Sherlock doesn’t do things for people. People ask for favours all the time, and if you indulge them once they have the tendency to come back and ask for more. It’s the human nature. Greedy.
Sometimes, people come to her and she solves their problems. That’s it. She accepts their cases if they’re interesting, or if she’s really really bored, or to rile Mycroft up if he’s being particularly insufferable. If someone mistakes it for generosity, they’re utter fools. She doesn’t care about the money, that’s true, but it’s not like she cares about the people, either.
She hates having to ask for help for much the same reason. When people help you, they inevitably end up reminding you that you owe them, and she loathes feeling in debt.
She’d rather have no ties, thank you very much. Having a meddlesome brother is hard enough as it is.
So it’s with a deep sense of wonder that one day she realises that, despite herself, she’s been caught in a web unobtrusively woven all around her.
~ ~ ~
‘You need to eat’ seems to have become Joan’s favourite sentence as of late, along with ‘you need some sleep’, ‘I need to sleep’ and ‘oh, not again’ (actually this one has come in handy in quite a number of different situations, although it’s been mostly used to complain about the presence of human parts in the fridge or having to shadow yet another suspect when Joan thought they could sit down and have lunch ‘like normal people usually do when they enter a restaurant’).
“I most certainly do not,” she replies, because she doesn’t. She has eaten something, and she’s almost sure it was yesterday, so she’s not going to pass out from exhaustion. (That happened only once in her life and many years ago, but she still remembers what she felt like right before reaching the breaking point, and it was nothing like this). She’s perfectly focussed. “What I need right now is some silence, so if you could abstain from making pointless remarks, or even better, go out for a couple of hours, that would be perfect. Go get some groceries, would you?”
“Absolute silence, Joan. I’m sure the concept is simple enough for you to grasp.”
From the corner of her eye she can see Joan putting her hands on her hips and she looks at her face. Joan looks exasperated, annoyed and determined all at the same time. It’s fascinating.
“I’m not going out until I’ve seen you eat something.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not ridiculous. I’m a doctor– ”
“And stop using that line on me, I’m not going to suddenly listen to everything you say just because–”
“–and I’m your friend, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to watch you starve yourself to death without doing a thing.”
Sherlock looks at the take-away box on the table (red curry, most likely) then at Joan.
“And you’ll go out for a while?”
Joan sniffs non-committedly. “We’re out of bread.”
Sherlock reaches out for the box and draws it in her lap.
“All right,” Joan says, and she’s not quite smiling but something has softened in her face. She puts on her brown jacket and grabs her keys. “See you in an hour or so.”
~ ~ ~
For starters, she’s not boring. Oh, she can say some boring things sometimes, but she rarely means them. It’s mostly learned behavior. She knows how to go through the motions. She knows how to blend in. But Joan couldn’t resist with just a normal job and a normal life. Going to work, coming back home, watching some TV before going to bed – she enjoys doing all that occasionally, but she knows there’s so much more to do. She craves excitement. Sherlock and Joan aren’t much different that way.
Joan might complain about the crazy things Sherlock does, but she’s always an eager follower. And although Sherlock finds it hard to admit it, even to herself, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
~ ~ ~
Sherlock is sprawled on the sofa and stops torturing her violin for a moment when she hears her come in, wrinkling her nose in a blatant show of distaste.
“Hello,” Sherlock says, and the single word sounds odd, sharper than she had intended.
Joan blinks. “You’re awake,” she mutters, still sounding sleepy.
Joan shrugs. “And in the best of moods, I see. Any progress with the case?”
Sherlock picks up her violin and plucks angrily at the strings.
“Right.” Joan presses her lips together for the briefest of moments before heading towards the kitchen. “Tea, then.”
~ ~ ~
Father never tried. Not that she would have wanted him to.
And she’s not used to… being intimate with another person.
It’s not that she doesn’t know how to attract people. She tried it a few times at university, it’s all a matter of right make-up and fitting clothes and high heels after all – it could even be fun at first. (It certainly turned out to be useful in a handful of cases). Except for a couple of forgettable exceptions, though, she never had enough interest or patience to see the game to its end. Couldn’t really see the point.
