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Pattern Behaviour

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Pattern Behaviour

 

Bent over the microscope, I keep myself from reacting as John brushes me, going past. The movement jostles the edge of the eyepiece into the bone around my eye.

“Morning,” John says, unaware. Opens the fridge, takes out the milk. “Did you make coffee?”

He knows I hate being bothered when I’m in the middle of an experiment but rarely lets that stop him from doing it, anyway. I make a vague sound. His question is entirely unnecessary; the coffee is there in its carafe. He need only look at it.

“Ta,” he says, and pours himself a cup. There’s a small pause and then he comes to inspect my cup, touches the side to gauge the temperature. “This has gone cold,” he observes. “Shall I dump it and pour you a new cup?”

He’s determined to engage me. “Please,” I say, not raising my head.

He retreats with my cup (I was drinking it, but it’s true that it was cold), pours it down the sink, rinses it (why? He’s only going to refill it with the exact same thing) and refills it. I register the small sounds of him adding sugar, stirring, returning with the new cup. “There you are,” he says.

“Mmm.”

“You’re welcome,” he says dryly. Pointedly. I was supposed to say thank you. Are these tiny formalities really necessary after all this time, even now? It seems like such a petty thing to demand. Am sure he would use this as another example of his superiority where matters of etiquette and social custom are concerned. (Hate it when he does that. These petty things, they don’t matter, no one really cares about that, do they? Why do they? It’s all so pointless. Tedious. Let’s just all No-please-after-you-no-really-I-must-insist ourselves to death, shall we? God I loathe humanity sometimes.)

He’s still waiting for me to say something. I sigh inwardly and decide to appease him. “Going to work?” It’s a ridiculous, pointless question: I know his schedule and he knows that I know it. Still: he likes being asked these obvious, stupid questions.

“Thought I would, yeah,” John says. He waits. (For what?)

I look up. Immediately see that he is wearing the shirt I bought for him and hung in his closet without saying anything about it. (Am slowly and determinedly improving his dreadful wardrobe.) It is a deep shade of blue, almost navy, but muted. He could carry cobalt or midnight but would immediately reject a shade too intense. (In his mind, dull colours are more masculine. It has taken me months to deduce the reasons he wears the unflattering colours that he so meticulously chooses. The reasoning struck me as painfully obvious once I realised.) This blue is just blue enough to bring out his eyes and subtle enough not to set off alarm bells in his head. I eye the shirt on him; it sits well, cut perfectly, just tight enough across the chest to show his sturdy, muscular frame, slightly looser at the waist for comfort, both physical and mental. (John would never wear anything he deemed too revealing, and he is still self-conscious about his abdominal region, unwarranted as that is.) I realise that John is still waiting for a verbal reaction. “Nice shirt,” I say blandly. (Over-effusiveness is generally not well received, experience has informed.)

He grins, pleased. “Found it in my closet the other day,” he says. “I wonder how it got there.”

“Call Lestrade.” I return to my slides. Cannot resist adding “Only the other day?” (Provocation. Deliberate.)

I can all but feel his eyes narrow. (His predictability does follow specific patterns, after all.) “How long had it been there?” When I don’t respond immediately, he sighs. “Come on, then. Out with it. How long?”

“Eight days.”

“Oh.” His tone brightens. “Well, it wasn’t that long, then. You timed it for right after I had done laundry so I wouldn’t see it right away, didn’t you? Well, anyway, er, thanks. I really like it.”

I glance up, smile briefly. “It suits you,” I say. Carefully neutral again.

“Chinese tonight?” John asks.

Ah. There it is: the reward. I have behaved well, and he will reward me with his presence. I consent automatically, changing slides, depositing the first in the same petri dish as the others. Ask what time. John likes to put times to things, even though he will come home first, probably change out of that becoming shirt and into something washed out and oatmeal-coloured, spend some time flicking through various channels on the television, check his email, tell me his blog hit count, and eventually announce that he is hungry and that we said we were going to eat at seven o’clock and that it is now, in fact, twenty minutes past that. As though our having set a time over breakfast had established a legally binding contract with the dim sum restaurant on the corner, where we are frequently the only customers and whose presence therefore generally brings both the owner and his wife to our table in gratitude, who stay open until two in the morning anyway and would welcome us with equal gratitude whether we came at five, seven, eleven, or half-two. None of this matters, however; John Watson likes to form plans. It gives him a sense of having some measure of control over his environment. He likes that, the illusion of control. (I am forced to grudgingly admit that life with me has increased rather than diminished this desire to establish control in this way.)

(Concede. Offer opening gambit in this ridiculous game.) “Seven?” I say.

“Perfect. I’ll put it in my phone,” he says, beaming. (Move accepted, countered.)

(He is happy. I have made him temporarily happy merely by uttering a number which has no practical meaning, two syllables.) He gets his things together, retrieves his lunch from the fridge door, puts on his jacket, and instructs me to have a good day. I witness this performance out of the corner of my eye and make some sort of sound that he evidently accepts as a suitable response, and leaves.

Not for the first time, I ask myself silently and fruitlessly why I do this, play this little game to keep John Watson happy with me. It is surely the most pointless and futile exercise I have ever engaged in, to the point that I surprise myself. Ever since having returned, disrupting his life again after an eight-month absence, I have been aware that I work somewhat consistently toward this simple goal. It should be easy, I have often thought. John Watson is not a complicated being. But then, he is. He is full of contrasts and contradictions. A doctor with a gun. Case in point. A man with trust issues who, albeit not yet trusting me (has he ever?) shot a man for me. (Have never forgotten this. Seems significant. Not entirely certain how. Have not deleted; may be important later. Add to file of other things not yet understood about John Watson. Title of file: A Study of the Pattern Behaviour of the Elusive Dr Watson in his Natural Habitat. Natural habitat being, of course, 221B Baker Street. He still thinks of it as a flatshare, I am all but certain. Uncertainty: how to transform this notion into home. Permanence.)

(Because he can leave.) He threatens it semi-regularly. Never aloud, never in so many words. I do something he considers beyond the pale (beyond even the usual pale); he punishes me by leaving. Temporarily. So far he has always come back, usually compromised by watery beer from the nearest pub, and feeling punchy, looking to start an argument. Unless he’s drunk considerably more (should really be careful, given his father and sister; besides, he’s a doctor, he knows what that does to the liver. Honestly, John), in which case he is quiet (would say meek, but this is rarely the case, as I have come to learn) and takes himself to bed without an argument. He could leave, though. He claims to have understood about the fall, claims that everything is all right now, but he is still angry about it. He still dreams subconsciously (consciously? Unclear) of revenge, of forcing me to suffer the same thing. He feels, naturally, that his suffering, the resultant disruption of his life and his grief outweigh any and all experiences I endured during that period. (Have explained the reasoning numerous times. He prefers his version, that I left him (his words) and let him grieve and suffer whilst off having some fantastic adventure, indulging my inborn addiction to danger and leaving him out deliberately. Reasoning has been unsuccessful on this subject.) Have tried apologising (once); he simply changes the subject or insists that it’s all right when clearly it isn’t. (Unfair. How can you be forgiven a fault which the other party refuses to acknowledge you have, in their eyes, committed?) Sometimes his very childishness makes me want to punch him.

(Will not punch him. That much surely goes unsaid. Not after I pieced together my deductions about his father. Have never revealed said deductions. Even I know that much.)

(Will, however, punch anyone else who punches him. Or shoots him. Or even looks at him the wrong way. If anyone is going to punch John Watson, it will be me, and he will deserve it if it happens. It will not happen. Nobody is punching John. No matter how tempting it might be.)

As he frequently reminds me, it is a temptation he feels with regard to me quite regularly. On such occasions, I say nothing. (Better that way.)

***

He is fond of pointing out my social inadequacies. Sometimes, when things are generally good between us, he does it with an air of apology, as though he knows that it will hurt or embarrass and thinks that his implied apology will take the sting out of the criticism. (It doesn’t. It never does.)

When I dress in a manner he deems appropriate, he generally says nothing. When I dress especially well, he does occasionally acknowledge it. This is true. (Must try to be just.) He has lectured me repeatedly about greeting clients in suitable attire. (Why? They come to me, to my home; should I choose to receive them in a suit or a sheet or nothing at all, surely this is my affair.) Can hear the echo of the disgust in his voice the last time this sort of thing happened. For God’s sake, I’m not answering the door until you’re wearing more than pants and socks, I don’t care if they are a matching set, Sherlock, put on some clothes! I embarrass him. He will avert his eyes if there are other people around to witness his reactions to me in such an instance, but not if we’re alone at home. (Observation: the contrast in his public versus private behaviour regarding my state of dress lends strength to the private theory I am constructing about him, with regard to his views of me in particular. Interesting.) Memories of Buckingham Palace stir; me in a sheet – at one point nearly nothing at all, thanks to the infantile behaviour of my brother – and John thoroughly embarrassed to be seen with me, siding with Mycroft. Yet: moments before Mycroft’s appearance, staring unabashed at the region of my anatomy where, in his opinion, pants should have been. He is an anomaly, John Watson. (Theory yet to be tested. Still vague.)

