Title: A Quiet Murmuration
Author: cathedral carver
Word count: 4,600
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me.
Summary: Just pay me back with one thousand kisses.
Written for the Kink Meme.
A/N: Thanks to ckofshadows for all her glee.
John was sulking. Well, not sulking, precisely, but he was angry. Well, no, not angry, precisely, either. John was something, though, and Sherlock couldn't quite figure out what. Distant. Withdrawn. Quiet. Yes. He was definitely quiet. Days now, days and days of quietand Sherlock watching and waiting, waiting for John to do…something. Stop being quiet, mostly. And not quiet in a pensive, thoughtful way, but in a I-have-things-I-could-say-right-now-but-I-won't-because-bad-things-will-happen-if-I-do way.
It was becoming most tiresome as the days went by and John kept being quiet. Tiresome and worrying. Sherlock had tried everything, from making tea and abandoning his messier experiments, to not playing violin after 1 a.m., and picking up his dirty clothes from the sitting room floor and buying milk. He'd even, worst of all, attempted small talk: Nice weather! Not too hot, not too cold. Just right, in fact. Pasta for dinner? With some kind of…sauce? Did you hear about that celebrity? The one who got pregnant by her…uh…
Apparently, extreme measures were needed. He decided to try at breakfast, when John was most warm and muzzy-headed and amenable.
"John," he said, squaring his shoulders and padding close to the table. John looked up from his food and looked up at him. Good. That was good. "I'm…sorry."
He tried very hard to not end that sentence with a question mark.
John tilted his head. His fingers were curled around his mug. "All right." He waited. Sherlock waited for him to stop waiting. "For what, exactly?"
Sherlock huffed out a breath. "Well. Youknow."
John waited some more. He smiled. "Well, yes, I do. But, I'd like to hear yousay it, just so I know we're both on the same page."
Sherlock huffed louder. "I'm…sorry I lied."
John nodded. He took a bite of toast. He chewed. He swallowed. He waited. "And?"
Sherlock gripped the chair back. "I'm sorry I left you behind."
John chewed some more. He was a very thorough chewer. His digestive system would thank him for that. Finally, he swallowed. "And?"
Ah. Now for the hardest part, for various reasons. "I'm…verysorry I almost got you killed."
John waited. His gaze was very blue and steady, but not cold. He seemed to be deliberating. The quietness spun out. Sherlock felt sweat starting to form along his hairline. "And?"
Sherlock panicked. And what? What else could there be? He licked dry lips.
"I'm sorry I…bought the wrong milk? Blew up the kettle two days ago? Burned a hole in the carpet?"
John decided to give him a break.
"You almost got yourself killed, too, you realize. I mean, yes, I certainly didn't appreciate being strapped to explosives, but it's not me he wanted, so it's not all about me, much as you seem to think." He took another bite of toast. "You could have died, too." This was said casually, but John's hands were trembling slightly. He put the toast down and put his hands in his lap.
Sherlock's knuckles were white now. He nodded, very slightly.
"It was…" He closed his eyes briefly. "Reckless of me."
"Morereckless, you mean. Than usual, even."
Sherlock nodded. He waited a full minute. "Right. Well. We're sorted then?"
John shook his head. "No. Not quite. You still owe me, I think."
"Owe you." Sherlock processed.
"Yes." John sipped some tea, then made a face like it was too hot, but it couldn't have been, so he was making a face about something else, perhaps about what he was going to say next. Sherlock waited. He felt unaccountably nervous. "You need to pay me back. For all the undue…pain and suffering you caused."
Sherlock patted his pockets, wondering where he'd left his wallet this time. "Well, I have some cash—"
"No, no." John picked up his toast. "Not with money."
John took a small bite of toast. "I'm thinking."
Sherlock swallowed. What? Laundry for a month? Three months? Grocery duty? Cooking? Bad telly? Good lord. What if John asked him to give up work? He needed to head this off, fast.
"I could kiss you," he murmured.
John's head snapped up. "What?" It sounded like there was toast stuck in his throat.
"No, not nothing. What did you say?"
"If you must know, I said, I'll pay you back with a kiss."
"What are you on about?" John's hand was trembling so hard now he had to put his toast down.
