Just as years ago the various drugs Sherlock had injected had infused his blood and let him both sharpen and escape his mind, depending on the given need at the time, so too did the physical intimacy he shared with The Woman now. And yet as intense and rewarding the addiction had been, their sex life was exponentially moreso. Even as he had convinced himself that he needed it, drug use had been a depressing and solitary act for him. But his carried all of the benefits and none of the consequences, and was incredibly life-affirming. And best of all, he shared it with her.
Now that he had it in his life, he wondered how he had gone without because in addition to all its obvious benefits, it proved to be the absolute best possible cure for boredom. Though they didn't have sex while he was working,* during the gaps between cases their sessions were frequent and marathon-like, and actually resulted in the best sleep he'd ever had, making him all the more focused when he did resume work.
(*All right, not strictly true; she wouldn't let him exclusively set their agenda, but she did understand that the work was a—if not the—key component of his life, and so she didn't undermine that by seducing him unless she were feeling particularly demanding or bored, and wanted to antagonise him. And since she did so sparingly, he found himself willing to be temporarily diverted even then.)
Sherlock thought that he was probably in the best shape of his life, and John had remarked that he was making progress in reining in his destructive fits of frustration between cases. Sherlock had simply smirked privately at that.
He was ready with a cover story should his flatmate ever ask him where he'd been during the stolen hours he spent with her, but fortunately Sherlock always kept such an irregular schedule, and gone off on such arbitrary errands, that John had stopped asking long ago. He knew he'd tell him about his relationship eventually, but he wasn't quite ready. For now, it was private.
And it wasn't just sex—though of course it had never been just about that, or else he wouldn't have been interested in the first place. He was also unquestionably in love with her, as any ordinary man was in love with any ordinary woman, although he was certain that their brand of sentiment was much purer and more significant than what normal people had – people who married but promptly had affairs and divorced, casting their bonds aside as if they had been meaningless. People like his own parents.
He could never so readily forsake what they shared, it had been far too hard-won. And he knew that even though they would never make a formal commitment to each other, there was no question of any type of infidelity for as long as their relationship endured. He couldn't imagine ever attempting what they had with anyone else (it was inconceivable) and he knew that even if she ended it, she would always be The Woman. As in, the only woman.
Shortly after he discovered his first grey hair at age 36 and nine months, he discovered that perhaps there was an unwelcome consequence to having an active sex life: he found himself idly speculating about what would happen if Irene became pregnant.
He was immediately aghast; he had never been so subjectively repulsed or horrified by an errant thought of his in his life and rejected it at once, assuring himself it was just an irrational emotional response to the memento mori of that single hair.
But now and then when he least expected it, he found the notion creeping back until it started to lose its shock value, and instead took on a perverse sort of intrigue. It was a glimpse into a world he had never imagined for himself, through a door just barely cracked ajar.
Still, he didn't mention it to her, recalling what she had said several years before. "I meant what I said about children. . ." and "as gorgeous and brilliant as a genetic combination of the two of us would be. . ."
That was the part that most intrigued him. It would be the ultimate experiment. What dominant physical, intellectual, and personality characteristics would emerge in such a person? It was fascinating and bit exhilarating to consider.
However, he became significantly less certain when he considered the practical elements of procreation, such as who would actually raise such a child. The idea itself was novel and fascinating insofar as a mere concept, but the reality was obviously far from viable. He had no place for parenting in his life, nor any inclination to change that, and he knew that she didn't wish to adjust her lifestyle either. And so he dismissed it, concluding that it was just a biological urge that happened when a man who was at the height of his reproductive age had frequent sexual intercourse with a person he loved and greatly esteemed.
Or at least, he had thought had dismissed it.
But one day, as they lay panting side by side at the Cranley Hotel in South Kensington, he blurted out unthinkingly in the haze of the afterglow, "What if we had a child?"
She immediately rolled over onto her elbow, staring at him in abject shock, and he flushed, regretting his outburst and feeling somewhat mortified. They had become quite comfortable and frank with each other, and were nonjudgmental of one another's often unorthodox thoughts and ideas, and now that level of comfort had betrayed him.
"In what world could that ever happen?" she finally managed.
He shook his head tersely, "It couldn't. It won't. Never mind."
But the moment was broken and she continued to stare at him as if he were suddenly a complete stranger to her, and shortly later he escaped to the shower and away from her incredulous eyes.