***

We leave for dim sum at precisely twenty minutes past seven. For once, John hasn’t complained. (For once, I paid attention to the time and arranged to not be working at seven, then waited twenty minutes for him to say he wanted to leave.)

(The things I do.)

***

A week later he comes home from the clinic in an usually good mood, humming to himself. Note: John Watson only sings when he is a) drunk or b) about to go on a date. It is four in the afternoon. John is not drunk. I scowl and turn my back on him from the sofa.

Hear him pause. “What?”

I say nothing, jerk my left shoulder in a shrug.

“I haven’t even said anything yet,” John says, going from jovial to belligerent in under five seconds.

I ignore this. (Correction: I cannot ignore it; I therefore am simply not responding to it.)

He pauses, the weight leaning into his back foot suggesting he wants to go upstairs (and change for his date, no doubt); the fact that he has not yet left the room suggests he still wants to talk to me. Does not want the ill feeling between us. “Is everything all right?” he tries.

“Fine.”

Another pause while he considers. “Have I done something I shouldn’t, then? I had to throw the fingers away, they were starting to smell funny. Well, funnier.”

“It’s fine,” I repeat, exhaling heavily. (Want him to just leave, if he’s leaving. Don’t want him to leave. Cannot make up my mind. Do not want to be having this conversation. Want to go for dinner with him.)

“Well then,” John says, and trails off. Clears his throat. “Erm, I’ve got – ”

“I know.”

Pause. “A date tonight,” John continues, as though I have not interrupted, “so I won’t be around for supper.”

Silence.

“Sherlock?”

“What’s her name.” I cannot even muster the false enthusiasm to make it sound like a question.

“Melissa,” John says, careful now. (Can feel his eyes on my back.)

I make a non-committal sound.

He sighs. “What is that supposed to mean? Surely you can’t tell me she’s a psychotic axe murderer by her name, although I’m sure you’d find her much more interesting if she was. Or a hypochondriac – isn’t that what you accused Allison of being? Or a closet pedophile, which you called Lara.”

“She was a pedophile. Only not ‘closet’, as you found out when she was arrested for molesting one of her pupils two months after your date with her.” I point this out with flawless logic, even knowing that it will simply raise John’s temper. (He is so predictable that way.)

(He proves me correct instantly.) “Sherlock,” he says, in annoyance, “there isn’t something hugely and disturbingly wrong with the majority of women that I date. I wish you would stop implying that, or saying it right out.”

In response to his outburst, I consider in silence for a moment or two. Then, “I haven’t said anything about Melissa yet.”

“Yet,” John repeats. (Can feels his eyes narrowing.) “I really don’t know why you get like this every time I have a date.”

(Ignore this.) “Where are you going?”

He gives a short laugh. “Oh, there is no way I’m telling you. And don’t follow me, either.”

(Cannot respond to this. How did he know? Oh: because John Watson is able to learn from pattern behaviour in his own right. Only when it’s truly obvious, perhaps, but duly noted.)

“I’m going to change,” John says shortly, good mood evidently gone.

(Have made him angry again. Want him to be the happy version of him, or rather, the version of himself which is happy with me. And not to go out. To stay and eat with me. Melissa. What a bland, predictable, pink-and-white name. I hate her already.)

He has not yet forgiven me when he comes downstairs and puts on his jacket. He leaves without saying goodbye.

(I curl tighter on the sofa and resolve not to eat. It won’t punish him, but he will nonetheless feel badly when he realises. If I allow him to realise. Still debating. He will tell me I’m being childish (true, don’t care), but regardless, don’t feel like eating without him.)

(Theory seems much less realistic when he is actually present.)

***

John comes home ill-tempered. Perhaps the date went badly. (Good. Have not yet questioned why I am so frequently malicious (in private) on the subject of John’s dates. Can’t be bothered.)

“How was Melissa?” I drone from the sofa, on my back with the newspaper now. (Will he think I was there all evening? I was.)

“Fine,” John says briskly. He takes his jacket off and throws it on his armchair as though it personally offended him. (Understanding: the endgame of all of John’s dates is to have sex. He has not had sex. Therefore, no matter what else happened, to some extent at least the date was a failure. If not entirely.)

“Where did you go?” I keep my voice perfectly neutral, just above the minimum level of boredom to keep John from snapping at me. (Want the information.)

“To a pub.” John is deliberately vague, depriving me of it. The information.

I let the paper slide to the floor and steeple my fingers beneath my chin. He is being childish. Does he want me to ask so that he can continue the game of withholding information or is he being genuinely taciturn? (If asked, John would claim that everything he does is genuinely whatever it is; I know better. John is horribly passive-aggressive for a military man.) I decide to either, depending on which it is, allow myself to be bait, or to bait him. “What did you eat?”

“Didn’t,” he says tersely. “She wasn’t hungry.” This he says with great frustration.

I never understand this aspect of him: he is a man who likes things like eating and sleeping and having sex. (The things which I have been made to understand are normal, whatever this prized concept of normality is.) Yet he routinely selects women who are a) plain, b) underweight, and c) routinely non-hungry. (A lie, always. John values honesty, even when it isn’t good for him to have.) And every time, it is a surprise to him when they don’t actually want to eat dinner with him. Further, he always tries too hard to please and therefore keeps them company in their non-hungriness. It is now past nine. “Ah,” I say, careful not to nuance the single syllable.

He glares at me as if it was my fault. “What did you eat, then? I don’t even think we have anything. I haven’t done the shopping yet this week, and God knows you wouldn’t have got it, you would?”

(Unusual amounts of hostility. Sexual frustration must be a dangerous state of health indeed. Debate: speak and irritate him further, or stay silent and irritate him still further?)

My indecision makes the choice for me, but surprisingly he sighs and softens. “Sorry,” he says, not explaining. Asks again, more gently. “What did you eat?”

“I didn’t.” Eyes on the ceiling, on the plaster crack which has expanded by precisely nine millimetres since we first moved in.

He pauses, thinking about this. “Get busy with something?”

“No.” I sit up, swing my feet to the floor. “Hungry?”

“Starving,” he admits ruefully. “She drank a glass of wine. One glass of wine. I mean, she was lovely, but how does anyone live like that?”

“Not my area,” I remind him. I stand, energy suddenly returning. Pick my coat off its hook and pull it on, its familiar weight swirling around me.

John looks at my feet. “Socks?” he suggests. “It is November.”

“Is it?” I look at my feet, too. “Perhaps.”

The corner of his mouth twitches. “Perhaps socks, or perhaps it’s November?”

“Both.” I disappear into the bedroom to put something he will consider appropriate on my feet as he puts his jacket back on. I come back with both socks and shoes on, pulling on my gloves.

John looks approving and his shoulders are two inches lower than they were when he first arrived. (Theory: food a replacement for sex in his mind? (Generally true?) Difficult to say.) “Indian?” he says hopefully.

(Would have agreed to any suggestion.) “My thoughts precisely.”

He smiles, and just like that, we are friends again. (Melissa notwithstanding.)

***

Nonetheless, there is a second date. (John’s interpretation, though he would deny it: a second chance at having sex with Melissa. Perish the thought.) He texts me from the clinic, deliberately vague: Going for a drink after work. Might be late.

Drinks would have meant with male friends in a pub. Beer and some sort of sporting event playing on the televisions mounted in the corners. Drink, singular, meant a date. It has only been four days since their first date; surely even John wouldn’t have moved on already. John has lots of first dates. Second dates are rare, third dates nearly unheard of. Actual girlfriends: increasingly rare these days. He has not maintained a relationship beyond a third date with anyone since Jeanette. (I like to think I helped, though I hardly knew it at the time. Possibly Mycroft as well. For some mysterious reason, he tends to loathe John’s girlfriends as much as I do. And given that Mrs Hudson and John staged another search of my room and the rest of the flat while I was at the morgue that night, I assumed it was Mycroft who put them up to it, somehow simultaneously dispatching Jeanette.)

I don’t text back. Tonight I think I will follow him.

John is ridiculously easy to follow, for all that he has learned through our partnership (by which I mean me). He gets lost in his thoughts and walks without awareness of his surroundings, hands shoved deep into his pockets. He is wearing his nicer jacket (the black one) and the blue shirt I gave him. I grit my teeth when I catch sight of the collar. I did not give him that shirt for Melissa’s benefit. He is wearing his nicer pair of shoes, too: either he knew about this date when he got dressed this morning or else he was just hoping.

He meets her in the lounge part of a restaurant. (Transparent hope that the drink will become dinner which will magically transform into a sexual encounter. Really, John.) She is exactly as I imagined: shoulder-length blond hair, lighter than her natural colour, too much make-up (never liked make-up, except in disguises), clothes which are exactly on trend and yet completely unimaginative. Pink. She is wearing pink. I loathe pink. They are sitting at the bar, John turned toward her as her body faces straight forward, her face turned to talk coquettishly over her shoulder. (Body language: closed; face: misleading. Though I don’t want the conquest to succeed, it makes me want to hit her. Because John, stupid, hopeful John, doesn’t see through it.)

