Lestrade leaned back against the wall, plastic cup of dubiously enhanced punch held loosely in his hand as he surveyed the scene and took in the unusual sight of Sherlock Holmes voluntarily attending a social gathering.
Well... voluntarily might be a bit strong. He followed the line of Sherlock's gaze, unsurprised to see it directed towards the dance floor where his friend and flatmate of the last three years was currently bouncing around quite happily and showing very little evidence of his recent ordeal.
True, there was a new scar running down his left cheek but it was fading, and his ribs seemed to have fully recovered judging by the enthusiasm with which he was currently twirling Sergeant Kavanagh, her blonde hair flying out as she giggled, grinning up at him. Everybody liked John.
Lestrade pushed off the wall and started making his way over to Sherlock, exchanging festive pleasantries as he progressed around the room. His arrival was greeted, if that was the word, by a slight twist of Sherlock's mouth but he didn't move, still leaning against a pillar with a relaxed attitude which Lestrade knew him well enough to see through.
"You don't usually turn out for our Christmas 'do'," he opened, rather heavy-handedly. "Not that you're not welcome, of course," he added quickly.
Sherlock said nothing.
"You and John, naturally."
The nothing got louder.
Lestrade cast around for a topic, but ended just turning his head in the direction of the dance floor. "He's looking well," he volunteered, nodding towards the centre of activity. "Better, I mean."
"Than when you rescued him?" Sherlock queried. "He could hardly look worse."
Lestrade winced, trying not to think back. "So... dragged you along to this then, did he?"
Sherlock raised an eyebrow, throwing him a dismissive glance. "I am rarely 'dragged' anywhere."
"So, why did you come?" Lestrade asked bluntly.
For a while, it seemed he wasn't going to get an answer and both men stood side by side watching the third, who was now laughing unselfconsciously while being taught some complex dance move by a group of young constables.
"He has not been out much of late," Sherlock said eventually.
Lestrade nodded, yet again failing to prevent his thoughts from drifting down the well-worn groove of wondering just what was going on between these two. The betting pool on their being 'outed' as a couple was well into treble figures. Bradstreet held the pot and was currently charging five pounds to pick a day, although he'd put it up to fifty during the week after John was found. Plenty of takers, but they'd all been disappointed. When reunited, John hadn't said a thing beyond that he was 'fine' and Sherlock had barely looked at him after that first raking glance. Lestrade seemed to be the only one who had suspected that he just couldn't bear to. They had been swept away in a private ambulance within minutes.
"Getting jealous, freak?" came a snide voice from the other side of the pillar.
"Do at least attempt originality, Sally. If you changed your insults as often as your lovers, life would be so much more interesting."
Sally spluttered in outrage. "I do not..."
Sherlock's eyes flitted over her before he turned his attention away. "I would have gone with 'underwear', but it seems that was an optional extra this evening."
Sally opened her mouth again, but Lestrade cut her off. "If that was your idea of a civil greeting, Donovan, there's another sensitivity course next month; I'd be happy to put your name down."
He found himself examining her back view as she stalked away until he was snapped out of it by Sherlock's quiet snort. Lestrade flushed and turned his attention back to the dance floor.
"I never thanked you," Sherlock said abruptly.
"For what?" Lestrade questioned, then looked at his face. "Oh. Right." He shrugged. "Well, I was only five minutes ahead of you, not much difference really."
Sherlock's silence was pronounced and Lestrade once again pictured John as he had found him. Five minutes could be a very long time.
"You might want to buy tomorrow," murmured Sherlock.
Sherlock nodded his head towards the clock. "It's almost midnight."
Lestrade's eyes followed his nod, seeing the minute hand closing in on the hour. He turned back to request an explanation, but Sherlock was gone.
John was flagging. He'd had a great time. Dancing, chatting, flirting in a very non-purposeful manner just to keep his hand in... it was nice to have a 'normal' night out again. But now his legs were starting to remember that they weren't fully fit and the one cup of punch he'd managed was making its presence felt. He began looking around for Sherlock, his eyes skimming the clock as it turned twelve.
