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Cooperative Principle

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Sherlock won’t stop drumming his fingers in the cab. The last time they made this cab ride, John’s foot had been on Sherlock’s cock. It’s exceptionally surreal.

 

John takes a steadying breath before he asks, “Do you have to do that?”

 

Sherlock’s eyes dart to his face. They flick down to his hands. “Yes.”

 

“You’re nervous.”

 

Immediately, Sherlock reaches over and sets his palm on the back of John’s hand. The tapping continues onto the seat cushion. “Is this better?” The question is sarcastic and biting in a way John doesn’t know how to answer.

 

“A café would have been fine,” he says instead. He’d wanted this conversation out of his office, not in Sherlock’s home.

 

Sherlock shakes his head, staring straight ahead. He waves the suggestion away with his other hand. “My flat is better. You detest public scenes but prefer shouting. Were you to leave, you’d want to take your things with you. As it is, you’ll be grateful for the private setting once matters are resolved.”

 

John opens his mouth, the ever-recurring complaint of Sherlock’s overconfidence on his lips. Except that’s not right. Sherlock’s barely able to sit still.

 

“I’m sure I will be,” John says instead, and looks out the window. Reflected, Sherlock strains to catch his eye.

 

Watching John’s face in the window, Sherlock leans toward him. He leans and leans, chin close to John’s shoulder, lips encountering fabric. The motion is delicate, so very tender, and entirely too deliberate to trust. “You will be,” Sherlock promises.

 

 

 

 

 

Sherlock hands his keys to John and pays the cabbie. Except, no, these aren’t Sherlock’s keys. They’re the pair of keys Sherlock had dropped on John’s desk. John opens the front door but immediately sets the keys down on Mrs. Hudson’s table in the foyer. Close behind him, Sherlock snatches them up.

 

Sherlock crowds him up the stairs and into the sitting room. John tries to veer into the kitchen and Sherlock snaps at him.

 

“We do not need tea! This is not a tea discussion.”

 

“It is a bit.”

 

“No,” Sherlock forbids. “You are going to tell me what’s wrong, I am going to fix it, and that will be the end of it. Now sit.”

 

“You really are crap at conflict resolution,” John notes, sitting.

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes, then perches on the edge of his seat. “You’re hardly facilitating the process.”

 

John looks down at his folded hands. He waits for Sherlock to begin prodding at him, maybe provoke John into shouting.

 

“What are your demands?” Sherlock asks.

 

Provoke him just like that. John flounders. “My what?”

 

“Your terms, if you’d prefer it,” Sherlock rephrases.

 

“Sorry, when did this become model UN?”

 

“Don’t be facetious.” Sherlock steeples his fingers. “You don’t actually want to leave me, therefore your behaviour is an attempt to resolve an issue by negating it entirely.”

 

“On second thought, could we not have this conversation?”

 

“I’m familiar with your avoidant tendencies. If you were paying any attention, you would have noticed that.”

 

John fights down the urge to bolt out of his chair.

 

Sherlock watches his restraint. “There’s a simple solution. Tell me what you’re trying to avoid, and I will give you a realistic estimate of how unavoidable it will be within the current context of our relationship.”

 

John watches Sherlock’s hands. They’re very steady now. John envies them.

 

“If you would prefer to have this conversation in another way, tell me how to revise my approach and I will.”

 

John looks down at his own hands.

 

“Ah, but you won’t tell me, will you? John, if you continue to retreat into yourself, I will shout at you until it draws you out. It will drastically increase both the odds of communication and you leaving me. I would prefer another approach.”

 

“Why?” John demands.

 

Sherlock grins and leans forward, bright and eager and just asking for a punch. “Why what?”

 

“I’m not,” John begins. “I’m not interesting. I’m boring. I’m, I’m boring as dirt.”

 

“Dirt isn’t boring,” Sherlock corrects. “The components within soil--”

 

“Fine, bad example.”

 

“It’s apt. It’s a mistake anyone unfamiliar with proper analysis is likely to make.” Sherlock’s gaze is harsh in its steadiness.

 

Looking away doesn’t help. “Please don’t.”

 

“Please don’t what, John?” Sherlock asks. “Don’t tell you—yet again—that your self-image is skewed?”

 

“I know who I am!” John shouts. “That’s the one bloody thing I do know in this mess!”

 

“Wrong.” Sherlock’s refutation doesn’t include eye rolling, but it’s clearly close.

 

“Right, that’s not obnoxious at all.”

 

“Being right is often considered obnoxious,” Sherlock replies.

 

“No, saying you know someone better than they know themselves, that’s obnoxious.” He stands up. “Sod this.”

 

John.

 

“I’m making tea, lay off.” He storms away into the kitchen. The space does him little good and he spills water on the outside of the electric kettle as he fills it. Having left Sherlock standing in the sitting room, John never turns around to look at him. He glares at the kettle instead.

 

Naturally, Sherlock can’t leave well enough alone for longer than a minute, so of course the man has to follow John and stand behind him and press his solid gaze against John’s skin.

 

“I don’t consider myself an attractive man,” Sherlock states. “I do, however, recognize the indicators of being viewed as attractive.”

 

John turns around, if only to stare. “If you’re fishing for compliments, I swear--”

 

“I’m not.” Something like a smile lurks at the corners of his eyes all the same. “I am establishing a scenario wherein you accept that you may, to the proper observer, be an object of fascination.”

 

John’s jaw works.

 

Sherlock frowns. “What?”

