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Cooperative Principle

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Mouth slack, John sinks lower in the armchair. His cock sinks deeper between Sherlock’s lips. His toes curl against the rug.

The sound Sherlock makes is incredibly smug. It vibrates, lovely, all around him, and John spreads his knees wider to provoke a repeat. He stops when his leg protests, but that has Sherlock making indulgent noises, condescending comfort hummed around his cock.

“Ohhh, fuck you.”

Sherlock pulls off, wet and slow. He keeps stroking as he asks, “Insult, or requested relocation to bedroom?”

“Insult,” John replies, pressing on the back of Sherlock’s head.

Sherlock turns his head to the side. His teeth scrape over the inside of John’s thigh before the biting, before the sucking, before hot, pressing tongue. A lock of his hair clings to the spit-damp condom, clings to John’s cock above his slowly pumping hand.

John drags him up, no choice about it. He pulls by the shirt, not by the hair, but Sherlock still glares at him in confusion before catching on. Fortunately, John’s tongue in his mouth is a good hint and Sherlock is a very intelligent man.

Faster strokes, twisting toward the top. Sherlock’s thumb. Fingers knocking against John’s stomach as John bends forward into the snog. Sherlock tries to rise up, tries to press John into the chair and loom over him, climb onto him, but John catches him mid-motion.

“Stay.” A puff of breath between their open mouths. “There. There is good.” Where Sherlock’s hand knocks against his shirt, his stomach.

“Just my hand?”

John nods as best he can, their noses brushing. Sherlock’s other hand immediately grips John by the nape, securing John precisely where he is. If he really wanted to, he could drag John down out of the armchair. They’d wind up rutting on the floor. Fuck.

“No, open your eyes,” Sherlock instructs.

John does. Eyes dark and piercing, Sherlock stares back. John groans into Sherlock’s mouth. He reaches down, palm riding the back of Sherlock’s stroking hand. Not guiding but following, too lost to do otherwise. He doesn’t quite understand when Sherlock drastically shifts his grip, not until the condom is pulled off and tossed onto John’s discarded pants.

“Lick.”

Sherlock’s palm is already damp, but that is no reason to refrain from doing obscene things to it, to his fingers, his thumb. John pulls off with a pop, gazing directly into Sherlock’s eyes.

A failed attempt at a glare answers him, but anger is not the reason Sherlock’s entire face has gone red. “That wasn’t licking.”

John pulls Sherlock’s hand back to his cock. “Nope.” Christ, is that better. Sherlock immediately begins to play with him, toying with his foreskin, being a terrible fucking tease with light touches of the thumb.

Their noses brush. “John, eyes.”

He opens them. Panting shallow breaths, he stares into grey and blue and green. His eyelids twitch and fight to fall. Too close. Their faces. Uncomfortably intimate, unreasonably intimate. He’s splayed open, examined, secured, all by a hand on his neck and a fist around his cock.

“Keep them open when you come,” Sherlock whispers, urgent, his breath hot on John’s lips. “Will you do that for me?” The way he asks it, deep voice taking on a needful whine, it’s the dirtiest piece of begging John’s ever heard.

John opens his mouth and sound fails to follow. He nods, a quivering little nod that brushes his forehead against Sherlock’s hair, and it’s damp, the brushing, damp from Sherlock’s spit on John’s cock, and John comes. Everything blurs. Around the edges. Blur.

Mouth. Sherlock’s. On his. Teeth tugging lip. Eyes still open.

John slumps sideways onto the arm of the chair. Sherlock shifts with him.

“Christ.” Breathless.

Sherlock is still staring.

John stares back dumbly. He reaches. What for, he doesn’t know. Reciprocation. Nothing specific. The general area of Sherlock Holmes. He encounters a shoulder.

Sherlock downgrades to watching.

This, John can match. He should do something else, something more. At the moment, the best he could manage would be to let Sherlock fuck his mouth, and the logistics of the armchair are poor for that.

Time passes slowly, Sherlock’s hands warm on the skin of his knees. The fabric of the armchair begins to feel a bit odd against his bum.

“Oh  dear ,” Sherlock murmurs, finally releasing John from his gaze.

“Hm?”

“Your shirt is a mess.” Sherlock touches, hooking one finger between the buttons but avoiding the come. “I’ll put it in the wash.”

“You did that on purpose.”

“It’s your semen, not mine.”

“You still did that on purpose.”

“Without apology or shame,” Sherlock confirms. “Shirt off.”

“Sneaky bastard.”

Sherlock rolls his eyes and begins unbuttoning John. “Offering to do your laundry.”

There’s a tiny moment of panic and invasion before John remembers that he’s wearing a vest underneath his shirt today. Thank God for the chill of England. Reassured, John takes over, careful not to spread his mess—Sherlock’s mess?—on the armchair.

“There you are.” John hands him the bundle with a polite smile.

“John, you are very close to being naked in my sitting room.”

He glances down at himself. “So I am.”

“Very close.”

John nods. “Yep, you said.”

“You’re being obstinate.”

“And you like having to work for it.”

Adjusting himself through his trousers without any trace of shyness, Sherlock stands. “John,” he says. He indicates his own crotch. “Your efforts to draw this out have been very satisfactory. You may now stop.”

John merely smiles and crosses his legs, left ankle over right knee. When Sherlock looks, John casually folds his hands in his lap. Sherlock glares at him, more exasperated than John has ever seen him, but when John reaches out for a quick manual check of the situation, Sherlock’s knees nearly give way.

“Sorry,” John says, “what was it you wanted me to stop?”

Mouth slack, eyes straining to remain sharp, Sherlock’s expression is mixed parts “What have I unleashed?” and “Prepare to be thrown against the surface of my choosing.” An unexpected move, Sherlock takes John by the wrist and pulls his hand away with clear reluctance. Quick about it, he swipes up the rest of John’s discarded clothing and walks to the closed sliding doors to the kitchen.