Am not sure exactly why John’s mating rituals make me hate him so, but they do. I want to shake him by the shoulders and either tell him he can do better or to just give up with this ridiculous dating business. It is undeniably true that he could do better. The women he chooses are so plain, on average, that I am literally at a loss to see what John could possibly fancy in them. Is this is just setting the bar deliberately so low that someone is surely bound to take pity on his sex-starved body and have sex with it? Perhaps. (Stop: it suddenly occurs to me that perhaps John chooses plain women because he thinks they are the only ones he has a chance with. Possibility. Makes me feel strangely… sad. Angry. Not certain why.) It isn’t their physical plainness that bothers me so much as their all-around plainness. Their terribly boring, insipid personalities. They are, with the possible exception of Sarah (whose sexual compliance was apparently in the keeping of Vatican City, according to John’s frustrated complaints), the sorts of women who buy cheap, celebrity gossip magazines and are always on a diet, because what could be more important than physical beauty? (And these are the sorts John thinks he has the best chance with? Honestly, John. It must mean that he finds them truly attractive. Cancel earlier pity.)

(Sometimes I feel as if he is flaunting their very plainness and boringness in my face. Difficult to explain exactly how, but it is almost as if having a flatmate of decidedly strange habits, an uncommon appearance, and – I have been told – above average looks on occasion, when dressed appropriately, it is a deliberate rejection of everything that I am. That he searches for the opposite of me in a sexual companion: regular, dull, unattractive, unthinking, plain.)

From my uncomfortable crouch in the shrubbery across from the restaurant, it occurs to me that I am displaying classic signs of jealousy.

Oh.

(Uncomfortable thought, this. Is it true?)

(Acknowledge privately that it is. Is that what all this has been about? Am I jealous? Would I prefer it to be me upon whom John’s transparent efforts at seduction were cast, overpriced drinks in an overpriced chain restaurant, wearing his best shirt and shoes? And if I am so scornful of his efforts, what does that indicate if I have been secretly wishing to be the subject of these careful, ineffective efforts?)

(Touch of shame.)

Melissa is touching his shoulder now, laughing too hard at something John said. The laughter is a performance, not a reaction. He is smiling broadly, eyes flicking to the hand on his shoulder. Pink tongue touches his lower lip: he is definitely interested. (Of course he is. He asked her out a second time and she agreed. Perhaps she is more interested than I suspected. Touch of alarm.)

Alarm. Can feel my eyes narrow, gleaming. I have an idea.

***

John still smells of smoke when he gets home, close to ten. He unwinds his scarf with a weary air and sighs, takes off his jacket, wanders into the kitchen to plug in the kettle. “Hello,” he says from the kitchen.

“Evening,” I say blandly from the desk where I am reading an article on the decomposition of pond weed. (Good information but poorly-written; the article never should have been published, even only online.)

The kettle boils; John sets about making tea and brings me a cup, setting it down on the corner of the desk (just out of my reach) and goes to his chair. “I must be cursed,” he says glumly.

(Must fight the urge to laugh.) “Oh?”

He sighs gustily. “It’s a long story.”

He has to know I cannot reach the tea from there. And he wants to tell me, wants an audience for his misery. He deliberately left the tea closer to my chair than to my laptop. (Well: his laptop. Let’s call a spade a spade.) I decide to indulge him. (Besides, am unendurably curious to know what happened, precisely.) I get up, pick up the tea, and sit down across from him. Raise my eyebrows, wait.

“You wouldn’t think,” John says, clearly immensely frustrated, “that there would be a bloody fire in the restaurant just when my date takes a turn for the better. I mean, what are the chances?”

He has admitted it was a date. Indication: he cares more about having a sympathetic audience to his story of woe than risk the standard fight me with concerning him having had a date. Interesting. “A fire?” I repeat, finding something else to look at. Must keep face neutral.

“Yes, a fire that started in the kitchen somehow. Everyone had to leave, so we all stood there outside for awhile until they said the fire had got out of hand and we wouldn’t be able to go back in. So I walked Melissa home and we watched it on the news with her flatmates. Apparently the restaurant is fine, no major damage at all.”

(Good; Mycroft won’t be able to tax me with property damage on this one, then.) “She has flatmates?” I say, attempting to contain my glee.

John’s eyes meet mine as if he knows exactly what I am thinking. “Three of them,” he confirms dryly.

Meaning implied: the chances of all of them not being home at the same time: limited. And John never brings anyone home overnight to Baker Street. Not sure why; surely he knows Mrs Hudson would never care. It must be me, then. (Not sure what this means. Most likely explanation: he thinks I will scare them off.)

(I would if I knew how to do it consciously.)

“Are you all right?” I ask solicitously. After all, he is my best friend. I should want to know, shouldn’t I? “Not burnt at all, I hope?”

“No, of course not,” John says, and smiles at me. Pleased with my concern. (He would almost certainly be less pleased if he knew how the fire had started. I therefore will not be sharing that information with him any time soon.)

The tea has cooled enough to drink. I drink about half of it at once. “Are you going to see her again?” The question is probably too blunt. Should probably try for more nonchalance, as if it doesn’t matter in the slightest. (It does matter.)

John has copied me, lifting his own cup to his mouth. (Always liked watching him drink tea for some inexplicable reason.) He contemplates for a long moment, eyes on the tea. “Probably not,” he says after a bit. He drinks, puts the cup down. “I mean, she’s a bit too young for me. I didn’t really realise, but all of her flatmates are still in uni. God. They seemed so young next to her, and then I realised suddenly that she’s one of them.”

“Mmm.” I make it sound understanding. As if I ever thought for a second that she was an appropriate choice.

John sighs again. “Guess I’m just stuck with you, then,” he say, not quite smiling. It’s meant to be funny.

(It’s not.)

***

John is sulking. Can always tell. It’s not that he stays in his room (he only uses the second bedroom for sleeping), but he inevitably becomes more critical, more belligerent, more short-tempered with my perceived (and numerous) shortcomings. As a flatmate, as a human, anything is fair game. (At least he can’t criticise my intellect. The one trump card I will always hold.)

(Take some pride in this, though today I find it smaller comfort than usual as John snaps the pages of the newspaper crisply in front of my face, as though his lack of having successfully engaged in sexual intercourse is somehow my fault. Which is was, this time, but he can hardly know that.)

I suppress another sigh. He has been making me sigh a lot lately. I do occasionally ask myself if I wasn’t better off before, on my own, but each effort to recall this before comes up blank. There was no before. Not really. I stare at him through the paper.

“What?”

(Could he feel it? How?) “What?” I respond. (Perhaps he deduced that I had stopped eating or finished my toast (it was the former) and wonders why I haven’t left the table.)

“You’re staring at me. I can feel it.”

Sometimes this sort of thing would be delivered with affection, but not today. Oh, no: if John Watson can’t find anyone to give him the sort of affection he feels he requires (the sort concentrated directly on his reproductive organs), then no one else should experience it, either. Particularly not me, whom he somehow blames for the state of his romantic life. (Acknowledge that this is valid. It is: I require John. I require his availability. All of the time.) I don’t know how to respond to the clipped hostility in his tone so I don’t respond.

(He hates non-responsiveness.) He sighs, lowers the newspaper, favours me with his best Not Impressed look. “What?” he repeats, more insistently.

(Oh. Had not stopped staring. Apparently he could still feel it.) I gaze back for a moment, studying his features. (How to diffuse this. John Watson: not unlike a small, powerful, domestically-inclined bomb.) Eventually I offer, “Thai tonight?”

“Mmm.” Sound of negation. (What is it this time, another bloody date? Surely he would be in a better mood, then. “Don’t feel like Thai.”

(Oh. Better. He isn’t refusing to eat with me, but wants to be petty about the terms. Fine, then. I know how to handle this. More pressure.) “Why not?” I add some surprise, light belligerence of my own. “You like Thai.”

One of his nonchalant shrugs. “I just don’t feel like it today.”

“They’re open late and close to your clinic.”

John folds the paper and puts it down, and makes his pronouncement. “Angelo’s. I feel like pasta.” He delivers this like a declaration of war.

(Could not possibly care less where we eat, as long as he is there.) I shrug as though this doesn’t sit properly (fine, to be entirely honest, some part of it genuinely doesn’t, but sometimes there is no need to differentiate between the act and the truth). “Fine,” I say in return. “Six? Or did you want to come home first?” His shift finishes at five today; he usually takes a few minutes to take notes and clear up the files (have observed him through the Venetian-blinded windows). Angelo’s is a thirty-minute bus ride or walk (he does not generally take cabs without me): therefore six o’clock should be perfect. I make the suggestion of coming home just to give him something to disagree with rather than the notion of dining with me.

