Title: The story of ink
Word count: approx. 6,400
Summary: Sometimes, when Sherlock is bored or thoughtful or wants someone to complain to, he takes a trip next door to visit John Watson. And sometimes, John paints Sherlock.
A/N: AU, obviously. written for this prompt at sherlockbbc_fic. I actually finished this forever ago, forgot about it, and then stumbled upon it again, as it happens quite often. so, I thought I'd dust this off and polish it up all nice and shiny to post. so, without further ado, here is my obligatory fandom artist!au. enjoy~
ETA: now with bonus fanart by theshockblanket! (spoilers!) alksdjlgakd seriously it's so beautiful go look
Sherlock meets John the day John moves in next door. Mrs. Hudson, the landlady, brings John to Sherlock’s door and introduces them both, insisting that neighbors should know each other on a first name basis, because it’s only proper and they’re both such nice men; they should be friends. And John just smiles politely and sticks his hand out for Sherlock to shake.
“I’m John,” he says.
“Fascinating,” Sherlock replies, not even bothering to conceal his boredom with such banal acts as introductions.
“He’s an artist,” Mrs. Hudson tells Sherlock, and she smiles fondly at John. “Aren’t you, Mr. Watson?”
“I’m a painter,” John says, and then he smiles at both of them to excuse himself. “I’ll just go and, uh, start unpacking my things then.”
John nods politely at the two of them and then heads off to his own flat, the door softly clicking shut behind him. Mrs. Hudson smiles fondly at John’s retreating form.
“I thought it’d be nice if you got to know each other,” she says to Sherlock and pats his arm. “It’s about time you had some neighbors.”
Sherlock frowns at Mrs. Hudson, because any neighbors he’s had in the past have all eventually left because Sherlock is strange and doesn’t sleep much and sometimes makes small explosions in his kitchen-turned-laboratory and he’s pretty much the worst neighbor ever, and Sherlock honestly doesn’t expect John to stay for long, but then a week passes and then two and three and John is still here, and Sherlock thinks, well, then.
It’s probably pretty fair to say that Sherlock all but bullies his way into John’s life. In the first weeks that John is Sherlock’s neighbor, Sherlock runs into John a few times when he goes to pick up mail or is forced to get groceries, and each time John just smiles kindly at Sherlock like they’ve known each other for years and Sherlock feels something go funny in his chest, something that has no logical reason to happen, because all that nonsense in romance novels about ‘fluttering hearts’ doesn’t actually happen in real life. And Sherlock knows this, of course he does, but it doesn’t stop the way he suddenly wants to know more and more about John, the way he lingers in the landing when John’s heading out and he’s just coming back in himself.
“John,” Sherlock says one day when he hears John coming up the stairs to their floor. John’s coming up with groceries in hand and Sherlock pretends like he’s just coming back in himself, trying not to seem like he’s been waiting or anything. It’s a strange feeling, this wanting to seem normal and likeable for someone.
John pauses in his task of fumbling around in his pocket for his keys and looks up at Sherlock with an expression of pleasant surprise.
“Oh!” John exclaims. “Sherlock. Hello.”
Sherlock tries for a smile, and it winds up feeling awkward on his face from lack of practice.
“Hello,” Sherlock says, and he doesn’t know where to go from here, because he hadn’t planned this far, hadn’t actually betted on catching John at the right moment.
“Can I help you with something?” John asks, always kind, even though Sherlock has never done anything to get on his good graces.
Sherlock opens his mouth to speak but finds that the words keep getting stuck in his throat and all that comes out is an inelegant jumble of half-words and stuttered sentences. Sherlock clears his throat and frowns, terribly upset that he’s making such a fool of himself. He half expects John to just laugh in his face and be off on his way but John just waits patiently and smiles and gives Sherlock a moment to collect himself again.
“You said you’re an artist,” Sherlock says, finally finding his voice again.
“I am,” John says.
“Could I, perhaps, see some of your work?” Sherlock asks, because that ought to be suitable to say to an artist, even though Sherlock has never had much interest in art himself.
