"What are you doing?"
It was later. Several hours later. Sherlock stood in the kitchen doorway and glowered at the man who was very much not in his bed.
John jumped and looked round from where he'd been reaching into the crockery cupboard. "Oh, sorry," he said, offering a smile which Sherlock felt wasn't nearly as apologetic as the circumstances warranted. "Didn't mean to wake you." He raised the plate in his hand. "It's way past lunch time."
"Lunch time?" Sherlock managed to squeeze a paragraph's worth of disdain into a two-word phrase. That was the excuse John was going with? Pitiful. And he'd got dressed again, which was both unnecessary and inappropriate. Sherlock took his glowering up a level.
John's smile turned a little wary. "Er… well, closer to tea-time, actually," he defended. He set the plate down on the counter and moved towards Sherlock, who adopted a casual attitude and prepared to allow himself to be slightly mollified.
It seemed, however, that it was not he who represented the room's chief attraction. John stopped a foot short of his assumed target and started rooting through the fridge.
Sherlock swept his dressing gown around himself and stalked to the nearest chair.
"I haven't eaten for nearly twenty-four hours," John declared, as if that were some kind of record-breaking feat. "And I doubt you have either, unless you snuck out for breakfast while I was asleep this morning." He glanced around. "Which you obviously didn't," he continued, extracting what Sherlock recognised as component parts of a sandwich.
"How do you know?"
John snorted as he carried his trophies back to the worktop. "Yeah, like I'm going to give away your 'I'm starving but ignoring it' tells."
Infuriating man. Sherlock stuck his legs out in front of him and crossed them at the ankle.
"You'll feel better after some food," John promised, laying out his ingredients.
Sherlock folded his arms. He must have fallen asleep almost immediately after… before, and he had woken with a vast array of John-less bed stretched out before him. He hadn't liked it. He hadn't liked it at all. He had taken the plunge, he had made the commitment, yet still there was no John in the clearly John-shaped space beside him, and now the man was on the other side of the kitchen, cutting a tomato into perfectly regimented slices - and really, who took that much care over a bloody tomato? - and Sherlock wasn't sure exactly what it was that he wanted, but he was damned sure it wasn't food.
"I'm not hungry."
John ignored him, picking up a kitchen knife and attacking a loaf of bread in a manner which seemed expressly designed to draw attention to his hands. Strong hands. Capable hands. Hands which were in entirely the wrong place and doing completely the wrong things. Sherlock glared at them. The one holding the knife should properly be in his hair - that much was obvious. As for the other… he waited for various erotic scenarios to present themselves, but they kept slipping away and he was left with pictures of an arm wrapped around his waist - his clothed waist. What was that about? He blinked.
In front of him, John finished hacking the bread into compliance and set the blade down. Sherlock had witnessed enough sandwich assemblies to know what came next, and he waited in high dudgeon for John to reach for the butter pot.
John did not reach for the butter pot.
He stood there with his back turned and indecision crawling all over him. "You're upset," he said eventually, without turning around.
Sherlock immediately tried to push down his irrational, and frankly somewhat nauseating, feelings but then remembered he wasn't supposed to do that. He certainly wasn't about to admit to being 'upset', though. Horrible word. He crossed his ankles the other way.
"And it's not because I disturbed you," John continued.
"Why would it be?" Strange idea. Not that he was admitting to being 'upset' in the first place, of course. Not at all.
John turned around and looked at him. "I'm an idiot."
If he thought Sherlock was going to argue with that one, he'd got involved with the wrong genius.
"Come here," John instructed.
Sherlock raised his chin. What was he - a dog? He wasn't going to 'heel' just because John told him to. He ignored the part of his brain which observed that there was nothing he wanted more than to go over there, so if he was a dog he was a particularly stupid one.
Fortunately for his pride, John didn't ask again. "I'm sorry," he said, walking round to Sherlock's side. "I was really hungry and you seemed to be fast asleep. I honestly intended to come straight back to bed."
Sherlock sniffed. "You're fully dressed," he pointed out, still facing resolutely forward.
"Not fully," John replied, the eyebrow wiggle so clear in his voice that Sherlock was unable to resist looking up. "Couldn't find my pants," John admitted. "My dressing gown's upstairs and I'd look ridiculous in yours. It's like Euston Station around here half the time - didn't want to shock Mrs Hudson."
