A/N: I originally wrote this as a second chapter to my other porny fic "There Are Unexplored Possibilities About You." But then it turned out really long, so I decided to let it stand alone.
As I said in another unrelated fic I published today, I've been annoyed because I can't think of plots and although all the angsty sex and sexy angst is fun, the fact is that's not actually the basis of Sherlock & John's relationship. They solve crimes, John blogs about it, and Sherlock forgets his pants. Right? But then I realized I could do like Gatiss and Moffat and rip off Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Which is much harder than it sounds. So the case in this fic is "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez," only gay and Lebanese, cuz why not. But really, this fic is not about a case, it's about angst and sex.
Sherlock flips his phone in the air and grins. Beautiful day. He breathes deeply into his chest and takes in the view over Baker Street: a steady pounding rain, an unrelenting gray. Absolutely gorgeous day. "John! Get dressed!"
Really, what could be better? Waking up to a fucking amazing shag and then stepping out of the shower to find a text from Lestrade. A body. Fresh. No likely suspects. Brilliant.
John appears behind him, drying his hair. "Case?"
Sherlock grins in response. "Will you come with?" he asks, although he knows perfectly well that John doesn't have a shift scheduled at the surgery for several days, so the answer can only be yes.
John chuckles. "Thanks for asking. Yes, of course I'll come."
They step out of their cab and pull up their coat collars, Sherlock noticing with pleasure the synchronicity of their movements. They run through the downpour, past the Yarders and into the house.
Lestrade meets them at the door. "Killed this morning. Will Smithfield. Apparently the young boyfriend of Samer Itani, the owner of this house. Itani's in poor health, has a nurse come to look in on him every day. Says this morning she was in the kitchen when she heard Smithfield going downstairs, then a scream and a thud. She ran across the hall to the study, found Smithfield bleeding from the neck. He was dead before the ambulance arrived. No enemies that anyone knows of. Just a junior professor at Queen Mary."
Sherlock keeps walking as Lestrade talks, his eyes flicking across the foyer, the hallway, the carpet, the pictures on the walls. He follows the sound of Donovan's voice to a room at the end of the hall to the right, a study.
John clasps his hands behind his back and stands aside, waiting for Sherlock to request his attention.
The body, Will Smithfield, apparently, is crumpled on the floor next to a desk. He was probably handsome in a dull way, blond hair, blue eyes, straight nose, weak chin, full lips, anemic, academic. Donovan stands over the body, arms crossed, like a dog guarding a bone. A pair of gold-rimmed eyeglasses is clutched in Smithfield's right hand. A bloody ivory-handled letter opener lies about a meter away from the body. Donovan explains, "Itani says it's his. Keeps it there." She motions to a matching desk set. "He didn't wear glasses."
Sherlock crouches down beside the body, his eyes flicking everywhere. He absentmindedly rubs his wrists as he takes in each detail. Mud on his shoes, he went out this morning, but he wasn't in a hurry when he got back, scraped his shoes carefully, no longer wearing his jacket, clothing stylish but casual, wound is small but very deep, clearly caused by the letter opener.
"John." His friend snaps to attention. Sherlock jerks his head toward the body at his feet and stands up. Their eyes meet briefly as John approaches. Sherlock feels a tiny lightning bolt at the base of his spine, and the red marks on his wrists burn. He suddenly realizes he's been rubbing them. The handcuffs this morning. Not enough, not nearly enough. He clears his throat and stands up. John raises an eyebrow and bends over the dead man. "Carotid artery. Time of death, about two hours ago. Pretty straightforward."
Sherlock nods. "Obviously he grabbed the glasses off the killer's face. You're looking for a woman with very poor vision, extremely near-sighted. She has a wider nose. Middle-aged. She's been to an optometrist twice in the last month or so. Did you observe this hair caught in the hinge? She has long gray hair, or dark hair with gray streaks. She has expensive tastes in glasses and probably in clothes and shoes as well. And judging from the angle of the stab wound, she'll be fairly tall, about 1.7 to 1.8 meters."
Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock sees John smiling, impressed. Lestrade is skeptical. "Doesn't sound like a likely murderer."
"I should hope not. Don't call me in for the likely ones. And where was Itani?"
"In his bedroom, there." Lestrade points to the corner of the study where two narrow corridors branch off. "On the left, that leads to Itani's bedroom. The nurse says he came into the study after she found Smithfield."
"And why isn't he your suspect?"
"He's being taken down for questioning right now." Sherlock makes a face. God only knows what a mess they're making of it. "But if you meet him, you'll see. He's extremely frail. Can barely put one foot in front of the other, much less run down a hallway, stab a man to death and run back to his bed. The nurse, Susan Tarlton, is a better suspect, but she's got something of an alibi. She was on the phone with her staffing agency when it happened. Call was logged."
John looks at the dead man on the floor. "How'd a sickly old man find himself a boyfriend like this?"
"Like what?" Lestrade asks.
"He's not bad looking." Lestrade raises an eyebrow. John clears his throat. "I just mean, you wouldn't think… It's a little surprising, isn't it?"
"Apparently Smithfield was his student. I don't know, some people fall for their professors. The seduction of the mind or something. Who can ever explain love anyway?" Lestrade tilts his head slightly and looks at John a bit more intently.
"Yes, fascinating," Sherlock interrupts sarcastically. He turns and heads down corridor on the right, John following close behind, and Lestrade behind him. Donovan stays with the body, glaring at Sherlock's back. It ends in a door that leads outside. "You've combed the garden thoroughly, I'm sure."
"Of course," Lestrade replies.
"And in the process destroyed any evidence that might have been useful to me." Sherlock steps out the door, onto a gravel path that meanders through a small garden and around back to the road.
"Someone walked on the grass next to the path," Lestrade says, just a touch self-satisfied.
"Oh you noticed that, did you?" Sherlock murmurs, his voice dripping with condescension. He gets down on his knees to get a better look and starts crawling along the path. Without meaning to, Sherlock looks up at John, standing at parade rest, his dark blue eyes pushing him down. Sherlock resists the urge to shiver but blushes slightly and holds his stare. John blinks.
"I might've been able to tell if these tracks are coming and going," Sherlock says, continuing to crawl slowly along the path, "if you'd called me earlier, before your lot mucked it all up."
"They didn't touch it," Lestrade snaps back. "And I called you as soon as I bloody well could, you're not supposed to be here at all."
Sherlock stands up and walks back into the house without a word. John and Lestrade follow. The corridor leads back to the study, where Sherlock takes a sharp right, his coat swirling around him, and follows the next corridor to Itani's bedroom. It reeks of cigarette smoke. There are books and papers everywhere, cascading off the shelves that line the wall, strewn across the unmade bed, stacked high on the bedside table, along with a tray of uneaten breakfast. Sherlock paces around the room, scanning up down and across, taking it all in.
He spins around to face Lestrade and says, "Let me know when I can talk to the witnesses." And he leaves, John close behind.
In the cab, Sherlock stares out the window, tapping his fingers on his knee. The woman's glasses. The tracks in the grass.
He rubs the thumb of his right hand across his left wrist, tracing the red marks there. They should be deeper. This morning, it was too fast. If she left the same way she came in, it would have been trampled down completely. Nothing in the path, nothing in the flower bed on the other side. When he sneaks up on me like that, it almost short circuits my brain, when I can go from unconsciousness to being conscious of nothing but the heat shooting through my veins and the need to bring him closer. Closer.
He traces the mark with his thumbnail, gradually digging in deeper. How hard do you have to stab with a letter opener to cut a carotid artery in one go? How exact do you need to be? His mouth on me before I have a chance to think anything, its heaven, it's something I've never deserved, and he knows somehow the exact moment when I cross over back into my brain.
He switches hands, the fingernails of his left hand slicing into the red marks on his right wrist. The nurse will know more. No motive. How does he know, at that moment, to grab my wrists, to dig his nails into the sensitive skin there and bite my thigh and the pain takes over and then his mouth again complete and whole and I say thank you and then please john because I am drifting away again, I am crossing over, and he always knows, he has the handcuffs ready, cold metal dragging on my wrists and stabbing pain in my shoulders when he yanks my arms over my headd that brings me back, how does he know that.
