'Sherlock,' John murmurs. He shifts in the bed, hand sliding under the band of his pyjama bottoms. His arm brushes Sherlock. Sherlock moves away, absorbed in the bioinformatics book he'd taken from the London University library.
John moans, arching back against his one hand. The other splays on the bed, knotting and unknotting. Sherlock watches the hand absently for a moment, wondering if he'll have to decamp from John's bed altogether.
'Fuck,' John exhales, face flush. Sherlock smiles.
'That's breaking the rules,' he observes.
'You can't stop me having fantasies,' John gasps.
'No, unfortunately.' Sherlock watches John's hand move steadily underneath his bottoms.
John pauses. 'I'll go someplace else if you like.'
Sherlock considers this. Retreating into his book, he says, 'Carry on if you must.'
It was a learning curve, Sherlock ruminates. A learning curve for anyone stuck with him. Everyone else had failed utterly. Some years ago, the last failure, Ben, prompted Sherlock to simply give up. Ben lasted three weeks – remarkable, actually – before he was reduced to screaming about how Sherlock was so cold, so insensitive. He couldn't just not want to have sex with him. It was unnatural. It was biological fact that they should. It was instinctive and inescapable.
'Not for me,' Sherlock had said very quietly, before turning back to the chemicals which had the potential to burn his face off. He enjoyed the sharp, acidic smells as Ben blustered helplessly in the background.
'You're inhuman,' Ben decided and left.
'Good,' Sherlock said to the door Ben slammed.
Sherlock was relieved then; Ben had cluttered his mind from the start. His first affront was refusing to join Sherlock at a crime scene.
'That is sick,' Ben said. 'Sometimes I think you need to get some professional help, Sherlock.'
Sherlock was certain Ben was right, but Ben meant 'professional help' in an electro-shock and padded walls and straightjackets sense. Sherlock pondered that for awhile – what the sensations of being stuck in a padded room might be like. Recalled how it felt to wriggle out of a straightjacket, the adrenaline a low hum making every touch of cloth electric. That wouldn't have been so bad, he'd concluded, but that wasn't the point, at least, not between Ben and himself.
On the second date, a mugger tried to take them both. Sherlock knocked him flat; Ben hugged a wall and grovelled something predictable and sad about taking their wallets and not harming them. Sherlock had never felt more revolted by a potential mate. Excepting maybe Matt, at university, who had a hideous habit of eating in bed.
Ben insisted they hold hands and display some kind of physical affection in public; Sherlock found this tedious at best. Ben's hands were always sticky and clammy and just not the right tactile sensation. Sherlock suspects it had more to do with Ben's insistence – the way he grabbed at Sherlock – as if he were something to be possessed and owned and trotted about.
'Yes, I am a dog, obedient and compliant and above all physically accessible when you demand it,' Sherlock snapped. Then slapped his hand.
'Playing hard to get,' Ben replied.
His smirk stripped Sherlock. He'd felt more vulnerable and exposed than if he were standing naked in front of Ben.
'Fuck you,' he managed.
'I wish,' Ben quipped.
That was the night Ben screamed at Sherlock. It began with kissing. It had been – alright – Sherlock supposed – though Ben was atrocious at it, bathing Sherlock's face in saliva. It was when Ben tried to undress Sherlock, reach into his clothes, uninvited – unwanted – that Sherlock stood up.
'I told you, I've no interest.'
Then Ben started blustering, turning a dark cherry red that amused Sherlock.
Post-Ben, Sherlock became increasingly brittle. He had been more patient, more tolerant – at least his own version of patient and tolerant – before. After Ben, Sherlock decided he was never compromising again. It was a waste of time to compromise on things that didn't really matter. It only meant that Sherlock had to put up with fools longer before they ran into the massive wall of things that Sherlock would surely never compromise on.
Six blissful years and only himself to clutter his own mind and he found that arrangement very agreeable.
Now there was John. Like so many of the others, he was sometimes absorbed in the physicality of – love – Sherlock supposed was the word. At least, for John. Sherlock wasn't sure what the word was for himself. There was no clinical or objective way to evaluate it, much less name it.
But, for John, love was in some part carnal. Thus, for weeks after they moved in, and then after they reached an understanding of the nature of their partnership, Sherlock worried that John was going to turn out like all the others. He was going to start demanding. He was going to start telling Sherlock that it was inevitable. He was going to say something like Sherlock didn't love him if he didn't also desire him. Never mind that it was the most illogical, base appeal to the emotions kind of argument and would not work on Sherlock.