"Nothing. Forget it," Sherlock said. "Forget it. I'll…what? What do you want? If not money, then I'll disinfect the bathtub, sterilize the fridge—"
"You're on," John blurted.
"What…the fridge?" Sherlock sagged in relief. Shouldn't take more than an hour, two at the most if he used that container of butyl cellosolve under his bed—
"No. That thing. The other thing. That you just said. Before everything else. Though a clean fridge would be nice."
Sherlock pondered. "A kiss."
"Yes. That. But, more than one, I should think."
Sherlock crossed his arms. "Well, how many, then?"
John thought. "One thousand ought to cover it."
Sherlock's eyes widened slightly.
"One thousand kisses."
John nodded stiffly. "Yes. I'll take that. As payment." He paused. "Restitution."
Sherlock's chest went very, very hot beneath his shirt. He felt a cutting retort curling on his tongue, but he bit it back, hard.
"Unless you were joking."
"No," Sherlock said quickly, because he realized he hadn't been. Joking.
"I think it's fair."
"Yes. I agree. Fine."
"Fine." John picked up his toast again, wrapped his other hand around his mug. Sherlock suddenly realized what he had, indeed, just agreed to and felt something unfurling in his stomach. It was either panic or excitement, he decided. Most likely a combination of the two.
"So," Sherlock said, attempting to sound professional. "How do you want to do this?"
"Dunno," John said around a mouthful of toast. "Was your idea." He sounded disinterested, but his eyes were very bright.
"All right then." Sherlock clapped his hands once, briskly. "I figure if we average about five kisses a day, the entire business will be over in 200 days, give or take."
"Give or take."
"Debt paid. In full."
John kept chewing. He nodded. "Sounds doable. And we'll keep track…how?"
Sherlock thought for a moment. He grabbed a pencil from the table. "Like this," he said, marching to the wall calendar. His legs felt rubbery. He hands felt weighted. He made a single tally mark in the white square beneath the date. The tally mark was dark and ominous. It was waiting. Expectant. Sherlock put the pencil down. He looked at John. "See?"
John nodded. He swallowed with difficulty. "I see."
"Good. Then, we'll begin?"
John nodded again. "Sure. Whenever you're ready."
"All right. I'm ready now."
Sherlock padded back, leaned over and pressed his lips to the top of John's warm, soft head.
And, so it began.
Having worked up the nerve for only one kiss the day previous, Sherlock was ready to make full amends on the second day. It started with another perfunctory top-of-the-head-kiss at breakfast, followed by a mid-morning kiss on the back of the left shoulder, a pre-lunch kiss on the forehead, a lunch kiss on the temple, a tea-time kiss, pre-dinner and post-dinner kiss all on the cheek, and finally a post-bedtime-snack kiss. Aiming for the cheek again, but hitting the right ear.
John took it all in stride, barely blinking when Sherlock vaulted at him from any direction to plant his lips on various body parts. He simply stopped moving, smiled and nodded and watched as Sherlock hurried to the calendar to make another tally mark.
"Nine," Sherlock announced with glee at the end of the second day. "Almost right on schedule."
"Brilliant," said John, yawning and stretching. "I'm off to bed, then."
"Wait!" Sherlock called, bounding over. He grabbed John's shoulders squarely and kissed him. On the tip of his nose. "Good night!"
John blinked. "Right. G'night."
It fell into a pattern of sorts, the bestowing of the kisses. One before breakfast, as soon as Sherlock saw him. Chaste, dry, morning breath, usually on the cheek. The remaining four arrived at different times during the day, depending on respective schedules and, oftentimes, moods. A sulking, sullen Sherlock rarely felt the inclination to part with a kiss, and sometimes he waited until the end of the day to unload all five at once. At these times, John would stand quietly and patiently, counting to himself as Sherlock's lips brushed lightly against the skin of his cheek, one, two, three, four, five.
Sherlock would pull back then and sigh, eyelids lowered, staring somewhere in the vicinity of John's feet.
"Night," John would say, and Sherlock would nod, turn and move away into the shadows. On those nights John made the tally marks himself, straight, dark pencil marks in white squares.
