Title: My Phone’s on Vibrate For You 6
Warning/Spoilers: Reference to child abuse.
Word Count: 5000
Summary: If Sherlock is the ocean, then John is more than willing to jump in. Maybe even drown.
One by one, their unwritten, unspoken rules are being broken.
It’s a subtle thing. They still don’t act like lovers in public or in private, at least not in the expected ways. There are no nicknames (John tries “Sherl” once and Sherlock gives him the same Glare of Death he gives to Mycroft) and there’s no hand-holding or walking with arms around each other’s waists. They still introduce each other as “my flatmate” or “my friend.”
But there is “we.” “Do we want Chinese or Italian for supper tonight?” “Do we want to go to the cinema tomorrow?” “We’re getting to bed early tonight — we’re both exhausted.” “What happened to all the milk we bought last Tuesday?” “We could try the new pub, Brewster’s? We’ve heard good things about it.”
They have always been close, the way only two solitary beings who suddenly find their perfect match can be, but still it startles John when he realizes how he’s stopped thinking of them as “Sherlock and I” and just thinks of them as “we.”
The physicality of their relationship is changing too, slowly, simply. Sherlock, no matter how often he insists his body is to be utilized and nothing more, is a surprisingly sensual person. It’s evident in the clothes he wears and sheets he sleeps on; even more so in the slow explorations he gives John’s body with just his fingertips and the way he purrs and relaxes when John does to the same.
They’re sleeping together regularly now. Not having sex regularly — that is as dependent on Sherlock’s moods and level of boredom as it has ever been — just sleeping, Sherlock sprawled over most of the bed unless he drapes himself over John like another blanket. Sherlock likes closeness — he asks, with surprising shyness, “Can we just be together tonight?” and John always tells him yes.
Even when they don’t do more than a lazy snog, Sherlock looks satisfied and John sleeps more easily than he does when he’s alone.
John discovers, quite by accident, that when Sherlock is in one of his moods — flouncing about in his dressing gown and criticizing everything from the weather to the grammar in John’s blog — that if he rubs Sherlock’s head, fingers scraping gently over the scalp as he combs them through Sherlock’s thick wild hair, that Sherlock will calm down for a while. It’s like soothing an overstimulated child, John thinks, but he doesn’t share that thought even when Sherlock gives him a suspicious look and demands to know what he’s smiling about.
(Of course, the best cure for Sherlock’s boredom is to give him a puzzle to solve, but John can’t conjure those up out of nothing and he likes the occasional stretch of calm. Plus, sometimes it means getting Sherlock into bed for a lazy afternoon, and John does love Sherlock’s skin when it’s painted gold with sunlight.)
It’s like opening a door, this discovery, and they take small and cautious steps from peaceful hair-stroking to letting ankles rest crossed over each other or knees press together, to Sherlock resting a hand on the small of John’s back as they walk rather than striding ahead and expecting John to keep up.
John wonders if the hair-stroking brings back memories for Sherlock, of that first boy he loved (or sort-of loved, Sherlock refuses to give it any sort of label) who’d done the same for him, but Sherlock never balks when John says, “Come here and lay your head down, Sherlock.” (If John adds anything about him being worse than a spoiled toddler, Sherlock doesn’t react to that beyond a look between slitted eyelids and a grumpy grumble.)
Then there’s the day John is reading in the armchair by the fireplace, book tilted to the window to catch the late-afternoon sun. Sherlock comes out of the kitchen where he’s been working on some experiment or another, as mysterious to John as alchemy. He stretches his back and rolls his shoulders, and pauses to eye John.
“Done for the day?” John says, glancing up from the book.
“Done for now.” He stands on the hearth rug, the fingers of one hand opening and closing like a nervous tic, and then lowers himself onto John’s knee and lifts John’s arm to lay it over his shoulders. John switches the book to his other hand and keeps his arm around Sherlock, as Sherlock curls up his long body as much as he can and lays his head in the crook of John’s neck. As Sherlock breathes as slowly as if he’s asleep, his hand on John’s chest, John goes on reading.
What inspired this John doesn’t know, and he doesn’t ask. What he does know is that he likes it and he wants it to happen again.
And then there’s this day.