The first time Joan touches her is very casual – she’s sitting at the table one morning, peering into her microscope while adjusting the focus of the lenses, and Joan comes into the kitchen, wearing a pair of shorts and a very frayed, very large red T-shirt, and on her way to the fridge she touches Sherlock on the right shoulder, almost absentmindedly – a gentle brush of fingertips before yawning around the word ‘morning.’
Sherlock doesn’t flinch, and Joan doesn’t notice how her fingers momentarily still on the microscope.
~ ~ ~
She’s surprisingly accepting of… well, quite a few things, actually. But she was an army doctor, and Sherlock’s sure she’s seen a lot of things more gruesome than some samples of blood or a few severed fingers.
It’s not just that, though – it’s become sort of comforting, having her around. They sit together on the sofa sometimes, watching stupid programmes on the telly, while Sherlock runs a commentary and points out all the ridiculous things she sees, which are quite a lot. And if she sometimes does that only to see the amused smile on Joan’s lips, that’s really nobody’s business but hers.
~ ~ ~
First, the Woman steals her phone, then she returns it only to keep texting her. (The puzzled look on her brother’s face alone is worth keeping the new text alert sound).
Joan keeps counting all the moans she hears, and if it were any other person Sherlock would find it extremely annoying, but since it’s Joan it’s sort of amusing.
Still, she doesn’t reply to any of Irene’s texts.
Then Irene dies. And after her death, she returns demanding her phone back.
It’s obvious she was going to go after her. In her defence, it was going to prove difficult to ignore someone with such a flair for the dramatic.
~ ~ ~
Admiration, sure. She was a worthy opponent, and a great woman. She was someone akin to her, in a way. A rare breed indeed.
There was a sense of competition. Envy? Maybe a bit, yes.
Love? Now, she wouldn’t go as far as that.
Yet, when Irene touched her lips to hers, after Sherlock saved her life, and right before saying goodbye, something in Sherlock’s chest fluttered.
Irene smirked, briefly, before turning around and walking quickly away, without looking back once.
Sherlock didn’t do anything as cliché as touching her lips, but it doesn’t mean she wasn’t tempted.
~ ~ ~
When she tells Joan about the last text Irene sent, Joan hovers in the doorframe, lips pursed. She looks almost about to spit out the truth, and Sherlock interrupts her before she can say anything, because she doesn’t want to have to pretend to secretly mourn a person she’s trying to forget.
She keeps Irene’s phone in one of her drawers, and doesn’t take it out again.
One night Joan falls asleep in front of the TV with her head on Sherlock’s shoulder.
It’s been a long day at the surgery and Sherlock’s just solved a case which required a lot of help on her part, and she’s definitely behind on sleep. Joan sleeps with her mouth slightly open, leaving a damp spot on Sherlock’s shirt. She finds she doesn’t really mind.
Gently, she brings up a hand to touch Joan’s short hair. In her sleep, Joan mumbles something about princesses and sticking plasters and burrows a little closer to Sherlock. It’s oddly endearing.
When Sherlock turns her head and kisses her forehead, Joan stirs and blinks up at her.
Sherlock freezes, heart hammering in her chest. Joan looks momentarily confused, then smiles.
“That’s nice,” she whispers. And since that’s the only thing she says, Sherlock hums and keeps quietly carding her fingers through her hair.
~ ~ ~
That’s why Sherlock isn’t exactly surprised when Joan announces that she’s got a date, a couple of weeks later.
Disappointed, maybe a bit, yes, but it’s not like she was hoping—
She isn’t even sure what she should be hoping for, actually.
So Joan goes out at seven thirty sharp, Sherlock ignores her when she leaves the flat, and then she sits in her chair and starts torturing her violin, bleeding sad music all over the carpet. It’s a good thing Mrs Hudson is at her sister’s.
She’s not sure how much time she spends like that, only that when she hears the key turning in the lock it’s still pitch-dark outside, so it can’t be morning yet. Joan coming back late at night, alone. Date gone badly, then.
Joan removes her jacket and then turns to her, and doesn’t look really surprised to see her there.
“Hi,” she offers, and Sherlock puts the violin on her knees, arching an eyebrow.