 

“That? Not actually what I was after.” He’s tired of being a specimen.

 

Sherlock’s frown deepens. The expression lines his forehead and draws John’s gaze to his lips. It’s clueless and concerned and frustrated, but it’s far from the anguish in John’s gut. “You’re sufficiently concerned I’ll lose interest in you that you’ve decided to pre-emptively leave me,” Sherlock summarizes. “I am not going to lose interest. I have now addressed your concern. What else do you want?”

 

The kettle begins to boil and John turns back to it. Sherlock crowds closer behind him. John fights the urge to lean back.

 

“How will you react if I touch you?” Sherlock asks. “To be specific: if I were to lean forward and wrap my arms around your abdomen.”

 

“I’d tense a bit,” John lies.

“Hm.” Sherlock steps forward, steps against him, winds around him. “That’s the opposite of tensing, John.”

 

“You’re warm,” John accuses, trying to hold this against the other man. Already, his resolve is crumbling. It wants to crumble. Stay with Sherlock, be an object of fascination, and stay quiet. He could live like that a while longer. He has no idea what he’ll do once he reaches the breaking point, but he’ll have some time to think that through.

 

The kettle clicks, still rumbling with the boil. John pulls away, reaching up into the cabinet for mugs, but Sherlock’s hands linger on his sides.

 

“You’re still not satisfied. You should be relieved I want to keep you.”

 

“Christ, you think a lot of yourself,” John gripes as he pours hot water. Comfort in familiarity.

 

“True but irrelevant.” Sherlock’s fingertips rub circles into John’s sides. “You want something more from me. You—oh! No. No, that’s not right either.” Sherlock mutters to himself, occasionally pressing his mouth against John’s shoulder to stopper pesky words. “You could want to escalate, but you refuse to take the keys. You could want distance, but you’ve followed me home. You’re unsatisfied with the status quo, that much is certain. Which is it, less or more?”

 

John shakes his head.

 

Sherlock kisses his neck.

 

Until warm lips lift from his skin, John can’t breathe. “Stop that,” he mumbles.

 

“I enjoy your nape. Particularly from the side and slightly above. Specifically this area.” A soft nuzzle. “You have your hair cut with a tapered neck, but when you reach the point of needing another cut, it becomes a square neck. It begins to curl just here.”

 

John decides the tea can steep a while longer.

 

“Escalation,” Sherlock decides, a rumble below John’s ear. “You’re still willing to be seduced. It’s escalation. You want more from me. What more do you want?”

 

John shakes his head.

 

“Take the keys.” In the sweet curve between supplication and demand, Sherlock’s words coax their way into John’s ear. “They’re overdue, John.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I don’t always remember to let you in and Mrs. Hudson’s schedule prevents her from rectifying this.” Sherlock’s hands bury themselves in John’s coat pockets, transform the garment itself into an embrace. He nuzzles. “It’s the next logical step.”

 

John’s head wants to loll back onto Sherlock’s shoulder. John fights it, turning his face toward Sherlock’s. “Step to where?”

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “To you living here.”

 

“That’s... one hell of a step.”

 

“No, breaking up with me is one hell of a step,” Sherlock corrects. “Take your coat off, you’ll be too hot for tea.”

 

John sets his shoulders and Sherlock slides his coat down his arms, an unexpected motion accepted out of disbelief. His coat goes onto a kitchen chair.

 

“If I moved in,” John asks slowly, setting his back against the counter, “what then?” It’s less a question, more an opportunity for Sherlock to say something that sounds less like he wants a live-in fuckbuddy.

 

“We’d convert the room upstairs into a second bedroom. You could sleep separately without hurting your back on the sofa. Alternatively, I enjoy waking next to you enough that I might sleep more often. The move wouldn’t be terribly difficult: all of your things are still packed, save for the essentials. Your flat has always looked as if you were about to leave. A day of shifting boxes and here you are. We’ll split the rent and negotiate utilities. We’ll eat in more, by which I mean you will. Your presence here would also cut down on travel expenses. It’s all very economically feasible.”

 

“And then what?”

 

Sherlock’s eyebrows rise at the question, but he answers all the same. “I’ll continue my work. I imagine you’ll continue yours, unless you’d care to switch. If you wanted to be more involved in my work, I wouldn’t object.”

 

“Then what?”

 

“Then what, what?” Sherlock asks.

 

“What after?”

 

Sherlock frowns at him. “There is no after.”

 

John waits for Sherlock to look slightly less serious. It never happens. “Are you saying,” John pieces together, “you want me to move in, for life?”

 

“Oh!” Sherlock says. “You want a timetable. Average female life expectancy is eighty-two point four years, meaning we can reasonably expect Mrs Hudson to stay with us for approximately a decade. Possibly longer depending on mobility and her ability to rent out the basement flat. She may decide to sell sooner, at which point we would have to negotiate with the new proprietor.

 

“Regardless of what happens with this flat, I want to remain in London. There, we’re agreed. Yes? Yes. Average male life expectancy is seventy-eight point four years. Barring accident, that is forty-one years to work with, at least ten of which we should be able to spend here. Twenty years after that, I’ll consider a working retirement. Armchair cases, no legwork. We could retire outside the city, but it depends on your plans, whether you intend to continue teaching or return to practising. And if you can drive. Can you drive? I mean to check your wallet, but you distract me.

 

“It’s a vague outline at the moment and obviously requires your input. Societal conventions dictate that I bring this up piecemeal, but you did ask.”

