Merry Christmas to my fellow Irene/Sherlock shippers! I hope you enjoy this two-shot conversation between Sherlock and John. There are some overlaps with a previous drabble I wrote, but I just had to have another go ;)

Like my WIP Sui Generis (I'm really into the Latin titles this week, apparently) you can consider this an AU sequel to my story Neither A Soldier Nor A Gentleman. However, it's not necessary to have read that first.

When John reached the snow-covered front step of 221B Baker Street, he was so exhausted that he could barely fit the key into its lock, and he was immensely grateful that his holiday coverage shift had been curtailed by several hours due to an unexpected excess of personnel, despite the decrease it would mean in his wages.

As it was, the pay was better than if he were on permanent staff somewhere, but it was draining having to constantly adjust to the various work cultures, differing personalities, and ever-changing hours that working as a locum doctor involved.

By the first landing, he could already begin to smell the pungent, sharp scent of hydrochloric acid that was obliterating the pine scent of the wreath Mrs. Hudson had hung over the mantelpiece for them, and despite his exhaustion, he felt himself looking forward to finding out what Sherlock was working on. There had been a lull in cases lately, and John was starting to worry for the flat, which usually took the brunt of Sherlock's boredom. Though to be fair, recently Sherlock had been notably placid in the intervening time between investigations, when he was home at all.

In the past several month, he had taken to disappearing for hours and sometimes days at a time without any explanation, and if pressed, he just shrugged disinterestedly and changed the subject, or ignored John's query outright, but John supposed that doing all the background work to build the framework which helped him to solve cases—maintaining an entire network of homeless contacts and spies, for instance—took incredible time and energy commitment, and he certainly didn't put aside time to develop those resources while there was a case.

John slipped the key into the upper door lock, and when the door opened the faint odour immediately intensified. Just as he had expected, his flatmate's array of chemistry equipment dominated the central kitchen table, and on a slip of paper John could read in Sherlock's scrawled, hurried writing: "Barium Hydrogen Sulphate (Bisulphate of baryta) – decomposed by water."

John thought back to his Chem courses, but couldn't recall ever having learned anything of note regarding. . . (what was the formula?) BaSO4, and he wondered what possible utility or implication this experiment could have. Was it integral to a case, or was it merely satisfying a passing curiosity of Sherlock's? John hoped for the latter; bizarre as it seemed, these days it felt like he needed new cases even more than his flatmate did.

But John didn't have an immediate answer to his question because as for Sherlock himself, there was no sign. The flat was strangely silent and calm (the hearth dark, the fairy lights switched off), which based on precedence meant that Sherlock was either out or virtually comatose, after expending the very last shred of his energy. John peeked down the hall: Sherlock's bedroom door was firmly shut. Passed out then, good, John concluded. He was grateful for any measure of sleep his flatmate got.

With the potential of something new and the likelihood that Sherlock was getting some rare and always-needed rest, John felt a bit more energised himself, and he realised that he had another, even more pressing need. He was absolutely famished.

When John first heard the low, muffled sound, it didn't even register. Living in a terraced flat meant that one occasionally heard random noises from neighbours and it wasn't of any particular concern; in fact it was usually below notice entirely. But when he heard another, more heated feminine sigh and it was obviously from within the flat, he went stock still, one hand hovering halfway to his mouth, the spoonful of cereal momentarily forgotten.

His first, incredulous (and a bit hypocritically scandalised, he had to admit) thought was, Have I come home unexpectedly and interrupted Sherlock watching pornography?

But he realised almost at once that this was Sherlock Holmes he was thinking about, and dismissed the idea. Sherlock must be evaluating some sort of audio, or possibly audio-visual surveillance. I'd bet he's not even fazed that he's eavesdropping on people having sex, he thought wryly.For Sherlock it was almost certainly just another mundane human activity he had to monitor, like taking a shower or cooking up some dinner.

