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Cooperative Principle

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The takeaway on his desk should not come as a surprise.

 

For all of three seconds, John considers resisting. Then he closes his laptop, stacks the papers on top of it, and sets the entire pile off to one side. Free food is free food. “I hope you brought forks.”

 

“And knives,” Sherlock replies, fishing two Styrofoam containers out of the plastic bag. “Gnocchi or lasagne?”

 

John feigns surprise. “You mean you don’t already know?”

 

Sherlock glares at him, then wordlessly hands John the lasagne.

 

John laughs. “Touché.”

 

There’s approximately three servings of wine in a small box, along with a pair of plastic cups, but John declines and Sherlock follows suit. Sherlock brings them coffee from the canteen instead, leaving John with a strange opportunity to run for it. John decides he doesn’t need to. In fact, he steadfastly refuses to rise from his chair. Sherlock will have to study his limp another day.

 

They eat, though mostly John eats. Sherlock picks at his food. They talk, though mostly Sherlock talks. John asks questions. The door is shut, the office is small, and John’s desk is in turns an imposing and flimsy barrier.

 

“You don’t actually talk about yourself,” John notes, closing his empty Styrofoam box and dropping it in the bin. Sherlock’s is still over half full. “I’m not sure how you’re managing it.”

 

“How so?”

 

“Well,” John says, “normally when someone tells you about a job they did, they say what they did, not what everyone else did.”

 

“What everyone else did is the interesting part,” Sherlock counters. “I already know myself—there’s nothing to uncover.”

 

From anyone else but a detective, John might not accept that response. As it is, he considers it. “Maybe not for you to uncover.” Though he personally doubts it. “Tell me something about you now.”

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes, clearly finding the request childish. “Like what?”

 

“What do you do besides the detecting and the consulting?”

 

“Recently? I’ve been seducing an ex-army doctor for the past month. It’s a rewarding pastime. I highly recommend it.”

 

John decides to take a moment and busy his mouth with his coffee. He swallows. “How rewarding, exactly?”

 

Sherlock’s mouth smiles and his eyes do as well, but the expressions are separate and don’t match in the slightest. Amusement and the need to fuck, and absolutely nothing in between. “Very.”

 

“And, um. Is it the pastime you’re recommending, or the doctor?”

 

“The pastime,” Sherlock answers without hesitation. “I’ve no intention of seeing it become competitive sport.”

 

John sips his coffee. “But if it were competitive sport?”

 

“I would win.”

 

“You’re very confident.”

 

The way Sherlock’s lips stretch into a smirk reminds John of how they looked wrapped around his cock. The smirk widens and widens. “For very good reason, John.”

 

“Care to explain your reasoning?”

 

“We’re on a date.”

 

“Took you a month.”

 

“Three rounds of sex in four days. Very promising.”

 

“No,” John says once motor function of his mouth returns. “Two in three days, and I don’t think it counts in a lecture hall with your kit on.”

 

“Genital stimulation concluding in orgasm: this has happened four times. Oral sex: once. Three handjobs.”

 

There is an obvious question. John swallows. He says as casually as possible, which is not very casually at all, “That’s still two rounds in three days.”

 

“Mm, yes.” Sherlock sets the remains of his dinner on the floor and stands. He pulls his coat from the back of his chair to drop it in front of the door, along the crack at the bottom, and he secures the chair below the doorknob.

 

“Presumptuous.” But even as John’s mind insists this is a terrible, terrible idea, his cock simply loves it. John is not courted. John is the pursuer. John is in charge of chatting up, and everyone else is in charge of shooting down. It is stressful and occasionally rewarding. In no way does it involve gorgeous men tossing a pair of flavoured condoms onto his desk.

 

“As you said,” Sherlock replies, briskly shrugging out of his suit jacket, “I’m very confident.” The jacket goes on the corner of the bookshelf and Sherlock edges around to John’s side of the desk. He clears off a space, sliding the condoms to the side and reaching for, of all things, John’s laptop. He holds it out to John and plucks John’s mug from his unresisting hands. “Put some music on.”

