fully expected another Fleshlight, a mouth or a cunt this time, but instead he found one bottle of Fleshlight Fleshwash Antibacterial Toy Cleaner and one bottle of Fleshlight Powder Renewer. Also included was a gift message.

If you insist on reusing it.

To compensate, I’ll refrain from any further gift-giving for four weeks from the day you receive this.

—SH

The last bit was some comfort, at least. Still, John was very aware the gift itself implied that he needed someone to take care of him, financially or otherwise. It meant that Sherlock had sat at his computer and thought, ‘John can’t take care of a Fleshlight properly on his own’—or, more likely, ‘John hasn’t the means to take care of a Fleshlight properly on his own.’

Part of John wanted to give it all back, tell Sherlock he didn’t need a sodding Daddy to take care of him, thanks, he could do just fine on his own.

The other, larger, part of John knew very well that the gift was meant to make him feel wanted, and that he was overreacting because he didn’t want to be swaddled in a nappy and cooed at or bent over and thrashed.

He made himself set the opened parcel aside and breathe.

‘Didn’t you just say that you hoped you and he were going somewhere?’ he reminded himself.

Sherlock had given him the first pulse of unease beneath John’s skin since Afghanistan, the first taste of excitement and intrigue, something worth getting up for. Sherlock had been the only thing that had happened to John in months.

What was the harm in going along with this, just a bit?

He could lay down boundaries, like he had done with the gifts. They could come to a compromise. And if Sherlock ventured too far outside John’s comfort zone, if he did something like tried to haul John over his knee and scold and spank him like a misbehaving child—

John smiled darkly. Oh, he could make Sherlock regret that very, very quickly.

He fetched the BlackBerry.

Just got your parcel. Thank you

John hesitated, nearly ending the text there and sending it. But that wouldn’t be properly compromising. That wouldn’t be going along with it.

And it was only a text message. It wasn’t the same as saying it out loud.

He revised his text and hit the button to send it before he could change his mind.

Just got your parcel. Thank you, Daddy.

As he waited for the reply, his heart pounded like a hammer. His skin felt hot and tight, and he wasn’t sure if it was from anxiety or embarrassment. Possibly both.

The BlackBerry rang, and John, who had been expecting a chime, jolted in surprise. Then he answered, wetting his parched lips with his tongue. “Hello?”

“Say it,” said Sherlock. He was somewhere outdoors. The wind was blowing noisily into the receiver.

So much for not saying it out loud.

“Say what?” John said, to give himself a few extra seconds to think, although when Sherlock huffed impatiently, he gave in immediately. “Right. Um. Thank you… Daddy.” The last word was no louder than a whisper.

For several seconds, there was nothing but the sporadic roaring of the wind. John’s stomach twisted itself into knots. His skin burned even hotter; his heart pounded harder.

Then Sherlock said, “Again,” in a voice that was even softer than John’s whisper. Soft and breathy and dripping with longing.

The wind was joined by the faint sound of voices in the background, which cut off abruptly when Sherlock shouted, “Shut up!”

It was sudden and sharp enough that John flinched and jerked the BlackBerry from his ear with a muttered “Christ.”

“—ot you,” Sherlock was saying when John brought the phone back. “Not you, John, obviously not you.”

“What—” John began, and then a thought occurred. “Are you in the middle of your investigation?”

“Yes!” Sherlock snapped, followed swiftly by: “No! Of course I—oh what does it matter? Again.”

He bloody was, John thought. He was working, and he’d dropped everything, even shouted at someone to shut up, so he could hear John call him ‘Daddy.’ That was… John didn’t know what it was, but some of his embarrassment began to ebb the slightest bit because of it. If Sherlock enjoyed it that much, if he wanted it that much.

John closed his eyes and repeated, “Thank you, Daddy.”

“Again.”

John couldn’t help it; he laughed. It was perfectly absurd, what was happening right now just because John had said three words. “How many times are you going to make me say it?”

“Just once more. For now. Please.”

Once more. John could manage that. He might even, possibly, be all right with going half a step farther. He licked his lips again before he obliged, making his voice as tender and earnest as he could. “Thank you, Daddy.”

It sounded a touch over-the-top that time, to John’s ear at least, but Sherlock only let out a half-gasped “oh,” the sort that someone might give when they’ve been presented with a priceless treasure, and lapsed into another several seconds of silence. Gathering himself again, John thought. Giving himself a moment to recover.

And didn’t that just do John’s head in.

“You’re welcome,” Sherlock said eventually, calmly as though nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. “I’m nearly finished here. I only need to examine the evidence I’ve collected. Meet me at Bart’s. We’ll have dinner after.”

It wasn’t a question, or even a request, so John supposed it was fortunate he had no intention of refusing. “All right.”

*

“John, can I borrow your phone?” Sherlock asked when John walked into the lab where Sherlock was working. “There’s no signal on mine.”

Bit of a disappointment, that. From their conversation earlier, John had expected a slightly warmer welcome. Still, he obediently fished the BlackBerry from his pocket. “Oh, right. Here.”

“Thank you.” As Sherlock accepted the phone, his gaze flitted over John from head to foot. He was pleased by what he saw, judging by his little smirk. “You’re wearing the jumper I bought.”

John had changed into it deliberately, in fact, and purposefully left his coat unzipped, although now he was questioning whether it made him seem a touch too eager to please. “Yeah. Well. It’s comfortable.”

Practically preening at that, Sherlock finished what he was doing—typing a text, by the looks—and returned the BlackBerry. John glanced at the screen, which still had the text message open (If brother has green ladder, arrest brother. SH). After a moment of consideration, he decided to just replace the phone in his pocket without asking.

“I’m glad,” said Sherlock. “It suits you.”

To John’s surprise, Sherlock stepped forwards into John’s personal space and ducked his head, nuzzling in the general area of John’s cheek without actually touching the skin. The gesture was at once undeniably seductive and utterly innocent. John’s breathing hitched.

“Say it again?” Sherlock said in a low tone.

Another wave of the stomach-knotting embarrassment-anxiety he’d experienced earlier struck, even though John had thought he’d moved past that.

‘Just the word,’ he told himself. ‘It’s nothing more than you’ve already done.’ If Sherlock wanted anything more than that, then… well, then John would just have to deal with that when it came up, wouldn’t he? Although with any luck, that wouldn’t happen for a long while.

He closed his eyes and swayed closer so that he didn’t have to speak in anything more than a puff of breath. “Daddy.”

“Oh.” It was the same awed, breathy noise from their telephone conversation earlier, and with Sherlock standing in front of him now, eyes closed as though he was savouring the moment, John half worried Sherlock might fall to his knees.

But he remained more or less stable. After a long, deep breath, he seemed to gather himself again and stepped back.

“I’m nearly finished,” Sherlock said. “I only need to clean up here. Oh, and I left my riding crop in the mortuary.”

John’s bemused reply was cut off when the door to the lab opened and a woman carrying a styrofoam cup entered.

“Ah, Molly. Coffee.” Sidestepping John, Sherlock accepted the cup that she held out for him. Then he brought it just beneath his nose and sniffed. “Splash of milk, no sugar.”

“Just like you asked for,” said Molly. “Although I didn’t think you liked—”

“I don’t.” Sherlock spun around and held the steaming cup for John to take, which he did more on instinct than any particular desire for coffee. “This is John Watson. He’s the object of my romantic and sexual interest. John, this is Molly.”

John was taken aback both by Sherlock’s description of him and the knowledge that Sherlock knew how he took his coffee, but he wasn’t distracted enough to miss how Molly’s open, smiling expression closed and fell.

“Oh,” she said weakly. The smile she summoned now was more of a grimace. “Nice to meet you. I’ll just. Um.”

She turned and practically fled the room. To lick her wounds in private, John suspected, and he rounded on Sherlock with a scowl.

“I don’t know who that was, but please tell me you didn’t just break her heart on purpose.”

Sherlock shrugged, unconcerned, as he began to tidy up the mess of beakers and chemicals. “Should I have lied and encouraged her?”

“No. Course not. But a little delicacy wouldn’t have gone amiss.”

Sherlock paused, peering at John as though he were a curious little specimen that had begun behaving oddly. “She invited me to have coffee. I thought she might prefer to see for herself that my interests lie elsewhere. I thought that was kinder than telling her outright that I’m not attracted to her.”

“Kinder?” John snorted. “No, I wouldn’t say that’s kinder.”

Sherlock’s head canted to one side, catlike. “Ah. Should I go apologise to her?”

“Maybe not now. But yeah, an apology might be good.”

“The next time I see her, then.” Sherlock stared a few more seconds, his head still cocked. His expression seemed more appraising than curious. “How’s the coffee?”

John had forgotten he was holding the coffee, actually. He took a cautious sip. It tasted fine, neither especially good nor bad. “It’s good. Thanks.”

He realised a second too late that Sherlock wasn’t who he should’ve been thanking, but Sherlock accepted it with a smile anyway.

“Dinner?” Sherlock asked.

It was four in the afternoon. Too early for dinner, much too late for lunch. Besides which, John wasn’t hungry. He licked his lips, tasting the remnants of coffee. “Maybe just… ask me to come home with you.”

As good as a physical touch, Sherlock’s look was. Something like a nuzzle or a nose kiss, sweet and soft but with the promise of heat. “Come home with me?”

John’s stomach swooped. “Oh god yes.”

Chapter Text

John didn’t know what he’d been expecting. To have it off right there against the door of Sherlock’s flat, maybe, or at least for Sherlock to crowd him as he’d done at the lab and ask John to call him ‘Daddy’ again.

Instead, Sherlock took John’s coat and hung it up like a proper gentleman, then stood in the centre of the room, blinking owlishly like he hadn’t a clue what to do now that he had John in his flat again.

The living room was a disaster. There was sheet music spread about the carpet and a violin on the coffee table beside a block of rosin. John wondered if Sherlock played or if this was somehow case-related, but before he could ask, Sherlock said, “Yes.”

John jumped. “What?”

“You were wondering if I play the violin. The answer is yes. I play when I’m thinking, and occasionally I feel… compelled to compose.” He glanced down then and seemed to realise for the first time that they were standing amidst a mess of sheet music. There was a flurry of movement as he bent down and started gathering the pages haphazardly together. “Sorry. This is—”

“It’s fine,” John tried to assure him. “I don’t mind a little clutter.”

“Coffee!” Sherlock stood suddenly. The stack of pages scattered to the floor again. “Do you want coffee? Or… I cleaned the kettle. We could have tea. I—”

He was nervous, John realised. Sherlock was actually bloody nervous. And after everything—the gifts and the phone sex and the blunt declaration of his sexual interest to that woman at the lab—wasn’t that another boost to John’s ego?

And wasn’t it going to hurt twice as badly when Sherlock realised John wasn’t actually worth all this after all?

But John wasn’t going to think about that now.

“Sherlock.”

Sherlock went silent, straight-backed, and rigid. Emboldened, John sat on the sofa and motioned Sherlock towards him.

Sherlock came, taking tiny steps and biting his bottom lip, and god, if he gave John half a chance, John was going to make a fucking wreck of him. If Sherlock would allow it. If it didn’t somehow go against the ‘Daddy’ thing he seemed to enjoy so much.

As soon as Sherlock was close enough, John reached for him and tugged him into John’s lap.

Tried to, anyway, although it wasn’t as graceful as John had hoped. He overshot a bit and Sherlock was too leggy and didn’t bend his knees in time, so it ended with a painful tangle of limbs and Sherlock managing to land on the sofa only due to sheer luck.

“Sorry.” John giggled. He felt giddy, having Sherlock so close and knowing they were about to get even closer. “Sorry that, um. That didn’t go like I imagined it would.”

Sherlock didn’t seem bothered at all by the clumsy move. In fact, he hardly even seemed to notice at all, too intent on staring into John’s face with an expression of such uncertainty that a knot of concern formed in John’s chest.

“This is, erm. This is still all right, yeah?”

The uncertain expression broke, and Sherlock rolled his eyes dramatically. “Yes. Obviously.” He flopped to the side, seating himself on the sofa beside John. “I—if you must know, it’s been years since I was last in this situation, and I never… cared, really, what anyone else thought of me if I told them what I wanted.”

That was more than a little heart-breaking, John thought. “What do you want?”

“You on top of me.” Sherlock said it as though he expected to be mocked for it, his shoulders tensed and raised slightly in a sort of pre-flinch.

Which was unthinkable, as far as John was concerned. It was an utterly benign request. He kicked off his shoes, letting them fall onto the carpet with a dull thump, and then climbed into Sherlock’s lap exactly as he’d wanted Sherlock to climb into his: his knees digging into the cushion and his arse on Sherlock’s lower thighs.

It felt awkward, and one knee popped loudly as he put his weight on it. He chuckled, ducking his head.

“Sorry. Getting a bit old for this, I suppose.”

Sherlock didn’t even seem to hear him. With his head tipped back, he was gazing up at John with his lips parted and his eyes half-lidded. Like John was a miracle, or a precious gem, something other than an unemployed, plain-looking 37-year-old injured war veteran with popping joints, PTSD, and an illegal firearm.

God. John wanted to sit on his cock and ride him until they were both shaking and sobbing into each other’s mouths.

“Hey.” Smiling gently, he cradled Sherlock’s jaw in his palms. “All right?”

Sherlock blinked. “Yes.” His gaze flickered downwards, fixing on John’s lips.

It might as well have been an invitation, so John leaned in and kissed him.

Sherlock froze for a fraction of a second, just long enough for John’s knot of concern to reform. But then Sherlock’s body rose like a wave; his back arched, his arms wound around John’s waist, and everything was lovely. A bit wet and sloppy, more teeth and tongue than lips, but no less lovely because of it. Every time their tongues touched (which was often, almost constantly), Sherlock gave a soft “mmh.” John could feel the rumble of it all the way in his own throat, and it made his head go light and spinny.

They kissed until Sherlock’s hands were fisted in the back of John’s jumper and John was echoing every groan of Sherlock’s with one of his own. Eventually, Sherlock broke away, swollen-lipped and flushed, and tugged impatiently on John’s jumper.

“Off.” He was still arching, his legs bouncing under John’s bum as though he couldn’t sit still. “I want this off. Please.”

John would’ve thought Sherlock would want to defile him in the jumper he’d bought, but since he evidently didn’t, John wasted no time taking it off. It was only after he was shirtless that he remembered his scar: the mottled and gnarled bit on his shoulder where it looked like some godlike being had taken a handful of skin and twisted. He hesitated, ready to cover himself again if he needed to.

To his surprise, Sherlock paid it no attention. Instead, he tugged at John’s hip until John bent forwards, and then he covered John’s right nipple with his mouth, which was hot and wet and perfect.

Not that John got to appreciate it for long, since Sherlock followed up that first experimental suckle with a bite and a tug. John hissed, jerking backwards. It was too much, too suddenly. And anyway, even though John knew what Sherlock was thinking, the idea didn’t appeal at the moment.

“No, not today,” he said, firm but gentle. “Not up to having my nipples roughed up. Sorry.”

Although Sherlock whined softly and pressed a pleading little kiss to the abused skin, he left off and dropped his head back against the sofa, peering up at John through his dark lashes.

“Ugh, fine. What, then? You can have anything you want. My hands, my mouth, my arse, anything you want to frot against.”

John didn’t even have to consider. He looked pointedly at Sherlock’s mouth, and couldn’t resist touching it as well, trailing his thumb along the plush curve of Sherlock’s bottom lip. God, that mouth. Those lips. They wrapped whorishly around his thumb, and Sherlock’s eyelids fluttered closed as he suckled it.

“Gorgeous,” John told him, pulling his hand back. The air was cool on his wet thumb. “You bloody gorgeous thing. Do you have condoms?”

“Mm. Yes, but we don’t need them.”

That certainly brought John up short. He leaned away, hoping his expression conveyed how very, very unimpressed he was.

Sherlock sighed and looked to the ceiling as though praying for patience. “We’re both clean, and neither of us minds a mess. We don’t need condoms.”

“You don’t know that I’m clean,” John said. Even though he was, there was no way Sherlock could know that for certain, no matter how great his powers of deduction were.

“Of course I do. I can read it on you the same as your military career and your sister’s drinking.” Sherlock licked his lips, then offered John a lazy, seductive smile. “I also know that you prefer it bare.” On the last word, his voice dipped to a conspiratorial whisper. “You crave it, although it’s been years since you trusted someone enough to suggest doing away with protection. But you trust me, don’t you? You trust me, and you want nothing more than to feel my tongue against your cock and fill my mouth with your come.”

‘Manipulative git,’ John thought without heat. He was right about at least one thing, though: John did crave it.

“I told you,” Sherlock said, his voice so soft it was nearly a coo. “I want to take care of you. Let me give you what you want.”

Which succeeded in reminding John of the Fleshlight, Sherlock whimpering in his ear while John humped himself to the best fucking orgasm he’d had in months.

Sod it. John knew without a doubt that he was free of STIs. If either of them was in danger of contracting something from the other, it was John, and it was fine. He knew the risks; he accepted them.

