Sherlock finds most parts of John easy to read. His history, his habits, where he has been walking in the scant three hours since Sherlock saw him last. What he finds harder are John's moods. Acts are simple – a matter of reading the evidence. It's the rest he doesn't know what to do with: the times John sighs or slams the door or smiles. He's smiling now.
"You're amazing," John says. "Unbelievable."
Sherlock files through the meanings, discards the most literal and settles on the colloquial. Compliments. He says, "Do you say things like that because you mean it, or because you know I'm flattered?"
John looks at him. "You are flattered." He stops smiling.
"Of course I'm flattered, that's not what I asked. Why do you do it?"
"Why does it matter?"
"It matters, John."
Now John is not smiling at all – he frowns so quickly, face turned down. And Sherlock doesn't know why, which is incredibly frustrating. He turns back to the crime scene, and starts looking for the rest of the evidence.
John knows what it looks like. And he's not one of those men – at least he tries not to be one of those men – who flinch at the word. But if he were gay – being gay – with Sherlock, he suspects he wouldn't wake up in the living room with his bad shoulder aching and his phantom bad leg screaming out at him. Wound up uncomfortably tightly in their one free chair. Sherlock has flooring samples spread out over the rest. Something about fibres and carpet burn. Going over the evidence with a fine toothcomb is supposed to be a metaphor. John fell asleep over this last night, and no one is paying him for these parts. He used to have a real job – two, in fact.
Sherlock isn't there, which is weird. Unless he has a case, Sherlock tends to stay still. To the point of extreme annoyance to everyone around him, which nowadays is mostly John.
John's phone starts ringing. He assumes that it's Sherlock or (optimistically) the surgery. Instead it's a number he doesn't recognise. "Hello?"
"I need to get a message to Sherlock Holmes."
"Excuse me? Who is this? How did you get this number?"
The voice on the phone is young, a little scared. He inhales sharply. "It was- it was on the website."
They hang up.
John stares at the phone's screen for a moment, and fires up the laptop. He opens his own blog, knowing already that there's no contact information there. He opens Sherlock's site: 'The Science of Deduction'. Sherlock's number is there, he remembers that. There's another line now, under contact. If you can't reach me, I'm busy. Try John. And then his number, listed on the internet for all of Sherlock's murderous enemies to find. Or not-murderous enemies, because he apparently has those too. John sighs.
Sherlock bounds up the stairs. "John. John?"
He shakes his head. "Here. What?"
"Come with me."
"Did you put my phone number online?"
"What? Yes. Why?"
"Why? Because it's my number. On your site."
"And?" Sherlock asks.
"I'm not your secretary! And I don't want all the weirdos who are trying to reach you, trying to reach me instead."
"Don't try and pretend that you don't attract the kind of people who-." He stops. "Never mind. I'm going to lie down." He heads upstairs towards his bedroom.
"Don't you want to know about the case?" Sherlock calls after him.
He shouts down the stairs. "No!"
"Because, as usual, you'll drag me along to the scene and then either leave me there, or lock me out. It's not as much fun for me as you think it is."
"You say that you want someone there to listen, but you don't say anything that makes sense and you never tell me the truth about what you're thinking. You run off at a moment's notice and I'm left there looking like an idiot. I honestly don't know why you even bother."
Sherlock murmurs something that sounds suspiciously like, "I like the company."
"Take the damn skull!"
John appears to be labouring under some kind of misapprehension. This is not uncommon with people who aren't Sherlock, but he wishes it wouldn't happen so often with people who he needs to understand.
Mycroft calls Sherlock dramatic. Melodramatic is another term he likes. And Donovan, of course, favours freak. But Sherlock really does need space to think. Quiet, or not quiet, depending on the kind of thinking, but sometimes he truly can't break it just to go and let John in. Or to get his own pen, or answer his phone, or take the eyeballs out of the microwave. The thoughts crowd up around his head and he knows that a sudden movement would be enough to scatter them out of order all over again.