 

John quickly complies. Internet radio, nothing special. This is hardly the time to risk a debate over his taste in music.

 

As John types, Sherlock sits on the desk and toes off his shoes.

 

John hands back the laptop and Sherlock aims the laptop toward the door. To see him reach behind himself is a joy. His shirt is absurd, buttons straining, the cloth a soft-looking off-white. His trousers aren’t quite as tight, but John can get him there. The fabric has an expensive feel beneath John’s fingertips. Then again, there’s always something so indulgent about the inner thigh.

 

Hands planted on the gleaming wood of the desk, Sherlock slowly brings his knees together, forcing John’s stroking hands to slow, trapping his touch below a very attractive bulge. “Not just yet,” Sherlock practically purrs.

 

“No?” John wiggles his fingers a bit, sliding one hand higher.

 

Sherlock inhales sharply through his nose. His head drops slightly, eyes closed.

 

“No? Top of the thigh? What about this?”

 

The buttons strain with each shallow rise of Sherlock’s chest. Sherlock catches his hands. “Not yet.”

 

“You’re sitting on my desk. What else could you possibly-”

 

Sherlock’s foot hooks beneath his calf.

 

“Oh.”

 

“Mm, yes.” Grey eyes grin green and dark. The touch rises, rises, and it slides between John’s already open knees. Sherlock releases his hands with a lingering caress.

 

“I’m not--” John shifts, sinking lower in his chair. He pushes back a little, letting the chair’s wheels roll, giving Sherlock more space to work with. “I’m not actually into feet.”

 

Heel at the apex of John’s thighs, Sherlock’s sock-clad foot slowly presses and releases, a foot pedal motion that has John’s hands gripping the armrests. Or kneading. It’s a bit like a cat kneading, if only in the languid pleasure clear behind Sherlock’s eyes. Constant pressure on his balls, temporary relief against his cock.

 

“This isn’t about feet,” Sherlock tells him.

 

“The foot on my crotch disagrees.”

 

“No,” Sherlock corrects, “this is about Tuesday and dinner at a restaurant. Specifically, doing this to you under the table.”

 

“You... Oh, God, you’re serious.”

 

“Mm. All three locations I offered have long tablecloths. Each has a table in a somewhat secluded nook. The tables are small. You’d sit facing out. Higher risk of being caught—you have a delightfully expressive face—but I know unseen crowds at your back make you uncomfortable. We can’t have that. Uncomfortable, certainly, but not of that sort.

 

“It would be a great deal like this. You wouldn’t have to look up, of course, but this is a marvellous angle, don’t you think?” Side-to-side motions now, working him through his zip. “Yes, that’s it, let your head fall back. Does it help you to fist your hands? Is that what you would do in public?”

 

“I have no fucking idea,” John manages to breathe out. It’s not much, the actual sensation, it’s really not that much, but the way Sherlock refuses to break eye contact is just, Christ.

 

“How long before you bring your cock out? If I don’t stop. If I kept on under the table. I could keep on with this. Not very difficult. If you do want to come, you’ll have to open your own trousers. I lack the dexterity. I might be able to fish you out of your boxer briefs, but I’m not sure. Shall we try?”

 

John opens his trousers. He pushes them down as best he can without standing, walking them down to the tops of his thighs.

 

“Sock.”

 

John peels it off him, a roll of thin brown fabric. There’s nothing particularly attractive or endearing about Sherlock’s foot and his hairy toes. It is, strangely enough, the only piece of the man John has seen unclothed besides his cock. This is getting ridiculous. No, not getting. This has never not been ridiculous.

 

“Again.” The other foot. “Good. Now lift.”

 

John does, pushing on the armrests, and Sherlock snags John’s trousers with his heels and shoves them down over his knees. The backs of John’s thighs stick to the seat as he spreads his legs wider.

 

Eyes locked on John’s clothed erection, Sherlock sets to work. He’s clumsy and fumbling, full of added friction. He errs on the side of too light and not enough, biting his lip until he gets it right. His trousers strain as much as his buttons, if not more. His hands clutch the edge of the desk, knuckles whiter than the rest of his pale skin. Holding onto his armrests, John feels much the same way.

