"I'm knackered," John said as he pushed open the door to their hotel. "Let me sleep a while, Sherlock."
Sherlock nodded distractedly as he headed towards the table with his laptop.
"What time is the flight tomorrow?" John asked with a yawn.
"Thirteen-hundred. We need to be there by ten-thirty, at the latest."
"I suppose that staying up all night can only help with the jetlag, right?" Sherlock looked confused. "Oh, right, you don't need sleep, why would you ever get jetlagged? I'm off to bed. Don't wake me up."
Sometime later that day, when the sun had almost begun its descent over the Hudson, John felt the mattress shake as Sherlock joined him under the eiderdown. He whimpered in protest, hoping that Sherlock would give him a few more minutes of sleep. But Sherlock wrapped himself around John, pressing his chest against John's back, and simply lay there beside him, listening to their beating hearts.
"John," he murmured.
"Nothing. I just like to say your name. John." Sherlock let out a deep, contented sigh before falling asleep next to his lover.
John didn't sleep much that night – there was too much to do, what with packing and love-making and drinking tempranillo and eating figs and piave and prosciutto – but he slept the next day, on the plane. The last thing he remembered was leaning over Sherlock to get a glimpse of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty before the roar of the engines lulled him to sleep. He woke a few hours later, his neck resting awkwardly against Sherlock's shoulder. The detective was working on his laptop, seemingly deep in concentration, but when John began to stir, he rested his hand on his companion's head, running his long fingers through John's fair hair.
"How long did I sleep?"
Sherlock looked at the clock on his screen. "Four hours, twenty-two minutes."
"Damn. How much longer to Heathrow?"
"This flight takes, on average, seven and a half hours. You fell asleep eight minutes after take-off. That leaves us three hours, if we make average speed."
John let out a groan. "I never thought I would be the one to complain of boredom." Sherlock smiled a half-smile. "What have you been working on this whole time?"
"Research for Mycroft," Sherlock said in a brisk voice.
"I thought you were done with all that."
"Just a few loose ends to make sense of, names to match across databases, that sort of thing. Should only take me a few more hours. It's the kind of thing I don't need a connection for, so I saved it for the plane ride."
"You never told me why you agreed to take this case for Mycroft, you know." Sherlock closed his eyes briefly.
"I think I'd like to use the loo," he said. "Would you mind—"
"Nice try, Sherlock. But don't change the subject on me. I know that trick by now. If you don't want to tell me, just say so."
"I agreed to take it in exchange for a favour."
"So I had gathered. What was the favour?"
"Do I have to say?"
"No, but you've piqued my curiosity. It's not everyday that you'll help Mycroft out, you know."
"No, it's not," Sherlock said softly, closing his laptop and turning to John. "I—it's not something I like thinking about. Not the way he went about it."
"About what?" John asked, as puzzled as ever.
"Would either of you gentlemen care for a beverage?" A tall man in a steward's uniform was addressing them.
"Yes, cold water," John said.
"Nothing for me," Sherlock said with a glare. The steward returned with a glass of water.
"You were saying…" John prodded.
"I think I need to start a bit earlier for it to all make sense."
"Go right ahead. We have—" John looked down at his watch, "—oh, about two hours and fifty-three minutes, if I'm not mistaken."
Sherlock remembered his mother's will, which came first (of course it came first, she died first) and which surprised him with its generosity – he had not expected to inherit all of her estate – and he vaguely remembered his father's will, which came later and which had left Mycroft the viscountcy and the Holmes manor (no surprise there, laws of primogeniture and tradition and all that). But Sherlock was gone to the cocaine by then – gone, ido, as the Spanish would say, as in gone mad – and he hadn't known the details. He did remember that there had been some talk of what to do with his mother's trust once Sherlock came of age, in that interval between Violeta's death and his father's passing (an interval otherwise known as Sherlock's adolescence, years spent in Heidelberg and Edinburgh and, later, at Cambridge), when Sherlock was already showing signs of what would later be deemed an "addiction" (silly term, he much preferred the Portuguese, vício, with all its suggestions of sin; a vice indicated that there was choice involved, free will, which 'addiction' negated). Mycroft had been feeling particularly moralistic back then, it must have been around that time that he had joined the Service, and all caught up with the pride of serving (Serve, surveillance, Surveiller et punir, who was the Frenchman who wrote that book? Might as well have been a field manual for Mycroft Holmes.), Mycroft had decided that one element of the Holmes family was too unpredictable. Discipline and punish, indeed.
All this, and Sherlock was caught up in a haze of coke and Satie and some very late Beethoven, and he couldn't be bothered to charge his phone, or install a land line, or even comb through the scant post that arrived for him. Mycroft was almost compelled to send a telegram—yes, a telegram, in that day and age—or go down to London himself and drag Sherlock out of whatever foxhole he was living in to be at their father's bedside. But a second attack followed the first, too quickly for Mycroft to sniff out Sherlock, and Sherlock never knew about either one until it was too late.