Sherlock suddenly swivels his head to the right to face John, who is already staring at him. "What?" he snaps.
"What?" John echoes.
They are pinned in on all sides by grayness; the rain so thick that it seems they are underwater. Sherlock's eyes shimmer silver in this light. John's are almost violet. "Why are you looking at me, what do you want?"
"Nothing," John replies quietly. "I don't want anything."
At Baker Street, John pays the cabbie while Sherlock rushes on ahead and up the stairs. By the time John gets there, Sherlock is already laid out on the sofa, eyes closed, fingers steepled under his chin. John puts on the kettle, digs Sherlock's laptop out from under a pile of papers on the kitchen table, finds his phone charger wrapped up, oddly enough, in a jumper on the living room floor, and places both on the coffee table next to the sofa. He returns to the kitchen, where he makes two cups of milky tea, one with a little sugar. He places Sherlock's cup on the coffee table and then takes his own cup over to his armchair where he settles in with a medical journal and awaits further instructions.
After several minutes, Sherlock sits up and drinks his tea, an intense frown on his face. He opens his laptop and begins searching. Carotid artery. Samer Itani, Professor Emeritus, Kings College, Anthropology. William Smithfield, Junior Professor, Queen Mary, University of London, Anthropology. Rose Healthcare Services, Premiere Staffing Agency For Your In-Home Healthcare Needs.
An hour later, John makes more tea. This time Sherlock leaps from the sofa and takes the cup from him directly, without meeting his eyes. He paces, muttering to himself, periodically looking something up on his phone. John finishes his medical journal and then opens his own laptop. He has bills to pay and a blog post to finish.
Around one, John makes himself some beans on toast for lunch. He doesn't bother asking Sherlock if he wants any. He settles back into his armchair and opened a book. Sherlock, back on the sofa, is rubbing the thumb of his right hand across his left wrist, lightly, rhythmically, almost hypnotically. Sherlock notices out of the corner of his eye that John is noticing him. Not deep enough. How much more will he do? But that question will have to wait. They both know nothing happens during a case.
John makes more tea, brings Sherlock's cup over to the coffee table and leans over to set it down and Sherlock snaps. He is grabbing John, his hand on the back of his neck, pulling him down, closer. It doesn't make sense, there is a case, I don't need this. But he does. John falls to his knees, digs his fingers into Sherlock's hair and they kiss like it's the last time because it could be the last time for days; after all, nothing happens during a case. John tries to pull away, to breathe, but Sherlock pulls him back in, selfish and drowning. Finally he lets John go. He leans away, catching his breath, searching Sherlock's face for an explanation.
"But you have a case," he says.
Sherlock doesn't reply. It's a stupid, obvious statement that doesn't merit an answer. He strokes one hand down along John's cheek, his wrist brushing against his lips. John grabs that wrist, presses it to his mouth, licks against the line of the red mark. Not nearly enough. He grazes his teeth along it and then bites, hard. Sherlock gasps, never breaking eye contact.
"Strip," John orders. Sherlock unbuttons his shirt, slowly, deliberately, loving the feel of John's eyes taking him in piece by piece, possessing him in sections. The shirt drops to the floor. The rest of his clothes follow suit until he stands naked and fully erect in the middle of the living room. John sits on the sofa and stares. Minutes tick by. Sherlock is impatient, screaming inside his head, throwing himself against the walls, furious. His mind is racing, running through every possible option of what John will do to him, trying to predict. He knows better. He can't stop. But John will not move until Sherlock's mind has stilled just a little, until he's stopped trying to work it out, and somehow John knows. And then he still won't move. And even then, if John wants him to stand here and wait, he will stand here and wait, for hours if necessary, because this is the only way to the other side. He will stand here and look into John's dark eyes and hold his stare. John knows when it's time. He stands and says, "Go on then."
The bed is still a mess from this morning's activities. John grabs the hair at the nape of Sherlock's neck and pushes him down on his knees next to the bed. Sherlock stares up at John's face hard and tense with wanting, his pupils wide, his teeth bared, and stretches his neck like an offering. Still holding onto Sherlock's hair with his left hand, John grabs his shoulder with his right, bends down and sinks his teeth into his throat. Sherlock's entire body shudders, violently, reverberating in John's mouth.
John stands back and waits to regain control.
Sherlock watches him through heavy lidded eyes turning green. He holds perfectly still, beating against the inside of his skull, waiting to be pulled through to the other side.
The handcuffs are still on the bed. John grabs Sherlock's hair again and pushes him onto the bed, face down. He straddles his naked body, still fully clothed, and leans down to bite the other side of his neck. Harder this time.
Sherlock arches his back and moans wordlessly.
Click. The cold metal of the handcuff on his right wrist. The slithering sound of the chain looping over the bedrail. Click, onto the left wrist. Not enough.
John is quiet, gently tracing the skin just under the handcuffs with his thumbs. "More, I think," he muses. "Yes?
"Yes," Sherlock hisses, although he thinks John was probably talking to himself. And the cuffs tighten down, digging into Sherlock's skin, and he inhales a long ragged breath and shudders as John drags his nails down Sherlock's sides, over his ribs, as hard as he can, like dull knives.
John finds the lube and starts working himself into Sherlock's hole, one, then two, then three fingers. He's being a little rougher than usual and it's perfect. Sherlock is writhing beneath him, so close to the other side. The bookcases in Itani's bedroom, the cigarette ashes on his floor, the runner in the corridor, three drawers in the desk. The case is still flashing through his mind but the images are losing their meaning. John is pressing the tip of his cock up against him and Sherlock is pushing back against it, whimpering a little. "Beg," John says, and the words stream from Sherlock's lips, "Please John please fuck me I need it please I need your cock in me now I need you inside me you're the only one who can do this to me you're the only one fuck me please John now."
"What will you do for me?" John growls.
"Anything, just do it please."
"Anything?" John's voice is so dark and strange, Sherlock desperately wants to see his face, but a hand is on the side of his head, pushing him firmly into the mattress.
"Anything you want John yes."
"Would you kill for me?"
"I have before and I will do it again."
"Would you give up your life for me?"
"Yes yes you know I would."
"Would you give up your mind for me?"
Sherlock inhales sharply. He is suddenly intensely aware of every sensation, the harshness of his breath moving through his lungs, the stinging scent of his sweat and the overpowering scent of John's arousal, the heat on his skin, the damp roughness of the sheets beneath him, the handcuffs digging mercilessly into his wrists, and John's cock, still just nudging at him, still waiting.
Sherlock says nothing.
John laughs, a low, knowing chuckle that lasts too long. And then he is pushing in, slowly, and Sherlock is moaning thanks. John is all the way in but holding still. Sherlock knows he's not allowed to move, he can only hold his breath and bite his lip, waiting. An eternity.
"Talk," John orders.
"Fuck me. God, do it, fuck me now, what are you waiting for, please John."
"I could stop. I could pull out now and just wank, come all over your arse and walk away. I'd be just as happy."
He could. He's done things like that before. "You fucking bastard."
"Ah ah ah…" John warns, pressing his hand down on Sherlock's throat. "Watch your language with me."
Sherlock tries to take a deep breath but John's hand allows him only a shallow one. "I'm sorry John don't do this to me, I need it, please."
John sighs as if thinking it over. "I do want to fuck you," he says, as if it doesn't matter whether Sherlock is listening. Sherlock is listening, with every cell in his body. "I want to hurt you more." And the hand on Sherlock's throat suddenly turns into an arm crooked around his neck that pulls him back sharply so that his wrists yank against the cuffs, shooting spears of pain down his arms, through his chest and belly, into his cock, and at the same time John starts thrusting and Sherlock is gasping with relief and gratitude and pain. With each thrust the cuffs dig in deeper, it feels like they are scraping his bones, and John is pounding into him ruthlessly and Sherlock is panting Yes Fuck More John until suddenly he hears "Shut up" and the arm around his throat is bending just slightly.