But then he heard a man's grunt which lengthened into a deep groan, and he froze again, not believing what his ears were hearing. But the fact was, that was no recording—that was live, transmitting directly from the room down the hall. And though he had certainly never heard such a sound coming from his flatmate, he would recognise that voice anywhere. He immediately felt his face crimson in embarrassment, but more than anything, he felt abject shock.

Is this for a case? Would Sherlock go that far? John speculated wildly. He would have never thought it, but now that he was hearing. . .what he was hearing. . . he remembered other great lengths Sherlock had gone to, and felt uncertain.

Because it couldn't be personal. There was no one, he was quite certain that he would know if there were. As far as he was aware, there had only ever been one possibility at all, and that possibility had quite literally been killed. He hadn't shown the slightest bit of interest—full stop, let alone in any way even vaguely resembling sexual or romantic—in anyone since her.

So who was the mystery woman in Sherlock's room now?

His stunned thoughts were interrupted by additional sounds echoing down the corridor, causing him to blush even further, and without another moment's hesitation he pushed back from the table and fled upstairs—though he could still hear much more than he cared for, even after he put on headphones. Still, he had to admit that beneath his shock and discomfort, he was a bit intrigued.

An hour later, he hesitantly took off his headphones, and though the actual sex seemed to have stopped, he could hear the low murmur of voices coming up through the floorboards, and feeling guilty but not being able to help it, he pressed his ear down against them. What he heard definitely made him more certain that it was for a case, and he found himself feeling somewhat appalled and judgmental, despite the ongoing knowledge that Sherlock would constantly shock him with how far he would push the envelope. This was definitely a new low, as far as John was concerned. And how could he bring her back to their flat, for God's sake? That was really crossing a line.

Because there was no way that the words he was hearing, and the tone in which they were said, could possibly be authentic Sherlock. No. Way.

"You could stay," he was saying, presumably enjoining her to spend the night. The words didn't make any sense in the context of it being a case, though. If anything, wouldn't he try to subtly dismiss the woman after he'd essentially prostituted himself for what he had needed with the case in question? Until he heard the mystery woman's reply.

"You know I can't," said the voice, murmuring low, barely audible. Ah, so Sherlock had known that the plea would have the desired effect without actually risking her staying. "Besides," she continued, "John will be home in an hour or so."

Wait, hang on.This woman knew about him? And she, whoever she was, and Sherlock were actively keeping their relationship from him? He started to feel incredibly wrong-footed again, and began to sense that there was something much larger transpiring than he had originally realised.

"I don't care," Sherlock had replied somewhat petulantly. "I know what I've said before, but I think that it's time he knew."

Was this. . .real? John thought dazedly, even more shocked than when he had realised what those noises had meant Sherlock was doing. If so: Yes, it is bloody time I know, he thought, starting to feel a bit angry, and he got up and made for the door at once. He was going to see who this woman was, damn it, and he was going to absolutely prize the expression on Sherlock's face when he was caught out. The git deserved it.

Downstairs again, he parked himself at the table so that he could see both the kitchen and the front door, and he picked up the paper as pretence. A moment later, he heard Sherlock's door open, and he glanced up. Sherlock came to the kitchen entrance from the back hall wearing nothing but his underwear (though John supposed he should be grateful for even those), followed by someone whom he couldn't see around his flatmate.

John had been right about the expression being priceless. Just as Sherlock reached the doorway, his eyes locked in on the cereal bowl on the counter, and his mouth fell open slightly and he stopped short as realisation instantly clicked. John might have been imagining it, but he also thought that Sherlock's cheeks flushed slightly.

He made as if he were going to turn around and usher the woman back into his bedroom again, but then he looked up and he and John made firm eye contact. Sherlock's expression immediately showed his chagrin and embarrassment (and maybe a slight bit of guilt), and this time there was no mistaking the flush.

