Rating: Hard R
Trope: Reichenbach feels, supernatural incidences
Summary: "Anything, Sherlock, I'd give anything..."
A/N: So, I've been sitting on this forever. Bout time to release it into the wild. And if the title isn't working for you, clicky here.
The devil is a man in a brown tweed suit. He wears a ratty tie tucked into his shirt-front, has a mustard stain on his lapel, and his shoes are scuffed. The little brass pitchfork cuff-links are really over-doing it, but John supposes that Lucifer has never exactly been renowned for his good taste.
Sherlock would be able to look at him and tell exactly what flavor mustard it was, what caused each of the individual scuffs on the imitation leather loafers that keep twitching nervously under the table.
But Sherlock... is not here.
Sherlock asked him once, why he'd done it- why he'd shot a man in cold blood the first night they knew each other.
"It's not like you just happened upon it, John- you followed me, deliberately, with your gun in hand."
John nodded thoughtfully.
"It's not something I can really explain, Sherlock. I'm not even sure I remember it all that well- the adrenaline, you know. When it fades, the memories can, too."
Sherlock leaned forward, his steady gaze focused intently on John's face.
John sipped his tea, thought for a minute. Considered the words.
"You have to understand- it wasn't really a thought process, not really- my brain doesn't process that quickly..." Sherlock snickered, and John rolled his eyes. "What I mean is, it wasn't like I stood there and went, 'Oh, dear me, I suspect this bloke's got himself in a bit of trouble, perhaps I'll just nip upstairs and grab me gun and go see if I can't settle things amicably'". Sherlock was out and out laughing at this point, and John took a moment to grin at him before sobering. "It was instinctual. I knew, I just knew, with complete clarity, that something awful was going to happen, and that there was no time to pause, and then all I could do was act. All I could do was come after you." He paused again, feeling his limbs settle into stillness as he remembered the tableau in the window opposite, as he remembered raising his gun, taking aim. "And Sherlock, it made me so goddamn mad, I was just furious at the thought of it, that someone might even consider taking you out, that they would destroy you... I couldn't do anything but shoot. It was never even an option."
Sherlock stared at him seriously for a moment, the silence stretched out between them.
"I was right, though, you know."
"Oh, you utter arse!" John lobbed the pillow at him, and Sherlock collapsed sideways onto the couch laughing.
His smile is oily, his teeth yellowed and ever-so-slightly crooked. It's a good disguise, John thinks. No one would look twice at this man. He's not ugly enough to be memorable, not attractive enough to be noticed. He is the epitome of the obnoxiously unassuming, and he sits across from John fidgeting with his tie.
John nods, once. An acknowledgement. It all feels surreal; the fluorescent lighting, the greasy table in front of him. Then again, he's been living in a waking nightmare since... since... since "keep your eyes on me, John", since... "he's my friend". It can't get any stranger or any worse, not in any way that John can conceive of.
The man smiles toothily at him, as though he's listening quietly to every thought.
He probably is.
He'd never thought of himself as a greedy man. He'd grown up solidly lower middle class, and accepted it with the same equanimity that he'd accepted most other things. Some people had more money, and some people had less, and on it went. He didn't bother thinking about it much either way, really.
The army had been an equalizer- even if some folks had more in their bank accounts than others, they were all still eating the same shite day in and day out. They all got shot at. They all bled red.
But Sherlock... is another story altogether.
Maybe it's because it came so soon after John had to have a real heart-to-heart with his bank account. He'd always heard those stories about Americans, the poor gits, who had to choose between food and medication; he's not there, not quite, thank God, but he was having to choose between eating yet another tin of beans or moving to the countryside and throwing in the towel altogether. Or perhaps not moving and not continuing to eat, but that was a different story entirely.
