When John finishes giving his statement to the sergeant and comes out of the interview room, he reflexively looks around for Sherlock, but doesn't see her. Perhaps she'll be at Dimmock's desk haranguing him about the idiotic alibis of Pearson's crew of robbers, but when he finally tracks down Dimmock, the DI just gives him a sympathetic eye and says "Looking for herself? She lit out about twenty minutes ago."
John sighs, but not too dramatically, and gets himself a cab back to Baker Street.
As he's ascending the stairs, he can hear that Sherlock's already in. She's sawing away at the violin, dizzily climbing trills ending in horrible shrieks, over and over and over. He grits his teeth and pushes open the door, feeling a sudden surge of nostalgia for his Mk 6 combat helmet, with the goggles and the netting. The Mk 7, he'd heard, was supposedly bulletproof. But no, it probably wouldn't have been much help against Sherlock Holmes.
Perched on her chair, hunched over her violin, back to the room, Sherlock ignores him. John hangs up his coat, turns on the light in the kitchen, takes a moment to despair of the kitchen table, and heads back out into the sitting room.
"Sherlock. We've had this discussion." They have, several times over. Sherlock hates it when John acts as if he's got some right to know where she is, or where she's going. She calls it controlling. John calls it a tiny sop to his sanity. This discussion never goes well. "If you're going to drag me along with you all day, it's only fair to let me know when you don't need me any more, so I can--"
Sherlock stops playing and puts her violin down carefully on her chair, turning to face John. With the light behind her she's not much more than a dark silhouette, but John can still see the bruise all along the right side of her jaw.
"Oh, hell, what happened?" He comes closer.
"I will never not need you any more," Sherlock says irritably, stilling John in his tracks. "Sometimes I need you with me, and sometimes I need you someplace else. When we're on a case, wherever you are, that's where I need you. So your request is ridiculous."
John closes his eyes and tries to do two things at once: first, to ignore the "when we're on a case" part, and second, to look as if he's not trying to memorize precisely what Sherlock's voice sounds like when she says I need you with me.
"I need you now, in fact," Sherlock says, getting up. "Help me move the coffee table into the kitchen."
"What? Why?" John says, but purely out of reflex, not because he thinks he's going to get an answer. "Are you going to tell me what happened to your face?" he persists as they each lift an end of the coffee table. It slides under the kitchen table easily, leaving them shoulder to shoulder as they straighten up.
"You're the doctor." Sherlock reaches out and takes John's right hand in her right hand. She lifts it to her face, pressing John's fingers into a series of smaller bruises he didn't notice before. They're faint, but clearly fingerprint bruises: one hidden in the shadow under Sherlock's ridiculous cheekbone, one alongside her nose, one under her jaw. "Give me your diagnosis."
John stares, but Sherlock's eyes are half-lidded, lazy, and not giving anything away. He tilts her face a little further into the light. "Someone took your face in his right hand, like this," he begins. "Someone with big hands, bigger than mine, so probably a man, and he slammed your head into the wall and gave you this bruise on your jaw."
"Excellent," Sherlock says, with a thin smile that doesn't touch her eyes. "What else?"
John presses his lips together, then continues. "Judging by the way this bruising's come up, it happened about an hour ago, while you went around back to scout out alternate exits from the warehouse, and I was waiting up front for Dimmock like a useless twat."
Sherlock acknowledges this with the faintest upward tilt of her chin. She seems to be waiting for something else, standing there in the doorway of the kitchen, still as a statue, face utterly blank. But John's not sure what else there is.
He pulls his hand away before he can give in to his tempting urge to stroke Sherlock's cheek with his thumb. "Have you put ice on it?"
Wrong question. Sherlock turns away, striding into the living room and shoving her chair as far back into the corner as it will go. She turns back and pushes John's chair back against the wall as well, then sits down on the sofa and starts removing her shoes and socks. "Shoes off, please."
"You're going to assault me, and I'm going to fight you off."
"Oh, absolutely," John says, by which he means, absolutely no way in sodding hell. "I can't see any way that ends badly."
"You can see, you just don't," Sherlock mutters, standing up in her bare feet in their empty living room. "John. Please. Just try to knock me down and pin me, and I'll try to get away." A flicker of amusement flashes briefly across her face, then vanishes from everything but her voice. "You won't hurt me, if that's what you're afraid of."
