People might be surprised to learn that it was Sherlock, not John, to say the words first. Many people would think that Sherlock was incapable of love at all; that it was likely that John may fall for Sherlock, but that the feelings would never be returned.
The first time he spoke those words, it wasn't after an adrenaline fuelled chase. It wasn't after a startling injury. It wasn't after sex or something sentimental. It was just a regular, average day at home. John was sitting on the sofa, reading the paper. Sherlock, who had slept the night before, stumbled into the living room, looking oddly unkempt. He slept hard in the days after a big case. John didn't look up. "Just made myself tea. Water in the kettle is still hot if you want some."
Sherlock wandered into the kitchen, making himself tea and glancing at the table. A loaf of bread was sitting on it, an obvious indicator that John wanted Sherlock to eat. He sighed dramatically (John took no notice) and put two slices in the toaster while his tea steeped.
"I bought strawberries while you were sleeping," John called from his spot on the sofa. "They're in the fridge."
Sherlock verified, taking one from the fridge and popping it in his mouth. Strawberries were one of the few food items he regularly consumed with little to no complaint. If John really wanted him to eat while on a case, this was the food he used to do it.
John was always doing things like that; buying him food he liked to make sure Sherlock took care of himself, or making him tea, or tensing when Donovan and Anderson harassed him at a crime scene. It didn't particularly bother Sherlock when the pair insulted him, but he found that he rather liked how much it bothered John.
They were nearly out of jam, so Sherlock left it for John, opting to just have butter instead. He paused, realizing he'd just put John's needs above his own without even thinking about it.
Of course, this caused him to think about it.
What exactly did John mean to him?
A rush of words assaulted his brain. What term worked best? What label described exactly what he felt towards John? John was special; he had known that for a long time now. But what word applied best?
Colleague: an associate in a profession or in a civil or ecclesiastical office
Friend: One attached to another by affection or esteem.
Affection: a moderate feeling or emotion
Synonyms: Devotion, fondness, passion, love.
Love: (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests (4) : unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.
Sherlock nodded to himself, abandoned his toast, and moved into the living area so he could see John properly. "John, I love you."
John blinked at his paper and looked up at Sherlock. He didn't say anything for a while, and when it became obvious that Sherlock wasn't leaving without a response, he nodded. "Alright. Thanks."
Satisfied, Sherlock turned and went back to his breakfast. John looked after him, shrugged, and went back to his paper, thinking nothing else of it.
The second time Sherlock said it, he was expecting a different response.
Several months had passed since the phrase had first passed through his lips. Things had continued on like normal. He went on cases, John blogged about them, and Sherlock collapsed afterwards for several days to allow his transport time to recover.
However, things felt different, at least to him.
He found himself actually wanting to make an effort to make John happy. That was a new feeling, and he studied it for some time. He picked up milk if he knew they were almost out, because John hated to take his tea without it. He made tea, on occasion, when John came back after a bad day and couldn't be bothered to move from the sofa. On cases that ran long, when John was starting to look as bad as him, Sherlock would announce his need to visit his mind palace at home, giving John a chance to sit and relax before continuing to work.
John took notice of these things. Sherlock noticed him noticing. Sherlock again considered the definition of love and wondered just what definition applied to them.
He was beginning to notice that, in a way, love didn't quite fit everything he felt for John Watson.
It was mildly concerning to feel so much for a person.
He also noticed the way they touched. It seemed to happen more, and not only through his own actions. Sherlock sat a little bit closer to John on the sofa or in cabs. He patted John's back when passing him in the kitchen. John would lightly touch Sherlock's skin to get his attention. He'd steady him if Sherlock wavered while on a case. He placed a blanket over Sherlock when the other man was dozing on the sofa, smiling as Sherlock blinked hazily up at him. John would linger, tuck the blanket around Sherlock more firmly, tell him to take a break.
Sherlock wanted more of that.
He noticed if John was in the room; and not just noticed, but really paid attention. He stopped talking to John when he wasn't there, because he always knew when John was gone. And wanted him back. Wanted him close.