Yet still the woman behind him didn't peer around to see what the holdup was, which John fleetingly thought was a bit strange. Mostly though, he was enjoying Sherlock's obvious discomfort.

Sherlock opened his mouth once, closed it, then opened it again. "You're home early," he said, seeming uncharacteristically flustered and inarticulate.

John was tempted to say something sarcastic about his deduction skills, but instead said, "I am," with raised eyebrows and a nod, and let his sardonic tone imply the rest.

Sherlock was hesitating, clearly struggling with indecision, before his face hardened in resolve, and he continued into the kitchen, allowing the woman to come into view.

For the smallest fraction of a moment it didn't register to John what he was seeing. He just saw a beautiful dark-haired woman who was wearing a sly, anticipatory expression on her face.

And then it clicked.

He swore loudly, and his jaw dropped. After a moment of silence during which Sherlock seemed to be waiting for John to initiate talking, Sherlock looked from him over to Irene Adler, and they exchanged an inscrutable expression, which edged his shock more into anger.

Still, he didn't know what to say. A dozen different recriminations ran through his mind, and as tempting as it was to vent, he didn't want to get into a row in front of her, so instead he simply got up and left the room, his face hard.

"John," Sherlock called after him, but John ignored him, and he didn't hear Sherlock make any move to follow him. Instead he heard the Adler woman murmur something to him, and John's anger escalated yet another notch.

He stomped up the steps, his breathing short, and when he got upstairs he found himself pacing up and down the length of his room.

Sherlock getting involved with someone in such a way was, as far as he knew, unprecedented, and therefore extremely noteworthy. And for some reason, he didn't trust John enough to share that with him. In fact, he had actively and deliberately kept it from him. John had thought they were friends—true friends, now—but this showed him that Sherlock perhaps thought of him as his personal assistant at best. A sidekick not worth sharing anything important with. Hell, he hadn't even thought John fit to know that Irene was alive, somehow.

And speaking of Ms. Adler: of all the women in the world, why did he have to get involved with her? He knew the answer, but he didn't like it.

John kept rehearsing remarks or retorts in case Sherlock came up and knocked at his door, but he never did, and this made John seethe even more. So much so, that after an hour of staging hypothetical exchanges between himself and Sherlock, he could no longer remain holed up in his room, and he burst out of his door to seek out his flatmate, hoping against hope that that woman ('The Woman' to Sherlock; apparently it was a salute) had left.

When he emerged from the hall on the first storey, it was to find his flatmate impeccably dressed again and sitting at the kitchen table, crossing things out and making additional notes on the same pad where John had read his strange chemistry notation when he'd first come home. That seemed like ages ago, now.

John scanned the flat, but by all appearances they were alone again, thank God.

He stood in the doorway for a moment, waiting for Sherlock acknowledge his presence, but as the moment lengthened and there was no perceptible change in Sherlock's demeanor, John crossed the room to sit directly across the table from him, attempting to get his attention by invading his space. Yet still Sherlock remained silent, and his eyes stayed fixed on his work.

"So. You've nothing to say?" John finally said, struggling to keep his voice even and conversational, though he could hear the edge in his tone.

Another minute passed without any type of response from Sherlock, and just as John was about to say something rude, he set down his pen, sighed, and leaned back in his chair.

"I was under the impression you didn't wish to speak to me. It's clear you're angry I didn't tell you."

"She's alive." John's voice was hard and flat as he stated one of the main things that had been cycling through his mind as he'd paced his bedroom, and Sherlock didn't even look as if he wanted to make a snide comment.

"Yes," he answered frankly.

"You rescued her," John added. He had worked that out while he had been upstairs, recalling what Mycroft had said about it taking Sherlock Holmes to trick him.


John narrowed his eyes. "And now you two are shagging."

A look of pure annoyance flitted across Sherlock's face, but then he blinked, and repeated, "Yes," again.

"Is that all you're going to bloody say?" John barked. "Just one word answers?"

Sherlock looked up. "What do you want to hear?"

