Sherlock was done with the body. But he stayed hunched over it, pretending to examine a loose thread at the hem of the dead woman's skirt, while he listed to the conversation behind him.
"Yeah, I love it actually, it's fascinating work. It's always something different. People always think it must be horrid, you know, with all the guts and gore that we see, but that never has bothered me. I reckon you're the same, being a doctor."
"True, I had seen quite a bit even before I started coming round crime scenes. It doesn't bother me much."
"Well, for me there's a paycheck at the end of it. But for you…?"
John chuckled. "No, it's not what you'd call a proper job. We do get paid on the private cases. Mostly. But for the Yard… It's just what he does. He does it very well."
"Don't sell yourself short. You do more than that, I've read your blog."
Silence. John was probably blushing.
"Can I ask you a personal question?" The man clearly assumed Sherlock couldn't hear him. That was reasonable. They were speaking quietly and he was halfway across the car park. But John would know better. "You and he, are you…?"
"No," John replied quickly. Very quickly. It was what they'd agreed. Sherlock had insisted, when their… relationship had… shifted, that they keep that information private. Mrs. Hudson knew, of course; that was inevitable the way John – alright, the way both of them – carried on. But she could be trusted. As to the rest of the world, what was the benefit in talking about it? Publicizing their increased intimacy could only make John a more tempting target for Sherlock's enemies, and they seemed to find him almost irresistible as it was. The sentimentality that would be thrust upon them would be almost as horrifying. And it was no one else's business. Besides (he admitted only to himself), he wanted to keep it tucked away safely in the darkness of Baker Street. A small, irrational part of him was afraid that if it were exposed to the harsh light of the outside world, it would crumble to dust. So he would not hear of, as John suggested, "coming out about their relationship." John grumbled that it wouldn't make a bit of difference, since everyone assumed they were shagging anyway, and he didn't appreciate Sherlock making a coward and a liar out of him, and his sister would probably never forgive him. In the end, since Sherlock felt so strongly about it, John had agreed.
But he didn't have to be so eager about it.
"No, we're not a couple, most frequently asked question, I'm afraid," John was continuing wryly. "Just flatmates and friends."
"Ah." The relief in the other man's voice was unmistakable. His name was Chaudhry. There was nothing interesting about him.
Sherlock stood and removed his latex gloves with a dramatic flourish. Both John and Lestrade, as if pulled by an invisible string, snapped their heads toward him.
"She's not a prostitute," he announced. "She was dressed up to look like one. The clothes are not hers. The stockings and shoes are. The mud on her left shoe sole and splatter on her ankle combined with the dust clinging to her calves match the Crossrail construction on Whitechapel Road. Her manicure is about a week old, but the pedicure is fresh, within the last twenty-four hours. Why would she get one but not the other? There are five nail salons within a four block radius of the Crossrail site. One of them, Ajanta, is a known front for smugglers and dealers. You did know that, didn't you? Really, Lestrade, as if their hours and the tread on the doormat weren't obvious enough… God, how would you manage without me? Alright, she left the nail salon, then ate somewhere nearby. This crumb, you see, had to have fallen on her shirt but then was picked up in her hair. It's either pita or naan. I can't narrow it down for you. But a woman who can afford these stockings would be unlikely to dine in one of the many hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the area, so either look into the more upscale establishments, or the downscale ones which also serve as fronts. Bayram and Kolkata come to mind. After that, she got into a car, recently detailed; the smell lingers on her stockings. Her shoes are at least a year old but show very little wear; she's accustomed to being driven everywhere. No signs of a struggle; perhaps her chauffeur was part of this operation. The next stop was probably the scene of the murder. Not here. Somewhere outside. There's dirt in her hair here; she was dragged over the ground briefly. And a piece of a Bosnian pine needle. Where can you find a Bosnian pine between here and Whitechapel Road that would provide sufficient cover for a murder? Off Burlingame Street, there's an upscale housing development that was abandoned before construction was finished, a dead end with a dozen empty houses and no witnesses. Afterwards, they transferred her body to the trunk of this Fiesta. Why? There's a small tattoo on the back of her neck, a spade. She's done time in Drake, and judging by her age and the approximate age of the tattoo, she probably in Limerick before that. This is not random. It's an execution."
"Brilliant," John said. After all this time, still amazed. Sherlock didn't turn his head, but smiled ever so slightly as he watched, out of the corner of his eye, John shaking his head in admiration.
"You're not kidding," Chaudhry breathed, standing just behind John. "That's amazing." Sherlock's smile dissolved instantly.
He turned his attention back to Lestrade and said, "You have what you need." It was a statement, not a question.
"Yeah…" Lestrade pulled him aside and lowered his voice. "Listen, if you like I can have a word with Chaudhry…."
Sherlock raised one imperious eyebrow. "About what?"
"I just thought… um, the way he's talking to John…"
Sherlock stared the DI down. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Text me when you have something for me to work with."
Sherlock spun on his heel, ready to collect John and leave, but he had wandered off to the open end of the car park. He was leaning on a railing, taking in the London skyline, the wind ruffling his hair. Chaudry stood beside him, and their shoulders were almost touching. Sherlock disappeared down the stairs without a word.
Hours later, Sherlock was contemplating the pictures he'd posted on the wall. The graffiti in the parking garage matched graffiti he remembered from an abandoned lot in Tilbury; when he'd mentioned that to Lestrade, the DI had immediately put the word out to the Yard about it and sure enough, there was an unsolved murder, four years old, with the same graffiti above the body. An officer had just dropped by with that file, as well as a few minor crimes where the graffiti also appeared, whether by a coincidence or design Sherlock was not yet sure. He'd posted the pictures up on a map of London and was sure of a pattern there, though he couldn't quite see it yet.
