Two weeks, one day and approximately eleven hours had past since Sherlock first allowed John to touch him. In that time the two had had sex in every room in the flat, day and night, until even the married men next door had shouted from their window for the two to please, shut up, for the love of God. John was happier than he had ever been before in his entire life and Sherlock seemed, at least, more relaxed than John had yet seen him. The man no longer prowled around the flat, barely containing the energy of a small volcano. Now, whenever he felt remotely on edge, or bored, or in need of sleep, he planted himself firmly in John's lap.
Sherlock had yet to initiate any act on his own, despite making John frequently aware of what he wanted. At the moment, John wasn't complaining. He didn't say anything, in fact, afraid of ruining the balance they had somehow created. Not a word was spoken of feelings or labels or whether to make their… whatever it was, public. For the time being, sex seemed to be simply a new addition to their flat mate relationship; rather like John making tea and Sherlock microwaving eyeballs.
That is, until John left the flat for work one morning and, without thinking, added an "I love you" to the end of his farewell. He froze, not knowing what Sherlock would say, or if he had even heard. The detective was currently standing at the window, softly playing cords on his violin, deep in thought. The only response John received was a casual wave of a bow.
At work that day, John had little else on his mind other than his accidental slip. He had worked so hard at not putting any pressure on Sherlock, in avoiding anything that would make Sherlock think they were starting a relationship. John knew of course that Sherlock loved the sex they had; he asked for it almost every day, sometimes more than once, and was as responsive a partner as John had ever had. While Sherlock never initiated, he always participated, and John was positive he wasn't the only one enjoying himself.
On the other hand, John had been careful to leave out any other action that he might have performed if he was in a normal physical relationship. He didn't kiss Sherlock when he left for work, or ever, for that matter, unless they were having sex. He didn't try to hold hands, or use endearments or any of the hundreds of other things that he might, and, if he was honest with himself, wanted desperately to do.
John had been in love with Sherlock for a long time before their relationship had turned physical, and every day he was finding new things to love about his mad, brilliant friend. It was not to the point, yet, where having sex without emotion was painful for John, but he knew it would get there eventually. He had no idea how Sherlock would react if John tried to bring it up, and he was terrified of losing what they had. He gave Sherlock enough credit to know that the man wouldn't cut John out of his life, but he was fairly certain the sex, and quite a bit of their closeness would be lost. And he had no confidence in his own emotions to know whether he would be able to continue living with a man who he desperately loved and had had mind-blowing sex with, and not be able to do anything about it.
John went through his appointments that day with only a small portion of his mind on his patients. When he caught himself prescribing a drug for arthritis to a child of seven with asthma, he called it a day. He informed Sarah, with whom his relationship was still chilly at best, that he was feeling ill and was going home early. Since it was already after three and she had no scheduled appointments left herself, she barely made a fuss; resorting to glowers and sniffs. He made the mental note, again, underlined this time, to look for a position at another clinic and walked home.
He had hoped a long walk outside would help clear his head a little, but all it did was drag out the return home, so that when he finally arrived at Baker Street he was so worked up he actually did feel sick to his stomach. He leaned back against the front door and willed himself to be calm. Maybe Sherlock wasn't at home. Maybe he hadn't heard John's stupid statement that morning. Maybe John was freaking out over nothing and had better get a grip before he did something to really mess up. John walked slowly up the stairs to the flat and opened the door.
"I've been thinking about what you said this morning, and I've come to the conclusion that I need an explanation. What did you mean when you said you love me?"
Well, there go all my hopes, thought John. Of course Sherlock heard him; the man could hear Mrs. Hudson taking her evening soother from two floors away. Sherlock was still standing at the window, back to John, and appeared to have moved not an inch in, John checked his watch, eight and three quarter hours.
"Sorry about that, it was a slip of the tongue. It won't happen again." John went to go make tea, more to keep busy than anything else. His nausea was back, redoubled, and he was fairly confident he would vomit if he tried to put anything in his stomach. His hands were steady as he took mugs from cabinet, but then, they always were when he was afraid for his life.
"No, John, we need to discuss this. It is the second time you have stated it, and I really do need to know what it means."
John turned and jumped back; Sherlock really was a ninja, having moved right up behind him without John noticing, even in his hyper aware state. Sherlock looked confused and maybe even nervous, John saw, not angry as he had been expecting. Maybe, he thought, maybe this won't be the end of everything. Maybe.
"Sit, Sherlock. You're making me nervous." Sherlock sat, but this did nothing to alleviate John's tension.
"You're already nervous. You're sweating and your face has that pale look you get when you run into an old girlfriend. Why are you nervous?"
