Love, Sherlock decides several months into living with John, some four weeks after they've declared their mutual affection and agreed to adjust their relationship accordingly, is even worse than its reputation. It's certainly not worth the effort his body seems determined to go to whenever he's in John's presence. When John enters the room, Sherlock's heart picks up its pace. When John gets hurt, Sherlock's heart skips entire beats without discernible physical reason. He feels the oddest flutter in his throat when John smiles at him, and John's disappointment creates an uncomfortable hollow in the pit of his stomach. Sherlock has always been aware of his surroundings, but now his body has become an antenna, designed for the sole purpose of staying attuned to John Watson's precise location, his mood, and his desires.
It's annoying. Distracting. Remarkably inconvenient. Yet Sherlock feels reasonably confident in his ability to adapt to this new situation, were it not for the… Issue. Namely, the Issue of Cuddling.
Cuddling has always been something Sherlock enjoys. Kissing too, as long as not too much tongue is involved and he's allowed to set the pace. Then again, he is Sherlock Holmes. He's always the one to set the pace. John is already accustomed to following his lead, which is fortunate, but also somewhat unpredictable, because while John will humour Sherlock more often than not, he also has very firm ideas about How Things Should Be Done and no qualms at all about pestering Sherlock into compliance. It's this unpredictability which has turned the issue of cuddling into… well, into the Issue of Cuddling.
John likes to cuddle. He throws his whole body into it to an extent which is, frankly, gratifying in the extreme. Sherlock never believed that someone could "melt against" someone else before he met John Watson. John, it turns out, is very good at melting against Sherlock. He's also very good at being warm, and comfortable, and pliant in all the best ways without allowing Sherlock to push him around. He also hasn't made a single move to attempt anything beyond cuddling, and that is the thing Sherlock doesn't understand. Doesn't John find him appealing? Has John deduced Sherlock's aversion to sexual intercourse and is humouring him in one more way? How long will he be willing to do so before their limited compatibility in this area will lead to problems? Sherlock's asexuality would hardly be the death knell to their relationship, but it might cause unnecessary strain.
John himself said that he wanted to "get off" with Sarah, as early as their first date. And yet it seems that he has no interest in getting off with Sherlock after months spent in his company. Why?
The inherent problem is, of course, that Sherlock is the world's only consulting detective. He doesn't ask for information; he deduces it. That John keeps behaving in unexpected ways is irksome. That Sherlock still hasn't been able to determine whether or not John wants a physical relationship beyond cuddling on the sofa is… annoying. Vastly so.
He will have to put more effort into his deductions. John isn't a very complex man. He should be easy to figure out.
A week later, Sherlock is no closer to figuring John out than he was at the beginning of this "case". He might start to doubt his own capabilities, had he not solved a murder and two blackmailing cases in the same time, so clearly it's an issue of concentration. However, they are alone now, both tired and once again sitting close together on the sofa as they watch yet another of John's beloved spy movies, so Sherlock decides to take a more direct approach.
John's thigh is warm and firm against his own as Sherlock moves the final few centimetres to close the gap between them. John lets out a pleased little huffing noise and leans into Sherlock's body without taking his eyes off the telly. Sherlock is momentarily derailed by the warmth that spreads through him at the ease of their contact; John really is disarmingly generous with his affection. The way he picks up Sherlock's hand and presses a quick, soft kiss on the knuckles is a perfect example, and now it's Sherlock's turn to hum out his pleasure. His eyelids droop on their own accord as the warmth in his limbs is joined by the growing weight of sleepiness and he hums again, rubbing his cheek against John's soft hair. John smiles, Sherlock ignores the answering flutter in his throat, and all is as it should be.
Except for the Issue.
Sherlock lets his cheek rest on the top of John's head, too lazy to move. He adds "unexpectedly comfortable" to his mental list of traits John neglected to mention about himself during the initial stage of their acquaintance, along with "crack shot" and "occasionally hot-tempered". He wonders how many more he'll discover over the years. How many years they'll have. If he'll be the one to ruin things. He probably will; he's perfectly aware that his faults frequently outweigh his appeals, such as they are. John may be a patient man, but he's hardly a saint.
