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Skullduggery (Chapter 4)
Chapter 3

Sherlock Holmes started counting.


That's what his brain does, unbidden, when it blanks out.


Though every one of John's friends saw this coming, knew he was going to propose to Sherlock almost before he did, the great detective? He hadn't had a clue.


Sherlock knows why you hate algebra based on the kind of lettuce you buy, but he knows almost nothing about relationships, and more specifically about romantic relationships that have him in them.


So instead of answering John's proposal, Sherlock counted for what may have seemed (to both) like five or six hours, but what was really only that many moments.


And then Sherlock knew exactly what to do.


He went to his knees.

And there he was, holding John's head tight, screwing his eyes shut, and kissing his lover like a drowning man taking a desperate breath.

When John opened his mouth not to kiss back, but to laugh, Sherlock froze. And then that brilliant, deductive brain finally kicked all the way in and the detective knew the laugh was John's relief bubbling up—he thinks this is yes—and so Sherlock closed his eyes tighter, kissed harder.

Finally John kissed back, and it would be safe to say he was a little sloppy and eager, tongue poking into Sherlock's mouth as if it were the first line of a poorly trained assault force, and then just as quickly Sherlock was pulling away, standing up, then bending down and doing it again.

And it was dead-lifting John from the floor, a feat that shouldn't have been possible without spine-bending consequences but no one told that to Sherlock's back so, with a little twist here and an arm there, the detective lifted his moderately-incapacitated lover up and carried him off, just like the Victorian maiden he wasn't.

But unlike before on the couch, John so did not care this time. As a matter of fact he resembled that mythical Victorian maiden what with the actual giggling, the arms wrapping around Sherlock's neck, the nuzzling and kisses. The only thing missing really was a nice bodice for his lover to tear off. It says a lot about John's relieved state of mind that he probably would have put one on in a heartbeat if asked.

John Watson's wobbly state of mind got no firmer when Sherlock tumbled them both onto his bed (high on endorphins John didn't even notice the twinge in his back) and started covering the good doctor's exposed skin in frantic kisses—from face, to neck, to the palms of his hands, and back again.

As Sherlock came up to John's mouth a third time, he tangled their legs together, grabbed two fistfuls of the smaller man's hair and tugged until John's neck arched. He then bit tenderly right there at the pulse point, then harder, and harder still until finally he heard John moan.

That was it, that was the sign Sherlock wanted. Previously frantic movements became briefly more so as the detective used his teeth to bite a small trail of across John's throat, across his jaw, and then with a very Victorian tug and tear of buttons, down John's shaking-with-more-laughter chest.

When teeth nipped at his ribs the doctor rolled away ticklish only to suddenly find all of Sherlock's weight pressed down on top of him, holding him still, holding him there, in a cage of long arms and legs, with cloud-grey eyes scudding over his face as if memorizing what they saw.

"Sherlock, I—"

The man so named clamped a hand over John's mouth, held it there, went suddenly still, waiting. And really that should have been John's sign, but it wasn't, because John wasn't quite seeing, John was only feeling.

So he pushed out his tongue and licked at Sherlock's cold hand, laughing but silent.

For a moment the detective just watched that face, felt the quiet laughter and the warm tongue against his palm and then he kissed his lover by kissing the back of his own hand. The funny thing is, John kissed back, passionately, and though tongues and lips didn't touch something did because by the end of it both men were hard and more than ready.

Sherlock certainly was, thought not quite for the same thing as John.

The detective wriggled down the doctor's body, grabbed at his belt buckle, his pants, amping up his actions as he went along, using passion as a cover, as a decoy, a diversion from what was really happening.

As soon as John was naked Sherlock stood up and yanked off his own clothes, gracelessly tripping a little before climbing back on the bed and lunging for John's cock with his mouth.

But then there was the good doctor's laughter again—so much laughing, so much fucking joy in him now—and he started to say something so again Sherlock reached up, slid his hand over his lover's mouth, then nipped at the skin of his own knuckles, pressed a bruising kiss against his own flesh.

Again John kissed back, grinding his hips up against Sherlock's hips, moaning against his lover's hand.