John leaned back against the counter and gripped it tightly. He had truly never felt so afraid, never felt like he had more to lose than he did at that moment.
"What do you want to know, Sherlock? I'm sure you can read anything you want in my face anyway, but what is it you need to hear?"
"I need to know what you mean when you say you love me."
John closed his eyes, feeling a small stab of pain at the casual way Sherlock spoke. As if he was saying 'I need to know what you mean when you say this milk has gone off.'
"It means, Sherlock, that I'm in love with you. I told you that once before. I didn't mean to say it this morning. I'm sorry."
"No, you misunderstand me. I know you meant you're in love with me, I just don't know what that means."
John looked sharply at Sherlock, who genuinely seemed embarrassed and looked away.
"Are you asking me what the word 'love' means?"
"Yes. I've looked up definitions, of course, and read about the psychological and physiological ideas behind it, but having had no practical experience myself, I don't really understand it."
"Sherlock, are you saying that no one has ever said 'I love you' before? To you? No one. Ever."
Sherlock met his eyes then, defiant. "Yes."
John felt his heart break then and unbidden tears came to his eyes. "Oh, Sherlock. Oh, honey." He bent and kissed Sherlock softly, hands cupping his face. This was their first kiss without arousal and the idea of shifting their precarious balance wasn't even an afterthought. John felt so much grief at Sherlock's admission he couldn't speak. Sherlock, on the other hand, was bewildered.
"John, what on earth? Why is this upsetting you?"
John sat in the chair across from Sherlock and tried to regain composure. He held one of Sherlock's hands in both of his and concentrated on the long, perfect fingers, willing himself not to kiss and weep over it.
"You aren't very good with emotions, Sherlock. That's an observation, not a criticism. So give me a minute to word this properly. The idea that anyone, even someone completely evil, could go their entire life never hearing someone tell them that is pitiful. To learn that you, who I care about very, very much, has never been told that before two weeks ago is… shocking. And painful. And makes me very angry. That no one in your family, not your parents or your brother, no friends growing up, no other lovers ever told you that they cared hurts. In a way I can't really explain. It makes me sad for you, that you never felt love, and it makes me sad for me, because you never learned how to."
Sherlock was fascinated, staring at John. "Emotion was never a part of my family. My parents were teachers, nothing more. I didn't know they were supposed to be. As for friends, that was never really an issue; I think you are the first person who has ever referred to themselves as that with regard to me. And other lovers, well, you know about that. An experience brief enough that even I know emotion couldn't have entered into it.
"Love is important to people, I know that much; it is cited far too often in my cases to not be. More than money and power, it seems. So, it is important, and it must be strong, if it can make people do the things they do. What I'm asking is, what does it mean? To love. What does it feel like? I don't think I have ever felt it, but I don't know, either. You do, I can see that. For many people, I would imagine."
"Yes. I love my parents, and my sister. I love my friends. All in different ways. And… I love you. In an altogether different way from anyone else."
"How? Your love for your sister, what does it feel like?"
John realized he was still holding Sherlock's hand and released it. Sherlock said nothing but did not move his hand from the table, fingers curling slightly as he glanced down. John hastily put his hands in his lap.
"Well, we grew up together. I've known her since I was three, when she was born. We have been the best of friends and the worst of enemies. I worry about her, with her drinking, I was mad at her for hurting Clara but at the same time I knew it was the best thing, for both of them. I trust her, almost more than anyone else. I find it very easy to talk to her. If something bad happened to her I would feel grief. She can make me angrier than almost anyone, and she can make me laugh until I feel I could burst. So, love is complicated."
Sherlock shook his head in wonder. "I don't know that Mycroft has ever elicited any of those feelings in me. Except maybe the anger. I would be unhappy if something happened to him, but mainly as a result of losing a resource. I do not fear for him, certainly. We have never been friends. He certainly does not make me laugh. What about friends? How do you love them?"
"Like Harry, I suppose, but more… diluted. Nothing as strong. My trust is less, my concern is less, my grief would be less. Generally they make me laugh more and don't make me as angry, but that is a result of choosing friends you get along with. You can't choose your family, but you are sort of obligated to love them."
Sherlock frowned and leaned back in his chair. John could practically hear the motors whirring in his head as he tried to catalogue all this new information. Sherlock steepled his fingers and rested them against his mouth, studying John. The doctor rather felt like a fruit fly, or a criminal, something being opened and dissected. "That is how you love friends, then. And I am your friend. So that is how you love me? Less than your sister, but with more choice in the matter."