Key in the lock. Solid feet, just slightly uneven, climbing seventeen steps.
Sherlock stared at the wallpaper.
"Hullo, Sherlock. Could've told me you were leaving. We might've shared a cab, seeing as how we live together." John sounded remarkably good-natured about this. That was worrying.
"You didn't seem to be in any hurry to come home," Sherlock replied icily.
"Well, since you stranded me, and unlike you I require sustenance, I went for a bite with Chaudhry. He took me to this little Greek…"
"On Brompton, you had the souvlaki, they won't pass their health inspections and the owner knows it which is why he's going to shut down within the week, but he'll open up again at another location, just as this one is simply the reincarnation of the one you used to like on Wentworth, didn't you recognize the tablecloths?"
"No." John seemed amused. "I didn't, but it's funny because I did say to Chaudhry…"
"Chaudhry," Sherlock snarled, and spun around to face John, and in three strides was directly in front of him, blocking his path. "Who is Chaudhry?"
"Who is…? The new forensic photographer. You met him at the last crime scene, two weeks ago, and he was there today. I was talking to him while you…"
"I know bloody well who he is. I know that he has asthma, fancies himself an artist and has made a darkroom in his loo, lives in Dalton, was engaged to a pharmacist – a female pharmacist – until three or four months ago, and is very recently out of the closet. Who is he to you?"
John's eyes widened. "Just a nice, interesting bloke, that's all. Sherlock, what are you getting at?"
"Do not play innocent with me," Sherlock hissed, walking slowly forward and backing John up against the wall.
"Sherlock..." John shook his head earnestly. "If you think I was flirting with him…"
Sherlock's hands gripped John's shoulders and slammed him the last couple of inches into the wall, then roughly traveled down his arms to clench around his wrists. "I don't think. I know."
He took a final step to close the gap between them and bent his head, so close that his lips moved against John's as he spoke. "I know you need things spelled out for you, but I had assumed this was so obvious it didn't have to be said. Clearly I was wrong, so I will rectify that now. You are mine." On the last word, he pressed his entire body forward, flattening John against the wall, pushing the air out of his lungs in a surprised grunt.
"You are mine," he said again, sliding his thigh between John's legs and grinding it against his crotch. "You are mine," he growled against John's neck. He dug his fingers into John's wrists, breathing in John's cry of pain as he tried to wrench them away but at the same time thrust his groin against Sherlock's leg.
"He is not to touch you," Sherlock continued, deftly undoing John's belt and fly as he bit and sucked at John's neck. With his wrists freed, John tried to reach for Sherlock's belt but his hands were swatted away. Instead, he wrapped his hands around Sherlock's neck like a drowning man holding on for life.
"Who is he, who does he think he is, to even look at you…" Sherlock pushed John's jeans and pants to the floor and wrapped one firm hand around John's erect cock, while the other hand reached around to grab his arse and pull him closer. John gave a sharp, needy cry. "Mine," Sherlock growled, and tugged roughly on John's cock, while the fingers of the hand on his arse began to press insistently at his entrance. Sherlock stepped back, grabbed John by the shoulders, and shoved him onto the sofa. He knelt there, breathing heavily, face flushed and eyes dark with desire, his jeans down around his ankles, only his arse bare and waiting.
Sherlock palmed himself through his trousers but didn't unzip them. Instead he leaned over John's back and rumbled in a dangerous voice, "Don't. Move."
When he returned a moment later with the bottle of lube, John hadn't moved. Sherlock drizzled lube onto John's arse. He'd made no effort to warm it up and John hissed and curled his back in response to the cold. Sherlock pressed a wide hand firmly onto his back and pushed him down against the back of the sofa. Then he pushed his index finger in, slow but insistent. John arched his back and cried out as he entered. Sherlock watched him struggling to relax his muscles and pressed down harder on his back. "I know your body, John." He pushed the finger in deeper and swiveled it around, listening to John's broken breathing. Then he pulled it out and immediately shoved it back in together with the middle finger, faster and harder. John made a helpless noise in the back of his throat. "Does it hurt?" Sherlock asked darkly.
"Yes," John choked out.
"Do you want me to stop?"
"No," John whimpered.
"No," Sherlock agreed, and scissored his fingers. John bit his lip and made a noise that could have been a curse or a plea.
"No one else has ever known your body like this." He found the prostate, and pressed down on it with both fingers. John's entire body shuddered in response. "No one else has ever touched you here." He stroked, alternating fingers, and watched John moan and writhe, pinned under Sherlock's hand. "No one else ever will. That's mine." John's moan went up a register as the fingers went faster.
"I'm going to fuck you." John grunted approvingly. "I'm going to come inside you, feeling you hot and tight all around me. You want it, don't you?"
"Fuck, yes. Yes."
Sherlock jabbed his fingers suddenly against John's prostate, making him jerk up his head and gasp. His knuckles, gripping the edge of the sofa, went white.
"Of course you do. And you've never wanted it from anyone else, have you?" Sherlock quickly pushed down his own trousers and pants, and pressed his cock against John's entrance.
"Look at you," he murmured. "Open and waiting for me. Aren't you?" Sherlock grabbed John's hips and pushed in slowly, groaning, "Mine."
All the way in, Sherlock squeezed his eyes shut and waited until John was ready, but then began pounding hard, hitting John's prostate with every stroke.
