John returns home to Baker Street, shedding his wool coat and suit jacket at the door. Sherlock's still at tea with Mycroft—probably still trying to decide what to do with him. The flat is quiet, the late sun turning everything a faded gold. It's peaceful, a contrast that's not lost on him as he heads to the bedroom to change out of his blood-stained clothes.

He hasn't even finished taking off his shirt when the door downstairs opens and there are heavy, quick footsteps on the stairs. Sherlock's back, then. For a moment he panics, looking for somewhere to hide his bloody clothes, and then freezes. Sherlock no doubt already knows exactly where he's been and what he's been doing, and if not surely Mycroft had some idea. So why is he all of a sudden trying to hide?

But then, Sherlock is in the flat, puttering around the kitchen as he calls for John, who can't bring himself to answer. Somehow, Sherlock knows he's home, though, because his footsteps come closer, and then he's standing in the doorway of the bedroom. Sherlock freezes, takes in his red-splattered clothes as if he really hadn't expected to find John…or hadn't expected to see such blatant evidence of what John had been doing while he had met with his brother.

He meets Sherlock's gaze as coolly as he's able, but he can't help the unconscious tightening of his jaw when Sherlock suddenly slams his fist into the door hard enough to splinter the wood. It's a rare physical show of anger for the detective, and it, like the crackling anger in his eyes, belies his otherwise calm demeanor.

"Who was it this time?"

"Do you really need to know?"

Sherlock snorts in derision at the question. "If I needed to know, I would."

"Then why bother asking?" John turns away again, fussing with the buttons on his shirt, hesitating before pulling it off and chucking it into the laundry bag. The service he'd arranged doesn't ask questions, and if a shirt is stained beyond redemption, a crisp new one arrives in the return bag. The t-shirt underneath he'll just discard, but something stops him from stripping it off in front of Sherlock, who's moved past him to study the alley below from the bedroom window.

"Did you need something?" His tone is harsher than he'd intended, but Sherlock just…infuriates him. He's standing there so calmly when his flatmate is discarding clothes covered in the blood of someone he'd killed scarcely an hour ago. He should be furious, appalled, anything but calm and collected.

Sherlock doesn't reply, only turns back and watches him with a searching, intense look, as though he expects John to be able to read his thoughts. There's a hesitance there, too—a caution John had never noticed in him before he'd…left. But he's seen it plenty lately, and he really wishes Sherlock would just talk to him. A niggling voice in the back of his mind reminds him that every time Sherlock has tried, John has just gotten angry and pushed him away. He does his best to ignore it.

John finally throws up his hands. "Fine. Keep quiet. I'm going to take a bath." He stalks away, slamming the bathroom door behind him. He abandons the rest of his clothes on the floor and runs water hot enough to fog the small room in a few moments. A glance in the mirror above the sink shows that his eye is almost back to normal, only a slight tinge of green remaining, but there are dark circles under both eyes and his mouth is tense with stress. He rolls his eyes and turns away to the tub and sinks up to his neck into the practically scalding water.

He sighs, letting his aches be soothed by the heat. The tension drains from him as he ducks his head briefly and wipes the water and damp hair from his face. He hears Sherlock walk past, pausing briefly by the door before continuing to the kitchen towards the living room, his steps fading away. The early evening is quiet, few car horns and sirens making it through to him from outside, and for a few brief minutes he revels in it, relaxing like he hasn't in a very long time.

But it isn't long before his mind has other plans.

Namely thinking about Sherlock.

Even on assignment today, he couldn't get the man out of his mind. It was a constant struggle to not to be distracted by their conversation the other day and have his inattention affect his work. He'd admitted some of his worst fears and deepest secrets to Sherlock, and he'd taken everything John said in stride—not reacted in anger, or disgust, or horror—simply accepted what John had become: damaged through little fault of his own, at least to begin with. John had wanted acknowledgment of his pain, and when Sherlock had tried to provide it, tried to bolster John's failing sense of control, of usefulness, John had pushed him away, refused to listen to what he so desperately wants to hear.

God, he's conflicted. In one moment, he wants to pull Sherlock closer, and in the other, he wants to shove him away. He wants Sherlock's reassurance but denies it to avoid appearing weak to a man who already knows more about him than anyone. The desire for retribution is gone, replaced bit by bit with an overwhelming desire for much, much more.

The panic he'd felt the other day, when he'd believed Sherlock to be an invention of his own grieving mind, shows how much he's built his world around the man, relying on him for his own sense of self. John Watson has no place in a world without Sherlock Holmes, not now, not after everything. And that reliance had transformed into something else, a desire he's barely allowed himself to think about, even as it had already begun to slip through the cracks of his denial. At some point, it had wound its tendrils around his heart when he hadn't noticed, and now it's too far too late to loosen their grip even if he wanted to.

