Author's Notes: I know not every trans*person prefers to use their AAB pronouns when talking about themselves pre-transition. The reason I used them here in reference to Sherlyn is because John was trying to see the juxtaposition between Sherlock as Sherlyn and Sherlock as Sherlock, wondering how much he had changed from his transition, and coming to the realization that they were the same person, just one was a mask and one was more genuine. I apologize if this was offensive to anyone, and again, please let me know if there is anything I'm doing in my Translock fics that offends any trans*person, so that I can work on that in the future. Thanks!
"Do you have a sister?" John asked distractedly as he shuffled through the day's post, throwing his coat haphazardly at the door.
"As far as I am aware, Mycroft identifies as male," Sherlock replied, never looking up from his phone, where he was, no doubt, crafting an insulting text to either his brother or Lestrade. Perhaps both at the same time: John wasn't quite sure how the detective's expensive and complicated phone worked, never having gotten past the intro screen of his own. He sighed.
"I didn't mean Mycroft. There's a letter here addressed to another Holmes: maybe your mother, then? Or just a mix-up at the office? It's been forwarded a few times, judging by the stickers." The doctor sat down, examining the care-worn envelope curiously. The name on the letter was similar enough to Sherlock's that it would make sense to be from the same family: the Holmes clan, as he'd noted, had a tendency to favor what Mycroft had called "good, solid English names." He wondered if his name, being commonplace, was not considered good or solid, but dismissed the thought.
"Who is it addressed to? Other than not me," his flatmate queried, still tapping away incessantly at his tiny keypad.
"A Sherlyn? The writing is a little faded, but I think that's wha-" John's musings were abruptly halted when Sherlock snatched the envelope from his hand and threw it into the fireplace with one smooth movement, turning away from John to watch the flames consume the fragile paper.
"It's nothing of importance," Sherlock said sharply, dusting his hands and pulling off his leather gloves to snap them against his trouser leg, shaking off stray particles of soot.
"Sherlock. . . is this a relative you've had a tiff with?"
"Then. . . " John realized quickly what the matter was; he took a millisecond to congratulate himself on the rather fast deduction before standing up and going to Sherlock, reaching up to rest his hands on the taller man's shoulders. "That was your name."
"Was, yes." The detective replied, allowing his partner to touch him, but keeping his gaze on the fire.
"You have this habit of looking away from me when I'm asking you questions about your – about before," the doctor stated mildly. Having spent plenty of time reading up on the latest trends in transgenderism and asking around at the clinic (which earned him some funny looks), he knew well enough not to even bring up the gender change in a way that might upset Sherlock. It was hard enough, he reasoned, to share that part of himself without constantly being reminded of it in John's words.
"Very good, John. You've noticed one of my defensive gestures. It only took you a year. I'm very impressed," Sherlock offered scathingly, his muscles tensing as John began to rub up and down his slim arms.
"Sherlock . . . ." John's voice was gentle, but the edge implied a warning not to insult him further. "I understand you're upset, but don't take it out on me."
"Right, because you're allowed to be as bloody ignorant as you want and it won't garner you any consequences. Of course the letter was for me, you idiot. As I'm sure Mycroft has informed you, my mother has been dead for nearly a decade. Any post that was for her would have been returned to the sender or been forwarded to Mycroft, who handled the funeral details as I was . . . preoccupied. I've made it clear that I have little contact with extended members of my family, and they refuse to accept my gender change and hence still refer to me by my birth name, which you could have implied by the shaky handwriting – obviously done by someone in advanced age whose muscle function has deteriorated, culminating in poor penmanship – and the rather heavy strokes, which suggests a sense of grudging judgment while addressing; this letter was one of duty instead of actual interest.
