John had slept in Sherlock’s bed for 101 nights now. He’d been counting. Not necessarily consciously, not necessary for any purpose, but every night was somehow automatically notched onto his brain as to not make him forget. One hundred and one. If nights were Dalmatians he could’ve made a nice dotty coat, which is as useless a metaphor as the counting was in the first place but he’d run around with the number in his head all day wondering if this was the beginning of some sort of obsession.
He’d even made a blog post about it, a single entry with a single line stating ‘101’ which had earned only a comment from Harry containing no more than a lone quotation mark. Sherlock had seen it and Sherlock had caught the reference, smugly so, informing him of this over his microscope, which was intensely bothersome to John because it meant that Sherlock had been counting too and then what was that supposed to mean?
He’s acutely aware of having slept next to nobody else for all those months, as well. He’d been on dates, but they hadn’t gotten anywhere. He’d even been out with the same girl a couple of times, a petite little waitress with ginger hair and a wonderfully plush bottom, but Sherlock had scared her off after a week or two before John had even gotten a chance to consider how on earth he was going to break it to her that he regularly slept in his annoying flatmate’s bed, happily so, here’s to hoping you don’t think it too weird.
John enjoyed sleeping next to Sherlock. John enjoyed falling asleep next to Sherlock and John enjoyed waking up next to Sherlock and while he had just gone along with it initially (usually the best strategy, for anything concerning Sherlock Holmes) he found himself wondering more and more often what it all meant. The few nights they had slept apart during the past months had been unpleasant, restless, and there was an intense comfort and safeness in going to sleep knowing Sherlock was right there with him. Of course, Sherlock’s own response didn’t help matters. He had never been a big sleeper, but was far more willing to get to bed these days which was, to John, equal parts flattering and terrifying. Even on Sherlock’s more manic nights John would still go to sleep in his bed and wake up in the morning with Sherlock next to him, quietly snuck in there somewhere before John woke up.
There is a certain domesticity to it that is really starting to bother John, because it insinuates things. Things he honestly can’t say for sure are false. It was like Sherlock and him had somehow tumbled into an actual relationship, implications and all, without actively deciding to do so and Sherlock seemed freakishly pleased with it and John just doesn’t know what to do with the whole thing any more. He considers himself honestly far too old for this kind of uncertainty.
He lies on his back on Sherlock's bed, both hands under his head, and listens to the sounds Sherlock makes puttering around the bathroom. He's all but memorized Sherlock's bedtime routine, the same nearly every night. First he washes his face and his hands, usually with cold water, the tap running and water streaming down the porcelain sink. Then he brushes his teeth for what John considers an absurdly long time, paying absolute attention to every last tooth in his mouth (but to be fair, as long as John has known him Sherlock has never had need for a dentist). He brushes his hair. Not that John can hear that but he knows he does it, brushing out the hair gel he puts in to tame it during the day. Lastly then there is a moment's silence and the flush of the toilet and out he comes, into the bedroom, looking oddly content. It's a look John really only sees on him when they are together like this, and it gives him feelings he's not sure how to catalogue.
"We need to talk," John throws into the room while Sherlock shimmies under the sheets.
"About what?" he asks in a way that signals he's hardly there, still running down some train of thought that probably started off when he'd stood in front of the mirror running his toothbrush through his mouth.
Sherlock sighs and turns on his side to face John, one hand tucked under his pillow. "You're going to have to be a little more specific than that, John," he says, but there's no malice in his voice. He's happy, John can tell. It makes him nervous.
"This, Sherlock. You. And me. In your bed. For over three months now."
John keeps his eyes on the ceiling because if he looks at Sherlock he might wind up thumping him upside the head will you just get what I'm trying to convey to you here you dunce. "We're quite seriously blurring the boundaries of friendship here, Sherlock. We need to talk about that."
Sherlock remains quiet, observing him curiously.
"Look. It's just. This isn't normal, is it? Flatmates who sleep in the same bed?"
"Normal's boring. Why does it matter?"
"Because it just does, Sherlock, okay, it matters. Just. What happens if I get a girlfriend?"
