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The second time Harry got married was five and a half years after John met Sherlock, and about five years and three months after John became resigned to considering everything as either pre- or post-Sherlock. The wedding was at a rather nice hotel in the centre of London – Jessica's family were rich enough for that kind of extravagance, which John rather thought Harry was going to take some getting used to.

Sherlock seemed distinctly out of place at the reception, eyes constantly darting around the room and his attention so distracted that John wasn't sure he'd heard more than every third sentence that had been said to him. John wasn't even sure why he'd come – Sherlock's opinions on these kinds of social events were no secret – unless it had anything to do with the brief, wide-eyed expression that had spread across Sherlock’s face when he'd seen that he'd been sent his own invite rather than just included as a footnote on John's. John couldn't be completely sure – half a decade in Sherlock's company and he still couldn't hope to even come close to replicating his deductive powers - but he rather suspected that it was the first such invite that Sherlock had ever received. It was certainly the first one John had seen him receive.

It wasn't a surprise to John that Sherlock had received an invite. Harry liked him quite a lot now, even if they hadn't got off to the best of starts. The first time they'd met, Sherlock had barely waited two minutes before telling Harry how many drinks she'd already had that day, how long that meant she had before succumbing to some alcohol-induced medical condition, and the likely psychological effects of that on John. Harry had reacted reasonably predictably, slapping him across the face and storming off, and Sherlock had turned to John with a raised eyebrow.

“I told you that most people didn't find it 'brilliant',” he'd remarked, and John had been torn between laughing and copying Harry's reaction.

Harry had overcome that initial first impression though, and had instituted a relationship based on how much she enjoyed needling Sherlock about his many tiny eccentricities. John had wondered if the invite had been part of that game, or if she'd genuinely meant it. Either way, Sherlock was now standing uncomfortably in the middle of her wedding reception, just slightly too close to John which meant he was either unsure of himself or had forgotten about personal space again.

John was finding the whole event uncomfortable as well, for two main reasons. The first was that when he'd been called into service to give Harry away, being her closest surviving relative, she'd decided that this meant she got to dictate what he wore.

“Of course you're wearing your uniform, John,” she'd said. “All the girls love a man in uniform, and quite a few of the boys as well.”

“You don't,” he'd pointed out.

She'd rolled her eyes. “I hardly count,” she'd said. “I'm your sister.”

So now he was stuck in his dress uniform, feeling like the only person who'd thought it was a fancy dress party, and having to put up with curious stares from half the room.

“Who's that?”

“It's Harry's brother. He was in the war, you know, I hear he even got shot.”

John gritted his teeth, pulled at his collar for the fifteenth time in as many minutes, and hoped like hell that Harry really did make this marriage last so that he didn't have to suffer through this again. Sherlock, of course, was wearing one of his £500 suits with the casual ease of someone who doesn't pay any attention to what he's wearing, and everyone was staring at him for a completely different reason. John hated him.

“Do you think your aunt knows that your uncle has had a whole string of affairs over the last decade?” Sherlock said thoughtfully.

John sighed. “Please don't deduce my family,” he said wearily.

Sherlock frowned at him. “Why not?” he asked, sounding honestly mystified.

“Because there are some things I really would rather not know,” said John. That response only intensified Sherlock's frown. No doubt he couldn't even imagine not wanting to know something.

“He's coming over,” Sherlock said a moment later. “If you really don't want to know, don't look too closely at his wedding ring. Or his wrists.”

“Johnny my boy,” came Uncle Carl's voice a second later, and John's eyes automatically jumped to his wrists, unable to stop himself. There was a faint red mark as if he'd been tied up at some point, and John had to resist the urge to groan. He really hadn't needed to know that about his uncle.

“Uncle Carl,” he said, throwing on a smile. “This is my friend Sherlock.”

“Of course, of course,” said Carl holding out a hand that Sherlock studied for a long moment before John nudged him into remembering to shake it. “I've heard a lot about you. The famous detective.”

“I think the police prefer 'infamous',” said Sherlock, which was his attempt at polite conversation.

Carl laughed awkwardly. “Right. I've read John's little accounts of your cases – it all seems very exciting.”

Sherlock regarded him as if he were a dissected bug. “I suppose it must do, compared to accounting.”

Carl blinked, and John knew he was trying to work out how Sherlock had known that. In the end, he did what most people did when confronted with Sherlock, which was to turn and look for an easier conversationist. “This is all very grand, eh, John?” he said. “Bit fancier than the first one?”

