Actions

Work Header

Time after Time

Chapter Text

Falling in love with a posh boy by the bins round the back of Fuzzy Ducks was not in Victoria’s plans.

Still, you don’t always get what you wish for. And sometimes what you do get is so bittersweet that you can’t let go.

**

Pulp was blasting out of the club. The bloke didn’t seem all that drunk, but Victoria was plastered, and they’d tipped out into back alley giggling. There was one couple already at it, on a car bonnet.

‘Whoah, classy, guys,’ called Victoria, trying not to turn her ankle as she slipped on slimy fallen leaves. Four-inch heels had seemed like a good idea when she bought them at the charity shop. They were a bit like a pair Emily Parkes, the snooty girl next door in her digs, had.

Actually, Victoria and the skinny white boy (Sherlog, was it? some weird name) weren’t going to be able to do much better than a car bonnet themselves. Still, there was a wall with a narrow strip of scrubby grass behind it, so she tugged Sher-thingy generally in that direction.

Victoria sat on the wall, and pulled him in for a kiss. The world wobbled... and somehow she was still pulling... and whoomph, the breath went out of her as she landed on the grass, tights ripping and skin scraping painfully across the top of the rough wall.

Sherlog was on top of her, dragged over by her hand fisted in his shirt. Thank fuck he was skinny, so she hadn’t been flattened, and he’d stuck out a hand to break his fall so now he was leaning over her awkwardly, their legs tangled together and crushed against the wall.

‘Jesus, what?’ Victoria wheezed, flailing hopelessly, half-giggling.

Then his face appeared above her, very pale, with his dark hair messed up and laughter in his strange, light eyes.

Oh.

For some reason they both went very still. Common People washed over them.

‘Well, hello Victoria,’ the bloke said. That was one gorgeous, velvety voice.

‘Hello, Sherlog,’ she said.

‘Sherlock.’

That bit of petulance made her want to bite the end of his pointy pale nose. He smelled so good. Expensive and clean but with the tang of new sweat.

Victoria reached up and brushed his hair out of his face. Out here, his eyes looked weird. Kind of transparent. Obviously this was going to be the point where they kissed... except when she went for it she actually managed to miss his face. He laughed. Not at her; it was just a happy sound.

‘Oh god, it’s November.... ’m freezing me tits off. And rat-arsed,’ Victoria said. ‘If you get your dick out I’ll prob’ly see it double and sit on the wrong one.’

‘It’s customary for the male partner to assist in that process,’ replied Sherlock, deadpan.

Fuck, he was every bit as posh as she’d thought. Posher, even.

‘OK, Sherlock, you’re definitely from the other place. Slumming it with the Brookes plebs, are you?’

‘No, just gathering data,’ he said. ‘You interest me. This isn’t your native territory either, going by the shape of your bra.’

What?

Victoria was – had been, before the night air hit – bladdered enough to want to fuck just about anything, especially something this gorgeous. But. ‘Gathering data’? By groping her bra?

‘Piss off,’ she said, only half-joking.

Sherlock looked frustrated. His sticky-out hair bobbed between Victoria and the light spilling out of the club behind him as he started to talk very fast and far more clearly than a drunk should be able to.

‘I mean that the practical design suggests your funds for clothing are limited, and while you’re willing to spend money on exterior display it’s more important to you to be comfortable than it is to impress a conquest who’s already secured. Am I wrong?’

OK. She’d picked up a nutter. She was starting to wonder where her rape alarm was – with her luck, it was probably wedged under her arse. Still, when she reached for one of her fallen shoes and gave the weirdo a warning jab with it he just rolled off her and sat with an arm around his legs, looking – she felt a weird stab of guilt on seeing it – upset.

‘Fine, look at me like that,’ he snapped. ‘People always do. But it’s obvious you weren’t brought up with the name Victoria. You want very much to join the police, but not merely as a beat officer, so you’re studying law because you think that will help, and you’re worried about failing. Am I wrong?’

‘You’re a fucking freak,’ she shot back, getting as ready as possible to leg it without actually moving. He was giving her the willies. But also... he was absolutely right.

She squinted at him, feeling herself sobering up by the second. All right, so ‘gathering data’ was a freaky thing to say. Didn’t mean that she couldn’t relate, a bit. Drinking this much wasn’t usually her scene either. It just made things easier. Especially when you’d been at uni all of a few weeks and weren’t sure if you’d ever work out what you were doing.

Sherlock’s expression was going blank. She wondered if he was bored with her, but it didn’t seem that way. It was more like he was retreating into himself. The way Sal... Victoria did, when Mum went off on one about her studying and thinking she was better than the rest of them.

She didn’t want him to shut her out.

‘All right, yes, I’m finding it hard,’ she snapped. Must be the booze making her honest. ‘Didn’t exactly get crammed for uni at my school. And my name at home’s Salama, and yeah it’s foreign. My mum’s from Kenya, but I’m from London, before you start on that. Dad always called me Sally.’ Pause. ‘Dunno why I’m telling you this.’

She kind of did, though. This weirdo wasn’t reacting, just listening quietly. It made her want to get a response. It was a bit of a relief to spill her guts, and he was actually starting to look less miserable.

‘Because you like me.’

What? Then again... maybe. Social skills were obviously not the guy’s forte, but she’d never cared much about that.

‘That’ll be why I haven’t stuck this through your balls and legged it,’ Victoria said, brandishing her stiletto heel around just to show nothing was ruled out yet. ‘Look, are you seriously called Sherlock?’

He nodded, mad wavy hair dancing about.

‘Poor bastard. Sherly’s your nickname, then, is it? Or maybe not, eh?’ She shook her head. ‘I blame the parents.’

‘My family’s from Surrey,’ Sherlock said. It sounded like he thought Surrey was a cross between a sewer and no-man’s land. ‘They’re imbeciles. They sent me to boarding school.’

‘Yeah? Nice.’ Victoria had a vague mental picture of a kind of stately home filled with iron beds and kiddy-fiddling teachers – no wonder he was weird. ‘What do you want with me, then? And don’t tell me it’s data.’

Sherlock looked unsure for a moment.

‘I wanted to pick up a girl,’ he said. Then he obviously saw the look on Victoria’s face, and added. ‘Then I wanted you. You don’t fit in much better than I do.’

Huh. She was damn well trying to fit in, and people weren’t supposed to notice. Somehow though, she didn’t mind that he had.

‘Well I want a coffee,’ she said. ‘Coming?

That got her a pathetically eager grin. Sherlock clearly wasn’t good at friends. Victoria had lots now, from her digs and fresher socials. They’d cheered her on when she’d headed out the back of the club. Even Emily, though she’d implied earlier that Victoria would have trouble pulling anyone decent.

She didn’t actually want to go back to that lot. Also, she really was freezing her tits off.

‘Yes! Coffee,’ Sherlock said.

Chapter Text

A kiss was coming. Victoria was absolutely sure of that as they headed for her student digs so she could get into some sensible gear.

Sherlock was going on about forensics in murder cases, which was pretty random, but also made her think he might be useful for helping with coursework. Sod that, though, right now she wanted him, in a way that felt different to other guys. Mostly it was better when they kept their mouths shut. This one... she liked hearing him say sarky things in that ridiculous accent. She wanted to answer him back and see what happened. Then yeah, the rest. But not all at once.

When she said she was only going to change her clothes and come back down, he didn’t seem to mind. That was a little bit disappointing, but a whole lot nice. It was nice, too, to look out of her window and see a gorgeous guy just waiting for her, staring at the terraced houses on the opposite side of the road as if they were the most interesting thing ever. A white guy. Well sure, but what she mostly thought of when she looked at his skin was biting it. Mmm.

So she walked him to the all-night café, and they sat down behind their coffees, and they stared at each other across the table, and apparently they both totally ran out of things to say.

‘I’m too sober,’ Victoria announced.

Her friends would have said that was the problem. Fortunately it wasn’t making Sherlock look any less edible, even under the café striplight.

She stirred her coffee. Stirred it some more.

‘The milk will have achieved full dispersion fifteen seconds ago,’ Sherlock said. ‘Why the name Victoria?’

She could have lied to him, of course. But she’d been doing too much of that for weeks, and she hadn’t had enough sleep, and she wanted some let-up.

‘Girl at school. She was... glamorous. People liked her.’ (Victoria Trevor. Queen of the school. Poshest family in the area. Mum shouted: Salama Donovan, you too good for us? Even you name?) ‘Guess I thought it might rub off.’

‘Hm, no, it doesn’t suit you,’ said Sherlock, steepling his long, lickable fingers in front of his mouth. ‘You’re not pretentious. Sally is better.’

She dropped her teaspoon with a clatter. She’d mentioned once that her Dad used to call her that, and now this arrogant dickhead thought he could...

No. She wasn’t going to give him a rise.

‘All right, maybe I prefer Sally too. I get to decide. I just wanted to try Victoria for a bit. You think stating the obvious makes you some kind of genius? Well, I can tell you’re a wanker and you’ve got no friends.’

Immediately she regretted her tone. The townie lads at the next table, who’d already been watching them, started snickering – mostly at Sherlock.

Sherlock looked at the greasy wall beside the table. ‘Yes, herd life is so appealing,’ he muttered.

Sally half got out of her seat. ‘What the fuck you lot staring at?’

The biggest townie seemed to think about getting up in her face, enough to give her Sally an oh shit, what’ve I got into moment, then shrugged and went back to scarfing his toast instead.

‘Look, I’m going to ask this one more time. What do you really want from me?’ Sally said in a much quieter voice.

They both leant over their coffees. Their foreheads were close together, and again she thought there must be a kiss, but there wasn’t.

‘As I said, you like me. That makes you considerably smarter than most.’

Hell, the arrogance again. The thing was, cleverness really did come off him in waves – sexy waves. He seemed to like the fact that she didn’t back down, and to not see it as a threat.

She could respect that. She wanted him to deserve the respect.

‘That’s what you tell all the girls, is it?’

Sherlock seemed suddenly like a kid as he bit his lip and looked at the table.

‘There haven’t been any others,’ he replied. ‘Look, though… I’m not completely freakish. I’ve just not practised much yet.’

Sally liked him even more for admitting that.

‘Yeah? Well, I’m a pretty good teacher. Whatever those public school poofs told you, shove it.’

Sherlock glanced up sharply. He smiled, and at the same time he looked as if he might cry.

Someone had hurt him badly, no doubt about it. It made Sally want to kill them, because she believed him – she really was his first. Bonkers, but true, like everything he said.

***

The kiss came as he walked her home. There was a hedge, and suddenly they were in it, with his face on hers, and his cold, rather nervous lips, and her giggling and warming them up with her breath. He was skinny but there was a nice bit of arse to get hold of round inside his fancy coat.

‘Oh, sweet virgin boy,’ she cooed into the side of his neck when they pulled apart. ‘Imagine if we’d actually fucked out the back of the club. Me pissed and you – well. It would just not have happened, would it?’

‘We were doing fine until you pulled me over,’ retorted Sherlock.

She could see uncertainty in his face, though. It was cute.

A pair of boys passed on the other side of the street and shouted something moronic at them. Sherlock turned to look, and kept looking, but Sally wasn’t going to be afraid of passing idiots even if he was, so she grabbed his long, long fingers and shoved them into the waistband of her jeans.

His surprise was hilarious.

‘All right,’ she said. ‘I’m not going to teach you how to shove Stick A into Slot B right here, but finding a girl’s clit is what I’d call a useful skill. Let’s see if that great big brain of yours can manage it.’

Sherlock was well up for it, she gave him that. An adorable little frown of concentration appeared on his face as he burrowed down through her pubes. Sally was all ready to take pity on him and help out when suddenly his finger was in exactly the right place. He caught her clit very gently with the edge of his nail, something she’d always liked.

‘Ooh... good student, B+,’ she said in surprise, shivering in a way that had nothing to do with the cold. ‘You been studying diagrams?’

‘Yes,’ Sherlock replied, repeating the action. ‘Genital anatomy varies, but the basic configuration is simple.’

Charming. Sally drew breath to snap back at him, then noticed how pleased he looked with himself, and didn’t have the heart.

Then he started to rub around the whole rim of her cunt as if scrubbing a dish clean.

‘Ow, quit that!’ Sally protested, grabbing his wrist and pulling it out, though she didn’t really mind. Daft mistakes made him a bit more human.

‘Don’t you like it when a man takes control?’ asked Sherlock.

Jesus. He seemed to honestly think that was a reasonable question – gathering bloody data.

‘Occasionally. If he knows what he’s doing,’ she said. ‘You do not.’

Sherlock looked away. He was probably a bit offended – if he hadn’t been, she’d have wondered if he was a man or an alien.

Then he swung back around, and gripped her hips, and kissed her hard – but not so hard she couldn’t push back and shove him round so that in spite of being taller he was the one back against the hedge. He went easily and oh yes, he’d wanted that, men ‘taking control’ her arse. This boy was going to look so, so good flat on his back on Sally’s bed.

Their bodies ground together and Sherlock’s cock was stiffening against her, but she backed off so she could finally bite that neck... and had to stop. A massive yawn was forcing its way up her throat, and she had no choice but to let it out.

Sherlock pulled away and straightened himself up against the hedge. She was relieved to see him grin as she covered her mouth with her hand and pulled an oops, sorry expression.

‘It’s tomorrow,’ he said, glancing up at the lightening sky. Then: ‘Sally, you’re beautiful and you don’t play stupid games.’

‘Thanks. You’re cute, too.’

Dammit, she had the urge to giggle, which would be totally uncool. It happened, anyway. And Sherlock smiled back.

There were so many other things she could say to him, like he was gorgeous, and mental, and totally fascinating, but it all felt like too much. At this point she should either take him home and shag him into a puddle, or get shot of him and go back to the pile of worksheets she’d abandoned on her desk.

She didn’t quite want to do either. She wanted to make him laugh and hold his hand. Studying was going to come first, though. She might feel at sea in this new world, but she wasn’t going to sink without a fight.

‘We’re only a street away from mine,’ she said. ‘I want to walk there myself, but I also want to see you again, for real. Are you up for it?’

She hadn’t really doubted that he’d nod, but she was still relieved when he did.

Sally got a scrap of paper out of her bag and wrote her number down. ‘Here.’

Sherlock glanced at the bit of paper just once – then crumpled it up and dropped it.

‘Thank you,’ he said, as if what he’d done was normal. ‘You can’t call me direct, but phone the porters and they’ll leave a message in my pij.’

‘Pij?’

‘Pigeonhole. You’ll need my full name – Sherlock Holmes. The college is St John’s.’

Huh. One of the snobbiest, brainiest and richest. She really had taken up with a posh boy.

Fine. She could deal with that. Why wouldn’t she?

