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Part One

Item. Many men enjoy having sex with women.

Note: But this is Sherlock Holmes we're talking about.

At first John thought it was a dummy in the window of the flat across the street.

It was a perfect likeness of Sherlock -- the popped coat collar, the arrogant tilt of the head. He made a mental note to ask the real Sherlock about it, perhaps over dinner. If there were some last remaining loose ends of Moriarty's empire left, he was ready to help clean them up, just as he'd done with the rest of them. After everything that had happened, you'd think Sherlock would have figured out that he didn't have to work alone, that some of the people he treated as afterthoughts could actually be partners.

And then it moved, and an unmistakably female silhouette appeared in the window, and John had his gun loaded and his shot lined up before he figured out that what they were doing wasn't grappling but kissing.

He looked away. Looked back. Still Sherlock; still kissing. He dropped the gun. Stopped short of literally pinching himself, but did give his head a brisk shake. Still kissing; in the process of shedding the coat, but still Sherlock.

He dropped heavily down into his chair and looked at nothing at all for quite a while.

Sherlock came back to 221B an hour or so later, smelling of shampoo and visibly relaxed, and went directly to his specimen collection without a word to John.

John had a few questions, but he didn't have high hopes of getting them answered.

Item: If a person spent years underground while nearly everyone who cared about him thought he was dead, he might have got into the habit of having a lot of casual sex with strangers.

Note: But this is Sherlock Holmes we're talking about.

When Sherlock died, John grieved. He grieved deeply and truly. But not for very long, because there was something about being told, "Keep your eyes fixed on me," that made a person wonder what he was meant to be not looking at.

Once the thought was there, he didn't waste time dismissing it as wishful thinking; it could perfectly well be what he wished for and still be true. If Sherlock had wanted to fake his own death, could he have done it alone? And if not, who could have helped him?

Molly Hooper, of course. It would have had to be Molly.

So John went to Molly, and did all the things that Sherlock would never have done -- such as ask politely, and say please, and tell her that it was all right if she didn't choose to tell him, but he would appreciate it if she did ...

And when she unloaded the whole story on him, tearful with relief, he started the charade.

The therapist, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, the odd reporter who still turned up from time to time, Angelo, the readers of the blog -- even the empty graveyard -- he put on a show for all of them, just the way Sherlock had surely intended. Just the way John had been doing, one way or another, since he shot the cabbie.

It was quite obvious why Sherlock didn't come back immediately. For a detective, being dead clearly had a lot to recommend it. His death was rather useful to John, as well, and a number of minor players in Moriarty's league found themselves in prison without ever realizing that the grieving flatmate had had any hand in it at all. He missed Sherlock, certainly, but they had work to do.

John helped Lestrade arrest half a dozen of Moriarty's men, including several who had taken one look at the autopsy report on Moriarty and happily implicated dozens of others; no page of John's blog had ever got as many hits and comments as the gruesome photo of Moriarty's destroyed head. He'd thought Sherlock might be at least a little bit pleased.

He didn't realize how grievously he'd been underestimated until Sherlock came back.

Sherlock actually appeared surprised to find John still at 221B. "You haven't moved out. Why haven't you moved out? Got married, started a private practice, got on with your life?"

"I have a perfectly fine life," John said.

Sherlock went on for some minutes looking at him as if he were a note that mysteriously refused to be counterfeit. At last he said, "Well, as you've clearly got nothing else on, I could use your help with a minor matter."

There was a vicious rivalry among haute chefs that was going to make John think twice about every restaurant meal he ate for the rest of his life. Afterward, laughing and sneezing and shaking hundreds of pounds' worth of saffron out of their clothes, Sherlock's face freckled with yellow where they'd got wet, John said, "Got a bit boring while you were away."

Sherlock looked him over, flicked a thread out of his hair. "Having a helper again will be something I can easily adapt to."

And then Sherlock's mobile uttered that enraging sigh.

Looking back, John supposed that had probably been one of them.

Item: If someone spent years courting death every day all alone, then when the danger was over, he might feel like celebrating being alive. In a naked way. With a different woman every time.

Note: But this is Sherlock Holmes we're talking about.

John only spotted Sherlock in the window twice more. But once he noticed, he realized that already he'd been used to seeing Sherlock come home in a state of relaxation that was obviously postcoital, or show up with wet hair in the middle of the day. Just how long had this been going on, then?

If the Yard crowd noticed, they didn't say anything. When John broached the subject with Mrs. Hudson, she clucked her tongue and went into a monologue about women old enough to know better, but you couldn't tell them anything, could you, things were sure to end badly but no one would listen to her, until she'd worked herself up to such a pitch of disapproval that John felt it was best to change the subject.

Most likely it was an experiment. That was the most probable explanation. Except for the fact that he never brought it into the flat, mentioned it, or seemed to be taking any notes on it.

Bringing it up with Sherlock was asking for another demonstration of how little he considered John to be capable of, so he could piss right off.

By day John trailed after Sherlock, offering his opinion on whether a minor television celebrity had died before or after being stuffed into a disused dumbwaiter, helping him test how far away a gunshot was audible. And in the evening, he watched when Sherlock climbed the stair, loose-limbed and shadow-eyed, and made directly for the shower, sometimes trailing a faint smell of sex behind him. He watched, and he wondered.

A person might whore himself for drugs, but probably not to women. Was he being blackmailed? Keeping a secret wife someplace? Being a serial rapist? Or perhaps just a weird and improbable Don Juan?

It wasn't that John didn't think Sherlock could pull. He was an attractive bloke, and even though he wasn't conventionally charming, god knew there was something compelling about his intensity, but. Sherlock. Was John a fool for thinking something just didn't add up?

Or perhaps "not really my area" hadn't meant "I'm not interested in women" or "I'm not interested in human pursuits like sex" but simply "I'm not interested in exclusive relationships." Fair enough.

Item. There's nothing strange in a good-looking bloke having a lot of sex with a lot of different women, none of whom he introduces to his flatmate.

Note: For christ's sake, this is Sherlock Holmes we're talking about.

Sherlock had a distinct bite mark on his neck when he emerged from the shower with the ends of his hair making darker spots on his dressing gown. John looked at it with a certain envy.