John twists around in the armchair. “Oi!”

“Bedroom!” Sherlock replies. He slides open the door and keeps going.

Quite abruptly, John is alone and largely naked in another man’s sitting room.

“...dammit!”

Cane in hand, John climbs to his feet and follows. He is a doctor and a soldier and not at all afraid of nudity, but Sherlock’s landlady did pop in to give them biscuits an hour or so ago after they’d finished the post-case takeaway. There are certain things John would rather not risk.

That being the case, he keeps his tone relatively quiet as he approaches Sherlock’s room at the end of the hall. “You’d better be naked by the time I get there.”

John gets there.

Sherlock is entirely naked. John’s clothes are a heap on the floor, and they have made well-tailored friends. Back to the point, Sherlock is entirely naked. He’s hanging up his suit jacket in his closet. While naked. Still aroused. While naked.

“Right,” John says. “I’m going to need to be on my back, my right side, or sitting up.”

“You mean on the bed?” Sherlock asks.

“You cart off my clothes to your bedroom and you don’t want to use the bed?”

“No, that was the point.” Almost absently, Sherlock begins to wank. “You’re simply not in the habit of complying.”

John’s eyebrows shoot up. “‘ Complying ’?”

“You insisted on food first, you--”

“You hadn’t eaten in days.”

“--wouldn’t come in here in the first place, and you like to be difficult but never get the chance. It makes you feel immoveable. Strong. And a bit impish. Except you’re usually too polite. Not so with me.” Sherlock stalks forward, forcing John to look up and up at the fluid infiltration into his space. “You consent but you do not comply. You’re unyielding. You want me to make you move.”

“You want me to suck your dick.”

“How fortunate you want the same.” Sherlock brings his hand to John’s face, the touch jarringly gentle for his tone, for his eyes. His thumb rests before John’s lips, but does not brush against them. “Slight oral fixation. You are constantly, yes, that,” Sherlock tells him as John’s tongue encounters Sherlock’s thumb of its own volition. The taste of skin startles, arouses. “You don’t want to be forced. You want to be persuaded. You want it to be made clear you are worth persuading.”

His other hand snakes around John’s hip. Rather than slip down to his bum, Sherlock’s palm slides higher, sneaking beneath John’s vest. Sherlock’s face, his eyes, his mouth; all so very close to John’s own. Beneath John’s hand, he is desperately, frighteningly thin.

Lips brushing across John’s cheek, over John’s ear, Sherlock steps against him, into him. So much skin. Skin, and the bone beneath. Heat presses against John’s stomach. Sherlock’s hips nudge it closer, hotter. John wraps his arm around that lean waist, his other hand tightening its grip on his cane. He shifts, and Sherlock shifts with him. They groan.

“Clear enough?” Sherlock murmurs into his ear.

Secured by Sherlock’s arms as well as his own cane, John feels dizzy. His body has renewed interest and struggles toward renewed ability.

“If I asked you to sit on my bed,” Sherlock asks, “would you do it?”

John takes a risk. He shakes his head.

“Hm...” Mouth lower, nibbling on John’s earlobe. Sherlock pleasures himself against him, a slow drag of his cock over John’s belly, across fabric. “Even now?”

“Maybe,” John permits. Too long choked by arousal, his voice rasps.

“I could come from this.” More informative than flirty, all truth, no exaggeration. “I don’t  need  you on my bed. I don’t need to be inside your mouth when I come. That’s optional.”

His fingertips stroke the underside of John’s arm, a tickling touch John would twitch away from, except for the necessity of his cane. Sherlock’s breath is hot and damp on John’s neck, a heady prelude to the soft lips and tongue that follow. He keeps going until both of John’s hands are in his hair.

Sherlock’s mouth leaves his neck with a wet smack. “Unless you’d like that best. Would you like that best, John?”

“Yes.” God, yes.

Sherlock grins with his eyes alone and draws John with him onto the bed. He guides John first to kneel, then to sit, then, absolutely predatory, to lie down beneath him. The first movements are awkward, as manoeuvring on a strange bed always is. The last are much too comfortable, Sherlock impossibly light across John’s chest and thighs. While they snog, John grips as much of him as there is, certain there must somehow be more. Sherlock gasps into his neck, rutting against his thigh. John’s vest rides up between them. The rub of Sherlock’s stomach against John’s cock builds into sweat-slick frottage. Oversensitive, John rolls them over, breaking their rhythm.

“I thought-!” John gasps. Short fingernails dig into his nape. “ Fuck .”

“Yes,” Sherlock agrees, cheeks flushed, lips bitten plump.

John tries to stop. He does. He was going to, he still can. It’s the most turned on he’s ever been after coming, but any second orgasm is far away and his body knows it. “Blowjob?”

Straining against John, Sherlock shakes his head. “This.”

“Thought you...?”

“Your suggestion,” Sherlock corrects.

“What? No, no, I...” John can’t think like this, can’t be expected to think like this, not with Sherlock under him, against him, but he can’t, he can’t remember Sherlock actually saying, oh shit.

It shows on his face. It can’t not show on his face. Even if it didn’t, Sherlock would see it anyway.

Sherlock sees. Sherlock looks at him in a way no one has ever looked at John Watson, smug and triumphant, aroused at skin and success in equal measure. As if John is a prize and this is a game and Sherlock has just won.