There had been a funeral, a rather large one, it turned out; he heard about it later from Mycroft. He never was involved much with Mycroft's and Sigur's conversations about the Portnoy estate—he had thought that his mother's will was binding, aren't final wills binding? But after the funeral, Mycroft had explained to him, in the tone of voice that a very reasonable older brother uses with a younger sibling hell-bent on self-destruction—he had explained that, while the substance of the will could not be altered, there were certain, shall we say, clauses, that would prevent any of their mother's money being spent in a reckless fashion. And then, for the first and last time, Sherlock regretted that he had spent so much time studying poisons and anaesthetics and hallucinogens, and had dedicated so little of his attention to tiresome things like trustees and subclauses and conditions. Because those things were suddenly so much more important than he had ever imagined they could be. And it didn't matter, in the slightest, that he stopped the coke soon after, when his fingers grew numb. It didn't matter that he saw a psychiatrist—unwillingly, but how else would he get himself certified well?—or that he attended the requisite number of therapy sessions (though he would never admit it to Mycroft, his psychoanalyst hadn't been half-bad, either; much to his surprise, she had seen through just enough of his defences to make him begrudgingly respect her, and had toed the line at his most vulnerable boundaries, thereby earning her his gratitude as well). No, none of it mattered, not even when he started working for Lestrade, because it turned out that, as the trustee of the estate, as the executor of the will, the entire decision was up to Mycroft. No bill of clean health, no statement from a psychiatric psychoanalyst or a detective inspector or a former military doctor would be enough for Mycroft to relinquish the estate.
In the meanwhile, his older brother had seen to it that their mother's money was wisely invested, and had set aside a portion of the fund for general upkeep of the houses in Tintagel and Cádiz, so that whenever Sherlock wanted to use them, he could. But he never felt that they were quite his, not when Mycroft still had signing power over his checks, not when Mycroft decided who could and could not enter Sherlock's life. It had been a surprise when he had found a flatmate in whom Mycroft, at last, could place his trust. John Watson was respectable, brave, and there was no doubt about his feelings regarding service. It had put a bit of a wrench in Mycroft's plans, John's refusal to spy on Sherlock for him, but upon further reconsideration, Mycroft thought it was better that way, better that Sherlock could absolutely trust someone, since he, as his older brother, had lost that trust long ago.
Sherlock did not visit his houses, had not seen them in perhaps half a decade, maybe more. He missed the Moorish courtyards of Cádiz, the trellises of fragrant nardos and honeysuckle that his great-aunt had planted and that were still tended by a jardinero, he imagined. He missed the ships in the port, and the smell of the sea, common to both Cádiz and Tintagel, and he missed his mother most of all, for those had been her places, her retreats when things had got too heated with Sigur, or when she needed the silence to practice her piano and care for the wild Cornish roses at Tintagel.
Sherlock wanted to tell John about this, to begin to unravel the last tight secrets of his life before John, but he didn't know where to begin. How to say, for instance, that he had been judged incompetent to manage his own affairs? That he had agreed to work for Mycroft, for this case and whatever other Moriarty cases came their way, in exchange for a release from that judgment? What would John—
"Sherlock?" John's soft voice interrupted his reverie.
"Yes, I'd perceived as much. Are you going to tell me why you decided to help Mycroft with this case?"
"I'm afraid that I'm bound to help him on this one and every other involving Moriarty."
John laughed. "That's not so bad, is it? I mean, you would have done so anyway."
"Maybe so," Sherlock grumbled. "But I can assure you, I wouldn't be doing things his way. The hotel, the art heist, the set-up – not my style."
"I had gathered as much."
"Thing is, John—oh fuck it, do really you want to know the worst about us? About how my twisted little family works?"
"Can't be any worse than mine," John joked. "Go ahead, give me what you've got."
"I can't get my inheritance until Mycroft signs off on it. And he hasn't been willing to do so, since—since—since I was using."
John did not respond immediately. Sherlock scratched madly at his head.
"Say something, John! Why won't you say something?"
"What do you want me to say? That your brother is a rotter? Because, I assure you, I've said it before." Sherlock noticed, then, that John had clenched his fists. On my side, then, the younger man thought. On my side, despite Harry, despite being in Mycroft's place. He's mine. John. Mine.
"I guess what I want to say is—how did he get that power in the first place?"
"I was underage when my father was dying. And my father was the executor of my mother's will. He assigned Mycroft as the executor of both of their wills, and that meant—"
"That you haven't seen a penny of their money?" John let out a slow exhale.
"Not quite. I have an allowance. Not enough for a flat of my own in central London, mind, but enough to get me by when cases are scarce. And Mycroft will advance me sums, occasionally, from the trust, provided I give him 'good reason' to do so. But, in essence, it's locked in place until he dies. Or until he says otherwise, and puts it in writing."
"This can't be right," John said, shaking his head. "Why is he doing this to you? Can't he see that you're fine, now? What more is he waiting for? Do you have to join a nunnery to prove that you're well?" He scratched at his chin, considering. "Does this mean that you wouldn't have been looking for a roommate, if you hadn't been short on funds?"