“Did you have a good time?” she replies, and she’s ashamed to hear the smug tone in her voice, but not sorry enough to try to suppress it.
“Did you?” Joan retorts mildly, and Sherlock picks up her violin again without deigning her of a reply.
Joan crosses the room and is in front of her before the bow can touch the strings.
“None of that,” she says, the way one would reprimand a child, and pries the violin and the bow out of her fingers, tugs at Sherlock’s hand and when she stands up, she places the violin carefully on the empty chair. Then, after giving Sherlock an assessing look, takes her hand again and leads her to the sofa.
She sits down, and tugs at Sherlock’s sleeve, and Sherlock thinks she can see a fleeting glint of amusement in her eyes but she’s not sure what it could mean. She sits beside Joan and Joan puts a hand on top of her head, gently, lowering it until it’s resting on her shoulder.
Their positions are reversed for the first time, and for a moment Sherlock doesn’t quite know what to do with her arms, so she crosses them on her chest. Joan’s fingers thread lightly through her hair, and she closes her eyes, while Joan turns slightly, nudging her forehead with her nose.
Then her hand leaves Sherlock’s hair, and she caresses one side of her face. Her thumb strokes her cheek, then her upper lip. She leans in slightly, a silent request. Sherlock closes the gap between them. When they part Joan sighs softly. It’s a most beautiful sound.
~ ~ ~
In her defence, with all the cuddling, the kissing and the not-quite-sexual intimate touching, the line between ‘friends’ and ‘lovers’ had gone more than a little blurred.
So, it happens like this:
Sherlock is lying on her back in the middle of Joan’s bed, while Joan is apparently busy mapping the skin of her belly with her mouth. There’s a wet line that goes from Sherlock’s sternum to her navel, the rim of which Joan is now intently tracing with her tongue, before dipping it in one, two times, making Sherlock gasp.
Joan smiles against her skin, kissing her hip, going a bit lower, and Sherlock’s right hand twitches on the mattress just a couple of inches from Joan’s head. Sherlock’s breath is even while Joan leaves a trail of open-mouthed kisses on her inner thighs, but it hitches slightly when her mouth inches higher, and just as Joan places a wet kiss between her legs she says, “Don’t.”
She half expects Joan to tense up and pull away, but she merely looks up, her warm eyes expectant, while one hand replaces her mouth and starts drawing soothing circles on her thigh. And it’s so like Joan – steady, patient, understanding Joan – that it almost takes Sherlock’s breath away.
“You okay?” Joan asks.
Sherlock looks at her. It would be easy, she thinks, to just pretend nothing is wrong, to go on as if nothing happened. It would be easy to give Joan everything, everything she wants and all the things she never asked for, too. It wouldn’t be particularly vexing either, because for her she would do this, she would readily do this and so, so much more.
Except that Joan would never want her to, she realises. In fact, Sherlock is pretty sure that if Joan was ever to find out she kept this from her, she wouldn’t take kindly to being… well, not lied to, that isn’t exactly the right term. Misled.
“Yes,” she answers truthfully. “Though there’s something I ought to tell you.”
Joan starts to sit up and Sherlock closes her thighs reflexively so that she can half sit on top of her, straddling her legs. Joan keeps a reassuring hand on her stomach and remains very silent, her expression slightly puzzled but not overly concerned, and Sherlock immediately regrets creating this unnecessarily dramatic moment of expectation.
Which is why she just blurts out: “I’m not interested in sex”.
Wrong!, her brain supplies a fraction of a second afterwards, because sex is fascinating and she is interested in it, from a scientific, sociological and psychological point of view – from many points of view in fact, apart from the one that seems to count the most. “I am not interested in having sex,” she hastens to rectify, without giving Joan time to reply – but it still is factually wrong, because she is interested in having sex with Joan, very much so. She wants to hold her and kiss her and caress every inch of her skin, she wants to memorise the texture of her hair and the warmth of her breasts, explore every one of her curves and folds, see her writhing in pleasure and moan her name, watch her come undone before her very eyes.