A few weeks later, as they lay in each other's arms in yet another hotel room, this time the Britannia in Canary Wharf, she asked quietly, "I can't believe that. . .children would be something you wanted. But are they?"
It was evident that what he'd said had been on her mind.
He shook his head automatically, then paused and shook it again, but this time in uncertainty. "Merely as a concept - imagining the hypothetical, I suppose."
She nodded, although slightly warily. "Yes. It would obviously be fascinating to see what we could create—in theory. But," she faltered uncharacteristically again. "That's where your interest ends, yes? You don't want it in practice. . ."
There was a long silence, before he answered, "There was so much I'd never wanted—categorically, specifically never wanted—before we met. Sex, intimacy. . ."
Her eyes widened, and she rolled onto her back to stare up at the ceiling, her body language telling him she couldn't believe her ears.
"But yes, I think that's where the interest ends," he added, although not particularly definitively.
She nodded, but still looked uneasy.
A silence grew between them, and he sighed, then shoved his fingers through his hair.
"My father. . ." he started, not sure where he was going even as he spoke.
"Siger," she said, obviously perfectly recalling the origins of their shared previous alias, and the surname under which they were currently checked in. But he also understood that she was indicating her openness to discuss whatever it was, despite her own apprehension.
Sherlock nodded. "He wasn't. . ." His words faded, and he paused, then restarted a moment later in a clipped rush.
"He was one of two things at all times. Impatient (with my mother, his staff, the help, but namely with me), or absent. I see those traits in myself, with a few added flaws that are all my own. I wouldn't want the chance to inflict my childhood on a subsequent generation of Holmeses. I think we've devolved as potential parents, each generation less so-inclined than the last, and as you'd expect with devolution, doing the opposite to perpetuate the species. I think Mycroft and I have only certain social and class conventions and the fact that my mother was nothing like my father, nothing like a Holmes (and wanted to be a mother) to thank for our lives."
"You don't think your father wanted you," she understood, turning back to him and propping her head up on her hand.
"I know he didn't," Sherlock bit out, his tone intensifying. "He tolerated Mycroft. One manageable son, and a perhaps-necessary heir. And oh, did my brother cling to that condition of his approval, since it was the only way Siger would relate to him. He became everything our father could have wanted in an heir, and more. Father's perfect little associate. That's what Siger called him: not his son, his associate." Sherlock made a sound that conveyed his feelings on that: a blend of contempt and jealousy. Because still, it was something—he took an interest in Mycroft, as cold and obligation–minded as that interest was. "But me? I was an accident, and almost certainly the product of the last time my parents ever had intercourse. One of the last times, at least, certainly. It was probably a one-off, at that, and my father was undoubtedly enraged that it had resulted in another child."
"You can't know what happened inside your parents' marriage," Irene reasoned.
"No, perhaps not entirely," Sherlock allowed begrudgingly. "There was evidence but I was just a kid who didn't fully understand, so I could've been wrong. But it was made perfectly clear to me that to my father I was the fuck-up spare and he had no patience to try to understand me, let alone get to know me."
"I'm sure your father loved you, Sherlock, even if he was incapable of expressing it."
Sherlock's lip curled and he snapped, "Don't patronise me Irene, and don't presume to give him so much credit."
She didn't appear the least bit stung by his sharp remark, and instead she gave a small nod as if conceding his point, and his brief irritation was replaced with fierce, consuming feelings for her.
"I can't— I can't be the father mine was," he said, almost pleadingly, as if she were the one telling him she was considering children. "But I think it would be an inevitability."
"Genetic Calvinism?" Irene asked, now apparently trying to leaven the mood.
It didn't work. He shut his eyes and tried to regulate his breathing, and he felt her free hand smooth over his chest and come to a rest over his heart. When he cracked them open again he was startled to see the intensity of emotion written on her face, and his eyes widened further.
She must have noticed his expression, because she said with a faint smile, "Shush, this isn't patronising you." But in fact he was grateful for the touch.
This was a first for them. They had opened up to each other in plenty of ways, and they had danced around their pasts with each other, but neither of them had ever so frankly discussed the subject. He hadn't talked about his family or childhood in such a way at all since the time he'd been forced into therapy as part of his rehabilitation, but this felt far more cathartic than that experience.
"We won't have an accident," Irene said, picking up on something he had mentioned before, though she sounded uncertain about whether he would interpret this as good or bad news. "IUDs are—"
"Yes, rates of fewer than two women in 100 will get pregnant over the course of five years with an IUD."