"Correct," Sherlock said curtly. "But I don't see how that has anything to—"
"Just wanted to make sure I understood. We wouldn't have met if you had had your own flat, you know."
"It's irrational to dwell on coincidence, John. Who knows what would have happened if I had had Baker Street to myself, if you hadn't been shot in the shoulder, if you'd never joined the Army, if I'd never tried coke—too many hypotheticals."
"Fine. Let's stick with what we know. Your brother, who is a control freak and a sadist—I think we can agree on that? Yes? Good. Your brother has decided to toy with you until you give him everything he wants, having you chase after some criminal mastermind with him, and he still won't admit that you're competent enough to manage your own affairs? Jeez, if you're sane enough to deconstruct Moriarty's criminal empire, I certainly hope you're sane enough to balance your own bank account."
"And what do you suppose I should do about it?"
"Hire an attorney."
"Please tell me something I haven't already considered, John."
"Well, if you really want to piss off Mycroft, you could join Moriarty. I bet he pays well, too."
Sherlock glared at him. "That's possibly the worst idea I've ever heard of."
"You do realize I was joking, don't you?" John sat back in his seat. No, Sherlock hadn't caught the sarcasm in his voice; that much was clear from the expression on his face. John folded his arms and assumed a businesslike tone. "Alright, then, what do you have to do?"
"Do?" Sherlock sounded puzzled.
"Yes, what do you have to do to get Mycroft off your back? He can't have you at his perpetual beck-and-call, now can he?" Sherlock did not answer immediately. "Or does he? This is blackmail, you know, Sherlock."
"Yes, thank you, John!" the detective snapped in a nasty tone. "I trust I'm sane enough to recognize when I'm being blackmailed, I've certainly had experience of it where Mycroft is concerned!"
John rubbed the back of his neck, then turned his head from left to right to work out a stray crick.
"What I guess I want to know is, why now?"
"Why now what?" There was frustration in Sherlock's voice.
"Why did you decide to work for Mycroft now? Was it because of the opportunity to bring down Moriarty?"
"You know I'd be interested in that at any time."
"Exactly. You'd be interested in it in any case, but you probably would go about it on your own terms, wouldn't you? I mean, infiltrating a criminal empire isn't exactly your speciality. You're more of a homicidal analyst."
Sherlock smiled at that. He steepled his fingers together under his chin. "Homicidal Analyst….I like that. Do you think I could get that made up on a business card? Consulting Detective and Homicidal Analyst?"
"You can print whatever you like on your business cards, Sherlock. That's beside the point. I wanted to know if there was a reason why you wanted to help Mycroft now." He looked pointedly at the detective.
"Do I have to have a reason to want to reclaim my own inheritance?"
"That's rich, coming from you! Of course there's a reason."
You're the reason, John, but how can I tell you that? Sherlock thought. You will think it was entirely too presumptuous on my part, to count on anything coming out of this trip, and it wasn't really that. So how do I explain? Abuela would have said that I am growing up—she loved to tell me that, when she noticed the changes in me from summer to summer, and with her it didn't sound condescending. Maduro, mature, like a fruit coming into season: the ripeness of fresh figs, brevas, oranges sevillanas, Cornish strawberries, Kent's apples. She would have said that I am growing up, and that's why I want my inheritance. Not because of the money, but because of what it will let me do, because of the life that I can plan with it. I don't know how to say this to John, or Mycroft. If they knew that I'm tired of this peripatetic lifestyle—no, not tired of Baker Street, per se, certainly not tired of The Work, but tired of feeling bound to it, bound to Mycroft, caught in this constant uncertainty about what will happen later – they wouldn't recognize me in that. Because I do want there to be a later, now. I didn't think I'd live past thirty and I'm almost half a decade to forty, so there are certain things that have to be settled. Predicting an early death only gets one so far in planning for the rest of one's life.
"I want to be able to make plans," Sherlock said abruptly. "I can't—you know I love The Work—"
"Still on about being married to it?" The side of his mouth twitched.
Sherlock ignored him and continued. "—But I don't expect you to understand, how could you? You've always had a degree, and then a profession, and a rank – hell, you must have been looking for these things, they don't just fall in your lap, you know – and now a pension and a locum post, and any and all of those things that people have, when they plan to live eighty years."
"You have a rank, too, I might remind you!"
"Not one that's going to get me anywhere in this day and age! And you've entirely missed the point."
"Try being a little clearer with me, and I might understand you better."
"I'm not going to die," Sherlock said. "Don't you see how, when you think you're going to die young—"
"I thought I was going to die young, too." John voice was quiet, backed by an edge that Sherlock didn't understand.
"When you don't know about the rest of your life, when you think you'll go out with a bang, then things like bank accounts and stocks and trusts don't matter very much, do they?"
"What has changed, Sherlock?" John asked, very, very gently.