Sherlock snaked one long arm across John's chest, diagonally so that his hand wrapped around John's left shoulder, and pulled John tightly against him. John choked out an anguished cry that somehow drew the breath out of Sherlock's lungs. He dug his fingernails into the back of John's shoulder, into the sensitive scar tissue, and with his other hand gripped John's cock, much too tightly. He knew it hurt. He didn't care. He wanted to occupy John's mind completely, pain and pleasure working together to take over and obliterate anything that was not Sherlock. For a moment he considered telling John to say his name, but he wanted John to abandon speech and know nothing but the sensations of Sherlock inside him and around him, and drown there. And it was happening, John was arching his back, gasping and crying out, losing himself in Sherlock's hands. Normally Sherlock wanted him to come first, because that feeling, knowing the precise moment that John's body escaped his control, and being at the very center of it, was incredible, almost overwhelming. But this time, he wanted John to feel him, to remember who was inside him, to know he was marked and owned inside and out, and so he gripped tighter with both hands, thrust harder, felt John's body shudder in response, pulled him against his own body, and came. And in the next moment John was coming, his voice hoarse and pleading wordlessly and their bodies pressed together as closely as possible.
Sherlock pulled out, finally, sat on the sofa, and waited. John almost always had something to say after sex, and it was almost always something Sherlock wanted to hear. But this time, John said nothing. He stood up slowly and glanced at Sherlock, and his face, normally so easy to read, was a mystery. Sherlock didn't understand. John's expression suggested he'd done something wrong, but he had just fucked John to an extraordinary orgasm and expressed himself, quite effectively, at the same time. John liked orgasms and he was always trying to get Sherlock to talk about his feelings. He should be happy.
"What?" Sherlock asked.
But John was already retreating to the bathroom. And he didn't speak for the rest of the night.
The next day, Sherlock was at home when he solved it. The pieces clicked together in his mind and he breathed, "oh." But John wasn't there. He was at the surgery. So Sherlock explained everything to Lestrade and went back to an empty flat. Then he texted John. Nineteen times.
It was nearly eleven when John finally got home. Sherlock was lying on the sofa, glaring at the door.
"Why haven't you answered my texts?" he snarled.
John smiled wanly. "Good evening, Sherlock. How's the case?"
"Solved. Where have you been?"
"Can't you tell me?" John stood at parade rest next to the sofa and waited for his examination. Sherlock sprang to his feet and slowly circled John, glowering down at him.
"The Fox and Anchor," Sherlock replied, reaching down to pick something miniscule off John's jumper. "With him." He circled round to face John and stared him down. "I thought I was clear."
"You were clear that you were jealous, yeah. But there's no harm in grabbing a bite and a pint. Arjan called…"
"Oh, it's Arjan now, is it? So in the four hours since you got off work you and Arjan have been innocently watching the football game and playing darts and trading detective stories, is that it?"
"Yeah." John smiled, but not in a particularly friendly way. "That's exactly what we did." He placed his hands on Sherlock's shoulders, pushed him down onto the sofa, and straddled his lap. "What else can you tell me?" he asked, and parted Sherlock's lips with his tongue to kiss him fully.
Sherlock grunted with shock and horror and shoved John, who twisted his body to land on the sofa, a suddenly serious expression on his face.
"He kissed you," Sherlock gasped. "You kissed him. I… I can't tell which."
"Go on," John said, a quiet tension in his voice.
"Why are you doing this to me?"
"You tell me. What have you got so far?"
"He drove you home. You kissed in his car, right here, right outside our flat." Something sparked and burned in his gut. "You drank porter. He drank ale. And smoked one Dunhill. You won't kiss me after I've smoked," Sherlock added and the pain in his gut suddenly exploded into flame. "His aftershave… Aramis." His lip curled in distaste. He grabbed John's hands, held them to his face, and inhaled. "You had your hands in his hair." He leaned over to bury his face in John's neck and then let go, shoving John back into the arm of the sofa. His face was stony. "And you were aroused."
"Tell me why."
"Are you serious? You're enjoying this, are you?"
"Not in the least. Go on, tell me."
"Very well," Sherlock replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "We'll start with his hair, I know how you love a head of thick, wavy dark hair to wrap your fingers in. Then there are those soulful brown eyes of his. His sensual lips. His masculine jaw…"
"Yeah, yeah, he's an attractive man." Sherlock almost doubled over – whether it was from the burning pain in his gut or the effort he was putting into not punching John, he couldn't say. "But what else was turning me on?"
"Why am I doing this to you?"
"Because you're sadistic."
"Does that sound like me?"
"There's a first time for everything."
"Now that doesn't sound like you. Think, detective."
"You're trying to prove a point," Sherlock choked out.
"Very good. And what might that be?"
"You had to prove to yourself that you could have someone else if you wanted to, that you could want another man, that another man could want you. That you could…" Hurt. That was the obvious word. Hurt me. But that couldn't be right. So simple, so commonplace, that couldn't possibly be the word to describe this twisting, crackling chaos, the growing clamor that was threatening to shut down his brain so that he couldn't even think of the proper words. "… do this to me."
"Wrong," John answered, and his voice was so kind and his eyes so gentle, for a split second Sherlock almost went to him for comfort, nearly wrapped his arms around his waist and laid his head in his lap, thinking John will protect me from this, until he remembered, John is causing this, and the fire crackling in his gut roared higher than before. Besides, he knew he was right, John was proving all of those things.
"And," Sherlock continued, "you wanted to prove to me that you would come back."
"Better," John said approvingly. "And why did I come back?"
"Because you live here?"
