What should have been the last straw – what would have been the last straw for anybody normal, John told himself later – the absolute nadir of Sherlock's respect for the personal boundaries of others - came a few months afterwards.
Things had been going well with Sarah - very well with Sarah. She liked John, a lot. Hell, she even got on with Sherlock, which was pretty bloody amazing. She and John had been having sex for a while by that point. They were even beginning to skirt around the L Word, and it had been a long time since John had dared consider using that again. She gave him a buzz and a feeling of confidence that was different to the thrill and confidence that being Sherlock Holmes' best friend and fellow adventurer brought him – not any greater, or any less, just different. Different in a good way. In a really very good way. Which was why – one of the reasons why – one of the many reasons why what he really, really didn't want while he was halfway through a particularly lovely session of full sex with her was for Sherlock to burst in on them and demand that John sniff the Petri dish he was carrying.
Unfortunately, that is precisely what, on this occasion, happened.
'What does this smell like to you?' asked Sherlock, shoving the dish under John's surprised nose.
'Sherlock' hissed John, frozen in his position as he wrestled internally over which the less horrifying option would be - to pull out or to stay exactly as he was. 'Not the best time.'
'But this is important, John.'
'So's this. Her. You did realise I have company, surely…?'
Not one for being spoken about as though she wasn't in the room with them, Sarah gave Sherlock a cheerful 'Evening,' from beneath John.
Sherlock nodded, perfunctorily. 'Hullo, Sarah. Keeping well?'
Sarah gave him a little nod. There was a pause. Sherlock still didn't move. 'You?'
Sherlock sighed, and sat down on the bed, next to the unfortunately coupled pair. 'Still got this bloody head cold. Can't smell a wretched thing. Very frustrating.'
'Yes,' muttered John. 'Well, speaking of frustration…'
'Does this smell like almonds?' interrupted Sherlock pushing the Petri dish into their faces once more.
John sighed. 'Sherlock, would you please just…'
'No,' replied Sarah. 'No, it smells more like… like vinegar, I suppose.'
'Vinegar?' repeated Sherlock, suddenly enraged. He got up from the bed. 'Vinegar? Bollocks. Bollocks!' He clawed at his hair with his free hand in utter impotent fury for a moment, then collected himself, just as abruptly. 'Oh well, back to the drawing board. I'll leave you two to your… fornications.' He waved his hands at them in a vague gesture of dismissal and distaste. 'Don't touch the test tubes on the coffee table when you emerge.'
John's bedroom door slammed shut again, and Sherlock was gone. John stared into the middle distance for a moment, pole-axed, blinked and shook his head.
'I am so, so sorry. This flat is a bloody Loony Bin.'
Sarah was already giggling; the spasms of her belly tickling against his. 'Hate to break it to you, but I sort of worked that out on our first date.'
'I mean,' continued John, 'that did actually happen, didn't it? I didn't imagine that. He actually came in, sat down on my bed and tried to have a conversation with us while I was… you know. In you.'
Sarah's giggle fit grew harder. '"Fornications"! That was the best bit.' She wiped a tear of mirth from her eye. 'That's better than my ex's 4 year old who used to try to get into bed with us during sex because she said her Barbie doll was afraid of the dark.'
John shook his head again. 'I'm going to bloody kill him.'
'You wouldn't dare.' Sarah stopped giggling, and lay back with a mocking smile. 'We'd all be so bored if he were dead.'
'Good point,' John admitted. 'Fine, then we'll just have to get our own back another way.' He thought for a second. 'Next time he's in the bathroom and he starts singing, join in.'
'He'll know we're listening. He hates that. I once accidentally joined in with the harmony to "A British Tar" and he was in a filthy mood over it for the rest of the day. I don't think he's physically capable of going if he knows somebody can hear him.'
'Toilet humour,' concluded Sarah.
'Toilet vengeance,' asserted John.
Sarah nodded, then got up and started looking for her clothes.
'Where are you going?' John asked.
'Oh,' sighed John. He rubbed his face. 'Sorry. Sorry – I've been living like this for so long now, I keep forgetting this isn't how normal adults carry on.'
'Oh, I'm coming back,' Sarah replied. 'I'm only going to collect my Casio Keyboard. Why just join in with the bathroom singing when I can accompany him?'
