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Taking Turns

Chapter Text

Sherlock was a consummate kisser. Several sex partners had told him as much over the years. But kissing Joan Watson made him feel like an amateur.

As he had predicted a thousand times over, physical contact with her was so similar to a drug there were times he had to leave her presence or risk lashing out in his manic ways that Watson either took for his usual energy or mistook for anger. This seldom happened during casework. It was the quiet evenings, nights, and mornings, when he knew Watson to be asleep, or when she was reading or taking care of Clyde or cleaning or cooking, when their focus was on anything but the work, that her presence latched onto his brain like a brand new stimulant he had no idea what to do with.

Their first kiss was too much for him. He could not categorize, classify, or compare the experience. Too much was behind it, and it was as if his thoughts were taking all the visual evidence of Watson’s body that he had categorized over the years and had projected it onto that almost chaste touch of their lips for the first time. They were both hesitant, so completely like teenagers but also completely not, in that they felt clumsy, but instead of frenzied, unsure passion, the passion was tightly leashed on both sides. Joan dared not initiate too much, and Sherlock was still in disbelief that she was allowing him to go forward at all.

In the end he had reached up to cup her face in his hands, at the same time trying not to touch her too much. His fingers did not grab, his hands did not pull, more he coaxed her forward with the mere motion of hands brushing either side of her face. Her eyes were still open, and so were his. It was he who submitted first and closed his eyes, milliseconds before their lips brushed.

When the kiss deepened and she made the first sigh into his mouth, Sherlock’s body froze in a way he had no idea how to react to. His body remained engaged in the kiss, but his mind had stalled. What he didn’t know was it was actually his heart and lungs freezing for the briefest milliseconds, a part of his consciousness crumbling as his reality shifted, and then shifted again.

The only thing that brought him back was Watson’s warmth and breath moving into him, and the smallest brush of her fingertips on his face. His body visibly shook—he had to pull away. Her eyes opened slowly, and a dozen feelings were exchanged in silence as they stared at each other. But for once Sherlock had nothing to say, no conclusions, no facts. All he could force his brain to pinpoint was the new softness in Watson’s dark eyes that had nothing to do with concern or empathy, but everything to do with more fragile, precious emotions he’d never had to deal with. Immediately he felt as if his mind was trying to juggle many breakable items, each one more valuable than the last, and he had no idea which belonged to him and which to Watson. Another knot had been tied between them in that moment.

Chapter Text

PDA was not for them. Joan had known that from the beginning. Their private lives had always been very private, nothing leeching into the precinct, into the brownstone on a case. They were unable to reach each other even in the hardest of times, their private emotions guarded even when they made themselves somewhat vulnerable around each other.

But that didn’t mean neither of them wanted to be physical in public. A bridge had been crossed, and neither were going to pretend things hadn’t changed. But there were levels to the physicality. Many, many levels, Joan found.

For instance, the brushing of their hands. Before, they had unconsciously avoided even accidental touches. Passing dishes to each other, handing each other papers or books, even her rare instances of taking an item (usually his phone) forcefully from him when he was being obtuse.  All those instances, if they resulted in brief, barely registered touches… Joan tried not to think about them too hard, for fear they would lead to the exact thoughts that had led them to finally cross that unspoken boundary between them.

Now that it was crossed, there was purpose in every small touch. Joan initiated first. Sherlock would communicate his surprise later.

She had gone to get them coffee, away from the precinct. None of them, Marcus included, enjoyed the precinct’s excuse for caffeinated beverages. When she’d come back, Sherlock and Marcus were still going through case files, each forehead knitted in his own brand of frustration. Joan’s mouth twitched. Scut work, Sherlock would’ve called it. But there was too high a volume of paperwork to go through for him to leave it to just anyone, and Kitty wasn’t here. Since his prodigy had left, they’d gotten used to taking turns.

She handed Marcus his coffee, took up hers and Sherlock’s, and went to hand the latter to her partner. He lifted his hand without looking up from his reading, and as Joan’s hand moved toward his, she made a split second decision.

Her fingers touched his. Long enough to not be considered a “brushing” so much as an acknowledgment of something. Something that couldn’t be spoken of aloud. He barely glanced at her, but she felt it. Their eyes locked for that one second and Joan knew he would not object to further contact of a similar kind. They each sipped their coffee and continued with their work.  

The next time it happened, it was a few days later. A hot July day with no wind. Joan was wearing a loose short-sleeved blouse and a pencil skirt, but the humidity was oppressive. She longed for the air conditioning of home, but this particular crime scene did not put time on their side.

Navigating the uneven terrain of the construction site in her usual heels, Joan was sure of her footing…until her heel broke.

Sherlock had been walking just behind her, and as she fell unexpectedly to the side, the strong grasp of his hand on her arm made her lose her breath a second time in surprise.

Sherlock steadied her as she righted herself, her shifting awkwardly off of the foot wearing a now heelless shoe. They exchanged glances—his asked an unspoken question.

“I’m fine,” she said quietly, just then realizing her hand was clasping his arm in turn. The heat she could feel even through the material of his button-up shirt shocked her senses in an absurdly belated way. His proximity combined with the heat made her thoughts scatter and refuse to reform for a few more seconds.

“Can you walk on that?” Sherlock’s voice broke her out of her heat-induced trance and she focused on his face. Mild concern. He was being frustratingly good at hiding his reactions. Too much practice.

“Yes,” she said, biting off the end of the word and taking a decided, careful step away from him. And his body heat. They didn’t look at each other for a while after that.

That night, after taking a lukewarm shower and refusing a hair-dryer, Joan sat on the rug in the library, braiding her damp hair, files from the current case spread on the floor in front of her. Sherlock worked nearby in the study, looking for various online clues. Or she thought he was. His footsteps sounded to her left, and she looked up to see him staring down at her, a different sort of concentration on his face.

“What is it?” she said, thinking initially he had news on a suspect. But his hands were too fidgety, his sock-clad feet bouncing on their heels. And he looked worried. Staying seated, she turned toward him, showing her concern.

Instead of speaking, he made a decidedly unfamiliar gesture. He held out his hand for her to take.

She stared at it for all of two seconds, her thoughts racing to several hypotheses, finding a satisfactory conclusion in none of them. She took his hand and he lifted her to her feet. Easily. Joan shouldn’t have been surprised, but something in her body was very pleasantly surprised. She ignored it.

She expected him to immediately let go of her hand. He didn’t. He held it loosely in his, making it easy for her if she wished to pull away. She didn’t.

He could not meet her direct stare, his eyes dodging away several times before he spoke.

“I would like to request a…uh…” He was looking down at the ground now, studying the files with an unnecessary scrutiny. “A request. For a respite. A respite, yes.”

The last words came out quickly, and Joan suppressed her smile. She leaned toward him, urging him with a slight squeeze of his hand to look up. After another heavy and silent few seconds, he did. She leaned back accordingly.

“What kind of respite, Sherlock?” she said, finding her heart beating faster even as nothing about their contact had changed. He still held her hand loosely. She kept the “safe” distance between them. It wasn’t an exact measurement—Joan had just unconsciously learned Sherlock had a “safe” distance, and they still obeyed it. To a degree.

It was his eyes, she realized. They were full of so much she had never seen before, her brain could not register them right away. He was uncertain, but not about himself. About her.