"You have changed. You have changed me, that is. Even before this week. We can't keep going on like we have done. Or, rather, we can, but no matter how hard I push myself, no matter how many guns I throw myself in the way of, I can't seem to die. And now I really, really, don't want to." The knuckles on Sherlock's hands were white where he was gripping the hand rests; his mouth had twisted into a terrible expression, one between fear and regret, and John thought for a moment that Sherlock would rise and climb over him and escape to the loo. But he just sat more determinedly in his seat, and raked his fingers through his birds-nest of a coiffeur, and wheezed a bit, until John's hands were on Sherlock's shoulder, and then pulling him closer, and their lips were touching again, and it really didn't matter to either of them that there were two teenage girls seated directly behind them, because when you're kissing your new lover at 30,000 feet, and he's scared and shaking and you never see a man like him behave like this, there are more important things to worry about than whether or not the people behind you are getting off on your kisses.
There had been a similar kind of desperation in their love-making the night before, that long night when neither had slept, their rhythms still off-kilter from the riverside ramblings of new year's morn.
John had found Sherlock pacing around the living room when he returned to the suite at dusk, after a brief outing to the gourmet grocer's at Columbus Circle. He held up a pair of brown paper bags, indicating that he had brought them dinner, but Sherlock was even more disinterested in food than usual.
"Something amiss?" John asked.
"I can't think," Sherlock whinged.
"What are you trying to think about?" John set down the shopping bags on the table and began to unpack their contents.
"What about her?"
"I don't mind that she knows about us; we already talked about this, John. But then if she goes around comparing us to the married ones, or discussing our love life with Mr. Chatterjee—. Or if she buys us matching ties, or something ridiculous like that—and I don't even wear ties, you know that they make my throat itch something fierce. But knowing Mrs. Hudson, she wouldn't stop at ties, she'd decide to paint the flat in rainbow colours, and next thing we'd know, the old wallpaper would be torn down, which I happen to like quite a bit, that old wallpaper, all those curlicues and brocaded bits. And I don't think I could stand it if she took it down. Not for rainbow colours. They're just not me."
John bit his tongue to keep from laughing.
"And then there's Anderson." Sherlock spun around, gesticulating incomprehensively at the room around him. John smirked. "Anderson."
"You don't think you're getting a bit ahead of yourself?" John asked calmly. Sherlock's eyes went wide.
"A bit ahead of myself, John? I'm simply considering all of the possibilities." His voice had taken on an unusually high pitch.
"I've never known you to fixate on the least likely outcomes. That isn't like you."
"Are you saying that I've gone mad? That's just what I need right now, you telling me that I don't know how to think. Think! When all I do all the bloody day and night is think think think." He ran his fingers through his hair, tugging at a few stray curls.
"I'm saying that maybe you need to take a step back and stop thinking, for once. Let things take their own course." He paused. "Or, maybe, you could decide how you want things to go. We do have some say over the matter, after all."
"Over what matter?"
"How we tell people that we're together."
"We didn't have much say over Mycroft," Sherlock pouted.
"Really? All things considered, I thought you handled that extraordinarily well." Sherlock felt a spark of warmth curl up in his chest. I've done something well. John thinks I've done something well.
"It's not that complicated, really. All you—we—need to do is decide how and when to let people know. Starting with the people we see the most. Mrs. Hudson, of course. Then, perhaps Lestrade, the folks at the Yard."
"What about Harry?"
John set down the bottle of wine and went to the dashboard for the corkscrew and glasses that the hotel had thoughtfully provided with the suite. He returned to the table and peeled the seal off the neck of the bottle, inserted the screw, and deftly removed the cork.
"Yes, thank you. What about Harry?"
"I think she'll be the easiest to tell. Was planning to do it by text, if you really wanted to know."
"Can I read what you write? Before you send it?"
John shrugged. "If you like. Wasn't planning to say much."
"What were you going to write?"
"Oh, something along the lines of, 'You were right. Officially seeing my genius flatmate. Now bugger off.' "
Sherlock gaped. "You actually talked to her about me?"
"Not by choice," John admitted, taking a sip of wine. "Kind of like the way you talked with Mycroft about me—you didn't bring it up, I assume. Harry confronted me about you a number of times, asked me when I was going to get up the courage to let you know how I felt. She'd been reading the blog. Reading between the lines, that is. I told her to piss off, of course. And didn't tell her about Wales, in case you were wondering."
"Not wondering," Sherlock said briskly.
"Liar," John countered. Sherlock smiled. They both grew silent. Sherlock swirled his wine, watching the rich red liquid descend along the concave interior of the glass, falling apart in red sheaths. He took his place on the sofa, lazily leaning back into the dense cushions.
"Look, Sherlock," the other man said, bending one knee to rest his foot on the chair, "I don't know how this is ordinarily done. Usually, it's just a casual thing, you know, uh, when you let people know. Perhaps, uh, if you like, I could—talk to him?"
Sherlock's eyes went wide. "By yourself?"
"Yes. Take him out for a pint. That kind of thing."
"Ah, 'man to man,' I see. Over a football match, too, with a basket of chips between you?"
"You're a man, too," John pointed out. "It doesn't have to be at a pub. Just—that's less formal. Not like at the Yard. Neutral territory. And Greg likes beer."
