Sherlock woke quickly, as was always the case. He did not immediately open his eyes; there was no case at the moment, and therefore no reason to rush out of bed. After a few slow, measured breaths, he stretched, beginning with his toes, flexing and stretching his feet and legs, then his hands and wrists, before progressing to a full body stretch. It was then that he realized John was not beside him in bed.
Sherlock sat up quickly and frowned at the rumpled sheets where John should have been. It was a Sunday; John loved to have a lie in on a Sunday. The sheets were cool on John's side of the bed, meaning he'd been up for some time. Sherlock was a fairly light sleeper when sharing a bed, and John had not woken him during the night due to illness or the nightmares that still plagued him occasionally, so John had not got up during the night to allow Sherlock to sleep undisturbed.
There were very few things that would cause John to rise from bed early on a Sunday, and none of them boded well. It was possible that Harry might have called, but Sherlock would have heard John's mobile ringing, and certainly would have heard John speaking had he answered the phone while still abed. It was possible John might have made plans to do something this morning, but he would certainly have told Sherlock if that was the case, which would mean that Sherlock had either not been listening, which would be bad, or had deleted the information as irrelevant, which was unlikely but equally bad.
The only viable option Sherlock could see was that John was troubled about something, and had been unable to sleep. It had not been a nightmare or illness. If it was Harry or related to his job, John would have waited for Sherlock to wake and talked to him about it. That meant whatever was upsetting John was Sherlock.
In the three or four seconds it took Sherlock to consider these possibilities, he rose from bed and donned his dressing gown over his sleep clothes. He could smell tea, which meant at least John was not so upset as to have left the flat, which he sometimes did when he was frustrated or angry and wanted to compose himself. Tea meant whatever was troubling John was to be discussed, which was generally good, but could not be discussed in bed. If John did not wish to discuss the issue in bed, the issue must have something to do with their sharing a bed. So far, so obvious.
What was not so obvious was what John wanted to say. Sherlock found that although he was often able to predict behavior, he was ever more frequently unable to predict John's behavior. The motivations he generally got right, it was the way John handled certain situations that left Sherlock at loose ends. The man simply didn't fit the patterns of Sherlock's other relationships well enough to be reliably predictable. It was terrifying, and rather glorious.
Sherlock stepped into the kitchen and saw John, seated at the kitchen table, a mug of tea clenched tightly with both hands. Nervous. He was fully dressed, and despite the forecasted warmth of the day was wearing his thickest cable knit jumper. Vulnerable, and layering himself to provide armor. John's eyes were pinched, indicating an impending headache. Lack of sleep. Despite Sherlock's undisturbed sleep, John had been troubled enough to suffer a bout of insomnia. A full pot of tea and plate of Sherlock's favorite biscuits were on the table. John felt whatever he was going to say would require Sherlock be comforted.
This was an altogether untenable situation.
"Tea, biscuits, this must be serious," Sherlock said. John made eye contact briefly, long enough for Sherlock to register he was not amused. Sherlock waived his hand in annoyed apology. "Defense mechanism. It's a reflex, John."
Sherlock sat at the table across from John. He poured himself a cup of tea, and even though he was not the least bit hungry took a biscuit and laid it on his saucer.
"We need to talk about sex, Sherlock," John said, staring into his tea as though the mysteries of the universe could be discerned from the steam if only he concentrated hard enough.
"I'd really rather not," Sherlock replied.
"Yes, well that's rather the problem, isn't it?" John said sharply.
Oh bugger, Sherlock thought. He had so hoped to avoid this, especially with John. He had so hoped that John would be different, that John wouldn't ridicule him or blame him or…
"Sorry, I'm sorry," John was apologizing. "Please, Sherlock, don't make that face. I feel wrong footed enough about this, let's not make it more difficult by not really listening."
Sherlock nodded cautiously. That sounded like the sort of thing he would expect John to say about a delicate topic.
"Look, Sherlock. I know films and telly would have us believe that when two people lo…care about each other, when they finally do fall into bed together it's always amazing." John paused and sighed deeply. "And I don't expect it to work like that. But our first, when we first, it wasn't…I put it down to nerves. I've never been with a man before, and it's, well it's you."