“You have permitted me only briefly…” Here he had to look down again, his lungs noticeably expanding as he pulled his thoughts together. “…to touch you in a purposeful manner and I would like to formally request similar contact again.”

He only looked up after he had finished speaking, and his expression was so uncertain she felt a pang in her chest.

“Is this about earlier?” she asked, her voice unconsciously quieting to echo his. His expression deepening in its disquiet was answer enough. “I wasn’t upset, Sherlock. I was…surprised.”

Things had to go slow, for both of them. They had not even kissed a second time. It wasn’t so much Joan felt they were walking on eggshells, but that they were going into unknown territory together, and plunging headfirst would go against both of their instincts. They had learned to trust each other’s investigative instincts, and now it was time to form a different kind of trust.

“I as well,” he said, his gaze now going down to their joined hands. She kept her eyes on his face, catching the change from uncertainty to curiosity. Fear crept behind it all, but Joan knew it would be. It had been there for a long time, only now were they dealing with it directly.

He lifted her hand closer to his face, now holding her fingers almost in his palm, his thumb making the lightest of movements over her knuckles. Chills traveled down her arm, and she was suddenly conscious of her half-done braid, her bare legs, a stronger pulse pounding against her neck.

“They haven’t changed,” she said, letting a note of indulgence into her voice, a smile tugging at one corner. He glanced up, and some of the tension dissipated, though not all of it.

“Untrue, Watson. Your hands have changed a great deal since I last felt them. Or one. This one in particular,” he said, his focus shifting back to her right hand he still held so lightly before him.

“Bees wax, no calluses. I remember,” she said, her smile growing. He hummed, and another chill went through her at being able to feel the vibration of his voice through their contact. She had a sudden urge to move forward, but resisted.

Then his right hand came up to join his left in clasping her hand. He turned her hand palm up, and the fingers of his right hand began tracing the various lines and curves of her palm and wrist. She forced her entire body to remain still, even as her pulse was jumping erratically only centimeters from his touch.

“I have often thought…” He almost whispered, and the silence between them became pregnant with something Joan couldn’t name. Even if she’d tried, she wasn’t sure there was a word for it. Anticipation, certainly, but for what?

He did not finish his sentence. Instead he cradled her hand in both of his, and lifted her open palm to his lips. The lightest of kisses struck her nerves and she instinctively closed her eyes against the onslaught.

His voice made her open them. “How your hands would feel both soft and strong at once.”

He was not looking at her. He couldn’t. His eyes were downcast, studying the lines of her hand with only his gaze. She felt him withdraw before he even took his hands from her. She took a deep breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.

Sherlock’s phone pinged from across the room. Both turned toward it. As Sherlock walked away, Joan immediately began braiding her hair again.

Chapter Text

Early mornings. Joan had grudgingly gotten used to them since leaving medical school. Sherlock saw them as simply a time of day where the sun happened to be rising and birds happened to be singing a bit before that.

Those early mornings took on a slightly different dimension when the two coexisted during those small hours. Usually this meant Sherlock coming to wake her—for a case, for a new development in the case he’d discovered overnight.

But this morning was different. Joan opened her eyes of her own accord, and she didn’t move at first, waiting for the inevitable. The excitable footsteps, the eager voice, maybe even the strains of a violin in the next room.

But there was complete silence.

Joan sat up suddenly, a wave of unease washing through her as her eyes darted around her bedroom. They were on a case. Papers still lay scattered over Joan’s comforter, a mix of old case files, printed out online articles, and crime scene photographs. If Sherlock had been out pursuing another lead, or their main suspect, he would’ve cleaned up Joan’s mess. Sherlock left no loose ends on a case. It wasn’t his way. The man couldn’t be bothered to wash his own clothes more than once a fortnight but he was meticulous when it came to cleaning up old case leavings to make way for the new.

These conclusions took milliseconds for Joan’s mind to run through, and in that time her eyes passed over him, not recognizing his sleeping form for what it was at first. Then her eyes darted back.

He was folded up impossibly tight in the armchair next to her bed, his arms folded and his feet tucked beneath him. He still wore the hoodie she’d last seen him in, and having fallen asleep with the hood over his head, she could only see a third of his face, his pointed noise most prominent.

Joan scrunched her features in confusion, feeling the discomfort of a most uncommon role reversal. She was awake before him. Not in itself unheard of, but it had not happened, while they were on a case, for months. Since his relapse.

Joan carefully extracted herself from her bedsheets without sending any papers sliding off, putting her bare feet to the floor on the side nearest the window, under which Sherlock was curled up in her chair. Tip toeing toward him, Joan expected him to stir. But then a memory came unbidden, from their first weeks together, when he’d fallen fast asleep seconds after being so excited for a new case. She smiled to herself. He was a very sound sleeper at times.

Pushing her braid over her shoulder, Joan leaned over him to get a better view of his face, tightly tucked against his right shoulder and partially resting against the outward curve of the armchair. The way he was situated, there was no way of pulling off the hood without waking him.

In the moment of hesitation before speaking, Joan studied his profile at rest, something she’d had little opportunity to do. He was always focused, alert, studying. Deducing. It was who he was. A peacefully sleeping Sherlock was like seeing a solar eclipse. Things were muted, yet still singular. Definitely a word Sherlock would use to describe a solar eclipse.

Joan blinked and realized she was still smiling. At what she wasn’t sure. She raised her hand and poked Sherlock in the shoulder. Hard.

“Sherlock,” she whispered loudly. He stirred, but didn’t open his eyes.

She poked him again. “Sherlock!”

His eyes wavered open, not completely focused, then his head turned toward her. He narrowed his gaze, in what she knew was a silent question, but to anyone else his sleepy stare would look like suspicion.

“You fell asleep,” she said, her tone betraying her bemusement. “In my room,” she added, in case his own confusion was a result of not knowing his location. He’d never fallen asleep in her room before.

He gave a muffled groan as he unfolded himself stiffly from his tightly curled position, and she took a step back. Stretching his arms in awkward directions, cricking his neck, he still had that narrowed gaze on her.

“My apologies. I had no intention of sleeping here,” he said, pushing the hood off his head as he ran his fingers through the stubble over his scalp. He was not quite agitated, but definitely on the edge of criticizing himself. He had not meant to encroach on her privacy in this precise way. There were boundaries they still hadn’t negotiated, and he feared he may have crossed one.

Joan considered, then made a decision as she saw Sherlock begin pushing himself to his feet. She reached out and took his arm, helping him up, knowing how painful his muscles must be.

He looked at her with even more obvious confusion as he rose to his full height. She glanced up and then down, dropping her hand from him. Then she noticed the papers all over her bed out of her peripheral vision and remembered the case they’d spent the entire previous day on, still unconcluded.

“Did you find something?” she asked, indicating the files on her bed with a nod to the side.

Sherlock rolled his shoulders once, shook his head and looking down at the scattered files, articles, and photographs with mild frustration. “Your search was also fruitless?”

Joan hummed assent. “The suspect covered his tracks pretty thoroughly. We’ll have to go another route.” She risked another glance at his face. “You want coffee?”

They were standing closer than they usually would. At least, closer than they would when not actively studying evidence or clues together. They’d already concluded the data in front of them held nothing.