John sighed deeply. "No, Sherlock. Not at all like that."
"Less than that? Don't worry about offending me, you already know this is foreign and therefore inconsequential to me."
John leaned forward and took both of Sherlock's hands in his. He kissed the knuckles of each and held them tightly. Sherlock blinked at him like an inquisitive owl. Maybe, thought John, since he doesn't understand it, it won't bother him.
"Sherlock, I love you more than everyone else. Combined. When you are in danger, and that is often, I am more afraid than if I were in danger myself. You can make me laugh like no one else can, and yes; you make me angrier too, sometimes. This time, living with you, has been the happiest of my entire life. And the past few weeks have been extraordinary. More than I have ever felt before, and more than I ever thought was possible. You make me want to be better, smarter, more patient, just so you will want to be around me more. When you smile at me, at some joke I've made or when I figure something out faster than you thought I would, I can feel my chest expand like my heart will burst. In a good way. You make me so, so happy, and I never want to feel like that with anyone else. I never want to live with anyone else, kiss anyone else, tell anyone else how much I love them. When I met you I was existing; I had nothing to care about. You make me want to live."
Throughout this speech Sherlock's expression kept changing. At first surprised, then doubtful, then pleased and, at John's last few sentences, his face began to turn a shade of pink and he looked away, staring at their hands. John finished, sure that this was too much, Sherlock would feel threatened and pressured and this would be the end. Instead he felt Sherlock squeeze his fingers tightly and met his gaze again.
"I wish I understood better what you are feeling, because it is obviously very important to you." He smiled slightly, unsure.
"I think, though, I do in fact understand a little of what you mean. The physical part, at any rate. Your smile does illicit a pleasing warmth when directed at me and I understand when I have hurt your feelings faster than with others, and I do occasionally regret having done so. The worry, though. That is what I understand best. At the pool, when you walked out of the locker room. The second where I thought it was you, had been you playing the game, was physically painful. It felt as though my chest were being ripped open. I assumed it was adrenalin. Then when you opened your coat and I saw the Semtex…" here his voice actually cracked, to John's utter amazement.
They had never spoken about the events at the pool, other than discussing Moriarty. Once the terror of the memory had worn off, the sensation of Sherlock kneeling before him and ripping John's clothes off had fueled many fantasies. No, don't go there, Watson. This is very much not the time.
"Well. When I saw the Semtex and understood that at any moment you could be killed before my eyes, it was, undoubtedly, the most frightened I have ever been. I have been in danger many times, as you said, quite often, and it is never troubling. It simply has to be done for the work. You, though. The realization that in this instance you could not protect yourself, had no power to keep yourself from dying was horrifying. As when those Americans threatened your life for information. That they might kill you simply because I could not give them information I didn't know I had made me, for a moment, forget how to think. Is that love, do you suppose?"
John smiled, tears pricking his eyes again. "It's certainly something, Sherlock."
"Will it bother you if I do not say the words? Is it enough that you know I hold you in the highest regard, that the only time I am afraid is when you are in danger?"
"Oh yes. I mean, yes, that is enough. More than enough. More than I could have hoped for. I was afraid… I was afraid that if I told you how much I cared for you, that you would back away, and not want to continue… whatever this is," he finished lamely, waving one hand back and forth between them.
Sherlock chuckled. "You really are an idiot sometimes. At the very least, I could only be deeply flattered by being the object of such profound feeling. I could not be bothered by something I don't understand. And truly, you are my favorite person. You are the only one I can stand to be around for more than a few moments, to say nothing of almost all my waking hours. You calm me, you treat me as a peer rather than a freak, you usually don't get too angry when I say something that a person with a normal grasp of human emotion would not. I've already said that I trust you more than anyone else, which is to say, at all, and I trust you with my very life. And have, on occasion. I think if I were to feel love for anyone as you describe it, it could only be about you. Is that sufficient for you, that we may continue as we have been?"
Wordlessly John pulled Sherlock toward him, kissing him deeply as he sat the taller man in his lap. Putting one arm around Sherlock's waist and the other hand in the man's unruly hair he held the detective close, kissing him until Sherlock had to pull away to gasp for air.
"I take that as a yes, then?" Sherlock breathed heavily, but his eyes were crinkled in a smile.
"As long as you don't mind me telling you that I love you, or kissing you whenever I want to, or occasionally calling you pet names. I won't do anything in public, of course, but I may sometimes forget that ours is not a… regular relationship and treat it as though it is."
"Not at all," Sherlock looked as genuinely happy as John had ever seen him. "If anything, it could only help me to understand these feelings better. And, I must admit, although I may not fully comprehend it, or know if I can feel it myself, it does give me an intense amount of pleasure to hear you say it."