 

“Hold still.”

 

“Can’t.” Utterly unrepentant. Horny as fuck and utterly unrepentant. He keeps rocking up into the contact until there, oh. Skin. John’s hands lock around Sherlock’s ankles. “Just, just let me...”

 

Sherlock presses his feet together, and John secures them. It’s tight, the gap between, the arches, it’s tight. And dry, precome or not. John reminds himself he has a cock to suck soon, repeats the thought in his head and stares at Sherlock’s crotch until his dry mouth waters. He spits, simply letting it fall, and he keeps at it until the slide is slick.

 

He hears Sherlock make some sort of sound, something strangled, but he can’t, his neck just won’t, he can’t seem to look up. All he can do is fold forward, arms wrapped tight about Sherlock’s shins, fucking his feet, humping into the contact. John’s head falls lower and lower, hanging between Sherlock’s knees. Strong, solid legs. Lean, still strong. John holds tight.

 

A hand. On his head. Soft and, and petting. Sherlock struggling to breathe. John struggles harder. The internet radio goes to adverts. John’s rhythm falters, nothing to model itself to. He speeds up. He’s rocking, thrusting. Don’t let the chair roll. For fuck’s sake, do not let the chair roll now. God, on the edge, on the edge, c’mon, c’mon, please...

 

“Don’t make a sound,” Sherlock whispers. “They’ll hear you. Don’t let them hear you. No one can hear you when you come. Come in my sock, hide the mess. John, quiet. You’ll get us thrown out.”

 

Fuck.

 

“Shh!”

 

“Oh, fuck.” He pushes and pushes, hips fighting upward, and there it is, there. John bites his lip and bites it hard.

 

“Quiet, John. Not a sound, not one.” His hand continues its gentle stroking until John can do little more than sag against his legs. Limply clinging. John will stay here for a while longer, cuddling shins, cheek against a very pointy knee.

 

Eventually, Sherlock remarks, “That would have been terrible in a restaurant.”

 

John laughs himself silly.

 

He manages to look up, and Sherlock smiles back and hands him paper napkins. John does what he can for clean up, though the sock really did catch most of it. “Sorry,” John apologizes. He partially means it. For coming, no. For Sherlock to be walking about sockless, a bit.

 

“Not important.” He touches John’s face, thumb light against his lips.

 

John hums, nodding slightly.

 

A bit of moving first. John tucks himself back into his pants. His trousers stay about his ankles, a request easily fulfilled. Smirking, Sherlock hooks his feet into the armrests of John’s chair and draws him forward. John retaliates by grabbing two handfuls of a very nice bum and promptly drops his face into Sherlock’s lap.

 

A hiss of breath. A hot twitch against John’s cheek. An arse squirming beneath his hands. All delightful, all temping him from his fatigue. He nuzzles a bit against straining cloth, taking his time, snickering at the hands tight on his shoulders. He’s warm and tingling and a bit sweaty, and a nice, slow suck sounds perfect right about now.

 

“John. John, hurry up.”

 

Slow, definitely.

 

He’s sure to smile up at Sherlock as he opens the man’s trousers. He doesn’t pull them down. Instead, he leans forward, presses his lips to tented cotton, and exhales. Long breaths, warm, nudging with his nose. He inhales musk, exhales damp heat.

 

“John,” Sherlock gasps, both hands running continuously through John’s hair, against his scalp. Narrow hips roll, covered cock straining for him.

 

John hums, letting the vibration travel.

 

“John.” His voice is a broken wreck, torn and melted. “If anyone has ever been beyond the need for foreplay, it is me. John, please.”

 

He gropes across the desk for one of the condoms, feels Sherlock press it into his hand. John takes care of the rest. He doesn’t check the foil for the condom flavour and the first lick leaves John giggling.

 

Sherlock flinches. “What?”

 

John shakes his head, adjusting his arm around Sherlock’s bum. The other hand holds his cock steady. “Banana condoms. For when a cock just isn’t phallic enough.” Another lick, longer, lingering at the head. “Not a bad thing.”