But their shoulders were nearly touching, both having surveyed the now worthless papers before them and making the same conclusion. Joan felt a need to be close to him borne of her doctor’s instincts—it wasn’t the first time Sherlock’s unhealthy habits had made her feel watchful—and something else. That something else being part of the unspoken boundaries that remained to be questioned, still uncrossed.

He nodded once, then glanced at her, catching her staring. Their eyes locked for maybe a second, before Joan bit the inside of her cheek and turned away.

His hand had taken hold of hers before she fully registered the motion. She was forced to turn back to him or have her arm held behind her. She looked up at him, purposefully keeping her eyes off their joined hands. He didn’t let go even after their eyes met.

He was searching for something. She realized she was keeping her expression intentionally blank. She took a breath in, without knowing what she would say.

Then his other hand was brushing the side of her face, and she lost all ability to differentiate between thought and emotion. For the brief seconds his fingers skirted her jaw, traced her cheekbone, the curve of her ear, her entire existence was sensation, and focus was not possible.

Then her hand in his was rising to his face, and with his hand still resting over hers, she touched his jaw, running her thumb over his cheek, letting her fingers trail to the back of his neck.

She didn’t pull, but he leaned down, until their noses were touching. Her eyes had been closed for a long time it seemed, the rest of her body too busy absorbing every tangible sensation to need something as superficial as sight. He was now framing her face in both his hands, but his palms barely brushed her skin. Instinctively she knew his eyes were closed too.

When their lips touched, Joan couldn’t say who had moved first. It was not a deep kiss. If not precipitated by so many other touches, Joan would’ve equated it to a peck on the cheek. But with Sherlock, Joan knew, nothing could be minimized to the trivial. Nothing was trivial with Sherlock.

She opened her eyes first, leaning away only enough to better focus on his face. In the brief milliseconds before he opened his eyes to look at her, she saw the same softness in him she had seen in sleep. When he opened his eyes to look at her, the vision was not so much shattered as joined with a new tenderness. Too new, too early to process.  

Chapter Text

Joan Watson had several habits. Sherlock had once been arrogant enough to believe he knew them all—all the ones that mattered. The way she organized her clothes in her closet. Which foot she put the sock and shoe on first. In what order she washed the dishes. How the way she let him put on her coat for her told him her mood and how she’d slept the night before. What her hairstyle for the day revealed about her attitude toward a case or to him. Even the way she woke up in the morning when he was fortunate enough to be present for that particular moment said volumes.

But after the first touch of his lips to hers, every one of these habits grew new dimensions, and Sherlock was left with more and more questions. Daily he studied her just as closely as he always had, but he felt he was absorbing more, consciously and unconsciously.

The way her hands moved for example. Sherlock had always had a fascination for hands. They revealed more than the eyes or facial expressions at times. Watson’s were no exception. They were what first told him she was worthy of attention, far more than the contents of her purse or the tragic end of her last career.

Watson was not overtly expressive with her hands. Nor was she likely to initiate touch with them, and this was not a behavior only limited to him. With her mother, with friends, with addicts she had once aided, and even with the rare hostile suspect or witness, Watson never initiated. Even when it appeared she was giving mutual regard, an equal answer to another’s touch, there was always a hesitation. Sherlock had first concluded it was due to an aversion to touch similar to his, but better controlled. He had been wrong.

Joan had a surgeon’s hands. That in itself made her touch something to be bestowed, not taken for granted. Even in honing her self-defense training, Sherlock had noted the level of calculation in her movements. It was not the same as concentration. Every person could concentrate on a task at different levels. But few calculated their decisions with their body as Watson did. She had a healer’s touch, but her mind, her heart, her being, was crafted for defense.

It was a form of fear. But there was more to it, there always was with Watson. For years he had speculated what she had been like before he met her. Before her medical career ended by her own choice. Had she moved more boldly, quicker even, with less forethought? He had seen the streak of recklessness in her many a time. Had it been more unleashed then?

And even now, with him, she hesitated. And now her fear was indeed tangible to him. It was not anything so obvious as a tremor or a coldness in her eyes or demeanor. Her hands, if not her body, moved like a wild animal cornered. Striking out with purpose one moment, withdrawing with slow dread the next.  Perhaps only one who had watched and lived with her for years, as he had, would notice. But Sherlock did not think he fabricated or exaggerated. He had only studied.

His long study now developing beyond mere observation, Sherlock knew he had to take the opportunity to learn more. They both knew neither of them was forthcoming with words. As much as Watson could wring a confession from others, including him, her own confessions were few. So Sherlock had a different form of interrogation in mind. Conducting it would involve knocking down a few fears of his own, but it was a small price.

His plan went into motion on what would otherwise be an uneventful evening. They had finished a case the day previous and had not yet found another. Watson had spent the day doing errands and several house chores Ms. Hudson had left undone at Watson’s request. He had cared for the bees, cleaned the two refrigerators, and done the ironing. Amidst preparing his interrogation for that evening.

It would be conducted in the basement, to start. Sherlock’s small “laboratory”, as Watson had dubbed it, though nothing more than a narrow storage room with a cement floor and exposed pipes, was the perfect location.

Small fires were not an issue for Sherlock. Among the flammable items he had chosen, a particular book of poetry was among them. The only book in the brownstone that could not be read. Sherlock would have tossed it into a dumpster long ago had it not been his sorest longing to see it burn to ash. Much like a particular packet containing heroine had been, approximately two years ago in London.

Seeing tonight’s plan as the perfect occasion for such a celebration, it was with perhaps too much glee he lit the pile of old documents and the single book on fire with a match. He may have had a maniacal grimace-smile on his face, he couldn’t have said later.

Sherlock then smashed a flask full of flammable liquid on his “laboratory” counter, letting it run from the counter onto the small pile of flame, making it grow larger, a pungent but nontoxic smoke quickly emanating.

“WATSON!” Sherlock bellowed. He then ripped nearly all the buttons off his shirt in his efforts to stifle the flames with said shirt, carelessly or maybe not so carelessly cutting his flailing arm on the broken glass of the flask he had smashed. Maybe bruising his wrist a bit on the edge of the counter.

Watson came running into the room with a fire extinguisher just as he dropped his flaming shirt into the blaze.

Watson performed the PASS actions admirably while Sherlock held his left hand over the deepest cut on his forearm, feeling the blood seep through his fingers. The maniacal smile may have come back onto his face at the resulting mess of ash and extinguisher refuse, because when he finally looked up at Watson, she appeared far more worried than he thought she should. Sherlock carefully schooled his features into what he hoped was somewhat apologetic indifference.

Watson had her mouth partially open as if ready to deliver a reprimand, but at the same moment her eyes assessed him and she honed in on the blood.

“Let me see that,” she said, stepping closer to him, setting the extinguisher aside as she moved forward.

He dutifully lifted his hand from the cut and held out his right arm toward her. Her eyes almost seemed to scour his skin, seeing much more much quicker than he ever would. She studied wounds, injuries, and the human body much like he would any crime scene. He couldn’t help but admire her for it.

When her fingers touched his skin, it was like a cool balm already being applied to the minor burns and scrapes. She applied her touch slowly, lifting his arm closer to her without pulling, only suggesting with a slight pressure where she needed him to move. He would have closed his eyes to savor it if he wasn’t so fixated on Watson’s expression and body language. This was the first time she would be treating his injuries since the boundaries had shifted between them.

