The thing is, it’s mutually beneficial. Sherlock gets access to privileged information about Magnussen, and Janine gets a promise that the man who holds a guillotine blade over her neck will be wiped off the proverbial map. Sherlock gets the dawning horror and confusion on John’s face, the proof of jealousy, the proof of affection in one of the only creatures he has ever allowed himself to love; Janine gets a good laugh and a fake boyfriend with which to placate her pestering mother.
The rules, unsaid: the front is over once the threat of Magnussen is eliminated. There will be no stiff, overly-polite taking of tea with Mrs. and Mr. Holmes, nor with Mrs. Attar. There will be no sex. There will be no physical intimacy in private.
Which is why the morning erection is a surprise. Sherlock lays on his back, listening to Janine snoring softly on the other side of the bed. It was a late night, and John had been around. They had no choice but to go to bed together. Janine, as usual, made it into a joke, layering on sweatpants and flannel shirts as she complained about Sherlock’s freezing bedroom to put him at ease. She curled up in a tight little ball as far from him as possible and fell asleep like that. Sherlock, at long last, turned his back to the empty space and fell into a light doze.
In the morning he wakes from a deep sleep to a smudge of warmth where Janine’s body heat has bled across the space between to soak into his back. It’s surprisingly… nice. Sherlock feels heavy and languid, content, well-rested. The throb between his legs when he shifts is almost lost in the pleasant buzz that has infiltrated his entire body. He is not afraid of his own arousal, though he has been in turn bored and intrigued by it. He is not afraid of Janine, either. He is confident the ground rules will protect him from anything unwanted.
But for now, he has experiments to run and an erection to get rid of. As silently as possible, he slips from the bed and pads to the shower. Under the hot spray, with steam fogging up the glass panels, he rubs his hands over his body and watches with sleepy interest as he reaches full hardness. Warm, safe, home all seep through his bones and blood, relax him. He closes his eyes and grunts softly, and the sound of his ejaculate on the tile flooring is lost under the low rumble of the shower.
There is a tube of Janine’s body wash in the corner of the tub. When he’s finished he takes a bit of it and rubs it between his fingers thoughtfully. The scent bursts into the humid space: fragrant, earthy, more citrus than sweet, with undertones of alpine freshness. Not particularly feminine, and not an imposition. It reminds him of the smell of her neck just under her jaw, where the scent of her body and her bathing is slow to fade. It doesn’t repulse him like he expects. He lets the suds rinse away under the warm spray and shuts off the water.
When he emerges, damp-haired but fully dressed, Janine is sitting at the kitchen table with a newspaper – not one of Magnussen’s – and a cup of coffee. She’s dressed in her own shirt and panties, and Sherlock’s ratty blue dressing gown over it. It’s not displeasing.
“Don’t you have pajamas of your own?” he inquires, pouring himself his own cup. She makes it stronger than he usually takes it, and it’s sharp and fragrant in his mouth.
“Mm. At home.” She winks at him over the top of the paper. “Should I stock up here, then?”
She doesn’t usually sleep over. Keeping spare pajamas here would set a precedent. Sherlock shrugs and clears a space for some new slides. “If you like.”
She smiles and takes a sip of coffee, and Sherlock wonders when her presence turned from “barely acceptable”to “grudgingly comfortable.” He won’t concede that it’s pleasant, having her around, but it’s better than an empty flat. She isn’t John, not by a long shot. But they’ve developed their own absurd brand of domesticity. It’s… nice.
It can’t last forever. He feels something strained and hollow in himself as he’s browsing rings with half an eye, and for a moment he stalls in the act of passing over his (Mycroft’s) credit card. The jeweler raises her eyebrows at him then, and he all but pushes it at her.
“It’s all right to be nervous,” she clucks, swiping it briskly. The machine makes an unusual squawk in response as she rings him out. “Big decision, proposing!”
Sherlock just smiles tightly and wonders why the ring feels so heavy in his coat pocket.
It feels heavier in his hand when she leaves him aching in the hospital room. He hates himself. Her friendship had been freely offered, her loyalty and her honesty, as much as she could give. But he stretched himself too far, told too many lies. He knows he played with her emotions, and he knows she hates him for it. But he can’t bring himself to admit that it was, perhaps, his own sentiment he was experimenting with. He turns the ring over in his hand and sets it on the table. He will mail it to her, with a note of apology. She should at least get to keep the money it took to buy the damn thing.
Later, when he is (mostly) healed and there is a brief spat over sending him to Eastern Europe, Mycroft wrangles whoever it is he works for into tucking Sherlock neatly out of the public eye for a little while, just until things blow over. Sherlock is tired, and he doesn’t much care where he ends up. It’s getting colder, and it makes the hole in his chest ache. It feels too much like a broken heart.