He does: perfect, predictable response. “No. Six is fine.”

“All right.” I keep my tone utterly casual. “See you later, then.”

John drains his tea cup, gets to his feet. Pauses to look at my toast. “Finish your breakfast,” he says, slightly less aggressive now. It is nonetheless a directive. He does love trying to force feed me.

I oblige him. Pick up the half-slice of toast and take a bite, looking at him as I do so, like an obedient dog.

He nods once in satisfaction, goes for his jacket, and leaves.

***

He is bored, I realise at dinner. That is at least partly why he is so grouchy. It isn’t entirely the sex thing; that kicks in when his adrenaline addiction has gone unfulfilled for too long. (I immediately see the parallel between his secondary addiction and my own. Is sex an addiction for him, then?)

(Must find him a diversion. Something dangerous.)

***

He comes home two days later, saying my name. Not urgently, not something’s-wrong-and-I-need-you, just wanting to know if I’m home. From my hiding place, he will never find me. I hear his steps moving about the flat, poking his head into the bedroom, the kitchen, repeating my name with less conviction. (Go upstairs, John.)

(He usually does. He likes to change after work, as though by taking off the clothes he wore to work, he can take off his job itself. The job he doesn’t really like having because he’d rather be off with me somewhere.) His firm, light steps slow, then carry him toward the stairs. As predicted: he is going up to change. Once his footsteps have ascended, I slip out from under the blanket I left hanging over the back of my chair and move stealthily to the foot of the stairs to listen.

At his shout of surprise, I start, then listen harder: yes, the enemy has been engaged. I hear the almost-speechless sounds of an intense scuffle. (There is no need for concern, I remind myself; the ninja has been well-paid to give a satisfying fight but do no permanent harm; still: I listen carefully.) I hear the sound of a particularly firm blow to the torso, a pained gasp of intake, retaliatory blows. Someone falls or is knocked to the floor. (Wonder if John has already tried to make it to the drawer of the night table? Have removed the gun in forethought; wouldn’t want the ninja permanently damaged, either. He is an old friend, after all. Well, I say friend; really more of an acquaintance. Past informant on a case involving a London branch of the Yakuza; Lestrade asked me to find an inside source.)

There is a blow strong enough to make my acquaintance (not my friend) give a strangled cry, followed by the unmistakeable sound of a body hitting the floor. Then silence. My phone beeps: a text. Look down. It’s from John. Where the bloody hell are you? I freeze: loud enough for John to have heard the text alert? (I should keep the volume of my phone lower. But then I would never hear it; I hardly notice them as it is.)

Footsteps, and then the door to John’s bedroom opens and he is standing at the top of the stairs, glaring down at me. Caught like a deer in the headlights. He is breathing hard, hands on his hips, his phone clenched in the left. “So you are home, then,” he says, accusing.

“Evidently,” I say, not giving an excuse.

“There was a ninja in my bedroom,” John says, as if I didn’t know. “A bloody ninja!”

I blink and give my best surprised face. “It sounds as though you dealt with it effectively.”

“Oh, he’s not going anywhere soon,” John says, sounding a touch smug. “Want to take a look?”

“All right.” I agree, fighting back a grin and leaping up the stairs behind him.

John pushed open the door and ushers me in.

His assailant is lying facedown on the floor. I go over and crouch down, feeling for a pulse. He is merely unconscious, to my slight relief. “Goodness,” I say. “What did you do to him?” I prod cautiously, feeling for broken bones. None so far.

“Just the usual. You know. Hit him, knocked him out. Nothing fancy.”

John sounds terribly pleased with himself. I glance up at him. Confirmation: he is grinning from ear-to-ear, proud to have me see his victory. “Well done,” I say, making sure to sound impressed. (To be honest, I am impressed with how quickly he accomplished it: Hiroya Sugiyama was one of the most wanted assassins in the eastern hemisphere after the Yakuza discovered the source of their leak.) I let the moment stretch out a moment, John beaming at me, me smiling back – before breaking the contact and turning back to the ninja. I shake him gently. “Sugiyama,” I say. Then again, louder.

“You know him?” John is disbelieving. “I should have known this had something to do with you – well, was there any other alternative?”

“I hope you didn’t damage him too badly,” I murmur. “Sugiyama-san.” Then: “Hiroya.”

He stirs, moaning. Opens his eyes. “Holmes,” he said faintly. Blinks a few times, tries to sit up. I make no offer to assist him. (Professional courtesy.) His eyes go to John. He pauses a long moment, then looks at me and nods approvingly. I straighten up and allow him, again, to do the same without help. He places his palms together under his chin and gives John a short bow. Wordless respect. (Have such profound respect for the culture he represents. Why are westerners so preoccupied with unnecessary speech?) Without another word (having been paid in advance), he leaves.

John’s face, meanwhile, has lost the self-satisfied smirk, confusion crossing his (well-organised? pleasingly distributed? handsome? Too flowery, delete) features. “What was that all about, then?” he asks, caution creeping back into his voice.

I shrug, try a smile. “You seemed bored,” I offer.

He looks toward the door, mouth opening, thinking. “I seemed – ”

I watch him, waiting.

– bored?” John repeats, incredulous. “So – you – ” He looks at me.

I can’t help a slight smile; I like watching him put the pieces together in his own, endearingly slow manner.

He gets it but isn’t sure that he has got it right, after all. “You hired some sort of ninja assassin to – to attack me in my bedroom – to entertain me?”

“Yes!” I say, pleased by his accurate deduction.

He stares at me as though I’ve finally gone completely around whatever bend he’s always thought I was headed toward, mouth still open. “You did,” he repeats. Disbelieving.

I shrug modestly, nod, one corner of my mouth twitching downward into a well-what-did-you-expect-me-to-do expression.

Suddenly he starts to laugh. Hard. “Jesus Christ, Sherlock,” he says, one arm across his chest while the other goes to his temple, shoulders shaking with laughter. “What on earth did I do to deserve you for a friend?”

(Am not precisely sure how to interpret this reaction. Is he… happy? Furious?)

He comes over to me, grinning. “No one else in the world would ever think of hiring an assassin to save me from being bored between cases. That is a fact.”

(Cautious relief.) “It worked,” I point out, starting to smile.

“You are amazing. Completely insane, bizarre, and utterly amazing.” His face still full of that openness and warmth, John impulsively hugs me.

(Am pole-axed. Was not expecting this response.) Taken off-guard by this, and by the residual bloom of childish pleasure that his praise never fails to give me, I hug back on some heretofore unrealised instinct. If John is surprised to have his spontaneous gesture returned, he doesn’t say so, but continues to hold me. I cannot remember the last time I was entrapped in a prolonged hug of this nature. When I choose to hug people, it is generally on my terms and quite brief, if occasionally fairly affectionate (Mrs Hudson comes to mind). When others inflict their hugs on me, I react almost unfailingly stiffly and rarely return the gesture at all. Now a thousand hug-related queries cross my mind. How long it is supposed to last? How close are the two parties supposed to be? (And, more pressingly, why is John suddenly hugging me? Why the sudden apparent rush of affection? Oh: I realise at once. He is starved for physical contact and is taking the closest thing he can find to sexual interaction with another human.)

(The realisation has a double effect on me, the first being that the warmth of his compliments and hug vanish instantly. The second, far more alarmingly, is that I am suddenly consumed by physical desire. The thoughts link logically: I was thinking of John touching me as a replacement for sexual contact – some part of my mind translated that to thoughts of John with relation to sex with relation to me – some part of my mind which then communicated that to the physical realm of my body and it reacted on instinct, as bodies do. Nonetheless. My mind is bleating alarm, thoughts consumed with thoughts of John and sex and me linked as never consciously realised before, and my body… is being a predictable body. I want: it wants.)

I break the hug abruptly and struggle for normal-sounding words, take a large step away from John. “Glad it worked,” I say briskly, then beat a hasty retreat down the stairs.

“Sherlock?” John’s voice, slightly confused. He follows me to the top of the stairs. “Sherlock, wait, where are you…”

“Tea,” I manage, and escape into the kitchen. Switch on the kettle and shut myself in the bathroom, where I run the water at full blast until the situation is under control. I watch my face in the mirror as I take matters southward into my hands, watch myself weaken as, for once, the physical takes precedence over the mental. Weak. See my eyes squeeze closed as the culmination rushes over me. Humiliating. (Thought I had dealt with all this years ago, decided to just… not.)

(Another part of my life that John Watson has now changed irreparably.)

Breathing hard, I stare wide-eyed at the mess sliding down the backsplash above the sink, wipe it away with a tissue (and shaking fingers). Avoid my own eyes in the mirror after the fact.

He doesn’t say anything about any of it when I emerge from the bathroom and into the kitchen again, neither about the ninja nor the hug nor my sudden flight. He pushes a cup at me from across the table. “I made Earl Grey,” is all he says.

