“They know, or in Ms Adler’s case, knew, Sherlock’s weaknesses. His sore points.” Mycroft took a sip of his oily-looking black coffee and winced very slightly.
“Ms Adler would not otherwise have been able to manipulate him so successfully. Of course it concerns me.”
“What, that Moriarty and Irene think that Sherlock’s a virgin? Really?”
John shook his head, amused. He drank a bit of his own terrible coffee. Clearly Mycroft was insisting on meeting him in Speedy’s to make a point; he wondered how to suggest tactfully that Pret would make the same point but with better coffee.
Mycroft was frowning at him, tapping one finger impatiently on the table, evidently put out that John wasn’t taking Moriarty’s view of Sherlock’s sex life seriously. He leant forward slightly and lowered his voice.
“My brother has no understanding of this – area.”
“You mean, sex.”
“Indeed,” said Mycroft, and sat back again in his chair, smugly. He glanced at his coffee and then clearly thought better of it.
John leant forward in turn, mirroring Mycroft’s earlier pose. He couldn’t wait to relay this conversation to Sherlock: it was unusual for Mycroft to be so obviously wrong.
“Look, I have no idea whether Sherlock’s ever shagged a woman, but I can tell you this: your brother is definitely not a virgin. Seriously, I don’t know where you got that idea from.”
“You have some evidence to the contrary?” said Mycroft, raising one eyebrow. He looked pleasantly disbelieving.
John raised an eyebrow back. “Do you really need me to spell it out?” he said.
Mycroft’s expression froze. His finger halted, mid-tap. His eyes bored into John.
“For the purposes of clarity,” he said, “perhaps you had better do so.”
John barely suppressed an eye-roll. Surely Mycroft ought to know by now his cut-glass intimidation wasn’t going to work on him. If he’d been planning to police his little brother’s sex life, well, John’s impression was that that horse had bolted a long time ago.
“OK,” he said. “Sherlock and me, we had sex.” (Sherlock and I, corrected Sherlock’s voice in his head, crossly). “Is that clear enough? I’m not embarrassed about it or anything, but it was just a one-off, and a fair while back. Not that it’s any of your business, but I’ll tell you one thing; he knew what he was doing. I don’t think you know as much about Sherlock as you think you do.”
Mycroft was silent, or silenced, for a moment, then he smiled also, but unpleasantly. “Do you know, John, I wonder if the boot might not be on the other foot, so to speak. When did this – encounter – take place, might I ask?”
“Does it matter?” said John. “Last summer, ages ago. And I’m pretty sure Sherlock didn’t sleep with Irene but I’m not exactly following his every move; God knows how many other men he’s shagged since.”
“None,” said Mycroft. He kept his gaze on John, steady. “And none before. Men or women.” He lowered his voice again.
“I can assure you, that if your information is accurate – which given your well-documented comments on your own sexuality, one might reasonably doubt – then you are the only person who has – engaged my brother’s interest. In this respect.” He looked at John meaningfully.
“That’s ridiculous,” said John. “You can’t actually mean…” He trailed off. Mycroft’s level gaze was surprisingly disconcerting.
“I am a little – concerned,” Mycroft observed, “to find that my – that I, I mean - seem to have missed something of significance in Sherlock’s recent past.” His mouth twisted. “I am, naturally, grateful for your information, and will certainly take it under advisement. And now, if you’ll excuse me – ”
He stood up, picking up his overcoat fastidiously from the back of the chair.
“Right,” said John. “I should – go as well.” He fished in his pocket, took out a fiver and set it on the table, then stood up, putting on his jacket.
Mycroft gave him a considering look. “Except for this one incident, I can assure you that my information is accurate,” he said, softly. “I don’t surmise, or assume, when it comes to Sherlock. Can you say the same?”
“If you missed this, you could have missed anything,” John said.
“But I don’t believe I have,” said Mycroft. “Think on that, John.”
He turned to the door, which one of his fleet of assistants was already holding open, deferential. John watched him get into the waiting car before following him out. He hesitated a moment at the door, undecided, and then set off at a fast pace away from the flat.
Clara was leaning on his shoulder, tipsy, bottle in one hand and a half-smoked cigarette in the other. Their new living-room was strewn with half-unpacked boxes, sofa invisible under a pile of books. Everyone had abandoned sorting out the flat when Clara had unearthed an unopened bottle of tequila in one of her kitchen boxes, and they were now slumped on the floor, passing it round.