"Yes, it would have to be planned. . ." She let that sentence and any implications rest between them, but after a moment she sighed.
"Regardless of this subject, you've proven you can and do care about something other than yourself. This," she pressed her palm into his skin, "is proof of that. I've never met your father—"
"And you never will. He's dead," Sherlock interrupted flatly.
"—but you make it seem as if he cared quite a bit about social conventions, and very little for those actually close to him. That's the opposite of the Holmes man I know best. …Though it does sound a bit like Mycroft," she said as an aside, then looked back into his eyes, and continued, "You said yourself that he never understood you. You must not be all that alike for that to be the case."
"Perhaps not in overt ways, but I've inherited some of his less-than-admirable traits, nonetheless," Sherlock replied stonily. "And that's why I can tell you decisively that yes: my interest is in the theory, and not in the practice."
Still, he felt a strange lingering yearning he couldn't understand or define, and while he was certain that Irene saw it, she didn't acknowledge it. Apparently she wasn't willing to delve further into the subject, probably for fear that he would convince himself out of his position and ask her for something she couldn't necessarily give.
"Well I would make a terrible parent as well," she said, her airy, capricious tone taking their conversation in a lighter direction. "And I can say that because I absolutely am just like my mother."
Sherlock turned to her and searched her face, but she just looked wry and mildly pensive.
He nodded, but wasn't entirely willing to follow her to the more superficial level of discussion yet. "I can't comment on that – perhaps you would, or perhaps your maternal instinct would surprise you. But I know you've always said you don't want children."
She pursed her lips, looking slightly cornered, but she answered him. "No I don't." She sighed. "Or, I haven't. I loved my life and children would have been completely incompatible with that. Not that they were even on my radar; I didn't exactly have the type of sex that could result in pregnancy. But… my life is different now. A lot is different, though I never really considered if it could be in that way," she murmured. Then she added in disbelief, "Are we really discussing this?"
"No," he quickly assured her. But they both knew otherwise, and they lapsed into a heavy silence.
Several days later he found himself finally ready to confide in John, because if there were anything he'd like to run by his friend, it was such a paradigm-change as even thinking about becoming a father. He and Irene hadn't discussed the matter further, but he found himself needing to discuss it with someone else—someone not so directly involved or invested.
In typical style, he brought it up at the breakfast table without preamble, as if he were remarking on the weather. Casually setting the paper aside, he said, "I've been considering having a child."
At once John choked on his toast, then dissolved into a desperate coughing fit, to the point that tears squeezed from his eyes.
When it was finally under control, John glared at him resentfully. "What the bloody hell are you on about?" he demanded. "Why would you say something so ridiculous to me when I'm about to eat something?"
Sherlock felt slightly indignant. "It's not ridiculous. I'm of an age when most men think about reproducing."
"You are not most men, Sherlock," John said emphatically. "You don't give a toss about anything but the bloody work. Not to dignify this with a reasonable response, but how would you even propose to go about this? I highly doubt any adoption agency is going to approve your application."
"Of course not," Sherlock sniffed. "I was intending to do it the usual way."
John stared at him, and then his expression transitioned into one of horror as he seemed to realise something.
"You cannot be talking about Molly, surely. I mean for God's sake, Sherlock! I can't even. . ."
"No not Molly Hooper," Sherlock cut in sharply, not out of insult to the pathologist but in response to John's allusion that Sherlock would manipulate her into carrying his child as if he were just struck by the whim to become a father, and never mind the mother.
He let his glare linger over John for a moment, although John was glowering back himself. Then the fight seemed to go out of his face and he just shook his head, looking wary but resigned.
"Fine. Care to explain, then? Who is this unfortunate woman willing to carry a child of yours?"
"Oh, I don't think she needs your pity," Sherlock dismissed in amusement, thinking of the Woman. And she hasn't exactly said she's willing. . . he silently added, his amusement fading.
John cocked an eyebrow, and Sherlock now felt a flicker of nervousness at how his flatmate would take the news, though his face remained assuredly arrogant.
"There's something I've been keeping from you."
"There's a shocker," John retorted, although now he did look slightly more intrigued.
"I've been . . .involved. . . with someone."
This time, John's shock wasn't ironic, and Sherlock was faintly worried that he would begin choking again.