Sherlock frowns at himself. How dreadfully maudlin; he must be more tired than he thought. In any case, thoughts like this won't solve the matter at hand. And speaking of hands…
The fabric of John's trousers is rough beneath Sherlock's fingers as Sherlock slides his hand up John's thigh and lets it rest there, close to John's groin. John twitches once, but relaxes again, placing his hand over Sherlock's. Sherlock is uncertain how to proceed. Should he pull out his hand from underneath John's and place it directly on John's crotch? If yes, how will he go on from there? He wants to find out if John is attracted to him, not engage in actual intercourse. But if he arouses John and then withdraws, John might get angry, and then he will pull away, and he really is so very, very comfortable.
Sherlock closes his eyes for a moment, trying to settle on the best course of action. He still hasn't found it when John wakes him up and they totter into Sherlock's bedroom, too tired to do anything but fall into bed and curl up under the blanket.
Next time then.
On his better days, Sherlock wishes he had more experience with negotiating a relationship. He's had three partners before, all of whom left him for reasons pertaining to his character, and while he doesn't exactly mourn their loss – never did; sentimentality doesn't suit him – he wonders if, had he been more willing to compromise – or at all, in fact – the present Issue could be resolved more easily.
Of course, had he been more willing to compromise, he might not have found himself in need of a flatmate, would never have met John and consequently seen no need for compromise. Social interactions, always so tedious.
But he does wonder, sometimes, what John was like before Afghanistan taught him patience. What it was about a school friend he hadn't seen in years that made Mike Stamford decide that here was a potential flatmate for Sherlock Holmes, one who wouldn't move out again after a week. If John had always been intrigued by the extraordinary, rather than repelled by it. If he's attracted to it. How he's attracted to it.
What is it like in that ordinary brain of his? Sherlock will figure it out.
Figuring things out is what Sherlock does. Sadly, there is always something he misses. In this case, the victim's sister.
"You didn't even try!" she yells, and her boyfriend, with an unerring sense for well-timed drama, throws another punch that makes Sherlock's head snap back so hard that something in his neck pops audibly. At this point, concussion is a foregone conclusion. He should perhaps start worrying about spinal injuries.
"Your sister," Sherlock slurs, not for the first time, "was already dead by the time you contacted me." Which is what happens if you wait too long, he doesn't add again.
The boyfriend, always happy to oblige, draws back his fist.
"If you hit him again," John says from the direction of the door, "I will shoot you where you stand."
"By which he means you're under arrest, thank you," Lestrade adds, "and no one's going to get shot because no one here has a gun."
Sherlock thinks he hears John mutter, "Watch me," but they're too far away and Lestrade doesn't reply. The boyfriend doesn't resist arrest – he should be used to it, after all – but Sherlock's erstwhile client bites Lestrade's hand hard enough to draw blood. Lestrade curses and cuffs her while John hurries over to Sherlock, grasping his head with both hands to check Sherlock's pupils.
"Ow," Sherlock says indistinctly, sagging a little now that John is there. John frowns at him, but his touch is gentle.
"Yes," he says, "you have a concussion."
Sherlock scoffs; he already knows that. But John looks gratifyingly worried about Sherlock's possible and factual injuries, and his relieved smile at Sherlock's relatively sound condition makes something warm expand in Sherlock's chest.
Maybe he doesn't hurt all that much, after all.
But then the warmth fades and dread settles in. This is one of those Situations, isn't it? Mortal peril, adrenaline seeking an outlet; as soon as Lestrade is gone John will push Sherlock up against the nearest wall and… and ravish him! Sherlock already feels nauseated from the concussion, which must be why the revulsion that hits him at the very idea of being groped and fondled is stronger than usual.
"Sherlock?" John asks, the smile dropping off his face, "Are you going to be sick? You look a bit green."
"I don't want to be ravished," Sherlock informs him. The words come out even more slurred than before.
"Yes," John says slowly, "okay. No ravishing. Got it."
He honestly does get it, doesn't he?