 

Sherlock groans. Not exactly in a good way, either.

 

That soon changes. It’s been a while since John’s last had thick heat sliding between his lips, and he’s missed it more than he’d realised. He cradles Sherlock to him with one arm about his waist, hand pressed to the damp small of his back. One tug is all he needs to untuck Sherlock’s shirt, to get his hand up behind it and touch the curve of his spine.

 

Rocking into his mouth, Sherlock begins to mutter. He grips John by the shoulder, at the nape. He touches the side of John’s face and so John changes the angle, lets his cheek bulge with cock under Sherlock’s fingers.

 

Sherlock’s entire body tenses.

 

Very mildly, Sherlock swears.

 

With steady strokes and tight suction, John makes him swear a bit coarser.

 

They settle, and a long moment passes before either of them moves.  Sherlock’s lap is hardly the best pillow, but John doesn’t mind. Warm and limp, he listens to Sherlock relearning how to breathe. The hands on his head are heavy and still, a patchwork blanket of touch.

 

John’s back begins to ache. His jaw announces over-exercise. He sits up. Sherlock’s hands fall from him slowly, as if uncertain where else to be. John arches his back and hears it pop. Then he sprawls back, too drained for anything beyond looking up at the dishevelled man on his desk. It’s a very worthwhile activity, especially before Sherlock tucks his cock away. Or after. After is still nice. Hell, during.

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes at the obvious attention, but he does make a show of it. He pushes back John’s chair in order to stand and bend very much over, picking up his shoes. The only response is to grin like an idiot, trousers still about his ankles.

 

The office doesn’t take much tidying. Fortunate, as John refuses to move. Sherlock puts his chair back. He shrugs on his coat, the long cloth framing his body, and he pulls a sock out of one pocket to replace his soiled one.

 

John gapes at him. “You... Okay. How far in advance were you planning this?”

 

Sherlock smiles brightly and sits to put on his shoes.

 

Shaking his head, John grabs his laptop and closes it. He returns it to its normal spot, which currently sports a foil packet. John checks the flavour. “You plan like that but brought an extra condom. And it wasn’t for flavour choice.”

 

“Contingency plan,” Sherlock explains. “If you objected to the foot idea, I was going to blow you under your desk.”

 

The mental image hinders speech.

 

Sherlock stands and plucks the condom out of his hands. “That will be for Tuesday.”

 

“Chinese,” John adds.

 

Sherlock’s eyebrows flick up, and John’s stomach twists round in tight little circles.

 

“For the takeaway,” John needlessly clarifies, hand fiddling with the armrest. “On Tuesday, here. The takeaway.”

 

His grin sudden and wide, Sherlock sweeps around John’s desk and bends himself in half. It’s a very nice kiss, as very nice kisses go, and John returns it past the protests of his craning neck. Sherlock tugs on his shirt, pulling him up, and John staggers up with his ankles trapped. Immediately, Sherlock’s hands are on his bum.

 

John giggles a bit, and Sherlock hums. They kiss. Playful, not deep, leaving John with no excuse for feeling so dizzy.

 

“You have plans for the weekend,” Sherlock murmurs.

 

“Yeah.” Saturday: physical therapy, laundry and forcing a blog entry. Sunday: chores and a session of lying to his shrink.

 

“Then I’ll see you in four days.” One last kiss, firmer than the rest.

 

“Right,” John agrees.

 

Sherlock grins, moving away, and he stops before he opens the door. “John?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Trousers.”

 

John swears and hurriedly pulls them up. Sherlock merely grins, watching him fumble with his belt. John comforts himself with the knowledge of residents walking into walls, their heads too far turned by the sight of one Sherlock Holmes.

 

“Decent?” Sherlock asks. His voice pretends to belong to an innocent soul.

 

“Shut up.”

 

Smug beyond belief, Sherlock ducks out into the hallway.