Sherlock remembers the man five months ago who shot at John and missed. In an instant Sherlock was on him, knocking the gun out of his hand, slamming him up against the wall, his hands on his neck, watching his face as he squeezed, feeling the life pulsing through his throat, knowing it would literally take seconds to drain it out. Then there was John's voice at his shoulder, "Let's leave him alive," and Sherlock was snarling, "You're lucky you're such a terrible shot, it saved your life today." And there was the time in Chinatown when Sherlock was so stupid he let himself be ambushed, found himself in a chokehold, and it was close, much too close, he stumbled and fell and John was just outside but never knew that the entire world went white and dissolved completely for just a moment. Which is not happening now; now the world is crashing back in with questions about Chinese smuggling rings and Moriarty's networks in Asia and what it would take to conduct an exhaustive survey of the city's tiny dusty ignored shops and determine which of them are likely covers for something else. It takes about 15 seconds of pressure on the carotid artery to cause unconsciousness. This can stimulate baroreceptors causing the vagus nerve to fire off impulses that can cause cardiac arrest; it will definitely cut off blood to the brain, which could cause permanent damage. John is still fucking him, the cuffs are beginning to cut off circulation to his fingers, and John is growling, "Come back to me." Sherlock hates it when he says that, as if it's something he can control. If he could control it, he wouldn't need any of this. He manages to squeeze out a whisper, "Bring me back."
John wraps one hand around Sherlock's cock and starts murmuring, "You fucking beautiful monster, I want you every time I look at you, I want you sweaty and helpless in my hands like this, today in that bloody garden, you were on your hands and knees crawling towards Lestrade, but you only crawl to me, do you hear me, no one else, I wanted to pull down your trousers and have your arse right there, and I could have, if I decided to, I could fuck you till you scream in front of the entire bloody Scotland Yard, and you would not say no to me, you are mine, your perfect body is mine, I do what I want with it and I will keep doing what I want with it, and you will keep coming back to me every fucking time."
He's thrusting harder and Sherlock understands the words John is saying but they're coming to him through a cloud of pain and now the arm around his throat is tightening, he can still speak, he knows he can stop it, but he also knows John is right, he probably never will. And then suddenly speaking is no longer an option and then breathing is no longer an option and then thinking is no longer an option, he is floating, the whole world has gone white, and then he is exploding, dissembling into millions of electric white sparks shooting in every direction and melting back into the complete whiteness.
Sherlock is vaguely aware of his cuffs being unlocked and his hands being massaged until the sensation returns to them. He hears a "tut tut" sound as fingers lightly caress the parts of his wrists that were rubbed raw. He is gently flipped over onto his back and then he feels lips on his throat over and over and over. Semen is trickling out of him unpleasantly and he realizes he has no memory of John coming, when did that happen? He waits patiently until he is able to move.
As soon as that moment comes, he jumps up without a look at John and heads directly for the shower. John doesn't follow him, but takes his own shower afterward, and Sherlock is grateful.
When John comes out of the bathroom, Sherlock is at the kitchen table in his dressing gown, frowning at his laptop. He wordlessly shoves it toward John, who sits and begins scrolling through it.
"You hacked into Itani's patient file."
Sherlock glares at him.
"Right. Well, yes, this is consistent with what Lestrade said. It's highly unlikely that a man in his condition was scampering around this morning murdering his strapping young boyfriend."
Sherlock nods, takes the laptop back, opens a new browser window. John leans forward and takes Sherlock's left wrist in his hands, turning it over, careful not to touch where it's raw.
"Let's fix these up," he says softly, almost to himself, and disappears, returning shortly with his kit. "Interesting couple, don't you think?" he muses, as he cleans the wrist with an antibacterial wipe. "What do you suppose Smithfield saw in him?"
Sherlock shrugs. "His intellect?"
"Oh? Is it as big as yours?" John applies the antibiotic ointment.
Sherlock intentionally ignores the innuendo. "Not remotely. Average intelligence for a university professor, which is to say, average intelligence for anyone but with more license to pretend. But he was Smithfield's advisor. Maybe there was something about that relationship, the authority, I don't know." Sherlock waves his hand, this conversation is boring. Surely someone had a grudge against Smithfield somewhere. In the back of his mind he's working out Smithfield's Facebook password, but he needs a bit more data in order to piece it together.
"Hm. Maybe. I wonder." He fishes in his kit for a bandage of the right size, finds one that will do. "You don't think Smithfield was getting something else out of this? Money? Prestige?"
"No and no. Smithfield had more money than Itani. His family is rather well off. Prestige, definitely not. Itani almost lost his position over their affair."
"Really? True love then." John is teasing him, which is profoundly irritating. He switches to the right wrist, which is even more irritating, because Sherlock has been using it for the laptop.
Sherlock sneers. "Pheromones. There are no conclusive studies at this time on what causes pheromones to trigger in one individual and not another. The prevailing theory is a combination of natural selection for traits that will lead to the most successful progeny like strength, intelligence, size, etcetera, and chance, which increases the diversity of the gene pool."
"Oh Sherlock. You're such a romantic." John smiles as he starts putting the bandage on the right wrist.
"A corollary but somewhat fanciful theory is that somehow each individual's pheromones are triggered by the pheromones of the person who possesses important traits that they are themselves missing."
"Like interlocking puzzle pieces."
Sherlock rolls his eyes. "If you must embarrass yourself with such clichéd sentimentality, then go ahead. Itani and Smithfield were interlocking puzzle pieces. Does that make you happy?"
John closes his med kit and walks to the sink to wash his hands. "Not at all. One of them is dead."
Running water, the clinking of mugs and plates. John washes dishes. Sherlock tiptaps on the laptop.
"But not us," Sherlock says several minutes later, as if announcing a mathematical theorem.
"We are not interlocking puzzle pieces."
"Oh." John turns off the faucet. "Do you know what we are?" It's not a rhetorical question. John is asking the same way he asks questions like where is the body, why that knife and not the other, what's the best route to the East End on foot at four in the morning, questions he expects Sherlock to have the answer to.
"Irrelevant," Sherlock replies. He slams his laptop shut, tucks it under his arm, and retreats to his bedroom.
Early the next morning, Sherlock stands over John's bed and rips the blankets off him. "Up," he commands imperiously. "Witnesses. Let's go."
John groans, grasping pointlessly for the stolen duvet. "What time is it? Where are we going?"
"7:30. Itani's house, what do you think, Buckingham Palace?"
John rubs his eyes and looks blearily up at Sherlock. "Well, you're fully dressed, so no. Can I shower?"
"No." Sherlock is throwing clothes at him. "Your clothes are atrocious, John. When will you listen to me and get some decent ones?"
"I've told you, you are welcome to buy me whatever Dolce & Gabbana rubbish you want. I'm not buying it for myself and I'm not promising to wear it, but go right ahead if it'll make you happy."
Sherlock sniffs. "It won't," he says and marches out of the room.
He is standing on the landing tapping his foot impatiently when John comes down the stairs. He steps outside without a word, John close behind.
In the cab, John stares at him strangely. Sherlock can't put his finger on it, but it's disconcerting. John slides across the seat, adjusts Sherlock's scarf, pats it down, and says, "You can't take it off."
"In public, for the next few days. You've got some bruises and bite marks on your throat. Also, your bandages. Take care that you don't let your sleeves ride up."
Sherlock turns away, looking out the window. "I don't care if they see."
"I do." John's tone is harsh. He leans in and lowers his voice. The cabbie won't hear. He reaches one arm across Sherlock's body and wraps both hands around his wrists. He knows exactly where it hurts the most. "That's not all. I like it when you say my name. Think of the times you've done that, said my name when you were coming, when I was inside you. You don't delete those files, do you?"
Sherlock says nothing.
"No, of course you don't. Are you thinking about all those times right now?"
Bent over the sofa. Against the living room window. On the stairs. Tied to John's bed. Tied to my bed. In an abandoned warehouse in the East End. With my arm twisted behind my back. With my wrists and ankles tied together. With my face pressed into the floor. With my back still screaming and open from the lashes of the whip. With nothing but our skin and our sweat. Sherlock says nothing, but closes his eyes.
"Good." John's lips are brushing against Sherlock's ear, his tongue almost close enough to feel. "You know… Sometimes hearing you say my name gets me hard at the most inappropriate times. It can be annoying."
There's something sinister in that word that sends a shiver down Sherlock's spine.
"So we're going to play a little game today," John continues. "Every time you hear my name, you are going to remember how it feels to be coming, hard, with me inside you. You're going to feel it. Understood?"
