John stumbled downstairs, repressing the urge to go back up just to check that he was not hallucinating, and that the image which seemed branded on the back of his eyelids – or his retinas, he wasn't sure – was not a figment of imagination which was surely indicative of the fact that Sherlock had finally managed to drive him loopy.
However, he resisted that urge by running all the way to the door and pushing it open, as in the event that he was in fact seeing true, going back up would be a spectacularly bad idea.
But he couldn't be seeing true, could he? Somehow, the notion that John might be going insane himself was easier to accept than the fact that Sherlock was...
'Thank you, Doctor.' said a lilting feminine voice as a petite figure brushed passed him, turning to give him a coquettish smile.
No. It couldn't have been.
But it must have been. John couldn't make himself believe that it was just his imagination, the solid proof of what he had seen having just passed him and exited the doorway.
John closed his eyes. Imageries immediately assaulted him. The way Sherlock's eyes were closed in rapture (because what else could he close them from?), the way his long, elegant fingers clutched at the woman's slender waist, and his lips...
John took a deep breath. Why was the sight of Sherlock's lips caressing another's so... provoking? John cursed himself for opening the door without knocking (but how could he have known this was what he would find?) and Sherlock for standing near the door of their flat and not taking it somewhere else. John tried to ignore those unnamed emotions which stormed through him. He was not unnerved by the expected embarrassment and disbelief, but there was something more intense and fundamental which he could not identify, which became darker and more heated as surface feelings receded. The closest he could come to was anger. But why was he angry? Because Sherlock possibly lied to him when they had first met about his disinterest in women ? Because Sherlock did not trust him enough to reveal his relationship? What?
His ruminations were interrupted as Sherlock joined him at the doorway, his expression nonchalant but for the heightened colour that emphasised his prominent cheekbones.
'Ah, John. Care to join me for dinner? I was just waiting for you to get home, actually.'
'Sure.' John said stiffly.
Fine, if you want to pretend that nothing happened, I'll do the same. John thought, fuming.
Except that three steps out of the door – Sherlock falling behind John for once as John ploughed on without consulting Sherlock on what he wanted for dinner – John realised that he absolutely could not forget about what had happened. His mind was still flooded and reeling with sensory information – the mischievous wink and knowing smirk the woman had directed at him as she turned in Sherlock's arms; the wet sound as Sherlock wrenched his lips away, startled; the way his eyes had widened in surprise, pupils still dilated; the way his mouth was opened slightly, his lips soft and flushed...
Damn it, what was wrong with his mind that he kept coming back to Sherlock's lips, for God's sake?
John tried focus on the sensation of the chilly wind against his face, shoving his hands into his pockets as he realised they were clenched into fists.
But he couldn't empty his head.
Who was that woman? What was she to Sherlock? Girlfriend? (John swallowed a lump in his throat at the thought. What was that? Sherlock could have a girlfriend if he bloody wanted one.) Ex-girlfriend? Friend with benefits?
John knew he shouldn't be surprised. Despite Sherlock's arrogance and (what seemed to him to be a self-diagnosed) labelling of high functioning socio-path, there could be no denial of his aesthetic qualities. And, though Sherlock himself would never admit himself capable of it, he could be loyal and even kind in his own way. John's mind went to what's been dubbed The Pool Incident – the almost mad worry on Sherlock's face as he tore the explosives off himself, the frantic force with which he tackled John into the pool to protect him; and how that time when Sarah got kidnapped, Sherlock had soothed her with murmured 'it's alright, it's over'; the way Sherlock's face clouded briefly with a sort of dazed regret as one of Moriarty's victims in their earliest 'games' perished for unwittingly describing her abductor.
Not to mention the laughs they'd shared, the genuine smiles Sherlock sometimes gave in John's presence – the ends of his mouth would tilt upwards slowly but surely, his whole face would unfurl into an expression of pure mirth that John could not help but return.
John needed to stop focusing on Sherlock's mouth. It was getting ridiculous.