Sherlock frowns at him. "Well seriously John, do you think I'm going to insist to kip with you if you get a woman into your bed?"
"That's not - God, I hope not. But that's not the point I'm trying to make. How the hell do I explain this?"
"Why would you have to?"
"Because that's how real relationships work and I honestly don't know what to make of the fact that I just don't sleep that well unless I've got my flatmate asleep next to me."
There. He said it. He breathes out, his words dancing across the bedroom as Sherlock quietly processes them.
"Do you really not sleep when I'm not there?"
"I can sleep, I just sleep better when I have you chattering away in your sleep next to me," John says, vaguely miserable.
"I don't talk in my sleep," Sherlock says, sounding somewhat perplexed, and John wants to kick him because that's honestly not what he wanted Sherlock to take away from this conversation.
"Yes, yes you do, quite a bit actually. Which is fine. Just not -"
"John, I've slept in dormitories for a vast portion of my childhood and no one ever mentioned me talking in my sleep before. I think I'd know if - "
"Sherlock. Trust me. You talk in your sleep. You even answer questions, sometimes. Sorry to have to break that to you, but for the love of God, can we stay on topic here?"
Sherlock looks mildly horrified at this, undoubtedly wondering what deep dark secrets his old boarding school classmates had managed to coax from him while asleep. John feels somewhat guilty but it passes quickly, as such things do.
"Look. It's just. This. Whatever it is. We need to talk about it."
"I don't understand."
"Sherlock, for fuck's sake, don't. You're not that naive, you know full well what I'm talking about." His patience wears out, dragged across the gravelly surface of Sherlock's blatant refusal to address this. John doesn't want to push this out in the open any more than Sherlock does but he simply has to and it angers him that Sherlock keeps stepping back from it.
Sherlock watches him, seconds ticking away on the clock on his nightstand, his brain working at a dizzying speed to try and say the right thing. John knows this is hard for him. People, relationships, it's just not something he's good at, but for God's sake it's just him, just John, the man he's been sleeping next to peacefully since October and he's just going to have to try.
"I don't see why it matters," he finally comes out with. "It's you and me, that's all, what is there that needs to be talked about?"
Of course. "I'm not gay, Sherlock," he pushes out through gritted teeth.
Sherlock explodes. It's really the only way John can describe it. He whirls onto his back, arms flying, and thumps his heel onto the mattress once. "What's that got to do with anything?!" he exclaims, frustration sharp on his tongue. "Every time someone as much as hints at - at something, between us, you whip that out and hold it in front of you like some kind of shield and what does it matter? Everybody knows you're not gay, John, you love women, you drool yourself into a massive puddle every time an appealing one walks past, but why on earth does that exclude... - does that mean you can't... - it's almost offensive, it is."
John freezes, Sherlock's words hitting him in a way he really doesn't like.
"This, this, whatever it is," Sherlock continues, waving his hand between the two of them, "Why do you need to do that, to backtrack like that, because I happen to have a penis? It's ridiculous. It's. It makes me angry. We're sharing a bed, it's not like I'm proposing marriage or forcing you into a Pride parade."
John sits up, placing his elbows on his knees and running his hands down his face before putting them in his hair and keeping them there, fighting the urge to just up and leave the room. Sherlock stares at him from where he's on his back on the bed, his eyes burning a hole in the back of John's head.
"Look, it just matters. I know it doesn't matter to you, because you don't, you don't care, about what things like this mean, and I do. It's not even what people might think. It's me. I'm 37 years old and I've always thought I knew who I was and just. You. And this. Whatever it is. It has such consequences and I don't know what to do with the fact that between the two of us I am the only one concerned about what they might be. It must be nice, to just not care like you do, to just curl up next to someone and float around on how pleasant it all is, but I just can't. Okay."
Sherlock stays quiet, John's words having deflated his earlier little tantrum, and waits for him to finish.
"I think," John begins and his throat runs dry. "We both know, I know you do too. That we're. Well. That there's a pretty strong bond. Even without the. Co-sleeping." He sighs. "It's just that this, sharing this bed, makes it all so painfully clear that it's not - it's not entirely platonic, is it, and I just don't know how ready I am to face that."
