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It Isn’t Strange Until You Think About It

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Well, you know how it goes. You’re friends with someone for a while, it develops into something else over time, eventually you acknowledge it, that sort of thing. Bog standard, really. That’s all it was. Nothing to get all excited about.

What? Well. If you really think it will help to tell you.

But this is just between us, alright? You won’t go to the papers. Or tell my sister. It’s sort of...well. It’s private. Personal. It’s a bit embarrassing, if I’m honest.

Professional responsibility? Well, I don’t know about that. I’ve seen your notebook in the hands of Mycroft Holmes, so I don’t know how confident I feel about this professional confidentiality you’re offering.

No offense. No, I know. Not your fault. Still.

Well, that’s good. Not that changing the locks will do it, but no harm in trying to make it marginally harder for him to know every single thing that goes on with me.

He probably already knows how it happened, come to think of it.

Oh well.

It’s the case I don’t write about.

I don’t remember the details of the case, to be honest. Part of it was in the paper, another bit from Lestrade, pieces from Sherlock’s homeless network, and then some collection of evidence he found smeared on the tile at Rotherhithe tube station, don’t even ask. All the details were spread out over a series of weeks. Something about a club, and a madam, or several, and bodies on meat hooks, I remember that bit. I wasn’t entirely paying attention to it, but we had several cases going at once, to be fair. They blend together a bit at times, you understand. It’s hard to keep track. Not for him, of course. For me.

I remember the bit about the meat hooks, though. As you do. Gruesome. Hard to not remember that.

But obviously I had missed these various details, and I had no way of knowing how they connected together to form the bizarre action plan Sherlock decided to plow ahead with, if you’ll excuse the pun.

It’s not as if he always consults me on that part, you know. Often he just goes rogue and does what he thinks is best. He expects me to follow along, of course, and I always do. Once he’s got a plan in his head, it’s not easy to divert him. He’s usually right, anyway, and who am I to argue? Even when it sounds insane.

So I found him in the kitchen scanning through Grindr.

How did I? Oh, come on. Everyone knows what Grindr is. You’d have recognised it too, if it’d been you seeing it over his shoulder like I did. It’s pretty obvious.

So of course I asked. A beat or two before I realised that maybe this wasn’t related to a case and it was none of my business. I’d just got used to everything being about a case, and him not having a personal life, it didn’t occur to me that it might be an impolite question until it was already out of my mouth. But you can’t take it back after it’s out, and I must have gone red in the face, but he didn’t turn around.

“I can’t be a virgin,” he said.

Yeah. I know. That’s what I was thinking, too. A true showstopper, that. After all those articles! Red-blooded as the rest of them, Sherlock Holmes: sex machine, all of that. Of course I read them! Who didn’t? Not as if I could avoid them. Everyone I know sent me the links. Virgin. He said it straight out. Virgin!

I mean, his brother had implied it before, but I thought that was just brotherly ribbing.

At that point I didn’t even know for sure whether or not he was gay. I had thought so at first, because of something he’d said, but then there was the thing with Irene, who I’m pretty sure dug into him at least a little bit, surely, and then Janine, of course...two women I thought he had a...well, a thing for, if not with, and no men at all. So what was I to think? At points along the way I could only assume he was straight and not interested, but I kept debating it. Just to myself, not with him. Obviously.

Everyone who knows him at all always thought he was with me. Instantly. Makes you think, doesn’t it. Because he wasn’t. But why did they think he’d hook up with a bloke? They must have thought he was gay. Or something. They must have had some evidence of that that I didn’t have.

So I was never really sure, and I wasn’t exactly up for the conversation, so I never asked, either.

Anyway: at that point I didn’t really know. And suddenly there’s Grindr sitting in my kitchen. And the word “virgin.” Sherlock was looking for a way to stop being one. That tells you a lot right there, doesn’t it. Presumably.

So I’m standing there, hearing this, still looking at the screen of his bloody phone in his bloody hand, when I realise that first off, wow, I guess that answers my questions, and either he’s lying to me now, which seems unlikely, or Janine lied to the papers, and everyone he knows was right to think he’d find himself a boyfriend rather than a girlfriend. But he hadn’t done, all evidence to the contrary. He hadn’t, in all this time. He hadn’t...you know.