John’s phone beeps twice that afternoon to announce the arrival of a text. The first time John is too busy to answer it and the second, as he’s waiting for the bus to take him home and half-heartedly wondering if he can afford a cab, he takes out his phone and then puts it away, utterly uninterested.
He expects the phone to beep a third time, but it does not, so John stares out the window at the passing city, and when he arrives at the Baker Street flat it’s devoid of his flatmate.
It’s only then, jacket tossed aside and shoes kicked off, that John checks his phone. The first is a terse, “Come home. I need you. SH,” and the second is, “Where are you? SH.” John types out, “I’m home now, where are you?” but then deletes it. If Sherlock is haring off after some crime or another John is simply too tired, and if Sherlock wants sex tonight — well, John is too tired for that, too. All he wants is a cup of tea and a good night’s sleep.
And a beer, but they don’t keep beer in the flat. If they’re feeling particularly flush they’ll buy a bottle of wine to have with supper, but at the moment Sherlock’s nicotine patches are the closest thing in the flat to a mind- or mood-altering substance.
John rubs his forehead and tries not to think of how tempting oblivion sounds tonight, and looks up when he hears the front door slam open and closed, followed by the quick thump of Sherlock running up the stairs.
“Where have you been?” Sherlock demands when bursts into the sitting room. “When you didn’t answer my texts I went looking for you. I thought someone had taken you again.”
“I’m fine, Sherlock. I was occupied.”
“With what?” says Sherlock in a bewildered tone, as if he can’t believe anything would be more important to John than a summons. John lifts his head enough to give him a hard look through his fingers, and Sherlock frowns in return.
“I don’t want to talk about it. But I will tell you that whatever you have in mind, I’m not in the mood.”
There’s silence for a minute or two, long enough for John to glance up at Sherlock again. Sherlock is still standing in the doorway, as if his enormous brain doesn’t know how to handle this new development. John supposes he should explain himself more but he really doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to rehash his day. He doesn’t want to think anymore. He wants to get those images out of his head, delete them like Sherlock says he does with things he considers unimportant; but the human mind doesn’t work like that, or at least John’s doesn’t, not if he’s to avoid the fate he’s been trying so hard to avoid all of his adult life.
“You’re saying no to me,” Sherlock says at last, still in that bewildered tone, now slightly tinged with hurt.
“Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“Did I do something to upset you?”
“Then what is it?”
“I had a bloody awful day and I’m not in the mood for — well, anything.”
Again Sherlock is silent. Sometimes John imagines Sherlock’s brain like a great mass of cogs and wheels and gears, spinning, shifting, screeching to a halt in one area while another roars into life, and at times like this he can almost hear the mechanisms churning.
Finally Sherlock says, “So all this time when you’ve said you’ll never say no to me because I’m too undeniable –”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Sherlock!” John snaps. “This isn’t about you. Not everything is about you. Sometimes I’m not in the mood. Sometimes you’re not in the mood and I don’t complain, but when I’m not in the mood –”
“You’re always in the mood.”
“Well, tonight I’m not in the mood. Tonight all I want to do is forget about today. I’m going to have a bath,” he decides. “That’s what I need. A relaxing bath and a quiet night in.” He pushes himself up from the sofa and starts for the lav, pushing past where Sherlock is still standing like he doesn’t know what to do with himself.
He stops short when he hears Sherlock softly say, “Do you want me to wash your hair?”
John swivels to look at him. “What?”
“Do you want me to wash your hair?” Sherlock repeats slowly.
“What? No — Sherlock — I mean –”
“The last time you went to the barber’s you got a shampoo along with the cut. You nearly fell asleep at the sink.”
“And you want to wash my hair because–”
“Because it relaxes you,” says Sherlock. “You want to relax and I want to help you.” When John just looks at him, uncertain of how to take this, he adds hesitantly, “Isn’t that what friends do?”
“Friends? No, Sherlock, not friends — well, perhaps very good friends, but I don’t think –” Of course, Sherlock’s right, it does relax him. He schedules haircuts sometimes solely for the sensation of someone else’s hands in his hair while warm water rushes over his head. He sighs. “Oh, God. I don’t care if it’s ridiculous. I’d love for you to wash my hair.”
