‘So, why didn’t you tell me?’
‘Ah.’ Sherlock opened his eyes just as John sat down. He still had his keys to the flat, of course. Why would Sherlock ask for them back? He would end up having to come home eventually, and in the meantime it saved Sherlock having to get up and let him in.
He gave John the once-over and, having assembled sufficient data, closed his eyes again without having moved a muscle.
‘Mary has obviously seen Janine.’
‘Yep.’ That curt tone John used when he was annoyed. Sherlock couldn’t see why anything Janine had to say would upset John so much. He frowned, but still didn’t open his eyes. Just pressed his steepled index fingers to his lips and continued his mental calculations.
‘Clearly there is something you wish to discuss?’
‘Janine told Mary you never slept with her.’
‘I’m interested to note that Janine is actually willing to talk to Mary, given that Mary only befriended her to get to Magnussen.’
‘Irrelevant right now. Why didn’t you sleep with Janine? I mean, you bloody proposed to her. Did you expect her to buy the product without checking it was in working order first?’
‘You are trying to get me to admit to being gay, John. It will not work.’
‘Are you telling me you are not gay, or that you won’t admit that you are?’
‘I am not gay.’
‘Then why would you not sleep with such a beautiful woman?’
‘Perhaps because I am not as much of a bastard as you might like to think. That would be very low, even for me.’
‘You didn’t sleep with her out of scruples?’ John’s voice was getting higher in pitch, as it always did when he got angry. ‘You’re happy to propose to her. That would be alright. But sleep with her? Noooo, not you!’
Sherlock sighed and opened his eyes in exasperation.
‘What is it you want me to tell you, John? Do please get to the point, because I’m trying to think!’
John scowled. ‘Alright. You were going out with her, but not sleeping with her.’
‘So what was all that ‘don’t go in my room’ and giggling in the bathroom stuff? Were you trying to make me jealous?’
Sherlock actually laughed. He couldn’t help himself. But he stifled the laugh as soon as he noticed the flicker of pain in John’s eyes. With a shock, he realised how deeply John felt about this.
‘Would it have worked?’
They stared at one another, both a little dazed by the implication.
Then Sherlock couldn’t stand the silence any longer. He cleared his throat.
‘Do you understand the difference between jealousy and envy?’
‘Of course I do!’ John snapped. ‘I’m not a bloody idiot!’
‘I’m not sure that you do. You attribute my display of intimacy with Janine to an attempt to attract your attention, to make you jealous that I could possibly share my physical favours with another person. Someone who is not you. I assure you, that was not the case.’
‘You were pretty much flaunting it, Sherlock!’
‘She was,’ he pointed out. ‘I was not. In fact if you remember, I was attempting to get her out of the house as soon as possible.’
‘You were embarrassed?’ Finally light was beginning to dawn in the mind of his little friend.
He shrugged. ‘Had it further occurred to you that, rather than wishing to make you jealous, I was actually trying to capture what had made you yourself so happy?’
‘But… but-‘ John flapped in shock. ‘You’re married to your work! You’re a sociopath! You don’t do relationships! You don’t even like people! Why would you want a relationship?’
‘Is it so hard to imagine that I might be lonely?’
John stared at him.
‘I envy your contentment,’ he continued, feeling his cheeks burn and finding he had to look away to evade the doctor’s intense gaze. ‘You are happier than I have ever seen you. Perhaps I wished to snatch a glimpse of that happiness. To emulate a functional relationship with Janine was, oh, I don’t know, a comfort, perhaps. A distraction. And useful for the case at the same time.’
John stared at him with the expression which always conveyed that, however close to the truth he thought Sherlock’s excuse was, he still wasn’t buying it.
‘It doesn’t explain why you didn’t sleep with her. You wanted the dream, you could have had it. All of it. She would have given it to you willingly. I’ve seen women look like that, mate, believe me. She was gagging for it.’
‘I could not have slept with her.’
‘Because you are gay?’
‘There are other permutations, you know.’
‘So what, are you trying to tell me you’re into something really dodgy? You’re into sheep or goldfish or something?’