Chapter Text

They did see each other again. Twice in the first week and three times the next, at cafés or in her house.

Sherlock offered to help with Sally’s coursework, so she got him to look at her latest essay, guessing that what he said was likely to be useful.

‘No wonder you think you’ll fail!’ he announced after three minutes. ‘This is a C minus at best. You don’t know how to take notes. You don’t know how to find relevant books that aren’t handed to you. You don’t know how to draw an argument together.’

‘Oh, thanks for the encouragement!’ Sally snapped. ‘Silly me for being stuck in a class of forty kids then working my way through sixth-form college! Somehow I forgot to go to Harrow, or maybe I’d meet your standards.’

‘You could approach them more closely than most,’ said Sherlock, quite calm. ‘You aren’t an idiot, in spite of trying to work within a system that hasn’t served you well. You believe the route to a position in the Metropolitan police is through absorbing the mass of contradictions and traditional cant that constitutes much of British law. Hardly necessary for a bobby on the beat.’

‘You’d know, would you?’ Sally grabbed her essay back and retreated to the knackered old armchair in the corner, drawing her legs up. She didn’t want him touching her work, or her. ‘Ever heard about a woman having to be twice as good as a man? How’d you think that works for black women?’

Sherlock considered. ‘Disadvantageously, no doubt, given the average policeman’s near-phobia of logic.’

‘Yeah, that’s one way of putting it.’ Even if he probably had got it all from his collection of horrible crime textbooks. ‘The Met is racist as fuck and I don’t want to be sidelined. There’s always going to be police. I mean, people do actually need them. So if I’m there, and I know things, and I work hard then maybe they’ll be a little bit better than otherwise.’

Sherlock was standing over her, looking hesitant now. Sally locked eyes with him. And if her mother’s contemptuous You think they’ll actually let you in, girl? was playing at the back of her mind, there was no way she was having him deduce it. Boys were one thing; family another. Study and career were a third. It was like she had to be three people, sometimes.

‘Our outlooks are very different,’ Sherlock said. ‘You want to change the world, while I’ve deduced that it’s futile. Nevertheless, challenge accepted. Jumping through hoops is beneath you but yes, I can show you how, because enough idiots have tried hard enough to make me do it.’

 

***

Sherlock came with her to Brookes library, and taught her some of the things he knew. How shelf-marks worked, how to find exactly the section you wanted in a book even when it wasn’t indicated on the reading list, how to structure an argument using formal logic ‘or what passes for logic within the parameters of a flawed legal system’. He went off on occasional rants about how Chemistry was a far superior discipline to Law and considerably more useful at crime scenes, but that just gave Sally time to collect her thoughts.

She’d expected to feel ashamed of needing a man to spell things out for her, but mostly she was surprised by how much she already knew from snatched conversations with harried teachers or quiet moments with a textbook on break from her shift at the newsagents. The knowledge just hadn’t felt like it was really hers, as if she must have it wrong somehow, and anyway she’d nicked it from someone with far richer parents.

‘I’m all right to do it now, thank you,’ she said, firmly extracting her reading list from his hands on their third library visit.

She found the set books she needed, or at least the ones that weren’t already on loan, which was not quite half of them, plus another couple of relevant texts. Sherlock managed to extract a reference-only copy of Beginning Law from under a dozing student’s nose, photocopy the relevant pages – and then wake the girl up and get in a row when he tried to replace the book. Sally got distracted by a sentence that jumped out of the page at her, and ignored the argument.

Sherlock called this jumping through hoops. To her it felt more like learning to run, and then you could think about which way to go.

 

***

When they finally got to Stick A and Slot B, Sherlock lasted amazingly long for a first timer. The sight of him underneath her, staring into her eyes with an almost surprised expression was so delicious she could have eaten him. She did have a go afterwards, sucking hickeys on him like a schoolkid. He shuddered and held her close, and nuzzled her hair.

A few nights later, she wondered – a bit – what he’d be like on top. When she mentioned it he wasn’t that enthusiastic either, but said he should probably ‘learn to navigate without assistance’. Sally found that sufficiently hilarious that she agreed and giggled her way through the not particularly satisfactory process, putting a hand up on Sherlock’s shoulder and ruffling the hair on his sweaty, bowed head.

‘Doing well,’ she assured him. ‘Don’t you fall on me though.’

She gave his hair a playful tug. Sherlock let out a little moan and increased his rhythm, so she did it again, a little harder.

‘Oh, you’re a kinky one, are you?’ Sally teased. ‘Right then.’

She kept pulling his hair every few strokes. Before long he fell on her anyway. He was a bloke; some of them did that. It didn’t exactly hurt, and it was nice to hold him, but the whole thing about waiting for a guy to finish pumping and then wake up and shift himself was never going to be her scene.

She pushed him gently off her when he’d mostly come to.

‘All right, it was worth trying, but I’m staying on top in future.’

‘Agreed,’ mumbled Sherlock into her neck.

And that was the way it went. No testosterone-fuelled crisis of manhood, just riding the hell out of Mr Unbelievably Gorgeous every other night, giving him the occasional light slap to keep him in position and giggling helplessly when he informed her that Emily Parkes was on the other side of the wall, listening with a glass.

Surely this one was a keeper.

Chapter Text

‘I want to see your posh college,’ Sally said.

They were standing at the main gates of Brookes, breathing puffs of steam. Sherlock rubbed his leather-gloved hands together and hesitated just for a moment before saying, ‘Of course.’

Sally was pleased, and not at all worried by the idea of checking out the other place. After all, she was invited. She could have gone on her own, for that matter, except she’d never fancied it.

St John’s was about five minutes from G&D’s ice-cream place, along one side of St Giles. It was a solid wall of ancient stone like a castle, with a gate of studded oak planks so huge that there was a smaller doorway cut into it for ordinary use.

‘Um,’ said Sally. She wasn’t intimidated, because that would be pathetic, but... yeah.

‘The place is full of mindless wankers of course,’ went on Sherlock casually. ‘Everywhere is,’ he said loudly as a boy in an Oasis t-shirt went past. ‘It’s just that here there are compensations.’

Sally failed to hide her smirk from the Oasis fan, who’d turned to glare at them.

‘All right. Show me,’ she said.

***

They called these squares quads, Sally remembered as she stepped through the little doorway and walked past a noticeboard plastered with coloured papers into an ancient square with an immaculate lawn in the centre. This was Front Quad, and arched, doorless entrances led straight off it. They had little name-boards on the walls – people must live up there.

‘Is one of these your room?’ Sally asked.

‘No, I’m a first year so I live in the beehive,’ said Sherlock. He seemed to think that made sense. ‘Come on, the library’s up in Canterbury Quad.’

‘I haven’t got a pass,’ Sally said.

‘Don’t need one. If you’re there, they assume you’re supposed to be. Come on.’

In some ways it was disappointingly normal, St John’s library. Sherlock took Sally down the rows of books, quietly pointing out where the useful ones were. To humour him, she didn’t remind him that she had, in fact, now grasped Dewey herself.

What impressed her most was all the reference copies of course books just sitting there, not being fought over. She could come here and work on an essay with all the material she needed right in front of her.

It would never have occurred to her in a million years without Sherlock bringing her here, but – why not?

‘Of course, there’s a dusty old bit nobody uses,’ Sherlock said when Sally had had a good look at the Law section. ‘Come and see.’

‘All right,’ replied Sally quietly. They were starting to get dirty looks from a girl on a nearby seat, who was obviously trying to concentrate on her reading. But the girl didn’t look annoyed at them for being there, just for talking. The dreaded ‘proctors’ hadn’t emerged from the walls and thrown her out. Was it because she was with him? The thought made her feel kind of warm and fuzzy… if also pissed off.

Sally trailed after Sherlock as he took her first back towards the stairs, then around a corner.

And that was where she found it.

It was a long, bright space with sloping seats like church pews, shiny and worn smooth. They were set between rows and rows of shelves made from dark wood, a bit warped with age. Every shelf was filled from end to end with ancient, leather-bound books.

Sally reached out almost nervously to touch brush the spines – Biblia Sacra, 1620. Lex Rex, 1630. Latin, Middle English. Ancient religion, ancient law. Things she’d never quite known how to touch.

‘Four hundred years,’ Sally muttered. She’d known places like this existed in Oxford, but not that you could just walk into them. As if nothing was stopping you.

‘Oh yes, there’s plenty like that, and older,’ said Sherlock. ‘Some of them are chained to the shelves so the scholarship students don’t take them and sell them. Well, anyway. Books from before the 19th century are mostly useless to you, but you might be able to impress your tutors by throwing in showy antecedents.’

He seemed nervous too. He paced up and down between the shelves faster than usual, coat swirling. The floorboards creaked. He didn’t meet Sally’s eye.

Are you showing off? she wondered. Bringing me here like I’m supposed to be impressed?

But she was impressed. She went to stand in the middle of the oak-beamed room and put her hand out towards the huge yellowed globe in a dark wooden stand. She stopped before she actually touched it though. Surely the thing was alarmed like a museum exhibit.

‘Well?’ Sherlock demanded, turning around with a swish of his coat.

‘Man, this place,’ said Sally. She put her hand on the globe, on Kenya, and no alarm went off. ‘You act cool, but you like all this stuff, don’t you? Show-off.’

Sherlock had his hands shoved deep into his pockets. His fingers were working, so that the fabric across his shoulders strained. ‘Just thought you might like it. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but you really don’t have places like this in Peckham, do you?’

Was he getting at her? He just sounded like he wanted her to be pleased.

‘No,’ she replied.

Sherlock actually kicked the corner of a faded rug. Then he came over, and she expected him to kiss her, and he did, but it was just a peck on the cheek. He grabbed one of the ancient books from a shelf and opened it at random.

‘Hm, from the fifteen hundreds,’ he said. ‘They still believed the world was flat, even when the phenomenon of a ship’s mast disappearing over the horizon at an equal rate regardless of where the viewer is located should have provided ample evidence of curvature.’ Pause. ‘Well, as this demonstrates, old isn’t always best. You need the modern library more.’

‘Yeah, probably,’ said Sally. ‘But it’s cool that this is here.’

All this stuff. In the end, no, it wasn’t her style. But it would be here for her if she wanted it.

‘Thanks,’ she added. Then she really kissed him.

She got a B+ on her next essay. And next time Emily bitched at her, she bitched back.

Chapter Text

He pissed off her housemates, of course. They started out by oohing and giggling at the skinny wonder in their kitchen, until he announced that Emily was sleeping with her tutor, and then stole their cereal bowls for a chemistry experiment he was keeping stowed under Sally’s desk drawer.

Most of that was fine with Sally. She hated cornflakes, and while she made sure to sweeten up the others by buying the pizza and ice cream for the occasional slobby night in, she’d given up pretending Emily wasn’t two-faced.

That kind of thing seemed easier to handle now she had Sherlock around. One night she heard Emily out in the corridor declaring that Sally had ‘no class’... Sherlock immediately went out stark naked and commented in his cut-glass accent that Emily had ‘minimal intellect, a father with vast debts, and a future as the wife of a sales executive’.

‘Don’t waste time thinking about her,’ he said afterwards. ‘She believes skin colour and social class make her morally superior and give her a better claim to male attention. It’s a common female attitude, and it’s imbecilic.’

His protectiveness made Sally feel warm inside. Yet she also wanted to tell him she could fight her own battles… and also ask why he’d said She’s screwing Dr Greenslade in such a vicious way, as if it proved more things about Emily than it possibly could.

Sally kept quiet that time. But she wondered whether he could turn on her like that.

***

She was a bit disappointed to find that Sherlock’s actual room wasn’t in a medieval edifice but a concrete lump shaped like hexagons stuck together.

‘The Beehive. It wins architectural awards,’ he said, offhand.

The first time Sally was there, she looked at the spines of books that were piled up on the shelves and the floor. A lot of them were about murder and murderers... but then being interested in police work didn’t make her a serial killer, did it, so she just put it down as one of Sherlock’s many peculiarities and moved on. After a few visits, she stopped noticing the odd books anyway, along with the desk covered in chemistry experiments that almost certainly weren’t really allowed in student accommodation.

She began to go up to St John’s regularly. No denying it: the place was a lot nicer than a terrace off the Iffley Road with mould patches in the kitchen. Once, she even saw a black woman stepping through one of the ancient arched entrances and unlocking a door, though she didn’t quite dare call out or follow her. It was just nice to know.

And Sherlock was like nothing she’d ever known. When the girl in the next room started playing Blur for the thousandth time, he’d pick up his violin – an honest-to-god posh, shiny, engraved violin that he just seemed to have lying around – and play either some classical thing or Led Zeppelin while glaring at the dividing wall. Sally introduced him to Bob Marley and they tried to invent reggae violin.

Other times, he’d plonk his skinny arse in the desk chair or pace around the floor, and rant about ‘deductive method’ as a means of solving serious crimes. It sounded like police work on coke but somehow almost always seemed to come to the right conclusion. Sally got into it a bit herself, arguing over whether or not he could be sufficiently sure of his conclusions and actually make them hold up in court. She liked the challenge of trying to keep up with him and hold him back when he flew off on some tangent, because working on the murder squad? Yeah, she’d begun to think she could go for it and make the grade. Too many black kids dying with knives stuck in them – the Met was going to start caring about that, or she’d make them. It pissed her off that Stephen Lawrence was just a bloody news story to Sherlock, but she supposed he couldn’t help it. He seemed to think solving crimes was some kind of intellectual calling. When she got out into the world, she was going to get shit done, and then eat chocolate.

There were bits of Sherlock that she knew she didn’t understand, and it frustrated her. She’d picked up that ‘Mummy’ was an ex-professor and Sherlock’s brother, who had an even sillier name than he did, was apparently going to be running Britain in five years’ time, but when it came to boarding school, all Sally had to go by was having read Malory Towers in about 1986. Plus what her dad had said whenever Tories came on the telly, which was that they’d all been buggered by their so-called housemasters and that explained why they were cunts.

Sherlock clearly wasn’t going to volunteer anything, so she asked him about Harrow directly as they were walking down Cornmarket one drizzly evening in the light of the shops on either side of the pedestrian zone.

‘Apply deductive method, Sally,’ Sherlock responded, pulling his coat around himself. ‘Review what you’ve learnt of me and deduce whether I enjoyed rote indoctrination, and whether I was popular with such luminaries as Sebastian Wilkes and his rugger chums.’

Rugger chums? ‘Yes, I deduce you were stuck with inbred nancies and it messed you up. I don’t actually know how because you won’t tell me, but I can make a guess.’

Sherlock stared away from her towards the wet, shining façade of McDonalds up ahead.

‘You think I was interfered with,’ he said.