Continuing with his previous train of thought, John supposed Sherlock's immense intellect must also be attractive, in addition to his other... qualities. So, he shouldn't be surprised that Sherlock had romantic relationships. After all, he had only just met Sherlock when Sherlock informed John of his status of 'married to his work'. They were little more than strangers. The topic never came up since then. Why should Sherlock disclose such personal matters to him?
And, the woman, whoever she was, was certainly very attractive. With dark chocolate curls that fell loose down her back, large deep set eyes the same colour, delicate cheekbones and olive skin, she fit the bill of a beautiful woman perfectly. It was not a far cry to imagine her in possession of intelligence and charm, and John did not have to imagine her desirable – she certainly was. It was reasonable, and perhaps even expected, that Sherlock wanted her. They made a striking couple, locked in passionate embrace as John had seen.
So why was John still angry? He could not fathom what he was angry at; surely he cannot be so petty as to begrudge Sherlock his relationship, just because Sherlock chose not to disclose that he was in fact, not so 'married to his work'? For all John knew, things had changed since they first met. Sherlock was certainly not under any obligation to tell him anything.
Thus was his mind occupied as he made for the Chinese restaurant a couple of blocks from Baker Street, only vaguely aware of Sherlock's presence beside him. His reverie was only interrupted as they stepped into the restaurant and took their usual seat. John took up a menu – unnecessary, since he knew what they wanted to order – to pretend that he wasn't intent on Sherlock's steady gaze. He wondered what Sherlock's saw in his face right now.
The restaurant was busy. Amidst the cacophony of chatting diners and clattering of porcelain dishes, the tense silence seemed even more awkward. John put the menu down and tried to catch the eye of one of the waitresses and wished it was their turn to order soon.
To John's surprise, it was Sherlock who broke the silence.
'Her name is Irene Adler. I met her about two years ago, working on a private case.' Sherlock was not looking at John, his face impassive atop his clasped hands as he stared outside the the window. 'She had been dating a prominent figure in Eastern Europe; the two timing idiot jilted her for someone equally socially prominent, as per his family's wishes. He failed to take into account the fact that Irene was not only a very accomplished opera singer but also a very accomplished thief. Soon after he broke it off with her, she had in her possession not only compromising photos, but also the engagement ring – a family heirloom of great value – which my client wished to propose with. She threatened to go to the tabloids with the photos should my client go to the police about the ring. He came to me, not wishing to alert the authorities which would cause a scandal of no mean size.'
John could not pretend to be uninterested as Sherlock stopped. 'What happened? I suppose you got the ring back, and the photographs?'
Sherlock's lips pressed together with a hint of remembered displeasure. 'The photographs – no. The ring – yes. But only because she chose to send it back.'
'She was content to teach her cheating lover a lesson.' Sherlock said stiffly. But he must have known that John was more incredulous at the fact that Sherlock had just admitted to being thwarted, not Adler's sudden change of heart. Now John really wanted to know exactly what had happened. Reading his curious expression, Sherlock gave a small sigh and went on:
'I had devised a ploy by pretending to protect her from a fight I had arranged to take place in front of her house as she arrived home, then feigning injury, I asked to rest inside. I had arranged for false alarms of fire to be made, after which she swiftly panicked and checked hidden panel where the ring and photographs were stored. I then indicated that I had recovered some and would take myself to hospital. The next day I broke into her house, only to find her gone with a note addressed to me. She had become suspicious after I made my escape and followed me. She had been warned against a Sherlock Holmes, and once she knew who I was by the address I returned to, as well as my obviously uninjured manner, she had no doubt that she had betrayed herself. Therefore she left for America with the ring and photos immediately. A day later the ring was delivered to me, as well as her promise that she will only keep the photographs as means of self-protection. That was good enough for my client.'
'She managed to follow you undetected?'
'Oh right. So,' John clears his throat, 'she's not... your girlfriend?'
'John, have you been listening to me for the past five minutes?'
'Not an ex-girlfriend?'
Sherlock sighed (or really, huffed,) dramatically.
