“You masturbate almost every day,” Sherlock says out of the blue, watching John as closely as he can for a reaction. “Sometimes more than once.”
“Mhm,” John replies distractedly as he flips a page of the newspaper. “Sounds about right. Chinese or Thai tonight?”
Well, this just isn’t right at all. Sherlock tries again, because he obviously did not succeed the first time. “John,” he says with emphasis, swinging his legs over the sofa, slouching over his knees, and steepling his fingers under his chin. “You masturbate every day, and while that would be normal for a teenager, you are nearly forty years old.”
At the very least, Sherlock expects a reaction from comparing John to a teenager, or even to his imminent birthday—but he gets neither.
“Hmm…” John hums as his eyes rove steadily down the page. “That’s because I’m not getting any. And because I enjoy it.”
Sherlock is vexed. This isn’t what he was expecting. Yes, John had stayed even after he found the head in the refrigerator, he only shouted a little about the eyeballs in the microwave, and only occasionally complains about the mess in the sitting room—but he had thought that prying into his sex life would get a little more…ire.
“So,” John interrupts his thoughts. “Chinese or Thai? I’ve got a hankering for pork fried rice, to be perfectly honest.”
Sherlock wonders, briefly, if John realizes that pork fried rice was one of the dishes they ordered the night John shot the cabbie.
“Order in?” he muses, testing the water. He and John eat in at their favorite Chinese restaurant almost exclusively. He isn’t certain they’ve got take away Chinese from there before. Eating there always seems to be something they do together at the restaurant. Alone.
But John only walks to the kitchen and digs in the drawer they keep the take-away menus in. “I think we’ve got the menu here.” He pauses. “Yeah. Need a look?”
“No,” Sherlock intones.” He pauses. “Pork chow mein and egg drop soup.”
John calls in the order while still standing in the kitchen, rattling off their choices and seemingly unaware of Sherlock’s scrutiny then lapse into deep thought.
Sherlock can’t help but observe everyone. It’s not something that he can turn on and off. He observes the sandwich shop downstairs, the post man, Lestrade, his brother, random passerby—and John. They are all part and parcel to his talents. Every single thing that John does within their flat, he is aware of. John can’t brush his teeth, make a pot of tea, or even pull a book out of the shelf without Sherlock noticing.
Also, he is perfectly aware that John hasn’t brought back a single one of his dates to “have a shag,” as he puts it. And he has had a lot. Of dates, he means.
Apparently, he also hasn’t had any shagging at all.
This factoid continues to consume him over dinner. Of course, John natters on about useless things to fill up the silence and doesn’t expect Sherlock to do anymore than absentmindedly record the conversation and respond with a “Hmm…” and “I see” every now and again. Sherlock would actually welcome John interrupting his thoughts, at this point, as he feels that they have become rather circular and constantly keep looping back to the same question—has he misinterpreted something about his flatmate?
If so, what is it?
John, on average, goes on a date with a new person every week. If a girl lasts more than one week, they will go on one or two dates the first, more than three the second, then the amount of dates will begin to peter off by the third (if they lasted that long at all).
Occasionally John sleeps in someone else’s bed, but more often than not he returns to the flat to sit on the sofa and make fun of shows on the telly with Sherlock (although some unfathomable show called Glee appears to be off-limits for reasons the consulting detective cannot ascertain). It’s more likely for John to sleep on a li-lo or a sofa than in someone’s bed. This happens about 30% of the time, while occupying a stranger’s bed about 10% (90% of these people were those who lasted longer than two weeks) and the other 60% of John’s nights after a date are spent back at the flat.
(He isn’t sure if this pleases him, or vexes him, as it makes it very hard for him to tell what it is about John that’s irking him, exactly)
John also appears to be very sure of himself, in general. He has absolutely no problem flirting with women at the coffee shop or at Speedy’s downstairs, asking his boss out (which didn’t last long, to Sherlock’s relief), or even chatting up ladies at the newsstand while picking up his paper. He leans close to people when he’s interested, a warm smile and inviting look in his eyes, and very carefully stands like a gentleman when he’s not—every line of his body telling the other person of his polite disinterest.
He leans close to Sherlock when they stand shoulder to shoulder, but straightens when Lestrade comes near him and won’t budge for hell or high water if the detective inspector advances into his space. Anyone who makes him uncomfortable will have John stiffening or even retreating in a tactical manner.