“You know, between us,” she said, waving the bottle dangerously before John’s face, “we could shag all of London.”
“Bit ambitious,” said John, gently removing the tequila and swigging some himself.
“I mean,” she said, sitting up and pointing round their circle. “We’re all single. Tom’s straight and so’s Caroline; I’m gay, and you’re bi. We cover all bases.”
“Doesn’t seem fair,” said Tom, who was lying on his back admiring the ceiling rose. “I have to share the straight women with John, but Caroline gets all the straight men to herself.” He struggled up onto his elbows.
“John,” he said, seriously. “For my sake. You have to be the gay flatmate for the duration of this lease. Think of my sex life”. He flopped back down. “God, my back hurts from carting all those bloody boxes up here. Stop hogging the tequila, people.”
“Oy,” said John. “I’m not actually gay, you know. I’m straight.”
Tom snorted. Caroline grinned at John; he passed her the bottle.
“Please,” said Clara. “Everyone here saw you snogging Ben at Rache’s party, and disappearing into your room. It wasn’t even past midnight! The party went on for at least four hours after you two vanished for a shag.”
“Mostly straight,” said John. He couldn’t help a smile spreading across his face. It had been a good night. “Just because I got off with Ben doesn’t mean I fancy men more than women.”
“What about conversions?” said Caroline. “Or other bisexuals. I think bi men are hot.”
John met her eyes. Yes, he thought, there it was: the acknowledgement that at some point, circumstances permitting, the two of you would probably shag.
“Watch out, Caroline,” said Tom. “John’s shagged every flatmate he’s ever had.”
“Come off it,” said John. “That’s a total exaggeration.”
“Ben,” said Tom, ticking a list off on his fingers. “Julie, Sarah – that blond you were living with in that horrible flat in Camden, what was she called? – Martin, Becky…” John tried to protest and Tom held up his other hand, silencing him. Clara was giggling.
“Just trying to make sure Caroline knows the score,” he said. “I’ve known you for years, but she’s less resistant to that famous Watson charm.” He turned his head to Caroline. “No-one knows how he does it. I mean, look at him.”
John shrugged. Clara patted him on the knee consolingly.
“It’s OK,” she said. “Don’t be ashamed of your pulling powers.”
“I’m a junior doctor,” said John. “It’s not as though I have time to go out and meet anyone else. And every flatmate? Do you know how many flatmates I’ve had? Who do you think I am, bloody Casanova?”
“I’ve had as many flatmates as you, and I didn’t shag half of them,” said Tom.
“Not for want of trying,” said John, kicking him gently with his foot.
“Boys, boys,” said Clara. “Plenty of people out there for all of us.” She frowned. “We just need to invite them here, provide booze and then –” She gestured, expansively.
“We should draw up some rules,” said Caroline, suddenly enthused. “Like who gets first dibs on attractive men. Me or John.”
“Good call,” said Clara. “And a questionnaire, for visitors to fill in. We could post it on the door. Or – flow charts! With arrows at the bottom, directing people to the appropriate bedroom.”
“Let’s not get carried away,” said John. He smiled down at her, affectionate.
“Here’s to shagging all of London, anyway,” said Caroline. “May the best man – or woman – win!”
There was a pause. “We need more booze,” said Tom. “Let’s draw straws for who’s going to the corner shop, and then roll a joint and order some pizza.”
“You go ahead,” said John. “I’ve got a shift at 8am.” He stood up and stretched, not missing the way Caroline’s eyes tracked up his body.
Clara toppled over until she was lying with her head on Tom’s stomach. John looked at the three of them and smiled, possibilities unfolding before him.
John and Sherlock came into the living-room together, talking over one another.
“And then when she looked at you and said “‘Mr Holmes, kindly unhand me’ – ” said John.
“No, no,” said Sherlock, impatiently, ‘the best bit, really the finest moment in this case, was when the dog – ”
“Oh God, that bloody dog,” said John. “Christ, what a day. What was that she gave you, anyway? Champagne, is it?”
Sherlock passed the bottle he was holding to John and took off his jacket, tossing it on a chair. He heeled off his shoes and went to sit on the sofa, leaning back, arms spread out.
“Looks pretty expensive,” John said. “Bollinger? We should save it for a special occasion.” He went over and sat beside Sherlock, passing the bottle back.