“Shallow, you won’t need stitches,” she said, her eyes still on the longest cut on his arm. Her hands moved down to his wrist, already swelling, carefully probing the bone and muscle. “You must’ve hit this hard,” she murmured, her fingers becoming even lighter against him. “Not broken,” she added, then her hands dropped from him.

Her expression shifted from impartial focus to consternation and sharp worry, again glancing at the remains of the fire. “That was nontoxic, I hope?” she said, looking back at his face.

“Not to worry, Watson, I never keep flames around noxious chemicals. Completely benign, this one,” he said, rising up on his toes once, his eyes moving rapidly against his will from her face, to the ashes, to the extinguisher, to her hands, to the broken glass, to his arm, back to her face.

She hummed, her concern remaining focused on him, before her gaze shifted to the extinguisher. She picked it up and turned to head upstairs. “I’ll get the first aid kit. Get cleaned up in the kitchen, I’ll be right there,” she said, her voice rising as her steps retreated.

After Sherlock had gone to the kitchen and cleaned the worst of the scraps and cuts on his right arm, Watson came up and handed him a clean towel to pat the arm dry. As he did so, she pulled out the nearest kitchen chair and he obediently sat down, setting the towel aside. She settled in a chair directly in front of him and took up the first of her supplies. He could already smell the antiseptic soap she had used on her hands.

After making sure his cuts, especially the deepest one, were clean and not bleeding heavily, she applied antiseptic ointment and bandaged them. Throughout, her fingers barely brushed his skin.

Then she began studying the first degree burn on his inner forearm. He had not been near the flames long enough for much damage to be done, but still her face wrinkled in irritation. She did not look up at him, but he could tell she wanted to ask a question. Or several. About said fire and why it had started.

She remained silent, however, while his arm rested in her hand, his own hand outstretched and palm up close to her torso. He could feel the warmth of her bare arm against his, though she was careful not to touch his burn.

Still not looking at him, she let go of his arm and took up a familiar jar with a tongue depressor sticking out of it. It was raw honey from his own beehive. 

“You decided to use honey,” he stated, a smile almost twitching onto his lips.

She glanced up at him, her expression unchanging, clinically detached. “For some reason I couldn’t find the aloe vera with lidocaine. I believe that has something to do with the last fire we had here?” She raised one brow at him, while stirring the honey with the depressor, her attention easily divided.

Sherlock pressed his lips together and raised his eyebrows in the closest approximation of a guilty expression. He had promised to replace said aloe vera. Must look contrite in these situations. Watson could be easily appeased with the right reactions.

She only shook her head, evenly applying the honey to his burn with the tongue depressor, which was wider than a popsicle stick, and better for her current intent. He remained perfectly still.

Then, after carefully applying a gauze bandage to the burn and binding it with adhesive tape, Watson held up his arm to better see his bruised wrist in the light. She lifted his arm only a few inches, moving her face closer to better study the swelling, her other hand gently probing the sensitive skin. He kept his expression as neutral as possible, not wincing and blinking only once.

She seemed to be double checking that the wrist wasn’t fractured or sprained in any way, though a part of him believed she was just using this small act as an excuse to touch him longer.

He realized then his long silence might be giving her the wrong impression. He consciously attempted to loosen his muscles, taking a quiet deep breath without opening his mouth.

Even as she took up an ice pack and silently indicated he hold it to his bruised wrist with his left hand, he could see she had noticed the change in him. Her hands had left him, but she had inched closer to him, albeit unconsciously, her thighs almost framing his left leg.

But she was not turned toward him. She concentrated on gathering up the unused contents of the first aid kit. She ran the tongue depressor on the edge of the honey jar to get off any excess honey, before replacing the jar’s lid.

He cleared his throat, keeping the ice pack on his wrist. Watson looked at him.

“May I?” he said, nodding toward the tongue depressor. She gave him that indulgent look that was not quite a frown but not quite a smile either. But she held out the depressor towards him.

He leaned forward and took the depressor in his mouth, and milliseconds later realized Watson was not going to let go. He ran his tongue down the smooth piece of wood, getting as much honey on his tongue as he could, pulling his head back as Watson kept her grip steady on the depressor.

When he let go of the depressor with a satisfied lick of his lower lip, he watched Watson as surreptitiously as possible, to see what she would do.

To his disappointment, she rose from her chair to throw the depressor away. His heart pounded harder for those long seconds before he saw she was returning to sit down in front of him.

She settled against the back of the chair, her gaze now intent on him. He fought to show no expression, not even to raise his brows in question. He kept the ice pack pressed to his wrist, waiting. She was thinking she would be the one to interrogate him. Not so.

“That wasn’t an accidental fire, Sherlock,” she said. Her tone reflected his expression. Indifferent. Detached. Hiding far too much. Even as it hurt, he couldn’t help the fingers of his injured arm tapping against the table it rested on.

He said nothing. But he could not keep his eyes on her face. He looked over her left shoulder, then before he could concentrate on her hands, his gaze jerked away to focus on the woodgrain of the table. They were folded in her lap, her hands. Not too tightly, but tight enough he could see as well as feel her tension.

She visibly suppressed a sigh, and her eyes went to his arm, bandaged in multiple places, whatever exposed skin red and swelling with the pain. “Elevate your wrist, please,” she said, her words edging on terse.

He obeyed, lifting his arm, keeping his elbow on the table, holding the ice pack steadily over the bruised joint. The motion caused him to turn more toward the table, but he still kept his face turned toward her.

A beat of silence. “You burned a book. I’ve never known you to burn books, Sherlock.” Her voice had quieted, the only clear indication of worry she let herself show. His eyes darted to hers, then away. She still looked at his arm.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she said, that gentle insistence in her tone making a familiar dread but also a familiar warmth enter his chest.

“No, Watson, it is a well-exhausted subject in my own mind. No need to bring it out again,” he said, the stiff smile coming onto his face, a knee-jerk reaction. They briefly locked eyes. Hers were becoming distant, closed off, but the remnants of sadness were in the lines around her mouth and eyes.

Seeing the withdrawal happening, he let his impulses take over before his chance passed by.

“Do you want to comfort me, Watson?” he said, forcing his stare to remain on her face.

She froze, her expression registering shock, then confusion edging on suspicion. She blinked a few times, but still looked at him.

He took both his hands, still holding the ice pack in place, and gestured between them. “Physical comfort, I should say. I have often denied it from you, though you have never verbally requested such. Except once, and in that our roles were reversed,” he added, remembering her almost shyness in voicing her desire to hug him so long ago, when she and Andrew had lived together.

She tilted her head, the suspicion becoming more prominent. “That was because I was grateful, Sherlock, not hurt.”

“The bequeathing of gratitude is a form of comfort for the one who is grateful, is it not?” Sherlock said, looking down as he spoke, visually focusing on nothing, all energy going into his words for brief seconds, hoping she would understand him.

“If I recall, you told me that as your friend, I would know that would be a rash decision,” she said, a sardonic smile coming onto her lips. He couldn’t help but look at her then.