From the way John’s expression lights up, though, this was indeed the right thing to say. John smiles and unlocks his door, motioning for Sherlock to follow him.
“Of course,” John says. He smiles slightly sheepishly back at Sherlock as he hurries into the kitchen to set down his grocery bags on the counter. “Sorry about the mess. I’m not used to having company over.”
And as Sherlock looks around the flat, at the books stacked up in tidy piles on tabletops and along the wall, the half unpacked boxes that remain in the corners of the rooms, the canvases lying about, leaning against the walls and hung up crookedly, Sherlock thinks that it’s really not so bad, not compared to his own flat, in which nearly every surface is covered with various books and newspapers and half-finished experiments, forgotten cups of tea and dirty dishes, things he’s put off doing because he’s always got more important things to do than tidy up.
“It’s fine,” Sherlock hears himself saying, and John smiles.
“This way,” John says, leading Sherlock through the living room into a room in the back, filled with stacks of canvases, blank and otherwise, cans of paint piled up along the sides of the room. “This is supposed to be a study of sorts, I think, but Mrs. Hudson was kind enough to allow me to convert it into my at home art studio.”
John goes on to start showing some of his work to Sherlock, pulling out canvases filled with beautiful explosions of color and imagery and symbolism that Sherlock doesn’t understand and will never understand, but Sherlock is too distracted by the animated, fervent light John’s eyes have taken on, the way he gestures wildly and speaks with the kind of passion Sherlock isn’t sure he’s ever known. And then after that, John asks if Sherlock would like to stay for tea, to which Sherlock replies yes before he can even think about it, and when Sherlock leaves, John tells Sherlock that he’s welcome to come over whenever, and somehow that leads to Sherlock having dinner at John’s several times every week because John can cook far better than Sherlock could ever hope to. Sherlock gets used to seeing John walking around his flat in sock feet and paint splattered clothing and a paintbrush tucked behind his ear, and it’s all pretty much a lost cause from there on out.
The first time John paints Sherlock, Sherlock doesn’t even notice, not really, until he hears the telltale click of John’s paintbrush against the bowl of water he keeps by his palette to clean off his brush. It’s just that Sherlock is terribly bored and John is basically his best friend (only friend, actually, if he thinks about it) and he’s lived right next door for more than six months, so Sherlock just thinks what the hell and just goes for it. And that’s how Sherlock winds up in John’s flat in not much more than his pajamas and his favorite blue silk dressing gown, sprawled all over John’s couch and staring up at the ceiling as he complains about whatever comes to mind. And then the next thing Sherlock knows when he looks over at John, John is sitting cross-legged in the middle of his living room floor with a canvas propped up on his knees with his paints spread out all about him. The tip of his tongue is poking out from his mouth and his eyebrows are furrowed in that way he gets when he’s trying to focus. For a moment, Sherlock is too distracted by the way John is frowning at his painting with such intense concentration and the deft flick of his paintbrush against canvas to realize what’s going on.
“John,” Sherlock says.
“Painting,” John replies simply, scooping up a dollop of deep blue paint with his brush.
“Me?” Sherlock asks, because he can’t see what’s so interesting about him, not when John can paint anything he likes with the utmost precision, even impossible things that never existed. John paints such lovely abstract, surrealist artwork. Why should John decide to paint Sherlock?
“The light is nice,” John says by way of explanation. John stopped bothering to try to explain his artistic fancies when Sherlock discounted all of them as simply human whimsy, entirely irrational and so utterly unscientific.
Sherlock hums and continues watching as John adds daubs of color to his canvas to capture whatever image he’s found lovely today. After a moment, John glances up and his eyes pause on Sherlock’s face, quietly contemplative in the way that always makes Sherlock’s breath catch.
“Could you turn your face up again?” John asks finally, tapping the end of his paintbrush against his lower lip.
