Summary: Sherlock is hired to help a victim of blackmail, but a wrong number leads John to discovering a few secrets he didn't know he had.

Warnings: American spellings, vague discussions of adult acts, but nothing explicit.
Wordcount: 5,900
Notes: This was all written in ONE DAY, but I'm pretty happy with it. The story is lifted heavily from The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, and also makes reference to A Case of Identity. The setting is probably between The Hounds of Baskerville and The Reichenbach Fall, or possibly an AU to Reichenbach, however you want to read it.

The Adventure of Charlie M.

Things with Sherlock were going as well as they ever did; which was to say John hadn't found any dead things in his bed lately, but he still had to do all the shopping. It wasn't unusual for Sherlock to text him while he was at the store and request something outlandish for one of his experiments, but most of the time John just ignored it. Comparing sugar prices against the speed at which they used a bag, John felt a buzz in his pocket and glanced at the screen.

Pick up a Weekly Comet.
-SH

That was unusual. Sherlock didn't tend to have any interest in gossip rags, or the lives of other people in general, unless they were a client or he was showing off (or both). Still, a couple pounds wouldn't kill him, so John grabbed the latest issue of the paper from the checkout lane and headed home.

"Here's your paper."

Sherlock took the thing carefully between thumb and forefinger, his lip curling just slightly the way it did when he was forced to listen to Anderson. "I don't suppose you've ever read this dreck."

John shrugged, starting to unpack the groceries. "I'll read the headlines while I'm in line at the store. I might have flipped through it in a waiting room once or twice. Why?"

Sherlock ignored him, which wasn't surprising. He was reading the very first page of the paper, just inside the cover, with the type of concentration he usually devoted to a microscope. Since he'd explain when he was good and ready (and could best display how clever he was being), John turned his own attention to fitting the frozen stir-fry vegetables in the freezer.

"Have you heard of a man called Charles Augustus Milverton?"

"Name sounds familiar, but I couldn't tell you where."

"Of course not. No one ever takes the few seconds required for even a normal mind to pin a name to a face."

He ignored that, magnanimously, and shifted the ice cube tray full of bits of unidentified meat. Maybe the vegetables could sit on top of that? But even if germs were unlikely to pass through frozen foods, John thought better of it.

"He's the owner of this paper," Sherlock said. John glanced over to see him holding the offending newsprint at arm's length. "As well as the associated website, app, and a series of videos starring the women on page five."

"That paper's got a page five?"

Sherlock shot a look at him, and John felt his neck heat up. They must tear that page out before they put it in waiting rooms, that was all he meant, but of course Sherlock would...

"He sent me an e-mail. Well," he tilted his head slightly. "He sent you an e-mail."

"Me?" John considered protesting this latest invasion of privacy, but he couldn't summon up the energy to argue with Sherlock when he was obviously in a good mood. "Why would the owner of a celebrity gossip paper e-mail me?"

"Respect for a fellow chronicler, perhaps?" Sherlock nearly, but not quite, smiled. "Or perhaps he took you for my secretary."

John slammed the freezer door shut. The cushioning didn't make it nearly as satisfying as he'd hoped. "Let's cut to the chase, all right? He wants to hire you for some reason, but he e-mailed me, because..." And he realized he'd known the answer all along. "Because that's how things work in his world. My people will call your people. I'd bet the e-mail wasn't from him at all, but From The Desk Of."

Sherlock was definitely smiling that time, and John couldn't help a little shiver that had nothing to do with the half-eaten pint of ice cream he was still holding. "Quite. He wants to set up a meeting, very discreet, and is offering a hundred pounds just to talk. Provided I- we- sign a non-disclosure agreement."

John snorted. "I assume you already told him where he can stick that."

"Of course."

So that was where the good mood had come from. Not the prospect of a case, but the delight in telling off someone who thought they could control him. If there was one thing Sherlock hated, it was being told what to do.

He read the paper quietly while John wrestled with the last of the groceries, occasionally snorting or muttering to himself. John was sure he caught the word "wrong" more than once. By the time tea was up he'd finished it, and John had no doubt he'd read every word, cover to cover.