John slaps a hand down on the headboard and thrusts,  shoves  their bodies tight together. Not cock-to-cock, but thigh-to-cock. Can’t do more before his tests and he keeps putting them off, oh  fuck . He makes Sherlock ride his leg. He bites Sherlock below the ear, bites down and growls his frustration until Sherlock is clinging and shaking and chanting his name. Wet heat spurts against John’s thigh. He lifts his head to see Sherlock’s face, expecting grey eyes shut tight and finding them wide open. Like flipping a switch, Sherlock’s eyes clear from their haze and snap to John, stare into John. They stare at each other, a conversation of the eyes.

When Sherlock draws him down, brings him close, John can’t resist. His stomach on the bed, his cheek drops onto Sherlock’s chest. John’s vest has bunched up beneath his armpits. Sherlock’s hand is a light touch around his nape.

Under John’s fingers, Sherlock’s heart still races. His breaths lengthen. They puff against John’s forehead. Reassuring proof of exertion. John is not alone.

“Towel,” Sherlock mutters. A motion John feels more than sees, Sherlock gestures vaguely.

“You get it.” As Sherlock came on the outside of John’s leg, not the inside or the crotch, John doesn’t care in the slightest.

“Can’t.”

“S’ your flat.”

Sherlock taps him on the forehead. “I’m pinned.”

“...right.” John rolls onto his back, one last exertion before collapsing. Sherlock ruins the effort by following part-way. Slow snogging is lovely, lovelier still when bits of John still feel as if they’re vibrating warmly under his skin. He can’t quite tell if that’s fading orgasm or approaching arousal.

A soft haze later, Sherlock peels away. John hums a question and Sherlock reminds him, “Towel.” John turns his head to watch the marvel that is Sherlock Holmes naked and unabashed. When Sherlock exits with John’s soiled shirt in hand, John lets his eyes fall shut. He has a vague thought about nightmares and REM and how long until the Underground closes for the night. He feels movement and rough, warm damp across his skin. Then air, a cloth. A sheet. The mattress shifts. There’s a thought that John might be having or trying to have or failing to have. It’s very soft and very far away.

It snaps into his mind, and hours have passed. Sleep falls off him like poorly stacked books on a table edge. Resounding silence follows the crash of awareness. He turns his head and peers through the dark.

Sherlock is asleep. Probably asleep. Hard to tell from the hair alone.

Very carefully, John sits up and finally pulls down his vest. It’s not much help, but it’s better than being completely naked. He slides out of Sherlock’s bed and stops at each creak of the floor as he tries to find his clothes by stepping on them. Trousers and pants, check. No sign of his shirt. Laundry, he remembers.

The bedroom door lets light in when opened, but not directly onto Sherlock’s face. It’s enough to see him by, not enough to wake him. Asleep, he’s a younger man. Not innocent, no, not with his hair so mussed and a patch of purple along his neck. More tired, possibly. More vulnerable. Exactly the sort of man who shouldn’t sleep next to a time bomb. John exits and closes the door quietly behind him.

In the kitchen, John’s shirt is in the dryer. Bit wrinkled. He leaves it. Sleeping in it won’t help. By the streetlight sneaking through the sitting room windows, John takes the blanket off the back of an armchair and relocates onto the sofa. It’s a tight fit that puts him on his side, but with his feet toward the doorway and his back to the back of the sofa, he’s on his right side. He can manage this. His mobile reports the time as a bit after half three.

He closes his eyes and breathes and promises himself he won’t wake crying. God, what was he thinking? How difficult would it have been, a simple “Sorry, can’t spend the night” over dinner? He berates himself until the world begins to bend. He jerks awake. And again. Again.

An eternity of a half hour later, it’s four am.

Christ.





“...sitting room...!”

Mrs. Hudson -!”

“He doesn’t look terribly comfortable.”

“Leave. Shoo. Thank you for the help, now get out.”

Softer, yet closer: “Are you sure he’s all right?”

“He’s  fine .”

“Maybe it was snoring,” the woman’s voice continues. “Do you need nasal strips?”

“Mrs. Hudson, leave. Now. Out.”

A laugh, so amused that John’s mouth twitches in echo despite the pain in his back. Footsteps down the stairs. “I’ll leave you two to it.”

John cracks an eye open. Daylight. He closes his eyes.

Sherlock huffs loudly. He does something in the kitchen for a bit and John considers waking up, officially. He needn’t bother. Sherlock comes round to the sofa and sits down in the obtuse V of John’s thighs and torso. “Caffeine,” Sherlock announces.

John hums.

“Breakfast?”

John blinks up at him. He immediately wants to pull the dressing gown off the man, which is probably the point. “When did you get food?” They’d ordered out for a reason, last night.

Sherlock shrugs. “Mrs. Hudson.” He drinks from a kitten-adorned mug that clearly isn’t one of his own before lounging back, using John’s knee and shoulder as armrests. “She enjoys being helpful.”

“You don’t snore, by the way.”

“Mm. Which is it for you?”

John frowns. “Snoring or what?”

“Nightmares or panic attacks?” Sherlock corrects.

“The one into the other,” John answers without thinking.

“Hm.” Sherlock drinks his coffee, entirely unfazed. “Preventative measure?”

“What?”

“The sofa. Preventative?”

“Yeah,” John admits. There’s no reason to say otherwise, not when Sherlock can look at him and know. The question sounded half-rhetorical as it was.

“Necessary?” No judgement, merely curiosity.

“Yes.”

“You’re certain.”

“Yes.”

“You think you’d attack me if I woke you.”

John doesn’t answer.

Sherlock leans forward and sets his cup on the coffee table. John’s middle goes cold with the loss of touch. “Shall we test it?”

“No.”

“I’m not asking you to sleep.” Sherlock stands and pulls the blanket off John. “Come back to bed.”

Curious and caught by the phrasing, John follows.

“You typically sleep on your back, correct?”

John nods.

“Lie down. Far side.”

John does so.

Sherlock lies down next to him. “Visualize the counterattack you find most natural.”

“Counterattack to what?”

