There was a sleek black car waiting for them when they stepped out of the taxi at Baker Street.
"Ignore it," Sherlock said.
John sighed. All he wanted to do was go home, take a shower, and sleep in his own damn bed. He glanced at the doorway to their flat; the streetlamp illuminated the brass numbers on the door as if taunting him.
He turned back to the car. "I can't."
A door opened for him as he approached. He slid inside, expecting to see Anthea or one of Mycroft's other assistants inside, but instead it was Mycroft seated across from him, studying the screen of his phone. John settled back against the leather seat and waited. He had either done very well or very poorly to merit Mycroft's personal attention.
Mycroft didn't look up. "That was quite a stunt you pulled back there, John."
John looked away, uncertain which particular stunt he was referring to. "You said it would take a week. It took four."
"Ah, yes. These things can be so difficult to predict." Mycroft gave him a tight smile and raised his phone to his ear. "Yes, of course. Now, if convenient." There was a pause as he listened for a moment before rolling his eyes and ending the call. He turned to look out the window toward the street, the fingers of one gloved hand stroking his chin. He looked far more like his brother in profile than he did otherwise.
A moment later the car door opened again and Sherlock sat heavily next to John, scowling. The door closed with a resounding thud and the car pulled away.
"Well, it's lovely to see the two of you together again." Mycroft said after a long silence. "What a touching reunion it must have been."
Sherlock shifted next to him, but said nothing. John couldn't keep the discomfort off of his face. After a full second he forced himself to look up and give Mycroft a tight-lipped smile. Mycroft raised his eyebrows and John looked away again, trying not to think about what Mycroft was reading into the sight before him.
God, it couldn't be any worse than the reality.
Sherlock had said nothing in the cab, and John hadn't known what to say. Sorry for the sexual assault didn't seem quite right, but neither did Thanks for rubbing against my hard-on back there; it was nice. Which it was, of course, with Sherlock on his knees, looking up at him with wide dark eyes and--
John clenched his jaw. There was no point in thinking about that right now. "Are you handling the debriefing personally, then?"
Mycroft's attention returned to his phone. "No. The usual people will be doing that. I'm far more interested in getting Sherlock started on the analysis of the data you appropriated."
John's stomach twisted into a tight knot. "You were monitoring me."
"Not in the way you think. But considering your rather hasty departure and the short amount of time Sherlock was held, one must assume you have the data with you."
Sherlock fumbled in his pocket and held up the USB stick.
"I'll let you hold on to that," Mycroft replied as he tucked his phone away. "You may begin analyzing it upon arrival."
"I could have done that at home." Sherlock looked out the window.
"Of course." Mycroft's tone was typically condescending. "But this will be ever so much easier for everyone, don't you think?"
The car pulled into a rather ordinary-looking underground parking garage, then continued down several levels through a secured entrance to yet another underground facility. John had been here before, but he wasn't sure if Sherlock had. He wasn't sure what Sherlock had been doing in the last few weeks, what sort of training he'd done in preparation for his part of the operation.
No amount of training could have prepared John for the last month of his life. It had only been through some sense of duty that he'd stayed at all, every day thinking he would finally hear that the end of the operation was near. It wasn't that the work was difficult so much as it had been isolating and dull, and an utter waste of his skills. He had repeatedly insisted he could do more than simply position himself to provide access to the necessary files; he could retrieve them and send them on to the analyst himself. He hadn't seen the need to put one of MI5's many analysts in harm's way.
Until he'd learned who the analyst would be, of course. Why Sherlock had volunteered for that particular job after years of resisting his brother's attempts to recruit him was something John hadn't yet worked out.
He glanced over at Sherlock: his face was carefully blank, caught in split-second frames as the car passed streetlights. It was his usual expression around his brother, but it was also the face he put on when he didn't want to talk to John.
John sighed and looked away.
"And you had no difficulty escaping?" The agent rapidly tapped out notes on the virtual keyboard of his tablet computer.
