This fic calls for a lot of thanks. First to introductory, for writing the fic that inspired me and being constant encouragement and a wonderful beta. To toastyeggs for being my BFF and offering good advice. To elledesu for cheerleading, to the wonderful people of #BakerStreet who were amazingly kind and supportive, and beansidhe_baby for the Britpick and additional beta. This is the most gutting piece I've ever written, and I've never been prouder of my work.
You were born Sheridan Olivia Holmes. Your family called you Sheryl.
You didn't like those names but it didn't occur to you to switch to anything else. Not yet.
Your earliest memories are of time spent equally behind books and exploring outdoors. You wore impractical, frilly dresses until you'd ruined enough in mud and tree sap that your mother gave up. Her moue of disappointment is how you remember her best.
Your father, the only one to display physical affection, liked to pat your head and tell you how beautiful you were. How he wished you would dress in something nicer to show it off.
You'd rather he called you clever, like he did Mycroft.
Aunt Matilda smiled with an arm over the grotesque flesh balloon of her belly, called the parasite within her "the most amazing thing a woman can do."
You didn't understand why everyone looked so happy. You found it terrifying, and told your mother as much. It was the first time in your life you'd talked about being scared.
She tittered and informed the others of what you said.
The crowd of women got that awful, indulgent look. "You'll understand one day, Sheryl."
"It's different when it's your own."
"It won't be long before you blossom into a woman. Eventually some young man will sweep you off your feet and everything will make sense."
None of them understood. You didn't want to do anything but grow taller. You liked your skinny hips and flat chest. You hated the idea of carrying a thing inside you, of bleeding every month without any say in it. You didn't know why having those parts meant you wanted the things people expected you to.
You knew biology, knew your body's betrayal was inevitable.
Instead of waiting in fear you decided to dismiss your body and concentrate on your mind. You decided you would never fall in love, marry, or have sex. That, you could control.
The other girls were strangers to you.
They squealed at the foetal pig dissection, cared about boring things. You hated them for being so at ease with their makeup and skirts. You felt like a clown, awkward and wrong when your mother insisted you dress up. You hated being expected to care.
You didn't have any particular affinity towards sports, cars, sex, or violence like most of the other boys did, but you felt more comfortable around them regardless.
You started paying closer attention to how people act. You'd always been good at details.
You saw the way Elizabeth never said the answers for maths questions despite always finishing first, the way Tabitha faked hesitation and stupidity so Deepak would offer to help her.
You decided you'd have none of that and carefully imitated the way men moved their bodies, the way they talked.
Then you started shattering the illusions the girls built around themselves. You weren't sure why you did it, but you loved listing out all the little details that proved you right.
None of the others shared your enthusiasm.
Carl Powers died and your mind was alight the details. You tried to tell the police, tried to convince them it was murder.
They smiled fondly and said "You're keen, aren't you love?" as if you were a kitten playing at being a tiger.
You stormed off to your room, anger reverberating off the walls until you broke things for the satisfying sounds they made. Mycroft told you it wouldn't work. Mycroft was a fat, ugly git but people paid attention to him. Liked him, told him how smart he was.
You thought, People would've listened if I were a boy.
It settled; a deep and ugly burr in your chest.
Your height soared upward but your hips barely flared out, your chest stayed so flat bras were pointless. Your mother wanted you to see a doctor, flinched when she heard how deep you could pitch your voice. You thought your body listened, became what you wanted it to be.
You started your period at 16.
You closed yourself up in your room and systematically destroyed every bit of women's clothing, save the underwear. That was comfortable and you saw no point in changing. You stole Mycroft's old clothes and cut your hair short. Once finished you looked at yourself in the mirror and couldn't stop smiling.
It was worth your mother's screaming.
She and Mycroft tried to dissuade you. They told you how difficult things would be for you, how no one would understand. How it would be easier, better to accept the feminine role. They talked about the hardship of surgery and hormone treatments but that confuses you. You have no particular desire for a penis.
You were the family embarrassment, potential trouble for Mycroft's foray into the government.
You couldn't be arsed to care.
Your name was a problem. It instantly ruined your ambiguity. It never felt very much yours, anyway.