Time, time, time. It was time.

Sherlock moved down John's body, took his cock in his mouth quickly, sucked hard, until John started thrusting fast.

They hardly ever did it this way, quick and sloppy, without much build-up or teasing, so John was already more than ready which was good, just great, perfect.

Sherlock moved up again, assumed the time-honored position, pretending that that little bit of his own spit on John's cock was enough lube but it was far from it. As John pushed up and pushed into him, Sherlock's body went hard and washed cold with the pain, a pain that was the very opposite of pleasure but the very definition of penance.

Again, he thinks, he needs it to hurt again, he needs to pay again.

So Sherlock clamped his hands low over John's waist, held the other man tight and still and under the guise of another kiss he rose to his knees just enough for John to withdraw and then he shoved his tongue in John's mouth and rolled, until he was on the bottom, John on top.

Again, he thought, grey eyes gone dark as storm, and opened his legs wide, pulling John against him.

Sometimes Sherlock likes pain, John knows that. Little pains—scratches, bites—or bigger pains—the riding crop swung hard—so he doesn't even think about what's happening but later he will, and later he'll feel as bad as Sherlock does now.

But right now? Right now John took the invitation and pushed into Sherlock at the same time as Sherlock pulled, ramming him home hard, and the lack of lube meant the friction was off-the-charts good for John but Sherlock? He was thrashing under his lover, eyes closed tight and scratching at his own belly and chest, thrusting his hips up to meet each of John's thrusts and moaning, good god he was moaning and then that was it, John was coming hard and reckless, almost as noisy as his lover.

It had started so fast and was over so fast that for longer than the sex even took John lay on top of Sherlock, disoriented, heart pounding, mouth kissing lazily at one angry red scratch mark, and then finally, after several minutes and a dozen kisses John said, "Thank you. And thank you. And also…thank you."

Sherlock didn't reply and at first John thought he was drowsing, then the doctor knew that he wasn't because suddenly it was absolutely silent in that room.

Absolutely silent.

Sherlock wasn't breathing. Sherlock, it seemed, was holding his breath.

Heart suddenly tripping hard, John joined him.

For the space of ten heartbeats no one moved, no one spoke, and everyone expressed their growing tension by simply not breathing.

Then John asked, because John is, was, and will always be the more courageous: "This…this wasn't you saying yes, was it?"

Again John held his breath. If Sherlock pretended for even a moment he didn't understand the question, if he played a word game, or was intentionally obtuse, John was pretty sure he would get up and walk out the door of 221B buck fucking naked.

But though Sherlock is a brass-plated idiot sometimes, he's not a fool. He didn't pull his Sherlock shtick, not here, not now, not with this man. Instead he softly said three words that sounded like both apology and confession, "John…I can't."

John Watson waited patiently, because that's what John Watsons do—they're patient with children and sick people and brass-plated idiots, but no matter how long he stayed still and stayed silent there were no more words from the man beneath him, no more god damn words.

Sherlock could feel John's muscles going hard, feel the minute tremble of a body under tension, and he knew he had to say something, anything at all, but suddenly it's two years ago, it's the night before they first made love and all Sherlock can think now is what he thought then: why? Why would anyone want this body, this brain? Who could possibly need what he has to offer?

Let's take a moment to revisit a few things Sherlock remembers having offered his lover over the years:

* Sherlock had tried making John breakfast in bed once. He'd burned the toast, under-steeped the tea, and forgot John doesn't like eggs with running yolks. John of course said nothing more and nothing less than, "It's wonderful, thank you."

* Sherlock bought John a birthday present the year before last, something he actually knew John wanted—except Sherlock had missed John's birthday by four months. Of course John loved the gift.

* Sherlock, in the name of some god damn experiment or other, has unintentionally destroyed John's favorite tea mug, John's favorite scarf, John's only photo of his father in uniform, John's second favorite jumper, John's dinner, times past counting, and half of John's peace of mind. John complained about every last one of these, and then apologized later with kisses.

So again, why why on earth would this man want him?


Sherlock's grey eyes were somewhere else, seeing things John couldn't see and so couldn't refute. "Why?" the doctor asked again. "Why, Sherlock?"