A new day. Another calendar page further from what had happened, and what it inevitably meant for his future. He sighed, then waved his excuses to the friendly and energetic bunch with whom he'd spent most of the evening, slipping away and edging towards the pillar where he had last seen Sherlock standing.
There was no sign of him and John's head was turning, scouring the room as best he could in the dim light as he squeezed through the crowd on the dance floor, until his progress was abruptly halted by warm hands gripping his waist from behind.
His automatic reaction to being grabbed cut out before it began and he almost leaned back before he caught himself.
"What are you doing?" he spoke up over the din of the music.
Sherlock stepped closer, until John could feel his heat along the full length of his back. "Is this not a social occasion? I'm being sociable."
"People will talk." He could feel Sherlock's smile against his temple and his eyes darted around, but they were in the middle of the dance floor and hidden by the crowd; a pocket of calm amid the frenzy.
"Sherlock!" John tried to turn but the hold on him tightened, one hand sliding around his waist and pulling him backwards, the other moving up across his torso to grip his good shoulder. Sherlock had removed his jacket and the cuffs of his dark shirt were rolled back, the pale skin of his forearms ghostly in the darkness.
"John. This is what you want." His hips were swaying in time to the music and John automatically followed his lead, briefly leaning his head back against Sherlock's shoulder and just absorbing him. Then he pulled away and twisted round.
"But you don't."
Sherlock's arms hadn't really let him go... just loosened enough to allow him to turn. Now they drew him in again.
"I do." His voice was low in John's ear. "I always did."
The music changed to a slow song, quieter, people all around them pairing off, but John kept his hands on Sherlock's upper arms, maintaining some distance.
"You always said it was too dangerous. And I thought... after what happened... that you would be even more adamant."
"We have spent almost three years pretending, John." Sherlock's deep voice was clear. "Three years of walking next to you, but not touching. Three years of caution and distance. Three years of your smile, with no one knowing I put it there. Three years of your frown and no one aware that I did that too."
"I think you probably did get blamed for the frowns, in fairness," John said with a smile.
Sherlock didn't smile back. "You never wanted to hide. That was my choice."
"But I understood," John promised. "You were afr..." he broke off, "...concerned that people would use me against you. I get that. I always got that."
"You can say 'afraid'," Sherlock said. "'Afraid' is more than fair. But in the light of recent events, there seems no benefit in pretending that you are less than you are, since even what you appear to be is enough to endanger you." He gave a rueful smile. "Perhaps if I had more than one friend you would not stand out so clearly."
"Well, you're certainly not taking more lovers just to make me blend in."
Sherlock's lips twitched. "Sally would laugh to hear you. She always assumes that I am the possessive one."
"Yeah, well it's not easy seeing people strip you with their eyes all the time. Maybe if I wasn't constantly having to bottle it up, I wouldn't react so strongly when I get you home."
"That would be a shame." Sherlock's voice was a growl and hearing that rawness in this setting made John tense with nerves.
"Sherlock, are you sure? In three years, you've never wavered. Are you just giving in to me because of what happened? I don't want you to be unhappy."
"In what way am I 'giving in'?" Sherlock queried. "You've never asked me."
John gave him a look. "I ask you all the time. I know how well you read me. I don't need to say the words for you to hear them." He frowned. "After you found me..."
"Lestrade found you."
"You found me. You just sent Lestrade because he was nearer." He shook his head. "I was afraid you might decide that I would be better off without you... That you would try to send me away."
Sherlock's mouth quirked. "Use of the word 'try' duly noted." His gaze was steady. "I know how you feel about me, John. Perhaps there was a period between curing your limp and seducing you when that might have been an option, but..."
"Not a very long period, was it?"
"Long enough." They stared at each other.