'But... you do like women?'
'Oh, God.' Sherlock's frustrated tone was the one he only reserved for John when he was too slow to grasp something obvious. Well, obvious to Sherlock. John was still a bit confused.
But he was promptly reminded of his embarrassment and how inappropriate he was being, so tried to back-pedal.
'No, it's just...I wasn't...I mean...I've just never, er, pictured you, I mean, not that I thought you'd never...I mean, I try not to think of you as...'
'John. I clearly remember informing you that women were, and are, not really my area, and that while I was flattered by your obvious attraction to me …'
I'm married to my work.
But John did not let him say that, because he instinctively knew that letting Sherlock finish that sentence – a seemingly harmless reiteration – would set his heart plummeting, and he was not ready to ponder the implications should he really face the situation.
'No, no, no! I...'
'Uh, do you and your date need more time?'
John was startled by the new voice joining their conversation and looked up. God, how long had he been oblivious to the waitress standing there? And why didn't Sherlock tell him?
'No, we'll both have the – ' Wait, what was that she said? Why in the name of all that's all holy did everyone think he was Sherlock's date? 'I am not his date!'
The waitress raised one black eyebrow in a eerily Spock-like fashion. She could not have been more condescendingly sceptical if she rolled her eyes and actually said 'sure you're not – I wasn't born yesterday and I have eyes you know.' Which is what she managed to convey anyway.
John chose to ignore her.
'Er, I mean, we'll both have the, um, special fried rice and the er, chicken and corn soup.'
The waitress scribbled on her pad. 'Two special rices and chicken and corn soups coming up.'
Then she winked at him conspiratorially.
But Sherlock was talking now. 'For your information, John, to me Irene Adler is not merely a woman. She is the woman. The fact that she is a woman is less important than the fact that she is... the only woman who managed to best me. She had snatched victory from right under my nose, and therefore she deserves my attention as a worthy adversary.'
'Um, right.' She deserves your attention enough for you to KISS HER?
'What you saw today was an... anomaly. I did not expect it. Nor did I welcome it.'
John rolled his eyes. 'Yeah right. Sherlock, you might not have expected her make a move on you, but it's okay if you... wanted her.' Though the idea makes me strangely angry and even a bit... hurt. John thought with surprise. Not that Sherlock needed to know that. 'You don't have to... pretend, or anything. I'm sorry if I embarrassed you, I was just... curious because I do remember you telling me you weren't interested in women, and I was really surprised.'
Sherlock sighed again. John heaved an internal sigh of relief too, thinking that he was going to dismiss the issue.
But Sherlock continued, his earlier frustration returning. 'John, when have you known me to pretend to do anything except when investigation required it? When did ever try try to appease others with pretence? Besides, you're probably the only person in front of whom I don't ever feel the need to be less than perfectly honest about myself.'
The almost casual statement which sounded like an afterthought filled John with a sort of suffusing warmth that rendered him momentarily speechless.
'When I say that I did not welcome Irene's advances, I mean I did not welcome them.'
'Um, you didn't seem to, er, want to reject them, at the time.' John's voice was strained.
Sherlock sighed again. 'Your timing was unfortunate, John. I did not exactly derive... pleasure, from the ...exchange. Did you not observe, John, that I was tense? I'm sure I was. I tried to pry her away from me, for goodness' sake.'
The waitress brought their meal then, and John dug in because he had to... process the information. Sherlock didn't want Adler to kiss him at all? Huh. Right. So Sherlock didn't lie to him about his disinterest in women. Some unknown knot his insides had tangled into slowed unfurled.
He's still married to his work though.
So? John's curiosity was satisfied. There shouldn't be lingering regret after the wave of relief.
Wait. Regret? Relief? What was John relieved from, for God's sake?
This evening was turning out to be a very strange one. Well, stranger than the usual strange.
John tried to taste his food in order to ignore everything else. He wasn't succeeding much at all.
'You know, John, I'm really quite flattered by your... jealousy.'