"Look, this kind of thing happens every day. People are interested in each other, they go out, they let their friends know. The end."
"It doesn't happen every day to me." His voice was soft and uncertain.
"And that is what makes me so incredibly lucky, don't you see?" John gave him a broad smile, and Sherlock's breath quickened. "That I get to be doing this with you, of all people."
"But you said this was ordinary."
"No, what I said is that this kind of thing happens every day. Not between you and me, that's not ordinary. But people get together all the time. I'm sure even Lestrade can understand that."
Sherlock did not reply. He continued to swirl the wine in his glass, quickly calculating how much aeration the tempranillo would require before its aroma fully opened.
"Sherlock?" The younger man looked up. "It'll be fine."
"Fine for you, maybe. No one will be surprised at you starting a relationship. Doctor John, Don Juan, Don Giovanni—"
"Oh, shut it!" John snapped with surprising vehemence. "You know that's not true. I'm not some kind of Don Juan. Don't you dare taunt me for the relationships I've had. You've had them too, you know. I'm not the only one here who has a past, and I'm not the only one taking a risk." Now John was pacing around the room, waving his empty glass, as Sherlock sat frozen on the sofa, cowed by the anger in John's voice.
"You think that they'll talk about you at the Yard? Of course they'll talk about you at the Yard. They talked about Greg's wife, didn't they? And once you clued them in to Donovan and Anderson, you can bet that was grist for the mill, too. You're not the only one who gets talked about, you know."
"Have you even given any thought to what they'll say about me? You don't think it's humiliating to be called your pet, your picker-upper, your fucking dodo bird? How do you think I feel about it? Huh? How do you think I've felt, all these months, with Mycroft's insinuations and Mrs. Hudson's assumptions and Anderson's sneers, and you always being so bloody superior, going around with your collar turned up and your cut-glass voice and your long strides, and leaving me behind at a crime scene when I have no idea where you're heading towards next, and then wrecking the flat with your experiments when I have a day job too, you know, and it's not about picking up after Sherlock. I didn't sign on for any of that—" He lowered his voice, and spoke more slowly, as he came over to the sofa where Sherlock was seated. "I didn't sign on for any of that, and that's what I've got these last two years, and I've been hanging on and hanging and waiting, yes, waiting for you, Sherlock, because I always thought that there could be something between us, if you would just open your eyes and see. So it was really the last straw, when you told me that I see but do not observe, because I see quite a bit more than you give me credit for, Sherlock Holmes."
"Uh—er—that is—Yes," Sherlock stammered.
"Yes, you're right. You see more than I give you credit for." He pursed his lips together tightly, as if he were afraid that John would want to pry another confession from them.
"So you can understand why this is a big deal for me, too?" John said gently. "Because—because I'm not used to being number two, and I don't just mean in the military context. But somehow—" he sighed. "Somehow, when I'm with you, I'm always the one people think of last."
"You're not an afterthought," Sherlock said firmly, shaking his head. "You're so much more than that. You don't seriously believe that Lestrade and Donovan and Anderson and everyone else thinks that you're my housekeeper, do you?"
John sighed. "No, I don't really think that, Sherlock. But you can understand if I get frustrated sometimes, too, and if I have my own reasons for not being terribly excited about telling the Yard about us. You catch my drift?"
"Quite," Sherlock murmured. "Is this about me not buying milk?" He bit his lip, and if John didn't know him better, he would have said that Sherlock looked nervous.
"No, but as long as we're on the topic—," John began, then laughed. "It's not about the milk. But that's sweet of you to say so." At the expression on Sherlock's face, he backtracked. "Not sweet, then, alright. Considerate. How does that sound?"
"Tolerable," Sherlock grumbled, kicking his feet against the coffee table.
"You know what I like about you, Sherlock?" John asked. "You must be the only person in the world who wants to come across as worse than he actually is."
"Worse at what?" He sat upright, looking around the room.
"Not worse, maybe that wasn't the right word. More like—you're a good person, Sherlock, and yet you keep insisting that you're not. And that's just so funny to me, that you can't see yourself the way I see you. The way Mrs. Hudson sees you. Lestrade too, if you would give him half a chance." John took a sip of wine and they both sat, thinking.
"I'm not a good person."
"Hah! Keep telling yourself. The more you deny it, the more I'll tell you it's true."
"It's not." Sherlock scowled. "I'm messy and selfish and—I told you all this when we met, John. Sometimes I don't talk for days on end—"
"Not in my experience."
(You're so bloody smug, John, the way you're sitting there, looking at me. I can't stand it. I can't stand how blind you are, yes, how much you don't see about me, for instance, how I'm never going to let go of you, and you'll be trapped, and you won't see in time…)
"—and I play the violin in the middle of the night—"
"True, but you play like a bloody concert master, so I can't really complain, can I?"
(I would complain, John, if you woke me up, that is, if I slept as much as you do and you were the one with nighttime activities that I wasn't invited to. I would complain, very much. And loudly.)