Sherlock opens his mouth to protest and say something indignant about how no one tells him what to do, but he stops himself before the words leave his mouth and he just nods and turns his face just like John asked. Sherlock hears John make a sort of pleased humming sound and the familiar swish of his paintbrush against canvas fills the air again. Sherlock sighs and closes his eyes.
“What do you do, Sherlock?” John asks Sherlock one day as he tries to wrestle a canvas nearly twice his height into submission. It’s for a new project, he says, and yes, the canvas has to be this big; he’ll paint standing on a ladder if he has to.
“I’m a detective of sorts,” Sherlock says from where he’s perched on John’s favorite armchair, watching with amusement as John tries to get the canvas to stay upright and not fall over on top of him.
“Ah,” John says. “That’s why the police are always coming by, then? Good to know you’re not a criminal or something.”
Sherlock finds himself smiling at that comment despite himself and doesn’t bother to mention that at this point he’s probably broken more laws trying to solve cases than John could count.
John makes a sort of cheer of triumph and steps back from the canvas, which very dutifully stays upright, leaning against the wall. He grins victoriously at the canvas with his hands on his hips, very proud of himself indeed, and then slips off to go find his paints and wherever he put his ladder and Sherlock just smiles. John never does ask again about Sherlock’s work, but he lets Sherlock bounce ideas off of him when he’s stuck and replies to questions about serial killers and missing children and stolen treasures like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Sherlock’s quite sure he’s never met anyone quite like John Watson, and a little part of him, irrationally, wants to keep John forever, like he’s something precious to be hidden away and fawned over. It’s a silly idea, but Sherlock can’t seem to let it go.
“Hot,” Sherlock complains as he flops down in John’s armchair, all long limbs and awkward angles.
John chuckles and motions to what Sherlock is wearing. “You could wear something cooler, you know,” he says. “Don’t you own any summer clothing?”
Sherlock just gives John a look and John laughs. Sherlock watches with mild interest as John bustles about, puttering restlessly around his flat to find a blank canvas and wherever he left his paintbrushes last time he painted. John’s forgone wearing a shirt today since temperatures have hit a record high, and the display of bare, tan skin pulled taught over solid muscle is more than a little bit distracting. Sherlock blinks, twice, and looks away.
“Don’t you have air conditioning?” Sherlock asks, closing his eyes. Something about the heat always makes him sleepy, slower than usual, and he doesn’t like it one bit.
“Broken,” John murmurs. Sherlock cracks an eye open and spies John setting up his easel. “I’ve got to get that fixed,” John says, mostly to himself. “I keep forgetting.”
Sherlock lets his eye slip shut again. He hears the faint sound of a soft pencil scratching against the canvas surface as John draws in the basic shapes of what he wants to paint. Before long, the familiar swish of John gently dabbling his brush against the canvas surface fills the air, and Sherlock sighs. It’s almost soothing, in a way, and he could probably fall asleep right now if it weren’t so damn hot and uncomfortable. As it is, though, Sherlock just lets himself fall into one of those rare states of peace, letting his ever-buzzing thoughts slow to a halt. It’s not something he lets himself do often (bad for brainwork), but it’s nice once in a while, he supposes, to be able to stop the cacophony of noise constantly clouding his mind. It’s something he’s always found difficult to do, but it’s not so much of a struggle when John is there, humming odd songs under his breath and being so utterly ordinary and brilliant, creating explosions of his own with paint on canvas.
“Sherlock,” John says quietly after some time.
Sherlock hums and opens his eyes. John tilts his head to one side and frowns.
“Are you staying for dinner?” John asks absently, dabbing a bit of bright canary yellow onto his canvas. Sherlock wonders where John sees that color in him.
“Yes,” Sherlock says, because he’s not sure what he’ll do otherwise, because he doesn’t want to do otherwise, because he’s grown so used to being here for dinner that he doesn’t want to go anywhere else.