"Perhaps one of my distant relatives has died and they felt the need to inform me. More likely – from the fact that the address was of the Holmes estate, and not the many homes I've had since adolescence – it was an angry letter asking why Mycroft and I declined to inform them of Mummy's passing. They sent it to the estate but addressed it to me, suggesting that they assumed that one of us had gone back to care for the family home after her death even though it was common family knowledge that I left the Holmes estate for college and intended not to return. These are things that I deduced from looking for the letter for less than a minute, John. You had your vacant gaze on it for nearly ten." Sherlock was shaking slightly: from anger about the letter or irritation with John, he wasn't quite sure.
The older man put his hands on Sherlock's forearms, trying to calm him by touch, but the detective shoved him away harshly. "My god, John, you don't see! You don't even think! It's as if nothing in the world exists to you beyond what you can see at face value! Sometimes I wonder how in the world you're capable of doing a differential diagnosis on your patients if you can't even diagnose the cause of an envelope."
Stung by the harsh insults, John stepped back and breathed deeply through his nose, trying his hardest to remember the things he liked about his partner instead of the ones that made him see red. "You're lashing out because you're angry, Sherlock," John replied, his tone low and serious. He reached for the sofa, clutching its corner to keep himself from wrapping his hands around Sherlock's throat.
"I'm not sure if you're just angry about the letter or if you're really angry at me, too, but the point is that you're deflecting. Instead of focusing on what you're actually upset about, you're distracting yourself by ranting about me." His voice softened a little, and he relaxed his grip on the sofa. "It was a long time ago. Your relatives are being unfair, and that's that, okay?"
"Oh, so because something didn't happen last week, I'm no longer entitled to be angry?" Sherlock snarled, rounding on John. "Funny, because judging by the way you're holding your carriage today, your leg is hurting you again. Your perfectly normal, healthy leg, which shouldn't be troubling you at all, is hurting you again. That means that you were suffering from nightmares last night, and I think I know exactly what they were about too, something which definitely happened more than a week ago."
John lost his temper then, lunging toward Sherlock, but he stopped himself in time. "That was –" Taking a deep breath, he drew himself up, looking into his partner's eyes with a sense of cold detachment. "I know you're upset, but that's no reason to attack me like this. I'm going out. I'll be back when you're done with your tantrum, and then we'll talk about this."
The taller man merely watched in shock as the army doctor stormed out, hiding his limp as best he could. Then he sank to his knees and pressed his palms to his eyelids, letting out a soft, keening cry.
John simply walked. He didn't have a specific plan in place, no idea of where to go; he just needed time to think before confronting his partner about the dismissive way he'd been treated. He could go to St. Bart's and wail on some corpses with the riding crop that Sherlock kept in his (pilfered) hospital locker, telling Molly it was research for one of their cases, but that seemed overboard. Besides, he thought with a rueful smile, that wasn't his style. He'd seen enough battered and destroyed bodies for a lifetime: he didn't need to cause any more. Sherlock was the one who concealed his emotions behind the guise of energetic scientific experiments – usually. This afternoon had been rare, beyond rare: it was the first time Sherlock had ever really snapped at him. That meant something.
Why did it bother him so much? He wondered. Sally Donovan called him a freak every time they were in the same room together, and Sherlock didn't bat an eyelash. Anderson insulted him constantly, and he seemed to relish the opportunity to cut down the man he hated. So why did the opinions of family members who he clearly despised with all of his being pain him so much? It didn't seem to make sense. His reactions were disproportionate to the offense, John thought, and being that Sherlock was a man of logic, his behavior was completely anachronistic.
Coming to a park, John sat down on a well-worn iron bench, shifting slightly to relieve the pressure on his back and shoulder, which were aching from the humidity of late July. Even now, at seven o'clock, the air hung limply, as if suspended from the tree branches. He thought about the dry, unrelenting scorch of Afghanistan, but shook the thought away, determined to think only about the present. It seemed unfair to lose himself in memories when he'd admonished Sherlock for the same thing.