"—and I leave viscera in the sink, and I shoot holes in the wall—"
"—and I run around in my dressing gown—"
"Go on, I like that bit," John said, smiling.
(You weren't supposed to like that bit! It wasn't for your gratification. I swear, I never meant it that way. I have sensitive skin—eczema if you really want to know, hence, silk robe. You purposefully misunderstand me.)
"—and I can't be bothered to tell what time of day it is, much less which month we're in—"
"You're completely absentminded."
(Yes, exactly, that's what I'm trying to tell you, John, I'm a terrible person, rubbish for company, don't have an idea why you'd want to—)
"—and my blog isn't interesting, as you've pointed out, the only traffic it gets these days is because of the links you post to it."
"Nonsense!" John stood up, coming over to where Sherlock was sprawled on the sofa, having kicked his shoes across the room in a fit of pique. He carefully removed Sherlock's wineglass from his hand and set it down on the endtable next to the sofa. "That's all nonsense," he said, looking down at Sherlock. "You know I love you anyway."
"You're an idiot," Sherlock retorted.
"Takes one to know one," he countered, then grew serious. "What do you want tonight?" John asked, pressing Sherlock down against the cushions. John's knees were flush against Sherlock's hips, pinning him in place, and when he heard the other man's voice grow deeper, Sherlock closed his eyes and let his head loll against the sofa.
"I—," the younger man began, then went silent. "I—." He half-opened his eyes, looking up at John with a sultry, sleepy expression, as if he had already been had that evening.
"Yes?" John urged.
"You are still an idiot," Sherlock said.
"I know. What should I do about it?" John cocked his head.
With John's eyes on his, Sherlock reached down and unbuttoned the top button of his dress shirt. He worked his way down slowly, pausing before opening each button to confirm that John was still looking at him. The doctor's breaths grew faster and then, shallower, as Sherlock spread apart the cloth and revealed his bare chest. The other man shifted slightly above him to accommodate Sherlock's hands, which reached under his belt to pull the shirtsleeves out of his trousers. Then his long fingers drifted up John's arms, catching slightly on the rough wool of his jumper. Sherlock's mouth was parted, eager, red and swollen. He felt his way past John's shoulders to grasp his lover's face and bring it down to his own.
The first kisses were soft and light, new introductions to each other's bodies. John noticed the taste of Sherlock's breath, all grapes and figs, and the warmth that spread between them as the intensity of their kisses grew. When Sherlock caught John's jumper by the hem, John placed his hands on top of Sherlock's and pulled the jumper off before his partner could fumble with it any longer. He wore a light undershirt below that showed his upper arms to good effect, and Sherlock arrested his attention on John's biceps, now caressing them with his hands as their mouths returned to kiss each other.
It was hard to say when the kisses changed from light, searching movements to the reckless pressure of tongues and teeth and cut-off breaths and sighs. But it wasn't long before John pressed his weight onto Sherlock's chest, and Sherlock scrambled to unbutton his shirt at the wrists and twist out of it, and then he ran his hands up under John's tee and pulled that layer off, as well, so that their bare chests were against each other at last, warmer even than before.
"Let's go inside," one of them whispered, and in unison they rose and headed towards the bedroom, kissing and stumbling through the living quarters, eager to find the bed but reluctant to let go of one another, to break the bind of their mouths.
"You first," one of them said, pushing the other down against the bed and reaching for the belt buckle.
"I want—" one of them—Sherlock?—began.
The other—John, it was John—answered in soft tone, "What do you want?"
"I want to see you naked. I want to be on top." They switched positions, both shaking out of their trousers, John now lying down in only his pants, his legs spread wide, his erection high and tight against his pelvis. Sherlock traced its outline with his fingers, noting how the cotton was stained with a drop of precum.
"You get hard so quickly," he observed. "I scarcely have to touch you."
"You're not much different," John retorted. "Now, are you going to keep playing with me like that, or—"
"Yes, I'm going to keep on like this," Sherlock replied. "I'm going to touch you like this, lightly, just so, and watch the tension build in your body and watch that wrinkle form in your forehead as you try to hold yourself back. But you don't have to hold yourself back. I don't care how quickly you come. No, that's no quite true—." Sherlock ran his finger up and down John's covered shaft before dipping under the side of his pants to fondle the edge of his balls. "I'd like to keep you waiting, for a bit, but it's just as interesting when you can't wait and you spring out all over both of us."
"Like a bloody teen," John said with gritted teeth.
Sherlock smiled impishly down at him. "Nothing the matter with that," he said. "Some say the best sex is the first sex."
"Like a virgin, eh? Then they don't know what they're missing."
John held his breath, waiting for Sherlock to find the underside of his scrotum; he liked the feel of his lover's fingers there, in the dark places between his legs, the folds and crevices where John couldn't see. But Sherlock had other ideas; he withdrew his hands and grabbed at the elastic waistband, pulling the pants down and off, releasing John's cock. The older man spread his legs wide and willing, his tendons straining against their limits as he sought to go wider, to open himself to the very fullest to Sherlock's gaze, to Sherlock's touch.