54, 55, 56.
And, so it went.
Dead bodies inspired Sherlock, it seemed, as did unmitigated praise. John received a lot of kisses at crime scenes.
Sherlock dancing around a corpse, voice and arms raised in excitement, hair bouncing, coat swirling, feet tapping, brain unraveling the incomprehensible, mind explaining the inexplicable. John watched and listened and tried to comprehend, and sometimes he did, but mostly he just liked watching. It was the best show in town, really.
"Really?" John said.
"Obviously," Sherlock said.
"Brilliant," John said.
"Really?" Sherlock asked under his breath. All John could manage was a nod. He felt bad for his ineloquence, but it earned him two quick kisses, at least.
"Don't ask," John said to Lestrade, who threw up his arms.
"Wasn't going to, believe me!"
"What the hell?" Sally said as Sherlock leaped away. Her expression was caught somewhere between a sneer and a sneeze, upper lip curled and eyes slightly squinted. John looked at her.
"The freak just…he kissedyou." She blinked. "Twice."
John sighed, resigned. "Yes. Yes, he did."
Sally struggled to find words. She tried several times to start a coherent sentence. She finally settled on: "Why?"
John also struggled to find words. Words that worked. He also tried, several times, to form a sentence that even began to explain…anything. Finally, he said:
"Because." It would have to do, for now.
Sally laughed, short and sharp.
"Eighty-five, John. Eighty-five," Sherlock sang from the next room. John smiled. Sally smirked.
Sherlock bounded into the flat and skidded to a stop. John and his guest looked up. Sherlock went white. His lips thinned.
"Mycroft." It was almost a four-letter word these days.
"Ah, Sherlock. Lovely of you to join us. I was just telling John about a case most urgent—"
"I'll be off then," Sherlock announced, grabbing for something on the table, anything, a piece of paper, a bullet casing, anything, and turning on his heel. Mycroft tsked.
"John is perfectly capable of gathering all the pertinent information, Mycroft," Sherlock said. "I'll pick up milk," he added, leaning down to drop a kiss on John's head. John nodded. Mycroft tried not to gape. He gaped anyway.
"One hundred and four," Sherlock called as he clattered down the stairs.
John and Mycroft sat in silence for a full 37 seconds. John sipped his tea.
"One hundred and four?" Mycroft asked politely.
John was lying in the alley. John was clutching his stomach. John was hurt. Sherlock's own slapping, frantic footsteps were very loud in his ears. He pounced on John, hands moving hurriedly up and down his writhing body. They came away bloodless. Thank god, thank god, thank god—
"Sherlock—" John gasped.
Sherlock was raining kisses down on him, covering all the skin his mouth could find.
Sherlock kept kissing. He couldn't help it.
"He just knocked the wind out of me—"
Sherlock stopped moving, his lips poised near John's temple.
"I'm fine." John sat up with effort. His breathing had eased. Sherlock, however, was still panting.
"Mostly," John said. He rubbed his stomach. He touched his face. He looked at Sherlock. "You all right?"
"Help me up, huh?"
Later, he stood in front of the calendar, considering.
John looked up from the newspaper. He was stretched on the couch. His stomach still hurt.
"I have a dilemma."
"I'm not sure how many times I kissed you today. In the alley."
"Did you happen to…keep track?"
"Sorry? Oh…No. I lost count after the first eight or so."
"Hmm." Sherlock studied the calendar. "I'm going to mark 20 for today."
"Just to be safe.
"You're fine with that?
John looked up. "Yes, Sherlock. I'm fine with that."
"It does throw off the schedule somewhat, but in the interest of accuracy, I'll write 20."
"I have a feeling it was more than 20."
John nodded, his face burning. "Yeah. I think so. But, put down whatever you want."
"I just don't want to shortchange you."
"I won't kiss you as much tomorrow."
"Oh. Well. Right."
"Unless you want me to," Sherlock said. John looked at him and realized he was teasing. "Or, unless you get hurt again, of course."
"I'll try not to," John said, then looked down quickly to hide his smile.
Sherlock studied the tallies.
