A little explanation of why I wrote this fic is seen below – if you want to get right into the story, jump right to the non-bolded part!
As A Scandal in Belgravia is my favorite Sherlock episode, it seems only fitting that my first Sherlock fanfic revolves around the events are characters within it. I thought about this episode more than any other (with Reichenbach a close second, naturally) and for this fic, I tried to figure out what in particular reverberated about this episode for me.
Something I kept coming back to is how vulnerable Sherlock is throughout the episode, physically and mentally. His refusal to put on clothes results in his humiliation; his investment in the case involves him with Irene Adler, who repeatedly mocks his sexual inexperience despite feeling "sentiment" for him. His desire to be loved results in a near-fiasco for both him and the British government, something he is keenly aware of. Even Ms. Adler dismisses him as unimportant. As the episode closed, I was caught up in feeling quite sorry for Sherlock (as much as he would probably hate that) and feeling an immense amount of dislike for Ms. Adler and – by extension – Moriarty.
Here, as you can see, is the result of my thoughts. Enjoy!
Latin: virgo; Old French, virgine. Connotations of inexperience, innocence, and purity. Unexperienced, naïve, innocent.
Biblical – the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.
Some examples of virgin girls offered as sacrifices, although Moriarty's understanding of our relationship is not reconcilable with the idea of me as a pawn destined for slaughter. I'm sure he would enjoy the arranged death, all the same.
Virgo – zodiac, constellation, "The Virgin". Associated stars – unknown.
His fingers skimmed over the keyboard for a moment.
Contains Spica, a bright cluster of galaxies. Irrelevant. Goddess Virgo, associated with harvest.
Scientific – a female insect, producing eggs without being fertilized. Irrelevant.
Common phrases: virgin bride. Virgin forests. Virgin snow. Virgin olive oil.
Of substances that require some craft, refers to that which is unfinished – unfired clay, unspun wood.
Primary definition: someone who has not participated in sexual intercourse.
Modern-day stigmatization resulting partially from glorification of sex as a rite of passage.
Outdated interpretation of purity and cleanliness eclipsed by inexperience and naivety. Some sense of unworthiness – from observation, university students seem to regard it as something shameful. I should ask John.
Sherlock looked up from his thoughts as the front door opened. Footsteps on the stairs – very nearly imperceptible favoring of the left leg from previous psychosomatic injury. Heavy shoes without laces. Almost certainly John. Less than one percent probability of error. Unusual heaviness and slow pace of footsteps may indicate a long day at the hospital – but the scrape of paper on the wall suggests a shopping trip is more likely. The kitchen has been depleted for a few days, although the experiment with bread mold on the counter is progressing impressively.
Jars clinked as a bag was set down, and the flat door opened. John looked in, face somewhat flushed from the climb. Three bags of groceries, no unexpected products from the shapes – milk, bread, other necessities. He appears to have also purchased cologne, indicating the advent of another romantic interest. Long hair on his shoulder – blonde. Potentially a patient, but more likely whomever he bought the cologne for. Shade indicates dye, placement on lower shoulder indicates a brush in the hallway. Someone at the hospital, but too busy to stop and talk. She may be uninterested, then. Height of hair indicates relatively short woman or exceptionally long hair – an intern? Unlikely – John seems to have something against dating interns. Short woman or long hair, then.
Sherlock looked over his steepled fingers at John, still in the doorway in the few seconds he had been thinking.
"Would you mind giving me a hand with these?" John asked.
Sherlock huffed in exasperation, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "Boring."
"We'll see how boring it is when I don't fix you food…"
Sherlock dismissed that with a wave of his hand.
"I am perfectly capable of satisfying my dietary needs, as I did for years before acquiring a flatmate. Though from the look on your face, if I don't get up you'll get into a sulk." He uncrossed his long legs at the ankle and sat up abruptly, trying to gage the look on John's face. Amused resignation.
"Do you find me funny?"
"Why would you ever think that?"
"Don't touch the mold!" Sherlock shouted as John walked into the kitchen, then pulled himself fully upright and stalked after him.
"Jesus, Sherlock, does it have to be in the kitchen?"
"As it is the only space in the flat with appropriate utensils and a large enough surface, yes. Obviously, John."
Sherlock had little patience for something as blatantly uninteresting as putting away groceries – groceries! – and mostly hovered, keeping John away from the mold, until at last the shorter man snapped and banished him from the kitchen.
Plucking out a few notes on his violin, he looked out the window. Clouds – grey but unlikely to produce rain based on shape and density. John might have called it bleak – was that sentiment? These people seem so effected by the weather.