 

John turns around, fishes the teabag from his over-steeped tea and drops it in the sink. He drinks the bitter, warmish liquid without milk and without fetching the milk because tea is safe and moving toward the fridge is not. Drinking tea is currently the only action he trusts his mouth to perform.

 

“Do you need space?”

 

“I, I, what?” His body turns, involuntary. He grabs Sherlock’s mug and hands it over.

 

Sherlock takes it and sets it back down on the counter. He steps closer rather than reach. “You retreat into yourself when startled or upset. You’re startled. Do you need space? If yes, how long do I need to wait?”

 

“Jesus Christ, Sherlock.”

 

“John, I’m trying to be sensitive to your emotional wellbeing. You could try to cooperate.”

 

John downs the rest of his tea. “Um. Okay. Thank you. I guess. Um, sorry, no.” He sets his mug down and promptly has no idea what to do with his hands. “Are you, are you proposing?”

 

“Obviously not. Proposals are given on one knee and accompanied with a love token, traditionally jewellery.”

 

John attempts to process this. He shakes his head and utterly fails to clear it. “Then I’m confused.”

 

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I don’t care if we get married. If you want to propose, that’s your doing. It is a touch soon to consider, though.”

 

“Says the man who’s planned out the rest of our lives.”

 

“On a small-scale, step-by-step basis,” Sherlock confirms, gesturing, one hand on his hip. His frown deepens. “Is that too much? Am I pressing? I’m not pressing, am I? I’ve tried not to. I like pressing. I prefer it, but apparently one is meant to ask about these things.” Both hands on his hips, then one ruffling his hair. “You’re confused, you look confused, why are you doing that?”

 

“You’re babbling,” John says. It’s adorable.

 

“No I’m not. Not really. All right, fine, I’m babbling. It’s not that noticeable, is it? Is it?”

 

John starts to giggle.

 

“Why are you laughing?” Sherlock demands, hair sticking up in every direction. “John, stop it. You shouldn’t be laughing, stop it. This is a significant conversation, and you are detracting from it.”

 

John loses it. He’d tried to contain the giggles as snickering, but they burst out into full-fledged laughter. He reaches for Sherlock. Laughing, leaning, he cracks up against Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock grabs him by the nape as if about to shake sense into him, and that only makes it worse.

 

“I, oh, God,” John gasps. He’s shaking inside, outside, and his face hurts already. His hands fail to grip the tight fabric of Sherlock’s shirt, so he settles for the jacket instead. “When did-- How long have--” John shakes his head against cloth. Christ, there are tears in his eyes, stop that. “You want--” He takes a breath. “Long-term. You want long-term.”

 

“John, I’m not going to restate the entire plan.”

 

The giggles threaten to return.

 

Sherlock eases him back and stares at John as if John’s gone mental. And maybe John has. Maybe John has a great deal, because there are important things to ask that he’s not asking. Things like “when did I become more than an experiment?” and “so you’ll stop flirting with Molly, then?” He should ask, should demand. Nothing is ever as good as this.

 

John reaches for him, pulls him near, and drags Sherlock’s head down to where John can get at his mouth. It’s meant to be a good kiss, really, it is. It’s meant to be like in the films or a happy version of a fairy tale. He intends for a soft press of the lips followed by something harder, something fuller, something that will mean John never has to explain what the hell was going on inside his own head, but the giggle wells up at the back of his throat, worse than any sneeze.

 

What?” Sherlock snaps.

 

“Nothing,” John says. “It’s nothing, I’m happy, come here.”

 

Sherlock complies enough for John to kiss the petulant line of his mouth. John kisses him open one nudge of the lips at a time. His hands trace the paths of Sherlock’s arms, well-known trails of warm cloth.

 

“You’re staying.” Sherlock pulls back to say it, but only barely. This close to John’s nose, Sherlock’s eyes are a grey optical illusion. His hands catch at John’s fingers. “Say it.”

 

“I’m, yes. I’m staying.”

 

“Will you move in?”

 

Brushing their noses together, John nods.

 

“When?”

 

John closes his eyes, thinking through his schedule. “Next Saturday? Week from tomorrow. Is that too quick?”

 

“No,” Sherlock answers immediately.

 

“It’s the end of the month and that’s easier to sort out, rent-wise.”

 

“It’s fine.”

 

“Good.” John kisses him again.  

 

Sherlock responds by backing him against the counter. His arms bracket John, a slim cage.

 

John closes his eyes and lifts his chin, but nothing more than breath touches his lips. Sherlock will swoop in any moment now. He likes doing that. Swooping, pouncing. He’s good at it, but he’s not doing it. John opens his eyes.

 

Sherlock peers back at him.

 

“What?” John asks.

 

“You.”

 

John smoothes down Sherlock’s lapels. “Me what?”

 

“Your behaviour is erratic.”

 

“It’s not that bad.”

 

Sherlock looks at him.

 

“All right,” John allows. “I’m absolutely mental. Happy?”

 

“No.” Sherlock leans deeper into John’s space, pressing against his hands. The suit turns him sleek, a creature in need of stroking. “You make irrational decisions when upset.”

 

“Everyone does that.” John slips his hands under the jacket entirely.

 

“Leading to wide-scale annoyance, yes.”

 

“You don’t look annoyed,” he murmurs, going for the neck. When Sherlock leans into the contact, John grabs his bum and drags him closer. They groan. “Definitely not annoyed.”

