"So you don't have a girlfriend then?" John said, already wondering how they'd managed to wander this far from the original topic of discussion. Hadn't he meant to ask about Sherlock's so-called arch-nemesis, the posh bastard with the umbrella who'd abducted him right off the street? Wasn't that the important bit?
"Girlfriend," Sherlock said, drawing the word out slowly, "no, not really my area."
"Oh," John said, and then it all slotted into place. Stupid, of course. He'd just assumed; made the same mistake that Sherlock had, about Harry. He should've seen before. Earlier, when the landlady had suggested they'd only want one bedroom, Sherlock had only said, "He's not my boyfriend, Mrs. Hudson," with a funny little almost-smile on his face. At the time, John had figured, sure, a man as posh and oddly pretty as Sherlock Holmes probably got that a lot. People would make assumptions, and Sherlock clearly wasn't the sort to get worked up over it. Well, why bother?
And then just now, when Angelo had offered to bring a candle over to their table, Sherlock had been the one to object, before John could even open his mouth. Of course, he'd only gotten out, "It's not a..." before Angelo had talked over him, eager to sing Sherlock's praises. So John had continued to assume that they were on the same page: two heterosexual blokes, not offended by the implication that they were shagging each other, but not mad about the idea either.
Maybe they weren't quite on the same page after all.
"Do you have a boyfriend, then?" he asked.
Sherlock had barely looked away from the street since they'd entered the restaurant, but now he actually turned his head, pinning John with an eerie, judging look.
"Which is fine, by the way..." John said, awkwardly.
"I know it's fine." Sherlock said, low and cool, still staring.
"So you've got a boyfriend," John said. He was sorry he'd asked. Honestly at this point he didn't care if Sherlock Holmes shagged women, men, or stuffed panda bears, or nothing at all.
"Yes," Sherlock said, eyes narrowing further.
John let out a breath, relieved, and wait a minute, yes?
The question having been asked and answered, Sherlock apparently considered the discussion closed. He shifted his attention back out to the street, gaze mapping back and forth like a radar sweep. John put his fork down, frowning. Any other person, anybody else would've gone on, wouldn't they? Yes, I have a boyfriend. His name's Dave, and he's an architect, and he likes foreign films, and we met at a... at a... John's mind went blank, trying to imagine some sort of plausible but not utterly creepy way Sherlock Holmes might have met someone. People did seem to like Sherlock-- Mrs. Hudson and Angelo, and maybe even that DI Lestrade-- but only because he was, apparently, quite useful if some horrible murderous tragedy was happening in your near vicinity.
Mike had seemed to think he was all right, though... "So," John ventured, "how did you meet Mike Stamford?"
"Audited one of his classes. I needed quick access to certain lab equipment. He failed me." Sherlock sounded oddly (but sincerely) wounded.
"Um, how do you fail if you're not even taking the class for credit?"
"That's what I said!"
John faintly suspected Sherlock of pulling his leg, but nobody's poker face was that good. Or was it?
"Wait... a minute," he said slowly, realizing that there was one acquaintance of Sherlock's he still hadn't accounted for: that Bond villain ponce with the umbrella. "Uh... that wasn't him I met tonight, was it? Your boyfriend, I mean?"
"What? Who are you talking about? You don't mean Lestrade?" Sherlock laughed low in his throat, still watching the street. "Giving me that 'You need a spanking' look behind my back again, was he? Come on, really," he said, "the man is obviously married. Even if he didn't wear a ring, all you have to do is look at his haircut and his tie! Unmistakable. Clearly. Really, you couldn't see that?"
"I didn't mean Lestrade!" John said, his ears burning. He was already sorry he'd asked.
"Well, I can't imagine who else--" Sherlock began, and then his whole body jerked and he shuddered hard, shoulders hunching up. "Oh God, you didn't mean-- him! Oh, God, no! Why would you even think that?"
"Well, he did seem a bit-- obsessed!"
Sherlock slid his eyes sideways, regarding John as if he'd just suggested that they conclude their lovely evening by jointly defiling a corpse. "Wrong."
"Right, okay!" John said, and took a moment to wish that his head would explode. It certainly felt like it was about to, and it would be less awkward than this. "So what's his name, then? Your boyfriend."
Sherlock made another horrible face. "Seriously, you have to stop saying boyfriend. I loathe the word boyfriend. It's so juvenile."
"Okay," John said, trying to sound agreeable, "what do you call him?"
"Victor," Sherlock said, and smirked.
John narrowed his eyes and added yet another item to his already worryingly lengthy mental list of Significant Ways In Which My New Flatmate Is, Let's Be Nice About It, Different: A normal person would be smiling right now because his boyfriend is nice and thinking about him makes him happy. Sherlock, on the other hand, is smiling right now because he really enjoys being difficult. And a fucking pedant.
He took another bite of his pasta, chewed and swallowed, then prodded again. "And how long have you and Victor been together?"
Sherlock sighed, his eyes still flickering over the street. "You mean, since I'm obviously in need of cheap accommodation, why can't I just move in with my boyfriend," he said, practically sneering the word, "instead of a total stranger?"