“We are very good friends,” says Sherlock, doubt still in his voice, but John is already unbuttoning his shirt as he climbs the stair. Sherlock follows, and when John glances back at him he’s picked up John’s abandoned shirt and folded it over his arm.
They don’t speak as John starts the water running and Sherlock takes off his coat. John undresses completely, glancing frequently at Sherlock, but Sherlock strips only to his shirt sleeves and bare feet, and takes their clothes out of the lav as John sinks into the steaming water in the tub. It’s so hot it’s almost painful, but it’s also exactly what he wanted. Every clenched muscle in his body begins to unwind, and he takes his first deep breath in hours. He lays a hand over his eyes and lets the water lap around him.
John looks up when Sherlock comes back. Sherlock pauses, meeting John’s eyes only after a thorough gaze at as much of John’s body as he can see through the water, and then kneels on the bath mat. He rolls up his sleeves and John watches one long, slender arm reach across him for the shampoo. He slides down the back of the tub to dunk his head, and when he comes up again Sherlock is shaking the bottle and smiling his quiet, barely-there smile.
“I was going to help you with that.”
“I’m capable of wetting my hair, Sherlock.” It comes out crabby, but Sherlock only shakes his head, still smiling.
“Close your eyes.” John does so, and sighs when he feels Sherlock’s fingers in his hair. Their rhythm is slow and gentle, as if Sherlock is trying to avoid making the slightest tangle, and John leans against the tub again and sighs once more, in satisfaction this time.
Sherlock says softly, “I was afraid you’d been taken again,” as his fingers massage John’s scalp. John opens his eyes for a moment, but decides there’s no need for him to respond and lets them shut. “It’s not an unreasonable assumption.”
“There’s usually a lag when you text me at work.”
“No, I know. But I also know when you get off work, and when you didn’t answer me then I went looking for you.” Sherlock wipes lather from John’s forehead and dips his hand in the water to rinse it off.
“And where,” John murmurs, “would you look for me with no clues and no leads?”
“There are always clues, John. I started at your usual bus stop. When you weren’t there I tried the restaurants you like to get supper, and after that I walked along the route for a while to see if you’d got off early.”
“I think we just missed each other.” He tilts back his head to look at Sherlock, and then winces and curses when an errant trickle of foam runs into his eyes.
“Hold still, I’ve got it.” Water runs over John’s face, and John wipes the rest away. He opens his eyes to see Sherlock dunking his hand under the water to fill a cupped palm, and when Sherlock says, “Tilt your head back,” John does so. Sherlock’s other hand cradles his head to hold it just above the water. Sherlock rinses his hair that way, with palm after palm of water, and then finally lowers John’s head enough to let the water wash the rest away.
John sits up and splashes water on his face, feeling oddly embarrassed. This was presented to him as the same thing his barber’s assistant does every six weeks, and yet it is completely different — no professional distance, nothing mechanical or impersonal. Intimacy is still a strange concept to associate with Sherlock, no matter how they’ve been inching towards it these last weeks, and the act of bathing is a strange thing to share with his flatmate no matter what else they may do together.
He says, “It’s telling that the first thing you think when I don’t answer you right away is that someone’s kidnapped me.”
“Experience,” says Sherlock and his fingers touch a faint scar on John’s head, a souvenir from Moriarty’s games. “You’re where I’m vulnerable.”
“If someone took Mycroft or Inspector Lestrade you’d find them,” John argues.
Sherlock shrugs a shoulder as he trails his fingers through the water. “Out of professional courtesy,” he says. “Out of brotherly obligation.”
“And you’d look for me because you don’t want to find a new flatmate.”
Sherlock’s fingers pause and his eyes meet John’s. “You know that’s no longer the case. It never really was.” He stands and gets John’s dressing gown from the back of the door — a thicker, more practical affair than Sherlock’s, made of a toweling material and long enough to drag on the floor if John’s not paying attention. He hangs it from the towel rack, within John’s reach. “I’ll order supper. What are you hungry for?”
You, John thinks, and feels his face grow hot from something other than the bath water. “I don’t know. You choose.”
“All right. John.” He hesitates, and John looks up at him, craning his neck to meet Sherlock’s eyes. “Whatever happened today, it’s over now.”
