John was still fuming when Sherlock returned from Bart’s lab. He turned his desk chair toward the door and glared full-on at his flatmate.
“Sherlock, what the hell kind of a birthday present was that.”
Sherlock glanced at him briefly, hand busily unknotting his scarf. “Yes, I quite agree. Videos like that are utterly insipid. Lestrade insisted, though, he wouldn’t—“
John was – once again, surely he should be used to this by now, if being caught off guard was the sort of thing you could get used to – surprised into losing his train of thought. “Video? What video?”
Sherlock, now out of his coat, flung it over the back of John’s chair and looked at him properly, eyes narrowing. “The video. The one about your birthday dinner tomorrow. Hasn’t he—“ the detective mashed his lips together in thought, and then dove for John’s laptop where it sat in front of him, muttering all the while. “The imbecile probably hasn’t figured out how to send attachments. Or perhaps it’s you who doesn’t know how to open them. Have you received…”
“Wait! Hey!” John sprang from his chair and managed to deflect Sherlock’s run at the computer with a series of elaborate thrashing motions. "Off," he said sternly.
“I was only trying to help,” Sherlock muttered sulkily, backing away.
“I’m not – I’m not talking about some video, Sherlock, I’m talking about this.” John picked up the sheaf of expensive cream-laid paper and brandished it at his laptop’s would-be assaulter.
“Oh! My, uh, my essay.” Sherlock straightened where he was standing, and his hands went behind his back. “What did you think of it.”
“What did I – ” John pursed his lips in frustration. “Well, first of all, it’s shite, you do know that.”
Sherlock gave a slight pout. “You’re really in no position to judge my methodologies.”
“And why is that?” John countered.
Sherlock did the thing with his face that meant you can’t be serious. God, the man was frustrating. “You’re hardly an objective observer, are you? And even leaving aside the fact of your compromised perspective, you’re overly invested in the findings.” His lip curled. “You want them to like you.”
“Yep. You’re right about that one.” John kept his words clipped short. The not-exploding thing was getting harder. “Seeing as how they’re my friends, and I actually like….” He frowned as something clicked in his head. “Hang on.” John picked up the essay again, flipping past the graphs in the middle to the first section of the conclusion. After a few minutes of skimming, in which he refused to be distracted by the fidgeting of his resentful but apparently captive flatmate, he found what he was looking for and gave a sour little chuckle. “Caught you. Bad science, I’m afraid. According to this what-is-it, ‘aspirational reciprocity index’ you’ve come up with, these other people ought to want me to like them too, I think.” John looked up at Sherlock, who had the grace to look slightly disconcerted. “Undermines your basic point, I think.”
“No, John, you’re over-extrapolating,” said Sherlock hurriedly. “You are presuming investment on their part simply on the basis of your own….”
“Nope,” John said, cutting Sherlock off. To his complete surprise, the gambit succeeded; Sherlock’s mouth snapped shut. And stayed shut, though he glared mutinously at John.
“N-ooo,” John said again. He had found a loose thread and was following it, slowly, to the end. “I think you don’t…” he stopped and pointed at Sherlock. “I think you don’t like my friends.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Yes, John, brilliant, I can’t imagine how you worked that out from my endless comments to that effect.”
“No, hang on,” John said, pointing at him. “I’m reviewing the facts. You hate them, other than Stamford and Richards…”
Sherlock looked scandalized. “What, the idiot microbiologist? I detest him, he—“
“All right, fine then, you hate them all, more or less, and all of them pretty much hate you, except Mike and the idiot.” Sherlock looked further scandalized but said nothing. John realized he had begun to grin as he warmed to his subject. Giving Sherlock a bit of his own back was fun; he should figure out how to do it more often. And Tom Richards was rather a clot.
“The question is, why do you think they hate me?”
Sherlock frowned, as though it were obvious. “They fail to make necessary allowances.”
John frowned back. “No, I’m pretty sure that’s you, actually.”