Sherlock was already trying to think, he didn't need John of all people to tell him that, but it wasn't working, his brain, along with the rest of him, was going up in flames, and the more he tried to focus the more he locked down on one image, John's arms around Arjan Chaudry, his fingers in his hair, his eyes closed and lips falling open as he let Chaudry's tongue explore him. It was all as clear as if Sherlock had been crouched on the hood of the car, watching. On Baker Street, right in front of their flat. And John wanted to rub his face in it and sit here on the sofa and tell him to think. He had never hurt John intentionally. But there was a first time for everything.
"You are playing a dangerous game," he snarled.
"That's been true for a long time," John replied calmly. "But I'm still here. Why?"
"Because you're deranged."
"I can be deranged anywhere in the world. Why am I here?"
Sherlock closed his eyes. He knew the answer. It was so stupid. John was so stupid. "Because you want to be."
"Ah," John exhaled. "Because I want to be."
It shouldn't have mattered, but it did. In spite of himself, Sherlock relaxed, just a bit. He kept his eyes closed and tried to shut down the image of John and Chaudry. The fire died down just enough that he could find other pictures to focus on instead. Emily Armstrong was found murdered in a dry cleaner's shop in St. John's Wood, London, 14 April 1949, her skull shattered by 22 blows from a blunt object, possibly a claw hammer. Her handbag, with a bloody handkerchief bearing the mark H-612, was found nearby. The prime suspect was a murderer who'd escaped from Broadmoor, 30 years old and 5'6", but he couldn't…
"Sherlock. I'm here because I want to be here." Sherlock felt John's body shift on the sofa, and then warm breath next to his ear. "What I need you to understand…" His lips, tentatively brushed against Sherlock's jaw. Sherlock pulled away, but only with his head, not his whole body. He had meant to push John away, but somehow that hadn't happened. "…is that I am always here because I want to be." John's lips were back again, pressing slowly against Sherlock's jaw. "Every time I touch you…" his lips were moving towards Sherlock's throat now "….every time I let you touch me…" covering his neck with soft, wet kisses "…it is because I want to." His mouth traveled back up to Sherlock's ear, and scraped the lobe between his teeth. Sherlock clenched his fists to suppress a shiver. "When I put up with your madness…" and now here was John's hand, warm and strong and perfectly calloused, cradling Sherlock's jaw with the thumb lazily tracing across his bottom lip, "…when I follow you…" despite his intentions, Sherlock felt his lips part under the pressure of John's thumb, "…it is because I want to." John's hand was pushing gently against Sherlock's cheek, turning him to face John. He opened his eyes to fix John with a patented Holmes stare – icy, dispassionate, lethal. John didn't skip a beat. "Every time I come home to you…" he continued, leaning in closer, "…it is because I want to." His hand moved to Sherlock's throat, fingers trailing down to his chest, lingering where his shirt collar fell open. He paused, undid the first two buttons and slid his hand inside the shirt. Sherlock ground his teeth as John's fingers brushed across a nipple. "I am yours…" he was so close that their lips were almost touching, "…but only because I want to be. Not because you say so."
John waited. Sherlock cursed him silently. He'd never wanted a kiss so badly. And he was certain that if John kissed him he would punch him in the stomach. There seemed to be no way around it. After a torturous pause, John moved in, his lips just brushing Sherlock's, but then immediately pulled back.
The hand on Sherlock's chest returned to his shirt buttons as John's mouth slowly worked its way along a collarbone. The other hand, meanwhile, was pushing his thighs apart. Fingernails scraped over the fabric of Sherlock's trousers, up his thigh, across his balls, along his cock which, to his chagrin, was already half hard. He groaned with anger or pleasure, he wasn't sure which, and John hummed happily in response as he closed his teeth over a sensitive nipple. Sherlock gasped and arched his back, and immediately felt fingernails over his cock again, harder this time. He shivered as John blew across his nipple and then started kissing his way down his chest and across his stomach. He was leaning over Sherlock's lap now, beginning to undo his belt.
"I want you to fuck me," John said, his eyes dark and voice husky with desire. "First, I want your cock in my mouth. Then, I want you to fuck me. Any way you want me." John seemed to be waiting for a response, but Sherlock was silent. "You didn't answer my question, you know. What turned me on?"
"Me," Sherlock rasped.
"Right. Thinking of you, and what you were going to do to me. Not Arjan Chaudhry. Not anyone else. You. I want your cock inside me."
Sherlock groaned again and covered his face with both hands, hearing his trousers being slowly unzipped. In a moment, John would work them down below his hips, then his pants, and then he would take him… no, in the mood he was in, he'd tease for a while, licking around the shaft before he'd give one slow, luxurious swipe of his tongue across the slit and then take it all into his mouth… That would probably be the point of no return. Sherlock had experienced several mouths on his dick, but none could reduce him to a blithering idiot like this one could. And half an hour ago, that mouth had another man's tongue in it.
He pushed John away. With some difficulty, he stood up and managed to get his trousers back on over his erection (think of Mrs. Hudson, of Sally Donovan, of Mycroft, yes, that's it, Mycroft digging into a full breakfast as he lectures me about responsibility and discipline and duty and legacy, a spot of sausage grease on his chin, and the smell of kippers, yes, that's working).
"You manipulated me," he said flatly, buttoning up his shirt. "Deliberately played with my mind to provoke an emotional reaction."
"Says the man who drugged me without my consent in order to trigger a psychotic episode."
"Completely different. That was for a case." Sherlock knew that For A Case was never good enough for John, but it was the truth, and it wasn't his fault if John couldn't see it.
"Not going to quibble with you about it. Just saying you don't have the moral high ground here."
"Neither do you. You're down in the gutter with me now."