“I would like to make a rash decision now, Watson,” he said, his voice quieting for a very different reason. Fear, always fear, but something else as well. He felt himself almost bowed before her, the bruised wrist and ice pack tucked into his lap, the closest his hands could come to folded.

But after speaking her name, he looked up and saw her expression mirrored his multitude of emotions. Her hands were even more tightly folded. The tension traveled up her arms, defining the muscle, strength both subdued and emphasized.

Leaving the ice pack over his wrist in his lap, Sherlock slowly reached out his left hand and rested it, even more slowly, on top of Watson’s.

She was still, her hands were cold. The antiseptic smell seemed stronger in his nostrils, though that might only be because he was breathing harder, his heart pounding.

But just as slowly, Watson’s right hand turned palm up to take his. She leaned toward him, her eyes almost closed. As if she was afraid to leave everything in darkness but also too afraid to look at him and see something to push her away again.

He kept his eyes open, watching all of this unfold on Watson’s face, her stiff indifference giving way to fear mixed with curiosity mixed with…a softness to her features he still hesitated to identify.

Her eyes only closed when their lips touched. And so did his. Suddenly all he could taste was honey, and the other beguiling sweetness that belonged only to Watson.

Chapter Text

They were both far too good at tip toeing around each other’s emotions. It was part of what made renegotiating their new boundaries so difficult. Neither was willing to convey in words how things had changed. Eventually certain subjects would have to be spoken of, but until that unforeseen time, both Joan and Sherlock chose to act on instinct.

The first kiss had happened not as an experiment, not even on a whim, but as an equal exchange of trust. It was a moment when both of them realized they wanted the same thing, but had not known how to speak of it. Physical signals, haptics, could only express so much. And they had misinterpreted and ignored the signs for too long.

Now it all required readjustment, and as much as a larger part of Joan would rather discuss the matter rationally with Sherlock, another part of her had taken over. It was small but not weak, foreign but not new. It was the part of her that had wanted to love Sherlock openly for so many years, but had been stifled too many times to become much more than a whisper in the back of her mind, always. Gathering each detail about Sherlock and negotiating the level of closeness she was allowed. Taking each of his reactions to her and cataloguing them as if they were the names of muscles and arteries.

But it wasn’t a matter of what was good and what was bad anymore. Instead the constant question was; what do we want? Too many answers, and too much preconceived fears keeping their mouths shut on the subject.

In the days Sherlock had been nursing the cuts, burn, and bruises on his arm from the impromptu basement fire, he had kept a distance. It was out of respect, she knew. He had made quite more than a “rash” decision that night, and was waiting for her true reaction. It remained to be seen whether her true reaction was no reaction at all, or something else entirely.

She should be upset. He had started a fire purposefully, hurt himself, just to see how she would react. He had not said as much but she could see it, in how he’d looked at her that night.

But his intent hadn’t been to treat her like an experiment. In a way, Joan knew, it was a testament to how much he cared that he was willing to observe rather than move forward without consulting her. It was just…his way of observing was always tinged with some element of self-sabotage. If it had anything to do with his own emotions, he could not be fully trusted to keep his own well-being in mind.

The battle to convince him that his self-loathing was counterproductive had been more a war encompassing years. And so Joan didn’t so much plan to focus on dissuading him as telling him, in so many ways, that such extreme measures were never – ever ­– necessary.

It was a clear August day, hours after a case had been finished, that Joan was able to stifle her fears enough to make the first move.

They’d just finished eating leftovers for lunch together. Sherlock was at the sink washing dishes, Joan putting the remaining food away and wiping down the table and counters. The closer she got to Sherlock, the faster her pulse went. But her eyes kept straying to the healing burn and cuts on his arm, the deepest which would leave a scar, and she only grew more determined.

“How is your arm feeling?” she asked, stopping to the right of him as she reached the edge of the sink with the dish towel.

Doubtless aware of her assessing gaze long before this, he glanced at her briefly before concentrating again on scrubbing the silverware. “Almost healed, Watson. Doesn’t pain me at all. I did apply the aloe as you prescribed.”

“I know,” she said dryly. She had tried to convince him to give his deepest cut the same care, so it wouldn’t scar, but it was too late for that. She leaned one hip against the counter, balling the dish towel in her fist as she gathered her thoughts.

“You didn’t deny the fire was purposeful,” she began. He didn’t look at her, but she knew he was listening. The water wasn’t running, and all that could be heard was the sloshing of dishwater and the occasional clang of dishes and silverware against each other. Peripherally she noticed he was washing each item rather more thoroughly than it needed.

“That made me think the burn and cuts were purposeful, too.” She tilted her head, waiting for a reaction.

He slowed down his scrubbing only long enough for her to notice, then resumed his normal speed. She bit the inside of her cheek.

“Tell me why, Sherlock,” she said, knowing as she said it her words came out harder than they should. But part of her was still angry. He should know better than anyone she didn’t want the responsibility of causing unintentional harm to anyone.

His shoulders were visibly stiffening. She waited. He still did not turn toward her. His hands slowed again, and she noted how wrinkled his fingertips had gotten, so long in the water. His senses must be screaming at him.

“You… are still a doctor of great skill, Watson. These skills are one of the few ways we would initiate…contact with each other.”

Here he looked erratically at her, his stare moving rapidly from her face, away, back to her face, looking for perhaps a second in her eyes, away again.

“It was a purely selfish action, I admit. But I had no intent of seriously harming myself. It would’ve been counterproductive,” he finished, pressing his lips tightly together, his gaze unfocused on the dishwater now.

She felt her pulse quickening for a very different reason now. “How would it be counterproductive,” she said, her tone going thin with suppressed emotions. The least of them being anger.

“If I may remind you, Watson, when Prentiss Gutierrez had me beaten in the street, even though my injuries were superficial, you insisted we bring ourselves to the E.R. in the small hours of the morning.” There was a pause as he dared look at her, only long enough to confirm her irritation, before looking back down again. “I had no wish to repeat such an experience and forfeit any opportunity of observing your skills applied after the dynamic between us has changed.”

Joan took a breath. A deep one. She was not surprised, but not being surprised by Sherlock’s line of thinking did not lessen her frustration.

“Sherlock, I have a proposition for you, but I need you to confirm something for me,” she said, making her words slow and measured. He could not pretend to misunderstand.

He looked at her, no dodging this time. Instead he was assessing, patient.

She took another breath, keeping her mouth closed. Swallowing. She knew he had more experience with certain things, and she didn’t want to come off as an amateur, even though she very much was. The man had taught her to be an investigator, but that didn’t mean he knew everything.

She reached into the side of the sink holding the clean dishes, and took up a steak knife. Studying the blade for residue she knew wasn’t there, she asked him, “If you enjoy hurting yourself for my attention, why didn’t you ask my permission?”

Her eyes cut to him, and she noticed his breathing had grown shallower. He was struggling to keep his eyes on her face, and not the knife.

She continued holding the knife, blade pointed up and to the side. “You know very well I could’ve given you a controlled environment for inflicting an injury that wouldn’t require a hospital visit.”

He glanced not so subtly at the knife before speaking. “I admit I uh, was not sure of your agreement to such a…” His stare lingered on the knife longer this time, “…unprecedented course of action.”