No answer of course, because when he needs the words most is so often when Sherlock has none. But after two years don't think good old John hasn't learned how to trick them out.

"Is it me?"

Sherlock's eyes focused fast and he frowned at the doctor, affronted, as if John wasn't allowed to imply such a thing about John. "No, no, not you, no."

Keep pushing and Sherlock will keep answering. "Because if there's something wrong with me that I can—"

Sherlock pushed John onto the bed, rose to his knees, agitated, naked, gesturing. "No John it isn't you it's not you how could it be you? You're perfect. You. Are. Perfect. Of course you are." Sherlock's chin and wildly waving hands fell, as if strings had been cut, and he mumbled, "So why on earth would someone like you want to marry someone like me?"

Now it was John's turn to be affronted. "Someone like you? Explain that little bon mot, if you will. What, or who, is someone like you?"

Too much, it was too much, and John could see in Sherlock's eyes that he was shutting down, pulling away, so time for another trick, and the good doctor had so many.

"Never mind, I've got to get up, I can't stand th—"

Sherlock quite literally threw himself down on the bed, one long arm and one long leg falling hard across John. "No no no no no no, don't go, don't go."

Sherlock dug his face into the doctor's neck, breathed in, breathed out, waited for his heart to stop hammering but that wasn't going to happen any time soon so he babbled against his lover's warm skin.

"I can only do one thing John, just one: See. That's all I've got, that's my bag of tricks. If I was blind tomorrow I'd be nothing more than a skinny man with a funny face who has the really bad habit of saying nasty things to strangers."

Sherlock pressed his nose harder against John's skin, took another deep breath, soldiered on. "I'm an idiot and I know I'm an idiot and my god the fact that you stay here amazes me every other day of my life. Those alternate days I just sit and stare at you and can't believe you want to be here, that you choose me."

As he rattled on it was clear that Sherlock was almost not talking to John anymore, he was talking to himself, talking himself out of what he knew he could never have—probably didn't deserve: Normal, just…normal.

"You can't choose me because I won't let you. There's not enough here to make a lifetime from John. There's not enough me."

Oh screw the tricks. John was done with tricks. Now he was just fucking pissed off.

He pushed Sherlock away (gently, because even in a small rage John's polite, damn him), sat up in the bed and glowered down at his lover.

"If you have some illusion this ends here you're wrong. You don't get off that easy. You don't get to decide for two, and you don't get to give up or run away or tell me we're over, do you understand?"

Sherlock started counting. Of course he did.

John let him.

five, six…

A small voice, a fragile voice. "All right, John."

And the breath he hadn't known he was holding hissed out of John in a slow and shaky stream. "Good. That's good. That's …good. Thank you."


For the next few hours in that flat they were two islands separated by a sea of silence.

Then, as it always will, the tide went out and Sherlock found John in the kitchen and he talked. He rambled on about experiments he was in the middle of and experiments he wanted to do. He followed John into the sitting room and chattered about cases he'd had before they'd met and cases he'd wished he'd had. Then he curled against John in John's bed and his conversation was about places they should go, things they could do, and after awhile that? That turned into an over-large dark-haired child finally exhausting himself into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Hours later in the dark and quiet flat John Watson lay on the couch, the skull—that would be me!—perched on his chest and surrounded by two warm hands.

"—and so what do I do now?"

My little soldier had given me the short version and the long. Quite the story. I swear, sometimes it's all I can do not to march Sherlock around the regimental square. As a matter of fact—no, never mind, moving on. John asked a question and he needs an answer.

Well, John, you co—

"I mean, how do you make a man believe in his own self-worth, damn it?"

Well really you can't be—

"I can wipe runny noses, and set bones, but even after all this time I'll tell you this: I can't figure out what's going on in that crazy head."

I waited.

"I'm done now."

Okay then, well—

"I mean he's the boldest man I've ever known, you know? If you've been out there with him you've seen it. He can practically fly he's so fearless."

I waited.

"Yet he's so damn fragile, so breakable."

I waited some more.

"I'm done now."

And waited.