John looked up from the fried rice and bristled instantly. 'Now look here Sherlock, just because I was curious, it does not mean that I was...'
'Kindly allow me finish John, you've interrupted me quite enough for one night.' Sherlock said, seemingly annoyed, and continued when John stopped talking and directed his gaze away, tight-lipped.
'Like I was saying, I'm quite flattered by your jealousy. Just like when we first met, I was quite flattered by your attraction to me...'
Oh please stop talking Sherlock. Do you really like embarrassing me that much?
'I did consider myself married to my work...'
'However, that is no longer the case, as I find myself quite, um, desirous of your... attentions.'
John could hear it now. There was uncertainty in the way Sherlock's voice lowered and softened. He sounded almost... shy.
For the second time in one night, John suspected himself of hallucinating.
He looked back at Sherlock, only to find Sherlock's stormy eyes locked onto his own, raging with the intensity of his determination and a touch of... fear.
John's stomach did a back-flip.
'Do you admit that you were jealous?' Sherlock's voice dropped further, a deep almost whisper that sent a shiver all the way down John's spine.
Jealousy? Was that the emotion he'd failed to identify? Was that the real emotion that triggered his anger? The sudden flare of sharp possessiveness that he did not allow himself to acknowledge?
John had thought, before this moment, that though Sherlock's deductive skills were nothing short of genius, he was not one who was aware of feelings. At least, he thought he himself would be more aware of emotions than Sherlock would be. Was he so very blind that he did not even see his own feelings, that Sherlock, of all people, had to point it out to him?
He knew Sherlock was asking something more with this question, and he wasn't sure he wanted to answer it, wasn't sure that he was as brave as Sherlock for asking it.
But, damn it, he was a decorated soldier, he had killed a man for Sherlock in their earliest acquaintance. He was not going to back down from this because of lack of courage.
'I...eh herm... I suppose... yes.'
John's own voice sounded a little strange to his ears as he more or less coughed out his reply. He wanted to lower his eyes, to not see Sherlock's reaction because he was still just a little bit afraid of what he might see in Sherlock's eyes.
John looked up after several seconds, anticipating Sherlock's piercing stare, only to see a part of his coat.
'I think we would better discuss back at the flat, don't you?'
John wasn't the only one whose voice had changed. Sherlock's voice had also dropped considerably, gaining a quality that made John's skin shiver and tremble.
He could only comply with Sherlock's request – it might as well have been an order – and followed him out of the restaurant, the half eaten meal forgotten.
In his nervous anticipation, John did not notice that the waitress had spared a smirk for them both, to be acknowledged by Sherlock's answering smirk as he reflected on how serendipitous the reappearance of Irene Adler was.
John was almost as tense on the walk back to the flat as he was on the walk to the restaurant. There was an excess of nervous energy that he could not dispel; his heart dancing a jig in his rib cage as if threatening to jump into his throat. The worst should be over – both he and Sherlock could not have mistaken the intentions of the other, and yet...
Things seemed to be happening too fast. Did Sherlock really mean what he said? That he wanted John?
There was a hint of a smile on John's face as he let himself linger on that thought a moment longer. The notion that Sherlock Holmes, the world's only genius consulting detective, who could have anyone he wanted with a modicum of effort, wanted him was...
Well, overwhelming, to say the least.
And dear God, he had actually admitted to being jealous of Irene Adler – a match for Sherlock, who was beautiful and resourceful enough to have gained the upper hand Sherlock's respect. John suddenly felt that a large part of his mind was still too incredulous of Sherlock's admission, and it would be until... precisely what, he did not know.
John was so distracted that he didn't even realise when they'd gotten to the flat till Sherlock halted suddenly and John nearly walked into him.
Sherlock smirked a little as he directed John into the door with his right arm around John's waist. John shouldn't have been able to feel it besides being propelled forward, since they were both wearing so many layers of clothing. But John was so aware of Sherlock's presence, he almost felt bereft as they started climbing the stairs and Sherlock removed his arm.
As John reached the living room, he took a deep breath and turned around to face Sherlock.