 

John listens to his receding footsteps until he hears the fire door open and close. And he sighs a bit, because four days is a long time when made of monotony. Will Sherlock fit under his desk? All the way under? Could John roll his chair in, just a little? Just enough for Sherlock to be totally hidden? Or is there not enough space between John’s lap and the desk for it to work in the first place?

 

Better to check now than be wondering all weekend. John sits down, feels around a bit beneath his chair, and, yes, the seat can go down far enough. John puts it to rights with a nervous giggle. This is the most unprofessional thing he’s ever done. It’s amazing. He keeps thinking of Sherlock’s smug smirk. The smoulder that turns his eyes green. The way he’d looked, as if making John stand up with his trousers down was—

 

John had stood up.

 

He looks at his cane, untouched for hours.

 

He had stood up. Unsupported. Hadn’t even touched his desk.

 

Okay.

 

All right.

 

Trying that again.

 

He takes a steadying breath and stands, keeping his weight entirely on his left leg. He puts his right foot down. Slowly, he begins to shift his weight.

 

Almost immediately, his leg cries out for him to stop.

 

John stops. He breathes. He tries again.

 

It hurts. It still hurts. It’s hurting a lot now. It shouldn’t do, but it does, but John was standing, he was, and he can do this. He can. He can do this. It’s one step. Just one. One step means he can walk.

 

His leg buckles, and he catches himself against the desk. The pain is sharp and fades as long as John keeps his weight off it.

 

Once he can stop biting his lip, he tries again.

 

And again after that.

 

And again after that.

 

When another attempt would make him scream or cry, John sits down. He stays there for a very long time.

 

 

 

 

 

“Sometimes, I forget it,” he tells his PT therapist. He likes Jacqueline better than Ella, all told, probably because Jacqueline reminds him of basic training. Sessions with Jacqueline leave him exhausted and occasionally hopeful. Emotional therapy leaves him exhausted and tetchy.

 

“My limp,” John clarifies. “Not my cane. The actual limp.”

 

“You’ve noticed?”

 

John blinks. “Wait, you knew?”

 

“It always comes back when you think of it,” Jacqueline explains. “Telling you seemed counterproductive. Like telling someone to breathe naturally. It’s why we’re focusing on your arm.”

 

“That and it being the real injury.”

 

Jacqueline laughs. “That too. Now, show me your stretches, and don’t overextend this time.”

 

 

 

 

 

“How’s the blog coming?”

 

“Fine.” He says it only the once. Repetition cannot help him here. He has half an hour more of them staring at each other.

 

“Did anything different happen this week?” Ella asks.

 

John makes the mistake of having a facial expression.

 

“Oh?”

 

“I, er. I had a date, actually.”

 

Ella makes a note. “Is that the first since you’ve been home?”

 

John nods.

 

“How’d it go?”

 

“Well.”

 

Ella waits for him to continue.

 

John does not continue.

 

“Will you be seeing her again?”

 

John smiles his blandest smile and says, “Yes.”

 

 

 

 

 

Sherlock Holmes is experimenting on him. Sherlock is also bewilderingly intelligent, stupidly daring, and good fun to talk to. He’s the best shag John’s had in ages and they’ve yet to share a bed. He brings John food. He is arrogant and vain in a way John doesn’t find annoying. He makes John laugh. He is known to drop anyone and everyone who has nothing left to offer him.

 

This arrangement will likely continue as long as John’s leg is worth Sherlock’s interest. Meaning that Sherlock will stay until John is cured or found incurable. Which would normally be depressing, but John’s feeling optimistic. He’ll be able to walk at the end, and he’d much rather be able to walk than have fantastic sex. To walk or jog or run or climb stairs or pick things up or get in and out of a car, all without pain. God, rugby. He might play rugby again.

 

Until then, John agrees to the fantastic sex.

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday morning drags on and Tuesday afternoon does the same. John is wearing another cardigan, the dark green one, because Sherlock seems to like his cardigans. It’s soft. Encourages touching. He has some extra cash on hand too, ready for a cab ride home.