Unlike Sherlock, John was finding it difficult to force himself to make the effort these days. It just seemed there was no future in it. From the first hello, he could see the inevitable decline of the relationship, because now he'd faced facts: He was always going to put Sherlock first, even knowing Sherlock would never return the favor. If his work with Sherlock didn't make a girlfriend into a target, it was always going to make her into an afterthought.

There'd been a time when he'd imagined Sherlock himself might -- well, obviously that had been a grief-fueled misinterpretation of things imperfectly remembered, given that Sherlock had come home last night with his shirt buttoned wrong way up again.

John sighed and turned his mind to the suppurating rashes he was likely to face at clinic.

He thought of it all day, though. If Sherlock could go in for loads of anonymous sex, he could do the same. There was nothing wrong with it, surely, as long as everyone was honest. Obviously there were women out there who wanted a bloke who showed them a good time and then didn't bother them after. He just needed to find them.

It was still on his mind as he crossed onto Baker Street in the post-work crowd and found himself next to a lovely dark woman just about his own age, and the thought made him smile at her more directly than he had done for some time. He got his eye contact back with interest. Beautiful bright smile, mischievous dark eyes -- and her smile widened as he slowed down approaching 221, and she said, "I wonder whether you might be the one I'm here for?"

This was a little strong, but John did enjoy a direct approach. "What makes you think that?"

"Well, we're both going to the same place, aren't we?"

John indicated the door: "I'm just going home. Where are you headed?"

Her eyes became even warmer. "We-ell," she said appraisingly. "My supervisor didn't tell me the full story, clearly. I'm Diya. Biomolecular engineering. And I think --" hand where shoulder met chest, turning him slightly from the door, and who did this happen to? -- "that you might be Sherlock Holmes."

Bucket of icewater, that. "Ah. No. His flatmate, actually. John Watson. Dr. John Watson?" he added hopefully.

It was almost funny, and very flattering, the way her face fell. "I don't suppose that you offer the same arrangement he does?"

"How's that?"

Her eyes, her beautiful eyes, widened. "If he's not told you, I don't know if I --"

"We haven't been flatmates very long," John lied without compunction, "not long at all -- just moved in, actually, so I'm sure it's just something he's not yet got round to explaining." All the while his mind was filling in what sort of "arrangement" Sherlock could possibly be offering these women.

Was he a gigolo? It was laughable. Could it be the other way round? Diya had on skinny black jeans and an oversized men's white shirt, with a red bandanna looped loosely around her neck, and if that was the way prostitutes dressed these days, then the television had got it very wrong.

"Dunno if Sherlock's home yet, but you'd better come up for tea," John said. "Unless -- public place? You don't know me."

"You're in the report," she said. "Tea would be lovely. Lemon if you've got any in."

He hadn't, but there was milk and sugar, for a wonder, and her sigh at the first taste made him glad he'd hidden the good stuff from Sherlock. "Right," he said, sitting down across from her. "Now. You have an arrangement, one that involves a report, and I am utterly at sea, Diya. What is going on?"

"I went to a conference and met up with my supervisor from Cambridge, and she gave me this." She fished a business card out of her red hobo bag. It was heavy and tasteful, and had nothing on it but an unfamiliar URL printed on it and a five-digit number written below in blue biro. "She said she'd got five codes to give out, and I was her second."

John loaded the page on his laptop and entered the number. The same design taste behind "The Science of Deduction" was obviously at work here, but this page said simply, "Genetic Improvement Program."

John frowned at it. "I don't understand."

"I want a baby," she said. "A healthy baby. A smart baby. And your flatmate is going to give me one."

Part Two

Item: No one is egotistical enough to think women would line up for a chance he might impregnate them.

Note: But this is Sherlock Holmes we're talking about.

John squeezed his eyes shut, and then opened them again. Life with Sherlock seemed to leave him doing that quite often. "I just -- sorry," he said. "My flatmate has joined a network designed to provide talented women with DNA?"

"I don't think he joined it so much as created it. And I don't think it's a network so much as it's Sherlock Holmes."

Right. Actually it was true that the least believable part was that Sherlock would cooperate with other people. "But surely there can't be much demand for that sort of thing. You could just go to bed with a friend, or pick up a bloke in a bar, or go to a sperm bank ..."

"Bloke in a bar could be an alcoholic, or have a deadly hereditary condition. You don't know anything about him. And it seems dodgy, doesn't it, to take his sperm on purpose and not tell him?" She counted off her second point on her fingers: "Sperm bank will screen for genetic disorders, but they won't give you any information unless you pay for it, did you know? Want to know his IQ and how long his father lived and whether he's got an ear for music, pretty soon you're into serious money. Your flatmate's quite a bargain -- at least for those of us who can pass the screening process."

"A friend, then. A co-worker, neighbor, mate of your brother's --"

"Worst of all," she said darkly. "He might decide he wants to be a father."

That was one thing Sherlock could be trusted not to do. "So, what, there are posters? Ads in the Times?"

"That'd be a laugh. What woman would respond to an ad that said, 'Man willing to put you up the duff'? Brother, that's all of you. No offense, but I can get a better offer walking on Tottenham Court Road in a short skirt."

"And yet here you are, ready to go to bed with a man you've never seen."

"I might not have seen him, but I've read his background check and his genetic profile." She pulled a sheaf of legal-looking papers from that oversized shoulderbag. "Ah, look there, dark hair. If I'd read more carefully I'd have known you weren't him." She stuffed it all back and stood, smoothing her blouse in a way that looked final. "Can't stay; I've another appointment. Tell him to ring me." She gave John a rather lingering kiss on the cheek, with a rather lingering pat on the arse to go with it, and let herself out.

Background checks?

A text came from Sherlock while he was puzzling over it: WALBROOK WHARF. CAUSE OF DEATH NEEDED FOR FOUR ZEBRAS. SH. John put his coat back on.

There were indeed four dead zebras on a waste barge. "One male, three females," John said, "a proper harem."

"Ah." One of the good things about Sherlock's talent was that it saved a lot of tedious recounting of things that had already happened. "Ah. I suppose you have questions."

John considered and discarded a number of specific questions before settling on the more general "Why?"

"Because highly intelligent people, or those with unusual abilities, can make the world a better place by seeing that their genes are passed along, obviously," Sherlock said. He snipped a bit of mane and sealed it into a white envelope.

"And you want to make the world a better place, do you?"

Sherlock pouted a bit. "I do have to live in it," he pointed out. "And this isn't a harem, because these are Grevy's zebras."