It seemed that love was fitting more and more into the sexual desire definition.
And, frankly, Sherlock was devoting far too much time to deciphering his feelings and John's feelings.
"John, I love you and would like to pursue a romantic and sexual relationship with you," he said formally one night as John walked in the door.
John just stared at him. "What?" he asked eventually.
"You know I hate repeating myself, John, don't be tedious."
John watched him steadily. Sherlock watched him back. Something had been building between them for months, but it still surprised him when John said, "Ok," a smile growing on his face.
Sherlock's own smile was small, but genuine. "Excellent."
"John." Sherlock's voice was breathless as he pressed up. John's firm body hovered above him. They'd both abandoned their clothes some time ago. They were scattered in a trail from the sofa to their bedroom. Although they'd been together for over a month, and in that month they'd done this many times, Sherlock was still easily overwhelmed by the feeling of John's warm skin against his.
John's lips were on his jaw, then on his neck. His hands skated down Sherlock's chest, across his sides. John's lips followed, tongue circling around Sherlock's nipples, continuing a path down, pausing to suck sharply at Sherlock's hipbone. Sherlock gasped, his hips lifting off the bed involuntarily. John smirked against Sherlock's skin. He paused tantalizingly above Sherlock's prick. "John," Sherlock whined. "Don't tease."
John obliged, lowering to take Sherlock into his mouth. Sherlock lost himself in the sensation, hand scrabbling for John's hair. His fingers twisted in it lightly, holding but not pushing.
He pulled back shortly after, slithering up Sherlock's body to press a long, hard kiss to Sherlock's lips. After some preparation, John was nestled between Sherlock's legs, pressing in slowly.
Sherlock loved having John inside him. John was thick, and hot, and filled him, all of him, in a way that Sherlock never expected to want or need. He wanted more of him. He wanted John deeper.
Sex with John was always different. Sometimes it was furious and desperate. They'd sometimes not even get all their clothes off before John was thrusting into him, his movements shallow and fast. Sometimes it was sweet and languid, John teasing by keeping his movements slow and long. He would pull nearly all the way out before filling Sherlock again, drawing it out until Sherlock begged.
Tonight, it was tender.
He would never get used to having John inside him, but this was even better than usual. "God, John," he gasped as John's cock found that magic bundle of nerves. He strained up towards John, body shifting, trying to open himself more to let John go deeper.
John's thrusts quickened, and Sherlock's body rose up to meet him. His hand moved blindly for his cock but John batted it away. "John," he pleaded. "I need…"
"I know," he said, voice low. John's hand wrapped around Sherlock instead, stroking in rhythm with his thrusts. Sherlock's head fell back to the bed heavily, eyes falling closed.
"Yes, just like that," he praised. "Just like…keep…"
"I love it when I manage to make you incoherent," John breathed.
The heat was building, and it didn't take much longer for Sherlock to come, hips lifting off the bed, hands scrabbling in the covers. "John, love you, I love you, God," he moaned, breathless. John wasn't far behind and he collapsed limply on top of Sherlock minutes later. Both men were breathing heavily. John eventually pulled out, cleaned both of them up, and tugged Sherlock close. Exhausted, Sherlock closed his eyes and easily drifted off in John's arms.
"Just call in. I'm sure they can do without you."
"Thank you, for validating how valuable I am to my job."
Sherlock brushed the comment aside. "Oh, you know what I meant."
"Regardless," John said, finishing off his tea and dropping the mug in the sink, "I have to go. I can't sit around the flat all day and entertain you just because you're bored."
"Why not?" John ignored him. "An interesting case could come up." John continued to ignore him. Sherlock stood and wandered into the kitchen. "If you stay home we can sit around and watch crap telly all day."
"Oh yes, that's a good reason to lose a day of pay. Watching crap telly."
"We can go do something," Sherlock tried instead. "Go…walking. You're always insisting that walking is a nice, relaxing thing to do."
"It is," John confirmed. "You go do that until I get home."
Sherlock stepped closer, crowding John against the table. "You can stay home and fuck me," he said, voice low. "I can assure you I am very amicable to that idea."
