The night his father died, Sherlock didn’t sleep.
He’d been there when it happened, on his knees beside the bed with his father’s hand in his. Which you might not expect, I realise.
People rarely imagine Sherlock Holmes as a man fond of his parents, since he rarely called them, and only visited when he absolutely had to. He almost never mentioned them. It’s as if he’d rather you think that he’d sprung fully formed from the head of some ancient god than know that he’d been brought up like any ordinary child with a father and a mother. He’s always been of two minds about this whole being human lark.
But what you have to understand is that Sherlock loved his father the way that he breathed air; necessarily, autonomically, and usually, without reservation. His mother, the more vocal and demonstrative, and also the more demanding of the two, was capable of being disappointed. Sherlock’s father was always proud of him, and never needed to say so for Sherlock to know it.
He loved Sherlock without equivocation, and loved him most especially, because he always understood that Sherlock needed to be loved so much more than his other children did. And he provided that love without fanfare, expectation, or uncertainty. From the time Sherlock was born, his father was besotted with him, and remained so for the rest of his life.
So it’s no surprise that Sherlock was there at the end, clutching onto his father’s hand and wishing he had the power to turn back this force that was determined to take him away. He didn’t need to say anything. Everything between them was unspoken, but nothing was misunderstood. He went gently, as such a gentle soul deserves to.
And Sherlock did not sleep.
He couldn’t stay the night in the house, though his mother very nearly managed to force him to. His father had just died; he was too restless to stay, too lost, too heartbroken. He walked all the way to the train station in the dark, smoking like it was illegal. He missed the last train.
He walked aimlessly, in wide circles through the village, along the cobblestone lanes and hedgerows in the dark, smoking cigarette after cigarette. He walked as if he could leave what had just happened behind him, but of course he was carrying it all with him, as he always will. There’s no running away from where you’ve been, is there. It becomes a part of you.
He didn’t cry, and he didn’t speak. I can’t say he didn’t think, because he’s always thinking, but I suspect he was doing his best to avoid it. His father would have been waiting for him in every room of his mind palace.
He got the earliest train to London, before dawn. As the sun rose, he texted me with utter nonsense, or so it seemed to me. Medieval row measurements, lintel heights, the train schedule. The layout of a three-storey house in Bermondsey. I thought he was bored and having me on.
It was dawn. I’d been sleeping. I told him to fuck off.
I regret that in retrospect, but at the time I didn’t know what had happened. He hadn’t told me where he was. He hadn’t even told me that his father was ill. Yeah, I still regret that text.
We went straight to work when he arrived back in London. No case was too boring for him then. He solved two cold cases for New Scotland Yard, and spent the next eighteen hours sorting out the details of a triple homicide, predictably in a house in Bermondsey.
I didn’t even know that his father had died until I got a text that afternoon from his brother. Sherlock didn’t want to talk about it, and I could see that. But from that moment, when I got the text and read it, he knew that I knew. I’m not sure it helped. I’m fairly certain it didn’t. I didn’t say anything, though I wanted to. We just kept on.
Naturally, he didn’t sleep the following night either, because, as I said, triple homicide. It’s not unusual for him to go that long without sleeping. Two sleepless nights doesn’t even slow him down in the slightest.
The third night he started unpicking the wallpaper in his bedroom. I found him at half one in the morning with the steaming kettle in one hand and a butter knife in the other, on top of a step ladder. He’d found another layer of wallpaper underneath, from the twenties. Very deco, very linear and iconic. Something had to change, I think. He couldn’t lie in his bed and stare at the same walls he’d slept within when he father was alive. Because he was gone, and I think Sherlock was scared. Of himself, more than anything.
But what do I know. As I said: we didn’t talk about it. Mrs Hudson loved the new look, as it turned out.
He didn’t sleep the fourth night, either.
I think, the following afternoon, as we trolled around Pimlico looking for a handkerchief that would help solve a mysterious theft at Lloyd’s, I saw him start to falter. His eyes were red-rimmed and he stumbled. He started a sentence and lost track of it. It might have been nothing. He has amazing control over his body and his mind when he wants to. I couldn’t do three days without a kip, myself, let alone five. I’d have collapsed face down on the embankment at that point. But he forced himself through it. You could hardly tell.
As I said: I think he was afraid. Of what his brain would do if he left it to its own devices. He was doing his best to keep on. I didn’t argue with him.
His father and I, I think, had a few things in common. We both understood how to love him quietly.
