All the insinuations she bristled at – it’s so odious to prove people right. But how can Joan begrudge this?
Tonight she’s watching TV on a small set he let her drag out to face the old wine-coloured sofa. Sherlock sits on the floor at her feet and leans on her knee while he plays with something – a child in an attachment study, anchoring with its mother.
She strokes her fingers through his fine, boyish hair. In fact, she would like to stroke the sharp, dark grain of his beard, the thatched quills of his eyebrows , the peaks and troughs of his deep-creased forehead – but this would be intrusive.
Some of the time, having his hair stroked, he butts up into her hand, cat-like. A moment later, he shies away. She takes care to let him go without a fuss. She can tell he is suppressing the full violence of a sudden aversion for her sake. He can never quite bear to inhabit the world of human comfort, not wholeheartedly, not for long.
“Jesus!” she says, jumping. “Is that thing alive?”
She didn't even look at what he was doing. It's some enormous insect in a jar. He's poking it with... a chopstick?
“Sorry!” he says. “I didn’t think.” And he is: she can hear it in his voice. Sometimes his inability to be an ordinary person – though he seldom even likes ordinary people – causes him shame.
“It’s alright,” she says. “Just don’t get it – on me.”
“I won’t,” he says, and settles back in.
She strokes the back of his neck, where the fine hairs form a point. But her heart’s not in it; she keeps imagining something is crawling up her shins. The shadows of the jumbled books up the wall seem to conceal something moving.
“I’ll take it somewhere else,” he says.
“It is freaking me out a little,” she concedes.
Of course, now there is a reason for him to leave, he can’t bear to. Now he’s a cat who’s flagrantly scent-marking her, rubbing the whole side of his face on her leg. She cups his stubbly cheek, rubs his temple, grooms his eyebrow.
Another day. She’s back from jogging. Her mind has been wandering through her surgical career. There’s no getting around that, with jogging alone – the return of the mind to its preoccupations. In Mindfulness, we greet our thoughts with curiosity and compassion, then let them go. The last part has not been a success today.
She did not see him in the front rooms as she came in, so she makes tea only for herself. It’s quite civilised in the kitchen now; Sherlock is better at putting things away, and Miss Hudson comes to clean. Everything is where it ought to be.
There is an intake of breath behind her. “Joan?” Sherlock’s voice says. “You look sad.”
She can tell he was about to say Watson. They have agreed he will do that only on jobs now – but he often forgets.
She wants to deny it. But that would not be good modelling for him. “Yeah,” she turns and says, “but not about anything new. I don’t really want to give it oxygen, by...”
“Talking about it?” he finishes.
He steps forward, hesitant, hands raised slightly from his sides. She accepts the invitation, such as it is, and hugs him. His arms close on the back of her shoulders.
He stands very still, the body language of a person who is anxious about whether he is doing something right.
She can’t see how to assure him that he is, without being patronising.
She wants, abruptly, to fuck – to come on hot and heavy, shove him to the floor, tear his dick out of his pants – while he looks terrified and lets her.
Sometimes she’s afraid she’ll do something awful to him, just because he’ll let her. Because the way he’ll let her will be so lovely.
She pats his shoulder, as permission to let her go. “I gotta take a shower,” she says.
In bed, she likes to examine him everywhere. He’s softly hairy as a monkey all over; she likes to stroke the hair up against the grain, and kiss the skin beneath. Some favourite parts are where the hair stops at the crease of his tattooed forearms, and the little cowlicks in the hair around his nipples. It’s too intense for him, often – she feels his little twitches of resistance. But she can’t seem to stop herself, once her blood’s up.
Tonight she’s on top when they make love, kissing him deeply. His chest heaves with the effort of keeping still.
There’s a noise, of tortured fabric – his fist twisting in the other pillow.
She makes herself sit up on her knees. She’s breathing heavily. “Too much?”
“A bit,” he says, apologetic.
“Want to roll over?”
“Alright,” he says, voice soft.
He’s incapable of self-conscious sexiness.
Once he’s on top, propped on his elbows, between her knees, she holds on to his upper arms and rocks with him.
Soon it’s not enough. She begins to urge him on with her heels.
“Joan,” he says, plaintive. She can smell his sweat. She strokes up and down his bony, damp back, nape to tailbone. “Oh my God,” he mumbles, stricken.
She clutches his ass, needing it deeper.
“Oh God,” he cries, thrusting hard. “Oh, Watson.” He comes, twitching like he’s fitting.
She wakes in the night. It’s very late – there’s only yellow streetlight showing around the broken blinds. She could probably get some curtains now, she supposes.
He is very quiet, his chest still beneath her ear. When she shifts her head, the skin of his shoulder is cold where it has been out of the covers.
“Are you –” she begins, but has to clear the sleep from her throat. “Are you thinking?”
“Yes,” he whispers.
“Get up if you want to. I don’t mind.”
“It’s alright. I want to stay with you.”
She feels she should argue, but she’s too sleepy. She lays her head back down.
When she wakes again, the pale, blue light of pre-dawn has crept into the room. The floorboards look frosted over. He is playing, very gently, with her breast, and letting cold air under the covers.
“I’m not a stress ball,” she murmurs.
“Sorry,” he says, and moves his hand to her shoulder. “You do have very lovely breasts.”
What’s lovely to her is the small quaver of embarrassment in his voice.
“I know,” she says, smiling into his neck.
He finger-combs her hair from her temple, at that.
“Still thinking about the same thing?” she asks.
“Just get up and deal with it.”
“I don’t want to...”
She rolls off him and pushes at his shoulder. “Get up.”
“Are you sure?”
She rolls into the warm spot he was lying in. It smells like him: a child’s scalp with a touch of menthol.
In the morning, he has pulled all the rugs back and built some sort of enormous scaffolding structure beneath the high ceiling of the front room. He’s perched on top of it like a gargoyle, dropping things experimentally on the floor.
“I love you,” she says conversationally, with a laugh.
He looks horrified, only for a second, before he schools his face.
She laughs again, and goes to make tea.