Things were progressing at a much faster pace than he had anticipated. Not good. Not good at all. He stood staring at the calendar. He tapped one finger on the small square. White, black-framed. Bland, innocuous. Too fast, it was going too fast. Maybe he needed to recalculate, move it down to one kiss a day, two at the most.
After all, there was no need to rush things.
Sherlock was in bed. Sherlock was sick, and miserable and hot and cold and nauseous and lethargic and cranky and sick. John brought him tea (unsipped), and toast (uneaten) and paracetamol (grudgingly ingested, with water), and straightened his blankets and wiped his forehead and listened to him complain and finally ordered him to sleep.
"Don't want to," Sherlock said. "Too sick."
"You'll feel better if you sleep."
"Fine. I'll feel better if you sleep."
Sherlock groaned and rolled onto his stomach. He wished the dark behind his eyelids would stop flashing and spinning. He wished he would just throw up and be done with it. John turned the light off. Sherlock pushed his face deeper into the pillow.
"Sleep," John said. Sherlock felt something press against the back of his head, into the mess of his curls, a soft, warm, breathy weight. Sherlock lifted his head. John was walking away.
"You kissed me."
John paused. "Yes."
"You kissed me." Sherlock closed his eyes in order to concentrate on what just happened. Wrong decision. Black. Spinning. He opened his eyes and swallowed, hard. He stared at John.
John smiled. "It's fine. You can owe me one."
He closed the door behind him.
On a Tuesday, John received an extra kiss.
"That was six," John said as he put his mug in the sink.
Sherlock frowned. "Was it?"
"I didn't realize you kept track."
"Some days I do. That was definitely six."
"Oh." Sherlock considered. "Well, I owed you one, if you recall. From when I was sick. Remember?"
"Oh. Yeah." He watched Sherlock walk away. "Wait. Aren't you going to mark it down?"
Sherlock stopped. "No. Consider it a free one."
John looked away to hide his smile.
"Are you still…all right with this?" Sherlock asked.
"This. This method of…restitution."
"Oh. Yeah. I'm fine. It's fine." John cleared his throat. "Why? Are you still all right with it?"
Sherlock nodded briskly. "Yes.
"We'll continue, then."
Sherlock kissed his ear.
There had been wine at dinner. Quite a lot of wine, more wine than either of them usually drank and sulking Sherlock hadn't kissed John all day.
"Leave the dishes," John said, late. He didn't feel like moving from the chair. He didn't feel like moving at all. Sherlock was sprawled across the couch, half on, half off. His lips were moving, but no words were emerging. At least, none that John could hear. He sat for awhile, watching Sherlock's lips. They were magnificent. He wondered what they'd feel like against his. Four-hundred-and-fucking-fifty-nine kisses and not one on the fucking mouth. What a travesty.
"Well," John said at last. It was becoming difficult to enunciate. "Off to bed."
Sherlock looked over. His mouth stopped moving. Sad. John tried to stand. He succeeded, barely.
"You sleeping there tonight?" he said. Sherlock shrugged grandly, drunkenly, but he clearly wasn't nearly as drunk as John, because as John tried to pass, Sherlock leaped to his feet rather nimbly and blocked the path to the stairs. John blinked at him. Sherlock leaned down and kissed him, on the mouth. It was a startling sensation, lips on lips, soft and gentle and not even moving. Just there, a light, soft pressure and a light, soft blow of breath across their cheeks. John didn't even close his eyes. Sherlock did, he noted with interest. They stood like that for a full 20 seconds before Sherlock pulled back, just enough to speak.
"We're drunk," John said.
"So, are you saying that doesn't count?" Sherlock said, pulling back more.
John nodded. "No. Yes. It counts." He looked slightly dazed. Or, nauseous. Sherlock wasn't sure.
Five very chaste, very quick kisses, with minimal eye contact.
Sherlock stood in front of the calendar. 516 kisses. More than halfway there. It wasn't possible.
He frowned. His finger tapped the white square. Tap tap tap tap tap.
How was it possible? It wasn't possible.
Tap tap tap tap tap
He didn't want it to be possible.