Sherlock swallows. "We're on a case."
"I noticed. But that didn't stop you yesterday and it won't stop you today. Every time. Understood?"
I have a case. This is juvenile. I don't want this. It can wait. His heart is beating too fast. "Yes."
"Good." John settles back into his side of the cab and smiles blandly. "Remember about the scarf and the sleeves."
The nurse, Susan Tarlton, greets them at the door. She looks a wreck. "Mr. Sherlock Holmes?" she asks in a thin voice. "Detective Inspector Lestrade said you were coming. And this is…?"
John is standing just behind Sherlock. He doesn't lean forward with his hand outstretched, introducing himself. He just stands there, smiling and blinking like the village idiot. Sherlock takes a deep breath. Completely juvenile. "My associate, John Watson." And he shocks himself, with the little hitch in his voice, his suddenly elevated heart rate, the slight flush in his cheeks, and the memories slamming into him, clambering over each other to be the first to command his attention. He shuts them down. Now John is leaning forward, intentionally pressing his body into Sherlock's just slightly, extending his hand and saying, "Pleasure to meet you, is Dr. Itani in?"
Dr. Itani is in, and they head back to his room with a promise to speak with Ms. Tarlton afterward.
John stops Sherlock's hand before he can place it on the doorknob and lightly raps on the door instead.
"Come in," a wheezy voice from inside the room calls.
They enter and, again, the stench of stale cigarette smoke hits them in the face. Fresh smoke too, because Professor Itani is sitting in bed with a cigarette dangling from his lips and Sherlock leans forward and inhales deeply. Oh yes.
Itani sits poised and upright, despite his age and illness and grief. His hawkish nose and thick eyebrows exaggerate all his other features to a somewhat intimidating effect; his piercing black eyes are made even more intense by the contrast to his white hair. But his eyes are red and sunken. He's been crying, and not sleeping.
"As-salaamu aleikum," Sherlock says with a slight nod of his head.
Itani's eyes widen slightly in surprise. "Wa-aleikum as-salaam," he replies. "Your accent is quite good. Although Lebanese is much more beautiful than Saudi."
"Merci," Sherlock replies in a Lebanese accent, and Itani's mouth crooks just barely into a smile. "So. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson," he says. Damnit. Heat spreads through Sherlock's body before he can think about it, just from the wheezing voice of an old man. If John notices, he doesn't show it. "Please, take off your coats, make yourselves comfortable."
"No need." Sherlock shoves his hands in his pockets and pulls his coat tighter, scanning the room again piece by piece, looking for the clue he's sure he missed.
"Pleasure to meet you, Dr. Itani," John says, shaking his hand. "We are so sorry for your loss. We're assisting in the investigation, I hope you don't mind if we ask a few questions."
"Of course, anything I can do to help." The professor gestures weakly at two chairs, stacked high with books and papers. "Have a seat… if you can."
John picks the chair closer to the bed, which is occupied by a huge stack of papers.
"My magnum opus," Itani sighs, a little self-deprecating. "Just put it anywhere." John awkwardly moves the papers to the floor, next to an empty breakfast tray. "I suppose I can finally finish it now. Will was supposed to be helping me with it, but I found it impossible to concentrate on my work with him around, not like I did before. I just wanted to spend every moment I could with him. I knew he wouldn't stay for long…"
Itani voice trails off and he covers his face with his hands. John and Sherlock wait, silently. Sherlock, in the chair near the far corner of the room, is tapping his fingers impatiently on his knee. This is a waste of time, he has questions and they will be quick if he can just get started. But he remembers the arrangement. After a series of disastrous interviews which even Sherlock admits could have been handled better, he and John agreed that now, John starts the interviews, sets the tone with an agonizing period of small talk and pleasantries and then lets Sherlock take over. It's a nightmare. But Sherlock concedes it is more effective.
Itani collects himself and John consoles him. How can his voice go from knife sharp to cloud soft in minutes? You would think that one side would have to be false, but John Watson is the worst actor in the world. How does he do that? He is asking a string of irrelevant questions about Smithfield. How did they meet. Was he a bright student. What drew him to anthropology. What was his dissertation about. What sort of teacher was he. The questions drone on and on, longer than usual. A couple of times, Sherlock tries to interrupt, but to his astonishment, John ignores him completely, talking right over him, and Itani follows his lead. Sherlock narrows his eyes into stiletto knives. How dare John undermine his authority in an investigation? Sherlock tries to remember any time when John has purposefully provoked him like this and can't think of one. The bastard. He's trying to make me say his name.
Sherlock sits up straight, squares his shoulders, and draws a deep breath. I am not playing this pathetic game. I can say one sodding syllable without any effect. His body is as calm and still as he can manage, and he rumbles in his most commanding voice, "John."
Fuck. On the kitchen table, my head hanging over the other edge, my legs up over his shoulders, one hand on my cock, the other clawing at his arm as he thrusts into me, his eyes holding me, and he tells me to talk and I talk, I say anything, the words don't matter, I make them because he likes them, because he likes my voice, and I want this, more than anything, I want him inside me and him wanting to be inside me, so I make the words for him until I have none left, and then I can only say John John John John John and when I do that his mouth falls open and he starts to make sounds like I am pulling something precious and essential out of him, and I don't understand it and my breath is shattered and I'm breaking apart beneath him, but his hands on my legs are holding me and his eyes on mine are holding me, until they squeeze shut and he throws his head back, saying my name now, shaking and falling and still holding me.
John turns slowly in his chair to look at Sherlock. Sherlock knows it's all there for him to see, the dilated pupils, the elevated heart rate, the flushed cheeks. John can't see that Sherlock is half hard, but he knows. If this room wasn't saturated with the smell of cigarette smoke, he'd be able to smell Sherlock's arousal. John smiles. It's not salacious or smug. It's more… proud. The way you might smile at a child who has accomplished a challenging task, and you say, "I knew you could." Sherlock has never thrown the first punch at John but right now, all he wants to do is grab him by his collar, throw him on the floor, and pummel his smiling face.
Sherlock's lip twitches. "Do you mind if I ask the professor a few questions?"
"Of course, please. It's your investigation, isn't it?
Sherlock pulls up his collar and wraps his coat tighter around him, even thought it is much much too warm in this room. He is painfully aware of the bruises and bites on his neck, the bandages on his wrists, and the half erection that his anger has still not chased away. John is not touching him, is on the other side of the room, and still is covering his body, inescapable. Sherlock grinds his teeth and turns his attention to Dr. Itani.
The professor has just lit another cigarette. Sherlock gives him a charming smile that he has found in the past to be particularly effective with middle-aged married women and older gay men. The professor smiles back wistfully. "May I?" Sherlock asks.
"Please, you are my guest." Dr. Itani tosses the pack to Sherlock. John makes an audible noise of disapproval and Sherlock smirks, pointedly ignoring him. A lighter and ashtray are conveniently sitting atop a tower of books next to his chair.
Sherlock lights his cigarette and takes the first drag. Oh fuck that's good. It's been months. He feels the tingle in his toes and his fingers and the edges of his brain. Why did I ever give this up? He can feel John staring at him, but he just gazes up at the stream of smoke he's just exhaled.
"Dr. Itani," he says finally. "Did you see Will yesterday morning?"
"You mean… before?" Itani is getting choked up again. Christ, this will take forever for just a couple questions. Thank god for this cigarette. "Yes, he came in my room early yesterday morning. He'd gone out for the paper and a cup of coffee, the way he usually does. Did. The coffee is for him, the paper is for me. He brought me the paper, told me good morning, kissed me…" Itani covers his face again.
"And did he use the front or back door?"
"We always use the front door. Susan too. The garden is such a mess now, we don't go through there at all."
"How is your relationship with Susan?"
"She's been wonderful. She's been here almost non-stop since it happened, she hasn't wanted to leave me alone. She knows I don't have anyone else. But she's only been with me a couple of weeks, so we really didn't know her well yet."
"And the nurse before her?"
"It was just Will. He wanted to take care of me himself. I finally convinced him it was too much, so we hired Susan."