You tried on new names, but none of them felt right. For all they didn't understand you, you couldn't reject what your parents named you entirely.
It was only after your father died that it came to you. You took the first syllable of your birth name and the last of your father's.
You practiced the signature until it was smooth and automatic. You checked off "male" though it irritated you to choose. You made plans to ensure no one would be the wiser, started binding despite the annoyance. Small minds would give you far less hassle this way.
The paperwork went through without a hitch and you refused to consider Mycroft having any hand in it.
You sign everything Sherlock Holmes.
Uni is not quite as dreadfully boring as the rest of your schooling. The laboratory is superior and there is a much larger sampling of people to observe
You meet Melati and find yourself falling for her despite your best efforts. She's everything you aren't, everything you never thought you'd be attracted to. She's made it her own, made it not a vulnerability but a strength.
She wears clothes to show off her curves and jasmine perfume, makeup that accentuates without becoming garish. She dotes on her nieces and nephews, cleans obsessively when upset, and is shyly flirtatious. She discusses her emotions without compunction.
You argue with her on grammar. You find constructed gender-neutral pronouns ridiculous (she's a linguist, she should know it will never catch on) and "their" repugnant. "He" is perfectly suitable despite her protestations of its male bias.
She sparks your interest in cooking. Complex chemistry, textures and tastes, trying to deduce which flavours a person prefers is fascinating. But you don't do it in front of others; it feels like you'd be giving yourself away.
You barely interact with her but that doesn't stop the senseless intensity of your infatuation. You remain at the periphery of her social circle for several months, unable to stay away. You watch closely hoping it will divulge her secret. Something will reveal why your emotions refuse to obey you.
It comes to you as a surprise when she asks to speak to you alone one day. She takes your hand, brown eyes soft, and says, "I'm sorry, Sherlock. I'm a lesbian. You aren't exactly my type."
You spend a brief moment unsure what she means. Then you remember that to most of the world you are a man. You want to tell her, want to explain. The words tangle up on your tongue. You don't know what to say, how to define what you are. Your body is merely a vessel for your mind.
You leave without a word. You strip your life of her and throw everything into your lab work. You learn to push your body's limits so that you barely need to leave for boring details like food or sleep.
You continue schooling because Mycroft insinuated you wouldn't be able to finish. It's a transparent technique but you find yourself wanting to accomplish something tangible. To have something to wipe the dissatisfied expression off your mother's face.
You monitor yourself carefully and viciously stomp out the rare instances of incipient attraction. For three years, it works.
Then there is Sebastian Wilkes.
He's long been on the periphery of your awareness. You occasionally out friends of his because you grow sick of the boasting. You know him to be a manipulative, clever man who cares most about money and what other people think of him.
One of your so-called "tricks" reveals his current girlfriend is cheating on him. But the relationship was doomed anyway as Sebastian is attracted to successful, intelligent men. It only occurs to you later you fit his type. You have no idea how you come together.
A week later you are snogging in his flat. It's messy and almost claustrophobic but your body lets you know that your libido does, in fact, exist. You can't help but be a bit disappointed.
A few weeks of strangely comfortable camaraderie later, Seb pushes you further.
"Seb, wait," you protest as he reaches for your belt.
"I've observed," he says in imitation of one of your deductive feats, "that in all the times we've done this I've never felt your prick. So either you've got a small one or not one at all. I really don't care which it is."
You were wrong. Seb is attracted to masculinity. He doesn't care about the details of your body. The relief unwinds the coil of tension in your spine. Three months in you cook for him and he doesn't stop raving about it the rest of the day.
His circle of friends, rahs destined to be people of success and status, hesitantly accepts you when you have to interact with them. You don't bother to remember their names. Seb laughs unkindly when you explain their secrets, doesn't tell anyone about your body or what you do with him late at night. You prefer it that way. You don't like the thought of people knowing.
You discover sex to be an enjoyable, if messy, affair. A bit dull and not nearly as all-consuming as people made it out to be, but a pleasant enough distraction. You find equal enjoyment in either side of penetrative sex, though you wish toys weren't necessary. You still have no desire to change your body, still find genitals aesthetically displeasing.