“Manipulative git,” he said aloud, and received a toothy self-satisfied grin when he slid off Sherlock’s lap so he could take off his trousers.

He’d just barely taken off his underpants and kicked them aside when Sherlock went to his knees in front of the sofa, framed John’s hips in his hands, and wrapped his lips around the tip of John’s prick. It had lost some of its stiffness during the condom discussion—although Sherlock’s mouth was seeing to that quite efficiently.

John gnawed viciously on his bottom lip as Sherlock suckled the sensitive crown once, then twice, before he swallowed down the first few inches and remained there, letting John’s cock thicken fully on his tongue.

“Fuck,” John groaned. Tried to, anyway, although with the lip-biting, the swear was muffled and incomprehensible. He swayed unsteadily, caught between the instinct to thrust and the desire to sit back and let it happen.

Sherlock pulled off. A thin line of spittle stretched from his lips and fell to his chin. John’s knees went wobbly and arousal bubbled like magma beneath his skin at the sight. God, he wanted to ruin this man, cover his gorgeous bloody face in spit and come and sweat.

“Sit,” Sherlock said, tugging John forwards by the hips and manoeuvring out of the way just in time for John to fall gracelessly, cock first, onto the sofa.

The leather chafed a bit, and John abandoned his lip-biting to let out an “Ah!” of discomfort. When he flipped over, Sherlock was there again, making shushing sounds and dragging his fingertips through the hair on John’s inner thighs.

“Shh, it’s all right. Let Daddy make it better.”

Oh, god. John let out a snort that nearly bubbled into a bark of laughter before he got himself under control. It was ridiculous—bad porno sex talk, enough to make John’s face heat in secondhand mortification. Not even Sherlock’s baritone voice, which was pitched even lower than normal—a deep, deep rumble that should’ve been able to make even an autopsy report sound sexy—could save it.

Then Sherlock flinched and drew back, a little wrinkle of hurt creasing his forehead, and John felt wretched. How would he like it, if Sherlock laughed in John’s face about what he liked in bed? And wasn’t John meant to be giving it a go, trying to find a compromise?

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry. That—it just took me by surprise, you calling yourself… erm—”

The wrinkle faded, but didn’t disappear entirely. “What about it?”

‘Arsehole,’ John told himself. ‘You are a selfish, thoughtless arsehole, and it would serve you right if he tossed you out right now.’

“I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I’m sorry. If you want me to leave—”

And just like that, the lingering hurt was gone from Sherlock’s face, replaced with such an exaggerated eye roll and a scoff of such disgust that John was tempted again—thankfully more appropriately this time—to laugh.

“Of course not. Don’t be an idiot,” Sherlock said, and engulfed him again, this time taking half of John’s prick into his mouth.

John gripped the leather cushion beneath him and thought about crying, ‘Daddy!’ as an apology, to make up for his inexcusable blunder. But he could only manage to mouth it. Mostly soundless—certainly voiceless, and the smacking noise of his tongue and lips forming the word was drowned out by Sherlock’s long, rapturous moan as his jaw stretched wide to accommodate John’s girth.

And oh, god, how gorgeous and sinful Sherlock looked with his mouth full of cock. Sloe-eyed and groaning, his cheeks hollowing out every time he bobbed his head and took John deeper. John stopped thinking of anything except how much he wanted to arch until Sherlock had taken him all the way to the root, until Sherlock was drooling into his pubic hair and struggling to swallow around the thick cock in his throat.

But that was rude, wasn’t it? More than rude, it was reprehensible, gagging your partner when they hadn’t asked for it, so John stayed where he was, fingers digging into the sofa cushion as he fought the urge to thrust—

—only to jolt and slap the cushion in shock a moment later when Sherlock’s head bobbed abruptly faster and faster, until he was well on his way to fucking his throat raw on John’s cock.

Taking care of John. Giving John’s body exactly what it wanted.

John whimpered, almost swept away by the thought. “God, yes.” Then Sherlock’s tongue skidded perfectly over his fraenulum, and John nearly sobbed. “There. Oh god, right there.”

Sherlock kept fucking him, dragging his tongue roughly along the underside of John’s prick, tonguing at the sensitive little fold when he reached it before plunging down again. And through it all, John shook and tensed and moaned, his thoughts reduced to little more than white noise, until he felt his testicles drawing up.

Sherlock pulled off and replaced his mouth with his fist, clenching so tight that John shouted. Meeting John’s eye, Sherlock knelt lower and tipped his chin up, extending his tongue so it was a nice soft pillow for the tip of John’s cock.

Staring, enraptured, John clawed helplessly at the cushion and came. The first pulse hit the back of Sherlock’s throat, but the second and third shot obediently onto Sherlock’s waiting tongue. A shudder rolled through Sherlock’s shoulders, and then he closed his lips and sucked John gently through the rest.

“Fucking hell,” John gasped. His chest heaved, and the leather stuck to his shoulders as he lifted them, squirming, oversensitive and twitching as Sherlock began to lick him clean. “Oh my god. Stop, sorry, I can’t—”

Sherlock left off immediately and stood. His shirt was untucked and his trousers undone, barely hanging on his hips, and his prick was out, swollen and red. When had he done that? John couldn’t remember.

Sherlock’s voice trembled when he asked, “Can I do it on you?” He grasped his cock, and John caught a glimpse of precome dribbling from the slit before Sherlock’s untucked shirt fell suddenly like a curtain, blocking John’s view. “Please. I’ll clean up after. Please, John.”

As if John would refuse. “Oh god yes.” He reached for Sherlock, encouraging him to kneel atop John with his legs spread and John’s waist between his thighs. With John slouched as he was, it put the tent in Sherlock’s crisp white shirt at about the level of his sternum.

He considered slouching more and placing his mouth over the growing wet spot in the fabric, but Sherlock was already wanking furiously, grunting with every stroke. So John just bunched up the shirt and watched as Sherlock finished himself off, spilling thick ropes of come onto John’s chest. He went completely silent, and he looked just as gorgeous as John expected that he would. The upper part of his face was pinched—his brows knit, his eyes squinted and crinkled at the corners—but his jaw was slack, his mouth open in a silent cry.

When he was done, he slumped forwards, smearing his semen all over his own shirt as he curled his upper body around John, resting his chin on the top of John’s head.

“I didn’t even get your clothes off,” John said, making himself sound more bothered than he felt.

Sherlock’s voice was hoarse when he answered. “Doesn’t matter. We’ve the rest of the night for you to try again.”

*

As it turned out, John didn’t even need to try. Sherlock tore his own clothes off as soon as he climbed off the sofa and, when he was as nude as John, led John straight to the bedroom.

John had imagined Sherlock’s bedroom would be just as cluttered as the living room, but it wasn’t. There looked to be a lot of stuff in it, yes, but everything was stored neatly in its place. Even Sherlock’s bed was perfectly made, although the first thing he did after flipping on the light was to throw back the duvet and make a wreck of the bedsheets.

The bedsheets that were utterly heavenly. Off-white in colour, plain in appearance, but so soft and inviting to the touch that John melted back into them the moment he sat down. The thread count was probably astronomical, the material probably difficult to care for, and the cost probably ten times what John had paid for his own.

He luxuriated in them, rolling in the fabric like a wet dog until he was on his stomach and happily cocooned in the satiny fabric. Sherlock sidled in beside him and kissed his bare shoulder so tenderly it made John ache.

“Sorry,” John murmured. “I probably just got come all over your sheets.”

“I don’t mind. They’ll see worse by the time I’ve finished with you tonight.” Another kiss, to John’s bicep this time, which flexed at the light tickling touch. “You’re welcome to stay the night and ruin them completely, but I know that you won’t. You worry I’ll be put off by your nightmares.”

The lovely haze of John’s afterglow splintered like the glass of a cracked mirror. He wouldn’t ask how Sherlock knew that, but he was right. When John had first moved to his bedsit, he’d had nightly screaming nightmares until the flat had grown familiar. God knew what John would do in a strange bed with a strange someone sleeping beside him.

“We’ll have to sneak out for dinner,” said Sherlock. “Mrs Hudson is no doubt lying in wait downstairs, ready to accost us with scones.”

John started, horrified. “She heard us, didn’t she?”

“Oh yes. She’ll be insufferable after this. She’s been dying to meet you properly. You could do us all a favour and move in immediately.”

Sherlock was unfathomable. He worried about asking John to get on top of him when they were snogging, but badgering him to move in was apparently acceptable. John sighed, shaking his head.

Sherlock echoed the sigh, albeit with more resignation. “Worth a try. I’ve been trying to get you a case, you know. An interesting one, that is. Not drunken drownings and clumsy junior doctors.”

Me a case?”

“Mm. You’re bored. You need excitement.” Sherlock smiled, and a loose curl of hair fell whimsically over his forehead. Christ, he was so gorgeous. What the hell was he doing with John? “Unfortunately, Lestrade still refuses to cooperate. We could investigate without his permission, of course, but… it’s so much more fun when I don’t have to bother with subtlety.”

No, Sherlock had probably never done anything subtly in his life. Amused, John began to ask what sort of case Sherlock had in mind, but his thoughts were derailed when one of Sherlock’s roaming hands found the scar on John’s left shoulder and prodded curiously at the gnarled flesh.

John wondered if Sherlock’s deductive powers extended far enough that he could envision what had happened: the sniper from above, how John had laid bleeding out afterwards and prayed to god to let him live, the fever that had ravaged him in the days that followed, how broken and out of control he had felt—helpless and incompetent and weak, like a child.

“The thing,” John found himself saying, “the ‘Daddy’ thing… is it—I mean, are you going to want to powder my bum and put me in nappies, or…?”

The prodding stopped. Sherlock peered at John as though he was a very funny little creature that Sherlock hadn’t worked out what to do with yet, and John was immediately disgusted with himself for opening his damn mouth. So much for going along with it and just hoping that Sherlock didn’t push for anything more.

“Why,” said Sherlock, nose crinkling, “would I want that?”

‘Well, why wouldn’t you?’ John wanted to say, but he only shrugged and folded his arms beneath his head. “The first thing you did was send me to a, a whatsit, a munch for littles. That wasn’t meant to be, I dunno, a hint, maybe?”

“A hint?” Sherlock reared back, his eyebrows nearly disappearing under his fringe, and oh god why had John said anything? “A hint about what?”

“About—” John shook his head, scrambling for words that seemed intent on eluding him now that he really needed them. “—about the sort of relationship you want? A lot of people, you know, that’s what they think of when they hear about a grown man calling another grown man ‘Daddy.’ Babying and spanking and all that.”

Sherlock actually turned his nose up a bit at that. “People are idiots. Never listen to them if you can help it; they rarely have anything worthwhile to say.”

Which was complete bollocks. John hadn’t been worrying about this for the last day and a half just to be brushed off now. “That’s what I think of,” he said, a touch snappish, and Sherlock sighed, casting his gaze skywards.

“That’s because you’re an idiot.”

John raised an eyebrow, at first wondering if he’d misheard, but when Sherlock blanched, looking as though he might sick up all over his heavenly bedsheets, John realised he hadn’t.

“Not like that!” Sherlock said quickly. “I—it wasn’t intended as an insult, just a statement of fact!”

John wasn’t certain what his own face was doing, but whatever it was, it was enough to deepen the horror on Sherlock’s. He was almost stuttering as he clambered into a seated position, taking most of the sheets with him.

“No, no, don’t look like that, John, practically everyone’s an idiot. It’s not—that is, I didn’t—”

“Maybe,” John told him coolly, “just stop talking and get back down here.”

“Yes.” Sherlock flopped gracelessly onto his side again and huddled even closer than before, until he was half draped over John’s back and butting his forehead into John’s shoulder just below the bullet wound. “Yes, good.”

“Thank you,” John said, although he hadn’t been terribly offended in the first place. To Sherlock, most people probably did seem like idiots—which made it even more baffling that he’d chosen John of all people to fixate on.

Slowly, Sherlock’s apologetic head-butting became affectionate nuzzling, and eventually he was shoving the sheets off so he could kiss the skin between John’s shoulder blades.

The issue was settled, then, John supposed. Just to be sure, he lifted his head from his arms and asked, “So, that’s a no on the nappies, then?”

“That’s a no to all of it, but certainly the nappies.”

The words were muffled, but John could feel the rumble of them against his skin. His relief—sharp and sweet—was eclipsed by his awareness of Sherlock’s mouth trailing lower, licking the lower curve of John’s back before drifting even lower still: skimming John’s tailbone.

“They’re bulky,” Sherlock continued, “and hideous. I’d much rather your arse was bare.”

Then he was climbing between John’s legs, pawing at his arse cheeks.

Well then.

John hiked one leg instinctively higher on the bed, spreading himself. He’d never done this while he was soft, never even considered it when he wasn’t out of his mind with lust. “Should probably warn you,” he said over his shoulder, “it’ll be at least an hour before I can manage another round.”

“Good,” said Sherlock. John felt a rush of hot breath against his arsehole. “Plenty of time for me to explore.”

Chapter Text

John didn’t leave Sherlock’s flat until nearly midnight, by which point Mrs Hudson had evidently gone to bed, as John made it outside without hearing so much as a peep from her flat. He was slightly disappointed about that. After what little Sherlock had told him, John was curious about her.

Although, he supposed, perhaps it was fortunate he didn’t meet anyone, as everything about him screamed ‘Just shagged stupid!’ His clothes were rumpled (having spent most of the night on the floor) and he was walking stiffly (due primarily to the friction burn on his inner thighs from Sherlock’s stubble) and stinking of sex (he’d spent less time cleaning himself in the shower and more time on his knees licking along the veins of Sherlock’s prick). He was so aware of his dishevelled appearance that the entire way back to his flat (from pavement to Tube station to pavement again), he felt as though he was being watched and scrutinised, although he knew it was all in his head. He never actually caught anyone at it, anyway.

When he got back to the bedsit, he plugged in both his phone and Harry’s old one and discovered a new text from Sherlock on the BlackBerry, sent eight minutes ago, although he hadn’t heard the chime.

I should inform you that ‘possessive’ does not even begin to describe me. SH

It should have been unsettling. A red fucking flag in a developing relationship if there ever was one. Possessive partners led to things like stalking and violence and misery for all involved. In short: danger. John should have run a bloody mile.

Instead, he found himself grinning down at the mobile screen so widely it felt like his face was splitting in two. An interesting pronouncement, he thought, from someone who’d offered to buy him a session with every sex worker in London.

And I should inform you that ‘loyal’ doesn’t even begin to describe me.

John hadn’t even set the phone down again before it chimed and lit up with Sherlock’s response.

I know. Good night. SH

John’s bed seemed unusually small that night, and he thought of Sherlock’s sinfully soft sheets as he wrapped his own cheap, stiff ones around himself and fell asleep.

*

He had sex dreams that night for the first time in… he couldn’t even remember how long. Months.

Sherlock wasn’t in any of them—instead, because his subconscious was apparently sadistic, John dreamt of his best friend from primary school, one of Harry’s ex-girlfriends, and even Major Sholto—but John had no doubt that Sherlock was the source of them. Sherlock and his curls and his cheekbones and his arsehole and his gorgeous fucking mouth, kicking John’s libido awake after its long cold sleep.

When he checked his email, he found a message from Sherlock, sent just past seven in the morning. In it were two links, followed by:

Thoughts?

—SH

The first was a link to a product on an online sex shop: a slim cylindrical vibrator, 24-karat gold with dozens of round diamonds arranged in a ring around one end. The cost of it was nearly £2000. John couldn’t imagine putting anything of that value near his bits.

The second link took him to a porn site, where a video immediately began playing of a man arranging himself facedown on a bed with a vibrator (similar in shape and size to the one Sherlock had linked him to, but nowhere near as expensive) beneath him. As John watched, the man manoeuvred the toy so that it lay lengthwise against his fraenulum and then he began to frot gently against it.

John was tempted to turn up his computer volume, to hear if the man was grunting or moaning in pleasure, but he resisted. He paused the video instead, and reached for his phone so he could text Sherlock.

I’m not against humping a vibrator against a bed, but it doesn’t have to be gold with diamonds.

This bloke’s cheap plastic one clearly works all right.

As John expected, the response arrived within a minute.

Yes, he seems quite happy with it. SH

But you deserve better. You deserve to fuck gold. SH

It was hotter than it had any right to be. John considered having it off right there at his computer first thing in the morning, thinking of rutting wildly against a buzzing bit of gold while Sherlock stroked his back and watched.

John laid his palm against his crotch, just over the bulge of his prick. It felt thick and heavy in his pants, even though it wasn’t quite stiff yet. ‘Look at you,’ he thought. ‘He’s got you thinking about wanking to gold—the fantasy of gold, anyway.’

The only thing that really bothered him about the idea was that it seemed too early to wank, so John left off for the moment and bookmarked the video for later.

He thought about it, though. On and off, little flashes of fantasy throughout the day: Sherlock cradling him from behind, humping against John’s backside, and letting out awed, half-gasped ‘oh’s in John’s ear every time John gave in and called him ‘Daddy.’

So when Sherlock texted again, a little over six hours later, John fully expected it to be more about the vibrator.

It wasn’t.