Sherlock still says nothing, a stunned edge to his silence that gives John the vague urge to throw himself out the window. He hears Mrs. Hudson's bins make for a marvellously violent landing.
"Let's just go to sleep," he grunts, sinking back down onto his pillow and reaching out to turn the light on his nightstand off. The darkness remains silent as John breathes into it, on his back, hands up and by his head. Screw sleeping better with Sherlock next to him, this night was going to be torture. Perhaps he really would be better off crawling up to his own room, tail between his legs, to give the two of them some space for the night.
Sherlock shifts and turns and quite unexpectedly there's warmth as he covers John's right hand with his own, long fingers wrapping around his, a thumb sliding across the side of his palm. John's breath hitches in his throat and he hides it in a wry chuckle, but carefully squeezes Sherlock's hand anyway, just to try and let him know they're still sort of okay.
I need him he thinks and it's difficult so he closes his eyes and focuses on how nice this feels, actually, the odd affectionate gesture, as next to him Sherlock almost effortlessly slides into sleep.
“A hundred and two,” Sherlock states with his mouth full of toast as he sweeps past John in the kitchen in the morning. John feels like throwing his entire breakfast at Sherlock’s head.
“Don’t do that. Don’t try and rile me up, it’s childish,” he says instead, glaring fiercely at his coffee.
Sherlock says nothing, eating his toast with two big bites before picking up his violin and beginning a random tune which John half-recognises as Vivaldi. John drinks his coffee so quickly he burns his tongue and flees the flat to get some groceries.
The next four days he barely has time to breathe, let alone sit and think about their situation. A serial killer pops up - Sherlock gets far too excited, three dead already, elderly men found strangled in their beds with no visible signs of a break-in. It all ends with Sherlock tracking down the killer, a young man stuck in a massive psychosis, and quite literally wrestling him out a first floor window. The killer cracks two ribs, Sherlock gets away from it with some mere cuts and bruises, while John's knees are still shaking with the unexpected shock of watching him take that tumble.
They barely sleep those few days, which makes it easier to avoid the situation. Still, as always, things quiet down, John goes off at Sherlock for a good fifteen minutes about tossing one's self out windows and the effect that has on one’s flatmate's blood pressure, and eventually they sit, quietly, in the living room, John typing events up in his blog while Sherlock fiddles around trying to manoeuvre a half-empty bottle of disinfectant across a nasty scrape on his forearm. John had offered to help, Sherlock said no, John is really just intending to let him mess about for ten minutes or so before just grabbing the bottle and making him sit still.
"Are you sleeping in my bed tonight?" Sherlock asks slowly, a deliberate drawl, not taking his eyes off his own arm. The disinfectant drips down, pools in his elbow.
"If you'll let me," John chimes, left forefinger and right middle finger spelling out the case slowly but surely in a way he knows sends Sherlock up the wall.
"Obviously," Sherlock answers. He sighs, puts down the bottle, grabs a tissue and starts dabbing at his arm. The scrape winds around his forearm and he twists himself around to get at it. John's hands itch at the sight but he says nothing.
He finishes a sentence. Full stop. Enter. New paragraph. He sighs, leaning back from his laptop, rolling his head and quite delightfully cracking his neck. "So," he says.
"So," Sherlock repeats, with a momentary widening of his eyes, a tell-tale twitch of his left eyebrow.
"Don't get snippy," John says. "Just because a case intervened and you dramatically threw yourself out a building doesn't mean this is. We still don't need to." He doesn't know how to finish his sentence, which is more than a little frustrating because he knows Sherlock will do it for him.
"We still need to discuss how uncomfortable it makes you that you enjoy being around me? Sure. Discuss."
"Don't be like that. That's hardly fair."
"You may be right. I'm just tired." He sighs and stands up. "On second thought, sleep in your own bed. I'd like some time alone." And he's gone, striding through the kitchen and to his bedroom. The door closes quietly. John stares, baffled. It's barely even 9 pm and this is more than a little ridiculous, but other than stomping after him and getting into what would inevitably be a useless fight he has no idea what to do.