John is shaking his head and muttering, "Amazing," and this time he doesn't mean it as a compliment. Sherlock thinks.
"What now?" Sherlock asks.
John waves his arms about vaguely. He needs to be more specific if he intends Sherlock to understand non-verbal cues. They have a small flat, but there are a lot of things in it that John could be objecting to.
So Sherlock keeps watching him. Eventually, John will move, if Sherlock doesn't. He has less patience, in these things at least.
John gives up. "The mess? The smell of something which is either burning flesh or the pits of hell? Oh. And there's ink on the ceiling."
"I have an explanation for that."
"I'm sure you do. I don't care, really. Except someone called my phone again. Can you please take my number down from your site?"
"It's my number."
"And you're with me. So it helps."
"I'm not-." John sputters. "Not with you, Sherlock. Not all of the time. Not like-." He shakes his head some more. Trying to indicate disbelief, or frustration. "Amazing," he says again. "Unbelievable."
He makes Sherlock's head hurt, trying to understand him. "Oh, why should I care what you think?" he says. "You're amazed by everything. It doesn't mean anything when you say it."
John's face changes again: his mouth curls up in a twist. "Sherlock," he says, "what?"
Sherlock goes for a walk. The young man who keeps trying to contact him via John didn't have an especially interesting story, but it's a better use of his time than this.
John should be angry. He is angry, even, somewhere underneath, or on top, or not here, right now, where he is something else entirely. John doesn't know. He registers it when Sherlock calls him an idiot, and credulous, and too easily amazed. But he doesn't register it as an insult. Sherlock's insults are something carefully constructed, wielded inexpertly. He doesn't know what will upset people, and hurts them more unintentionally than by any deliberate aim. Child, Lestrade said, but it's not quite that. A child, yes, will say the first thing that comes into its head, and not know why it shouldn't. It's not the same as what Sherlock does.
Sherlock came back eventually, coat wound up around him, and John decides not to pursue the argument. He touches Sherlock's arm briefly – it would be friendly if it wasn't Sherlock he was touching. Sherlock startles and wheels around. Nervous, twitchy, and John wonders if he would even notice if Sherlock started using whatever it is that he claims he's clean from. He finds himself apologising. "Sorry. Sorry."
"No," Sherlock says, "I-." He stops. Sherlock walks to the sofa and lies down, his hands folded over his chest.
"What?" John asks. "'I', what?"
Sherlock shrugs, the motion caught against the arm of the chair. "It doesn't matter."
They both seem to be saying that a lot, recently. Their relationship (because it is one, however odd it is) jumps around the stages quite a bit. They have brief moments of honeymoon bliss, burning with the elation of a case solved or some piece of lunacy pulled off without killing them both. Then they have the fights: domestics. And there is this, the awkward dancing around each other of a courtship's beginning. "Doesn't it?" John asks. "You said sorry, what were you apologising for?"
"I said it doesn't matter."
Sherlock closes his eyes. "I never know what you mean when you say that. Of course, I understand the word, but I don't see how it pertains to…"
John walks beside the chair. His knee still protests when he bends down – apparently it is as attuned to Sherlock's moods as the rest of him. He touches Sherlock's arm, with more deliberation than before. "Nuance escapes you, sometimes. You could work on that."
"I tried, before. When I didn't know what I was."
"And what's that?"
"Sociopath," he says, deliberation in each syllable. A reminder.
John still doesn't know what to do with that. He says, "So what are we, then? Another experiment?"
"Perhaps," Sherlock says. He won't understand how that stings. "It's new, anyway. I don't really have friends. You said that's what we are, didn't you?"
"I like to think so." John says, and he does, for what it's worth. "You don't agree?"
"I don't have anything to judge by."
John says, "No? What about that bloke from the bank? The one from school." He remembers, even as he's asking, the man saying 'we all hated him'. Remembers then the barely-audible twist in Sherlock's voice on 'Seb.'