"Right, of course, sorry, left my zebra identification book at home." John pried open a mouth full of frankly alarming teeth.

"Unlike the two smaller species, Grevy's zebras are solitary creatures with no known social organization." Sherlock's voice began to speed up with excitement. "In fact, if you could identify whether or not there are marks typical of fights among equids, that would tell us whether these four specimens were ever transported together while they were alive."

"Who'd want to kill a zebra?" John began, and then came back to the more interesting subject at hand: "Why are you so sure your genes are worth passing on? Moriarty was highly intelligent and had some unusual talents, and none of that stopped him being completely round the twist."

"Yes," Sherlock said vaguely, squatting to examine the shoulder of one of the poor beasts, "that's why I abandoned the idea of cloning. Adding chromosomes from mothers whose minds were very fine but still in the normal range -- well, moderating destructive genetic tendencies is one of the things sexual reproduction is good for."

"Right, naturally. Flesh broken here, possibly a bite," John said, pointing to the flank of the female he was examining. "What's to stop these little Sherlocks from growing up and marrying their half-sisters? The Balliol Class of 2034 could end up being one big family photo."

Sherlock had a posture he struck when he was disappointed and wearied by John's stupidity. He struck it now: eyes half-shut, mouth open on an impatient sigh, neck bending as if the gravity of ignorance were too much to bear. "Yes, John, quite right, I never gave that a moment's thought."

"I suppose you're trying to spread it about geographically --"

"It's nothing so simpleminded as 'spreading it about.' There's an algorithm automatically applied when a woman registers her address on the website. My brother's PA, as it happens, is well versed in population genetics."

"Well, that's a relief, anyhow -- wait. Hang on. Anthea's baby -- is that --"

"Confidentiality," Sherlock said airily, "is a keystone of the Genetic Improvement Project," and he let a hoof fall to the deck and set a brisk pace up the plank, so obviously the conversation was over.

Once John knew his secret, Sherlock stopped even trying to be discreet. No sooner had the door shut on Noelle (whose incomprehensibility might have been due to either physics or France) than there came a text from Kate (a jazz drummer):


and Sherlock, without even mocking the emoticon, texted back


"They never bring the babies round," John said.

Sherlock grimaced. "No. That's one of the rules."

"There are rules?"

"Of course there are rules. Applicants considered only by referral, and accepted only after examination. I relinquish parental rights and they release me from all obligation; it's all very legal. They can see Mycroft for a one-time payment to defray the cost of ... nappies or ... socks or whatever it is that babies need. And I do not babysit. Though I imagine if any of them turn out all right I shall take one or two on as a apprentices eventually."

"Oh, good. Someone to get the milk," John said. "And are you any good?" Sherlock looked at him. "You've got repeat customers," John clarified, waving at the text from Kate. "You must not make it too unpleasant for them."

"There are some studies," Sherlock said stiffly, "not definitive but interesting, which suggest that a woman is more likely to conceive if she has an orgasm. So I see to it."

"You see to it."

"It's not that difficult."

Item: A human being can better survive without sex than without affection.

Note: But this is Sherlock Holmes we're talking about.

"This is my third time," said the long-faced brunette in the white jumper, "and it's a long ride from Lewisham. I can't believe he's not here. Not very reliable, is he?"

John had to smile. "Er, no. Sherlock is many things, but reliable is not a word I'd use, no." He hesitated, looking at the sheets of rain sluicing down the window. "Look, I don't want to mislead you -- I've got no idea when Sherlock'll be back, and it could be Tuesday as easily as dinnertime, but you're welcome to sit awhile. Maybe he'll come back. Maybe the weather will break. You can hang your socks over the radiator and at least set off home with dry feet."

"Thank you," she said. "That sounds lovely."

Her name was Yasmin. She played the cello with the LSO and had a shot at being composer-in-residence. She was thirty-nine. "I got the card from a colleague when I made first chair, but I was engaged, so it was nothing but a laugh. But last year when it all fell apart, I looked at the card and thought, why not? Why should I have to put my dreams on hold waiting for some man?" John opened his mouth, and she straightened her back. "And don't tell me I'm still young. I know how old I am, Dr. Watson."

"I wish Sherlock'd been here for you." She had beautiful hands, long fingers and short nails -- musicians' hands, just like Sherlock's, really. Genetics were complicated, but a baby with a mix of her looks and his looks would be something to see.

"Is he handsome?" She sounded wistful. "Reckon he must be at least reasonably attractive, or he wouldn't be able to keep this going, genius or not."

"Hard to separate looks from force of personality with Sherlock, but I'd say striking."

"And intelligent."

"Off the bloody charts."

Her expression went calculating. Oh, she was a charmer: her smile revealed a dimple on the right corner of her mouth. "Then again, I don't imagine a person becomes a doctor without some brains, either."

"I, ah, I suppose --"

"And you're rather fit, and you've still got all your hair." She opened her briefcase and showed him the familiar pile of legal documents. "I could just scratch out his name right here and write yours in."

"Yasmin, are you evaluating me for stud?" It actually came out sounding admiring. He'd spent too much time in the company of deranged geniuses, obviously.

She took a step closer. "And I didn't spend forty minutes on the Tube and fifteen walking in a downpour just to go home un-pregnant."

She smelled of coffee and oranges. "You haven't even asked for STD testing." He swayed closer still, and she put her hand on his hip. "For all you know, I've got some dread disease." He slid his hand under her hair and leaned in. Her cheek was chilly under his mouth. "As a doctor, I really can't condone this course of action."

"People are always telling me not to be reckless," she murmured, taking hold of his belt to pull him against her.

"I wouldn't know anything about that," he said, and kissed her.

She was deliciously handsy. By the time they broke for breath, John's jacket and shirt were both undone and hanging off one shoulder, but before John could suggest going someplace more private to even the odds, she'd pulled his head back down. He slid his hands up under her white jumper and found her back bare, and she wriggled a little, as if to feel his hands better.

Was he seriously going to do this? He breathed warmly into her ear, and she uttered a low laugh and slid her hands into the back of his jeans to grope his arse, and the door banged shut.

There was a long pause, and then Sherlock, sounding amused, said, "Ah, Yasmin. I see you've met my flatmate."

He wouldn't look away like a normal person, of course -- just stood there watching while John pulled his shirt back onto his shoulder and buttoned it.