 

His office hours drag on the longest. He knows Sherlock won’t show until the last half hour. The dearth of students, normally depressing, is today a relief. It helps him finish as much work as he possibly can. There won’t be time after Sherlock comes. He forces himself to work and keep working, and he doesn’t look at a clock until after his stomach lets out a rolling growl.

 

Sherlock is late.

 

Half an hour later, John decides Sherlock is trapped in another skip. Are you trapped in a skip? he texts.

 

He puts his mobile down and tries to focus. His stomach growls on.

 

Half an hour after that, John sticks a post-it on his door and limps down to the canteen. Another quick text, just as an update on John’s position. He returns as soon as he can. No sign of anyone stopping by. He waits a short while longer, then gathers up his things. He goes home to his tidied bedroom and freshly vacuumed carpet and an unopened box of condoms sitting on his bedside table.  He sits on his neatly made bed and throws his cane across the room. He swears at it first, at himself second, and then he calms down. It’s a change of plan. That’s all. Just a change of plan.

 

 

 

 

 

On Thursday, he doesn’t stay late.

 

 

 

 

 

On Friday, he texts Mike to confirm that John’s phone is still sending and receiving texts. It is.

 

He’s in a terrible enough mood that his students notice, which is where John draws the line. This is what Rule One is for. Probably not to this extent, but Rule One exists for a reason.

 

Still, John made it through Afghanistan and he can make it through a few lectures. After each, he asks if anyone had planned to come to his office hours and at the end of the day, the response level is such that he sends out an email cancelling them. There are implications in referring to seduction as a pastime, and John needs to stop thinking about all of them.

 

 

 

 

 

His mobile rings while he’s brushing his teeth. He shouldn’t, but he answers it.

 

“Hello?”

 

“To be fair, neither of us specified which Tuesday,” Sherlock informs him.

 

John strongly considers hanging up.

 

“Don’t hang up. Please.”

 

“Where are you?” John asks. His tone is so level, marbles couldn’t roll off it.

 

“New Scotland Yard.”

 

“And what are you doing there?”

 

“Experiencing symptoms of exhaustion and fatigue. The children made it, the uncle might not, and we’re still waiting for word on the father.”

 

John hears shouting in the background.

 

“I’m not allowed to tell you any of that, but I don’t care,” Sherlock adds.

 

“Okay,” John says. “If you’re not allowed to tell me, why are you calling?”

 

“I need to eat. Do you need to eat?”

 

“Most people need to do that, yeah.”

 

“No, do you need to eat now? No, not now. In an hour. We’ll know about the father by then. Not the uncle, he’ll still be in surgery. Will you need to eat in an hour?”

 

“I was planning on being asleep in an hour.”

 

“Oh.” A long pause. “We can do that too.”

 

“‘We’?”

 

“It’s not a problem. But I think I need to eat first.”

 

John frowns at himself in the medicine cabinet mirror. “You sound drunk.”

 

“Oh, no. No. Exhausted. I do feel nauseous, but that would be the hunger.”

 

“Right...”

 

“Will you?”

 

“Sorry?” John asks.

 

“Need to eat in an hour?”

 

“Yes. Sherlock, is there anyone nearby? Anyone remotely in charge?”

 

“Lestrade, yes. He’s homicide, not abduction, but they threw me out.”

 

“Could you hand him the phone?” John asks.

 

There’s a bit of noise in the background. Sherlock must be covering the mobile as he speaks. After a moment, another male voice says, “Hello? DI Lestrade.”

 

“Dr. Watson,” John replies. “That man is exhausted. Let him go home.”

 

“I’ve been telling him to leave,” Lestrade insists. “There’s one more loose end needs tying up and then he might be willing to go. Not sure he’ll make it out on his own steam, though.”

 

“Right.” Decided, John limps back to his bedroom and pulls today’s clothes out of the hamper, mobile between cheek and shoulder. “I’m coming to get him. Which tube stop are you?”

 

“St. James Park. If you think you can get him to move, I won’t stop you.”

 

“Ta. Give him a glass of water, he probably needs that too.”

 

John hangs up, dresses, and limps out into the night.