She hadn’t quite said that, but yes. A guy as gorgeous as Sherlock, and as unsure of himself? Something was up.

‘You tell me,’ she said.

‘Sally, homosexual experimentation isn’t exactly uncommon between boys at school or, frankly, elsewhere. It doesn’t always result in trauma.’

Yeah, because Sherlock was obviously so well-adjusted.

‘So you’re all right – good,’ she said. ‘People get turned though, don’t they? There was this lezzer PE teacher at my old school got caught fiddling with a couple of girls, and one of them turned out like her. Do you remember that case years ago about rich poofs nailing each others’ bits to planks? Christ. I mean people can do what they like, but….’

‘Operation Spanner,’ said Sherlock quietly.

Sally only half-heard. The memory was so vivid: her mother watching the news report from the living room doorway, tea-towel in her hand and a strange, twisty smile on her face. And they call us savages, Mum had said. Well, how the mighty are fallen. Yeah, Sally had thought, without knowing quite what was happening. It made her feel close to her mum.

‘You lot don’t get caned any more, I suppose, and that’s something,’ Sally said, bringing herself back to earth. Thinking about Mum made her wonder how she’d react to Sherlock… no, she wouldn’t think about that now.

‘Hm,’ said Sherlock at last, was staring at the pavement now, his wet fringe hiding his face. ‘All right, Sally. Seb – Sebastian Wilkes – who is now reading PPE at Balliol, the college just up ahead, I’m less than delighted to say – did touch me, and yes he disgusts me now. But I’m really not broken. People grow out of things. At least I hope they do, because I have deduced that before you developed reggae credentials your favourite band was Technotronic, and I don’t think I could stand that even for the sake of your nubile body.’

Sally had to smile at that, but wouldn’t be put off.

‘Shit going down in your life is nothing to be ashamed of,’ she said. ‘It happens, even if you’ve got dosh coming out your ears.’

Sherlock snorted. ‘Yes. Let’s have a burger now.’

He did a near U-turn back towards McDonalds – subject closed.

At least he’d finally told her, and she felt better for it. If he promised her he was all right, she’d trust him and not pry, though if she met this Seb she’d want to kill him. After all, the second girl in the lezzer teacher scandal had come out OK. She’d trained as a social worker, and helped other abused kids.

***

Things didn’t quite settle down, though. The next day she had PMT and shouted at Sherlock to bugger off home because she had to study, even though he was reading quietly in a corner himself. Then she spent half the evening wondering about whether to call him, wishing she’d remembered to tell him she’d now got three B grades in a row and at the same time annoyed with herself for wishing that, because she was not here to win blokes’ approval.

With time, he got even worse at relaxing into a fuck. He’d always seemed to react almost politely to her breasts, plus too much of what he initiated himself had the feel of ‘20 ways to please your woman’ about it, assuming there were men’s mags that had articles like the ones in Cosmo that pissed Sally off. Well, better than modelling himself on Loaded, she supposed.

He clearly wasn’t up for a heart to heart on how to get round his inhibitions, and once he managed to get it up it generally worked physically just fine, so Sally decided to take it all as a fun challenge to find tricks that would make him lose his shit. Blowjobs worked well – of course they did, Sherlock was male and had a pulse. He liked silk scarf blindfolds, too, and an experiment one night in his Beehive room with fluffy handcuffs seemed to be the best thing yet, until halfway through Sherlock squirmed so hard that one wrist jammed.

‘Sorry,’ said Sally, jumping off him guiltily and starting to work at the cheap metal.

What had she been thinking of? She’d sure as hell freak out if she was chained to a bed with a guy on top of her, and it was probably worse for him after Seb fucking Wilkes. Sherlock didn’t say much as she prized him out of the cuff and chucked it away, but she could tell he was upset as he settled onto his bed with his feet on the floor, looking at her side-on. He ran his finger back and forth along the livid bruise forming on his wrist and she cringed. Shit.

‘Really sorry,’ she repeated. ‘I know I like it a bit rough, but I’d never hurt you on purpose.’

‘Well, we’ve gained useful experimental data,’ Sherlock said.

That word yet again. It was only nine o’clock, so she made him tea and then they studied. At least, he said that reading about the forensics of the Dahmer case was studying.

Chapter Text

Of course they had a row, a few weeks in.

One night in the St John’s bar, a couple of drinks were helping Sally ignore the occasionally disapproving but usually just startled ‘A black woman? Here? Wow!’ glances. She was feeling just fine, chilled and confident after getting her best-ever mark at Brookes.

‘B plus!’ she crowed, raising her beer for a toast.

Sherlock, who had been staring over her shoulder, focused on her again. ‘Oh – yes. Look, I know you’re not the most intelligent person but it honestly doesn’t matter to me. You have a level of emotional acumen I’m aware I lack.’

Sally had to pause for a moment to let that work its way through the beer. Then – Jesus, what? He thought she was apologising to him for not getting A’s?

Fuck’s sake. Sometimes she forgot she was dating a Martian.

She was talking herself out of starting a row – at least he was right about his ‘emotional acumen’ – when she caught a voice from behind her and realised what part of the problem was. Sitting down at the next table were a bunch of lads in Balliol rugby sweaters.

‘Well, if it isn’t Holmes the Genius! Got any deductions for us, Holmes the Penis?’ one of them said.

Sally guessed from Sherlock’s reaction that this was Seb Wilkes.

Fucking intellectual cream of the British upper classes, then, just as she’d expected. She could have gone for him, right then, but Sherlock gripped her arm. All right. She should let him play this his way. Deep breath.

‘Well, Seb, you went home this weekend, judging by your hair,’ Sherlock said. ‘Obvious, of course. Your shirt tells me that the pipes are leaking in the bathroom on your staircase. Most importantly, however, going by the shape of the ink stain on your forefinger, you’ve been copying your thick-necked friend there’s essay, and since he’s on his way to a lower second class degree at best, I don’t think that’s a good choice.’

Sherlock was trying to sound casual. It didn’t work, or not to Sally’s ears. For some reason he cared what these morons thought of him. He swigged his beer as if to hide his face.

Seb rolled his eyes and pantomimed shock to his mates.

‘Of course I’m copying his essay,’ he said. ‘Who likes working? Well, you always did, of course. Working!’

Seb’s mates apparently thought this was a great joke.

Sherlock got up and leant over the table. ‘You did too.’

There was obviously about a tonne of history to this, and it was only going to escalate. Sally got to her feet and took Sherlock’s arm.

‘We’re going to your room,’ she told him. ‘Seb, if I see you again, I’m going to smash your face in, and don’t you think I can’t. Get it?’

Seb turned to Sally, as if noticing her for the first time.

‘Oh my god, Holmes has got a bodyguard,’ said Seb. ‘Well, I’m scared.’

Where the hell was Sherlock’s attitude now? He wasn’t saying a thing. Sally grabbed his arm…. and he pushed her off. Violently enough that she almost fell over.

‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ some twat at the next bench began to chant.

Seb said something that was probably just as clever as the rest he’d come out with, but Sally didn’t hear. Fuck this sideways, whatever the hell it was. She grabbed Sherlock at an angle where he couldn’t shove her, and towed him towards the door, which thank God was nearby. Then they were out in the freezing quad, and he yanked his arm out of hers.

‘What is going on?’ she demanded. ‘You insult my intelligence, then – this!’

They were only about 10 feet from the floor-length windows of the bar. They had an audience. Well sod it, she wasn’t backing down now.

‘What the hell has it got to do with you?’ Sherlock snarled back.

‘What? What’s what got to do – seriously?’ Sally shook her head, trying to properly clear it of beer fumes. ‘I’m your girlfriend, do you not think I might be a bit interested in what’s going on? Whatever that pervert did to you, you said you were over it.’

Sherlock stared at the frosty ground. At least he didn’t try to head back to the bar.

‘Don’t call him that. I used to be his friend. Even I can have friends.’

‘Oh, yeah, a great friend!’

‘Look, I’m going back to my room.’

‘Of course you are. Much better than telling your girlfriend what the hell is wrong! I’ll just walk back to Iffley Road in the rain, then.’

Sherlock still wasn’t actually moving away, but he looked just about to.

‘Do what you like,’ he muttered, and took a step away from her – towards the Beehive, not the bar.

‘Wait!’ Damn it, she wanted to hurt him. Keep him. Hurt him. ‘You’ve lied to me about this – about something. What, is it the British way, decent chaps keeping a stiff upper lip and sticking together even when…’

Sally faltered. Sherlock had gone very still and very quiet. His top lip drew back a little, and something utterly wild flashed in his eyes.

A shiver of wrong went down Sally’s spine. Was she scared of him? No, not that, but...

He composed himself again.

‘You’re right. You don’t know anything,’ he said, almost normally. He looked like he was tucking something back inside himself. Something that hurt him far worse than anything he’d let her see.

‘Then tell me,’ she pleaded. She’d help him if he’d let her.

He seemed to consider for a moment. Then he said, ‘I’ll tell you this much: I made it all up. Seb didn’t come to my bed. Now leave me alone.’

He walked off towards the Beehive. So he’d lied to her. Had he done it before, or was he doing it now, or was it both?

‘Well, fuck you, then,’ Sally shouted after him. ‘You seriously think I’ve got nothing but you going on in my life?’

That didn’t seem to help.

Chapter Text

The next day, Sally had no clue whether she still had a boyfriend, and was determined not to care.

So that evening she got rat-arsed with the girls, and ended up going off to a corner table with a cool second year called Jen, where they laughed themselves silly without Emily’s clique, and she finished off by going home with Kwame, a Brookes MA student she’d occasionally flirted with in the Humanities department cafe. He was a really smart guy, Ghanaian, and he spent the morning after telling her about internal colonisation.

Sally agreed, and politely avoided telling him that however high his consciousness was raised, he was also worse at sex than her posh probably-ex-boyfriend who seemed to have got all his moves out of a medical manual. Then she decided Kwame was still right about the colonisation thing, and swore off white guys forever. Then on her way home she reconsidered, and swore off all guys forever, because she did not need this fucking feeling, like nobody could actually see her, and she had nowhere to stand even inside her own head... Hell, all she really wanted was to get home and warm up...

Sherlock was standing in her house’s scrappy front garden in the freezing rain. He had his coat collar turned up.

‘What the hell are you doing here?’ she asked.

He was holding roses. It was completely cheesy. She didn’t care.

‘I like you,’ he said, waving the bunch of flower awkwardly, though there was – yes – a nervous wobble in his voice. ‘I believe I hurt your feelings. I didn’t intend to, and I did wrong.’

Fuck. All Sally’s resolutions went out the window for the second time in one morning.

‘Come in. I’ll find a bloody towel,’ she said.

***

Sally had to study, though she was pretty short on sleep. She sat on her bed with her folders splayed out in front of her, and Sherlock brought her coffee. It wasn’t very nice coffee, but she wasn’t going to complain.

Nor was she going to feel guilty about last night, because the argument had been totally his fault. If he had any sense, he’d tell her what exactly was the deal with Seb… but on the other hand Sherlock did have a right to his secrets. Sally’s older brother, Mo, got bullied a lot as well, and growing up she’d had to accept he didn’t want to talk about it, and especially didn’t like her offering to beat up the dickheads responsible.

More practically, she probably shouldn’t mention anything Sherlock wouldn’t like unless she wanted to trigger an instant scene about how she’d turned up this morning looking knackered and wearing the same clothes she’d had on last night.

She watched him where he was sitting cross-legged on the floor, bending his head over the book – yet another one about murder forensics – that he’d fished out of his bag. His neck was thin, with just a bit of down disappearing into his shirt collar, and his hands around the textbook were large but slender and almost feminine. She knew she loved him. It had just sort of happened.

Before long, Sherlock looked up and smiled his dazzling smile.

‘You find me more attractive than the man you slept with last night,’ he observed.

Sally went stiff. Then she relaxed again immediately, because she realised her lunatic boyfriend had just short-circuited the entire potential drama in one sentence.

‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘He was too sensible. It freaked me out after dating you for a month.’

True and not true. Uninspiring shag aside, Kwame had been nice – was nice, because she wasn’t about to stop being his friend. He was intelligent in a normal way, and he made bloody sense, and there were things about her that he just got, in a way Sherlock never would. And yet.

‘You like freaks, of course,’ Sherlock said, and moved to sit beside her on the bed.

‘Well, I picked you for a boyfriend,’ she replied, kind of wanting to get off this topic and kind of wanting to stay on it, because even if she put aside the Seb stuff she’d always wonder about the streak of oddness in him.

‘I love you,’ Sherlock interrupted her thoughts.

Sally froze. It was the way he’d said it – as if he’d tested an intellectual premise and found it to be true. That should have been an insult. It felt like the opposite.

‘I’ve never met a girl like you,’ Sherlock went on.

‘That’s because you’ve never met any girls.’ Sally was trying to sound completely cool, and failing. He loved her.

Sherlock just shook his head impatiently, and took her hand. For a moment she thought he might actually ask her to marry him – taking things a bit too far, that.

‘I understand it’s insulting to tell a woman that she’s different from others,’ he said and stroked her hair. ‘But you’re beautiful. And there’s a kindness to you. I realised it when I saw you. I appreciate that a great deal.’

‘I’ve never known a boy like you either, and I have met quite a few,’ said Sally. ‘But Sherlock... I guess I’ve turned you into a bit less of an actual space alien – I saw you having a genuine conversation with that guy we met in the quad the other night – but it doesn’t mean you have to love me.’

She added inside her head: Please don’t stop.

Sherlock shrugged.

‘Love is a chemical process,’ he said. ‘I suppose you don’t have to take it personally, but that would be an unusual reaction to say the least.’

Damn his dry sense of humour. She pushed him backwards, bit his pointy white nose and proceeded to fuck him into the bed.

***

Sally went home for the Christmas holidays – the ‘vac’ – and argued with her mum about five times in the first two days. The thing was, though, it felt kind of routine now – less desperate than it had before uni. She went to replace the plastic flowers on her dad’s grave, worked at the newsagents where she fended off ‘hilarious’ drunks, laughed herself sick at Mo’s tales of teacher training college, and nearly chucked Lee, her brat of a younger brother, downstairs when he broke her hairdryer.

When a bunch of roses turned up at the door, she said they were from a Ghanaian guy she’d seen a couple of times and who was kind of more interested in her than she was in him. And clearly Sherlock had made her go absolutely mental, because she sent him a handmade Christmas card, with stockings hanging off the turrets on a sketch of St John’s front lodge.

Every now and then, she sneaked off down the concrete walkways of the estate to the phone boxes by the youth centre. She wasn’t exactly ashamed to call Sherlock from home, but she didn’t wanted to explain to her mum just yet, and it would have been weird to bring him smack into her London life. His was so different. At the moment his house seemed to be a revolving door of toff relatives, though apparently some stepson his aunt had acquired when she remarried had turned out to be ‘actually tolerable’ in spite of being a soldier.