He's completely, utterly in love with Sherlock Holmes.

It had started a long time ago, but he'd only ever realized how bad it was when suddenly, the object of his longing was gone from his reach. Just knowing the potential for him, with a simple word or—fuck—a quick press of his mouth to Sherlock's, to change everything was somehow reassuring. He could wait, telling himself there would always be more time, more opportunities. But then Sherlock was gone, and all he could do was curse at himself and rail at fate for taking away the chance, when he knows he should have done something, anything, if only to know for sure.

And then Sherlock had come back…and he still can't bring himself to act, to tip the scales and take that chance. He's a coward and he knows it. He scrubs his damp hands over his face, muffling the noise of frustration that escapes him. What is it that's keeping him from acting? Fear? That Sherlock will react badly, that making a move could very well end their partnership, such as it is? Could he live with that, risking what he has for the chance of more?

He feels like he's about to fly apart into a million fractured pieces. Part of him wants to take that step forward, to believe that there's a possibility that this obsession isn't one-sided, to view the gentle touch of Sherlock's hand was more than just friendly concern. But there's a much stronger, more convincing part that's telling him everything he doesn't want to hear: Sherlock may not think he's a sad excuse for a human being, but that doesn't necessarily equate to everything John wants.

John slips under, holding his breath in the warm cocoon of the water and listening to the odd echoing distortion of noise from below the surface. It's calming, clarifying, and he stays under until his lungs begin to ache.

When he pads into the kitchen, Sherlock is waiting in his armchair, eyes unfocused and staring. It's far from unusual, so John begins to busy himself with tea.

"John, I need to speak with you."

Sherlock's piercing gaze has returned and is settled on him. John's hand stops in midair, a scoop of tea leaves grasped in his fingers halted on its way to a mug. It's the tone more than anything that catches his attention: not imperious and superior, but almost pleading, or as close to it as John's ever heard from Sherlock (don't think about it: begging John to do something for me, I'm a fraud, don't—) He puts down the teaspoon.

"What is it?"

"I spoke with Mycroft about you today."

"What?" Irritation flits through him. "Sherlock, why the hell d'you—"

"—John, please." That tone again, and when he sits in his own armchair, that same searching look. "He's offered you a deal."

John snorts derisively, and Sherlock's mouth tenses into a thin line. "John, listen to me. I am trying to help you, Mycroft is trying to help you. It's simple: amnesty, in exchange for your assistance in bringing down Solomon."

The idea startles a laugh out of him. "Right, because it's that simple."

"Mycroft needs an inside man, someone willing to get their hands dirty, a willingness you've certainly shown lately." John falls silent, so Sherlock continues. "You said you felt useless, but you're the only one who's gained his trust, the only person whom Mycroft can use. Don't you see, John, it's a perfect solution!"

"Have you ever considered that maybe I don't want your help, hmm? That maybe I'm sick of being used by you and your brother and by everyone else who needs something from me—"

"John." Sherlock reaches out and takes John's face in his hands, and his words splutter to a halt at the completely unexpected contact. John can barely keep himself from…he doesn't know what. It's agonizing, wanting like this again for the first time in so long. After so long trying to ignore and bury and suppress everything he feels for this completely infuriating, brilliant man, resisting the urge to lean forward and bridge that gap is getting more difficult with each moment that passes. But then Sherlock goes wide-eyed and yanks his hands away, as if he's just now realised he'd moved at all.

When John speaks, it's resigned. "Sherlock, we've already been over this. What if…" The thought that suddenly occurs to him is grim. "…what if we do this, and I can't stop, after? What if I hurt someone, someone who hasn't done anything, someone innocent, because I can't…"

His words fail at the thought. He's had no problem doing anything Solomon asks of him, but he's never considered that the people he's killed might have deserved otherwise. He's let his rage guide him, blinded to the fact that what he's doing is wrong, allowing his grief and anger to tear through the morality he's always let guide his actions.

Not even a day before he'd protested that he wouldn't give up dealing death to those on Solomon's list, but there's no schedule for realisations like this one. Something had finally broken through, and whatever finally reached him, the impact is tremendous.

And then, Sherlock's words cut through the panic and devastation.

"You won't."

"How can you say that, and sound so bloody sure? Jesus, Sherlock, I just killed someone, I've killed over a dozen people and you're telling me I'm just going to be able to stop?!"

"Yes, you are, because I am going to help you, and you will survive this, just as you always do." The force of Sherlock's belief is another blow, the intensity of his gaze unavoidable. "We are going to destroy Solomon, and the rest can wait. Moran, all of it."