The point is, he was pinching every penny that crossed his palm, and here's Sherlock, with his ridiculous coat, and his wanton destruction. Worse, even, was Mycroft, with his casual assumption that commoners can be bought. It rubbed, it rankled, and in the midst of it all, this horrid toff at the bank handed him a check for more money than he is entitled to in a year.
His first instinct was two-fold: to pocket it immediately, and to tear it up.
He pocketed it instead, because the lower middle class can't be choosers, and besides, it's not his money to do anything with. It's Sherlock's.
It's Sherlock's, and John wanted it.
He wanted it, and he was ashamed of it, deeply ashamed of it. He was never like this before. "Pay my poverty" indeed, he thought, and left the check on the kitchen table where it was safe from him.
He still wanted it.
It wasn't something that had ever occurred to him. He'd been raised Catholic, sure, but like most of the rest of them in Britain these days, he was churched in certificate only. Even as a child, though, he doesn't think he'd ever put much stock in the devil. Lucifer. Evil Incarnate.
"I always did prefer Mephistopheles, actually." The man takes a noisy slurp from his coffee, wiping his sleeve across his chin where a drip has run down. "I understand you're here to make a deal, no? One for one?" He pats his ratty briefcase on the bench beside him. "I took the liberty of bringing along the usual paperwork. If you're ready to begin?"
John looks at him. What would Sherlock see if he could look at this man? What would he notice?
It was never like this in the army, John thought. It was clean lines, clean hands, clean teeth. Hospital corners, sterile surfaces, boots all in a row. Not like here, where Sherlock spills off the couch in a sprawling slide, blue dressing gown akimbo and bare feet on the back of the couch. The flat is an utter disaster like this, after a case. Books, papers, and assorted body parts cover every surface. Last night's take-away cartons have scattered across the table and fallen onto the floor, grains of rice already ground into the rug. There's a mild stench in the kitchen from the last time someone opened the fridge, and the toilet won't stop running.
He doesn't care.
His pants are three days old at the least, his eyes are gummy from having slept in his chair. He can feel the fuzz on his teeth, and when he breathes into his hand and inhales, it makes his eyes water. Sherlock's worse; John doesn't think he's even taken off his blood-soaked socks.
He should feel ashamed, he knows. And some small, distant part of him does. The part that his mother raised properly. The part that liked to shine his boots.
That tiny bit of shame though, it just doesn't compare to the pure bliss of indolence. The lounging about after a case in their underwear, the eating delivery Chinese until he can't possibly face another egg roll or he'll be sick. The shared moments of nothingness that Sherlock will only allow to last for this long, and no longer.
It's hideous and indulgent and ridiculous in men of their age.
He wouldn't trade it for anything.
Selling a soul is apparently a rather mundane business- it hadn't even occurred to him that it was possible, at all. It was pure chance, or, he supposes, not really chance at all- it was one of the times he was at the grave. Who knows which time; he's been there lots of late. He can't remember now quite what it was that he'd said; it was all variations on a theme, really. I miss you. How could you, you absolute shit. You left me. I loved you. I'd give anything- anything, Sherlock. Anything.
The first time he sees her, really sees her, she's nude as the day she was born and perched astride Sherlock's knees. It's a miracle he doesn't drop the bowl, really; they should be pleased with him for that.
There's the initial shock, of course- it's not every day that one sees such a perfected specimen of the opposite sex in the all-together. But then it hits him, deep in the gut, the twisting sensation he knows so well. He wants to be in that position, he wants to be involved, he wants to not be the forever outsider trailing along just behind, two steps late, two breaths undone.
It's not till later that he realizes that he's not entirely sure at whom that sudden punch of envy was directed.
He figures it out. After all, it's not like The Woman just disappears after that. No, no- first she texts Sherlock heaven-only-knows-what all autumn, then she fakes her own death, leaving Sherlock in a state John's never seen. It twists the knife in his belly, the one that now knows it was not Sherlock he was envying for having a beautiful courtesan on his knees, but rather @thewhiphand herself, for having all of that attention not only directed at her, but following her, chasing her, longing after her.