John barked out a brief laugh, then sat back, beaming. 'Sarah, I think I might love you a little bit.'
Sarah shot him an impish grin. 'I think I might love you a little bit, too.'
Sarah continued to be the only person John brought back to his room. And since she was so understanding of the situation with Sherlock – and, since Sherlock never barged into John's room unannounced again after his bathroom rendition of Fauré's 'Libera Me, Domine' received an improvised keyboard accompaniment – John continued to push getting that lock to his bedroom back down his list of priorities. Sherlock never brought anyone back to his room, that John knew of. Which was why, when the sounds of a scuffle came from Sherlock's bedroom one night, John assumed that it was another incident like the attempted drowning in the bathtub, and charged straight into Sherlock's room, with a fire poker held aloft.
Sherlock, side on in his bed on all fours and absolutely stark bollock naked, snapped his head up and across at his friend, irritably. John found himself frozen to the spot, mortified. Underneath Sherlock, at 180 degrees to the line of his body and similarly naked, was a nicely built woman in her mid 40s. At John's sudden entrance, Sherlock had definitely, unmistakably raised his head up from the woman's pudenda. The insides of her thighs were slick with spit and… other bodily fluids. As was Sherlock's chin. As for what the woman was doing with her mouth… ah. Yes. That was his best friend's penis, all right.
Sherlock gave John a pointed look that very clearly said 'do you mind, John, I'm rather busy indulging in oral sex with this individual at present. If you could discreetly leave the room and wait elsewhere until I'm finished, that would be far more helpful than what you're doing right now.'
John flushed and did as he had been wordlessly asked. He went into the kitchen. He picked up a book. He put it down again. He did the same with a magazine. And then, for want of anything else to do with his hands, he put some toast on.
Sherlock was out of his bedroom just as John was buttering the second round of toast. He tied his dressing gown tightly around him – as if there was any point in retaining an air of modesty after what John had just witnessed – and hurried to the fridge.
John continued to look down at his piece of toast. 'She seems…' he struggled to find an adjective. '…nice.'
'Really?' Sherlock's voice practically dripped with disagreement and distaste as he unscrewed the cap of a bottle of Diet Coke from the fridge. He walked over to the sink, chugging a mouthful, then swilled and spat. 'Comes across as perfectly ghastly to me.'
John slid a sideways look at his friend. 'Well, you're the one who's sleeping with her…'
Sherlock's bedroom door opened again, and out slid the woman, wrapped in a bath towel – one of John's bath towels, to be precise – one that John had been looking for for a good three weeks. She stared at John, a little put-out.
It was as if somebody had flipped a switch in Sherlock. He glided over to meet her, his facial and physical expressions absolute pictures of affection and lust. He looked like some kid in the honeymoon period of his first great love affair.
The woman's expression softened as Sherlock wrapped his arms around her and pulled himself behind her so that he was hugging her back against his chest.
'This is my housemate, John,' Sherlock explained. 'John, this is Debbie.'
'John,' grinned Debbie, revelling in John's embarrassment as Sherlock started nuzzling the crook of her neck. 'Hope we didn't disturb you.'
'No, no,' John protested, 'I was just… making this toast, and…'
'I'm afraid I haven't really mentioned you to John,' added Sherlock as he moved his mouth upwards to nibble Debbie's earlobe.
'I'm, um… not exactly a single girl,' Debbie admitted to John in over the top conspiratorial tones. 'You won't mention any of this, will you, John?'
'No, of course, of course.' John inspected his toast once more.
'He's seen worse,' Sherlock said.
'With you?' Debbie pushed a hand up through his hair. 'I don't doubt it, babe.' She planted a light kiss on his chin. 'I need to take a shower. I'm all sticky.' She caught John's eye and gave him a quick wink before he was able to find his toast terribly interesting once again.
Sherlock still didn't release Debbie. 'Think you need somebody to scrub your back?' he mumbled into her neck.
'Oh,' sighed Debbie, regretfully, 'I don't have long before he expects me home, so I've really got to go soon. I know what you're like – we'd still be in the shower at midnight if you were there with me. Next time, yeah?'
'Can't wait.' He took his arm from around her, but pulled her in for a kiss before she went – it was a quick, fond, goodbye kiss, but she responded by opening her mouth to the kiss, to which he responded by very visibly sliding his tongue between her parted lips.