A couple days passed, and John had nearly forgotten about the incident. Sherlock took a case that he solved in an afternoon and refused to talk about afterward, which occupied most of John's thoughts when he wasn't focusing. So when Sherlock raised the subject of e-mail, John naturally jumped to the wrong conclusion.

"No, not the vanished fiance." He rolled his eyes, managing to make John feel like an imbecile yet again. "Charles Augustus Milverton, popularly known as Charlie M."

"I thought you told him off," John said. At least he recognized the name this time.

"I told off his desk, but it amounts to the same thing. This is a new matter, but I'm certain it's related to the first. And the e-mail came to me this time."

"All right, so, what, you're agreeing to meet with him?"

"Hardly. A woman by the name of Eva Brackwell."

"But she's connected to him."

"Much moreso than she wishes to be." He stood, pulling on his coat with the grace of long rehearsal. "Come, John, we'll be late for tea."

Ms. Eva Brackwell was an absolutely breathtaking young woman, the effect only slightly marred by her obviously dyed hair and fake nails. John suspected the eyelashes weren't real either, but he had more than a little trouble keeping his eyes on hers, and away from her... blouse. He made sure to sit back out of Sherlock's line of sight, to avoid being targeted for ridicule.

"It's Charlie," she said, her voice shaking a little. "Mr. M. He bugged my phone, and recorded calls, messages, from... someone I've been seeing. I don't know what else he has, but the messages are enough."

"He's blackmailing you." It wasn't a question.

She nodded, her full lips quivering. "And if I don't pay, he'll make everything public."

"Do you have that much to lose? You aren't married."

"No, but..."

"Ah. He is."

She nodded again, digging into her expensive purse and pulling out a wadded tissue to dab at her eyes.

Sherlock sipped his tea while he waited for Eva to compose herself. He was being unusually indulgent of the client, and John couldn't help but wonder what his game was. In fact, eh was so wrapped up in wondering, he didn't notice Eva adjusting her blouse until he looked back and found he was staring at more evidence of falsehood.

"I want you to arrange something, Mr. Holmes. I can get the money, but it's all I have, and my- he won't pay. If you can convince Mr. M to cut a deal, or- or get the recordings and whatever else away from him, I..."

"If Mr. Milverton is taking you for all you have, what exactly is left over for my fee?"

There was the coldness.

"He won't pay a blackmailer, but he'll pay a detective. It's a matter of principle."

"The same principle that led him to another woman's bed."

She drew herself up, thrusting her... blouse outward. "If you're quite finished judging me, Mr. Holmes, I am offering you a job."

"Indeed, and a rather boring on. Blackmail? It's the oldest case in the book. For as long as there have been three people on this earth, two have been keeping a secret from the other."

"Is that what you think? Fine." She stood, her heels clattering on the tiled floor of the tearoom. "Good day, Mr. Holmes."

"I didn't say I wouldn't take it."

Eva paused, blinking. "What?"

"There's something you're not telling me, and something Mr. Milverton was willing to hire me himself to hide. I'll take the case."

"I... I see." She took a business card out of her purse, holding it out between claw-like nails. "Please call me when you find something."

Sherlock passed the card to John casually, who tucked it in his pocket while he watched Eva walk away. Surely that couldn't be false. When he turned back, Sherlock was staring at him over steepled fingers.

"I wasn't-"

"Did you recognize her, John?"

"What?" He hadn't, actually. Should he have? Was he about to get another lecture on remembering faces?

"I thought you might have, the way you were observing her so intently."

The back of John's neck grew warm. "I don't think so."

"She's been in at least a hundred or so adult films."

John nearly choked on his lukewarm tea. "What? When did you watch-"

"I haven't. Utterly boring. But I could tell." He sketched a picture in the air with his long fingers. "The false nails, the plastic surgery, the hair, all fit current trends in adult films. She makes a great deal of money, but it isn't steady work, given the brand-name purse and shoes that are both a year out of date."

"She could just be fashion-conscious on a budget."

"She had calluses on her knees, though she takes exacting care of her skin, indicating she spends a lot of time kneeling. I can't quite picture Ms. Brackwell in church for hours every day, can you?"

John's neck was burning now. "You really can't judge..."

"Most importantly, the card she just gave me, and I gave to you, bore the name Virginia Cummings."