"Why?" John demands. Is Sherlock insecure about her self-defense skills, just because she was briefly caught off-guard by one of Pearson's men? Can that possibly be right? Sherlock isn't exactly an Amazon, but she's taller than John, and deceptively tough under those raw silk blouses and boxy suit jackets. When it's warm in the flat, or when she's applying nicotine patches, she'll take her jacket off and roll her sleeves up to her elbows, and John can see her biceps and triceps, clearly defined under the soft material of her shirts. When she fights, she's got speed and force and know-how, all wiry muscle and bony knees and elbows lashing out, fast as hell, landing precisely on every vulnerable spot. John has seen her knock a man clean out with one scientifically delivered punch. "Where is this coming from, Sherlock, why?"
"Pin me and I'll tell you," Sherlock says, stripping off her jacket and tossing it onto the sofa. She rolls her neck from one side to the other, bringing her hands up and curling them into loose fists.
"No!" John insists. "For Christ's sake, Sherlock. If you just want to beat the hell out of some poor bloke, go to the gym, all right? I'm not your bloody punching bag." He turns away, heading for the stairs to his room.
"John!" Sherlock calls after him, and he stops, waiting for whatever ridiculous manipulative thing Sherlock is going to say next. "John," is all she says, though, just his name, and then: "Please."
The 'please' is grudging. But it gets him. He turns around and comes back, stopping well outside Sherlock's punching range. He wouldn't put it past her to just take a swing and trust to John's reflexes to keep things going from there.
"He put his hand between my legs," Sherlock says coolly, and John's vision goes black and red and black again, just as if Sherlock had punched him in the face. "First he slammed my head against the wall. Everything went black. When my vision cleared, I was on my back with him kneeling above me. He had one hand in my shirt and his other hand was, as I said, groping at me. Then he tried to unzip my trousers. I gathered my strength, then made a noise, and when he looked up I nutted him." Sherlock rubs at the top of her head thoughtfully. "Twice, actually. Broke his nose, knocked him out. It's possible he may not even remember attempting to assault me. Sexually, I mean. If he does, do you think he'll tell? Brag about it, to the others?"
"I don't know," John says. Sherlock's voice is even but not too flat, her gestures expressive but not shaky. She's doing a really masterful job of pretending that she is not affected by this in the least. It definitely would have fooled John three months ago, before he moved in with her and started following along on cases. Before he had seen Sherlock pretending, on multiple occasions, to have normal human feelings and reactions. But he's beginning to catch on to her tells; just now, her smile is just a little off, for instance, and she's standing just a bit too still.
"What are you thinking right now?" Sherlock snaps. That's another tell; she usually doesn't have to ask.
John swallows. Closes his eyes. "That I feel fucking useless," he says, "not because I didn't stop it happening, but because I can't imagine a single thing I could do right now to-- to help. To make you feel better." He takes a deep breath, lets it out, feeling sick and helpless. "If you were anyone else, I mean a friend, I might ask if you want a hug, and if you were a patient I... well..."
"You would hand me off to Sarah," Sherlock says, her voice lowering a bit, slightly amused and knowing. Sincerely so, John thinks. The tension in his chest eases a little.
"I would probably ask if you would be more comfortable talking to Sarah, yeah."
"Would you hug me now?" Sherlock's eyes flicker back and forth. It's the way she looks when she's piecing together old bits of evidence in her head.
"If you like," John says, but he's still startled when she nods and actually moves to cross the distance between them. A little supernova of self-loathing begins to burn underneath his sternum, because he has never held Sherlock Holmes in his arms before, and he has wanted to for, if not the entire three months that they've known each other, then at least the last two months and twenty-eight days. And now it's actually going to happen. Sherlock Holmes of all people wants a hug, and she's going to press her body against John's because she trusts him to not be like that, all the other men who look at her and just see: long legs, fantastic arse, a model's cheekbones, kissable pink lips. (At least until she opens her mouth. Even then some men persist. John, for one.) And it isn't as if he can just turn it off, the part of him that wants to be close to her in that way. (Even though she's made it utterly clear that she's not interested in that, at all, ever, with anyone.) And he's basically a total bastard.
Sherlock stops just within arms' reach. John's arms are at his side, relaxed. He waits for her to make the first move.
"You're attracted to me," Sherlock says, and John looks away. Sherlock frowns. "I did mean it, when I said it was flattering. It is flattering, from you. I don't... mind. And you've been... very good about it."
"Thank you," John says seriously, because a compliment from Sherlock Holmes is rare game indeed, even when that compliment is 'thanks for not letting your creepy crush be too obvious.'