I might have been too kind to him. Kinder than I normally would have been, I mean. It must have acted like a reminder. He snapped at me a few times, but I didn’t rise to it. I knew he was hurting, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him off. I’m not sure that helped either, looking back.
The fifth night I was longing to intervene. You can’t go without sleep forever. But I didn’t want an argument. Not when he was in a state like that. You think he’s made of iron and steel, but he’s more fragile than people imagine. At that point a strong wind would’ve taken him down.
At some dark point in the wee hours, probably somewhere close to four, he came into my bedroom and sat on my bed. That’s how I woke up: the weight of him on my mattress. Thump. Dead weight. He was exhausted.
“I can’t sleep,” he said.
I don’t keep a lot of drugs on hand, obviously. When you’ve got a curious flatmate with a history of drug abuse and a complete absence of boundaries, you don’t tend to. But I had a bit of a sedative in the bottom drawer, left over from some episode or other. I have my own psychological issues to deal with, as you know.
“You want to take something?”
He didn’t answer me. He’d been avoiding sleep for so long, and by then I think all he wanted was oblivion. Dreamlessness, nothing. At that point, I’m not sure he wanted to ever wake up again. I was concerned, needless to say. It was a dangerous time. I’m glad he came to me rather than heading out to find a dealer somewhere in the middle of the night and injecting something that would be difficult to recover from. Or worse. I’d been keeping an eye on him, naturally.
“I’ve got—” I wasn’t sure if I should be specific with him. Did it matter what it was, as long as it would do the trick? I opened the drawer, found the pills. Tipped them out into the palm of my hand. “Here.” His hands were shaking. No one should go so long without sleeping. I got him a glass of water, which he didn’t need. “Lie down.”
So I got up at four in the morning and I wrapped myself in my dressing gown. I was too tired and too disorientated to go downstairs. I was still half-asleep. Honestly, it didn’t occur to me to leave him. He curled up in my bed, and I grabbed a blanket and tucked myself into my chair.
I drifted in and out, but he didn’t sleep at all. He blinked, shuddered, shivered. He didn’t say anything, and neither did I. What’s to say? He stared up at the ceiling.
At five I nearly had to peel him off it. The drugs I gave him, I don’t know. Opposite effect? I’d never seen anything like it. I think he was just too strung out at that point. Well past a second or third wind, his body had started to believe it wasn’t build to rest anymore. He sprung up like predator and reached for his phone. Everything was desperately important all of a sudden.
“Heel prints,” he said, as if that made sense.
“Okay." I rubbed my eyes. I’d fallen asleep in my chair. He couldn’t fall asleep for love or money.
He didn’t sleep the fifth night, or that day, though at that point it was obvious that he was succumbing. He couldn’t maintain a train of thought anymore. He raced around the city, following a few trails that kept him occupied for a while, but nothing productive came of it. Greg Lestrade must have found out about Sherlock’s father, because he too was over-gentle with him, though in his current state, perhaps fortunately, Sherlock didn’t notice.
“No sleep,” I explained when I was certain Sherlock couldn’t hear me.
“Ah,” Greg said. “Yeah.”
Sherlock wouldn’t have been very pleased to know how transparent it all was to everyone around him. But we all understand grief. Even Anderson let him be, for once. He was vibrating with exhaustion, and his eyes looked dead.
So I took him home.
I was supposed to go out with my sort-of tentative new girlfriend Rita that night. But obviously I cancelled. She wasn’t thrilled about it, of course, but I told her I had to take care of Sherlock. I didn’t tell her that his father had died, partly because I wasn’t sure he couldn’t hear me, and partly because I didn’t really want her to know. That’s odd, isn’t it. Should have been a warning sign, but there you go. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, as they say.
Instead, I made Sherlock his tea. Well: I heated up some soup and made him cheese on toast. No coffee, nothing with caffeine. His sleep deficit had reached clinical levels at that point. I switched the telly off.
When he’d eaten, I made him a cup of chamomile tea, which, surprisingly, he drank without argument.
“You’re going to start hallucinating at some point,” I said to him.
He leaned his head back and rolled his eyes. “What makes you think I’m not already?”
Of course he must have been. Imagine what that’s like, sorting fact from fiction with a brain like his. With an imagination like his! I shudder to think.