John waved a hand in Sherlock's direction, and regardless of the vague gesture, Sherlock fully comprehended his meaning. They'd been through so much already, before they even considered anything more…intimate, and their history and fierce loyalty made everything much more intense.
"And I thought, it would just take time…to, you know, adjust to, things. But that's," John took a very long pause, and Sherlock was mortified to see a gleam in John's eyes that suggested he was fighting back tears. Nononono. John should never look that way because of Sherlock, that was why he hadn't ever said, because he'd never wanted John, of all people…Sherlock slid his hand into the pocket of his dressing gown to grasp his mobile desperately, ready to fake a text about a case to escape this. "Sherlock, if something I'm doing is, not, please, you have to tell me if I'm hurting you."
Sherlock contained a gasp, but only just. John wasn't angry. Of course John wasn't angry, why would John be angry? John was concerned. Always, John was concerned about Sherlock. When would he learn that John simply did not follow the patterns of his other relationships because John was not like other people?
"Of course, if I'm just rubbish, you could tell me that too," John laughed, but it wasn't a pleasant laugh. Not the warm, slow chuckle that made John shake his head in amusement, nor the high, quick giggle that bubbled forth when John and Sherlock were doing something particularly exhilarating and ridiculous.
John's mobile chimed, but he ignored it. Sherlock stared at him and inclined his head. Aren't you going to check that? John huffed.
"Are you…seriously, Sherlock, are you…texting me? About this? While we're…hang on, what's wrong? That I'm rubbish or that I'm hurting you? Bit of a distinction there, Sherlock. Not exactly an area where we want to be ambiguous."
Sherlock shrugged and John leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling in despair.
"You told me you have very little experience with sex, and what experience you do have was long ago. And I respect your privacy, Sherlock, and I won't ask you about it."
"I know you wouldn't, John." Sherlock did know; John hadn't even blinked at Sherlock's statement that he had not had sex in well over ten years. Sherlock could have assumed that was due to John's own desire not to be questioned about his sexual history, but he knew that wasn't the case. John wouldn't ask because it was obviously something Sherlock didn't want to discuss, and when John made a promise he kept it. Unless, of course, he felt something was dangerous or hurting Sherlock.
Given John's previous reactions to other people hurting Sherlock, he must be truly miserable, thinking that he was the one causing Sherlock pain. No wonder he couldn't sleep; it was something of a surprise he was so calm.
"But Sherlock, this isn't something we can just not talk about. Or, I can't. I'm not Sherlock Holmes, and my incredible intelligence isn't going to give me the answers by the state of your cuff links. I'm John Watson, and for better or worse, I didn't get the name Three Continents Watson because I like to travel. I know sex, Sherlock. Good and bad, and this is…it isn't good."
"Three Continents, really? I'm impressed, John." Sherlock knew it was childish, trying to distract John, but this was a conversation he would rather avoid by any means necessary.
John looked up quickly at Sherlock, then back at his tea. He took a deep breath and forged on. "I get the feeling, Sherlock, that you'd rather we didn't have sex at all."
Sherlock didn't know what to say. This was precisely why he didn't get involved in relationships; there were too many situations in which there was no right or wrong answer. He could lie, and tell John that wasn't the problem, and John would believe him, but then Sherlock would have to continue having sex with John. In the short term, that would be fine, but Sherlock didn't want his relationship with John to be short term, and Sherlock knew he would never be able to sustain the fiction for long.
He could tell the truth, which he knew John would value, because John didn't like when Sherlock lied to him, but the truth would hurt John's feelings. This had truly nothing to do with John, and everything to do with Sherlock. John was a doctor, and ought to be able to understand asexuality on an intellectual level, but Sherlock knew enough about John to believe that, intellectual understanding aside, John would see it as a rejection.
Sherlock looked at John, at his earnest, open, unguarded face, and couldn't lie to him. Not again, not after The Fall. Everything about John's body language told Sherlock this was hard for him, and yet John had gone ahead with the courage of a soldier and Sherlock would have to do the same.
"Yes, I'd rather we didn't," Sherlock said.
"Oh thank Christ," John breathed.