"It would take more than…"
"You know what I mean," John interrupted. He raised a rather tentative hand, which Sherlock watched out of the corner of his eye. It descended onto his shoulder. He absolutely did not lean into it in any way whatsoever.
"Am I forgiven?" John asked.
Sherlock shrugged - which obviously did not count as 'leaning'. "You acted reasonably," he conceded. "Forgiveness is irrelevant."
John's hand migrated to the side of his neck. There may have been a small degree of arching, but that was clearly an entirely different matter.
"Then you won't mind having lunch, will you?"
Any (minimal) arching activity promptly ceased and Sherlock scowled. "Your logic is…"
John kissed him.
"…acceptable," Sherlock decided. It had been a very good kiss. He would not be at all averse to another one.
John kissed him again, but pulled away far too quickly. "Lunch," he declared. "Then we can go back to bed." He held out a hand.
Sherlock regarded it. "I do not cook," he pointed out. That was clearly John's area.
"I know," John agreed. "But you're too far away over here."
It took Sherlock an unfeasible amount of energy to keep the smile off his face and he was forced to think of something annoying. He cast a resentful glance towards the breadboard as he got to his feet. "I would have thought that, at times like these, sex would come before sandwiches," he grumbled. Except that he wasn't grumbling, of course. He was just stating a fact.
John chuckled. "Well, if I don't get something to eat, there won't be much more 'coming' going on, I can promise you that."
Sherlock considered the point.
"Stamina?" John murmured, winding an arm around his waist.
Sherlock made some quick calculations. "We're going to need a bigger plate."
They still hadn't made it back to bed over an hour later, but Sherlock was finding that he didn't mind. He was lying on the sofa, a bit squashed with John on there too, but Sherlock had never suffered from claustrophobia and was actually concluding that a little bit of squashing was a surprisingly good thing. He supposed he should have worked that out earlier in view of his preference for restrictive clothing - not that he was wearing anything restrictive at the moment, as he'd never progressed beyond his dressing gown.
"How long are we going to stay on here?" He raised his head a couple of inches off John's chest so that he could look up at him, decided it was too far, and put it back down again.
John was audibly smiling as he replied. "Bored, are you?"
"No." Sherlock denied honestly. He wasn't bored… why wasn't he? John's hand ran through his hair again, which Sherlock was finding ridiculously pleasurable. He kept trying not to push into the hand with too much abandon, but feared that he was failing hopelessly. The lapse did not concern him as much as he would have anticipated.
"You shouldn't have made me eat that last sandwich," John complained. "I feel like I could nod off."
Sherlock frowned. "I was hoping you'd need it." Obviously there would have to be experimentation to establish the optimum sandwich level. "Didn't you sleep after… before?" How much sleep did one man need, for God's sake?
"Er… not really." There was something odd in John's voice.
Sherlock reeled in all the brain cells that were currently lying on their backs with their legs in the air and called them to attention. "Either you slept or you didn't. Which is it?"
"Why not?" John had been out all night and had only slept for a few hours this morning. Combine that with the typical behaviour of the post-orgasmic male and he should have been out like a light. He certainly had been, Sherlock reflected, with something like annoyance.
John shrugged, his hand ceasing its stroking. Sherlock nudged into it before he'd thought to stop himself; Mrs Hudson would be proud. Perhaps this whole business would be simpler than anticipated. Shaking off the instinct to pretend had to be easier than pretending in the first place, surely?
"I was thinking."
"No wonder you're tired."
"Ha ha." John's hand tightened in his hair and tipped his head back far enough that his mouth was within kissing range. Sherlock adjusted to the new arrangement with enthusiasm. If this was how John intended to 'retaliate' to rudeness, then Sherlock was envisaging a joyfully offensive future.
He was released too soon, although John must have been straining his neck to reach down, so Sherlock generously did not complain.
"Well?" he prompted, when John didn't seem to be approaching anything resembling an answer.
John sighed. "You have no idea, do you?"
Sherlock felt that was rather unfair since only one of them seemed to be aware of what they were talking about, and it certainly wasn't him. John started stroking through his hair again and Sherlock gave up on the 'not pushing into the hand' concept and focused on not making embarrassingly contented noises. That didn't go much better.