 

John.” Sherlock presses him against the counter hard, sets it digging into his back. Sherlock goes after his mouth, keeps pressing, practically folds him backwards. John widens his stance, straining for balance, and Sherlock grinds into him, rough and needful. It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous, Sherlock wanting him like this. John’s done nothing new, nothing interesting. He needs more, now. He needs to, to something.

 

A shove at one hip and a sharp tug on the other. He barely has enough leverage for it, but the motion turns Sherlock, frees John from the pin against the counter. Sherlock staggers as their mouths part, reaching, and John wraps his hand around Sherlock’s belt buckle. He looks into eyes dark and wide and green, and he steps backward, drawing Sherlock with him.

 

Immediately, Sherlock tries to crowd forward. The grip on the belt was meant to be sexy, should have been sexy, but Sherlock won’t let himself be reeled in, won’t be guided to his bedroom. Instead, Sherlock is a one-man stampede, herding John in front of him before kicking his bedroom door closed. The belt move was either entirely ineffective or an overwhelming success, and John honestly cannot tell. It leaves John perfectly situated to get the belt off him, which is consolation enough.

 

He moves for Sherlock’s trousers, but, going after John’s belt, Sherlock blocks him. Sherlock draws the belt from its loops slowly, deliberately, sensation snaking around John’s hips. Sherlock drops the belt, the buckle clacking against the floor, and nods for John to continue. Next goes Sherlock’s jacket, countered by John’s cardigan. John takes forever to manage Sherlock’s straining buttons. Sherlock has him rid of his shirt in an instant. A moment’s hesitation, and they fumble at their own watches.

 

The giggle wells at the back of John’s throat, high-pitched, but he doesn’t let it out. Sherlock grins at him, bright and a bit manic. John kneels to remove his shoes, for the chance to duck his head, and is utterly unsurprised when, on his way back up, Sherlock’s clothed cock reintroduces itself to John’s face.

 

John sinks back onto his heels, ready now, but Sherlock drags him up. John leans up for a kiss only to be shoved half onto the mattress. A startled bounce before he recovers, and that’s time enough for Sherlock to bully between his legs and open John’s trousers.

 

“Lift.” Chest blotchy, face flushed, his hair an incredible mess, Sherlock towers over him. “John, lift.

 

John bucks his hips up, more instinct than compliance, and some tugging completes the move. He reaches down for his pants, and Sherlock catches his wrists. Sherlock’s trousers first, right, yes.

 

Even then, Sherlock still won’t touch John’s pants. Fingertips press against John’s stomach, a warning touch as Sherlock looks at him. Inspects him. John squirms under the scrutiny, his breath stuck on an inhale. Sherlock is much too tall, still standing.

 

The touch on John’s stomach lifts and he sucks air in. Eyes grinning, mouth serious, Sherlock crawls onto the bed after him, over him, straddling John’s chest. With John’s back on the bed but his feet on the floor, there’s little leverage to be had for John, and they both know it. Blatant provocation, John licks his lips, eyeing tented cotton.

 

“Do you want it, John?” Sherlock prompts. “Tell me. Say it. Say it, John.”

 

“Please,” John groans. “Sherlock, please.”

 

Sherlock’s mouth twists into a beautiful shape. He rubs his thumb over John’s lips. “Please what?”

 

“Please suck me.”

 

Aroused bewilderment suits Sherlock’s features perfectly.

 

“Please?” John begs in hushed, furtive tones. “Christ, I want your mouth. I want, I, fuck, please.”

 

Sherlock stares down at him. Lust takes his eyes, and frustration occupies his lips.

 

The moment stretches too long, long enough to realise John may have teased out of turn. Then Sherlock scrambles off John’s chest and drags John fully onto the bed by one knee.

 

John yelps and quickly chokes on an expletive, but it’s a small price to pay for Sherlock’s mouth, even through cotton pants. Sherlock sucks the damp patch damper before pulling off and rearranging.

 

“Hold still,” he urges, stripping off his own briefs. “Lie there. Don’t move. I can, yes.” The mattress sinks above John’s head as Sherlock kneels. Oh, Christ.

 

John opens his mouth, and Sherlock strokes his jaw as he lowers himself down. The angle is strange, unfamiliar. The head doesn’t nestle against John’s palate the way it’s meant to. Breathing hard, Sherlock adjusts until John can feel warm air where it counts. Pinned, practically smothered, choking is a close thing. John can’t quite seem to get a good grip on Sherlock’s arse. The attempt is delectable in its own way, and Sherlock groans against John’s cloth-trapped cock.

 

Sherlock’s hips set a restrained pace, shallow thrusts, and the more John relaxes and moans, the more Sherlock sucks John’s balls through fabric. Sherlock switches sides, one and the other and back and again and then Sherlock doesn’t do anything at all, nothing but fuck John’s mouth and pant John’s name. It counts as a warning and, unlike someone here, John is not a complete bastard. He strains for all the suction he can muster, flicking and flicking his tongue, and he’s so vocal, he’s nearly louder than Sherlock when the man’s climax hits.

 

Breathing hard through his nose, John manages not to choke too terribly. He swallows as Sherlock collapses onto the bed rather than on John. Sherlock tugs him close immediately after, flopping in John’s general direction until their bodies align the usual way.

 

“That was lovely,” Sherlock murmurs, nosing against John’s cheek. His hand rests on John’s stomach, a steady presence. “Can you wait a few minutes?”

 

John hesitates, then nods.