John looked at the card. He was right. The name was written in pink script, with a matching pink lip-print pressed in the corner. "Bloody hell."

"It's curious, isn't it? That a prolific pornographic actress would be so ashamed of an affair with a married man. Even if her choice of career wasn't subject to so much public derision, there isn't as much stigma not for the unmarried party in an extramarital affair. Hardly worth paying her entire savings to a man like Charles Milverton."

"Then you really think there's more going on?"

"I would stake my reputation on it."

"Maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing," John muttered, remembering the way the younger constables at the station looked at them.

Of course, Charlie Milverton had no reason to want to make a deal with Sherlock after he'd been blown off, and since Eva, or Virginia, didn't want to go to the police they had no bargaining chips. John soon gave up asking if there'd been progress, but he knew Sherlock was still working on it in between their other cases.

At least he finally shared what had so disturbed him about the missing fiance from before. A man seducing his own step-daughter. John wished he'd never found out.

Weeks passed. Charlie Milverton was nearly forgotten, and Eva Brackwell only remembered because her name still popped up when John typed E or V into his search bar. He was in the supermarket again, this time wondering if he wanted to try the cheese that was on sale, when his phone buzzed.

Not unusual, not at all. He read the message, and nearly dropped his basket.

I want you so badly. I can't wait until I see you again. Are you thinking of me?
-SH

John was certain his whole face must be bright red. A text like that... It had to be a joke, an experiment, there was no way Sherlock really- He couldn't, could he? He'd never shown any interest in anyone, except maybe... But that was debatable, and it wasn't John. Even if, madly, Sherlock were interested in him, he wouldn't send a text like that. He'd lay out the facts, very logically, and expect John to agree with his oh-so-reasonable proposal that they get naked.

Oh god, now he was thinking of Sherlock naked. He'd never seen it, not quite, always a towel or a bedsheet in the way. But he was a handsome man, handsome enough that more than one woman was willing to overlook his awful personality. Or perhaps that was the draw; distant fathers and bad boys. John didn't have... Well, sort of, but not like- He wasn't a woman, for one thing!

The phone buzzed again. He was afraid to look, but forced his neck to move.

Sorry, wrong John.
-SH

What. What? Wrong John? Sherlock knew two Johns? It wasn't an uncommon name, by any means, but Sherlock was sending dirty texts to this other John?

What did he have that John didn't-

The thought came unbidden, and John shook it off. This obviously had something to do with a case. There was no other possible explanation that made any kind of sense. A case, and Sherlock, for some reason, had needed to seduce a man named John for-

-another John! How could he? Hadn't they been through-

Absolutely ridiculous. John knew he couldn't focus until he got the whole story, so he took the little shopping he had to the checkout lane and got home as fast as he could.

Sherlock was lying on the couch, phone resting on his chest, looking exactly like he always did. No flush, no quick breathing, no sign of excitement at all. Or embarrassment, for that matter.

"Another John, eh?" John asked, forcing his tone to stay light. "Should I be jealous?"

"If you like."

His hands didn't tremble as he started unpacking the groceries. Damn, he'd forgotten milk. Sherlock was sure to notice that. "What was that about?"

"You remember the desk of Charles Milverton?"

"Of course."

"John Escott is that desk."

"Oh... Oh!" Realization, thankfully, dawned. This other John was Milverton's secretary, or assistant, or something of the like, and Sherlock had gotten close to him to steal back the recordings. It made a twisted kind of sense, the way most of Sherlock's plans did. "Isn't is cruel to lead him on?"

"Not really, he's no more looking for something serious than I am."

"I... see."

"I've convinced him I'm a bit of an exhibitionist, and doing it in his boss's office would thrill me so much he could do anything he liked to me."

"Jesus, Sherlock." John's skull felt like it was on fire. "You're not- not actually sleeping with him, are you?"

"Hardly."

"If you haven't..." he searched for a better turn of phrase than the one that sprang to mind, and found nothing. "If you haven't given it up, then how can you convince him to take that kind of risk?"

"Seduction is simple enough. You find a person's buttons, and push them one by one."

"And you've had experience with this?"

"I don't need to, it's child's play." For the first time in the conversation, he looked up. "You forgot milk."