***

The problem is that now I know. Now I am aware. I lay awake for hours that night, wrestling with it. I was happier not fully understanding the jealousy, the terrible moods with relation to John’s dates. I didn’t want to know that this was the reason why: that, because of a hug – a hug, for God’s sake – I am now very uncomfortably aware that I am jealous. John has never really complained, not since Sarah, of my requirement that he be available to me. Sometimes he will announce his lack of availability, but if I have ever interrupted or shown him a clear reason why I should take precedence, he has never failed to come when I have asked.

(I don’t want him to come because I ask. I want him to come because he wants to. Want him to have not left in the first place.)

And this jealousy seems to be more than just over some bland-faced cow of a woman taking my required, necessary, work partner from me. Had not previously realised its physical application. That I do not want, under any circumstances, John to have sex with these women. Any of them. Ever. Logically, if this is how I feel and a simple hug in conjunction with the thought of John having made a physical gesture toward me in relation to his desire for sexual contact in general made me react so quickly, so viscerally, logic would dictate that I must be physically attracted to John as well as having become slightly dependent on him in other respects.

I force myself to consider this. (It really isn’t so odd, is it? The part of my brain asking this reminds me of a much younger, vastly less secure version of myself. Seeking permission to do something illogical, something weak, something betraying dependence on anything. Mycroft always stressed that: independence is strength. His lecture upon visiting me in Lestrade’s detox cell, when Lestrade and I first met. It wasn’t like it was ever a habit; I just wanted to know what it felt like. Had been bored. Failed, in my experiment, to take necessary precautions. Who knew that London’s dealers were such gossips? What a bore all that had been. Mycroft immediately assumed the worst, assumed that I was some sort of addict (which I am, of course, but drugs were never my addiction so much as not being bored – that, and nicotine) and lectured me about the importance of not relying on anyone other than myself. Mycroft Holmes: the pillar of not depending on anyone, not since Father left and he foreswore humanity at large. Mycroft disapproves of all human interrelation that doesn’t serve a political function, a specific use of some sort.

(Consideration: I could find John very useful, in some regards. Well. More useful than he already is.)

Return to thinking about John, being attracted to John. He is the sort of person whose features have never made me think terms like spectacular, dazzling, phenomenal, yet since the first, the very first impression, I was somehow struck by him. He is compact, powerfully-built (though he does love to hide it under those God-awful jumpers), strong without being horridly bulky, firmly and pleasingly built. He jogs (has done ever since I cured him of his ridiculous limp) and his slim thighs and well-muscled calves bear witness to that. His jaw has not collected fat beneath the chin as on most men his age. Even his face – entirely pleasing in its composition somehow. He is perfect. He lacks my wit (everyone does), but has a solid, if occasionally inflexible intelligence. (He is a doctor, after all.) He reads, enjoys the theatre (unless it crosses some invisible line and becomes too “arty”, as he would put it), has an ear for classical music. He is square and masculine and strong in every respect. His size, his profession, his humour – all of it complement mine. We would fit together, I cannot help but think. (Envision my long, gangly limbs folding around his shorter frame and know without proof that it would fit perfectly.)

(At this point in my thoughts, I also realise that I am hard again.)

This is a problem.

(Or is it?)

What would he do, I wonder, if I were to… instigate it? (How? Have flirted with women for cases, occasionally men (rarely). John is neither a woman nor some generic man. Cannot apply abstract principles here.) None of John’s usual behavioural patterns provide any information as to how he would accept such a proposition from me.

I recall vividly our first dinner at Angelo’s. Perhaps I was too hasty then. However, he made it extremely – excessively, I thought at the time – clear that he did not want anyone at all, even other diners, complete strangers, to think that we were together in a non-professional or non-platonic sense. It was abundantly clear. Too clear. (Hurtfully clear. What if I had been interested? I think of other rebuffs: denying that he was my friend at the bank, in front of Sebastian Wilkes, that tosser. Who then made sure to impress upon John my friendlessness during university days, too. I am also certain that Mycroft has likely assured John on repeated occasions that he – John – is my sole friend, adding the unspoken inference that John’s exceptional ability to tolerate me says something about John himself. A critique of both of us, abstract pressure meant to drive John away from me.) Regardless, when John then started musing aloud on the state of our mutual singleness, I couldn’t help but cut him ruthlessly off at the knees. (Didn’t actually think he was expressing interest, but I took malicious pleasure in assuming it aloud and refusing him before proof could be offered. If he was hurt then, he hid it well.)

(What if Angelo had never brought a candle and John had brought that topic up? What would he have said? What would I have said?) The problem is that now we have been together for so long in this established way, this purely non-physical, non-sexual manner, calling each other friends first (now) and colleagues second, that to instigate a change seems all but impossible.

(Are there grounds for an attempt? Is he attracted, or is it merely that he yearns for a woman’s body – literally any woman’s body, Mrs Hudson would probably do in a pinch – and if so, could he possibly be persuaded to accept mine instead?) I consider: my body is distinctly non-feminine. I am all angles and lengths and I am taller than John by thirteen centimetres. Considerably taller. He could never close his eyes and pretend. (No, then: he would need to be genuinely attracted.)

In recollection, I didn’t sleep at all that night.

If John noticed in the morning, he said nothing about it. I suppose this is my pattern behaviour, in his eyes: my lack of predictability.

***

A case, finally: Lestrade saves me from myself and my horridly unproductive chain of recent thoughts. It is getting out of control. I am now forced to deal with these physical responses to his very presence, on occasion. Small things can do it. A particular smile. A thoughtless touch, a hand rested on my shoulder for too long (too long? Or not long enough?), or squeezing past me in the hallway by the bedroom on his way to the shower. I made dinner the other night and he said it was amazing and I suffered through the entire meal in a semi-embarrassing state, to the point that I refused to get up to switch the kettle on after we had eaten, to his exasperation.

Jewel thief, how predictable, but so good to have some real work to do. Good for both of us; I see how John’s eyes light up when I hang up, waiting for me to confirm that it was Lestrade who had called. “We’re needed?” he asked, already pushing himself out of the chair.

“Jewel thief, here in Westminster. We’ll meet them at the crime scene.”

Two lengthy deductions, a footrace through Oxford Circus, a firefight, and twenty-four hours later, the thief was caught in spite of Anderson’s efforts to be useful. Lestrade was bitching about the number of witnesses who saw John’s illegal gun and – shortly after – the bullet wound to the thief’s upper thigh. John retorted that the thief had been about to shoot me; I merely pointed out that the thief would no longer be quite as nimble on foot and easier for NSY to catch in the future (and he was a repeat offender; I saw all the signs and explained this to Lestrade, but he persisted in being angry for some reason. As if he didn’t know John had a gun. He has seen it at least once before, in Dartmoor, but perhaps he forgot about it.) We left and walked the rest of the way home, still laughing.

In front of our door, I get out my key and turn it in the lock, let John go in ahead of me. As I follow him, he stops suddenly, causing me to walk into him. “Oh, sorry,” he says, turning around with an apologetic look. “Thought I had lost my keys, but I’ve – ” He stops, looking at me.

I suppose I am staring at him. At his mouth specifically, which is at present more fascinating than it should be. (I like the way it moves when he talks. Like it a lot. In general.) Perhaps this is the opportune moment. I put a hand on the wall above his shoulder, then the other on the other side of his head, effectively trapping him in place.

“Er… Sherlock?” he tries, face going worried.

I am looming over him, move closer to study his pupils. To fill the silence, I say, “You were brilliant today. Thank God you still have your SIG. That shot was perfectly timed.”

He flushes a little; I am not always this forthcoming with compliments. (Not like he is.) “Thanks,” he says, surprised but pleased. And there it is: his pupils expand suddenly, like watching a video of a flower blooming in fast-forward. Desire. Tangible proof. I can all but feel his heart rate from this proximity. His breathing is faster, faster than should be warranted from our running and then the post-adrenaline rush in our walk back home. (Notice that I am also breathing faster than usual. That the evidence of my own desire must be equally obvious. If it is obvious, and he knows the signs by now, then he will know that I can see his. Surely the course of action is now obvious to both of us.)

I bend a little, eyes on his mouth. “Glad Lestrade didn’t take it,” I murmur, meaning the gun.

“So am – Sher – what – what are you – ” John stammers, eyes darting from side to side, seeking an escape route. Our mouths are now only inches apart.

This gives me pause. (Perhaps the course of action was not as obvious as previously imagined.) I stop where I am, neither advancing nor retreating. “John,” I start, still very softly, then realise I don’t know what I was going to say. (No plan.) I pause, waiting for some signal on his part.

He looks back into my eyes, too close to hide anything, lips parting a bit, tongue touching his lower lip. “I…” he begins. “I – I suppose we should go upstairs, yes? Perhaps – perhaps tea. Or maybe a drink.” He ducks from under my arms and takes the stairs two at a time.

Fleeing. (I do not understand. He wanted it. I saw it. But then he left.)