Sherlock asks a series of questions about enemies, rivals, ex-lovers, etc. Dead ends. Apparently Will Smithfield was the most universally adored person in England. No one disliked him, much less had a reason to murder him. Sherlock asks for and receives a second cigarette. Delicious. Did Itani have any enemies who might have wanted to get at him through his lover? Nothing promising there either.
Sherlock stands up, surveys the entire room again. He remembers John told him to always thank the witnesses. Then they will be much more cooperative if you want to speak to them again. "Merci, Dr. Itani," he says and begins to walk towards the door. He pauses. What did John say? Right. "I am very sorry for your loss." A blatant lie. I am delighted for your loss, it absolutely made my day. But you can't say that.
Sherlock leaves the room and goes to look for Susan Tarlton. On the way, he stops again in the study and examines the locked drawer of the desk. "Bloody hell," he whispers. "Idiot." There, as plain as day, a scratch on the brass plating of the lock. "How did I miss this, how?" He clenches his fist and heads back into the main hallway, John following behind.
They find the nurse in the kitchen. She shows them where she was standing when she heard the scream, exactly how she ran across the hallway to the study. She knows nothing about enemies, friends, anyone with a connection to either of the two men. She didn't see Smithfield at all that morning. She is useless.
"One more question," Sherlock says, almost as an afterthought. "How is Dr. Itani's appetite? I'd imagine in his condition…"
"He typically eats very little, that's true."
"Well, since yesterday he's actually been eating a lot more. But you know, everyone deals with grief differently. You see that as a nurse."
"Of course." He remembers again to thank the witness for her time and is careful not to look at John because he knows he'll be smiling and he cannot deal with that now.
At home, Sherlock disappears into his bedroom. He waits all day for John to leave the flat, but he never does. Eventually Sherlock emerges, determined that he will not be trapped in his room simply because he has a madman for a flatmate. He can't think. Playing violin helps him think. And he cannot do that in his room.
He stands in front of the living room window tuning his violin, and then raises his bow and begins his favorite Stravinsky concerto. But he misses a note, and it's because John loves to listen to him play, and Sherlock knows without turning around that right now John is sitting behind him with his hands on the arms of his chair, his knees spread apart, his head tilted back, his eyes closed, which is the way he always sits when Sherlock plays and also, often the way he sits when Sherlock is on his knees in front of him, worshipping his cock.
Sherlock drags the bow across the violin in a sharp, discordant yelp and lets the bow drop to his side. "Go. Away," he snarls. There is a pause, and then the rustle of John getting up and the sound of his footsteps disappearing upstairs.
Sherlock starts the concerto again.
It's around 2:30 am when he finally puts it together.
There's supposed to be a moment of ecstasy when the pieces click. He never talks about it, but it's real. Sometimes it's only a fleeting split second of joy; sometimes it's absolutely transcendent. Always, it's a feeling of rightness, of holding one concrete filament of truth. Always until now. This time, he only feels a dull anger. He goes to the kitchen and drinks three large glasses of water. He hasn't eaten since he got the case, so he has four biscuits. He could eat more than that but it's too much trouble. Since there's nothing else he can do to close the case at 2:30 in the morning, he sends Lestrade a text and decides he may as well sleep. The sofa sounds marginally more appealing than the bed, so he heads back to the living room, but stops in his tracks. There's a familiar sound coming from upstairs, a small grunting noise. John's nightmares. Even before they started having sex, Sherlock would hear this sound and stand outside John's door, fidgeting, wondering how he could make it stop. Secondary research was useless. Later, when he learned John's body, when they started sharing a bed now and then, he developed a method.
Sherlock climbs the stairs and enters John's room without hesitation. It's completely dark, but his eyes adjust quickly. John is lying on his side, one arm thrown over his head defensively, his fingers twitching, sweating a little. He's still making those grunting noises. But he's not wearing a shirt, which is good because skin to skin contact helps. Sherlock takes off his own shirt and climbs into bed. He pauses with his chest pressed against John's back. If he startles him it could make matters worse. John inhales sharply, then settles a little. His fingers are still twitching. Next, Sherlock wraps his limbs, one by one, around John. One long arm slides under him, supporting his neck. The other curls around his chest, the hand cupped over John's outstretched arm. One long leg slides between John's legs and the other cascades over them, until John is completely enveloped. Then Sherlock begins to hum tunelessly, deep in his chest. He knows the vibrations will calm John completely. John's breath evens out and deepens and he sighs, just once. Sherlock presses his face into the back of his neck. There will be no more nightmares tonight.
Sherlock's mobile wakes them both. Sherlock reads the text and barks, "Let's go. Lestrade's meeting us there."
John grumbles but doesn't bother asking questions.
When they arrive at Itani's house, Lestrade is grumpy. "Morning, John. Sherlock, any chance you're going to tell me what the hell I'm here for?"
Sherlock strides past him without a word and heads directly for Itani's bedroom.
"As-salaamu aleikum, Professor." Sherlock quickly scans the room, his eyes resting briefly on the bookshelf in the far corner and the floor in front of it.
"Wa-aleikum as-salaam, Mr. Holmes. More questions for me?"
"Just two. First, may I see the key to the locked drawer in the desk?" Itani shrugs, fishes the key out of a bedside table, and hands it to Sherlock. "I already told the Detective Inspector that nothing was taken."
"Mm," Sherlock replies, examining the key and then returning it to its owner. "Second question. Why are you hiding your lover's murderer in your home?"
"I beg your pardon!," Itani gasps, outraged.
"Sherlock!" Lestrade barks. "What –"
"It's quite simple," Sherlock interrupts, "I was an idiot not to see it sooner. Lestrade, you might even be able to grasp this one without taking notes. The murderer came in through the back door, obviously. You saw her footprints in the grass next to the path, but she couldn't have left that way. She was looking for something in the locked desk drawer; she picked the lock, inexpertly, and scratched it in the process. Those scratches did not come from Itani's key. She didn't have a weapon, so she didn't plan to kill anyone. She planned this whole thing very poorly, in fact. She probably didn't know there was a nurse here; either she didn't know the household well or knew it only before Susan was hired. She might not have known that Will lived here. But he did, and he interrupted her burglary. He attempted to apprehend her, they struggled, she panicked, he grabbed her glasses, she grabbed the nearest weapon, a letter opener. By some stroke of luck, she happened to puncture his carotid artery. She heard Susan coming and tried to flee, but without her glasses she was hopelessly nearsighted. The two corridors coming off the back of the study are nearly identical; they even have the same runner. She chose the wrong one and ended up in a dead end, this room. There's no exit here, and with the presence of the police and Susan, she's had little chance to escape. Itani has been feeding her and keeping her here. I dropped cigarette ashes on the floor over there yesterday, and today I observe they've been ground into the carpet. Someone has been walking across that corner of the room, and the only reason I can see to do that is to approach that bookshelf which is considerably tidier than any of the others. So I ask you again, Dr. Itani, why are you hiding your lover's murderer here in your home, more specifically in a hidden room behind that bookshelf?"
Itani opens and closes his mouth wordlessly. Tears fill his eyes. Sherlock stares at him impatiently. Finally, the silence is broken by a creaking sound. The bookshelf swings out, and a woman steps into the room. Sherlock notices with satisfaction that she matches precisely the definition he gave upon examining the glasses, with the added detail that she looks like someone who has spent two days and nights weeping in a dark, dusty, closet.
"It all happened just as you said," she says with a thick Lebanese accent, bowing her head. "I never meant to kill him. I came here to save a life, not to take one. My brother-in-law, the coward" – she gestures towards Samer Itani – "left us in Lebanon. We were all active in the Cedar Revolution, but after the assassinations in 2005, Samer was afraid. He told the Syrian government about some of the leaders. He sold other people's lives for his own, and he fled. My sister Laila changed her name and moved to Tripoli so people would not know she was married to a traitor. And we succeeded, we won. But now, the family of one of the men who Samer sold has discovered Laila's identity. He has letters and documents proving her innocence. I came here to get them, that is all." She holds up her hands. "Arrest me. But please get the documents to my sister."
Lestrade shakes his head and informs the woman she is under arrest. John asks how he can help get the documents to Laila. Itani sits hunched over on his bed, his shoulders shaking, weeping silently. Sherlock turns, his coat swirling around him, and gets his own cab home.