 

 

 

 

 

When John finds him, Sherlock’s asleep on a couch, mouth open, face slack, hair unwashed. His shirt is missing one of its buttons. John can’t determine whether that tells him something about Sherlock’s week or about the structural integrity of thread.

 

“DI Lestrade?” John asks of the other man left in the room. The man’s loosened his tie and is going grey, neither of which seems very surprising.

 

A nod. Lestrade looks at John’s face, not at his cane. “Dr. Watson?”

 

John nods. “How long’s he been out?”

 

“Twenty minutes, give or take.”

 

“Good. Not into his REM cycle, then.”

 

“Sure you’re going to be all right on your own?” Lestrade asks. “We usually dump him in the break room at this point. He keeps fine until morning.”

 

“What, he does this often?” It’s entirely at odds with John’s mental image of the man.

 

“Not normally to this point,” Lestrade allows. “He’s been going since Sunday, though.” A slight shrug. “You know how he is at taking breaks.”

 

John doesn’t, actually. “Right,” he says anyway. The circles beneath Sherlock’s eyes are deep and purple, and a minute looking at him isn’t enough to dismiss the possibility of an actual black eye. He turns to Lestrade and fights down the urge to offer his phone number, to tell him in no uncertain terms to call him if Sherlock gets like this again. Because that’s ridiculous.

 

“Do you want to wake him, or will I?” he asks instead.

 

“All yours,” Lestrade tells him and promptly heads back toward his office. He looks like he’s evacuating a blast zone. The woman he passes looks as if she wishes she could do the same. “Thanks for this.”

 

“Right.” John shakes Sherlock by the shoulder, gently, then with a firm squeeze. “Hey.”

 

Sherlock squeezes his eyes tightly shut before peering out through just the one. “John?”

 

“Look, I can’t prop you up. Can you walk to the lift?”

 

“Yes,” Sherlock snaps weakly, petulant as hell. He stands and wobbles and the woman by Lestrade’s office snickers.

 

“C’mon,” John says over her. He does have to admit Sherlock looks ridiculous, but it’s far too worrying to amuse him. “I called for takeaway on the way in. We’ll pick it up on the way back to your place.”

 

Sherlock nods, then winces as if the motion is painful. Dehydration, definitely. They walk slowly to the lift. For once, John has to wait for someone else to keep up. Sherlock settles in at the corner of the lift, leaning back his head and closing his eyes as they ride down. Outside, John hails them a taxi as quickly as he can. Almost as soon as he’s buckled in, Sherlock falls asleep. John hesitates in getting out to grab the takeaway, but when he returns, the cab has waited and Sherlock hasn’t stirred in the slightest.

 

John gives the cabbie Sherlock’s address, glad to have gleaned it from Sherlock’s forum. The drive to Baker Street is quick this time of night, barely ten minutes. John spends it considering the empty seat between them and the way Sherlock’s head lolls onto his shoulder. That can’t be good for his neck.

 

John pays the cabbie, wakes Sherlock, and somehow gets them out on the pavement. Sherlock unlocks the door, they stagger inside, and John looks up the many stairs to the first storey where Sherlock inevitably lives. Sherlock is compliant enough to carry the take-away without protest, but he sways as he climbs in front of John. If he falls, that’s both of them dead.

 

They get up without mishap and Sherlock wanders straight into his bedroom. The room is neat and orderly, almost severe in its clean lines, just the way Sherlock dresses. Sherlock half-sits, half-flops on the floor. He leans back against the side of his bed, the bag of takeaway in his lap. He pats the floor next to him.

 

“Hold on.” John limps to the kitchen, or possibly to the laboratory. It’s difficult to tell where the one becomes the other. He opens the dishwasher on a hunch, grabs a clean glass and fills it from the tap.

 

When he returns, Sherlock has gotten into the lo mien. There must have been chopsticks in the bag. John passes him the glass.

 

“Not thirsty.”

 

“Just one sip.”

 

Sherlock looks pointedly at the floor beside him.

 

“Just one sip,” John repeats.