John had a hard time shaking the memory of that text from his mind. He had an even harder time deleting it from his phone. Every time he saw it in his history his stomach clenched and he thought his knees might buckle, but they never quite did, and he never quite bothered to delete it.

The message really wasn't that dirty, when you got down to it. No graphic descriptions of what Sherlock was doing, or wanted the other John to do. But, somehow, that seemed to make it worse. John's mind provided all kinds of images he never asked for and couldn't get rid of, dozens of possibilities for context that he already knew were false.

The problem was that John had never thought of Sherlock and sex intersecting. Even when it was on offer, Sherlock was dismissive. Well, except for once, but then he had seemed flummoxed by the possibility, truly out of control for the first time. He'd studies since then, that much was clear.

And it wasn't as though John's eyes hadn't wandered, a time or two. It was only natural; Sherlock was objectively handsome, had great skin, striking features, hair you wanted to ruffle. It didn't make a man gay to occasionally find himself watching his roommate's pale delicate fingers and think how lovely they were. That wasn't sexual, that was just being human.

He and Sherlock were close, very close, shared a living space, weren't afraid of touching each other or arguing or spending time in their underwear when the air conditioning broke down. Of course Sherlock had taken his clothes off first, and John had merely concurred with a good idea, but...

John wasn't gay. He'd never needed to point that out so often before. He wasn't gay, and neither was Sherlock, probably, and even if he was, even if they both had been, being close friends didn't mean you were in a relationship! They were just friends.

(Except there wasn't anything just about it, was there? John had never been so close to someone who wasn't family before, hadn't relied on someone, understood someone, shared so much with someone. Sherlock was more than a friend, more than family even, tied to him by so much more than blood. But they weren't having sex, so it couldn't be a relationship, could it?

Could it?)

John wanted to blame it all on that rogue text message, so... he did. It was all the message's fault he was thinking these things, not something he'd been suppressing for a long time. He deleted the text after three days, and resolved to forget all about it.

That evening, returning from work, he got another text.

I need you tonight.
-SH

John rolled his eyes before replying.

Wrong John.
-JW

No, not this time.
-SH

John's knees locked up and he froze in the middle of the sidewalk. Sherlock... needed him. Tonight. Needed...

No, no, god, of course not like that. He must have some scheme or other that he was going to take part in, and wanted John to come along. It wasn't like that. He didn't need him.

Still, John felt shaken when he got back to the flat, and Sherlock seemed to notice. He let him put his things away and get settled before he jumped to his feel and produced a thin black wallet from the plastic bag sitting next to the couch.

"Do you know what this is?"

John looked at the small metal implements inside the wallet. Oddly enough, he did. "It's a lockpick set."

Sherlock looked faintly disappointed. "Yes."

"We're breaking into Milverton's office."

"Yes."

John couldn't keep the smugness from his voice when he asked, "So the other John didn't come through?"

"Well enough, though not so well as I'd hoped," Sherlock admitted. "Once it became clear I really wasn't going to sleep with him, he threw me out. But not after I learned enough to get through the building security. Here." He pulled a bundle of blue fabric from the bag. "Put this on."

John found himself holding a pair of light blue coveralls, with a name patch reading Gus. "No."

"I need two people to disable the alarm, and a pair of electricians draw less attention that one."

"I'm not helping you break and enter."

"There won't be any breaking. Anyway, why not? He's a blackmailer, we'll only be taking information that wasn't rightly his."

"It's just... wrong."

"You won't break this law for me?" Sherlock's eyes were as cold as ever, but the emphasis on the word this...

"Isn't the case over? Surely Milverton wouldn't wait three weeks to be paid his dirty money."

"Apparently Ms. Brackwell's lover came through for her after all. He's been delaying the negotiations as long as he could, but the money is to be transferred tonight at midnight. Unless I let Ms. Brackwell know we've recovered the evidence."

John sighed, and started to unbutton his cardigan. "Fine."

The coveralls were too long on him, the stain-resistant fabric bunching at his ankles and sagging in the crotch. It was too tight around the shoulders and chest, though, making John look as though his legs were melting. Sherlock had the opposite problem; nearly an inch of skin showing past the cuffs, and the torso hanging loosely like a caftan.

"It's more authentic this way," Sherlock assured him. "You don't think the security company pays enough for personal tailoring, do you?"