"Brilliant, as usual," John says as he enters the flat. "Thanks for leaving me there without a word, by the way. But you solved it beautifully."
Sherlock is curled over his laptop, still wearing his coat. He snorts derisively and hunches further down into his armchair.
"What's wrong?" John asks. "The case is sad as hell, but I know that's not bothering you. You solved the case, you should be happy."
"Yes, happiness comes easily for those with simple little minds, doesn't it? Ooh, I've accomplished a task, give us a treat and elevate the serotonin levels!" Sherlock sneers. "I'm not a lab rat, my reactions are a bit more complex than yours."
"Right, except that solving a case always does elevate your serotonin levels, so what's wrong?" John hangs up his coat and sits in his own armchair across from Sherlock's.
"Always? Are you an expert now? How long have you known me? Are you aware that I had a life before you?"
"Hm. I did too, you know."
Sherlock laughs sharply. "Oh, is that what you called it?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact." John clenches his jaw and crosses his arms. "I know it was pathetic and small and pointless by your standards, but it was my life."
"Well then, you're welcome to it." Sherlock slams his laptop shut and stands. John follows suit.
"What does that even mean? What the hell is your problem?"
Sherlock steps forward to point his finger in John's face. "You. You are my problem."
John doesn't flinch. This bastard never does. "I'm sorry. I know I'm terribly dense but you're going to have to walk me through this. When exactly did I become a problem?"
"When you started interfering with my work. Making my work impossible."
Now John is laughing. "Yes, of course, saving your life repeatedly, answering your every whim, running on any little errand you so that your precious glittering mind can focus on the work. You've found that cumbersome, have you?"
Sherlock waves his delicate fingertips as if shooing John away. "All that was fine. But then you became… a nuisance."
"A nuisance?" John shakes his head at the ceiling. "A distraction, maybe? Are we talking about sex?"
Sherlock narrows his eyes and drops his voice a register. "Don't you patronize me. This stupid little case, I should have solved it in half the time. Less. It's your fault."
"We're talking about sex during the case then? You opened that door, Sherlock, not me. And yeah, I like fucking with your head. I love it. God help me, I do. I thought you could handle it." His tone is mocking. Sherlock wonders what could possibly be stopping him from throwing John onto the floor and crushing his chest. "But I don't need it. If you want to close that door, that's fine. We'll go back to the way it was, nothing happens during a case. There. No need to be so bloody dramatic."
"The way it was." Sherlock snorts. "Is that really what it's like in your brain? Is it that facile for you? Well, it's not for me. It's this… desire." He spits the word out like it's filthy, toxic, diseased. "I imagine your simple brains can manage it because there's so much less going on in there, but it doesn't work that way for me. Can't you wrap your mind around this? You're dragging me down, to your level. You're making me less."
John's voice goes dark and low and his face goes hard, the expression of a soldier getting ready for battle. "I am making you so much more than you ever were."
"And you call me arrogant?" Sherlock smirks. "Alright then. You're making me more of an idiot. More of a weakling. More like you. And it's so easy. Don't fool yourself that you're clever. You don't have to fuck with my head. You're ruining it all just by being here."
"You want me to leave, then."
Yes. No. No, god no, don't go. Go. Sherlock freezes. He opens his mouth to say yes, but it's too late, he hesitated just a moment too long, John caught it, observed the flicker of fear in his eyes, and suddenly his features soften, the soldier is gone.
"I'll leave if you tell me to," he says, but why does it sound like I swear I will stay forever?
Sherlock wants, desperately, tell him to leave, but his body is telling him to run. He grabs his hair in frustration. "Why are you here? What do you want from me?"
John closes his eyes and breathes slowly. "Nothing," he says finally, and his voice is suddenly so soft. How does he do that? Sherlock's eyes drill into him. "Really, nothing. Be a bit less of a self-centered git if you think you can manage it. That's all. Just… that's all. What do you want from me?"
Sherlock's face contorts, suddenly ugly. "Everything," he whispers.
John looks down for a moment, bites the inside of his cheek. "Well, you can't have that," he says. "Could you be more specif-"
But Sherlock is gone.
Everything. What else could I want, what could he expect? He sees what he wants to see, like everyone else, too stupid to grasp three dimensions, or he'd know by now.
The streetlight on the corner is flickering round the clock, has been for 17 days now, an unusual length of time to wait for maintenance on Baker Street. Why are they backed up? Drove past that rally two weeks ago, the union, maybe the workers are readying for a strike or maybe they're shorthanded. Yes, budget cuts.
He's supposed to understand. He's supposed to give me what I want, he's the only one who can. That's not quite true, is it? No. There is a house not far from here, ran across it in a case a few months ago, knew exactly what it was. I have the cash and I can go there Right Now.
The woman who just walked past has just had a row with her significant other, she's been crying, her hair is mussed, she tried to manage it by pulling into a ponytail but it's crooked, she was in a hurry, her lipstick is smudged from kissing, and her collar is rumpled in a way that suggests the buttons are uneven. Her galoshes are new and her feet turn slightly in when she walks but probably only when she walks fast, like she is now.
John will be so disappointed. Who is he to be disappointed in me? I've promised him nothing. Which is exactly what he wants so I'm in good standing. Let him be disappointed, there's nothing new in that. Nothing new in this feeling in my veins, throbbing, burning, anticipating.
This alley will be a shortcut. There was a fight here. Head-shaped dent in the side of that bin. Wasn't there when I last took this alley 23 days ago. Must've been two large men, the impact jarred the hinges and now the lid won't close properly. The one drove the other into the bin at an impressive speed. Scratch marks. The assailant must've had the other pinned for a moment, probably at his throat for the victim to be so frightened. But no one died here, I'd have heard about it. There, just take a left at the end.
Maybe both, a snowball, O.2 grams of each, is that too much? It's been such a long time. Yes, the crack will take me far above all this, absolutely alive and electric, my beautiful brain all lit up like this city, everything fascinating and new, the world aflame. And the smack will surround me, will hold me tightly, will hold me down and take me over completely and I can surrender, I can sink, I can dissolve, until there is nothing left, just like John.
No. It's not like John, John is like it. John is recent. And temporary. He won't last. And he is ruining my brain just the same. There's no difference.
His mobile pings a text alert.
Ignore it. But no, it could be a case. Cases can wait till after. No. I'll probably be out for hours, think of all the data that could be lost in that time. Yes, alright, but only if it's Lestrade.
Come home if convenient. If inconvenient, come anyway.
Sherlock grinds his teeth and puts his mobile back in his coat pocket. It pings again.
Worried about you.
Shouldn't have replied. Weak. The house is 15 blocks away. Walk faster. He'll know. No, I'll be careful, I always was. But he'll see. I'll do it in my leg. Idiot. He knows my leg, he knows all of me, he's claimed every centimeter inside and out. He'll know and he'll be so so disappointed. I said that already, repeating myself, stuck in a loop, do not get stuck in a loop. He'll know. He won't even need to see the mark, he'll know from my face. And what if he does? It's not his. Is it.
I could smoke it instead, leave no trace. No, that's never enough. My needle is in the flat. I don't care. I don't need my own needle, I do need to shoot it. It has to be straight to my veins, it has to take over. He won't know and he won't see because he'll be gone. I've finally driven him off. Idiot. That's not true. He's following even now and I could've lost him blocks ago if I wanted to. Don't bring him to the house. God no. Lose him now. There, that alley will make a nice detour, then over that fence, it should be too high for him. Why is he following? What can he expect?
It will make me weak. Remember that. But he makes me weak. There's no difference. Don't get stuck in the loop. What's the difference? That I know where that road goes, I know where it leads, a locked room, cold sweats, clawing through my skin, and eventually finale in an alley like this one, silent, alone, no one to see. Remember that girl in Bangkok. And that's just it, that's dull, isn't it, there are no surprises there, that's why I stopped. I don't know where the other road ends. No. It ends with him.
Keep walking. Go.
"You bastard!" John's voice is ragged, from running and from something else. Something in it makes Sherlock stop in his tracks, but he doesn't turn.
John grabs his shoulder from behind and whips him around.
"Where are you going?"
Don't answer. Don't lie.
"Where are you going, Sherlock?"