"Now hug me," Sherlock says, holding her arms out from her body stiffly, like a mannequin. John nods and moves in. He tries to keep it matey: a quick squeeze, no contact below the waist, a solid couple of pats on the shoulder and done-- but Sherlock locks her arms around his waist and hangs on tight when he tries to pull back. With her standing there in her bare feet, they're about the same height, and Sherlock leans her head on his shoulder and nestles in. John stands still for a moment, then gives in, wrapping his arms around her for a proper hug.
"I've been thinking," Sherlock says, her breath tickling at John's collar. "When I told you that I didn't... That I don't..." She huffs a breath out, frustrated, and enunciates the next bit clearly. "I think perhaps I spoke too soon when I said I would never be interested in personally experiencing sexual intercourse."
Any other day, he would drag Sherlock up the stairs and tumble her down on his bed, right now. Hell, he has a thousand ridiculous fantasies where Sherlock bursts into the room and announces something just like this, all too similar to what she's saying now: "John, obviously I was wrong about relationships, because somehow without noticing, I've fallen utterly in love with you. Take me to bed or lose me forever!" "John, I was lying when I said I didn't like sex. I actually like it far too much. Trousers off, quickly now." "John, come here. I want to see how many times you can achieve orgasm in a twenty-four hour period. It's an experiment." Okay, they haven't all been sweet, romantic fantasies, but at least he had always imagined Sherlock saying these things because she wanted to, not just because some oversized gorilla slammed her head against a wall and made her think-- John doesn't even know what she's thinking.
"Oh, Sherlock," John says, and squeezes her a bit tighter.
"To clarify," Sherlock says after a pause, "what I mean to say is, I want to have sex with you."
"Yes, I got that bit, thanks," John snaps, and then feels horrible for snapping at Sherlock, considering. But she just hugs him, trusting as a child, and makes a humming sound in her throat that could almost be a laugh.
"Shall we, then?" she says, and her hands slide down from the small of John's back, slowly, and there's just the barest hesitation before she grabs his arse with both hands, pulling their bodies even closer, tighter against each other. John freezes, then shakes her off. He staggers back, tripping over the edge of the coffee table, which is still protruding from under the kitchen table like a death-trap.
"No," John says. "Sherlock, really, no."
Sherlock narrows her eyes at him. "You think I'm being irrational," she says. "I'm surprised at you. You were one of the few people who ever actually seemed to respect my original position. Now you're going to try to argue that I don't know what I want, just because I've changed my mind?"
"But why have you changed your mind?" John demands. "Why today, why now?"
"Can you possibly be that dim? Do you think today was the first time anyone's ever tried it on?" Sherlock stares incredulously, then brings both hands up, scrubbing them through her hair, irritated beyond measure. "I live a dangerous life, John. I deal with criminals and madmen, I put myself on the front lines, and for the last six years I have done it all alone, no backup. I've come to terms with the fact that my choices may lead me to a horrible premature death, that I may be molested or crippled or disfigured in the pursuit of my avocation. I can take measures to improve the odds of survival, I have learned to defend myself to the best of my ability, I can even accept your assistance, but I will not give up my work. I will not! I can't! I will be what I am until it kills me. I can't do anything else."
"I know that," John says, still bracing himself against the cabinets. Beyond that he really has no idea what to say. He's not sure what this has to do with changing Sherlock's mind about sex; he's not sure they're even talking about that any more.
"Oh, how can you possibly be so slow!" Sherlock rages. She clambers over the coffee table, storms past John, goes into her room, and slams the door.
John takes a few deep breaths in and out. Then he moves the coffee table and the chairs back to where they're supposed to be. Then he goes up to his room, lies down, and puts his hands over his face. He imagines, vividly, going down to the holding cells at New Scotland Yard, handgun concealed somewhere on his person, finding the thug who touched Sherlock, and shooting him in the head. Possibly other places first, but definitely at some point in the head.
After that the fantasy goes wobbly, because John can't decide if Sherlock would appreciate his actions and possibly even be touched that John would go to such lengths, or if she would think his motivations were predictable and common, and his modus operandi boringly pedestrian. Yeah, probably she would think it was all just too terribly tedious. Unless John actually came up with some fantastically creative way to kill the bastard, like training a rare species of deadly viper to crawl into the cell in the night and... okay maybe not that, because that's rubbish. But something really cool and impressive. Then John realizes that he is feeling a sudden horrible kinship with Jim Moriarty, and that is just wrong. He has to stop thinking like this right now. He has to get out of the flat. Right now.