I take off my coat slowly. No idea how to proceed from here. Surely I was close enough that he must have at least suspected my intention. Will he pretend that this didn’t happen, either? I leave the coat on the banister and follow him upstairs with a heavy feeling in my chest. (Heart. Say it.)

(No.)

John is clattering furiously about in the kitchen. He says nothing when I collect my laptop from the desk and retreat with it into the bedroom.

***

Things are tense in a different way after that. Somehow John’s resentment appears to grow, not diminish. Then again, to my knowledge, he has continued to be unsuccessful in persuading a woman to have sex with him. Bored between cases, I take to following him to and from work. Mycroft texts me to tell me he’s aware of it, wants to know what I’m up to. I delete his messages without responding.

John does nothing interesting. Goes to visit Stamford on their mutual lunch break one day; there is a small park between St. Bart’s and John’s clinic where they meet. They speak of nothing particularly relevant; John’s face is relaxed. (Wish I knew how to make him respond to me that way – wonderful, now I am jealous of Stamford, of all people. That harmless, gentle sop.) John has stopped touching me around the flat. I notice it immediately, missing the fleeting warmth of fingers overlapping on a cup passed, the way he would sometimes move a strand of hair away from my eyes (and then tell me to get it cut; my hairstyle must bother him when he still maintains military-regulation length himself). (Never realised how much I liked him touching my hair until he stops doing it.)

(I resent the change. Resent it because I don’t understand. He did want it. Somehow I am completely certain of this. Except when I’m not, because the evidence is not complying with the information given by my observations. It doesn’t make sense and I detest things that don’t make sense.)

(I do not detest John. Rather the opposite.)

(It is galling. It is humiliating. It is the opposite of a power-play; it is an (involuntary) power surrender, to feel this way about a person. To want him. To want to be the sole focus of his attention, to want to consume and be consumed by him, by all of it.)

The days pass. I begin to wish that I had not had that foolish inspiration in the doorway. It didn’t work and now I feel that too many of my cards are on the table. He must know. (Unbearable: to think that he knows and is actively rejecting it.) Perhaps things will never be the same again. Perhaps I have finally ruined this. The one truly good, truly wonderful thing in my life.

(Would it have been better if I had more successfully hidden my resentment of his dates?) I torment myself with questions. (Would it have been better if I had been nicer to his girlfriends? More outwardly complimentary of John’s contributions to our cases? More regularly socially acceptable, properly attired, never tactless, less brilliant – less myself, in other words?)

But: a small ray of hope appears. For all my oddities, despite all his unspoken threats, he never did leave. For all his raging and efforts to improve me, make me publically presentable in every respect, he has never moved out, stopped helping me with the work, never found a relationship that has been an actual threat. When I came back from my absence, he came back to me, to our life. He complained, he resented it, he was angry and passive-aggressive, but he did still come back. Is this grounds for real hope? (How does one collect information on something like this? Would put John into the electron microscope at St. Bart’s if he fit and I thought it would help. But he wouldn’t and it wouldn’t. Wish it would.)

I look at him when I think he won’t notice. I teach myself to be more subtle about it. (Did I always want him to know, before? I must have.)

If he notices, he does not comment on it.

***

A text: Donovan here. Lestrade wants to know if you can come and take a look at something. Address is 11 Sudbury Gardens, South Croydon.

I look down and frown. Donovan. (Hate.) Text back: On my way. SH

“Who was that?” John asks.

I start; had not heard him come in from the kitchen. I look up at him. He looks wary, as per the new normal with him. “Donovan,” I say. “Case. South Croydon.”

“Oh.” He brightens. “Are we going?”

We. I experience a certain internal brightening as well, but am careful not to show it. “I thought so, yes.”

“Great,” he says, shoulders relaxing. “That’ll be a bit of a cab ride, won’t it. I’m ready to go when you are.”

I stand and go for my coat. “No time like the present.”

We clatter down the stairs and into the street; I get a taxi immediately and suddenly things are all right again. The work: the work will always fix us, I think vaguely.

(Ridiculously glad to have him there, by my side in the taxi. Where he belongs.)

***

“Sherlock.”

His voice is coming from very far away. Body feels strange, everything is moving. I am in a car, a moving car, I gather. On my back, legs bent at the knees, not enough space. I try to open my eyes; pain blooms behind them. Give up on that and try to think instead. This also hurts. I remember the depressing block of flats, the strange smell of decay, the bodies in the kitchen…

“Sherlock.” It is more persistent. I feel a hand, warm, touching my forehead, brushing into my hair, fingers stroking. “Hold on,” he says, almost more to himself than to me. “We’re going home.”

I remember the noise from the upper storey, snapping something at Anderson about having failed to clear the scene properly, Lestrade snapping back (still peeved over the illegally-obtained gun, it seems) and then the shots going off. I don’t recall what happened. Evidently something happened to me, as I have been unconscious, but it wasn’t bad enough to warrant an ambulance. (Hate ambulances.)

Awareness returns; I become aware that my head is in John’s lap. He is still stroking my forehead and hair, perhaps not even aware that he’s doing it. His other arm is resting on my chest, thumb also moving lightly. (How did I sleep while this was happening? Why am I not wearing my coat?) Nerves begin an accelerated waking process. Chest on fire. Forehead on fire. His hands. “John…” I open my eyes at last.

His face bends over mine. “Hi,” he says, face very concerned, eyes very blue. (Blue as the shirt I gave him.) “You okay?”

“I’m… fine,” I say, unsure whether or not it’s true. (It stopped mattering.) “Taxi?”

“Yeah. We’re going home.”

“What happened? Where is my coat?”

His brows crease a little. “I’ve got it. Do you remember the bloke upstairs, who started shooting?”

“Yes. Anderson didn’t clear the scene properly, and Lestrade didn’t follow up properly.”

He relaxes a little at this evidence that my memory has not been damaged. (He is still stroking my forehead.) “He shot into the pile of bodies in the kitchen,” he begins, with distaste. “And…”

I understand immediately: the built-up gases would have caused an explosion. I must have been knocked to the floor in the blast and lost consciousness. “I see,” I say. “Was anyone else hurt?”

“Donovan took a pretty hard hit to the head, but she’ll be all right,” John says. “We called an ambulance for her. Thought you would prefer to just go home, though.”

“Yes,” I say. Then, “Thank you.”

His cheeks warm visibly and he looks out the window. Then looks back. “How are you feeling?”

(He will hide behind the doctor mask. I understand. It’s fine, as long as he doesn’t stop touching me. Although the hand and arm on my chest are becoming slightly too interesting, and when the hand on my forehead strays into my hair, it feels a little too pleasant.) “Fine,” I say again, letting my eyes half-close. (It’s true, pain in my head aside, I feel very much fine right now.)

“Feel like sitting up?” John asks. “Not that I would necessarily advise it yet, but…”

“No. Better like this.” I let my eyes close all the way.

(Can feel his eyes on my face.) “You’re pale,” he observes.

“I’m usually pale,” I murmur.

“Don’t fall asleep,” John says, a note of sharpness appearing. “I don’t think you hit your head that hard, but you did lose consciousness for a few minutes.”

“Did they get the shooter?”

“What? Oh, him. Yeah, Lestrade popped him in the knee. Surprised his shrieking didn’t wake you, but I wasn’t really paying attention to him, to be honest,” John says ruefully.

His fingers have stopped moving. “Don’t stop that,” I say. Then I go still: had not meant to say it aloud.

For a moment, John is still, too, not understanding. “Oh. This?” The fingers near my hairline begin moving again.

“Yes.” (Relief on multiple counts.)

“It’s supposed to be soothing to victims of head injury,” John says, justifying it. “Stimulates the blood flow.”

In multiple ways, I think, but do not say. “Feels nice. Soothing,” I add, to agree with him.

Encouraged (perhaps?), he slides his fingers more fully into my hair and massages gently. I am shocked by how good this feels, and irrationally glad that the crime scene was such a long drive off. Should say something, make normal conversation to prove that I am awake and to dissuade John from knowing how intensely I am enjoying this. (Cannot speak, though; tongue refusing to function.) “Good,” John says quietly.

“How far are we from home?”

That stills his fingers again. (Is he having second thoughts? If I keep my eyes closed, he won’t see the pupils.) “About ten minutes, I’d say. Maybe less if the traffic is light.”

(Oh. I must have been out longer than I realised. Disappointing, knowing how soon this most pleasant thing will be ending.) I push my head into his fingers. “Don’t stop,” I say again.

Can feel his wariness, but his fingers start again, kneading into my skull, tugging at the roots of the hair and perhaps it was because I was expecting it to be pleasurable this time that it is instantly nearly overwhelmingly so. Visibly so, I realise with alarm, blood shooting southward to pool and then stiffen beneath my hips. I twist onto my side in an effort to hide it, turning toward John and hiding my flaming face in his abdomen, getting a face full of oatmeal-coloured jumper under his open jacket, his fingers still in my hair. His other hand is now resting uneasily on my upper arm and I can feel him looking down at me. “Sherlock?” he says, tentatively. (Not angry. Not yet.)

