Title: Heart On A String
Warning: infidelity, mild mention of substance abuse
Summary: John and Sherlock got married with cracker-jack rings when they were 7 yrs old. It wasn't official, but for their whole lives they took it very seriously.
A/N: I am aware that cracker jack rings are flimsy little things and likely to break as soon as you look at them. As well, I know that cracker jacks are rare in the UK. Hopefully, you can suspend your belief enough to accept that the boys got them somehow, and that these rings lasted a long time. I hope you enjoy the ride! Feel free to leave me a comment on your way out, as I'd love to know what you think.
and as this moment is forever
It begins in Regents Park when John is seven and Sherlock is six. That is the day they meet.
Both of them remember the day but Sherlock remembers all of it, while John only remembers the pieces that he thinks are important. And if he's honest, some days, he admits that he may or may not have forgotten everything except the part where Sherlock is sitting on grass in direct sunlight.
He may or may not admit that it's only because Sherlock went over the details of their meeting that he remembers anything else at all. Because logically he can't actually remember seeing himself going up to the boy with curly black hair and introducing himself, wearing short blue trousers and a red and white striped collared shirt with black socks and black trainers. He should be the boy and not watching the two boys like one would watch an old film.
Sherlock cares about the details. John cares not so much.
It is a bright sunny day in London with no rain. No clouds are in sight actually. In fact, the day is so damn hot that most people have skived off work and declared the Friday an extra day to their weekend. John and Harry and their parents are in Regents Park because John and Harry were previously at home near tears, screaming how hot they were and couldn't they go swimming and Mum can we put ice cubes in the blender and make snow cones, please, please, please….
John is catching grasshoppers with his bare hands because it's amazing that they can jump so high and John wishes that he could jump as high. He doesn't actually catch the grasshoppers but he gives it a solid go for a few more minutes. And then he tries to jump and jump and jump as high as he can and that makes him feel even hotter. So he stops.
By the time he's hot and sweaty and feeling just a little dizzy from all the jumping, his mum calls him over. She gives him a tall plastic cup full of ice-cold lemonade and it's the best drink he's ever tasted in his life.
Harry lies on her tummy on the towel that Mum gives her, knees bent and kicking her feet in the air, humming softly and contentedly to herself. Mum sits reading a book with sunglasses on and a wide brim hat pulled so low that John can barely make out her nose. John's father has gone off somewhere, in search of something, that may or may not have been water or food. But he didn't ask if anyone wanted to go with him, just walked away in a bit of a huff, and so John doesn't actually even care. He doesn't.
And then John sees him. Not his father, but the boy in the posh clothes, sitting absolutely on his own not under a tree or on a blanket, but just sitting there in the middle of all the sea of people and probably getting scorched by the sun. And he's just staring at John.
John is too polite for his own good. He walks over with half his cup of lemonade, careful not to spill even a drop of the liquid gold, and holds out his other hand to the boy and smiles. As adults do. But the boy just stares at him.
"Hullo," John tries with words because he starts to feel really stupid standing there with a hand out. "I'm John. Who are you?"
That makes no sense to John. The word is not a name. It's a funny twist to the tongue and John spends a good five seconds of his life trying to twist his tongue around the word. Rude as can be the other boy interrupts John's final attempt – "Sh'lock" – with narrowed eyes and words spoken so rapidly that John shuts right up and tries to listen.
"Did you know your father has been kissing somebody who is not your mother? There's a mark on his shirt that your mum tried to wash away but the little red mark is still there. It means your father doesn't love your mother anymore, and did you know that? Also your sister still wets the bed but she doesn't want anyone to know, and before you came here your mum told you not to have a cookie but you snuck one anyway, and nobody but me knows that because your mum has been putting alcohol into her cup of juice since she got here and your sister is an idiot."
John contemplates giving the little know-it-all a solid kick to the shin but before he actually comes to that decision his mind catches up and he spins to look at his sister. She's still lying on her tummy, kicking her feet, contentedly. There is nothing about her that indicates bed-wetting.
John is impressed.
"Do you want some of my lemonade?" he asks and politely holds out his cup.
The other boy gives him a funny look. "Aren't you going to get angry and tell your mum what I said? Don't you want to know how I know about your family?"
"No, because people hurt people when we get angry," John says resigned. Instead he carefully takes a seat beside the other boy. "And you're going to tell me anyway, aren't you?"
Sherlock reaches over to take the cup from him. He takes a sip from it, scrunches up his face because it's either too sweet or too sour, and then presses the cup back into John's open palm.
"Alright," Sherlock says.
He launches into another mouthful of words and John just stares at him and stares at him in growing wonder.
It really begins when they are both seven years old and they decide to get married to each other.
Being the same age up to that point has never happened before, but it is Sherlock's birthday finally, even though John has been seven for almost an entire year by that time. It isn't Sherlock's birthday gift that they get married though. They decide to get married because John's parents are getting a divorce and John has to move away with Harry and his mother and John's father is not moving with them.
Sherlock decides that they should get married on his birthday because then they are the same age and he isn't younger and that means that they are equal in the decision.
They take it very seriously, the two of them.
Sherlock does not tell his mother or his father or Mycroft or any of the servants or his driver or his nanny or anyone that he has a best friend name John who he has been secretly meeting in Regents Park for an hour after school each day. John is poor and goes to a State-run school and takes the Tube home all by himself every day. Sherlock is not poor and Sherlock has a driver who knows to keep his mouth shut because Sherlock says so.
Sherlock knows that after John moves away then they are likely never going to see each other again and so this idea of getting married makes the most sense. He gets married now to someone he likes spending time with and then he doesn't ever have to do this again. Ever.
John gets them two packets of Cracker Jack popcorn from God knows where, after Sherlock teaches him how to tell that the 'surprise' is a ring and not any other stupid trinket.
They solemnly eat the popcorn in each other's company on the grass in Regents Park on the afternoon of Sherlock's birthday. Once they're done, they show their rings to each other and decide who wants which one. Since they're getting married and as Sherlock points out, married people never take their rings off, neither one of them wants to be stuck with a ring they don't like.
Sherlock's ring is sapphire blue with the plastic gem in the shape of a triangle. John's ring is ruby red and the plastic gem is a star.
All in all, the ceremony goes very quickly and very well.
Sherlock says his vows first because he's the clever one and knows the words to say. Since he's saying it to John though he keeps it as simple as he can because God knows, sometimes John gets confused way too easily.
"With this ring I promise to be married to you for as long as I can. I promise to never take it off. I promise to never forget you and to make sure that I write to you until I get bored of writing to you. And I promise that when I get older I will still be married to you and won't care what anybody says, not even Mummy."
John shuffles his feet a little in the grass when it's his turn because Sherlock said everything he wanted to say and he doesn't know what he's supposed to say instead. When Sherlock gives him an impatient look, John turns a little red and puts the ring on Sherlock's finger way too quickly and stutters out words and hopes he doesn't say something that Sherlock thinks is stupid.
"With this ring I promise to be married to you too for all my life even though that's forever and ever, and I don't know anybody who is married for so long. And with this ring, I promise to not get it lost. And I promise to not get a divorce from you even when we have to be away from each other and I'm going to miss you all the time."
John wants to end his vows with an 'amen' because it just sounds like the kind of thing that people in weddings at church end with 'amen' but he doesn't because Sherlock didn't and because Sherlock begins to look bored. John knows that when Sherlock begins to look bored then that means it's time to do something else.
So John twists the ring on his finger and have to make a fist around it the way he sees Sherlock doing. The rings are too big for their fingers. Sherlock tells him that they'll grow into them, whatever that means.
In the meantime though, they each make fists with one hand and hold hands with the other hand. And then they're running because Sherlock wants to show John where he saw a dead bird.
John wants to bury it and Sherlock wants to use a stick to see inside of it.
In the end, because they're married, John lets Sherlock pluck out a few feathers and pull off one leg and wrap it up in his favourite handkerchief, and Sherlock lets John dig a shallow hole and put it in and cover it with dried leaves and dirt.
The next time they see each other is the following summer when John is eight.
He is sitting in Regents Park with his back against a tree reading a book about a doctor who saves a little boy from drowning in a river. John has already decided that when he grows up he's going to become a doctor because he wants to save other people's lives.
He's so engrossed in the book that he doesn't hear his father's new girlfriend call his name.
Mostly, he had been trying so hard to ignore them sitting just a few feet away kissing like their mouths are melted together that he's surprised that first she knows his name and second she knows how to breathe on her own. He looks over to her and she smiles. His father doesn't smile, but John doesn't care. John had not wanted to see his father this summer but his mother had insisted that he had to spend time away from Bristol and more importantly she couldn't keep him away from his father for legal reasons, and so John is now stuck for six weeks at his father's house.
"John, do you want to climb Primrose Hill with me?"
John hasn't yet decided if this woman is too nice for his father or if his father is really lucky to have anybody else like him so much, and he hopes they break up with each other.
"No, thank you," John responds quietly because he's still too polite for his own good.
John's father gives him a look that is so angry that it makes John's chest hurt a little. It's the fastest way for him to change his mind. So, even though he still doesn't want to, John bites his lower lip and gets up. He takes his book with him because he needs something to hold on to and the ring that he makes sure to always keep in his pocket is too precious to him to take out and look at.
"I'll walk up the hill with you if you'd like," he tells the new girlfriend quietly.
She doesn't say anything about how fast he changes his mind. Instead, her smile turns into a grin and she gets up. Or she tries to move away but John's father playfully tugs on her waist and laughing, she topples back over onto her lover.
They go back to kissing and John shakes his head in disgust. He's already standing though. Since he doesn't want to stand there staring at them kissing, and since she seems to have quickly forgotten that taking a walk was her idea in the first place, John decides to do the trek on his own.
The walk is peaceful if a tiny bit chilly. People are everywhere in the park laughing and playing football or reading and lying lazily on the grass or eating and talking to each other. John wraps his arms around his body, pressing the book against his chest and resolutely looks ahead.
He doesn't really care about people who go to picnics with their family, or friends who come to the park to kick around a ball with each other.
He said he was going to climb to the top of Primrose Hill so that's the goal and that is exactly what he tries to do. Only thing is that John has put on a little weight since last summer and the hill is not that easy to climb.
Half way up he stops and sits down and looks out onto the park like everyone else on the hill is doing.
That's when he sees the boy in long black trousers and a crisp white shirt who is sitting under a tree all by himself and is staring at him. John knows it's Sherlock like he knows it's going to rain soon. When their eyes meet, John smiles a little even though he's really sure that Sherlock can't see his smile because he can't see if Sherlock is smiling back or not.
Sherlock begins to walk over to him and John stands up, watching Sherlock cover the distance. Sherlock has grown a little taller since they last saw each other but mostly he looks the exact same with wild curly black hair falling all over his face and he's still so skinny that John is afraid that if the wind gets any stronger Sherlock is going to blow away. But Sherlock doesn't blow away in the time it takes for them to reach each other.
Sherlock doesn't even say hello so John doesn't either.
Side by side they climb the rest of the hill. By the time they get to the top, John's legs feel like jelly and he's panting a little. Sherlock gives him a look and then sighs really loudly and then marches off towards an empty spot a little bit away from everyone else and sits down. John is only too grateful to sit down beside him.
They are silent for quite a while before Sherlock, who doesn't look away from the really nice view and all the people who look a little like cockroaches in the distance, decides to speak.
"Where is it?" he demands to know rather imperiously.
John doesn't ask him what he's on about. John looks for the ring on Sherlock's finger instead.
Sherlock has it taped on to the ring finger of his left hand. It's some serious taping and the only thing evident is the blue triangle. Everything else is a sea of clear tape wrapped round and round the skinny finger. John wonders how Sherlock takes a shower with all that tape but he isn't brave enough to ask just in case the answer isn't something he wants to hear. Instead, John shifts a little to the side, reaches into his pocket to pluck the ring out. Sherlock gives an impatient tilt of his head, reaches over to take the ring and slip it on to John's ring finger.
