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you think you're alone, until you realize you're in it
Thanks to the Spike for betaing.

John stumbled out the door of the pub, Mark--Mike?--close behind him.

He didn't do this kind of thing often. He was a bit old for it, for one thing, and he did know the risks. But in the midst of an irritating half-fight with Sherlock that evening (half because Sherlock hadn't even acknowledged there could possibly be anything annoying about dehydrating a human foot where a person might want to be cooking food), he'd realized that he'd had it. He was tired, and frustrated, and...really just needed to get off for once. There were some things that were still easier with guys than with girls, and so he'd found himself down the local, having a few pints and chatting up Mike--he was pretty sure it was Mike, now--until the right moment had come for him to put his hand on his thigh and say, "Want to clear out of here?"

Mike had grinned and said, "No time like the present." It turned out there was a convenient alleyway only a few steps away, and Mike was entirely open to the idea of going no further.

Simple. He'd just wanted something simple that felt good, and here it was. He had Mike up against the wall in no time, mouthing his jaw and throat, while Mike fumbled with their trousers. John felt giddy. Mike was good-looking in an uncomplicated way, brown hair, brown eyes, solid, compact body. He smelt of the beer they'd both been drinking. It had been a long time since John had done anything this direct, this straightforward. The thought turned him on more than anything; he ground against Mike's hand just because he could. Mike laughed in his ear. "Okay, okay." They both knew what they wanted. The risk of getting caught just made John feel like a teenager again--maybe he'd get another ASBO!--and he grinned against Mike's throat.

And then he heard something. Nothing much, just a faint scuff, like a foot along a surface. Nothing anyone would have heard who hadn't been training themselves for the past few months to be hypersensitive to their environment.

Sherlock, John thought instantly. Had to be. He'd probably decided he wanted a new toothbrush or something and had come out to get John to fetch one for him. Well, to hell with him. John pinned Mike a little bit more firmly against the alley wall, sucked harder on his neck. Let it be as awkward for Sherlock as possible. Even he couldn't ignore the fact that he was interrupting John shamelessly having it off with a near-stranger in a public space.

But Sherlock's voice, whatever snide remark he'd come up with to make it sound like John was being the ridiculous one, never came. John began to wonder if he'd imagined the footstep, but he refused to look up and see. Then Mike finally got John's cock in his hand, lined up with his own. John closed his eyes and started thrusting, loving the slight roughness of Mike's skin. He was almost there when he heard it--a rasping noise that could have been the slightest intake of breath.

Christ, he thought, and spilled all over Mike's hand.

After the two of them disentangled, John couldn't resist a quick glance around. There was no one else to be seen in the alley.

He arrived home about half an hour later, not sure what he'd find. But Sherlock was on the sofa with his book, apparently not having moved since John had gone out. He didn't look up or say anything, and that alone made John absolutely sure. After all, little old ladies in Surrey could probably tell what he'd been up to, to say nothing of the most observant man on the planet, and there was no way Sherlock should have been able to resist a sarcastic remark or two.

Furthermore, when he went into the kitchen, there were milk and eggs in the fridge, and not so much as a little toe drying in the oven. John paused, trying to come up with some remark of his own--what did you say when you realized your flatmate had been watching you having sex in a back alley?--but the air suddenly deserted his lungs.

Sherlock, Sherlock who had never shown the slightest interest in girls or guys for as long as John had known him, had been watching him having sex in a back alley. And hadn't cleared off like anyone decent would have. He'd seen it all the way through.

John made a slight swallowing noise.

"What," Sherlock said, even though John hadn't managed to say anything. His tone was as dry as John had ever heard it.

"Nothing," he said, and hastily retreated to the shower.


It was about a month later that John decided to go out again. It really wasn't common for him to do this so frequently, but. The fact of the matter was, that Saturday night had become his favorite wank fantasy. His only wank fantasy. Not just Mike, though if that hadn't been so good, it never would have worked. No, the image kept doubling in his head, so that it was Mike, and then him with Mike, and Sherlock watching. From the end of the alley, a dark figure obscured by the streetlight behind him. No, better yet, from a rooftop a little ways above. Crouched low, pale, lips parted, brows knitted together in fascination, hand gripping the rail harder than it needed to. A recording angel.

Which, obviously, shouldn't have been hot at all, but that was where he ended up in the showers most mornings, one hand braced against the wall, the other curled around his cock, coming hard.