“To the attack your body expects. You must have some idea. This fear is too specific for the cause to be so vague.”

Generally speaking, John tries not to let himself think about that.

“While I’m conscious and you’re asleep, I will never establish physical contact without verbally alerting you. You will be aware for all instances,” Sherlock promises. “While I’m asleep, the scenario may vary. I propose we cover the basics.”

The basics are all variations on Sherlock reaching for him or sprawling out onto him. They talk through each one before John can permit himself to respond, even simply to act it out. Sherlock reaches; John counters; Sherlock breaks John’s hold. There’s a bit of rolling back and forth and an alarming near miss of a knee toward a crotch. Their coordination improves. It’s calm and fluid. They take a short break for John to do a few of his shoulder exercises. Sherlock watches with undisguised fascination, turning his head this way and that as John’s scar peeks out from under his vest.

In a moment of forced courage, John shucks the vest to sit bare from the waist up. He expects Sherlock to stare and study, but Sherlock simply follows his lead and, quiet moments later, follows him down.





Cold eggs and toast in his stomach, John nearly makes it down the stairs. He makes it around the landing on his own two feet and, if not for Sherlock, would have completed the trip down on his bum. Instead, they smack onto the staircase, Sherlock spinning them and John spun. John hits the stairs, Sherlock at his back, Sherlock securing him.

John swears. Foully. He bites his own mouth shut. He forces an apology.

“It’s fine,” Sherlock dismisses, climbing off John and stepping carefully, agilely around him on his way back up. Getting John’s cane, no doubt.

With the railing, John manages to hobble the rest of the way down. He can feel Sherlock watching him. Observing. John reaches the end of the railing and there his mobility ends.

Sherlock follows him down and hands John his cane. Sherlock doesn’t press for another time. He doesn’t touch John or reach for him. He doesn’t get the door for John either, and this is all that keeps John from screaming.

“Bye,” he manages. He closes the door behind him without looking back and limps away just the same.





The nonsensical part of it is, it doesn’t stop. Sherlock keeps pressing for dinner, but only ever on nights John has already decided to give in. Whenever John remembers that it really is long past his turn to pay, they wind up in a restaurant where the proprietor believes in giving Sherlock free food.

The more they shag, the less the sex distracts John from his leg. Sherlock adapts. He takes to hiding John’s cane before treating John with such an assumption of mobility that John assumes it too. Those times don’t last as long, but Sherlock is now always certain to reintroduce the cane before risking John on a staircase. Some nights, John is too unrelentingly aware to fall for any of it, and those are the nights they fight. The nights after the fights are always distracting in the extreme, and they both spend longer than they ought pretending they’re annoyed enough to keep having vigorously angry sex.

It remains one of the stupidest things John has ever done. They stop shagging in his office or in the lecture hall before John’s position is in danger, but that’s far from being the worst of it.

At work, caught between truth and estrangement, he chooses truth. Reactions are many and annoyingly low in variety. John answers “You’re gay?” with “No” and “I thought he was asexual” with “Apparently not.” As irritating as they are, those are the simple questions. Worse by far are “Are you sure you’re all right?” and “You do know he uses people, mate?” He hesitates a moment too long at “Are you sure he’s not using you?” and decides he’d rather not try to explain why he doesn’t care. He throws himself into the teaching in the attempt to avoid his co-workers, but he’s not very good at either. Special field surgery module or not, he doubts he’ll be invited back for the following year.

At therapy, he keeps lying to Ella about the basics. He has enough fuss and worry to deal with at work. He doesn’t need to bring yet more down on himself. Physical therapy is a different case entirely, but only due to an accident of timing. As John’s weekends slowly shift into Sherlock’s flat, he leaves to his physical therapy appointments from Baker Street. On those days, his limp is vastly improved, though present, while the rest of his body has a penchant for sex-related muscle strain. Jacqueline spots it straight away and immediately launches into a matter-of-fact outline of shoulder-friendly sex positions. She refers to Sherlock exclusively as “they” and “your partner” until John specifies. From then on, Sherlock is “he” and “your partner” until John mentions his name. She is fluid and flawless, and when John says “Thank you”, she doesn’t feign confusion.

At his flat, everything grows stale. It’s always resembled a hotel room, but now he treats it as such. Not in terms of cleaning or stealing toiletries—the one he can’t do without and the other would make no sense—but in terms of his movements. He goes to work early. He comes home late, if at all. He never invites Sherlock up and never asks Sherlock to follow him home. His own bed is for sleeping when he’s exhausted and only then. Or when Sherlock is on a case. His definition of normal sleep has somehow altered to feature Sherlock next to him, wide awake and typing on a laptop until the small hours of the morning.

He has to be careful not to leave too many of his things at Sherlock’s flat. First is the toothbrush, easily enough replaced. Then a shirt here and a pair of trousers there. Something quick and convenient if John stays over on a school night. More follows. One too many missed references and that’s John’s Bond DVDs making the migration. If he keeps this up, he’s going to move in by accident. Bit not good there. Whatever else he and Sherlock have going, the man is still a detective with the police on speed dial and John is still a damaged veteran with a temper and an illegal firearm. This in mind, John makes sure to take his clothing back to his own flat regularly. This averages out to something neutral: for all Sherlock claims to be bored by them, the Bond DVDs already at Baker Street seem to have grown attached to their new home.

The cases are the terrible bit. Sherlock runs off. John limps home. It’s not as frequent as it could be. To be fair, John’s past relationships had suffered more from John being on call. Each time John lets him go or helps him turn his shirt right-side-out, Sherlock grins a little wider and kisses him a little harder. They both understand the strain. John makes the mistake once, just once, of attempting to compete for his attention. The case lasts five days after the failed attempt, enough time for John to move from anger, through self-disgust, and into quiet determination. He will not repeat his error. He will not let himself believe Sherlock could need him the way he needs the cases, not even with the added interest of the limp. The progress on the limp has stagnated, and they’re no longer feigning any of the angry sex.