"None. I slipped downstairs when everyone was occupied and we walked out the back door, easy peasy. No one saw us go." He could have done it weeks earlier, not that anyone seemed to care. He'd forgotten how frustrating working for the government could be.
The agent nodded and John forced a smile. He assumed Sherlock would tell the same story -- and would also leave out the more personal details. They'd been separated after the brief security check at the entrance and would be debriefed individually, as per protocol. So far no one had asked for details beyond the operation of the organization, and John didn't expect them to do.
The agent frowned for a moment before looking up to lock eyes with John. "I'm still uncertain why you downloaded the data yourself, when the analyst was there."
Here we go. "I'd spent weeks sorting through it all and I knew what was important. It was far less risky for me to download it myself than to go with the original plan of sneaking the analyst into the office in the middle of the night."
He'd made a point early on of getting caught watching porn in the office in the evenings; he'd even let a few of the men walk in on him with a hand around his dick. After a while the others just assumed that was what he was doing and left him to it. As long as he had a porno playing in a background window, ready to pull up if someone walked in, he had a good fifteen minutes at a time to peruse the computer. Working out the password had taken a few days (there was a skill he'd picked up working with Sherlock), but after that, he'd had access to everything.
If only he'd had the bollocks to download it all three weeks earlier.
"Quite a lot of thought went into the planning of that aspect of the mission." The agent's tone was casual, but his expression was sharp.
"I spent four weeks with that operation. I knew what they had, and what was possible and what was not."
"And your decision to take action on your own had nothing to do with your relationship with Mr. Holmes?"
John pressed his lips together. He rather wanted to ask, What relationship are you referring to?, but he wasn't sure he wanted to hear what the agency thought was going on between him and Sherlock. Hell, he wasn't sure himself. "Are you suggesting I chose my course of action in order to protect him, without regard for the success of the mission?"
The agent paused for a full second, his eyes narrowed. "Yes."
"Then you don't know either of us very well, I'm afraid."
"We're concerned that you may have missed some important data, something an analyst would not have done, and that will jeopardize the success of this operation. It's not as if we'll have another chance after this, not with--"
"Sherlock has everything he needs. He may be the genius, but I'm not stupid, nor am I incompetent."
"You are, however, far too emotionally attached to Mr. Holmes to work with him in the field."
John snorted. "And here I though you lot read the papers."
"This is MI5, Dr. Watson. Not your little detective games."
"I was under the impression that it was our success at playing those little games that interested MI5 in the first place." He raised his eyebrows and the agent didn't respond. "I had nothing to do with Sherlock being assigned to this mission; in fact, I strongly objected to it. It wasn't my call, but once he was there, I used my very comprehensive knowledge of his skills and my understanding of the situation to make decisions in the context of the mission, with great success. I was under the impression that I had the authority to do so."
"Success does not justify your methods in this case. You'll be reprimanded in your file, and a note will be added to insure you and Mr. Holmes do not work together again."
John shrugged. "You can put whatever the hell you want in that file; I don't give a fuck." The agent's eyes widened as John stood and tossed his security badge on the desk. "I quit. I don't care what Mycroft throws at me. I'm done with this fucking place."
He felt the agent's glare on his back as he left the room. He'd be intercepted by security in less than a minute, and they'd escort him to Mycroft's office, most likely. Not that it mattered. He didn't care about any of it anymore. All he wanted was to go home, take a shower, make some tea, and work out how to salvage his friendship with Sherlock.
It took two minutes, and he was indeed escorted to Mycroft's office. Mycroft was sitting behind his desk studying a computer monitor. Sherlock was sitting in a chair across from him, fingers flying on the keyboard of his laptop. He shot John a tight smile as John sank into a chair next to him.
"You're full of surprises, aren't you?" Mycroft didn't look up.
John had to bite his cheek to prevent himself from responding with what he reckoned Mycroft was full of. He looked instead over to Sherlock, who was smirking at the screen.
