“And if the body were not the soul, what were the soul?”
-- Walt Whitman
Bodies were bodies to Captain John Watson, and he had certainly seen a hell of a lot of naked men in his life. He’d lost his modesty along with the rest of his brothers-in-arms long before his tour of duty. It’s hard to be modest when you’re scrubbing half the Registan from the crack of your arse with nothing but a cloth and a canteen full of water.
But John’s familiarity with nudity went beyond the simple and easy naked camaraderie of brothers-in-arms; the fact he was a doctor meant that he had seen and studied the human body in all its fleshy frailty.
Being familiar with male nudity meant that Doctor John Watson, in normal circumstances, would not be surprised by what lurked unseen under trousers and shirts. He’d seen it all, and, as doctors have learned to do, kept a straight face at all the interesting – and horrifying – things people kept hidden under their clothes. He’d seen skin of all sorts – the old, the young, the sun-damaged, the stretched, the dimpled, the scarred, the tattooed, the infected. He’d smelt death and putrefaction. He’d lanced boils, held distended intestines, been puked, pissed, and shit on, stitched ragged flaps of skin together, even treated a truly horrifying case of genital herpes all with a straight face and doctorly precision.
Right, then. The human body: weigh it, test it, catalogue it, diagnose it, heal it, soothe it.
But, as any good doctor would tell you, most talented physicians cannot completely separate the flesh from the soul. What would have made John an exceptional GP, had he chosen that path instead of military service, was the care in which he treated the resident of the body, the way he genuinely cared for his patients, his desire to make better what was ill or broken. His emotional connection to his patients actually gave him an advantage as a field surgeon, almost as if his love of humanity opened some gateway from his mind to his hands that allowed him to work more quickly, with more precision, with grace, if you will, under extraordinarily stressful conditions. He was confident and had every right to be. John Watson was a damn good soldier and damn good doctor.
So, most of the time, a body was a body. Except when it wasn’t.
At university, when he carefully undressed his lovers, mapping soft skin with his fingertips, kissing dips and curves, exploring wet and secret places, he easily shrugged aside the student of science and let his heart (and cock) take over; clinical assessment tucked away for a while. He learned the female body quickly and completely, and while he wasn’t exactly promiscuous, he had the pleasure of discovering he enjoyed many types of women’s bodies. (His sister once told him once when he was home for a holiday that he didn’t care what type of car he drove, as long as he was driving. It was a poor analogy, but John supposed it was true).
During acts of love, flesh was beautiful, all types, sizes, and colours. Combine his love of the flesh with practised and knowing hands, and John Watson made one heck of a lover. Quite simply, he made women feel beautiful in their own skin, for, under John’s attentions, it was beautiful: cellulite, stretch marks, blemishes, hair, and all. The Lover John Watson could care less.
His romanticism sometimes earned him some good-natured jibes from his fellow soldiers, and even now, when he rarely met up with his old army mates, John was regaled with half-true stories of his sexual prowess. (Watson, you short arse bastard, how the hell do you do it? It’s the doctor thing, isn’t it. It’s got to be). And he’d smirk, raise his bottle, and drink to the bodies he’d healed with his hands and pleased with his tongue.
Indeed, John Watson knew the human body, both male and female forms of it, intimately, which is why, when he met Sherlock-it’s-all-transport-Holmes, he didn’t buy it. For someone who claimed not to care about his body, Sherlock spent far too much time on his appearance (three types of hair products?), and when he did eat, he indulged. He never wore vests under those tailored silk shirts, and even his casualwear was designer. John wondered if the bespoke suits were Sherlock’s way of keeping himself clean, to remind himself to look the part. Whatever his flatmate’s motivation was behind the tailored clothes, Sherlock remained a study in contradictions.
Sometimes, John imagines what Sherlock would have looked like strung out, lost in a drug-induced oblivion. It isn’t pretty. John’s seen addicts, watched drugs destroy a body: sacrilege. If Sherlock’s brain was his god, John, as his one and only friend, refused to let him destroy the temple.
His body somehow got what it needed to sustain that great and obnoxious brain of his, and he refused to heed John’s suggestions about how that great lump of grey matter may actually function better if he took better care of it. The great detective seemed to simply ignore the needs of his body, and, much to John’s chagrin, seemed determined to thwart John from the needs of his own.