A moment of surprise crops up during the next case. No one ever comes to John’s flat, not even Harry at her most desperate to reconnect. Hearing the buzzer ring, John is certain there’s been a mistake, but it’s not. It’s Sherlock. John buzzes him up.

“Solved already?” John asks, opening the door. It’s not rhetorical either. Agitation fills Sherlock’s frame, twitching out into his hands and burning behind his eyes. It’s either the case or John is about to be dumped, and Sherlock crowds into his space too far and too quickly for the second.

“No.” If there’s such a thing as a rough murmur, Sherlock has just made one. If there isn’t, Sherlock has just invented it. Close to a growl but lacking in rumble, the sound commands John’s body to wake, to be abruptly, achingly aware of his own skin.

John tips his face upward. “Then you’re here because...?”

“Fifteen hours until the test results, John. I can’t do anything until then.” Sherlock leans in, crowds in impossibly more, but he still does not touch.

“Okay,” John says. He doesn’t touch either. “Until then, what’s your plan?”

“I don’t have one! I can’t have one until the test results--”

“For the next fifteen hours,” John interrupts. He nearly puts his hand on Sherlock’s chest. There’s not enough space between them and John’s aborted motion touches both their chests anyway. “Are you eating, sleeping, anything? You could use my shower.”

Sherlock shakes his head. “I was talking to you.”

“And I’m sorry for interrupting...?”

“No. Before. Earlier today.”

“I wasn’t around earlier today,” John reminds him.

“I know,” Sherlock says. He takes John by the wrist. “I’m not hungry, but I’ll shower.”

John points, not that pointing is necessary in a flat so small, and Sherlock pulls John after him. “It’s nothing as big as your tub,” John warns.

“Fine.”

“And one of the pipes burns you if you lean against it.”

“I won’t.” Sherlock pulls John into the loo after him. There’s barely enough room to shut the door with both of them inside. “Sit.”

John puts down the toilet lid and is treated to the spectacle that is Sherlock Holmes monologing while stripping. And while showering. Sherlock lifts his voice over the spray and John watches even after the glass of the shower stall turns opaque with steam. The case is fascinating in its own right, but John does get a touch sidetracked when Sherlock finishes and steps out. Eyes resting always on John’s face, Sherlock towels off without pausing in his speech. Once dry, he simply stands and speaks, towel hanging from one hand as the other gestures.

“There’s nothing to do but wait now,” Sherlock concludes. “I spent the last six hours making sure of that. There’s nothing else left, John.”

“When was the last time you ate?”

“I don’t want to eat.”

“Not what I asked.” John plants his feet on the tile, knees spread wide. He pointedly glances down and Sherlock shifts toward to fill the space. “When was the last time?”

“What day is today?”

“Wednesday.” John’s hands settle on the sharp bones of Sherlock’s hips.

Sherlock visibly takes a moment to think. “Monday.”

“How long to wrap up the case once the test results are in?”

“Only a few hours.”

John strokes his sides. The ribs and the concave stomach. “Drink some water and I won’t yell at you for not eating.”

“I’m not thirsty.”

“We could shag a bit. You’d be thirsty then.”

“I don’t want to shag.”

“Mm, it’s looking that way.” John is far from offended, likely due to the unabashed nudity. The body before him is a statement of trust, not a demand of sexuality. Sherlock is long and pale, vulnerable in every inch. Beneath John’s hands, beneath his own skin, there’s a tremor in Sherlock’s body that refuses to surrender. “This isn’t that kind of tension.”

“Obviously,” Sherlock snaps. “If it were, do you honestly think you’d still have your clothes on?”

John looks up at him mildly. “To be fair, we’ve done a lot of shagging with our clothes on.”

One long glare later, Sherlock smiles faintly.

“Right,” John says. He stands, hands sliding effortlessly to the small of Sherlock’s back. “Are you going to get dressed, or should I pull the blinds?”

Sherlock pulls John’s bathrobe from its hook on the loo door. “This will do.” Sherlock shrugs it on and it falls over John’s hands.

“Bit short.”

“So are you.”

“That’s right, mock the man with a low centre of gravity. I’m sure that will end well for you.” Empty threats double as endearments, and this one gets him kissed.

“Exceptionally well,” Sherlock murmurs.

“Exceptionally well doesn’t involve a cramped loo.”

Instead, it involves John’s cramped bed, his laptop, and one of the Bond DVDs yet to make it to Baker Street. They sit up at the head of the bed, Sherlock’s back against the wall, John nestled between his legs. John’s head rests against Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock’s hands rest over John’s stomach.

“Your torso is ridiculous,” John tells him. “You’re not tall, you’re  long .”

Sherlock sets his chin on the top of John’s head. Smug bastard.

“God, I hate you.”

They watch the film without paying it any attention. John tries not to think about the work he ought to be doing. Sherlock performs a manual inspection of John’s hands. Impossibly soon, the credits roll. John checks his watch.

“We have time to start another,” he lies.

“Your pick.”

“You have to let go of me if I’m going to get it.”

Sherlock sighs, the world’s most inconvenienced man. Released, John pads across the room to his lower desk drawer. Removing his laptop from the top drawer had been an act of terrible bravery, the gun beneath and Sherlock in the room, but there’s nothing illegal stashed with his DVDs. He comes back to bed, but Sherlock stops him from climbing back in, a hand on his arm.

“What?” John asks.

“John, there’s something you ought to realise.”

John pulls his arm away.

Sherlock lets him. Sherlock watches him. An impossibly intelligent, impossibly gorgeous man in John’s bed, in John’s bathrobe and nothing else: the situation is abruptly unreal.

