John curled around his pillow, luxuriating in a morning free of work and crime scenes. He loved both, don’t get him wrong, but he enjoyed a good lie-in from time to time, especially after the busy week he’d had.
The surgery he’d been doing locum work at for the past couple of years had been slammed with flu victims, and he’d given in to his boss Sarah’s pleas to work extra hours. On top of that, Sherlock had been obsessed with a recent spate of burglaries that had included two nights of stakeouts that he’d practically frog marched John to, despite John’s protestations of being exhausted from work.
So yes, a Sunday lie-in was exactly what he’d needed. Which of course meant that he’d woken before six and had had no luck returning to dreamland. Still, even if he couldn’t sleep, he was enjoying just lying in bed with nowhere to be and no responsibilities to weigh him down.
He had just talked his body into a light doze when the stairs up to his room began to creak, bringing a slight grin to John’s face. Trust Sherlock to burst in just as John was getting comfortable—story of his life. He did wonder what was bringing Sherlock to his room. Usually the man only visited John’s room when he needed help with a case or if he was bored from a lack of cases, but they were in that sweet spot of the day after a solved case, when Sherlock was happy but quiet.
The answer came when Sherlock shoved the bedroom door open, stomping inside, pajama-clad body wrapped in the afghan Mrs. Hudson had crocheted the boys last Christmas. It had quickly become Sherlock’s security blanket, and he cocooned himself in it no matter the weather when a difficult case had him stumped or when one of his black moods hit.
Sherlock flopped down on the bed, pulling his knees up to his chest.
“I’m ill, John. I have a fever, and my throat hurts,” Sherlock pouted in a miserable, thin voice.
John raised his eyebrows. Despite a lack of routine when it came to eating and sleeping, Sherlock was rarely ill. John could only recall a couple of colds in the eleven-plus years he’d known his husband. Still, this year’s flu was particularly virulent, and Sherlock had been run ragged by the burglaries, getting much less food and sleep than was usual even for him.
A glance at Sherlock’s hairline confirmed a fever—his fringe was damp and his forehead showed a sheen of perspiration—but John put his hand up to Sherlock’s forehead anyway. Wow, he was really warm. John moved his hands to Sherlock’s throat, and, as expected, his lymph nodes were swollen.
“Why are you checking? I already told you I was ill.” Sherlock seemed affronted that John didn’t trust him.
“Doctor habit. Are you achy?”
Sherlock nodded and sniffled. “Even my hair hurts. Heal me.”
John’s heart twinged in sympathy. The flu was miserable at the best of times, but it must feel like death to someone who was never ill. He swept his hand through Sherlock’s curly locks to comfort his husband. Over a year of marriage had made the two comfortable with casual touching, despite the fact that theirs was a platonic relationship.
“Let’s go downstairs. I’ll make you tea and toast.”
“It’s too cold downstairs. I want to stay up here,” whined Sherlock in that thin voice that came with a sore throat.
John rolled his eyes. Sherlock could walk around the flat in naught but a sheet for days in winter without complaint, but apparently having a fever suddenly made him sensitive to the climate.
“Fine. I’ll make breakfast and bring it up here. I was wanting a lie-in anyway, so I don’t mind a little breakfast in bed.” Even if he did have to get out of bed and make said breakfast himself.
“I don’t want breakfast.”
“You need to eat something, Sherlock. Your body can’t heal itself if you’re not fortifying it.”
“But my throat hurts. I don’t want toast.” Sherlock pulled his blanket over his head.
Of course an ill Sherlock meant he acted like a toddler. John should not be surprised. He sighed.
“Then what will you eat? We need to get food in you.”
“Yes. If you refuse, you’ll end up with an IV in your arm.” John knew the threat would work. Sherlock despised needles.
Sherlock pulled down the blanket just far enough to peak an eye out, giving John an overwhelming impression of a scared turtle.
“Croissant?” he asked timidly.
John smiled. “Croissant it is.” He pulled himself upright and out of bed, shoving his arms into the jumper lying at the foot of the bed. “Anything else?”
Sherlock shook his head. The utter misery on his face spurred John into leaning over the bed and planting a soft kiss on his husband’s temple. Kissing wasn’t a part of their daily life, but this morning it felt natural, and John didn’t question the action.