Sherlock brought his mouth down and licked the smooth glans that was now straining forth, swollen and unencumbered, from John's foreskin. His fingers tangled in the short hair at the base of his shaft, pulling gently as his tongue ran circles around the peak of John's penis. John reached for Sherlock's hips, trying to pull off the other man's pants, but Sherlock wrestled away and pinned John more tightly against the bed.
"Can't you let me be in charge for now?"
John was moaning now, and he jerked his hips in surprise at Sherlock's words, before Sherlock released him and whispered for him to hush. And then Sherlock's mouth was back on his glans: quick, wet tugs with his lips to prepare the foreskin before he took the shaft more deeply into his mouth. John tasted like salt and soap and sweat; he had showered before going to the store, and Sherlock calculated that it was the effort of the errand and John's recent arousal that caused the musky smell to override the fresh clean scent of the soap. He was clean enough for what Sherlock had in mind.
Licking his way up and down John's penis, Sherlock took his time before descending to his balls, gathering first one into his mouth, then its pair, postponing John's completion with this other, intimate act. "You like it when I suck your balls," he murmured. John grunted his assent, pushing against the bed with his feet, his knees bent, still pinned wide against the mattress. "I have been wondering what else you might like," Sherlock began, lifting his face from John's groin and moving up to kiss his lover's mouth. Sherlock's lips and chin were damp with his own saliva, his mouth swollen with kisses and friction and desire. John bucked against Sherlock's hips, pressing their erections together, and reached again for the younger man's pants, but Sherlock pulled his hands away and, in one deft motion, rolled off of John and over to his side, then tucked his hand under John's chest and flipped him so that he lay on his stomach. Instinctively, John's legs came together again, but Sherlock wedged his hands between his thighs and urged them apart.
"I know you said—no—"
"Nothing inside me," John clarified.
"Nothing inside you," Sherlock repeated. He dipped his head to the small of John's back, setting light kisses along his sacrum. He loved the dimples above each of John's legs, those slight impressions, inexplicable in their function, that marked the boundary between torso and limb, back and buttock, public and private. He licked his way from dimple to dimple, sensing the tension ease from John's body as he settled more deeply into the mattress and spread his legs more widely. His testicles were just visible in the dark space between his thighs, low-hanging fruit that Sherlock ignored for now. Instead, he grasped each of John's buttocks and slowly pried them open, lifting his head to gaze at the tight pink button that lay between them. John felt cold, open, exposed, but when Sherlock lowered his mouth to the top of the groove in his arse, he felt warm spread under the pressure of Sherlock's lips, his tongue, as he slithered his way down to that waiting nub.
"I'm—I'm—" John gasped, wiggling away from Sherlock's tongue in his haste to let him know that it was alright, he was clean, for godssake, but Sherlock didn't have to do this, Sherlock didn't have to—
"I know you showered," Sherlock said huskily. "And I trust you did a thorough job of it, too. You smell wonderful." And to show that he trusted him, he ran his wet tongue over the opening, ringing the hole in slow, predictable slides until John wanted more, and that position was not doing it for him, so he rose on his elbows and knees to thrust his arse more fully into Sherlock's face. Sherlock followed him, losing contact for one terrible instant, while John grasped at his own cock and began to stroke with the long, hard pulls that he used on himself, as Sherlock continued to lick and kiss his arse.
"Ho-o-oly fuck," Johnsaid with a shudder, holding fast to the sheets with his right hand while his left hand worked his cock. Sherlock continued his antipodal kisses—or were they obscenities?—and the noises that they both made indicated that John's pleasure was matched by Sherlock's own satisfaction at giving John something that, doubtless, he had never been given before, something that he probably had not even dared to think about, before Sherlock, before this week and this night and this wet mouth pressed against his arsehole, teasing at those most sensitive of nerve-endings, sucking the pleasure out of him the back way while John continued to work his own front.
"You know I want to come inside you," Sherlock said, pulling back abruptly to speak. John began to turn around, taken off guard, wanting to protest, wanting to surrender, but waiting, waiting—. "But I won't. Not tonight. Not like this. Here—" Now Sherlock knelt on the bed and, still on his knees, made his way over to the bedstead, removing the lube and the condom from the drawer. "You are going to do me," he instructed, handing John the equipment and moving to take the same posture that John had formerly assumed. "You're aroused," Sherlock noted. "And you're not going to last long, if I keep eating you out." John groaned despite himself. "So I want you to—yes…." Sherlock said with a drawn-out, sibilant yes, as John was now spreading his buttocks, and reaching between them for Sherlock's entryway, and now John's skilled fingers were pressing past the tight ring, and rubbing up against the smooth interior wall, and Sherlock nearly leapt backward in his eagerness to feel John inside him, his hands or his cock or his toes or whatever organ, really, John chose to put inside. One finger first, and then two, and Sherlock felt himself expanding, felt that burn of muscle saying no when his brain was still saying yes yes yes, and he wriggled around John's fingers, because he wanted more, more like that, yes more, John, more. But John had pulled away, had pulled his lovely fingers out, and Sherlock was bereft, Sherlock was alone, agog and abandoned, until he heard the crackle of the wrapper and counted the seconds that it would take John to get the condom on. Then he tilted his hips upwards, presented his arse for John, and waited for the fingers to return, secure and reassuring, probing and throbbing and stretching him until they were replaced by the soft head of his lover's cock.