He’s dozing in the back of Mycroft’s car when it pulls to a stop outside a cozy white cottage in the middle of nowhere. There’s a small, strangled orchard out back, and heavy vines dropping their petals all over the front of the whitewashed stone. He catches a glimpse of rickety colored boxes piled up out back – hives, he thinks – and suddenly he realizes where they are.
“No.” He turns to his brother, stiff, one arm across his chest to keep his unbuttoned coat close. “Why are we here? Mycroft, you can’t do this.”
“I’m afraid it’s already been done,” Mycroft drawled. “Don’t worry, I made her sign a contract agreement.”
Sherlock’s eyes narrow. “What sort of agreement?”
“That she won’t tamper with your healing process any further. Also that she won’t commit homicide, no matter how much you pester her.” Mycroft tilts his head toward the front door. Sherlock has no choice but to follow.
“I thought you were going to get rid of them.”
“I was.” She sets a cup of tea down in front of him, and then a glass jar filled with pure gold. He stares at it instead of staring at her. She’s wearing his ring.
“Thought you would’ve sold that.”
“Mm. Didn’t need to, really. I’m set for life. No thanks to you.” She drops into the opposite chair and cradles her own mug – hand-thrown, glazed twice over, a failed attempt made more attractive (in an artistic sort of way) by the clumpy, clumsy layers of color. One of the few usable things she made in a ceramics course in uni – no. A friend. They were going to throw it away and she –
“Sherlock? Are you listening to me?”
She has every right to sound so affronted. He looks up, sips his tea. “Yes.”
“You’re lying through your teeth, you are. Never change, do you, Sherlock Holmes?”
“I guess not,” he says, and for the first time he can taste the lie on his tongue. He’s changed more than she can ever know.
He aches, some nights. He aches for John, and for their old life together. He aches in his chest where the bullet pierced him, stopped him. Stopped his heart. He will sit up until the very beginning of dawn’s light touches the windowpanes, painting the frost with a rosy glow, plucking the violin that sits in his lap. Janine never says anything about it, and so he assumes she never hears him.
Then he is playing, one night, and he hears a creak on the stairs. He stills his fingers, lets the soft sound dissipate unheard. Silence. But he knows she’s there, listening, so after a little while he takes it up again.
He doesn’t mention it when she comes downstairs all the way for breakfast two hours later, but the next time he plays he plays for an audience.
He likes to go for walks along the edge of the property. The old orchard extends all the way down to the farm that abuts the other end of the lot, and here and there are old, abandoned cluster of hives. After kicking at a few out of boredom, he finds a live one, and has to run for it all the way down the hill and into the house. He’s on fire where they got him – leg, neck, a bit of open skin where his collar had dragged aside – and Janine laughs and sits him down.
“Just hang on, love,” she says, unthinking, and it makes Sherlock flinch. But he holds still and lets her peels his shirt away. Two dead bees fall into his lap, and there are two bright red marks swelling on his sternum, a match for his pale brown nipples and the knotted flesh of his bullet scar. She hisses in sympathy.
“Are you going to stare, or was there actually a purpose in removing my clothing?” Sherlock bites out. He’s forgotten how much beestings fucking hurt.
“Can’t help appreciating the view a little,” she snarks right back. She dabs icy baking powder paste onto the stings, which helps some. “Better?”
In a few minutes, it is. He accepts a towel-wrapped bag of ice with grudging grace, and holds it to the aching throb on his chest. Always his chest. Privately, he thinks it’s a marvel that his heart still beats unmolested.
Janine sleeps soundlessly, so he doesn’t really realize she has regular nightmares until the secret listening on the stairs turns into a slow, sleepy sag into the sitting room, where she sits wrapped up in a thick dressing gown and refuses to fall asleep. He adjusts his playing accordingly, and doesn’t know why.
One night there are tear tracks on her face. Another, she is red-eyed and puffy-cheeked. Another, she is sleepless, with dark circles undersweeping her eyes and an ashy cast to her skin. He plays Debussy for her, and Saint-Saëns, and Vaughan Williams when her face is flat and dead. Sorrow paints a prettier picture than emptiness. Sometimes she comes to him as flat as paper, nothing written in the blankness of her features, and he plays until that high wall cracks and she feels safe enough to cry.
He never asks. He doesn’t have to. Magnussen has left his indelible print on her life, just as he has on Sherlock’s. It’s the one thing they have in common, the one thing that keeps him from walking out and struggling in solitude. John Watson couldn’t save him from himself, but maybe Janine will serve to keep the night terrors away.
It is late summer, and all the windows are open. Sherlock is sprawled on the couch, letting the warm, humid air wash over him as he plucks listlessly at his violin. The bow is useless in this wet air. Every few minutes he stops to retune, but the wood is taut and full of moisture, and a truly perfect pitch is impossible. Eventually he gives up and just strokes his fingertips along the wood grain, breathing in faded wisteria and the smell of earliest morning.