"Why the hell didn't you tell me about any of this?" John demanded, his tone exasperated. "Christ, even when you took her phone from me, you looked bloody heart-broken."

Sherlock only made a face, saying nothing.

"You did," John insisted. "But intentionally so, I take it? All the better to properly fool me."

"No. It wasn't an act. I didn't know if I would ever see her again at the time."

Ah, finally some honestly, John thought, though with some irritation. "Well, clearly that's changed."

"Yes," Sherlock said again, and John felt the strong impulse to punch him.

"Stop saying fucking 'yes' to everything I'm saying!" he snapped.

Sherlock went strangely still, and John just stood there, his chest heaving.

"I didn't know what I was experiencing," Sherlock said a moment later, his voice quiet and uncharacteristically subdued. "With her. I couldn't articulate it to myself, let alone to anyone else."

"But now you know?"

Sherlock hesitated. "Not entirely," he admitted. "But I have a better grasp of it. It's not quite as overwhelming now, as it was at first."

John felt a little of the ire leave him at this confession.

"Why didn't you tell me she was alive?" he repeated, then elaborated: "When I told you she was in America."

"Well, she was in America, so I had nothing to correct."

"Oh for—" John said, feeling impatience flare up again. "You know perfectly well that I thought she was dead and I was lying to you to protect you!"

"Obviously," Sherlock retorted sharply. "And I almost told you then," he added softly.

"Why didn't you?" John asked, in a gentler tone as well.

Sherlock pouted his lips thoughtfully. "At first, before that, I didn't tell you because I needed to make absolutely sure that my plan was kept confidential."

John started to protest, but Sherlock cut him off. "I trust you, that's not it. But we all know you're not the most proficient liar, and I knew that when Mycroft came sniffing about, it was critical that you wouldn't have any reason to be deceitful. He's not someone to whom one can lie. He would have read you—and through you, me—like a book."

John was speechless for a moment, but saw at once that Sherlock was right, to his annoyance.

"But after that," he prodded, still not letting his flatmate off the hook.

"I told you, I didn't know if I would ever see her again," Sherlock said, putting up a hand. "It was important that I not let that distract me—that I move on, get back to the work. Besides a few setbacks, I was mostly successful."

"But she's back now," John prompted, and just when Sherlock started to open his mouth, John said, "Don't you dare just say 'yes' to me."

Sherlock gave a ghost of a smile down at the floor, at that. "Her assistance was critical in the Moran affair. Mycroft was able to translate that into a repeal of her exile."

John could only imagine how Sherlock had pushed and campaigned for that one; Mycroft would have never done such a thing on his own initiative. God, Sherlock really did feel something for that woman.

"And since then you've been trying to figure it out," John summed up, and Sherlock nodded once, curtly.

"It's been. . .difficult. It's not like a approaching a case. Well perhaps it's like trying to understand motive. Sometimes obvious, sometimes surprising. But always of worth knowing."

"You've never fancied anyone?" John asked, but out of genuine curiosity. With anyone else the question would have been rhetorical, but who knew with Sherlock?

Sherlock looked contemptful at that. "This isn't a crush, John," he said, his lip almost curling.

John wanted to retort that it was obviously something like that, whatever he wanted to call it. . .which raised the question, what did Sherlock call it?

"Then what is it?" he asked bluntly.

"You want a label?" Sherlock asked incredulously. "She doesn't even ask me for that."

"Yeah, well, she wouldn't, would she?" John retorted dryly. "A self-professed lesbian who's sleeping with you? Probably doesn't care much for labels."

Sherlock frowned. "I can't explain, she's sui generis."

John stared at him. "Fine," he said shortly.

Sherlock shifted uncomfortably, then said in a voice that suggested he was admitting something as if under great duress: "She makes me feel normal."

"And you like that, do you?" John retorted at once. "I thought you hated normal."