“I’ll be back in a mo’,” he said, pulling the door closed after him to keep the warmth in. The top of the house was the warmest, of course, and the boiler had been on the fritz lately, so it was indeed cooler down on the main floor of their flat. John set water to heating for the tea, pulled on some shoes, and headed down to Speedy’s to pick up some breakfast.
The kid behind the counter didn’t even bat an eye at John’s pajama trousers—being neighbors with Sherlock Holmes gave people a different sense of what was normal—and John was back in their kitchen with a bag of pastries by the time the kettle beeped.
“You will drink every drop of that tea and eat at least half of the croissant,” John threatened as he settled back into his bed and handed over Sherlock’s breakfast and a couple of paracetamol.
“You even got marmalade,” Sherlock said in slight awe.
“I may be unobservant, but even I can figure out your passion for marmalade after eleven years,” John said dryly before biting into his egg sandwich. Mmmm. Speedy’s made the perfect egg breakfast sandwich—the buttery croissant melted in his mouth, and the fried egg was perfectly cooked, with the yolk just slightly runny.
“But you don’t keep it in the flat, always complaining about my sugar intake.”
“Special circumstances for illness,” John explained. He saw the wheels in Sherlock’s head begin to turn. “And don’t even think of feigning illness in the future. You never get sick, and I’m a doctor, I’ll be able to tell if you’re faking,” he warned.
Sherlock pouted, but then contented himself with spreading two helpings of marmalade on the croissant. John held his tongue. The important thing was that Sherlock was eating, though he cringed when he remembered the extra spoon of sugar he’d put in Sherlock’s tea. Oh well, maybe the sugar crash would knock Sherlock out for a few hours later in the morning. He could probably use the extra sleep, and John would enjoy a little time free of Sherlock’s sickly whinging.
They stayed in bed all morning, John using the downtime to type up a recent case on his blog and catch up with the news he’d missed during his busy week. Sherlock listlessly flipped through some chemistry journals before settling on staring blankly into space. Where usually he might natter on for hours about his just-solved case or find some alternative form of entertainment, his sore throat and fever kept him quiet and with no energy to pace or start a new experiment.
John looked up from his book a few hours later to find the predicted sugar crash had occurred. Sherlock lay curled around his pillow, afghan still wrapped firmly around his upper body, but his trousers had hitched up and his bare legs were uncovered from the knee down. His feet must be freezing.
John slipped softly from bed, but Sherlock woke anyway.
“Don’t leave me,” he moaned quietly.
“I’m just going to get you some socks.”
“I hate socks,” came the petulant reply.
“I know, but you keep kicking off the blanket. Aren’t your feet cold?”
“I don’t care.”
John sighed, then leaned across the bed to feel Sherlock’s forehead. Still too warm.
“Am I at least allowed to go fetch some medicine, Your Majesty? Your fever is still high.”
Sherlock frowned but nodded.
“John?” called Mrs. Hudson from the door of her flat. She must have heard him walking around the kitchen, making more tea and looking for something appetizing to eat. John walked over to the flat door and looked downstairs.
“Is everything alright dear? It’s been awfully quiet today.”
“Alright, Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock’s ill and in bed. We were having a lie-in.”
Mrs. Hudson moued in sympathy. “Oh, the poor dear. The flu is going around. I’ll make him some broth.”
John smiled. Mrs. Hudson still insisted on mothering them on one hand while claiming not to be their housekeeper on the other.
“No, we’re fine. I think we’ve got a few tins of soup I can heat.”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort, John Watson. I know you haven’t been to the shops in days, and I saw the empty cupboard yesterday. You’re exhausted and could probably use soup just as much as your poor husband. I’ll just whip up some chicken noodle for you both.”
Knowing it was a lost fight, John acquiesced. “Thanks, Mrs. Hudson. You did get the flu jab, didn’t you?”
“At my age? Of course I did, dear. Now you go get some tea into that boy. I’ll be up in a bit with the soup.”
He saluted her. “Yes, Captain.”
Mrs. Hudson waved him away and went back into her flat. John closed the door and finished making tea before heading back up the stairs.
“Mrs. Hudson is making us some—“
“Soup. Yes, John. I’m ill, not deaf,” came Sherlock’s reply, illness taking the bite out of the words. He blew his nose, adding the tissue to the pile on the bedside table.