Unless he has a very odd definition of “virgin.”

It was about the case. It was so explicit, the world of meat hooks and posh clubs, and they were so cautious about who came in and what everyone did there, what they were thinking while they did it, there would be so many unavoidable questions if we’d shown up. He said we’d have to infiltrate it, and that he needed to be at least minimally qualified to be there.

That was the first I’d heard of any of this. As I said: I hadn’t really been paying attention to this case. I hadn’t realized it was a full-fledged case of its own, at that point. All I knew was that there were bodies on meat hooks, and there was something else pretty scandalous.

Yeah, I’m not sure: I don’t know what he thought we were going to do, exactly. He had said “we” were going undercover. Him and me. As a couple, I suppose, I don’t know. Maybe he meant “we” in a royal sense, but I doubt it. It didn’t actually get that far, though that’s spoiling my story a bit. At this point it was all about preparing himself to do something he felt he had to do. Putting on his disguise, as it were. And it was about sex. About Sherlock being a virgin. And Grindr was the answer to his problem.

I’m standing there, my mouth probably hanging open, my heart pounding in my throat. I’m thinking: Sherlock’s a virgin. And gay, apparently. Things I should have known about my best friend. My flatmate. The most important person in my life, bar none. But these are things that are really none of my business. Boggle at it while pretending you’re not boggling at it: you know the feeling.

But here’s what I didn’t say, in my defense: I didn’t say you’re a what, now? How on earth did that happen? What about Janine? What happened in the bathtub, then? What about Irene, for that matter? You’re gay, then? Really? Because I always thought so. Why haven’t we talked about this properly before now? I had some self-control, at least. I just took him at face value on that front. Tried not to act surprised. Tried to pretend none of it was news.

Oh, I know: he didn’t actually have to do anything with anyone. Not in order to go undercover as...well, as a not-virgin. Just lie! That’s what I said to him, even. It was awkward, yeah. Obviously!

So I said to him: you don’t have to do this. I was still looking at Grindr, and so was he. I dunno, it was making me nervous. What was he going to do, bring some strange bloke home to ravish him? I mean. Obviously, right? That was the point.

I didn’t like it. I was...well, I’m not going to say repulsed, but something like it. Nothing wrong with...well, whatever that is, I just didn’t want some stranger touching him. I could call it protectiveness, but it wasn’t that. And I knew it wasn’t, even as I geared up to act like it was.

But how would they ever know if he was or wasn’t a virgin in the first place at this...sex club? Bordello? Secret smut cabal? Whatever it was. I made that argument to him, yeah. They weren’t going to ask for references on the way in, surely. He wasn’t going to have to drop to his knees, probably. Though I suppose you never know. There’s no mark that demonstrates conclusively whether you’re a virgin or not. You can lie about it. You don’t have to actually...

I don’t think I put it into words. I was still a bit in shock. We both knew what I meant. He turned around then. He gave me that look, like I was missing something obvious. He admitted the truth of it, then.

I think it hurt him to say it, honestly. he doesn’t like to admit to his blind spots. He just didn’t think he could pretend effectively in a context like this. Well, he didn’t say it in those words. He’d never actually said he had an abysmal understanding about sex between consenting humans, but I’d always suspected it, and I understood what he was getting at. The whole subject made him uncomfortable. He wouldn’t be able to be uncomfortable if we were going to solve this one.

“You don’t have to do this.” That was my take on the whole thing.

“I do.” That was his.

So he had me take his picture. For his profile. He gave me his phone and fixed his hair a little in the mirror, then stood against the wall and gave me what I think was meant to be a sultry look. I was starting to see his point about then. He had no idea how to do come-hither or I want you to fuck me, which is what I think he was going for. I told him to stop looking at me like he was constipated. I got a shot of him just before he started to glower at me, his eyes all dark and his face just starting to go into annoyed amphibian territory. It made his lips look less full than they actually are, but he looked brilliant and intolerant of bullshit, so it seemed more accurate to me.