John seemed to consider this for a moment, eyes traveling slowly down Sherlock's lean form. "You want to stay in bed with me all day?"
Sherlock stepped closer. "Bed, sofa, table. We could try a variety. We've not tried the table yet."
John leaned up to press a hard kiss to Sherlock's lips. Sherlock's arms instantly went around John, tugging him closer. His tongue probed at John's lips and the other man obliged, allowing his lips to part further so Sherlock could fully explore his mouth. Sherlock was pleased with himself for winning but several moments later John pulled away. "As nice as that is," he said, grinning, "I still have to go to work."
"John, I'm bored."
"You sound like a child."
"Is it so bad that I'll miss you if you go?"
"No." He gently pushed Sherlock away and went back to bustling around the kitchen. "But I'm sure you can entertain yourself for a few hours."
Sherlock followed, catching John's hand. "Please? I love you?" The words came out more like a question than anything else.
John smiled at him fondly, tugged him down, and pressed a quick kiss to Sherlock's forehead. "Work on an experiment. The day will fly by."
Sherlock huffed and sulked off to the sofa.
John rolled his eyes and followed, pecking Sherlock quickly on the lips before leaving. Sherlock stared after him morosely and collapsed fully on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and wondering, briefly, why John never said the words back.
They were on a case. As usual, Scotland Yard was a few steps behind, which left Sherlock and John to pursue the suspect they'd been questioning earlier. The suspect was fast, and clever, and had managed to evade them for a fairly long stretch of time. Now, he'd ducked into a building, climbing the stairs to the second story. Sherlock and John followed without hesitation.
The suspect was waiting for them.
He didn't have a weapon, but he had the element of surprise. Neither man had expected him to turn around. He knocked Sherlock to the side. Sherlock's foot caught on something on the floor and he nearly tripped. He righted himself just in time to see the suspect tackle John.
Right through a window.
Sherlock swore his heart stopped.
The suspect caught himself before he fell through the window and took off down the stairs. Sherlock remained frozen for several seconds before rushing to the broken and window and looking down. John was lying on the ground. Was he moving? He didn't know.
He pulled his phone from his pocket, dialling Lestrade. Lestrade could get them an ambulance quickly. He suddenly found himself at the bottom of the stairs. Lestrade was talking. Too many questions. "Just get it! John's hurt." He dropped the phone and fell to his knees beside him.
His leg was twisted under him at a horrible angle, and his wrist, it was a mess. Mangled. Sherlock found he couldn't breathe.
John's eyes were open. His breaths were strained, and Sherlock fumbled for John's hand. His right hand. His right hand looked okay. He clenched it tightly, eyes glued to John's. "John?" It surprised him how small his voice sounded.
"I'm fine," he choked. Sherlock's hand tightened. "I'll be fine," he said again.
"You fell from a second story window." There was blood. Where was the blood coming from? There was glass. What if the glass had pieced a lung? Stabbed him in the chest? His side? He could feel the panic bubbling in his chest, but he was afraid to move him.
"People survive falls like this all the time," John managed eventually, shifting and inhaling sharply at the pain.
"Stay still," Sherlock commanded. "Just stay…don't move. You'll be…there's an ambulance and-"
John cut off Sherlock's nervous ramblings. "I'll be fine." The pain was evident in his voice and Sherlock's grip tightened.
"Of course you will be. You can't die." Just the thought of it was terrifying. Almost as terrifying as knowing just how lost he would be without John in his life. He knew then, with sudden clarity, that he had no idea how he would manage without him. He couldn't manage without John. He needed him. So John couldn't die. John shifted again and let out a pained cry that only served to renew Sherlock's panic. "No, John." He wanted to touch him and hold him and make it better. He was useless. All he could do was hold John's hand. "I love you. I love you and you're going to be fine. Okay? So just stop moving before you make it worse."
A piece of glass had left a long, angry gash across John's cheek. Blood was leaking slowly from it. John shouldn't be bleeding. Sherlock reached up to try and wipe the blood away. More just replaced it. Blood had never made him feel sick before, but this was John's blood. John needed his blood.