“At least £150 a bottle,” said Sherlock. “1990 was one of the best years for champagne in the last two decades.” He twisted the cork expertly and it popped out; champagne cascading over his wrist. Oblivious, he lifted the bottle to his mouth and took a swig, then handed it to John.
“OK then,” said John, eyebrows raised.
He leant back, relaxing, mindful that his head was resting against Sherlock’s arm behind him. Their legs were nearly touching. John’s shirt was sticking to his back with sweat. The evening noises of London in early summer, revelling in a fine June day, came through the open window, a celebratory hum. He took a cautious mouthful of champagne.
“This is good,” he said, surprised.
“At that price, it certainly ought to be,” said Sherlock.
They shared the bottle between them in companionable silence for a few minutes, though John thought that he could feel the tension, fizzing between them. It was thrillingly familiar, this edginess, this moment where banter slid into flirtation and two people who knew each other, whether old friends or new acquaintances, crossed the line from flatmates to lovers. It made him feel young and nostalgic.
With him and Sherlock, he would have said it had been coming for a long time, even before Moriarty, before the pool – leaving aside all that, John would probably have tried his luck shortly after they’d met, if he hadn’t been distracted by murders and mayhem, and then trying to make something work with Sarah. And now, this warm evening, relaxed, single and in a charitable mood with Sherlock and the world, there seemed no reason not to take the chance.
Sherlock was holding the bottle, turning it round and picking at the gold foil, lost in thought. John shifted closer to him and deliberately put his right hand on Sherlock’s thigh, just resting there. He didn’t move, but John felt his muscles tensing.
“So,” he said. “Case finished, nothing on TV tonight, what shall we do? Go out somewhere? Or – stay in?”
Sherlock was looking at him, wary. John tilted his head very slightly, licked his lips and looked Sherlock in the eyes, deliberately holding his gaze for a couple of beats longer than he usually would. He wanted Sherlock to have a way out, in the unlikely case that he’d been misreading the signs since he’d moved in, but he’d never been a great believer in excess subtlety.
Sherlock’s mouth opened slightly. He didn’t look surprised, though, John noted. He looked intrigued, the way he did when presented with a new problem.
“Do you mind if I- ?” said John, and he leant closer, moving his hand more firmly.
“Not a question,” said Sherlock, but he sounded a little breathless.
“Hmm,” said John, and he closed the distance between them and kissed him. The angle was awkward; he had to crane his neck, but Sherlock’s mouth was opening under his, warm and tasting of excellent champagne, and John let his tongue flick across Sherlock’s – he was definitely kissing John back, which was promising.
John broke off and moved over so that he was straddling Sherlock’s thighs, hands braced on the sofa back, and their faces were more level. He leant in for a quick kiss then pulled off. Sherlock looked flushed, and his eyes flickered over John, perhaps uncertain.
It might have been a while since the last time he’d shagged someone whom he had to live with, afterwards, but John hadn’t forgotten the score.
“So,” he said, resting his weight on Sherlock’s legs and undoing the top button of Sherlock’s shirt. “I’d really like to do this” – opening the next buttons - “but I know that sleeping with your friends and flatmates isn’t always a good idea – if you’re not up for it, that’s fine, of course.” He opened the fifth button, half-way down, and slid a hand inside, over Sherlock’s chest.
No-one had ever backed out at this point, in John’s past experience, but the disclaimer was important to establish that you were both on the same page.
Sherlock didn’t say anything, though, so John went on, the words coming glibly although it had been nearly ten years since he’d last used them, in this context at least.
“I mean, I’m definitely up for a one-night thing, but if you think it would be awkward, afterwards…” He looked up at Sherlock through his eyelashes.
Damn it, that had been a miscalculation; Sherlock looked as though he could see right through him. “You’ve done this before,” he said, his tone laced with irony.
John regrouped. “If you mean, with a flatmate, yes. If you mean, with a man – also yes. Though not for a fair while, either case,” he said, and moved his hand up so that his fingers circled Sherlock’s nipple, teasingly.
“I used to be quite good at it, though. So I’m told.” He flicked his thumbnail over Sherlock’s nipple. Sherlock hissed and his hips lifted a fraction. His hands came round to grip John’s lower back, almost his arse, good.
“Hidden talents,” he said. “Could be interesting.”
John leant in again and kissed him, harder and more confidently. Their tongues moved together; John trying to convey what else he might do to Sherlock with his mouth – something he suddenly felt extremely invested in, not to mention that Sherlock also seemed to be feeling more urgency and was leaning up into him, one hand now clasping the back of his neck.