Sleep is a thing you have to learn to do. It’s a sort of skill. No one can explain it to you, you just have to figure it out. There are all these rituals around sleep designed to calm children down, prepare them to take that steep step into the deep. It’s all cues to remind them what they’re meant to do next. The stories, the cosy pajamas, the dim lights, the soft bed, the lullabies; all harbingers of the tip over into the inevitable.
I was a bad sleeper as a child. At one point my mother had to stroke my back while singing “All The Pretty Little Horses” to get me nod off. It was going on six days with Sherlock, and it was getting a bit scary. If “All The Pretty Little Horses” was going to help, I was prepared to sing it.
He was twitchy when I put him to bed. His eyes were open and so bloodshot that red seemed to be his new eye colour.
“Try,” I said.
I was concerned, obviously. And feeling sorry for him. He is so dangerously human; it’s easy to forget that when he’s properly geared up. Normally he can hide it so well. But he’d just lost his father. He didn’t know how to cope with his grief. So it was with concern, and empathy, and with affection that I reached out and stroked his hair.
His reaction was instant. I could feel him relax, almost against his own will. He’d lost the ability to dictate to his body, and it seemed that I had gained it just by stroking his hair. My fingers made him stop trembling and made his eyes stay shut, so of course I kept on. The lyrics of “All The Pretty Little Horses” were on the tip of my tongue at that point, but fortunately for both of us, they stayed there.
I petted his head and watched his limbs give up and relax. His hair was silky under my fingers, and the skin on the back of his neck was hot. I kept on, stroking him over and over, the way my mother had done to me. He fell asleep.
I couldn’t believe it was that simple. Would it have worked if I’d stroked his head days ago? It was like some kind of magic off switch.
I watched him sleep a little while until I started to feel a bit creepy. Sleep is a private thing, isn’t it. So after his breathing fell into that tell-tale rhythm he’d been so desperate for those last few days, I left him to it. I figured he’d be out for a solid day, at least. Maybe more.
But I heard him get up an hour later.
He was wide-eyed and shaky when I opened the door to his room, with his bare feet on the floor.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him.
“Aren’t you going out tonight?”
“No,” I said. “Go back to bed.” He did, and I followed him. I closed the door and sat on the bed. “Relax.”
I stroked his head again, and he exhaled. It’s unbelievable how well it works; a little attention to his hair like that and he just melts. That’s still true, in case you’re wondering. Even now. It’s his favourite of my weapons against his will.
He shifted onto his stomach and curled his arm around his pillow. I could almost feel him fading back into sleep. All from a little bit of affectionate human contact.
I thought about my mother, and how she’d sing to me, and how indescribably painful it was when I lost her. I trailed my hand down the back of his neck and rested my palm between his shoulder blades. His heart was beating way too fast. I stroked his back, just hard enough that I wasn’t tickling him, but not so hard as to be aggressive. I stroked him hypnotically: down to his tailbone where the duvet kept him warm, up along the strong muscles against his spine, across the back of his neck, and into his hair. Then back again.
Sherlock is a creature of vast inconsistencies. A human paradox. He hates his physicality and would rather be a disembodied intelligence, but takes care in his appearance and spends more time than you’d imagine fussing with his hair. He ignores his body’s needs and is resentful that it has any, but then gives in to it in spectacular and often destructive ways. He is resolutely ascetic from some perspectives, but bathes in luxury in others. I wouldn’t have ever imagined he’d have responded to being stroked the way he did. Even in that state, I thought his body would reject it, somehow. Tense up, defenses at the ready. But it didn’t, and he doesn’t.
He’d always been very self-contained. It occurred to me then that maybe he never should have been. As it turns out, Sherlock is a misanthrope who needs to be touched. Another one of his paradoxical quirks, I guess.
He fell asleep, and eventually, I let him be. But again, he was awake inside of an hour. It was only about half eight at that point.
He padded into the kitchen looking profoundly confused. If anything, the tiny amounts of sleep he’d managed only made him look worse. He was turning a bit green. He blinked at me.
“Sherlock, are you—” is all I managed to say. His expression shifted from confusion to alarm, and then he shot directly into the loo and threw up.
If you’d ever wanted to know what abject misery looks like, you’d have seen it in him just then.
He needed to sleep, and I was going to get him to sleep. No matter what.
This might seem odd, what I did next, but you can follow the logic. When I’m stroking him, he sleeps. Human touch, right? It helps babies fall asleep when they don’t know how to. So that’s the answer.