"No," John said, "no, I didn't-- No, that's not what I was asking! I just-- it's just the usual thing to ask, isn't it? How long have you been together, what does he do for a living, how did you meet, it's just... it's what people ask!"
Sherlock sighed again, this time more sharply. "Since Uni, on and off. Something with computers. His dog bit me. Good lord, when I said 'you've got questions' I didn't realize it was going to be chronic." He jerked forward in his seat, eyes narrowing. "Is that taxi slowing down?"
"What?" John twisted around in his seat.
"Look, it is. It's stopped," Sherlock said, his voice dropping lower, turning dark. "Nobody getting in, nobody getting out. Why a taxi?"
And they were off, chasing down the taxi and then running from the police. John's limp vanished somewhere between Northumberland Street and Marylebone, they got back to 221b in time for an apparently not-unwarranted drugs bust, Sherlock went on a joy-ride with a serial killer for the fucking giggles, John shot the bastard in the heart, a bloody perfect kill shot from another fucking building, Sherlock's arch-nemesis turned out to be his over-protective big brother, John tried another move on Sherlock's arch-nemesis' scarily fit hench-woman, she utterly blanked him, and Sherlock bought him dinner. Again.
John hadn't had dim sum this good since... well, maybe ever. Maybe it just tasted this good because he was fucking starving, because he'd run back and forth across London and been kidnapped and had his new flat invaded and chased after a serial killer and saved a man's life. Maybe.
He'd have to come back again on a boring day and see if it was still this great. Of course with Sherlock Holmes as a flatmate, he might have to wait quite a while for a boring day...
They didn't talk much after they sat down, just "Grab two of those" and "Are those lobster dumplings?" and so on, when the trolleys of food came by their table. John was relieved to see that Sherlock did actually have a healthy appetite, when he wasn't working; although he'd spent most of the meal texting back and forth with somebody, after half an hour or so he'd managed to clear off at least as many little plates as John had.
"Who are you texting?" John said. He was finally starting to feel full, and he leaned back in his chair and adjusted the waistband of his jeans.
"Victor," Sherlock said, finishing up a text with his left hand. John couldn't help but notice that Sherlock could text with his non-dominant hand faster than John could actually type, with both hands. He consoled himself with thoughts of Sherlock's inevitable carpal tunnel. Sherlock hit 'send' with his thumb and put the phone down briefly, then set about stacking all the empty plates on their table into color-coordinated stacks.
John blinked. "It's past three am."
"Not in New York." Now Sherlock was arranging the stacks at the edge of the table in order of height.
"Your boyfriend lives in New York?" John considered that. Maybe Sherlock and Victor were internet boyfriends and had never actually met in real life. Actually, that probably would explain a lot. Sherlock looked up from his arranging to give John the evil eye, and John wondered, not for the first time, if Sherlock could read his mind-- oh, right, no, he just didn't like that word. "Sorry, I mean your... significant other. Person."
"Victor has a flat in Clapham," Sherlock said tolerantly. "But he travels a lot. For his work."
"And that's... something with computers, you said?"
"Yeah... Are you going to have that last egg custard tart?"
Something about the vagueness of that 'yeah' tripped a switch in John's brain, and he looked at Sherlock, opened his mouth, then closed it again.
"You don't actually know what your boyfriend does for a living," he finally said. He didn't even say it disbelievingly, because it actually made sense. In Sherlock's world. It wasn't a deduction, because it wasn't based on any actual evidence... somehow, John just knew. Sherlock paused just before stuffing the last egg custard tart in his mouth and gave John another evil look, half annoyed, half baffled. "Sorry, not boyfriend," John said hurriedly, "sorry."
Sherlock nodded again, ate the last tart, swallowed, brushed a smear of custard off the side of his hand, and went off, gesturing dramatically. "I know what he does, of course I know what he does! I know what everybody in this room does. He goes to meetings, and conferences, and when he's in the city he has an office, and... it's so boring," he broke down, leaning across the table intently, "oh, God, it's just incredibly boring. Honestly, it's like my brain shuts down in self-defense whenever he talks about it. So, yeah, something to do with computers... and... programming them? I've really no idea." He leaned back in his chair again and shrugged. "It's hardly relevant."
"So if he's got a place here, and he travels so much... I mean, why didn't you just move into his place?"
"Are you really intensely curious, or are you just mildly curious and asking intrusive personal questions for some other reason?" Sherlock said. From anyone else, John thought, this would be a totally passive-aggressive way to say piss off, but from Sherlock it really seemed to be a sincere inquiry, and so John answered it in the spirit that it had, apparently, been asked.
"Honestly?" John said. "The fact that you're in a relationship is the most... normal sort of thing I know about you. So yes, I guess I am curious. But if you want to tell me to piss off, feel free."