John gave up on teasing Sherlock’s nipple, though noting it as something to spend more time on later, and slid his hand down and over a promising bulge in Sherlock’s trousers. He felt a rush of anticipation: it had been a long time, and he’d forgotten how hot it was with another man, when you knew how something felt to them and that knowledge ratcheted up your own lust. And this was Sherlock, who was cool and disdainful and always had to have the last word; now he was breathing raggedly into John’s mouth and his cock was pressing up, into John’s hand... this was going to be really good, and John wanted all of it, right now.
He broke off again. “My room?”
“I – yes,” said Sherlock. “John, I – ”
John caressed him firmly with his hand and Sherlock made a small noise; John smiled, pleased, and stood up, wincing and adjusting himself slightly; Sherlock was watching.
“What were you saying?”
“Nothing of importance.” Sherlock groped down for the champagne bottle and took a drink.
“Bring that,” said John, heading for the stairs. “Shame to waste it.” He got to his room and started stripping, efficiently. Sherlock came in, closed the door, and stood against it, staring at him.
“If you wanted to lick champagne off my naked body,” he said, “you had only to ask”. He looked impassive and sounded mildly amused, but John knew him well enough to know that it was a cover for intense focus: that this focus might be on him, on what they were about to do, was extremely hot.
“Liking that idea,” said John. “Don’t say things like that unless you mean it.” He was down to his boxers; he got into bed, under the sheet. Sherlock was still standing against the door, fully dressed.
Sherlock arched an eyebrow. “Yes, yes,” said John, grinning. “Now get over here.”
John stopped and sat on one of the park benches; barely noticing the light drizzle. He’d walked around Regent’s Park three times since his conversation with Mycroft. He thought he could reconstruct what he’d said to Sherlock last June pretty well, and hadn’t Sherlock had tried to say something to him, before they’d ended up in bed, and John had...cut him off, maybe? Had he? What if the thing he’d wanted to say had been.... no, it was ridiculous. More than ridiculous, impossible.
The sex itself was a bit hazy in John’s memory, but it had been good sex, better than good. And it had been fun, that was the thing. He’d always thought it was one of the big advantages of pulling someone you already knew, that you could make a bit of a joke about it. He remembered spilling champagne on Sherlock’s chest and licking it, and Sherlock laughing at him, and moving down and taking Sherlock’s cock in his mouth, the surprise of that. And Sherlock had reciprocated, which had been brilliant, best blow job he’d had in a long time – there was no way Sherlock hadn’t done that before, surely.
Maybe Mycroft was working on a Bill Clinton definition of sex. But then, a bit later that evening, John had fucked Sherlock, and that had been great, too. And Sherlock had definitely instigated it– John had thought maybe the afterglow of the first time had worn off, and he was going to get up and find some water and food, or something, and then Sherlock had said – what had he said? Something joking, something sarcastic, and he’d rolled over and licked the side of John’s neck.
And anyway, the end result was that John had found himself in what seemed like the inconceivable position of fucking Sherlock, lost to everything but tight heat and the rhythmic movements of fucking into someone, hard. It was true that Sherlock hadn’t come, then, but in John’s limited experience of sex with men, that wasn’t unusual, and Sherlock had been gratifyingly responsive when John had stroked him, afterwards.
Would Sherlock really have done all this if he’d never had sex before? Of course not: John shouldn’t even be entertaining the thought. But Mycroft had been genuinely thrown, he hadn’t been faking.
Surely Sherlock would have said something. John tried to imagine this. OK, he wouldn’t have said anything. But last summer… he could have stopped, he could have said no....except that Sherlock wasn’t very good at saying no to things that were stupid or dangerous, and he loved a challenge. If he’d thought that having sex was an intriguing new experience....
John’s stomach lurched a bit. He must have asked Sherlock if he was OK, he’d been careful, he’d gone slowly, but now he thought that Sherlock might not have said anything if he hadn’t. And they had finished the champagne by then, everything had been a bit golden and fuzzy round the edges – and Sherlock was less used to drinking than John.
John rested his elbows on his knees and put his head in his hands. He’d had no misgivings at all about that night, except that perhaps he thought a bit too much about it for someone who was supposed to be trying to find a serious girlfriend and settle down. He’d have happily gone for it again, if Sherlock had approached him, but when he hadn’t, John had assumed he didn’t want to risk their friendship for anything more than a one-night stand, which was fine.