John leaned back into the sofa and shrugged. "I follow you everywhere. Why not there?"
"You can't follow me everywhere," Sherlock replied, and left.
London was the most fascinating city in the world. Sherlock was aware that he didn't have empirical evidence to support this claim; he'd only visited sixteen countries, after all. And some of those cities – Paris, Tokyo, Prague, Hanoi, Istanbul, Paris, Marrakech – were breathtaking. But only London could absorb his attention completely. He'd admit he was biased. London pulsed in his veins. If he'd been born in Istanbul, or for that matter, Detroit, he might have had a very different point of view. But he belonged to London, and London belonged to him. To him and about 8,174,100 other people, but they didn't matter. Not one of them knew London as he did.
While he was dead, he had missed London so much it was a deep, pervasive ache, like the marrow had dried out from his bones. It was so constant he stopped noticing it. He had missed John too, but John was in London, so it would have been impossible to differentiate them, had he given it any thought. When he came back he found that he could breathe again; he realized how much he'd missed the city in his lungs. But he didn't have John. He was like a returning soldier whose arm had been amputated. London welcomed him. But he couldn't touch it. He saw the city and its familiar darkness, and tasted it and smelled it and listened meticulously to its chaos. But the pain of the ghost limb gnawed at him so that he couldn't stretch out his fingers and feel it the way he should have. He couldn't understand what was wrong until he walked back out into the ancient streets with John beside him and then Sherlock was finally home.
It was home, and it wasn't, and that was precisely what made it so perfect. London was always shifting, always changing, always demanding Sherlock's attention and care. Since he was a child he had spent hours out of every week exploring its alleys and rooftops, cataloguing its borders and colors and textures and odors, probing, updating, correcting, refining. He'd been gone a long time and though he'd been back for months, he had a lot of catching up to do.
Tonight he needed a task, anything to distract him. He longed for a case, something that would require his focus and douse the fire still smoldering inside him. There was no case, but at least he could have something to displace John from the center of his mind.
That afternoon, on his way back from the Yard, he had heard a couple of homeless teenagers discussing a rumored raid on an encampment in Hackney Wick. He knew the place well; it cycled in and out of favor as a haven for the homeless of London and had been one of his regular stops for recruiting and contacting members of his network (which had fallen to shambles in his absence). He walked east.
Several blocks before he reached the site, he knew that the rumor was true. The camp had been swept thoroughly, just the night before. No one was left. He walked through the area below the flyover, examining graffiti and garbage, poking around in the skeletal remains of a city bus, inspecting under a tarp, sorting through the contents of a rusty grocery cart.
On the ground near a burned out rubbish bin he found an empty water bottle, a boot print (women's size 4.5), and a familiar hair tie. Anna. She had been one of the stalwart members of his network; sharp-eyed, quick-witted, tight-lipped, and hardworking. He was always happy to contract her for a job. She'd get it done, quickly and to the letter. He remembered her thick eyebrows, glittering dark eyes, permanent scowl, and long gray hair, still stubbornly hanging on to a few streaks of black, pulled back in a tie exactly like this one. And Roger, always standing at her shoulder and just behind her, silent with his gray-brown beard and just slightly trembling hands, heavy-lidded eyes trained on her. He wasn't terribly smart or observant, but he could follow instructions, and they were a package deal. Sherlock had never seen them apart. But Roger was sick, emphysema and/or lung cancer, quickly advancing glaucoma. Sherlock had known he'd be blind soon, and saw the way Anna subtly stood closer to him as time went on, keeping him in constant physical contact, training him to use her eyes. His coughing fits shook his thin body and occasionally produced blood. On that last day, Sherlock had wanted her to help with his magic trick, but she'd sent word that she couldn't because Roger was feeling poorly.
He got down on his knees to search the ground more thoroughly. He found more of Anna, but nothing of Roger. Cancer, then.
Anna was diabetic; he'd seen Roger supporting her when her feet were bad. Who would do that now, he wondered.
He had five ideas for where the residents of this camp would have relocated. Anna was probably in one of them. She'd be the cornerstone of his new network and she'd be happy to have the work.
One of the likeliest sites was in Peckham, which was why he found himself walking near a certain culvert where once he had hidden an unconscious John Watson and, with all the force of his incomparable mind, willed the man to wake up.
He didn't want to find Anna tonight, actually. He didn't want to find anyone.
He found the culvert though, kicked away a syringe at its edge and crawled inside, leaning back against the curved wall and studying the graffiti opposite him. There, in front of the seven-month old Roma tag in neon orange, was where John had laughed at the absurdity of their situation, blessedly alive. Where he had grinned and said, "I trust you, mate, always have."
Sherlock had won the lottery three times. He knew this. He'd tried to calculate the odds but found the task impossible. He'd had to conclude that it was highly improbable, but not beyond belief, that in life's random mess of circumstance a person could stumble across three prizes as valuable as these.
The first and greatest was his singular, shimmering mind which was, as far as he knew, second only to his brother's (and he had even begun to doubt that).
The second and most common was to have been born and raised in London. It could have been Detroit. It could have been the barren plains of Mongolia. It could have been a manicured suburb anywhere in the first world. It was, instead, the most fascinating city in the world, where the fog rolled off the Thames and snaked along cobblestone mazes and the murder rate was regrettably falling but still consistently hovered above 120 per annum, and those were only the ones the police knew about.