"You have to understand, John, this has nothing to do with you. I've never enjoyed…" Sherlock stopped. For once his brain had actually needed more than a microsecond to process information, and he once he consciously caught up with what John had said, he needed more time to completely analyze it. John was relieved. John was relieved? Color was returning to John's face, the tension in his shoulders had released and John was slumped in his chair. Sherlock could practically see the anxiety seeping out of John's body at his confession. There could be no doubt that Sherlock had done the right thing in telling the truth, and that John was relieved, perhaps even glad to hear it, but in the name of all that was carefully measured and catalogued, why? "You're not angry. I thought you'd be angry, or disappointed. Rejected, depressed, betrayed. But you're relieved. That was the answer you wanted to hear. It doesn't make any sense, John. Will I never get your limits?"
John laughed. Sherlock bristled a bit; it wasn't as though John had never laughed at him before, but generally it was good-natured.
"I don't know if relieved covers it, love," John sighed. "I thought it was just me."
"Just you." Sherlock found the implications of the word just to be staggering. "You would rather we didn't have sex as well?"
"Well, no, that's not exactly it," John said. He sipped his tea, taking a moment to gather his thoughts. "What I'd rather, is that you weren't asexual and I wasn't heterosexual, and that we'd met, and fallen in love, and then lived happily ever after."
"What makes you say I'm asexual?" John stared. "I am, of course, but I'd like to hear how you figured it out."
"I told you, Sherlock, I know sex. You made it pretty clear when we first met that women weren't your thing. I thought for a while that maybe you were gay. Harry was pretty blunt with people too, when she came out, kind of like she was daring anyone to say anything about it. And then there was the way you were so prickly with Lestrade. I thought there might be some kind of history there."
Sherlock frowned. Lestrade? How could John have ever thought such a thing?
"But then when I found out about the drugs, and about Lestrade knowing you then, I figured out I was imagining the wrong kind of history. And I don't want to say I was watching, because it wasn't conscious, but you never showed any interest in anyone. Or at least, until that woman," Sherlock couldn't help but smirk at the disdain John could infuse into three syllables, "had you twisting in the wind. But you'd already told me women weren't your thing. Then there was Moriarty." John fidgeted a bit in his chair, and Sherlock frowned. "You were so fascinated with him, so caught up. I started thinking maybe it wasn't about gender; it was about intelligence, someone to match you, challenge you. And then you died," John's voice betrayed him, cracking as he spoke, "and I thought…oh Christ, Sherlock, I'm so sorry now when I think about it, but it occurred to me that maybe Moriarty hadn't been fascinated with you quite the same way you were with him, and that maybe you'd…"
"You thought I committed suicide because Moriarty rejected my sexual advances," Sherlock said, when it was clear that John was struggling too much to even put his thoughts into words. "From an outside perspective, for a person who wasn't in possession of all the facts, it was a reasonable hypothesis."
"No it bloody wasn't, Sherlock," John growled. "I never doubted that you were telling me the truth; I know you were real, I saw it, I lived it. But I doubted that you mightn't have been lying to yourself about why you were so taken with him, and I ought to have known you better."
"Oh John," Sherlock breathed. "You couldn't have known me better. I deliberately made sure you didn't know me better."
"Well I know that now, you great twat. The thing is Sherlock, it never occurred to me that my life would go so wonky. It's a word!" John protested when he saw Sherlock's face. "All right, you know what, that's fine. Let's just have it out then. I love you. Do you hear that, you complete prat? I love you. But I'm really, really, really not gay. And Christ, Sherlock, I wish it was easier than this. When we're together, here, at the Yard, on a case, at Angelo's, I can't remember ever being so happy. But when we're in there," John waved a hand toward their bedroom, "it just doesn't feel right to me."
"Nor to me, John," Sherlock agreed. He looked at John, who looked so lost, and wished that he could say something, anything, that would make this click for them like everything else had so far. "And I'm not, good, with…I feel the same way." Sherlock looked away, unable to make even such a pathetic attempt at reciprocating John's sentiment while he was making eye contact.
"The thing is, Sherlock," John paused. Sherlock noted the long pause with trepidation. "The thing is, I don't know how to make this, how to make us work in this kind of a relationship." John sighed. "God, Sherlock, I don't know what to do. I always thought some day I would meet the love of my life and everything else would just fall into place."