(Cannot speak. Am humiliated. Should have known to stop myself asking for more of that addicting touch. Am far too aware that my head and face are terribly close to his – no, full stop, thinking like that is hardly going to help. Hear myself make an unwitting noise on my exhale, into his jumper.)

A new stillness comes over him. He is realising. “Oh,” he says, very softly.

“Sorry,” I mumble into the jumper. Can feel even my ears reddening. (Even my humiliation can’t be private.)

His fingers shift in my hair, then – remarkably – resume what they had been doing. “It’s all right,” he says, reassuring. Doctor Watson’s patient is upset: soothe. Tactfully trying to ignore the other bit.

I have my legs pulled up in fetal position; they had been sprawled ungracefully over the too-short seat and the floor before. My left arm is trapped under me and my right curled into my chest. I let a hand curl into an edge of John’s jumper. Should really tell him to stop; at this rate I will embarrass myself even more spectacularly if he keeps up the stimulation, and with my face practically in his lap, I hardly need more stimulation. (Cannot bring myself to get him to stop. Trapped between humiliation and desire like I never have felt before.)

Oh. Oh. Shocked realisation dawns on me, as John’s physical state seems to have lately dawned on him: he is hardening. I can feel it against the side of my skull, through my hair. (He likes touching me, I realise. Likes it a lot.) I turn my face and look up at him in frank amazement, my humiliation forgotten in light of this stunning new information.

He looks back down at me, flushed scarlet, pupils dilated enormously. Meets my gaze unflinchingly. “You don’t have to be sorry,” he whispers.

I hear myself make that same, breathy sound as before. (Must learn to control these.) I turn my face downward into his lap and do something I hesitate to label – nuzzle might be the closest thing, but I refuse to own this word in conjunction with myself – all right, rub my face into his erection. His breath draws in sharply and it seems he is not going to ever exhale again. When he finally does, it is shaky, his left hand gripping my arm while the right clenches in my hair.

“Baker Street,” the cabbie announces suddenly.

(Oh, Lord.) Can barely think about making myself move in my painfully erect state.

John makes a strangled sound and slides his hand into the pocket of my suit jacket. “Wallet,” he manages. “Pay. Then – upstairs.”

I help him extricate it, throw some bills over the seat without looking at them and carefully uncurl myself onto the street. Memories of how I get from the street to the door are extremely unclear. John is unlocking the door, cursing at it as his key sticks, then hauls me inside, pushing me up against the wall of the hallway, dropping my coat on the floor without a second thought. “John – ” I am almost alarmed.

“You maddening, contrary, impossible – ” John mutters, eyes in the region of my mouth, forehead pressed against mine.

In response I latch onto the back of his head and pull his face to mine. (Had never imagined kissing John before a few weeks ago. Haven’t stopped imagining it since.) He doesn’t resist – in fact, he tries almost from the start to take over, as though it was his idea in the first place. I have not kissed anyone since one disastrous dance at a local girls school when I was still in my teens, and then not with tongue. (Tongue seems obvious now.) I have no experience, no technique. Attempt to disguise this and compensate with enthusiasm. (Secretly attempting to memorise and mimic John’s techniques as of the instant he demonstrates each one. Cannot imagine why on earth I have not contemplated kissing John since the moment I was first vaguely pleased by his trim, compact form walking through the door at St. Bart’s. Kissing is, in his terminology, brilliant, amazing, really quite extraordinary. New addiction.)

He draws back for breath for a moment, his breath coming warm and hard on my mouth. “You,” he says accusingly. “I thought – ”

“Don’t think,” I pant. “Not really your area. Kiss me.” It is a demand, and he complies instantly, without complaint, without argument, his small hands unbuttoning my suit jacket and moving closer to me to stroke my back as we kiss again. And again. And again. It is perfection. It must not end. Ever. John’s thigh brushes against mine, tantalisingly close to my penis and I am instantly one hundred percent certain that I have not previously placed a high enough value on the importance of sex. Perhaps even a gross miscalculation on my part. Should communicate this to John somehow? Explain so that he understands my willingness, despite past assurances to the contrary? I pull away to try to speak, but his mouth keeps returning to mine, interrupting, but I try anyway – “John – didn’t understand before, with sex – sentiment – all that – ”

“What?” Kiss. “What didn’t you – understand – exactly?”

(Want him out of that awful jumper.) My hands are both uncertain of their permission, yet certain in their desire, settle for crawling under it, seeking the warmth of his torso. “More important – than previously – mm – given credit for – ” I am woefully incoherent. (Wonderfully. Bugger speech.)

John manages to laugh and kiss at the same time. “Well, I always said – you were an idiot – God, Sherlock, I – ”

I stop. Open my eyes. Want – need to hear this. “What?”

His eyes open. Suddenly he looks a bit nervous, changes tacks. “I didn’t – er – realise. That you really did want this. You said you didn’t – ”

This could be a long conversation. One I would really rather have later. For now, I have more pressing concerns, specifically pressing into the constraints of my tailored suit trousers. “Talk later,” I interrupt. “Upstairs.”

John studies me a moment, then kisses me again. Nods. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. Upstairs.”

(Do not want to give him time to change his mind. May possibly die of sexual frustration if this happens; even walking up the stairs is painful.)

He does not seem to want to change his mind, at least not so far. He pushes the door closed behind me and pushes me up against it again, standing on his toes to push his erection into mine. Seems incapable of not talking. “Can’t believe this is really happening,” he murmurs and puts his mouth back on mine before I can respond. And, “Sherlock… God…” as my lips and teeth move to his neck.

(He likes it. Very much. Am privately elated. Perhaps not so privately, I think; my fingers are no longer hesitant about pushing up his jumper, sliding over his firmly-muscled arse.) He moans, pushes himself into me again. Our height difference is becoming problematic. Think quickly. (Bedroom too soon? Too sudden a transition from tea-passing and shoulder-patting? Perhaps. Floor it is.)

John looks and sounds startled to find himself on his back on the carpet with me above him, soldier instincts automatically fighting back, trying to right himself, regain control. (I am not having it. He is solid but I am heavier than I look.) Take advantage of his surprise to get myself between his thighs, rubbing through too many layers of trouser and undergarment. He stops fighting and arches up into it, still spouting occasional babbles of nonsense and my name. His hands are all over me, back and shoulders and arse, and I am going to come rather too quickly at this rate. (Does that matter? Should I try not to? Where is John in his process? Is it considered indelicate to ask? Need information.)

(Decide to find it for myself.) Fingers twist at his button, the zip, movements against each other momentarily suspended. I need to touch it, feel the hard evidence of his desire, proof on the cellular level, knowledge communicated directly from his cells to mine. So much better than talking about it. Have never touched a penis other than my own. So curious. (Curiosity: not a strong enough term to describe this driving, thirsting need to know, carnally, viscerally.) It feels simultaneously completely new and entirely familiar. (How can that be? Nevertheless: it is.) I feel John’s gut contract with his sudden intake of breath, pulling in away from my knuckles. (Too much? No: he likes it. A lot.) (Am encouraged.) Glance at his face. He is looking at me, eyes a little too wide, small (perfect) mouth pursed. Open. (Trusting? Maybe.) Realise I want to touch his penis with something else. My own. Yes. That seems fitting. Need to know how it feels against mine. I pause, half hovering over him, weight distributed between my left hand on the carpet and my thighs on and between his, manage to pull my belt out of its loops. John’s fingers come to help; he unbuttons my trousers and slides them down the backs of my legs, hands lingering on my arse after, warm through the thin material of my pants, then decides to rid me of those, too. His eyes are on me, on my penis. (Am suddenly self-conscious. Why? He has surely seen me nude or mostly-nude before. But not like this. Never like this.)

John is breathing more heavily, eyes half-lidded. He licks his lips, twice, swallows. “Sherlock…”

(Is this where he changes his mind, now that he himself has discovered irrefutable proof of my masculinity? Of my very-much-sexual-at-the-moment masculinity, at that? Surely an erect penis in the palm of his hand is grounds for a soul-searching sexual identity crisis, if anything ever was. But: I am quite, quite certain that this is desire I see stamped all over his face. Not panic.)

His small, firm, unhesitating hand closes around my penis then and I dismiss all notions of not being wanted. He is not going to run this time. His eyes come up to meet mine. (Am I supposed to speak? Can’t; too much desire garbling my words.) I try a small smile. (Still self-conscious.) John doesn’t smile back, but hooks his leg around mine and, one-handed (which involves a lot of squirming), shoves his jeans and pants down (I take the opportunity to kick off the garments twisted around my shins), and then John opens his hand so that our penises can touch, rub together. At the first feeling of it, my breath catches in my throat and then releases noisily. Had not even imagined that. (Christ.) John is watching me when I open my eyes, breathing through his mouth (as I am), is evidently trying to communicate just with the intensity of his gaze now, reassuring. Encouraging. He puts both hands on my arse and pulls me against him, urging me silently to move. (Am glad he isn’t speaking now. His eyes are enough. Our bodies are communicating in their own, vastly more direct way.) I silently acquiesce and do as bidden, moving against him, legs pressing into his, feel the muscles of my arse clench and release in pattern under the grip of his fingers.