 

Sherlock kisses his temple. Together, their breathing slows. Sherlock melts into John’s side, limp and pliant.

 

“If you fall asleep now, I’m taking advantage of you,” John warns.

 

Sherlock chuckles low in his throat, the exact sort of sound dark chocolate would make if it stretched after a lovely nap. “Some other time.”

 

John chuckles a bit before the tone registers. “Wait, are you-- You’re serious.”

 

“Mm,” Sherlock hums. His fingertips trace circles on John’s stomach, not at all helpfully. “I’d want to be under for at least one REM cycle and to wake before either of us climaxed. And you’d have to remember exactly what you did. There’s no point in mentally reconstructing a scenario if you don’t remember.”

 

John turns his head.

 

As close to placid as he ever comes, Sherlock gazes back.

 

“Okay,” John says, because Jesus Christ. There’s no hope, is there? He can give up now or burn out trying to keep him. He adds, “Just never do that to me.”

 

Sherlock scoffs. His hand slides over to John’s far hip. “Obviously not.”

 

“Okay.” John closes his eyes, but can’t shake the feeling Sherlock can peer through his eyelids. Much too close. He feels Sherlock sit up through the mattress’s shift beneath him.

 

Sherlock kisses his neck.

 

John’s entire body twitches.

 

Warm, stable, Sherlock’s hand returns to John’s belly. “Still sensitive.” He kisses John’s sternum. “What would you like, John?”

 

Eyes still shut, John sets his jaw and lifts his chin.

 

Sherlock sighs, thrilled exasperation. “Oh dear. You won’t say. Whatever shall I do.” More than a kiss, an open-mouthed press of lips and tongue. A scrape of teeth, just below one nipple. It’s the exact opposite of satisfying. Sherlock pulls back immediately after and John tries to school his face.

 

“No teasing,” Sherlock concludes. “You’ve reached a plateau of urgency. You want down, not higher. All right. All right.” His hands stroke John’s sides, a gesture which entirely fails to soothe, before finally easing down John’s pants. John lifts up, arching his back, and Sherlock sucks him.

 

Fuck. John tries to hold, tries to stay arched, but there’s only so long he can manage. His back hits the bed and Sherlock follows him down, taking pity at last. Just another little ploy then, checking what John would do for him. John turns his face to the side. He needs to come. He needs to come and not have his bare cock in the heat of Sherlock’s mouth. He needs a barrier, or the lights out, anything to be less exposed.

 

Despite Sherlock’s best efforts, a decided level of difficulty enters into the situation. John covers his face with his arm. That is, that is impossibly poorly timed, that is just, that is not fair. Sherlock pulls off with a wet pop and John’s cock flops damply against his stomach. As if this weren’t mortifying enough.

 

There’s a brief pause before Sherlock remarks, “We have all night.”

 

“Dammit!”

 

“You want to keep going.”

 

John nods behind his arm.

 

Sherlock climbs out of bed.

 

Heart pounding, John sits up immediately, but Sherlock merely flicks off the ceiling light. He returns, pushing John down onto the sheets. “Better?” Sherlock murmurs.

 

John nods, his throat shut.

 

Sherlock hums against his skin. Slow kisses press into him, down his neck, across his chest. Though deliberate, this is no tease. Each motion is an end in itself. Relax, each touch bids him. John can’t. His lungs are much too tight.

 

“Watch me,” Sherlock bids, prodding him up toward the head of the bed. John complies and Sherlock settles between his legs. Looking is easier when he can’t see Sherlock’s eyes. Teabagging works better than the blowjob proper, and there’s some hope after all when Sherlock grips John by the arse, keeping John under his mouth. John squirms in his hands, and Sherlock says, “Oh. John, turn over. You won’t be desensitized here.”

 

John asks “What?” but turns over all the same. He kneels, and Sherlock presses on his shoulder.

 

“No, down.”

 

Oh,” John says. He doesn’t move. “Are you, um?”

 

“About to put my tongue in your arse?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

A lone fingertip traces down John’s spine. “You tell me.”

 

Warmth curls in his gut. Yes. Definitely yes.

 

He lowers himself down, cock against the sheets, and okay, yes, that’s coming back now. That’s, that’s good. That’s—

 

“Oh, fuck.

 

Sherlock chuckles against his skin. He switches sides, bites the other cheek, and this time, John manages not to cry out. “I should bite you all over,” Sherlock muses.

 

John groans into the pillow as Sherlock urges his arse higher. The raised position isn’t nearly as good, is much too vulnerable, but Sherlock begins to use his tongue, and John’s hesitations are forgotten. Damp heat flicks against the cleft of his arse, trailing lower, skipping lower, and Sherlock nips him where his thighs become his arse. John jumps away from the contact before he presses back, and his cock hangs heavy.

 

Back up Sherlock comes. His hands stroke John’s skin as if smoothing sheets. They grip him at the hips before pulling John toward his mouth. John can feel him, his lips, his breath. Oh, Christ, he’s looking. Of course he’s looking, it’s Sherlock, what else would he—

 

“Oh, God, fuck-!”

 

Sherlock takes him by surprise and never relents, the hot flicking of his tongue just where it should be but still not enough. His hands, his thumbs press into the cheeks of John’s arse, holding him open, exposed, bare. Long licks are only a precursor before Sherlock presses deeper. The first dip inside, then deeper, wet and soft and wiggling. Sherlock’s lips around John’s hole, his tongue pulling out, shoving in. Sherlock exhales hard through his nose, air over sensitive skin, and it sets John shivering, his cock slapping against his stomach.