‘I think...’ said Sherlock, sounding unusually hesitant. ‘I think Andy likes me.’

‘Of course he does,’ Sally told him, holding her coat wrapped around her as chilly winds swept up from under the glass walls of the phone booth. ‘Like you said, you can have friends. You’re not unlikeable except when you deliberately try to be.’

‘What? I only do that ninety per cent of the time,’ Sherlock retorted. ‘Look, I can hear Mummy on about taking us all to some festive musical so I’d better go before Mycroft kills her.’

‘Sounds grim. All right then.’

‘I love you,’ said Sherlock.

‘I love you too,’ Sally replied.

His voice was warm and clear... and then it was gone, and Sally was on her own, standing in a phone booth with the flashing Christmas lights from windows in the high rise opposite reflecting off the scratched black plastic of the receiver. This was her old familiar world, and she saw it around her, and saw Oxford in her head.

When she went back to the warmth of her little room to get on with her coursework, watched over by her Bob Marley posters, her mother came in without knocking. Sally ignored her, not wanting to turn around and get yet more grief about some minor thing.

Mum came up behind the desk, set a plate of turkey couscous on it, then touched Sally’s back.

‘My girl, the university student,’ she said with quiet pride.

Chapter Text

The beginning of term ‘bop’ was a stupid word for what was basically a disco. It happened in a cellar under the Beehive, and all the cool girls were there, or what passed for cool girls at Oxford. They usually looked at Sally with a mixture of envy and annoyance because she stood out and was dating a lunatic who also happened to be drop-dead gorgeous. Tonight they were just envious though, because Sherlock could really dance. Yet another surprise about him.

‘Damn you’re good,’ she murmured, in a gap between tracks.

‘Yes,’ Sherlock replied, as if nothing else could be expected. ‘You’re not so bad.’

‘Romantic golden oldie time!’ yelled the DJ, completely spoiling the first bars of Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper.

‘Don’t tell anyone... but I kind of like eighties schmaltz,’ Sally murmured to Sherlock. ‘That probably makes me even less cool than you are.’

‘Really?’ responded Sherlock drily. ‘Well now. let me see… ah yes, Number Ones from 1983 in chronological order. Only You by The Flying Pickets. Uptown Girl by Billy Joel. Karma Chameleon by Culture Club…’

He went on like that for a couple of minutes, then finished by saying he didn’t actually like any of them, but occasionally misusing his ‘hard drive’ in this fashion was a fantastic way to annoy Mycroft.

Sally had long since buried her face in Sherlock’s neck to hide her giggles. Then she realised Sherlock had stopped nuzzling her, and was staring over her shoulder.

‘What?’ she said, turning her head and just seeing a bunch of lads leaning against the wall, with no girls. Yet a strange fear shot through her: he likes someone else.

‘Oy,’ she said, pulling his head around. ‘What are you dreaming about?’

Sherlock looked startled.

‘Sorry,’ he said, and leant his cheek against the side of her head. ‘Vac stuff. Family. I don’t deserve you.’

‘No, you don’t.’ Sally made an automatic jokey retort. ‘Tell me more about your vac, then. Was there open war in the end?’

Sherlock kissed her forehead. ‘Not quite,’ he said. ‘Mummy doesn’t like Auntie Catherine, and neither of them like Cousin Andy, and he doesn’t like anyone except me and nearly got into a fight with Mycroft on Boxing Day, and nobody else likes me except possibly Daddy, who unfortunately isn’t the most intelligent among us, and then everyone drinks too much… human nature not at its finest, Sally. What about you?’

She’d been hoping for more detail than that – his life was so hard to imagine. Apparently she wasn’t going to get it.

‘I didn’t have a great Boxing Day either,’ she told him. ‘There’s this junkie living upstairs from us, and he’s basically a decent bloke, and if he wants to kill himself it’s his own lookout, but I found a needle on the landing, and there are limits. Then he was so apologetic I ended up feeling like the bad guy.’

Sherlock looked intently down at her.

‘You look after a lot of things, don’t you?’ he said. ‘One older brother who wants to get away from home, a younger brother you feel responsible for, no father, and a mother who is, from what you’ve said, not very well adjusted to England?’

Sally suddenly felt so weak she almost stopped dancing. Trust Sherlock to be so clinical about it all. Was he right? Could her life be summarised just like that?

Had she abandoned it by coming here?

‘Mo’s just about to get away, actually,’ she said. ‘He’s at teacher training and some mates are going in on a flat-share. Lee’s a few years younger than me and yeah, if there’s a kind of trouble a kid can get into, he found it. Now he’s into karate though, after school stuff, and I think he’s decided that’s more interesting.’

‘Than…’ said Sherlock leadingly, then when Sally didn’t answer: ‘Ah. Of course. You know, drug use isn’t a death sentence, in spite of what TV would have us believe. Only a fool gets addicted. The chemistry is interesting. I could show you…’

‘No thanks,’ Sally cut him off. She wasn’t up for spoiling the mood with one of those conversations where Sherlock was technically right but so deaf to context that she’d want to kill him. Time to change the subject. ‘Um, would your parents like me?’

That subject wasn’t very comfortable either, but it had sprung to mind.

Sherlock considered. ‘From how they’ve reacted to what I’ve said so far, I suspect Mummy and Daddy are mostly just glad that someone actually wants their weird son. If you mean do they care that you’re black, well, I suspect they’d make a very big show of not caring at first, and then settle down into really not caring.’

Huh. Very enticing. Nobody ever seemed to remember that she was half-white. But anyway, she wanted them to like her. She wanted him to want her to meet them. She wanted to take him home, and have him not look down on her world.

‘And what would your mother make of me?’ Sherlock asked, with one of his grins.

‘Oh god, I haven’t even thought about that,’ Sally lied. She honestly didn’t know. Mum had married a white man herself. Then hidden in a tower-block kitchen for twenty years, cursing her own parents for leaving Kenya, cursing Britain for consisting entirely of chips and rain, and raising half-white kids. ‘She might find you a bit strange. I mean, you are a bit strange.’

Sherlock didn’t seem to mind that, but nor did he reply for a minute, and maybe they danced just a little further apart.

‘Yes, I’m strange,’ he said at last. ‘But I do love you. I don’t think anything could change that.’

Suddenly he pulled her so close it hurt. And it was lovely, but she had to protest, ‘Hey, you’re stronger than you look, stick boy! Don’t crush me; I’m not going anywhere.’

If you’re lost you can look, and you will find me, time after time
If you fall I will catch you – I will be waiting, time after time

Could love be like that? Could someone stay and just be with you forever?

Sally realised this was the moment to bring up the other thing she’d kept telling Sherlock about in her head. The feeling of her mum’s hand on her back, and the pride in her voice, and the way Sally had suddenly felt that she could in fact do all this, London and Oxford, and be whole. He was so much part of that.

‘You know,’ she said. ‘I think Mum is coming around to the idea of me being here. Like, that I’m going to change a bit, but not completely, and I will come back. Sometimes.’

‘You couldn’t stay on a council estate forever,’ said Sherlock. ‘Not you.’

‘I… yeah,’ said Sally, because she was proud and also angry – he knew nothing about Peckham. Was she betraying Mum by talking about home to him at all? She looked at him half through her mother’s eyes... Posh boy. Smug. Clueless. Dangerous. Amazing. Silly hair (so nice to pull). A smile in his eyes, like she’d used to see in Dad’s.

‘I’m definitely going to live in London,’ she said. ‘I’m going to work for the Met. For the rest, guess I’ll see.’

‘I’ll be in London,’ said Sherlock. ‘I’d die of boredom anywhere else.’

Time after Time slowly faded away.

***

They were a bit pissed after the bop, but not so pissed that Sally wasn’t able to get back into her regular clothes and show Sherlock some medium-level breakdance moves in freezing North Quad at around one am. He tried to copy her, and was rubbish at it. People gaped out of their windows, and after a few minutes a porter came puffing towards them, and they ran off into the building, laughing.

***

An hour later they were tangled on Sherlock’s bed, looking at a squashed, empty condom. The evening had nosedived when they’d gone for the passionate reunion shag.

‘Oh god, Sherly-boy, no bloke can get it up every time,’ Sally said, poking him in the thigh.

Sherlock shuffled up onto his elbows and looked at her down the length of his chest.

‘Sorry,’ he said.

‘Another woman wearing you out, or what?’

‘It’s most definitely not that. But what – you think I can’t attract anyone else?’ Sherlock looked mock-offended.

Sally squinted at him. ‘I think you’re gorgeous and could attract half the female population of Britain. Except they’d be running for the hills about ten seconds after you opened your gob.’

Sherlock grinned and relaxed. ‘Flattery gets you nowhere. So it’s lucky you prefer blunt logic, which makes me your willing slave.’

In one graceful movement he slipped off the bed and knelt naked in front of Sally with his hands in praying position. He looked up at her with wide eyes, and when he spoke his voice came out oddly husky: ‘Use me. Please.’

Sally drew back a little. She had an urge to cover herself with the poo-brown college-issue duvet, which made no sense. So she laughed.

‘Look, I said I like it a bit rough sometimes. Doesn’t mean you have to call me mistress and that. OK?’

Sherlock got up, smiling a little painfully. She’d embarrassed him and she was sorry – he was trying to please her.

‘There’s more to life than sex,’ she said, tugging her knickers on and grabbing a shirt off a shelf because her own top was sweated up. ‘That bop was, well, pretty cool for something called a “bop”. Lee can breakdance, but I’ve got to hand it to your posh-boy moves.’

The last part of that came out muffled by a swathe of material. Sherlock’s shirts usually fitted her, because he was a skinny fuck, but this top swamped her, and smelled a bit.

‘What’s this, then?’ she said, flapping a too-big khaki sleeve.

‘Oh – change into one of mine. That’s my Cousin Andy’s. I picked it up by mistake.’

Chapter Text

The next morning, genius boy admitted that even he had to attend the occasional Chemistry practical in order to avoid getting ‘sent down’ – kicked out – and Sally had lectures.

Her head felt thick and muddy but it was a bright January day, so she decided to save money on the bus and walk down to the Brookes campus. She passed bare trees and the stained walls of ancient colleges, racks of cycles and the huge Blackwells bookshop, crossed the paved courtyard of the castle-like Bodleian library (she was going in there this week because she was – almost – not intimidated any more), then headed down past the modern stores and weathered stone on the high street towards the roundabout that marked the beginning of what she thought of as normal Oxford – the long street of shops and terraced houses leading to the steel and glass campus of Brookes.

Oxford. All of it was normal, really. She could come and go as she pleased.

Her first week back, she got into a routine. After lectures, which were mostly in the morning, she’d go to the library, the one place you could be sure nobody would be blasting Blur or Oasis at you. Afterwards she could hang out with her second-year friends Jen and Nyota for a good gossip at the café down the road where they let you sit with a cup of tea for an hour. Every other day she called her family, and she and Mum didn’t shout at each other, though she never quite managed to bring up Sherlock. Half the time, Lee actually spoke to her now. It was a nice routine, and now Sally felt more confident about her course, she stuck to it most days. Less going out on the piss, more hanging out with people she actually liked… and a bit less of Sherlock, too.

That wasn’t really deliberate, but it sometimes took ages to get into central Oxford, and they both had their own stuff to do, even if his seemed to consist of experiments that had got so bizarre he’d even taken Sally along as lookout while he pinched a batch of frogs’ legs from a biology lab. She’d been half-disgusted and half-excited by the sheer weirdness of that. In the end the disgust had won out and she left him hacking up femurs in his room. Sherlock could afford to be seen as eccentric, but she didn’t need the extra hassle.

Anyway, it was normal and natural for a relationship to cool off a bit once you were going steady. The intense buzzy phase couldn’t just keep building forever. And focusing on it too much was the best way to kill it dead. It wasn’t like she felt the need to prove her independence like some of the more gormless and delicate specimens around here. It would be nice if the occasional bunches of roses kept coming this term, though.

Well, she had plenty of other things going on. Between studying and spending all hours at the till in the newsagent, she wasn’t as fit as she’d used to be at school, and the aching muscles she’d got from popping basic moves the other day showed it up. On her way down the High one night, she nipped into one of the college lodges and took down the number of the university Karate Society.

***

‘Karate?’ said Sherlock when he came around her house and found her practising in front of a full-length mirror from a junk shop. ‘Good mental and physical discipline.’

This wasn’t about him, it really wasn’t, but Sally still might have timed practice so she’d be casually in the middle of it when he arrived.

‘Yeah,’ she said, panting slightly. ‘I did it at school a bit but I had to stop when I’d only got yellow belt. Too busy.’

‘Shame. It’s sexy,’ said Sherlock.

Sally was quite happy to show off after that. Only it didn’t take long for Sherlock to start looking distracted. He stared into space for a while, which wasn’t like him at all, then wandered off and came back five minutes later with a nasty-looking concoction in a pasta dish before ignoring even that in favour of zoning out again. Sally kept looking at him instead of concentrating on what she was doing, and ended up whacking her knuckles on the shelves and tipping a load of sweaters and Tracy the Cabbage Patch Kid onto the bed.

‘Ow,’ Sally swore, and stuck her fist in her armpit. ‘Bloody, sodding… OK. I’m clearly not Jackie Chan yet.’

Sherlock picked up Tracy. Sally had seen him eyeballing the doll before, and got ready with the she-was-a-present-from-my-dad-OK? speech, but Sherlock just put her back on the shelf, and sighed. He got a box of her favourite crème chocolates out of the plastic bag he’d brought with him, and put it on the bed. Usually she’d pounce on that, but this time it just sat there awkwardly.

‘All right, what’s up with you?’ she asked.

‘Jackie Chan maybe not, but going by the wear pattern developing on the carpet, you’ll be quite something if you keep improving at this rate,’ Sherlock informed her.

‘That’s not an answer.’

Sherlock looked at the floor. ‘Well I’m not good at this.’

‘Yeah, obviously. Good at what?’

‘Admitting things.’

Sally went cold. She had a sense of something unknown and terrible rushing towards her. Something she’d guessed on some level was coming. But please not now. Not yet!

‘I had a confrontation with Seb Wilkes,’ Sherlock said, and spread his hands. ‘I shouldn’t be bothering you with it, but, um, telling you makes it real. And I half-lied to you and I feel bad about it, and want to clear that up. So. I went to tell him I’m not going near him again. I… I know I said he used to come to my bed. I was being clever with words. I mostly went to his study. That’s it, basically. I’m telling you, and that proves it’s over.’