"But why?" Sherlock asks. He doesn't understand John at all, which is frustrating and wonderful and exhausting. John should explain himself. It's the least he can do; Sherlock has been hurt and deserves a treat.
John checks Sherlock's pupils again. "Because… you don't want to be ravished," he says. "Sherlock, do you have double vision? Blind spots, that kind of thing?"
"How do you know?" Sherlock asks plaintively.
John stares at him. "Right.," he says, "that's hospital for you."
Sherlock protests – he posed a perfectly reasonably question! – but John won't budge, and so Sherlock has to deal not only with the abominable shock blanket, but also with an ambulance ride and two days in hospital while John frets and tries not to show it.
This is getting ridiculous. As soon as he's back home, Sherlock will end this.
Once and for all.
Forty-five minutes after his return to Baker Street – freshly showered and wearing blissfully unwrinkled clothes – Sherlock finds himself sitting on the sofa, fingers tented beneath his chin as he watches John drink his tea. John is well-used to the scrutiny and pays it no mind, sipping and frowning as he scrolls through his phone's menu. Looking to change the ring tone, Sherlock knows, and it's absurd how John's frequent struggles with technology have become something endearing. He sits, watches John's frustration grow, and waits until John is taking another sip of his tea to ask, "Do you find me unattractive?"
John chokes, spits half his tea into the mug and inhales the other half, coughing wildly as he flails and sputters and finally manages a strangled, "What?!"
Sherlock figured that if he must have a Relationship Talk, he might as well add some entertainment value. He smirks briefly at the way John's eyes are watering, but then he grows serious again.
"Your sexual disinterest," he clarifies. "I'M assuming from your lack of self-consciousness when in physical contact with me that you're had the opportunity to gather experience with men before. You've expressed your desire for sexual relations with Sarah quite clearly. Therefore your reluctance to enter into a similar relationship with me must be grounded in my own person. Do you find me unattractive, or are you pandering to my own lack of sexual interest?"
John stares at him, open-mouthed. He sets his phone down and folds his hands, leaning forward. "Sherlock," he says slowly, "are you… How many nicotine patches are you wearing?"
Sherlock blinks and looks at his arm. "Two." He frowns. "I'm not high."
"No," John snaps rather viciously, "just lost your bloody marbles. No," he adds, pinching the bridge of his nose, "no, I'm sorry, that wasn't fair. But, Sherlock," he pauses, grimaces, "Sherlock, you don't want to have sex with me. Why should I want to have sex with you?"
"Sarah," Sherlock reminds him.
"I only said I wanted to get off with her because it's what people expect," John says. He's looking utterly helpless. "I slept on her sofa, remember?"
And finally, finally, Sherlock gets it. "Oh," he says, "that's… Of course you are! How did I miss it?" He claps his hands together with the delight of a deduction well – if belatedly – made. John's careful way of making sure everyone heard him when he said he wanted to get off. His initial 'It's all fine,' when they were having dinner at Angelo's. His apparent – his actual – contentment with a platonic relationship.
John is asexual.
"But you're hiding it," Sherlock observes, all the pieces slotting neatly into place, "because asexuality is a little-known aspect of human sexuality and explaining it over and over to idiots who don't get it is too much of a hassle to bother." Sherlock has some experience with that particular situation. "You did realise early on that I myself was an asexual, and naturally assumed I had noticed the same about you."
"Naturally," John agrees with a smile.
"There's always something." Sherlock smiles back. For the first time he can remember, he feels… well, not happy. Happy is such a trite, meaningless little word. Content, perhaps, although that's not quite it, either. Serene. Exultant?
Oh, fine then. He is happy.
"Fancy a cuddle?" he asks. John pretends to think about it.
"Will you feel me up again?"
"Never," Sherlock promises. He's aware that he is positively beaming, but he can't seem to stop himself.
"Right then," John says. He looks wonderful when he is happy and smiling and doesn't want to have sex with Sherlock and Sherlock's heart is stuttering again, but he doesn't care.
As annoying as love might be, Sherlock is rather looking forward to getting used to it.