"I meant it," John said. "I'm done here. You've got what you wanted, or you will when Sherlock's done with the data."
"Don't be hasty, John." Mycroft swiveled in his chair to face him. "Your emotions are high now, which is completely understandable. There are protocols for helping agents readjust after long undercover operations, and--"
John groaned. "Fuck the protocols. I quit. I didn't sign on for what you just put me through. You weren't honest with me about it; none of you were."
Sherlock looked up from his computer at that, his expression suddenly one of interest.
"The parameters and risks of the mission were thoroughly explained to you when you signed on."
"I signed on for a mission that would take a week. At the time I thought it sounded like more than I really wanted for a first time out, but hey, it's just a week, they said. All you have to do is work your way in and wait for the signal that the analyst is going to show up. Do you have any idea what I had to do to stay in their good graces for a month, Mycroft? How many fucking laws I've broken?" Some of it made his worst days in Afghanistan pale in comparison. He shuddered.
"You're protected by law from being charged for--"
John nearly laughed. "Oh, for fuck's sake. That is so not the point."
"Then enlighten me." Mycroft's tone was tight.
"The point is that I never agreed to a mission that would take me away from home for an entire month. And on top of that, it was utterly unnecessary to the success of the operation. I could have had that data for you at the end of the first week, but no, I had to wait until someone decided the fucking stars were properly aligned."
"That amount of time was necessary, John. You were embedded and you didn't have the larger picture. This is what the work is."
"So everyone keeps telling me. Ergo, I fucking quit." John started to stand.
"Tell him the truth, Mycroft," Sherlock said, his voice calm. "Or would you like me to do it?"
Mycroft turned his glare to his brother. "And what truth would that be?"
"Tell him why it took a month."
"By all means, be my guest. We both know whose fault that is, don't we?" Mycroft raised his eyebrows as if in challenge and Sherlock clenched his jaw.
John stared from one to the other, a sinking feeling in his gut. "Oh, no. Don't tell me."
Sherlock looked at him, his expression unreadable. "It wasn't about you, John, and it wasn't about the mission. As I suspected from the moment he first suggested the job to you, it was all an elaborate plot to get me to work for MI5."
John had to gape at him for a moment. He shook his head and fought an irrational urge to laugh. "Oh, right, of course, of course it's all…" The words began to sink in, and John felt the blood drain from his face. "Bloody hell, it's always about you, isn't it? The entire fucking earth has to revolve around you, and I can't even--" He broke off and scrubbed his hands over his face. "Oh my God, an entire month of my life, and it's nothing to you, is it? To either of you." He clenched his jaw and stood, feeling anger rise in his chest, sharp and hot.
"John," Sherlock began, and John turned to glare at him. Sherlock's expression was strained, but not apologetic. No, of course not.
"No, no, you don't get to say a goddamned word to me. Fuck the both of you. I'm done with this." He turned and stalked out the door, down the corridor, towards where he knew there was an exit to the street. He glared down the two people who seemed to have been sent to intercept him, and then no one else tried.
The sky was just beginning to grow light as he stepped onto the street, the faint pink stripe of dawn strangely cold against the skyline. He flagged down a taxi and went home, and didn't look back.
It was two days before Sherlock came home. John came back from a night out with Greg, during which he'd drunk far too much beer and had utterly failed at pulling three different women, to find Sherlock lounging on the sofa with a newspaper. He looked up when John came in, but said nothing.
John glared at him for a moment before stripping off his coat and heading into the kitchen. He ought to go straight upstairs to bed and say nothing, give Sherlock the silent treatment for another day. He was halfway through filling the kettle when he realized he was doing it out of sheer force of habit. Yes, the proper way to have it out with his flatmate was to start by making him fucking tea. He turned off the tap and leaned back against the counter, trying to compose himself.
No, he'd best get this over with. He didn't need to wait another day to find out whether or not Sherlock was going to continue being a prick about the whole thing. He had expected a text or an email, or some sign that Sherlock was concerned about the way they'd parted, but there had been nothing. Not that he'd reached out, either, but he'd hoped Sherlock would make the first move.