"Fair enough," Sherlock said, eyebrows raised. "Anyway, we can't live together. We did try for ages, but we break up every sixteen months on average, not counting one anomalous fourteen-month period during which we broke up eleven times. Still, even discounting that as an outlier, it's far too often to actually make living together a working proposition. We don't actually take turns being the one to end it, but it shakes out to be nearly fifty-fifty in the long run, so it's not always the same person walking out, or being thrown out, do you see? It might be simpler if it was, then we could maintain one residence as a sort of home base, but no. God, the packing and the moving, over and over again, ugh! So unbearably tedious. In the end it's much simpler just to have separate flats, and then whoever ends it can just demand his spare key back-- or change the locks--" he muttered darkly, "and it's done with."
"Why do you break up so much?" John said, and now he really did feel like he was asking intrusive personal questions. Or he would have if Sherlock had sounded like the breakups upset him more than the packing.
"Same sorts of reasons everyone does, I suppose," Sherlock said with a shrug. "I hate the word workaholic almost as much as I loathe boyfriend, but as a concept it's a fair descriptor of us both. After that, pick a reason," he said, and started counting them off on his fingers, "Mycroft doesn't approve of Victor, his family hates me, his friends can't stand me, generic fear of commitment, substance abuse, intimacy issues, various infidelities; physical, emotional--"
"Okay, when I said you could tell me to piss off, I meant really," John said, holding up a hand. "Really. Any time. Feel free."
Sherlock looked puzzled. He started to say something, then paused and reached for his phone, picking it up just as it glowed and buzzed. He read the text, smiled, and texted something back, short and sweet. He looked up at John. "I asked Victor, 'Why do we break up so much?'"
Oh, lovely. He was going to be responsible for his flatmate breaking up with his boyf-- With his significant other. They'd barely known each other forty-eight hours. "You really didn't have to--"
"Actually, now I'm curious as to what he'll say."
"You could've asked him to sum up what he does for a living in ten words or less."
"But I'm not really curious about that," Sherlock said distractedly, staring out across the room. "Do you think they have any more of those little round pudding things?"
John sighed and waved down the trolley. Those little round pudding things were really good.
Somehow John helped Sherlock finish off a few more bite-size desserts, and soon enough Sherlock's phone buzzed to announce the arrival of another text. Sherlock picked up the phone, thumbed open the message, startled visibly, and then smiled-- a weird, sweet smile. His other hand came up and covered his mouth, and he actually looked away. John started to ask What'd he say? and then shut up, because he was starting to figure out that Sherlock would actually tell him.
After a few more moments Sherlock brought his hand down, pointedly not smiling, although the corners of his mouth kept twisting up into a smirk. "He says," Sherlock reported, "Wrong question."
John frowned. "Is that supposed to mean something?"
"You don't get it? I suppose you wouldn't," Sherlock said. "If why do we keep breaking up is the wrong question, well. Obviously the right question is, why do we keep getting back together?"
"Oh," John said. "Obviously."
"He's such a fucking romantic," Sherlock said, clearly trying to sound irritated, weary, above it all. "He knows I can't stand that sort of thing. And yet." He took his phone off the table, dropping it into the pocket of his coat, thrown over the back of a chair.
"You're not going to reply?" John blurted.
"If you were dating me," Sherlock said, "how often do you think you'd get the last word?"
"I shudder to think," John said, and laughed to himself.
"Yes, well," Sherlock said. He stared at his coat, clearly already itching to get the phone back out and start texting again. "I hope he appreciates it."
"He may not, but I would," John said, still chuckling.
He was brushing crumbs off his hands in preparation for digging his wallet out of his jacket pocket, and not really looking at Sherlock as he calculated how much money was left in his bank account, and how his finances were going to be affected by the move to Baker Street. He probably couldn't really afford to pick up the whole check, but at least he could offer to pay his share... He didn't realize he'd actually shocked Sherlock silent until Sherlock said, "Um..."
John looked up. Was Sherlock actually stammering?
"Ah, John... Um," Sherlock was stammering, eyes flickering over John in bafflement. "I'm flattered by your interest, certainly, but if I hadn't made it clear before, Victor and I are, at least ideally, monogamous, and anyway between him and my work I'd hardly have time--"
"No," John said, "no, wait. What? No! I wasn't trying to-- I wasn't asking--" He didn't really know what he was trying to say. Sherlock pinned him with a coldly suspicious gaze as he back-pedaled furiously, which didn't help. "I'm just saying... Good for you. And your boyf... And Victor. Honestly, your relationship sounds great. Really great," John insisted. "And I'm fine with that. It's all fine."
"Okay," Sherlock said, still giving John the kind of wary look that John knew for a fact he didn't give to serial killers. "Thank you," he said after a moment, quietly. It hit John that he was probably the only person that ever actually had approved of Sherlock and Victor's relationship, given what Sherlock had said just now about his brother, and Victor's friends, and his family...
"Sure," John said, suddenly feeling an odd sort of protectiveness. "Not a problem. I look forward to meeting him."
"He says the same about you," Sherlock said, eyes slanting toward the phone in his coat pocket. He met John's eyes again, smiling slowly. "And perhaps I should mention, when I say 'monogamous,' we do have an understanding that the occasional threesome falls acceptably within the bounds of our--"
"No," John said loudly.
Sherlock shrugged, raising one long arm to wave the waitress down and get the check. "Well, suit yourself."