Sherlock hums. "Sebastian and I- well. We did have a- but we were never exactly friends. I don't think he liked me very much even when we-."
John carefully fills in all of the blank spaces Sherlock carefully left. "Why would you-?" he asks.
Sherlock continues to lie there, staring at the ceiling with his eyes closed. "It was what the normal people were doing, I suppose. I cared about that, back then. Some days, anyway." He touches one finger to his mouth. "And experience is never a bad thing."
That is blatantly, totally untrue, but John lets it go. He picks up the newspaper instead. "Crossword?"
"I've done it already."
"Nothing's written down- oh, all right then. Show me how it's done. Go on, Mr. Detective, impress me."
Sherlock's eyes open and he turns to look at John. Sherlock smiles sometimes: the skin creases around his eyes but it doesn't really touch them. His lips curl but you never see teeth. It's like an imitation of amusement dressed in not quite the right clothes. John has heard the closest thing to a giggle Sherlock has – that little huff of out of breath laughter at the end of the chase. Now Sherlock's mouth turns up at the corners and his hands unclench. He starts to draw letters in the air, tracing the grid in the space between them. John calls it a win.
When Sherlock says, "Are you coming?" John still follows. Sherlock still doesn't stop to check, just in case he doesn't.
The taxi has been stopped in traffic for too long, and even in London this is ridiculous. They have places to be, and Sherlock knows all of the short cuts. He opens the door across from John and gets out of the car. They can walk.
John exhales loudly but gets out after him. It's not a long way to go, and it's a mild day. The papers this morning promised rain but Sherlock suspects they may be wrong. They don't account for little regional variations. He should pick a better news source, but then he needs all of the lurid details which the morning papers provide. Sherlock looks up at the sky consideringly. He turns his head, looking for a gap between buildings to check for clouds.
John reaches across him, fingers against Sherlock's face. "You have-." He swipes at a spot under Sherlock's ear. "-shaving foam, right there."
Sherlock murmurs something that he means to be thank you, but he can't swear to what he says. His mind is other places.
John says, "How you ever got along without me, I don't know."
"I didn't, mostly," Sherlock says. "Well, obviously I ate and slept and worked but… I didn't, mostly."
Sherlock has said the wrong thing again, because John's eyes have gone wide and his lips are parted. John had told him to start telling the truth, be more open, was this not what he meant? John says, "Yes. Well. Let's get on to that scene then."
John curls his hand around Sherlock's elbow gently (solicitude, fragility, care, concern) and pulls him along. He steers them through the traffic and they don't even walk into a car once.
There's a very odd… tension in the flat at the moment. Sherlock is stalking around, out of the flat as often as he's in. John doesn't know where he goes. He would suspect Sherlock of having an affair, if only the shape of that idea would hold in his head. He can't really imagine Sherlock in a relationship, even if he asked the question that first day. Even though John knows that Sherlock is not, in fact, as untouchable as he tries to pretend. John has tried to picture him with that banker – not like that! – to see if that might fit. Sherlock with that sneering smarmy git. Both the general idea and the specific person seem highly unlikely.
Mrs Hudson puts a cup of tea beside him. She has one of her own, and she sits opposite him to ask, "Everything all right, dear? Leg not acting up, is it?"
"Sorry? No, I'm fine. Why?"
She frowns. "You just look like you have a pain. I was going to offer one of my herbal soothers. All natural, you know."
"I know, Mrs Hudson. I'm fine."
"I may not be Sherlock," she says, "but I can see what's right in front of me. We don't all need grand leaps of intuition to tell that."
Intuition is a funny word for what Sherlock does. Intuition implies no process at all. Sherlock has lots of process, lots of tiny pieces added up – it's just that he puts them together so quickly that it looks like magic.