The third and unlikeliest was a stubborn ex-army doctor who would not only kill and die for him but also sit on the sofa with him and watch crap telly, laugh at him when he was ridiculous and no one else would dare, stand at his elbow all night and hand him scalpels and pipettes, bring him tea and nicotine patches and fresh plasters, sit quietly and solidly for as long as needed, tell him he was wonderful and mean it every time, touch him in ways that should have made him want to crawl out of his skin but instead, inexplicably, made him feel more at peace inside it than he ever had before.
And what was he to do with that?
Only an idiot would go looking for that sort of thing. But looking or not, having found it, only a fool would leave it sitting out where anyone could walk off with it.
"What else could I do?" he asked the rat which had just scrambled into the culvert. It turned and fixed him with a barely tolerant stare. John had replaced the skull long ago; perhaps a rat could fill in for John temporarily.
"What would you do? If you had a John Watson? The rodent equivalent?" The rat twitched its whiskers. "Keep him alive of course, but then what? You'd hold onto him. You'd do whatever you had to do. Anything less would be stupid." The rat resumed its scavenging, unconcerned.
"I haven't done anything wrong," he continued, a little belligerently. "I can't be blamed for protecting what's mine." The rat sneezed.
"I ought to hate him," Sherlock spat. "After everything he's done to me, why do I even…"
His voice trailed off. It was no use. He could pretend to hate John if he really had to; he could lie about anything. But he couldn't actually do it. He'd tried. John was like a solvent for all the contempt and derision he felt, or ought to feel; a few minutes in John's presence and it began to dissipate. Bizarre.
"Everyone likes him," he explained to the rat. "I'm completely ordinary in that respect. There will always be someone who wants to be with him." The cooling embers in his gut woke and began to smolder again at this thought.
"I never wanted this in the first place. I shouldn't want it now. After him, I'll never want this again. He'll have plenty of chances. But after him, I won't have another..." His heart sank. He deeply regretted involving the rat in this conversation; speaking those words out loud was a terrible mistake. He cared, and there was proof, and since there was no one but a rat to hear it he couldn't even pretend he'd been lying.
Whether he'd wanted to play the game or not, only a fool would fail to collect his winnings. Only a fool would let any of it go to waste.
"How do I keep him then?" Sherlock fluttered his fingers in frustration, then tangled them in his hair. "What conditions are necessary for that? One, I continue to astound him. Check. Two, I keep him alive. Check. Three, I should… be good to him? I suppose? How the hell am I supposed to do that?" The rodent fixed him with a beady stare, and Sherlock remembered those studies indicating that rats are altruistic, will break fellow prisoners out of their cages and share their food with them. He wondered if they might be more emotionally developed than him. The thought didn't bother him particularly, until he wondered if John would prefer someone with the emotional skills of a sewer rat.
"I'd break him out of a lab cage," he said defensively. That was true, but didn't seem to be very helpful on a day-to-day basis. "I bring him food sometimes," he added weakly. But he knew the day-to-day required more than an occasional curry takeaway, it meant he had to be thoughtful, to be considerate, to know what John needed, to continually create conditions that would make John want to stay. It seemed daunting. Chances of success: remote.
The fire had died down completely, leaving just a dark, charred thing in his gut.
A smaller rat appeared at the end of the culvert with a little squeak and the first rat immediately raised its head too look at it. "Is that him?" Sherlock asked. "Your John Watson?" The smaller rat turned and slipped away, the first rat following right behind him. "He's an ugly, filthy little bugger," Sherlock mumbled, but they were already gone. It was very quiet in the culvert all of a sudden, he had left his coat at home, and he was cold.
John was awake. Sherlock knew that as soon as he stepped inside the foyer. So after he climbed the stairs, he flicked on the bedroom light and dropped into the bed without a word. John was lying on his side, his back to Sherlock, but clearly alert and waiting.
Sherlock wrapped one wiry arm around John's body and held him, tightly as a vise. Then he pressed his face into the back of John's neck and breathed in soap, shampoo, lotion, wool, cotton, laundry detergent, himself. John had taken a shower and scrubbed until his skin was raw and smarting, then slathered on lotion to soothe it. Sherlock's lotion; John never used the stuff. Then he had wrapped his naked body in Sherlock's coat and curled up in his bed for about ninety minutes, before taking off the coat, putting on his own pyjama pants, and going to sleep in his own bed. He smelled like Sherlock, not Arjan Chaudry.
Sherlock rolled John over onto his back and kissed him deeply. This was not passion, it was investigation, and John seemed to understand that, because he just lay there passively with his mouth open, letting Sherlock taste peppermint toothpaste, baking soda, mouthwash, biscuits, and earl grey tea. He'd been thorough, brushing his teeth first with toothpaste, then with baking soda, then with toothpaste again, and then gargling with mouthwash. The tea made him taste like John. Not a trace of Arjan Chaudry.
Sherlock fell onto his back and closed his eyes with relief. Then he steepled his fingers and announced, "I need to know our prognosis."
"This." He gestured back and forth between them impatiently. "How long it will last."
"Oh. I, uh… That's really impossible to say, isn't it?"
"Why? Just tell me how long you're likely to stay. With me."
"Well, can you tell me how long you're going to stay with me?"
"Don't change the subject and no, I can't. I don't have any data to extrapolate from. You've had four failed romantic relationships. You know my best and worst traits and you're intelligent enough to know your own limits. Surely you can combine all that data to make some kind of projection."
"I really can't. I'm sorry. You're uncharted territory."
Sherlock sighed with frustration. "John, it's a simple question. Just give me the data and I'll figure it myself. First, how long have your other relationships lasted? There was your uni…"
"Stop, it's useless. You're entirely too strange." John turned on his side to face Sherlock and narrowed his eyes. "Why are you even…? I'm not thinking about leaving you, you know. Not a bit. We've only just started."