He heard the sound of John putting the water on for tea.
"I know, Sherlock."
John came into the living room bearing two cups of tea, and, after setting one on the table near Sherlock, settled himself in his favorite chair with a sigh.
"It's starting to smell like you, you know," Sherlock noted without looking around.
Sherlock made an exasperated noise. "The chair. You certainly sit in it enough."
"Is that what you do all day when I'm gone, go around sniffing chairs?"
"Don't be ridiculous."
Likelihood of tea burning mouth versus relative benefits of cup of tea – uncertain. Potential scalding probable.
He raised it to his mouth, taking a sip regardless. Expectations confirmed, scalding irrelevant.
"What do people say about virgins, John?"
"I – what?"
"I have no particular experience with your sort of people and it seemed best to ask an expert. It is an area in which my mind palace is somewhat incomplete,"
"Your bloody mind palace – oh, never mind. Why do you ask?"
Sherlock waved a hand, tea in his mouth preventing him from speaking. "Mm. Something I overheard." Throat burned in same manner as tongue – taste likely compromised for several hours. Uncomfortable but not severe; potential opportunity to examine relative importance of smell in experiencing food.
"Well, I don't know."
Sherlock turned to look at him. "Have I made you uncomfortable?"
"Well." He shifted in his chair, looking at the wall. "Not something you usually talk about with a flatmate, is it."
"You should know by now that I am seldom usual." His tone on the last word dripped contempt.
"Well, yeah, all right. It's not something I encounter much at this stage… I mean, people have sex but they don't go shouting it about." He took a long sip of tea. "In university it was – oh, I don't know, something to josh someone about if you were the sort of person that cared. You know, if they couldn't get a girlfriend or hadn't yet, just teasing between friends."
The mockery John refers to is certainly an element of Moriarty's moniker as reported by Ms. Adler, combined with a suggestion of a lack of understanding of emotional reflexes – accurate. There is a possible implication of someone desirable and untouchable… for a time, at least. He plucked out a few more notes on the violin. Moriarty is exerting his perceived superiority. Even as we are intellectual equals, he doubtless intends to press the advantage in his social interactions.
Moriarty is not a virgin.
The thought came unbidden and Sherlock's brow furrowed as he struggled to push it aside. There was something disturbing about it, but at the same time Sherlock felt a flicker of a different, unpleasant emotion.
He savored it for a moment, tasting it on his tongue.
Impulse to duck my head and bite my lip. Most likely explanation: shame.
"Hm? Yes, John, what is it?"
"Pasta okay for dinner?"
He waved his hand permissively, hardly listening. Moriarty excelled at drawing emotions out of him, but this one was rare.
Memories involving shame within the last year… the encounter with Mycroft involving the sheet. Ms. Adler.
So Moriarty seeks to make me feel inadequate, at least sexually.
Body is transport. I can outthink the entirety of Lestrade's team of trained monkeys in a matter of seconds and outmaneuver the greatest criminals in London.
"I don't have friends. I just have one," he had said to John. Was that it, then? Social distance? Perhaps… though it hasn't bothered me in years. Attachment with John is regrettably undeniable…
Compared with similar individuals, I am undoubtedly an outlier. Mycroft and Moriarty both possess more extensive networks of contacts – potential friends.
Mycroft is adamant that caring is not an advantage.
Neither man is a virgin. Probably.
Though, while he usually relished forbidden knowledge, the less he knew about Mycroft's sex life the better.
Sex. Mundane, ordinary. Provides pleasure to people and animals, resulting in frantic drives and illogical behavior. Potentially disruptive of my intelligence.
Is it boring?
Mycroft and Moriarty seem to find some value in it, indicating that it holds interest in some sense.
Sherlock broke off that line of thought. He was above emotion and as far separated as anyone could be from physical dependency. It is irrelevant.
He looked around for John's gun but it wasn't in the room, and Mrs. Hudson would make those irritating noises if he shot any more holes in the wall.
Setting down his violin and draining the lukewarm tea (only perceptible taste: burnt matter), he stalked to the kitchen and began examining the mold.
"Do you have to do that while I'm cooking?"
"What else is there to do?"
"You could watch the telly."
Sherlock didn't justify that with an answer.
The telly. Really. Even sex must be more interesting than that.
He walked back into the living room and looked out the window, examining the graffiti across the street.
Current yardstick of relationships: John. In comparison, Ms. Adler is little more than a proverbial blip on the radar. Still, her words are uncomfortably prevalent in my thoughts.