 

Sherlock scowls and complies. One sip turns into two, turns into steady swallows, and before John can tell him to slow down, Sherlock blinks at the empty glass in his hand. John goes to refill it before carefully lowering himself to the floor next to Sherlock, his leg out straight before him. Sherlock passes him the lo mien.

 

“How often do you do this to yourself?” John asks.

 

Sherlock shakes his head.

 

“What DI Lestrade said, it sounded like they’ve protocol for you like this.”

 

“Kidnapping.”

 

“What?”

 

“Kidnapping. First twenty-four hours are the most crucial. Except the first one was fake.”

 

“And... that means you do this how often?” John asks.

 

Head resting against his bed, Sherlock shrugs. His upper arm rubs against John’s shoulder.

 

“How’s your stomach?” He’s barely eaten.

 

“Full.”

 

That might be the water. “All right,” John says. “Give it twenty minutes, then off to bed.” Sherlock had mentioned nausea on the phone. Best to not push that.

 

“There were two,” Sherlock mumbles.

 

“Children?”

 

“Kidnappings. Three children, two kidnappings. The first was fake. Perfectly safe with their uncle.” He yawns, jaw cracking. “But people assume the worst about uncles, don’t they?”

 

“About kidnappings, generally,” John replies, not sure where this is going.

 

“The first one was by the father. He put them with their uncle.”

 

“Away from their mother.”

 

“No, she’s dead,” Sherlock replies. He wraps his arm around John’s shoulders, then rests his head on top of John’s. “Protection... thing. You smell good. And, and your clothes were in the hamper. You were going to bed. You’d brushed your teeth, even.”

 

“How are you doing that?” John asks. “You’re half-unconscious.”

 

Sherlock hums, shifting until he’s rendered John comfortable for sprawling on. His breathing grows soft and even.

 

“Sherlock,” John whispers. He whispers again, his stomach tightening when Sherlock groans. “Shh, okay.”

 

He stands and pulls back the duvet, then hauls Sherlock onto his bed, a smooth lift from where hospital and army training combine. The shoes come off first, then the socks. The belt too. It’s cinched tight, far tighter than it has any right to be on a man so skinny. He unbuttons the shirt as well, pleased to see Sherlock’s chest rise even slightly higher. John tucks him in and transfers the glass of water to Sherlock’s nightstand.

 

Picking up the remains of the takeaway, John consciously freezes. He reaches down, very carefully, and picks up his cane before he falls.

 

The stairs are difficult on the way out, but that’s hardly new.

 

 

 

 

 

Bleary-eyed from restless sleep, John watches the news while fixing himself breakfast. It’s habit, nothing more, but John jerks fully awake when a kidnapping is mentioned. The story takes a full ten minutes to come on and by that time, John has Googled it.

 

Two kidnappings, the first staged by the children’s father and assisted by their uncle. The article online is vague as to the type of debt the father was in, either gambling or drugs, but the threats against his children are clear. He’d kidnapped his own children and set the blame on those he’d owed money by taking their threats to the police. Once the accused cleared themselves of blame, they turned around and actually did kidnap the children. The father and uncle, now wanted by the police, took matters into their own hands. The police were tipped off in time to rescue the children and the father, but the uncle died early Saturday morning from his injuries.

 

Nowhere in this convoluted story is Sherlock mentioned by name. John feels a bit miffed.

 

 

 

 

 

He keeps trying to distract himself into forgetting his cane, but the process is self-defeating. If Sherlock can deduce half-asleep, can he also distract John from his limp? Intentionally, that is. John already knows he was distracted. It’s the presence of intent that escapes him.

 

He texts Sherlock just the once, a simple Tell me if you’re still alive, and late Sunday night, his mobile chimes to tell him I just woke up. SH

 

Lo mien’s in the fridge, John responds and goes to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of days later, a sharp knock against his office door announces the arrival of Sherlock Holmes, a bag of takeaway in one hand.

 

“Would you be willing to believe I meant this Tuesday?” Sherlock asks.

 

John responds by rolling back his chair and giving his desk a pointed look.

 

With a flash of a grin, Sherlock locks the door behind him.