“What?” John asks.

Sherlock’s eyes flick downward.

John looks as well and, oh. He’s standing again. As always, the pain returns the moment he notices its absence. Not sharp, not shooting. An ache today, just that. Carefully, John shifts his weight from one foot to another. He can stand, but he wouldn’t want to walk. He turns around, weight on his good leg, and sits on the bed.

“How, um. How long?” John asks.

“The entire time I’ve been here,” Sherlock responds.

“You mean I answered the door without it?”

“John, that’s what I said.”

“Right,” John says. “Sorry.” He switches the DVDs in his laptop. “This one is  Goldfinger . Even if we stop halfway tonight, finishing it later is mandatory.”

Unmoving behind John, Sherlock doesn’t say a word. If John turns around, Sherlock will have that analysing expression on, the one where John is something fascinating and theoretical. John is a puzzle almost unravelled, something to work on between the better, larger life-and-death challenges.

“Sherlock,” John prompts.

“Finishing it is mandatory,” Sherlock confirms in a bored drawl. His hands slip around John’s sides and clasp before his stomach. He draws John against him, and John shouldn’t, John truly shouldn’t comply. His body doesn’t understand what his mind knows. His body feels Sherlock behind him and goes pliant, turns malleable. His body shivers and obeys when Sherlock murmurs “Press ‘Play’, John” into his ear.

He needs to tell Sherlock to stop touching him. He ought to. He needs to back out of this before Sherlock walks away. He has to end it.

Sherlock drapes himself around John, chin tucked against his good shoulder. Sherlock’s hands investigate John’s limbs, repetitive motions all.

Now is too soon, is clearly too soon. If he backs out now, he loses Sherlock and keeps his limp. He refuses to lose one without losing the other. It’s already going to hurt anyway, so why not keep going?

One hand keeps stroking John’s stomach, a circular motion. It bids him to relax, to lean back and have done with it. John’s hands settle onto Sherlock’s knees, knobby and bare. Sherlock nuzzles his neck.

“That’s very good, John.” Soft and low, words kissed against his skin. “You’re doing well.”

John’s throat clogs up.

Sherlock continues his petting as the opening sequence plays. “You’ve made extraordinary progress, John.”

John squeezes his eyes shut tight.

“You’re remarkable,” Sherlock praises. “You can acknowledge the limp now without succumbing to it.”

John acknowledges the hands slipping beneath his shirt. He succumbs. The title sequence plays on, and Shirley Bassey sings an ill-timed warning against golden words in the ear.

“You’ll soon be walking unaided, regularly,” Sherlock continues. His breath is hot and his lips are soft. His voice is proud. John as no idea if “unaided” means without the cane or without Sherlock. He assumes both.

“If you don’t pay attention to the film, I’m going to restart it,” John warns.

“Oh dear.”

“I mean it.”

“I know you do,” Sherlock agrees, his words a low rumble against the side of John’s neck. “I can watch like this.”

“Sherlock, stop.”

Sherlock freezes. Then he lifts his lips to John’s ear and instructs, “Specify.”

“What?”

“Stop what?” Sherlock asks. “Speaking over the film while nothing’s happening or touching you with no intentions toward intercourse tonight?”

John shakes his head. Sherlock strains to look him in the eyes, and John turns his face away.

“John?”

John shakes his head and shakes his head and he folds himself in half and this hurts his leg. Sherlock’s hands slip away from his front to reappear upon his back. John curls away from the touch. His heart shakes rather than pound. He needs to sit up and be normal, but he can’t, it’s too far away.

He can’t go back. He can’t. He’d never been so alone before. He can’t do it again. He doesn’t need people, not like this, but he does, and it’s Sherlock. He can’t go back to sitting in his office and hoping someone will drop by with a question or a care or a concern. The moment Sherlock leaves his flat, the space will be small and drab, all traces of warmth vanishing into the folds of his coat.

He can walk or he can have Sherlock. It’s that simple. Without the limp, John is a dull cliché of a traumatized soldier, one of the many, nothing special, nothing shining. John bores himself. A broken man in his late thirties with a wounded shoulder and greying hair; what the hell could Sherlock want with a man like that?

The future stretches out in front of him, blank and even. He’s a soldier who can’t serve, a surgeon who can’t operate, and a teacher who can barely teach.

“John. John, look at me.”

John presses his face against the duvet. The cloth is damp. He can’t breathe.

“You’re having a panic attack. Tell me what helps.”

John shakes his head. His heart shakes into his throat, pulsing, pumping the contents of his stomach and bidding them to rise.

“Fine, don’t. I’ll work it out. Keep breathing.”

John tries. He nearly vomits.

“John, we’ll have to restart the DVD.”

A giggle wells up, shrill as it scrapes John’s throat.

“Should I restart it?”

God no. John can’t listen to the theme again.

One hand steady on John’s back, Sherlock shifts behind him. The laptop’s volume increases. Sherlock begins to complain about how epidermal suffocation is a ludicrous way of killing someone and how the dead woman obviously didn’t fight her assailants. He lists the evidence, accusing the sheets of the bed most of all. On and on, Sherlock complains, a voice of reason and irritation at once.

Lightheaded, John only knows he’s breathing once he’s begun to laugh. It bubbles out of him, pours out of him, and leaves him shaking.

“John, ‘Pussy Galore’ is not a real name,” Sherlock whinges.

John shushes him. He shifts onto his side, still curled, his back still turned. His head is near the radiator. Sherlock’s hand moves to his hip.

“I’m paying attention. Restart it and I throw your laptop out the window.”

“Don’t you dare,” John rasps with a ruined voice. He’s not sure when that happened.