"I would rather be at risk than be without you," John said, and they could both hear the word he didn't use.
"I know that."
John scowled. "Sometimes it's annoying to be so transparent. You never get jealous of me, do you? It's not very flattering."
"Don't be ridiculous. The thought that you would ever betray me is completely risible."
"Yeah, I guess you'd be an impossible man to fool."
"That is not remotely what I meant," Sherlock's eyes narrowed, "as you are well aware." His hands tightened on John's waist. "I may not worry about your flirting, but I certainly don't enjoy it. I always want to kiss their smiles right off your face."
"Really. And after tonight, that's exactly what I'll do." He smiled, but it quickly faded. "This is not a rash decision, John. I have waited this long expressly to be sure that it wasn't based on my inclination to give you whatever you wanted when I got you back."
"You never told me about that!"
"You would have used the knowledge to demand tea."
John's face softened. "You made tea anyway. You turned down cases to stay with me, don't think I don't know that."
"They were dull." Sherlock looked away.
John moved on. "I'm fine now. Don't do this if it's not what you want."
"It's the rational choice. If you're going to be targeted anyway, then it is best to be clear that any such attack will not go unpunished. I will ensure that there is no doubt as to your importance."
John blinked at him. "What does that mean?"
"One thing at a time. Now, don't you think you should kiss me and end the speculation which is spreading through the room?"
John didn't look around, although he was aware of an increasing number of eyes on them. The slow song was fading out, a heavy drum beat taking its place. "I'm not that easy," he retorted, the happiness on his face giving way to a mischievous smile. "You'll have to dance with me first."
"What the bleeding hell...?"
Lestrade flicked a sideways glance at Sally, then turned his attention back to the dance floor.
"That's not..." her mouth had fallen open, "...can't be."
They both stared, catching glimpses through the crowd.
Sergeant Kavanagh appeared on Lestrade's other side. "Are you seeing what I'm seeing or have I had too much punch?"
"I don't think you're the one under the influence," said Sally. "He must be high."
"He certainly looks it," agreed Lestrade. "But I'm pretty sure that what he's on is not illegal."
There was a brief break in the crowd and six eyebrows rose.
"I think that might be," commented Kavanagh. "Bloody hell, I thought he'd look like a marionette trying to dance with those great long limbs."
"He doesn't," said Lestrade.
"He really doesn't," Kavanagh agreed.
Sally blinked. "Wait a minute. Who's got the pool?" She looked around. "Where's Bradstreet?"
Lestrade grinned widely. "Looks like my kids are getting an X-Box for Christmas after all."
Sherlock closed his eyes and relaxed his body, with the exception of his hands which tightened on John's waist before sliding down to his hips. They actually went dancing quite often, since John loved it, but never anywhere they would be recognised and never looking quite like themselves. Obscure bars and small clubs - the first time had followed a case which had led them to a nineties themed disco, of all things.
Sherlock had initially been extremely reluctant, despite John's 'hopeful yet braced for disappointment' expression, which was one he found frustratingly difficult to refuse. His statement that he 'didn't dance' had been countered by a reminder of his clubbing days, leading to his qualifier that he had only ever danced when he was high. Sherlock expected this to be the clincher since John held strong views on the subject of illegal drugs, but with only a muttered "endorphins" to prepare him he had found himself getting blown in the toilets a short while later. After that, it seemed churlish to object.
He pulled John tighter against him and lowered his head, inhaling deeply as he allowed his muscles to be guided by the beat, moving in time, one hand sliding down to the base of John's spine and the other rising up between his shoulder blades. John followed him perfectly, as he always did. "Think about sex" John had advised when Sherlock had initially complained of awkwardness. The recommendation had proved sound.