"Nowhere. Just walking."
"You don't do that." See? Never lie to John. It always backfires. "Why… what the hell is going on in there?"
Say nothing. Say everything. If I answer, he'll leave. Then it will all be like it was. Alone. Known. What have I got to lose? Everything. I don't have that anyway. Go ahead.
"I'll eat you alive," Sherlock says. John's face goes hard and stony, stoic, motionless. That's what it does when he's in danger. "And I'll pick your bones clean." Sherlock leans forward, green eyes hard and flashing all the colors of the city lights. "Because you'll never be enough for me. Nothing ever is." He narrows his eyes. "I'll suck you dry and I'll want to, just because I'm bored and I've used it all up and I want to find out what's inside."
"No. You won't." He is staring Sherlock down like he's looking down the barrel of his gun.
"You don't know. How could you know?"
"I know you."
"You don't." He does. It's so improbable, but apparently possible, because he does. "You don't understand. My track record on this score is clear. And you are… Especially you." He shakes his head. "You should be more concerned. You're being extremely stupid about this. You have no instinct for self-preservation."
John stares back at him, immovable, unimpressed.
Sherlock's voice drops to its lowest growl. "Don't you know by now? I'm not a good person, John."
"I think you should let me be the judge of that." John clears his throat and shoves his hands in his pockets. His features are softening just slightly; he's decided the danger has passed. Why? "Your moral center is… a bit unsteady. I can't really trust your assessment of these things."
"That logic is circular," Sherlock answers with great irritation. "I don't…"
"You want everything from me? You won't get it. You will take what I give. Not more. Not less."
"You don't understand." Sherlock sneers. "It's not up to you."
"You don't understand," John replies calmly. "I'm telling you it is not up to you."
Sherlock rubs his face in exasperation. He hates repeating himself but John's not comprehending. "John, listen to me. You can't. You will never be enough."
"Yes. Nothing ever is. But all the same, you will take what I give. Not more. Not less."
That's it, isn't it. This world. This life, dragging on and on and on. No more, no less. And out of all that, there's this profoundly stupid brave man offering to carry it for me. He is stronger than me, after all.
I could still go there. The house is only eight blocks away, the cash is in my pocket, the blood is in my veins, pulsing, waiting. Or I could walk away in some other direction entirely, there are more than two options in this world. No. There aren't, actually. There's only one.
And John's hands are on his neck, pulling him down, gripping him fiercely, his mouth is hungry, demanding, his tongue thrusting, his teeth biting and scraping, and Sherlock kisses back, falling into it, staggering forward, almost losing his balance, he knows it's true, everything he's just said has always been true, and yet right now he can't make it out, how could this not be enough? John is backing him into the alley and pushing him against the wall and their bodies are pressed against each other like they are trying to meld into one. Sherlock finds the bottom of John's jumper and runs his hands up under it, desperate for contact, but his hands are cold, and John hisses, grabs his shoulders, spins him around and presses his face against the wall.
John is pushing up against him, Sherlock can feel the pressure of his erection and he pushes back against it, but John's hand is on his back and he's flat against the wall, cataloging the texture and smell of wet brick on his cheek. John is whispering in his ear, "You will take what I give. If I want you like this, you will take it like this. And I do. I am going to fuck you raw like this. I want to see you clawing at this wall, tearing your fingers against the brick. I want you falling apart right here, next to a rubbish bin, in broad daylight, where anyone can walk by and see what I've done to you." He reaches around and grabs Sherlock's cock through his trousers and rubs it roughly. "And you'll let me, won't you? Won't you." He squeezes hard. Sherlock swallows and stammers "yes."
"Yes," John repeats. "Yes, but I don't fancy getting arrested for indecent exposure." His voice is normal again and he has let go and stepped back, leaving Sherlock panting and hard, rolling his forehead against the damp brick. "Imagine, Donovan and Anderson would have a bloody field day." He waits, lets Sherlock get a hold of himself, breathe himself down so he can walk. "Let's go home then." He holds out his hand and Sherlock takes it after an almost imperceptible hesitation.
"Find me an alley better suited to the purpose," he adds.
Sherlock scans through his mental map of London. "I know seven that would serve."
"Seven. That's promising." John's voice is light and casual, as if discussing a new restaurant he's heard about. "Maybe not against the wall. Maybe on the ground. Your hands in a filthy puddle. Your designer trousers getting all muddy and ripped. You knees scraped up and bloody." He's not even looking at Sherlock, just looking straight ahead as he walks, and Sherlock can't stand it. He wants all that, and he wants John looking at him. "Or maybe I won't even touch you. Maybe I'll stand back and watch you touch yourself until you come. I'll tell you to be loud. That way I don't have to get arrested, just you." Sherlock has no idea whether or not he's joking, which is both unsettling and so very fascinating. John catches the expression on his face and laughs. "Don't worry, love. I'll always bail you. Anyway, that's for another day. We're going home."
Back in the flat, they are taking off their coats. Sherlock feels strange, like the outline of his body is wavering a bit, like he's just a few centimeters off from everything. The walk back to Baker Street helped, but he's still confused. Didn't he hate John a few minutes ago? Didn't he hate himself? What could have changed that?
"You know where most of the heroin in the UK comes from?" John is asking in that easy, conversational tone.
"Afghanistan. Are we talking about that now? So you've seen quite a bit of it and had ample access but never tried it."
"Never. I've treated soldiers in withdrawal. I've treated soldiers who've overdosed and I've buried soldiers who've overdosed." John looks Sherlock dead in the eye. "I found your needle weeks ago. How long has it been?"
"Three years, seven months, five days."
Before they met, then. John's face shows relief, and then hardens. "Do not ever do it again. I don't know if that's where you were going tonight, but I know you were thinking about it. You will not ever do it again. That's an order."
Sherlock widens his eyes in surprise. He's heard those words before, but only in the context of sex. He resents it and opens his mouth to spit a retort but suddenly something is in it. John's hand. He should bite down on it, hard, but… it's John's hand. So he closes his mouth around it softly and waits. After a moment John nods and takes his hand back, dragging his fingers slowly across Sherlock's lower lip as he does.
"Strip and wait for me on your bed." He disappears upstairs.
Sherlock sits naked on his bed, his head in his hands. There were two choices. There were at least two. There still are.
John comes in the room carrying his medical kit in one hand and a jack knife in the other. He twirls the knife in his left hand. "You're right, you know." His voice is soothing. "Our minds are much simpler than yours. It must be a madhouse in there at times. It must get so confusing. I can't imagine. But I can help. I think you need a reminder." He approaches the bed and gently pushes Sherlock onto his back. "We won't do anything during a case. We won't do anything when you need your mind. It won't be an option. I'll keep it at bay for you. But you will need something to help you remember why." He holds the knife up, examines the blade. "I'll let you choose where it goes."
Sherlock is silent, watching John's face, transfixed. Breathing has become difficult and very loud.
"No?" John frowns slightly. "If you don't pick, I will." He gets onto the bed, kneeling, leans over Sherlock's body, and runs the dull edge of the knife along Sherlock's cheekbone. "There's one option. So visible, so public, everyone would know when they saw it on your gorgeous, flawless face. Ah, but it wouldn't be so flawless anymore, would it? Only to me."
He runs the tip of the knife lightly down Sherlock's jaw, to his throat. "I could do it here. Right across the carotid artery. I know exactly how deep to cut, if you let me. You'd like that, wouldn't you? Letting me take you so close to death? I'll do it if you ask."
He strokes the knife across Sherlock's collarbone over to his left shoulder. "How would you like a scar over here? I could give you a hole to match the one I've got. It wouldn't be the same; I'd have to shoot you for that. But there'd be some poetry to it, don't you think?"
The knife slides down Sherlock's left arm where it slits open the bandage on his wrist. "If I did it here, you would run your fingers across it every time you button up your shirt. And it would hurt every time I tie you up. I'd make sure of that."
He reaches down and pushes Sherlock's knees apart with his right hand, then runs the knife up his inner thigh, toward his cock which is already hard, throbbing, twitching. The knife stops just short of his balls. Sherlock flinches involuntarily. John whispers, "No, no, I wouldn't do that. But I could do it right here on your thigh." He runs the knife back down the other thigh, to the other knee, and Sherlock shivers. "So sensitive. So delicate there. I'd lick the scar every single time I suck you off. I'd scratch it every time I fuck you. You'd find that you'd have to touch it every single time you touch yourself. You wouldn't be able to come without it."