The strange thing about this kind of loving, and perhaps any kind of penetration—though he didn't have the right genotype to make the comparison, Sherlock mused—was that it required movement, drive, in moto perpetuo, storm and stress and time and direction, for anything to come of it. Love-making wasn't about simply being inside the other, it was about a sort of directed motion, this urge towards completion that demanded a rhythm, a forward-thrusting, a refusal to stay in one place. He could keep John inside him, still and hard, for hours, and it would not do to him what John's swift strainings were now doing, opening him and rending him and wrecking him, yes wrecking him upon this sea-coast, this other country, them rising and falling together—like this—as John grasped his hips and he grasped at himself, and they each came to completion at their own time.
John was several seconds behind him, still holding himself back even as he felt Sherlock tighten around him, prolonging the pleasure to make it greater, and when he finally let himself go with a final strong thrust, he barked out the younger man's name, like an order, before laying himself down on top of Sherlock. He nestled his head into the back of Sherlock's neck, smelling the grass-clean scent of shampoo and sweat, and shuddered into Sherlock with the aftershocks of his orgasm. Sherlock wriggled beneath him, pressing up to feel the long stretch of John's chest flat against his spine, and then he had settled back into the mattress with a sigh, eyes closed, muscles spent and soft.
John thought again about their last encounter, the evening before, as he leaned over the seat rest and soundly kissed his boyfriend.
He loved watching Sherlock prepare for his kisses, the way that the younger man closed his eyes almost as soon as he perceived that John was going to kiss him, waiting patiently for John to close those last few inches before their lips touched. The hesitation that Sherlock displayed, in those moments before the kiss, was in such contrast to how he had made love the night before, teasing John with new sensations, directing their movements, alternately startling and exciting John with the things he suggested. It was exactly this combination of worldliness and naïveté that John found so alluring in Sherlock, because he could never guess which side would prevail, whether in bed or on the street.
Sherlock was the man who didn't know that the earth went around the sun, who probably couldn't name the prime minister, and yet he could quote Shakespeare by heart and wax poetic on the strangest topics—dopamine agonists and medieval poisons, cigarette ash and soil acidity and binary code—while still looking absolutely astonished when John proposed kissing him in public. This was the man who would play Russian roulette with a vial of pills to prove how clever he was, and yet who quavered at the notion of what others might think if they found out he was more human than he let on. But, John mused to himself, he isn't really any more contradictory than I am, or anyone else. He's just so very, very human, this bundle of flesh and heat and sinewy limbs and black hair, this man, here, just a man.
"What are you thinking of, John?" Sherlock asked after a few breathless minutes.
"Nothing," the other man said with a smile. "Nothing I can explain." He took a deep sigh. "You keep doing that, Sherlock, okay?"
"Doing what?" There was bewilderment in Sherlock's voice.
"Asking questions. Being you. You're a right dick half of the time, but that's what I love about you."
"That I'm a dick?"
"No, that you're you." He tried to extricate himself from Sherlock's long arms. "Now, scoot, let me get up. "
"Where are you going?"
"To stretch my legs."
"If we shadows have offended," Sherlock murmured.
"What?" John asked, turning back to look at him.
"Nothing. Just trying to remember something. That you have but slumbered here…."
"Let me know when I get back, okay? We'll talk more about Mycroft then, too." He looked fondly down at Sherlock, who had pulled his feet up on the seat and wrapped his arms around his knees, intently muttering to himself.
"…all is mended…"
"You imp," John said, as he reached down to rub at Sherlock's head. "On second thought, why don't you take a walk, too? Looks like you could use a break." He reached out for Sherlock. "Give me your hands."
And yes, here we end. It has been one amazing time for me, writing this story and sharing it with so many enthusiastic readers.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I'll be posting an epilogue later with the list of NYC references, as well as the artistic references, but for now, let me just thank you for reading and for helping me to make it through this the winter of my heart's content, this fantastic interlude, this enchanted island, where I've had so much fun with these characters and their travails.
I'll be writing more SherlockBBC fanfic, but I can't say when. There are a few ideas floating around my head for shorter works. Let me know if you have any requests.
A few special shout-outs to moonblossom, lestew, syncsister, skyfullofstars, leew1, SeenaC, Mirith Griffin, vector-nyu, murdoke, lady ginger, Terrier, afrogeekgoddess, lukcy4track, dark knightress, haveacreamteaonme, power0girl, raven612, writeaddict, Sherlock'sScarf, as well as so many kind readers and reviewers, for your especial encouragement and for chats, PMs, and other communications regarding this fic and the SherlockBBC universe.
I'm around on tumblr, posting on fic-related stuff and also starting a series on erotic art. So come stop by, say hello.