Ever since John had figured out in his teens that he was bisexual--more girls than boys, but, still, definitely boys--he hadn't wasted much time fighting his body over what it wanted. He knew how futile it was. So that Saturday night, he put on his nicer shirt and smiled at himself in the mirror and headed out the door. Sherlock was staring at a beaker and didn't even seem to have noticed he was leaving.

Alastair was gorgeous, tall, perfect posture, skin an elegant sweep of ebony. John might have been imagining it, but, except for Mycroft's assistant, his pull seemed to have gotten a lot better since he'd come back to London. He didn't bother questioning it as they moved into the alley.

"Oh, yeah," Alastair murmured, hand down John's trousers, "that's what I like, John."

John didn't say anything, just let his head rest against Alastair's throat, clutching his muscular arse and closing his eyes to concentrate on sensation.

And then he heard it, again, very definitely this time. A choke, swallowed against instantly, but still a choke.

For a second, he hesitated. Probably wasn't right, doing this with Alastair not knowing, was it? But then, Alastair had been more than happy to come away with someone he'd only just met for a shag in a spot only a few yards from a busy London street. The thought of being spotted couldn't be bothering him too much, could it?

Besides, Alastair's hand had slipped and now he was jerking John off at just the right angle, and nipping softly at his ear, too, and honestly that felt too good to stop for any reason short of apocalypse.

John wondered how they appeared, from the outside, whether it looked strange and improbable and maybe even painful. Or whether their faces, hands, bodies could evoke something in a cool-eyed observer. Some hint of what it felt like to have someone want you and you want them back, to have your defenses, those things that were such a part of you, go not just irrelevant, but actually wrong. Become things you couldn't get out of and away from fast enough.

He stroked his own hand down the front of Alastair's cock. John knew that in a few minutes, he'd be blowing Alastair, and it would be great.

"Like that?" Alastair asked.

"God, yes," he whispered.

When he came home this time, Sherlock was perched on the back of his armchair, hands pressed together, apparently pondering a book propped on the mantelpiece.

"If you're going to get pissed, I wish you'd drink a better class of alcohol," he said, absently waving his hand in front of his face. "It reeks."

"That's funny, coming from the man who doesn't notice when the milk's gone and developed its own advanced civilization," John said.

Sherlock didn't reply.

John looked around the room. "Did you--sorry, did you tidy up?"

"Does it look like it?" Sherlock said scornfully.

John didn't answer, because the answer was: yes.


The next time was only a couple of weeks later, because, well, it hadn't been any less hot the second time, and neither had remembering it later. The vivid images, which would intrude at the oddest times, lent a strange undercurrent to life in the flat, though--after his little outburst of housekeeping the evening of--Sherlock behaved exactly the same as always. It was almost enough to make John think he'd imagined it all, if only he hadn't already discovered Sherlock's tendency to try to remake reality by refusal to behave as if anything else were true.

This time, the guy came on to John rather than vice versa. He was a little less fit than the other two, faded blond hair, faded blue eyes, but John wasn't all that choosy. It wasn't long before he was tugging John into the alley. John glanced back, for just a second, to see if there was a figure silhouetted against the dark, but then he reproached himself and turned around to give his attention to Peter.

Only it turned out that Peter had a knife, and he was holding it dangerously close to John's throat. "Wallet, please," he said briskly, holding out his other hand.

"Oh, Christ," John groaned. Really? Of all the times?

It occurred to him that Sherlock's card was in his wallet. That was going to be hard to explain. Or not-explain. Or however it was they would handle it--

"Come on, now," Peter barked. "The knife's not for show."

John wasn't frightened, but he was worried, and a little surprised at himself. He knew this could go bad, very easily, but he couldn't see himself just handing over the wallet. Just couldn't.

"I could yell for help," he said. "The street's not that far. Do you really want to get sent up on a murder charge for one wallet?"

Now he could feel the metal cold against his skin. "That cuts both ways. Do you want to risk getting hurt over the lousy few quid you've got in there?"

"I've risked a lot more. Did I mention I was in Afghanistan? I must have done."

"Welcome home. Thanks for your service," Peter said. "Now hand over your--"

He grunted, his eyes rolled up in his head, and he fell. Sherlock loomed up behind him, a small blackjack in his hand. He didn't look at John, but kept his eyes fixed on Peter. "Tosser," he said, and gave him an unnecessary kick to the ribs. And then another, the length of his leg giving him quite the momentum.