"Ever heard of being where you said you'd be?" Yasmin said tartly, but she was already drifting into Sherlock's orbit the way everyone did.

"I have other good qualities," Sherlock said, never taking his eyes off John.

Yasmin hovered a moment longer, until John said, "Go on. It's why you came."

Sherlock, incongruously, shook her hand. "Across the street," he said, and turned her with a touch on her lower back, where her jumper had been rucked up by John's fingers. He looked at John over the top her her head.

There was a lot of intensity in that look, but John couldn't have identified intensity of what, exactly.

He stood a moment after they left, not aware he was listening until he heard the outer door click shut, and then he shoved off into the rain to look for some outlet for this restlessness that wouldn't leave him sick to his stomach after.

He tried a club that was usually full of tables of single women just off work for the weekend, but it was nearly an hour past the end of the day shift and everybody had paired off already.

He gave it up after one pint. He knew from experience that a second would turn all his emotions into melancholy self-pity, and a third would make it seem like a good idea to talk about it.

Sherlock was puttering in the living room when John came back, eating a slice of toast standing up while loudly sorting papers into three piles on the floor. John sank heavily into the chair and stared at the wall.

"That was most helpful, John," Sherlock said. The kettle whistled, and he dropped his paper and went after it. "It can be difficult to warm up to a stranger, but your participation seemed to accelerate matters for both of us."

John opened his mouth and shut it again. "I don't even know what to say to that."

Sherlock came out of the kitchen with one mug, which he handed to John. When John just stared at him, he made a shooing gesture. John tasted it: just the way he liked it. "All right. Thanks."

Sherlock went down suddenly to the floor. When he leaned his head on John's knee, John nearly dropped the cup. "What --"

"Hush." Sherlock shuffled closer, and now he was more or less draped over John's lap. "It's physiological, the need for touch after coitus. Probably an evolutionary development for strengthening bonds within the herd. And now I know you're not averse, I can stop going without the necessary reinforcement." He turned his face into the outside of John's thigh. "Drink your tea."

When John dropped his hand onto Sherlock's head, Sherlock sighed. John drank his tea.

In the plus column, Sherlock didn't have time to get bored, which was good news for the wallpaper, the furniture, John's computer and phone and clothing, and Lestrade. John wouldn't have thought Sherlock would find sex interesting enough to hold off those moods that came upon him when he didn't have a case, but either he was wrong or the simple combination of physical exhaustion and the flood of pleasure hormones was a match even for the world-class mood swings of Sherlock Holmes.

In the minus column, the man's already oversized ego got worse with every new woman who showed up for some of his DNA.

It was lovely to have Sherlock making him tea three or four times a week, but a bit uncomfortable to have him sitting at John's feet like a faithful dog. "Right, I think not," John said the third time, and when Sherlock turned an unhappy expression on him, he said, "If I'm to be providing all your postcoital cuddles, I want to sit on the sofa."

"It's not cuddling," Sherlock said with a curled lip. "It's simply --"

"Yes, yes, primate need for contact after mating. You said." John stood and took the mug out of Sherlock's hand.

Sherlock huffed, but he followed John to the sofa, where he bent his long spine improbably to insinuate himself under John's arm with his head on John's shoulder and his back against John's chest. His hair smelled of shampoo. He took John's hand and pulled until John had both arms around him, then twisted until he was facing the back of the sofa with his face in John's chest.

"You're part cat, aren't you?" John laid his chin on top of Sherlock's head and tried not to think about his flexible spine in a sexual context. He sighed. "Have there always been this many of them?" It was multiple times a week, now, and John was pretty sure Sherlock wouldn't have been able to keep that a secret when he first moved in. Twice this week alone there'd been distinctly female scents on the stair, and once John had met one of them coming out of the other apartment -- squat and blotchy, but with a smile like a handful of sunlight. Quantum mathematics, Sherlock had sighed, and bondage. "Bit of a strain on the system, isn't it?"

"When I first launched the program upon my return, there were only a few, but things appear to be gathering speed."

"The growth rate is unsustainable," John said. "You're only flesh and blood, Sherlock."

Sherlock twisted to look at him as if he'd made a terribly tasteless remark. "Not only."

It had taken some time after Sherlock's return, but John had mostly succeeded in teaching himself not to worry when Sherlock spent a long time away from 221B. Still, they had had plans, and you never knew when one of those women might choose a critical moment to slip a knife between Sherlock's ribs; he supposed even Sherlock wasn't at his best in the moments after -- well, he didn't seem to understand how vulnerable he was making himself.

At the door to the flat across the street, he paused to listen, because the last thing he wanted was to walk in on Sherlock in flagrante with a physicist or a pianist or whoever today's supermom might be.

Hearing nothing, he tried the door: unlocked.

The living room was minimally and cheaply furnished, the kitchenette entirely bare except for a takeaway coffee cup on the counter. The door to the bedroom was ajar.

Inside, in twilight dimness with the drapes drawn, Sherlock slept, alone, sheet pulled carelessly over his bare shoulder. He didn't stir.

John examined him. There were blue hollows under his eyes. He'd have to have been exhausted to fall this deeply asleep in the middle of the day without getting up to secure the door. His eyes moved restlessly under closed lids, and his fingers tightened and loosened on the sheet. Too stubborn to call it off and too proud to ask for help, wearing himself out on some mad quest -- well, yes, that was Sherlock.

John toed off his trainers and lay down beside him. Sherlock didn't wake, but he leaned into John -- seeking warmth, no doubt, in the chill of this empty flat. John tucked in behind him. His hair smelled sweaty but familiar. John closed his eyes.

When he woke -- an hour or so later, by the sun -- Sherlock still hadn't stirred. John pulled the sheet over his shoulder and slipped out, shutting the door silently behind him.

"Are you looking for a wife, then?" John angled Sherlock's left arm up over his head and dabbed the ragged gash with alcohol.

"You must be joking," Sherlock said through his teeth.

John tossed the cotton wool in the bin. "I just have a hard time seeing what makes it worth it to you."