John took a moment to scrutinise his toast once more and weigh up whether or not it could do with a bit of marmalade on it as well.
Debbie pulled away from the kiss. 'I've got to hurry.
Sherlock released her, keeping a hold of her hand until their arms could no longer reach as she crossed the room. 'Missing you already.'
She winked again, and left the living room to hurry upstairs to the bathroom. Whatever switch it was that had been making Sherlock act like a horny teenager was turned off again the instant that the door closed behind her. He sighed, swilled and spat another mouthful of Coke, and then sat down to drink the rest of the bottle. Once the sound of the shower running upstairs could be heard, he set the bottle down and met eyes levelly with John.
John shook his head. 'Nothing. Nothing. It's none of my business, I'm sure. It's just… I didn't think that you were interested in that sort of thing – particularly with somebody you don't even seem to like.'
'Well, it's not as if I'm having sex with her for fun, John. It's for a case.'
John blinked. 'A case.'
'I thought that was obvious. I'd hit a bit of a dead end. It was the only way forwards that I could see.'
'You're having a love affair,' clarified John in tones of disbelief, 'to get yourself further ahead in a case.'
'You haven't considered the ethics of this at all?'
'Oh, this is hardly the most morally questionable reasoning for embarking upon an act of physical coupling – look at Deborah, she's a serial adulteress. I'm not exactly abusing the trust of a blushing virgin, am I?'
'Oh, she's married. Yes, when you put it like that, that makes what you're doing perfectly reasonable.'
'It's just a function. People use sex as a tool all the time,' replied Sherlock. 'Considering that I'm doing it to catch a murderer before they kill again, I think it's probably justified in this case.'
John paused, setting down his half eaten toast. 'This is still the Muswell Hill case, isn't it?' His mind's eye flashed back to the state of the young man's body that had been found there. Somebody had taken a Kitchen Devil to him and hadn't stopped until long after he'd been dead. Suddenly, John found he'd lost his appetite.
Sherlock nodded. 'It took me a while, but I found out where he'd been the night before he'd been killed – with Deborah Wall. They'd met online. They were having an affair – very discreet. Well… she is rather seasoned at that sort of duplicity. She's been sleeping with other men for decades, I'd say. And here's the thing – when I traced back the Walls' whereabouts over the years I found that they were living in Bristol between 1998 and 2004. And, six months before they moved to London, the body of one Jason Blake was discovered just outside Bristol, also stabbed repeatedly with a kitchen knife, also buried in a shallow grave. Both Blake and Deborah attended the same gym for the 10 months before Blake was murdered.'
'You suspect they were having an affair, too.'
'I have no proof, of course, but yes.'
Sherlock shook his head. 'He's left handed. Killer used the right hand. And it can't have been Deborah who killed them – she's too short, given the angles that the knife went in at.'
'Hired hit man, then?'
Sherlock gave John a 'don't you think I'd have considered that already?' glare. 'Too messy. Too frenzied. These weren't professional jobs. No, there's something else. Something I'm missing. Something I can't see as an outside observer.'
'So, naturally you decided to put yourself in the position of at least two men that we know of who were hacked to death.'
'I'm just taking a step closer,' Sherlock explained, walking over to the sink. 'Getting closer to the answer…'
'Getting closer to the pointy end of a knife,' added John. 'Sherlock, please, please be careful.'
Sherlock rinsed out the Coke bottle, then rinsed out his mouth once more. 'Don't worry. I've got condoms.' He opened the drawer under the sink and showed John the packet. 'See?'
'That's not what I…' John frowned. 'Why are you keeping condoms in the kitchen?'
'Hmm?' asked Sherlock, innocently, heading back towards his room.
'Why are you keeping condoms in the kitchen?' repeated John. He looked down at the kitchen table. Sherlock had moved his latest experiment off it a few days ago, much to John's relief. Not only that, but it had been wiped clean recently, and not by John. And had it always wobbled like that…?
John groaned. 'Oh, God. The table.'
'The table is perfectly sanitary,' called Sherlock, over his shoulder. 'I cleaned it myself.'
'I used Dettol wipes!'
'Might want to run a mop over the kitchen floor at some point, though.'