“Actually that isn’t strictly true now,” she adds then. “For I am quite interested in doing it with you, you see. It’s– being on the receiving end, so to speak. I don’t particularly care for it.” She realises how close she’s come to babbling and shuts up.
Joan’s hand has long stilled and she’s still very, very silent. The moment of silence grates on Sherlock’s nerves, but since she can’t think of anything intelligent to add she keeps quiet. It requires a great effort on her part.
Joan opens her mouth, says nothing, and promptly closes it. Sherlock watches her as she clears her throat and tries again.
“So,” Joan says slowly, drawling the single word as if to make it last longer. “You’re saying you don’t… want to keep doing this?”
“Have you been listening to a word I’ve just said?” Sherlock snaps.
Joan, bless her heart, is by now so used to her verbal lashing out that she isn’t tremendously put off by it.
“No, that’s not it,” she says in a musing tone. “You’re saying that you’re not interested in… sex for sex’s sake?” There’s a slight rise in intonation at the end of the sentence, as if she isn’t quite sure whether to make it a statement or a question.
“Hmm,” Sherlock hums. She places a hand over Joan’s, giving it a squeeze. “That sounds familiar.”
“Probably,” Joan replies. A corner of her mouth quirks up, and Sherlock is sure she knows what she’s thinking of (‘Knowledge of literature: nil’). “Though it might have been a bit different. And you didn’t answer my question.”
Sherlock gives it a moment’s consideration. “Yes, I guess that’s as good a definition as any.” She looks at Joan as she processes this information with a furrowed brow.
“So you’re not… turned on by this.” Joan gestures vaguely between the two of them – her, straddling Sherlock’s thighs, and Sherlock, spread beneath her.
Sherlock hesitates. “Define turned on.”
As far as awful things she has said or could have said go, this isn’t terribly bad. Still, she’s sure it isn’t quite high on the list of recommended things to say to your lover whilst you are both stark naked in bed together, for understandable reasons. Joan seems to decide that Sherlock’s evasive reply is enough of an answer, and flops down on the mattress besides her with a weary sigh. That could have gone better.
Sherlock turns to look at her. “Joan,” she says.
Joan doesn’t turn and doesn’t say anything. She just blinks up at the ceiling as if expecting to find an answer hidden in the mould stains.
“Joan,” Sherlock calls again, looking at her profile, and when she still doesn’t react she adds quietly, “look, it’s not you.”
And at that Joan – incredible, amazing, marvellous Joan – does yet another surprising thing and bursts out laughing.
At first Sherlock is relieved, then annoyance starts to set in as Joan’s laughter not only doesn’t abate but goes on in an escalating fashion.
“What?” she asks without bothering to mask her irritation. “What’s so funny?”
Joan shakes her head, eyes alight with mirth. “Of course you wouldn’t know,” she breathes. She turns to look at her, and she is smiling her wonderful, playful smile. “It’s just– I’d never have thought I would hear those words coming from you, that’s all. Sherlock Holmes, trying to make me feel better with the worst break-up line in the history of ever.”
“Oh,” Sherlock says. “Oh,” echoes Joan, and she takes Sherlock’s right hand in her left one.
They stay like that for a moment, quiet, and Joan is the first to break the silence after a minute or two.
“So,” she says, stroking the back of Sherlock’s hand with her thumb. “Tell me exactly what it is you dislike being on the receiving end of.”
Sherlock stops herself from rolling her eyes. “Dislike is too strong a word, I think. I just don’t care much for it, I told you.”
“Surely that is obvious?”
“Pretend you’re talking to an idiot.”
“Intimate touching?” Sherlock tries, making Joan raise an eyebrow.
“Since we’ve been indulging in quite a lot of what most people would define as ‘intimate touching’ and you never once complained, I’m afraid you’ll have to be a tiny bit more specific.”
“Penetration. Oral sex. Manual stimulation, most times.”
Joan makes a pensive sounds low in her throat. “Speaking from… bad experience?” she asks then, and Sherlock can hear her striving for a casual tone.
“If that is your way of asking if I’ve had sexual relationships before, I’m sure the answer is quite obvious by now,” she says evenly, and Joan blushes slightly while trying to stifle an amused smile. “And if by ‘bad experience’ you meant ‘traumatic’, than no, nothing of the sort happened. I’m afraid I’m just wired this way.”