Sherlock waved one hand dismissively. “I don’t mean the unimportant things like cleaning. I mean that none of them are adequately attuned to your palate to realize that you favor dark beers in the context of a pub but prefer crisper ales if you’re to be drinking them with either Thai or Indian food. It’s a very regular pattern, but nobody will have noticed this tomorrow night –“ and here a tinge of scorn crept into his voice “—oh no, Richards and Edmonds and your other ‘mates’ will show up at Curry Garden with packs of Guinness, because ‘everyone knows Watson likes it dark.’ And if that’s meant to double as innuendo, by the way, it’s ridiculous, your tastes clearly run to fairer hair.”
“Actually…” John said.
“And speaking of dinner tomorrow – every one among that crowd stands at least three feet away at all times – except when tipsy, at which point it drops closer to two – and they barely even notice when you enter a room -- their gaze lingers no longer on you than on any other insipid acquaintance. You are quite clearly no more important to them than any number of other people in the room. So tell me, John, how can they possibly merit the status of friend?"
“Well.” John stared at Sherlock, who looked away, but the warmth that had flared in his chest only burned stronger. “When you put it that way, none of them do qualify.”
Sherlock’s gaze became very intense over John’s shoulder, as though the skull on the wall might do something dangerous at any moment. “Of course not.”
“On the other hand, I don’t know that I’d call that ‘friendship,’ exactly.”
“What? Of course it is,” Sherlock said quickly. “If you look at the report, you’ll see that I’ve compiled a list of several variables –“
“Yeah, I read it,” said John easily. “In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t see it right away, you great stupid bastard. Did you really lose track?”
Sherlock’s agitation was clearly increasing, and the speed of his speech along with it. “Don’t be absurd, John, you’ve entirely misunderstood what I – “
“Nope.” John clasped his hands behind his back and rocked to his heels, keeping his voice slow. “Don’t think I have, this time. You’re unbelievable, you know that? You could have just told me.”
Sherlock’s face went blank, so blank that John wasn’t fooled at all. “Told you what.”
John stepped closer, hands still behind his back. “That you’re having trouble managing the data.”
Sherlock seemed distinctly nervous, now, his eyes flicking up and down John’s face. “You’re imagining things.”
John shook his head slightly, smiling. “I have done, actually, for a long time.” He steeled himself, took a deep breath. “But this time, I think…” Sherlock was still wearing his shoes, and John was in sock feet, so he rocked up on his toes and laid his mouth on Sherlock’s, very gently. Sherlock remained completely still for a split second before wrapping his arms fervently around John’s shoulders and kissing him back.
John did have more to say, but it could wait.
A few minutes and many kisses later, their arms loosened from around one another, and John reached up to stroke Sherlock’s cheek. “Did you really write that report so that I would realize you’ve lost track of the difference between friendship and –“ he gave up on words and waved his hand briefly between their chests. “…This?”
Sherlock’s jaw clenched briefly in frustration. “Those weren’t the conclusions of the paper. How typical of you that even a, um, a good course of action would be founded in an entirely backward and utterly flawed chain of reasoning.”
“Hush,” said John, rocking up to kiss him again. “You’re still a fucking arsehole, do you know that,” he continued, joy and irritation cutting matching edges in his tone.
“I do, actually,” Sherlock replied. He lifted his hand from John’s shoulder and traced John’s hairline with his index finger.
John shivered pleasantly. “But you are my arsehole,” he said, the last of his ire melting away under that light touch.
Sherlock smirked, stroking his hand down John’s neck as he leaned in. “I certainly could be,” he murmured in a low rumble, as his hand continued down John’s shoulder, down his back, not stopping.
Surely it was the spark of surprise that made John’s knees go weak at that. All the same, the best course of action was clearly to get off his feet as soon as possible. Leaning in, he pressed his lips to Sherlock’s neck. “Now that,” he said, “sounds like a proper birthday present.”