Memo to self, John thought. Disinfect room. Not that John really needed it. Not only was he a doctor who had been exposed to flu patients for weeks, but he’d had the jab himself back at the start of the season. Still, the thought of lingering germs had his hand twitching for disinfectant. He ignored it in favor of the miserable man in his bed.
Despite the reason for Sherlock being there, John liked it. It was nice, extending their easy comradery from the sitting room and kitchen up into his bedroom. It felt right. They were married after all, even if their union was far from traditional. It wasn’t that he longed for the sexual aspect usually inherent in a loving marriage (and he did love Sherlock deeply; more than he’d ever loved anyone). It just felt right that they share every part of their lives with each other, including the inanity of a bedroom. They should each feel comfortable in every aspect of the other’s life, shouldn’t they? And they did. This was just adding another dimension to it.
Even if John had longed for sexual intimacy with Sherlock—and he didn’t feel his being straight had anything to do with his lack of longing; it just wasn’t like that between them—Sherlock himself did not feel sexual attraction, something John had realized years ago. Bodies were transports to Sherlock. His housed a massive brain, and as long as he kept both functioning, he was happy. They had never discussed it in so many words, but John understood.
Sometimes, though, John did long for some form of physical intimacy. A touch on the shoulder as Sherlock leaned over John to read his laptop screen. A hand to his cheek to make sure Sherlock was alright. Sherlock’s head on his lap as he read another of “those infernal, insipid mysteries” that Sherlock despised, but didn’t bin, despite the fact that John knew he wanted to. Touching had become more common since their marriage, but the more John had, the more he craved. But Sherlock wasn’t like that. He did not respect personal space, but that had nothing to do with him wanting to touch John. It was just the way he was. And John accepted it because he loved Sherlock and wanted him to be happy.
John shook his thoughts free and handed Sherlock pills and tea. “Drink up. You’re getting dehydrated.”
Sherlock grimaced but complied. John opened his laptop to start a film. Instead of his usual action fare, he found a documentary on forensics that he knew Sherlock would tear apart, even in his current state.
Sure enough, by the time Mrs. Hudson knocked on the door, Sherlock was well into a rant about the inaccuracies in modern police work. John went downstairs to take the tray from her.
She raised her eyebrows. “He’s sounding a bit better.”
John grinned. “Medicine, tea, and a documentary for him to yell it. Just what the doctor ordered.”
Mrs. Hudson chuckled. “I think you both needed this day in. You’ve been run ragged lately.” Her stern look showed what she thought of that. Of course, if she had her way, the two men would be coddled night and day. Luckily, she knew that would drive both John and Sherlock mental, so she settled for clucking and cooking.
“The quiet has been nice,” John agreed. “Though we’ll both be ready for the next round of excitement when it arrives. Thanks for the soup, Mrs. Hudson. I should get back to my patient.”
“Of course, of course. Holler if you need anything. I can pop out to the shops, no problem.”
“I will. Have a good afternoon.”
John leaned forward to close his laptop while attempting to not dislodge the sleeping man on his shoulder. John had chosen a navel-gazing indie after the documentary, not wanting to get Sherlock too worked up, and the detective had predictably fallen asleep within ten minutes. His illness was obviously influencing him toward comfort, so instead of turning over and going to sleep, he stayed curled up next John, sighing in contentment when John had eventually wrapped an arm around his shoulders.
John went along with it, enjoying these few precious moments the illness brought to them. When had he changed? They had been best friends for over a decade—all of their adult lives—and he had always been happy. Yes, Sherlock was demanding and acerbic and arrogant, but he was also fun and brilliant and witty, and he had a smile that was just for John. He understood John and wanted to be around him. They supported each other and loved each other, and that had always been enough.
He thought it went back to the day he realized he’d basically been married to his best friend for years. At the time, he had shrugged and just accepted it, but a seed had been planted. To his society-trained brain, marriage implied a physical intimacy. And because he no longer dated, he wasn’t getting that intimacy elsewhere. His conscious brain told him that the droll looks and eyerolls he and Sherlock shared at the things life threw at them were enough, but apparently his subconscious wanted more.
“Oh good, that horrid film is finished,” Sherlock said, picking up his head from John’s shoulder (John’s attempts at closing the laptop without waking the man were apparently unsuccessful), but not moving away. “If you wanted me to sleep, you could have just turned off the laptop. No need to expose me to that dreck.”