"You didn't lose it then. Good. I wasn't sure we wouldn't have to get you another one." Sherlock still doesn't look at John when he speaks but John hears how worried he was.
John smiles. "I said I wasn't going to lose it didn't I?"
Sherlock nods and still doesn't look John in the eye until John reaches over to touch the sea of tape and plastic gem. When he looks away from it, Sherlock is staring at him.
"Don't go away again," Sherlock demands into their silence. "I don't like it that you're not here after school anymore."
John doesn't much like it either that he lost his best friend around the time he lost his father. But he hates being back in London without his mother or his sister and he hates that his father has somebody else to kiss all the time and it's not his mum.
Sherlock is smart and John can see that even though he doesn't say anything Sherlock can hear everything he's not saying.
"You can come to my house and live with me," Sherlock whispers.
John feels tears sting his eyes and he's so scared that he's going to start crying in front of Sherlock that he doesn't say anything. But Sherlock never knew when to shut up so he keeps talking and John keeps trying to breathe and not cry.
"Since you're my husband then you can live with me and nobody can take you away. You don't have to go back to Bristol and watch your mother getting drunk at night and your sister won't tease you anymore."
John takes a deep breath that sounds suspiciously like a sniffle.
Sherlock looks over at him with the cold grey eyes of a seven year old who knows too much for his age and says sternly, "Stop crying."
And John starts to cry.
And Sherlock grabs his left hand and squeezes so hard that the ring bites painfully into John's fingers and hurts so very much that it leaves bruises, but John doesn't care. John doesn't care at all because Sherlock is his husband and Sherlock seems to know how to keep him from falling apart.
When Sherlock is nine years old his father is murdered.
Mycroft and Mummy hold each of his hands as they stand at the graveside. Not one of them is crying, even though most of the other guests are sniffling. Sherlock is so annoyed by all the noise that he wants to turn around and scream and scream for everyone to shut up. His father could not stand weeping and wailing at the best of times, so he has no idea why everybody thinks now is a good time to be carrying on.
Mycroft's fingers tighten around his and Sherlock feels the tape around the ring on his finger tighten a little more.
Sherlock wants to snatch his hand away, but he doesn't.
When he gets back home he sneaks away from the millions and millions of people who are crowded into the drawing room eating and laughing and talking. It's so suffocating to be around all of them that Sherlock starts to think he should grab the letter opener from off his father's desk and stick it into anyone who dares to hug him or talk to him again.
He leaves the letter opener where it is and grabs the phone instead. He hides under the desk in his father's office and rings the only person whose number was worth memorizing.
It's John, which is good. Sometimes it is John's mum or John's sister and Sherlock hangs up on them in disgust.
There's a rattling sound at the other end of the line and Sherlock deduces that John is climbing under his own bed with the phone.
"Come over here," Sherlock demands quietly.
John sighs. "I can't come."
Sherlock makes a tight fist wanting to punch John or punch himself or punch his father who is not actually buried in a grave six feet under a blanket of dirt, but is evidence in a murder investigation.
"If you don't come right now I won't be married to you anymore," Sherlock threatens coldly.
It's the only thing he can think to say because he can't tell John that his father is dead and that Mycroft has only one year left to leave to go to university. And that leaves only Mummy to keep him from slowly tearing the flesh from off his skin in the moments that he gets bored and wants to scream.
"Stop that," John tells him calmly and seems not to care at all that Sherlock is threatening to leave him forever. "I said I can't come. You know I can't come because it's too far away. I'll ring you tomorrow if you want."
"I don't want you to ring me tomorrow I want you to come here now and fix everything!" Sherlock snaps.
"Fix what?" John asks, confused. "What's wrong?"
Sherlock doesn't have the words to tell him. And even if he had the words he knows there is no point in saying them because he knows that his father is dead and he knows that John cannot bring his father back.
"Sherlock?" John says from a city in England where Sherlock is not.
Sherlock squeezes his nails into the palm on his hand until they leave deep purpled crescent shaped marks.
He doesn't say anything. He doesn't want to speak anymore.
He puts down the receiver of the phone even though he can hear John speaking again, and he leaves the phone under the desk, and climbs out from his hiding place.
When he walks back into the drawing room Mummy grabs his hand and pulls him and Mycroft towards the kitchen to help her to serve the drinks and the trays and trays of cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.
And Sherlock's insides feel like he's been packed with ice cubes.
"John? John! John there's someone on the phone for you!"
John is taking a quick nap in his bedroom when his mother knocks on his door. He has no idea who could be calling him because as far as he knows he'll be seeing all his friends at school tomorrow and everybody lives in walking distance of each other.
"Who is it?" he asks tiredly when his mother presses the phone into his hand.
"I don't know honey," she shrugs and smiles, but the smile doesn't quite reach her eyes. "One of your friends I think."
This does not help at all, so John puts the receiver to his ear and says, "Hello. This is John."
John knows that he can recognize Sherlock's voice even when he is sleeping. There was a time when Sherlock's voice was the first thing he hears in the morning and he fell asleep to that same voice at night. But after two years, John doesn't know what to think when he hears Sherlock speak.
"It's not my birthday," John corrects stubbornly but then he remembers the date. "It's yours."
"Well you weren't going to say it," Sherlock points out.
They are eleven years old and even though John knows that Sherlock knows how to act like an adult, John is still just a little boy and he doesn't know what he's supposed to say or do. He picks up his ring off the bedside table and remembers that it was Sherlock's birthday when they got married. And he knows that's why Sherlock is calling.
"Happy anniversary?" he asks because he feels stupid saying it.
The snort that Sherlock gives out on the other end of the line makes John feel even more like an idiot. He turns red with embarrassment and puts the ring back onto the table.
"Why are you calling me?"
Sherlock clears his throat like an adult but his voice is quiet when he answers, "I don't know. I wanted to talk to you and your phone number is the same."
John decides that he should change his phone number.
"Don't call me again. I don't want to talk to you," he says.
It's anger talking and John knows what his mum has always told him about anger, but he's embarrassed and his feeling were hurt and he still has no idea why Sherlock waited two years to call. He picks up the ring from off the bedside table again. On the other end of the line, Sherlock is silent. John can't even hear him breathe.
"It doesn't matter. You're still my husband," Sherlock finally whispers and hangs up the phone before either of them can say anything else.
John hangs up too then stares at the phone. He stares at it and stares at it and thinks about Sherlock's black hair and grey eyes and the ring with the blue triangle for a gem stone and how it felt to put the ring on Sherlock's finger.
And he slips his own ring with its red star-shaped plastic gem on his finger and makes a tight fist and doesn't take it off for the rest of the day.
John has to go to London for a football match when he is thirteen.
The school that they are playing at is big and posh but the home team is being beaten spectacularly. John feels like he has spent the entire day laughing and laughing. The jokes just keep coming about how the stuck-up gits can't kick because they're afraid to ruin their pedicures, and their trousers are so well-kept that no wonder the wankers can't move.
At halftime John runs off the field with his teammates all falling over each other cheering and laughing. He grabs a bottle of water and jogs over to a bench under one of the trees where the prettiest girl he has ever seen in his life is sitting in her school uniform and looking at him with a smile.
"Hullo." He sits down beside her and shoots her his best grin. "I'm John Watson. What's your name?"
She laughs at him but nods her head in greeting.
"My name is Lucy, but you don't need to know my last name. I saw you out there playing and I think you're arrogant enough. I don't fancy having you laugh at me when you go back over there to your mates. I like football but I don't think I like football players."
John puts a hand dramatically to his chest. "That's a bit harsh."
She bursts out laughing again. She can't seem to decide whether to keep looking at him or if she should be looking out at the field. John knows that this is a really good sign because it means she likes him. When she bites her lower lip and reaches over to pull his hand away from his chest, he knows he definitely wasn't wrong.
Her fingers feel warm and the heat burn all the way down his arm and into his stomach. The feeling is so intense and so good that John wants it to last forever. Quick as he can he wraps his fingers around hers to prevent her from letting go.
She gives him a brave look and tugs on her hand. He immediately releases her fingers and she smiles softly in approval.
"Come with me," she says with a tilt of her head to indicate a group of people sitting on a bench under another tree facing the field. "Come meet my friends."
John has no problems with meeting the friends of pretty girls.
It's only when he gets near to the group of around seven other students that John sees Sherlock. Everybody else is talking and laughing but Sherlock sits in the centre looking uncomfortable, staring out at the field. John suspects at that point that when Lucy said 'friends' she probably meant more like classmates or friend-of-a-friend. Even John can see that Sherlock does not belong in the group.
Sherlock doesn't look in John's direction until John stops to stand by Lucy's side in front of the group. Then John feels the ice-grey eyes snap into focus, first on his face and then to John's wrist. It takes all his energy not to react by covering his wrist. On his wrist, the ring is knotted at the centre of a black twine-bracelet. It was the only way he knew not to lose it because it is still the tiniest bit too big to wear. When he started practicing for football he began to worry that carrying the ring around in his pocket or in his wallet was the fastest way to damage it. Even though he feels like it's a stupid sentiment, he likes having the ring with him. This is the only way he could think not to lose it. He tells himself he is being practical but it doesn't feel like just being practical when Sherlock stares at it and John feels his stomach ache with something that he doesn't understand.
"John meet Steven, Gabe, Sandy, Wendy, Sherlock, Kate, and Mark," Lucy is saying with a big smile. "And everyone this is John. He's the one who scored three of the goals and the reason why our school is making an arse of themselves out on the field. I figured if he met us, he'd stop playing so mean and let us score a goal at least once!"
Everybody laughs and waves and says hello except Sherlock.
Sherlock just stares at John until John can't look at him anymore and instead focuses on Lucy and the way she looks incredibly beautiful laughing. But even though he's not looking at Sherlock he's so aware of the other boy that it's like he has an extra pair of eyes that can't so much see Sherlock stand and then walk away, but can feel the void that Sherlock leaves behind.
Everybody goes a bit quiet when Sherlock walks away, but then someone changes the subject of the discussion and someone else tells John to sit and soon everybody is talking and laughing again.
John runs his finger along the ring on his wrist, feeling the familiar contour of its shape. Then he reaches over to take Lucy's hand and tugs her down to sit with him.
If Sherlock could erase this memory then he would, but it isn't until much later that he learns how to delete unwanted information. At this point his mind palace is still too new and everything that gets saved tends to stay saved. This is why he is careful about what he saves to his memory. Even at this point though, Sherlock realizes that anything to do with John automatically gets branded with 'Do Not Delete' and is locked away even from Sherlock himself in a room in his mind palace where it can only be accessed as a read-only file.
The party is already in full swing by the time Sherlock gets bored and comes to the decision that the stupidest idea he has ever had was to try to make Mummy happy by trying to fit in with the people in his school. If this is how teenagers act, Sherlock is glad that he's not like all the other fourteen year old boys.
It has become one of those parties where people invite other people and those people invite even more people. As it is, people can hardly move two feet in any one direction because they're all packed so tightly in.
Sherlock doesn't see anybody who knows him, even though he knows everybody that he sees.
Even deducing information about each person he sees, gets tedious. To distract himself from completely losing his mind he does his deductions out loud to anybody who cares to hear him, not really caring if anybody can actually hear.
He works his way from a girl whose father is cheating with a student that the girl knows about and won't tell her mother, to a boy whose older brother is abusing his wife and the boy is in love with his sister-in-law and wants to save her. When he gets to the girl who is shoplifting on weekends, and the girl who is failing all her classes because she is being physically abused by her mother, Sherlock has his hands over his ears and is using his elbows to shove people out of his way.
Sherlock gets to the couple kissing in a dark corner, bodies pressed so very tightly to each other that there is no space between them.
Her fingers are tangled in the boy's hair and wrapped around his waist trying to hold him against her body even tighter. One of the boy's hands is wrapped around her back, the other hand holding on to her hip. He's leaning against the wall with his legs open and she is leaning in the space between his legs. Sherlock doesn't have to use his deductive skills to know that the boy's hair is short and blonde and that he has sky blue eyes, and that on the wrist that is pressed against her hip there is a ring entwined in a cord and it has a red star-shaped plastic gemstone.