In fact, on the whole he would have put it down as one of his more successful sexual encounters, especially because it hadn’t made any apparent difference to him and Sherlock. Sherlock was no less infuriating and compelling, and John was no less inclined to waver between leaving forever and following him to the ends of the earth than he had ever been.
Basically, John thought, sitting up again and ignoring the concerned look of a passer-by, he had assumed. Mycroft was absolutely right about that at least. It was true, John had slept with a lot of his former flatmates, almost always amicably, and he’d seen – thought he’d seen - the pattern unfolding with Sherlock and followed it, blindly.
He got up and started heading home. It didn’t really matter anyway, surely. Sherlock wasn’t as inscrutable as he liked to think, but he could certainly keep his secrets, and John would respect that. He wouldn’t do anything that might threaten the status quo, because despite everything, he was enjoying living with Sherlock. So he wouldn’t ask. Unless Sherlock brought it up first, that was.
John stretched, woken by the sound of the old pipes shrieking and gurgling above him in the walls. Beside him, Lisa groaned and rolled over, fetching up with her head on his shoulder. Heavy boots clomped down the stairs, which were just outside Lisa’s bedroom door.
“7am,” said John, smoothing her hair from her face. “You’ve got half an hour. That’s Kate leaving and Sharon’s in the shower, no point getting up till it’s empty.”
“I hate waiting for the shower,” Lisa grumbled, into his skin. She pushed herself up a bit, blinked awake and looked down at John, long brown hair brushing his chest.
“Did you think any more about what we talked about last night?”
“Between midnight and now? Not really,” said John. He sighed. “Look, it would be lovely to have our own flat, but I don’t know if we could afford it. Not buying, anyway. And even renting – we’d have to move somewhere further out.”
Lisa’s mouth shaped itself into something that could have been a pout. “Everyone else is moving on,” she said. “I’m nearly thirty, we’re the oldest people in this house.”
John rubbed a hand over his mouth. She’d said the same thing last night. It was true: most of his old friends were now paired up, some of them already married, one or two even with children, almost none of them left in central London. But he couldn’t say what he really felt to Lisa, which was that he wasn’t ready for that. Maybe one day he’d be a consultant, house in the suburbs, two kids, but not now. Not yet. He wanted some adventure, something different, before that happened. And also, he liked their big house, people coming and going, always someone to talk to, always some drama.
“John, we’ve been going out for a year and a half,” Lisa said. “We spend most nights together, but we’re paying for two separate rooms, what’s the point in that? And I just – I know I’m being silly, but I don’t like sharing with Kate, when you and her – ”
“We’ve been over this,” said John, wearily. “That was just a casual thing, long before you moved in. You know we’re just friends now.” He stroked a hand down Lisa’s back, soothing. “It’s you I fancy, you know that.”
Lisa shifted away from his hand. “I have to get up. Just think about it. If I had a look for some flats for rent today, we’d have more of an idea what’s out there.”
“OK, OK,” said John. “Fine. See what’s out there. I love you.” Lisa was his first really serious girlfriend in years, since his undergraduate days: she was smart and funny and had long legs and smooth skin and amazing breasts; he couldn’t fuck this up.
“Love you too,” she said, triumphant, and slid out of bed to get ready for work.
In retrospect, John always thought, that was the moment when he and Lisa had started to break up. What worked as flatmates who were also boyfriend and girlfriend didn’t work, at all, when they were a couple living together. After they’d broken up, after he’d joined up, in the long nights sleeping in a dorm or a tent or under the stars with a group of other men, he sometimes thought about Lisa, about how much he’d secretly hated the tiny one-bedroom flat they’d lived in together for an increasingly miserable six months. He didn’t want to think of himself as someone who was good – let’s face it, very good – at casual, short-term relationships and rubbish at being a serious couple, good at sharing a flat but hopeless at sharing a bedroom every night, but sometimes in those nights, the conclusion seemed inevitable.
When he got to the door, he nearly collided with Sherlock coming out, eyes gleaming.
“John!” he said. “Good. Lestrade wants us at a scene.”
“Where?” said John, falling into step beside him. “And what is it?”