Finally! Case. Brixton. 3 Lauriston Gardens. Come at once. SH

A case? John’s breath caught. He remembered Islington, his failure and Sherlock’s foul mood after, and then he remembered what Sherlock had said last night: that he’d been trying to get an interesting case for John.

What sort of case?

The phone chimed again before John’s text was even sent.

Could be dangerous. SH

Well, that was different, wasn’t it? Danger meant there was a risk of Sherlock getting in over his head, of being injured, of needing backup—and he wanted John to back him up.

John didn’t even hesitate.

On my way.

He made sure to grab his gun from the desk drawer before he left.

*

Number 3 Lauriston Gardens was swarming with activity: flashing lights, a growing crowd of gawkers, and police officers rushing about with their radios. It made the crime scene in Islington seem like a quiet church in comparison. Even John’s trip there was more eventful than the taxi ride to Islington had been: it even included a string of phone booths that seemed to ring just as John was hurrying past on the pavement, although he paid them little attention, too focused on reaching Sherlock before ‘could be dangerous’ had the chance to become ‘is dangerous.’

Although, considering none of the rushing police officers appeared especially frantic or concerned, just busy, the danger mightn’t have been as immediate as John initially feared.

As he approached the yellow crime scene tape, a dark-skinned female officer paused and watched him curiously from the other side. She had her arms crossed, her body angled casually to one side.

“Erm,” John said when he was close enough. He hunched a bit, trying to make himself as unthreatening as possible. “Hello. Sherlock Holmes asked me to meet him here.”

“Oh, right,” said the woman. “I’ve heard about you. His… well, not really sure what you are, actually. I might’ve guessed boyfriend, but….”

Her tone wasn’t kind, and she ended on something like a sneer. John immediately dropped the effort to seem smaller, squaring his shoulders and raising himself to his full height.

John wouldn’t stand for homophobia. Not at all.

He kept his voice even, a deadly sort of calm, when he prompted, “But?”

The woman barely blinked at the change in body language. “But he doesn’t have friends, much less a boyfriend. So who are you?”

He and Sherlock hadn’t discussed yet what they were, and it wasn’t on to call someone your boyfriend when they hadn’t explicitly agreed to it. But John also wasn’t going to give this woman the satisfaction of admitting that he was, at present at least, more or less nobody and he’d only just met Sherlock.

He lifted his chin defiantly. “His boyfriend.”

The woman eyed him a long moment, sizing him up. “Okay.” She turned fully towards him, uncrossing her arms. “Bit of advice, then. You might want to think about breaking it off.”

John let out a harsh bark of laughter. This was about the last conversation he’d thought he’d be having tonight. “Why?”

“You know why he’s here? He’s not paid or anything. He likes it. The weirder the crime, the more he gets off. And you know what? One day just showing up won’t be enough. One day we’ll be standing round a body, and Sherlock Holmes’ll be the one that put it there.”

Maybe not homophobia after all. Maybe it was personal. That was worse, as far as John was concerned. He sniffed angrily, clenching his fists. “Why would he do that?”

“Because he’s a psychopath.” The woman smiled, although it was insincere and scarcely looked like a smile at all. “And psychopaths get bored.”

It wouldn’t do to get into an altercation with a member of the Met, John reminded himself. Still, a long string of obscenities were knotting themselves together on the tip of his tongue, just behind his gritted teeth, and he wasn’t opposed to letting them loose.

Before he could, the woman shook her head, her curls swaying. “I can’t believe it. A boyfriend. How did he get a boyfriend? Did he follow you home?”

“No,” said a voice from behind her.

John started and the woman whirled around, and there was Sherlock—striding briskly from the house towards them. He was glowing, his mouth stretched wide in a smile that lit him up like a shower of sparks. He looked gorgeous. John was breathless at just the sight of him.

“We met online, actually,” Sherlock told the woman. He lifted the yellow tape and ducked beneath it. “Fetish site. He’s been obliging enough to go along with my numerous sexual deviances. Let’s go, John.”

The woman was gaping at them now, and quite frankly John felt like gaping too, although he wasn’t given the chance before Sherlock was crowding his space and herding him away. There was an urgency in his stance and his movements, and John let himself be swept away by it. When Sherlock finally stopped his insistent shooing motions and stepped around John to walk in front, John trotted eagerly after him.

“What happened? Where are we going?”

“Pink!” said Sherlock, and John quickened his pace, certain that he’d misheard because pink made no bloody sense.

“What?”

“Serial killer. You’ll love those, John. Always something to look forward to.”

John thought that ‘love’ was a stronger word than the situation warranted, but said nothing about it. “Okay. So… there was a corpse back there?”

“Yes. Poisoned. Jennifer Wilson, according to her credit cards. Dressed in pink, missing her suitcase. The murderer’s first big mistake. It wouldn’t have taken him more than five minutes to realise. Oh!” Sherlock stopped dead, midstride, and John nearly ran into him. “Here.” He reached into his coat pocket and took out his mobile phone, which he forced into John’s hands. “Photos. Apologies for the quality. I had to be covert. Lestrade is so particular about information leaks.”

He spat the last two words as though they were an especially nasty disease. Then, while John was still attempting to process what he had been given and why, Sherlock started walking again, albeit slightly less briskly than before, leaving John to hurry to catch up.

They were headed towards the main street. To hail a taxi, John assumed, although Sherlock veered abruptly in the direction of an abandoned block of flats. He threw open the door and waltzed inside as though he owned the place, then turned around and held the door open for John to follow.

“Er.” John stepped inside. “What are we doing?”

The door creaked awfully as it closed, like something from a horror film. Sherlock hastened towards the staircase, his coat billowing dramatically.

“I told you. It wouldn’t have taken him long to realise his mistake. Nobody could be seen with a pink case without drawing attention—particularly a man, which is statistically more likely. He’d feel compelled to get rid of it the moment he noticed he still had it.”

Sherlock mounted the staircase and began to climb. Then, seeming to finally understand that he’d not answered John’s question at all, he hesitated on the third step and looked back.

“Roof access.” He gestured upwards. “I need to check every backstreet nearby wide enough for a car, anywhere you could dispose of a bulky object without being observed. Stay there. I won’t be long.”

And with that, Sherlock dashed up the stairs, leaving John at the bottom still clutching Sherlock’s mobile in one hand.

‘No,’ he thought dryly. ‘Not at all how I imagined tonight turning out.’

He turned his attention to the phone. It was a BlackBerry very similar to John’s, so he had no difficulty navigating to Sherlock’s photographs and having a look around.

The most recent set were indeed of a woman wearing a great deal of pink, lying facedown on the floor, although if there were any other details John was meant to glean from the photos, they were all lost on him. There was a blurry shot of her whole body, her head, her shoes, and what looked like the back of her coat. The most interesting shot by far was the one of her hand and the ‘RACHE’ carved into the floor just beside it. Rachel?

Sherlock returned then, and John could tell from the way he clomped down the stairs that he was disappointed. “Nothing secluded enough,” he muttered sulkily. He didn’t so much as glance at John as he hopped off the last step.

John held out the phone for him to take. “How do you know she had a suitcase?”

“Tiny splash marks on the heel and calf of her right leg, not present on her left.” Sherlock pocketed his mobile and opened the creaking door, again holding it for John. “She’d been in heavy rain and wind, dragging a wheeled suitcase behind her with her right hand. You don’t get that splash pattern any other way.”

“That,” John told him, “is amazing.” He wished that he’d been there to see it all firsthand: Sherlock examining the body, making deductions. If he’d been glowing when he’d met John afterwards, then in the moment he’d probably been incandescent, blinding.

At the praise, Sherlock peered at him, his expression going squinty and thoughtful. “I should have waited for you before I examined the body,” he said, surprisingly solemnly. “I meant to wait for you, so you could see all my work. But then I got… carried away.”

That sounded familiar. John’s lips twitched into a smile. “You get carried away a lot.”

Sherlock smiled back, so soft and affectionate that John was mentally transported to the previous night: Sherlock curling up beside him and kissing his shoulder tenderly. “A bit.”

It wasn’t really the time to be getting soppy, though, so John cleared his throat and glanced away. “Right then. Another rooftop?”

In the end, it took four more rooftops before Sherlock identified what he called the “ideal location,” which turned out to be a large skip. While John watched, horrified, Sherlock climbed into it without a hint of hesitation and dug until he unearthed a pink wheeling suitcase, which he hefted with a shout of triumph.

“See,” he said, “there!” He gripped the label attached to the handle and angled it towards John, although John was standing too far away to read it. “Jennifer Wilson. Along with her address in Cardiff and her phone number. Excellent.”

Sherlock dropped the case onto the ground and then heaved himself from the skip. John, half concerned he was going to fall flat on his face, rushed forwards, although of course Sherlock didn’t need the help. He landed gracefully on his feet, looking neat and unruffled and not at all like he’d just gone diving in a skip.

“You,” John began, then had to stop and shake his head, regathering his thoughts: how the first thing Sherlock had said to him when he’d asked had been ‘Pink’ and how that, somehow, had led them here. “All this just because you realised the case would be pink?”

“Well, it had to be pink. Obviously.”

John laughed, ducking his head. It wouldn’t have been obvious to him. Well, that was why Sherlock was the consulting detective, he supposed, and why John was… nothing, really. Maybe a hopeful future boyfriend. Anything that would let him bask in Sherlock’s glow for a while longer.

When John lifted his head again, he found Sherlock staring at him. ‘Predatory’ was the first word that popped into John’s mind, but that wasn’t quite right. There was something beseeching in his expression. Like he was silently begging to be allowed to pick John apart and take him in, bit by bit, until there was nothing of him that existed outside Sherlock.

No one had ever wanted John like that. John didn’t even think that he had ever wanted someone like that, and he had wanted people very, very badly in the past.

“You’re being very tempting,” Sherlock said. His voice was so low John could almost feel the rumble of it beneath his feet. “Don’t tempt me, John. I’m not known for my restraint.”

‘All I did was laugh,’ John might have answered, or ‘No one’s asking you to restrain yourself.’ But before he could, Sherlock was turning away and picking up the pink case, which he tucked under one arm like it weighed nothing.

“Right, then,” he said. Gone was the tone from a moment before, replaced by cheery self-satisfaction. “Back to Baker Street.”

Chapter Text

John blamed it on the general madness of the night that it wasn’t until they were back at Sherlock’s flat—John seated in the lumpy red armchair, watching Sherlock rifle through the pink suitcase—that it occurred to him: “Hang on. You said serial killer. The pink lady wasn’t the first?”

“Hm? No. She was the fourth,” said Sherlock, sounding distracted. The case’s contents were mostly clothes, it seemed, but there were also a wash bag and a novel that Sherlock flipped through and then tossed aside. “You should know. You’ve read the papers. You’ve even written about it—that’s why I was interested in the first place.”

John felt his jaw drop. “She’s one of the suicides? The—wait, you were interested because of my blog?”

“I said I would get you a case. It only made sense to choose the one you were already interested in.” After a heavy, disappointed sigh, Sherlock scowled down at the mess he’d made of Jennifer Wilson’s belongings. “Lestrade is probably furious with himself for not calling me in when I first requested it.”

While John blinked stupidly, taking in the new knowledge and wondering how he should feel about it, Sherlock began throwing the poor dead woman’s belongings haphazardly back into the suitcase.

Then came a knock at the door and a cheery “Yoo-hoo!” as the landlady, Mrs Hudson, let herself in. “Sherlock, did you—oh! Dr Watson!”

“Not now, Mrs Hudson,” Sherlock snapped. “I’m trying to think.” He punctuated the statement by flipping the lid of the suitcase closed and then, with a huff, stalked towards the bedroom and out of sight.

“Really, Sherlock!” Mrs Hudson called after him. “You might’ve straightened things up a bit!”

Tight-lipped, she cast a disapproving look about the floor, which was still covered in sheet music as it had been the previous night, and then the coffee table, where there were two half-empty mugs of cold tea to the left of Sherlock’s violin. John remembered vividly Sherlock insisting on making John a cuppa along with two pieces of very, very stale toast for a late dinner last night—and he remembered even more vividly abandoning it all when Sherlock, distracted by the sight of John swallowing a particularly large gulp of tea, lunged suddenly across the sofa to lick at his throat.

Which was not, John supposed, the sort of thoughts he should be having right now.

Mrs Hudson gave John a smile that was full of apology: the sort of ‘Please don’t mind him!’ look that a mum might give someone about her unruly son. “Look at him, dashing about. He’s usually not like this.”

John doubted that very much. Everything he’d seen of Sherlock suggested he was very much the type of person who always dashed about. “He’s not?”

Her smile faltered and she looked away, her gaze flitting over the cow skull on the wall, which she wrinkled her nose at. “Well… perhaps a bit. But he can be very charming! And of course he’s terribly clever, confident, handsome. If you’re more the sitting-down type, I’m sure—”

“No! No, I—” Then John realised that he was in fact sitting down, which seemed to belie his words, so he stood hastily. “Er, that is—”

Mrs Hudson’s wandering gaze landed on the pink lady’s suitcase, and she cut John off with a delighted gasp. “Oh! Are you moving in?”

She was so obviously elated that John felt guilty for shaking his head. “No, sorry, not mine. It’s for a case. I won’t be moving any time soon.”

Mrs Hudson’s face fell, but her disappointment was short-lived, replaced with an approving nod. “You’re taking it slowly, then? Probably for the best. My husband and I, it was a whirlwind thing for us. I knew it wouldn’t last, but I just sort of got swept along.”

It struck John that this was all like something from an absurd comedy programme. A night of amazing sex, then a serial killer and rooting through a dead woman’s suitcase, and now Mrs Hudson reminiscing about her husband the executed drug lord. John wondered where Sherlock had disappeared to and why he hadn’t returned yet.

With a wistful sigh, Mrs Hudson swept her hands down the skirt of her dress and moved towards the kitchen, and in the process trodded right over Sherlock’s sheet music. “Oh!” She jumped backwards, surprised, then made an exasperated noise and called towards the back of the flat, “Sherlock, the mess you made!”

She knelt gingerly to the floor and began to gather up the pages. It was so absurd, a kind woman of her age cleaning up after Sherlock, that John couldn’t stand to watch. He knelt quickly beside her and gathered a stack of sheets himself, saying “No, you shouldn’t have to do that. Here, I’ve got it.”

But Mrs Hudson only made shooing motions at him. “Oh, it’s fine, dear. I’m his landlady after all.”

“Yeah, but you’re not his housekeeper.”

Mrs Hudson stopped, her grip loosening, and some of the pages fluttered back to the floor. John took advantage of her distraction to retrieve the rest from her hand.

“Goodness,” she said, “I see why he’s so fond of you. Aside from your looks, I mean. Although I still say it was awfully rude of you, sneaking out after a night of passion. And after all the time you spent playing hard to get!”

John stared, faintly aware that his cheeks were going warm, from indignation as much as from embarrassment. “No. No, I wasn’t—and I didn’t—”

Looking pleased at his stuttering, Mrs Hudson stole the sheet music back and raised herself to standing before John could protest. She tossed the stack of paper onto the coffee table, then picked up the two dirty mugs.

It was worse than her cleaning up the sheet music, because the tea was at least partly John’s mess. He hurried to stand at the same time that he reached to take the mugs from Mrs Hudson—and proceeded to knock one with his knuckles and spill cold tea all over himself. His hand, trousers, and shoes took the worst of it, sparing the floor all but a few stray drops.

“Shit!” John leapt back, dripping even more tea onto the floor. “Sorry, I’m so sorry.”

Mrs Hudson tutted at him, her eyebrows arching. “Serves you right, you know.” She stepped around him and carried the mugs to the kitchen. “I did say I could manage on my own.”

John made a mental note to never offer to help Mrs Hudson again. “Right,” he said. “I’ll just… clean myself up in the loo.”

While he was in the ensuite, John went ahead and emptied his bladder as well before he retrieved a flannel from the cupboard and used it to dab at his wet tea-stained trousers.

‘Well done,’ he thought, gritting his teeth. ‘She’s been eager to meet you again, and you just made a brilliant impression.’

He dried himself as much as he could, although he still smelt strongly of tea and it looked as though he’d pissed himself. Then he returned to the living room.

Mrs Hudson was nowhere in sight, and Sherlock was lying lengthwise across the sofa, staring up at the ceiling. He spared John a long, thorough look that was as probing and scrutinising as a full-body search. John tried to nonchalantly cover the dark spot on his trousers with his hands.

But Sherlock only said, “I told Mrs Hudson I wanted to have you over the arm of the sofa,” and looked back to the ceiling. “She won’t be bothering us again.”

‘Will you be having me over the arm of the sofa?’ John wanted to say cheekily, but no—dead woman, serial killer, not the time. He let it go.

“Okay.” He noticed that Sherlock had taken his suit jacket off, unbuttoned his shirtsleeves, and rolled them up. As John watched, he clenched and unclenched the fist of his left hand, and pressed his right palm firmly into his left forearm. “What are you doing?”

“Nicotine patches. Helps me think.” Sherlock lifted his right hand, revealing three round patches stuck to his left arm.