I dunno: maybe that’s the kind of picture I wanted him to put on a site like that. One that said don’t touch me. I looked at it for a few seconds, and then told him this was the one. He didn’t argue.

I gave him back his phone, and that’s when I decided.

Strange decision, isn’t it. Really. To make that fast, in a context like that. But I did. I guess I’d started thinking about it the moment I understood what he was doing. No: I’d always been thinking about it. That’s what it was. I’d never stopped thinking about it, actually.

“You don’t have to do it like this, “ I said to him. “You know plenty of people who would help you, if you wanted.”

I meant me. But he didn’t realise that. I don’t know why; I haven’t asked. I should do, shouldn’t I. I will, tonight. I’ll ask him.

Instead, he scoffed at me, and shook his head. “Molly,” he said, “Sure. Not even I am that cruel.”

Fair enough. Who else did he mention? I don’t remember. There were a few others he listed off and ruled out, but not many. My brain was racing at that point. I wasn’t even on his list.

“What about me?” I said. Quietly, as I recall. But firmly. I looked him dead in the face when I said it, though he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at Grindr again.

I didn’t want him doing that. He doesn’t have any patience for social niceties and probably wouldn’t care if someone were rude or insensitive about his situation. But I didn’t want Sherlock to throw himself to those wolves. I imagined they’d tear him apart. Sentimental, yes. Well, I am.

I didn’t want that for him, not with a stranger who doesn’t know him or understand him. Yes, he’s a beautiful man, I could see that. Always have. Of course he’d have no trouble finding someone to take him up on his offer. He’d be snapped up in an instant, no doubt. And then I’d have to go upstairs and hide, knowing what’s going on. No. I wasn’t willing. It was more about me than it was about him, though, really. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that, but there it is.

He looked over at me. He put the phone down.

“Are you offering?”

“If this is what you think you have to do. Yeah.” I felt like I was in the army all over again, being inspected on a parade square. Dared to look away, but duty-bound not to. He was staring me down, looking for a sign that I was joking, I suppose. I wasn’t. I’d already decided.

Well. I mean: I had to. Of course. He’s mine, you see. He always was mine. He’s mine to take care of, and protect, and if he feels this is what he needs to do to confidently walk into a serious life-threatening situation, do you think I’m not going to follow him through it? Stay by his side? Make sure he has what needs, no matter what it is? So of course, yeah. I was in.

It felt like walking into a hail of bullets, if I’m honest. That conversation. I could feel my adrenaline reaching for the roof.

“Alright.” He deleted the app off of his phone. I was reassured, and then kind of terrified. Because what on earth did I just agree to? “Tonight,” he said. “Okay? No point dragging it out.”

I should mention at this point it was about noon.

I’m not sure why we didn’t get started immediately. I think it’s part of the how his brain works. He didn’t understand sex, so he had a child’s impression of it. In his mind it was something that happened only at night, behind closed doors, after supper. At bedtime. I think that’s why he decided to wait. He didn’t decide, exactly, that’s the point. He just didn’t question the conventional timing. And I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.

So I had the afternoon and the evening of pretend normality to contemplate what I’d just agreed to, and I can’t say the anticipation wasn’t unbearable. I should have said, fuck it, let’s do this right now, but I didn’t. I guess I was nervous. I was trying to be a bit sensitive, even if he didn’t seem to care for sensitivity.

I made sure I had everything we might...need. I did. Had to dig it out of a drawer, it was stuff I hadn’t, you know, reached for in a while, but I was prepared.

Is there a boy scout badge for this? There should be. I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

After supper I started to get genuinely nervous about it. I had questions, and he wasn’t prompting for them, and I wasn’t sure which ones I even wanted to ask. At that point I didn’t know for sure if he considered himself gay or not. As if it mattered just then. I sort of wanted to know if he had an actual preference, or if this was just about ticking boxes. I felt like that might dictate how things...went. But he started with Grindr, right? And me. He accepted me without a fight, but why wouldn’t he? Better me than...