John sighed and pressed a hand over his eyes. God, he hated this. He hated being angry with friends and feeling the weight of a grudge pressing against his chest, cold and hard and rough around the edges. And with Sherlock, there was so much history, too much between them to write it off without a word. And too much… God, he didn't know what it was, what to call it.
He took a deep breath and crossed back to the sofa. Sherlock looked up at him, a slight hint of anxiety on his face. It was gone again almost instantly, but it was enough. John let some of his anger go and sat on the sofa. Sherlock set the paper aside and shifted next to him, a rare sign of discomfort. Good.
"Finish the analysis?" John forced himself to look at Sherlock.
"Yes. It was utterly pedestrian. Typical money laundering scheme. They kept ridiculously transparent records of their illegal transactions, et cetera." His tone was typically acerbic, but his expression was taut.
"I could have given them that much." A bit of resentment edged its way into his tone, despite his efforts to keep it light.
"Yes, I know." Sherlock sighed and silence stretched between them for a few seconds. "You were gone three days before Mycroft called. I told him no, and he called every other day after that. When two weeks had passed, I realized he meant to stall you until I said yes."
John watched his face, but saw no sign that he was lying. "So he bribed you with… me?" The idea that after all these years he was the one thing Sherlock could be coerced with was more than a touch disturbing.
"After a manner, I suppose he did. He said they didn't have any analysts qualified for that sort of field work -- ridiculously untrue, by the way -- and that you'd likely be stuck there for weeks unless I agreed." Sherlock paused, his eyes fixed on the floor in front of him.
John pursed his lips. "You could have told me what was going on. I'd have finished it weeks earlier." Sherlock frowned and John looked away. "I see. You didn't think I could do it alone either."
"I wasn't certain. I didn't have enough information to come to any particular conclusion, though once I was there it was obvious I was unnecessary." He shrugged and pressed his lips together for a moment. "But by then… I was going a bit mad without you."
John allowed himself to smile just a bit. "Were you?"
"It was horribly boring. No one to pester me to eat, no one to complain about my experiments in the refrigerator. No one to use all the hot water in the morning." He cast a sly glance at John.
"No one to steal the covers?" John nudged him with an elbow. "You make us sound like an old married couple."
"Well, we bicker constantly and don't have sex, so perhaps it's apt." Sherlock nearly smiled, and John swallowed. A bit close to home, that one.
"I'm sorry," he said after a moment. "For what happened at the warehouse, after Wallins found us. I shouldn't have put you in that position." He grimaced at the unintentional double entendre.
"I assumed it was retribution for me pinning you to the floor and having a go at you for that murdered police officer case." His tone was light, but there was something else under it, something John couldn't quite read.
"It wasn't. I don't know why it popped into my head. It made sense at the moment, I suppose."
Sherlock shrugged. "I really didn't mind, you know. We do have a certain level of physical comfort with each other. I wasn't offended."
John nodded and kept his gaze focused on the floor. Did Sherlock think it was normal for mates to have a snog in an alleyway or rub up against each other to prove a point? John had been carefully ignoring the question, trying to convince himself that it was all different and bizarre and somehow fine because it was Sherlock, who was not a normal mate of John's by any stretch of the imagination. But it wasn't anything near fine for John -- it was bordering on something else altogether.
He took a deep breath and exhaled smoothly before turning to look at Sherlock. "I know you weren't offended. But that's not why I'm apologizing."
Sherlock met his gaze. "I would have done it, you know."
John stared back at him; it was a moment before the words sank in. "You… what?"
"There was a moment when I thought I'd have to do it, to help us escape. And I would have. Sucked you off." He held John's gaze, his lips slightly parted.
John felt his cheeks grow warm, but he couldn't look away from Sherlock's earnest expression. "You…" he began, but found he couldn't think of anything say to that. Nothing that didn't amount to Want to try it now?, at any rate. He cleared his throat and looked away. "Ah," was the best he could manage.