I got into bed with him.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s not a normal bloke thing to do. When two consenting adults get into bed together, everyone knows what happens next. But I have ransacked my psyche on this one. I wasn’t thinking about having sex with him. His father had just died, he was feeling ill. He had just vommed the remains of a tin of tomato soup, cheese on toast, and the doughnuts from New Scotland Yard's break room, and he smelled of stale cigarettes and bile. He was severely sleep-deprived. He was hallucinating. Trust me: I wasn’t aiming to cop a cheeky feel, or anything. I wasn’t even thinking about whether or not I wanted to.
Intimacy, well, I wasn’t thinking about that, either. I didn’t need to. It was just there between us, more visible and unavoidable because of Sherlock’s agony and his suddenly very obvious need to be touched. He was grieving, badly, and there wasn’t space for me to pretend I had a problem with touching him, or caring about him, or, in fact, with loving him. I just did, and I needed to, and he needed me to. I won’t tell you it was brotherly or any nonsense like that. I have a sibling, and our relationship is not particularly fond. I would have felt far stranger cuddling my sister to sleep than I did Sherlock, and I suppose that means something I should have paid attention to.
But I wasn’t thinking about any of that at the time. I was thinking about Sherlock, and how much pain he was in, and how desperately he needed to sleep. Lack of sleep will kill you eventually, you know. He was suffering. I thought I knew how to stop it. That’s all.
So I got into bed with him. I pulled him into me, I tucked his head under my chin. If I held on to him, let him sleep against me, stroked him whenever he seemed restless, perhaps he’d keep on sleeping. It was easy, like that, to stroke him from his head to his tailbone with my left hand and run my fingers along his arm with my right. I tucked his knee in under my calf. I think I hummed a little bit, just in case the song was a key missing part of the process.
He didn’t object. He was so knackered I’m not sure he even knew what was going on. He’d already admitted to hallucinating; I’m not entirely sure if he realised I was actually there. But it worked. He slept, and eventually, after feeling his chest rise and fall against me for an hour or so, breathing in the familiar scent of him, so did I.
I can’t tell you what I dreamed about. Not because I don’t want to. It’s only that I don’t remember. I’m pretty sure whatever it was was more honest and insightful than I was at the time, because I woke up in the night, found myself with Sherlock in my arms, fast asleep, and I kissed his temple and ran my hand up under his t-shirt, against the hot skin of his back. He shifted closer to me, but didn’t wake up. There was nothing about it that seemed wrong, or difficult, or troublesome in any way. He was my friend, my best friend, the absolute centre and north star of my life. And in that moment, he was alright, and that’s what mattered. And I wanted him even closer to me.
I woke up the next morning because my bladder was painfully full, and Sherlock was still fast asleep on my shoulder. Good, I thought. Good. It worked. But I had to pull myself out from underneath him to go to the loo. He was still asleep when I got back. Surely he’d got the hang of it now. I figured he’d sleep at least a few more hours without me. A thought which, you know, I can admit in retrospect, came with a little pang of regret.
I took a shower, got dressed, and then put the kettle on. I didn’t question any of it, not for a second. It worked, so it was good. Why question the things that work, right?
About half an hour later Sherlock stumbled out of his bedroom into the kitchen, looking a little stunned and groggy. His hair was sticking up all over the place, and that was probably my fault, given that I’d been jamming my fingers into his hair off and on all night. He had one slipper on. He cocked an eyebrow at me. I wondered if he was trying to work out whether any of this was real. He had been hallucinating, you remember.
“Breakfast?” I folded the paper and stood up.
He blinked at me. Still not sure.
“You should eat,” I said. “You didn't manage to keep any of your supper down, and It’s nearly ten.”
“Alright,” he managed. His voice was cracked and dry. I poured him a cup of tea.
There is such a thing as a sleep debt. Six days and five sleepless nights aren’t repaired by one decent sleep. In a way I think he was more impaired after the sleep than he was before it, but the twitching was gone, at least. He wasn’t green in the face anymore. He had breakfast and then fell asleep in his chair. But he startled himself awake after about ten minutes, then slunk off into the loo for a bath. I think he fell asleep in there, too. Not for long, though.
He was determined to go about an ordinary day, but it didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. He was easily distracted, he had trouble following a thought. But no harm done; we didn’t get up to much.