Anyway, that’s where I was, in my head. I wanted to know what he thought we were going to do. I’d started to imagine even more awkward scenarios.

I’m not even sure how I got the words out. They weren’t my best words. I had to start and stop the question several times. He was patient about it, I’ll give him that. He didn’t even seem nervous at all. I wanted to know what exactly he wanted to do. You know, sex-wise.

“Whatever would ensure that I’m widely accepted as not a virgin, John. You know what that means.”

I do. I lost my nerve before asking him which side of the equation he wanted to be on. At that point I decided to play it by ear.

It was about half ten before he looked up at me, finally, and said, “Shall we?” So I had a good ten hours to stew about it, and consider every possible permutation, and to ask myself what the hell I thought I was trying to accomplish.

He really did have no idea what he was doing, I have to say that. No idea whatsoever. He’d hate me telling you this. Don’t write it down, we hardly need a record of it. He hadn’t seemed uncomfortable about it all day, but once we got into his bedroom he pulled his clothes off as if it were a medical exam or as if I wasn’t there, switched off the lights, and got onto his bed, on his back. Arms out, legs together.

“Okay,” he said. “Go.” I almost laughed. But fortunately I didn’t. Not sure how that would have gone over. He has some ability to laugh at himself, but I’m not sure that ability would have been in evidence that night.

It was very slow. Deliberately slow, even slower, in the end, than he might have wanted. It took hours. It was...it was fantastic, actually. It was beautiful. Can I say that? Well, it was. I forgot why we were doing it and just...did it.

I...you know he’s the most important person in my life. There’s no question about that. I would very willingly die with him, or for him, if it ever comes down to it. And it might do, one day. Not being with him makes me miserable, I know that much. If it hadn’t been for all the other things ruining my marriage, that would have ruined my marriage all on its own. It’s beyond...this, I mean, it’s beyond sex and attraction and all of that. It’s that, but it’s also something else, more than that. I don’t know how to explain it. You just...you should know that. What he is to me. I always knew. So of course it was going to be...well. Intense, that way. It was going to stir up a lot.

Anyway.

So that happened.

And the next morning arrived a bit on the late side. Things were...awkward, as tends to happen. It was dark through all of it the night before, and now it wasn’t dark. He was a bit skittish, but nothing dramatic. I made breakfast. Mrs Hudson, that’s our landlady, she lives downstairs, she brought up tea and biscuits, as always. She didn’t seem to suspect that anything had changed. We read the papers, we ate, he tapped away on his computer, things were relatively...normal.

Of course not, no! We didn’t talk about it, what’s to talk about? I wasn’t going to say anything. He didn’t.

Well, until he sort of did.

“I’m not sure.” That’s how he started. And he had my attention. He always has my attention, to be honest. “I’m not sure that was...enough.”

Did I feel momentarily inadequate? Yes. Of course. Now, I should say, I’m well aware that I have nothing to feel inadequate about, I’ve been told that many times, but when someone tells you that having sex with you wasn’t enough for them to stop feeling like a virgin, well. You’re bound to feel a little underwhelming.

“No,” he said. “Not like that.” He must have seen it on my face. He’s got better at reading feelings since I first met him. He used to be terrible. He turned an odd shade of pink. “I mean...no. Of course it’s...no, no.”

I hadn’t seen him flustered like that in a long time. In retrospect, it was kind of...adorable. But I was on the verge of offended, so it didn’t seem that way at the time.

“We should....well. Again. Just for the sake of...me, my confidence in it. I need to appear completely confident as a...sexual person. For the case.”

I relaxed a bit then. I thought he wanted something...well, you know. Bigger. Or. I had been anticipating Grindr coming back out again with a much more specific request. But that’s not what happened. It was still him and me, he just wanted to do it again. Which I was definitely up for. Literally, not to put too fine a point on it.

We didn’t wait for it to get dark that time. I had to convince him it was perfectly okay to do it after lunch, though, in broad daylight, but he was amenable.

It was...well. Yeah.