Sherlock made a frustrated face, and John almost (but not quite) felt sympathetic towards him. This definitely wasn't his area and he was obviously struggling to express himself. "Normal in that most people are able share common understanding with others. I never have, not on my same level, I mean" —John tried, and didn't quite succeed, to not take offence at this— "But I can with her, and in that way she makes me feel normal. And in this one very narrow and specific case, normal is exceptional."

John gaped at him, his mind numb with shock. After a long moment, he managed in a somewhat awed tone, "You're in love her."

Sherlock grimaced, then said in a voice dripping with disdain, "Don't be ridiculous, John."

"Oh, come on!" John said, becoming more sure of his analysis the more he thought about it. "You rescue someone from being killed, deceive your brother over it, then plead her case to get her back into the country, and now even asked her to spend the night tonight—" at that point Sherlock's eyes darted up sharply, and John realised he'd revealed that he'd been eavesdropping, but ploughed on "—and you tell me not to be ridiculous?"

Sherlock just pursed his lips, and John just rolled his eyes.

"If this wasn't all just an elaborate orchestration by her to get back into the country, then I'm happy for you," John said. "Though that seems like just the sort of thing she would do."

At this Sherlock looked quite offended, but whether it was at the implication that she would be able to repeatedly trick him, the concept that her feelings for him were only an act, or because John was speaking critically of Irene, he wasn't sure.

"It wasn't," Sherlock said shortly.

"Then I'm happy for you," John reiterated. "Shocked, still a bit pissed off you didn't just tell me, and not entirely thrilled with who you've decided to get involved with, but—"

"Why not, what do you mean?" Sherlock asked sharply, lifting his chin to look John in the eye.

John raised his eyebrows. "Seriously?" Surely that was obvious.

"What?" Sherlock rejoined, his brow furrowed.

John scoffed, looking disbelieving at Sherlock for a moment, before reminding him, "The whole reason you even met her was because she was working with Jim Moriarty and manipulating you for information to sell to terrorists."

"That's in the past," Sherlock said, as if dismissively but with a subtle tightness in his voice.

"Oh, fine with it, are you?"

"We've discussed it, and if I can handle it, then I think that you can too, since really, this actually has nothing to do with you," Sherlock snapped, now sounding a bit irritated himself.

John bit the inside of his cheek. "Look, I'm your friend, and I saw how you were before, when you weren't even actually. . . involved."

"Isn't that what you risk every time you start seeing someone?" Sherlock challenged. "As with everything, higher risk yields higher rewards."

"I just think that the combination of those two factors—proven untrustworthiness and how much she gets to you—is dangerous in one individual."

Now Sherlock looked downright angry. "I'm an adult, John. And I will make my own decisions concerning this matter as I see fit. Honestly, this is another reason I didn't tell you; I didn't feel like listening to your judgmental lecturing. God knows I got more than I care for in that regard from my brother."

John felt stung at this, and his voice raised as well. "I'm not being judgmental, just concerned—as your friend. I told you I was happy for you, if she doesn't have any agenda."

"She doesn't," he hissed, his eyes flashing.

"Fine. Good."

They stood across from each other, glaring.

John gave in first. "Look, this is just. . .a lot to take in. I didn't even think you—" He didn't exactly know how to put it. "I didn't think you were interested in that sort of thing."

"What 'sort of thing'?" Sherlock asked, still looking peeved.

"You know. . ." John shifted uncomfortably, then finally just blurted out: "Sex."

"I never said that," Sherlock said cagily.

"Yes you did!" John replied with indignation. "'Body's just transport,' 'girlfriends not your area,' and all that."

Sherlock waved a hand in his maddeningly dismissive manner. "I'm not asexual, if that's what you're trying to get at. Abstaining was a very conscious decision I made; sex just wasn't compatible with the lifestyle choices I had made, or my priorities."