These moments aside, Sherlock has never witnessed John initiating what someone would call an “intimate moment” with another person.
“You and I aren’t going out,” John had insisted when Sherlock had deliberately misunderstood his flatmate’s attempts at distancing themselves in order to go on a date with Sarah.
But, it is becoming more and more evident to Sherlock, John might not have been telling the truth at all.
(When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth)
He needs more data.
“You know,” John comments on one afternoon that Sherlock is in deep thought about his problem with John. “The best way to learn things about me is to, I don’t know, ask.”
He doesn’t have a problem with John, actually. Just a dilemma. A hang up. A complexity. Something that has him completely and utterly stumped. Not that he is going to admit to that. “Where would the skill be in that?” Sherlock replied. “I notice, as well, that you don’t promise to answer.”
John smiles and flips a page of his paper.
Why is he always reading the paper? Sherlock thinks to himself. He also wonders if that smile is supposed to be mysterious or not. He isn’t certain, but it probably could be. Either that or it is teasing. That is more exceedingly likely, as John appears to be in a fairly good mood. He would guess that mood is thanks to a good shag with his date last night, but as John had masturbated twice yesterday and another time today, Sherlock sincerely doubts it.
“How was Alicia?”
“You mean my date with Alyssa?” John looks honestly surprised as he lowers his paper to his lap and stares at Sherlock. “It was fine.”
“No,” Sherlock tries again. “I meant how was she.”
“Her mood, you mean? Uhm, all right, I guess. Think she might be up for another date with me.” The line that means John is thinking deeply enough for his processor to overheat appears between his eyebrows. “But that isn’t what you mean, is it?”
“How can I be any clearer?” Sherlock says with some frustration and spreads his hands, fingers outspread, to either side of his face. “How was the sex? Did you get off, as you put it?”
“No,” John answers, smile fading. “Is this what has you bothered? That you’ve been thinking about for weeks on end?”
“No,” Sherlock answers quickly.
“Hmm…” John replies, raising the paper back up while warily glancing at Sherlock.
“Are you going to answer me?”
“No,” John says carefully, his eyes dropping back down to his paper. “I don’t think I shall.”
Sherlock waits for a few moments, feeling uncomfortably like this is one of those moments that people always describe as “waiting for the punchline,” but John says nothing more.
This requires something more drastic, he decides.
There’s nothing for it, Sherlock concludes. He will have to follow John on his next date with Allison. Or Alicia. Or whatever her name is. It is quite clear that the only way he is going to find out anything at all about what is bothering him about John is to observe for himself.
There’s only so much that he can see about the dates by only looking at John (which isn’t something he’ll ever admit to his flatmate) because most of John’s dates go perfectly well, and Sherlock is much more adept at figuring out what has gone exceptionally wrong—it’s why he’s so talented at solving murders.
The Met doesn’t have to call him in for cases on why things have gone right, after all.
“Where are you going on your date tonight, John?” Sherlock asks suddenly, remembering how John told him to simply ask when he wanted to know something.
When he only receives silence as a response, he looks up.
To find the flat empty.
When he casts his glance around he realises that John has been gone for quite sometime, and he hasn’t noticed. Again.
“You can figure out where he’s gone easily enough,” he murmurs to himself.
But when he pushes himself off the sofa his limbs go reluctantly and with worrisome creaking noises that tells him that he’s been lying down for much longer than he had thought, and his vision swims for a moment. He stands until his equilibrium settles, then carefully walks to the kitchen for some water and toast. John would chastise, but he isn’t here.
There are two mugs in the sink as well as a plate with some crumbs on it. He stoops and drags his finger through them to raise them to his nose and sniff—crust crumbs. John had a sandwich. Neither of the mugs are Sherlock’s, as his is still next to the sofa with cooling tea in it, so that means John had two cups of tea before he left. No. Wrong.
He sways over to the bin and peers in to confirm this. John had at least three cups of tea while writing his blog earlier in the day, then had a sandwich and a different flavour for tea in the late afternoon. John will drink several steeped cups out of one mug, but if he gets out a different flavour of tea, he will switch mugs.
It’s dark in the flat, and outside, and John didn’t wash the dishes before he left, which meant he was running late.
He hasn’t been gone for long, Sherlock concludes.
He fetches one of the mugs from the sink—at least he knows he hasn’t used it for an experiment recently if John has drunk from it—rinses it out, fills it up, then puts it in the microwave. He fumbles out a bag of tea and leaves the package on the counter. No time.