John smiles at Sherlock and nods and says that maybe they should get Chinese, and Sherlock mentions that you can always tell how good a Chinese restaurant is by the lower third of the door handle and John just laughs and says that’s impossible, it has to be, and really, does Sherlock just make this stuff up on the spot? Sherlock lets his head loll to one side and flashes a cheeky grin, which makes John throw a nearby book at him and tell him to stop moving because he’s messing up John’s reference. And if it were anyone else, Sherlock probably would have told them off because he hates being told what to do, but as it is, Sherlock just smiles and moves his head back into place.
Sherlock has seen John paint things before, seen the way he frowns at his canvas with such concentration that he forgets about everything else, doesn’t hear when Sherlock knocks, so Sherlock just lets himself in and waltzes about John’s flat and sprawls all over John’s furniture and sometimes John looks up hours later and jumps in surprise, blinking at Sherlock with wide, surprised eyes, all hazy from staring at the same thing for too long. Sherlock likes it, watching as John slowly, slowly layers beautiful, bright, brilliant colors over each other to make the perfect hues. John works so slowly, often only filling up the slimmest fraction of canvas in an hour’s time, so carefully and meticulously creating the most whimsical, fantastical images out of nothing.
“Where do you get these ideas from?” Sherlock asks John one day while he’s going through some of John’s things, looking through old paintings and sketches and some of the random books John has strewn about. “The paintings.”
John looks up from his laptop and shrugs. “It’s hard to say,” John says. “My dreams, maybe? I just get these images in my head sometimes, and I get this feeling like I have to paint it or I won’t be able to get a moment’s peace. It’s difficult to explain, really.”
Sherlock hums and continues paging through an anthology of short fiction he found on John’s coffee table. John turns back to his laptop and continues typing in his maddeningly slow manner. Eventually, John stands and asks Sherlock if he’d like some tea, and Sherlock says sure and tosses the book back onto the coffee table. Sherlock closes his eyes and sighs. John brings Sherlock tea just the way he likes it, and Sherlock absolutely does not smile because he looks ridiculous when he smiles but John grins at him anyways and starts chattering away about something or another and Sherlock just sits back and sips his tea and lets John’s voice wash over him in waves, quiet and relentless and soothing like nothing else Sherlock has ever known.
Sherlock doesn’t mean to set his kitchen on fire. It’s just that he’s doing an experiment and it may or may not have gotten a bit out of control and it unexpectedly explodes, and then before he knows it his entire kitchen is going up in flames and the fire department is being called and he’s being told that his flat is now deemed a safety hazard and he’ll not be able to live in it until the kitchen and anything else that’s been damaged gets repaired. Sherlock puts up a fuss about it and pouts when Mrs. Hudson tells him it’s for the best really, no good in having him get hurt trying to live in the wreck his flat has become. He’s still pouting when John approaches him and asks if he’s alright and if he needs a place to stay.
“I’ve got a spare room and everything,” John says. “You’re welcome to come stay with me while your flat gets fixed up, if you like.”
Sherlock’s ears perk up at that and his stomach does a funny swooping thing that stomachs shouldn’t be able to do, and he’s so excited about the prospect of moving in with John for a while that he doesn’t even hear Mrs. Hudson call to him that the police want to speak with him until John points it out, and Sherlock just scowls and pretends like he was ignoring the police this whole time. And that’s how, several hours later, after he’s spoken to the police and been checked up on by the paramedics, Sherlock is moving into the spare room of John’s flat with nothing more than maybe a few changes of clothes, his laptop, and his violin.
“I hope this is alright,” John says as he shows Sherlock in. The room is decently sized and tidy and has the air of somewhere no one’s been in for a long time. “Might want to open a window, let in some air. I’ve never really used this room before.”
“It’s fine,” Sherlock says, and he flops down casually on the bed. John chuckles and tells Sherlock dinner will be ready in half an hour. Sherlock doesn’t let himself grin until John has turned away to walk out of the room, and Sherlock thinks that maybe it’s just as well that he blew up his kitchen. He thinks he’s going to rather enjoy this.