He slinks up the stairs to his own room barely twenty minutes later and lies on his bed, fully clothed still, for almost a full hour trying to order his thoughts. It doesn't work.
John rather wishes Sherlock wouldn't plaster their personal issues all over the crime scene, but they’re right there in the way he struts across the yellow-taped slab of land, counting the bits of body parts spread across the embankment. Lestrade had called them in, and Sherlock had been more than a little excited to learn something that was once human had been somehow spread out across a half mile of mossy riverbank. Sherlock had already loudly announced the victim had been male, Caucasian, and probably a bus driver. How he figured out the last part John really couldn't follow.
Sherlock ignores him, turning just so every time he passes him during his vaguely manic assessment as to expressly avoid looking at him. Distracted, John sidesteps into something squishy and recoils. "Careful, lower intestine," Sherlock jeers as he twirls past, throwing him a smirk.
"Thanks for the heads up, you wanker," John mutters, more to himself than anything else, wiping his shoe on a patch of yellowing grass.
"Well, he's in a mood," Lestrade pipes up next to him, hands in his pockets.
"Yeah, he's a bit cross with me," John says. He might have to toss this pair of shoes now. Or possibly burn them.
"What'd you do?"
"Oh, you really don't want to know."
Lestrade asks nothing more - he knows full well that if John says he doesn't want to know, he seriously doesn't want to know. John considers just throwing it out anyway – we’ve been sleeping in the same bed for three months and I think I might have somehow become his boyfriend without realising and I don’t know how to feel about that and now he’s offended by my stupid insecurity - but that would all just be a little too much for dear Lestrade to handle, really. Especially when discussed over the scattered innards of some unsuspecting bus driver. He clasps his hands behind his back and watches Sherlock leap-jump across a ribcage, gesturing frantically at Donovan to take note of something or other, and waits for him to finish.
"Think you can keep our private issues private?" John asks later, sitting in a cab back to Baker street, looking out the window at a group of tourists droning down the pavement.
"I didn't say anything inappropriate," Sherlock counters lazily, staring at the back of the cabbie's head.
"You didn't have to. Even the police dog could tell you were upset with me."
"If you don't want people to know I'm upset with you, maybe you shouldn't upset me."
"Oh for the love of - Sherlock. That's ridiculous. We're bound to argue sometimes, doesn't mean you have to slouch about London looking like I nicked your ice-cream."
"We've argued before. This is different, and I do feel I am rightfully upset with you. Don't ask me to shrug that off like an old coat when we leave the flat, I can't and I won't."
John stares at him, looking out the window now, completely unreadable. There's a tension between them so thick John thinks the cabbie might be charging them for it when they get back.
"I'm sorry," John says almost automatically, but Sherlock scoffs at him. “Sherlock, don’t. It just feels like you’re punishing me for being confused. I’m trying to work it out, all right, I am.”
“I just don’t see why you need to catalogue this so desperately,” Sherlock says to the window, eyes twitching as he looks at London moving past.
“Because it’s important, all right. It’s important to me, and whatever this is I’m in it too so I get a vote. So there.” He feels defiant, just a bit. Sherlock can just stop being a prat and give him the space he needs without having to fight for it.
“Will it be easier for you to accept once you can name it, then?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Hopefully. Yes.” John pauses at all available stops after this question and lands on his conclusion with something almost resembling satisfaction. Yes.
Sherlock hmm’s, eyebrows furrowing. John is somewhat worried about what that implies – Sherlock is working something out that John had rather been left to do by himself, it seems.
The cab turns into Baker street and Sherlock gets out first, with a swish and a flurry. “I’ll leave you to your deductions,” he offers, implying he’s already got the answer, and John pays the cabbie and grimly considers to just move to Cardiff and be done with it.
They sleep apart again that night. John falls asleep trying to figure out what it is he misses when Sherlock’s not there and wakes up in the morning realising that the answer to that question is just far too unspecific. Human relationships, human nature, it appears, are just not simply categorised by yes or no questions. There’s no binary. He can spot the associations there, connects those dots, and feels funny about it.