They were posing as late night repairmen, come to check what might have caused a false alarm on the security system. In reality, Sherlock had set off the alarm for a few seconds an hour ago; just enough to give the staff a plausible reason to expect a visit.

John kept his mouth shut and let Sherlock do the talking, a rare occasion dealing with the public where this was a good idea. He got them past the guard at the door, the bored-looking woman at the front desk who looked significantly less bored as they walked away, and the honest-to-god elevator operator. But it took John to deal with the guard on the top floor, who had a headache and didn't want to deal with the possibility of more alarms while it was being tested. John suggested a cold compress over the eyes, and gave him some of the ibuprofen he habitually carried when he went anywhere with Sherlock, earning the guard's eternal gratitude and at least ten minutes alone on the floor.

Sherlock's deft fingers turned off the alarm, the door unlocking automatically, and in a single step they'd gone from cool blue walls and modern architecture, to a study that might have come from a college hijinks movie. John hadn't thought anyone really decorated in burgundy leather and wood-paneled walls, or massive oak desks carved with ivy. Whatever heights Milverton aspired to, they were clearly more intellectual than his publishing.

Along with the desk, there was an oak bookshelf containing what looked like hundreds of three-ring binders stuffed to bursting, and an oak wardrobe that was shut tight and probably locked. While Sherlock made a beeline for the desk and its computer, John tried the door experimentally. Yes, locked.

"What were the lockpicks for?" John asked, suddenly remembering.

"That," Sherlock jerked his head at the wardrobe. "The hard copies of the tapes will be in there."

"Well here, give them to me and I'll give it a go."

Sherlock stared at him, very nearly looking impressed. "I didn't know casual burglary was among your skill set."

"I was young once." He took the picks tossed at him, and bent over the little keyhole. Something to focus his mind on, now that they were alone together, and the danger had passed. John felt like if he let himself think for more than a moment, he'd start screaming.

It took most of the ten minutes before Sherlock retrieved or deleted or whatever he was doing with the recordings in the computer. John popped the doors of the wardrobe open just as Sherlock was standing up and pocketing a flash drive.

John reeled back before his eyes even registered what he was seeing. Flesh, and hair, and oh god fluids covered every inch of the inside of the wardrobe. Dozens, maybe hundreds of photographs of people mid-coitus. Some of the faces looked familiar, but John couldn't stand to look long enough to find out. A doctor, disgusted by perfectly natural... okay, whatever was going on in that one wasn't natural at all, but still, John should be more professional than this. It was just... surprising.

"John."

"I'm not staring," John blurted. "I mean. Look at it!"

"You aren't looking."

"What?" He looked away from the pictures, met Sherlock's eyes, and immediately regretted it. "Uh..."

Sherlock was staring at him, with an intense focus that sent a shiver through his spine. "We've found our answer."

"We have?"

Voices from the hall startled both of them from their reveries, and John found himself being shoved into the wardrobe with the pictures, his skin crawling away from them even as he tried to avoid Sherlock's bony elbows. The door wouldn't quite shut without being locked, so Sherlock reached across him and held it via the screws inside the knobs.

John was pressed against the wall of the wardrobe, which felt much less sturdy now that his feet were tangled with Sherlock's and he was leaning most of his eight on it. He had one of Sherlock's arms on either side, and somehow they'd ended up with their legs entwined too, with Sherlock's thigh right up against...

Oh... Oh no...

Before John could try to scramble away, the voices got louder and the door to the office opened. The security must have been working normally, and no alarm was raised, unlike the hairs on John's neck and arms).

"Don't worry madam, you can rely on my utmost secrecy." That had to be Charlie Milverton. His voice positively dripped with smarm.

"I'm sure I can." A woman's voice. It sounded familiar, but John couldn't place it. No need to tell Sherlock that. No need to tell Sherlock anything, especially not how warm he was, or how much his breath tickled in close quarters, or how his femur was much much too close to a delicate portion of John's anatomy, pushing the loose fabric up in bunches.

"Let me just make sure the transfer has gone through."

John could hear the computer booting up. Please, please let Sherlock have set everything back to normal when he finished.