"Why do you continue to have any faith in me?" John asks, dropping his head into his hands, trying not to feel lighter at the thought of a way out of this mess he's gotten himself into.

"I might ask you the same question."

John laughs humorlessly, and his eyes are bleak when he looks back up. "Because…well, look at you, you're you."

"And at risk of sounding inanely repetitive, you, John, are you."

"What?" The words land like a blow, and the air is knocked from John's lungs.

"You, John Watson, are a good man. Better than I will ever be." Sherlock's leaning in closer, and John can't stop himself from doing the same, because it's as if Sherlock is…but he can't be, God, he can't be leaning in to let his mouth land on John's because if he is, John may not survive, now that he knows the hunger that's coursing through him, craving that contact.


"And I…I cannot allow you to continue to blame yourself, because neither of us is blameless. I've held you to a standard that you've always risen to meet, but I've treated you as far less worthy than you are. And if my treatment of you has led you to believe yourself less worthy, than I am truly more at fault than I ever realised, and for that I…apologise."

"What?" John blinks in surprise, never expecting to actually hear Sherlock say those words. "What did you say?" he whispers hoarsely again.

"I…" Sherlock's eyes wander down to his mouth—no, he's not imagining it—and back up to meet his glance. "I'm sorry, John." There's so much regret and sorrow in those bright eyes that he feels their gaze like a blow.

"I know it's too much to ask, after what I've done, but…I need you to trust me. Trust that I can help you, if you can't trust yourself. Trust my faith in you, just as you always have."

It isn't that he can't say no, but that he doesn't want to. Even after everything Sherlock has put him through, God help him, he still wants to believe he can be that man Sherlock thinks he is, good and honorable and brave. If that's what it takes to end this, then he'll cling to Sherlock's faith like a drowning man and pray that his trust isn't misplaced this time.

"All right. All right, I'll do it." He closes his eyes, letting the realisation settle in, that he might find his way out of what his life's become after all. For the first time since that day at St. Barts, he feels cautiously hopeful.

When he opens his eyes, he thinks he sees something warm and fond in Sherlock's eyes, but the man pulls away and leaps up before John can be sure. "I'll inform Mycroft, then, though I'm sure he's already aware somehow."

"Sherlock—" John stands reaches out a hand to Sherlock's shoulder and halts him in his pacing. "I just…thank you. For, well."

Sherlock is about to reply when there's a brief knock at the door. Sherlock pulls away, seeming reluctant to John although that could just be wishful thinking, and opens the door to reveal Mrs. Hudson holding an incredibly full tray bearing a pot of tea and about three meals.

"I thought you boys might be a bit peckish, it being supper time, and thought I'd bring you a few things, see how you are." She beams at Sherlock, who actually gives her a smile in return, and John loves how his face lights up when actually allows himself to show an emotion once in a while.

Mrs. Hudson stays into the wee hours, fetching dessert and fussing about in the kitchen to make more tea, even slipping a splash of brandy into the pot with a wink at John. He wasn't the only one who grieved Sherlock. Sherlock lets her fuss, calmly answering her every time she asks if he's warm enough, if he's had enough to eat. It's the least he can do to soothe her, and it's clear that he knows he owes her this and so much more. John watches and laughs, savoring the warmth from the fire and the brandy and the company.

When he closes the door behind her, Sherlock's already headed for the couch. "Sherlock, I'm headed upstairs, so would you please just sleep in your own bloody bed instead of on the couch? I'm well aware how uncomfortable it is."

Sherlock turns around and studies him over his shoulder, watching him pick up the last of the tea things and setting them in the sink. His back is turned, but he hears Sherlock pick himself up and walk through the kitchen to his room, pausing just outside the door, his hand on the doorknob.

"Good night, John."

He turns around to meet Sherlock's eyes, full of sated warmth and a hint of what would be hesitance, nervousness, in someone else's eyes but rare to see in Sherlock's.

"Good night, Sherlock."

They watch each other a moment more, then Sherlock is closing the door and John is heading upstairs to his room. His things are much as he'd left them, the room unused except for his brief visits for clothes or one of the few books he keeps up here instead of in the living room. The sheets are cold, stiff, but clean, and he collapses gratefully into bed, exhausted by all that's happened in so short a time. This morning already feels like a week ago, and the strain of trying to hold himself together is draining. He's forgotten what it's like to just be, to know who he is and what his purpose is.

And the sheer amount of willpower it's taken not to let himself act on everything he's realised he feels for Sherlock is astounding. He can't be imagining those glances, the heat in Sherlock's eyes, but even if he knows he's deluding himself, he's too gone to care, relishing every touch and glance even if he's the only one giving them meaning.