Sherlock gave a small huff that sounded slightly indignant. "Well, it's been a long time since I've given anyone head, but I think I could have managed."
"I've no doubt." John's mouth had gone horribly dry. "Happily it didn't come to that, did it?" Perhaps not entirely happily. Fuck.
"My point is that you don't owe me an apology, not for any of it. I went there to help, and I suspect that I did help, at least a bit. I went as soon as Mycroft let me, after some very cursory training." There was a pause. "I'm sorry I didn't agree to the entire damn thing sooner. I honestly didn't think he would be so stubborn about it."
John snorted. "Your brother is a massive wanker."
"And you haven't known him for 35 years."
John pressed his hands against his face. "Was this entire thing simply an attempt to get you to work for MI5, then?" He'd almost let go of his anger over that, over the feeling of being used. He'd thought he was tired of always being in Sherlock's shadow, of being the eternal sidekick. He'd just wanted something he could call his own, and even that had turned out to be about Sherlock.
This was his life, wasn't it? And oddly enough, he didn't really mind.
"That was part of it, certainly. I suspect he was also trying to prove a point to me." Sherlock looked away and fidgeted for a moment. "At any rate, it's failed. I quit as well, though not quite so dramatically as you did." He turned his face toward John and smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling slightly as he did.
"I missed you." John hadn't meant to blurt it out quite like that, but there was nothing for it now. "I missed this flat, and I missed working on cases, and your shitty moods and the experiments in the kitchen -- all of it. I was kicking myself two days in for thinking I'd enjoy undercover work. I was bloody miserable."
"I'm rather glad to hear that." Sherlock's knee bumped against John's. "And I'm glad you're home."
John looked up at him and they stared at each other for several seconds, knees still touching. John had forgotten how stunning Sherlock's eyes could be, how they could pierce right through him. And the way he was looking at John right now, so open and honest, so much that John could almost believe that Sherlock wanted something more.
Oh God. That line of thought was leading in a very dangerous direction.
"Me too." John smiled and then looked away. He forced himself to stand. "I think I'll turn in. I suppose we can start looking for cases tomorrow, yeah?"
John risked another glance at him, but he'd already returned to the newspaper, seemingly unaffected. Heterosexual crisis averted once again.
John climbed the stairs slowly, feeling far more sober than he ought at this point. He stripped off his clothes and pulled on a clean pair of boxers, and sat on the edge of his bed. His anger at Sherlock had dissipated like so much smoke, slipping through his fingers even as he'd sat there on the sofa, trying desperately to cling to it. For all Sherlock could be an irritating wanker, he was also… well. John needed not to think about that just now.
At least Sherlock was home and they were both done with MI5 and they could get on with the business of being John-and-Sherlock again. He wasn't sure how he'd expected that first conversation to go, but as usual, Sherlock had surprised him. He supposed he would have done the same in Sherlock's position. Of course, it all could have been so much easier, if only Sherlock had told John his suspicions of Mycroft's motives from the start.
John grimaced: would he have listened? Probably not. John Watson had to learn most lessons the hard way, it seemed. And he'd needed to face the ugly reality of his James Bond fantasies, hadn't he? How ironic that he'd imagined it being rather sexy and glamorous and exciting, and it was the exact opposite of that in almost every way. And moreover, the main thing he'd learned was that he was far too emotionally attached to his brilliant, odd, borderline sociopathic, very male flatmate to be away from him for more than a handful of days.
Maybe he should start going back to therapy after all. Clearly his priorities were fucked up beyond all recognition.
He pulled back the duvet and switched on the reading lamp by his bed, intending to settle in with a book, something to distract his mind for a while. The house was quiet for a moment, and then he heard the distinct sound of footsteps on the stairs.
Sherlock's footsteps. Coming up the stairs to his room. He sat still, his heart pounding. Sherlock never came up to his room; John couldn't recall a single time he'd done so. All the possible reasons Sherlock might be coming up the stairs to his bedroom at this hour were crowded out in favor of one in particular, one that sent a shiver of anticipation down John's spine.