The hurt inside is so deep that Sherlock actually starts to believe that a killer has broken into the party and is ripping his body apart into the bloodiest, messiest, pieces possible.
Sherlock doesn't know where he finds the tenacity to move but his legs move him forward. He slides his own ring off his finger for the first time in seven years. He does it as gently as he can because he doesn't want to lose it in the small time it takes to cover the distance between him and the couple who are still kissing.
When he gets near enough to them, a group of people bump him even closer.
He steadies himself by grabbing on to the hand that is wrapped around her back. He presses the ring sharply into John's palm and then forces John to make a tight fist around it, until he knows it hurts and leaves a mark that isn't nearly as big as the bruise that is forming inside Sherlock's chest.
When he walks away he has no idea if John even knows that Sherlock was there to see.
"John, this is Sherlock."
John has lost track of how many times in this one year he gets introduced to Sherlock. He plays a lot of football matches away from Bristol and more often than not he finds himself playing a match in London. It doesn't matter which schools he's playing at however because somebody always knows somebody else who knows a bloke who is either too snarky for words, or so damn clever he's definitely a genius, or a wanker who ought to get his teeth punched out, or a know-it-all stuck up prep school arsehole who skipped three grades and still thinks he knows more than the professors.
And John gets introduced to Sherlock.
And every time he does he sticks out his hand or he nods or he tilts his cup or he gives a tight smile and he says as politely as can be, "Hello, I'm John."
Sherlock just raises an eyebrow and looks John over blankly and walks away without a word. And whoever was trying to introduce them either laughs and makes a comment or shrugs and introduces John to someone else.
That's not even counting the admittedly rare times that Sherlock gets introduced to John.
John sees him leaning against the wall outside a building, or sitting on a bench watching the football field, or walking away or coming towards him, or reading a book on anatomy or chemistry. John starts to think that half the time he's playing an away game half his energy is spent trying to find Sherlock in the crowd. More times than not, more times than should be possible, Sherlock is there.
When John finally cannot stand it anymore, he corners Sherlock outside yet another school building and it doesn't slip his notice that Sherlock is all alone and smoking a cigarette.
John grabs the cigarette out of Sherlock's mouth, drops it to the ground and stomps on it before Sherlock has the chance to react. Or maybe he knows what John is about to do and lets it happen anyway.
All the football practice and games mean that at fifteen John is built much more solid than Sherlock is. Sherlock is tall like he doesn't know he should stop growing soon otherwise he's going to disrupt air-traffic, and he's still as skinny as a beanpole. John has muscles in his arms so when he grabs Sherlock's wrist and Sherlock tries to pull away John holds on tightly and doesn't politely let go.
Still he is no fool. He knows that in his own way Sherlock lets John slip the blue triangle ring back on. It fits like it was meant to be there but John does not want to think about this too long.
"Smoking is bad for you," John points out and shoves Sherlock's hand away.
Sherlock glares at him then he looks away. "Not something I have to worry about. You're the one kissing all the girls, not me."
"Yes, because girls don't like kissing boys who smoke. It's disgusting. It's like sucking on an ash-tray."
"Once again, as I pointed out," Sherlock meets John's eyes again. "Not my primary concern."
"Jesus, I married an idiot," John breathes in exasperation.
That sentiment gets Sherlock's full attention. It's the weirdest feeling that John has ever experienced. Sherlock's full attention makes John's skin tingle. It's like standing in direct sunlight for days and years and still not being able to just move away and find a shaded place. Sherlock just stares and stares and stares at John like he's reaching into John's soul and tearing strips of it away and still John can't think of anything else to do than to stand perfectly still and let Sherlock stare at him.
And then Sherlock reaches out and tugs on John's waist.
John stumbles forward, can't stop himself, and Sherlock presses their foreheads together and rubs their nose against each other and then along the side of John's nose and against his cheek. And his lips are so close that John can feel Sherlock's soft warm breath on his face and then almost, almost on his lips. And Sherlock just keeps slowly carefully sliding their face together in a kiss that's a kiss without their lips touching anything. And it's the best kiss that's not a kiss that John has ever taken part of in his life. And of course this is what not-kissing Sherlock would be like. And John's inside starts to ache in ways he never understood before. And when Sherlock slides lower so that he is nuzzling at John's chin and then breathing warmth across John's neck, John feels his legs buckle and Sherlock's arm tightens.
And John wants to kiss him so badly that the only sound he can make sounds like a whimper.
But Sherlock just shifts again so that his lips are close to John's ear and he whispers, "My apologies. When I kiss you, I promise that I will not taste like an ash-tray."
And then he releases John and walks away.
And all John can do is close his eyes and put a fist to his mouth to try to stop the tiny shivers that are racing through his body. And he wraps the fingers of his other hand around the bracelet at his wrist and feels the bite of the ring, and remembers and tries to forget and has no luck either way because his mind feels like everything is covered in grey.
Most of that summer is spent at football camp for John and most of that summer he does not ever see Sherlock.
When he makes it to London again, it is for his obligatory visit with his father, which blessedly is only for two weeks this year.
John's father is getting married again and the final two weeks of the summer is spent divided between trying to hide from wedding rehearsals when he has to walk up and down an isle beside Harry, and sneaking off to various places in the middle of the night to meet his London friends.
John's father moved from Camden to Islington and although the house is smaller, it is detached and has a tiny garden. Harry's window opens up to the roof above the garage and from there he can just about manage to shimmy down the side of the house without breaking his neck.
John and Harry gets so much practice in the two weeks of summer slipping out Harry's bedroom window and across the small, flat, roof and down the wall, that they each become experts in their own way. They never leave at the same time, never get back in at the same time, and fortunately they never tell on each other.
Sometimes at night when John sneaks into Harry's room he almost feels guilty about waking her up as he steps on the bed and tries to make it to the window at her other side as quickly, if not gracefully, as possible.
"Where are you going?" She would ask him sometimes.
He shakes his head for her safety and his, and whispers back, "Out. Lock the window when I'm gone, yeah?"
Once he makes it out of the house he either runs to the bus stop, and catches the next bus or he runs to the Tube station and catches the next train. Either way he spends all night in London walking from one part of the city to the next with a group of friends, or he spends all night in London partying with his friends.
It's not until a few nights before he leaves London for Bristol that somebody in the group passes him a note that reads 'Meet me at the park tomorrow night, at the foot of the hill' that he even thinks about seeing Sherlock.
When he gets to the foot of Primrose Hill he spends almost an hour trying to find the meeting point. Everything looks different at night, and even though the lamps are lit, it is nothing like running around the park in daylight, especially as John hasn't been to the meeting point in years.
Sherlock is standing under a tree when John finally gets to the right place. John has a sneaky suspicion that Sherlock has stood there watching him run by more than once and without saying anything. By the time he stalks over to where Sherlock is standing John is a little bit tired and a little bit angry.
Sherlock doesn't let him get any words out, even though John knows by now that Sherlock can read him like a book.
Sherlock just steps up to John and catch John's arms and pulls him forward and like last time, John stumbles. Not all that surprisingly he finds himself pressing Sherlock between the trunk of the tree and his own body.
"Kiss me," Sherlock whispers. "Kiss me, John."
John breathes, "Jesus, Sherlock."
And John leans up and over and Sherlock bends just a little and then their lips meet and John is kissing Sherlock for the first time ever. And it is nothing like kissing a girl for all the best reasons, because it is only like kissing Sherlock.
The kiss begins soft and hesitant especially because Sherlock seems to not know what his lips are supposed to be doing. But John raises one arm and slips his fingers into Sherlock's mess of curly black hair and Sherlock tilts his head a little to the side and opens his mouth and John's mouth closes over his. And then John's tongue is in the dark, warm, wet cavern of Sherlock's mouth. And Sherlock makes a sound that is so soft and sounds so good that heat curls inside John's body and his fingers tighten just the slightest bit in Sherlock's hair. Sherlock, in response, pulls John even tighter against his body as if he's trying to pull John inside his skin and muscles and bones, as he tightens his grip around John's waist.
John can't seem to stop himself from slowly, slowly, exploring every part of Sherlock's mouth. And when he thinks he should have had enough he can't get enough. When he runs out of air he pulls away to suck on Sherlock's lower lip and then Sherlock returns the favour by nipping gently on John's lower lip. And then their mouths are closing over the other's again and they're back to kissing again like they can't stop. Can't stop. Can't ever stop. Like they should only be kissing each other for the rest of their lives.
John pulls away panting and Sherlock stays curled that little bit so that he can press his face against John's shoulder.
There doesn't seem to be any words in the universe that can fit into the moment so neither of them says anything. Instead they just stand there holding on to each other trying to catch their breaths. And when Sherlock nuzzles into the space below John's jaw and starts to press tiny kisses along John's neck, John lifts his head a little higher and allows Sherlock to kiss across the base of his throat and to tug the top of his jumper down so that Sherlock kisses the top of his chest and across both sides of his clavicle.
And even though the night is cool, John feels like he's burning up and he never understood the why of any of it before in his entire life until this moment, when he wants to reach over and tug Sherlock's shirt and trousers off and kiss Sherlock everywhere and not stop, ever.
Sherlock wraps his fingers around John's wrist and across the bracelet on John's hand so that their rings are touching each other. The tiniest clink of the metal against each other sounds like the loudest bell in the world to John. He uses his fingers to guide Sherlock's head back up so that he can stare into the glass-grey eyes that are tinged with green and that only look jet-black in the darkness.
They stand like that losing themselves in each other's gaze for a long time. It's so incredibly soppy and emotional that John can't believe that Sherlock is allowing the minutes to tick by while they only stand there searching each other's eyes. It's like they can't stop. When they do break the intense eye-contact it is only so that Sherlock can press his forehead gently against John's.
Then John kisses him again in the softest, barest, whisper of lips on lips and gently pulls away. He walks away leaving Sherlock behind. He knows like he knows nothing else that staying means that he would never let go of Sherlock ever again. But he's young and he's afraid and his body is whispering things to him that his mind does not yet understand.
Like Sherlock belongs to him and that even though it's terrifying to even consider clearly, he wants to know just what that could mean.
At his father's wedding ceremony a few days later, John resists the urge to look at his ring, and he doesn't allow himself to think of Sherlock the entire day. And if he catches the briefest glimpse of a tall person in a nice suit with curly black hair staring at him from amongst the sea of guests, he doesn't look over to make sure it's who he thinks it is.
He's fifteen and he knows how easy it is to get an erection from just the slightest provocation. The last thing he needs is to dwell on his own personal embodiment of said provocation. So he resists the urge to think of his husband.
And he definitely does not think about the hours he spent kissing Sherlock at night in a moonlit park, and how hard he was when he walked away.
When Sherlock is fifteen he goes to university.
It helps that he is tall and argumentative and can lie like a boss because it means that even though he's relatively three years younger than everyone else, nobody even thinks to question that he's too young. Anybody who dares to speak to him gets their lives laid out in a series of rapid deductions. Not a lot of people appreciate this and more times than not, Sherlock ends up either being slapped in the face or with drinks in his lap. This stops him not at all.
After his first week, university begins to bore him irrevocably. After his first year, he skips most of his classes, spends his time either dissecting animals in the biology lab or outside chain smoking, or in the library reading through the newspaper and solving crimes much faster than other people solve the crossword puzzles and clearly much faster than the police do. And he still manages to be at the top of all his courses.
The constant boredom feels like it is drilling holes into his skull and burrowing into the soft tissue of his brain.
Mycroft is a constant source of resentment for Sherlock at this stage in life, because Mycroft is twice as smart as Sherlock if Sherlock admits this on his worst days, and Mycroft never did let on just how clever he was. So the fat bastard got to get away with not going to university early and being classified a genius by teachers and Mummy and random blasted strangers who met him only once, and so Mycroft never had to deal with this rubbish.