It surprises you when sixth months pass, the usual breaking point for couples. You know he's an awful person. You sometimes list out the ways you know it will end poorly.
He cheats on you once. You catch him the next day, a whiff of foreign cologne and lubricant. You know it's a sign you should leave but you don't want to lose the ease of this, of not having to explain anything, of feeling whole.
Things fall apart two months later.
"My parents want to meet you," he announces. You'd known he'd wanted to say something but hadn't expected this.
"You told your parents about me?"
"Yes. They're over the moon I have a serious girlfriend. D'you have anything better to wear when you meet them?"
He's never, ever referred to you as a girlfriend. Or boyfriend, for that matter.
Details leap out to you, ones you hadn't even realized you'd stored. Seb increased the use of endearments, fixated on your chest, encouraged you to grow your hair out and stop binding, asked you to cook most meals, insisted on vaginal penetration more often. Paid close attention to your hands, claimed he went to the jewellery store for cufflinks that never appeared.
Words form on your lips before you register them. "You were going to ask me to marry you after I met them. You would present me as a woman, masculine but still acceptable. Your perfect beard."
"Come on, Sherlock," and you know that voice. It's for lying, manipulating, smoothing situations over. He's never used it with you before. "It's just to make my parents happy. Marriage wouldn't be so bad. You'd only need to pretend in front of them."
Seb always insisted on being the one to purchase and put on condoms. You don't want to think about what that means, what he could have done. Something cold and ugly consumes you.
He goes on explaining it away but you don't listen. You leave because you find yourself planning his murder. He screams, "Heartless, freak, bitch," but you don't respond.
Before you make it three streets over payphones start ringing. For the first time in years you answer.
"Stay there. I'm coming to pick you up."
You want to throw the phone away, reject Mycroft's overprotective high-handedness, but you don't. Your hands are shaking and you want to tear the emotions out of you, delete everything.
Time is elastic; you don't know how long it takes the black car to arrive. You get in without protest but can't make yourself look at him.
"There is a flat on Montague Street. Your things will be there tomorrow."
For once you can't be happier that your brother is a nosy, pompous arse. You couldn't bear going back. You know what you'd do, and you don't want to be a killer. It would be too easy, anyway.
You don't thank him, and he doesn't comment on your tears.
It's almost forgiveness, almost understanding.
University has lost its appeal and you spend some time floundering, hating yourself for letting something as stupid as emotions bring you down. Things are better when you don't care.
Then you remember Carl Powers, remember the thrilling puzzle of it. Now, with all the knowledge you've hoarded, people will listen.
You start with petty crimes and dull requests, honing your skills. You roam London obsessively, building towers of knowledge in your brain to replace all the unnecessary things that had been in there before.
Spiralling higher and higher you obsess over the thrills and the mental clarity. It's not enough. You discover the brilliant edge drugs give you, thoughts pushing at the seams and dull body forgotten.
Mycroft's threats don't even register past the haze.
It takes a weary DI turning sharp at your mention of the obviousmistakes his team makes (really, look at her nail polish!) and asking the right questions. He doesn't want to believe you, thinking your mind has gone to rot with cocaine, but the truth comes out soon enough.
He offers you an unofficial position: access to all the interesting cases provided you clean up.
You settle into this new career, make contacts and curry a long list of people who owe you favours.
Despite an amicable start your relationship with Sally Donovan falls apart.
You can't stand her because she's falling into the trap of many women, too similar to what happened to you. She punishes her own success with doomed relationships with awful men. It irritates you because you know she's too intelligent for it.
You wander if she'd understand if you told her, revealed Seb and your secret, but you cannot make yourself trust her. Instead you continue to shatter the lies she's telling herself. She hates you for it.
You don't have any friends.
Then you meet John Watson.
You think John might understand you. You haven't felt this connected to anyone before, haven't had somebody embrace having their life laid out before them. It's exhilarating.
You feel the beginnings of attraction but do nothing. You know he's open to the idea on a subconscious level (the conversation at Angelo's was quite enlightening) but do nothing.