The bag of bread in the cupboard has nothing left but the crusts for once Sherlock gets to point fingers at John for finishing the bread first, on a technicality, but it’s true enough) which shortly get deposited in the toaster.
His favorite jam is in the door of the refrigerator, safely separated from the toes on the bottom shelf (good old Molly) and has plenty enough for a snack.
He mows down his makeshift meal while standing barefoot in the kitchen in nothing but pajama trousers a shirt, and his robe, glad that he doesn’t have to worry about the crumbs dusting down his front. He speculates that he has a half an hour to make it to John in order to see anything interesting. If something is going to happen, it won’t happen at the beginning of his flatmate’s date, and judging by how long ago he left, they must be arriving at the art gallery now.
An art gallery seems to be the only option. It’s inexpensive, social, an adult endeavor, and John has already taken this one to the films and a restaurant—he always hits an art gallery third.
John wouldn’t have eaten a sandwich directly before dinner, it being the hour for tea or not, and it’s far too early for dinnertime anyway, and his good shoes are gone from the door. Sherlock has never been to an art showing that has opened so early, but it’s not so unusual as that.
He finishes his tea, then bounds up the stairs.
The game is on!
Sherlock looks good in clothes. He can make almost anything look dashing, this he knows. He was even looked up and down by the gallery manager when he was in that security guard get-up, which was a pleasant surprise. He also knows that he catches John’s attention quite easily in even his most casual of garb. So while he knows his normal dress of button-up, coat, and trousers is perfectly acceptable for a gallery opening, he doesn’t stand a chance in hell of avoiding John’s attention dressed as he normally would be—even if the room is completely packed.
He ponders for a moment whether more formal of wear would be effective, but decides that anything with a proper coat and or tails would be even more likely to catch John’s attention.
(He wonders, briefly, when he noticed that he catches John’s attention at all, but dismisses the matter as soon as it comes to mind)
Then he snaps his fingers.
He quickly puts on his disguise, and then rushes out of the flat.
“Sherlock!” Mrs. Hudson calls out plaintively. “Where are you going?”
“To an art show!” he bellows back then slams the door.
True to expectations, the gallery in which the reception is being held has so many people pouring from within that many of the people stand on the pavement outside the doors sipping champagne. There appears to be a courtyard behind the building that people are also milling about in, which makes Sherlock wonder for a moment how famous the artist must be.
But then he takes a second glance and realises that many of the attendees are students from Uni and decides that it must be the gallery itself that’s popular, and not the artist. Presumably, John knew this and brought his date here early enough to get inside before most of this crowd arrived so that they could have a go around before it got too crowded to see the art.
“H’lo, mate,” Sherlock says to one of the young men milling around the door, relishing that he nods as if he knows Sherlock (he doesn’t) before stepping aside so that the detective can go in. He knew he made a good choice as to his outfit for the evening.
He chose his dark skinny jeans, a pair of converse that he knows John doesn’t know he owns, a black and ribbed turtle-neck, and a hat called a beanie of all things in cool autumn colours that presses wisps of his hair about his ears and neck, while covering his forehead and making him look younger.
Inside, there is more room than there appeared to be outside.
There’s also music, which he couldn’t hear at all before entering. It is of the quiet tinkling variety not meant to be anything in particular but provides background if, for some reason, the conversation in the room ebbs. Sherlock does not suppose this would happen with such a large crowd in attendance, but puts up with the pattering of the harp anyways.
He does not pause to prepare himself, he was prepared before he even left the flat, but he does pause to take in the room.
The majority of the attendees are students. Many wearing something similar to him. Some are patrons, which are easy to spot in their flawless tuxedos or sparkling dresses. Others are obviously artists and—ah. That explains the immenseness of the crowd. There are multiple artists being shown in the gallery.
Then there are couples such as John and his date who appear to be floating around shallowly enjoying the champagne (which is terrible, Sherlock decides before swallowing down the rest of his and returning the glass to a table) and “appreciating the art.”
John and his date, for instance, are close enough to a painting near the back wall that Sherlock can see the artist himself carefully having a nervous breakdown from several feet away, nervous that they might touch it.
He strides to him after glancing at the plaque next to the painting.