“And I was just supposed to sit in silence while you slept?”
Sherlock had the grace to look chastised. Even he occasionally realized when he was being selfish. “You could have chosen a better alternative form of entertainment. You can’t honestly say you enjoyed the film.” Sherlock always knew, somehow. He called John out on his bad taste in films all the time, but he still knew when one was objectively bad, not just too low for Sherlock’s standards.
John grinned, caught out. “Oh Christ, no. It was horrid. But I enjoyed hating it, so I call it an afternoon well spent.”
Sherlock looked nonplussed. “I will never understand you, John Watson.”
“That’s part of my appeal, isn’t it? I can’t have you bored or you’d leave me.”
“I could never leave you,” Sherlock replied quietly.
John tamped down the rush of love. “Be that as it may, I like to hedge my bets.” His hand went to Sherlock’s forehead, using his ministrations as a distraction. “How are you feeling? You’re not nearly so warm now, despite the nap. I think your fever broke.”
“Not so achy, but still tired. My throat hurts.”
“Can I persuade you to drink a bit more broth?”
Sherlock had fought it, but eventually he’d conceded that the broth had helped his throat a bit, and he’d seemed a bit more chipper after drinking it earlier.
Sherlock agreed, and John went downstairs to fix himself a light supper and warm up the extra broth Mrs. Hudson had brought up earlier.
Sherlock burrowed into John’s side when he returned, and dutifully drank his broth. “Read to me?” he asked pathetically. John acquiesced, and they passed the hours until bedtime on science journals and a few episodes of Blake’s 7 (which, strangely enough, Sherlock enjoyed watching and never mocked or criticized).
John returned from his evening ablutions to find Sherlock already curled up asleep, crowding the middle of the bed, but leaving enough room for John to slip in. John leaned over to feel Sherlock’s forehead a final time, kissed his husband’s brow, then settled his head onto his own pillow for sleep.
He awoke to heat at his side, Sherlock having crowded even closer. It couldn’t be more than midnight, and for a moment he wasn’t sure what woke him, then felt Sherlock’s restlessness.
“Alright?” he asked quietly, his hand automatically checking forehead and neck.
Sherlock nodded against John’s shoulder. “Would it be alright to have this again? Later?” Sherlock asked in a small voice.
“A day in bed? Sure. It was relaxing.”
Sherlock shook his head. “The middle of the night is sometimes lonely.”
Was it? John certainly thought so, those nights he lay in bed, listening to Sherlock’s goings on below. He thought he was alone in that, though. He liked the thought of Sherlock joining him when he was lonely or bored. Like he’d done on rare occasions in the past. Oh. John made the connection.
“Those times you’ve come up before, asking for help. You didn’t need me, did you? You were lonely.”
“I didn’t need your help, no. But I needed you.” Longing filled Sherlock’s quiet voice.
John’s eyes slid shut. Had Sherlock been longing for the same intimacy John had begun to crave? Were they two idiots in love, both too blind to see the longing of the other? John supposed there were drawbacks to marrying someone without first being in love. Each had been too worried to break the status quo.
John gathered his husband into his arms, bringing him closer. Sherlock gave a shudder. Relief? He sobbed.
“Oh, Sherlock, why didn’t you say anything?”
“I didn’t want to ask for more. You said you were happy with the way things were, when I proposed. I couldn’t force more onto you. I was happy just keeping you in my life, knowing you loved me more than anyone else. I wanted it to be enough.”
John smoothed back Sherlock’s hair and kissed his temple again. Was this something he could do now? Did Sherlock want touching along with company in the middle of the night?
“Is this alright?” John asked. No more keeping silent. They were going to figure out their boundaries so that neither of them had to sacrifice any more.
Sherlock nodded, burying his face into John’s neck as his tears began to fall. “Because I can’t… because I’m not… I worried about tempting you. Physically. I didn’t want you uncomfortable because I couldn’t give you what you needed.”
John tightened his arms. Yes, they needed to get it all out. Why had they never talked about this? He had assumed Sherlock’s great brain had deduced everything, but apparently not this time. Forrest and trees, huh.