“I can’t just shrug it off.”
“Did one of your patients die?”
John inhales slowly, closes his eyes, exhales. “No.”
“Then what was it?”
“Please, Sherlock. Not now.”
Sherlock is quiet, then nods with a soft, “Very well,” and leaves the lav. John exhales again and stretches from toes to fingertips.
When he comes downstairs again, bathed and brushed and wearing fresh clothes, the flat smells like spices and warm tomato sauce. Technically Angelo’s doesn’t deliver, but Angelo makes all sort of exceptions for Sherlock and this is one more. On the partner’s desk (since the kitchen table is still littered with papers, test tubes, petri dishes and swabs) there are two containers of pasta and another with salad, and a loaf of fresh-baked bread so warm John can see steam rising from it. Sherlock is reading, his tray container open, his fork twirling between his fingers like other people fidget with pencils.
He puts the book down but lays his fingers on the page to keep his place when John sits. “Oh, good. I was going to call you if you took any longer.”
“I was starting to get waterlogged.” John tears off a piece of bread and inhales the yeasty scent before he has a bite. “Have you eaten all you’re going to eat already?”
“I was waiting for you.”
“Oh. Thanks.” He opens his tray. Sherlock has gotten his one of favorites, simple cheese ravioli in marinara sauce with mushrooms, and John concentrates on the food for a while. Sherlock eats more slowly, reading as his fork twirls slowly through his angel-hair pasta (nothing but olive oil and some kind of herb on it — simple is best when one is tempting Sherlock’s capricious appetite) and John looks out the window at the bustle of Baker Street when he doesn’t look at the top of Sherlock’s head.
“So what was it?” says Sherlock quietly as John helps himself to another serving of salad, and John’s hands pause.
He swallows. “I had to call social services on the mum of one of my patients today.” Sherlock looks up, frowning, and John wishes they’d got wine tonight so he’d have something to do with his hands. The mug of tea doesn’t have quite the same effect, but he wraps his hands around it nonetheless. “I know I should be — immune, I suppose, to a kid being smacked around, because God knows I’ve seen worse, but still.” He gulps some tea, glad it’s lukewarm enough to not burn his throat. “It hits a button.”
“Your parents weren’t abusive,” says Sherlock, his tone only mildly questioning.
“Not in the same way,” John says. “Neglectful. No matter. It’s not about me. It’s about that kid and his broken arm and how fucking scared he was of his mum. His mum, Sherlock. And he still cried and didn’t want to go when the social worker came to fetch him.”
“You did the right thing.”
“Did I? He’s sleeping at a stranger’s house tonight. And God only knows if his mum will seek help like she’s supposed to.” He stops and rubs his face, and Sherlock reaches across the desk to lay his hand over John’s. “I couldn’t just let him go, not with the evidence right in front of me. I couldn’t just send him home for more of the same.” He catches Sherlock’s expression, something fond and warm, and says, “What?”
“You’re a good man.”
“Shut up,” John mumbles and gets up to replenish his tea. Sherlock chuckles and returns to his book, and when John sits at the desk again he says, “Tell me why you texted me earlier.”
“I wanted you home.” Sherlock turns a page.
Sherlock looks up at him.
“You can say it, you know.”
“I wanted you and you weren’t home. But now you are. All’s well.”
“Of course,” John says, feeling weary again.
“I’m not in the mood –”
“You’ve already made that clear.”
“– to play this game tonight.”
Sherlock closes his book and rest his chin on his intertwined fingers. “You’ve already said you weren’t in the mood, so why are we having this conversation again?”
“Because sometimes I just want to go to bed with my lover and not have to negotiate it first,” John says, all patience gone. “Or prearrange it, or dance around it, or anything that you seem to find necessary in order to keep your distance — which, frankly, both of us are crap at. We’re not just friends who fuck. You may have started this out of boredom but it’s not about boredom anymore. There’s an us, Sherlock, and tonight I would like us to go to bed and I would like us to have sex because I would like us to help me forget what a horrid day this was.”
He closes his mouth and inhales, shuddering, and Sherlock blinks at him.
“Sorry. Sorry. I can’t –” John stares down at his empty plate, not sure if he’s going to cry or is just supremely embarrassed. “I can’t believe I just said that.”