Ah. So there it was. Finally. Seb Wilkes – some sick thing going on between them right up to now. Seb knowing that, and Sally not, even while she was trying to defend Sherlock from him.

Sherlock fucking lying. Even if she’d half-guessed.

He was twiddling a loose thread on the hem of his sweater now, clearly nervous. Sally’s head filled with images of AIDS, kiddie-fiddlers, Operation Spanner… No, she wouldn’t talk about that, because that part wasn’t his fault. Internal colonisation, like Kwame talked about.

‘That scumbag made you think you wanted it, didn’t he?’ she said softly, and sat on the bed beside him. ‘I know the type.’

(Early boyfriend. Pushed her further than she wanted to go. But she was no skinny Sherlock; two weeks in she wised up and sleazeball got a knee and two elbows in the nads. She’d got away with it because he’d been easy to avoid afterwards, but even then once or twice she’d had to run away fast. Living in a dormitory, Sherlock would have had no chance.)

Sherlock looked at her with pleading eyes. ‘Yes, that’s it,’ he said. ‘I’m not gay. And I’ve made clear that there’s a few details about Seb’s father’s affairs that I could pass to the City of London police if he ever mentions it again. It’s over. I’m here with you.’

Sally held his hand, tightly. She wanted to wipe the desperate expression off his face, and wanted to wipe her own mind of images of him bent over a desk, with Seb… Except that wasn’t what mattered most.

‘Fine. One thing, you need to take an AIDS test before your dick gets near me again.’ (Dear God, could he have it? Could he have given it to her? No, it was much harder with straight sex, wasn’t it?) ‘Another thing, a way, way bigger thing – you lied to me. To get me to shut up and go away, like I was some boring duty. Do that again and we are over. Understand?’

She hadn’t known just how angry she was until the words came out. Sherlock saw it too, and he bristled. Again, Sally had that feeling of wrong as something harsh flashed in his eyes for half a second, but she wasn’t going to look away. She’d clashed with Lee too often to be daunted by rampaging male egos. Sherlock was going to get this one thing into his head, or they were done.

‘I’m not the type to bare every secret, and nor are you so banal,’ Sherlock responded after a while. ‘But – no. I shouldn’t have lied like that. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.’

All right. Message apparently received, though Sally had the slight sense that he’d retreated more than given in.

‘OK,’ she said and rubbed her hand down her face. Sometimes you just had to trust someone, particularly if you loved them, and bloody hell she did love this freak. He was right: they’d never go all the way into each others’ worlds. They needed to meet here, in the middle, in the odd little space they’d made.

‘I can testify you’re not gay,’ she said. ‘You’ve proven it more than once. AIDS test first, then you can prove it again. Right now though, it’s food time.’

‘Yes, it is,’ said Sherlock. ‘Dinner. My treat. Indian or Italian?’

***

A few days later, Sherlock tested HIV negative. They didn’t fall into bed afterwards though, because it would have felt like trying too hard, even if Sally wasn’t quite sure what at.

Instead, they went to see a dreadful band at the Venue and ran back through the side streets in a rainstorm, giggling, getting horribly drenched while doing a rubbish job of holding Sherlock’s long, swishy raincoat over their heads. So Sally stole it and outran him to her house, and when she woke up the next day with a vile cold and he didn’t, he said it was poetic justice.

Chapter Text

One soggy day, Sally headed home from the library intending to eat dinner and then get down to an essay. She plodded up the stairs with a pile of books, and then paused halfway, listening.

Emily was having a cry, a loud one, clearly audible through the large gap under her plywood bedroom door. She had a friend in there, one of her clones taking Media Studies. The friend was making soothing noises.

‘I got a morning after pill so it’ll be all right, won’t it?’ Emily was insisting. ‘Just need a cry. God… I think he put something in my drink. It was Pete, maybe? Lots of guys, we were having a laugh… And I just woke up in some hallway in Magdalen, and there’s, there’s blood…

Maud-lin, Sally silently and automatically corrected Emily’s pronunciation of the strange college name, and immediately felt ashamed of noticing. She remembered that the first week of term, Emily had netted herself a boyfriend from posh Oxford, Zack. Pete was one of his mates, a rugby hero. And he’d done what?

‘That’s rape,’ said the unseen friend, in an exaggerated stern and caring tone. ‘You have to report it to the police!’

‘They’ll say I was just drunk! My cousin did that, and they told her what do you expect if…’

A stair creaked under Sally’s foot as she shifted her weight. She’d managed to stop on the really noisy one.

Hell. Emily went quiet, and Sally had to carry on walking upwards, because being caught listening would be worse.

Emily came onto the landing.

‘Who’s that?’ she demanded. ‘Zack?’ Then, ‘Oh, you. What do you want?’

Sally stood her ground. It took a bit of willpower but she wasn’t going to get angry at Emily’s tone, not when the girl was still crying and – Christ – moving as if one of her legs hurt. Sally found herself cataloguing observations like Sherlock might have done… and then trying to deal with this.

‘Going by what you just said, I want to kill the guy,’ she said. ‘But your friend’s right. You have to report this. The police might take it seriously. It’s the 90s, not the 50s. I could… I could go with you if you don’t want, well…’ She nodded towards Emily’s bedroom door, and the unseen friend who Sally suspected would back out as soon as anything real was asked of her.

Emily scowled. A tear ran down her face and dripped onto the carpet. She was probably going to say ‘Why would I want you?’, in which case to hell with her... but she didn’t.

‘If he put something in your drink, there’ll be traces,’ persisted Sally. ‘My boyfriend could do forensic tests.’

‘That loony?’

‘His name’s Sherlock. I think you’re missing the point.’

‘Pete’s Zack’s friend,’ Emily protested. ‘I love Zack!’

‘Really?’ asked Sally, because come on. Emily liked the fact that Zack studied at Magdalen and was probably going to end up with a City job. Only he’d almost certainly dump her well before that, whether she shopped his friend or not.

Emily stared for a moment, as if she was unsure.

‘Yes. If I make a fuss he’ll never talk to me again, and neither will anyone else who actually matters!’ she shot back, her voice starting wavery, but getting stronger. ‘So wind your nose in, OK?’

Great. This was going so well. All Sally wanted was to tackle the world one dickhead at a time, and instead she got this kind of shit.

‘Right. Message received. Forget it,’ she said, thinking the door was about to be slammed on her.

It wasn’t. Emily hesitated for a moment.

‘Look, I know you’re trying to be nice,’ she said. ‘Thanks.’

Sally was not exactly going to say 'You're welcome' but she managed not to give the racist bitch the finger. Now wasn't the time, though at this rate there would be a time in the near future.

Sally shut herself in her room and tried her best to study. She was amazed when, half an hour later, Emily appeared in her room, muttered 'Thanks' and deposited a sealed jar of wee on the desk beside her.

***

Sally needed to take the sample to Sherlock right away, whether or not turning up today contradicted something she’d recently said about not being needy.

So she set off for St John’s. If he wasn’t there, well, she’d leave a note and grab some personal time in G&Ds with a very large ice cream sundae while she figured out what to do.

In fact Sally didn’t even need to get as far as the college, because she bumped into Sherlock coming out of the nightmare ‘70s orange-and-brown underground Co-Op. He had four shopping bags hanging off his skinny arms, which looked like of cute, if you ignored the fact that probably more of the ingredients would end up in strange experiments than would get eaten.

‘Oh, hello,’ he said, smiling – grinning in fact.

‘Yeah…’ Sally started, shifting from one foot to another. They were in the middle of a crowd in bloody Cornmarket Street. ‘Emily got raped,’ she muttered.

‘Do speak up!’ shouted Sherlock over the sound of an ambulance lurching and wailing its way through traffic at the foot of Carfax tower.

‘Emily got raped,’ Sally repeated clearly, through gritted teeth. ‘Can you do a urine test? I’ve got a whole jar of her pee.’

Sherlock squinted at her, then laughed.

‘And you’re bringing it to me as a love-gift! How romantic – you know me well.’

Sally rolled her eyes. ‘Yeah, I do, unfortunately, but you’re not usually quite this much of a twat. Will you help or not?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Sherlock, trying to flourish a wrist that was weighed down with shopping. ‘Of course, the urine of a rarer creature than the common or garden trollop would be a superior love-gift but I understand the situation, and if you truly believe Emily Parkes deserves this attention, let’s honour her with it. We can leave these supplies in my room and go to the lab. Could be fascinating!’

'It's not about what a lovely person Emily clearly isn't. It's about a serious crime, Sherlock. We can stop the bastard getting away with it.'

What the hell had got into him? Well, Sally didn’t have the brain-space to worry about that now, as Sherlock hared off at a near run.

He briefly slowed down enough to give Sally two of his shopping bags when she offered to carry them. It never occurred to him to make the kind of chivalrous offers and refusals that turned out awkward for everyone involved.

***

Twenty minutes later, Sally was sitting on a desk near the door, kicking her legs against a lab stool and anxiously watching the corridor. She never felt quite at home here, particularly as her access pass had been forged by Sherlock. He was going on about the chemical composition of urine, and she wasn’t really listening.

Once again she craned her neck to peer down the corridor.

‘Sally, my dear, they frown on people synthesizing class As in the building, but nobody is going to come and object to me analysing pee,’ Sherlock said, swirling something around in a flask. ‘By the way, the last thing I saw happen on that desk where you’re sitting involved an idiot and a hydrochloric acid spill, so let’s hope it was carefully cleared up, shall we? Yes, we shall. We shall.’

Fuck this. ‘Sherlock –’ she started – and then the bloody obvious hit her.

‘Synthesizing class As?’ she demanded.

Sherlock waved a flask.

‘Well, it’s that or buy them at Fuzzy Ducks, and I suspect those dealers are not always vending the highest quality product,’

‘Coke?’

‘Yes, obviously. Only occasionally, of course. I told you there’s no need to become addicted, if that’s your concern, Detective Donovan. Cocaine sharpens the mind. Are you telling me you’ve never tried it? Or for that matter do you want to try some? I have…’

Sally cut him off. ‘Of course I’ve tried it, and I thought it was big and clever too – when I was twelve. Well, I suppose someone like you would have to shock his Mummy, of course. You’ll get over it.’

Sherlock set the centrifuge going. He looked as if he was going to start burbling again, then seemed to think better of it. Sally watched his fingers twitching on the table, and fought down her temper. He’d be coming down soon. It was hardly news that he was a complete idiot in some ways. Bottom line he was an idiot genius who’d probably saved her from flunking her course half a term in, and she wasn’t going to forget that.

He wasn’t her little brother, for her to fuss over and scold. That wasn’t how she wanted to feel about her boyfriend. Still, she got a sudden sense of fellowship with the mysterious Mycroft.

‘Got some friends to do it with, have you?’ Sally asked, because the mental image of him getting high in his room on his own with the rodent bones and murder books was not a happy one.

‘Acquaintances,’ Sherlock assured her briefly. ‘Not Seb Wilkes, if you’re worrying. Now, I’ll just be a few minutes setting this to filter overnight. Then you can come back to mine. I’ll make you dinner. Stay over; we’ll get the results of this test first thing tomorrow. I’ll give you exceptionally filthy head and I’ve worked out a violin arrangement of The Harder they Come.’

Hearing dirty talk delivered awkwardly in a Harrow accent wasn’t going to work for Sally right now, though that violin arrangement sounded worth hearing at some point. Still, he was right about staying over to get the results asap.

‘I’m not in the mood,’ she said. ‘Could murder dinner, though.’

***

Sherlock’s idea of cooking was sticky pasta boiled in the pesthole of a staircase kitchen. Sally ate it anyway, telling him about how Emily was afraid reporting an attack would lose her boyfriend.

‘Hm.’ grunted Sherlock, putting his barely-eaten dinner down next to him on the floor and leaning back on his hands. Sally watched him from the bed; you could see he was coming down, but trust him to apparently get nothing worse than a bad mood. ‘The belief that a woman should tolerate anything to retain a socially desirable partner is hardly a new form of idiocy. And this prize intellectual Zack probably would dump her for her treachery, yes. It has to be wifey-in-waiting Emily’s choice if she wants to tell tales or not. I’m sure she reacted with her usual grace when DI Donovan tried to investigate.’

Damn his smug tone. Sally told herself it was temporary drug thing and looked around for a distraction. Her eye fell on a book about Jack the Ripper, which did not help.

‘You’re not wrong,’ she had to say. ‘But can you please shut up with the snide remarks. Yeah, Emily’s a racist bitch, but hell, the poor cow was limping where he'd done who knew what to her. If you’d seen her…’

Sherlock scrambled to his feet, elbows and knees briefly seeming to go everywhere.

‘Oh yes, I’m sure I’d have been deeply affected,’ he almost snickered. ‘Let her use you, then. God, women can be so banal!’

Excuse me?

Sherlock seemed to freeze in the moment of leaning down for his discarded plate.

‘What the hell is wrong with you, apart from being a twat on a comedown?’ Sally demanded. ‘I’m serious. Do you think I couldn’t have found a female Chemistry student who’d help with something like this? If you were any other bloke, do you think you’d be able to see me for dust right this moment?’

Sherlock raised the plate slowly, put it on his desk, and looked into Sally’s eyes. He looked very young, and very lost.

He opened his mouth and hesitated before speaking. ‘All right. Yes, that was completely unacceptable of me. I’m sorry. As for what’s wrong with me – there’s nothing, really.’

Lies. After he’d promised.

Is it Seb?’ she demanded, though she knew it would make him angry. He was the one who’d mentioned that git earlier.

Sally was right about Sherlock’s response, although he also looked so genuinely bewildered that she was relieved.

‘For god’s sake, I told you that’s long past!’

Sally nodded. ‘OK. Good. Just asking.’

‘If you have to know, I need to visit my Aunt Catherine for a couple of days. Home stuff. Boring stuff, just a bit private. You can call if you’re worried I’ll run off with their housemaid. The number’s zero two – oh, you won’t remember it, will you. Here.’

Sherlock wrote down the number in a notebook on the desk, tore out the page and handed it to Sally. She took it, because she wouldn’t be clingy enough to call, of course not, but… just in case.

***

Sherlock might have stayed up all night, but Sally slept until he woke her at five am. They slipped down Parks Road to the labs, and found they had the result they needed.

‘Yes!’ crowed Sherlock, peering at test tube. ‘Flunitrazepam! The literature, and the sensationalist press, is starting to report cases of it being used to sedate rape victims. It’s not widespread yet, but I daresay that’s coming given the morality and discernment of the average British lad. Get Emily to go to the police and give them this sample right now. Or a fresh one. It’s only been about 36 hours, the drug will still be in her system.’

Sally was still rubbing sleep out of her eyes.

‘And they’ll have to take her seriously,’ she said grimly. Then, ‘Except – hell, Emily won’t go, will she?