John is aware suddenly that he's making Sherlock sound like a computer, and it pains him. Sherlock does what he does and someone clever enough could follow the process. Someone like Mycroft, or that other M, the word Sherlock holds so carefully, quietly, in his mouth, like it might bite back. John just stands there to watch and wonder.
It doesn't make Sherlock any less extraordinary because there's an explanation for what he does. He still manages it in a way no one else can. And yet it's John that he looks at with that faintly puzzled expression. As though he's not quite sure why John is there, though all of the rest of his behaviour would say that he thinks he is entitled to assistance. He has chosen John for some reason, perhaps only because no one else will have him. John finds it hard to see himself anywhere else now. He notices Sherlock's absence in a way he has never missed anything else. He doesn't know where Sherlock is, and worry is already ticking away at the back of his mind. Sherlock gets into trouble when he is left to his own devices.
Mrs Hudson pats his knee. "There you go. Drink up, you'll feel better."
John says, "One of these days, I'm going to punch Anderson, I swear." He has walked up the stairs after Sherlock, giving Anderson a hard glare when he went past.
Sherlock laughs. "Do. Make sure I'm there first."
"Why would I be anywhere near him without you being there?" John asks. "And besides, it's you that makes me-."
"Nothing. Just- do you even notice?"
Sherlock tilts his head. "Hmm?"
"Do you notice what they say about you? The police. The doctors and the forensics teams and… everyone."
It's a ridiculous question. "I notice everything," Sherlock says. "Of course I notice."
The door was closed behind them. Sherlock made sure of that. John's thoughts don't distract him, and he asks the right questions more often than anyone else. Now it is quiet for a long moment. John sighs and crouches on the floor beside Sherlock, leaning over the body. He says, "What am I looking at?"
"What do you see?"
"A corpse. Two, maybe three hours old."
"Three," Sherlock says.
John smiles. "Okay. Three. Death by strangulation, not barehanded. Needed the leverage, so maybe a woman, maybe someone without the strength to do it." He bends close. "Perfume, could have been a woman."
"Yes," Sherlock agrees, "but that's not her perfume. That's the other woman's perfume."
"Other woman as in other woman?"
"Yes, of course. Crime of passion, clearly. Hands-on. Not literally, maybe, but that was as close as she could get."
John leans a hands-breadth away from him. "Amazing." He shakes his head. "Brilliant."
"Infuriating, selfish, genius, bewildering. Brilliant."
"Because, Sherlock. Because despite the towering ego the rest of us have to suffer under, there are times when I say something and you look at me and it's like-."
"What?" Sherlock asks.
"And it's like no one's said a nice thing to you in your life. Not about that, anyway."
"They usually don't."
"I know," John says, loudly, infuriated. "I know, Sherlock, I know. And I know that I'm an idiot and I'm too easily impressed but you- you amaze me, all right? It's not flattery, it's true. And I say it out loud because you need someone to talk back, sometimes, not just listen."
"You're not always nice when you talk back."
"You're not always nice when you talk. But we do okay, don't we?"
Okay is not the word Sherlock would use. He's not sure which he would choose, given the option. Something stronger than okay, but he doesn't have that language. He's only sure that they are friends because John said it first. Like is easy, like goes along with friendship. He doesn't have a word for John's odd familiar smile, or the way he talks under his breath knowing perfectly well Sherlock will hear him. It's normally complaints, but not always. Sometimes it's just this.
John's arm is pressed against Sherlock's – he can feel it even through his coat. John says, "Sherlock," just loud enough to hear.
Sherlock says, "Yes, John, we do okay." They're on the balance-point of something; their worlds will change soon. Sherlock won't admit it, but he isn't sure how this is going to end. He has nothing to compare it with. "You are unique, John," Sherlock says. "Quite unique. I think… I think you should know that too."
John breathes out slowly and he doesn't speak. His smile is slow, curving across his face. Sherlock still doesn't know what's going to happen but it's all right. John looks as though perhaps he does.