"I fear you are more disillusioned than I in that respect, John," Sherlock admitted. "It never occurred to me I would fall in love, and I certainly never anticipated being loved so in return."
John flashed Sherlock a sad little smile, which he returned. Unlike John, Sherlock had not expected the course of true love to run smooth. In fact, Sherlock had expected an obstacle long before this, and had planned for many of them. Now, seeing John's upset, he realized how ill-informed his plans had been. John would never agree to a string of casual liaisons to satisfy his need for sexual congress, nor would he consider procuring professional services for such.
"As foreign as this concept is to me, John, I believe that now the correct course of action is to have faith that things will work out," Sherlock said. "If there is, as you say, justice in the world, two people who love each other as deeply as we must find happiness."
"I never thought I would see the day when Sherlock Holmes would advise me to have faith," John chuckled. "Well, if there's anything I have faith in, Sherlock, it's you and me."
Eight Months Later
John stood on the street, ignoring the angry mutterings of people trying to bustle past him. He'd debated with himself for a month before making this appointment, cancelled and then rescheduled it twice and now he was standing outside the building, ten minutes late and still not sure he wanted to go inside.
He'd not seen Ella in almost two years, not since before Sherlock had come back after his fall. She'd been good for him then, when he needed someone to talk to who didn't know Sherlock. She hadn't questioned why he still believed in Sherlock, or tried to argue with him until he gave in and admitted Sherlock was a fraud. She hadn't asked if he'd seen it coming, or even hinted that he should have been able to stop it. She had just listened.
Even though she'd asked some pretty blunt questions, questions of the sort that Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson either wouldn't have dared to ask or presumed they knew the answers to, John had never answered. He hadn't denied loving Sherlock, not to Ella, but he'd never said it. He'd never had the nerve to even consider it when Sherlock was alive; to admit it to someone else felt like the worst sort of cowardice.
And now to have his miracle, to have Sherlock back and feeling the same way about him, and to be complaining about not getting laid felt so...selfish and juvenile and ungrateful and dammit he was a good man, wasn't he, and why couldn't he have the love of his and a sex life, it wasn't fair and…
John swallowed past the lump in his throat. He didn't want to be this man, this utter shit of a man who had everything he'd ever asked for handed to him and complained because there was one thing a little bit off. It was defeatist and he wasn't going to cheapen what he and Sherlock had by saying it wasn't enough for him. No. No, no, just no.
Without looking, John turned to back away from the building and walked straight into a woman trying to enter. He heard her gasp and then a curse. He managed to grab her just in time to keep from completely knocking her over, if not in time to save her coffee.
"Shit, I'm sorry, totally my fault," John stammered.
"That's okay, I never liked this blouse much anyway," the woman replied. She unwound her scarf from her neck and wiped ineffectually at the spreading stain.
"Really, I'm sorry." John was mortified to hear his voice cracking; he was near tears and tried to cover by clearing his throat loudly. "I can pay for the cleaning; I should have been paying attention."
"You all right?" The woman put her hand on John's forearm and gave a little squeeze. "It's none of my business, but you look poorly. Do you need some help?"
"I don't know," John said. He hadn't meant it to sound so hopeless, but there was just no other way to say it.
"Why don't you let me buy you a coffee, and you can tell me about it?" She smiled; John smiled back, but it was a poor effort. "Sometimes an outsider's perspective can be helpful. Come on, there's a café just down the way a bit. You can tell me what's got you so lost. Maybe I can help, maybe I can't, but it's got to be better than standing outside your therapist's office trying to work up the courage to go inside." John must have shown his surprise because the woman laughed. "I'm not a mind reader or anything. I work in this building. It's all estate agents and accountants and insurance folks and one suite of therapist's offices. Nobody dithers about seeing an estate agent so much they run people over when they change their mind."
"No, really, I couldn't let you do that," John protested.
"You can buy me a coffee then. You owe me an explanation for my ruined blouse at the least."
"You don't even know me."
"Well what's your name?"
"John. John Watson."
"Nice to meet you John Watson. I'm Mary Morstan."