‘Not your fault if she doesn’t,’ Sherlock assured her. ‘She doesn’t deserve a friend like you, even if you needed her friendship, which you know you don’t as I’ve seen you with those not entirely vacuous second years. However, this was hardly a test of my skills. Could you find smarter criminals in future?’

Sally shook her head. ‘I’ll take a rapist stupid enough to leave obvious traces every time. Right, I’m off to talk to Emily. I’ll see you when you come back from your secret family weekend. And – thanks.’

‘You’re welcome,’ Sherlock said. He had his head down over his notepad, but when she went to kiss him goodbye, he did kiss back. She was on her way out when he added, ‘I know I can be a dick sometimes. I’m arrogant and occasionally duplicitous. I am a teenage boy, and I know from experience that my peers are as appalling as advertised, so I must assume that I do share some of their characteristics. Meanwhile, you can be mouthy and stubborn and excessively defensive.’

Right….

‘And you think logically analysing a girl’s faults is romantic,’ said Sally. ‘It possibly is, coming from you, which is why I haven’t killed you. And there’s shit going down that you won’t tell me. And you think getting coked up is some mature way of dealing.’

Sherlock looked up and hesitated, then came over. He kissed all around the side and front of her neck, and she tipped back her head and just enjoyed it.

‘That’s more conventionally romantic,’ he said. ‘As is saying I love you. And I do love you, very much, never doubt that. The fact that I was so surprised by it is probably an indicator of sincerity. I want to be the man you deserve.’

Sally leaned her cheek against his. ‘You already are,’ she said. ‘Just… bugger off home for a bit. I really don’t care what it is you’re not telling me if it’s just some kind of snob warfare. Deal with it and come back not a dickhead. That’s all.’

***

On the chilly walk down to Iffley Road, Sally put Sherlock out of her mind and girded herself for a great battle to get Emily Parkes to do the bloody obvious. She had all her arguments lined up – 'for your own sake you shouldn’t just accept something like this' ... 'if you let him get away with it he’ll do it to other people (someone more vulnerable than you, nice Home Counties girl)' ... 'just stop being such a racist bitch that you sod your own life up for fuck's sake!' - et cetera.

In fact, Emily wept with relief, and thanked her like a normal person. They went to the police station, and the officers treated both of them with respect, and took a fresh urine sample, and explained how proceedings would go on from there.

Rapist Pete was called in for an interview, and right off he admitted what he’d done. It could work like that, Sally knew. Sometimes things could turn out right. If she made them.

Chapter Text

Detective Inspector Donovan, hell yeah, thought Sally, striding to the library with an armful of books the following afternoon. Policing wasn’t just about the forensics, and definitely not about uncovering subtle criminal master-plans. It was about being there in the right way at the right time, and persuading, and bloody listening, and making absolutely clear that certain things would not be let lie. You used what life gave you, and sometimes it was enough. She was enough. She wasn’t going to call Sherlock like a sad, clingy female, but when he came back she’d tell him, and he’d get that look in his eyes like she was not an idiot, the one that weirdly seemed to count for more than any amount of praise from other people.

She chatted with her mum that night, on the bashed-up phone in the downstairs hall of her house. Mum still wasn’t exactly in tune with university life – no, Sally wasn’t living entirely on chips but nor was she going to be rustling up nyama choma in a grotty student kitchen when she could be studying or having fun – but she sounded genuinely interested these days.

It’s OK, Mum, Sally always wanted to say. See? I’m not leaving you. I showed you I come back sometimes. But it felt impossible, in the house hallway with Apocalypse Now blaring six foot away in the living room and Harry the Prat lecturing people about the horrors of war while they threw crisps at him. And she wanted to tell Mum about Emily, and about Sherlock,
but how to actually start talking about any of it?

Dammit, she was going to talk about something that was important to her. It couldn’t be Emily though, not with her in earshot.

‘I’ve got a boyfriend,’ Sally blurted out. ‘An, um, serious one. Called Sherlock.’

Hell. The name itself would say it all. Posh, posh, posh… Except it was her Brit-brain thinking that. Mum had had childhood friends called Hastings and Julius.

Mum sighed. ‘Well, well. You think nobody guessed, with you mooning about that payphone all Christmas? He an English boy?’

Sally bridled a bit – were they all laughing at her? Well, fuck it if they were, because suddenly her words were flowing. ‘Yeah. He’s at posh Oxford, Mum! Whiter than a snowman’s arse, and actually went to Harrow. He’s practically a genius – a proper one. He’s weird, and I like it. He does things like memorise all the Number Ones from 1983, and he plays the violin and he’s doing Chemistry, and –’

Sally stopped abruptly, because her mother was cackling down the phone. She had a sudden, painfully clear vision of Mum sitting on the stool in the hall, her elbow leaning on the shelf with the Yellow Pages, smoothing back her greying frizzy hair with her other hand. Wearing that knowing look that made you feel annoyed and warm inside at the same time.

‘Salama Donovan, you in love,’ Mum announced.

‘Yes. And he’s pretty!’ Sally retorted. Surely that would get Mum upset – when she and her friends got a few gins down them they’d talk about blokes’ muscles. Skinny men with floppy hair were just funny, in their opinion. Well, they were what Sally liked best. Especially when they liked going on the bottom.

‘What he want you for?’

Right. There was the bitter, sarky tone. Familiar ground whenever Sally got something she really wanted. Normally she’d either kick off a row or close herself up around now, but she wasn’t getting dragged down that road today.

‘He loves me too,’ Sally began, then had to break off as there was the sound of a ball bouncing heavily, followed by Mum threatening to tan Lee’s hide if he didn’t put that thing away right this second. As if he wasn’t four inches taller than her now.

‘Don’t get on my back, Mum, just don’t,’ said Sally. ‘He’s a good person and he makes me happy.’

Did he, though? With the drugs and the lying, and… God. It wasn’t like her to let a man treat her that way. Why was this one different? Well, because she believed he really was trying to sort himself out in some way, and did deserve space. For now.

Mum chuckled, but she did back off.

‘I can’t hold you. You even talk a little different, girl,’ she said. ‘You chased half the loser boys on this estate, so get a better one now. When you live in a palace, get a jacuzzi and I’m coming over.’

Sally wanted to protest that she hadn’t dated the losers, she’d screwed them, but it wasn’t the time. Instead, a memory from Christmas swam into mind: Mohammed managing to get five party hats on his head at once, and arranging three on Mum’s head while she laughed, half-tipsy and getting two on Lee’s head before Lee fought him off then decided to wear a plastic wreath as a necklace. Who needed a palace?

That was her home, and Oxford was her home. No good thinking further yet, though one day Sherlock would live in London, and she…

She yanked herself back to the here and now, before it got spoiled.

‘Sherlock doesn’t live in a palace,’ she said. ‘So what have you been up to?’

Sally listened attentively as Mum told her about the extra shifts she was taking on at the clinic now only Leroy was at home and she didn’t have to feed and clean up after Mo and Sally. They hadn’t really expected her to do that for a long while now, but Mum had kept it up, while sulking about it.

Sally was no longer stomping round the flat with books Mum didn’t understand and chasing chances Mum never had, while getting sarky about what an embarrassment Mum was. Maybe that helped a bit.

By the time the conversation was over, Sally had invited her mother to visit Oxford in two weekends’ time, and Mum had agreed.

Chapter Text

A hundred miles away, Sherlock was in Auntie Catherine’s third spare bedroom with his step-cousin Andy, supposedly fixing the broken door of a wardrobe, a huge teak heirloom monster. Except, instead of that, Andy was looking Sherlock up and down.

Sherlock’s heart was in his throat. Was it his imagination, the way Andy was looking at him? Lazy, commanding, desiring, all at once. It was getting dark already and the failing light from the window glinted on his shorn army hair. His muscles bulged under his sweater, and he pulled it off over his head – Catherine always kept the place overheated – and he was wearing some kind of camo shirt under there. Was he teasing? God, if he was it was infuriating.

And exquisite. Sherlock knew he was staring and staring. The half-open, neglected wardrobe door creaked. Andy took a step backwards and sat on the faded old chair with his legs spread, boot-soles flat on the floor.

Jesus fucking Christ.

‘Problem?’ said Andy, unusually softly for him.

Had Sherlock crossed the line in his head already, or did he cross it as he spoke?

‘What would you do if I said I wanted to lick your boots?’ he asked Andy, through dry lips.

The answer shot back whip-fast.

‘I’d tell you to get on your knees, you little faggot, and crawl over here now.’

Good fucking God.

Sherlock obeyed. There were no more lines anyway, he was just in this place where the air was turning thick and his ears were ringing and his cock ached, already filling. This didn’t feel quite like he’d thought it would, hunched over the magazines he managed to keep hidden even from Mycroft. Realer. Less shameful yet more humiliating. A curious paradox… Stow the analysis, Sherlock Holmes.

He reached Andy’s feet, hesitated for a moment, then sprawled onto his back like an animal showing submission. Andy smiled down at him, a hard, satisfied, cruel, warm smile. Sherlock wriggled, turned his head, and his lips touched the glossy surface of Andy’s left boot. The leather smelled of polish and dirt and maleness, and Sherlock just lay for a long moment until Andy kicked his shoulder, hard enough that he whimpered.

‘Get on with it, you little fucker,’ Andy ordered, and there was so little kindness in the tone that Sherlock was frightened, and that turned him on more. He wanted to please that voice.

He began to lick the boot.

It didn’t taste good. In his imagination it had been purely clean and leathery, but in reality there was mud and sawdust from being outside. Sherlock didn’t care. That was part of it, the humiliation, the showing himself. He scrambled around onto his hands and knees and worked his tongue between the laces, against the tongue of the boot. Kissing. Sick. Thrilling. He kept going until the boot was shiny all over, then shifted to the second one. Andy was beginning to move as well, and Sherlock knew he was wanking as he watched. Sherlock began to tremble and reached a shaky hand down towards his own cock but Andy stopped him with a kick to the chest and a hoarse growl, ‘Not until you’ve finished!’

Andy finished in a different way, while Sherlock was tonguing the rim of the second boot, his mouth chafed and filthy and tingling. Andy spasmed and spasmed in silence, then relaxed. Half a minute later, Sherlock raised his head, wanting approval, desperate to touch himself, but instead the now-shining boot was raised and slammed down on his shoulder. He fell face-down on the worn carpet, then let himself be nudged onto his back again, and saw above him Andy’s hard-lined face, Andy’s muscled arm in the camo shirt. He wanted Andy’s cock, invisible above the seat of the chair. This was better than coke, better than anything.

Instead, a boot-sole came down on his face and God, it was everything; Sherlock twisted his head to the side, and one cheek ground against the floor, and Andy’s boot pressed into the other, narrowing the visible world to a strip, and both Sherlock’s hands scrabbled their way into his own jeans because this was filthy and real … it took him seconds to come, jerking and shuddering as his neck, now, was trapped against the ground, and above him Andy commented dryly, ‘Well, aren’t you the sick little puppy?’ It was true, true, exquisitely true… and orgasm passed, and Sherlock was dazed and limp on the floor, the boot gone, reality swimming back into view.

God, yes.

Shit. Shit.

He’d come from little more than licking a man’s boots and a few seconds with his own hand. Everything he’d feared about himself was true. What had he done?

Sherlock rolled around to kneel, putting the back of his hand to his mouth and then spitting out dirt. Finally he looked up into Andy’s eyes, because he had to do it sometime.

The soldier was grinning, friendly and kind. He put a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder.

‘A deeply sick little puppy. Next time we’ll have that mouth around my cock – no, Sherlock, not now, I’m not up for polish on my balls. You need a bath. Catherine would probably love this because of how it’d infuriate your dear Mama, but let’s not push it.’

Sherlock felt himself grinning back, utterly foolish, relaxed and happy.

***

Four times in three days they did this. The second time, Andy beat his arse. The third, in the chill of the old barn down the lane, Andy roped Sherlock’s hands roughly around an old beam, shoved his own cock into Sherlock’s mouth and called him a boy whore. The fourth, in the spare bedroom again, Sherlock was stripped naked and ordered to stand with his legs apart while Andy hung weights from his balls – dismantled parts of an old lamp – then shoved him hard in the back, laughing when the weights swung and Sherlock stumbled and whined.

Andy’s roughness was nothing like the boys’ at school. It was confidence, not fear. He walked around Sherlock surveying him with the eye of a satisfied master.

This kind of pain had… effects on Sherlock. Hard to analyse. Analysis itself dissolved at these times. Part of the appeal. He drifted, detaching from himself, his mind half-empty, half-fixed on the struggle to stay still as instructed. Peace. Safety. His thoughts wandered around the room, then to his recent life and Oxford. Getting high in the lab with a spotty geek from Balliol who had the advantage of not saying much even when off his face.

Sally.

The image of her face broke in. It swam into sharp focus, and she seemed to say his name, and he’d never seen someone look so angry, or felt their anger and hurt like this. He was responsible.

‘Sherlock?’ the voice repeated. It wasn’t Sally, it was Andy.

Sherlock was trembling, not from the physical pain. Andy stopped in front of him.

‘Sherlock, do you want to safeword?’

‘Um...’

‘Right. Safeword,’ said the voice. Abruptly there was an arm around him, and the weights were unclipped, making him gasp at the shock. He wobbled forwards onto a shoulder, but he couldn’t see much except Sally’s face, biting her lip the way she did when she was right on the verge of eviscerating an idiot. He wished she would start shouting, but she was silent. She was only in his head. He actually hadn’t hurt her yet. But he would. He couldn’t go back to her the same as he had been. Although he’d always known, deep down, he was this way. Why was he this way?

Andy sat Sherlock on the rickety chair and said, ‘Hey, it’s OK mate, this happens. Just ride it out, what ever it is.’

Sherlock was burbling in his head, words spilling through a cold blue space in his mind without reaching his lips: Sally, I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m like this. I tried not to be, but it doesn’t feel wrong. Tears were dropping from his bowed head to the floor.

Andy patted him on the back, and said, ‘Looks like I misjudged that badly. My fault, mate,’ in his dry way.

There was no pressure from Andy to speak. There never was pressure from Andy, not that kind. The two of them weren’t in love, they just did this stuff, and it was good.

Because there was no pressure, Sherlock did speak, feeling like it brought him back to the world a bit: ‘It’s Sally. My girlfriend. I love her. What am I doing to her? I’m a bastard. I don’t – I don’t give a shit about what most people say. Not now they can’t make my life a misery twenty-four seven.’ Boarding school flashed through his mind; sneers, boredom, a thousand… no. He’s wasn’t going there. He’d hurt for Sally, yes, but not for them. ‘I promised her, not to…’ Not to what? He didn’t even know, but he was pretty sure this was included. ‘Andy, you make me feel so good, and she’d think AIDS, Operation Spanner… How could she not?’ Sherlock paused, then added: ‘Though it’s not like you and me have actual sex, is it? Not really?’