 

He reaches down, takes his weight on his shoulder, face pressed into the pillow. He reaches and it’s good, it’s back, he can do this, and Sherlock catches his wrist.

 

“I need,” John protests, gasping.

 

Sherlock stops fucking him with his tongue long enough to say, “No, I want to,” and immediately resumes.

 

John reaches back, both hands, and holds his arse cheeks apart. He has to turn his face to the side, can barely breathe against the pillow.

 

“John, yes.” Sherlock wanks him and licks him, pressing inside and holding around, and it’s too much, it’s entirely too much. Gasping and twitching and trapped on the edge, he can’t, he can’t, fuck.

 

Hard and fast, Sherlock strokes him through it. There’s no chance to recover, no chance to even breathe, and Sherlock drags him onto his side and secures John against his chest. John strains for air, trembling internally, and Sherlock orally molests his shoulder.

 

“Not a problem at all,” Sherlock murmurs.

 

“Smug,” John accuses. He barely makes a sound. Water. Definitely in need of water. He can’t seem to move for it, though.

 

“Obviously.” Sherlock noses against his ear. “I’m always smug when you come.”

 

“You’re always smug, period.”

 

Sherlock’s grin is audible. “I’m marvellous, John. I deserve to be smug.”

 

John pats his hand. “Yes, you’re a brilliant shag, well done.”

 

Sherlock squeezes him, arms tight around John’s middle. He’s adorably pleased. “How brilliant?”

 

“Um, very.”

 

“John,” Sherlock whinges.

 

“You’re very, very good,” John dutifully answers.

 

“That’s a step down from brilliant.”

 

“Well, the pillow talk is lacking.” John tugs Sherlock’s arm tighter around him, arching against his human blanket.

 

Incredibly, Sherlock lets the matter of his prowess drop. Instead, he touches John’s chest and belly, not at all subtle in his inspection of chest hair versus pubic hair. John tries to let his mind go numb under the sensation, beneath the exhaustion. He can’t. He’s agreed to move here in a week, and he doesn’t think he can take that back.

 

“You could have anyone you wanted,” John says.

 

“Mm.” Entirely no surprise from Sherlock. The man accepts it as his due.

 

“I mean it,” John says.

 

“Sixty-seven percent of the time,” Sherlock corrects.

 

Jesus Christ. “That’s... That’s one hell of a pull rate, Sherlock.”

 

Sherlock scoffs against the back of John’s neck. “An average of one attempt per decade is hardly a pull rate.”

 

John blinks open his eyes. He does the maths several times. It still comes out making no sense.

 

Sherlock groans. “What is it now? You’ve gone tense all over.”

 

“Sorry, are you leaving out the people who have pulled you, or am I, um. Number two.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock says, and the world makes a bit more sense. John’s not number two. That would be ridiculous. “No one ‘pulls’ me, John.”

 

John’s heart attempts to stop beating, but to no avail. Sherlock’s hand glides up John’s chest to rest over it.

 

“Is that all right?” Sherlock asks, tense against John’s back.

 

John moves his jaw a bit before he can find his voice. “Fine, it’s fine. You can touch there, I don’t--”

 

“I don’t mean my hand, John.”

 

“I’m confused,” John says.

 

“No,” Sherlock counters. “You’re incredulous.”

 

“You’ve only ever wanted three people? Ever?” It’s a conversation John should roll over to have, but he doesn’t want to. Sherlock holds him tightly in place, and John uses that as an excuse.

 

“It’s not that unusual. For some, that’s quite high,” Sherlock says to a man who has, on multiple occasions, attempted to chat up more than three women in a single night.

 

“Why, um.”

 

Sherlock sighs, the sound overblown but deeply felt. “It’s an established sexual orientation, John, not prudishness.”

 

John chokes on a startled noise. “No. No, you’ve had your tongue up my arse—I know you’re not a prude.”

 

“Then why, what?”

 

“Why me,” John says.

 

Sherlock’s grip loosens. Not relaxes, not releases. Sherlock’s arms unbind around him, a quiet invitation for John to roll over, to converse face-to-face.

 

John stays where he is.

 

“Because I saw you,” Sherlock answers.

 

Too perplexed to do otherwise, John stares at Sherlock over his shoulder. “You mean in the lecture hall? Running away from a book?”

 

Sherlock’s eyes are grey in the dark. “Yes.” A breathless word. “Combat instinct. You immediately followed it to safety, recognized your mistake, and corrected your course of action. You played it off well.”

 

“I was fucking mortified.”

 

“It hardly showed.”

 

“People laughed. My students, they laughed.”

 

Sherlock’s fingers stroke across John’s ribs. “You told a joke.”

“No I didn’t.” He remembers running at the mouth, then laughter. “Did I?”

 

“You did,” Sherlock confirms. “You told them the practical exam would include ducking for cover during simulated combat surgery, and that was the only example of proper technique they would see. You told a boy off for not paying attention. That was when your students laughed.”

 

“Oh,” John says. That explains some of the stranger questions he’s received during his office hours.

 

“You resumed your previous topic without prompting and before the girl managed to pick up her dropped book,” Sherlock continues. “You were wary, on alert for further surprises. Even I nearly thought you were in complete control.”

 

Nearly.

 

John turns his face away.