Sitting in the back of an ambulance with an orange blanket over your shoulders, you feel something surge at the sight of him standing there. You think preventing this may already be a lost cause.
Perhaps you don't want to.
Perhaps it wouldn't be bad for him to know.
Unlike Sebastian, John is a good man. Willing to get his hands dirty (soft jumpers hide sharp edges) but undeniably a better man than most people could hope to be. If you could overcome your misanthropy and put faith in one person, it would be John. You find yourself unable to stop hoping that he'd understand.
"What's this, then?" John asks, holding your menstrual cup with a bewildered face. You wonder if you subconsciously left it under the sink instead of your room, if you were tempting fate.
"It's for an experiment," you snarl as you snatch it out of his hands, heart pounding into your ribcage.
You wait for questions, but none come. Instead he has his bemused, my-flatmate-is-insane look. He goes back to cleaning the bathroom without a word.
You cannot decide if you are grateful, angry, or disappointed.
You cook for him once and claim it is takeaway. He asks if it's poisoned because of how intently you watch him eat. He makes a few pleased noises but gives no other comment as to its quality.
You leave your binder off for a day. Instead of being comfortable, as it is in the privacy of your own room, bumps interrupting the flat planes of your chest make you hyper-aware of your body. You hate it, but wait for John's reaction.
His gaze lingers for an extra 1.4 seconds. He says nothing, and doesn't look again.
How can he be so blind, so stupid? Perhaps you were wrong. Perhaps this was a bad idea.
You get the email from Sebastian, acting like you're old buddies. You hate yourself for remembering how he hadn't cared about your body, how you haven't trusted anyone with that knowledge since. You debate the matter, and feel the need to shove John in Sebastian's face, feel the sudden longing for somebody who knows.
You wonder if John can see the tense line of your back and the way you feel nauseous just at the sight of that oily smile.
He calls you "colleague." He says "I'm trying to get off with Sarah!"
Something inside you shuts down. You stamp down your feelings with brutal efficiency, wait for them to wither away. They don't, but you keep trying, relishing his disappointment in your lack of empathy.
Then you see him in Semtex and everything shatters to pieces.
Moriarty knows. The taunts are constant: sexy, flirting, Daddy, playing gay. He takes all the emotions you've been so careful to control and stretches them to the breaking point. Your mind is scattered in sharp pieces you struggle to hold together.
Beyond the fear of losing John is the fear that Moriarty told him.
Ending the confrontation with a bullet is a relief.
You wake up in the hospital to John reading the medical chart he's surely charmed out of one of the nurses.
Fear pierces the cloud of pain medication. He knows.
"Staring at it won't change what it says." You'd tried, once. You've always hated doctors, hated how much they assume from their narrow little checkboxes, M or F. You see him thinking back, re-evaluating your friendship. "Don't you dare," you snarl, suddenly angry at having everything ruined. "This changes nothing but your narrow perception of who I am."
He looks chagrined and you know you were right. It only makes you angrier. You're shouting, voice hoarse. "I'm sure it's such a relief, your attraction for me explained away, your identity of John the Heterosexual re-established!"
"Sherlock, I wasn't—"
"Don't lie to me!"
"I'm an idiot." His expression is a mix of open honesty and frustration. "I can't say I won't bollocks it up again. But if you're willing to put up with it—"
"Already I endure your stupidity daily," you snap.
His lips press into a thin line before he bites out, "No one's making you. Just explain what you need, Sherlock!" A sigh. "I want to give it—us—a go. Regardless of whatever is under that gown."
"You just saw my chart."
"That's not the point! I'm doing this because we were almost blown up by a madman! Because you're infuriating and ridiculous and I don't know what I'd do without eyeballs in the microwave and violins at 3AM anymore!"
Oh. "Be terribly bored and start limping again, most likely." Your smile is small, crooked, fragile. The anger seeps away, leaving you too aware of the injuries you've sustained.
His laugh is one part bitter, two parts exasperated. He smiles back.
You think of cooking for him, of not needing to hide your body and being yourself, whatever you are. You don't quite trust him. Not yet. But you think you may be able to eventually.