Andy didn’t dignify that with an answer. He just handed Sherlock his underpants with an unexpectedly camp archness that made Sherlock laugh a bit.

He was getting on a train in a few hours, and Andy was leaving for manoeuvres in Scotland tomorrow. This thing was what it was.

‘You’re gay all right, kid,’ said Andy after a while. ‘There’s some good reasons for lying about that. I don’t want to have the crap beaten out of me and get chucked out of the army, for example. There’s also some really bad reasons. Like wanting to hide behind a girl.’

‘I’m not hiding,’ protested Sherlock, wiping his nose. He was still shaking, but not as much. ‘Oh god, I suppose I am. Have been. She’s – she’s my best friend but I can’t fuck her any more.’ (So he’d do what? Seek out men like Andy, like himself, in Oxford; in London?) ‘I need to sort this.’

‘Sounds like it,’ said Andy, then gave him a final pat on the back. ‘Come on, we did say we’d fix that wardrobe door.’

Chapter Text

‘Hey,’ said Sally, meeting Sherlock outside one of the science buildings the following evening.

Sherlock hunched into his coat and grinned at her. They walked, or rather struggled into horizontal rain, the short distance up South Parks Road, avoiding half-dissolved icy patches, until they reached the arched back gate of St John’s. The thick door banged behind them, and suddenly it was quiet in here with the empty, shadowed porters’ booth, and they were just looking at each other, dripping and steaming. Sally relaxed, sure now that Sherlock wasn’t high. She hadn’t realised how much she’d dreaded he might be.

‘I… missed you,’ he said, and pulled Sally in for a hug, another one of his bone-breakers.

‘It wasn’t long,’ she replied, trying to keep her voice light. ‘But… um, yeah. Come on. Tell me about this family drama.’ She paused. She hadn’t been planning to push it. ‘Or not. Your call, eh? I’ve got stuff to tell you!’

‘Sounds great,’ said Sherlock. ‘Um, the bar? We could…’

‘Nah, let’s go to your room,’ Sally interrupted, because frankly she wanted a shag fairly soon. Not because of the sex. To touch him intimately, because she could.

Sherlock took her hand, and they ran through the rain to the Beehive, giggling when they almost knocked over a grad student coming the other way. Sally felt almost giddy with the news she had stored up for him, because she’d been mulling it over, and telling Jen and Nyota about the conversation with her mum, but somehow, as he’d once said to her, things did seem more real when they were shared between her and Sherlock. Maybe even because he was so different, but at the same time he was hers.

‘We got the fucker,’ she announced as soon as the door of Sherlock’s room was closed behind her. ‘Emily came with me, and the police listened to us. They called the bastard in. Quite a bit thanks to you, but,’ she grinned. ‘Mainly thanks to me. D. I. Donovan in the house!’

Sally high-fived Sherlock, then he sat back on his bed, watching her. ‘Too right,’ he said.

He didn’t sound as enthusiastic as he might have wanted. But he often didn’t. She pushed down her irritation; this wasn’t the time to pick him up on that.

‘How about I buy you a meal to celebrate?’ Sherlock said, which was better.

‘What, and go out in that?’ Sally nodded at toward the curtains, where the rain sounded like it was trying to break the window. I’ll take you up on it, but not tonight.’ Sherlock was looking tousled and skinny and very pretty indeed, and she wanted to jump him right now, but there was an odd stiffness to him. ‘I got some wine,’ she said instead, pulling it out of her backpack. And then, because it was starting to feel oddly difficult to start talking about her mum, and Sally wasn’t up for getting tongue-tied, she came out with it straight: ‘I had a chat with my mum. A non-shouty one. She’s… she’s coming here. Wanna meet her?’

Sherlock froze, unmistakably horrified.

Christ. Sally slowly put the bottle on his desk.

‘Looks like you don’t,’ she observed levelly. ‘Why? She doesn’t bite. I warned her I’m dating a posh white lunatic.’

Sherlock seemed to come back to life. ‘It’s not that,’ he said earnestly, jumping up then doing a turn on the spot with his hands pressed together prayer-style. ‘I’d love to meet her. But it’s a surprise, Sally. You said you two didn’t get on.’

‘We didn’t. But I’m…’ I’m what? I’m growing up? She’s growing up? Sally didn’t know. The change was still new, and at the same time gradual. ‘All right, so Sherlock Holmes vs Busara Donovan could be the ultimate disaster area, but it also might not.’ Sally scooped two mugs off a shelf next to the camo shirt that she’d accidently picked up earlier that term and poured the wine; quite a lot of it in one go. Why was she in a rush? Because she clearly was.

Sherlock came and wrapped his hand around Sally’s as she held the bottle, absurd long white fingers almost obscuring hers. ‘Of course I’ll meet her,’ she said. ‘Of course. Hey, look at me.’

Sally put down the bottle, and looked at him, putting her hands on his narrow hips. She was sick of him not telling her things, and him keeping his sadness where she couldn’t reach it, and her trying to force it out of him and either getting stonewalled or having whatever the fuck it was taken out on her. If he started that now -

‘I love you, believe me,’ he said. And Sally could tell when he was lying, and he was not lying now. In fact he was on the verge of tears. ‘Um -’

‘I love you too,’ she interrupted. ‘Sod it - I didn’t expect to! I didn’t ask for it. You make me feel different. Or, I dunno, more like myself than I ever have.’ How was that possible? For a moment Sally thought of her Mum – did she understand this a bit? ‘Like I was swimming, and never thought I’d reach solid ground, and there it was out of nowhere. There you were. Mine.’

What a pathetic thing to say Whatever was on his mind, it wasn’t another woman; he’d promised it wasn’t Seb... maybe it really was his family. What if he’d told them he was dating a black girl from Peckham and it hadn’t gone well?

‘Here I am,’ he said softly, trying to smile. ‘With you.’

Sally held out a mug of wine. Sherlock took it and downed it as if it was beer. Sally tried not to gulp hers, wondering, finding nothing to rationally fear and being afraid anyway, and then Sherlock grabbed her, and kissed her hard. Right, then! She was familiar with this dance. It was her cue to shove back, harder, and pin him against the wood-panelled wall with a knee while she undid his shirt, then pulled off hers. She pressed his face into her breasts, but he turned his head and slipped to his knees, and she tugged at his hair, just enough to make him whimper and nuzzle into her hip.

‘Come on – naked,’ she said, because she wanted this quick and hard and dirty, because she was in charge and he was going to remember that, and Sherlock obediently pulled off the rest of his clothes, and flung himself onto his back on the bed while Sally climbed out of her knickers. She straddled him, and he was only half-hard as usual, but she had her ways of dealing with that... if only he’d look at her. He was doing it again, closing his eyes, turning his head to the side.

‘Oy,’ she warned, and he bucked up against her in response, but fell back again, and still he didn’t look at her, just let out a long breath as if he was frustrated. How could she get through to him? Sally leaned forward to slap his face, not to be too rough but sick of being angry, sick of being afraid, sick of not knowing why she even felt those things; she had to make him…

Sherlock’s eyes flew open and he craned his head up from the pillow.

‘For fuck’s sake, hit me harder!’ he snarled, raising his arms. Reaching out, or warding off?

That was when she noticed the dark red marks around his wrists. There was bruising on one of his shoulders. She waited, sitting very still, willing this moment to just not be, knowing it was too late.

Sherlock slumped back, stared at the ceiling, and said in a very small voice, ‘Oh Sally, I can’t do this any more. We both know I’m gay.’

Chapter Text

Sally jumped off the bed. She yanked on her knickers and her bra, as if that would help. It was better than thinking. Better than touching him.

She heard Sherlock pace across the room and back. Looking up, she saw his limp cock dangling and – dear God – harsh red stripes on his arse. After a moment he seemed to realise this, pulled his underpants on, and stood in front of her, as awkward as if they’d never met before.

‘I believe we’ve touched on the matter of my freakishness before,’ he said.

‘Not like this.’

Sally wasn’t going to scream. Instead, she gestured at the scrapes, the bruises, her mind racing to places she didn’t want to go. ‘Who’s the lucky psychopath, then? No, let me deduce.’ The oversized camo shirt, right there on the shelf. The trip back home. I think he likes me, Sherlock had said, and like a moron Sally had cooed encouragement at him. ‘Soldier boy step-cousin. No doubt he picked up certain skills in Iraq. So, he brutalised you over the weekend, and you knew it was love? Or did it start at Christmas?’

‘Sally, it’s not brutalisation. Nor is it love. He just gave me more than hamster scratches. Yes, I met him at Christmas, and we got on, but the house was rammed. Then I saw him this weekend, and… it went from there.’

Fuck. She went with other guys now and then… this was something else. ‘So, since Christmas you’ve been thinking that oh, well, I might not have to put up with my boring girlfriend for much longer because I’ve found a nice, violent arse bandit. What did you let him do to you, Sherlock?’

Sherlock looked down at his red-ringed wrists. Sally remembered last term, when those cheap cuffs had jammed and she’d thought she’d spooked him… In fact he’d wanted her to hurt him more.

To watch him suffer. To take pleasure in it. Sane people did not do that.

‘I didn’t “let” him do anything. I started it,’ muttered Sherlock, then raised his chin, defiant. ‘If you insist on specifics, then Andy tied my hands above my head, beat me and forced me – for a given value of “forced”, which I know you do in fact understand – to fellate him. That was not our first time, of course. The first time I licked his boots, and came as a direct result. Later, he hung weights from my balls. Homosexuality is of course part of the normal range of human behaviour, though masochism is less well documented…’ Sherlock was almost chanting, as if reciting one of his chemical formulae, then suddenly his voice cracked. ‘I just need this. I don’t understand why.’

Sally put her hand over her mouth for a moment. Dick-sucking. Boot-licking. Weights on the balls. And she knew Sherlock well enough to see that he was more excited by his sick memories than he ever was by her.

‘They broke you,’ she replied. ‘That faggot school.’’

‘For goodness’ sake, it’s not like that. Whatever the Daily Mail says, most healthy, strapping public school morons move on to girls as programmed. So what do you think they do when they realise Shitlock the pervert doesn’t want to move on, and enjoys certain things more than he’s supposed to? Those bestial half-wits didn’t make me what I am, they found out and almost killed me for it.’

‘Yeah, I know. And I hate them for it.’’ Sally glared at him, daring him to deny that. ‘Seems you got lucky though, and fucking me gave you a chance to play normal while you worked yourself up to complete suicidal insanity. You think you’re in control of this? That’s not how it works.’

‘I was not using you,’ Sherlock snapped. ‘Or if I was, I’m stopping now. But please do tell me how “it” does work, as you’re an expert.’

‘Don’t be stupid. What I mean is, this stuff escalates. It’s like those damn drugs, that you obviously think are going to save you from having to think through anything properly. You’ll never have a real relationship. Right now you’re a clever, pretty rich boy with a sucker for a girlfriend, but in twenty years you’ll be one more sad poof hanging round Soho looking for fresh meat, even if you aren’t on News at Ten for banging nails through some other bloke’s bits. That’s reality, Sherlock. You think I want that for you?’

‘Sally, cocaine helps me focus, end of story. I’ll move to London after university, as will you if you’re joining the Met, and I can assure you there’s a little more to it than the charming picture you paint. In any case, maybe I don’t want what you call a real -’

I wanted one!’ Sally burst out. ‘For fuck’s sake, I was actually going to introduce you to my mother. Do you ever think about anything but yourself? Never mind where you stick your dick, you lied time after time, you made me think – God, I don’t even know.’ She started sobbing. Brainless, feeble. As if it mattered any more. ‘I had a stupid fantasy we might live in London together. I’m a pathetic idiot. What does that make you?’

Sherlock looked panicky. ‘Oh – you’re crying... Sally, don’t cry. Don’t make this more painful than it has to be. I’m still me, yes? We’re friends. Do you want a hug? Sit down for a bit.’ He scrubbed a hand through his hair. ‘Fuck. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say or do.’

He began to cry himself. She’d never seen that before. Even now, it shocked her a little. She wanted to shake him. Share the pain. Protect him. Make him need her. Stop needing him.

She did sit on the bed, as he’d suggested, and wiped her eyes with a hand.

‘Don’t you get it at all, Sherlock? For all I know, being gay’s the next big thing. There’s a society for it, isn’t there? LGB Soc. Maybe they have torture nights. Unfortunately for you, it doesn’t matter what you do here, or if you wrap me around your little finger. There’s reality out there. My Dad would have punched your lights out and walked away, but he had some really charming squaddie mates who liked to go on about what they’d do to faggots.’

‘LGB Soc? Tedious,’ Sherlock retorted. ‘Well, thank you for your predictions and pithy if grossly ignorant opinions. It’s hardly news that I’ll be unpopular amongst the stupid. But I don’t call you a nigger, so how about you shut up with the “faggot” and the “arse bandit”?’

Tentatively he put a hand on her arm. She stared at his long, white fingers, that had stroked her hair and worked inside her, and shrank away, grabbing her jeans. She did not want to be near this man any more.

‘Did you actually just make that comparison, Sherlock? Do you want me to punch you in the face? Oh wait, you probably do – masochism.’

She wanted to get a reaction out of him. She didn’t. He stared. Fine.

‘What do you think this S&M shit reminds me of, Sherlock? Let’s think. Hm… rape, slavery, and wife-beating. Oops, downer, eh? Look around you. You live in a room full of rat bones and murder manuals, getting off on torture. Do you really care about anything?’

They’d always joked about Sherlock’s freakishness – maybe they’d done because in reality it was more than a joke. Five minutes after meeting her he’d been “deducing” her life from her bra. He’d openly told her he’d got his sex moves from textbooks. He understood nothing, and yet he had pretended so very well. Were those false tears?

Psychopaths could pretend anything, but there was nothing real inside them except grossly fucked-up urges.

Sherlock’s expression had turned cold and tight, the way it got when he dealt with people like Emily. Everything she’d thought she’d loved in him was shut away, as if it hadn’t been there at all.

‘I see. I’m going to turn into a serial killer because I like kinky sex. That kind of logic wouldn’t make the grade even in the Met. Anything else I should know about how I offend you by existing?’

Sally shook her head, seriously considering.

‘No, I’m finished,’ she said, and began to pull on her jeans. ‘Whether you listen is up to you. Don’t worry about me collapsing, by the way, not that you are. I never do. Can’t afford it.’