Sherlock rolled his eyes. ‘Really, John, is that the best you can do? I’m surprised, I really am, given your medical training, your daily contact with the general public!’
‘Alright, so, you’re impotent?’
‘Of course not!’ Sherlock exploded, getting up and stalking about. ‘Why is it so hard to believe that a physically normal human being simply doesn’t like sex?’
‘You don’t like sex?’ John was completely deadpan.
‘Oh, don’t start that, don’t even think about it!’ Sherlock snapped. This was exactly why he never told anybody. ‘I mean, really, what is so bloody wonderful about it? Its messy and tiring and really rather comical if you think about it, and frankly repetitive, certainly boring, and to be honest, even you must admit that some of the practises involved are quite revolting! Why would any sane human being wish to engage in such a disgusting habit?’
‘This from a habitual smoker and ex-junkie?’
‘You’ve never done it,’ John concluded – erroneously as usual.
‘Of course I’ve done it!’ Sherlock found himself almost shouting and had to consciously modulate his tone with a big, deep breath in order not to attract Mrs Hudson’s attention, since having to explain to her would be intolerable. He flopped down in his chair and flung out his limbs.
‘For heaven’s sake, you know my methods – you know I would never draw any conclusion without thoroughly testing the hypothesis!’
‘Then you’ve been doing it with the wrong person,’ John pointed out.
‘I’ve done it with plenty of people! Who you do it with is irrelevant to the generally repellent nature of the act itself!’
John leant forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and Sherlock braced himself for the confidential advice John always offered when adopting this position.
‘The thing is, Sherlock, it’s always so much better when you love the person.’
‘John, listen carefully to what I am about to say: I am a high-functioning sociopath. I do not fall in love.’
John sat back and eyed Sherlock with a wry smile.
‘Bollocks,’ he said, very succinctly.
And oh, Sherlock knew exactly where this was going.
‘Don’t start. Don’t even mention her name-‘
‘So, are you telling me you didn’t sleep with her? Because you did love her-’
‘I don’t wish to discuss it.’
‘So you didn’t?’
‘John, stop it.’
‘Bet she went like a train.’
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, yes, alright? Yes, I had sex with Irene Adler! Repeatedly! Satisfied?’
‘So what was it like?’
‘How is Mary in bed?’
‘Answer the question, Sherlock.’
‘Sticky, alright? It was sticky and sweaty. And dusty. There was rather too much sand, as I remember. And because of the circumstances, she didn’t make any noise, so it was hard to tell if I was doing anything right. I can’t say it was a roaring success on either side.’
‘Sand?’ Sherlock could see the implications of his words running behind John’s eyes like ticker tape. ‘Hang on, was she gagged? Because-‘
Sherlock rolled his eyes. ‘Never mind. Forget I said anything about it.’
‘John, I am asexual. I’d rather have a cup of tea. Why is that so difficult to understand?’
John looked at him for a long time, and Sherlock endured it because he was waiting for his friend to draw whatever conclusion he was going to, so that they could finish this ridiculous conversation and get on with their lives. And possibly for John to pick up on his subliminal hint about the tea.
John sighed. ‘That’s sad,’ he said in the end.
‘It’s not sad,’ Sherlock groaned. ‘It’s simply who I am!’
‘I just think it’s a shame that you are missing out on something very wonderful, that’s all.’
‘I don’t feel I am missing out,’ Sherlock felt it was necessary to point out. ‘I don’t feel deprived in the slightest.’
‘But you just said you did! You said you envied me the happiness I have with Mary and you wanted it too. And it’s sex.’
‘No, it’s not, John. Your happiness is based on far more than sex, as you are well aware. It is based on both physical and emotional intimacy, and on a shared sense of humour.’
‘So that’s what you envy?’
‘Yes,’ Sherlock sighed, bored of trying to explain.
John thought about this, while Sherlock waited for him to get up and make a cup of tea for them both. He always did this when he was thinking deeply. Somehow, John’s brain did not seem to work half so well without an injection of Earl Grey or Darjeeling.
And presently, true to habit, John got up and pottered about in the kitchen as if he was on autopilot, and eventually came back in with a steaming mug in each hand.