The words stuttered to nothingness as his breath caught at the sight of Sherlock's face so close to his own. How did he move so silently? The thought trailed away unanswered as John took in the feel of their proximity. Sherlock's eyes were positively twinkling with mischief. John had never seen such animated expression on Sherlock except when his cases developed satisfactorily, and yet, it seemed much more heart-felt in an inexplicable way. John could feel his breath mingling with his own, and with a sudden jolt of his heart, he realised that should he choose to tilt his head up and close the tiny distance between them, his lips would touch Sherlock's.
With the thought came a sharp spike of desire that quickened his breath and astonished him in its ferocity. For a moment, John simply stood there, unable to move away from Sherlock, yet remembering that they were supposed to be talking before...
Sherlock brought his own lips to John's, brushing softly against him. John felt a rush of relief and finality at the touch of their lips. All intentions of talking were forgotten before he kissed back more firmly, wanting to imprint the feel of this rightness onto Sherlock's lips, wanting to gauge if Sherlock felt the same.
Sherlock's hands started roaming John's back, exploring the clothed muscles and sinew as John's hands settled to clutch at Sherlock's waist. One of Sherlock's hands came up to cup the nape of John's neck to press them closer as John gently touched Sherlock's lips with his tongue. Sherlock responded immediately by opening his mouth, and as John's tongue explored and tasted, Sherlock moaned softly. The vibrations made John pull them even closer, but it wasn't enough, wasn't nearly enough. Sherlock seemed to feel John's desperation as he captured John's tongue in his mouth and sucked.
The sound that escaped John's throat surprised and almost embarrassed him with its neediness, as he felt his whole body shiver at the sensations. Sherlock smirked and let go of John's tongue, gradually easing off him before breaking the kiss and resting their foreheads together.
'Is that discussion enough? Do need me to clarify anything else?'
John was still breathing too hard to speak.
At the lack of response, Sherlock peppered small kisses along John's jawline till his mouth arrived at the lobe of his right ear.
'This, this John is how I really kiss. I have never kissed anyone like this, nor have I ever wanted to. Before you.' Sherlock whispered into John's ear.
Through the onslaught of desire, John could still feel the seriousness and the weight of the words and the answering swell of joy which surged at Sherlock's admission.
John reached up to take hold Sherlock's face in his hands and he kissed those slightly reddened lips tenderly, almost chastely. Sherlock responded by gathering John into a hug, and John sighed with contentment.
Well, as far as beginnings went, this one certainly wasn't bad.
John stumbled downstairs, naked. The rigid state between his legs not in the least conducive to walking as he frantically pulled out drawers and searched them with unsteady fingers.
John had reduced Sherlock to begging incoherently with his mouth before he realised there was no lube in their room. They had not had a chance to be together for... too long... through a series of unrelenting cases; John (and Sherlock, though much more vocally) cursed his lack of presence of mind to have remembered such a necessity in his shopping. He himself barely registered Sherlock's instructions to check the desk drawers in his room (now used solely for storage purposes) through the haze of arousal.
But, there, at the back of the drawer – yes! John grabbed the half full bottle and turned go back to Sherlock – the mental picture of him spread out on their bed, trembling and desperate, makes him impossibly harder than he already was.
John didn't know what made him turn back when he saw the flash of red in his peripheral vision, but he did.
Then most fervently wished he didn't.
It was a photograph of a woman. Dressed in a dramatic shade of crimson, her lips painted to match the colour, her dark curls piled elegant on top her head and eyes sparkling even in the two-dimensional representation.
Irene Adler was stunning.
John swallowed. Trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach turning into something more aggressive, he turned the photo over.
A part of John knew that Sherlock would have logical explanation for this. Surely, a photograph by itself could not be incriminating. Sherlock would probably chastise John's thinking, had this been a case with phrases like 'insufficient evidence' and 'assumptions and speculatoins detrimental to the deductive process'.
But this is not a case. And John doesn't care what Sherlock would think of his thoughts.