Sherlock stops speaking to Mycroft right around the first month of university and after the first year Sherlock decides that Mycroft has made it on his black list forever.
It's at this point that Sherlock's sociopathy gets diagnosed for the first time.
It's a relatively mild case and he's high functioning so Sherlock sees nothing to worry about. Mummy does not take the diagnosis so well. After three clinical psychologists, a neurologist, and a psychiatrist gives the same diagnosis, Sherlock tells her himself that he has dissociative, antisocial tendencies and would she please just accept it. Mycroft has these tendencies too, but he keeps that to himself just in case he needs to use that bit of info at some time in the future. But it is yet another thing that Mycroft is smart enough to get away with while Sherlock does not hide well enough.
After their father died, perfect, unruffled, Mycroft use to go out at night and do all sorts of unmentionable things to any stray animal that he found, before he decided he wanted to rule the world.
Everybody just sees that as ambition but Sherlock knows exactly what Mycroft is feeling and if he concentrates hard he can tell exactly what Mycroft is thinking sometimes. The world may underestimate them but the Holmes brothers know each other better than they know even their own selves.
Sherlock hasn't felt anything since he was nine years old. Except when it comes to John, but he does not tell Mummy or anyone else about John. He could have explained that the reason he does not actually follow his impulse to cut his own arm open and study his veins and arteries when he is bored is because John would never forgive him. If he ever tried to tell them that he has a husband, they considered it to be delusions of grandeur. So he tells them instead that there is a certain person that he's fond of and wants to wear their skin. He wants to cut through the flesh and bones of this man and climb into his body and hide there and grow like a cancer. He wants to merge every part of himself with this man until they are one being and he can listen to what this man's heartbeat sounds like from the inside and can play hide and seek amidst the organs in the peritoneal cavity.
Everybody just thinks Sherlock means that he wants desperately, obsessively, insanely, to be like his older brother. Sherlock means this not at all.
Then there is the summer when they are both sixteen.
John is forced to give up playing football because his grades are slipping and he is spending too much time away from his family. It does not help that John's mother gets irrationally jealous that John's father has married a nicer woman than the cheating bastard deserves, and that London is so much more exciting than Bristol. It does not help that now, instead of complaining about having to spend any time at all at his father's place, John and his sister, pack their bags at least a week in advance and can't hide their excitement.
All this wears on John in a frightening way so that when Sherlock sees John for the first time that summer, Sherlock reads everything in the way John and his sister stand in a corner nursing plastic cups of drinks and talking only to each other. Even though they are in a club and there are so many other people to interact with. And even though John loves underage clubbing in London and John's sister loves drinking alcohol in clubs or anywhere else. And even though the only reason that Sherlock is even underage as well, at a club, is because he knows John and he knows which pubs and clubs that John likes to frequent when in London.
John finally drinks just enough to start dancing. Dancing becomes more dancing, and more dancing leads to girls dancing with John and against John. And since John has been drinking and has so much on his mind, John allows all the girls to touch him and grind against him in indecent ways.
And that leads to Sherlock pulling John into a dark corner and kissing him, kissing him until they are both breathless. And Sherlock is wrapped tightly into John's arms and John's head is tucked neatly beneath Sherlock's chin. And John's lips are licking and kissing a path from the base of Sherlock's neck to the tip of his ear.
And it's not enough because Sherlock can feel how hard John is and it sends a tiny shiver of something dark through Sherlock's body.
"You want to have sex," Sherlock realizes out loud and even he can hear how frightened he sounds.
"No! What?" Confused and guilty, John tries to pull away. "Sherlock I was just dancing and we were just kissing. It doesn't mean…um…it doesn't have to."
But Sherlock doesn't hear him because John's mouth is saying one thing but his body, even his wide guilt-filled eyes in the darkness, is telling Sherlock another thing.
And how long, he wonders, before John starts having sex with someone else who is not Sherlock.
John's fingers tighten on Sherlock's arms and his eyes narrow and his jaw is set in a firm line and when he speaks again he gives Sherlock just the tiniest shake because he wants Sherlock to listen and not just hear him. It's hard for Sherlock to listen to empty words. So whatever John is saying, Sherlock interrupts mid-speech.
"You have to have sex with me first," Sherlock whispers to him like it's the most important thing and John has to agree to this.
John shuts up and looks at Sherlock and Sherlock tries to communicate without words how important this is. He minds that John's first kiss was not with him but it is already gone and in the past and compared to this, compared to this enormous step, Sherlock has to be his first. And John has to agree.
John looks at him, trying to do what Sherlock does. John is trying to milk truth and secrets from just a glance and a memory and a deduction, and Sherlock doesn't have the patience to watch John fumble his way to a conclusion. So he pulls John again into a tight embrace, with his arms around John's body and John's arms around Sherlock's waist and his head tucked under Sherlock's chin and Sherlock kisses the top of John's head and slides his lips to John's ear.
And he asks almost impatiently, "Yes?"
And John nods and quietly responds back. "Yes. Okay. With you first, Sherlock."
The jokes never used to bother John, and without regret he remembers that sometimes he had a few words to add to the subject as well.
It has always just been jokes his footie mates said to ease the tension of playing a contact sport. Even after he stops playing football his friends remain the same and other friends that he acquire just all seem keen to point out that they are not, and could never be, and guess who they think is. He's never really had to defend himself especially because he has such a reputation with always pulling girls.
The jokes bother him now though. Whenever he thinks of Sherlock and looks at the ruby star ring and remembers what kissing Sherlock felt like and the promise he gave, his chest tightens in panic and he remembers the jokes. All those jokes, he thinks, and now he has to keep telling himself that he likes girls a lot. And he smiles at the nearest single girl and kiss her until she's gasping and he's dizzy and his heart is racing and she's laughing and his hand is cheekily up her blouse. And he breathes quietly in relief because he's not, and he just has to tell Sherlock he's not.
Suddenly the game he has been playing since he is seven years old doesn't feel like such a good game anymore.
Boys don't marry other boys, even in pretend.
John expects to be caught and dragged away by campus security when he approaches Sherlock's university dorm building. Instead, doors keep opening and John keeps walking until he suddenly finds himself in front of Sherlock's door. It looks so indistinguishable from all the other doors he walked by, that John reaches out to press his palm against the cold wood.
As if by magic, the door opens to his touch and Sherlock is standing before him looking at him, reading all of John's hesitation and doubts.
The door closes when John is inside and Sherlock reaches past his shoulder to turn the lock and then to turn off the light. And the only thing that John can make out in the moonlight, from the window on the far side of the room, is that Sherlock is only wearing a sheet and there is nothing else.
When the sheet falls to the ground and Sherlock reaches out both hands to touch John's face, John's breath catches in his throat. Sherlock is still the most beautiful human being that he knows. And this knowledge makes John's chest hurt, and hurt even more.
He doesn't know if he should speak. He doesn't know if truth is better than silence in this space. He only knows that Sherlock is standing before him wearing only John's ring. John holds Sherlock's hand against his lips and presses a kiss to it. The tiny gasp that Sherlock makes fills John's chest with warmth and something so powerful it makes him shake inside, and then there is nothing left to do but steal the breath back from Sherlock's lips.
So John pulls him into his arms and kisses him.
The world feels like it's spinning on a dime and John tries to tilt with it. He slips his fingers into Sherlock's black, curly hair to hold Sherlock in place so that he can keep kissing him and kissing him and never stop. Sherlock's arms wrap tightly around his waist. John can feel all the heat from Sherlock's body seep through the layers of clothes that he is wearing. It feels like he's burning up and like he can't get enough, can't pull Sherlock close enough, and wants to breathe him in.
When he slides the fingers of one hand out of Sherlock's hair, he follows a path down the back of Sherlock's neck and down the long expanse of Sherlock's back. Smooth, warm, skin meets the edges of his fingertips. Each vertebra along Sherlock's spine is like a speed-bump on the map of this slender body.
Sherlock whimpers against John's lips and it's a sound that is so desperate and so sexy that John wants to inhale it the same way that he's watched Sherlock inhale cigarette smoke.
And then somehow, Sherlock is pressed against him in all the right places and John can feel him everywhere and it's not nearly close enough. They are standing close to the door, then right against the door, then so hard against the door that John can feel the flat plane of the wood force rigidity into his back.
John shifts his stance a little to accommodate the unforgiving door, and it turns into Sherlock slipping into the space between John's open legs. John slides his hands quickly down to the naked curve of Sherlock's bottom, fingers tightening a little, trying to control the small jerky movements of Sherlock's hips, trying to stop the torture and at the same time pull Sherlock even closer because of how good it feels to grind their erections together.
"Off," Sherlock mutters. "Naked. John. Off."
Disagreeing is not an option. Before John can process the request, Sherlock's fingers tug and pull and undo buttons and zip and belt and is peeling away fabric from skin until naked is where John ends up, with his clothes and shoes scattered at his feet. Sherlock pulls him towards the bed while John is still trying to kiss him, and Sherlock laughs softly, which makes John laugh, and means that they are branding kisses and laughter into all the places of each other's skin that their lips touch.
The bed feels like it rises up to meet them when they fall towards it. They end up in a tangle of limbs that turns into Sherlock wrapping both arms and legs around John's body and John lying on top of Sherlock, kissing him and moaning when their cocks line up and are sliding against each other.
Then Sherlock presses a bottle of lubricant and a condom into John's palm and the world blurs for John.
The nervousness and fear of never doing this before and not knowing what he's supposed to do next, almost paralyzes him. Sherlock's keen eyes seem to read this like a book, because he whispers words of encouragement in a soft, soothing, voice. Words like "It's okay" and "John, I want this. I want you inside me" and "Please. Please, John. I know you're afraid but, please".
And everything goes hazy around the edges and sharp in the middle.
John's hands work on some sort of default that his brain spends half the time trying to understand. He ruins one condom before Sherlock patiently hands him another, gets lube on the sheet, and ends up not knowing how much is too much and how little is not enough.
Every action takes focus and deep concentration. He has only a vague idea of what is supposed to happen and can't help feeling frustration and regret that he had been so pre-occupied with not being this that he didn't research how to do this properly. But he's still surprised when he can't get in and he almost gives up on the idea entirely. Sherlock takes deep slow breaths and closes his eyes, trying to relax completely. He looks so ethereal on the bed, trying to coax his body into accepting John's intrusion, that John takes a deep breath and gathers all his courage.
They try again, and again, until finally John manages to push the head of his cock past the tight ring of muscles. He's so pleased with the result that he holds his breath trying not to breathe too hard in case it slips out again. Sherlock goes very still. John concentrates, and pushes forward a little more. Sherlock's fingers tighten on John's forearm. John pushes harder and more because the sight of his cock disappearing deep inside Sherlock sends something primal throbbing through him. Sherlock's fingers tighten and Sherlock takes a deep, shaky breath. John pushes all the way in until he has bottomed out and his pelvis is pressed tight to the inside of Sherlock's legs. And Sherlock's fingers turn into blunt nails that almost gauge out John's arm.
John looks up startled, trying to meet Sherlock's eyes but when he looks at Sherlock any pleasure he previously experienced gets washed away by cold fear. Sherlock's eyes are leaking tears, so tightly closed, his face twisted in pain as he tries to breathe quietly without whimpering.
"Shit!" John gasps.
Sherlock takes a deep breath, simultaneously opening his eyes and releasing John's arm from his tight grasp.
"Don't move, please," he instructs.
John tries to retreat anyway, managing to slip half way out before Sherlock grabs his hand again and almost snarls.
"Don't you dare!"
John would dare anything if it means correcting this stupid mistake. Sherlock doesn't let the thought fester for long though. Instead, Sherlock takes another deep breath and begins to coax the fear out of John again with quiet words.
"Of course it hurts, John. I knew it would. I said I want you in me and I mean it. You'll get better and will learn how to not make it hurt and all the women will want you, want to have you inside them, and you'll be good at it. But this. I want this. I want this, John."