“Is that three patches?”

If Sherlock noticed John’s horror, he wasn’t fazed by it. “It’s a three-patch problem.” He steepled his fingers beneath his chin and closed his eyes.

Possibly a sign that he wanted to be left alone, but… well, he had brought John into this, hadn’t he? “Did you actually run to your room to put on a bunch of nicotine patches?”

“Can’t do it in front of Mrs Hudson. She gets upset,” Sherlock said, calmly as you please. His eyes opened again, and he peered at John. “Oh. So do you.” He surged to a seated position and began to rip off the top patch.

“Look, it’s just—” John began, but Sherlock only shrugged and proceeded to rip all three off.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said loftily. “They’ve done their work.” He crumpled them in his hand, then took a deep breath and swung his legs around so his feet were on the floor. “Now. On my desk there’s a number. I want you to send a text.”

Which was how John ended up texting a dead woman to summon her to 22 Northumberland Street.

As he composed the message that Sherlock dictated, John was very, very conscious of how slowly he typed, his plodding hunt-and-peck technique. Finally, he finished, sent the message, and set the phone on the desk, then looked to Sherlock for further explanation.

Sherlock’s eyes had gone dark and half-lidded and hungry, which was unexpected to say the least. John had done nothing but type and send a text.

“Er,” he said, struggling to remember what he’d wanted to ask. “Why did I just text Jennifer Wilson?”

At the question, Sherlock’s expression lost most, although not all, of its hunger, and Sherlock rose to his feet, stepped on top of the coffee table and then off the other side of it, and approached the pink suitcase. Perching on the back of the leather armchair, he clasped his hands in front of him.

“Do you see what’s missing?”

How was John meant to see what was missing from the suitcase of a woman he’d never even met? He shook his head.

“Her phone. Where’s her mobile phone? There was no phone on the body; there’s no phone in the case. We know she had one—that’s her number there, you just texted it.”

Yes. John did. “All right. So why did I just send that text?”

The corner of Sherlock’s lip twitched up. He was enjoying this. Although, to be honest, so was John, a bit. “The question is: Where is her phone now?”

She might’ve left it at home, John thought, or she might’ve lost it. But somehow he knew that neither was the answer Sherlock wanted. Those were ordinary reasons, uninteresting ones. John tried to think more interestingly.

“The murderer,” he realised. Sherlock smiled broadly. “Did I just text a murderer?”

As if on bloody cue, the phone on the desk began to ring. The caller’s name and number were withheld, according to the lit screen. It felt for a moment like John’s heart was going to beat right out of his chest.

“A few hours after his last victim,” Sherlock said, “and now he receives a text that can only be from her. If somebody had just found that phone, they’d ignore a text like that, but the murderer—”

The ringing stopped. John’s pulse roared in his ears.

“—would panic.”

With a flourish, Sherlock was up and striding across the room to fetch his coat.

John snatched up the phone, watching the screen darken again. ‘I just texted a murderer,’ he thought. ‘A murderer just phoned me.’ Adrenaline was flooding his body, his muscles were tensed in typical flight-or-fight response, and it felt surprisingly brilliant.

“John!” Sherlock was holding John’s coat extended, shaking it to get John’s attention. “Let’s go.”

John accepted the coat and threw it on. “Are we going to the police?”

“Four people are dead. There isn’t time to talk to the police.”

“So why did you just waste who-knows-how-long talking to me?”

Sherlock’s eyebrows lifted, and John realised that he already knew: Sherlock was showing off. Giving John the case that John had been interested in, promising John adventure and danger, flaunting his cleverness and his brilliance for John like a peacock with his tail feathers fanned out.

And god but he was a gorgeous fucking peacock.

The woman at the crime scene had been mad, doubting that Sherlock could get a boyfriend, thinking that Sherlock was somehow undesirable.

That reminded John.

“The woman I met at the crime scene,” he began, but faltered when Sherlock’s expression soured, his half smile shrivelling like an exposed and dried-up root.

“Sergeant Donovan. What about her?”

“She said….” John paused, licking his lips. “You get off on this. You enjoy it.”

Sherlock’s gaze dropped to John’s mouth, and John found himself licking his lips again, watching Sherlock watch the slow drag of his tongue. Sherlock’s face lost its sour look and sparked again with interest.

“And I said danger,” he said, “and here you are.”

Yes. Here John was. Although it might’ve been less because of what Sherlock had said, and more because it had been Sherlock saying it. John suspected that, if push came to shove, he would have come no matter where Sherlock had called him.

When Sherlock spun around and dashed out the door, John was hard on his heels.

*

Angelo’s was on Northumberland Street, which, to John’s chagrin, he only remembered when Sherlock led him to the restaurant’s entrance and ushered him inside.

They were seated at the same booth they’d sat at last time and given menus. Sherlock set his aside even as he scooted the other one closer to John.

“Do you want to eat? You may as well eat. We might have a long wait.”

Angelo fawned over them, bringing a candle for the table, dropping off John’s pasta with a wink, and calling John “Dr Watson” with such rich approval that John had no doubt he’d rocketed to the top of Angelo’s list of favourite people just by showing up here with Sherlock more than once.

It made John think again of the woman at the crime scene, Sergeant Donovan: how she had claimed that Sherlock didn’t have friendswhen he clearly had at least one in Mrs Hudson and one in Angelo.

“Sergeant Donovan didn’t seem to like you,” said John.

They’d been sitting for several minutes in silence, John concerned mostly with his food while Sherlock’s eyes were riveted to the view outside the window behind John. He was understandably more focused on 22 Northumberland Street than John’s attempts at small talk and would’ve been perfectly justified, really, in ignoring John’s statement entirely.

Instead, Sherlock cocked his head and eyed John thoughtfully. His fingers drummed against the table. “No. Nor should she. I admit I’ve been… unkind to her. Made a few unsavoury deductions about her in front of her colleagues. She’s perfectly within her right to despise me.”

John recalled one of the women from the North London littles munch calling Sherlock a “right bastard,” how John had thought that he was rude and off-putting when they’d first started texting. That Sherlock seemed now like an entirely different person to the one sat in front of him, the one who had bought John a £3000 watch and wanted to feel as though he was taking care of John so desperately that he got off on being called ‘Daddy.’

He wasn’t, of course. They were the same person. John thought ruefully that he should probably keep that in mind.

“She also said that you weren’t being paid,” John said. “I sort of thought… um.”

“You thought the Metropolitan Police Service were paying me well for my contributions,” Sherlock finished, and John shrugged one shoulder to indicate that yes that’s precisely what he had thought. “No. Not at all.”

Oh. John sat back, reassessing. Maybe Sherlock’s wealth was inherited? Or he accepted private cases for a very large fee? Before he could ask, Sherlock sat up in excitement.

“Look across the street. Taxi.”

John turned around and saw immediately.

“Stopped,” Sherlock said. “Nobody getting in, and nobody getting out.”

Yes, and the passenger in the back was peering out the windows as though searching for someone.

“Why a taxi?” Sherlock muttered. “Oh, that’s clever. Is it clever? Why is it clever? John, don’t stare.”

John turned automatically away, and then was cross at himself for doing so. “You just told me to look.”

“Yes, but we can’t both stare.”

And with that, Sherlock grabbed his coat and scarf and rose to his feet, heading for the door. Heart in his throat and the whisper of danger in his ear, John grabbed his own coat and followed.

Chapter Text

The chase that ensued was without a doubt the most ridiculous thing John had ever done. Vaulting over cars, climbing railings, and leaping across rooftops. Adrenaline surged through him, his heart pounding like a war drum the entire time, and by the time it was done and they were back at Baker Street—panting and giggling like children, standing side by side against the wall while they caught their breath—John was certain it was the most fun he had ever had.

But also the most ridiculous, which he told Sherlock, who chuckled and said, “And you invaded Afghanistan.”

John laughed, so giddy it felt like he was floating. “That wasn’t just m—”

Sherlock kissed him, swallowing the end of John’s sentence and John’s laughter and pressing John’s shoulders into the wall. His lips and face were windblown and cold, but the rest of him was so very warm and inviting. John couldn’t help but arch into him, wrapping his arms around Sherlock’s waist.

Sherlock pulled back, kissed John’s cheek and jaw and chin, and nuzzled below his ear. The cold barely-there touch against his neck made John laugh and squirm.

“Is this,” he said, “why we aren’t back at the restaurant?”

Another brush of Sherlock’s nose against his neck followed by a hot open-mouthed kiss, Sherlock’s tongue licking softly at the skin while John sighed and dropped his head back.

“Not at all,” Sherlock murmured. John felt the vibrations against his skin. “It was a long shot anyway. We were mostly passing the time.”

Sherlock kissed him again, gripping John’s hips and trying—clumsily, John thought and giggled into Sherlock’s mouth—to lift him so their heads were at the same height. John went to his toes, stretched his body as long as possible, and felt Sherlock shudder and moan into his mouth before pulling away.

“I knew it,” Sherlock said. “From the moment I saw your profile, read how you described yourself. You were so bored, so… cadaverous. A little excitement, a little danger, and now look at you.” His hands roamed John’s torso: scratching John’s lower back through his jumper, skimming down John’s sides. He seemed delighted by every involuntary twitch and noise. “So alive. Mine.”

John had the urge to wrap his legs around Sherlock’s waist and let Sherlock frot them both to full hardness and beyond, although it wouldn’t be worth the friction burn. John chuckled at the thought and was silenced by Sherlock’s mouth against his own, firm and ardent but gone quickly.

“Stop grinning,” Sherlock groused. “I want you when you grin.”

Which of course meant that John found it impossible to stop, so Sherlock snogged him again and again, until John’s lips felt swollen and chapped.

“How do you want me?” he asked, and the noise Sherlock made in his throat sounded rather erotically like a growl.

“Against this wall.” He leaned in, brushing his lips against the shell of John’s ear. “I want to suck your fat, perfect cock until you’re clawing at the wall and begging so much you’ll be just as hoarse as I will.”

John moaned, which echoed startlingly loudly throughout the hallway.

“Good boy,” Sherlock said. “Let Daddy hear you.”

“Sherlock!”

John jerked backwards. Tried to, anyway, although there was nowhere to go, so he only succeeded in jamming himself painfully against the wall. The only response Sherlock had to Mrs Hudson’s voice was to lift his head and roll his eyes to the ceiling with a sigh.

“Sherlock, what have you done?” Mrs Hudson said, standing in the open door of her flat.

Now that John was paying attention, he could hear the distress in her voice. And Sherlock evidently could hear it as well, as he let go of John and spun hastily around.

“Mrs Hudson?”

“Upstairs,” she said.

Sherlock sprang up the stairs, and John followed.

*

It was chaos then. So much going on at once and in such a small space that John struggled to process it all.

A dozen or so police officers tearing Sherlock’s flat apart in a drugs bust. (Sherlock shot John an anxious look and shouted, “I’m clean! I don’t even smoke!” before digging the crumpled nicotine patches, which John had forgotten about and certainly hadn’t realised Sherlock still had on him, from the pocket of his trousers and tossing them childishly at DI Lestrade’s feet.)

Sergeant Donovan discovering human eyeballs in the microwave (“It’s an experiment,” Sherlock snapped) and someone called Anderson unearthing a parcel beneath the bed that contained two unopened Fleshlights. (“Put those back. Please,” said Sherlock, red-faced and clipped, and Lestrade turned to John and said, “You should come round more often, mate. I’ve never seen him so polite.”)

Sherlock pacing about, practically manic, and Mrs Hudson claiming multiple times that Sherlock’s taxi had arrived. (“I’ve been with him all night, Mrs Hudson,” John insisted gently. “He didn’t order a taxi.”)

Not to mention, a load of revelations about the case: Rachel as Jennifer Wilson’s stillborn daughter, the password to her email, the GPS on her smartphone claiming it was at 221B Baker Street. (“How?” Sherlock said, seeming close to yanking out his hair in frustration.)

All of it jerking John in one direction, then another, then another, but he didn’t feel overwhelmed. He felt sharp and alert, practical and useful: alive.

“How can the phone be here?” he asked, and when Sherlock said he didn’t know, John stood to get his own phone out of his pocket. “I’ll try it again.”

“Yes. Yes, good idea.” Sherlock clasped John’s biceps and bent close, staring right into John’s eyes, barely an inch of space between their faces. John couldn’t have looked away if he’d tried. “Listen to me. I’m going to pop outside for a moment. Fresh air. Won’t be long. If you need anything, come find me. Understand? Come find me.”

“Um.” John blinked, struck with a suspicion that he was missing something. But Sherlock was staring beseechingly at him, begging with his entire body for John to agree, to just trust him and go along with it, so John nodded. “Yeah. All right.”

It was only after John watched from the window as Sherlock drove off in a cab that he understood what Sherlock had been trying to tell him.

John was meant to wait until he’d gone and then follow.

Which was precisely what John did.

*

He was immensely relieved that he’d thought to grab his gun before he’d left the bedsit.

The time he’d wasted figuring out what Sherlock had been hinting at, plus the time he’d spent in the taxi trying to navigate the GPS and contact DI Lestrade, put him at a significant disadvantage. So that when he wound up stupidly in the wrong building, staring into the window across the courtyard where Sherlock appeared to be about to put something into his mouth while another man watched and spoke, John had no choice but to ready his pistol, aim, and fire.

He didn’t even think of not shooting. This was why Sherlock had invited him along. He was in danger; he needed backup. And John was more than the capable of providing it.

The gunshot was deafening in the silent room. Across the courtyard, the unknown man fell. John dropped the gun to his side, heart in his throat, and watched as Sherlock rushed to the window, looked out, and met John’s eye.

Then John’s admittedly shoddy sense of self-preservation kicked in, and he turned and ran before the police arrived.

*

John tried to remain inconspicuous, standing amongst the other curious onlookers as Sherlock was led to the back of an ambulance and an orange blanket was draped over his shoulders.

It was a bit difficult, though, when Sherlock seemed intent on staring directly at John like there was no one else in the whole fucking world and never would be, and as a result, everyone else took to slanting wary glances at him and shuffling not-so-subtly farther away.

Plus, it seemed that every member of New Scotland Yard knew now that he was the maybe-boyfriend of Sherlock Holmes and acknowledged him with an awed sort of nod. Sergeant Donovan had apparently decided that John was all right after all and sought him out so that she could relate what she had gleaned of the situation so far.

A cabbie, a choice of two pills, a mysterious shooter who had fled the scene.

John had stashed his pistol in a skip several streets away, but he could still feel the hot metal against his skin, could still hear the thunderous echo of the gunshot in his ear.

He felt untouchable, fearless. More capable and useful even than he had been in Afghanistan, when the inevitability of death and failure had dogged his steps no matter what he bloody did.

So he kept his chin lifted and his stance wide and stared right back at Sherlock, boring holes into him just as he was doing to John, blinking as little as possible and thinking, ‘There, I’m good for something after all. I did exactly like you wanted: I followed you and I saved your sodding life, you reckless idiot. What do you think of that?’

Sherlock wet his lips and looked so fucking greedy that John could feel it: sloppy kisses growing bitey, hands pawing at every bit of flesh they could find.

When Sherlock was finally allowed to leave, he stalked towards John, depositing the blanket into the open window of a police car and ducking beneath the police tape. The rest of the dwindling crowd by that point had put considerable distance between themselves and John, so it seemed like he and Sherlock were in their own little impenetrable bubble amidst the flashing lights and murmured comments.

“Sergeant Donovan’s just been explaining everything,” John said innocently. “The two pills. Dreadful business, isn’t it? Dreadful.”

The corner of Sherlock’s lips twitched. “Good shot,” he said, barely audible.

John inclined his head, accepting the praise.

“Are you all right?”

John frowned. “Yes, of course I’m all right.”

“Well, you have just killed a man.”

That was true, wasn’t it? John certainly shouldn’t have felt as chuffed as he did. That was probably a bit not good. Morally dubious at best. Dangerous.

“But he wasn’t a very nice man,” John said. “And frankly a bloody awful cabbie.”

Sherlock laughed, a rich and gorgeous sound, and then they were walking, Sherlock leading John away from the crowd and the crime scene, giggling.

When they were a fair distance away, Sherlock froze abruptly, eyeing a parked black car and a man who emerged from the backseat dressed in a posh brown suit and carrying an umbrella.

“Oh for god’s sake,” Sherlock muttered. Ignoring John’s alarmed “What?” he marched towards the man, who regarded Sherlock’s approach with a neutral expression.

John wished for his pistol, fiercely regretting his decision to get rid of it.

“What are you doing here?” Sherlock demanded.

The man smiled tightly and reached into the still-open car door, where John saw there was a woman fiddling with a mobile phone. She didn’t look up from the screen as she handed a Primark bag to the man, who in turn offered it to John. Sherlock made a disgusted noise but nevertheless gestured for John to take it.

Inside was a bundled-up quilt and—John groped at it curiously—swaddled inside that was a gun. John’s gun.

“Simply returning lost items, Sherlock,” the man said. “No need to be hostile. What would Mummy say?”