‘Here,’ he said, handing one to Sherlock.
Sherlock sipped. It was good. He missed John’s tea. No one made tea as well as John did.
Meanwhile, John sat down with the familiar frown that presaged a Watsonian revelation.
‘So, let me get this right: You are capable of having sex with another person to the point of orgasm for both parties, yes?’
Sherlock groaned and put his hand over his face. John seemed to take that as agreement.
‘And you are not noticeably gay?’
‘Noticeably? What the hell does that mean?’
‘It means that I’m presuming that you are equally as repelled by sex with men as you are with women, assuming you’ve had sex with a man?’
‘Several. In the light of my lack of enjoyment with women, it was a reasonable hypothesis to test, so I experimented. The gender of the partner seems to make no difference, neither does the age, ethnicity or physical appearance.’
‘Age?’ John looked worried.
‘I don’t have a preference for grannies, John. And I have not assaulted children to ascertain whether that was my preference. Or small, furry animals. Just in case you wondered.’
‘Right. Good.’ John took some time to examine the contents of his mug.
‘My personal preference is not Asian boys or feet or women with red pubic hair,’ Sherlock went on. ‘I do not require being tied up and tortured to achieve arousal. Neither do I prefer large cocks or breasts or bums or any of the other common passions people have. My preference is simply not to have sex at all.’
‘But you long for intimacy?’
Sherlock thought about this. ‘Longing is a rather strong word for it.’
‘Okay, then. You hanker after it. Occasionally.’
‘Occasionally,’ Sherlock agreed.
‘Hmmmm.’ And John went back to thinking.
For a moment, Sherlock thought he had got away with it. But then it occurred to him that he knew that look. He knew that the kind of thinking John was currently doing usually ended up requiring him to do something painfully sociable. And he started to worry about what the future held.
‘So what about hugs,’ John said after a while. ‘I mean, do you like to cuddle? No, forget that, of course you don’t-‘
‘Why shouldn’t I like to cuddle,’ Sherlock asked him, needled.
‘Well, I don’t know, you’re-‘ John blushed and couldn’t seem to finish his sentence.
‘:Prickly,’ John said, backed into a corner. ‘You’re prickly, okay?’
‘Do hedgehogs like to cuddle, John? You know, I really have no idea-‘
‘Don’t take the piss, Sherlock.’
‘Am I taking the piss? I really don’t know that either. If you really want to know, and I suspect I shall not be allowed any peace until you do, then yes. I like to cuddle.’
‘There’s a difference?’
They both slurped their tea. Sherlock put his down, and heaved a huge sigh.
‘I miss you,’ he said.
And there it was, out there for all to see.
‘I miss you too,’ John said after a while.
‘No, you don’t. You have Mary.’
‘It’s not the same, and you know it.’
‘She gives you things I can’t.’
‘Granted, but you give me things she can’t.’
There was an awkward silence. Then John growled ‘fuck this,’ and got up. He sat down on the sofa next to Sherlock and slowly slipped his hands around Sherlock’s waist.
‘Wha- what are you doing,’ Sherlock breathed.
‘Cuddling you, you prat,’ John said, and gently pulled him in so that Sherlock found his cheek mushed against John’s chest. For a moment it was an ungainly tangle.
‘Hang on, I-‘
‘Oh, right, that’s-‘
And then, there they were, curled up together, Sherlock very nearly in John’s lap.
And it was wonderful.
Sherlock could hear John’s heart beating steadily under his sternum, and the gurgle of the digestive juices in his stomach. He was pitched over on his side, his face buried in John’s sweater, wrapped in loving arms. John’s hand cupped that back of his skull, fingers moving slowly amongst his curls. Stroking, almost.
That felt nice. Really nice.
‘You know you can always have a hug from me, Sherlock,’ John said softly after a while. ‘Whatever you need. Surely you know that.’
‘I didn’t know I needed it until you weren’t there anymore,’ Sherlock replied before he could stop himself.
He felt John’s body soften at that, sinking back into the sofa, letting go.
‘Me neither,’ he whispered into Sherlock’s curls.