Sherlock in black leather was a fucking beautiful sight, John decided. Tight leather trousers, tight maroon silk shirt that showed off his lean form to perfection, and a tight black leather jacket pulled casually over the top to tie it all together - he looked gay gay gay and absolutely gorgeous and well over half the men there were shooting him subtle and not-so-subtle glances as he chatted up a well-built man at the bar. John leaned back against the wall and took another sip of his drink. He hadn't been to a gay bar in ages - since well before his army days, truth be told - and he had forgotten how comfortable they were. No need to hide your interest for fear of appearing too predatory - unlike straight women, most gay men absolutely preened over attention from random strangers. Sherlock being Sherlock, John shouldn't have been surprised at how easily he blended into the scene here.
It was all for a case, of course. The man at the bar had been the last one to see their victim alive, and possibly had been on a date with him shortly before his death. Sherlock had only taken twenty minutes tut-tutting at the crime scene before laying out the dead man's last forty-eight hours in vivid detail and declaring there was a rather large hole in Anderson's "drug-addicted thief breaking in to find something to sell" theory. Which was how, two hours later, John and Sherlock were trawling gay bars together in hopes of finding a six-foot-two blond gay man with a noticeable tremor in his right hand and the musculature of an out-of-work construction worker. And how Sherlock came to be swanning about in a black leather getup which made John's mouth go dry.
The man was interested now, John could tell. He ordered a drink and passed it to Sherlock - something tall and golden and on the rocks. His body language said he was expecting to get lucky tonight, and John wished he was close enough to hear what Sherlock was saying. Sherlock in full-on flirt mode was a battering ram to the psyche, and even though it did strange things to John's insides when he observed Sherlock in action, it was still fun to watch Sherlock's targets get poleaxed by those gray eyes.
Sherlock tilted his head to one side coyly, displaying a long column of pale neck. John didn't blame the man for drooling quite so openly - he wasn't the only one. Sherlock's hand darted forward to the man's shoulder, to bend him closer so Sherlock could whisper something in his ear . . . the man threw his head back and laughed. And snaked an arm out to grab Sherlock by the belt loops and pull him closer, whispering something back.
There was no mistaking the change in Sherlock's bearing at whatever the man said. One second he was arch, flirting, the next his eyes were flat and his face went blank. He was frozen with his trembling drink hovering in the air, unable to bring it to his mouth or set it on the counter. The blond man didn't seem to notice, still whispering urgently, but John recognized that look. He'd seen it so damn many times . . .
He was already tacking through the crowd before he realized it. Sherlock blinked as John drew up alongside him and linked his arm through his flatmate's.
"You promised me you wouldn't do this again," John scolded.
Sherlock's gaze was still blank, but he lowered his drink and blinked a few times. "I - John?"
"When are you going to just tell me we're through?" John continued. "You said you just wanted to go dancing, but no, here I find you picking up someone else. No offense," he added to the blond maybe-murderer. "But I think my boyfriend and I need to head home right now and work some things out."
The man raked his hand through his hair and nodded. "Sorry, mate. Didn't realize he was taken."
"Yeah, well, I bet he sodding well didn't mention it. Rather a habit of his. Come on, love, we're going. Now."
Sherlock had his mouth open, ready to argue, but John shot him a don't you dare fuck with me right now look and he closed it again. "Sorry," he mumbled, and let John drag him back through the bar.
They didn't speak further until they were safely in the taxi and headed back to Baker Street. Sherlock curled his body up against the door, as far from John as it was possible to get, and glared out the window.
"What was that about?" he finally asked.
John looked him up and down - the tension still hadn't entirely left Sherlock, although he was no longer trembling. "I don't know," he admitted. "But I know that reaction when I see one - something he said was a trigger, wasn't it?"
Sherlock swallowed hard and pointedly returned his attention to the window.
"You don't have to tell me," John said quietly. "It's none of my business what happened in your past and you have the right to keep that - whatever-it-is - private if you want to. But I wasn't going to let you go through a panic attack right there in the middle of a case, in a public venue. I get enough of those on my own."
"What makes you think I was having a panic attack?" Sherlock's voice was nearly a whisper.
And John longed to touch him, to reach out and take his hand and offer some fucking human contact, but he didn't know how Sherlock would take it so he didn't. "I've seen that look a hundred times before," he admitted.
Sherlock studied him out of the corner of his eye.
"Part of being a doctor in the service," John continued. "I saw men get that look sometimes after - well, two reasons. One was seeing casualties in action. And the other was rape." He looked down at his hands curled in his lap and willed them to stay still. "Too damn many of both, in my opinion."
The tension was practically radiating off Sherlock, but he didn't make a sound. John eventually turned his attention to his own window and they rode the rest of the way to Baker Street in silence.
Sherlock collapsed onto the sofa when they got back up to the flat and threw his arm up to cover his eyes. "I can't do this," he announced.
John closed the door behind him and shucked his coat. "Can't do what?"
"This. Us. You." Sherlock groaned and rolled to his side, presenting John and the rest of the room with the long lines of his back. "It's obvious you want it to be a sexual relationship, but I just can't."