He gets up, grabs his coat and heads for the pub.
John settles into a dark corner at the bar, orders a pint and drinks it and tries not to think about Sherlock. But of course he thinks about nothing but Sherlock. She calls him slow, and well, maybe he is slow, but honestly, it makes no sense no matter how much he thinks about it. It just doesn't makes sense! Why should nearly getting raped make Sherlock, a woman who has never been interested in sex, suddenly want to have sex? And she as much as told him outright that today wasn't even the first time she's had a near miss (at least, dear God, he prays it was just a near miss) so why would it suddenly change her mind today, and not that other time, or times?
He has to stop thinking about this or he's going to have to go outside and be sick.
His phone buzzes in his pocket. He ignores it pointedly, orders another pint and drinks a third of it, slowly, before he pulls it out and looks at the text.
Nothing has to change. SH.
John frowns at his phone. There's two ways he could take that. Sherlock could mean that if John wants to, they can just pretend this afternoon's argument never happened, and go back to being regular, platonic flatmates. Or she might mean, they can have sex and nothing else has to change. Nothing besides that.
He is suddenly furious at the thought and his thumbs are jamming clumsily at his phone, spelling out a message before he can think twice.
I love you, you horribl ... Luckily, John runs out of steam before the end of the word. He carefully saves and does not send the text. No. Not helpful. And not kind. He sighs. Poor Sherlock. She just wants... oh, it's really not so complicated, he supposes. Not such a terrible thing to want, or even to ask for. Just to be physically intimate with someone she likes, and with someone who actually likes her. Just once, before she goes back to spending the rest of her life on her battlefield, where only people who will ever touch her will be criminals and madmen, trying to kill, hurt, burn the heart out of her.
Typical soldier, John thinks with a quirk of his lips. All she wants is one last fling before shipping out. Well, first and last, in Sherlock's case, but it's the same idea. He almost wishes he could... but he can't. He just can't be what Sherlock needs, not this time. He can't be her obedient errand boy, her loyal assistant, her experimental subject. Not for this experiment. And he can't imagine that it's anything more to her than that.
Or is it? John wonders. After all, if she'd only wanted sex, why start with a hug? Why not something more clinical, more scientific?
No. John's being ridiculous. He scowls into his beer. She couldn't possibly.
... But could she? What if he asked her? What if she said--
No, no, no. Just no. John finishes his second pint. He drinks it slowly, hoping he'll come to his senses.
He doesn't come to his senses.
(And after all, if this crashes and burns... well, it could hardly be any more awkward and horrible than it is already.)
He pulls out his phone again, but he doesn't open up a new text message. He calls Sherlock. The phone rings, and John waits. And waits. If there is a point where Sherlock's phone actually gives up ringing and goes to voicemail, John hasn't found it yet. It's not as if Sherlock would ever listen to her messages anyway.
She picks up on the eleventh ring. "Sherlock Holmes."
"Sherlock Holmes!" John repeats, giddy with adrenaline. Here goes nothing. Here goes everything. "Will you go on a date with me?"
"I am asking you on a date," John says. "I am down at Bricklayers Arms, and I want you to come down here, so I can buy you a drink and tell you that your hair is pretty. Because I am asking you on a date. With me."
"Are you drunk? But you've only had two pints. That's well within your usual tolerance," Sherlock says, aghast. John spins around in his seat and stares out the window at the darkening street, trying to spot her lurking outside. "I'm still home, I can't actually see you!" Now Sherlock just sounds disgusted.
"Right," John says, and turns around again, staring down at the dark wood of the bar. "So, you don't want to come on a date with me," he pushes on, because he is so tired already of waiting for Sherlock to just take his beating heart in her gloved hands and drop it in the bin for hazardous biological waste.
"Of course I want to come on a date with you," Sherlock says. Oh. Well. John is pretty sure that his phone just dropped the signal for a bit and he missed some crucial bit of that, like would never or couldn't possibly. He pulls the phone away from his ear to check. He's got five bars. He puts the phone back to his ear. "You heard me!" Sherlock snaps. "And your phone is not malfunctioning!"
"Okay," John says, and takes a deep breath, "but you do understand that I mean a real date. Not just a formality before we have sex and then in the morning everything goes back to normal because you have all the data you need, or, whatever it is you wanted. I actually want to date you."