“Chelmsford. Two bodies,” said Sherlock. “They say suicide, I say homicide.” His excitement was contagious. It buoyed John all the way to the crime scene, where Sherlock had fun deducing that while the middle-aged couple found gassed in their car appeared in a variety of prominently displayed photos inside the house and had credit cards and photo ID as Mr and Mrs Dunlop, this was in fact an elaborate set up by Mrs Dunlop and lover to get rid of her husband and his wife.
John winced a little at Sherlock’s gleaming satisfaction, but didn’t bother trying to deflate it with a reminder of the very real murders that had taken place here. It was enough that his brilliance meant that the culprits were unlikely to get away with it.
Then, back to Scotland Yard for a spot of paperwork and a chat with Greg, and it was evening: John had successfully not thought about the morning’s conversation with Mycroft for nearly eight hours.
Sherlock was in a state of restless post-case smugness, though clearly disappointed that nothing was left to do other than the boring police work. John allowed himself to be whisked off to a Russian cafe that they’d gone to a few times on the promise of vodka, pierogi and Sherlock eating a proper dinner. It was tucked down an unappetising back alley and mostly patronized by elderly Russians: Sherlock liked to practise his seemingly perfect Russian with the owner; another spry older woman who had a soft spot for him. Last time they’d visited, John had tried to invite her to their disastrous Christmas drinks party, after he’d had a few vodkas, so that she could hang out with Mrs Hudson, but Sherlock had vetoed it and wouldn’t do the translating.
This time, she was pouring the vodka and producing plates of smoked fish and rye bread as soon as they sat down, animatedly telling Sherlock something that hopefully involved more food being on the way. She patted John on the shoulder, familiar, as she headed back to the kitchen.
“She’s bringing borscht and those dumplings you like in a minute,” said Sherlock.
“Good, I’m starving,” said John. He helped himself to bread.
Sherlock was frowning at him. “You met Mycroft today.”
John swallowed his mouthful carefully. “Yes,” he admitted.
“Usually you regale me with the details immediately afterwards. But today you spent nearly an hour walking round the park after he left. You’ve been fine this afternoon, so something you didn’t trust yourself not to give away, then, not something personal to you – more likely something Mycroft told you about me that you don’t want me to know that you know.”
“Sort of,” said John. He was not going to ask. “I don’t really know why he wanted to meet. I think he’s just keeping an eye on us, checking Moriarty hasn’t shown up.”
“Mycroft rarely meets anyone without a purpose.”
“Yes, I know that.”
The more he hesitated before confessing, John reasoned, the more it would seem as though Sherlock’s sex life or lack of had actually been the subject of the meeting – which was pretty much true, to be fair. Plus, Sherlock hated the idea of John and Mycroft collaborating, and he wasn’t above texting his brother to confirm what he and John had been talking about; Mycroft would probably be thrilled to tell him.
He sought for the right phrasing.
“I think – he was worried that Irene and Moriarty had got to you. I mean, personally.”
“‘Got to me’?” said Sherlock, infused with disdain.
“Look,” said John, abandoning the effort. “I have no idea what goes through Mycroft’s mind. It’s just that he told me – he told me Moriarty’s nickname for you and it seemed that he thought you were – well, that he thought that you’d never had sex with anyone. Which is nonsense, right. I told him that.” His tone came out a bit more questioning than he would have liked.
At that moment the owner came out with a tray and set down bowls of soup and dumplings, plates of pickles, and there was a brief exchange in Russian. John concentrated on spreading his napkin and blowing on his soup.
When he looked up from this, Sherlock was watching him.
“To recap,” he said. “Mycroft told you I was a virgin, you pointed out that his evidence was out of date, and he was – rather surprised, I imagine. He does hate to be wrong.”
“It’s like you were there,” said John.
“And this exchange bothered you because it caused you to doubt your own interpretation of events. You think of yourself as sexually experienced, and you tend to prefer partners whom you assume have around the same level of experience. Therefore, you were disturbed. Predictable, but unnecessary.”
Sherlock started eating his soup with the air of having solved the problem. John stopped eating his.
“You haven’t answered the question,” he said.
“You didn’t ask me one.”
“OK. When we slept together, last summer, was that – had you ever had sex with anyone else?” He could feel colour rising in his cheeks.
“No,” said Sherlock. He appeared to be concentrating entirely on his food.
John set down his spoon very deliberately. “Sherlock,” he said.
“What part of ‘unnecessary’ did you not understand?” said Sherlock. “Why on earth should it matter to you?”