Sherlock scoffs. His hand on John’s hip is heavy and stable. His thumb doesn’t circle. His fingers don’t dip beneath cloth. His palm simply warms. “Don’t be an idiot. I dare anything I like.”

As John begins to relax, his legs begin to slide off the side of the mattress. The bed isn’t terribly wide and even a man John’s size cannot lie across it for long, not without being completely curled up. He has to shift and sit up. He keeps his back to Sherlock and his eyes on the screen.

“God,  finally .” Sherlock scoots forward to resume their earlier position, his arms wrapped around John’s stomach. The long line of him moulds against John’s back. “I refuse to sit through this if you won’t watch too.”

John reminds himself to breathe. “Could you not do that right now?”

Sherlock tilts his head so his hair stops tickling the side of John’s face. The sensation is immediately missed.

John takes Sherlock by the wrists and peels his arms away. Sherlock takes a moment to adjust, but he gives John space easily enough. It would be more awkward if John weren’t exhausted.

Eventually, Sherlock reaches forward and pauses the action in the middle of a fight scene. “You typically go to bed this time on weeknights.”

John nods.

“Fine.” Sherlock climbs out of bed, pulling John’s bathrobe shut around him. He dresses in the loo.

“The bed is tiny and you’re not sleeping anyway,” John says when Sherlock exits in his shirt and trousers.

“The desk chair is fine.” Sherlock takes John’s laptop and relocates there.

John watches him for a bit, not sure what just happened. Finally, he shucks his clothing down to his boxer briefs and slips under the duvet. He warns himself that Sherlock may leave before he wakes. That the lanky man in the glow of his laptop is and always has been a temporary feature.

He closes his eyes and sleeps.





Sand and pain blur his sight. He struggles awake only to fall, to slip down. He thinks he wakes. Maybe he’s dreaming.

No, he is. He’s dreaming. He must be: his cane is gone. Sherlock’s hand fills his instead, which is strange. John isn’t one for holding hands and Sherlock actively avoids it. Today, tonight, Sherlock drags him by the hand. John runs and runs, but Sherlock’s legs are longer. John can’t keep up. Their hands slip apart. Sherlock doesn’t notice, running on through dust under the unrelenting sun. John yells after him: Sherlock has forgotten his helmet. John chases.

Wheeling around, Sherlock shouts, “Brilliant! The test results are in.” John reaches for him and Sherlock kisses him the once, not hard, on the corner of his mouth. Sherlock bounds away in a flurry of excitement, and John stares stupidly at the door before flopping down and letting the world shift again. The following dreams don’t make much more sense, but when John wakes with damp cheeks and a shaking body, his flat is mercifully empty.





John throws himself into his work with army discipline. He focuses, and he networks a bit. He even goes so far as to communicate with his TA about something beyond university and the weather. He stays longer after the class periods end, talking to students while slowly leaving for his office.

The timing of his new passion surprises more than a few members of the faculty and student body alike. Spring break is rapidly approaching with exam periods on the other side. Most have begun to run themselves down or crack up under the final stretch, but it’s far from the amount of stress John was once accustomed to daily. He’ll have his research once the break begins.

He talks to Mike about that, and Mike counters with the idea of possibly using the first few days to relax. Possibly the first entire week. John hedges his answer and says he’s getting back in contact with an army friend. He emails Bill to keep himself from being a liar and is promptly invited down to Devon for a weekend. He accepts.

By rescheduling his therapy and PT away from that weekend, he has them sooner, during the week. Sheer coincidence divides his appointments onto the two nights Sherlock comes to fetch him. When John kisses him goodbye, it is understood that John will want to be left alone for the remainder of the night.

Sherlock texts and John always texts back promptly if he’s not actively doing something else. He says that he’s busy, that this time of year is hectic, that he wasn’t warned about this part of teaching. As students discover this to be their last chance at making office hours, John’s small office seems smaller still, absolutely cramped. There’s a queue outside, a real one, and the sudden rush and barely suppressed anxiety in the undergrads is something John remembers well. Not something he experienced himself, but something he remembers seeing in his classmates. He begins to make time, stretching the end of his office hours as long as he can.

The Friday before holiday begins, Sherlock waits outside his office, confusing his students. John refuses to hurry on that account, but he might do anyway. He tells the last student out to send in the man in the big coat. She leaves and Sherlock enters. John doesn’t get up.

Wordlessly, Sherlock closes the door behind him. He crosses the office and sits down where John clears his desk for him. John rolls his chair forward until he’s framed by Sherlock’s legs. He wraps his arms around Sherlock’s waist, drops his head into the man’s lap, and sighs at the indulgent hand on his nape. All turns soft and quiet. Sherlock’s breathing. The light rasp of John’s stubble against expensive trousers. He could fall asleep like this and not care.

“Come home with me, John.”

“Meeting in twenty minutes.”

Fingertips rub circles into John’s shoulders. “After, then.”

“Can’t.”

“Too tired. I understand. You’ll come back to my flat, I’ll get us takeaway, and you’ll sleep in my bed however long it takes to overcome your exhaustion. Alone, obviously, but I’ll make enough noise in the kitchen that you’ll be able to relax. When you wake, call for me, and I’ll suck you off. If you’re too tired to reciprocate, I’ll straddle your stomach and have a lovely wank. Your hands on my thighs, my come on your chest. It’s an attractive image.

“We’ll shower, possibly separately. You will eat breakfast. You can have a slow morning. I’ve an experiment that needs seeing to. You could help, if you like. Mrs. Hudson will likely give us lunch. She doesn’t think I know how to feed you properly. We could watch more of your films in the afternoon. We can’t finish  Goldfinger  with the DVD back at your flat, but there are others you’ve left by my telly.