He can't believe he's doing this. He hates it when men try to make a move on Sherlock, even perfectly nice guys who seem to like that she's clever and pushy and weird. It's not a jealousy thing on John's part-- it couldn't possibly be, since he knows for a fact (or thought he knew, anyway) that Sherlock just doesn't, that she would never. He just knows that she doesn't like it when they try, that it makes her look sad and uncomfortable, and so John has always hated it for her sake. And now here he is, doing exactly what he swore he'd never do.
"Sherlock?" he says, because she's been silent a while now. He pulls his phone away and stares at the screen.
The call's disconnected. Sherlock has hung up on him.
John swallows. He turns around on his bar stool, because now he really is going to be sick, and--
"Jesus!" he yelps, because Sherlock is standing right there, behind him, bundled up in her big black coat and blue scarf. She's put makeup or something over the giant bruise, so it's barely visible, and she looks breathless and weird. "You said you were--"
"I lied." Sherlock throws her arms around John's shoulders and kisses him on the mouth. It's clumsy at first and then oddly gentle, just her lips pressed unmoving against his, her cold leather-gloved hands carefully finding their way to the sides of John's face, fingers tracing gently over his stubble and crows' feet.
She pulls back and smirks at him. He stares at her.
"That's what I was suggesting," she says slowly, as if John's been acting really, really dim.
Well. Maybe he has been. "What?" John says. "Really?"
"Why would I proposition you for sex if there wasn't a pre-existing emotional attachment on my part?" Sherlock demands loudly, and if the whole pub wasn't staring before, it is now. "If I just wanted to have sex, I could find any number of willing partners."
"I'm free tonight, love, and I'm willing!" shouts some arse at the other end of the bar.
"I will keep that in mind, if John remains obstinate!" Sherlock replies, just as loudly.
"Please don't encourage--" John begins faintly.
"John," Sherlock interrupts, focusing in on him again. "I propositioned you because--"
"Go for it, Johnny boy!" somebody else yells.
"Okay, we're leaving," John digs in his wallet, throws a few notes onto the bar, puts his arm around Sherlock's waist and guides her hurriedly out the door. They get a ragged round of cheers and encouraging shouts as they go. John tries hard not to listen to the specific details.
"But our date!" Sherlock protests.
"We'll go somewhere else! Anywhere else!"
"Wait! First let me finish." Sherlock stops John, clamping her hands down on his shoulders and staring into his eyes. "John, I propositioned you, obviously, because I find that I would prefer to have some experience of consensual sex in a safe and supportive environment. But also because I... I would prefer that my first sexual experience is with you specifically. If I didn't focus on the emotional aspect when I brought it up before, that's only because... well, frankly, I thought it so obvious as to go without saying."
John isn't sure his feet are quite touching the ground. "Well, it... it isn't!"
Sherlock frowns. "Isn't it?"
"No!" John says, even though it really sort of is. Everybody who's ever seen the two of them in the same room seems to think so, anyway. "Oh, God, I'm the woman in this relationship."
"Is that a problem?" Sherlock inquires, eyes narrowed.
"Honestly? Not as long as we're actually in a relationship," John admits. "Are we?"
Sherlock makes an uncomfortable face, shoves her hands deep into her pockets, then stares around the neighborhood searchingly, as if desperately hoping one of the passers-by is about to get gruesomely murdered. A long moment goes by. No one gets murdered. "Yes," she finally says. "If you want to."
"Only if you want to," John says firmly.
"God help me, I want to," Sherlock mutters at her shoes. John's eyes go wide, and then Sherlock snaps her head up and pins him with her impatient gaze again. "You haven't said anything about my hair yet."
"Your hair is pretty," John says, reaching out and curling one hand around the back of Sherlock's neck, letting his fingers slide into those soft, dark curls. "Your hair is very, very pretty."
Sherlock smiles, then looks startled. Then, incredibly confused. John pulls gently, tilting Sherlock's head down, and kisses her as sweetly as he knows how.
The faint sound of cheering can be heard from inside the Bricklayers Arms.
"Chinese?" Sherlock suggests, leaning her forehead against John's. "And then sex."
"On the first date?" John reaches out and tugs at Sherlock's left wrist, pulling her hand out of her pocket. He slips his hand into Sherlock's and squeezes, feeling the warmth and the strength of her grip even through her winter gloves.
"Yes, on a first date!" Sherlock insists, squeezing back.
John grins and shakes his head. He's going to stand firm on this. He's almost sure. "Sherlock, what kind of a girl do you think I am?"