A small family walked by then: an older brother, dressed in khaki shorts and a blue polo, running ahead of the parents, and a younger sister, looking resentful in a fluffy pink dress, clutching her mother's hand. John was suddenly struck with how similar the girl looked to Sherlock: her huge blue eyes swept the park, as if searching for a way to pull away from the tight grasp of her mother and go exploring, much like her brother. Dark, curly ringlets cascaded down her back, and John smiled fondly, thinking of Sherlock's soft waves of raven hair that he so loved to run his hands through.
The doctor wondered what Sherlyn had been like. Was she cold and calculating like the man he loved, but with deep passion running silently beneath the surface of her emotionless façade? Or perhaps she had been a spitfire, a great outpouring of constant energy, and Sherlock had only learned to contain his emotions through years of suppression and control.
As the little girl in the pink dress stumbled behind her parents, John realized with a flash that he knew exactly what Sherlyn must have been: a vulnerable, frightened, and angry Sherlock who had yet to know who he really was. A Sherlock who was forced to be a person he wasn't just to keep other people comfortable and to maintain appearances to protect his family from scorn or derision, who daily had to sacrifice his true self for the convenience of other people. Perhaps that was why the man he loved often seemed so selfish – he was making up for lost time, an entire childhood thrown away to shelter his relatives from a truth they didn't like. He was reveling in finally being allowed to be himself in his full glory: the mad, genius, aloof, somewhat-sociopathic man that he was. All the things he had been denied as a sheltered and privileged child imprisoned by dresses and curls.
The thought staggered him. What he had seen that afternoon was an outpouring of 34 years of anger and resentment and pain: of course it would have been explosive. The scornful, hateful letter from his relatives had reminded Sherlock of being trotted out to social occasions in stifling outfits while his brother was allowed to be himself; of being misgendered his whole childhood and lacking the voice to complain; of being laughed at and jeered and practically disowned when he gained the courage to be himself.
John knew how that felt, even if only in miniature. Back in the military, he'd hidden his bisexuality as well as he could; even though he could have served openly, he worried about the reception he may have faced and chose not to take that risk. He masked his sexual preferences by talking and laughing with the men about their hot women back home, pretending he was still with his ex-girlfriend from medical school so that his long, lingering glances at his fellow soldiers wouldn't seem so strange. Even his occasional sex partners while serving had been as discreet as possible; he'd sent feelers out for other bisexual men, kept their discussions brief and their sexual encounters even briefer.
Hiding himself away like that had hurt, but he'd still been himself: he'd still been John Watson, doctor and ladykiller, just… suppressed. Not completely hidden. He couldn't imagine having to do that just to protect his family. The thought was unfathomable. The idea of what Sherlock must have gone through, how it had completely overshadowed any difficulties he had endured as bisexual in the military, made bile rise in John's throat. He was overtaken by an outpouring of sympathy for the fragile man who hid his vulnerability so damn well that when it arose, John had practically thrown it back in his face.
He was struck with the urge to go thank the family for helping him to his realization, but quelled the thought. He had embarrassed himself enough tonight that accosting strangers and congratulating them on helping him better understand his transgendered partner would go beyond the pale. However, he took a moment to pray that the little girl and the little boy following their parents into the setting sunset of a park in London would never have to feel that they were born in the wrong bodies. He couldn't imagine wishing such pain on anyone.
The flat was quiet when he came home. John wondered if Sherlock had also gone out; however, listening carefully, he heard soft splashing coming from the bathroom. Sherlock must have been taking his weekly contemplative bath, with the lights out, the door shut, and a white noise machine plugged in. It made sense; he regularly performed the ritual after a particularly stressful day as he said it helped him clear his mind of any 'distractions' (John had learned this was code for 'emotions') that may have arisen. Their argument had been stressful enough to evoke such a need. In the most primal and selfish part of his brain, John took this as a perverted compliment: he was important to Sherlock. Of course he knew that was true, but sometimes actual evidence helped.
A quiet knock on the door was enough to invoke startled splashing and a sputtered, "John?" This was not unusual; Sherlock regularly became so engrossed in the meditative peace of the pouring water, the dark room, and the white noise that he lost track of time and space; any intrusion on the moment often panicked and disoriented him.