Now Sherlock thought ahead to when they got home, basing his anticipation on past experiences. John was always pliant and willing after they'd been dancing. Eager to please. The idea seemed appropriate as arms wound around his neck. They would start in the hallway, he decided, with John's arms up like this - pinned against the wall above his head and held in place by one of Sherlock's hands. John would not push back. He would not fight for dominance. He would allow Sherlock's other hand to cup his jaw and tilt his face up, and when Sherlock bent his head John would open his mouth in acceptance and let Sherlock take what he wanted. And Sherlock wanted a very great deal.
"Hallway first," he spoke into John's ear, then pulled back in time to see his eyes dilate. John nodded. His shirt had come untucked at the back and Sherlock slipped his hand under it as fingers tangled in his hair. The skin was hot and damp with sweat, as it would be again in an hour or two, when he licked his way down it.
On the dance floor, Sherlock was aware that more eyes were turning towards them, that they were long past the point of two friends just trying to have a conversation over the noise, that people they knew were watching and understanding that John Watson's half-hearted flirting would never, ever go anywhere, because he was unequivocally taken and they had no chance at all.
His hand reached John's hip and gripped hard, the other sliding round to match on the other side. He pushed slightly, shifting John back just far enough that his fingers slipped out of Sherlock's hair and down onto his shoulders. They moved together, perfectly in sync, Sherlock's gaze unwavering as they locked eyes and he ensured that the scenes running through his own mind were also playing out in John's.
The vision in his head jumped to the bedroom and his gaze fell to John's mouth, which immediately opened for him, that clever tongue appearing as he licked his lips. Slowly. He would do just the same thing when they got back home, and Sherlock would push him to sit on the bed, then stand in front of him, waiting... while John pretended that he didn't have all the power in the room. Pretended to be obedient and even slightly nervous as he left Sherlock's belt fastened but unzipped his trousers, reaching in with fingers which actually trembled, first stroking over his underwear until Sherlock's arousal had soaked through the silk and then finally easing the material aside and lowering his head, eyes shining with glee that he could do this... reduce Sherlock to his most basic state, remind him that here, in this place, with his lover, he was wholly and entirely human... a man like any other.
Snapping back to reality, Sherlock spun John around and pulled him backwards, holding him tightly with no room for doubt or air between them. He wasn't familiar with the song playing, but it had a relentless driving beat which suited his mood precisely and the rhythm seemed entirely natural as they danced. He lowered his head to John's ear, sliding a hand possessively over his abdomen.
"This is how it will end." He had been so very gentle with John during his recovery, but they were both ready for more tonight. Sherlock breathed in his scent and imagined how much more powerful it would be when he was naked. When he was on his hands and knees and Sherlock had worked him open with fingers and tongue, making him swear and beg, refusing him any relief until his words were lost and nothing but Sherlock's name remained. Only then would Sherlock take what was his, freely given and desperately wanted, cherished, adored. He would fold himself forward over John, chest against his back, buried deep inside, and he would draw on all his reserves of self control to make it last as long as possible, putting off the moment after the ecstasy... the moment when they would become separate again and John moved away. But never far away, and Sherlock would keep him much closer now.
John tipped his head back, his 'Yes' completely clear without a word being spoken and Sherlock relaxed his hold and turned him back around as the music started to fade, aware now of the space surrounding them and the attention they had drawn.
And then, on a darkened dance floor, with half of Scotland Yard to witness, Sherlock Holmes finally dropped the mask which he had worn for so many years and lowered his head to kiss the only man that he would ever love.
The applause was deafening.
This story was written for my very dear friend staceuo, who asked for 'dancing... and sex in the toilets.' I'm afraid I cheated a little, but she still loves me :D
The song playing during the dance while I wrote it was Danny Elfman - The Little Things, and the inspiration for 'Sherlock kissing John with his arms pinned above his head' came from an amazing piece of artwork by reapersun: time to go to bed which is linked, with kind permission, on my profile page.
There are translations of this story available in: Chinese and Korean.
Links are on my profile page.
With the help of the lovely staceuo, I have now recorded a podfic of this story - details on my tumblr (verity-burns) or on my profile page.