(In his head, Sherlock very calmly told this mental version of John that he did, in fact, desire him, but it was not a desire solely based upon carnality. Or shagging, as the parlance went. It was hunger for his mind, for his laugh, for his generosity of spirit, the way he softened Sherlock's hard sharp edges and made him appreciate things like the majesty of the solar system. Even if it wasn't the most useful of information, that earth around the sun business. But it had meant a lot to John for some reason.)
But John hadn't.
There had been a particularly stimulating case, involving money laundering. It had kept them up for nearly two full days. The whole time Sherlock shivered with pleasure. John was growing, his intellect becoming keener; it was a joy to feel that he was only a few steps behind Sherlock. That they were locked in a mental embrace of some kind, minds wrapped around one another. But as the sensation sank in, Sherlock became afraid.
At 3 am on the second morning, Sherlock finally threw a pile of books against the wall and told John, 'There are some things I will not do, John.'
John, looking bewildered by Sherlock's sudden and mercurial change of subject from watermarking, said, 'What?'
Then the cracks Sherlock tried to seal up all those years began to open once again. Some of them started with George when they were both thirteen and George had forced him up against the back wall of the school, even when Sherlock said 'No' over and over. George had been bigger and stronger. Sherlock had managed to put some kind of poison in his drink and he'd been out sick for a fortnight. Sherlock had been disappointed he didn't die. But even before George, though, Sherlock had always been this way – different in a manner that most people didn't understand or want to sympathize with. They sympathized with his mad genius, they admired it, they feared it, but that understanding, or sympathy, or fear did not extend to his sexuality – or lack thereof – or whatever the clinical or scientific definition was. At any rate, there were things he was never going to do doing, sexually. He knew this and would mind very much if John respected that and by the way, he could give him a very thorough inventory of those things if it helped. Sherlock realized he'd been babbling; his heart galloped and his breath gusted. He put his hand over his mouth.
John's face, still a picture of bewilderment, softened.
'Sherlock. It's fine.'
'Yes, of course.' Then John added: 'I know you.'
He'd taken a chance then, reaching for Sherlock's hand and squeezing it gently. The firm, calloused warmth of John's palm had closed around Sherlock and he'd trembled. Happy trembling, satisfied and safe.
Of course, John is still learning. There have been times Sherlock removed his hands and told him 'no' and John looked so crestfallen that Sherlock almost forgot his resolve about compromise. But John understood. Perhaps not emotionally, but logically, which Sherlock appreciated all the more.
'At the best of time, my interest in sex is vague,' Sherlock intoned one evening. John lay on the couch and he on top of John, the both of them joined knees to shoulders. He was enjoying John's hand rubbing slow circles in the small of his back, along with a particularly crisp bottle of white wine. 'Most of the time it is nonexistent, I'm afraid.' He'd looked down into John's face and felt comforted somehow. 'You're best trying to deal with your own needs yourself. I can't be bothered.'
John snorted, breath gusting over Sherlock's throat and chin.
'It's not like I can make you do anything anyways.'
'I'm glad you understand that, John.'
John quieted him by kissing him, almost chastely, just beneath his ear. A loving kiss. Sherlock had felt a brief jerk of vertigo and, of course, blamed the wine. He knew it was faulty logic at best, but wine and mood-altering substances were always ideal culprits.
So they discovered patterns and ways of being, a symmetry Sherlock found unusual because there was such pleasing congruency in it. They kissed and touched and curled on the couch or in John's bed together. Sherlock would feel every inch of himself absorbed in warmth and bliss. And if John became aroused or insistent, he excused himself. Sherlock listened to his sighs echo from the next room over. Then John returned to him, flushed and rumpled and Sherlock greeted him like a lover, touching him all over and enjoying how John shivered and shivered in his grasp.
Lately, John hasn't even needed to excuse himself. Sherlock doesn't mind that John does what he needs to while Sherlock translates obscure languages into even more obscure languages, or tries to build an impossible maze because he can. It doesn't bother Sherlock, like others had, simply because John does not expect Sherlock to be responsible for his pleasure. At least, not in ways that Sherlock doesn't want himself.
Most concisely: John lets him exist on his own terms.
John's body contracts and tightens. Sherlock watches him now, the feeling of endearment so bright and blinding it hurts. As John's face clenches, Sherlock drops his book, leans in and kisses John's free hand. John's eyes open wide. He finishes with a jolt that shakes them both. Sherlock caresses his hand, studying John's eyes as they focus and unfocus for a moment.
'That was incredible,' John says.
Sherlock laughs softly.
'You are so incredibly – easy.'
John looks at him and Sherlock swears that he's incapable of thought altogether, even for just a few seconds.
'Sometimes you are too,' John says. And they curl in one another's arms.