John shook his head slowly, feeling somewhat lost. "But now you've chosen different priorities. . .?" That concept seemed to get at the heart of why John was reacting so strongly. Sherlock's new 'arrangement' was subverting the way he viewed the 'great consulting detective,' which in turn threatened the life John understood, and needed. It challenged the worldview he had accepted, and suddenly made it seem insecure and unfamiliar.

"Not so much that as, it doesn't feel as if I have any 'choice' in the matter," Sherlock said calmly, with quiet confidence.

"What does that mean?" John asked weakly, while thinking Shit, he really is in love with her.

"I don't understand, why does this even upset—" Sherlock started in a huff, responding to a question with one of his own, but then he paused. And then he looked at John, really looked in that terrifying but exhilarating way of his, and a perceptive gleam came into his eyes.

"Ah," he said, with some satisfaction, and John felt his eyes narrow. But before he could say anything, Sherlock continued.

"It means that I've accommodated a new element into my life, but—since you've only found out today after several months, and only by a fluke change in your schedule—it more importantly means that I've done an excellent job at integrating that element without any cost to my other priorities. Nothing has been affected, nothing has changed."

Sherlock looked pleased with himself, and John thought hard back over the past several months, about the cases on which they had worked and whether there were any clues regarding what Sherlock had been up to that might be obvious in retrospect, but to his relief, he couldn't pinpoint anything. Sherlock had just been Sherlock. Even apparently sleeping with someone (regularly, he assumed, though who knew with those two) hadn't made him any less irascible in many ways. He cringed at the resultant mental image.

Still, John's concern wasn't entirely assuaged. "Yeah, well," he finally said, "as you like to tell me, I see but I don't observe."

"Nothing has been affected, nothing has changed," Sherlock repeated slowly, his voice a bit more steely, and John understood that Sherlock was shutting down that specific topic.

There was still so much he didn't understand, though, that that was fine. For instance. . .

He considered the question, dismissed it, then thought to hell with it. Besides, Sherlock was being strangely cooperative and frank; John may as well take advantage.

"So did, erm. . ." he ventured. "Did Irene go back to. . . her former profession?"

Unexpectedly, a small smile actually appeared on Sherlock's face, and sod it if it wasn't one of pride. That was not the reaction John had expected, and it was a bit intriguing.

"No," Sherlock said. "No, she's using her unique skill set in a much different capacity now."

When he didn't elaborate, John shook his head, as if to say, Yes...?

Sherlock grinned. "Ever hear of Mata Hari? First world war—"

John blinked. "Of course, everyone's heard of Mata Hari."

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "I can't be expected to keep track of what is considered general knowledge. Most of the things I consider rudimentary seem to totally evade the vast majority of people."

"So," John said, clearing his throat to bring them back on topic, "you're telling me that Irene is some sort of 21st century Mata Hari?" He could completely see it, actually.

Sherlock's smug smile instantly returned. "Only of course, The Woman won't be ending up the same way," he said, then added in a somewhat acidic tone: "They had their chance, and there will not be a second opportunity."

John stared at him, then shook his head and laughed a bit mirthlessly at hearing Sherlock still refer to her by her (now former) professional title. "You're telling me she's a sort of. . . consultant spy?"

Sherlock looked surprised, and then distinctly pleased with that. "'Consultant spy,' brilliant, John. Yes, exactly. And again, I invented the job: it was my idea."

John rather suspected that Irene herself had invented the job by actually doing it, going on what Sherlock had mentioned about her helping with Moran, but that Sherlock had convinced Mycroft to use those skills once she was back in London. Or perhaps their application towards the public good was Mycroft's condition for her return?

Either way, he wondered if it were possible that any possessiveness on Sherlock's part had anything to do with him channeling her away from her old job and into a new one.

"All right," John finally said, nodding. "Well. . ." he wracked his brain trying to think of something to say, and awkwardly ended up with, "Be safe."

Sherlock stared at him in a blend of relief and 'you're an absolute idiot,' the latter being much, much more heavily favoured.