Oh God. It couldn't be that, could it?
He stood and crossed to the closed door, listening to the footsteps grow closer and closer and then stop on the other side. When he couldn't bear the suspense a moment longer, he opened the door. Sherlock stood there with one hand raised, as if he were about to knock. John had clearly caught him off-guard: his eyes widened slightly and swept down over John's nearly naked form before returning to his face again. His expression returned to something casual, even cool, but what John had seen there was quite unmistakable.
He didn't even think; he simply reached out and grasped a handful of Sherlock's shirt, pulled him forward, and kissed him. Sherlock made a sound of surprise against his lips, but a moment later his hands came up to cradle John's face. Their lips slid together and John swiped the tip of his tongue against Sherlock's lower lip, probing, testing. Though it wasn't the first time they'd kissed each other, it was the first time it had been like this: real, honest, and uncertain. Sherlock's lips parted under his and John pressed forward, and there was a soft moan that could have come from either of them, maybe came from both of them.
Sherlock kicked the door closed and turned John around, pushing him back against it before crushing their mouths together. John felt a bit like someone who'd inadvertently opened a floodgate: Sherlock kissed him with a level of pent-up arousal that John previously would have suspected he wasn't capable of possessing. It was glorious to be on the receiving end of that, though -- for most of his adult life he'd been in the position of pursuing reluctant sexual partners, doing everything he could to convince them to share their bodies, and always feeling like he was asking a favor, like they were doing him a favor when they conceded and allowed him to touch and kiss and fuck, always passive beneath his hands, never grasping at him as if they needed more contact, needed him. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt wanted like this, desired, and he let himself be pressed back against the door and tried to hang on.
Sherlock pulled out of the kiss and worked his way down John's neck, unerringly finding that spot beneath his ear that he'd discovered by accident standing in that alleyway months ago. John whimpered, not trusting himself to say anything.
Sherlock sucked lightly on his earlobe for a moment before whispering, "I came up here to bring you your phone, actually."
John laughed and let his hands slide down Sherlock's back, down over his arse. "Oh God, seriously?" He pulled Sherlock's hips against him; Sherlock was just as hard as he was.
"Mycroft rang you and then me, demanding to know why you weren't answering." His lips moved against John's neck as he spoke.
"Mmmm, keep doing that. What did you tell him?"
"That neither of us could talk at the moment since our mouths are otherwise occupied." He pressed his lips against John's again.
"You didn't say that," John managed after a moment. He hissed as Sherlock ground against him.
"Of course not. I told him to bugger off and leave us alone for at least a week. Ah…"
John's tongue had just traced along the sensitive skin inside his lower lip. "I think a week will do it, yeah." He pulled back a bit and looked up at Sherlock. "Hang on, you came up here to relay a message from Mycroft?"
Sherlock's lips twisted a bit. "Well, no. I came up to kiss some sense into you. That was going to be my excuse if you didn't let me."
John kissed him again. "So you're okay with this? Whatever this is. What is this, anyway?"
Sherlock's hands slid down over his back, fingers tracing along his spine as his lips traced paths on John's neck. "I believe the term is 'friends with benefits'."
"Yes, that works." He was filled with a sudden sense of relief. He wasn't sure he could handle thinking about it as much more than that -- for the present moment, anyway. "Speaking of benefits… that thing you said you wouldn't have minded doing… I don't suppose…?"
Sherlock hummed against his skin before sliding smoothly to his knees, his fingers already dipping under the waistband of John's boxers. "I was hoping you'd ask."
John grinned down at him, and gasped when his pants were tugged down enough for Sherlock to press a soft kiss to the head of his prick. "Apology accepted, I think."
Sherlock looked up at him, his eyes dark in the dim light, his lower lip glistening with a drop of the fluid that was leaking from John's cock. He smiled, and then didn't speak for quite a while.