"The sex is pleasant." John raised his eyebrows, and Sherlock waved his hand irritably: "Oh, it used to be more so when there was less of it, I grant you, but ... relationships have never really been my specialty, and ... in point of fact, I've never succeeded in maintaining one long enough for regular sex to become habitually available." He turned his back stiffly. The scratch on the back of the other arm was shallow and not too long, but he seemed to want it cleaned, so John got more cotton wool. "It seemed at first like the perfect solution: a businesslike relationship, with everyone's expectations clearly stated at the outset. It was a novel pleasure to have women go away completely in harmony with me, having got from me precisely what they wanted."

John lowered Sherlock's arm, now liberally stuck with plasters. "Yeah, I can see that. But whatever you may say, you're obviously not enjoying it now."

"The sex is still pleasant."

"Yeah, right. Are you honestly telling me that you wouldn't have preferred to stay up here with your fiber samples than go downstairs and meet Hanne for the third time?"

"Hanne has three sisters, and all of them required hysterectomies before the age of forty. If her truly excellent genetic heritage isn't going to go to waste, it's imperative --"

"Sherlock --"

"I'd think you'd be proud of me," he pouted, pulling his sleeve back up. "Improving the world; isn't that what you're always going on about?"

"Yes, but not --"

"John." Sherlock turned to face him. His expression was sincere, even slightly distressed, and he put his hand on John's arm, as if to make him understand through osmosis. "I'm aware that I can seem cold, but can you believe that I am a true altruist? That, whatever I may feel about any one person, I genuinely love humanity and want to give it a chance to better itself?"

Several not-too-funny witticisms came to mind, but John didn't say any of them. "Yes," he said, because Sherlock was looking at him as though his answer actually mattered. "I believe that."

"This is something I can do for the future. Don't ask me to give it up."

Sherlock celebrated the arrest of the Chumley blackmailer with a newly tenured economics professor (springy dark hair and big serious eyes) and skipped out on the trial of the courgette poisoner to meet up with an American epidemiologist (improbably adorable, with a heart-shaped face and a fuzzy pink jumper). Sherlock draped himself over John and fell asleep, and he didn't wake up when John fished his phone out of his dressing gown pocket and turned the sound off. The marvelous mysteries of London, both criminal and biological, were going to have to wait until tomorrow.

Sherlock didn't move, or even snore. It was rather pleasant to be slept on, but not fully satisfying to be getting all the post-sex snuggling and none of the actual sex.

It worried John. Sherlock was slowing down at crime scenes, just that little bit, probably not even noticeable to anyone who wasn't accustomed to running to keep up with him. And sometimes in the flat he just sat and stared into space, not thinking, just resting.

Of course you couldn't tell him anything. In a pub that was the only point of similarity between three kidnappings, John actually saw him put his head down on the bar for a moment. Back at the flat afterwards, he began talking at his usual breakneck pace.

"An anesthetist, obviously, from the base of his right thumb. Now, everyone wants something, and in this instance, what? a woman, a man -- a woman -- a mother, or perhaps a mother-in-law, but from the wristwatch when I asked the time at the pub, I'd say the relationship is much closer than that. She saw him daily, but there were no signs of poisoning. Narcolepsy, asleep at the wheel, but marked drowsiness is also a side effect of -- Oh." He raised his head, and his hands fell from their steepled pose to dangle drunkenly in the air. "Oh, dear. It appears that I ... have ... made ... a ... terrible ... miscalculation ..."

He slumped out of his chair. John had emergency services on the line before he hit the floor.

Fortunately, he regained consciousness in time to name the drug the anesthetist had put in his drink. Antidote administered with a scolding and back home to Baker Street; the whole dreary business took less than four hours, and no lasting harm done, except ...

"Yes," Sherlock said, skipping over the opening volleys of the conversation, "I'm aware of that, but it makes no difference."

"Aware of what, exactly?"

Sherlock gave him a narrow-eyed, sidelong glare that meant he saw through John's laughably obvious attempt at psychology. "That my project is sapping energy that I need for my cases."


"And nothing. My contribution to the gene pool is critical."

"Then maybe you need to spend less energy detecting."

"That's also critical. They're both critical. No, don't look at me like that. Neither alternative is acceptable; ergo, there must be a third."

Sherlock's mobile sighed.

"Yes," said Sherlock, and, "I recall, yes." And then, curling his lip at John: "Yes, this afternoon will do very well."

He ended the call with a fierce look that invited John to object. John shook his head. "Don't look at me. Your refractory period is one of the many things that are absolutely none of my concern."

Which was about as bad as it was likely to get, he thought, until the day he went to the toilet and came back to find Sherlock snogging a blonde in the kitchen.

She was nearly as tall as he was. Sherlock had her bent back against his arm, her sleek hair covering his hand on her back, and she had both hands on his face. It looked as though they'd been at it for a bit. One of her legs was beginning to try to wrap around Sherlock, and he was pink in the face and breathing fast, ribs expanding and contracting under his fashionably close-cut shirt. Which of them had been so eager for it as to start here instead of going across the street? John was embarrassed for them.

About the time John began to sidle past them to the door, Sherlock raised his head. There was a high flush on his cheeks, and his lower lip was shiny-wet.

"John," he said, and John swallowed at the huskiness of his voice. "Joanna. Neuroscience. Joanna -- John Watson."

Joanna had brown eyes, startlingly dark under her fair hair, and an ironic quirk to her well-kissed mouth. "Ah," she said, and her voice was hoarse, too. "You'll be the flatmate." She dropped her hand from Sherlock's shoulder as she turned to face John. "There's an anon on the forum who says you're the best kisser ever. Better than him, even."

Sherlock stepped out from the wall to close the space between them, wrapping his hands around her shoulders. "You can give him a try, if he's interested." His face touched hers, and his voice was pitched at an intimate murmur, but his eyes, over her shoulder, were steady on John, and unreadable. "It's not as if you were my girlfriend."

"No. Not in the least," Joanna said to him, and then, to John, "Well?" John tore his eyes away from Sherlock's to see that her smile had broadened to a full-in grin. She reached one hand back for Sherlock's hip and put out the other one for John. "Dr. Watson? Are you interested?"

John's heart thumped, once, and settled back into a resting pace. "I could be interested."

He was careful to hold eye contact with her, not giving the slightest flicker of an eye toward Sherlock, but as he smiled at Joanna, touched her jaw to angle her face, greeted her with a brush of lips before closing contact, he was aware of Sherlock every moment. He could smell him over Joanna's perfume, all posh hair gel and rubbing alcohol, and when Joanna sighed and pulled John closer, it was Sherlock's body she was leaning against. When her head fell back, it was onto Sherlock's shoulder, so that his hair brushed John's face.