"I know that." He did know it, without a doubt. So he really shouldn't have felt a flood of dopamine when he heard those words.
"So what are you getting at then?"
"Nothing. I just think I should know." Sherlock examined the ceiling. There was a crack on the northeast corner that had grown two millimeters in the last three months. John should talk to Mrs. Hudson about it.
"Well, we can't know. I wouldn't want to."
"You wouldn't?" Sherlock turned his head to stare at John in disbelief. Why would anyone choose ignorance about such a key variable, one that can influence so many other factors?
"Imagine. If we knew, we'd have no reason to try. Not knowing means we have to do whatever we can to make it last as long as possible."
"I see." Sherlock blinked slowly, reluctantly admitting John had a point. "Is that what you thought you were doing tonight?"
"Well." John's face colored a bit; his face seemed for a moment to be a battleground between smugness and shame. "I got your attention, didn't I?"
"You always have my attention," Sherlock snapped. Idiot. How could he not know that?
"Not like that, though." John paused, but there was no answer. "You heard me then?"
"Not because I say so," Sherlock replied in a sharp, clipped tone. "Jealousy and possessiveness are verboten. Message received."
"Very good. Just so you know, the jealous rage sex is fine. For future reference. Not the jealous rage, though. Not taking me for granted."
"I don't take you for granted."
John didn't answer, but the look in his eyes – stern, patient, and a little condescending – let Sherlock know he was wrong. He had to trust John's judgment in these matters. It was the only area where he couldn't trust his own.
"You have to tell me," he said with irritation. "How do I know unless you tell me?"
John sighed. "That's right. I do have to tell you. And you have to listen. And if we both do that… I'd say, yeah, that'll help anyway. And it'll last... as long as it can."
"Maybe so, but it's the best we can do, isn't it? Just go on as long as we can and see what happens."
"We know what happens, it ends. Everything ends."
"We just don't know when." Sherlock rolled back onto his back and they lay side by side in silence for a moment. "A rough estimate?" he asked. "A range of some kind."
John thoughtfully bit the inside of his cheek and examined the crack on the ceiling. "I should probably talk to Mrs. Hudson about that crack," he said thoughtfully. Sherlock grunted in agreement.
"Well, you know," John continued, "at the rate you and I are going, I sometimes measure our life expectancies in weeks. So it's possible we could be together for the rest of our lives. How's that for an estimate?"
"For the rest of our lives," Sherlock repeated, and chuckled deep in his chest because it was easily the most absurd thing that had ever come out of his mouth.
And it was almost plausible. After all, he was not going to grow old. The thought had never seriously crossed his mind. He tried to picture himself as an old man, and it was too preposterous to imagine. What would he do, retire to the countryside and keep bees? With a doddering John Watson at his side? Not at all likely. He would not grow old; in fact he was surprised to have made it past thirty. And he knew John had generally the same outlook. They had each assumed, long before meeting each other, that one way or another they'd go out in flames. With a little luck, they could do it at the same time; with a little more luck, before Sherlock had time to get bored with John and John grew to hate Sherlock completely. It could happen.
"For the rest of our lives," John repeated, chuckling as well, and nuzzled into his neck. Sherlock didn't object, until John nipped a spot on his neck that he knew was particularly ticklish.
Sherlock pushed him away, but not very far, and they were both still snickering.
John sat up, straddled Sherlock, and smiled shyly. "Can we pick up where we left off?" he asked.
"Fine," Sherlock drawled reluctantly. But he hadn't stopped smiling and he didn't feel reluctant at all. John smirked and reached down to start unbuttoning Sherlock's shirt, very slowly. Sherlock was getting impatient. It had been hours since John had last touched him and he wasn't in the mood to wait now. So he roughly shoved John off him and undressed quickly and efficiently, and then threw himself, naked, back on the bed. "Now," he said imperiously, "pick up where you left off."
John seemed to find this hilarious, though Sherlock couldn't see why, but he managed to stifle his laughter and position himself between Sherlock's legs.
"I'm sorry," he said, his face finally serious. "But my memory's not so good these days. I can't remember where we were."
"Your mouth, my prick," Sherlock answered, glaring at him. "Your exact words were: First, I want your cock in my mouth. Then, I want you to fuck me. Any way you want me. I want your cock inside me."
"Oh yeah… It's all coming back to me now." John mused, and ran his fingers up Sherlock's inner thighs. "And did I mention how much I want you? And only you?"
"You didn't quantify it, but yes. You said." So illogical, the need to repeat these platitudes over and over. So inane, the need to hear them. He believed John the first time, he knew it was true, so why did he feel a wave of pleasure when he heard those words again?
"I just want to be really clear on that point," John murmured, his lips almost touching the head of Sherlock's cock, his breath hot and steady. "I want you," he whispered, and reached out his tongue to flick across the tip. "I want you," he repeated, and flicked his tongue again.
Sherlock shuddered. "John, don't tease."
"Mm?" John said, humming his lips against the side of the shaft. "Couldn't hear you, did you say tease or please?"
"Fine, please. Please do it. You've tortured me enough tonight, haven't you?"
"I reckon I have." For a moment, John's voice lost its mischief. "I'm sorry, you know."