“Mummy?” John asked, mystified. He shoved the quilt back into the bag, ensuring the pistol was fully hidden.

Sherlock sighed. “Mother. Our mother. This is my brother, Mycroft.”

“Oh.” John remembered Sherlock mentioning his brother, claiming he was the British government and had access to all sorts of information. John hadn’t not believed him at the time, but now, seeing that Mycroft somehow had known exactly where to fetch John’s gun, John reckoned he had a better idea of what Sherlock had meant. “Oh, right. Um, hi? And thanks for this, I suppose.”

Another tight smile, although this one seemed more genuine than the last. “Not at all. It is nice to finally have occasion to meet the man who’s made my brother so eager to agree t—”

“Yes, thank you for your assistance,” Sherlock said, nearly shouting. “Now if you don’t mind, I’ve very important plans to ravish John against a hard surface, so if you could get on with it—”

Mycroft rolled his eyes and levelled a look at John that he couldn’t quite interpret. “Charming. It must be his delightful personality that’s made you so keen on my brother.”

John was struck with a vague but undeniable sense that he was being made fun of, although he couldn’t imagine why. He managed an “Erm” before Sherlock was invading his space and herding him away, the same way he had herded John away from Sergeant Donovan earlier that night.

“Yes, thank you,” said Sherlock, speaking quickly. “Good of you to pop by, but as I said: very busy, important plans, must run.”

“Of course,” Mycroft said smoothly. “John and I can become acquainted another time.”

Sherlock stopped his shepherding, seeming taken aback, and John glanced over his shoulder in time to see Mycroft give Sherlock a sharp, closed-lipped smile that seemed to communicate a dozen things at once, none of them in a language John understood.

Which wasn’t on, as far as John was concerned. It was rude and shifty, saying one thing with your mouth and something else with your face. No wonder Sherlock was in a hurry to get away.

Determined to give him a taste of the same, John fixed Mycroft with a flinty-eyed stare (the sort that said, ‘Don’t forget that I just killed a man’) and said, perfectly polite, “Looking forward to it. Good night.”

He turned on his heels, waved away Sherlock’s hands, and marched off. After a moment, he heard Sherlock behind him hurrying to catch up.

They walked in silence until a car door slammed shut, signalling Mycroft’s imminent departure. Then John relaxed his shoulders and unclenched his hand, which he hadn’t realised until now that he had curled into a fist. “So. Your brother’s a bit of a dick.”

That got him a huff of laughter from Sherlock which in turn made John grin, pleased with himself.

“He has his good points, I suppose,” said Sherlock. “Very few of them, but….” He shrugged one shoulder, still smiling.

“What exactly was he trying to—” John began at the same time that Sherlock said, “Dinner?”

The promise in his tone and expression—which brought to mind their heated snog in the hallway at Sherlock’s flat—effectively wiped all thoughts of the encounter with Mycroft Holmes from John’s head.

“Not hungry,” John admitted.

“Excellent,” said Sherlock. “Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

The moment the door to Sherlock’s flat closed behind them, John was shoved against it and snogged. The Primark bag in his hand fell to the floor with a thud. He twined his fingers in Sherlock’s hair and squeezed Sherlock’s knee where it was pressed between his thighs. He felt greedy. He felt a mess.

Sherlock was worse. When he broke away, resting his forehead against John’s, he was red-faced and gasping like he’d just run a marathon.

“You killed for me,” he said, eyes wide. “No one’s ever done that.”

John laughed. “So that’s what gets you going, is it? I’ll try to remember that.”

Shaking his head, Sherlock stumbled backwards and tore off his suit jacket, which he dropped to the floor before he began to unbutton his shirt. His hands, John noticed, were shaking. “I told you: you’re unexpected. That ‘gets me going.’”

Which was even more amusing, so John laughed again. Then, because Sherlock was making quick work of undressing, John pushed away from the door and began to strip as well. “You wanted me to follow you. Must’ve been at least a bit expected.”

“A blow over the head or a well-timed shout, yes,” said Sherlock. His shirt off, revealing the pale skin of his chest with its contrasting spattering of dark hair, he started on his zip. “But a kill shot over that distance from a handgun? No. No, that was… very unexpected.”

John hadn’t finished divesting himself of his trousers—nor had Sherlock, for that matter, although his were only barely still hanging on his bony hips—before Sherlock was on him again, distracting him from the task by repinning him against the door and pressing wet, sucking kisses to his bottom lip.

“Impressive,” said Sherlock. The word was muffled by John’s mouth, as were the ones that followed. “Fantastic. I underestimated you. I never underestimate.”

Impressive. John was impressive.

He drew back, ignoring Sherlock’s whimper of protest. “And you’re an idiot. Running off like that, nearly getting yourself killed. You were going to take that bloody pill, weren’t you?”

“Course not.” Sherlock went for John’s mouth again, and John allowed the kiss for a heartbeat or two before breaking it. Sherlock groaned, his face growing pinched in displeasure. “I knew, mm. Knew you’d turn up.”

“Oh right. ‘Come find me.’ Reckless bastard. I had no idea what you were on about. If I’d shown up even a minute later, it’d have been too late.”

Sherlock scoffed, although it sounded halfhearted. Possibly because he was riveted by John’s mouth: staring like he would go mad if John didn’t let him have it again. “Oh please. I knew you’d understand. I knew you’d come. You saved me even more capably than I intended.”

Yes. John had. And still, the mental image remained of Sherlock gurgling and vomiting, his body seizing and jerking on the floor.

“You know you didn’t actually have to go with him. You were in a flat full of police officers. You don’t have to risk your life just to prove you’re clever, you git.”

Sherlock’s scoff wasn’t so halfhearted this time. He ducked his head so that he could rub his nose against John’s and breathe against John’s lips. “You needed it. You loved it. Do I have to keep repeating myself? I despise repeating myself. I want to take care of you. I want to give you everything you need, which at the moment is a purpose, a source of excitement.”

Sherlock kissed him, crushing their mouths together so forcefully that John was driven back into the door again. He clutched at Sherlock’s forearms, feeling the thick muscles and wiry veins beneath that soft skin.

When Sherlock eventually pulled back, John was breathless, his lips wet.

“Do you understand?” said Sherlock. “You’re flushed and satisfied and dangerous, and it’s my doing. I made you like this.”

John snorted. “If you build a maze and plop a mouse down in the middle of it, you think you deserve the credit when the mouse completes it?”

Rolling his eyes, Sherlock kissed the corner of John’s mouth, then his jaw. “You’re not a mouse. You’re better than a mouse. You’re mine. And you deserve every bit of credit. You surpassed even my highest expectations.” His lips brushed, feather-soft, against the sensitive skin below John’s ear, making John shiver. “Is that answer good enough? Or do I need to elaborate some more?”

Good enough, John decided. Talking was a bit dull anyway.

He lifted his chin, inviting Sherlock to bite along his throat while he plunged his hands down the back of Sherlock’s trousers, cupping that plump bottom and feeling the cheeks dimple as Sherlock thrust against him. Groaning, he let Sherlock’s hands roam his chest: splaying over his pectorals and plucking roughly at his nipples until the little buds were tight and aching.

Entirely too soon, Sherlock left off and brought his hands instead to John’s hips. He gripped them the same way he had done earlier that night, trying to coax John to his toes so that Sherlock didn’t have to bend.

This time, John didn’t feel much like obliging. He stayed where he was, even sliding his feet farther apart so he was slouched shorter than usual, until Sherlock gave in with a long, needy whine and stooped as much as necessary to kiss the centre of John’s scarred shoulder and then take John’s left nipple between his lips.

His mouth wasn’t nearly as rough as his fingers had been, so the pleasure was disappointingly minimal. John let him suckle gently for a minute, and when he couldn’t stand it any longer, he laid his palms on Sherlock’s shoulders and shoved. Sherlock let go with a whimper.

“I need to make sure the gunpowder residue’s off my hands,” John said, “so I’m going to have a shower. And while I’m in there, I’m going to clean myself—thoroughly, if you understand my meaning—and then I’m going to lie in your bed and let you roger me senseless. All right?”

Sherlock had gone slack-jawed, his eyelids fluttering to half-mast, but he shook his head. “The sheets… I’ve been dreaming for weeks of spreading you out on a set of silk byzantium sheets. It took hours of searching to find a shop online that carried that particular shade. They haven’t been dispatched yet. We can’t… John—”

“Byzantium?” Of course, that bloody colour that Sherlock had demanded to know the name of. John didn’t care. There weren’t words for how much John really didn’t care. “It doesn’t matter about the sheets, Sherlock.”

Sherlock growled, actually sodding growled, and crowded John against the door. The sensation of the wood against his bare back was growing a bit old, John thought sourly.

“The first time I have you beneath me,” Sherlock said, “I want you on those sheets. I want your skin—”

“Fine,” John snapped. “Then I’ll get on top of you this time. How does that sound?”

Judging by Sherlock’s narrowed eyes and downturned mouth, it still didn’t sound as good as whatever he had in mind—having John against a hard surface like he’d told Mycroft, probably.

That was fine. John could be very persuasive when he wanted to. And fortunately, he knew Sherlock’s weakness.

He cupped Sherlock’s jaw and trailed his thumbs over those cheekbones. There was a faint cry of ‘You’re really going to do this?’ from a little corner of his mind, but that was easy enough to ignore. Particularly when his awareness of it was swiftly eclipsed by a sharp thrill shivering through his gut.

“Please, Daddy,” he said. “Let me ride you.”

John might’ve kneed Sherlock in the diaphragm for how he gasped and trembled, leaning into John’s palms and closing his eyes, overcome. Arousal, which had been slowly uncoiling in John’s body, shot suddenly to his prick, which began to stiffen.

Oh, yes, that was nice.

“Daddy,” John said again, and paused to relish Sherlock’s answering moan. It still felt odd—dirty and hopelessly wrong—but if Sherlock kept responding like that, if one word could reduce him to putty in John’s hands…. “I want it. I want your cock in me. Can I have it, Daddy, please?”

“Yes,” Sherlock whispered. He was practically draped over John now, as warm and close-fitting as a jumper. “Of course. Anything you want.”

*

Although the very first cock that John had had in his arse had been a silicone one, it had also been very realistic-looking: with prominent veins along the shaft and a pair of heavy, textured bollocks as a base. John had loved it. Climbing atop his then-girlfriend and sinking onto it while she murmured filth at him had been among the best sexual experiences of his life.

Every time John had been penetrated since then, with a silicone or flesh-and-blood cock, he summoned memories of that first time while he prepared himself. To get him through those awkward, uncomfortable minutes when his body clamped down and stubbornly insisted it wasn’t right to stick a finger up his arsehole, that wasn’t where fingers were meant to go, surely John didn’t expect this to actually feel good.

But it would feel good. John knew that. Eventually, when his body was used to the sensation and his mind more open to interpreting it as something other than just unnatural.

So he kept at it, standing in Sherlock’s shower with one hand on the wall and the other behind him, probing his arsehole, getting it nice and clean and open so he could sit on Sherlock’s cock and fuck it until they were both desperate and wailing.

Daddy’s cock,” John muttered, trying it out now that he was alone. He rested his cheek on the smooth, cool shower wall and concentrated on that: no nappies, no spanking, just Sherlock wanting to take care of John and give him what he needed, whether it was an exciting chase across London or a good fucking in a bed—and then staring slack-jawed and dumb when John surpassed every one of his expectations. “Let me sit on Daddy’s cock.”

It shouldn’t have, maybe, but god that was doing it. His prick, which had gone soft while he probed himself, began to perk up, and soon the feeling of his fingertip pushing past that tight ring of muscle swung from strange to brilliant.

He was going to make a fucking wreck of Sherlock, leave him dazed and stupid. If he liked when John was impressive, then John was going to impress the hell out of him.

When his shower was finished, John left the ensuite, nude and still slightly damp, and found Sherlock pacing equally nude in front of the bed with his hands steepled by his mouth. As John entered, he stopped pacing and turned, then stood still, watching John approach with something like amazement on his face. It only added to John’s confidence, his determination to be the best fuck Sherlock had ever had.

“All right?” John asked.

Sherlock nodded frantically, then gestured towards the bedside table, where John saw that three bottles of different lubes had been set in a neat row. “I have oil-, silicone-, and water-based lubricants. I wasn’t sure which you preferred.”

“Hm. Water this time, I think.”

John pressed his fingertips to the skin just above Sherlock’s collarbones and shoved gently. Sherlock got the hint and fell back onto the mattress so that John could climb on top of him, crawl up his body, and kiss him. With a throaty “unhh!” Sherlock wound his arms around John’s hips and grabbed a handful of either arse cheek, squeezing them, spreading them, and shuddering when John moaned and arched into his grip.

John pulled back with a grin. “Someone’s eager.”

“You said you wanted my cock.” Sherlock added an extra emphasis to the k that made John’s groin feel even heavier. “I want you to have it. You shouldn’t have to wait for it.”

John closed his eyes for a second, licking his lips. ‘It.’ Like Sherlock’s prick was just another toy for John to play with, no different than the Fleshlight. John rocked back into Sherlock’s hands, feeling his own prick bob between his legs, already so stiff and thick.

Time to impress.

“Thank you, Daddy,” he said breathily. “You take such good care of me.”

Sherlock’s whole body surged beneath him, arching up like an electric current was pulsing through him. When John climbed off to fetch the lube, he let out a groan that was very nearly tortured. John suspected he’d only just barely reminded himself not to try to keep John forcibly in place.

All in all, John was very, very pleased with that reaction.

Bottle of lubricant in hand, John plopped down on his back with his knees bent and spread. Immediately Sherlock was scrambling onto all fours and clambering between John’s legs, where he lay on his stomach to watch as John prepared himself.

After all the time John had spent cleaning himself in the shower, fingering himself with nothing but water and soap to ease the way, slicking himself up now was easy. He moved gradually from one finger to two, then three for the hell of it. Stray bits of lube smeared on his thighs and dripped down his cleft.

Through it all, Sherlock stared even more intently and greedily than he had at the crime scene. And every time John’s fingers slipped out so he could slather them in more lubricant, leaving his hole gaping, Sherlock groaned like he’d been struck and nuzzled helplessly at John’s left foot, biting his lip like he wanted to do more but didn’t dare interrupt.

By the end, John thought that he’d never been so keen to be buggered as he was now.

“Okay,” John said. “Come on, Daddy.” His fingers slipped free with a squidging sound that made Sherlock whimper.

He kissed the top of John’s foot, followed by his ankle, so tenderly it made John’s chest feel tight. Then Sherlock backed off and took John’s place: supine in the centre of the bed, so that John could squat on top of him and lower himself onto Sherlock’s cock.

He should have gone slowly, he knew. That was the key to anal sex: go very, very slowly, pause at the first sign of discomfort, and give your body lots of lubrication and time to adjust.

But John found it rather difficult to go slowly while he was staring down into Sherlock’s face, which was twisted in squinty-eyed and open-mouthed ecstasy that deepened considerably once John had eased past the flared crown. John wanted to overwhelm him. John wanted to blow his fucking mind.

He sucked in a deep breath, bore down, and, grunting, sank all the way to the base. The burn was bearable, owing primarily to the slenderness of Sherlock’s cock, he supposed, but the length, the fullness, was intense. He felt impaled, stuffed, and completely fucking triumphant.

Sherlock tried to arch, his cry loud and gutted, but John’s weight kept him pinned. So he could only jerk beneath John and stare piteously up at him through his thick fluttering eyelashes. He was gorgeous. So fucking gorgeous.

“Like that?” There was a quaver in Sherlock’s voice. “How does Daddy’s cock feel?”

Now that John was expecting it, it hardly seemed silly at all, Sherlock calling himself ‘Daddy’ in the third person. No more so than ‘You’re so big’ or ‘I want to suck your fat, perfect cock,’ anyway, and John had been perfectly happy to listen to Sherlock say all that.

“Feels good.” John lifted his hips slightly, letting an inch or so of Sherlock’s prick slip out wetly. He sank back down with a groan that Sherlock echoed. “So good. Thank you, Daddy.”

Another, bigger move of his hips, this time with a little swivel at the end, and—‘Oh,’ John thought, going starry-eyed, ‘oh, that’s nice.’ Driving Sherlock’s prick even deeper, stretching John’s entrance even wider, it made John feel dirty. The good sort, the kind that made John want to writhe and beg and embellish his moans and make a generally slutty sight of himself for his partner to enjoy.

“That’s it,” Sherlock said. His voice caught, and he swallowed thickly, still staring up at John in wonder. “Fuck yourself on Daddy’s cock.”

John had only managed a handful of thrusts before Sherlock’s hands, clinging to John’s thighs, slid upwards to grip John’s hips. To be helpful, probably, to stabilise John, or maybe just to feel John’s muscles working, although in that moment it seemed to John like a greedy little power grab.

He covered Sherlock’s hands with his own, stopping them in their path, and pinned them to the mattress. The change in position shifted John’s weight from his arse to his knees, giving him more leverage, making it easier to rise up and fuck down on the length of Sherlock’s prick hard enough that the bed shook and creaked.