He picks up the knife and sets it, on its tip, over Sherlock's heart. "Or here's an option. But that's much too obvious for you, isn't it? Banal romance. Not your style." John leans back. "Should I go on?"
Sherlock swallows, holding John's stare. "If you were doing my autopsy," he answers, "you would start with a Y-shaped incision, connecting both my shoulders at my sternum and extending to my pubic bone." John's eyes widen and he nods slowly. "Then you would peel back my skin, muscle, and soft tissue. You'd cut each side of my ribcage and pull me apart. You'd reach inside and take the pieces of me one by one."
John seems to be struggling with breathing now. "Is that what you want?"
"That's a very big cut."
Another nod. Is he backing out? Am I more than he bargained for, again?
"How many times have you stitched me up?"
"I've lost count."
"Eight. You know how I bleed. You know how I heal. You know my body better than anyone." Why does it hurt my chest to say that?
"Yes. That's true." John tilts his head to the side. He's regained control of his breathing. "And what else?"
Sherlock frowns, confused but relieved. It's good when John tests him, it occupies at least parts of his mind until he can cross over. "What do you mean?"
"And what else, Sherlock? Why should I do this?"
"Because… because I need a reminder."
John nods, approving. "And?"
"Because I want you to. I want you on my body always." Yesterday, I was cursing his presence on my body, today I want it permanent. What is he doing to me. "Because of what you've done to me. Because you want to."
John smiles. "And?"
And what? Sherlock searches John's face for the answer. He doesn't like to guess, he likes to know. And then he knows and it's the most horrifying thing he has ever had to say, though it's been true since the beginning. "Because I trust you."
"Yes." John closes his eyes and kisses him, long and deep and full. He sets the knife down on the bedside table, gets undressed, and lies on top of Sherlock. They move together for a long time, skin on skin, unhurried, luxurious, but united in their determination to touch everything, to achieve the maximum possible points of contact between their bodies. Their cocks ache and rub against each other, slick with precum, and just from that they are both getting much too close. John is murmuring into Sherlock's neck, "brilliant… beautiful… bastard." Sherlock giggles at the alliteration and realizes he's feeling a little high. And then he giggles again to think he probably saved 50 quid today getting high for free. And then he feels so afraid. He wraps his arms around John and holds him as tight as he possibly can until John gasps, "I need to breathe, Sherlock." He lets go reluctantly, and John lifts himself up on his elbows, strokes his cheek, and says, "Don't tell me to leave, and I won't leave."
"You can't promise that."
"Don't ever tell me what I can't do." Then he's kissing his way across Sherlock's cheekbone and down his throat, across his shoulder, down his arm, following the same route the jack knife took earlier, but slower, hotter, wetter, and Sherlock is writhing, it doesn't even make sense that the touch of lips on his wrist should do this to him, but he is already starting to fragment. The lips are moving up his thigh and he remembers where the knife stopped and he feels like he might cry, which is ridiculous because he hasn't done that since he was a child, but he wants John's mouth so badly it's beyond reason. And then oh god, John's mouth is on him, taking in his balls, teasing around the base of his cock, kissing up his shaft, swirling around the tip, flicking across the slit, and then coming back down, taking the length of it slowly and then again and faster again.
John takes him right up to the edge. Then he pulls off, his mouth making a little pop, and stands next to the bed. Sherlock is gripping the sheets, dripping with sweat, he would come right now if he reached down and touched his cock. "Calm down now," John says. "Take all the time you need. You'll have to hold perfectly still."
Sherlock nods and closes his eyes. He feels like his body is on fire, every cell vibrating at an impossible frequency, but he concentrates on slowing his breathing. He smells rubbing alcohol; John is sterilizing the knife. In response, his body tenses and his breathing quickens. But John says "shh, shh, it's alright," and his voice is soothing, but on the other hand he starts thinking John is standing over me, rock hard and sweaty and holding a knife, staring at me, all of it for me, and that's too much so somehow he manages to steer it around to John is here, John is watching me, John takes care of me, and that is true too. His breathing gradually returns to normal.
"You're ready now." John's voice almost surprises him.
John inhales sharply and Sherlock knows he's ready too; Sherlock could reach over right now and take him over the edge with little more than the sound of his voice. He lies still, feeling John's lips across his torso, slowly predicting the Y incision. Then cold alcohol across his chest, down the center of his stomach. He shivers.
The weight of the mattress shifts as John straddles him, not touching, just hovering above. "Jesus…" John's voice is husky and trembling. Sherlock can't not look. He opens his eyes and sees John's face, flushed, eyes dark and bottomless and heavy lidded, lips parted and dry. He knows he shouldn't move but he can't help himself, he reaches up to trace his fingers across those lips. John closes his eyes and lets him. Then he pushes Sherlock's hand back down to the bed and says, "Stop." The hardness in his voice pins Sherlock down, holds him still. He waits.
He watches John's head bow in concentration, and then he feels it, the tip of the knife on the front of his right shoulder. The pain shoots through him like ice. He wants to scream, he wants to arch his body and throw his head back and grab John's arms, but he does nothing, he closes his eyes and stays there, and the pain keeps coming, pulsing, shooting through his body, he's having trouble tracking its progress across his chest and then suddenly the knife is gone and he feels its loss, the thing that connected him to John, the thing that made him real, but now it's back, on his left shoulder, and the pain is like a waterfall now, like all the power and force of Victoria Falls coursing through him and he is helpless against it. When the new cut meets the first one at his sternum he feels he is being torn apart. When it continues down his stomach, he cannot stop the trembling or the tears streaming down his face. It stops just above his navel and then he hears John's voice choke out his name, and feels his tongue lapping up the blood. He wants to put his hands on John's head but he's forgotten how to move them, he's forgotten how to speak, how to do anything except lie there, open and bleeding for John. His veins are roaring so loudly he can't hear anything John is saying, he's only vaguely aware that John is making sounds. He's acutely aware that John's tongue is everywhere across his chest and stomach; whenever any part of the cuts seems to dull just a little, John's mouth suddenly returns to that spot and that becomes Sherlock's entire world, the contact between that section of skin and John's mouth, the pain rushing and concentrating at that point, and he writhes underneath it and makes noises he doesn't even recognize as his own, and then John moves on to another spot that becomes his entire universe.
Then John stops. Sherlock dares to open his eyes, and his entire body jolts with desire at the sight of his own blood smeared across John's lips. He wants to pull John in for a kiss but somehow his arms still aren't responding quite right. John does all the work, bends down and slides his tongue into his mouth, bringing the taste of Sherlock's blood. There has never been another kiss like this, Sherlock is certain, and he is completely fascinated and consumed by it, so that he barely notices his right hand being wrapped around John's cock, and then John's left hand curling around his own. Symmetry. He follows John's lead, pumping and twisting in the same rhythm. He's lost the capacity for original thought and doesn't miss it at all. John is kissing and licking the tears off of Sherlock's face and making helpless little whimpering noises that are new and different, nothing Sherlock has heard before. He wants to say something about this but hasn't remembered any words yet, until he remembers the one that matters, and whispers "John, John, John, John," and each time he says it he feels a little piece crumble out of his chest, until John is coming, sobbing, his face pressed against Sherlock's own, and then Sherlock is breaking apart, knowing that John will hold all the pieces and put them back together again.
A million years later, John is treating the cuts. Cleaning, then ointment, then bandages. Sherlock is lying on his back, feeling a cool river wash over him. John puts his medical kit on the bedside table and lies down next to him. Sherlock wants to wrap himself around him, but his chest and stomach sting and ache. This is going to be a monstrous nuisance until it heals. Whose ridiculous idea was this anyway? John has found a way to curl around Sherlock's body without touching any of the cuts, and is nuzzling into his neck, where he fits perfectly.
"I should make us some lunch," he mumbles sleepily.
"I'm famished," Sherlock agrees. And then he adds, "I had a life before you. But it wasn't any good."
"I know just what you mean," John murmurs, and they both drift off to sleep.