"You went to sleep, I cleaned you up, you curled into me, and I spent three hours staring at you and thinking how incredibly lucky I was and that if anyone tried to take you away from me again I would shoot them in the head before they had a chance to so much as touch you. Does that answer your question?"
Sherlock wondered if it was inappropriate to be quite so turned on by such a potentially murderous statement. Happily, it struck him that 'appropriate' had never been a key feature of their association, so he felt no hesitation about wriggling up the sofa and applying himself to John's mouth with an eagerness which bordered on desperation.
It was wonderful, of course, but… he made a slightly dissatisfied noise and John twisted them around so that instead of being on top, Sherlock was pressed up against the back of the sofa with John pinning him in place and that… oh, that was so very much better. So good, in fact, that it was several long minutes before he could bear to pull back far enough to ask about the rest of John's speech.
"You spent three hours staring at me?"
John raised an eyebrow. "Not good?"
"No, I… No, it's fine." Sherlock shrugged, letting the shameless usurpation of his phrase and mannerism go unchallenged. "I don't mind you looking at me." John made a noise which Sherlock chose not to interpret as a derisive snort. "But why?" he asked. "Surely even you would be able to observe everything you needed to see in a lesser time period than that."
"True," John agreed. "If I'd been observing you."
"But you said…"
"I was just looking. Looking and thinking - some pretty violent thoughts towards anyone who has or might hurt you, I'll admit, but also more general stuff… about the future, that kind of thing."
"The future?" Sherlock echoed. He wasn't generally given to considering the future much beyond the next case - but then, it had never looked so vivid before.
John's hand brushed his temple. "What you'll look like when your hair is grey." He grinned. "What if you get f…"
"I will not get fat!" Sherlock interrupted. He poked John in the mid-section. "If anything, it's you who…"
John giggled. And retaliated. The situation devolved into something of a tussle and other appendages inevitably got involved in the poking. Sherlock ended up flat on his back with a short but extremely solid figure on top of him, a situation which he found entirely acceptable. It was only when John's hand ran down the side of his body and curved around his bare hip that he realised his dressing gown had fallen open and was trailing to the floor.
"You know…" John started, then hesitated. He propped himself up on his other hand. "You can always just ask for what you want," he said, with a small smile. "Or not even ask - just make a move. You're quick enough to make demands for anything work related and you are entitled to affection… whatever you've grown up believing."
Sherlock wrinkled his nose.
"Like before, in the kitchen," John persevered. "I'm not always going to interpret the 'Idiot!' glare correctly - if you'd opened with 'Come back to bed', I would have caught on much faster."
There were footsteps on the stairs.
"What is it… oh." John cut off his question at the distinctive rapping of an over-priced umbrella against the door which they had, for once, remembered to shut.
But not, it would seem, to lock.
"Good afternoon, Mycroft," Sherlock drawled, not bothering to tip his head back far enough to get the benefit of a no doubt snooty expression. "Has your 'My brother is unacceptably happy' alarm gone off again?"
He waited for John to get off him, but John wasn't moving. Why wasn't John moving? Oh… obvious. Sherlock almost smiled. Protecting his modesty. As if Sherlock gave two hoots about that. He tapped the side of John's leg. "Off."
John obeyed, but managed to pull the edge of Sherlock's dressing gown up and over him as he got to his feet, then stood there bristling like an unhappy bulldog. Sherlock shot him a quizzical glance as he swung his legs round to the floor and sat up, retying his belt more securely in the process. The tiny muscles around John's eyes and mouth all tightened, then he turned and retreated across the room. Sherlock's eyes followed his progress with some confusion.
"Really, Sherlock, where do you get these ideas?" Mycroft enquired, gliding to a point in front of the sofa and looking down his not inconsiderable nose.
Sherlock tried to look around him, but there was a lifetime's supply of profiteroles in the way. He stood up.
"I bring news, in fact," Mycroft announced. "Which may be of particular interest to your…" He trailed off significantly, half turning to indicate John, who was standing at the far window.
John did not look round. Only the side of his face was visible, but his jaw was clenched and he was clearly contemplating something far bleaker than the view of Baker Street.
'He thinks I'm going to change my mind again.' The realisation burst in Sherlock's brain like a grenade, levelling all other considerations in its path. He brushed past his irritatingly ubiquitous brother and headed straight for the man who he no longer considered an entirely separate entity.