As much as John understands what Sherlock means, it still makes him clench his jaw at Sherlock's words. This is more than Sherlock deserves. John makes a promise to himself then and there that Sherlock will have not just the beginning but the middle and the end as well.
Even though Sherlock shouts in outrage, John gently pulls out. John soothes him with "Shhhhhh" and "In a moment" and kisses wherever his lips can reach until Sherlock is silent again. Then he adds more lube to everything. Still it's a small surprise to him when it works much better than previously, and Sherlock's body opens up to him like it still remembers that John had only just been there.
John still has no idea what he's doing but he tries slowly pulling back, then driving his hips forward. The happy sound of surprise and pleasure that Sherlock makes causes John to chuckle. He tucks his head where it fits beneath Sherlock's chin and kisses Sherlock's chest and shoulder.
Sherlock gasps, "Idiot."
So John does it again. And then again. And then faster, and slower, and harder, and more, and more, and more.
And John wants to respond with words like "Feels so good" and "You've ruined me now" and "I won't want anything else". Instead the sounds he makes are no longer words. The two of them are wrapped so tightly around each other that when Sherlock tugs John's hair to coax their mouths back into a kiss, it is mostly made up of moans and gasps.
Each time Sherlock raises his hips to meet his thrust, each time he sinks as deeply as he can into Sherlock's body and Sherlock arches or cries out, John wants to stay forever. When he pulls away, pulls back, even for the slightest movement Sherlock's fingers on his bottom tightens reflexively and he pulls John back in deep, as if he can't stand to have John leave.
So John changes his rhythm and doesn't leave. Instead he grinds his hips hard and fast over and over, and grins again when Sherlock wraps his legs even tighter around John's waist. The angle changes again as John adjust to the new position.
And then Sherlock almost screams, and curls his toes, and pants, "Do that again!"
John has no idea what he did to get that reaction but he does it again. This time he hits something straight on inside that makes Sherlock gasp and tighten almost painfully around John's cock. John grabs a handful of the sheet on both sides of Sherlock's head and squeezes his eyes shut, desperately trying to remember how to count so that he can calm down a little. But somewhere between one and five John rocks back into Sherlock and this time when he hits that perfect spot inside, both of them cry out together.
Sherlock seems to run out of words, or at least it seems that the only word he knows anymore is "John". Mostly though, the sound he makes is desperate and beautiful, and filled with so much pleasure that it sends sparks of electricity through John's body to know that this is all his doing.
Then Sherlock slips one hand between their bodies to desperately pull on his own cock with a few hard, quick strokes. And then he arches his back beneath John, eyes squeezed tightly closed and with a silent scream, and he's coming, and John feels the warm spray of semen on his belly and chest while Sherlock clenches even tighter around his cock.
John loses control of his rhythm as his own pleasure builds. He presses his forehead into the side of Sherlock's neck. Sherlock holds it there with the fingers of one hand, and with his other hand, he scrapes blunt nails quickly down the expanse of John's back then slides one fingers down the path of John's coccyx.
It is enough, and is all it takes to trigger John's orgasm. His world goes hazier as he ejaculates deep inside Sherlock's body, holding on tightly as he rides it out, and Sherlock press kisses to his hair and his cheek and his shoulder.
When they can move again, John disposes of the condom and Sherlock insists that they take turns cleaning each other up.
After that John flops on to his stomach on the bed, content to never move another muscle in his body ever again. Sherlock makes an annoyed sound that doesn't sound annoyed at all and just sounds happy. It makes John grin back in happiness as well.
Before John can protest, Sherlock is moving to drape his body along the contours of John's body. And he feels so good and so warm, that it makes John smile again. Then he hovers his mouth over John's ear to whisper quiet words that take the smile away, but makes John's chest clench painfully and makes his heart race.
And the truth is that even though they are both only sixteen John knows that it's still the truth and that they could very easily mean this for the rest of their lives.
And if John thought that there is no way that they could get away with continuing to do this, he learns fairly quickly that Sherlock is nothing if not inventive.
Sometimes when Sherlock looks at John, he thinks he understands every single thing about him and that John is just like everyone else, and then John surprises him and Sherlock thinks he will never, ever understand John. And this is too precious to just be interesting.
When it comes to sex though, Sherlock has to sheepishly admit that surprisingly it's not John who is being a predictable teenager.
It's as if John is a drug and Sherlock can't get nearly enough.
So there is the time when Sherlock bribes one of the guards on his university campus to leave the door to the roof of his dorm building open, and then talks John into meeting him on said roof. Just so he can wrap every inch of his body around John under the lights of tiny stars and a full moon.
John tells him that they are never doing that again because it wasn't the sanest idea for Sherlock to be naked on a roof in the cold night air. But Sherlock laughs, and the next time it's Hyde Park at midnight in the rain, and both Sherlock and John catch a cold that they can never explain to anyone else.
There are other times that follow. Sometimes, Sherlock plans them down to the very second in details that take hours of silently sitting staring into space and thinking, thinking, and thinking, of how to get John to make a certain sound, or say a particular phrase, or gasp, or moan at a specific time. But sometimes, Sherlock finds that there is no time to plan his latest seduction of John because just seeing John makes his breathing snag and he has to have John inside him immediately, and sex is the only way he knows that won't end up with John open and bleeding and with Sherlock taking him over like a cancer.
They have quiet discussions in the aftermath of Sherlock having his way with John. They turn into deep, soul searching, decision-making discussions on John's part. Sometimes, John talks about missing his father even though he doesn't even like the man much anymore, and he talks about his sister's drinking habit growing to become almost as bad as his mother's. And he says he wants to become a doctor, even though he has no idea how he'll ever afford it.
Sherlock tries to listen. Most of the time, he commits every word and every action that John says and makes, to memory. But there are days when he gets distracted by the sound of John's heart beating and he finds himself wondering what it would feel like to hold John's heart while it's still pumping so determinedly. Or he watches John breathe and wishes he was oxygen or smoke and could invade John's lungs and curl around in the hollow space and be absorbed into John's blood.
"I want to cut you up into little pieces, and stuff you into my pocket, and take you with me everywhere so that you never leave and I won't have to miss you," Sherlock whispers to John one day when they are lying in bed together.
John goes very silent, and tightens his arms painfully around Sherlock, and responds even quieter, "I know you do."
"Not good?" Sherlock asks, because he doesn't know if John understands what he was really saying.
John presses a soft kiss somewhere amidst all the curls on Sherlock's head and hums quietly.
"As long as you don't actually do it, it's okay to me if all you do is think about it," John says, and Sherlock nods contentedly and feels like his heart is bursting, and not knowing how to stop wanting so much.
They don't see each other again for a long time after that whirlwind of a summer when they are nearly seventeen.
Neither of them realises at the time that this is almost the end of their relationship.
John goes back to school and date girls and never boys and is so determined to figure out a way to get into med-school that it doesn't even register with him that the months of studying turned into a year and then it's almost time for his graduation.
When his father mails him a brochure for the army on his eighteenth birthday, John throws it away in disgust. Four months later though he goes online and reads all he can about the army and finds out that if he's disciplined he can attend classes and attend training and become both a soldier and a surgeon within ten years.
It sounds impossibly hard but he signs up anyway, and although his mother cries for a month and his sister gets so angry that she screams insults at him and tells him he's practically dead to her already, he still packs up all the things he need and catches the bus that takes him to boot camp. For the entire journey there he tries not to think about anything and anyone too hard, and instead, wraps his finger around the ring with its red star-shaped gem that hangs on a leather cord around his neck.
In that time, Sherlock continues to barely attend classes getting more and more bored. By the time he discovers cocaine, it's almost a relief to give in and allow himself to fall to the addiction. It takes years of the habit to truly lose all sense of his being. The years and the drugs erase tiny details from his memory and Sherlock is startled to realize that after eight years, sometimes he stares at the ring on his finger and can't remember why it hurts to even pretend to take it off.
One day, two years after this, Mycroft finds him lying on the floor of a seedy club near Piccadilly Circus, high and delirious, and takes the ring off Sherlock's finger and walks out.
Sherlock watches him go, and can't remember who the other man is but he screams and screams and have no idea where he gets the energy from to attack with a broken bottle. Though he succeeds in stabbing Mycroft in the back, barely missing Mycroft's right kidney, he still doesn't manage to wrestle the precious ring away from the other man's chubby fingers.
They both end up in hospital. Mycroft needs three months of physiotherapy to recover full use of his arm and he loses half of his body weight in this time. Sherlock takes three months to get over his addiction and is so pissed off that he couldn't do better that he refuses to speak to Mycroft. He spends quite a lot of his time hoping that Mycroft is left crippled and disfigured.
When he wakes up one morning to find the ring on the bedside table in his room at the Addiction and Wellness Centre, he knows his brother is perfectly fine and this makes him even angrier. He checks himself out of the centre that very hour and instead walks into the nearest police station where he meets Sergeant Lestrade, makes a complete nuisance of himself, and invents the job title of being a Consultant Detective.
Sherlock knows then that it's possible to erase unnecessary information from his mind palace, so he goes about carefully making space in his mind and editing all files that were corrupted during his addiction.
When he's done after another two months of carefully checking every passage and corner of his mind palace to see if he overlooked any detritus, he is finally satisfied with himself.
It's only then, one bright and frankly annoyingly sunny morning that he slips into his best suit, steps outside to hail a taxi and slips the cracker-jack ring back on to his finger where it belongs.
They are introduced again at St. Bart's Hospital in central London when John is discharged from Afghanistan after being shot and Sherlock has only just recently finished whipping a dead corpse.
This time they do the introductions themselves.
It's not that they don't remember each other. They are still after all wearing each other's rings, though neither of them do so openly. It's just that by then, they are so used to other people expecting them to be strangers that after being apart for nearly two decades, it seems the best idea to start over.
They start over with a flat on Baker Street, and being flatmates who barely ever go anywhere without each other.
John dates women who Sherlock ignores and Sherlock irritates everyone who ever tries to have a conversation with either of them, leaving John to mitigate and apologize on his behalf.
They never, ever, talk about the once upon a time when they were young and got married and fell in love, and broke each other's heart, and walked away, and had separate lives, and missed each other every day, and love each other still, and how each of them wears a string around their neck at the end of which dangles a cracker jack ring.
They talk about other things. Laugh about other things. Chase each other around the city in pursuit of criminals and all in an effort to solve mysteries that sometimes turn out to be crimes and sometimes turn out to just be them locked up somewhere waiting to either die or be found. Mostly, they pretend that they are strangers who became best friends over the course of two wonderful years, even though everybody who sees them comments on how much like a married couple they are.
Then one day Sherlock jumps off the roof of St. Bart's Hospital.
John wraps a picture of Sherlock and the ring with its ruby red plastic star in a square piece of blue scarf. He buries it inside a small box. Then he tucks this into the far corner on the top shelf of the closet in the bedroom. It is the bedroom of the new flat he bought when he couldn't bear to walk to Baker Street after Sherlock's funeral.
He thinks about it every single day for two years but he never allows himself to take it out again during this time.
The most ridiculous thing of all is that the whole world knows that Sherlock existed and that he was John's friend, but Mary has no idea that they even knew each other.
John meets her at a pub late one Thursday night. He is sitting with his friends and she is sitting with her friends and John keeps thinking he's too old for this shit but he buys her a pint anyway and smiles and makes polite conversation. It goes so much better than he ever thought it was possible to go.
He takes her home with him and they spend the night talking each other's ear off, and drinking Cabernet, and laughing, then falling asleep on the couch.
When John wakes, he makes her a cup of coffee even though he has no idea how she likes it. She's a kindergarten school teacher and this, he thinks, makes her a three sugars woman. When she wakes and drinks it she smiles and doesn't tell him if he got it right or wrong.
So he asks her out on a proper date.
They talk about their childhood and John tells her his parents got divorced when he was seven because his father was cheating on his mother. And that his father later remarried and seemed happier than when he was with his first family. He tells her he played football, then rugby, barely made it to university, joined the army, got shot, became almost famous, and tells her he once had a flatmate named Sherlock.