"Thank you, Sherlock," John said. "They're, er…lovely." It was the kindest word he could summon to describe the particular gifts Sherlock had given him. A case for his mobile shaped like a human ear ("It's not...real is it?" "Sadly no."), and a packet of BBQ flavoured worm crisps ("I've heard they're delicious." "Heard? You mean you haven't tried them?" "No, but there are lots there. You can share, yes?" "Yes. Definitely.").
Sherlock leaned over and kissed John's cheek.
"No need for mistletoe this year," Sherlock said.
"True. Happy Christmas, Sherlock."
"You, too, John."
550, 551, 552.
The ground by the river was icy and cold. They walked quickly, but unsteadily, white breath pluming around their faces. Body. Body. Where was the body? There must be a body here somewhere.
"John…John! Look!" Sherlock was pointing with a gloved finger. Not a body, but something ever so much better.
In the distance, a black whirl of movement, close to the ground but rising higher and higher, up over the river, over the trees, hovering and moving, up and down, a black cloud of synchronized beauty.
"What is it?" John asked. He took a step forward. The icy grass broke like glass beneath his foot. He'd never seen anything like it. It was…mesmerizing.
"A murmuration," Sherlock said. He sounded breathless. "Thousands of starlings flying together, looking for a place to roost for the night."
They watched until it was too dark to see. Neither one spoke. Then, Sherlock turned and kissed him. Three times, hard, twice on the jaw and once on the neck. Then he put his arms around him and hugged him hard.
"What…was that for?" John was grinning. He couldn't help it.
"Nothing. I'm just…"
Sherlock considered. "I think I'm…happy."
629, 630, 631.
Days 106 to 112:
No kisses. None. Not even a hint.
On the seventh day, John rose to go to bed, then stopped. He hoped his face wasn't as red as it felt.
Sherlock looked up from his book. "Yes?"
"I'm off to bed."
"Fine. Good night."
John took a step. He stopped. "Aren't you going to…"
Sherlock looked up again. He looked mildly curious, and mildly annoyed. "What?"
"John. Please. Out with it. I'm trying to read."
John shoved his hands in his pockets. "Kiss me," he said. He sounded strangled.
Sherlock sighed. He placed a finger in the margin of his book. "Well, no. I mean. There's no need to rush it, is there? I mean, we'd calculated 200 days and we're way ahead of schedule, so." He paused. Now his face was going red. "Unless, of course, you want me to just get it all over with."
"No, no. No. I wasn't…that's not what I meant. I just. I was just…checking. That everything was." He stopped. "On schedule."
"Good." John nodded. "All right." He swallowed hard. "Good night."
"Sleep well, John."
Holding steady at 631.
Day 116: Very, very early.
"What is it?" John said, sitting up, rubbing his face. He glanced at the clock. 1:33 a.m. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Nothing is wrong," Sherlock said. He was perched on the side of John's bed, his face all angles of light and dark shadows, his fingers twisted in the sheets. He was speaking in a whisper. "It's just…I decided to…kiss you goodnight."
"Oh. Right. Well…it's fine. You don't have to. It's really late, so it's not really goodnight anymore." John's tongue felt slow and stupid in his mouth. He could barely see. He wondered if he was dreaming. "I only asked because I was wondering if something was wrong, or if maybe you didn't want to anymore—"
Sherlock leaned over and pressed his warm, dry lips to John's. It was similar to the drunken kiss, but different too, because this time Sherlock's lips were moving. They were definitely moving against John's lips, and John was so stunned he couldn't do much of anything at all except catalogue the sensation in some nether region of his brain he'd never had to access before. Sherlock was kissing him. Really kissing him.
And, what the fuck.
Sherlock's mouth was moving against John's mouth, softly but insistently, leaving no room for doubt. None at all. And now there was a tiny bit of tongue, just a bit, darting in and out, shyly, touching John's bottom lip before skittering away again. Sherlock's breath was blowing hot and fast against John's face and there was that tongue again and John was getting hard inside his pajama bottoms and what the fucking fuck.
Sherlock's hands left the sheets and moved to either side of John's face, holding him steady. Sherlock was cupping John's jaw with his long, slender fingers as he tilted his face the other way and continued kissing kissing kissing.
John closed his eyes and did the only thing left to do. He kissed Sherlock back.