"You—" he started, then just stared agog. "A woman?"
"Yes a woman," Sherlock answered, and mentally added, The woman. "You think I'd sit here and tell you that I'm considering conceiving a child in 'the usual way' with a man? My God John, what did they teach you at St. Bart's?"
John was vigorously shaking his head over Sherlock's words, not listening. "Don't deflect, Sherlock. Who the hell is it you're carrying on with? And for how long—? How did I not—?"
Sherlock sighed, bored. "As ever, you see but don't observe. You've even commented that I seem more relaxed and centred between cases. Care to guess why that might be?"
John ignored the innuendo. "Who is it? . . .Do I know her?"
Sherlock smirked. "Yes."
The detective could see the cogs in John's head turning, but not coming up with any ideas, so to help him along he added sardonically, "In fact, you've even seen her naked."
For another long moment John's face was blank, and then suddenly he looked absolutely thunderstruck, and Sherlock's smirked deepened.
"But-but. . ." he spluttered. "She's dead—"
"Dead? I thought you told me that she was in America," Sherlock drawled.
"—Mycroft said she was dead," John continued, as if he hadn't heard. "He said. . ." John's mouth dropped as he seemed to make a second realisation. "He said it would take Sherlock Holmes to fool him."
"Mm, yes. Quite," Sherlock said smugly.
"You arranged. . .?"
Sherlock just cocked his head with a complacent look on his face.
"And you never told me. . ."
"I didn't even tell you about my faked death—well, until I returned after having finished the work; why would I tell you about hers? Oh and ironically, she was in America."
John glared again at the reference to Sherlock's absence, but then shook his head, seeming to want to get back on topic. "And you've been seeing her ever since?"
"Define 'seeing her.' She's only been back in London for the past six months."
"Damn it, Sherlock, you know what I mean," his flatmate said through gritted teeth.
"Mm, since Karachi? Off and on. But definitely 'on' since she's been back."
John stared at him, his respiration and his colour rising "And just to set things straight, does Mycroft know that she's not actually dead?"
"For the past seven months he has. Needless to say he wasn't pleased with it at first, nor with my role in it, but he was forced to admit that she was indispensible with the Moran business while I was. . ." he darted a small glance at John ". . .abroad. And so she was able to return with his word that he wouldn't interfere with her in any way, or allow anyone else to do so."
Sherlock was pleased with the way the entire thing had worked out in his favour, and felt particularly proud of the way Irene had been able to kill two birds with one stone: as a direct result of her (vital) assistance Moran had been captured at last, and her exile had been repealed. He could see her making quite a career out of being a consultant spy. . .
"So I'm the last to find out about all of this. Brilliant. Thanks for that, mate," John's sarcastic voice cut in, interrupting Sherlock's thoughts. He lifted his head to see that John was averting his eyes and scowling, angry and apparently hurt.
But before Sherlock could say anything to mend the situation, John continued, "And now you're trying to tell me that you're considering having a baby—an actual human child—with Irene Adler." He barked out an incredulous, derisive laugh. "Last I knew you hated her."
"No, last you knew, she was dead," Sherlock corrected, then added, "So you're obviously a bit behind on the times."
John's mouth opened and closed, and he seemed completely robbed of words.
Finally he managed, "This is—too much. I can't…" Then he glared at Sherlock accusingly, as if struck with an even greater horror, and demanded, "Are you in love with her?"
Sherlock blinked slowly, then said, "That's one way to put it."
John gaped at him again, as if trying to figure out what the hell that meant, then shook his head with a sort of helpless disbelief. "And what's another way to put it?"
"She's 'The Woman'," he said simply, matter-of-fact.
"Oh, your soulmate, is she?" John spat out with bitter irony, but when Sherlock quirked his lips to consider the term instead of denying it or immediately making the sort of scathing retort John had probably expected, his eyes bulged from his head in complete shock.
He shoved back from the table and stomped out of the room, leaving Sherlock to stare at his half-full breakfast plate.
With a slight sigh, he reached over to grab the untouched piece of toast, and started nibbling on the edge of it contemplatively. That had definitely not gone as well as he would have preferred.
Almost at once, Sherlock realised his mistake. He had wanted to discuss the idea with someone who wasn't directly involved or invested in whether he made such a change in lifestyle. But even while John was the only other person with whom Sherlock could imagine sharing such a thing, he should have understood that his flatmate was anything but uninvolved or un-invested. . .