John was showing off a bit, he was aware. He wanted her chasing a deeper kiss, making small sounds in her throat, sighing back into Sherlock's arms. Doing everything that would send a message about John's skill back through her body and into Sherlock's. If he wouldn't take it, John damned well wanted him to know what he was missing.

It went on for a long time, much longer than he expected Sherlock to tolerate not being the center of attention. Joanna seemed content to go on kissing John, smiling up at him when they broke for breath, her hands dipping under his collar or playing with the hair at the back of his neck. He got a bit lost in it -- easy to do, when there were so many things to try not to think about, and Joanna was sweet-smelling and pliant and enthusiastic, a nice girl, a very nice girl.

And then she broke off, smiling, and said, "Yes, sorry, Sherlock, I'd have to say the anon was right. No, no, I'm certain. Give him a try yourself," and, oh. Not a nice girl at all.

He'd been putting a lot of effort into not looking at Sherlock. Now he raised his head slowly, trying to compose himself to face mockery or pity or whatever other unpleasantness he might find in Sherlock's expression.

"No need," Sherlock said airily. "I'm quite capable of learning from your body language all I need to know about John's many talents."

"Is that so," John said, and Joanna laughed as he pushed her raincoat off her shoulders.

Underneath, she had on a white button-up top and a skirt that left quite a lot of long leg to admire. John bent and drew his fingertips upward along the outside of her warm, bare thigh, letting the skirt scrunch up over his wrist. "Mm," she said, and John looked up to discover Sherlock's hands just undoing the last button on her blouse.

"Very helpful, full marks," John said, reaching inside with his free hand.

"With your off hand, you won't be able," Sherlock began, but before he could complete the sentence, John had the front clasp of her bra undone.

Joanna laughed again. "You underestimate him."

"Always," John said, and tucked one thumb up under the side of her knickers while the other delicately slid the bra cup out of the way of his mouth.

She had lovely breasts, quite small, hardly a handful, and she said, "Oh, yes, yes," when John licked one of them, drew as much of it as he could into his mouth. He could feel it when her knees trembled and again when Sherlock caught her weight. It occurred to him that Sherlock must be making an effort to keep his hands from touching John's.

Then it occurred to him that that meant Sherlock was watching.

It made him ache. He angled his head to offer a better view, keeping his eyes shut. Joanna's chest rose and fell under his mouth. He switched over to the other nipple until she pulled him up for more kisses.

After a few minutes of this, she picked up her feet, and he looked down to see her stepping out of a pair of black satin knickers that he would have quite liked a chance to see on her. "Lean forward," Sherlock murmured. "John will hold you."

"Two for one," she said, laughing, and bent forward a bit at the waist, putting her arms around John's shoulders. John looked down to see Sherlock's hands looking very big on her hips. The skirt hid her from waist to thigh, but it was easy to tell when she got Sherlock's cock into her, both from the way she caught her lip in her teeth and from the punched-out breath Sherlock released behind her. John wanted to see his face. He wanted -- He slid his hands up to catch her shoulders. She laughed breathlessly into his face. Her body was rocking against his in a slow rhythm, and that was Sherlock's rhythm, moving through her to John, and John pressing her back into him, kissing her wide ripe mouth because he couldn't --

She broke the kiss, nuzzling against the side of his face, and put her mouth to his ear. "He's good," she whispered. He could hear that she was smiling.

He shook his head blindly, face flaming, but she went on: "Really knows how to rub it up against the right spot, he does. You can tell him. Tell him he's doing it just right."

"Tell him," John said between his teeth, "yourself," and she laughed again.

"Nice long one he's got," she went on relentlessly. "Got to be, to do me any good, in this position." She caught his mouth again, a hard wet sucking kiss, hardly begun before she was talking again. "I won't come like this, though. Not unless I get a hand where it counts. You seem like a man who knows his way around, and I need my hands to balance."

John complied eagerly, shifting a bit to the side to rut up against her hip while he ran his fingertips teasingly over the soft bare flesh of her mons.

"Mm, yes, more," she sighed, and he followed the heat to where she was wettest, laying his thumb on one side of her clit to hear her pant through her teeth. Her flesh was moved here and there by the motion of Sherlock's cock in her. If John moved his hand just the smallest distance, he'd have a handful of Sherlock, hot and wet. He moved her outer lips instead, tugging them gently toward him, and Sherlock made a shocked noise, like an exclamation mark. Ah, felt that, did he?"

"Christ, oh, oh, hard, like that," Joanna said, and then John could feel her clenching and clenching under his fingers.

He teased it out of her for as long as he could, until she raised her head, smiling and panting and pink. "Nice. Go easy, now." She pulled back from John's face, puzzling at first until he saw that Sherlock had wrapped an arm around her ribs to hold her upright. "Oh, ta, need my hands," she said, "because your friend is suffering," and John nearly fell against her as she undid his zip.

"Oho," she said, smiling back over her shoulder. "He's got the advantage of you, Mister Holmes. John, love, just give me pressure right here." She moved his hand, and he obeyed, glad she wasn't asking for dexterity while her other hand -- "Now carry on, Sherlock, and I'll go again in good time, and I trust I know what to do with this."

John hoped she didn't fancy herself some sort of artist. It wasn't as though it would require a lot of skill to bring him off now, and a slow exploration would be torture. But, no, she got her long fingers around his cock, moving on slickness he hadn't been aware of, so that he pushed involuntarily into her hand. "Mm, yes, like that," she said -- maybe to him, maybe to Sherlock; her body was rocking again with his movements.

John almost thought he could recognize Sherlock's rhythm now, each thrust starting slow and gaining speed. He was so close, so close it almost hurt, but he couldn't quite tip over; the strangeness, the consciousness it was taking not to look at Sherlock, Joanna's grip just that much too loose the way girls did because people tended to touch other people the way they liked to be touched themselves.

A fantasy would do it at this point, but fantasies were all so very dangerous.

Joanna moved against his thumb, slick, breath deepening again, and her hand on his cock went faster but not harder.