‘Good,’ replied Sherlock softly, standing up again and picking up his own trousers. ‘You weren’t pathetic when I met you, and I don’t suppose you are now. So, in view of your concern for my future, let me help out with a few observations about yours. You believe that handholding imbecile Emily and getting Pete the lad banged up for, oh, about three years if he’s convicted at all, really matters. You believe that if you try hard enough, or perhaps make yourself enough of a bitch, the justice fairy will wave her wand and a black policewoman will be rewarded for her hard work. You believe in love and justice, and clearly a whole lot of rather tame sex… Oh, am I upsetting you? I thought you liked honesty. Well, luckily if you don’t make it in the Met, there’s shagging to fall back on, though I may have put you off effete types. There’s the mysterious Kwame, whom you obviously love for his massive intellect and not because of his skin colour – he’s proper black, isn’t he, and you worry you’re not, misfit that you are. Takes one to know one. What you don’t know is, Kwame’s got a girlfriend in Ghana. Though that’s Salama Donovan all over. Goes for the unavailable ones. Gay, one night-stands, no doubt married ones as you get older. Martyr yourself long enough and they’ll change, eh? I salute your efforts at self-delusion, but suggest you check in with your mother, as you are more reliant on her than you know.’

Sherlock stopped. He was standing in the middle of the room, looking proud, waiting for a response to his deduction as he always did. Seriously believing he would get one. That he deserved anything at all from her after that.

Sally stepped into her boots carefully, taking her time. She was already shaking and crying, so fine, she let both her body and mind do their bits to get her the hell out of here.

‘OK,’ she said when she was dressed and ready to go. ‘Some of that’s true. I’d guessed about Kwame.’ She hadn’t. She wasn’t going to admit that. ‘It’s good to know the worst. I’ll take it and use it and throw it in your fucking white grinning twisted cunt of a face when I’m a success and you’re in the gutter. I am loved, by people who matter.’ Mum, Mo, Leeroy. Nyota, Jen. ‘But you’re a psychopath.’

Sherlock tightened his lips. He was, she registered, still crying, though she’d dried up. Some small part of her didn’t want to leave him, even now.

Martyr? Misfit? Fuck that.

‘We’ll see who’s deluded,’ she said, and walked out of the door, back into her own damn life.

Chapter Text

June 2012

‘We did what we could,’ said Sally. ‘Firearms guys’ll bring him in.’

They were off shift, in the pub, soon after the failed arrest. Lestrade had his face in his hands, staring down at his beer.

‘Not the point, Sal. God, running off the way he did… innocent guys don’t do that. I just didn’t want to see, did I?’

‘You’re not the only one he fooled, Greg.’ Sally kept her voice flinty. She was the one who should have seen earlier, argued harder that first time when Sherlock waltzed onto a crime scene, rake-thin, kite-high, mouthy and smug, and paused for just half a second – might he say something human? – before sneering, ‘Well if it isn’t D.I. Donovan!’ She should have stopped it then, before it really began.

She had a crap track record with decisions like that.

‘He’s plausible as hell,’ she said. ‘He used the lot of us for years. God, all that charm but in the end he’s a junkie pervert, living in that grotty flat – drugs, murder manuals around the place, eyeballs in the microwave, sex torture kit –’

She broke off, aware she sounded like the chief super. And yet. Time after time she’d replayed that final scene from half a lifetime ago, wondering what it added up to in the end: what Sherlock was, and how exactly that mattered, and whether she had any business objecting if he insulted her from here to China so long as they were getting murderers off the streets.

‘Them boxes under the bed?’ Greg was saying. ‘It’s not illegal to own what you might call novelties, Sal. Though I don’t think the image of Sherlock Holmes on a leash is getting out of my head any time soon. Jesus,’ Greg rubbed a hand over his brow. ‘Time was we’d have laughed ourselves sick at that.’

‘Yeah, and it would’ve kept us good and distracted while he was off poisoning kids to make himself look clever. When it comes down to it, he’s just sick in the head. Some blokes are, and that’s the end of it.’

If only, if only, if only she’d had the courage of her convictions, and killed the doubting bit inside her that wanted to just let it go, to be the forgiving or at least tolerant grown-up even if Sherlock couldn’t, to laugh with him, not at him, when he wore the stupid hat. Well, he’d never been what he seemed to be, and there was no more need to doubt it.

School and that soldier had broken him, and he’d wallowed in it, in the perversion and drugs, and sick fantasies had bled into reality, and he’d turned that besotted Watson, or tried to. ‘You know he likes soldiers?’ she’d asked the poor sod early on. ‘You know how he likes soldiers?’ All she’d got in a reply was a constipated I-don’t-punch-girls-but expression, so who knew what was really going on there.

She remembered Sherlock standing in the rain with roses; and telling her he loved her, and it all seeming so, so real.

Greg’s phone rang. He growled something into it, but Sally wasn’t listening. Then he swore so violently and banged back so hard in his seat that she swivelled instantly. She knew it without telling. One more failure. The Freak’s killed someone. Watson? A lad from Firearms?

‘Sal,’ said Greg, and lowered his phone into his lap. ‘Sherlock’s… dead. Jumped off the top of Barts.’

Oh.

Sally had the strangest feeling, like a long-forgotten splinter being yanked out of her heart then stabbed in again. No blood, though. All scar tissue. She hadn’t seen this coming, him finding the decency to end it, but she’d never really known him, had she?

Good for him. Good for everyone.

No. No good. Nothing good ever. But it was done, done, done.

 

November 2013

Sally in pink PJs, hot water bottle clutched to her monthly cramps. Tracy down from the top shelf and on the bed. BBC News channel rolling, rolling.

Exonerated hero returns from the dead. Lazarus shock. Extent of Moriarty deception revealed. His smug – happy – living face. His soldier beside him.

The surge of joy. The gift of the impossible. The gift so strange it took some getting used to. A bit like how it had felt to be with him.

 

2014

Sherlock was back on the job. On Sally’s damn job, actually, since she was still on payroll and he still flounced in and out on a whim. Well, they had a tacitly agreed pattern. He didn’t talk to her, and she didn’t talk to him. Lestrade assigned her tasks that kept them apart, and she wasn’t sure if she felt grateful or patronised.

The first time Sally saw Sherlock in person, she just walked past him close by and nodded to show that yeah, OK, she was glad he wasn’t dead. That was it. No more eyeballing each other. No insult tennis. He wasn’t a murderer, and she hadn’t driven him to suicide. Quits, or as close as they could get to it.

That worked until one afternoon Sally was supervising photographs of a crime scene and Sherlock came sweeping in and shoved his hand down the back of a grimy radiator.

‘Damn!’ he cursed. He’d got his wrist stuck. He yanked it out and twisted himself round trying to peer into the dark gap. ‘It’ll be down there. A Sainsbury’s receipt: three packets of cashew nuts and a bottle of Tizer.’

‘Fuck’s sake, Sherlock, that thing hasn’t been dusted for fingerprints!’ Sally snapped.

He turned around looking exasperated – and registered who she was. Then he was back in motion, peering down the back of the radiator.

‘The receipt’s caught near the bottom, I can see it,’ he said.

‘And I assume we need it. Right. Fine. Get out the way. I’m in a suit and you’re not.’

Sally lay on her back on the floor, plastic suit crackling, and reached up behind the blasted radiator to get the crumpled bit of paper. Sherlock was standing over her, fidgeting. She kept her eyes on the receipt, silhouetted against light from above. Then she pulled back, with the paper in her tweezers, and he crouched down to see it...

The bloody raw energy of him, right there over her. The weird eyes and the mad hair, giving off charisma like some toxic gas that hadn’t worked on her for years. And yet, and yet.

‘Tizer and almonds,’ read Sherlock, peering at the receipt. He kept his hand hovering in the air near it, not touching it – as instructed.

Sally stood up and slipped the receipt into an evidence bag.

‘There’ll be one for cashew nuts in the house somewhere,’ Sherlock said.

They locked eyes. He didn’t back down, and neither would she. Fine. It was coming then. Maybe she kind of wanted it. Maybe she was tired.

She crossed to the door and shut it on the arse of the scene photographer who was crouching in the hall to take more pictures. Sherlock looked at her straight on. No more stupid games.

‘You’re initiating a touching reunion,’ he said, and flashed his most reptilian smile. She didn’t focus on that, though, because something had been nagging at her since she’d seen him close up, and she realised it was a slight oddness in his stance. Police work teaches you to make certain deductions, and… shit.

‘Half the squad’s out there taking bets on which of us kills the other,’ she responded. ‘So if we’re doing this, let’s do it and get on with the job. I’m not blind: what happened?’ She pointed at his shoulder.

‘I was tortured in Serbia.’ Pause. Transparently fake nonchalance ‘And before you ask, no I did not get off on it.’

‘Jesus. As if.’ Sally sighed. ‘Are you getting it looked at? No, silly me, of course you aren’t going to tell me. I... I could give you a name of a counsellor. Police guy. In touch with reality.’

‘Helps you, does he?’ Sherlock leant back against the radiator, contaminating it to buggery. ‘You’re having quite the rough patch lately, I notice. Nasty encounter with a violent thug in the holding cell giving you flashbacks. Using five different boyfriends to distract yourself from the squad’s dodgy conviction rate, stuck on brown belt in karate, getting on better with your Mum though, especially since your brother just had two kids, which takes the heat off you to –’

‘Oh can it,’ snapped Sally, folding her arms in their crackling plastic sleeves. ‘Just maybe I know about my own life without you telling me. I suppose you want me to say, oops, how stupid of me to think you might be a risk, what with the drugs, the eyeballs in the microwave, claiming to be a sociopath, treating police work like a game, the kinky shit under the bed, yet another soldier –’

That did it. Sherlock was in her face, looming same as he ever had, though he couldn’t fool her into thinking he felt nothing but anger. How long since she’d seen him this close? New lines around his mouth, new sadness in his eyes.

‘You will not talk about John. But of course, that’s all it comes down to in your tiny little mind, isn’t it, getting back at the freak?’

‘Stow the tragedy!’ This conversation was not going the way she’d played it out to herself during more than one shower or boring desk shift, but damned if she’d give an inch. ‘I did my job. I thought the warped stuff in your head had eaten the rest away, and I’d failed to call it when I could have. If I was so totally wrong about you, where’s your soldier now? I called that right, twenty years ago: you can’t keep a relationship, even a bloody weird one.’

For a moment she thought he’d hit her. Instead, his lip trembled just for a moment, and she saw it, and he knew she saw it. Then he spun away and announced in something like his usual constipated tone, ‘As if you can see past the end of your own nose! You were used by Moriarty from start to finish.’

‘You played with fire and as usual everyone in the damn building got burnt.’

‘And you were proven right and I killed myself. Were you finally satisfied?’

‘I cried myself to sleep!’

Shit. Absolute silence.

‘Oh,’ said Sherlock.

The door creaked open. The fucking photographer again. Possibly sent by Lestrade.

‘Um, is everything all –’ he started.

‘Yes,’ snarled Sherlock. ‘Go and photograph the u-bend, preferably from the far side. We’re busy.’ He slammed the door. He was breathing hard. So was Sally. She was going to get this under control. She was not not not fucking crying. Not again. Not for him. Maybe for herself. No, not even that. Better things to do.

‘You trying to tell me you’ve never made a shitty judgement call, Sherlock? Never taken responsibility for one, that sounds more like it.’

Sherlock had begun to pace, as far as was possible in the small room. He wasn’t even trying to look indifferent. It really wasn’t just about the whips and chains: the poor bastard was in love, with someone who didn’t even want to see him.

The lonely boy with roses in the rain. Harder-eyed now. Lonelier.

‘You’re not the only one who finds me lacking, D. I. Donovan. But a personality change at my age is unlikely, and soap opera emotions nauseate both of us. I am very, very tired, and we are not friends, so what is it that you actually want?’

‘I’d like everything you say not to sound like it’s got the word bitch in it. I’d like not to have to carry the can for you being crap at being human and getting the push from your – your John.’

‘Like the way I have to deal with your insinuations – announcements – that I’m less than human?’

‘Yes, I admit that was shitty of me. Have you seriously not noticed I don’t do it since you came back?’

Silence. Sally shifted on her feet and so did Sherlock. A slight twitch of his head showed that he was recalibrating his thoughts.

‘I hadn’t,’ he admitted, obviously annoyed at himself. ‘I’m noticing now.’

‘Genius observation. Here’s another, then: you’re enough of a freak to see round corners when I’m baffled, and I’m enough of a bitch to get shit done, and that’s just what we are, OK?’

Let Sherlock say what he liked now: it couldn’t hurt her in the face of the plain truth.

Instead of speaking, he leaned back against the window. When he smiled there were too many teeth in it, but it wasn’t quite fake.

‘Oh, the splendid bluntness that drew me to you,’ he replied.

‘Says the smart-mouth who drove me so mad I thought fucking him was a sensible life choice. Are we finished?’

In response, Sherlock let out a long sigh. Yet, finally, she’d lost the urge to punch him.

‘We keep trying to be,’ he said. ‘Only it never takes.’

She wasn’t sure, in the end, that she wanted it to.

 

One week later

It was 2am when the text came in. A good time for it, but only because Sally was on the night shift with a sleepy PC Patel, hanging round the back of a club in the pouring rain in wait for some scummy dealer who’d been cutting coke with glass. No sign. A washout, in both senses.

Ping.

Sherlock: I found one of Dr Ahmed’s fingers. You’ll find the rest in a nettle patch within a 100-metre radius of the scene.

Sally Donovan: Lovely. Except I’m not on that case.

SH: You are now. I requested you.

Sally Donovan: omg I think that’s meant to be a compliment except who died and put you in charge of allocations?

SH: Nobody, but I needed someone at least two-thirds witted, and I’m persuasive. Also: happy anniversary.

What? Sally wiped raindrops off the top right of her phone display.

Sally Donovan: Bloody hell. That morning in the lab. Emily’s piss. It was 20 years ago.

SH: Quite so. Our first rapist.

Sally Donovan: Mostly mine. You went off to suck dick in a barn.

Sally Donovan: Also, that’s the least romantic thing a bloke's ever said to me.

SH: So you like it.

Sally Donovan: Yeah.

‘Shit – Sarge!’

Sally nearly dropped her phone, racing after Patel and overtaking him to neatly bring the latest scumbag down.

 

That afternoon

Sherlock came striding up the road. Half the police officers dotted around the scrubby roadside park side-eyed Sally as she walked to meet him.

‘Something troubling your little minds?’ Sherlock observed genially as he reached the tape, somehow managing to glare at the entire squad at once.

‘Hello, Sally,’ he went on, looking at her and almost smiling.

‘Hello,’ she replied, lifting up the police tape and making an expansive enter gesture.

Then she spoke into her radio: ‘Sherlock’s here. Bringing him in.’