"Yes, it's me. Can I come in?" He heard the drawing of the shower curtain and took it as a sign that he could enter. Despite their being intimate, Sherlock still had misgivings about showing his full nakedness to his partner; the shower curtain in spite of the darkness was more of a symbolic protection than a physical one.
John crouched near the edge of the tub, his eyes catching only the barest outline of Sherlock's face in the near-blackness of the room. He reached his hand out and felt a wet, wrinkled one meet his own; the detective must have drawn the bath shortly after he left, and had remained in it, adrift in the cocoon of the soothing noises and sensations for the duration of the time they'd spent apart. The thought calmed John, somehow. At least he had high hopes that Sherlock hadn't spitefully broken any of the gifts that he had given him.
"Sherlock, I –"
"I'm sorry, John." Holmes' voice was soft, but its rich timbre reverberated throughout the water, sounding both melodious and sonorous in the small, dark space they shared. Despite himself, John felt a thrill race through his nerves; that voice would always be a turn-on to him, no matter how much he heard it. And to hear it say an entirely foreign verse – an apology – was quite a treasure. He had never thought he'd ever hear an apology from Sherlock. To revel in it in the moment, however, when his boyfriend was so vulnerable, seemed a little disrespectful.
"It's okay. I forgive you. You were hurtful, but I understand why. And it's okay. I was insensitive too. I shouldn't have discredited your feelings like that, especially because I know how difficult it is for you to voice them. So I'm sorry as well. You shouldn't feel like you have to hide your emotions from me. You've hidden long enough."
Sherlock hummed a little, and then the water sang as he sat up to embrace John. Even though his partner was soaking wet, and he should be complaining, the doctor couldn't find it in him to be even the slightest bit annoyed.
"I was thinking, Sherlock. While I was gone – I can't even imagine how hard this has been for you. All of it. You have a whole lifetime of struggle behind you that I couldn't even think of enduring. I've always been confident enough in myself: I'm not the best, but at least I felt comfortable in my body. Sometimes I feel guilty about all the people I couldn't save, but I can live with that. I've been shot at, but that's something I can face. I couldn't imagine living every day with the enemy inside of you, with every part of you feeling wrong. And I can't pretend to understand, Sherlock, I can't, or act as if I can empathize with what has happened to you, because I will never have that experience. But I want to let you know that you don't have to hide these things from me. I won't pretend to know what it's like, but I won't tell you that it's wrong to be upset about them, either. What happened tonight won't happen again. I promise." He wrapped his arms around Sherlock's soaking body, one of his hands snaking its way around the mess of wet curls that he loved so much. Suddenly he realized that Sherlock was shaking – Sherlock was crying.
"It's okay," he whispered, running his hand up and down the expanse of the detective's smoothly muscled back. "I'm here for you."
Sherlock remained silent, not even acknowledging his tears. When he finally spoke, his voice was steady from all his practice at being untouchable. "I know it's irrational, but I thought you were going to leave tonight. I comforted myself by telling myself that you had promised not to leave, but humans are fickle and their promises mean little. Even yours, as much as I respect you. But you'd left your phone. You never would have left your phone if you were leaving for good. So thank you for leaving your phone."
John smiled a little, stroking Sherlock's hair. He knew what the phrase really meant: thank you for not leaving me, and thank you for not calling me a freak, and thank you for not doing what all the others have done and just abandoning me for being different. "If I thought it would reassure you, I'd handcuff myself to you. Then you would know that I'm never going to leave for good unless you ask me to."
"Mycroft was right, you know," his partner said, a hint of a smile in his voice.
"You're very loyal, very fast."
John laughed. The thought of Mycroft replaying their first meeting for a petulant Sherlock was amusing beyond belief. Then he rested his head on Sherlock's shoulder, pressing a kiss to the wet skin behind his lover's ear. "Call it a character flaw."
"I'd call it a character strength instead," Sherlock murmured. "You have many of those."