"Sherlock."

Then Sherlock did glance up at him, and his expression wasn't quite what John had been expecting. Smug satisfaction over having downed an opponent, perhaps; irritation at having to rescue John; amusement at John's inability to distinguish between a quick shag and a mugger. Instead, Sherlock was terrified, his face almost naked with it. And not for John's safety, either--of John, of what John would say now that it was impossible to pretend he didn't know. He saw John seeing it, blinked hard, and cleared his expression to something approaching neutral.

John bent down and fumbled at the knife, so that he wouldn't have to look any more. He hadn't realized that he had anything invested in Sherlock's dignity--in fact, if you'd asked him, he'd probably have said the opposite, that a few good embarrassments could only improve his character, and the more public, the better.

But this ran deeper. In that minute, John had become sure that what was going on here was much more circuitous than My flatmate's rather fit, and since I have no sense of propriety whatsoever I enjoy an occasional evening watching him having it off. More circuitous, and more painful.

And, as much as John might have enjoyed seeing Sherlock embarrassed, he flinched away from seeing him hurt.

"Let's get out of here," Sherlock finally suggested. "I wouldn't find dealing with Clubs and Vice that engaging, would you? If you think Lestrade is slow..."

It wasn't too long before they were home. As usual, the adrenaline wearing off left him a little dizzy, and he flung himself on the couch directly they were there. Sherlock hadn't said anything further on the way home, and he headed silently into the kitchen, probably to dismember a goose or something.

Five minutes later, to John's astonishment, he came in with two steaming mugs of tea.

"Did you make that?"

"That's a remarkably obtuse question, even for you," Sherlock said, passing him a mug as he sat up. "Someone did just have a knife to your throat. You might be in shock."

"Yes," John said. "That is, technically, possible. Are you in shock, too?"

"I..." Sherlock glanced down at the remaining mug, which he had a death grip on. "I suppose I might be. It feels it, a bit."

John wished that it was about something as simple as the knife. But it obviously wasn't, and it was equally obvious that Sherlock would rather have his own throat cut than talk about it.

This either ended here, or it didn't. Time to choose a side, Mycroft had told him once. He'd thought it was a daft thing to say, until he'd realized that when you chose the side of someone like Sherlock Holmes, you were choosing it all the way. Even if it took you to some strange places.

Like shooting a man through glass, or turning yourself into a suicide bomber.

"A bit of luck you were there," John said, carefully.

Sherlock swallowed. "Was it?"

"I think so. Yes."

"Ah," Sherlock said, and his tongue darted out to moisten his lips, just a little. "Then you're not going to..."

Not going to yell, not going to break something, not going to storm out of the flat. Not going to take this away from you, John thought. Whatever the hell this was.

"What?"

"Nothing," he said, and looked down at his tea as if he'd never seen it before in his life. "I should..."

"How's the shock?" John asked.

Sherlock frowned, as if, now that the panic was wearing off, he didn't particularly like the idea that John had seen it. Or anything else. "I'm fine," he said, clattering the mug carelessly onto the mantelpiece and slopping tea over its lip as it went. "And now that we've concluded the portion of the evening that required rescuing you from a social life gone hideously awry, I have work to do."

"Anything I can help with?"

Sherlock was already buried in some papers. "If you can manage to sit very still and not get mugged again, that would be fantastic."

Fantastic. Sherlock had been tailing him, for lack of a better word, and now he was getting the cold shoulder for it. So much for expressing solidarity. "Right," John said, rising. "I'm off to bed."

"That will do as well."

John started off towards his room. Then he stopped. This still wasn't right. Sherlock's mouth was set, his shoulders high and defensive. He wasn't getting across what he wanted to. Probably because Sherlock was determined not to let him say anything about it, but still. "Tomorrow I should probably let the local know about Peter, though. I'm sure I'm not the first guy he's taken off there."

Sherlock's eyes widened, ever so slightly, as he looked over his shoulder at John. "You're going back, then?"

John shrugged, but kept his gaze straight at Sherlock. "Why wouldn't I? Nice place, I always have a good time there..."

"Oh," Sherlock said, "oh." He stood, lost in thought, for a moment, a faint smile slowly curling onto his face. Then he shook off the abstraction, and the smile he directed at John now verged on the sly. "No reason. No reason at all."


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