John turned his head to the side, eyes squeezed shut, and then Joanna's hand went suddenly tighter -- suddenly matching the slow-fast rhythm that was Sherlock's body on hers -- and John slitted his eyes open to see Sherlock's arm wrapped round her hip, Sherlock's hand guiding hers, and came like a punch in the stomach just as Joanna made a high-pitched noise and buried her face in his neck.

Before he'd fully drawn breath, he heard a deep groan, and that would be the sound Sherlock made when he came.

They swayed there for a moment, panting, and then there was movement. If they separated now -- if Sherlock got a good look at his face --

John fled for the toilet, holding his dirty trousers with one hand, before he could do anything even stupider than what he'd done already.

Part Three

Item: Ordinary arrangements can lead to perfectly satisfying lives for some people. Not everyone finds it unbearably banal to think of having someone warm to rely on.

Note: But this is Sherlock Holmes we're talking about.

And if in the night, when he woke up and went through it all again, he removed Joanna in his head, that was nobody's business but his own.

And if he ran it through again while he was in the shower, it changed nothing.

Nothing but the nape of Sherlock's neck as he bent over the microscope. The sound of his breathing. The grace of his hands and the memory of where John had seen them last. The very air around him.

John felt short of breath, tense and shocky, like the moments between the time a bone broke and the time the pain hit.

"Have you got any other questions, now, John?" Sherlock said softly. He didn't look up, but he wasn't exactly looking down, either; the microscope was only a prop while he looked at nothing and waited.

John knew how he moved, now, the sound he made when he came. But something was still not his area, whether it was men, or relationships, or sex for purposes other than improving the gene pool, or just John himself. Sometime soon, some other woman, blessed with active ovaries and an extraordinary mind, was going to arrive for servicing. The best outcome John could imagine was that he could find some way to avoid being involved in anything like that again, except in his imagination.

"Questions about what?" he said, and went to put the kettle on.

Sherlock looked after him for a long, silent moment. "Good man," he said at last, bending to the eyepiece again. "Mine's gone cold."

John didn't know whether Mrs. Hudson had been taken into Sherlock's confidence, but she called up the stair: "John! Visitor for Sherlock; is he in?" without any suggestion that there was anything odd in ushering in a fine-boned woman in silver sandals.

He'd learned by now to head off misconceptions early, even at the risk of impoliteness: "Dr. John Watson," he said. "Sherlock's flatmate."

Her speculative gaze on John sharpened at the word 'flatmate.' John hoped nothing about his exploits with Joanna had made its way into the forums. "Dr. Gemma Pinder." She offered her hand.

Her glance round the flat was nearly as sharp as Sherlock's, and lingered on the chair, where Sherlock's long coat and his own wool jacket had been carelessly flung when they got home earlier. Well, if she thought good housekeeping was hereditary, best she learned the worst before she was committed. "Sherlock's just stepped out for a moment. Can I get you anything?"

And he thought he was fine, carrying on a normal conversation, as if he hadn't spent yesterday afternoon -- as if he hadn't been listening to his flatmate's voice as he --

Gemma was telling him something about her research, and he wrenched his mind back onto her words, aware that he should have answered by now and that it would be conversationally awkward to ask for clarification when he hadn't really been listening in the first place.

And then he heard Sherlock's tread on the stair and his stomach contracted with anticipation and nervousness, as if he were back at school.

Sherlock's eyes sought John's as he came through the door, almost as if he'd been worried. "Ah, Gemma," he said, but he didn't look away. "Right on time in spite of the cat's getting loose again."

That sort of thing either impressed people or wrong-footed them, but when John tore his eyes from Sherlock's face (Sherlock's throat marked by Joanna's mouth), Gemma was frozen in the kitchenette, looking from one of them to the other with her pink lips pinched together.

"I do hope there's nothing disgusting going on between you two."

John's cheeks burned. Was it written all over his face? He didn't dare look at Sherlock, and so Sherlock's tone took him by surprise, low and silky and dangerous: "Would you care to clarify?"

Gemma didn't know Sherlock, so she didn't have the sense to be worried. She shrugged. "If he's a queer, it's nothing to me, though I don't see how you'd live with one of them, especially if he were after you. But you had better be normal. I don't want my baby to be defective."

"Out," Sherlock said.

John and Gemma both turned to look at him. He was looking at Gemma, lip curled.

"Well, well," she said. "Like that, is it? Well, let me tell you --"

"I might ask you about your fellowship application." That stopped her in mid-word, though Sherlock was speaking very softly. "The pressure you brought to bear on the lab manager. The more complex pressures you used on your adviser. But those are no concern of mine, as lies and blackmail are not hereditary."

She'd gone quite pale now, lips tight, tendons in her neck standing out. She drew a breath, but Sherlock took a step toward her. "Stupidity, however, is. I'm now aware that you qualified for this program under the same false pretenses that gained you the degree and the fellowship and all your other so-called achievements. But even if you were what you claim to be, the man you've insulted is worth a dozen of you."

"You can't --" she began, but he took another step toward her, and she backed up.

"I could destroy you with a phone call if I cared to take the trouble." Sherlock backed her up another step, and then another. "You will now take yourself out of my home before I remove you myself."

He marched her to the door, down the stair -- protesting and threatening, "know someone at New Scotland Yard, you won't --" and John heard the front door shut on her promising to ruin them both.

"What was all that about?" John asked as he heard Sherlock in the passage. "A hundred people have assumed we were together, and never once in all our acquaintance have you bothered to set any of them right, so why --"

Sherlock reappeared in the doorway with his lip still curled in contempt. He crossed the room in a few long strides and bent over John, examining him for damage. "She just insulted me; she didn't wound me," he began to say, and Sherlock tipped up his chin a fraction more and kissed him.

By the time John's mind reported that this was a disastrously bad idea and needed to stop immediately, John's body had already cut off his retreat. One hand was in Sherlock's hair and the other was somehow inside Sherlock's shirt, and his mouth was involved in the kind of intensely dirty kiss that normally took a lot longer to work up to. Sherlock smelled like Sherlock, tasted like Sherlock, and John was starving for him, the taste of the skin under his ear, the feel of his back and sides hot under John's hands.

Sherlock wasn't putting the brakes on, either. He gave John's arse a comprehensive grope with both hands, and then freed up one to rub at John's cock through his jeans. John said, "Christ," just as Sherlock dropped to his knees, half-unbuttoned shirt flapping around him.