She listens, completely fascinated and not quite believing any of the last bit because up until a year prior she lived in Glasgow and couldn't be arsed to read anything about the folks in London.
It's ironic and soon becomes almost perfect because she never asks about his blog or about how great Sherlock was, and never pretends that she knows they likely had a thing for each other. It's like shedding dead skin and starting over, and feels so good he wants to be around her and her ignorance every second of the day.
John decides on their third date that he's going to marry her because she's almost perfect.
It begins with a shout of alarm from Mary and a punch in the face from John.
Mary shouts because there is an intruder in the flat that she shares with John. John punches Sherlock in the face and almost breaks Sherlock's nose because Sherlock is alive. Sherlock notes each reaction, catalogues them, and then without a word walks out the door he entered through.
It begins with shouts and words of anger and John telling Sherlock he never wants to see his face again and Sherlock should have stayed dead. John wants to strangle Sherlock with his bare hands. Sherlock looks at those hands, and those fingers, and remembers slipping a ring as hard as he could onto one of them.
It begins with slipping into John's flat at all hours to leave sticky notes on any available surface.
The notes are simple and make no sense to Mary but John barely has to look at each to understand. Some of the notes are instructional like 'Buy other clothes' and 'Don't let them in'. Some of them are open-ended questions like 'Yes/No?' and 'Are we still?' And some of them are just odd like 'As long as I can' and 'Not bored yet' and 'Star shaped pieces everywhere' and 'No pockets big enough'.
It begins with paper being angrily, emphatically, torn into tiny shreds and scattered on the floor, and with John shouting and Mary not understanding, and Sherlock being relentless.
It begins one day, and then the next day, and then the next day.
It begins with Sherlock being alive and John feeling like he never lived any of the days that went by in the years that he thought Sherlock had died. And, all the years that separated them are like strips of paper that flutter away in the wind of time. And they are seven years old again, standing in front of each other, promising to be in love for the rest of their lives with toy rings that mean nothing, yet mean every single word that they say as they slip them on each other's finger.
And Sherlock is ruthless and unrepentant because he has every single memory locked away behind a door with a Do Not Disturb sign, and John is the King of his Mind Palace.
It begins with silence and anger. It begins over and over until John can't think and Sherlock won't stop and Mary doesn't understand why they can't just forgive and forget and be friends again.
And John wraps her up in his arms as tightly as he can at night and doesn't know how to explain that it's not that simple.
"Will you be my best man?"
"You're my best friend. She won't understand why you're not there with me."
"I will not stand there and give you to her."
"You left! You died! Death do us part, Sherlock. That's the vow."
"I gave no such promise."
"You're impossible. You selfish fuck! Why did you even come back?"
"You know why."
There's a thin line between love and devotion.
Sherlock has never understood that line. For him, neither is relevant and both are excessive. Emotions cloud judgement and if he was forced to sit in a room and argue emotions, he would end up convincing everyone that the mind is paramount and the heart is surplus to necessity.
John knows him better than this. John knows that at the centre of Sherlock's heart there is a pedestal that only John is allowed to stand on. Some days it drives him insane and some days he can't stop smiling. John thinks about this space inside of Sherlock that is carved out only for him almost every day as soon as he wakes. As unfair as he knows it is, he realizes that it's no use trying to rationalize anything that has to do with how much Sherlock still means to him. If Sherlock had remained dead, John is no fool to think that he would not still be mourning for the rest of his life. It makes being in love with and planning a wedding to someone else become even more complicated than they already are.
It doesn't make him feel any less guilty in any case, when Mary tells him that she has had enough of his angry silences. She misses the man who used to smile at her stories about the children in her kindergarten class. Maybe they need to take a small break from each other's immediate company, and the never ending sticky note messages, and the stress of getting the wedding plans in order. She's going to her parent's house in Glasgow. He should consider having a proper conversation with his best friend.
She leaves early one morning without saying a word to him and instead leaves a note to say all of this. There is no mention of when or if she's even coming back.
John spends that entire day leaving her messages of apology and begging her to come home so they can talk it through. When she doesn't respond to his texts or his e-mails or his voice-messages, he spends the following day enraged and tempted to ring everybody to tell them that the wedding is off.
After one week, he decides to take her at her word and pay Sherlock a proper visit.
Sherlock is fiddling around with a Vivaldi medley on his violin when he hears John's footsteps on the stairs of 221B for the first time in two and a half years. He immediately switches to Mozart just because it's what he used to play for John at nights and it's only fitting that he make it known beforehand that John doesn't just get to silently sneak back into his life.
John drops his bag as soon as he closes the door to the flat. The sound is louder than a sigh but not half as memorable since Sherlock refuses to turn around just yet, and John has yet to speak.
It is up to Sherlock to break the silence.
"I imagine that this is not what she had in mind when she left." The Stradivarius gets returned gently to its case before Sherlock finally turns to face John. He marginally tries not to, but the smirk cannot be repressed so he allows his lips to curl. "Still, I can't say I care much for what she had in mind. You're here now. Don't for one moment think that this means I will allow you to leave unscathed."
John takes the first three steps forward, but pride makes him stop. Sherlock can read him like a book. He always could although he never understood all that he read. This is the delicious, thought provoking, irony of what John means to him. Watching John war between love and loyalty is endearing but Sherlock is not the best of men and so he takes the remaining steps to cover the distance.
"She left me," Johns says quietly, as if the words need to be spoken as a buffer between what has happened and what will happen.
Sherlock tries not to smirk again.
"If it helps, I can kiss you first. That might make the guilt less prevalent. If I touch you first, if I take off all your clothes, and if I'm the one to climb on top of you, perhaps then you can convince yourself that this isn't what you want or what you're doing."
John shakes his head angrily and Sherlock wants to smooth the frown lines away from between John's brows.
"I know what I'm doing," John snaps.
And Sherlock decides that this is far more of a conversation than he needs to be having. John belongs solely to him and has done since the first moment they spoke. Mary Morstan is nothing more than an annoying fly in his consciousness, and right now all thoughts of her and her wishes or feelings are suspended in the amber of his apathy.
Sherlock closes the distance between John's body and his with one final step. Reaching out to clutch at John's shirts he tugs the smaller man sharply forward until John can only stumble forward.
"Then kiss me," Sherlock whispers in the space between their lips.
And John kisses him as if it was inevitable.
In a way it's like free-falling through time for the two of them.
They end up having sex in the sitting room with Sherlock's naked body pressed firmly against the wallpapered wall, one foot on the ground, the other bent on the arm of the sofa, while John thrusts inside him. Sherlock bends, almost double, as he wraps his arms around John's neck and lower back. He hides his face at the juncture between John's neck and shoulder, keening softly each time John's cock pierces him. John rises to tiptoes on each thrust and it is murder on his back and his left shoulder, but stopping is not an option.
That sets the tone from then on as to how John's visit is going to go.
Since there is no Work to distract him, Sherlock seems determined to forgo food and sleep, in favour of having as much or as little sex as John wants. At first John wonders at the extent of this arrangement, but soon learns not to question Sherlock's compliance and to accept everything on offer.
Sherlock, who was always experimental when it came to positions and locations, becomes a veritable whirlwind of sex and sexual innuendo. At seventeen, when John was at his sexual peak, he had trouble toning down all of Sherlock's crazy desires. Now, not a word of protest passes his lips.
There are quickies in the kitchen, any time John finds himself in front of the sink for any extended periods. Sherlock finds him, presses John's hips hard into the counter, one hand undoing his clothes while the other hand works on freeing John from his, all the while whispering words that are so quietly beautiful that they make John's whole body ache. More often than not in these situations, John climaxes with his own soapy fist pressed into his mouth to stop from screaming, and to the dual sensations of Sherlock's condom sheathed cock sliding back and forth between his legs, along the crack of his arse, while Sherlock's dexterous fingers efficiently coaxes John's cock to orgasm.
At night, after John takes a shower and while waiting simultaneously for their dinner to be ready and for Sherlock to finish his own nightly routine in the bathroom, John manages to fit in some well needed television time. This brief respite is usually interrupted by Sherlock in a sheet, or Sherlock in a towel. John hardly notices which is which at this point since the sparse cover gets abandoned fairly quickly once John meets Sherlock's gaze to relay whether he's amenable or not. It's only a matter of minutes then between how fast John can get to full erection, how efficient Sherlock is with slipping the condom onto John with fingers or mouth, and then how deep inside of Sherlock that John gets before he loses all control and flips them both over so that he can pound Sherlock rhythmically into the sofa.
Since it is a down time in relation to the Work, there are hours when Sherlock is in too much of a bored, sulky, mood to proposition John. At first, John hesitates as he wonders if the arrangement works in reverse. After he endures about four solid hours of Sherlock's antics however, he decides he's had enough, and ducks into Sherlock's room to grab lube and condoms.
This more or less leads to the first time that John lets Sherlock fuck him.
John finds himself rocking forward on tiptoes again, although this time he is the one completely naked, bracing himself against the dining table. It feels like Sherlock is trying to climb into his body and fuse their souls together. Sherlock's cock between his legs, forcing its way past his sphincter muscle, is both uncomfortable and electrifyingly pleasurable. Sherlock soothes the tense muscles along the line of John's back with gentle fingers and a voice so steady that John wants to be insulted but can't quite manage. Once Sherlock is all the way inside though, the dance becomes familiar to them. He experiments with speed and angle in relation to how loud and how long John moans in response. It is as if his body is a machine and there is no release button. He wrings multiple orgasms out of John until John can barely stand. Even then it's not until John is on his back on the table, legs wrapped around Sherlock's neck, fingers gripping the edge of the wooden surface, and lost in a blissful haze, that John finally hears a soft gasp of whispered words and feels Sherlock climax inside him. Sherlock seems to find it distasteful to abandon John for even a second. When he does manage to leave, it is only long enough to quickly dispose of the used condom before he returns to gather John into his arms. They half tumble, half drag each other to Sherlock's room and end up in a sprawl of tangled limbs and blissful sleep for the remainder of the evening.
After this, it becomes less clearly defined who is in control of their arrangement. More often than not, John is surprised to find that some days he fights almost as hard to have Sherlock penetrate him as he does to bend Sherlock over any agreeable surface and push into him.
In the middle of the night when John is only a tiny bit awake and mostly out cold, Sherlock wakes him up fully with sinuous lips wrapped around his cock. Then it's all too easy to open his legs, coax Sherlock to eye level where they can kiss each other hungrily, and he can reach between their two bodies to slide a condom onto Sherlock's cock before losing himself in the sensation of being thoroughly filled.
Most days, John wakes up in the morning a little sore and Sherlock falls into bed at night completely exhausted.
There is however one particular night that John cherishes above all the others in this whirlwind of sex, freedom, and losing himself in the overwhelming way that Sherlock makes him feel. It begins the way it usually does, with Sherlock and John on the sofa, interrupted by John's desire to sleep and Sherlock's brisk assurance that he does not. John retires to his bed only to be awakened, not by the sound of the violin, but by the sensation of being held. When he opens his eyes, Sherlock is cocooned in his arms, having inserted himself in the space created there.
"No sex," John pronounces. It's not what either of them needs right at that moment.
Sherlock shoots him a look that is only seconds away from evolving into an eye-roll and assures John, "Obviously."
John nods, ducking his head to press kisses amidst the cloud of dark curls, and gently across the plains of Sherlock's face. He hums contentedly, letting his lips rest at the hollow beneath a cheekbone, and closes his eyes for a few seconds to savour the moment.
"This is nice," John tells Sherlock softly. "The sex is great, but this is nice too; the quiet moment and the cuddling."
In response, Sherlock shifts even lower in John's arms, tucking his head under John's chin and curling his body even tighter around John's body. Then he sprinkles little kisses across John's exposed shoulders and chest, before shifting to whisper into John's ear.
