There's a woman in the flat when John comes home with the shopping. Which is something of an oddity, women in general don't appear in the flat very often, women who aren't Mrs Hudson anyway. He wonders if Sherlock has managed to convince one of the university students to take part in an experiment again. He keeps telling them it's not worth it, but Sherlock keeps using his alien charm on them. You'd think the ones he traumatized would stumble back to wherever they came from, with horrific tales of their suffering. You'd think.
She's slanted sideways in John's armchair. All he can see is a fall of straight, black hair, and her long, pale legs, stretching out across the carpet. There's a silver threaded scarf dangling down the length of one arm, John can only see the tips of her fingers.
"Umm - hello?" John's not quite sure why he makes it a question.
The woman turns, just a little, but John's already taken two steps forward, and it only takes him a second to realise who it is. But it's a very disturbed second.
"Dear God, what are you wearing?"
"Alexander McQueen," Sherlock says, voice still rough and deep. The hair is a long black bob, with a fringe that meets the bridge of his nose. He doesn't quite look female beneath it. He looks - androgynous, pale and strangely angled. It's hard to look away from. He's also getting closer to a smile the longer John stares, mouth lashed a bloody shade of red.
"Why are you - what are you - " John doesn't know which question to ask first. Sherlock usually does his disguise work when John's not looking. Apparently he's distracting in ways that aren't helpful. "Why are you wearing that?"
Sherlock's expression is some terrible mixture of glee and smugness under his straight, black fringe, mouth far too red - indecently red.
John takes in the scarf and suddenly has a terrible thought. "Please tell me you didn't pretend to be psychic again? We talked about that, after the whole thing with the Most Haunted fan club."
Sherlock's answering snort suggests not. Though John gets the terrible feeling he shouldn't feel relieved quite yet. The moment he starts to feel relieved, that's usually when bad things happen - worse things.
"No, no messages from beyond the grave." Sherlock laughs at the thought, low in his throat as if something has genuinely amused him. John decides that what he doesn't know he can't disapprove of, or worry about, or admit to later.
"Well, thank god for that."
Sherlock carefully starts pulling lipstick off his mouth with a tissue, and John's not quite sure why but it's oddly distracting. It's a strangely human gesture, but done with a focused sort of precision that makes it look...off.
"It was something of an experiment in the art of seduction." Sherlock clicks out the last word like he still thinks it's a dubious concept.
John doesn't much like the sound of that. "Please tell me it failed."
Sherlock's expression is horribly affronted, he clearly hadn't expected that.
"You can't just go around randomly seducing men," John explains. "Please tell me you didn't do that. Please."
"Why not?" Sherlock raises an eyebrow, which immediately disappears under his fringe. John is thinking of the 1920's for some strange and disturbing reason, and he forgets what they were talking about for a second.
"Because you can't." Which is a mistake because Sherlock hates being told he can't do things. He always takes it as a personal challenge.
He leans closer, close enough for John to notice that he smells like something sharp and sweet, perfume, or maybe hairspray. The wig is glancing off his collarbone, black against the pale of his skin, and John's very sure he should stop looking at it.
"Are you jealous, John?" Sherlock says, quiet like he's mostly teasing - or like he's supposed to sound like he's mostly teasing - but John knows him far too well. Sherlock's clearly finding this funny, and interesting, neither of which bode well. John hates being interesting. And he's not jealous, that's - no, that's not it at all.
"Don't be ridiculous."
"That's not an answer."
"Sherlock. "John will not rub at his eyes. He will not let Sherlock lure him into one of his circular arguments when he's trying to make a point. "I'm concerned, I know what you're like when you're reveling in your superiority over others. We've talked about how people generally don't react well to the superiority, and the reveling."
"That's not an answer either," Sherlock says, definitely accusing now.
"No, I'm not jealous," John snaps. "I'm not jealous of anyone you are, or aren't seducing, for God's sake, Sherlock."
Sherlock snorts and leans back, hair swinging in a way that looks stylised and expensive. John knows women that would kill for hair like that.
"Stop worrying, I haven't been plying my trade among the undoubtedly unworthy specimens of masculinity roaming the streets of London."
"I'm so glad, because you made it sound even worse than what I was thinking -"
"Only to a few select people."
John has to work to unclench his jaw. But when he does he's at a loss for something to say, something which he won't be able to take back. Sherlock's still watching him, and John doesn't want to know what he's reading from his face. He's not jealous, he just...hates the thought of it. But if Sherlock is treating it like just another experiment it means he'll get bored, that he's probably bored already. He will eventually stop
"So, how did you do it?" John asks stiffly, because he suspects Sherlock will keep looking at him until he says something. Or is impressed by his genius or something.
"It's a matter of percentages, careful observation, certain specialised tastes. It's rather easy and infuriatingly imprecise at the same time - for strangers at least." Sherlock stops.
John swallows, forces his voice to be as bland and uninterested as Sherlock usually is.
"And how was it?"
Sherlock pulls a face. "In general, very unsatisfying, once I'd successfully accomplished the task it was all very dull and uninteresting, frustrating." He looks annoyed now, as if he's missing something, something obvious. "I'd hate to call it a failure on such a small sample size but I'm clearly missing something."
"You didn't feel anything?" There's a weird sort of disappointment, mixed in with the disapproval and the fact that he's sure he doesn't want to know.
"Aside from the obvious biological responses, no." Sherlock's irritated pouting doesn't look half as ridiculous as it usually does.
There are so many things John could say to that. Or he could say nothing at all. He could make some sort of non-committal noise and wander off somewhere where there aren't cross-dressing detectives with hair that smells like flowers. Somewhere he won't have to have awkward conversations.
"I think you're missing the point," John finds himself saying instead. "A lot of people find it hard to connect with strangers. When you know someone it actually matters. Someone who isn't a stranger, someone who knows you, someone you don't want to mess it all up with because they mean something to you. There's no script, and all the percentages, the observations, the specialised tastes - it doesn't matter how sure you are. It matters and so it's terrifying. You feel something then."
"So what do you do?" Sherlock sounds more demanding than curious.
"Sometimes you just have to take a chance."
"It sounds horribly imprecise, and liable to end badly?" Sherlock complains. "See I'm clearly ill-suited."
"You'd be surprised," John says, and then sighs, because suddenly it's all very obvious, and very quiet and just a little bit terrifying. "I hate when you do that."
"Do what?" Sherlock asks, and he's slithered into John's space between words, so subtly that John barely noticed.
"Stop pretending to be stupid, it's not -"
Sherlock's mouth tastes like lipstick, and he's too tall, and he kisses just a little too hard. John should probably be moving away, mumbling some sort of protest - that's what people do. But Sherlock's been a terrible influence at convincing him to stop reacting like normal people. It's strange and new and nothing he's done before - but he doesn't want it to stop.
And then it does.
Sherlock's watching him, eyes dark under his hair, he's studying whatever John's face is showing and that's far more unsettling than the kiss.
"Your hair tickles," John murmurs. Because he feels like he should say something, something neutral, something to fill the space until he's ready for anything else. Or maybe just because he's afraid all the questions will be obvious and all the protests will sound ridiculous.
"Would you like me to take it off?" Sherlock is smiling now, which is unfair, it's unfair that he...processed all of this before John even knew it was happening. He sighs, very quietly, and surrenders.
"I think I actually quite like it," he admits, because everyone else is being surprisingly honest.