One of the boys from New Scotland Yard brought a box of files Sherlock had requested, and he spent much of the afternoon comparing documents, scouring the internet, and staring off into space. I went out for a quick shop, and when I came back he had his fingers tangled up in his hair, eyes trained on a bit of note paper. I watched him run his thumb across the back of his neck in much the same way I had done. I wondered if he was remembering it. I wondered if he knew that it wasn’t a hallucination. It’s possible he didn’t.
Sherlock doesn’t have the same boundaries as other people do, so terribly intimate things occasionally happen between us, and they don’t necessarily mean anything in particular. I stopped caring about that sort of thing long ago. I wasn’t feeling threatened. I wasn’t questioning my sexuality. I was a widower, and I had a girlfriend at the time. An annoyed girlfriend, but still.
I left him to have dinner with her.
“Why do you have to help him all the time?” she asked, sticking her fork into her salad. “Doesn’t he have a family who can take care of him?”
She was irritating me. It would be easier if I told her the truth, but I didn’t feel like it was my story to tell. Not to her, at least. Which is a bit odd, isn’t it. I told everyone else. I told Mrs Hudson, who got teary-eyed and immediately brought Sherlock an over-indulgent tray of biscuits. I told Greg. I even told Anderson. But I wouldn’t tell my girlfriend.
“Not really,” I said. “He’s very...particular.”
“Well,” she said. “So am I.”
She wanted me to stay over. For the first three weeks we went out she wouldn’t let me stay, and I really wanted to. I’m a average bloke, an average human being, I should say, I crave that sort of physical contact. Obviously. And there she was, insisting that I sleep with her. She was on the verge of disrobing in her front room. How things had changed! We always want what we can’t have, don’t we.
I couldn’t tell her that I wanted to sleep with Sherlock instead. That I had to. That wouldn’t have gone over well. I needed to be with him. Rita wouldn’t understand, so there was no point in trying to explain it.
I realised then that no one would ever really understand, other than Sherlock and I. Relationships are like that. You have things between you that only make sense when you’re with each other, and if anyone else knew about them, they would think you’re both barking mad.
So I went home. He was playing his violin. I sat and listened.
I know a lot of people find him difficult and off-putting, and I understand why. But I cannot overestimate how much I love him, how much I’ve always loved him. I sat there listening to him, watching him in the half-light playing his out his agony in front of a tray of biscuits, two open windows, and me, his biggest admirer. My heart was breaking from the music, from his hunched posture and the shattered look on his face. I loved him then as much as I’ve ever loved anyone, and I felt certain that somehow that was helping.
When he was done, he crumpled. He was still so tired, and so destroyed in every way. He put his violin down and nearly fell to his knees. I went to him and held him. He didn’t cry. We didn’t talk. I stroked his hair. I kissed his temple, which was probably rash. But his playing always brings that out in me.
I brought him to bed. I got in next to him. He fit into me like a puzzle piece. I stroked him, and I could feel him melt. I held him for a little while until his ragged breathing settled. I thought he was falling asleep. But he propped himself up on his elbow and kissed me on the mouth.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s a pretty clear indication of something changing between us, isn’t it. Undeniably, right? But circumstances being what they were, it didn’t feel like that. It didn’t feel erotic. It felt like words, like thank you and please and I need the galloping in my head to stop, and maybe even I miss my dad and I don’t know how to deal with that. It wasn’t sexual, if you know what I mean. It was intimate, yes, but we were. I thought it was please don’t leave me yet, and I kissed him back to say of course I won’t, you idiot. After that he nestled in closer to me and fell asleep.
The funeral was awful.
Well, that’s not fair: it wasn’t an awful funeral. It was a nice funeral, as funerals go. Sherlock’s father was well-known in the village, and more people than I’d expected turned up. I mean: more people turned up than I think live in the village. No one knew he was so popular. His mother fretted about whether there would be enough food for them all, but it worked out alright in the end.
Unlike other funerals I’ve been to that were presided over by a pastor who’d never met the deceased, the village vicar knew Mr Holmes well, and had plenty of lovely stories about his kindness and generosity and his fondness for DIY to makes the crowd in the chapel smile and dab at their eyes. It was only awful because of how difficult it was for Sherlock.
Fortunately no one asked him to speak. I’m not sure he could have. He sat ramrod straight with his mother and his brother until it was over. I could feel him vibrating from where I sat in the row behind him. I wanted to reach over and put a hand on his shoulder, but I didn’t. I wish I had.
After the service, he had to stand and accept condolences from a staggering number of well-wishers, almost all of whom wanted to hug him. I stood next to him and took his hand. I stroked his palm with my thumb, and I could see him unspool a little. Human touch, as I said. It’s a bit magical.