Joan’s grip on the knife tightened as she moved closer to him. Her eyes traveled down and back up, debating her first move. “So you would rather risk your health than risk my anger. Good to know,” she said, not able to hold back the sarcasm.

But she didn’t wait for his reaction. Instead she reached up with her left hand and unbuttoned the very top button at his collar. The heat of his skin against hers was far more thrilling than it should’ve been.

“I have a serious question, Sherlock.” She let her hand linger on his neck, to let the novelty of the sensation sink in. She couldn’t look at him, and concentrated heavily on her words to keep her fear at bay. “When next you feel like hurting yourself for my attention, would you prefer I inflict the injuries? Or would you rather I subject you to another E.R. visit?”

She unbuttoned the second button, then the third, before he answered. “The former. Please.” His voice was now lower, raspy. She kept her eyes on her hand’s work, unbuttoning a fourth button, to the middle of his chest, but she could feel his stare heavy on her.

There was a long silence as she finished unbuttoning his shirt, then slipped her hand beneath to lay it against his bare chest. His body jumped against her palm, then relaxed. She ran her fingers down to his navel, a part of her marveling that a sight that was so familiar could feel so new. How the expansion of his lungs, coupled with his solid warmth and heartbeat, made her hands want to shake against him when they had always been so steady.

“Is this okay?” she said, then bringing up the knife to skim the tip down his exposed throat. The only sign of agitation she could feel was his breathing, his quickening heartbeat. But his muscles remained relaxed under her touch. She moved her hand from his stomach back up to his neck, and the tip of the knife from his throat down to the center of his chest.

She saw his nod peripherally, and a shock of sensation that could only be described as lust moved through her limbs.

Concentrating on how his hot skin felt under her hand, the steadiness of the knife’s  tip resting lightly against his skin, the movement of his lungs and heart, the bristles of his chest hair against her arm, all these things she could absorb with some detachment. It took far more resolve to look up into his eyes.

She had seen desire in him before. The few kisses they’d shared, it had been there. In the moments when she caught him looking at her, so many times before, she realized now, and many times since, he’d looked at her the same way. But there was always a veil of coolness over him. Detachment. She recognized it because she used it herself.

But now the detachment was gone, for both of them. His eyes were dark with his excitement, yet still held that softness that she craved. She slowly set the knife aside, not taking her eyes from his. He remained still before her, his hands at his sides, as still as the rest of him. Seldom had his attention been so contained. At least not around her. It meant something, but she couldn’t concentrate on it now.

She brought up both her hands to frame his face, as he’d done to her so few times before. Feeling the stubble on his cheek, the strength in his jaw, at the same time their gazes were melting into each other, Joan felt another small piece of herself become exposed. The fear that came with it was, for once, muted.

“Promise me, Sherlock,” she said, taking another step forward to close the distance between them. His breath hitched, but he didn’t move away.

“Promise me you won’t hurt yourself like this again.” She whispered the last words, everything in her being wanting to look away, but forcing herself to see the uncertainty flash across his face, before something resolved. His hands moved to frame her waist. But his touch was again so light, if they were not already so close she would have doubted she felt him.

“Yes, Watson,” he rasped, and the weakness in his voice stabbed at her heart, the pain meaning far more than she wanted it to.

But then he leaned down and touched his forehead to hers. She let her eyes close at last.

“I promise.”

Chapter Text

They still slept separately. But it was so rare for Joan to fall asleep after him or wake before him for the issue to even present itself without prompting. And neither wanted to prompt it.

Joan told herself it was because neither of them were the kind to want to fall asleep with someone every night.

Sherlock’s exercise partners had been used for just that—they would not be bedmates for any longer than it took for Sherlock to be satisfied. And to satisfy his partners, if their expressions while leaving the brownstone were any indication.

And Joan was used to waking up alone, and most of the time falling asleep alone. She and Andrew had had very different schedules. He’d had frequent business trips and she usually worked later than him. Others would’ve said Sherlock’s habits had rubbed off on her, but that only meant they didn’t know her well. As a sober companion, her sleep schedule had never been regular, and even less so when she’d been a surgeon. As greedy as she was for sleep while living with Sherlock, it was only because she knew he was more likely than anyone else, even other addicts she’d worked with, to wake her up for his own purpose at inconvenient times. When you became Sherlock Holmes’ partner, you couldn’t help but have some of his erratic sleep schedule rub off on you.

But Joan could fall asleep far easier than he could most of the time. On a case she could barely keep the coffee away from him. Off a case, his need to distract himself could still keep him up most nights without the help of caffeine. The idea of them sleeping in the same bed together was so preposterous to both of them that the subject didn’t come up for weeks.

But then it did.

It was far from the first time Joan had fallen asleep outside her own bed. The library couch practically constituted an extension of her bedroom. She’d fallen asleep in the study and the kitchen more times than she could count. Even the small couch next to the stairs had been her bed a few times.

But Sherlock’s room had been the one place in the brownstone she had never let herself settle. No matter what sort of case they were on, how much paperwork they had to go through, Joan kept her own work separate from that room no matter what. However long the basement had been her “office”, Sherlock’s room had always been exclusively his as long as she had known him, and both had been comfortable leaving it that way.

The case had kept them both up for over twenty-four hours, and she was running on empty. Sherlock was working in his room next to the kitchen, a place she knew he liked to settle on late nights when a case needed a lot of his concentration. She brought him his fifth (sixth?) cup of coffee, while holding her own fourth cup in her right hand. Because they just didn’t see the point in splitting up, they’d brought all their materials into his room to work.

She’d sat next to him. Being close to him was getting a little easier, and she took advantage of the opportunity when she could. He didn’t even shift or glance at her when she sat down with only a couple inches between them.

She could tell by the lines on his face that he might deign to take a power nap at some point after 1am. She’d caught him at it only a couple times, but tonight was definitely a night she would not.

One minute Joan had been studiously speed-reading a group of medical documents Sherlock did not want to decipher, the next minute she opened her eyes to a dark room, her body horizontal, a position she had no memory of taking.

But then she realized what her head was resting on.

It was stiff and uneven, but warm. Her hand cautiously came up to feel further, and her heart jumped when she felt a knee. Sherlock’s knee. She had her head in his lap.

She didn’t immediately sit up, as a Joan from two months ago may have, if put in the same situation. Instead she took a few seconds to assess the situation before moving, disrupting whatever peace had clearly been established, however temporary.

The lights were off, meaning Sherlock had gotten up after she’d fallen asleep to turn them off. Meaning either she had then resettled to use him as a pillow in her sleep, or he had put her there.

He was clearly asleep himself—she could tell by the sound of his breathing. The room was pitch dark, and she had no idea where she’d left her cell phone. No way to tell the time, but it couldn’t be close to dawn—the lack of light from the distance kitchen windows would’ve told her as much.

The lights being off could only mean one of two things: Sherlock had become too frustrated to continue, or he’d solved the case. She thought back to the small pocket of minutes she could remember before she’d fallen asleep. She’d mentioned to him something in the medical files—some commonality between one from 2008 and two from more recent years.

Then more came back to her. She’d handed him the 2008 medical file in question, and the sight of him reading it closely was the last thing she remembered.

Joan felt her knees bent in the fetal position on the futon Sherlock counted as his “bed” most of the time. The quilt that had been draped over the back of the futon was now covering her, up to her shoulders. She slowly pulled it down to her waist and was about to sit up, when something about the silence of the room made her pause.