Sherlock falls into something of a routine, carving himself a comfortable little niche within John’s flat. When he does sleep, he sleeps in late into the day because he stays up till ridiculous hours each night reading and thinking and wondering, and when he wakes up, John’s usually making lunch or coming back from running errands or getting the mail. And they’ll eat together and John will chatter on about his latest artistic whim or read the day’s paper aloud. John will bug Sherlock about the fact that he never sleeps enough or eats regularly, and Sherlock will just smile serenely all the while, knowing that he won’t change a single thing about his habits. And the rest of their day varies, but John usually paints or sketches a bit and sometimes sits around on his laptop, and Sherlock lies around and makes comments on the bad shows that John likes to watch. Or sometimes Sherlock has a case and he’s out and about at all hours for days on end and then does nothing but sleep and laze around the flat for the next week until another case turns up for him to solve. Sherlock imagines he must be a rather unpleasant person to have as a flatmate, but John never seems to mind.
Sherlock grows so comfortable in John’s flat, in fact, that as the weeks pass, he stops thinking about it as much as John’s flat and more as their flat, filled with their things, their space. Which is a little bit ridiculous, considering that he doesn’t know what to call him and John. Flatmates, definitely. Friends, maybe, only Sherlock doesn’t really have friends. But where does that leave Sherlock? Lounging all over the furniture, trying to catch the attention of someone who likely sees him as nothing more than just the guy who lives next door. And it sounds an awful lot like pining, and Sherlock absolutely does not pine, because he’s an adult and pining is absolutely unreasonable and so not what Sherlock ever does, so Sherlock tries not to think about it too much.
Something like three weeks after Sherlock moves in with John, the contractors notify Sherlock that his flat is fixed and habitable again. Sherlock conveniently neglects to mention this to John.
“I’m just going to pop out for a bit,” John says as Sherlock stumbles into the kitchen at some ridiculously late hour of the day.
Sherlock blinks at John and flops down into a chair by the kitchen table.
“There’s some risotto left over from last night, so just heat that up if you want something to eat,” John says distractedly, gathering his things and slipping on his coat. “I just have a few things to do. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
Sherlock nods and watches as John leaves and then wonders what he’s supposed to do until John comes back. When he doesn’t have a case to solve, he usually sleeps through John’s errands so that by the time he wakes up, John’s already back and sitting on the couch Indian-style with his laptop or watching telly or something and Sherlock will find some way to insinuate himself into John’s space and make John laugh in that way that makes the smile lines crease around his eyes. Sherlock’s not used to having so much empty space to fill on his own and it makes him a little uneasy.
Sherlock makes himself coffee and heats up the risotto but doesn’t end up eating much of it. He goes through all of John’s books and then reorganizes them on the bookshelf in a way that only he’ll understand, a way that will probably make John angry when he finds out. Sherlock frowns at the cat shaped pillow on John’s armchair and John’s assortment of charcoal pencils scattered across the coffee table. He picks up a pencil and twirls it between his fingers for a moment before dropping it again and going to peek out the window to see if he can spot John coming down the block. When he finds that he can’t, Sherlock sighs and paces restlessly around the flat, humming nonsensically to himself. He thinks about fiddling around with his violin for a while to pass the time but eventually decides against it, thoughts too scattered to muster up the energy to think up a piece to play.
Eventually, Sherlock winds up in John’s at home art studio, the room Sherlock has been in the least, with the exception of perhaps John’s bedroom (but that doesn’t bear thinking about). Sherlock gazes around the room, at the plain walls colored with an odd splatter of paint here and there and the blank canvases stacked carefully on the far side of the room, pristine and white, waiting to be filled with life. And then scattered about, sitting quietly to dry before John comes back to layer on more paints, are some half-finished paintings that John keeps meaning to get back to but never quite finishes because he keeps getting distracted by all the new ideas that pop into his head.