Then she's got the utter gall to turn back up, and John is beyond pissed. He may be an idiot (most people are, after all), but he knows right from wrong, and stringing Sherlock along like she's done is not ok. He still feels queasy with the looks Sherlock gives her, and finds himself unable to breathe normally when they're all in the same room.
It hurts. He won't lie. Sherlock's first affaire de couer since John's been around, and it hurts.
Still, for all of that, he's saddened when Mycroft hands him the folder. He has a tremendous amount of respect for Irene Adler, all complications of sentiment aside, and he feels no joy at her passing.
The man had coughed awkwardly, startling John and annoying him. Was a little privacy really so much to ask in a bloody graveyard, for fuck's sake? He looked up to see a weasely man in a bad suit smiling that vaguely ingratiating smile at him, and holding out a business card. He's too polite to do anything other than take it, so he does, squinting at the cheap and slightly smeared red ink.
"I'm sorry, I couldn't help but overhear...and..."
L. Mephistopheles, E.D.
Prince of Light, Bargainer Extraordinaire.
"Is this some kind of sick joke?" John could feel his temper getting the better of him, his hand going still as he stared at the man who raised his hands in a gesture of calm. "Just... an offer." He turned and began to walk away. "Think it over. John."
It must be pheromones, it's all he can think. They've lived together nearly a year now, and it's slowly grown on him; it pervades the flat, it pervades the taxis they're in, it even pervades John's clothes at this point, for fuck's sake. He can be at work, and the heater kicks on, blowing the scent of his overcoat toward him, and there it is: Sherlock.
John's not a fool, regardless of what Sherlock may say. He recognized from the first that Sherlock is an attractive man. He's also an adult, and not ruled by his dick. Yes, fine, he likes attractive women. That doesn't mean he's not fully in control of his actions.
Well, John had been in control of his actions anyway.
The first time he does it, he curls up with embarrassment afterward, binning the tissues he'd used to clean up his mess. At some point after the third time he'd realized how completely ridiculous it was that he was worried about what Sherlock would think about him wanking to images of Sherlock's fingers on the fret board. Sherlock treats everything relating to sex with equal disdain and impersonality; he might be disgusted at the idea of John fantasizing about him, but it would be about John having the baser impulses, full stop, not about John involving Sherlock's shapely wrists or plump arse or unending expanse of bare chest or...
After that little epiphany he pulls himself off three times a week to images of Sherlock in various states of déshabillé, and doesn't bother to hide the evidence.
It had gotten progressively worse, though- somehow Sherlock's scent was becoming omnipresent, winding its way into John's nose, his pillow, his increasingly wet dreams. It's like he's a teenager again, consumed with desire, pulsing with fervor and blood. He can barely keep himself in check, begins begging off cases to work at the clinic. Sherlock's eyes (sweet fuck, those eyes) narrow at him, but even more than Sherlock's disapproval John fears popping a stiffy at some dreadful murder scene just because Sherlock's bent over and presented John with the seam-straining roundness of his bum.
He stays home, and takes himself in hand again and again and again.
When the man had disappeared not twenty meters in front of him in a burst of light and sulfur out of a bad horror movie, John had taken himself home and had a stiff drink. Then another. Then two more, just to make sure the first two had made it down.
He sits on the couch, or rather, he leans on the couch, and squints at the little card in his hand. It's absolutely ludicrous, this.
There's no way it can be true, and he's only going to look an utter fool if he calls the ball-pointed number scribbled on the back of it. It's some wanker's idea of a funny prank, there's no way it can be anything else. No way.
Anything, Sherlock. Anything.
The phone is warmer than usual in his hand as he calls, waits for the pickup.