“How long have you been awake?” Sherlock said above her, his voice rough with sleep. By the sound of his yawn, she could tell he was rubbing his face. She hesitated to sit up now, since Sherlock wasn’t moving.

“Just a couple minutes,” she said, automatically keeping her voice hushed in the darkness. He only hummed to show he had heard her. She waited another few seconds, to make sure he didn’t stiffen or stir, wanting her to move.

But he remained still. She tentatively lifted her hand and again laid it on his knee, a reckless part of her, usually buried in the back of her mind, wishing there were no clothes between her hand and his skin. But the rest of her labeled the thought as a result of her tiredness, and she buried it again.

Not sensing any tensing in his muscles, she slowly rubbed her thumb up and down over the curve of his thigh, savoring the easy silence between them. They were both bone tired, but close to the end of a case. It was like an endorphin high at the end of a long run—something invigorating your fatigued limbs and pushing you to the end. Neither of them had ever spoken of it, but they each knew when they were feeling it.

“How long did you sleep?” she said. It was a question he got a lot from her. As his closest friend and a former doctor, she couldn’t keep herself from checking on him. She didn’t want to.

He apparently had put his cell phone on his other side, outside his pocket, because he answered her relatively quickly. “It’s been just over two hours.” She thought she saw the glint of his phone's light reflected in the glass fixture of one of the lamps across the room. But then the glint was gone. He must’ve put his phone down again.

“What you found, Watson, it led me directly to the killer. I fell asleep perhaps thirty or so minute after you did,” he said, and briefly she could feel the vibration of his other foot, not belonging to the leg she rested on, tapping against the floor. Then he realized what he was doing and stopped. She couldn’t hold in her smile. It was a strange freedom, smiling in the complete darkness of Sherlock’s room, at something that was so normal, yet so new to her in this environment.

In a different environment, she would have prompted for details on how he’d found the killer. But she could feel the fatigue in both of them, and wanted nothing more than to fall back to sleep. Holding back a resigned sigh, she readied her heavy limbs to rise from the couch.

But a touch on her shoulder stopped her. Her pulse was jumping before she could form an appropriate reaction.

“You can stay, Watson.” His words were now hushed, like hers had been. Only his fingertips touched her shoulder, and they lingered, as if he wanted to touch her further, but was waiting.

She got her breathing under a modicum of control. “You shouldn’t sleep like that, Sherlock,” she said, admonishing. As far as she knew, he only pulled out his futon into a bed to exercise with certain partners, never to sleep. They couldn’t both fit on this thing.

“And I won’t. I wish to save you the trouble of going up two flights of stairs at three in the morning,” he said, his words only a little rushed. He’d taken his hand away from her shoulder as he spoke.

Joan laughed, more to herself. She drummed her fingers once over his knee, before pushing herself up into a sitting position. She heard Sherlock stirring uncomfortably, likely unsure if he should get up or not.

“Sherlock,” she said, making sure she was loud enough so he would stop fidgeting—a little. She reached out to touch what she hoped was his arm. She felt his collar first, enough to know he’d undone a couple buttons. He stopped moving and she took her hand away, suddenly nervous.

“Do you really want me to stay?” she asked, her voice gone quieter with her fear. But she was careful to keep all emotion out of her voice. She refused to sound afraid. She only wanted the truth from him.

Sherlock did not answer right away. A rectangle of light appeared, where Sherlock held his cell phone. He’d set it between them, and as she looked up at him she caught him staring at her, before the cell phone screen went dark again.

She smiled, knowing he couldn’t see it. In the dark, his powers of observation were decidedly stunted. He’d wanted to see her true expression. Even her lack of expression said something to him. He’d told her as much once.

“Yes, Watson, I do.” He spoke firmly, each word holding the weight of what he knew to be a big decision for them.

She couldn’t stop smiling. Gathering the quilt against her torso, she moved her feet to the floor and stood up, careful not to bump the table where their casework was laid out. “Then help me fold this futon out.”

She felt something nudge her arm, and reached up to feel the hard plastic of Sherlock’s cell phone. “Turn the flashlight on for me, Watson. I’ll take care of it.” Was that excitement in his voice?

She did as he said, swiping up the menu with the flashlight button and turning it on. Sherlock was already pushing the coffee table further away from the futon. She followed him with the phone’s flashlight as he pulled the futon out into a bed, with a quick, practiced motion.

Then she kept the light following him as he went to a small closet to her right, pulling out two pillows from a shelf.

After he tossed them at the head of the futon bed, they both climbed back on almost simultaneously. Sherlock settled on the left side of the bed, somehow knowing she would prefer the right. Joan wordlessly handed him his phone with the flashlight still on, then spread the quilt over both of them.

She’d noticed Sherlock had already slipped off his shoes. His socks were yellow, green, and black stripes, with a smaller red stripe between the three colors. Joan still wore her day clothes, and knowing her blouse was already wrinkled, she didn’t worry about it.

As she was trying to remember if she’d put on a front-clasp or a rear-clasp bra on that morning, she felt something nudge her arm again. She turned to see Sherlock holding out her cell phone.

“Thanks,” she said, taking it and checking the time automatically. 3:12. Next to her, Sherlock began unbuttoning the rest of his shirt. She caught him glance at her nervously at least twice. Then he turned his phone flashlight off. They were plunged into pitch darkness again.

Rear-clasp. She was wearing a rear-clasp bra. Sighing inwardly, she reach back with both hands to undo the bra through her blouse, then once that was done, take it off without taking off her shirt.

It struck her that Sherlock had called her “prudish” once. Said she had “Victorian sensibilities”. Granted, that was long before she’d shared anything about her dating life with him, but taking off her bra the way she was, in complete darkness right  next to him, she had to admit he had evidence to support his theory—but only when she was around him.

After pulling her bra out through her left sleeve and dropping it on the floor, she turned to look at him, or in his general direction. She'd heard his limbs move around now and then, so she knew he wasn’t asleep.

She adjusted so she could lie on her right side, facing him. Somehow she’d ended up with most of the quilt. She began giving him back a few inches of it, thinking over how to frame her next words.

“Sherlock, am I taking things too slowly for you?” she said. Her voice was in its clinical mode. She sounded impartial, but only because it was easiest.

She felt as well as heard him turn to look at her. She kept her hands curled under her head, her knees already bent up, back in the fetal position. Sleep pulled at her eyelids but she fought to keep them open. Once she fell asleep and morning came, she might pretend these feelings didn’t exist for another few weeks. Which might only make things worse for them.

“What makes you ask that, Watson?” There was a brief, anxious pause. “Have I done something?”

“No,” she said immediately. “I was thinking…” She bit her lip, hesitating for one last second. “…Of what you said. Years ago, about me having Victorian sensibilities.”

“I hardly think my misinformed deductions deserve your scrutiny now, Watson,” he said, sounding more concerned than annoyed. “I was indeed wrong, but more to the point I knew I was wrong. I labeled you in such a way in hopes of provoking actions that would prove the opposite. At least, that is what I know now. At the time I only acknowledged I was frustrated.”

Her shock kept her from speaking for a few seconds. Then she smirked. “I knew you were teasing me, but not for that reason.”