"Do you know what he calls you? The Iceman… and the Virgin."
He didn't finish examining the mold until late at night, and it failed to yield any useful results. It piqued his pride that this mold defeated him…
And that is it. I think of her because she has defeated me in some sense.
Ten years ago, I would have undoubtedly been upset. Perhaps embarrassed, coupled with a palpable emotional reaction.
But caring was not an advantage.
There was a case, a little murder investigation that, though simplistic, nevertheless took his mind off his recent thoughts for a few days.
"Back again, freak?" Sally Donovan asked coldly as he walked into the station.
"My presence here tends to support that conclusion, yes," he said dismissively. If John was a dog, he noted, his hackles would be up and his teeth would be bared.
As they waited in Lestrade's empty office for the Detective Inspector to return, Sherlock examined John again.
"For someone so straightforward, you are a perplexing man, Doctor Watson."
John looked as though he didn't know whether to be flattered or insulted and settled on confused.
"What are you talking about?"
Sherlock moved to look out the narrow window.
"Your reaction to Sally Donovan?"
John made an irritated noise. From the sound of his footsteps, he was moving around the office.
"I don't like it when people insult you."
"Many would see it as an apt description."
"Well, yeah, and a lot of people are arses, aren't they?"
Sherlock looked over his shoulder. John looked back at him, and they found themselves laughing as Lestrade walked in.
"What's so funny, you two?"
Neither of them seemed likely to respond, so he moved to his desk and sunk into the chair, rubbing his forehead.
"How was Scotland?"
For a moment, Lestrade looked up in surprise, but then shook his head. "Bloody awful, that's how it was. Didn't seem like anything could go right."
There was a knock, and a moment later Anderson stuck his head in. Sherlock didn't bother to conceal his irritation, letting out a long, loud sigh.
"There's been a report of another murder on Water Street – God, you again."
Anderson: unacceptable irritant. His idiocy impairs my deductive processing. Options to remove him from the vicinity: Force. Direct insult. Indirect insult. Humiliation.
The affair with Sally Donovan is becoming more and more obvious – Lestrade must have noticed by now. Judging by the tense tendons in his hands at the appearance of Anderson, it discomforts him.
"Do you ever find an investigation compromised by certain tensions within your team, Lestrade?" he asked, eyebrows raised. "It can't be easy to manage the sexual tension between the two of them… Especially when the morning after happens to be a work day."
As Sherlock could see in the reflection from the picture on Lestrade's desk, Anderson went purple. Sherlock smiled thinly. Lestrade covered his eyes.
"I don't know what—"
"Anderson, I'll talk to you in a few minutes," Lestrade interrupted. The man obliged, slamming the door with more force than necessary.
Lestrade looked up at Sherlock.
"Do you have to do that?"
"It was too obvious to pass up… She smells of his cologne, as usual, but this time there appears to be a circular discoloration of the skin on his neck towards the left collarbone, obvious enough that even you would notice. And there's a trace of lipstick which I'm certain he didn't mean to apply this morning—certainly not left over from any nightly carousing… Can you really approve of such affairs on the job?"
"We were called in for a murder case," John said loudly.
"Yes, of course." Sherlock waved his hand dismissively. "The Barrington murders – or, rather, murder."
"What? But the two victims—"
"One victim." Sherlock said quellingly. "The first man killed does indeed have a mark on the back of the skull from blunt force trauma, but the shape and size indicates a collision with the ground after a fall, not any sort of weapon injury. Molly must be slipping. Other than that, there is no evidence for a violent death, but consider that he was seventy-five and not in the peak of health. A good shock would be enough to induce heart failure, which the mugger took advantage of to strip him of clothes and belongings. Opportunism – very nearly – at it's finest."
"But the other woman –"
"Yes, that was a murder. I'll need to take a look at the body—"
"You didn't look at it when you examined the man?"
"Of course not, use your head."
Lestrade stood with admirable patience. "You can find the morgue?"
"Unlike certain of your officers, I can indeed find my way around a building I've been in many times before. Particularly with those amusing signs you insist on putting up."
Sherlock swept out of the room.
"Sorry," he heard John muttered to Lestrade as he hurried after Sherlock.
"You're more offended when Donovan insults me than when Anderson does. And you didn't react nearly as strongly to my treatment of the Detective Inspector," Sherlock said when John caught up. "Why?"
"Well – first off, you're always like that. Lestrade knows you're generally a bit of a prick. And Anderson didn't actually say anything to you."