I lost track of him briefly at the reception. His brother, who only looked tired and a bit defeated, pointed me to the cloakroom.
I take it there’s a bit of history there, but I didn’t ask. I can imagine a young Sherlock retreating to cloakrooms when expectations of him rose too high. He’d probably hidden inside that very one at some point in his youth. Or many points, come to think of it.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned just what a significant moment it was. I opened the door of the cloakroom and saw him in there, shadowy, with his back to the door. Hiding. I closed the door behind me. If he wanted to hide, I would hide too. I reached out to him. He let me hold him without saying anything. It felt familiar by then, appropriate, even. He rested his forehead on my shoulder. Throughout his grieving, that afternoon in the cloakroom was the only time he allowed himself to cry.
I slept with him that night, too. And I have to admit, there was a fair bit of kissing that went on. I wasn’t trying to get anywhere with him, though that may defy belief at this point. I just loved him, and he was terribly sad. He was raw and tattered. and I wanted to comfort him, and it was so obvious that kissing him did, so it was simple. We buried his father that day. I would have done anything for him.
How selfless of me! Oh, I know. What a load of bollocks.
I can’t say it wasn’t— Well. It’s not that it wasn’t stimulating. It was, it certainly was, though I kept the evidence of that to myself. It was calmly, pleasantly, undemandingly seductive. We could have gone on for hours without any particular end goal. Maybe that’s a function of age, really. It was just...nice. We were very close, obviously, but we always were. It’s just that it was suddenly expressed physically. So it felt fairly normal, being moderately aroused in his presence, which I suppose is also a red flag I might have paid closer attention to. Sometimes these things creep up on you.
I lay in bed with him in the dark as if we were the only ones in the world, my hands on his skin, his lips against mine, and didn’t once think about my then-girlfriend. I was, I suppose, being unfaithful. I genuinely didn’t frame it that way at all. It was just a provision of comfort, which Sherlock needed, and who else was going to give it to him? It was the physical embodiment of years of intense and committed affection.
We don’t talk about this sort of thing. He doesn’t say, John, my father died, I’m terribly depressed and you’re the only person I trust. Would you make me a cup of tea? And I don’t say: Sherlock, you raised me out of a suicidal spiral through the sheer force of your personality, so yes, of course I’ll make you a cup of tea. It made sense to me that, instead of talking, we would find some other way to communicate those sorts of things.
You can take the longer road, but it has the same destination as the short one. I know how this all sounds, and you’re right to think I should have seen it for what it was. I was in denial. I’d decided not to consider the implications of it as long as we kept our pants on. Which we did. For a while.
His sleeping got better a couple of days after the funeral. He didn’t need to sleep with me in order to manage it, though that didn’t exactly stop us. But the practice became less consistent. I spent a couple of nights at Rita’s, though I have to admit it felt a little hollow. I couldn’t put my finger on why. I thought I was just wrung out. There were years of emotional weight in every look between me and Sherlock at that point, so of course no one could compete with that. Both mornings I came home so early he was still asleep, and I can’t say I didn’t climb into bed with him.
But we slept on our own more and more. Like it used to be. When he wasn’t curled up against me, I missed him. But I was pleased that he was getting back on his feet. Our days went back to normal, for the most part.
Rita broke up with me. Unsurprisingly. Like every other girlfriend I’ve ever had, she didn’t like feeling like she always had to compete with Sherlock for my attention, and never winning. They all had a point, I must admit.
It was okay. The shine had worn off of whatever was between us by then, frankly. What can you do. My priorities were elsewhere.
One night, two weeks or so after the funeral, he came up to my bedroom. The weather had turned cold, he’d solved a case that evening. It was a complex one: he connected a missing painting from the National Portrait Gallery, two murders, an identify theft, and a lost dog. Amazing. He stood at the door, as if he wasn’t sure if he should come in. I pulled the duvet aside for him. It had been a few days. More than I’d liked. He was, of course, welcome.
I should tell you that, through all this, he never seemed uncomfortable with what we were doing, but he wasn’t much of an initiator. He took things as they came. He left it up to me, for the most part. Him at the door like that was a bit unusual, but what happened after that was very much more so.