“People get addicted to the endorphins having sex with a particular partner produces,” Sherlock says. “Colloquially, the more you have sex with someone, the more you want to.”
“I’m not surprised you want to have sex tonight after all. You want comfort, you associate comfort with sex, you associate sex with me.” Shrug. Ipso facto.
“I’m not addicted to your endorphins,” John mutters.
“Don’t ever call me your lover again and we should be fine.” He rises from the desk and gathers their plates, and carries them into the kitchen. John watches him go. Sherlock is full of surprises tonight.
“Why not?” John says quietly to Sherlock’s back. “You are. And I’m yours.”
“Did you say something, John?” Sherlock calls from the kitchen, and John mutters, “No.”
He hears Sherlock return, and feels Sherlock’s hands on his shoulders. They begin to rub, deep and soothing, and John sighs, relaxing again.
“You did,” Sherlock says, his voice a low rumble. “You said, ‘You are.’ Which is true, I suppose. I’d prefer another word but there isn’t one.”
John moans as Sherlock’s thumbs dig into the base of his skull.
“I think I prefer partner,” Sherlock muses, “but that has meaning for you that I don’t wish to usurp. And boyfriend — no. No.”
John opens his eyes, surprised that Sherlock remembered Stewart. He tilts back his head — Sherlock’s face looks even more otherworldly from this angle — and lifts his arms to grasp Sherlock’s. “You took care of me tonight. You can’t tell me it’s just physical release for you anymore.”
Sherlock sighs. “Why can’t it continue being friendship, John?”
“Because you wanted to blow me against the door.” John lowers his arms again. “And it didn’t end there.” He pauses, his head lolling as Sherlock continues massaging his neck. “Why am I where you’re vulnerable, Sherlock?”
“Because you’re my friend. You are the most important person in this world to me. People know this, people who want to stop me, people who’d harm you to stop me. Moriarty –” Sherlock stops, and his fingers dig into John’s shoulders for a moment. “I won’t let anyone hurt you again.”
“They won’t. All that ugliness out there, it stays out there when the door is closed. We’ve made something here, Sherlock,” John says, and he turns in the chair and looks up at Sherlock, who moves his hands to frame John’s face. “Out there, it’s terrible. People are terrible, they’re cruel and vicious, there’s greed and betrayal and no end of pain. But that ends once the door shuts.” He lays a hand on Sherlock’s hip, a smooth curve from ribs to thigh, muscles lean and taut. “Here, we’ve got something safe and — and beautiful, really.”
There’s a pause, before Sherlock says in a slightly amused tone, “Really, John, you do come up with the oddest notions,” and bends to place a cool kiss on John’s forehead. “You wanted a quiet night in. I assume that means telly.”
“Sherlock,” says John, frustrated. “It’s not an odd notion. It’s the truth. All I want all day is to come home to you. I want to close the door between us and everything ugly out there. Is that so strange?”
“Yes, because you certainly take your time some days.”
“Sometimes I fight it,” says John, eyes widening with realization. “I don’t want to want you too much. I don’t want to be — dependent. On you. Though it seems to have happened nonetheless.”
“Now you’re being quite ridiculous. You’re not dependent on me.”
“I live for the time we spend together,” John says, grasping Sherlock’s hip more tightly, and Sherlock falls silent, the indulgent expression gone. “Take me to bed,” he says in a low voice, and Sherlock tilts his face up.
“I thought you weren’t in the mood.”
“I wasn’t. Now I am.”
Sherlock’s thumbs flick under John’s eyes, tracing his lashes. “This is a simplistic reaction to a complicated problem,” he murmurs but bends to kiss John anyway, his mouth, no longer cool, opening against John’s, tongue plunging in the moment John’s lips part. He pulls John out of the chair, still bent over him, kissing him and running his hands over John’s head and into his hair as they stumble to Sherlock’s bedroom.
Simplistic or not, it’s a good idea, a perfect idea — what he wants is to curl up against Sherlock and bask in his warm skin, be comforted by his hands and his mouth, find that oblivion he’s been longing for in Sherlock’s gorgeous long body. Sherlock’s hands can rewrite history, Sherlock’s mouth makes miracles happen.