"Wait, what-"

John stiffened. Sherlock did too, leaning a bit, his thigh sliding forward as he shifted his weight. No, no, not here, there could not be a less appropriate time to-

"I've had enough of you. We all have." That was the woman's voice again. John heard the unmistakable sound of a hammer clicking back. "You won't ruin the lives of the people I love."

"Ruin?" Milverton repeated. "I'm not the one living in depravity."

John would have told him not to say it if he could, anyone could hear the desperation and determination in the woman's voice. Taunting her was tantamount to suicide. And blackmailer or not, Milverton couldn't possibly deserve the four shots John heard. A small-caliber pistol, silenced, but of course they were never as quiet as they were on TV. Then the quiet thump as his body slid to the floor.

At least John wasn't aroused any more. As soon as he thought it, he wanted to laugh, and he knew he was hysterical.

The woman left, heels going from a dull thud to a loud clack as she passed from carpet to linoleum. It was several long seconds of haggard breathing before either of them spoke.

"We have to call the police," John whispered, without really knowing why.

"No," Sherlock said calmly. Too calmly, John was still close enough to feel his heart was beating nearly as fast as his own.

"We just witnessed a murder, Sherlock."

"We did nothing of the sort. We heard voices, and shots, but we don't know who was speaking, or how many people there were, or who fired."

"You do," John pointed out.

Sherlock as silent for a few seconds. "Yes, but that's irrelevant."

"Is it? That woman just killed Milverton."

"Yes..." He sounded thoughtful. "Did her voice remind you of someone?"

"A bit. Why? Is she a porn actress too?"

"I don't think so, but I can't place it..."

John snorted. "Not even you can memorize everyone's voices?"

"Be quiet, I'm thinking." He let go of the screw inside the door, letting it swing open about half an inch, allowing just enough light for him to reach out a rip a picture off the inside. "All right, let's go."

He stumbled out of the wardrobe first, tripping over John's feet, and barely glanced at the late Charlie Milverton. John, moving automatically, went to the corpse and took his pulse. He already knew the man was dead, the smell of voided bowels and the lack of bloodflow making it clear, but some habits were too deeply ingrained to ignore.

"John," Sherlock hissed.

"He's dead."

"Obviously, let's go!"

"I had to be sure."

The guard still wasn't back when they passed by his chair near the elevator. Either he was still tending his headache, it had only been fifteen minutes after all, or Milverton had dismissed him while meeting with that woman. A poor choice, if it were so.

The elevator operator was gone too, but the front desk was still manned by the girl, who looked forlorn when Sherlock left without any further flirting. John felt a pang of sympathy for her, and tried to pretend it was guilt over running from a crime scene.

When they got back to the flat, John went straight to bed, without a word to Sherlock. He would handle things, the way he always did, and John would go along with it because he loved it all, deep down. Everything Sherlock had dragged him into, and...

He couldn't complete that thought. Thankfully, he was exhausted and drained enough that he fell asleep without dwelling on anything too much.

The next morning he found Sherlock reading the news on his phone, while simultaneously watching it on John's laptop. Once, this would have bothered him. Today, John put the coffee pot on and made toast.

"When was Milverton found?"

"About an hour ago. He'd given instructions he wasn't to be disturbed, and apparently it wasn't unusual for him to stay in his office all night."

"What are the police saying?"

"Not much. There's no shortage of suspects. He wasn't a popular man."

John chuckled darkly. "What about Ev- Ms. Brackwell?"

"I returned the recordings to her, as well as the picture. After making a copy."

John jerked his head up. "Picture?"

"You didn't see it?" Sherlock hit a few keys, and suddenly the screen on John's laptop was filled with an image of three people, locked in a complicated embrace. One man, and two women, one of whom was Eva. The other...

"Wait, is that?"

"Yes."

"And is that-"

"Yes."

The man's face was obscured but what he was doing to Eva, but the forehead and bit of nose John could see were still enough to identify him. Worldwide movie stars tended to be recognizable.

"Aren't they married?"

"Yes."

"But..." Too many questions at once. "If they're married, and they, ah, invited Eva to bed, then there's no scandal, is there? Movie stars can get away with that sort of thing."

"I wouldn't know."

"And Eva, why was she ashamed of this? Anyone else would be bragging."