“But I made you self-conscious around me, is that it?” he asked, the tone of concern still there, but his curiosity was taking the upper hand. She felt herself grinning.

“I already was, you just emphasized it in…well the wrong way,” she said, knowing he could hear the laughter in her voice.

“Watson…” Now he hesitated. She heard her heartbeat in her ears in the interim.

“Are the reasons for your self-consciousness…are they still present?” he said, his words growing quieter the more he spoke.

She took her hands from beneath her head so she could run the thumb of her left hand over her right palm, pressing hard. It was the only way she could think to release her agitation.  

“Not… It’s not the same, Sherlock. That’s all I can say. I’m too tired,” she sighed, then pressed her face into the pillow briefly before turning to lie on her back. The pillow smelled much like the quilt—like old books, and she swore a hint of the body soap Sherlock used.

“Watson, may I ask one last question?” Sherlock said, obviously having waited for her body to settle, but not long enough to fear she’d fall asleep on him.

“Yes,” she said, keeping her tone blank.

“Am I making you self-conscious at present?” She couldn’t decide if he sounded more concerned or curious this time.

“No, Sherlock. I am.” She sighed again, unable to help it.

“May I do anything to help?”

He sounded far too innocent.

She was on the edge of sleep, and her filter was decidedly slipping. Screw it. “Take off my shirt.”

“Pardon?”

He wasn’t even a little surprised, the insufferable know-it-all.

“You heard me. Take off my shirt,” she repeated, the pulse in her neck jumping furiously. But she refused to acknowledge her nerves.

He didn’t move or answer.

“I’d rather you do it,” she said, purposefully sounding both tired and annoyed.

“You’d rather…”

There was a long pause where he refused to finish his statement. She breathed out through her nose, rolling her eyes. She was annoyed with herself, not him.

“Unless you’d rather not,” she said, gentling her tone a little.

Another pause. The air felt particularly still. There was again that feeling of anticipation for something she couldn’t name. Then he spoke, his voice tinged with his own fatigue. “I see the darkness has stunted your deducting skills as well, Watson.”

But there was also that note of steadiness in him that he got when he had reached a conclusion. It had a reassuring effect on her. They would figure it out, whatever it was.

There was a dip in the thin mattress as he moved closer, and then his body heat surrounding her as he bent toward her. “Selective sensory deprivation has always been a fascination of mine,” he murmured, his breath touching her face. He smelled of coffee and the peppermints he often had to help him stay awake.

Then the back of his hand was brushing her jaw, moving down her neck, till his palm rested over her collarbone. He had to have detected her quickening pulse.

There was no reason to, but she closed her eyes against the flood of sensation. His hand rested over her skin for what was only a few seconds but what felt like much longer. Then he began unbuttoning her blouse.

When he was halfway down, she finally sorted her thoughts enough to speak. “I’m tired, Sherlock. I just want you to take off my shirt. Then we’re going to sleep. You’ve been up for over 36 hours.”

“And you’ve been up for precisely 26 hours, counting the last thirty minutes,” he said, his voice distant with observation. Of the fact he just stated or of what his hand was doing, she couldn’t be sure. But that was a poor argument for keeping her up longer.

He’d reached the last button.

 “You’ve got me beat by at least twelve hours,” she said evenly, ignoring the warmth of his hand on her stomach as valiantly as she could. He felt the curve of her waist, before his fingers skated up between her breasts, parting the blouse further as he did so.

She lifted her left hand and rested it on his bare shoulder. His hand stopped moving.

“Tell me what I found that led you to the killer,” she said, the effort she made not to sound breathless putting a tone of demand in her voice. It may or may not have been purposeful.

He moved his right hand from her chest to her other side, resting most of his weight on his left arm. He described the common condition of the patients that led him to look at a particular doctor who’d been in their suspect pool. He didn’t use the same words she would have, but then he’d never practiced medicine.

As he spoke, he pushed her left sleeve off her shoulder, allowing her to pull her arm out, then did the same to her right. Once both of her arms were free, both hands went to his shoulders, up his neck.

His breath faltered, but he kept speaking. From the nape of his neck, she ran the fingers of her left hand up through the half inch or so of hair he’d allowed to grow, her right hand lingering over the pulse she could feel pounding in his neck, the vibration of his voice.

Her touch had made him yield slightly, his face moving down closer to hers, his voice quieting. She listened to every word, admiring how he could concentrate so well on the details of one matter while physically occupied with a very different set of details. But she was doing the same.

He finished describing how they would approach the murderer tomorrow, naming the exact time he preferred they meet the Captain and Marcus at the precinct. His breathing was labored, his arms framing her torso as he kept himself above her with an exquisite tension she hesitated to shatter.

“Now that that’s settled,” she whispered, running the fingers of her left hand slowly back down the nape of his neck. He shivered and dropped down to his elbows, careful not to put his weight on her, their faces only inches apart.

This time she purposefully kept her eyes open as she brought her lips closer to his. She could see nothing, she only wanted to know the sensation. Then she closed the space between them, their lips meeting with her sigh of satisfaction.

He still held himself above her, and so she pressed her body up into his, gasping into his mouth at the shock of heat against her chest. He let her pull him down on top of her, but there was still hesitancy in him. In how his mouth moved against hers, receiving her touch more than exchanging, how his arms still held some of his weight. She brushed the fingers of her right hand over his cheek, ending their kiss and falling back into the pillow. He lifted himself a few inches above her, breaking their contact except for her hand on his face, his right arm brushing her left side.

“It’s okay, Sherlock. Do you want to stop now?” she whispered, feeling the sweat on his brow, the side of his face.

The silence was still and uncannily silent, with only their heavy breathing, and that tension that was all but tangible. She heard his right hand fisting in the quilt next to her, then he nodded twice.

“Too much deprivation makes for too much sensation,” he said, his words breathless and short. He then pushed himself away and lied on his back beside her.

She smiled at the double meaning, pulling the quilt up over her breasts. “I’m sorry. Next time we won’t have all the lights off.”

“No need to apologize, Watson,” he said, still sounding out-of-breath but to a lesser degree. Then his hand touched her right hand that she had unconsciously rested between them, reaching toward him but respecting the space he needed.

Now he intertwined his fingers with hers, and brought her hand to his face, kissing her fingertips lightly. His grip loosened, giving her a chance to pull away, but he still kept the back of her hand pressed to his cheek as he continued catching his breath. Of course she did not pull away. She listened closely, knowing he wasn’t exactly near hyperventilating but still keeping it in mind. It was automatic for her.

“I played an equal part in this. I do not think we made a mistake,” he continued, filling the silence she hadn’t.

She realized a smile was pulling at the edge of her mouth, and schooled her features into a calm indifference he couldn’t see. “No, I don’t think it was a mistake either,” she said, squeezing his hand a little. He squeezed back, then let go.

“Will you sleep now?” she said, purposefully making her voice light.

His dry laugh made her heart lift. Even though she couldn’t see his expression, she knew he was alright now.

“Till morning, Watson,” he said with the same lightness, pulling over his half the quilt he’d discarded before.

She hummed in response, relaxing back into the pillow, not quite able to stop smiling. She lifted her right hand to her face, touching the fingers he’d kissed to her own lips. Her eyes closed, and sleep came quickly.