“Because – ” said John, and then couldn’t think of the right thing to say. Anything that implied that someone’s first sexual encounter ought to be a special occasion would be mercilessly mocked, any implication that John should or would have been more gentle or careful if he’d known could easily result in Sherlock throwing hot soup at him and storming out.
“Most people would think it mattered,” he said in the end.
Sherlock didn’t reply. His silence was eloquent, though: yes, but I’m not most people.
“Maybe I’m just curious,” said John, taking a different tack. “You’re right, I assumed you knew what you were doing. But if you’d never had sex before…”
Sherlock looked up, affronted. “Just because I haven’t done something before, doesn’t mean I can’t do it well. I’ve never been to – to Kiev, for instance, but I wouldn’t need a map to find my way around there. I have the information in my head.”
“Yes, but that comparison doesn’t work,” said John. “Sex isn’t theoretical that way. It’s not like a, like a city map, it doesn’t stay the same. What works with one person won’t necessarily work with another. It’s not about some abstract knowledge of how the body works, it’s about reading what someone wants.”
Embarrassing as the conversation was, he was quite pleased to have found a topic on which he could speak with confidence, knowing that Sherlock couldn’t plausibly contradict him.
Sherlock looked as though he could read these thoughts. “You think of yourself as expert,” he noted.
“Well,” said John. “‘Expert’ would be putting it a bit strongly. When I was younger, I suppose I did sleep with quite a few people.”
“Including a number of people you were sharing living quarters with,” said Sherlock.
“Please,” said Sherlock, with a small eye-roll. “‘Sleeping with your friends and flatmates isn’t always a good idea.’ How many times have you used that line? Astonishing how the power of negative suggestion works on ordinary minds.”
“Hey,” John protested, though he was secretly pleased that Sherlock could actually remember what he’d said. “Worked on you. And we’re not discussing my chat-up lines. We’re discussing – we’re discussing how you can have got to your thirties without ever having sex.” And why you would then do it with me, he thought, but left that aside for now.
Sherlock shrugged. He picked up a dumpling and ate it in two bites.
“People have always wanted to have sex with me,” he said. “Since I was fourteen. But they’ve all been boring, or unattractive, or both. Either they want to make me the object of their feeble romantic fantasies, or they dislike me all the more for finding me physically attractive. In my teens I was – difficult. And in my twenties, I had other preoccupations.”
“You didn’t ever want to experiment?”
“There were other things that seemed more worthy of my time and energy.”
John ate some of his soup, turning this over. People did have a strong reaction to Sherlock, and if he wanted to keep the world at arm’s length, and stay out of the mess that was relationships, fair enough, that wouldn’t include sex. Except –
“You could have just picked up someone random, in a bar or wherever,” he said.
Sherlock had finished his plate of dumplings. He looked hopefully at John’s, and John pushed it over to him.
“I did, a few times. But it didn’t work. They were – I wasn’t interested.”
John wondered if he meant mentally, or physically. He wasn’t going to ask. Sherlock had been pretty – interested - when they had had sex, though.
“You were interested,” he said. “I mean, when we – you wanted to have sex.”
“Ye-es,” said Sherlock, in the tone of voice he reserved to suggest that John was being particularly moronic.
“But you didn’t want to do it again? I mean, that was it, you’ve crossed it off your list of things to do? Or are you – interested more generally?” He thought about Irene, but mentioning her seemed like a bad idea.
Sherlock furrowed his eyebrows. “You didn’t want to do it again. You said ‘one night thing’.”
“OK,” John acknowledged. “But I –”
“But if you had known that I was, in your terms, a ‘virgin’, you would have, what, wanted to show me everything I’d been missing?”
“No,” said John, reflexively protesting. Then he stopped. He looked at Sherlock, who was managing to eat a dumpling with an air of scorn, at Sherlock’s stupid cheekbones and ridiculously wavy hair and long mouth that John had – that he had – and no-one else had and that was suddenly not so much bizarre as really fucking amazing.
He licked his lips. “I mean, yes,” he said.
Sherlock stopped in the act of picking up the last dumpling and set it down again, carefully.
“Yes, what?” he said.
“Yes, I want to show you everything you’ve been missing,” said John. Sherlock opened his mouth to object, but John held up a hand, cutting him off.