At this angle, John could feel every centimetre of Sherlock’s cock as it pushed inside. He could feel too where the friction would begin to burn as the lube dried, although it hadn’t done yet, and he gave himself over to the sensation: to the thought of how he would be open, leaking come, for the rest of tonight and then limping tomorrow, of how Sherlock would love that.

“Oh fuck,” he said, bouncing harder. “Fuck, fuck.”

His arse cheeks slapped obscenely against Sherlock’s groin, and Sherlock was sucking in breaths like every downwards thrust was knocking the wind out of him again and again. But John could do better than that. John could make him see stars.

“Please,” he said, soft and breathy, as close to needy as John could manage. “Please, Daddy, I want your come in me.”

Sherlock went absolutely, perfectly silent, his eyes half-lidded and unfocused and his mouth open so wide that John could’ve probably stuffed his whole hand inside. John had barely a second to realise, ‘He’s actually—’ before he felt Sherlock’s prick pulse and spurt inside him. A bit sooner than he might’ve liked—he hadn’t reached the point of even wanting to tug on his own cock yet—but still he clenched his muscles, milking Sherlock’s cock and giving him a tight, sweet channel to spill into.

As Sherlock came down, his silence broke. His chest heaved and little gasping moans fell from his lips. He twisted his hands in John’s grasp, entwining his fingers with John’s, and squeezed.

Fondness flooded John. He bent closer, whispering, “Thank you, Daddy.”

But instead of looking pleased, Sherlock flushed crimson and yanked his hands away so that he could cover his face. “I’m sorry,” he said into his palms, sounding mortified. “I’m so sorry.”

“Really not a problem,” John told him. And it wasn’t. Apparently John had pressed Sherlock’s buttons so perfectly that Sherlock had gone off in minutes. How was that for impressive? John would be wanking to the memory for months, he was sure of it.

Still, Sherlock groaned, low and embarrassed, although the sound pitched higher, edging closer to a sob when John climbed off. Sherlock’s softened prick slipped free with a wet plop, followed by a thick dribble of come and lube.

John didn’t go far: he only crawled forwards until he was straddling Sherlock’s chest. He wanted Sherlock to feel it, the mess leaking from his loose hole. Just as John expected, Sherlock lowered his hands so he could gape up at John when a little more dripped out and smeared on his skin. His cheeks were still flushed a deep pink.

“Daddy,” John said, drawing out the y slightly in an almost-whine. “I’m still so hard.”

Sherlock’s gaze flickered to John’s erection, which was so thick and heavy that it curved downwards, the head making a small wet patch on Sherlock’s sternum. He bit his bottom lip as though the sight actually hurt.

Inspired, John tapped Sherlock’s front teeth with his thumb and smiled when Sherlock closed his lips around the digit and sucked.

He peered up at John, eyes dark and hungry, and god, John had never wanted anyone so much.

“Maybe,” John said, “I could have Daddy’s mouth instead?”

John had barely finished speaking before Sherlock was wrapping his arms around John’s waist and hauling him even higher until John was practically straddling his face.

“Of course, yes. Mm, here. Use Daddy’s mouth.”

Not just his mouth, apparently, but his throat. Sherlock sucked John down nearly to the root, which pulled a startled shout from John and upset his balance. As he planted a hand on Sherlock’s headboard to keep himself stable, Sherlock took advantage of his distraction to slide two fingers into John’s messy hole.

John nearly pitched face-first into the headboard, but managed at the last second to steady himself. “Shit! Sherlock, that’s—oh, fuck!”

Sherlock’s fingers shoved deeper, gliding past John’s prostate before they curled, putting pressure on entirely the wrong place. Probably on purpose, the manipulative git. John couldn’t help but move, rocking and swiveling his hips until Sherlock’s fingertips were pressing right on his sweet spot, and once he’d started he found that he couldn’t stop.

“I,” he began, but had to suck in a deep breath and brace himself more firmly against the headboard before he could continue. “Idiot. I could choke you like this, you know.”

Sherlock groaned. The noise was tinged with exasperation, and John knew somehow that he was thinking, ‘Then you’d better finish quickly, hadn’t you?’

John glanced down. Although his view was limited, what he could see—Sherlock’s eyes closed, his forehead wrinkled like he was deep in concentration, his pretty red lips stretched thin around John’s length—made John’s face go hot and his prick throb. He sounded rather choked himself when he said, “Fine. Have it your way.”

He tried to go slowly, gripping the headboard with one hand and cradling Sherlock’s skull with the other while he rocked gently, gently, into Sherlock’s mouth. But it was torturous: Sherlock’s throat so hot and slick, his fingers so long and clever, all of him just begging to be fucked until they both screamed.

Then Sherlock moaned long and deep, the sound rumbling through John’s prick, and John’s inhibitions were lost. Grunting, he plunged his cock down Sherlock’s throat and shoved back onto Sherlock’s fingers again and again, until his thighs were burning and shaking and his balls began to draw up. Coherent thought abandoned him, leaving behind nothing but fragments.

‘So tight, so good. Fucking ruin you. Mine. Take it, take it, please, I need it, please. Oh fuck, I need.’

“Daddy,” he said, half gasping. “Fuck. Daddy.”

When John came, Sherlock tipped his head back with a moan and drank down every drop.

Chapter Text

John managed to stay awake long enough to examine Sherlock’s throat (undamaged, although he was hoarse and his breath reeked of ejaculate) and then for Sherlock to poke and prod at his arsehole—“Very minor irritation,” Sherlock declared, “no tearing”—before exhaustion sneaked up on him and pulled him under.

He woke sometime later to a beam of light on his face and the bed shaking rhythmically beneath him. Sherlock was sitting against the headboard with a computer open in his lap, its screen seeming unnaturally bright in the pitch-black room. His knees were bent, and he was bouncing his heels.

Although John’s eyelids were heavy, his thoughts sleep-muddled, he lifted his head. “What,” he slurred, “are you doing?”

Sherlock’s chin jerked towards him, although he seemed loath to tear his attention from the computer screen. “Buying an under-the-bed bondage system. Maybe a cock ring as well, since my control is… abysmal, apparently.” He grimaced, and John fancied he saw a very faint blush blossom on his cheeks. “You can keep me tied down and use my cock whenever you need it. Or my arse. Assuming you’re still interested in that.”

John was, but the middle of the night was not the time to be thinking about it. He flopped back down with a groan and rolled away from the offensive light, burying his face in the pillow. “Ugh, not now, Sherlock. Go to sleep.”

Sherlock’s only response was a sigh, and the bed continued to shake.

Maybe a different tactic, then. John sighed back at him and murmured, “Come to bed, Daddy.”

A bit silly, particularly since Sherlock was technically already in bed. But any embarrassment John might have felt was tempered by the ringing silence in the room and the bed falling utterly, perfectly still.

John hid a grin as he heard the computer clap shut, and then the bed began to shake again—but this time only long enough for Sherlock to deposit the laptop on the floor and scoot closer, lie down, and drape himself along John’s back.

John hummed in approval as Sherlock nuzzled his nape, and began to drift off seconds later.

*

John woke the next morning to a dull ache in his arse and a flaky itchy mess on his inner thighs and in his pubic hair. He was on his side, Sherlock still plastered to his back, and the sheets had been kicked mostly off, lying in a tangled bundle near their feet.

He blinked drowsily at the wall, processing the myriad of sensations, as Sherlock twitched and stirred behind him, scraping the back of John’s neck with his stubble.

“You realise,” Sherlock said, sounding far more awake than John had expected, “you’ve just slept the entire night in my bed without a nightmare.”

John hadn’t even thought of it, actually, nor was he given any time to ponder it now, as Sherlock took advantage of John’s distraction to shove him rather unceremoniously onto his stomach.

“Oof!” John grunted, and it was only the playful hands that planted themselves on his arse cheeks and prised them apart that stopped him from kicking Sherlock away. He was checking again that there was no bruising or tearing, John assumed. He lay still and let him look. “Erm. No, I—”

“Nor has the tremor in your left hand made an appearance. And it’s been weeks since you used your walking stick.” Sherlock’s thumbs dipped into the cleft, framing John’s arsehole, and John started with a strangled sound. “You should fire your therapist. I’ve managed to do what she failed to do even after months of work.”

‘How do you know I’ve got a therapist?’ John meant to ask, but he’d got only as far as the first syllable when Sherlock dove forwards, licking at John’s sore and messy hole, which wiped away all thoughts of his own mental deficiencies. “Jesus Christ, Sherlock, I just woke up, and that’s—that’s filthy. There’s dried come—”

“Mmm.”

John could feel Sherlock’s hum in his bollocks and his cock, which gave an interested jerk and began to thicken. Moaning, he hiked one knee higher on the bed, giving Sherlock more room—and then groaned, disappointed, when Sherlock pulled back.

“Mm. You’re still wet inside. And filthy is the whole point, John. You love it when it’s filthy. The wrongness excites you.”

It did, John had to admit. It really did.

Muffling his groan in the pillow, John rose onto his knees, reached behind, and spread his arse cheeks, sure that he was flushing scarlet as he did. Sherlock made a rumbly noise of pleasure.

“Perfect,” Sherlock said, and bent his head to eat at John’s hole at the same time that he closed his hand around the base of John’s prick. His grip was tight but dry, a little clumsy and uncomfortable when he started to stroke.

John promptly shooed him away, replacing Sherlock’s hand with his own (which he wet with spit first, so it slid nice and slick up and down his cock) and leaving Sherlock to keep John’s arse cheeks spread himself while he licked.

By the time that John finally spilled onto the sheets, clenching around Sherlock’s tongue and feeling Sherlock moan against his oversensitive skin, the ache in his arse had worsened to the point of smarting.

Still, the sting didn’t stop him from holding himself open again while he panted and shivered in the aftermath, telling Sherlock, “C’mon. Just a bit, just the tip. I want more of your come, Daddy.”

Sherlock didn’t even make it that far. In seconds, he was coming with a soft, broken sound, making a mess of John’s lower back while John wriggled and grinned, pleased with himself, and said, “That’s perfect. Thank you, Daddy.”

*

When John left later that morning, after a shower and breakfast, Sherlock plopped himself in the leather armchair in the living room—wearing nothing but a burgundy dressing gown, which hung open, revealing a tantalising length of bare skin from his throat to his soft prick—and plumped his bottom lip into a pout.

“Tempting,” John admitted, putting on his coat. “But not quite. You have to give DI Lestrade your statement, and—”

‘—and there’s no point in me sticking around for that’ was what John had intended to say, although on second thought that seemed a touch harsh.

“—and I need to go home,” he finished instead.

A blatant buggering lie—what did John have to do at his flat?—but Sherlock didn’t argue with him, only frowned in disappointment before hauling himself to his feet. His dressing gown slid off his right shoulder and hung there, making him look whorish and debauched and five times as tempting.

He came close enough that John could smell him—the scent of coffee and strawberry jam on his breath, the cinnamon-ish musk of his aftershave, which certainly was the same heady scent that had clung to John’s new boots that John had enjoyed so much. He inhaled deeply and half worried for a moment he might swoon.

Then Sherlock bent and kissed him—not a chaste peck, but a proper open-mouth snog—and John stopped thinking at all.

By the time that they broke apart, John was panting and clutching at Sherlock’s sleeves. The fabric was so soft and silky—probably was silk, actually—that John didn’t bother to resist the urge to rub his palms against it, which made Sherlock smile.

“Let me give you money for the taxi,” he said.

Part of John wanted to take off his clothes again, shove Sherlock back into his armchair, and climb on top of him. The other part of him wanted to make a joke about the taxi drivers in London these days.

All he said, however, was “All right,” and then he took Sherlock’s money and left, feeling more cheerful than he had in years.

*

His good mood lasted only until he unlocked his flat door and walked inside. Then he felt suddenly like a dying, flickering lightbulb: due to be thrown away and replaced.

His bedsit was silent and orderly, so different to the cluttered chaos of Sherlock’s flat. So much more dull.

John stood by the door, removing his boots and coat, and cast a critical eye over everything: the single bed neatly made with its military corners, his computer resting perfectly in the centre of the dustless desk, no telly, no books, no private loo or bath.

Somewhere in the corridor, a door opened and a pair of feet padded across the floor. The only sign of life aside from the quiet sounds of John’s breath.

‘It was your decision to come back here,’ John reminded himself. ‘He even wanted you to stay.’ With a heavy sigh, he sat at his desk and turned on his computer.

He had no email, not even spam, no messages on the blog. He considered writing a new post. Enough had happened in the last 24 hours that, even if he left out the damning details of his involvement, he could spin an exciting and impressive tale. But he wasn’t really in the mood to write.

At a loss for anything better to do, John navigated to the fetish site, where he discovered that Sherlock had updated his profile. Only twelve hours ago, in fact, which would have been—John did the maths—around the same time that Sherlock had been buying a cock ring and an under-the-bed bondage system while John slept.

071411120418 is in a relationship with: jhwtsn
071411120418 is Daddy of: jhwtsn

“Is he?” John muttered, unimpressed. “News to me. Presumptuous git.”

He stood to fetch his phone from his coat pocket and carried it back to the desk so he could text Sherlock.

Anything you wanted to ask?

Yes: Move in with me? SH

John laughed, much louder than the situation really warranted. It echoed in the bedsit like a church bell in an empty church.

You know, when you put on a fetish site that you’re someone’s Daddy, that comes with certain connotations.

There was enough of a pause between John’s text and Sherlock’s reply that John nearly began to worry he’d offended him.

‘Connotations’? SH

Yeah. It means something to other people that it apparently doesn’t mean to you.

Again, the response took so long to arrive that John started to become concerned.

Stop making me repeat myself. People are idiots. What does it matter what it means to them? SH

John snorted, recalling the last conversation they’d had about this.

Well I’m an idiot too aren’t I?

Yes, but not a complete idiot. Which makes you far more intelligent than most. SH

John’s snort became a chuckle, which grew into another full-bellied laugh. Sherlock was a madman, a brilliant gorgeous madman, and John was so far gone over him it probably made him mad as well. Mad and an idiot, although apparently not a complete idiot.

Remember that conversation we were going to have about you being creepy and presumptuous?

Of course. Still looking forward to it. SH

Incidentally, it might please you to know that according to Lestrade I look like I’ve been ‘shagged stupid’. SH

It did, a bit. John imagined everyone at the Met gawking at Sherlock’s appearance, knowing that John had been the one to make him look like that, and suddenly the flat seemed a great deal warmer and brighter than it had before.

In the end, John signed off the fetish site without adding any new relationships of his own or doing anything about Sherlock’s. If Sherlock wanted an official relationship—as it seemed he did, although it still did John’s head in—then, brilliant gorgeous madman or not, he could bloody well ask like a normal person.

*

During his next therapy appointment, all Ella wanted to talk about was Sherlock.

Not any of the things about Sherlock that John would’ve been keen to discuss, unfortunately, like what John had gleaned about his work thus far, how terribly clever he was, the sorts of leaps he could make from barely noticeable details, or how attractive and talented his mouth was.

Instead, she wanted to talk about the blog post John had finally written up yesterday about the taxi driver case, which was short and vague but apparently interesting enough to garner him a few requests for more details. (He’d been working on the full post that morning, which was titled—cleverly, he thought—“A Study in Pink.”)

“I only worry you’re losing sight of yourself,” Ella kept insisting. “Sherlock sounds—” The pause here was very brief, and her kind, open expression didn’t change in the slightest, but it was enough John understood that her impression of Sherlock so far was not favourable. “—nice. Fun to be around. I just don’t want you to forget that the focus of your blog should be on you.”

“Right,” John answered tersely, his hackles high. Privately he thought that he’d spent far too much time focusing on himself, being by himself, taking care of himself. What was wrong with wanting to have someone else in the picture?

Maybe Sherlock had been right about firing Ella. Maybe John should cancel his next appointment and never come back. If he needed to, he could find a new therapist: someone who suited him better.

By the time that John left her office, Ella’s displeasure was a thick miasma that he would be quite content to never experience again.

As he stepped onto the pavement outside and began to walk towards the nearest Tube station, he pulled his phone from his pocket, intending to text Sherlock. About what, he wasn’t sure. Just something short and cheeky, something that would make them both smile.

Then, from behind him, he heard: “Dr Watson.”

John froze and turned.

The man approaching was familiar, although it wasn’t until John glanced around and spied a sleek black car idling nearby that he realised where he recognised him from.

“You’re Sherlock’s brother. Erm. Mycroft, right?”

Mycroft smiled. It was stiff and overly polite, and consequently more than enough to put John on edge. Mycroft stopped a short distance away from where John stood and leaned casually on his long black umbrella. “Ah, good. You remember.”

“Yes,” John said coolly. “And now I suppose you want me to come with you?”

The smile dropped. Mycroft’s eyes narrowed, peering at John as though trying to pick him apart.

John shrugged. “Just seems a bit too convenient, doesn’t it? Running into you outside my therapist’s office just after my appointment.”

“Hn. Quite.” Mycroft’s lip curled, and he cast a disparaging glance at the building John had just left. “You should fire her, you know. She’s got it the wrong way around. She thinks you’re haunted by memories of your military service.”