Harry's first wedding had been planned extremely quickly, rushed into when the Civil Partnership Act had been passed. John had often wondered if a longer engagement might not have given her time to adjust, so that the shock of being suddenly tied down wouldn't have driven her to drink.

“Doesn't it make you wonder if maybe it's time you tried this partnership thing?” continued Carl with a wink. “You're not getting any younger, after all.”

“Nobody is,” remarked Sherlock dryly.

Carl ignored him. “Or perhaps you're just waiting to be asked,” he said with a quick glance at Sherlock. “Never quite sure how you fellows decide who does that kind of thing.”

John let out a long-suffering sigh. That was the second thing making him feel uncomfortable. In a room with a very high percentage of gay couples, perhaps it was inevitable that a few people should assume certain things about him and Sherlock, especially as they'd arrived together and neither had a date, but it had been over five years and he was beginning to wonder if he'd ever have to stop explaining that they were just friends to people who really should already know better by now.

“We're only friends, Uncle Carl,” he said wearily. “We just share a flat, that's all.”

“Oh,” said Carl, his brow wrinkling as he looked from one to the other. “Oh, I see.”

“You might want to head back to your wife,” said Sherlock sharply. “I think she's about to discover a text from your 'massage therapist' that might make things a little awkward.”

Carl sent him a wide-eyed look, then glanced over at Aunt Judith, who was slumped at one of the tables and fiddling with an overly complicated phone. “Excuse me,” he said hurriedly and rushed off.

“Sherlock,” hissed John, turning to him. “Why did you say that?”

“I was trying to save your sister the embarrassment of having a family argument at her wedding,” said Sherlock. “You think I should have let your aunt read his phone?”

John sighed and rubbed at his eyes. “Bloody hell,” he muttered.

There was silence for a few minutes as John tried, unsuccessfully, to wipe the image of Uncle Carl and a 'massage therapist' from his brain, and Sherlock's gaze returned to the room.

“You should have worn your medals,” he remarked after a while.

John frowned at him. “Why?” he asked. If there was anything worse than wearing his dress uniform, it was wearing his medals with it - his entire army history, laid out for anyone to see on his chest. For some reason, he only liked Sherlock being able to read everything about him in a glance.

“They make you look more dashing,” said Sherlock. “They show you weren't just an ornamental soldier. It would make it easier to pull a bridesmaid.”

“All the bridesmaids are lesbians,” John pointed out.

Sherlock shrugged. “Just over half the women in this room are straight, or straight enough to sleep with you, anyway. Of them, roughly sixty percent are within your age range and apparently unattached. Aren't weddings supposed to be all about 'getting off'?” He said the last two words with every ounce of distaste that he had for the whole business of relationships.

“I'm not using my sister's wedding as a pick-up joint,” replied John crossly.

“So you didn't hook-up at her first wedding?” asked Sherlock, almost sounding interested.

“I had a girlfriend then,” said John. Sherlock raised an eyebrow as if such a thing was unheard of, which it almost was these days – somehow, women didn't seem to want to stick with a man who stood them up at the last minute to race after murderers with a sociopath, or whose flat resembled a cross between a crime lab, a morgue and Camden market. It had been a long time since John had managed a relationship that lasted longer than a couple of months.

“She was called Caroline,” John said, feeling as if he had to back his statement up, “and we went out for just over three years.”

“What happened?” asked Sherlock in a casual voice, looking somewhere over John's shoulder at something that was no doubt considerably more interesting that John's dating history.

John shrugged. “I joined the army,” he said shortly. “She'd been dating a doctor, not a soldier, and didn't really care to make the transition.”

“How short-sighted of her,” said Sherlock. John glanced at him, but Sherlock was still staring at something on the other side of the room, so John gave up on the conversation.

 

****

 

Two hours later, the dancing was in full flow and Sherlock had disappeared somewhere. John found himself sat on a table next to his aunt, wondering with a sick feeling in his stomach if he should say anything about Uncle Carl. He wondered how Sherlock decided what he should tell people about and what he shouldn't, and then realised that Sherlock didn't think about it at all, he just said everything that was in his mind without realising that there might be emotional repercussions. It must be so much easier being a sociopath, he mused.

“Your sister looks pretty,” said Judith, her words slurring together enough to tell John that telling her anything sensitive right now was a bad idea. It hadn't really been a mystery where Harry's alcoholism had come from, after all. “Such a pity, really.”

John gritted his teeth. “What is?” he asked carefully.