“But I was also trying to say that I wanted to, umm, that I still want to – that I’d definitely have been up for doing it again. I know I wasn’t single for long last summer, but I’ve been pretty much available for a couple of months now and you’ve never made a move. So I assumed you just wanted a one-night stand. Which was fine, but if you’d wanted more, that would have been fine, too. Would be fine, I mean.” He felt unreasonably nervous.
“You’re babbling,” said Sherlock. He frowned at his hands a moment. “Despite the inanity of your line, I thought it was, in general, considered unwise for flatmates to be – involved.”
John swallowed. “I’ve had one-night stands with flatmates,” he said. “But I also went out with someone for just over two years: I met her when we started sharing. And – and pretty much everyone I’ve gone out with, they all started with one night. And. Well. We are involved. Just not quite in that way.”
Sherlock looked at John appraisingly, his eyes glinting.
“I don’t do relationships,” he said.
“I wasn’t asking you out. I was suggesting – I don’t know, friends who also have sex. You know, friends with benefits, that sort of thing. Which I’ve also done, in case you were wondering.”
“Benefits,” said Sherlock. “Yes.”
“That’s – yes, really?”
Sherlock raised his eyes heavenwards, but under the table he shifted his leg to press against John’s.
“I’ve never propositioned anyone for sex in a café,” said John.
“Then you can’t be as experienced as you make out.”
“You can judge that for yourself, later.”
Sherlock smiled at him, for once apparently open and relaxed. John wanted to kiss him, but he settled for pressing back, contemplating how quickly they could pay the bill and go home.
John blinked at the ceiling: he thought he might have passed out for a few minutes there. He was lying diagonally across Sherlock’s bed, half-under the duvet; the parts of him not under it were getting chilly. One of Sherlock’s legs was hooked over his.
“We should get up,” he said. “I mean, should we get up?”
Sherlock made a muffled noise into the pillow.
“I’m sure I heard your phone ringing.”
“Get up and get it, then.”
John prodded Sherlock’s side.
“I did get up,” he said. “I got up to get the delivery menus and the water.”
“Ages ago,” said Sherlock. “And that was your decision. Stop bothering me, I’m thinking.”
“We didn’t get round to ordering anything, did we,” said John. “I’m starving.” He really didn’t feel like moving, though. He poked Sherlock again.
“What are you thinking about?”
“What to do next,” said Sherlock.
“Oh God,” said John. “Are you trying to make up for all your lost years at once? Because I’m not saying I’m not up for that, but I might have a heart attack or something. I haven’t had this much sex in such a short time since I was in my twenties.”
Sherlock rolled over onto his side, abruptly, so that his head was next to John’s. Not feeling up to that much effort, John turned his head to meet his eyes. Sherlock’s hair was all over the place, he had pillow creases on his face, a rash on his jaw where John had rasped it with his stubble, and a livid red mark on his neck that John wasn’t sure he remembered making. He looked fantastic.
“So, when you said you’d had a two-year relationship with one of the numerous flatmates you had sex with, that was the longest – relationship – you’ve had?” said Sherlock.
John blinked, thrown by the change of topic and tone. “Well, yes, I suppose so,” he said. “With Lisa.”
“Hmm,” said Sherlock. “Not very long, is it?”
John frowned. He pulled at the duvet, covering himself up a bit more.
“I think I might be better at short-term than long-term,” he said, cautiously. “I wasn’t very good at living with Lisa, when we got a flat together, on our own.”
“But you’re good at living with me,” said Sherlock.
John opened his mouth to say that they weren’t a couple, and also that Sherlock was quite possibly the most inconsiderate and difficult flatmate he’d ever had, and then closed it again. He waited for Sherlock to explain what he was getting at.
Sherlock closed the small distance between them and kissed him, very deliberately, opening his mouth against John’s with assurance and licking his way inside, proprietary. Then he drew back.
John looked at him, waiting. He was pretty sure Sherlock thought he’d just made his point, but John still didn’t know what it was.
Sherlock huffed out a breath. “Not long enough,” he said.
“I didn’t say there was a time-limit, did I?” said John. He felt a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth; he was absurdly flattered.
“We said this wasn’t a relationship, anyway. So who knows, maybe I – maybe we’ll do better.” He paused. “If we’re agreeing that we have as much time as we want, does that mean we should get up now?”
“Hardly,” said Sherlock. He lowered his voice. “There are still some areas where my level of practical experience is…unsatisfactory.”
“Right,” said John. “Good. Just give me a moment, and then you can count on me. ”