Sherlock pokes around, peeking at the washes of color John has so painstakingly woven together, and his eyes fall upon a number of canvases all stacked up together, hidden off to the side, carefully sectioned off like something precious. Curious, Sherlock steps over and slides a couple of the canvases out to take a look. Sherlock’s spine stiffens when he sees the image before him, because, well, it’s him. It’s him from a few days ago, violin lifted up to the junction of his chin and shoulder, when he’d played hours of music trying to clear his head enough to think rationally about a case involving a disappeared woman in her late-forties and her five missing cats, and John had sat quietly and painted him.
And it’s not just the one painting that John has tucked away; it’s dozens, all of the paintings of Sherlock sprawled all over John’s flat, indolent and impatient, and there are a few that Sherlock doesn’t remember John painting, small canvases that map out the curve of Sherlock’s most secret smile, the exact shade of his eyes, the tips of his fingers as he holds his bow over violin strings. Little stolen moments that Sherlock can hardly even remember, and there are so many of them, a collection of treasured things, that Sherlock, for once, doesn’t know what to make of it.
A soft laugh from the door makes Sherlock jump in surprise and almost drop the paintings in surprise. He turns around and he finds John leaning against the doorframe, arms folded across his chest, gazing over at Sherlock with a very amused expression on his face.
“I was only looking,” Sherlock says and then stops, because he’s not sure why he’s trying to justify himself to John. His voice echoes strangely in his ears and his heart rate has picked up, and he knows what this means, of course he knows what this means. He’s known for a while now. He just hasn’t been able to admit it to himself.
John laughs and walks over to where Sherlock is. He picks up one of the paintings with a sort of reverent care and smiles softly at it for a moment before putting it back.
“Caught you off guard, didn’t I? I suppose I should be proud of that. It’s quite an accomplishment, if I do say so myself,” John says, sounding quite pleased. He gestures to Sherlock’s surprised expression and grins. “It’s a good look on you, though. You should try it more often.”
Sherlock eyes John, the familiar kind smile and warm, dark eyes. There’s something different now in the way John holds himself, the way his body is angled towards Sherlock and his eyes keep darting back to Sherlock’s face. Sherlock squints at John, sees the way John’s fingers drum along the canvases, the hopeful curve in his smile.
“Something’s changed,” Sherlock says suddenly. “Something happened. Did something happen?”
John blinks, taken aback by Sherlock’s sudden change in subject, but in all honestly he’s probably fairly used to it by now because Sherlock has a tendency to do that, and then John just laughs.
“What do you mean?” John asks.
Sherlock frowns at John. “You’re flirting with me,” Sherlock says. “You never flirt with me. Something’s different.”
John laughs again, cheeks vaguely flushing a pretty pink. “I ran into Mrs. Hudson on my way in,” John says ever so casually. He smiles slyly. “She told me something rather interesting. Apparently, your flat’s been fixed up for more than a month now. And yet you’re still here.”
John raises an eyebrow at Sherlock and the corner of his mouth is curved up just so, and then it clicks. Of course, of course, it’s so obvious. John hasn’t ever even tried flirting with Sherlock before because Sherlock hadn’t had any sort of indication that he had any interest in John, and John, always pragmatic, always reasonable and practical and grounded, hadn’t acted because he didn’t want to stir up anything, didn’t want to make trouble where there was none, because their situation had been fine, nice even, perfectly pleasant. But this, this one thing, this way Sherlock keeps lingering way after he has to, the way he steals little moments to keep because he’s not sure how else to go about this, this is a sure sign, one no one could miss. John laughs again and leans forward to press a kiss to Sherlock’s lips, brief and feather-light, soft and gentle and sure like everything else about John.
“Could I borrow you for a moment?” John asks, his lips just brushing against Sherlock’s in the most distracting way.
“What for?” Sherlock asks, blinking rapidly at John. He feels suddenly light-headed and he’s not entirely sure why.
“Just a simple painting I’m thinking of using for adverts for my show,” John smiles. He takes half a step back and winks. “You might want to take your shirt off. This is going to be messy.”
Sherlock frowns. “Why would I need to— Oh,” Sherlock says, finally getting it. “You’re not painting me.”