John lifted an eyebrow. He wasn’t sure he wanted to ask how Mycroft knew what his therapist thought. “And I’m not, am I?”

Mycroft rocked back on his heels, looking amused. “No more so than you are by your father’s alcoholism, I’d wager. It was traumatic, of course, and you still bear the mental scars… but it was never him you thought of when you would stare down the barrel of your gun, was it?”

It took a great deal of self-control for John to keep his surprise in check. He permitted himself only a tightening of his lips and a minute cock of his head. “You’ve certainly done your research. Are we going to get on with this, then, or…?”

Mycroft’s grin sharpened, sharklike, and he took a smooth step backwards, swishing his umbrella in a dramatic ‘after you’ motion. “Of course. Please.”

Squaring his shoulders, John marched towards the black car and, when Mycroft opened the backseat door for him, climbed inside. The windows were heavily tinted, creating a rather sinister atmosphere, and the car smelt of cigarette smoke and leather. There was a thick, tinted glass between the front and backseats, blocking John’s view of the driver completely.

Mycroft swept into the car behind him, and as soon as the door was shut, the car pulled away from the kerb.

“You needn’t look so severe,” said Mycroft. “Now that we’ve finally been introduced, I only thought we might have a little chat. Get to know each other.”

Which was the stupidest thing John had ever heard, and he didn’t even try pretending that it wasn’t. “No you didn’t. You know all about me, apparently, and even if for some reason you did want to ‘get to know’ me better, you wouldn’t have abducted me like you did. I’ve got a phone. Two of them, actually. You could just phone me.”

That garnered John another polite, insincere smile. “Enlighten me, then. Why do you think I’m here?”

John heaved an exasperated sigh, rolling his eyes. “Sherlock. He said you were an interfering ass and that you were eager to meet me, and now you’re putting on a very elaborate attempt at intimidation. So my guess is you’re the typical overprotective big brother.”

“Nothing about Sherlock and myself are ‘typical,’ Dr Watson.” Mycroft sniffed, fussing with his cufflinks. “But I do worry about him. Constantly.”

“That’s nice of you.”

Mycroft folded his hands again neatly in his lap. “You should know that, contrary to the clever show he’s put on, Sherlock is not a wealthy man.”

John stared, taken aback. That was definitely not what he’d expected of this little chat. “What?”

“He squandered most of his portion of our grandparents’ inheritance on cocaine and heroin some years ago, and he’s of the opinion that charging a fee for his work is somehow beneath him—was of the opinion, rather. Since he met you, Sherlock has gone to great lengths to ensure you don’t suspect how very unwealthy he actually—”

“Okay,” John cut in, intensely uncomfortable by what he was hearing. Brother or no, Mycroft had no business telling people about Sherlock’s financial situation, and—and for god’s sake, Sherlock had bought John a £3000 watch. “That’s… I’m not—”

“This week alone, he’s asked—or perhaps I should say, begged—to take over three minor, hopelessly dull tasks I was required to perform and he’s promised to comply with any two requests I make of him at a future date, for a grand total of fourteen favours he owes me—all in exchange for a considerable sum of money that he can spend on you.”

Wide-eyed and terribly confused, John couldn’t imagine how he was meant to respond to that. After a silence, Mycroft sniffed balefully and continued.

“My brother of course hopes to keep up this façade for as long as possible, if not indefinitely, but with the most recent developments in your relationship, I suspect you’d have caught on eventually. Which brings me to my proposal.”

“Your proposal?” John managed, and Mycroft’s answering smile was dripping with condescension.

“Yes. Now that you know Sherlock’s wealth is not as vast as you’ve believed it to be, you’ll want to end your association as soon as possible. I’d like to propose an alternative. If you’d be willing to continue your relationship with my brother, I’d be happy to pay you a meaningful sum of money on a regular basis in exchange for information.”

“Information?” John echoed, still quite stunned.

“Nothing indiscreet. Nothing you’d feel uncomfortable with. Just tell me what he’s up to. You might have noticed that we have a difficult relationship, he and I, and as I said, I do worry about him.”

That was enough to shake John from his silence. Nothing John would feel uncomfortable with. Fucking Christ, who the hell did Mycroft think John was? Who did Sherlock think he was?

“No,” he said.

“But I haven’t mentioned a figure.”

“Don’t bother.” John glanced out the window. They weren’t far from his flat. He could walk the rest of the way. “Stop the fucking car. We’re done here.”

Mycroft thumped the metal tip of his brolly against the floor, and immediately the car began to slow and drift towards the nearest kerb.

Lifting his chin, Mycroft looked down his nose at John. “I see. You’ll break it off, then?”

John snarled and spat, “Shut up. You can piss right off. If you honestly think I give a toss how much money Sherlock has—”

By then, though, the car had stopped, and John wasn’t going to waste any more breath on this conversation. He threw open the car door and clambered out, his muscles tense. His hands were curled into fists so tight that his knuckles ached.

“John.”

John turned and met Mycroft’s shrewd gaze with what he hoped was a suitably stony, dangerous expression.

“Come now. There’s no need to pretend. We both know you’d never have responded to Sherlock at all if he hadn’t offered you money in exchange for doing so.”

That brought John up short. His anger hovered at his side, like a well-trained dog waiting for its master’s command. It was true that John had been intrigued by the money, that it had played a part in his decision to respond to Sherlock’s first message, and that for a while he’d been almost gleeful at how little he’d had to do to earn it.

‘But,’ he thought, pride and indignation gathering and rising in his chest like smoke, ‘but….’

“Yes,” he hissed. “I bloody would have.”

John took great pleasure in slamming the door right in Mycroft’s face.

Chapter Text

By the time that John returned to his flat, most of his anger had cooled to a low simmer, and by the time that he reached Sherlock’s, with his arms full of a haphazardly thrown-together bundle of things like a pair of shoes and a Fleshlight, he felt eerily calm. Every thought formed with stark clarity, and he was in sharp control of his every action and reaction. He was rational, unflappable; his mind impossible to sway.

He rang the doorbell for 221B and waited, adjusting his grip on his armful. The only sounds from inside were a series of low, mournful music notes (Sherlock’s violin, John thought) and the front door remained closed, so he rang the bell again, pressing harder and letting it ring just a hair longer.

This time, John heard movement within, although the muffled music didn’t pause. The door opened, revealing Mrs Hudson with an exasperated expression that brightened when she saw who was ringing the doorbell. If she even noticed any of what John was carrying, she gave no sign of it.

“Oh! Dr Watson.”

“John, please. Is Sherlock in?”

“Oh yes. He’s been playing that violin all afternoon. He’s in a sulk, although I can’t imagine why. Maybe you can bring him out of it.”

The music cut off mid-note, as though Sherlock knew that it was being discussed.

“Go on up,” said Mrs Hudson, waving John inside.

“Thank you, Mrs Hudson.” John mounted the stairs, then paused on the first step. “Oh, and… might want to turn up the telly. Just in case.”

Mrs Hudson tittered in amusement but said nothing as John carried on up the staircase. When he reached the top, the door to Sherlock’s flat was thrown abruptly open, and there Sherlock stood, wearing the same burgundy-coloured dressing gown that John had last seen him in, although this time he wore a white t-shirt and checked pyjama bottoms beneath it. His eyes were wide as an owl’s, and he sucked in a breath so sharp that his shoulders heaved.

“John.” He sounded astonished, maybe even a touch alarmed.

Understandable, John supposed. He was showing up out of the blue carting everything Sherlock had ever given him.

“Hi,” he said, and barged right in. Sherlock nearly tripped in his haste to sidestep out of the way. “Should’ve phoned first, I suppose, but I was a bit distracted.”

He plopped Sherlock’s gifts on the centre of the sofa and spun back around. As he did, he caught the scent of cigarette smoke, so strong he nearly gagged. The door was still wide open, and Sherlock was looking between John and the pile on the sofa like one was harmless and one was deadly and he couldn’t quite work out which was which. It was simultaneously the most heartbreaking and exasperating thing John had ever seen.

“Close the door please.”

Sherlock gave the door a solid push. It swung shut with a whoosh and a bang.

“You talked to Mycroft,” he said grimly.

John wondered what had given it away, but decided he didn’t really care enough to ask. “Yeah. He popped by after my therapy appointment and drove me home. We had a chat. Bit of a tosser, your brother.”

“He gets worse the longer you know him.” Sherlock wrinkled his nose at the pile on the sofa. “What’s all this?”

“I’m giving it back.”

Sherlock’s scowl deepened. It looked as though he wanted to set the whole lot of it on fire.

“I don’t need it,” John said. “I didn’t even want any of it, which I was—” A hair fracture in his calm, albeit not quite enough to shatter it. “Which you knew, you idiot, you—”

“Oh for god’s sake!” It was like the reaction of a child, how dramatically Sherlock threw up his arms and let them drop to his sides. “What did he tell you?”

“That you’re not wealthy,” John admitted. “That you couldn’t actually afford any of this, and that you owe him tonnes of favours in exchange for money.”

“Tonnes?” Sherlock scoffed. “Oh please.”

“Two in the last week, he said. Something like fourteen in total.”

Sherlock’s eyebrows shot up. It might’ve made for an amusing sight under different circumstances. “Fourteen? As if I would ever willingly become indebted enough to him to owe fourteen favours. No. Six favours to be called in later, four little errands that he made up on the spot to keep me busy for an afternoon.”

“Six and four,” John insisted, “really isn’t that much better than—”

“He would’ve happily given me whatever figure I asked for, but then he’d have lorded his generosity over me at every turn afterwards. Fat, scheming arse.” Sherlock’s face twisted even further, darkening until he was fairly spitting his words. “And now he’s apparently fed you a load of rubbish about me being helpless and destitute—”

“No one said anything about you being destitute.”

“—so you’d fall right into his trap.”

John’s calm splintered into shards at the implication that he was naïve enough to fall into anyone’s trap, and he reared back, fists clenching. “Oi! He wanted me to take his money and agree to spy on you, you cock.”

“Of course he didn’t. He purposefully offended your sense of loyalty and independence so that you would rush over here and make some grand gesture of commitment. Congratulations: you fell for it. For god’s sake, John.”

Sherlock swanned forwards, plucked one of the shoes off the sofa, and brandished it like a crucial piece of evidence.

“What am I going to do with these? They don’t fit me, and I can’t return them. You’ve worn them every day since I gave them to you; there isn’t a shop in London that would accept them now. Pointless.”

Sherlock threw the shoe back onto the sofa, where it bounced off the cushion and onto the floor.

“Ugh! Mycroft’s no doubt cackling to himself at how well his little scheme worked out.”

“Oh, bugger Mycroft,” John snapped. “He’s a twat. He doesn’t matter. What I want to know is what you were thinking. Borrowing money from your arsehole of a brother after I’d made it clear I didn’t want to be bought things in the first place. Did you think I was lying?”

“Not lying,” Sherlock said, staring somewhere just past John’s right ear. “Obviously. You have a strong moral principle, and you pride yourself on your honesty and your loyalty.”

John waited, but Sherlock said nothing else. “And?”

And.” Sherlock sighed, looking to the ceiling as though he was reciting something he’d committed to memory. “Your profile said ‘bisexual,’ but your sister’s comment on your blog indicated surprise that the person you’d been dating was a man. You’ve been with men before—you’re too… skilled not to have been—but not often… or, rather, not publicly enough for your sister to expect or become accustomed to it. Particularly interesting considering you respond more strongly to men. Your gaze is four times more likely to linger on a man’s mouth than a woman’s and six times more likely to dip below the neck. So: stronger attraction to men, but you’re not open about it—”

“If you’re suggesting what I think you are…,” said John, quiet and clipped: a warning.

Sherlock talked right over him, barely even pausing to breathe. “—doubtlessly unaware you’re even doing it. It’s not uncommon behaviour to see in people, men especially, whose siblings had traumatic coming-out experiences growing up.”

That was well out of order, bringing up Harry when they were meant to be talking about Sherlock. “Unless you’re going somewhere with this, I’d stop right now if I were you.”

Whatever reaction John had been expecting to that, it certainly wasn’t for Sherlock to throw up his hands with a noise of frustration.

“Exactly! You’ve just proven my point exactly! I’m infuriating. I stomp all over people’s boundaries and press their buttons without realising or caring. I’ve no illusions about the deficiencies in my personality, John. I’m the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant, and all-around obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet, much less call their significant other.”

John blinked, taken aback by the vehemence in Sherlock’s voice. “Erm, well. You don’t really seem that bad to me.”

Sherlock’s hands shot up again, even more wildly than before. His dressing gown flew open and fluttered dramatically. “Of course I don’t now. You like me now. In a few months when the novelty has worn off and I’ve insulted you, angered you, ignored you, you’ll… there’ll be nothing to keep you here.”

With a huff, Sherlock gathered up his dressing gown again, wrapping it tightly around his chest. A self-conscious gesture if John had ever seen one, made even worse by how he still seemed keen to look anywhere in the room except where John stood.

“Nothing except the money,” John said. “Is that what you’re getting at?”

Sherlock shrugged one shoulder. His lips tensed and did a sort of wobble. “You needed money. You responded to the money—”

No. No, no, no, Sherlock would not blame any of this on John.

“You’re an idiot,” John told him heatedly. “This whole time I’ve been thinking you were a gorgeous genius lowering himself to my level, but apparently you’re just as much of an idiot as the rest of us.”

Sherlock flinched back, his brow puckering and his lips turning down in a pout.

“Oh no it’s fine,” said John. “I’ve been reliably informed that practically everyone’s an idiot.”

That might’ve been a bit cruel, John reflected when Sherlock flinched again, looking stung, but… for god’s sake, they could’ve had this sorted months ago.

“I told you I was uncomfortable with the money, I…. Christ, you made me buy you coffee because you knew I was uncomfortable with the money. If you’d just listened to me—”

“You’d be surprised,” said Sherlock, “how ignorant people are of their own motivations. I once investigated—”

“Shut up.”

Sherlock’s mouth closed with an audible clack of his teeth.

“Just shut up. I can’t believe you. This whole mess because you think you’re so clever you don’t need to listen to what anyone else says. Do you know what I thought of you at first?”

He didn’t miss the way the line of Sherlock’s shoulders tensed and then hunched. Idiot. Just as much of an idiot as John, apparently.

“I thought you were a stalker. Yeah, I know, you said you weren’t, but no one who says he’s not a stalker actually isn’t a stalker, Sherlock. No one except you, apparently. And the money was…  I never thought I’d see a bit of it, not at first. I thought I’d see what happened, maybe intervene if you were dangerous, and then….”

John shrugged, gesturing vaguely in the air. It was impossible, really, to describe all of what had happened then. Not without taking hours, anyway.

“And then you were amazing. Extraordinary. I went along with all your ridiculous demands because I wanted to see what you would do next. The money, the gifts, I won’t lie: it was nice, once I finally got used to it. But it’s not why I’m here, and it’s not what’s going to keep me here.”

Sherlock’s folded arms seemed less like mere self-consciousness now and more like a cage, keeping him restrained and rooted in place. Since this wasn’t really a conversation for maintaining distance, John closed it.

Immediately, Sherlock leaned into him, unfolding his arms and slouching so he could press their foreheads together. His breath and clothes stank of tobacco, and John had to hold in a nose wrinkle and a cough.

“I’ll still call you ‘Daddy,’” he said, “because you like it and it’s… okay, it’s maybe a little hot. But the borrowing money from your twat of a brother, the thinking that you have to worry about keeping me, the bending over backwards to ‘take care of me,’ that stops right now.”

“I can still take care of you.” Sherlock’s eyes were wide and bright, flitting back and forth between each of John’s. “And I do have money. I can still buy you things. A suit, another jumper, the gold-plated vibrator. Well, perhaps not the vibrator. Not without Mycroft’s help.”

“No.” There was steel in John’s voice, which he hardened even further until it was nearer to titanium. “Absolutely not.”

“He’s the British government. If anyone can afford it, he can. You should see the sorts of things he buys Mummy for Christmas.”

John considered saying any number of things in response—from asking if Mycroft had hatched from something by any chance to commenting that it was no wonder Sherlock had issues if Mycroft was any indication of the sort of environment he’d grown up in—but none of them would be productive.

Instead, he said, “I don’t care. I don’t want you to.” And although it was playing a bit dirty and would probably distract them both from the subject at hand, as soon as he saw Sherlock open his mouth to argue John forged ahead: “And you were going to give me everything I wanted, weren’t you, Daddy?”

Sherlock’s eyelids fluttered and he licked his lips, and John was filled with such a swell of warmth and affection that it seemed absurd to not drag Sherlock down by his nape and crush their mouths together, regardless of the overwhelming reek of tobacco. Sherlock moaned and melted, draping himself around John’s shoulders, and almost instantly the kiss turned bitey. Every time John tried to soften it, Sherlock nipped and dragged his teeth over John’s bottom lip, the stubborn and infuriating cock.

“Are you going to actually listen to me this time?” John said. It was odd, but not impossible, to speak while someone was tugging on your lips with their teeth.