John tries to withstand the desire that's spreading through him, making his twist and turn in his bed, but he's held up that front all day, and it's too much to stand in the darkness of his room, knowing that Sherlock is sleeping below him, perhaps even struggling as he is right now. It's a fantasy, but one that tips him over the edge at the thought, and he closes his eyes, head tilting back as his hand slides oh so slowly down his stomach, under the layers of sheets and his waistband to take himself in hand, already more than half hard and damp with precome.

This is everything, and nothing, like the last time he'd touched himself to the thought of his flatmate. Now he has hope, fragile though it may be, and it surges through his veins because Sherlock is alive, right below him, perhaps allowing his long, nimble fingers to grip his own shaft and slide to the thought of John's hands on him, John's mouth sucking bruising marks into his skin, a trail of bites from collarbone to hip, before John laps as the smooth skin of his cock and takes it in, swallowing deep and making Sherlock writhe and moan and beg for more.

John allows himself a quiet whine at the thought that Sherlock might be just as affected as he is, even as he tells himself it's an illusion. His hips buck off the bed as he jerks himself roughly to the thought of Sherlock's pale, smooth skin under his own calloused hands.

Sherlock can't sleep.

He'd allowed himself too many liberties today, been caught too many times simply watching John, and that slip-up when he's reached out and held John's face…it's as if now that he's realised what he wants, his body is going to stop at nothing to achieve it. But nothing is that simple, he knows this, even if some lust-addled part of his mind is attempting to convince him otherwise.

He'd missed nights like this one, him and John and Mrs. Hudson, just like before, her fluttering concerned mothering and John's slow smile and flushed cheeks, warm from alcohol and the fire. Seeing John like that, content and satiated instead of tense and wary, brings him contentment as well. He'd had to fight himself from reaching over and tasting the brandy on John's mouth, the warm dampness of his breath. Would John reciprocate?

For all that he knows of human behaviour, emotions are messy, complicated things that confound him. There's no logic in why John Watson of the people in the world makes him flush with arousal and love and longing, and he just as he cannot see the logic in this, he cannot read any signs John is giving that his feelings are returned. Lust is easy to diagnose: the way John's breathing had sped up, his eyes dilated, when Sherlock had leaned close earlier—even the logic agrees that John desires him.

His thought process is interrupted, driven to a stuttering halt, at the thought. He knows the battle is lost when the thought of John wanting him sends blood racing to his groin. He's so rarely allowed himself the luxury, preferring to focus on cases rather than the mess of emotional distractions, that it hits him twice as hard now, how much he wishes John was here in his bed, that it's John's hand reaching to stroke him to full hardness.

Perhaps John is upstairs, in his own bed, tortured by the thought of Sherlock pinning him down, taking control and using that power to wring pleasure from him like he's never experienced. The thought makes him gasp, and he strokes himself faster, picturing John wrecked and pleading. Or perhaps John would pin him down, tease him until he's begging like he's never begged before, his body aching to be filled. He smears pre-ejaculate on his fingers and reached further, tentatively pushing first one finger, then two, inside himself, imagining John's hand teasing him open while John's mouth presses damply against his own.

John's utterly wrecked, his hand slipping faster over his shaft as he pictures Sherlock on his hands and knees, waiting for John to fuck him. He smothers his moans in his hand, trying to stay quiet, but the thought of being inside Sherlock is wringing noises from him that he's never heard himself make before, desperate noises that only fuel his arousal.

He whines Sherlock's name, and then he's coming, turning over to pour hot and thick into the sheets as he fucks against the mattress, crying out into his pillow in a desperate attempt to muffle the noise.

Sherlock's fingers find his prostate, and he arches up with a gasp, feet planted on the mattress and legs spread as his other hand continues its slick slide from the root to the tip of his cock, rapid and rough. His pillows still carry John's lingering smell, combined with sweat and arousal, and the mix is heady. He imagines John's weight on him, pressing him into the bed, imagines John thrusting into him faster and faster as his own hand moves accordingly, until his breath stutters to a halt with one last harsh inhale and he's coming, head tilted back in a soundless gasp as he soaks his hand, warm, thick liquid in pulse after pulse while his orgasm shakes through him.

His limbs feel like lead when he finally relaxes. He manages to clean himself up before he sinks into sleep, deciding to come to terms with what he's just done in the morning.

For a moment, John contemplates sneaking down to the bathroom, but the thought of waking Sherlock is terrifying. One look at him, still flushed and disheveled, and Sherlock will know exactly what he's done. So he makes do with tissues and adjusts the bedding where he's pulled the fitted sheet off the mattress.

He'll deal with everything in the morning, Solomon and Sherlock and all of it. For now, he allows himself to sleep, more peacefully than he has in months.

Thanks again to snogandagrope over at AO3 for beta reading!