Janine creaks down the stairs later than usual for nightmares, but too early for actually getting up. She’s wearing a thin satin nightdress – if something that barely falls to mid-thigh can be classified as dress in any sense of the word – and it’s soaked through with sweat. Her face gleams with oil and her hair is sticking to her face, but she doesn’t look terrified, or tragic, or scared. She looks… languid. Plumped with comfort and sensuality. She tucks herself into the armchair near his feet and he can see the dark of her panties through the pale satin.
A waft of air comes in through the window, and for a moment he smells her: salt, musk, faded honey-soap and mint toothpaste.
“Play me a song, Sherlock Holmes.”
She props her cheek on one hand and smiles slowly, like her features are so weighted with delicious self-satisfaction that she can barely pull them into motion. Sherlock, unaccountably, is jealous. He has never, not once in his life, been so assured of himself, so comfortable in his own skin. His own sexuality. It has always been a prickly, standoffish thing. Terrified to be handled in the presence of others. He wants to hate her for coming down here still smelling of early-morning orgasm and last night’s hot bath. He tries. He fails.
“Can’t. Too humid.”
“Too bad. I was hoping to be serenaded.”
Their eyes have locked across the length of the couch, the length of his body. He wishes he weren’t lying on his back like this, so exposed. “You smell good,” he says abruptly, and doesn’t know why. It doesn’t sound like a compliment all that much, or even a neutral observation. It sounds like she’s offended him by the nature of her warm-bloodedness, her aliveness.
He wishes he had the words to tell her what she’s woken up in him.
“Do I? I’ve been sweating like a pig all night. Awfully hot up there.”
“You should’ve slept down here.” His fingers stroke the edge of the bridgeboard, lightly. Her eyes drop and follow the movement. “I would’ve given you the couch.”
She leans forward a bit, lets one leg slip free to rest flat-footed on the floor. It’s a very nice leg. Curved, moving from an elegant ankle to a dimpled knee to full, unapologetic thigh. Janine likes her sweets and doesn’t much care who knows it. Sherlock licks his lips unconsciously, wonders if her sweet plump knee would taste like honey.
“No you wouldn’t. You’re many things, Sherlock, but you’re no gentleman.”
“Of course I am. I can be.” He’s confused – it feels like they’re having two conversations at once. “Do you want me to be?”
“Oh, Sherlock. I just want you to be you. Whatever that is.” She’s standing up now, moving toward him. Her footsteps are muffled by the inches-thick Persian rug spread across the floor.
His hands still on his violin and he looks up, the breath stopped in his chest. At this angle he can nearly see up the narrow hem of her nightgown, but he doesn’t. He can smell her, though, unmistakably. His mouth waters. Why is his mouth watering?
She bends down and kisses his forehead. “What do you want from me?”
His chest heaves like a bellows, and he should be embarrassed but he can’t grasp onto the sharp-bladed edges of his usual perception. “I could ask the same of you.” Her warm thigh is inches from him. He could lean forward and kiss her knee, just a little peck, a little flicker of tongue to see what she tastes like.
His hand is on her thigh. His fingers are so pale and spidery against the warm olive of her skin. He is not fit to touch her.
“Whatever you want, Sherlock.” Her voice is a breath of wind above him.
His thumb presses, dimples the skin slightly, and she shifts her weight, opens her stance just a little bit for him. Another waft of scent, of hot, humid air smelling pungently of woman. It isn’t, contrary to expectations, unpleasant. He rather thinks he’d like a little more. “I thought you hated me.”
“I sort of stopped hating you when you were sitting pathetically in the kitchen with beestings all over your skinny chest.” She’s laughing at him with her voice. Gently. Somehow he doesn’t feel mocked. When she plucks the violin from his arms and sets it aside, he lets her, lets his hands fall slack to his sides and looks up.
Dawn is breaking, sliding through the windows shyly. It brightens her, lights a flashing fire in her eyes, and he thinks she looks like a goddess.
“You’re going to have to tell me yes.”
Sherlock swallows the lump in his throat. Her slow confidence, her matter-of-fact desire, must be catching: it’s easy to drop one foot to the floor, to let his thighs spread. A hot, heavy throb manifests between his legs when her eyes drop to his pelvis. “Yes.”
His heart is beating a mile a minute as she strips off the sweat-damp bit of satin and stands before him in her deep purple panties, lacy, meant to seduce. He runs his fingers along the bottom edge, slips underneath at the hip. They’re stretchy and soft, comfortable but sexy. Like her.