"Yes, I know, of course, and you should be, and apologies are just hollow rituals, so don't bother. You were cruel, and I haven't forgiven you, but sod it, I don't care right now, just get on…" and his words were cut off by a moan as John took him in his mouth. There would be plenty of time to be angry with John later, if he could manage it. For now, he only wanted to think about that mouth and what it was doing to him and to let it drag him away.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Both men froze. It was the shrill, insistent text message alert that was specifically assigned to Lestrade. John backed off, closed his eyes, and flopped down on the bed, heaving a reluctant sigh. "Go on," he said, "your spouse is calling." But Sherlock was already on the floor, rummaging through the pile of clothes for the mobile in his trouser pocket.
"John!" he said excitedly. "The body is missing both hands and a head!"
"Lovely," John mumbled.
"Lovely? It's marvelous!" Sherlock began pulling on his pants. He still had a raging erection – the second time tonight he'd had to do this, but there was no comparison. This time, with a decapitated corpse waiting for him, he barely noticed his discomfort. But John was still just lying there. "Aren't you coming?"
"No. I'm really not. I think I'll skip this one." Sherlock turned to look at him. John was lying on his back, one arm flung across his eyes. He was completely hard, of course. And trying not to be angry, but failing.
"John. Don't pout." John didn't move. "Come on, you're being a child." No response. Sherlock hesitated. On the one hand, every passing minute was data lost. Further putrefecation. More opportunities for Anderson to touch things. Time was of the essence. On the other hand, John should be there. That was also of the essence.
Sherlock bounced back onto the bed and straddled John, then bent down and licked his ear.
"You have five – no, four minutes," he rumbled. "If you can get off in four minutes, you can come with me." He licked the ear again, slower this time, and John shivered as Sherlock reached into his pyjamas and began stroking his cock. It was inelegant. There was no time for showmanship. But four minutes was so much time wasted already. And anyway, John wasn't complaining.
"You still want me to fuck you," Sherlock whispered, "and I still want to. And while we're on this case, you'll be watching me work and you won't be able to stop thinking about it. My cock deep inside you. Any way I want you, isn't that what you said? I want you on your back, so I can watch your face when you come. It's fascinating. The way your voice breaks down and the muscles in your neck tense and your eyelids flutter and you struggle to keep your eyes open, watching me. Will you bite your lip, like you're doing now, or will you make noise? I want a lot of noise, John. I want the whole block to know just how well I'm fucking you. And I want scratch marks on my back and arms for days… Of course, during the case I won't be thinking about any of that. I'll only be thinking of the work. When it's done, you'll have to remind me. And then… I swear… I will fuck you till you fall apart." John's breath was ragged now. Sherlock tightened his grip and added a twist to his stroke.
"But on the other hand, you might want to punish me for making me wait. Give me a bit of my own medicine? Tie me up, put nipple clamps on me and a butt plug inside me and torture me for hours like that, not letting me touch myself. And then you could have me however you want. Hogtie me, fuck my face, fuck my arse... Tie me down on my back and fuck yourself on my cock." John gasped, taking his arm from his face and staring at Sherlock with wide, dark eyes.
Sherlock pulled his head back so he could look directly into John's eyes and smirked. "I know what you want better than you do. What will you do, John?" He started rubbing his thumb across the tip of John's cock at the top of each stroke.
John groaned. "Too many choices…"
"Just pick one for now. Tell me." Sherlock tightened his grip again and began to move a little faster.
John's eyes fluttered closed and he arched his head back. "Tie you up… You'd be so gorgeous…. oh god… Tie you up and… um… clamps and plug, make you beg…"
"Beg? Like this? John, please, please, I want you, John, please, touch me…" He hated to hear himself like this, breathless, out of control, and almost beyond reason. When it was really happening and he heard himself only through the haze of his own pleasure, he tolerated it; occasionally he could even give into gravity and love the surrender. But right now, mimicking his own voice, he almost cringed; who was that panting, gasping, mindless fool? It was worth it, though, for the effect it was having on John, who was now clutching at the sheets and thrusting himself into Sherlock's hand. He added a convincing tremor to his voice – "please, let me come, oh god, I need it, let me…" – and was rewarded by John breathing, "fuck, don't stop."
Sherlock sped up the pace of his hand and moaned, "Mon dieu, John, je te veux, je t'en prie touche moi, oh putain, baisez-moi, je veux ta bite…" He didn't understand why John was so turned on by French, in fact he found it a little ridiculous, but it was easy enough to accommodate. It was the first language he'd learned to swear in, after all. It was only a collection of auditory symbols, vocabulary and grammar, no more or less erotic than English as far as he was concerned. But then, there were 128 million other Francophones in the world, and not one of them could do this: press their lips into the hollow between John's jaw and ear and murmur helplessly, "Je t'ai besoin" and feel him start to lose himself. And then, because John's French was atrocious, Sherlock clarified in his lowest baritone, "John, I need you," and John was cursing, gasping, pushing his body off the bed, coming in Sherlock's hand with a shuddering cry.
Sherlock sat up and wiped his hand off on John's pyjama leg. "Three minutes and forty-eight seconds," he said brightly. "Coming with me, then?"
John blinked blearily and then groaned. "Alright, yes. That was very convincing. Besides," he added with a weak but wicked smile, "maybe Arjan will be there."
"You are a horrible person," Sherlock answered, managing to look dignified although he was wearing only his pants and was still hard. "Twisted and sadistic, and I hate you." He stomped off downstairs to get some clean clothes, leaving a pile of muddy trousers and shirt and socks and shoes behind him.
"I've told you a thousand times not to leave your shit all over my floor," John yelled after him. "You are a spoiled, selfish, narcissistic toff. And I hate you."
"But I'm your toff!" Sherlock called in a mocking singsong tone from the living room. "If you play your cards right, for the rest of your short life! Yours!"
And then he laughed out loud, because it was the second most absurd thing he had ever said.