“I see,” Joan says, in a tone that tells Sherlock that she doesn’t quite, but she’s trying to. “So everything we’ve done so far…?”
“Everything we’ve done so far has been absolutely fine,” Sherlock assures her.
“Just fine?” Joan asks, keeping a straight face.
“More than fine,” Sherlock answers, not even trying to hide her smile.
“Good,” Joan says, patting her hip. “That’s good. Kissing okay?”
“Some kissing right now would be marvellous,” Sherlock says in an extremely serious tone, and Joan, being the amazing woman she is, hurries to comply.
~ ~ ~
Joan still nags Sherlock about her sleeping and eating habits. She still complains about the experiments in the kitchen, and occasionally about Sherlock playing the violin in the middle of the night.
Granted, there’s a lot more touching, which isn’t at all unpleasant since Joan never looks like someone who’s waiting for something more to happen. She never demands more than Sherlock freely offers.
And Sherlock doesn’t do things for people, but she tries to do things for Joan.
Boring things, like going out to get groceries (rarely, but the few times she did that Joan looked absurdly pleased, and Sherlock decided it was an experiment worth repeating) and less boring things like kissing and touching and holding hands (to be fair, holding hands with Joan is nice but even that gets boring after a while, for the only reason that she needs to have her hands free).
And she might be a touch paranoid, but even Lestrade at the Yard seems to look at the two of them in a slightly different way – when he thinks she won’t notice, sometimes, he has this half-surprised and half-amused look on his face, which disappears as soon as Sherlock turns and he hastens to school his features back into a more neutral expression.
If he has indeed noticed something, he never once comments on it.
Sherlock knew there was a reason why she liked the man.
~ ~ ~
It’s Friday afternoon and Joan comes back home from her shift at the surgery earlier than usual. It’s pouring outside and she is suspiciously dry, besides she appears annoyed for no immediately discernible reason, so Sherlock momentarily looks up from the vial she’s holding and offers a sympathetic, “Mycroft?”
Joan frowns. “How did you know?”
Sherlock shrugs the way she does when she’s dismissing a stupid question, and Joan takes off her coat and goes hang it up in the sitting room. When she comes back into the kitchen Sherlock is busy carefully adding a transparent liquid to the amber-coloured one contained in the vial, squinting at the tip of a dropper.
“What are you doing?” Joan asks, leaning with a hip against the table.
“Testing an alibi. Possibly solving a case.” Sherlock answers in clipped tones. She shakes the vial slightly, narrowing her eyes as she stares at the liquid. “If this turns blue, the man is innocent, as he claims to be. Otherwise…” The liquid in the vial suddenly turns a violent scarlet as she speaks. “Ah. Thought so. Text Lestrade, tell him Sam Wilkinson is his man.”
Joan goes fetch Sherlock’s phone on the sofa and starts typing the text. It’s maddening, Joan’s unbelievably slow typing. Well, actually Sherlock’s got used to it by now, but that doesn’t mean her hands don’t itch to snatch her phone from her fingers and finish typing the texts herself, sometimes.
“So?” Sherlock asks, after Joan has sent Lestrade the message and placed the phone on the table.
“So?” Joan repeats, wrong-footed.
“Mycroft,” Sherlock clarifies, impatient. “What did he want?”
“Oh,” Joan says. She goes to the fridge, seemingly unperturbed (nothing particularly upsetting, then) and opens it. She peers inside for two exact seconds before closing it with a grimace. “Just wanted to have a proper chat, I guess. Picked me up on my way home, kidnapped me away. The usual. You know how he is.”
“So I do. Offering you money again?”
“Nope,” Joan says, and Sherlock goes on. “No, indeed. He should know by now that won’t work with you. Did he have anything interesting to share with you?”
“I’m not sure,” Joan pauses and looks… puzzled and faintly amused for a moment. “Just… break her heart and I’ll have your legs broken. It was that kind of talk.”
“Oh. Were those his exact words?”
“Well, I might be paraphrasing a bit.”