"I mean you can hit the man with a lead pipe and he stays up."

Still waiting.

"And then you can ask him to marry you and he crumbles like a rag doll."

John stroked my head over and over with those warm hands.

"Okay, I'm really done."

John, I'm not su—

"I need to show him what he means to me."

I said nothing.

"I need him to know that he's more than just that brain. That amazing, stupid brain."

Still nothing.

"That he's a dozen other things."

A hundred.

"A hundred other things."

A thousand.

"A thousand! That he's caring when he wants to be, funny when he tries, that he's wise not just smart, good, not merely great, that he's his own worst enemy, that he's—"


"Yes, oh yes. He's Sherlock. He's always and forever Sherlock. And that's all he ever has to be."

John sighed deeply and it was like riding the high seas for a moment.

"But how? How do you convince Sherlock Holmes to marry you? How do you show him why he should?"

And that's where John stopped. Stopped everything. Stopped petting me. Stopped talking. Stopped thinking. Just stopped, finally, too damned tired to do more.

Remember awhile back when I asked if you'd listen? And you said yes? Remember that?

Good, great because now that you've listened, now that you understand what's at stake, well now I need your help, I need your ideas, your wisdom. I really need to know what you would do in John's place.

What would you do next? Please, tell me what would you do?

      Chapter 5


The skull is asking. Please...won't you answer her? What should John do next?

Sobbing too much to answer any questions right now, BRB.

an over-large dark-haired child
Quite possibly the most beautiful description of Sherlock that I have ever read.

You are always beyond amazingly sweet, did you know that? Thank you very much Ariane, thank you.

Wahoo! The next chapter's up and I'm the first to see it! XD

It is awesome! But I want to slap Sherlock for making John think he was saying yes =( He's such an idiot! As for advice - I think John should just tell Sherlock exactly what he told the skull. And if Sherlock doesn't understand then tough - he'll figure out that John really meant it in 20/30 years when they're still together! XD

Okay, I may not have been the first (damn the length of time it takes to write and read though a comment to make sure it's not utter gibberish! =P)

Oh God. I...I need to think. I'll be back when I've pondered on it. Because - how does one convince anyone of their own self-worth, much less a mad genius with a massive professional ego and a minor God complex?

He's always and forever Sherlock.

THIS. This is so exquisitely perfect. Made my heart thud.

"Made my heart thud." Oh my. Thank you. That's just a lovely thing to say.


So poignant and beautifully done. For all of his bluster, Sherlock is so very much that overlarge child, unsure of himself at the core. So much growing yet to do, and who better to do it with than John.

He'll find a way. So long as he stays, Sherlock will see...

"So long as he stays." Yes, that's the key (with both of them), isn't it? Thank you so much for the comment.

This is totally how I see Sherlock, and I love that vulnerability in him so much! Thank you for this.

Also, thank you for this:
Sherlock knows why you hate algebra based on the kind of lettuce you buy

Now I'm torn between the romaine and the iceberg....*L*

If I was John (which I'm not, obviously, or I'd be in bed with Sherlock and not typing this), I would figure out a way to turn finding that ring you described so beautifully into a case for Sherlock where along the way he gets to be his brilliant self, but also winds up in situations where other people get to notice that he's funny, gorgeous, kind, etc. Give Sherlock proof, and he's over the moon, right?

Just a thought....

"Or I'd be in bed with Sherlock and not typing this." Yes, you and me sister, you and me both. (No, that didn't sound right. You know what I mean. Oh yes you do.)

I like your idea and it's one others have shared: Give that boy a case! I really want to and I should and it makes sense, but the real question is can I do it? Well the only way to find out: Must try! Thank you for your feedback because you are so right: Give Sherlock proof and he's over the moon!

Thank you for the great fic. Well, I think the only thing that would prove his worth would be gratitude from other people, because Sherlock thinks John is the exception, but Sherlock has helped other people, maybe if John got them to send things to him, or even the Yarders finally expressing thank yous, and of course, Mycroft, maybe it would help.

Oooo, I'm not so sure Mycroft in any fashion would be a boon to Sherlock's state of mind right now (or ever?), but yes, understanding the difference he's made in other people's lives could quite possibly help.