Sherlock gave a low, wordless murmur that John chose to interpret as agreement, although he knew very well it mightn’t have been intended that way. Probably wasn’t, actually. Because everything John had seen of Sherlock said that he was single-minded and persistent and a tiny bit infuriating and nearly as stubborn as John. John foresaw rows about this in the future, complete with storming out and pouting and childish arm-waving. It would be years, probably, before Sherlock finally understood that John wasn’t going anywhere if Sherlock didn’t want him to.

Well, at least he would never be bored.

God. He couldn’t imagine anywhere he’d rather be.

“Right,” John said. “I’ve just decided. I’m moving in.”

That put a stop to Sherlock’s biting. He jerked back, shocked, and John couldn’t help but grin, suddenly giddy with his own impulsiveness and success at apparently continuing to be unexpected.

“We can split the rent,” he said. “That should help with both of our money problems. I can take the upstairs bedroom if you’d rather.”

“Not a chance.” Sherlock was blinking rapidly, looking dazed. “I’ll burn the bed. I’ll put a beehive under the floorboards.”

John began to chuckle but was cut off when Sherlock swooped down to kiss him again, bringing yet another cloud of cigarette smoke. This time John went ahead and coughed and turned away.

“Christ, Sherlock. I thought you didn’t smoke. You smell like an ashtray.”

“I’ll shower,” said Sherlock, practically buzzing with eagerness. “I’ll clean everywhere. You can roger me like you’ve been wanting to for weeks. Would you like that? Shall we see if we can ruin Daddy’s boring sheets before the new ones arrive?”

John thought that was a brilliant idea, actually, but it seemed more important to frame Sherlock’s face between his hands, hold his gaze, and say, “Dunno. What do you want?”

Sherlock peered at him, eyes narrowed and unblinking, and John had no doubt that he was being deduced: his intentions pried apart like pieces of a machine and laid out, scrutinised, judged.

He stared back, let Sherlock see whatever he wanted, and felt distinctly pleased, even the slightest bit smug, when Sherlock finally admitted, “Not the bed. Too comfortable. I want to be bent over something. Is that… is that all right?”

“Oh yeah.” John grinned. “I think we can manage that.”

*

John bent Sherlock over the sink in the ensuite, while his skin was still flushed and dripping from his shower, his towel removed and tossed aside.

“Your arse should be illegal,” John said. His voice had gone thick and husky with arousal.

Sherlock snorted, adjusting his grip on the porcelain edges of the sink and glancing over his shoulder. “You’re exaggerating.”

John really wasn’t. Sherlock’s bum was creamy and plump, but—he cupped the cheeks and squeezed, feeling the sculpted muscles beneath the frankly pornographic swell of fat—still fit. There was a mole on the left cheek, right in the middle of the fleshiest bit, and John had the nearly irresistible urge to drop to his knees and put a ring of teeth marks around it. Fortunately, he managed to tamp the impulse down. This time, anyway.

“Although,” Sherlock mused while John was still admiring, “I suppose I do have exceptionally impressive muscle control.”

With a groan, John leaned forwards so he could nip Sherlock’s shoulder playfully. “Tart.”

Sherlock hummed in agreement and shifted his weight back so that John’s cock, still partly soft, was nestled in Sherlock’s cleft. The contact made them both grunt.

“Where’s the lube?” Sherlock let go of the sink edge and groped blindly near the tap. “You brought it with you, I saw. Where did you put it?”

“Right there,” said John, just as Sherlock knocked the plastic bottle of water-based lubricant onto the floor. “Well done. Ah well. Didn’t really need it now anyway.”

And with that, John lowered himself to his knees, putting him at the same level as that gorgeous arse. Sherlock caught on immediately and reached behind to spread himself, baring his tan wrinkled hole and the spattering of dark curls on either side of it. The sight was a perfect likeness of the webcam photo he’d sent John weeks ago, which made John smile.

Illegal,” John said again, in case Sherlock had any ridiculous doubts about his sincerity. Then he brought his mouth to Sherlock’s arsehole like he’d been wanting to do for ages.

Sherlock smelt of expensive body wash and tasted of clean skin, and he said, “Unh, yes,” moving his hips in erratic hitching thrusts, every time John licked hard and wet at the rim.

John ate at Sherlock’s hole until it was flushed and loosened, although it still felt impossibly tight when he filled it with his slippery fingers and then his slick cock.

John paused after the head was sheathed, because Sherlock’s thighs were trembling and he was gulping in air like he was in danger of drowning. Plus, John needed the moment as well; Sherlock was so warm inside, and the clench of his muscles so unforgiving, that this could all be over very quickly if he wasn’t careful.

“All right?” he asked.

“Yes.” But there was a little waver of pain in Sherlock’s voice that said he wasn’t, and as soon as the word was out of his mouth, he was shaking his head and amending, “Maybe a bit more lube.”

It was almost torturous to watch the tip of his prick slip free while Sherlock’s hole gaped, looking so empty and obscene, but John pulled out, reaching for the bottle of slick. He poured more onto his fingers and then eased two of them slowly, gently inside. Sherlock moaned, sounding relieved, and widened his stance and straightened his arms, lifting up so that his spine was a lovely downwards slope. In that position, John could see his flushed face in the mirror.

Sherlock blinked slowly, his eyes spending more time closed than open. “That’s… oh, that’s good. You have talented hands. Say it?”

“What, that I have talented hands?”

But as John was speaking, he understood what he was meant to be saying. And although it probably wasn’t the smartest idea to shuffle even closer, unintentionally changing the angle of his fingers, so that he could kiss Sherlock’s shoulder blade, he did it anyway. He felt soppy, he felt demonstrative, and if there was anyone who needed to be the object of demonstrative soppiness, it was Sherlock.

“Thank you, Daddy.”

Sherlock’s cry was low and guttural, almost a sob, and he shoved his arse backwards, taking John’s fingers as deep as they could go and rubbing his stretched rim all over John’s knuckles. John held in a grin and gave a firm but gentle stroke to Sherlock’s prostate just to hear that sound again, although this time it was accompanied by a sudden vicelike squeeze of John’s fingers. John imagined his prick getting the same treatment and saw stars.

“So, why ‘Daddy’?” he asked, more to distract himself than anything. “Is there… I mean—”

Sherlock grit his teeth, and—oh, fuck—he was rocking back and forth, fucking himself on John’s hand. John’s fingers squidged and squelched as they were sucked in and then released.

“The same, uhn, same reason bondage is comforting for some and restricting for—oh, John, that’s… mm. Combination of childhood impressions, formative experiences, subconscious motivations, oh god, put it in.” Sherlock’s head dropped forwards, banging into the mirror, and he stuck his bum up wantonly. “Now. Please. I’m finally getting hard.”

Fair enough, John supposed. Just to be sure, he said, “We don’t have to. God knows not everyone likes it, and I’m not—”

Sherlock groaned, sounding exasperated. “If in 20 minutes I’m not so full of your come I’m spitting it, I’ll be furious. Now, John.”

It was more than enough incentive for John to get on with it, and this time the penetration went smoothly: no gasps of pain or discomfort as John slid inside. Sherlock took everything up to the fattest bit of John’s cock with a soft, needy moan.

“Okay?” John said, panting and dying to pin Sherlock’s arse in place and bugger it until Sherlock was utterly, beautifully silent and clinging to the sink in ecstasy. “Do you need a minute?”

Sherlock shook his head so vehemently his curls bounced. John could see in the mirror that his eyes were squeezed tightly shut, those gorgeous crinkles forming at the corners. “Just… use me. Anything you want.”

“What I want,” John growled, “is to make you come.” His hands on Sherlock’s waist, he moved—a smooth, even glide in and out that made Sherlock’s jaw hinge wide and his lips open around a long, stuttering moan. “Help me do that, Daddy. How do I make you come on my cock?”

“Harder,” Sherlock gasped, shuddering. “Short, quick thru—uh! That, yes, that!”

John fucked him like that: gripped his bony hips and snapped him back onto John’s cock so roughly that even his voice trembled with it.

“Please,” Sherlock said, practically whining. “Say it, John, please.”

“Thank you, Daddy.” John bent over Sherlock’s back as far as he could without breaking his rhythm, wishing fervently that he could bend all the way—or perhaps yank Sherlock back towards him—so he could pant directly into Sherlock’s ear. “You take such good care of me, Daddy.”

Sherlock made a mess of himself in minutes, and although he wasn’t spitting come by the time that John was finished with him, it was dribbling down the backs of his thighs and dripping onto the ensuite floor.

Chapter Text

Navigating the stairs to 221B while carrying the shopping turned out to be more treacherous than John had hoped.

It would’ve been nice, he reflected as he trudged up the final few steps, if Sherlock popped out to help, but John remembered the day he moved in all too clearly to actually expect any sort of assistance. Sherlock had been far more interested in deducing the contents of John’s bags and boxes than carrying them anywhere.

In fact, John would be surprised if Sherlock had moved at all in the time he’d been gone.

Grunting, he shoved open the door with his shoulder and found Sherlock not in the leather armchair where he’d been earlier, but sitting at the desk on the computer, his hands folded beneath his chin. He glanced up when John entered, blinking as though waking from a daze.

“Got the shopping this time, I see,” he said, sounding deeply pleased. John rolled his eyes to the ceiling, knowing what was coming, and sure enough, Sherlock continued, “If you’d taken my card to begin with, like I told you to—”

“Piss off.”

Sherlock’s chuckle, a low rolling sound, brought a smile to John’s face despite himself. He glanced over his shoulder, to give Sherlock a flirty look, but stopped when he realised what Sherlock was doing.

“Is that my computer?” John asked, although he knew very well that it was.

His computer was wider, fatter, and older than Sherlock’s. Louder and slower too. He’d been fending off offers to buy him a new one for over a month now, which had escalated just two nights ago into the worst argument they’d had so far. (Involving John shouting, ‘You are a bloody nightmare!’ and slamming the front door as he stormed out, and Sherlock sending increasingly frantic text messages over the next two hours pleading with him to come back.) John still wasn’t entirely confident they’d recovered from it yet.

They would eventually, of course. That was something John was quite confident about.

“What’s wrong with yours?”

Sherlock returned his attention to the computer and typed something much more gracefully and rapidly than John could ever manage. “Yours was closer.”

“It’s password protected!”

“In a manner of speaking. Took me less than a minute to guess. Not exactly Fort Knox.”

No. Not on. John summoned the demanding, faintly whinging tone he’d spent the last two months perfecting. “Daddy!

Sherlock jolted, bashing a knee into the bottom of the table as he half stood, then seemed to realise what he was doing and why. He shot John a glower that wasn’t dark enough to be anything more than show.

John tried not to grin too widely, but probably failed. Sherlock was imperious and manipulative at the best of times, downright bullying at the worst, but that word continued to give John an edge, if not a full advantage. Sherlock responded to it like a dog to a whistle, dropping everything and lifting his head.

“Put it away,” John said, “Daddy, and come help me put away the shopping.” On a whim, he went a step further and stuck out his lower lip in a pout. “Please?”

Sherlock’s sham of a glower didn’t falter, but he made a show of removing his fingers from the keyboard and closing the laptop. Satisfied, John turned back to the shopping and was putting a can of beans in the cupboard when Sherlock slotted himself against his back and ducked his head so he could drag his nose along the curve of John’s ear.

“Tease,” he said. John could feel the vibrations from his voice between his shoulder blades. “Cheeky, filthy tease.”

“Maybe a bit. This isn’t helping me put away the shopping, Sherlock.” It was fortunate that John had already put the milk away, as he suspected nothing else would get put away for quite a while.

“No, it isn’t.” Sherlock wound his arms around John’s waist and palmed at John’s groin. “But you don’t need me to put away the shopping, do you? This—” A firm squeeze around the thick root of John’s cock through his trousers, and then Sherlock drew his hand languidly up and down the length, stroking until it began to thicken. John dropped his head to Sherlock’s shoulder with a moan. “Oh, yes. This needs a wet hole to fuck. Which one, John? My mouth, my arse… maybe a toy? Does Daddy need to fetch one of your Fleshlights?”

Sod the shopping. It could sit out and spoil for all John cared.

“Your mouth.” He rocked into Sherlock’s hand. “Please, Daddy, can I have your mouth?”

Sherlock shuddered and seemed to cling just a bit tighter. “Of course.”

After a lingering kiss to the sensitive bit behind John’s ear, Sherlock went to his knees, and John spun around, grabbing the edge of the worktop behind him while Sherlock undid his zip.

When John’s trousers were open, Sherlock eased them down his legs, followed by his pants, and settled back on his haunches while John kicked them off. Once that was out of the way, Sherlock crawled forwards and nuzzled tenderly at John’s pubic hair.

“Mm. Look at this.” He grasped John’s prick loosely in one hand. “Must be so uncomfortable.”

John snorted. “I’m not even fully hard yet, you berk.”

But Sherlock wasn’t paying attention, too intent on mouthing teasingly at the one of the veins. “Let Daddy take care of you,” he murmured, then swallowed John down.

Sherlock sucked cock like he was starving for it, too desperate to concern himself with things like foreplay, working up to a steady rhythm, or even trying not to choke himself. He was capable of finesse—John had seen it, had been reduced to a gasping wreck by it—but now apparently he couldn’t be bothered.

Which was all right with John.

The sight, after all, was magnificent. Sherlock’s flushed cheeks, his lips stretched wide and thin, saliva pooling at the corners of his mouth and dribbling down his chin. His curls bounced as his head bobbed, and his expression was rapturous, his eyes squinty like he was gazing up at the sun.

“Daddy,” John whimpered. The only word he could manage as his cock slid again and again down Sherlock’s hot, slick throat.

He framed Sherlock’s slender neck with his hands, thumbs meeting at the adam’s apple. Sherlock swallowed indulgently, letting John feel his throat muscles ripple and then spasm as he gagged. Another thicker dribble of saliva seeped from his mouth. He was gorgeous. He looked like a filthy, shameless whore.

John gasped, tossing his head back as Sherlock sank to the root and moaned nice and long and throaty. “Oh fucking god.”

Then, abruptly, Sherlock pulled off, and John’s cry was sharp and tortured.

“Sh.” Sherlock curled his fingers around the backs of John’s thighs. “You need to sit. Here. Let Daddy help.”

He was right, John realised belatedly. His legs had gone weak and were trembling violently. They wouldn’t hold his weight much longer. So he let Sherlock guide him away from the worktop and towards the table, where he flopped into a chair and made room for Sherlock between his thighs.

“There,” Sherlock murmured, settling into place.

He rubbed his cheek along the side of John’s cock, spreading the saliva and teasing the red, swollen flesh. Turning his face, he replaced his cheek with his tongue, coaxing out a pitiful twitch and a drop of precome from the slit. John grabbed at his hair, needy and fully prepared to beg.

Sherlock blinked, looking dazed. “Oh. Sorry. Sorry, didn’t mean to tease. Daddy’ll make it better.”

“Piss off and get back to it,” John said, which made Sherlock grin.

But Daddy did make it better. He sucked John’s cock down like an ice lolly and fucked his throat viciously on it, gagging and drooling, until John shouted, arching his hips off the chair and digging his feet into the lino.

It felt so good. Dangerously good. Sherlock’s throat trying to close around him, Sherlock’s tongue dragging wetly along the underside, Sherlock’s pretty lips growing red and plump. His face was tense and pinched, a trio of wrinkles forming on his forehead along with the little crinkles at the corners of his eyes. Like he was deep in thought, trying so hard to ensure John was taken care of, his needs satiated.

When John came, it was with a breathy “Daddy,” his voice so full of adoration that it should’ve put to rest any lingering concerns Sherlock might’ve had about the depth of John’s affection.

Sherlock sucked him until he was soft, gently easing John’s hips back to the chair and then pillowing his arse with a hand on either cheek. He looked utterly debauched, his hair dishevelled and his face smeared with not only saliva but now come as well. John ran his forefinger through the mess on Sherlock’s chin and offered it for Sherlock to lick clean.

Sherlock nipped playfully at John’s fingertip, but obliged without complaint and even groaned in protest when John pulled his finger free with a pop.

“I need to go to the bank,” Sherlock said finally. He went to his feet and smoothed the wrinkles from his suit, which did nothing about the numerous saliva spots or the dollops of white on his collar. Nor did it hide the impressive tent in his trousers.

John licked his lips. “What for? If this is about the computer again—”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Sherlock rolled his eyes, as though it wasn’t suspicious at all that he had just been using John’s computer after complaining two nights ago that it was ‘completely unusable, John, how can you stand this.’ “I got an email from someone I knew at uni. A banker now. Says there’s been an incident at the bank he was hoping I might sort out. Might be a case. You’re coming, of course.”

It sounded like a pronouncement, but John knew it was actually a question. Sherlock wouldn’t have said anything otherwise; he’d have just up and left and expected John to follow.

“Yeah,” John said. “Course I am. But first….” He spread his legs wider and tipped his hips up. Not quite enough that Sherlock could see his arsehole—his legs were still shaky, he couldn’t manage that sort of flexibility just yet—but enough that he would surely understand what John was getting at. “I might need Daddy’s cock before we leave.”