Ah. John slowly lowered himself into the armchair, giving Sherlock the physical space he clearly needed. "What makes you assume that?" he asked. Not that Sherlock was wrong, really, but John thought he had been pretty circumspect - he had only dated women since moving in, had never said one word about his sexuality to Sherlock (other than "I'm not gay" countless times when people made assumptions about the two of them, which technically true since he slept with women also), and was careful to never ogle Sherlock in any way his flatmate might object to. Hell, he even tried not to wank about him, although he'd certainly slipped up a few times -
"You're bloody transparent," Sherlock mumbled into the sofa cushion. "You stand an average of sixteen centimeters closer to me when I'm wearing the purple shirt you like so much, you blatantly avoid the living room when I'm in only my dressing gown, and on four occasions now you've spent ten extra minutes in the shower after seeing me shirtless. Not to mention the frequent full- and semi-erections when we're in close proximity for cases. You're trying to be polite, I realize, but you might as well paint your attraction on your forehead."
Fuck. "Sherlock, I -"
"What I'm saying is," Sherlock continued, "I'm far too much of a mess to be what you need in a sexual and romantic relationship. You deserve someone who won't go all to pieces for the most inane reasons."
John leaned back in the chair and stared up at the ceiling. Rape - it had to be. An abusive relationship, at the very least. "Do you want to tell me about it?" he ventured quietly. "You absolutely don't have to if you don't want to."
Sherlock was quiet so long John was sure he would refuse, but then he rolled over and his eyes sought John's face. "I was in uni at the time," he admitted. "I had fooled around a bit before, but it was my first real date with a gay man and I was determined to lose my virginity. It . . . went badly."
Sherlock nodded minutely. "I wasn't as ready as I thought I was, but he had no interest in letting me change my mind. The whole experience was painful, physically and emotionally, and it's a big part of the reason I turned to cocaine shortly afterward." He let out a long, shuddering breath. "As much as the idea of sex is still interesting in theory, I don't think I could go through with it again in practice. I'm sorry."
"Don't be." John leaned forward to prop his elbows on his knees. "Look, I'm sure you've heard this a million times before, but it's not your fault. And yes, you're a bloody gorgeous man and I've been trying very hard not to think of you in a sexual way because you made it extremely clear you're 'married to your work' and therefore not interested in me. But that doesn't mean we can't still go on just as we have before."
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "I never said I'm not interested in you. I am - exceedingly. You're quite possibly the only person on the planet capable of making me want to be tempted. But you deserve better. Someone capable of a sexual relationship."
John swallowed. "Is it all touching that bothers you, or just . . ." He waved his vaguely.
"Not all. I quite like when you accidentally brush up against me. Little casual touches are . . . very nice."
John slid out of the chair and scooted forward on the floor until he was sitting in front of the sofa. He reached for Sherlock's free hand and laced Sherlock's fingers through his own. "Good?"
Sherlock nodded mutely.
"Good. So here's what I have to say to that: I hate that someone hurt you. I hate that it's still hurting you, however many years later. And I hate that you feel you have to abandon that entire facet of life because of it. But I trust that you're being honest with me about that, so I'd ask you trust that I'm telling the truth too: I don't think it makes you broken. And I would willingly give you whatever parts of a relationship you wanted, if you wanted to give it a try." John allowed his full wistful smile to show on his face. "I do love sex, obviously, and I think you will too someday when you've had more time to work past this. But I love what I already have with you more."
Sherlock was staring at him now, mouth open and eyes bright. It was all John could do to not plop a kiss down on that gaping mouth.
"I . . . yes. I want to try." Sherlock eyes bored into John's. "I know you won't be satisfied with a non-sexual relationship for long, but I'm willing to push, I want to change -"
"Hell no. No trying to change, Sherlock." John squeezed Sherlock's hand gently. "I'm happy to explore your limits with you, but we've got to do it at your pace, not mine." He brought Sherlock's hand up to his mouth for a brief kiss. "May I make a suggestion?"
Sherlock blinked, but nodded.
"Consider it an experiment. We go upstairs and you take your time getting to know my body, doing as much or as little as you want. I'll keep my hands to myself and give you some time. Then we'll have a better idea how to proceed."
Sherlock's fingers twitched, tightening around John's hand. "You wouldn't mind if I . . ."
"Stopped? No, I wouldn't." John paused, trying to formulate his thoughts. "Half the fun of sex is playing with control - seeing what drives your partner wild. I think you'd enjoy that aspect, even without all the other parts - you love to manipulate people."
Sherlock shot him a dark look, and John had to chuckle. "You may deny it, but it's true. I'm offering you a chance to manipulate me, see what turns me on, without any risk of me rattling that great brain of yours. I've got some restraints up in my room - you can tie me down however you like so I can't make you do anything you don't want to." He let out a little self-deprecating laugh. "If that doesn't show you how much I trust you, nothing will."
"You would let me . . . do that?"
"Sherlock, there's very little I wouldn't let you do to me."