"I realized why I recognized that woman's voice," Sherlock said, ignoring questions he clearly felt were obvious. "She rarely speaks with her natural accent in her movies."

"That was her?"

"Do you remember what she said to Milverton? You won't ruin the lives of the people I love. People. Plural."

"Wait. Wait." This was getting a little advanced for John, especially before coffee. "You mean those three are all in love with each other? All three of them?"

"That would be the only answer that makes sense. Ms. Brackwell came to me to protect them, the gentleman paid me to protect them, the lady killed Milverton for the same."

"But... murder, just to prevent scandal?"

"Scandal, death threats, firings, accusations of bigamy. The world isn't very accepting of relationships that don't fit the mold."

John was starting to feel ill. The toast had popped up, but he didn't want it. "Well it's not exactly... I mean, two consenting adults have enough problems, it's hard to imagine three could make it work."

"I'm not saying it's not uncommon. But they love each other. That's enough."

Sherlock was acting uncommon himself this morning. "Because you're the expert on loving someone you never meant to," John muttered, sounding bitter even to himself.

"Mm," Sherlock said mildly, which could have meant anything.

John huffed and went to pour himself a cup of coffee. Sherlock must have written off what happened in that wardrobe as nerves, or a result of all the dirty photos. Well, good, John didn't particularly want to answer any questions about it. But... there was a part of him that was waiting. For something. An acknowledgement. A look. Anything

"Is there something you want to say?"

John nearly jumped out of his skin. He didspill coffee on himself, which sent Sherlock scurrying from where he'd snuck up on him to get a washcloth and the vegetables from the freezer. As he pressed the makeshift ice pack against John's chest, he looked him right in the eyes.

John's heartbeat had just slowed down after the surprise and the pain, but now it started to pound again.

"You've been acting differently."

"It's... nothing. I'll get over it."

"Do you want to say something to me?"

"Do you?"

Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "You're dodging."

Of course he was. "It's a valid question. You brought up the subject, you must have a topic in mind."

"Fine." He pushed the ice pack a little harder into John's chest, making him wince. "You're attracted to me."

John raised his chin a little. It was all he could do, really. "It doesn't change anything. Like I said, I'll get over it."

"You don't want anything to change?"

"I've been perfectly content up till now, Sherlock." That wasn't entirely true, but John didn't dare- couldn't dare say the things he'd been imagining. "You're a dick, but I can deal with that."

"So that's it; ignore it and get back to normal?"

"Is that what you want?"

"My feelings haven't changed."

John's heart ceased trying to pound its way out of his ribcage, and sunk into his toes. "They... haven't?"

"Not a bit."

"Oh..." He took a shallow breath, testing the skin on his chest. It had stopped smarting, and the vegetables were melting, so he took the ice pack away. His fingers brushed Sherlock's for just a moment. "Good. Fine."

"Fine," Sherlock agreed. John, who could read Sherlock better than anyone, better than his own brother sometimes, thought he was fighting the urge to jerk his hand away.

So he was disgusted after all. Well, he would get over it. John would. It have been a mad idea anyway; he wasn't gay, and-

"The world isn't very accepting of relationships that don't fit the mold."

Oh.

"They love each other. That's enough."

Oh that idiot! Why couldn't he just say what he meant?

"Seduction is simple enough. You find a person's buttons, and push them one by one."

That complete and utter asshole.

"Your feelings haven't changed?" John repeated.

"Not at all." He was slinking away, his back to John.

"And what are your feelings, exactly?" John dropped the vegetables in the sink and cut him off around the armchair.

"You know perfectly well."

"I don't, Sherlock, I don't at all, because I'm not even sure you do. How long did it take you to admit I was your friend?"

"That's different. I still knew how I felt about you."

John gave a long-suffering sigh. "Why don't you just say it? Say, 'John Watson, I love you and always have?'"

"John..."

"Yes?"

"Why should I, if you already know?"

John sighed again, and socked him in the shoulder. "Because, I'd like to hear it."

"John."

"Yes?"

"I love you."

"I know."

"I always have."

"Very good, full marks." He leaned forward. "Now's the part where you kiss me."

Afterward, Sherlock said, a little breathlessly, "Aren't you supposed to say it back?"

"Why should I, if you already know?"