“Jeremy, isn’t it?” Sherlock says in a carefully modulated tone to sound quite unlike his own. It’s dreamy and slow, not unlike a student who might possibly have smoked something before attending the show. The sound of it does not catch John’s attention (although that might be the noise of the room at work) which satisfies Sherlock.
“Uh, yes!” the artist says, extending a hand. “And you are?”
Sherlock adopts an earnest expression. “I’m Tom. And I love your work. Was the Thames your inspiration for this one?” he gestures at the painting John is observing for an excuse to catch another glimpse of the couple, and nearly misses the expression on the artist’s face.
“Oh God no,” Jeremy exclaims. “That dirty old thing? No, this was something I saw in a dream, of course!”
Ah, Sherlock thought to himself. One of those types.
“Tell me more,” Sherlock says instead.
He is quite capable of upholding a conversation without paying any attention to it at all, and does this quite readily as he watches John from the corners of his eyes.
John looks actually interested in the painting, while his date does not. She frequently touches his arm while talking to him in a bid for his attention, which he doesn’t appear to mind, but he doesn’t reciprocate it either. He keeps his hands firmly in his pockets and when the girl leans boldly against him, while he shifts his weight to accommodate hers, he does not lean back.
He does not unconsciously tilt his body or his head towards her while speaking, which is an easy way to observe physical attraction, and neither does he look down at her…assets. He stands closer to her than he would a normal person, but his posture is nearly the same as it would be near Lestrade, and he doesn’t look nearly as at ease as he does when standing near Sherlock.
One. He isn’t that attracted to this woman. While he doesn’t mind her company or her proximity, he finds something lacking. He doesn’t find her revolting, but he doesn’t want to draw her close either. He enjoys speaking with her, but makes no attempts to spur the conversation into something more exciting so that his attention doesn’t drift.
Two. He hasn’t had sex with her. None of his unconscious movements tell Sherlock that John has done anything more intimate with this woman than hold hands, or maybe give her a chaste kiss. Sherlock pauses and redacts the former—John’s hands would be out of his pockets if he allowed this woman to touch them.
Three. John knows that he hasn’t got any connection to this…Alice…and continues to date her anyways. Likely, he’s doing it to make her happy, rather than for his own benefit.
Four. He’s going to break up with her. Tonight. It will be amicable. John will tell her that he simply doesn’t feel a connection and that it wasn’t anything she did on her part. She will tell him that while he’s nice, she needs someone who will pay more attention to her. In a month or two she will be engaged to some businessman desperate to shower his money and attentions on his little missus, and she will be quite happy with her lot.
“Are you an artist as well, Tom?” Jeremy asks, cutting through his deductions.
“Musician,” Sherlock answers absentmindedly. “Pardon, I’ve got to go now. Good luck on sales tonight.”
Sherlock departs abruptly. He isn’t going to learn anything more, this way.
On the one hand, Sherlock has plenty of food for thought. On the other hand, he feels like he knows even less about John than ever before. He isn’t sure what to think about this, so he sits on the sofa in the dark wondering what he should be thinking about this whole situation. Which leads him to thinking about why he’s thinking about any of this in the first place, and what caused him to start thinking, and whether he’s learned enough for all of this to be worth it.
Situation Normal All Fucked Up.
By now, it is well and truly dark outside and in the flat, but Sherlock doesn’t bother to turn on any lights. The glow from the lamps on the pavement is sufficient for his weary and criss-crossed thoughts. He stands by the window and looks out it for a while, wondering when John will be home, but gives that up when he feels the urge to throw himself onto the sofa.
He drapes his long limbs over it and waits for John, his mind wandering in the darkness. John pokes fun at him for not realizing when he’s left and talking aloud to him regardless, but the only way for him not to do something completely barmy like slit his wrists is to let his brain do what it wants to do when it wants to do it. If this means talking aloud to someone who isn’t there, then Sherlock doesn’t give a toss.
But while Sherlock is alone and has absolutely nothing to do, no more facts and clues to parse through his internal hard drive, he finds that time passes between one blink and the next. It seems like only a moment passes before he can here John’s steady and strong footsteps on the steps.
Sherlock’s flatmate reaches the top of the stairs and jiggles the knob when he realizes the door is locked. He doesn’t grumble or fumble with his key, though, simply slips it into the lock and turns it smoothly before pulling it out.
Conclusion? John is not frustrated or drunk.
“Hmm.” Sherlock replies.