Arguments went something like this:
I need to sleep, Sherlock! It’s been…thirty-six hours!
Some of us enjoy eating, you know. It’s pleasurable. Bacon tastes good!
Hurry up, John.
I would like it if you didn’t ruin every single one of my dates, you complete wanker!
Dull. Can’t you see I need you here? Do be quiet and keep up.
It was after one such row relatively early in their friendship where John flat out asked Sherlock if he ever had any biological imperative to have sex whatsoever.
“Really, Sherlock,” John had said, flopping defeatedly into his chair, “I mean don’t you ever want to just, you know…”
Sherlock arched an eyebrow at him from his place at the kitchen table. “Say what you mean, John. Have intercourse?”
“Yeah. Some of us find it enjoyable. Necessary, even.”
“Surely I don’t need to know about your sexual proclivities.”
John sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. He’d had a long day and needed a shave. “You’re going to ruin every date I ever have, aren’t you.” It was a fact, he knew it. It was either move out or never get laid again. Sherlock would know everything, deduce exactly what he had been up to, which positions he used and all the intimate minutiae of sex John would rather keep to himself. “I don’t understand how the stupid rules you give yourself apply to me.”
Sherlock changed a slide on his microscope, not even bothering to look over. “The work is important. The work needs me, and I need you. Ergo, it is to everyone’s benefit that you are always available to me. The rules are not stupid, as you say.”
“And you think my having a girlfriend would interfere with my availability?”
“You aren’t my life, Sherlock. You did just fine without me all those years.” John exhaled loudly. Sherlock had mentioned on several occasions that his finding a flatmate - and even a flat - was a nearly impossible task: he knew he was difficult to live with, much less be friends with. He may be a genius, but his interpersonal skills were total shit. If Sherlock had a fear at all, John figured it was being on his own again, searching for another flat and a poor sod to put up with his antics. The truth was that Sherlock wasn’t fine without him; he was alone and addicted and miserable. John didn’t want to move out. He just really wanted to, well, have an orgasm with another person.
“Look, I’m not going anywhere. I just would really like to have sex once and a while. Skin-to-skin contact. Without you mucking it all up. Never mind. Forget I asked.” John stood and cracked his back. “I’m going to bed.” He’d nearly reached the stairs when he heard Sherlock say something.
“Why is it so important?” He didn’t look away from the microscope, which was lighting up his eyes (pale, prone to early cataracts, John thought, inability to make eye contact, emotional discomfort). “Sex. Nudity. Bodies touching.” He paused. “You’re the doctor. Biology?”
John waited, his aggravation dissipating. “No, Sherlock. It’s about pleasure. So don’t even tell me you don’t know just how many nerve endings are in fingertips or lips. Because you do. It’s about self-gratification, about feeling that you’re worth something. You should, by all accounts, enjoy it, you, who has to be the centre of attention, upstaging a goddamn corpse. It’s more than feeling good, though, it’s about wanting and being wanted. Sometimes, it’s even about love!” he finished, voice dripping sarcasm, before instantly regretting it. He sighed, feeling at once great pity for his closest friend. “Look, it’s fine. Just...it’s fine.”
Sherlock turned from the microscope, eyes flinty. “I’ve had lovers.”
Something turned in John’s belly at Sherlock’s pronunciation of the word. He was fairly certain Sherlock hadn’t had “lovers.” Wrong term. Sexual partners, maybe. If that man had had lovers, in the way John defines the term, then John has seriously missed something.
“Right,” he said, anger rising again. “Must have been pretty memorable if they satiated your libido for the rest of your life, ‘cause I’m fairly certain ‘had’ is the correct form of the verb.” Sherlock gave him a strange look, a mixture of disdain, loathing, and hurt, before turning his attention back to whatever he was studying. Conversation over. “I’m going to bed, yeah? Try not to stay up all night.”
John plodded up the stairs. His bed was especially cold.
“I don’t usually like to be touched,” said Sherlock one day after John had casually touched his shoulder. Sherlock was sitting at his computer, back ramrod straight, reading an online chemistry journal. John had put his hand on Sherlock’s shoulder to reach past him and grab his phone, which Sherlock had purloined – again.