John kissed him again, hard, then placed quick kisses all over his face. "I love you, I love you, and I love you. I intend to make up for almost three decades of you not hearing that. Let me know if you get tired of hearing it."
Sherlock laughed this time, a full belly laugh that made John glow. Sherlock's face turned serious again, and he looked thoughtfully at John.
"I have something else to ask. For the past few weeks I have invited physical attention, but not initiated it myself. I assumed you would prefer to be the one in control. Is it a fair exchange to request that I be able to, as they say, make the first move, rather than attempting to coerce you to do so?"
John shook his head, trying to work out the question. "Sorry, are you asking to initiate sex in return for me telling you that I love you? I'm trying to see the downside for me here."
"Yes, exactly" Sherlock was dead serious, making sure he was understood. "Is it acceptable to you if I, when the desire arises, initiate physical contact?"
"Yea, Sherlock," John laughed, wondering what hell he must have lived through in a past life to deserve the man firmly planted above his groin. "I think that is a perfectly fair trade."
The sentence was barely finished before Sherlock's mouth descended on his, more demanding than he had ever been before. John's mouth opened in surprise and Sherlock's tongue swept in, tasting every inch of him. Abruptly Sherlock stood, mouth still on John's, grabbing a double handful of the doctor's jumper and pulling him up to stand in front of him. Once John was on his feet Sherlock whirled him around and pushed him backwards until John's back hit the kitchen wall. Sherlock's hands were all over him, moving up under John's jumper and yanking his shirt from his trousers. Once it was free his hands flew to John's belt, quickly flicking it open, lowering the zipper and pulling John's trousers and pants down in one go. This whole time, Sherlock's mouth had not left his, and only did now as the frantic detective pulled John's remaining clothes over his head.
John was gasping, not sure whether to laugh or moan first at the passion being poured on him. He settled for a chuckle.
"You've wanted to do this for a while, haven't you?"
Sherlock had turned to throw John's shirt across the room and looked back, grinning.
"Was it that obvious?"
Without waiting for an answer he dropped to his knees, running his fingers down John's sides, all the way down his legs and back up again, holding him tight behind his thighs, fingertips almost brushing John's aching groin. John was painfully hard and looked down in wonder at the madman currently planning kisses all over his abdomen. As if sensing his gaze, Sherlock glanced up and smiled at him, and, in a move that very nearly killed John, winked and took John's cock deep into his mouth.
John simultaneously clutched the back of Sherlock's head, arched his back so forcefully he smacked the back of his skull on the wall and moaned so loudly it was practically a roar. It was the first time Sherlock had reciprocated orally, and John had to hold the man's head still for a long moment as he forced himself to not orgasm instantly.
"Fuck! God, Sherlock. Just, give me a minute. Ow, my head. That really hurt. No, not that one." He chuckled at Sherlock's worried look and pulled the other man up to stand in front of him.
"That felt amazing, love, but I think if you are going to do that I had better be lying down, and maybe have something softer behind my head. Jesus, that was incredible. I almost came in what, two seconds? That has to be a record. Can we go to bed, please?"
Sherlock grinned, knelt again to pull John's shoes and trousers off and stood, propelling him backwards through the apartment towards his bedroom, eyes burning with an intensity that made John tremble. As they walked through the doorway Sherlock's hand reached out and grabbed the bottle of lube (the second John had bought in as many weeks) and the box of condoms from the top of the dresser. He tossed these on the foot of the bed as he pushed John down, kneeling between the smaller man's legs.
John pulled him in for a kiss before Sherlock could pounce again, and unbuttoned his deep purple shirt with shaking hands. When Sherlock pulled away John simply gazed at him; mouth and cheeks red, curly hair even more messy than usual, pale chest looking for all the world like it was sculpted from marble, slim hips and legs still unfortunately covered by tight black pants that did nothing to hide the bulge at his crotch.
"My God, you are beautiful."
Sherlock bared his teeth in a predatory smile before yanking John's legs toward him, forcing John to lie down. Sherlock's mouth descended and he kissed his way slowly down John' neck and chest, letting his tongue dip quickly into John's belly button before he reached his leaking cock. Sliding his hands around again to hold the backs of John's thighs, Sherlock met his gaze as he flicked the end of his tongue against the head. John's back arched and he moaned, high and needy, which changed immediately to low, desperate groans as Sherlock took him fully into his mouth again.