John pauses on the cusp of the sitting room, still in his coat and shoes, and lets his eyes adjust to the darkness. “Have you been sitting there for long?”
He doesn’t have to see it to know that John rolls his eyes. “It looks to me like you fell into your head again and forgot to turn on the lights.
“Wrong,” Sherlock says on a sigh.
Again, Sherlock doesn’t have to see John to hear the smile in his voice.
“I’m right though,” John says. “Partly, at least. The other part is that you’ve artfully displayed yourself on the sofa—again, I might add—to make me think you’ve done nothing but lounge about for the whole evening rather than stalk me on my date.”
Sherlock is not often nonplussed, so it takes him a moment to label his reaction as such.
“Did it help you solve me?” John asks, suddenly, into Sherlock’s surprised silence.
“Pardon?” the detective replies.
“I’m your puzzle of the moment, yes? Have you solved me? Or is this not your ‘jump John in a darkened room with your findings showing how brilliant you are’ and is instead your ‘let’s dim the lights and lie tragically on the sofa hoping John doesn’t notice you’ technique because you haven’t figured me out?”
Sherlock lets the silence hang—it’s answer enough.
“Hmm,” John says, but does not appear to be ready to move off and leave Sherlock to his ‘moping,’ as the good doctor calls it.
“I know one thing for certain,” Sherlock says.
“That you stand closer to me than to anyone else of your acquaintance. That your body language tells me quite clearly you wouldn’t mind me closer while with others you project either disinterest or distrust. That you’ve verbally displayed interest in shagging but have yet to follow through.”
“Hmm,” John says again, sounding amused and thoughtful. “That’s about right. Although you forgot to add that I was legitimately interested in being with Sarah.”
Sherlock throws himself off the sofa. “Wrong!” he shouts, throwing his hands in the air and scowling dramatically at John. “You and I both know that if you were interested in her like that you would have done anything possible to keep her. You would have ceased to work on cases with me, live with me, and would have even gotten rid of your gun to make her feel safe. You did not desire her then nor have you desired any of your dates since.
“And?” John prompts.
“Therefore—what is the point! You claim to be looking around, but everything you desire appears to be in this flat—I might irritate you and treat you poorly, but you obviously prefer me over them; you obviously come home to me. It does not make sense!”
“Perhaps,” John says mildly, “I’m waiting for you to catch up.”
Sherlock is so completely thunderstruck that he falls to the sofa and doesn’t snap back to awareness until several hours later.
John is gone, but when Sherlock pads halfway up the stairs his bedroom door is open. It occurs to Sherlock that the door has been left open for several months now, when John had previously shut it every night upon retreating to bed. Sherlock descends the stairs, goes to his room, and closes the door. He hangs his dressing gown on the back of it then opens the door again. He pauses with his hand on the knob before swinging it slowly until there’s only a small gap between it and the frame.
He slips into bed and the last thing he wonders is how the improbable can be so commonplace and easy to miss. And then he thinks of John.
“He wasn’t a very good cabbie, was he?”
When Sherlock wakes up, his mind has churned out several conclusions in his sleep.
One. John has expressed interest in Sherlock, in his reserved way, and this eases a sort of tension in the detective’s chest that had tightened with every successive girlfriend his flatmate had acquired.
Two. John’s particular type of sexuality requires an already present intimacy between he and his partner. (The specific term will require use of the internet) It also appears that his intimacy, while it can lead to a relationship, does not mean that John is incapable of looking elsewhere (he just does not appear to be successful in finding someone who can add up to Sherlock, which the detective doubts is even possible)
Three. John’s not the only one who is allowing someone closer than he would anyone else.
“Sherlock,” John says, rapping on the door and causing it to swing open. “You up? Tried to get your attention last night, but you were pretty deep in thought.”
There are plenty of things Sherlock wants to say. The first and foremost is ‘you should’ve said you were interested in me,’ followed by ‘I should’ve seen it,’ and ‘I want to cut you open and inspect your insides because you are much more fascinating than I could have ever predicted.’
What he says instead isn’t even on the list.
“No more girlfriends.”
John nods, his hand on the door and a somber look on his face.
John nods again and says, “Sounds reasonable. Want me to make you toast before I go to work?”
There’s nothing Sherlock can do but spring from bed, grab John by the shoulders (and what wonderfully solid soldier’s shoulders they are) and pronounce, “You are an infuriating man.”
Then he kisses John for the first time.
(It’s not the last.)