“Yes, I’m painting on you,” John grins, stepping back to gather up his paints. “Excellent deduction.”
John gives Sherlock a look like he’s daring him to say no, and Sherlock just frowns and throws his dressing gown off to the side. He strips off his pajamas and tosses them off to the side as well and tries to ignore the way he can feel John’s eyes roaming appreciatively over his torso.
“Stool,” John says, motioning for Sherlock to sit.
Sherlock perches gingerly on the stool and watches as John bustles around and scoops out paints onto his palette, humming softly to himself as he rolls up his sleeves and settles in to work.
“Sorry, this might be a bit cold,” John says, and that’s all the warning Sherlock gets before John’s fingertips touch the small of Sherlock’s back, cool and sticky with paint. John’s fingers are careful and steady against Sherlock’s back, smoothing paint over his skin with methodical care. He works with the same slow precision that he always does, but this is different than every other time John has painted. This is soft and quiet and somehow intensely intimate, and Sherlock thinks maybe he could stay here, in this calm little bubble, for the rest of his life and never get bored, which is such a novel idea to him that it completely throws Sherlock off balance, reeling for John’s cool, firm touch to bring him back.
John’s fingers skim over Sherlock’s skin, dabbling colors here and there over pale skin until the paint grows warm. John runs his fingers along the notches of Sherlock’s spine, the smooth curve of his back, and up, over jutting shoulder blades. John’s hand pause at the slope of Sherlock’s shoulders, and Sherlock slowly turns to peek at John and John smiles softly at Sherlock and for a moment, Sherlock thinks that maybe John is going to kiss him again. It would be nice, Sherlock thinks to himself. It’d be very nice.
“Wait here,” John says instead and gingerly lifts his hands away from Sherlock’s skin. “Don’t move. I’ll be back moment. I have to photograph you.”
Sherlock hears John’s footsteps patter away and then John comes back half a minute later and tells Sherlock to stay very still, stay just like that, and Sherlock hears the camera click several times behind him and then there’s a pause.
“Do you want to see?” John offers. “I have a mirror.”
Sherlock hears John fumbling around with things and when he next peeks back over his shoulder, he sees that John has indeed pulled out a mirror for Sherlock to see. And then he sees, crawling up the pale expanse of his own back, a tree, painted in beautiful, rich colors, roots curling at the small of his back and his hips, the trunk following the straight line of his spine, blooming out into a wide crown of branches around his shoulder blades and just up over the slope of his shoulders and upper arms.
“What do you think?” John asks, and his voice sounds quieter, more tentative than before, as if he actually feels like he needs Sherlock’s approval in order to be magnificent.
“You’re done?” Sherlock says, and it’s more a statement than a question. John nods and Sherlock motions for John to come closer. “Come here.”
John sets the mirror aside and slowly approaches, as if suspicious of what Sherlock might do next. Sherlock waits patiently, because he’s good at being patient about things when he knows that it’ll ensure good results. John pauses when he’s standing in front of Sherlock, and Sherlock beckons him closer still, until John is close enough to reach. Sherlock reaches out and draws him near, watching in satisfaction as John’s eyes widen in surprise but not fear.
“It’s lovely,” Sherlock says, and it startles him a little to think about, that he’s seeing this artwork that John’s created and for once not thinking about things like the acrylic base of the paint and the pigments that give it such boldness. For once, it’s just lovely, lovely and simple and wonderful in its simplicity, just like everything that John is, and Sherlock just barely catches the slight upward curve of John’s mouth before he pulls John in to kiss him.
It’s almost sweet at first, just the gentle press of lips on lips, slow and gentle, and then John makes a soft noise at the back of his throat and Sherlock can’t help sneaking fingers under John’s jumper to smooth over the firm muscles of his stomach, drawing another soft, soft noise from John’s throat. John’s jumper gets thrown aside and then John fumbles with the buttons of his shirt for a moment before Sherlock knocks his hands away and does it himself, deft fingers easily undoing the buttons before pushing the shirt aside. They strip down until it’s just skin on skin, too much and not enough at the same time, and Sherlock is sure they’re smudging paint everywhere, streaks of red and blue and purple smeared over pale skin. It’s so, so warm, and now that Sherlock has this, he doesn’t think he’ll ever get enough.