 

Lips brush his neck. The touch of a nose. Breath. “You pressed through a highly vulnerable, significantly public moment without hesitation. You stood evenly. Not simply your stance: your shoulders were level. You looked... competent. Strong.” Sherlock shifts against John’s back, tucking John against him more tightly. “You were magnificent,” he murmurs.

 

John shakes his head.

 

“You were.” There’s no heat to his words, no force or insistence, merely the ever-present assumption that Sherlock has the right of it, of this, of John.

 

“I really wasn’t.” His voice scrapes through his throat. Dark or not, he can’t have this conversation naked, but there’s no stopping Sherlock.

 

“You were,” Sherlock repeats. “It was problematic. Do you have any idea how disruptive sexual attraction can be when unfamiliar? It’s annoying. I waited a week to be sure it would last. It worsened, obviously. I asked Mike about you, but he was hopeless. He thought you were straight. When I was certain I had a chance, I gave you my number and you know the rest.”

 

John lies very still. “Sorry, when did you decide to shag the limp out of me?”

 

“The general idea occurred to me the second time you refused to come out for coffee. You wouldn’t stand in my presence until our sixth encounter: it was obviously a problem. Shagging it out of you was simply effective multitasking.” He sighs against the back of John’s neck. “I was certain it would take after the first time. It was meant to be much more impressive, John.”

 

“You were showing off?”

 

“I’m always showing off. You know that.”

 

“Yeah,” John says, a quick rhythm within his chest and absolute silence between his ears. “I do.”

 

“It was still impressive, though, wasn’t it? You seemed more annoyed most of the time. I hadn’t counted on your complete inability to let anyone help you.”

 

“Very impressive,” John says.

 

“Is that sarcasm or a panic attack? Your heart rate and respiration have picked up.”

 

“It’s fine. I’m fine.”

 

“Shall I talk about something else?”

 

“Please.”

 

Sherlock immediately launches into a monologue, detailing the plethora of minor cases his website has received recently. The flow of his voice, the leaping logic of deduction, these are regular, soothing. Regardless of his idly roaming touches, his focus palpably shifts away from John. In the dark, with his back to Sherlock, it’s the closest John can come to privacy, full-body press of nudity aside.

 

Revisionist history or the truth?

 

Revisionist history: experiment leading to attachment, leading to a new, more sentimental version of events.

 

Truth: lust at first sight because of a PTSD-fuelled panic attack.

 

John knows which he’d prefer, but it’s absurd. It’s patently ridiculous.

 

It doesn’t matter, he realises. Truth or lie, Sherlock wants him now, wants to keep him. John wants to stay. John wants to stay, he’s going to stay, they’ll be flatmates in a week. This is legitimately happening, and it’s all right.

 

He rolls over, interrupting Sherlock’s ramble. Sherlock’s hands settle on his back, and Sherlock asks, “Better?” This is taking stock; this is inventory. As if pity is a foreign concept.

 

John presses his answer to Sherlock’s lips. His hands cup Sherlock’s face, his head, fingers catching in his curls. John eases open Sherlock’s mouth, eases inside, eases Sherlock down and lies on top. Sherlock pulls him closer still, until John’s forearms frame his head. The motions of Sherlock’s mouth are lazy and slow, the taste different for a reason John can’t immediately place. Then he does, he places it, and protective affection brings his hand to a jaw which must be sore. Sherlock hums, appreciative confirmation. John relents, turns to lighter, closed-mouth brushes. He stops when his shoulder protests. He lies down and presses close.

 

“Yes?” Sherlock prompts with an indulgent chuckle.

 

John hums a yes.

 

They stay as they are until thirst and hunger finally prompt John to move. Sherlock complains, because he always complains, and John kisses him compliant, as tender as he dares.

 

“You really should eat something,” John insists, pulling his pants on. “Say you won’t need the energy for later, and I’ll be insulted.”

 

“Are you cooking?”

 

“If you have any food in the flat. D’you want first shower?”

 

“Mm, fine.”

 

John leaves Sherlock to move at his own pace, either a crawl or a race and never anything in between. Dressed, he puts his shoes on out of sheer self-preservation and tries to find something in the catastrophe of a kitchen that still counts as edible. The post-coital Tesco run may yet become a staple in John’s future, and the thought is oddly appealing. He starts to grin and can’t quite stop. He hears the shower start and actually giggles. He spends a moment smiling fondly at the mug of tea still on the counter, cold and at least an hour over-steeped.

 

There’s some soup in tins left from the last post-coital Tesco trip, and it hasn’t had time to heat up fully before Sherlock’s out of the shower. Bit of a surprise. Sherlock’s showers usually run long.

 

“That was quick,” John calls. “Would you mind watching the stove...?” He trails off as Sherlock appears in the hall, hair straight with wet, dripping weight. His pyjama bottoms are untied, his feet bare. Framed in the blue of his dressing gown, his t-shirt sticks to his chest. The chaos of his appearance is startling enough, but it’s his expression that strikes John silent.

 

“You didn’t think I was showing off.” It’s no question. Sherlock waits for John to answer him all the same.

 

“The timing is wrong for that,” Sherlock continues when John fails to make a sound. “You were convinced I was about to leave you, but why would I leave when I can finally gloat? No, you didn’t think I was showing off.

 

“What then? In your office, you said I was experimenting on you. You said it three times in total. You accused me of intentionally warping your perceptions or otherwise misleading you. You explicitly used the term ‘gaslight.’ You told me not to gaslight you again,” Sherlock emphasises. His speech tumbles out faster and faster, never losing coherency. His gestures turn sharp and broken, but his eyes remain locked on John’s face. “Again, so multiple times, a recurring problem. In the context of the experiment theory, a reasonable concern. Call it an experiment and the timing becomes obvious.