"Oh, Sherlock, fuck yes, don't stop." John was shaking, his hands fisting the sheets to keep himself from pushing Sherlock's head down further. He was too distracted to notice Sherlock opening the bottle of lube until he felt one slick finger begin massaging his hole as that wicked mouth continued to drive him wild. Just as this was the first time Sherlock had gone down on him, it was the first time John hadn't been on top, and for a moment his body froze, resisting the invasion. Then Sherlock's tongue began to flick back and forth across the underside of John's cock and he lost all will to resist, muscles relaxing as Sherlock's finger slid deep inside him. Sherlock, genius that he was, found John's prostate in seconds, and far quicker that John would have liked he was cumming, alternating between pressing himself deeper into Sherlock's mouth and trying to get Sherlock's finger to go deeper inside him, screaming into the pillow he had pulled over his face.
He lay shaking, face covered, unable to move as Sherlock continued to suck him long after he had swallowed. He had never before experienced arousal so intense that one orgasm did not satisfy it, so he was shocked to realize that he was still rock hard, still aching for release as Sherlock slid his tongue over him. He removed the pillow from his face just as Sherlock finally released his cock to discover that while he hadn't been looking, the younger man had pulled his pants down to his knees, slid a condom over his own erection and reached for more lube. John stared, mouth slightly open and panting, as he watched Sherlock rub the lube between his hands and then grasp his cock in one hand and John's in the other, coating both and hissing at the pleasure denied himself until that point.
Sherlock met his eyes and John nodded, knowing what Sherlock wanted and, despite never having desired it before, on the brink of begging the man to take him, so badly did he need to cum. Sherlock smiled briefly, leaning forward to kiss him and while he did, slid his cock into John. Still somewhat open from Sherlock's finger, it took John a few seconds to adjust to the size, gasping and moaning as Sherlock slid slowly deeper until he was buried fully inside him.
"Shit, Sherlock. If I'd known it felt this good I'd have made you do this ages ago. Why didn't you tell me?"
"Why didn't you tell me how good this felt? You're so tight, I can barely move." Sherlock did so as he said this and John wailed, completely beside himself with pleasure as the flared head of Sherlock's cock rubbed against his prostate. Sherlock leaned forward and kissed him again, slowly sliding in an out, John's slippery cock pressed between them. John's eyes were squeezed shut, he had never felt this much pleasure at once before, and he was close to passing out. Sherlock seemed to notice and moved even slower, stroking the side of John's face and kissing him gently.
"John, look at me. Open your eyes."
John did and saw Sherlock staring steadily back at him, pupils blown so far his eyes looked black, whole body trembling with tension.
"I want you to know. Even though I'm not certain of what it is, and haven't even given it much thought until today, what I'm feeling right now seems to be very close to what you described earlier. If it is possible for me to love, I love you, John Watson."
John closed his eyes to hold back the tears and kissed Sherlock desperately, holding the taller man's body tight.
"Well, I'm certain of it, and I love you."
Sherlock smiled and began thrusting again, sliding in as deep as he could, his abdomen rubbing against John's cock. John could not stop moaning, gasping an 'I love you' with every thrust, the pleasure building until his whole body locked and he lay, quivering, finally begging.
"Please, Sherlock, please…"
"Please what, John?"
John's fingers clutched Sherlock's sides, trying to make him move faster.
"Please, Jesus, make me cum. Please. I'm so close."
Sherlock smiled and moved to kiss John, who thought he heard a whispered "As you wish" before his mouth was captured. One long fingered hand reached between them and closed around John's cock, thumb rubbing circles around the head as Sherlock thrust his cock deep inside. Sherlock crested first, his final orgasmic thrust hitting John's prostate and his hand involuntarily clenching, driving John over the edge with him. They moaned together, hips bucking into one another, until their cocks finally stopped pulsing.
After that they simply gazed at each other, neither one having anything to say that hadn't already been said. Eventually they both began to feel cold, and more than a little sticky, and Sherlock slowly pulled out, eliciting one last moan from John. He grinned, tossed the condom in the wastebasket and grabbed John's pants from the floor, wiping his own cock and stomach clean before handing it to John. John cleaned up as best he could, but ended up dissolving into giggles when all he managed to was create more of a mess.
"So much cum!" was all he could manage when Sherlock looked inquisitive, and the two men shook with laughter, holding each other tight.
"Shower?" John finally got his breath back.
"Yes please, I feel rather disgusting."
"Well, that happens. It's an unfortunate side effect of sex. Hopefully worth it, though."
Sherlock kissed him before pulling him to his feet.
"I love you, Sherlock."
Sherlock smiled before propelling John towards the bathroom.
"I know. And I have an ever growing appreciation of what that means."