John looked down on it as if from a great, windy height -- Sherlock's clumsy hands yanking impatiently at his flies, Sherlock's eyes shutting on a loud exhale as he blindly pressed his face against John's cock through his pants, taking great gulps of air.

"God," John said as everything came down far enough for access and Sherlock nearly bit his cock in an effort to get it all in his mouth at once. "Sherlock, god, if you knew how often I've imagined --"

"Tell me," Sherlock said, "tell me everything," but then he did something with his mouth and both hands that momentarily robbed John of his ability to speak, or even breathe.

"Your mouth," he wheezed out at last, "your hands, Sherlock, you wanting me," which was a stupid and terrifying revelation, and John drew in a whoop of breath and followed him down, holding his face still for kisses until he had him at full length on the dusty floor.

Sherlock on his back was even more of a fantasy than Sherlock on his knees. John reared up over him, pulling his shirt loose from the last two buttons impatiently. There was a light red smudge on his neck, the mark of a mouth that wasn't John's mouth. There was an ache in John's chest that had never quite gone away since Sherlock came back -- if he were honest, since before he left. But Sherlock's hands were clenching and his face was red and while this moment lasted he was no one else's.

"John," Sherlock sighed, as if to underline the message, undoing his own flies with one hand and reaching for John with the other, and John went back for more drugging kisses, on top of Sherlock, both their cocks together in Sherlock's enormous hand -- a nice long one, Joanna had said --

"Ah," Sherlock said, deep and drawn out. "I want more."

John shut his eyes as Sherlock's grip tightened and rubbed John's cock, hard, all up and down the hot length of his own. "Yeah," he said, "me too," but he was coming and it was too late to stop it, and Sherlock said, "Fuck," deep and percussive and crisply articulated.

Before he'd fully caught his breath, he rolled Sherlock to his back, still ravenous to touch him, but then a thought stilled his hand. "Can you? Do you need to -- is someone else --"

"What?" Sherlock said, not as if he didn't hear it but as if he didn't believe it.

It wasn't really enough of a chance for Sherlock to change his mind, but it was all John had in him. "Right, then," he said grimly, lowering his head. "This one's mine."

He licked through is own come on Sherlock's belly with grim satisfaction -- his mark, his claim, however ephemeral. He followed the taste down, over all the sensitive places he could think of, pressing his mouth down hard over Sherlock's pelvic bone and then feather-light over the base of his cock.

"Oh, please," Sherlock said, hushed, and it was so ridiculous, Sherlock begging him -- as if John wouldn't have begged for this while Sherlock was bestowing it on every woman who could pass an IQ test -- "All right, Sherlock, all right," he said soothingly.

When Sherlock's cock touched John's lower lip, Sherlock was already coming.

John laid his head on Sherlock's hip and licked his lips and tried not to think. He felt Sherlock raise his hand, hesitate, and lower it again. Yes. In just a moment he'd lift his head and let Sherlock go back to his greater pursuits. Just a moment more.

Muscles clenched under his face -- Sherlock going up on his elbows -- and John rolled away as Sherlock's petulant voice came to him: "I don't understand."

That was so far from what John had expected that it startled him into looking up.

"It was an irresistible impulse on my part, but you were meant to say no. I was certain you would say no."

"Do I make a habit of saying no to you, Sherlock?" John did up his flies hastily. Hurt made his tone sharp.

"That's what I don't understand." Sherlock pulled the two halves of his shirt together aimlessly, Sherlock who never fidgeted. "It's what I never understand. I gave you a chance. I gave you an opportunity to be free of me, and you didn't take it! I came back and found you here, exactly where I left you. You were still doing my work!"

"Our work," John said.

"Yes, fine," Sherlock said, and then he paused and said it again, more slowly: "Ye-es. But all the while you're saying it over and over: you're not my date; we're not a couple; you're not gay. So, very well. You don't want to want me, and I can't blame you. Any ambivalence I might become aware of, I ignored; I honored what you said and didn't try to ferret out the secret of what you might really want -- and so," and now he was slowing down still further, from certainty to questioning, "and so I wish you would just tell me. Tell me what it is you want."

"How can I possibly tell you anything you don't already -- fine," John said, jaw tight. He could feel his temper uncoiling hotly behind his ribcage. "Fine. I've got no pride left. What I want is for you to know what it's like. To think about me day and night, to obsess about me, to want things you never imagined you could want and then to sit in the same room with what you long for and know you can never have it. How's that?"

Sherlock winced, shutting his eyes briefly before returning to staring at the wall. "Anything else?"

Christ, that was bloody typical, wasn't it? Lay your heart on the table and Sherlock would slice it into pieces and do tests on it. "Well, I'd like a pension. World peace, if it's not too much trouble. Barring that, I want you to stop having sex with every female genius you can find."

Sherlock's eyes went to the ceiling. "Because it's not safe," he began in a singsong tone. "Because it's exhausting me. Because it's affecting the cases -- as if I weren't capable of --"

"Because it's killing me. Because I want you for myself."

Sherlock lowered his head slowly. Just as slowly, without looking at John, he groped for his laptop.

"Stupid, I know," John said, "because it's pretty clear that you don't really consider me to be on a par with Miranda and Amanda and Jane. Are you even listening to me?"

Wordlessly Sherlock turned the screen toward John.


John shook his head, quickly, to clear it. The page stayed the same. He raised his eyes to Sherlock's face.

"But you told me you were ready to choose the program over the cases."

Sherlock grimaced. "Surely even you are capable of completing the syllogism."

It was -- it was like -- Time seemed to sputter and slow around him. His lower lip was hot, and that was because Sherlock had bitten him. Sherlock's laptop was on the floor, and that was because --

"John," Sherlock said in a low voice. "There are questions you haven't asked. Ask them."

Sherlock's hair was a haystack and his shirt and trousers were still undone, and John had the dizzy sense of space opening out around him. He raised his eyes to Sherlock's face, and Sherlock saw something in his expression that made his cheeks go pink. John put his fingertips against the spot between Sherlock's eyebrows. Sherlock's eyes fell closed.

"I think you just answered them," John said hoarsely against his mouth.

"Wait," Sherlock said, stumbling after him to the stair. "My recent experiences have demonstrated quite solidly that I won't be capable again for at least forty minutes."

John looked down on him and ran his thumb down the side of his neck just to see his eyes go lazy. "Your recent experiences," he said darkly, "have been nothing like this."