She steps into him, swings one lovely plush knee across his waist and sits right in his lap without asking. The soft touch at her hip turns into a startled clutch. Laughing softly, she detangles his hand from her underwear and spreads his fingers over her thigh instead. The other hand comes up to mirror it, and he grips gently, feels the malleable flesh. Her skin is smooth, freshly shaven, but there are little silky hairs, barely visible, at the tops of her thighs and on her soft belly. They grow inward, clustering into a thin arrow that disappears into her pants. He swallows hard.
Above him, Janine balances easily, just barely resting in the cradle of his hips. With gentle hands she braces herself against his chest. Rocks, very slightly. He can feel the damp heat of her core against him, even through his pajama bottoms and dressing gown. God. His careful touch turns to a firm grip, and he loves that she is sturdy and substantive, that she gives him something to hang on to.
Her breasts are small in proportion to her hips, but they are so pretty: the dark, rosy areolas are tightly budded, straining upward, and they swing slightly with every curl of her pelvic bone. He wants them in his mouth. She seems to read his mind, or perhaps his mindless, uncontrolled expression; she leans down, wriggles up just a bit, and sighs when he kisses his way along one breast up to where he can take her nipple into his mouth.
Oh. Now she is humming and sighing. He brushes her ribs, her back, settles his hands snugly around her waist and lets her ride him. He thinks he can feel her getting wetter, but it’s hard to tell with so much fabric between them. He sucks as much of her breast as he can into his mouth and pulls off slowly, rolling the nipple between his lips until she pushes forward, finally, shoves her hips down and pulls a deep groan out of him.
“Janine…” He doesn’t know why, but he is terrified. She sits back a bit and breathes deeply, pushes her curling hair back from her bare shoulders. One nipple is deep red and shining with his saliva; the other is matte, more brown than pink. He reaches up and caresses it, cups her breast and slides the nipple between his fingers.
“All right?” She touches his lips, lets him suckle the tips. In the beds of her nails he can taste the remnants of her arousal, the self-pleasure of a predawn waking.
“Mmm. Yes.” He squeezes her waist, slides his hands up to her shoulder blades and pulls her down. “I want to kiss you.”
She is smiling, flushed, dark-eyed. She kisses him.
There is a moment where it seems as if he is outside his body. He stands and looks down at her bare body, watches his own hand push at her underwear until he can cup her bare arse and grind her against him more fully. He watches her arch and sigh, watches her suck on his neck until he’s nearly bucking up into her, flushed and tousled.
Then her arm in snaking between them, her hand cupping his arousal, and he snaps back into his body like a released rubber band.
“Oh,” he breathes. She is crouched above him, one hand buried in his hair. Watching intently. “Oh, oh.” He can think of nothing else to say. She is burrowing into his dressing gown, finding the opening in his pajama bottoms. He twists his hips up and she finds him, draws him out. For the first time, the most intimate part of himself is being held by a woman, tracing the seam of a woman’s thigh. He grips her hips, her arse, so hard he is surely leaving fingerprints in red and, later, purple.
“You’re going to have to help me,” she whispers.
He fumbles as he slips his hand into her panties, mumbles apologies as he knocks against her clumsily. She eases him, soothes him, talks him through it: he pushes the gusset to one side and parts her with his fingers. She is slick and hot – he slips against her, but at her urging presses and suddenly slides in deeply. He can feel the exhale of her cry against his face.
“That’s it. Just hold it to one side… ahhhh, god. Fuck.” The expletive is whisper-soft as she guides the plump head of his prick back and into her. He holds his breath. He can feel the elastic give of her opening around his corona, the slick tightness as she eases down around him. He is overwhelmed. Heat washes over him, sticky sweat, need.
“Janine,” he breathes. She covers him with her body and begins to move. It’s too much. He buries his head into the sweet-smelling curve of her neck and grips her tight. “Janine, oh, I – oh.”
“It’s all right.” She is breathless, too. “It’s all right, I don’t mind, just do it.”
He groans, shoves into her. All at once the heat surges, clings to him, suffocates him, and he cries out as he comes deep.
She is kind. She rides his orgasm slowly, and draws out when it becomes too much for him. Then she accepts his hand, shows him how to touch her to take her to pieces. He kisses her throat and her collarbone as he strokes her; he bites down gently, thumb moving in firm circles on her clitoris, and grips her waist in his free hand when she reaches her own climax.
She is next to naked, lying against him, and he is fully clothed, but she doesn’t seem to mind.
The morning is a little brighter when they take their toast and tea on the back stoop. They sit shoulder to shoulder, not at all fawning or syrupy-sweet. Just comfortable. Sherlock drizzles honey into his cup, watching it catch the daylight, and says, “I want to know what you taste like when I put honey inside of you.”
She stops mid-bite, chews, swallows. “Nothing that’s going to get me an infection, all right?”
Janine giggles at the pout on his face and kisses his cheek. She leaves crumbs and a smear of honey behind, but he doesn’t mind all that much.
He turns and kisses back.