He got into bed with me, and snuggled into my arms, as had become fairly normal at that point. We kissed a little. I stroked his hair and he exhaled into my neck. I felt the usual libidinous uptick that made the rest of the world fade into nothing. But rather than sink into sleep as he normally would, letting me stroke his back and pretend that mates absolutely do this sort of thing, Sherlock pulled back a little and leaned on his elbow. The last time he did this, he kissed me on the mouth. We’d accepted that practice already. This time, he slipped his hand up under my t-shirt. He was just a smudged shadow in the faint light from my window as his hand drifted against my stomach, but I could see him watching me. Testing me, maybe. It see what I would do, how I would react.
As I said, he wasn’t much of an initiator. I stroked him, he didn’t really stroke me. Well: he did a bit. But mostly it was me, and he’d never ventured onto bare skin.
My libidinous uptick rose sharply. It didn’t seem appropriate to make that too obvious. As I said: pants. But this was a shot of lust as powerful as a swift kick the groin, so it was challenging.
He watched me. Even in the dark I could see him press his lips together, concentrating, as his fingers circled my left nipple. I couldn’t control my breathing. He knew what he was doing to me. There’s no way he couldn’t tell.
He knew. And I knew. That was different; there was no denying this. It was sexual. Absolutely. He meant it that way.
This thing between us went from easy, low pressure comfort and intimacy to pure, unalloyed eroticism in a matter of seconds. I wasn’t really sure why, or how exactly that happened. But the last thing I wanted to do was stop him. He was watching me, evaluating my reaction. I suppose I’d been giving him some very mixed signals. He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t be.
I didn’t immediately understand that we were about to become lovers. I was still a bit in comfort-distribution mode. I thought I was going to opt for a sort of affectionate neutrality in this case, keep the lusty reaction to myself. That’s how I felt about him: I’d give him whatever he wanted, whatever he needed. If he wanted to touch me like this, he was welcome to. I was prepared to lay myself open for him. I thought I was still in control of the whole thing. If he wanted to experiment with me, let things go in that direction a little bit, that was alright. Wasn’t it? I could feel his erection against my hip. I wanted him to know that it was alright. What’s a little bit of groping between mates, right? It’s for a good cause. Probably.
But then his hand shifted onto my lower stomach. And his fingers dipped below the waistband of my pajamas.
My neutrality went out the window in about five seconds.
He leaned down and kissed my neck. He’d done that before, but it was different now. It was electric, it made my stomach turn upside down. I meant to keep my hands to myself, but I found my fingers in his hair again, and he moaned into my skin. Everything was different now. Everything, even though I’d been stroking him and kissing him for weeks. It was completely, utterly different.
Did you play a musical instrument at school? No? That’s too bad.
I learned the clarinet.
The thing about a clarinet: it’s got more than one register.
The first register is easy; all your fingers on a key for the lowest note, to the highest note. But there’s the last little key on back unlocks the second register. Press it, and the sound you produce is completely different. Your fingers are doing the same thing, but you get entirely different results. It sounds brighter and clearer, like a different instrument altogether. It feels different. All because of pressing that one little key. One key, and the whole instrument changes.
It felt like that. Like he’d reached for my skin and pressed some hidden register key, and turned us into lovers.
I was suddenly profoundly aware of how much I wanted him. I had no idea how much until that moment. I’d slept with him against me so many times, and in retrospect, I don’t know how I did it. I’d touched him, I’d kissed him. But suddenly I could barely contain myself. There was no part of him I didn’t want to touch. Kissing him made me groan into his mouth. The pants came off, needless to say. When I stroked him then, it was as if I never had before. Virgin territory, so to speak. Isn’t that strange?
He was awake before me the next morning. He looked rosy in the light, rested and comfortable. The whole night, the last few weeks telescoped out in front of me and I had to laugh. Apparently, I can talk myself into believing anything as long as it keeps me unproblematically close to him. As long as it doesn’t make me question how, and why, Sherlock is the core of my life and my well-being. I’ll do anything.
“My dad liked you,” he said. We had not, at any point in the last three weeks, ever spoken about his father.
“Did he?” I took his hand and squeezed it a little.
“He said you were the sane one.”
“What, between you and me?”
It’s not quite true, is it. But I knew what he must have meant. I’m the bit of practicality in Sherlock’s life. I’m the feet of clay to his head in the clouds. I’m the one that remembers to buy the loo paper. I’m the one holding his hand.
His father would approve. Sherlock knew that. His father wanted him to have a sane one to take care of him, and that’s me.
“Well,” I said. “That’s an awfully low bar.”