“Oh. Right. Sorry,” he apologized. John was touchy by nature; he hadn’t even realized he’d done it. That would explain a lot. He’d seen Sherlock eschew handshakes, and there were few people, if any, whom John thought would actually want to touch Sherlock.
“But I didn’t mind.” Sherlock turned from the screen and looked at John, as if he were trying to figure something out about his own body. Perhaps he just had.
“OK.” Sherlock was certainly okay with touching someone else, thought John, for all the times he’d been physically moved by him - you were in the way- or helped up -take my hand. “OK,” John said again, decisively.
Sherlock offered no more.
The toe bone is connected to the foot bone, the foot bone is connected to the leg bone, the leg bone is connected to the hip bone...
And the heart is connected to the head and the cock in a way that defies all logic.
John had loved Sherlock, truly loved him, from very early on, in the way that John tends to love: steadily and true. John loved Sherlock in the way he’d love a brother, a fellow soldier, a best mate. Sherlock had filled a very large void in John’s life, had given him so much, made life worth living again. And John’s heart loved him for it.
Somewhere along the line, though, John’s body decided to board the train to Crazy Town and the glowing embers of his platonic love for the detective turned into a fairly sizeable fire. It wasn’t some raging inferno - not yet - and it happened so subtly that John couldn’t pinpoint when became sexually attracted to Sherlock. He’d always known the man was good looking, and his confidence and fastidious personal grooming gave him a mysterious allure, but what he was experiencing was beyond simple appreciation of an attractive body.
John suffered through a relatively short week-long sexual identity crisis. He had seen so many naked men; Sherlock’s flesh, however, held secrets John found himself longing to uncover: taste, scent, texture. Sometimes he felt like a teenager all over again, body singing with the desire to rut and come. Sherlock’s body was definitely male - but it was Sherlock in there, and John’s heart connected with that enigmatic soul which somehow made its packaging incredibly scintillating. The mind inside that body was brilliant, but the body itself wasn’t half bad. Okay, it was gorgeous. Tall, angular, lithe, pale - everything that John’s wasn’t.
Life at 221B Baker Street continued on much as normal, except that John had abandoned his pursuits of lovers and catalogued the classic hormonal urges associated with falling in love. He let himself bask in Sherlock’s intellect and waited for those moments when those unusual eyes would twinkle with mischievous glee or fond respect. John studied Sherlock’s hands and lips and the column of his throat and said nothing. He was fairly certain that if Sherlock wanted a sexual partner it would be a male one, but he never seemed attracted to anyone. John didn’t even know if the man had a wank now and then. If he did, what would he think of, if anything? As far as John could tell, Sherlock had subliminated his libido into the Work in order to avoid the whole useless, distracting, and unnecessary mess of sexual intercourse.
There were moments, though, that John was sure that if he had just done something, the two of them would have fallen into bed together, especially in the post-case adrenaline rush, but he couldn’t do it – too much to lose, he thought, and so he ignored his body, took his body’s reaction to Sherlock’s and relegated it to masturbatory fantasies.
Eventually, the yearning subsided.
And Sherlock’s body remained off limits behind silk and wool.
John and Sherlock became something more than friends but less than lovers. Sometimes John wondered whether several years of his life had been deleted - the ones in which he and Sherlock had enjoyed crazy, passionate, endorphin-fueled sex - and what remained was the familiar comfort, bickering, and companionship of those long married.
John gave up trying to define it.
Sherlock became famous. John became slightly less famous. Most of London thought they were shagging, which no longer annoyed John except in its sense of irony; they had seen each other partially naked (although not at the same time and certainly not under romantic pretences), had come close to kissing a dozen times, fallen asleep on the couch together, nursed each other through pains and sickness, had playful bouts of wrestling and spent one very cold night huddled in some shrubbery under Sherlock’s magnificent coat - but that was it.
John managed to have a lover or two, ones Sherlock didn’t deem unacceptable, and life continued.
They were two bodies, sharing space, living together, behaving badly together, learning from one another. A strange but very strong friendship.
But bodies can be traitorous. Even Sherlock Holmes had to know that.