 

“What is the only significant change of late? You’re walking unaided. That’s all. An experiment on your limp would conclude a relatively short time after its disappearance was confirmed. It vanishes and you decide it’s time to go. Am I wrong?”

 

Avoiding eye contact, John turns off the stove.

 

“When you were uncooperative, I assumed you were protecting your pride. It wasn’t an unfounded assumption. You do not ask for help, you do not reach out, and you rebuff most efforts for anything more than a casual connection. Additionally, we’ve already established you enjoy putting me through my paces in order to have you. I assumed this was simply more of the same, but you deemed my efforts to help you as actively invasive.

 

“Am. I. Wrong?” Sherlock demands.

 

“No, but I--” John swallows hard, starts again. “Look, I’m glad I was wrong.”

 

“You’re glad,” Sherlock repeats.

 

“Yes.” John nods emphatically.

 

“You’re glad our relationship wasn’t a sexually exploitive psychological experiment, is that what you’re saying?” Sherlock smiles, all teeth. “Or are you glad I approached you as a person, not a test subject? Perhaps you’re glad I never planned to abandon you after you’d served your use.”

 

“Hold on. I never said--”

 

“You never say anything!” Sherlock shouts. “God, now I can see why!”

 

“I know better now!” John protests. “We’re on the same page now, it’s fine--”

 

Sherlock laughs in his face. “It isn’t fine.”

 

“I misunderstood.”

 

“No,” Sherlock snaps. “You assumed I was using you. I repeatedly, explicitly stated my intentions, and you disbelieved them.”

 

John sets his feet, stands his ground. “When the hell did you do that?”

 

“The first time in the lecture hall, you asked my intentions and I provided my short term goals: to date you, eventually to the point of exclusivity. The following week, I told you to your face I was seducing you,” Sherlock lists. “Despite ample evidence in my favour—otherwise known as reality, John—you didn’t believe me.”

 

“I thought--”

 

“You what?” Sherlock demands. “You thought you’d stay for the sex until I cured you and then run off.”

 

“I thought you’d leave me.”

 

“So you decided to leave pre-emptively. You, you decided to stay and fuck but hold back the rest.”

 

“Hold on.” John lifts his hands. “Just hold on. I, I do, I...”

 

“You can’t say it, can you?” Sherlock pulls his dressing gown tight around himself, arms crossed, shoulders hunched and damp from his hair.

 

“No, I can,” John insists, and he forces the words through his throat. “I care about you.”

 

“But you don’t trust me.” There’s no question in Sherlock’s face, no doubt in his eyes. Pain, stark and visible, has forced everything else out. “You don’t think I’m capable of having feelings for you.”

 

“I knew we were getting to be friends,” John says and immediately regrets it.

 

“Getting to be?” Sherlock demands. “Oh, God, we’re not even friends now!”

 

“That’s not-- No. That’s not what I meant.”

 

“No, you meant to shag me until you could walk away without a cane. And look, you can!” Sherlock exclaims. “Good-bye, now.” A pair of shooing motions flick John toward the hall, but John doesn’t move. “I’m sure you’ll manage the stairs just fine.”

 

“Sherlock--”

 

Leave.”

 

“I do care about you.” He fists his hands to keep from reaching. “You know I have perception problems. PTSD, it--”

 

“I know,” Sherlock interrupts. “I researched. I observed. I made certain you’d never feel cut off from exits or encounter triggers. I reassured you. When you made it clear you’d prefer space, I gave you that instead. I explicitly stated my plans to avoid surprises, and I never do that. I have explained myself. I have obtained explicit consent. I have done everything right, and I haven’t even bragged about it!”

 

“You know I have trust issues.”

 

“And that entitles you to using me?”

 

“No, I—I care about you.”

 

“You became emotionally compromised,” Sherlock corrects. “That is your problem, not mine. Your coat is on the chair. Get out of my home.”

 

“Sherlock--”

 

Sherlock plucks up John’s coat and throws it at him. “I have Lestrade on speed dial and will not hesitate to call. Leave. Now. Or I could shout, and you can explain the situation to Mrs Hudson. I’m sure she’d be highly sympathetic.”

 

“Look, I did hope you were, that we were... I hoped, all right?”

 

“Oh, how lovely. You hoped I wasn’t heartless.”

 

John opens and closes his mouth. He looks down at the coat in his hands and puts it on.

 

“I’ll return your things by post,” Sherlock informs him. He sweeps down the hall to his bedroom and slams the door.

 

In the following silence, John’s hands are absolutely steady. They are steady as he turns the stove on and off, as he transfers the soup from the pot to a bowl and the bowl onto a tray. They are steady as he puts a plate over the top of the bowl to keep the soup warm and a spoon on top of the plate. He sets the tray down in the hall, far enough from Sherlock’s door that it doesn’t count as approaching. Halfway down the stairs, he remembers his DVDs. If he told Sherlock to keep them, he wouldn’t.

 

In the foyer, he stands with fingertips on the door handle, waiting, listening. He expects to hear the smash of china from above, continued shouting, a concerned cry from Mrs Hudson. All the phones will begin to ring or a police car will arrive. Something will happen, and the argument will go on until it stops in a better way.

 

John holds out hope for as long as hope will hold, and then he simply leaves.