“It’s never been like that for me. Not toward you, anyway. With girls yes, back when I dated. But I’ve never needed that from you, even though I love you more than life itself. And I promise, I’m not denying myself just to make you comfortable. Truly, even the idea seems wrong. Not disgusting. Just… it’s not the puzzle piece that’s a part of us.” John knew he wasn’t saying it right, but he had no words. It was just a feeling.
“I thought that was just me, projecting my own asexuality onto our relationship.”
Of course Sherlock understood. He was John’s perfect match, after all. “No, not just you.”
Sherlock’s tears slowed. They lay there quietly for a few minutes.
“When did you realize… how long have you been denying yourself?”
John was about to protest again that sex wasn’t what he wanted, but then he realized what his husband meant. “This?” he asked, tightening his arms slightly. Sherlock nodded. John sighed. “I don’t know. It crept up on me. I didn’t realize it until several months ago, but my instinct says I first felt it a few months before our marriage. You?”
Sherlock was silent for some minutes. John was about to let it go when he finally replied. “Mary.”
John closed his eyes again, heart aching. So long. He didn’t let himself dwell on it. What was done was done. He tried to divert them both. “I was always surprised you and Irene Adler never…”
Sherlock huffed. “I hoped. She was so brilliant. And she saw me, I thought. Like you do. But…I felt nothing but respect for her mind. I did try. Apparently I was always destined to be married only to my work and you.”
“Thanks for putting me second,” John teased, nudging Sherlock’s leg with his knee.
“Saved the best for last,” Sherlock whispered.
Oh. That was a nice thought.
“Okay, so no more misunderstandings. We both need to tell the truth. Even if what we want isn’t the same, we can’t compromise if we don’t know what the other person wants. What do you want, Sherlock?”
Sherlock took a shaky breath. He was nervous? Scared? Not something John was used to seeing in his stoic friend. Friend… What did he call Sherlock now? They had been married for over a year, so husband seemed inaccurate, given tonight’s change in circumstances. They had already been partners long before their marriage. Friend seemed inadequate. Lover was just wrong. He was…John’s Sherlock.
“Yes, that’s what I want.”
Oh, had he said that out loud? “Good. But what does that mean to you?” John forged ahead. He would be the brave one this time. “To me it means you slipping into bed with me at 3am. It means your head in my lap while we watch telly. It means a hug when you come up behind me while I’m cooking. And a peck on your cheek when you’re working on an experiment. It means leaning my head on your shoulder when I’m exhausted in the cab after a case. It means sitting next to instead of across from you at Angelo’s. It means—“
“Yes. To all of those things,” Sherlock breathed. “It means oxytocin released when you hold me like this. Vasopressin when we sit on the couch together.”
John smiled. They may use different words, but they meant the same thing. “Being in love then? I can touch you whenever I want?”
“Always.” Sherlock paused, then added a “Well….” and tensed a bit.
“Except when you’re in your mind palace. I have no hopes of reaching you there,” John replied good naturedly. Again, he’d known his Sherlock for over a decade. He understood how the man worked.
Sherlock relaxed again. “I might still forget about you at crime scenes.”
“I might not take your texts when I’m at Bart’s.”
“I’ll still demand that you bring me my phone.”
“Sherlock,” John finally said, stopping the list. He pulled an arm from around Sherlock to place a hand on his face. “We wouldn’t be us if you changed those things. You just told me you’ve been in love with me for years, so I know you’ll continue to act as you always have. Just, now we can touch each other. That’s all I want, okay?”
Sherlock placed his own hand over John’s. “Okay.” He sounded happy.
Just to even the playing field, John added in a few of his own. “I’m still going to complain about blood on the rug. I’m still going to demand you be nice to clients. I’m going to roll over and fall back asleep when you want me to go harpoon a pig in the middle of the bloody night.” That last one had happened just two weeks before. John had to stifle a smile when he thought of Sherlock standing imperiously in the middle of the tube car, spattered with blood and carrying a harpoon. He still wasn’t sure how Sherlock hadn’t been kicked off or caused any heart attacks. “I’ll always chase after you chasing after criminals.”
“I’ll always come home to you.”
“Then that’s enough.”
John pulled Sherlock close again, his husband’s breath evening out in a matter of minutes now that the air had been cleared. Most people fall in love before getting married. But then again, they weren’t most people. And that’s what made them perfect for each other.