Sherlock looks at Joan. Not the way people do when they usually look at someone else – she studies the wrinkles at the corner of her eyes, the line of her mouth and shoulders, and the way she is holding her feet. “You seem to be taking it remarkably well,” she states.
“Hmm. I suppose as far as threats go, this was sort of… surprisingly normal for him.”
Sherlock raises her eyebrows, genuinely interested. “Was it?” she asks, because she isn’t terribly good at judging what constitutes ‘normal’ for ordinary people.
“I guess,” Joan ventures, looking less and less sure by the second. “Isn’t this the sort of thing a brother does? Warn off people who might hurt his sister?”
“Mycroft? I wouldn’t know.”
“What do you mean? Hasn’t he ever done this before?”
“Giving this sort of… warning to someone else? I don’t think so.” Sherlock thinks it over. “At least not that I know of.”
Sherlock goes to the basin and empties the vial with the scarlet liquid, while Joan stands there with her gaze fixed on nothing.
“Oh,” she says breathily. And then, “I don’t know whether to be pleased or scared now.”
“The two things don’t necessarily rule each other out, doctor,” Sherlock quips, and sits at the table to commence a new experiment.
~ ~ ~
“Stay still,” she commands, trying to keep a stern tone and a firm hand. She frowns in concentration, the tip of her tongue peeking out, and Sherlock cannot help but smile at the sight.
“I said still.” Joan fists one hand in Sherlock’s hair, making her part her lips. Joan smirks. “There,” she proclaims in a satisfied tone as she finishes applying the red lipstick to Sherlock’s lips. “Perfect.”
“I look ridiculous,” Sherlock says. The lipstick feels strange on her mouth.
“You can’t even see yourself.”
“I don’t have to see myself to know that. And I see you are not denying it.”
Joan cocks her head a little to the left. “You look absolutely gorgeous.”
Joan bends to place careful kisses all around Sherlock’s mouth, and any attempt on Sherlock’s part to twist her head and capture those lips is prevented by Joan’s steady hand still fisted in her curls, keeping her still.
She sighs while Joan starts kissing her throat and tracing the line of her ear with her tongue. Sherlock places one hand on one of Joan’s breasts, barely concealed by the open shirt, and cups it gently, stroking the nipple with her thumb. Joan’s breath grows a bit shakier.
Sherlock lowers her hand, tracing a line from Joan’s nipple to her belly button, circling it idly with a long finger, then going lower, her hand resting between Joan’s legs. Slowly, she starts rubbing her through the fabric, and Joan spreads her knees slightly wider and buries her face in the curve of Sherlock’s neck, her rough breathing turning into panting.
Then she smashes her mouth against Sherlock’s and straightens up to look at her face as Sherlock’s touch grows firmer and more insistent.
Sherlock can’t help but smile at the beautiful sight of Joan’s lipstick-smeared lips parting into a breathless ‘O’.
~ ~ ~
Mummy would be delighted to have you both to dinner sometime in the near future. –MH
Sherlock looks at the screen for three long seconds.
Tell her I’m far too busy and thank her on my behalf. –SH
You haven’t heard the date yet. –MH
Your point being? –SH
You’re as amusing as ever, my dear sister. –MH
I assure you I wasn’t trying to be. Why would she want to meet Joan, may I ask? –SH
I assume she’s overjoyed at the prospect of finally seeing her only daughter in a stable relationship with a nice doctor, like she’s always hoped for. –MH
Are you being funny now? –SH
Not in the slightest. –MH, comes the reply, which is Mycroft-speech for ‘of course.’ Sherlock sweeps a thumb over the screen, thinking. She can hear Joan’s footsteps treading up the stairs.
Tell her I’ll think about it. –SH, she types quickly, and hits the send button.
Friday night, 6:30 PM. Until then. –MH
Sherlock chuckles, and Joan chooses that moment to open the door. She smiles at Sherlock, for no other reason than she’s blatantly pleased to see her in a good mood, and as she leans against the doorframe, Sherlock has to admire the skill with which Joan has very discreetly worked herself under her skin.
“Good news?” Joan asks.
“That depends,” Sherlock replies. She’s starting to see why having ties, after all, might not be a completely bad thing. “You are free on Friday, I hope?”