"Yes," he said, but then the corner of his mouth twitched to show he was just taking the piss, and John rolled his eyes, but smiled slightly back at him, then made his way upstairs, his mind spinning.

He never, in a million years, could have guessed when he came home early that day that firstly, Irene Adler was still alive; secondly, Sherlock had somehow rescued her (he had been too distracted in the moment to ask for details, but he certainly would); thirdly, Sherlock was intimately involved someone. A woman John had thought was dead, twice. And fourthly, not only that, but despite his protestations, Sherlock seemed to be in love. Or if not that, then at least the closest approximation to love that Sherlock was capable of.

He laughed to himself, and this time it came out slightly manic. At least he could be assured that the one person who would be more bothered about his relationship interfering with their work, was Sherlock himself.

And with that comforting thought, he switched on his laptop to write a blog entry he knew he could probably never post, unless he wanted Sherlock to never speak to him again at the very mildest, or perpetuate the perfect homicide against him in the most extreme.

Tonight I came home to find out in the most unexpected way that Sherlock Holmes has, for lack of a better term, a girlfriend. . .

Several days passed, and neither of them mentioned the incident, although it was certainly the proverbial elephant in the room, and to John's consternation, he found himself able to think of little else. On Boxing Day, an opportunity to delve further into the subject presented itself: they both sat at the table, a plate of mince pies between them that Mrs. Hudson had delivered earlier that morning, and Sherlock on his laptop, looking as if he were transcribing notes someone else had made in an unfamiliar language.

For several moments John looked up, then back down to his paper, gathering up courage, but just as he decided against saying anything, Sherlock said in a drawling tone, not even bothering to look up: "Spit it out, John."

"It's nothing," he said a bit too quickly, and Sherlock just stared forward at his screen, not acknowledging John's denial.

"You have more questions," he said, sounding impossibly bored at having to make such an obvious statement.

"No, not really," John denied, but then before he even fully realised it, he continued on the same breath, "I guess I just, er. . . was—am—curious. How was it?"

At that Sherlock looked up suspiciously, as if he understood John's tone in an instant—which of course, he did. "How was what?" he asked warily, his eyes narrowed.

"You know," John said, warming more to the topic now that it was out in the air.

Sherlock sniffed. "I fail to see how that's any of your business."

"Oh don't be so prim. You like that she makes you feel normal? Well this is me, treating you like a normal bloke. This is what mates talk about."

Sherlock made a face. "That seems a bit tasteless."

"Come on, you repressed twat," he said, grinning now. "I'm not asking for the gory details."

Sherlock raised one eyebrow, then sighed and let his shoulders relax. "To be honest, it originally reminded me of taking a dose of cocaine. That's the only thing I've experienced in my life that's at all comparable. Except that the gratification derived from the act was connected to another person, so it was quite different in that way."

"So, you enjoyed it?" John asked hesitantly. He didn't know what to make of that answer.

Sherlock huffed in annoyance. "Of course, don't be an idiot. Pleasure is the primary physical response to sexual stimuli. Besides, I wouldn't continue to, how do you put it, 'get off with' Ms. Adler if I hadn't."

"All right, all right, calm down. That's good." Christ, John thought.

Oh, and 'Ms. Adler' now, was it? Do I sense a bit of unconscious emotional distancing since I called you out the other night? Interesting, he mused to himself. Or is that what she makes you call her in bed. He snickered to himself at the thought, and Sherlock noticed, and cast him a sulky look, though John was sure he didn't know what John found funny. Perhaps because he didn't know what John found so funny.

"Does she, um, take charge?" John said, feeling a bit bolder still.

Sherlock looked puzzled at first, but then John's meaning apparently clicked, and he shot John an incredulous and somewhat scandalised look.

John put up his hands. "Okay, never mind, you don't have to answer that one. That maybe was a bit too personal, but, you know, I was just curious. I mean, before... Anyway, fine. We can leave that. How did it first happen?"