Seriously, anyone would be a bit rattled to see their lover keep mementos of past, um, whatever Adler was to Sherlock.
John fisted a hand through his damp hair and screwed his eyes shut. Old doubts assaulted his mind as the image of the woman in the photo and Sherlock kissing resurfaced. He had not thought about the incident since he and Sherlock started their relationship. Which was only catalysed by the woman in the photograph. John didn't want to think about its significance, but his cursed mind was working in a frenzy of confusion and jealousy and almost fear. Ashamed of his paranoia and uncertainty in his and Sherlock's relationship, John made the put the photograph back, determined not to make an issue out of it, not when Sherlock had clearly denied any romantic associations with Adler.
'You weren't going to ask me about her, were you?'
Sherlock was leaning against the door frame, naked skin still gleaming with sweat and sporting an erection – John realised his own had abated – gazing at John calmly with his storm coloured eyes.
For a moment, John forgot about the photograph and marvelled at how beautiful Sherlock looked like that. God he was magnificent.
That line of thought was not helpful. It was sabotaging all other lines of thought. John didn't know how himself looked, dazed and holding that photo of the damned woman.
'Wasn't planning on it, no.'
Sherlock knew the answer, of course, but John felt somewhat defiant saying it out loud. Sherlock looked annoyed.
'I wish you would just ask me about things that trouble you, John.'
It was curious, extremely curious, John realised, that Sherlock seemed to recognise John's unease and wanted to address them.
'Well?' Sherlock prompted with a scowl.
'Why do you have a photo of Irene Adler, Sherlock?' John asked bluntly, as evenly as he could manage.
'Left over from her case. She sent it back with the ring for my client. The photo was addressed to me so I kept it as a reminder. End of story.'
'A reminder of what?' John wanted to take that back. But insecurity nagged at the back of his mind as he blurted out the question.
Sherlock walked towards him, eyes impossibly intense. He took the photograph out of John's hands and put it away. Then he took John's face in his hands.
'Hear this, John. There's only ever been you, no others, ever. So stop being illogical and stop worrying, because there's only you, you and no one else.'
Sherlock was so very serious, almost grave. John as reminded of the time when Sherlock first made his declaration after Adler had visited in the flesh. Sherlock's thumbs caressed John's cheekbones, and he kept staring, as if willing John to comprehend the concept of his own importance to him. There was anticipation and desire in his gaze – he was waiting for John's response.
John drew a deep breath.
'Sherlock... I, I think I've... wanted you for a long time, even before... everything. I didn't know it before, but I think I convinced myself that I could never have you. Maybe it was a subconscious self-defence mechanism or something, but I convinced myself so thoroughly that you would never want me, I find it... hard to not to...'
'Believe in me?'
There was a tiny sliver of hurt, and John made to dispel it immediately. 'No, no, no. Not you. Myself, Sherlock, myself.'
'John, you killed a man to save me when you barely knew me, you've saved my life now on more occasions I care to count, not to mention what we've been up to in the bedroom in the past six months, and you really think a thief who beat me would warrant your jealousy?'
'She's also beautiful and smart, and I found her lips attached to yours the first time I saw her.' John shot back promptly, not caring that he sounded almost petulant. He didn't bother deny that he had indeed been jealous. Again. But Sherlock's half amused and half impatient expression made him feel a lot more settled.
'I think I've already explained that incident. Now John,' Sherlock started pulling him by the waist till their chest touched. 'I'd really, really like to get back to what we were doing before you got so inconveniently side tracked.'
John opened his mouth, but only a breathless moan emerged as Sherlock started doing wicked things with his mouth to John's collarbone and rolled his hips into John's groin simultaneously.
They didn't make it back to their room, and instead crashed into the couch. Later, when their bodies were sweetly tangled together in delicious lethargy, Sherlock reflected to the rhythm of John's deep breaths, that he really ought to invite Irene over to meet John properly. Her presence seemed to have done a world of good for his and John's relationship.
Sherlock allowed himself a secret smile as he pressed a soft kiss to John's head.