John was woken by the sound of the door to the flat slamming and Sherlock trudging upstairs. So, he'd finally cracked that Tooting cat burglar case. He still needed to find a better name for his blog entry on it than 'The Case of the Tooting Lootings'. Maybe something would spring to mind when Sherlock told him how he'd solved it. He wondered idly as he listened to the sound of the bath being run what time it was. The sun had risen, but his alarm hadn't gone off yet. He looked blearily at his alarm clock. Was… was that ten past seven…? His eyes focused on the hands. Shit! No! Ten past eight! He hadn't set his alarm. Idiot. Idiot!
He leapt out of bed and hurried across the landing to the bathroom. The bath was still being run. He knocked on the door.
'Sherlock, are you decent?'
'Am I ever?'
'No, I mean are you OK if I just nip in here for a few minutes? I'm late for work.'
'Go ahead, John. Door's unlocked.'
John opened the door. Sherlock was already in the bath as it was being run. His clothes were scattered about the bathroom. Sherlock had nothing on but the cheerful smile of somebody who had just been able to validate his own extreme cleverness and, bizarrely, a carton of beef chow mein resting on his tucked-up knees.
'Morning. Pork balls?' Sherlock blithely proffered a polystyrene cup that had been resting on the edge of the bath.
'What on Earth.'
'My needs for a bath and something to eat were of equal urgency,' Sherlock told him. He shovelled another forkful of noodles into his mouth and continued to talk through the food. 'I felt that this was an elegant solution. Aren't you going to be late for work?'
'If I'm not out of the door in 20 minutes, yes, I will be. And I still need a shower.'
'That might not be the best idea,' replied Sherlock , somehow managing to keep talking despite yet another forkful going into his mouth. 'My breakfast could get soaked, for a start.'
'Or, you could get out of the bath for three minutes and let me…' John trailed off at Sherlock's expression. That was never going to happen. 'Fine, I'll just strip-wash.' He turned to the bathroom sink behind him. It was full of cold water, a ripped shirt and an awful lot of blood.
'Don't worry,' said Sherlock. 'It's not mine. Well… the blood isn't. The shirt is. Was. Ruined now, I expect.'
'And the kitchen sink's full of dishes,' recalled John. 'Why don't I just go and stick my head in the washing machine?'
'Oh, don't be so melodramatic.' Sherlock switched off the taps and turned himself sideways on, his legs still folded up with his knees up to his chin. He gestured to the rest of the tub. 'Plenty of room.'
John stared at the bath. There really was enough room for him to wash, albeit slightly hunched up. He briefly wondered how somebody who usually took up quite so much space was able, when he wanted, to fit inside a third of a bathtub, then remembered that he now only had only 19 minutes left to get out in the hope of ever catching his bus and that he still smelled pretty ripe, and so stripped off as briskly as he could. He reminded himself as he stepped in that his naked body was something Sherlock had seen before – four times now, in fact… that he knew of. Sherlock barely looked across at him, and certainly wasn't put off his breakfast by the sight. And, John was surprised, he didn't feel as embarrassed as he thought he would. They were just… bodies. They both saw bodies all the time, after all. He didn't even feel that self conscious about the scar on his shoulder, since Sherlock's own body was peppered with scars, each a memento of a brilliant anecdote. He'd been there in person for the birth of a couple of them. A dog bite here, a fencing scar there, a burn that everybody at the Yard said was from a cigarette but Sherlock insisted was from a Russian Mafia boss with a red hot poker… and there was a large, round scar near the top of Sherlock's right thigh.
'So, that's where you were harpooned.'
'It was only a little harpoon.'
'How the Hell did you manage to get a harpoon in your leg, Sherlock?'
John narrowed his eyes. 'Pirates. On the high seas, were you?'
'Southend.' Sherlock stabbed a pork ball onto the end of his fork with a disturbing level of enthusiasm.
'Do you have to do that?' muttered John.
Sherlock just waved the food in John's face. 'You'll save more time if you eat here with me instead of making toast.'
John begrudgingly picked a pork ball out of the cup. 'Breakfast in Bath,' he sighed.
Sherlock beamed. 'It's my latest invention. I think it might catch on.'
What has my life become? John asked himself, albeit only internally. All that he actually said aloud was 'Pass the soap. And the Sweet & Sour sauce.'