This. This was. This was a different kind of kiss. This kiss was tender and warm and persistent and deliberate and fucking bloody sensual.
This kiss had nothing to do with restitution.
John wasn't sure what the hell this kiss had to do with at all.
Day 116: Later.
John was pacing. Sherlock was mucking about with noxious chemicals.
"You mind explaining?"
"What that was about?"
"What what was about?"
"You bloody well know what! That...you know. In the middle of the night. What was that all about?" John was spluttering.
Sherlock didn't even look up. "Really, John. It was a kiss. Haven't you been paying attention all these months?"
"Sherlock, that kiss was…it was. Well, it was very different from all the…other…kisses." He trailed off. It suddenly struck him how ludicrous this entire conversation was, how ludicrous it would sound to an outside party. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose. He resisted a very strong urge to touch his lips. "What was it?" he asked quietly.
Sherlock sighed and looked up. His eyes were very dark and unreadable.
"If you must know, it was number 632."
Five very chaste, very quick kisses, with minimal eye contact.
"I think we need to talk about this."
Sherlock kissed his cheek in passing.
"Talk about what?"
"Six-hundred and forty, John!"
Sherlock studied the calendar.
Tap tap tap tap tap.
He wondered how many more days he could drag this out.
Tap tap tap tap tap.
He wondered if John would notice if he just kept going.
"I hate Valentine's Day."
"Do you? Why?"
"Manufactured 'holiday' created to manipulate us into behaving in a manufactured manner. Hideous."
"After all, I no longer need a reason to kiss you, do I?"
John swallowed. "I s'pose not, no."
"Right. So, for today, at least, I will not kiss you. As an act of defiance."
"All right." John attempted a smile. "If you feel that strongly about it."
John decided he hated Valentine's Day, too.
"I have…an announcement, if you're interested."
"That was it."
"That was what?"
"The one thousandth kiss. That one. That was it." Sherlock stopped and swallowed. "We're…done."
"Already?" John looked honestly surprised, which surprised Sherlock, and quietly thrilled him. "Wow. That was…"
"Fast?" Sherlock tapped the calendar. "Well, we did finish slightly ahead of schedule, I must admit. Squeezed in a few extras here and there, as you recall."
"Yes. I recall."
John stared at him. Sherlock stared at the calendar.
"So." John cleared his throat. "Debt paid."
Sherlock nodded. "In full."
"Well." John spread his hands on the table top. His smile was rather like a grimace. "That's it, then. Thank you. For all…that." He moved to stand and jostled the kitchen table, sending three of Sherlock's test tubes to the floor where they smashed. Thick, brightly coloured liquid oozed in every direction. Sherlock joined him and they stood looking down.
"Oh, god. Sorry. Hope those weren't—"
"Well. Hmm. I don't think so?" Sherlock paused. "They were, however, extremely vital to my latest case."
"The animal clinic? How on earth do these relate to that?"
Sherlock waved a hand. "Too complicated to explain right now."
"Right." John sighed. "I'm…really sorry. I'll clean them up." John grabbed the broom and started sweeping. Sherlock watched for a moment. Then, he reached out and took hold of John's elbow. John stopped sweeping.
"I have a better idea."
"You can…pay me back."
John stopped. He may have smiled a little. "Really."
"Yes, really. For your inherent…clumsiness."
"I'll ignore that. Pay you back…how? Mix up another batch of this stuff?"
"Of course not! How on earth would you even know how to—"
"Sherlock. I was joking."
John leaned on the broom. "So, what did you have in mind?"
Sherlock shrugged. "I'm sure we can come to some sort of agreement."
"Yes. You know. Payback."
"Ah. You mean, restitution."
Sherlock nodded. Yes. That was exactly what he meant. Good word, that. He was aware that he was holding his breath. He didn't know which of the thousand things banging about his brain to allow out: I don't want this to be over. I love kissing you. Do you like kissing me, too? I hope so. I really hope so. Kiss me. Kiss me right now, dammit.
John's eyes darkened. He bit his lip. He tilted his head. He smiled. He took a small step forward. Glass crunched under his feet. His breath hitched. "Yes. I'm sure we can."
He leaned in. Sherlock smiled.
And so it began.