"But you're happy that I humiliated him. Why?"
"He's more of a prick than you are."
Sherlock snorted a laugh. "That still doesn't answer the question – why such offense at Donovan's comments? What was different? She hardly said a word."
"She said enough," John practically growled.
"'Back again, freak,' if I recall correctly."
"People shouldn't call you that."
"We discussed your aversion to insults previously… But again, you didn't fly to Lestrade's defense."
"Lestrade can take care of himself."
"And I can't?" Sherlock stopped and looked down at John.
"Not always," John said frankly. "You act like you don't feel anything at all, but I don't think that's true. And just because you're… different, doesn't mean she should say things like that."
"Are you an expert on the subject?"
"Do I need to be an expert to be your friend?"
There was a pause. "If you want," John said at last.
"You still haven't given me an answer."
John looked up at the ceiling as if it would help him.
"Do you remember when we were at the pool with Moriarty?" John began. Sherlock gave him a look. "Sorry, of course you do. But you didn't want me shot. Or blown up."
"No," Sherlock said reluctantly. "That would have been an unfortunate conclusion to our first case together."
"Well… it's like that. I don't want to see you hurt either."
"I'm not about to be 'blown up' by Sally Donovan."
This time it was John who started walking, and Sherlock who caught up – although his long legs made it easy.
"You know what I mean, Sherlock. You have… feelings, whatever you say, and I don't want them hurt."
"How considerate of you. Next you'll be suggesting that we all sit in a circle and share our problems. Or perhaps sing Kumbaya."
John didn't say anything, and when Sherlock looked down, his face was unreadable. Their time at the morgue was subdued, the taxi ride back to Baker Street nearly silent.
"So it's all about the labels," Sherlock said, half to himself, as they walked in.
"What?" said John, almost aggressively. He must have offended the man somehow. Though John would get over it.
"Freak. Virgin. People seek to hurt me through labels."
"This is about Irene, isn't it?"
Sherlock didn't answer to John's assumption – partially correct, for once.
"What did she say?"
"She was talking about Moriarty," Sherlock said coldly. "She said he had nicknames for my brother and I – the Iceman and the Virgin."
Sherlock's eyebrows went up. "Ms. Adler, or Moriarty?"
"Both of them."
The corner of Sherlock's mouth quirked up in a half-smile.
"So 'virgin' is, indeed, an intended insult?"
"People assume that an adult man would've had sex, I guess. Outliers are always…"
"Another way of saying freak, I see. Hm."
John didn't seem to know what to say.
How very Moriarty – highlighting my weaknesses. John, social situations, sexual intercourse. They are becoming a liability as I meet opponents clever enough to take advantage of them. My emotion on the Adler case nearly caused a disaster.
Two potential solutions: Fully eradicate any emotion associated with my weaknesses, thus rendering them useless to exploit, or work to remove them as weaknesses altogether. In the case of John, the latter is unfeasible, as an emotionally attached colleague will always be a weakness. But he would object if I should cut him off… And we can't risk his limp returning or all that running will have been useless.
In the matter of sexual intercourse… Removing emotion: unlikely. Unavoidable physical response renders that inadvisable. Removing it as a weakness is similarly difficult without a suitable sexual partner. There is potential that Molly would be willing.
John would object.
He could set it aside, of course. Let it go, let his weaknesses remain under the surface and hope that no one would come along to exploit them again. He wouldn't be so quick to form an emotional attachment after the Adler case… But was it avoidable? And while it had only been his pride and the British government in danger this time, next time it could be John.
Sherlock steepled his fingers in front of him and began planning his own death.
Four hours later, he had made little progress. Little jabs from Ms. Adler – "not you, junior, you're done now" – kept popping into his mind, sending a flash of shame through his chest and derailing his train of thought. John would probably be upset if he should go through with this, but it would keep him safe. "I should have him on a leash." Sherlock shook his head furiously, trying to drive the thoughts out.
And if he could play Moriarty right… The man's plans would eventually include his death. Most likely his complete ruination first, but then death. "Oh dear god. Look at the poor man. You don't actually think I was interested in you." He had… and she was, he had to remember that, remember her quickening pulse and dilating pupils. She was interested on some level despite her words. It was Moriarty, still seeking to hurt him, reaching out through his pawn to jab at Sherlock. But – "Everything I said, it wasn't real. It was just playing the game."
Growling through his teeth, he flung himself upright and out the door, buttoning his coat around him as he went.
He had let Ms. Adler go, but he couldn't get rid of her words.