"Checking for signs of the Royal Coach?" he asked loudly as he arrived at the window and peered out over John's shoulder. He reached down with the arm hidden from Mycroft's view and grabbed a hand which bore a tremor he could kick himself for, squeezing it tightly. Mycroft would know, of course, but hopefully John would not realise that. Sherlock was aware that he would be embarrassed by this display of emotion. "Together," he murmured under his breath.
John's exhale was more like a gasp but no one gave any sign of having noticed. At least Mycroft could be trusted to be diplomatic. He had better be - or he could stick his next requirement for 'legwork' straight up his…
"Our sources indicate that Jason Hargreaves is a significantly bigger fish than was first realised," Mycroft announced.
Sherlock gave John's hand one last squeeze. "All right?" he asked quietly.
Mycroft cleared his throat. "It was he who notified Moran that Sherlock was still alive."
That got John's attention and he started to turn around. "How…?"
"Phil," Sherlock explained, releasing his hold as John moved a few steps away, still looking a little shaken, but no longer brittle. "The other thief. He was the smoker on the bench."
"Indeed," Mycroft confirmed, strolling across the room. "It seems this Hargreaves fellow has some rather interesting connections. May I?" He indicated John's chair and raised an eyebrow in Sherlock's direction.
Sherlock nodded towards John. Mycroft rerouted his eyebrow.
"What?" John looked confused. "Oh, right. Yes. Of course." He flapped a hand.
Sherlock walked around him and settled into his own armchair as Mycroft sat down. After a moment's hesitation, John came and perched on the arm of it and Sherlock experienced a very strange… almost premonition - although not actually a 'premonition' of course, since that would be ridiculous - but a feeling of complete surety, however unwarranted, that this was only the first of many times that they would sit like this; he and John against the world. Well… the government, at least. He covered his smile with steepled fingers.
"He could certainly be very useful…" Mycroft went on, "…provided we have sufficient hold over him, of course."
Oh, that was clever. That was very clever. "Such as a witness who could put him away for life," Sherlock agreed.
"I think two witnesses are better than one, don't you?" Mycroft suggested. "The young lady in the hospital presented the case quite forcefully, considering her condition." He produced a smile that looked almost impressed. "Very resilient character."
"So…" John was using his 'hopeful but afraid to assume' tone. "So what does that mean, then? Billy doesn't go to jail?"
"Billy doesn't go to jail," Mycroft confirmed. "He goes into the Witness Protection Programme, as does Myra."
"Oh, that's… that's good." The level of relief in John's voice did not really go with his word choice, but he always did seem to save his best superlatives for Sherlock alone. "That's very good," he added. Sherlock smirked.
John's brain was clearly still ticking over. "But won't they have to be separate?" he asked. "For security, I mean?" His romantic sensibilities seemed saddened at the thought.
"That would be the normal course of events, yes," Mycroft agreed. "But it was pointed out by the young lady that Billy Morris has 'the common sense of a garden ornament'..." the quote marks were clear, "...and would only get into trouble on his own. In view of recent events, it was a difficult argument to counter."
Sherlock certainly wouldn't argue with it; he'd come close to throttling the boy more than once.
"So, they'll be relocated together," Mycroft finished. "New identities, jobs, accommodation, everything. Once they are out of hospital, of course. Young Mr Morris seems to be suffering from whiplash at present." For a startled second, Sherlock almost thought he was going to wink, but the moment passed.
John coughed. "Right." He glanced round at Sherlock with an 'Is that it?' look on his face. Sherlock nodded. John stood up and Mycroft followed suit.
They were halfway to the door when John's steps slowed. "Why are you doing this?"
"I beg your pardon?" Mycroft halted with him.
"I mean… it doesn't really seem your thing," John explained. "Jewellery thieves. Setting up my friends… if it was Sherlock, I'd think he was doing it for me, but…"
"No. Sentiment would rarely be a factor in my decisions, John, you are quite right." The glance Mycroft threw across the room to him didn't seem quite as 'superior' as Sherlock would have expected. "Although I admit I am favourably disposed towards someone so uniquely positioned with regard to my brother."
It was obvious from John's startled expression that he was contemplating an entirely different position to the 'keeping him safe' implication which Mycroft had intended.
Sherlock suppressed a snort as a faint blush stained his brother's cheeks.
"You know how I worry about him," Mycroft attempted to clarify.