“For dinner, we go out. Italian or Chinese, possibly Thai. Or Vietnamese. We had Indian last time. I’ll slide my foot between your thighs. I won’t do anything else. I want to feel you harden. It’s up to you whether to try for friction. I imagine you’ll counter by being pornographic with your spoon again. You’re subtle enough that it’s not crass. It’s surprisingly effective.

“We take a cab home and hope Mrs. Hudson has taken her herbal soother for the night. If she hasn’t, we’ll relocate to the upstairs bedroom. I can move the storage boxes and make up the bed. Noise won’t be an issue, provided you don’t make much more than usual. I plan to. If it’s both of us, it might become an issue. I don’t care. I want to be as creative as possible, but if we’re already too involved to get beyond the basics, that’s fine. We have Sunday for that. We recover on Monday,” Sherlock concludes. His fingers curl in John’s hair. “Say yes.”

John nearly does, train tickets to Devon or not. He lifts his head and rubs at his face instead. “Next weekend.”

“Your meeting can’t possibly go that long.”

John chuckles a bit. He tiredly grins up at Sherlock and Sherlock looks down, still waiting for the answer he wants. “Sorry,” John says. “Already have plans.”

Sherlock frowns. “You never have plans.”

“I do this weekend.”

“Since when?”

“Last week.” He pats Sherlock’s knee. “You do know I have friends besides you, right?”

The stunned look on Sherlock’s face suggests otherwise. “And these plans include tonight?”

“A train in the morning. That means actually sleeping tonight.”

“When will you be back?”

“Monday,” John answers. “Well, late Sunday night. Effectively Monday.”

Sherlock is very quiet, and then says, “John, in the future, I’d like you to keep me apprised of relevant complications.”

“‘Complications’? Sorry, how is visiting Bill a complication? It’s called a social life, Sherlock.”

“If it interferes with my plans enough to require their revision, it’s a complication,” Sherlock condescends. “That’s what a complication is.”

“Fine, but I’m going.”

“I haven’t asked you not to. Who’s Bill? Besides an Army connection. That much is obvious.”

John lifts his chin. “Bill was the nurse who responded when I was shot. He and his wife live down in Exeter. I missed the wedding because I was in hospital and haven’t spoken much with Bill since.” He hates the way he wants to emphasize Jessica’s presence, the way it is somehow necessary to mark Bill as just a friend and only a friend.

“He understands PTSD and reverse culture shock?” Sherlock asks.

“Probably, yeah.”

“Good.”

John nods and waits for the argument to continue. It does not.

“You’re going to be late for your meeting,” Sherlock prompts.

“You’re sure it’s all right?” John asks.

Sherlock frowns. “What now?”

Apparently, it is. “I meant to tell you sooner,” John apologizes instead of prodding Sherlock back into a row. “I guess I’m used to you already knowing everything.”

That gets John a grin. “I typically do.” Sherlock plants both feet on John’s chair and pushes him back. He stands in the resulting space. “I expect to see you on Monday.”

“You will.” John reaches around him for his cane and stands as well. Immediately, Sherlock kisses him. John giggles into it, oddly breathless. They haven’t properly touched in over a week and every inch of him reminds him of this lack.

“I expect to see you in my bed on Monday,” Sherlock murmurs. The words brush his lips against John’s, soft and lovely.

“I can arrange that.”

“Can you?” They kiss.

“Yeah,” John answers. They kiss again.

Sherlock’s hands stroke down his arms, up his forearms, down and up and again. It’s tempting and distracting, and John pushes Sherlock to lean on his desk. “Naked,” Sherlock specifies.

“What?”

“Naked in my bed on Monday.”

John groans his agreement. He snogs deeper, presses harder, and he nearly doesn’t notice when Sherlock tries to ease the cane from his hand.

John breaks away immediately. He nearly falls, but he stabilizes. “Leave it. Why the hell can’t you just--” He bites the words off, turns his face to the side. “I’m going to be late.”

“John--”

“No,” John snaps. “No leg experiments today.”

“It helps you!” Sherlock’s wild gestures come close to hitting John in the chest. “How is it bad if it helps you?”

“I didn’t ask you to!” John shouts, then swears. “We’re not doing this in my office.”

“You’re avoiding me. I wasn’t certain before, but you are.”

“Yes, fine, deduce me. Go on. The open book of John Watson, let’s hear it.”

“You prefer to ignore your limp. You refuse to acknowledge it, and on the rare occasion you do, you forbid me to touch you afterward.” Sherlock reaches to prove his point and John forces himself not to flinch, not to recoil, but the tremor shakes beneath his skin all the same. “You  want  to be rid of it, John!”

“And that gives you the right to come in and mess around with my head?” John demands. “Does it really? Everything else, you ask.  Everything  else, Sherlock. I didn’t agree to this.”

Sherlock stares at him as if John has gone deranged. “You’ve had months to object.”

“I’m objecting now!”

Grey eyes search John’s face. They stroke across his shoulders. They dart down to John’s fisted hands, one trembling at his side, the other white around his cane. “Fine,” Sherlock says.

“It’s not fine.”

“Obviously not,” Sherlock replies. “No need to worry, John. It won’t happen again.”

“Good!”

“You’ll be late for your meeting.”

“Fine!”

“Have a nice trip.”

“I will!”

Sherlock leaves and closes the door behind him.

John shakes. His fists first. Then his leg. He sits, and he shakes a bit more. He can’t catch his breath, can’t find any air in his cramped office. What remains is terribly cold, winter sharp in his throat. He has breathing exercises and he forces his lungs to obey, but his heart won’t stop pounding. Anger gives way the bare amount required to let him see what he’s done.

If he could stand, he would run. He would chase. He would catch Sherlock and have nothing to say, nothing to promise, nothing to give worth having. He tries to stand anyway.

When Mike finally finds him, he’s still shaking on the floor, pathetic and afraid.