“John,” Sherlock gasps. “John.”
Sherlock doesn’t end up returning to his own flat, and John never really seems to mind. It gives Sherlock a place to make explosions and torch things and shoot bullet holes in the walls and not have to worry about not having a place to sleep and lounge around and drink tea. So things keep on as they were, with Sherlock running all over London and solving crimes and John quietly painting away and patching up Sherlock’s wounds if he gets into trouble. John sometimes helps Sherlock solve crimes without quite realizing it by making offhand comments and quips about the strange murders and mysteries Sherlock picks up, and he scolds Sherlock for not eating or sleeping properly while he’s working and once or twice hits a thug chasing Sherlock over the head with his easel or nearby book or the leg of the broken kitchen chair.
“You could help with groceries, you know,” John says one day as he restocks their fridge that never seems to stay full, probably because when Sherlock isn’t working, he eats a disproportionately large amount of food for someone so thin.
“Not my flat,” Sherlock says, not even pausing as he types rapidly at John’s laptop, probably updating his website or something of the sort.
John heaves a sigh that’s mostly for show and hopes that Sherlock can’t tell he’s grinning too widely.
“Tea?” John asks.
Sherlock hums, gaze intensely focused on whatever he’s working on. He’s sprawled out on John’s couch, occupying the entire length of it, as if it’s his personal duty to take up as much space as possible. John nudges Sherlock’s feet aside and holds out a cup of tea to Sherlock, which he takes but doesn’t drink. Sherlock moves his feet back, settling them in John’s lap. He frowns and runs his finger along the rim of the cup. John picks up the day’s newspaper from the coffee table and skims the headlines.
“Pass me my phone,” Sherlock says suddenly, with a note of fierce urgency in his voice.
John gives Sherlock a look. “You’re just about as close as I am,” he says.
But Sherlock doesn’t move and doesn’t say anything, and after a beat, John sighs and leans over to grab Sherlock’s phone from the coffee table. Sherlock takes the phone without a word and quickly types up a text before setting his phone and John’s laptop aside, finally lifting his cup of tea up to his lips. He sighs and lets his eyes slip shut, and John picks out an article from the newspaper at random and begins reading aloud.
John’s art show opens some handful of weeks later, featuring many of the works in the series of studies he did of Sherlock. There are leftover fliers lying about the flat, notices of the date, time, and location of the exhibition, each featuring a picture of Sherlock’s back, his head turned slightly as if to peek over his shoulder. It’s from that day John painted all over Sherlock, the day when everything changed, and if Sherlock were the type to get sentimental about things, he might just blush. As it is, Sherlock simply scowls as John fusses with him, dusting imaginary specks of dust and lint off of Sherlock’s suit jacket.
“Stop being so nervous,” Sherlock says. “You know you’re brilliant.”
“No,” John corrects. “You think I’m brilliant. Who knows what the critics will say?”
Sherlock frowns. “Stop that,” he says. “Insecurity doesn’t suit you.”
John laughs and lifts himself up onto his toes to press a quick kiss to Sherlock’s lips. “Come on,” he says. “We’ll be late.”
By the end of the night, it’s clear that John’s show is a success, and he’s already receiving praise and offers for purchasing some of the paintings. John is pleasantly surprised as he always is when anyone complements his work, and Sherlock suppresses the urge to tell John I told you so. He says it anyways when they arrive back home, and John laughs and peels Sherlock out of his suit, piece by piece, kissing him breathless all the while.
“You are magnificent,” John says, delight evident in his voice, and Sherlock really, really hopes that he’ll be able to keep John forever, because he doesn’t think he’ll ever find anyone else who’s as wonderful and patient and just plain perfect (as inaccurate and hyperbolic as the word is) as John.
- fic: The story of ink