What he misses when Sherlock’s not sleeping with him is Sherlock. Which makes sense, except for the fact that it doesn’t, except for the fact that John realises he’s never really felt that way about anyone before and then he just gets nervous about the whole thing and cuts himself shaving.
"Do you wish to sleep with me?"
John almost chokes on his coffee. They're sat in a small restaurant across the street from a pet shop that Sherlock wishes to stake out for a bit due to some odd happenings with exotic animal smuggling. He'd been explaining the various methods of snake smuggling to John ten minutes prior, so this is more than a little unexpected.
"I don't mean actual sleeping, of course, we already do that. I'm referring to sex," Sherlock adds and makes it all brilliantly worse.
"It's an honest question, John. We're having some sort of relationship crisis, which is odd, since we're not really in one. You've already made it clear your feelings on the matter are not entirely platonic. I may assume this means you wish to sleep with me?" His tone is off. He's aiming for a scientific approach, detaching himself from the issue at hand to try and make it easier for himself, to try and help John along on his quest to determine what the hell it is they’ve got going on, but he’s clearly failing. He's avoiding John's eyes and fiddling with an empty sugar packet on the table. Even the great Sherlock Holmes cannot make himself personally uninvolved in this matter.
John stares, dabbing at a lukewarm coffee stain now spreading across the front of his shirt.
"Well?" Sherlock says.
"Oh for God's sake," John mutters, looking away. There's nobody near them. The bored-looking waitress is quite carelessly cleaning the coffee machine, and the shop is empty besides them. "Sherlock. Look. That's not - what this is about. Just not. If I was looking for sex... if this was about sex, it might actually be easier to deal with."
Sherlock raises an eyebrow at him. "Fascinating."
John wants to throttle him.
"So it's about love."
The word drops between them like a dump truck full of bricks. John stares, slack-jawed, hand raised mid-dab.
"Is it?" Sherlock presses.
"You tell me," John manages.
Sherlock hadn't expected that deflection and blinks at him, his face screwing up with discontent. He crumples up the sugar packet and says nothing else.
John finishes what's left of his coffee and they sit in the most uncomfortable silence John has ever tasted between the two of them. For just a moment he thinks he's never really felt this unhappy.
"Yes," John says that evening out of nowhere as he is slumped on his chair and Sherlock is in the kitchen doing something or other on his microscope.
"Yes what?" he asks.
"Just yes." John doesn't feel like clarifying. He'll either get it or he won't and it wouldn't make a lick of difference, to be entirely honest. This insight is his and his alone.
"Oh." So he gets it, then. The kitchen is quiet for a moment and then he returns doing whatever it was he's doing, switching on his Bunsen burner and tingling about with glass phials.
John sits slumped in his chair and stares out the window at the dark sky. He's no happier than he was that afternoon, in the dingy little restaurant, but it feels like his thoughts are finally aligning themselves in a comprehensible order.
They sleep in the same bed again that night. Sherlock talks about Hungary in his sleep and John watches him for a while, sprawled across the bed on his stomach, face squished against his pillow. He's in love with this man. It's a truth so clear and obvious he's not even sure why he had such trouble defining it for himself before. Even the part of him that does, indeed, get quite so defensive about how gay he's really not is oddly at peace with the thing. He can hear Irene Adler in his head, the words she spoke which he'd quite vehemently defended himself against, and which suddenly make so much sense he almost wishes he could call her up in the afterlife to tell her about it. It just doesn't matter. The whole label, this insignificant facet of his self-identity, that's just one more example of something that Sherlock Holmes somehow manages to, for lack of a better word, transcend. It's like they match, on this incredibly weird level that goes above and beyond base things like gender and sexuality, just throws all of it out the window leaving them to start from scratch to define this surprisingly lovely thing they’ve got going together. John supposes he could write essays about it, lyrical pieces of flowing narrative, had he been so inclined.
Instead he just lies there and watches Sherlock sleep and imagines being with him. Non-platonically. He supposes he should just start referring to it as romantically, even if that suggests things that are almost laughable since it's Sherlock and how romantic would it honestly be. Still. He's in love with this man. He's oddly proud of being able to think it to himself without having half his brain short-circuit, he considers that progress all right.