It feels like nothing I have ever felt before. It feels terribly, terribly good. The urgency rises; there is a discernable change in the pace: faster, harder. Any uncertainty on either side is gone, become obsolete. We are both panting, rutting together on the floor like animals, and it is… glorious. The need to legitimize it, explain it, whatever all that was, has evaporated into this much more basic language. The pleasure is twisting in me like a corkscrew, that same liquid-light-golden-perfect feeling of his fingers in my hair gutting through my body, testicles drawing upward as our damp penises rub frantically against each other’s, trapped between our torsos for maximum friction. I am going to come. Can feel it. (Give warning? Just let it happen?) The option of just letting it happen chooses itself before I can decide. Feel more than hear a hoarse moan gouge its way out of my throat. Everything suspends; I am not breathing, vision has gone black, sounds have been swallowed into a vacuum as my entire body tenses and comes hard. It feels like every pore of my body is coming, penis jerking between our bodies, a gush of liquid release, hips and thighs battering John’s as my body wracks itself, teeth clenched. The shudders are still tearing through me, another gush of release, and I think my eyes are wet. Sounds return, specifically the sounds of John swearing, strong fingers leaving potentially permanent marks on my arse as he grips me to himself. Feel my entire body going limp. He takes advantage of this, turning us over suddenly and thrusting hard into me, into my still-leaking penis. His hands clench my hips and he goes rigid, jerking against me. My torso is already wet; his release adds to mine, spattering hotly onto me, breath juddering out through his jaw.

For several moments we just lie there breathing hard, John on top of me, our legs sprawled and tangled gracelessly. I feel too satiated to think. After a bit, John lets himself slide to one side, not taking his legs with him, puts an arm across my chest despite the mess and stretches his mouth to mine again. I kiss back, pleased that he still wants to, even after… So: no immediate regret, then. After a moment or two, I lift a boneless/heavy/languid arm and put a hand on the back of his neck, fingers sliding into his short hair. His hand comes to my face, thumb stroking my cheek, lips gentle on mine. (Definitely no regret, I think.) I open my eyes, he stops kissing me long enough to lift his face a little, looking down at me. “I should get a flannel,” he says.

“No. Don’t go yet.”

His eyes and mouth both smile. “Okay.” Another kiss. “That was… Christ, Sherlock, if I’d known it could be like this, I’d never have let it go this long before we…”

(Did not know this. Decidedly did not know this.) “How long would you have let it go?” My voice cracks between speech and whisper (fourth and fifth frequency formants, brain helpfully supplies.)

His eyebrows quirk up in question. “I don’t know,” he says, honestly. “But you always said you weren’t interested, and then we just… it just never happened.”

I consider this. “I said it once.”

“Yes, our first dinner together,” John says. “I remember quite well. The whole ‘married-to-your-work’ thing. At Angelo’s.”

“After you told him you weren’t my date,” I say. (This feels like a confession. Possibly giving too much away. Must tread carefully. Have read about oxytocin and its damaging effects.)

John looks at me for a long time, as though working something out in that slow, deliberate way of his. “Is that why you said all that?”

Can feel my shoulder trying to shrug. “Perhaps,” I say vaguely. Let my eyes drift toward the ceiling.

“Sherlock. This is important, look at me,” John says, insistent. When I comply, he brushes his thumb over my cheekbone again. “Listen. Why do you think I’ve always dated – when I had time, that is. Have you ever thought about that?”

“Of course I have,” I say automatically. Crossly. “How could I help but think about it?”

“It took me awhile to see it,” John admits, “but it was always just… a substitute. The one missing element of… us.”

I blink, trying to assimilate this within my files of information about John. It slots into place: those bland, uninteresting women, their lack of personalities. Their being so entirely opposite to me, to everything I am, for better or worse. He had everything else that he wanted in me. He was just missing sex all this time. Oh. I look at him and see that he has seen that I understand. “Why didn’t you ever say?”

It is his turn to shrug. “How could I? After that first time, I thought you would nip it pretty mercilessly in the bud. I mean, you’ve always given incredibly mixed signals. Your jealousy over my dates has always been particularly annoying, given how you specifically said you weren’t interested in me, which almost just made me want to do it even more. You’d wander around half-naked in here and then go all sullen when I tried to find an outlet somewhere else. But to answer your question – okay, maybe not that very first night, but I don’t even remember the first time I thought about it, or when I started wanting it. But pretty much always. There was never really anyone else for me, you know.”

This is almost too much to absorb at once. “But – you – ” I search for the adequate words. “You never – I mean, you wanted sentiment, feelings, all of that – this isn’t that – is it?”

John looks troubled now. “For me or for you? Or… for both of us?”

(I already know what it is for me.) “For you,” I clarify. Perhaps it is ridiculous to feel unsure of him when the evidence of at least one aspect of his desire for me is congealing between our bodies, but still. This is crucial.

He looks at me for a long time, as though weighing his words, trying to come to a decision. Finally he says, “This… I don’t want to ask for too much. It can be just this. You’re my best friend. We’re partners, in the work. And now we can have this, too. That can be enough.”

This makes me impatient. “But what do you want?” I demand. “Just say it, John!”

He gives a short laugh. “Well, you’ve always made it pretty clear how you feel about sentiment,” he begins.

I interrupt. “In the general sense. We’re not speaking generally. We’re speaking about us. We are different. A law unto ourselves. What do you want?”

The corners of his mouth tighten. “If I told you, I’m not sure that you wouldn’t get up and run out the door,” he says, pushing his fingers into my hair again.

(Hope begins to unfold in my chest like a bird spreading newly-hatched wings.) “John…” I say, not trusting myself to finish. (Not chest: heart.)

“I want you,” John says, very quietly, as though hoping that it could be denied and retracted later if the words are unwelcome. “I want it to be more than that. I can live with less – I always have, haven’t I? But I want you. I think I convinced myself that I didn’t, that you were just my best friend – and that’s not ‘just’, that’s a lot – but – and that you’re unfairly attractive, but I told myself that I was being ridiculous and that it was just that the closeness of our friendship was confusing me – but if you really, really want to know, I want it to be everything that two people can be. Can have. I want all of that.”

Feel the fingers of my left hand grip his shoulder, breath freezing. I manage to get the words out, just. “Do you… are you…” Stop again.

“Yes,” John whispers. “To whatever you’re asking. Yes.”

I swallow. Swallow again. “You’re – ”

“I’m sure.” John’s face comes closer, but stops just before he kisses me. The thumb that was stroking my cheek moves up to touch the corner of my eye. “Sherlock,” he says, sounding startled.

Oh. That. I am embarrassed. “That’s not – I don’t think I would be the type to cry after sex,” I say, feeling ridiculous. “I think my eyes must have watered during that rather spectacular orgasm.”

(This is true. Not sure if John will accept it as such, but perhaps it won't matter.)

John grins. “That was rather spectacular, wasn’t it?” Then his brows come together. “What do you mean, you don’t think you’d be the type?”

I flounder. (Suddenly rather want to leave the room. He knows this, surely; Mycroft said it for all of Buckingham Palace to hear, for God’s sake.) “I… I just mean that I…”

John’s eyes go soft, eyebrows forming brackets of surprise/comprehension/too much understanding for my comfort. “Oh,” he says. “Oh, Sherlock…” His face is suddenly as full of emotion as the inside of my head is. I can’t help but thinking that if anyone is going to cry, it’s him.

“Stop that,” I said roughly, and pull him down to me again. (Talk: overrated, anyway.)

He gives in without a fight and kisses me properly, good and long and slow. I decide this is my favourite way, after roughly against a door or a wall. Or on the floor. All right: as long as it is John, any way will do. (Am becoming a hopeless, sentimental sop. My brain will rot. Mycroft will crow will glee, after he has found no less than seventy-eight ways to ridicule me about it. Surely he has better things to do. Surely he will somehow evade them all in favour of this. Lestrade and the rest will be insufferable.)

(Cannot possibly induce myself to give a fuck.)

In a few moments, I will suggest a shower. John is a creature of habit, as has been well established. He only showers in the mornings. He only jogs in the mornings, specifically to accommodate his specific need to stand under hot water for the same duration every day at the same time of day, without fail. There have been occasional exceptions, notably after crime scenes or related scenarios that left him covered with biohazardous waste or mud or the none-too-clean waters of the Thames, but he has always complained about it. Will have to introduce him to some new habits, new patterns of behaviour, with specific regard to me. Showering with John will be a new experience for both of us and I suspect we will like it.

(But for now, the floor is just fine.)

***

-fin-