taking turns ch.2
PDA was not for them. Joan had known that from the beginning. Their private lives had always been very private, nothing leeching into the precinct, into the brownstone on a case. They were unable to reach each other even in the hardest of times, their private emotions guarded even when they made themselves somewhat vulnerable around each other.
But that didn’t mean neither of them wanted to be physical in public. A bridge had been crossed, and neither were going to pretend things hadn’t changed. But there were levels to the physicality. Many, many levels, Joan found.
For instance, the brushing of their hands. Before, they had unconsciously avoided even accidental touches. Passing dishes to each other, handing each other papers or books, even her rare instances of taking an item (usually his phone) forcefully from him when he was being obtuse. All those instances, if they resulted in brief, barely registered touches… Joan tried not to think about them too hard, for fear they would lead to the exact thoughts that had led them to finally cross that unspoken boundary between them.
Now that it was crossed, there was purpose in every small touch. Joan initiated first. Sherlock would communicate his surprise later.
She had gone to get them coffee, away from the precinct. None of them, Marcus included, enjoyed the precinct’s excuse for caffeinated beverages. When she’d come back, Sherlock and Marcus were still going through case files, each forehead knitted in his own brand of frustration. Joan’s mouth twitched. Scut work, Sherlock would’ve called it. But there was too high a volume of paperwork to go through for him to leave it to just anyone, and Kitty wasn’t here. Since his prodigy had left, they’d gotten used to taking turns.
She handed Marcus his coffee, took up hers and Sherlock’s, and went to hand the latter to her partner. He lifted his hand without looking up from his reading, and as Joan’s hand moved toward his, she made a split second decision.
Her fingers touched his. Long enough to not be considered a “brushing” so much as an acknowledgment of something. Something that couldn’t be spoken of aloud. He barely glanced at her, but she felt it. Their eyes locked for that one second and Joan knew he would not object to further contact of a similar kind. They each sipped their coffee and continued with their work.
The next time it happened, it was a few days later. A hot July day with no wind. Joan was wearing a loose short-sleeved blouse and a pencil skirt, but the humidity was oppressive. She longed for the air conditioning of home, but this particular crime scene did not put time on their side.
Navigating the uneven terrain of the construction site in her usual heels, Joan was sure of her footing…until her heel broke.
Sherlock had been walking just behind her, and as she fell unexpectedly to the side, the strong grasp of his hand on her arm made her lose her breath a second time in surprise.
Sherlock steadied her as she righted herself, her shifting awkwardly off of the foot wearing a now heelless shoe. They exchanged glances—his asked an unspoken question.
“I’m fine,” she said quietly, just then realizing her hand was clasping his arm in turn. The heat she could feel even through the material of his button-up shirt shocked her senses in an absurdly belated way. His proximity combined with the heat made her thoughts scatter and refuse to reform for a few more seconds.
“Can you walk on that?” Sherlock’s voice broke her out of her heat-induced trance and she focused on his face. Mild concern. He was being frustratingly good at hiding his reactions. Too much practice.
“Yes,” she said, biting off the end of the word and taking a decided, careful step away from him. And his body heat. They didn’t look at each other for a while after that.
That night, after taking a lukewarm shower and refusing a hair-dryer, Joan sat on the rug in the library, braiding her damp hair, files from the current case spread on the floor in front of her. Sherlock worked nearby in the study, looking for various online clues. Or she thought he was. His footsteps sounded to her left, and she looked up to see him staring down at her, a different sort of concentration on his face.
“What is it?” she said, thinking initially he had news on a suspect. But his hands were too fidgety, his sock-clad feet bouncing on their heels. And he looked worried. Staying seated, she turned toward him, showing her concern.
Instead of speaking, he made a decidedly unfamiliar gesture. He held out his hand for her to take.
She stared at it for all of two seconds, her thoughts racing to several hypotheses, finding a satisfactory conclusion in none of them. She took his hand and he lifted her to her feet. Easily. Joan shouldn’t have been surprised, but something in her body was very pleasantly surprised. She ignored it.
She expected him to immediately let go of her hand. He didn’t. He held it loosely in his, making it easy for her if she wished to pull away. She didn’t.
He could not meet her direct stare, his eyes dodging away several times before he spoke.
“I would like to request a…uh…” He was looking down at the ground now, studying the files with an unnecessary scrutiny. “A request. For a respite. A respite, yes.”
The last words came out quickly, and Joan suppressed her smile. She leaned toward him, urging him with a slight squeeze of his hand to look up. After another heavy and silent few seconds, he did. She leaned back accordingly.
“What kind of respite, Sherlock?” she said, finding her heart beating faster even as nothing about their contact had changed. He still held her hand loosely. She kept the “safe” distance between them. It wasn’t an exact measurement—Joan had just unconsciously learned Sherlock had a “safe” distance, and they still obeyed it. To a degree.
It was his eyes, she realized. They were full of so much she had never seen before, her brain could not register them right away. He was uncertain, but not about himself. About her.
“You have permitted me only briefly…” Here he had to look down again, his lungs noticeably expanding as he pulled his thoughts together. “…to touch you in a purposeful manner and I would like to formally request similar contact again.”
He only looked up after he had finished speaking, and his expression was so uncertain she felt a pang in her chest.
“Is this about earlier?” she asked, her voice unconsciously quieting to echo his. His expression deepening in its disquiet was answer enough. “I wasn’t upset, Sherlock. I was…surprised.”
Things had to go slow, for both of them. They had not even kissed a second time. It wasn’t so much Joan felt they were walking on eggshells, but that they were going into unknown territory together, and plunging headfirst would go against both of their instincts. They had learned to trust each other’s investigative instincts, and now it was time to form a different kind of trust.
“I as well,” he said, his gaze now going down to their joined hands. She kept her eyes on his face, catching the change from uncertainty to curiosity. Fear crept behind it all, but Joan knew it would be. It had been there for a long time, only now were they dealing with it directly.
He lifted her hand closer to his face, now holding her fingers almost in his palm, his thumb making the lightest of movements over her knuckles. Chills traveled down her arm, and she was suddenly conscious of her half-done braid, her bare legs, a stronger pulse pounding against her neck.
“They haven’t changed,” she said, letting a note of indulgence into her voice, a smile tugging at one corner. He glanced up, and some of the tension dissipated, though not all of it.
“Untrue, Watson. Your hands have changed a great deal since I last felt them. Or one. This one in particular,” he said, his focus shifting back to her right hand he still held so lightly before him.
“Bees wax, no calluses. I remember,” she said, her smile growing. He hummed, and another chill went through her at being able to feel the vibration of his voice through their contact. She had a sudden urge to move forward, but resisted.
Then his right hand came up to join his left in clasping her hand. He turned her hand palm up, and the fingers of his right hand began tracing the various lines and curves of her palm and wrist. She forced her entire body to remain still, even as her pulse was jumping erratically only centimeters from his touch.
“I have often thought…” He almost whispered, and the silence between them became pregnant with something Joan couldn’t name. Even if she’d tried, she wasn’t sure there was a word for it. Anticipation, certainly, but for what?
He did not finish his sentence. Instead he cradled her hand in both of his, and lifted her open palm to his lips. The lightest of kisses struck her nerves and she instinctively closed her eyes against the onslaught.
His voice made her open them. “How your hands would feel both soft and strong at once.”
He was not looking at her. He couldn’t. His eyes were downcast, studying the lines of her hand with only his gaze. She felt him withdraw before he even took his hands from her. She took a deep breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.
Sherlock’s phone pinged from across the room. Both turned toward it. As Sherlock walked away, Joan immediately began braiding her hair again.