Now all he has to figure out is what to do with it.
Sherlock has been sitting still as a statue in his leather chair for nearly two hours. He’s thinking. John doesn’t know what about, but that’s not entirely unusual. He’s tried establishing contact twice before, once by asking him if he’d wanted tea and the second by bouncing a balled up grocery receipt off his head, but no dice.
He’d get grouchy, except he usually relishes the silence moments like these bring. Before he knows it Sherlock will spring up absolutely manic with some mad idea or other, so this is… nice. John sits in his chair and enjoys his tea. He’s earned it, after the past few days of emotional turmoil.
It takes Sherlock another 35 minutes or so to come back to reality. John has long since finished his tea and has taken to reading an old magazine he’d found tucked under his chair, feeling oddly cosy in the warmth of their flat. Outside light sleet tickles against the windows and he’s fine just where he is, thanks.
“We should just stop dancing around the issue and call a spade a spade.”
“What?” John says, just about finishing an article on ice fishing in Alaska. Interesting stuff, that. About as pleasant as hound-hunting, he reckons.
“Solve our little problem. Let’s just get it out there.” His fingers go from steepled just under his chin to the armrests of his chair. “You are very important to me.”
John raises an eyebrow at him over the magazine, puts it down and sits back. “Okay. That’s nice. You are very important to me, too. Are we really going to have a proper talk now? If you’re going to ask me about sex again, I’m leaving.”
Sherlock makes a face halfway between annoyance and disgust and John feels, for a moment, sort of offended. Then Sherlock is up, twirling around some odd loop in the room as he speaks. John has no idea why he does that sometimes, but it’s fascinating enough to make him forget the face.
“I enjoy spending time with you and I enjoy sleeping in the same bed as you. I know you feel the same way. I am also, indeed, not naive enough to think this is perfectly normal behaviour for two grown men who are not actually in a committed relationship.”
John stands up and follows after him, into the kitchen for some reason. Sherlock doesn’t actually go and do anything, just stands there, perhaps to put himself in slightly better lighting. John honestly doesn’t know.
“Well?” Sherlock says.
“You were requesting the opportunity to talk about this last week. I’m... offering you the chance.”
"I'm a man of action, not words."
"Ironic, for someone who keeps a blog."
"Oh shut up," John says fondly.
“I am quite serious, though. You brought it up. You wanted to talk about how we were blurring the lines of friendship. Go ahead. Blur them. I quite like it, that we’re doing that, so I’d appreciate if we kept doing it.”
“I’m in love with you.” He’s blurted it out before he’s realised, and the great shock doesn’t come from saying it out loud but from how absolutely fine he is with having said it. It’s astonishing. It’s easy. The words travel from his mouth as effortlessly as ordering two coffees-one-black-one-with-two-sugars-please and he actually finds himself smiling at Sherlock. Who, for all intents and purposes, is staring at him as if he’s just announced his grand master plan to assassinate the Pope.
“Well?” John continues. “You did say to stop dancing around the issue. I’ve stopped. Dancing.”
“All right,” Sherlock exhales. “That’s more than what I was expecting.”
“What were you expecting?”
“Vague admissions of sexual attraction? Or just some basic emotional attachment. Not... all this.” He gestures, both hands, at roughly all of John. John is still shockingly calm. He’d have expected more panic. He’s reminded of stories of people who had near-death experiences, actual proper bright light tunnel things, who would describe sliding off into sweet oblivion a blessedly calm feeling. He can only conclude he’s about to have a brain haemorrhage caused by long-due epiphanies.
“Well,” Sherlock continues. “This is good. This is very. Me too.”
“You too what?”
“Oh come on. Just. You. And me. Is all rather a dashing sort of idea, I think.”
“Dashing? Really? That’s your word of choice?”
John dissolves into giggles, leaning against the table. This is madness. This might be an even bigger madness than anything Sherlock’s put him through, but then that’s what he’s always wanted, isn’t it? So that’s all quite all right. Just another kind of adventure. Sherlock throws him a wild, brilliant smile. John grabs him around the neck and kisses him and the entire world falls away around them.