"You are my conductor of light," Sherlock says simply, clearly, as if it's important for John to hear the words even if they are not understood. "For however little time I have you at my disposal, I want to absorb you. It hardly matters to me anymore how I get to do this, as long as you willingly permit me."
Which John takes to mean that it is all going to be fine, even if it is unnecessarily complicated.
And, at least for now, it still is.
One week later, John is sitting in his armchair reading the morning paper and not so secretly hoping to find a case to throw at Sherlock before the other man sets the flat on fire.
Sherlock is laying on the sofa with his usual flair of melodrama, hardly dressed, hair dishevelled and looking pained in his boredom.
John's mobile rings and they both look at it. They both try to grab it. Sherlock looks at the caller id, looks at John, looks back at the phone, tosses it to John as soon as it stops ringing, then walks out of the room. John watches him go and doesn't have to look at the phone to know who was calling. There is silence for a few seconds then the phone begins to ring again.
John squeezes his eyes shut as he answers the call.
"Mary? Hello. Yeah, I'm sorry too. No, it's my fault for letting the wedding stress get to me. It won't happen again, I promise. I'm so sorry, Honey."
When he opens his eyes again Sherlock is standing before him with John's bag already packed and at their feet.
John doesn't have the energy to meet Sherlock's accusing gaze. Instead, he rises from his chair to slip by Sherlock's immovable side and continues his conversation in the kitchen.
When John is ready to leave two hours later Sherlock is inside his bedroom with the door locked. John has no choice but to leave without explanation or apologies so he doesn't even try.
Instead he presses a blank sticky note on Sherlock's door and hopes that Sherlock understands everything that he can't say.
Something old comes in the form of Mary's mother's wedding gown, handed down to her daughter with pride and altered to fit a more modern occasion. Mary wipes tears away when her mother takes the dress over to their flat for the first time. John doesn't get to see it though, until Mary is walking down the aisle towards him and he has to admit that she never looked more beautiful to him than right then.
Something new is everywhere and everything around them, from the surname that Mary gets pronounced at the end of the ceremony to the earrings she wears and the shoes on her feet. There are the presents that they receive and the first dance that they dance. John looks at the matching platinum wedding bands on their fingers and embraces her tightly in his arms as they sway to the music and the cheering of their friends and family. And every moment feels new.
Something borrowed, and John can't explain this to her, doesn't want to think about it when he looks around and sees all the smiling faces and can't see the face of his best friend. It was awkward enough to explain to her that as much as Sherlock means to him, their friendship is not strong enough for John to peel him away from a crime scene. She laughs in sympathy and kisses his cheek and tells him that his time away from that crime scene as well, is what she is borrowing today. He doesn't let on that this may not be the only thing she has borrowed from Sherlock.
Something blue, she laughs and shows him late that night when he unravels her from the yards and yards of wedding gown. She couldn't look happier or shyer as she stands before him in only her lacy white bra and panty. Except, his eyes are instead drawn to the valley between her breasts, and she has to hold the object up for him to see it.
On a silver chain around her neck there is a toy ring with a plastic sapphire gem in the shape of a triangle.
"It's my something borrowed and my something blue," she says with a huge, happy grin. "Sherlock sent it in the post. He says to tell you that he's sorry he had no plans of being at the wedding but he hopes that I remember to feed you properly and he wanted me to wear this. He says he's had it since he was seven and if he couldn't be here, he hoped I would be sentimental enough to wear it today. I thought it was sweet."
John feels like his heart is in a vice. A wave of anger almost blinds him to react by ripping it away from her and hiding it away with his own ring at the back of his closet and at the centre of his heart. This is something Sherlock would of course do, and John wants to hurt him for it.
But when he pulls her into his bed and slides into her body, it is the only thing he doesn't remove from between them.
Barely four months into their marriage, Mary is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
John spends hours and hours lying in bed beside her at night, not crying yet reminding himself to breathe. She needs him to be strong because she can't be strong all on her own. Despite the fact that he served in a war and saw many of his fellow soldiers die on the wrong end of a bullet, this waiting and watching his wife slowly die is the most painful thing he has ever endured.
Mary seems to oscillate between bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There are the days when they laugh and pretend that everything is perfectly fine, only for him to walk into the room a few minutes later and have to hold her as she breaks down into gasping sobs. And then there are the days when he is so angry that he hates himself and the universe and Mary sits beside him silently until he can only reach out and grab her into a tight hold as he tries to imprint her presence on the very air around them.
"You should give Sherlock a visit," she says to him one night when he would have sworn that she was already sleeping. "You miss him."
They are lying in the dark with the moon as their only light. It is the kind of night and the kind of moment when confessions are usually made. John remains silent. Mary does not.
"I found your ring and the picture about two weeks ago. I didn't know what it meant except that of course it looks like the one that Sherlock lent me for the wedding. Locked away in a box with a picture of him, John. So, it means something big, if you've never talked about it. He means something to you that you never explain."
He stops her words with a soft, urgent whisper of her name as he turns to her in the dark, trying to prevent her from drawing the right conclusion. So close, their faces are inches apart and he sees the sad smile on her lips just before she closes the distance to softly kiss him for the briefest moment.
"You're a good man," she enunciates to him as if she needs him to remember. "We are so lucky to have met, but I never had all of you. I met you when you were only half alive. I breathed life back into you; made you laugh, and feel again. When he came back though, he turned the lights back on."
He wants to tell her to stop. Wants to tell her that there is no place else he'd rather be than right here with her. As if she sees the truth, she smiles softly for him again. But her eyes are sad.
"I love you," she whispers. "I love as much of you as I could ever have. I had enough, but I'm jealous now. He had – has – the beginning and the middle, and as much as I want to fight to have you for the rest of your life, it's going to come down to me only having you for the rest of mine. So I don't even get the end."
When he says her name, she stops him with a stern look. Her eyes are bright and sharp and her lips are suddenly set in tight line. She puts a finger to his lips to stop the explanations, never needing them, or even wanting to hear them.
"Give me the rest of my life with you John," she demands quietly. "Promise me that, and I will forgive you both for being so stupid as to entangle me between your two proud, selfish, hearts."
Maybe if there had been a way to undo time, John could have found a way to make amends. Some days he thinks he is drenched in blood up to his throat with how much guilt and regret he carries around.
And for a while he's so angry that he can barely stand to be awake to feel the way it churns like vitriol in his stomach, clouding his every thought.
He spends weeks after Mary dies, absolutely hating her. For not letting him stay angry at Sherlock coming back from the dead. For not leaving him when she figured out that his heart was divided. For dying. He hated her most for dying, and throwing the match, because her dying felt like she left a void in his world. And although it felt nothing like the black hole that Sherlock's fake death had caused, for weeks after she died, he misses holding her so much he dreams of grenades and explosions. Then he wakes thinking he has lost both arms in a war that he no longer fights.
He's angry at himself too, of course. He's never considered himself weak, but he comes very close at two points in his life. Both times is standing at the graveside of someone he was in love with. It doesn't help that while he stands at Mary's fresh grave, while he cries and his colleagues and his friends try to comfort him, the one person who could help to dampen the pain stands at his side like a silent statue. In the weeks that follow, John knows that the anger stems from guilt. It's as if he bargained with the universe; the love of his life for the life of his love. It seems that the two could not exist in the same world together; not while being in love with John Hamish Watson.
In the army, the soldiers carried good luck charms, whether tokens from love ones or pieces of things that survived when they survive. John had a crackerjack ring on a leather cord around his wrist. He never once explained it to anyone.
After Mary dies, after more than a year passes, and he stops being so angry all the time, after Sherlock starts to text him again and they start going to crime scenes regularly together, after the pain becomes bearable again then turns into a dull ache, after all is said and done, John gets out the small box in the closet.
He waits until he finishes packing a small suitcase with enough things to last for two months outside of London, before he finally opens it.
He slips the ring temporarily into his pocket, crumples the picture of Sherlock into a tight wad which he drops into a breakfast bowl, tosses the piece of blue cloth in as well and spends five minutes hunting down matches. Then he lights it all on fire.
While it burns, he tells Mary goodbye, tells her he loved her and that a part of him would never stop, thanks her for loving him when he was wounded and didn't even realize it, then fishing the ring back out, slips it onto its proper place where Sherlock slid it on all those years ago.
After years and years of it never quite fitting on his finger properly, then years of him seeing in at his wrist, solid and constant but never in its right place, years of concealing it because he didn't want to have to explain it, when he put it on it fits snuggly onto his finger, not too tight and no longer too big.
John shakes his head in exasperation at whatever the hell the universe is trying to tell him now, grabs his bag, then catches a taxi to the airport.
Sherlock finds John in a hotel in Nairobi.
Technically, Sherlock gets to the hotel before John even knows which hotel he's staying at since John spends eight weeks in Dadaab with Doctors Without Borders. This is more than sufficient time for Sherlock to negotiate for John's return to the capital city.
Kenya is beautiful and hot. Sometimes when Sherlock walks by, children point at him and say strange words in a language that Sherlock has to fight hard not to achieve fluency in. He finds most of the adults overly kind and feels like he has never seen so many different groups of families before.
At the hotel Sherlock spends a lot of time reading. Since John did not see fit to tell anyone where he was going, Sherlock gets a strict word of advice from Mycroft to respect the other man's privacy. This does not stop Sherlock from calling Lestrade long-distance or e-mailing notes and observations on the usual open cases. So it's almost entirely coincidental that when the truck pulls up to the front of the hotel, Sherlock is outside in the heat collecting a sample of dirt in a glass jar and not inside negotiating air condition usage.
There is a group of four men all alighting tiredly from the vehicle, shaking out stiff limbs and looking around. Sherlock sees one of the men squint in his direction, sigh like something inevitable has happened, and is just about to politely excuse himself before the man is accosted by another fellow.
"Dr. John Watson, come over here! Meet Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
They've done this so many times over the course of their life that Sherlock has his hand held out before he even considers dropping the jar of dirt out of politeness. He doesn't. He does however note that the jovial fellow, grinning from ear to ear, as if presenting one rare diamond to another is Australian and, judging by the state of his fingertips, is the neurologist and correspondent that Sherlock spent weeks in contact with to manipulate this exact meeting.
Sherlock can see that John is about to veer from their usual script about two seconds before John raises an eyebrow at Sherlock's outstretched hand and then looks over at the other doctor. In those two seconds, Sherlock pulls back his hand, gracefully pivots on the spot and begins to walk away, just as John explains.
"We've met. I know him. People always seem to be introducing us, which is tiring to say the least. If you'll excuse me – us actually, since he's an arse as you can see, and doesn't know how to politely leave a conversation – I'd better join him inside. He seems to be in the mood to talk."
By the time John enters the suite that Mycroft is unknowingly paying for, a few minutes after Sherlock, it is to find Sherlock casually sitting at the desk in the corner, reading a newspaper. Sherlock glances up when John loudly drops his bag. John stands with arms folded, staring daggers at him, and Sherlock is tempted to rise and do the same. The only deterrent is the ring on John's finger. The colour and shape of it is so vibrant and stark that it keeps overwriting itself in Sherlock's memory, until Sherlock has to briefly close his eyes to regain control of not only his head but his heart.
When Sherlock opens back his eyes John sighs, and twists the ring around on his finger twice. He then walks over to Sherlock with outstretched hands to slip open two buttons on Sherlock's black shirt, exposing the smooth, pale skin on Sherlock's chest and the ring that is dangling on a cord there.
"I seem to remember you promising to never take it off, and I sure as hell didn't give it to you on a string. Put it on. If at my age I have to walk around wearing a toy ring on my finger then you can very well do the same, I think."
Sherlock hears the words the same way he used to hear John's voice in 221B telling him to sanitize the counter, put away the milk, and for fuck sake stop leaving chunks of human thighs in the fridge otherwise one day he's going to mistake one for a leg of ham and they'll both be charged with cannibalism.
It's not the words that are important, it's the tone. Sherlock finds that sentimental isn't a notion strong enough to describe how much he misses the nuances of John's voice when they are apart.