John's eyes widened further. No doubt he would work it out later when his brain was not reeling from quite so much activity, but for now the list of 'Areas of Sherlock's life in which his brother takes an inappropriate interest' appeared to gain an entry for 'sexual satisfaction'.
Sherlock had to bite his lip. This was easily the best day of his life so far - and it wasn't even over.
Mycroft had resorted to scrutinising his umbrella for a few moments, but when he spoke again his voice was serious, leeching any humour from the room. "James Moriarty was a blight on this country's landscape." He raised his head. "The heart of his 'web' may have been destroyed…" he nodded to Sherlock, "…but already the threads are knitting back together. This Hargreaves will be useful." His smile was chilling. "I shall ensure it."
John showed him out and Sherlock got to his feet, turning from his position by the fireplace as he heard the door close, and lock this time. He wondered if John would be interested in his deductions regarding the timings of The Vanishing Thieves' strikes.
John did not look as if such deductions were at the forefront of his mind. He took several paces forward and stopped in the middle of the room.
"So… not as worried about what your brother thinks any more, then?"
Sherlock shrugged. "Beyond family, Mycroft's strongest emotional connection is to the dessert trolley - and that will certainly never love him back. It's as you said - in some areas at least, we are not alike. There is no point valuing his opinion on something he cannot comprehend." He smiled, wishing John had not stopped quite so far away. "Anyway, we're together now, aren't we? Can't go back from that." Not that he wanted to. Ever.
John had a very odd expression on his face. He opened his mouth, then closed it again. Opened it. Closed it. Eventually he seemed to steel himself and asked, "Love him back?"
It was clearly a quote… Sherlock rewound his words. Ah. Suddenly his heart decided to launch an escape bid from his chest.
"You do realise you've never actually told me…" John started.
"Obvious," Sherlock decreed. Because it was. Why else would he put himself through all this self-analysis? Change his life so drastically? It was obvious. There was no need to be sentimental about it. He told his heart to settle down.
"All right." John nodded, the edge of disappointment in his smile so slim that it was barely visible. "Let's get these dishes into the sink, then we can go back to bed, eh?" He picked up the plate they'd used earlier and nodded towards the mantelpiece, which held a couple of abandoned mugs. "Grab those, would you?" He turned and headed towards the kitchen.
Sherlock watched him go. 'Coward' he berated himself. It wasn't even one of the smaller voices he associated variously with his subconscious, his reasoning, his logic… it was his own voice, rich and full, all the component parts in one accord. Everything he was. 'Coward!' it said again.
"I love you!" It was too fast, rushing out before his inhibitions could catch it; blurted at John's back as he crossed the threshold with a plate in his hands.
John turned around.
He deserved more. Sherlock raced through his memories. What did John want from him? What could he give? How could he show…?
"Table?" he said.
It was only a single word.
But it wasn't a hint, however thinly veiled. It wasn't an attempt at distraction. It was an honest request from a man who finally believed that he could make one for something that was an entirely human need... and that it didn't make him weak.
Who knew that he could love.
And that there was nothing wrong with him.
"I thought you'd never ask."
I am very happy to report that the wonderful erica_schall is recording a podfic of this story. In view of its ridiculous length, this will obviously take her some time, but I'll add a link to my index once it's available and put a note on my tumblr (verity-burns). Update: She has now begun posting the chapters! Link on my profile page :D
Forever and unlimited thanks to my incredibly patient Beta and friend Ariane DeVere - not only could I not have done it without her, I wouldn't even have wanted to.
Huge thanks also for the endless love and support from the group of friends and fellow ficcers who have stayed in my house, eaten my ice-cream and (with varying degrees of success) taken on my kids at foosball. Sherlock has given me many things, but nothing more valuable than the friendship of these women: Atlin Merrick, Ariane Devere, Anarion, Mirith Griffin and Staceuo. I adore you all (and Mr Verity is away again next May...)
Finally, I know there are a lot of people who don't read a fic until it's finished - and I can't blame them at all, I virtually never read Works In Progress myself; we've no doubt all been let down by an 'addictive but abandoned' story at some point in our fan fiction travels.
However, it's the readers who DO come out and offer encouragement and advice along the way that make sure the WIPs get finished in the first place, so if you've read this story after it's completed and (hopefully!) enjoyed it, please join me in giving a hearty shout out to (on this site):
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Thanks for reading!