Thank you for the comment and for your ideas, Karadin!

AGAIN you make my day with wonderful skull, and even more wonderful, poignant and so in-character John and Sherlock. Lord, these the way you give me these two can even make my entirely out of control life slow, because there is no rushing things when it come to this romance. Gorgeous!

As for John - It occurs to me that Sherlock gave him his way in - his love of a case! Somehow create a mystery wherein all the clues reveal another reason John loves Sherlock. When the resolution of the case is the logical, rational, conclusive evidence that marrying John is the only sensible thing to do - illuminate the impossible (that Sherlock isn't worthy of John's commitment and forever love) and reveal what Must Be The Truth!

I love this series!!!!

This is what I thought of too!! I was thinking something like making 221B a "crime scene" where the clues could only mean JOhn loves Sherlock and they should get married, etc.

I don't feel up to answering the skull's question, but wanted to say that this chapter was marvelous. I like a good marriage/wedding fic as much as the next person, but this is far more real. For a genius, Sherlock really is an idiot when it comes to relationships and his own motivations, as well as emotionally vulnerable.

What Sherlock did to delay telling John that he can't accept makes perfect sense to me. Yes, it was misleading, but an immediate "no" probably would have resulted in an emotional scene both of them would regret. This way, he bought himself some time and at least made it clear that it wasn't due to lack of desire on his part.

Wow, I am very glad that this chapter seemed logical to you (how can any chapter with a talking skull not be logical?) and that you enjoyed it.

Sherlock is quite the complex, silly, foolish little genius, isn't he? If anyone's gonna sort him out it's going to be John, damn it.

Thank you for the comment!

Oh wow....

Mrs. Skull, this requires a bit of thinking. Oh dear...

Oh,that was so sad.Poor boys.Sherlock is really a child sometimes.I can see him doing exactly that.
Maybe John could show him that he don't like normal.He isn't 'normal',too.He has PTSD,nightmares.He's an adrenaline junkie.I don't know,I need to think.

Atlin,you're awesome.XD

OOoooo, that's brilliant! John should show Sherlock that he's not normal either. (And who even likes normal!) This has great possibility, thank you!

And also, thank you muchly and lots and heaps for your comment and praise, it is so greatly appreciated!

Oh my goodness, this is an INCREDIBLE chapter! Sherlock's complete insanity after John asks him - counting, then kneeling, then suddenly sex with no real lube - is amazing to behold, and just a little scary. HE DOES NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO!

Neither of them does! OMG skull this is A CRAZY MESS!

Everyone above has good ideas - I suspect that what this is going to take, in addition, is TIME.

*Sherlock* is a crazy mess, which is why we love him so much. Everything's in character for Sherlock, quite nearly! And yes, time will help. Thank you for the comment!

Brilliant! The language in this is so perfect. Just when I think your mtaphors can't get any better, it does!

*cuddles the fic, the gents, and you* Another sterling chapter! I don't have the brains actually working right now to answer the skull's question, but oh I AM enjoying this awesome thing that you're doing here with these chapters.


Too busy sobbing; will try and help later. Omg. Stories never make me cry! *sniffles*

Not seriously, right? I mean you didn't seriously experience a wee tear? I don't want anyone to cry, except if you did I would SO DAMN WELL do a victory lap around my desk or something.


Did I say that out loud?

This is the best thing I've ever seen from you. Just perfection. Humor and lust and pereceptiveness and love and psychology all just rolled into one awesome ball. I feel like time is probably the best answer as to how John can prove to Sherlock that he's enough. But, story-wise, I guess you could continue the angst. Something awful happens to Sherlock and when he wakes up he finds out John was a total mess without him. That's really the best I've got.

Time would be good, yes, but, well, fiction-wise angst and humor and sex are probably going to win out. Mooooohahahaha!

"The best thing I've ever seen from you."

WOAH! Thank you! That you see all humor and psychology and those other things in the story makes me want to sort of bounce around the house giving myself high-fives. As a matter of fact, be right back...

P.S. Thank you Marie, thank you very much!


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