"There's now an empty Range Rover in the parking lot with the keys in the ignition if I'm not mistaken," Sherlock points out to distract John from the sight of trying to casually do as requested. "Kenya has a lot of open roads covered in dust and dirt with nothing in sight for miles except perhaps a stray animal."
John chuckles quietly as if he really shouldn't be encouraging Sherlock's rude prejudices. At the same time though, he reaches out to snag the ring from its cord, and Sherlock loses interest in even the air around him as John reaches over to firmly slip the cheap, blue ring onto Sherlock's finger as if it is a marquis-cut sapphire, platinum ring.
And it's like they're seven years old again, doing this for the first time, except this time the rings fit, neither of them say anything, and both of them can't seem to stop staring at the contrast of blue beside red, and the triangle next to the star.
They drive for hours, leaving Nairobi behind, until the road is empty of all other vehicle but theirs, and dusk is fast approaching.
Sherlock stops the car at John's request and pulls off the dirt road that they were travelling on for miles now. Sherlock has a pretty good idea where they are, but John doesn't seem to care much except to make jokes about jumping hyenas. He thinks that John wants to stop and watch the sunset, which is fine.
They watch the sun set from the bonnet of the truck somewhere in the middle of a Kenyan plain with a gorgeous view of the horizon in the far distance.
The sky looks like it is ablaze in orange and red hues when Sherlock interrupts John's gaze of quiet awe by pulling John over, until he is straddling Sherlock's waist and their lips meet. After that, John seems to lose interest in the sky, which is fine.
The way John kisses him makes Sherlock's world slow to infinite sensations and sunbursts of data. He sucks on John's bottom lip, slips his tongue inside John's mouth and gets a fix of his favourite drug. This is what he is truly addicted to. This strong, quiet, fierce, man who is imprinted on his heart and builds sand-castles in his mind. Their tongues dance, entwine, and they gasp and moan, and can't seem to want to stop long enough to breathe. And when they finally do, it's because John pulls away and Sherlock isn't quick enough to follow.
"You can't fuck me on top of a car," John murmurs against Sherlock's lips with a smile. "We'll roll right off."
Sherlock pulls slightly away so that he can look into John's eyes. He tries not to caress John's cheek with the tips of his thumbs, tries not to get too caught up in studying the contours of John's jaw, but it's hard to stop when he feels like it's been a lifetime since he could do just this.
"I want to," Sherlock whispers back.
Their lips meet again, and John whispers, "You're insane. How can I love you so fucking much after all this time?"
Sherlock wants to tell him that love is made up of endorphins and norepinephrine, that it can be replicated, and that it doesn't last. He wants to, but he can't get his mouth to do much more than press kisses to the exposed line of John's neck. And he doesn't even realize that he's speaking too until he hears himself repeating the sentiment in other ways and in other words.
They don't fall off the bonnet, but they do mutually agree that they'd rather be inside a locked vehicle than outside surrounded by mosquitos and any jumping hyenas that might show up.
John manoeuvres them horizontally on the back seat, all the while having to work around kissing Sherlock eagerly and trying his best to lose as much clothes as possible without actually leaving any of their clothes outside the vehicle.
Turns out that they have plenty of lube but they don't have any condoms.
"Doesn't matter," John says carefully, solemnly, and he means exactly what Sherlock understands from these words.
That in sickness and in health, for better or worse, it doesn't matter anymore.
They try to go slow but get impatient very quickly. John is reminded a number of times about that first time that they had sex together, how afraid he was, how it felt to have Sherlock trust him, how Sherlock wanted it no matter how wrong it went until it all worked out. And he knows what that feels like; the desperation and the need to have them connected.
When Sherlock pushes hard and deep inside of him, John arches his back and moans. He allows his finger to breech the air that separates them, tangling the fingers of one hand in the curls at the back of Sherlock's head, while his other fingers trace the lines of Sherlock's face as it contorts in pleasure. Knees pulled up to his chest, and held firmly there by Sherlock's arms, he looks up and his whole world is rooted in the silver eyes gone dark with desire. Sherlock rocks back and then forward again, leaning down to rest his forehead along the bridge of John's nose. Their sweat mingles together and their breaths heat the air between them. All the while Sherlock moves fast and deep, and John does what comes so naturally by following along with the beats of Sherlock's command.
They shift position when John decides that he wants to see Sherlock's face properly. It only takes a light shove for Sherlock to understand. He stops thrusting long enough to lock John's legs around his waist and slide his hands securely around John's waist. Then with a sharp tug, roll them over and slightly up so that he ends up sitting on the backseat with John in his lap. John adjusts with a rocking motion, feeling Sherlock's erect penis brush his prostate, and making him throw his head forward and groan. John wastes no more time. He begins to fuck himself earnestly on that stiff, beautifully hot, cock. He missed this, where he only ever allowed this one man to do this to him. And God he loves him, loves how Sherlock feels inside him, loves how great they fit together whichever way they try, and all the time.
This is how John comes; riding hard, with Sherlock's fingers a tight fist around his cock, gasping out words he barely knows he's saying.
Sherlock barely allows John time to catch his breath before he smoothly pulls out and insistently manoeuvres John face forward into the seat. John catches himself with both hands and on bended knees, back arched, as he twists a little, trying to watch as Sherlock frantically position himself behind. It takes more than a little coordination this time as Sherlock compensates for how close the roof of the car is, and how narrow the seat is. As always though, Sherlock manages with grace and a whole lot of persistence until he is pushing forward into the heat of John's body and John – head hanging low almost touching the seat – pushes back into the thrust as if it's not happening fast enough. It doesn't take long after that, not with how tight John feels and the noise they're making together. Sherlock climax deep inside John's body, with his nails digging into John's hips, his body curled over the arch of John's spine, with a quiet gasp, and as only John can make him feel; like his mind is short circuited with pleasure so intense that it can only be translated as white noise.
As soon as they separate into two entities again, rain starts pouring from the night sky like there is no tomorrow.
The drops beat like stone pellets falling on the roof, though they quickly become indiscernible. It doesn't take long for the darkness of night to take on a shimmering, wet glow, cocooning them in yet another level of privacy.
They clean up as best as they can in the confined space, until Sherlock gets distracted by all of John's wiggling. They carefully arrange themselves on their side and facing each other, so close that hardly any air separates them, and listening to the lulling sound of the rain. It is peaceful, and cozy inside their little bubble, both of them silent except for their breathing.
Until Sherlock pronounces with a hint of annoyance, "We should have stayed outside. It seems I've missed a better opportunity to have sex with you in the rain."
And then John starts laughing so hard that Sherlock has to hold on to him tighter so that they don't both tumble off the seat and end up tangled together on the floor.
At the airport on their way back to London, John meets two little girls who tell him that they are six year old twins.
One is headed with her mother to London, then Baltimore to undergo facial reconstructive surgery for a cleft palate. While she is excited and anxious, her sister looks worried. The girls play a game of Red light/Green light in the waiting area for a little while, as John cheers them on, but as the time draws near for boarding to be announced, they get more sombre.
Until one of them notices the ring on Sherlock's finger and nudges her sister.
John watches with a small smile on his face as the sister in need of surgery blatantly stares, then whispers. Sherlock ignores them both, though obviously well aware that he has caught their interest. Meanwhile, John quickly slips his own ring off.
"Would you like mine instead?" he asks, holding it out, arm stretched across Sherlock's figure to give the girls a clear view of the prize on offer.
Beside him, Sherlock raises an eyebrow. John smiles again and shrugs, just as the ring is hesitantly taken from him. The girls confer over it in whispers, taking turns to try it on. It's too big, so they curl their fingers in hopes of preventing it from slipping as it is admired.
Sherlock turns to look at them, looks hard at the ring that is being worn by one and stroked by the other. He wordlessly slips his ring off and presses it sharply into John's palm. They look into each other's eyes, conveying many things and saying nothing. Then John gives a little nod, and Sherlock rises and walks away.
John smiles, feeling his heart swell with a flood of emotions, and mostly love, and trying not to convey too much of it.
"You can have the red one," he says to the one who is taking the flight. "No matter how far away she is, you can always keep her with you."
He produces the other ring with another smile. This surprise is met with happy grins from the girls. When he holds it out to the sister who is staying, she looks at it in awe.
"The blue triangle one is for you," he tells her. She takes it and slips it onto her finger and immediately shows it off to her sister. "So that you know that even though it makes you sad to watch her leave, all she wants is to come back."
John finds Sherlock sitting a small distance away, texting rapidly, with the tiniest hint of annoyance shadowing his face. John wants to reach over and smooth the shadows away. Instead, he sits in the seat beside Sherlock and waits for his presence to be acknowledged. When he realizes that he could be waiting forever, he leans over slightly to nudge Sherlock's shoulder, earning an eye-roll for his effort.
"Flight's leaving soon. I'm sure since Mycroft booked us in Business Class we should at least make an effort to look eager to get home."
Sherlock makes a small humming noise, before finally putting his mobile away.
"You gave them a speech about waiting, and patience," he deduces, bored. "You do realize that they will only be apart for weeks at most. As well, her sister will return home, better."
John nods emphatically, as if he already knows exactly what Sherlock is going to say. "Everything is better when you're happy."
Sherlock sighs, exasperated, but barely a second later he gently, carefully, runs his finger along the bare expanse of John's finger. It tickles a little. John is tempted to make a fist and hold Sherlock's hand prisoner. Instead he returns the brief caress over the empty space on Sherlock's finger, before slowly moving his hand away.
Sherlock looks over the small distance to where the girls are hugging each other tightly, crying, and refusing to let go even as their parents tell them that they have to. His expression is carefully blank as he observes the scene.
It makes John's chest ache, so he leans over to whisper quiet words into Sherlock's ear. Sherlock smiles and drops his regal pose in an almost imperceptible way, but it is enough for John to feel comfortable enough to take his hand again. John wants to lean over and kiss him instead, but he doesn't.
Together, wordlessly, they rise from their seats, shoulder their carry-on bags, and move towards their Gate.
In London, Sherlock keeps an eye on a property in Sussex that has an apiary he estimates will be ripe for success in a number of years.
When John finds out, he laughs at the idea of getting old and raising bees. Sherlock tells him that they are indeed getting older and that plans must be put in place for the time when they will obviously need to retire.
The idea of Sherlock no longer doing the Work and of the two of them permanently living away from London seems strange to John, but he doesn't actually say this aloud to Sherlock. He doesn't need to. Sherlock deduces John's hesitation.
"We can do something else. Go somewhere else," he concedes late one night as they lie awake together. "We should have many more years before we need to come to a firm decision."
John chuckles softly, wrapping his body tightly around Sherlock until neither of them can move and only one of them can breathe easily. When Sherlock groans in happy annoyance, John laughs again, teases that Sherlock loves it when John overwhelms him, and kisses every inch of Sherlock that he can reach. They get thoroughly distracted for a while.
Finally, John unravels his body away from Sherlock's so that they can meet each other's eyes. His expression is soft and tender. Sherlock wants to be lost, even in the wasteland of that look. Wants to live and breathe this man, and never have another moment when he's not sure if he will be able to.
And as this moment is only one moment in the rest of their lives, they fall asleep content in their happiness and awaken only to the sound of a mobile ringing. Then clothes have to be found, and texts are rapidly being sent. And they are running down the stairs, shouting "Good morning", and "Goodbye" to Mrs. Hudson in harmony, and then out the door of 221B Baker Street trying to flag down a taxi while John shrugs his coat on and Sherlock is struggling to get his scarf to stay in place.
John suddenly reaches over, grabbing a handful of the front of Sherlock's shirt and pulls Sherlock forward until they stumble together.
"Sussex, and bees, and growing old with you. I want it too. I want you, and the rest of forever. So, yes. I'm good with that," John whispers against Sherlock's lips.
And they're kissing each other eagerly, arms wrapped tightly around each other, and not wanting to stop, just as a taxi pulls up in front of them.