"Sherlock." His eyes snapped up to meet John's. "It's okay. I'll be okay."
It wasn't right. John was the one with broken bones and scratches and he was trying to comfort Sherlock. Sherlock knew people survived much worse falls than this. But people also died from them. Logically he knew, by looking at John, that he should survive. But he still couldn't stop his heart from racing. If that glass had impaled him in the wrong place, if he'd landed the wrong way…
John's hand squeezed Sherlock's as the ambulance sirens started to grow closer. No. Unacceptable. John Watson was not allowed to leave him. And he certainly wasn't allowed to die.
And one time…
John had been fine, save for a broken leg and wrist. Both had healed and today was the first day that all the casts had been off. To celebrate they were having a proper cuddle on the sofa. John's legs, both functioning and perfectly fine now, were curled up on the sofa underneath him. Sherlock had an arm wrapped around John's shoulders. John was leaning into the embrace, one hand resting on Sherlock's leg lazily.
Sherlock had missed this. Not that he'd not held John or vice versa since the injury, but it was cumbersome to do with someone's leg and wrist in a cast. Now, he could hold John to him properly without the other man being in pain.
The telly was on, playing an old episode of QI, but neither of them were paying it much attention. Sherlock was feeling rather sentimental with John in his arms, and John was half-asleep against Sherlock.
Sherlock glanced around, spotting the blanket they'd left abandoned the night before on the floor. He stretched for it and eventually managed to snag it, arranging it over the pair of them. John seemed to appreciate it at least, if his curling closer was anything to go by.
He'd never felt panicked the way he had that night when John was pushed. For a few horrible seconds he'd been sure John was dead. And even after seeing that John was alive he couldn't stop imagining what could have happened.
It had also made him think again about what he felt for John. How much he felt for John. He'd used the word love months ago, but it felt different now than it had the first couple times he'd said it. Why?
Love: (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests (4) : unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another
Sherlock certainly held a lot of affection for John. He was also very much sexually attracted to him. He and John had many common interests. And he admired John. Admired his courage. Admired how…good he was. John Watson was a lot of things, and his traits were certainly something to be admired. And though no one would call Sherlock selfless, he was willing to put John first. He found he wanted to.
But it was more than that. Sherlock had never felt this way for another person. He found he needed John. Not having him in his life was incomprehensible. Not having him, all of him, was a physically painful thought. He'd thought he loved John Watson before. Before they'd even been together. But he could see now just how much he loved him. And it was terrifying; terrifying for his happiness to depend so much on one single person.
But Sherlock trusted John. Sure, John hadn't said the words, but John wouldn't leave him. He didn't think so, at least.
He wondered what people would think if they knew just how much he felt for this man. They probably wouldn't believe it. Sherlock himself figured he should feel embarrassed by so many emotions and sentiment, but it was John. John was an exception.
John was also, clearly, mostly asleep on Sherlock's shoulder. His eyes were closed and his breathing had evened out. Sherlock smiled, tilted his head around, and placed a remarkably tender kiss on his temple. "I love you." The words had never felt more honest.
There was silence in the flat save for sound from the telly, echoing softly in the room. Sherlock's eyes had gone back to the screen, just for something to do, when John shifted. "I love you, too."
Sherlock's breath caught and he turned to face John, who was smiling up at him. "You what?"
"You hate it when people repeat themselves."
Sherlock shook his head. "In this instance…"
John's smile widened and he turned to face Sherlock properly. "I love you, too."
He hadn't realized just how much he wanted to hear the words until John had said them. He leaned towards John, pressing their lips together in a slow, tender kiss. He'd thought he'd understood love before, but he found that over the months of knowing John, being with John, caring for John, that he'd really had no idea. But now he truly knew, truly understood what love was, and he knew he felt it for John Watson.
And John Watson felt it for him.
AN: Thank you for reading, and I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has been adding my stories to their favorites, and especially to those of you who review. You guys are what really motivates me to finish these stories. I hope you all enjoyed this one. I've wanted to write a 5+1 story for ages.