Sherlock apparently deigned to answer this one. "It was in Karachi. The adrenaline rush of her rescue proved quite an aphrodisiac, apparently. For both of us, I think, although for her it probably stemmed more from the fact that she was alive. It all happened rather suddenly, but I certainly didn't and don't regret it. At least, it seemed sudden at the time, though in retrospect. . ." He faded off, a distant look in his eye.

John remembered what Sherlock had said about not being a hero, and thought that probably Irene Adler would disagree with him on a point or two about that.

"And you've been in touch that whole time. . ."

"Not immediately, no," Sherlock said, his expression clearing and his voice becoming sharper. "She wasn't able to come back to Britain with me and so there was no point; it only would've served as a needless distraction. But when I" (Sherlock gave a very slight pause) "went underground, she was my first point of contact for strategic reasons. I needed her to provide me with as much information as she could regarding Moriarty's network. Which she did—indispensable information, as it transpired."

John nodded, feeling torn. On one hand he was grateful that Sherlock had been able to find what John would have considered an unlikely ally, while another part was still a bit resentful of the time when Sherlock had faked his death and vanished from his life for almost eighteen months. "And did you carry on with her then?"

Sherlock frowned, though this time it didn't seem to be because he disapproved of John's question. It looked more like the thoughtful frown he wore when confronted with something he hadn't fully understood yet. "'Carry on with'. . ." he murmured, almost as if to himself. ". . .Yes. It was odd. I hadn't seen her for the better part of a year, and yet she was just as somehow compelling to me as when we had parted. Even more so, in a way. It was quite unexpected." His frown deepened, but then his eyes cleared and he looked up at John. "Although I expect that part of it was that aside from my brother and Molly Hooper, she was the only person who knew I was alive. The only person with whom I could be myself, during that time. And she is certainly preferable to Mycroft in every conceivable way." He smirked.

But John felt a bit buoyed by that. It was a compliment, he thought. Sherlock didn't have him, John, or his old life which he shared with him, and John thought that it could be one explanation for why Sherlock bonded so tightly to Irene during that time.

"Perhaps you're right," Sherlock said musingly, and John started, wondering how Sherlock had seemingly read his mind this time, and feeling somewhat embarrassed.

"Right? Right about what," he asked.

"About the nature of my sentiment," Sherlock responded evenly. "Perhaps it's time to call a rake a rake."

"You mean 'call a spade a spade'?" John corrected automatically, although his mind was reeling at Sherlock's confession.

Sherlock waved his hand dismissively, a preoccupied look on his face. He was so calm and detached-seeming about it. It was as if he had examined the relevant evidence, and that's what he could glean from it.

But then abruptly, his demeanor changed. His face became suddenly animated and flushed and he leaped from his chair and rushed for his jacket.

"I have to go," he said, in the energised tone he usually reserved for when he'd take off on promising leads. "Don't wait up."

And without another word, he was out the door, leaving John staring after him, agog.

When John heard the sound of the front door slamming shut reverberate up through the floorboards, he set his chin in his hand moodily, glaring at Sherlock's unfinished mince pie.

How was it fair that he, someone who actively sought out romantic relationships, was stuck at home while his antisocial, previously asexual flatmate was off to ostensibly admit his feelings to a beautiful woman? Never mind that it was someone he didn't approve of, despite what Sherlock said—it was the principle of the matter.

Happy Christmas, indeed.

Merry Christmas, once again! And I hope that everyone has a wonderful New Year.

PS: Ave, Verum, loosely means Hail, Truth and is the title of one of my favorite Christmas hymns (Mozart). Since this is a Christmas story in which John learns a 'truth,' I thought it was appropriate ;)

PPS: I made a little manip for this story. It's not the best since I only used an online photo editor, but I had fun making it! tinyurl "dotcomforwardslash" aveverumfanfic