He strips off Sherlock’s clothes and tumbles him onto the bed. Sherlock strokes and caresses him, sucking kisses onto his neck and chest. They are not careful with each other tonight — they are hungry, desperate, teeth scraping, nails scratching.
Sherlock groans when John slides fingers into his mouth. He clutches John’s wrist and sucks on them hard, hips bucking against John’s, legs entangled. John jerks against him, trembling at the heat of Sherlock’s wet mouth, and finally pulls them out and pushes them into Sherlock’s tight, yearning body. Sherlock groans deeply, fingers digging into John’s hips, and he whispers, “Take what you need, take what you want from me.”
It shatters John completely, that open look in Sherlock’s eyes, the unfamiliar generosity of his words. Usually Sherlock offers and John accepts, or Sherlock asks and John gives; but this is something wholly new, something that makes John drop his head to Sherlock’s chest and gasp for air.
There were times in Afghanistan (pre-Stewart, and sometimes mid-Stewart) when it felt daring and death-defying to have sex, like leaping off a cliff into icy water. It was a shock to feel his heart pumping and his skin burning, to feel alive, to feel. They’d plunged into it because to do otherwise was to let their situation control them, and no one wanted that, no one wanted to admit defeat.
It’s like that all the time with Sherlock, but John’s known that ever since the first time he ran after Sherlock, after that cab. Sherlock is the war zone, Sherlock is walls shaking and roofs crumbling, Sherlock is losing one’s breath with wonder and making the world right one battle at a time.
It’s never a fight with Sherlock, thank God. Their bed is never a battlefield. The world could fall apart and this little flat would stay standing. This bed would be the safety zone, like when he and Harry were kids and would make believe the floor was lava and they had to make their way from chair to bureau to bed so they could sail away. (Harry would load on her toys and John would add his and they’d forget they loathed each other because they wanted so badly to escape.)
He wants to tell Sherlock, Remember this, it’s important, but what exactly it is gets lost in thrashing long limbs and scraping fingertips, in the lovely low sounds that rumble through Sherlock’s chest, in wild dark hair that catches on John’s fingers and the hot mouth that spills so many words and takes John in so readily.
If Sherlock is the ocean, depthless and brilliant and dangerous, calm and shining one moment and broiling and deadly the next, then John is more than willing to jump in. Maybe even drown.
“I wanted oblivion,” John whispers into the back of Sherlock’s neck. His hands are on Sherlock’s chest, measuring heartbeats. Sherlock’s legs are folded with his, and the toes of Sherlock’s right foot are absently, repeatedly, stroking the sole of John’s left. Sherlock smells like sex and it’s decadent and delicious, and John wants to lick his skin and taste them again, coat his tongue with it.
Sherlock makes a questioning sort of mumble and rubs his cheek on John’s arm. There’s the faintest scrape of stubble, and John hopes his face is pink with beard-burn tomorrow. He wants that, too, like he wants the lovebites Sherlock sometimes leaves on his throat and the scratches Sherlock sometimes leaves on his thighs and back. He’s greedy to be claimed. “I wanted to forget.”
“And did you?” Sherlock’s voice is a mere rumble, words slurring, all clarity lost. Fair enough. It’ll be back. “Did it work?”
“It worked.” He moves his thumb over Sherlock’s breastbone. “It worked enough.”
“Good.” Sherlock turns back his head just enough for their eyes to meet. He isn’t smiling but he looks contented, like he got whatever he needed tonight, too. He lifts John’s hand to his mouth and kisses the palm, open-mouthed, and lays it on his chest again.
John buries his face in Sherlock’s neck and holds him closer, thoughts starting to cohere again. Sherlock may pretend it’s purely physical all he wants, but they both know it’s not just that anymore, don’t they? Two consenting adults who like each other, are attracted to each other, are — maybe — dependent on each other for all the things that make life bearable, happiness and comfort — and Sherlock just feels like home, the flat is only be a set of rooms without him —
John presses his lips to Sherlock’s ear, meaning to tell him, God, he doesn’t know, maybe I want to make the world quiet for you, but what comes out is, “I love you.”
Sherlock goes very still.
John squeezes his eyes shut. He thinks, Oh, no.