At some point Sherlock figures it out, and confronts him. John's fuzzy on the details, largely because Sherlock confronts him about his wanking habit whilst naked, and, well, the adrenaline and oxytocin and serotonin produced in the outcome of that particular encounter leave him a bit bereft of the whys and wherefores. Fortunately he's very, very clear on the hows and therefores, so really, it's not a loss he's much concerned with.
It's almost like a counterpart to their post-case lassitude, except they've replaced the filthy underpants with utterly ruined sheets.
He can't get enough, feels like he'll never get enough, there can never be enough of Sherlock for him. His long bony feet, the concavity behind his knees. The sound of his voice when he has just awoken, the texture of his completely riotous post-coitus curls. The taste of his cock. John wants him, continues to want him, time and again, and every time he reaches out, Sherlock comes to him, rising to meet John's flesh with his own, tumbling them back and down to the mattress. It's like thirty plus years of being apart have to be made up for, right now, right here, by urgent press of skin to skin to skin. It's days before they really come up for air, weeks before they can stand to be more than a foot apart. Every touch is an invitation, every press a promise. It's like nothing John's ever known, and all he can think is more.
And here they are, in this terrible little cafe, and here is this paperwork, that looks as though it's been run off on a printer suffering from a case of the trots. He hasn't read the papers all that closely; he's sure that's a mistake, but he can't bring himself to care. Because the thing about selling his soul is, if Sherlock's dead? John's soulless already. How to sign over something that's already been ripped from you?
"Got a pen?"
There's a sudden stab in his forefinger, and he shouldn't be surprised. The man simpers at him from across the slightly sticky formica.
"Sorry about that. It's tradition, you see. If you could just initial there... and... there." The man beams, but John feels no different. "We're all done here! A pleasure doing business with you, an absolute pleasure!"
The man stands, bumping his tea and sloshing it. He awkwardly holds out a hand to shake, brushing the crumbs off his pants with the other. "I imagine you'll be wanting to head home."
John just nods, and heads for the door.
He didn't think he was better than everyone else; of course not.
Sherlock, though- Sherlock was better than everyone else, no question, and John might have been the first person to ever be proud of him for it. It was amazing how Sherlock responded to that, right from the start. It broke John's heart the way Sherlock wanted someone to be proud of him.
It was more than that, though. He was an honest man, was John, and he wouldn't lie and say it didn't make him feel proud to be at Sherlock's side. It was an honor, it really was, to be the one person in the known world that Sherlock willingly associated with, whom he trusted with his vulnerabilities, whose advice he sought. Sherlock was better than anyone around, and who did Sherlock choose to be with? Yeah.
When they became... more obviously enmeshed with each other, the effect was only heightened, really. Now John was not only Sherlock's trusty sidekick/dogsbody/pr manager, he was also the one person in the last decade that Sherlock had willing touched sexually, and the only person to whom Sherlock had ever seemed to form an intense emotional devotion. It stroked his ego and no mistake- who wouldn't be pleased to have a deathly gorgeous mad genius following them around and waking up in their bed? Admittedly, Sherlock had his downsides, but Christ, had you ever gotten a look at him in the nude? It made John preen more than a little, the thought that out of all the more intelligent, more attractive persons in the world, Sherlock. Chose. Him.
Even over Moriarty, Sherlock chose him.
At the front door, he hesitates. It can't be more than a fever dream, really, and it hurts that he's so desperate to play along, even after months. He opens the door, and climbs the stairs resolutely. The best way to get this little delusion over with is to do it quickly. On the other hand, if he's so depressed he's hallucinating, it really can't get much worse, he supposes. The only way from the bottom is up. Right?
He opens the door and shuffles in, turning his back to hang up his coat before he registers the drape of blue across the sofa, realizes that he can hear the breathing of another body.
"John? Where have you been? You've been out all afterno... John? John?"
He can feel that the floor is now under his knees and not his feet, but it seems irrelevant when faced with the sight and touch of warm fingers covering his own where they've landed palms down on the floor.
He raises his face.
"John? Why are you crying? John?"