It was all very serious at that point. You know what I mean? No laughing, just...well. It was dead serious between us. I think we just...we had a lot to say to each other, if you know what I mean, without using any words. That’s how I think of it now. As if we were talking about something we couldn’t talk about.

So it was the middle of the afternoon, with the light pouring in, and the sounds of the street filtering through, voices and car horns, people going about their lives, and he was in my arms, you know, afterwards. Not saying anything, just breathing. And I kissed his temple and I stroked his hair, and I thought, well. I can’t be without you now, you know. I can’t. As if I ever could be.

He didn’t specifically ask for anything that evening, but that happened too. I acted as if he had asked, and he didn’t argue.

And then there was the following morning, before we got out of bed, which didn’t require any specific words, either.

There was a case to solve that day. Something about fingerprints on old carbon paper and a mobile phone in the Thames. I wasn’t paying attention to it, as I should have been. I was paying attention to him instead.

He was different. I know it’s not something that actually changes you. I haven’t got a magic wand in my pants, I know that. But there he was. Different. More confident, if that makes sense, given that he’s a very confident man as it is. More centred, I suppose. More grounded. More at ease in his body, maybe. Though in retrospect I don’t think it was so much the sex as it was everything else. The...well. How we felt about it. About...each other. You know. I’m not going to say it.

It felt like I was on holiday.

It was about this point I started to worry about when it would end. The case would come and go and this would stop, obviously. I started to mourn it, right then, watching him explaining some evidence to Greg, using his hands for emphasis. I had kissed the palms of those hands. I had kissed those wrists. I was sinking fast.

It was him that night, acting like he’d asked me already and I’d agreed. It started on the sofa, and I wasn’t going to stop it.

I got up in the middle of the night. I was thirsty, so I got up and went into the kitchen. When I came back to him, he was awake, sitting up, feet on the floor, sort of...I’m not sure how to explain. On the verge of a panic, but without saying anything. When I came back in and put a glass of water down on the bedside table, he seemed to relax. He got back into bed, and I joined him. He reached out for me with those hands. That’s when I realised that this had got a bit complicated for both of us.

It went on this way for another four days.

Yes. I know. I didn’t ask, and he didn’t say it, so we just kept on. Making sure he wasn’t a virgin. It isn’t strange until you think about it.

It took four days until I saw the article in the paper. The bordello, the meat hooks. The case had been solved. I looked up at him. At first he pretended he didn’t know what I was reading, but then he looked a bit sheepish.

“Her PA came forward as a witness,” he said. I think he might have been slightly apologetic, but only within the bounds of plausible deniability.

“When?”

“Last week.”

“Ah.” I smoothed out the paper and kept reading. The PA. Never trust a PA. “Before, or after we....” I wasn’t going to say it. He knew what I meant.

He cleared his throat. “Before.” I looked up at him. Astonished. “Just before,” he protested, as if that made it better. “In the afternoon, just before...” He stopped and let it just sit there.

Just before. There was a frightened expression on his face for about three seconds before he tucked it away and went deadpan.

The case was over before it even started. Sherlock knew it was over before he stripped his clothes off and crawled on the bed, ready for me to deflower him. For this case. And he didn’t say anything.

I started to laugh. I laughed until there were tears coming from my eyes. It was funny, but I think it was the relief more than anything. We always end up laughing at crime scenes, no matter how inappropriate it is. And I know how inappropriate this was, believe me. I should have been angry. I should have been absolutely livid, I should have kicked some chairs and sworn in his face. But I wasn’t angry. That’s just how we are.

I could see he hadn’t meant to lie just to get me into bed, but he sort of did anyway. That part is genuinely funny to me. Not good, obviously. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. But still. It’s funny. The lengths we had to go to in order to do something everyone thought we were already doing.

I hadn’t laughed so hard in a long time. I was still laughing when I took him back to his bed, and I laughed my way through almost everything that followed. It’s good, you know, even better, when you can laugh.

There is something especially amazing about hearing Sherlock Holmes giggle in your ear. You’ll have to take my word for it.

This is just between us, right? Let’s keep it that way. Let people think what they want. They don’t need to know how it happened, in the end. Everyone knows that it did. That’s enough.