“Well, she could have found herself a nice young man so easily,” said Judith.

“She found a nice woman instead,” said John shortly.

“Yes,” said Judith uncertainly. There was an awkward silence. “Carl says you're not with that young man you've brought. That's nice – I did wonder how your mother had managed to raise two gay children. I mean, she was a bit strange sometimes, but it did seem a bit much.”

John was beginning to remember with startling clarity why neither he nor Harry spent much time with their extended family. “Mum had nothing to do with it,” he said firmly. “And I'd count myself lucky to be with Sherlock, he's a lot more exciting than most women.”

“That's because you only seem to go out with women whose brains have stagnated,” said an unmistakeable voice behind him and he turned, wincing slightly at having been overheard, to see Sherlock regarding him with a strange, intent look.

“Is excitement something you really want?” asked Judith distractedly. “Carl was never exciting.”

John very carefully refrained from saying any of the things that sprang to mind at that, and directed a steady glare at Sherlock when he opened his mouth. Sherlock shut it again without saying anything.

“Hi, John,” said Jessica's friend Andrea, pausing by their table. She was a tall girl who seemed to have decided that six inch heels were a good idea, with the result that when John had been standing next to her in one of the endless photos they'd taken earlier, he'd felt like a dwarf that had wandered out of a Disney film and into a wedding by mistake. “Are you having a good time?”

Not at all, thought John, but he plastered a smile on. “Oh yes,” he said. “Are you?”

“Yes!” she said. “Weddings are so much fun!” Her gaze flicked to Sherlock. “I could be having more fun, though. Do you think your handsome friend would dance with me?”

Sherlock's eyes widened almost imperceptibly, just enough for John to notice. “I don't dance,” he said firmly.

“Oh, it's okay,” she said merrily, “I'm not trying to step on John's toes, I just want a partner whose head I can't see over the top of. I promise not to do anything inappropriate that would get you into trouble.” She winked. “Well, not unless you want to be in trouble.”

John let out a groan, and dropped his forehead to the table. “We're not together,” he said through gritted teeth, trying not to shout it.

“I don't dance,” repeated Sherlock. “Particularly not with women who are two Southern Comforts away from falling out of their dresses.”

Andrea flushed, tugged uselessly at the plunging neckline of her dress and stalked off.

“Sherlock,” said John crossly, sitting up, but Sherlock had already disappeared, stalking off in the direction of the doors to the garden. John sighed.

“I think I need another drink,” said Judith, wobbling slightly as she stood up. John watched her go, then reluctantly followed after Sherlock.

The hotel garden was all uselessly small decorative walls and precisely pruned bushes. It was empty except for Sherlock, who had stopped by one of the walls, his arms braced tautly against it and his head bowed. He must have heard John come out after him – he noticed everything, after all – but he didn't move.

“Harry won't mind if you leave early,” John said to the long line of Sherlock's back. “She knows you're not exactly a people-person.”

“Are you leaving?” asked Sherlock.

“If I go before Harry does, she'll be furious,” said John tiredly. He really wanted nothing more right now than to go home, get out of his uniform and into something comfortable, and slump down in their living room with Sherlock talking a mile a minute about something ridiculous and brilliant.

“No point in taking two cabs,” said Sherlock. “I'll wait. Harry and Jessica look about three steps away from sex on the dancefloor, so they can't be planning to hang around much longer.”

John winced at the mental image, then watched the back of Sherlock's head for a few moments. “I'm sorry,” he said eventually. “About...all that.”

Sherlock finally turned around, moving in one smooth movement and then settling back against the wall and regarding John with his head tipped to one side. “All what?” he asked.

John shrugged, feeling pinned on the spot. “My family, I suppose,” he said. “Andrea. Everyone assuming that about us.”

“It's hardly your fault,” Sherlock pointed out. “And besides, it doesn't bother me. I really don't care what other people think about me, you know that.”

John did know that. Ever since the first day they'd met, he'd watched Sherlock ignore all the insinuations and references to them as a couple as if he hadn't even heard them. “It bothers me,” he said quietly. “It's been five years – you'd think people would be able to cope with 'just friends' by now.”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “You can't see why they think it?” he asked. “Admittedly, it shows the lack of depth that most people apply to the conclusions they draw, but the key clues that they're missing are subtle enough to be ignored by stupid people.”

“You think everyone's stupid,” John pointed out.

“And they consistently prove me right,” said Sherlock with a dismissive shrug.

John watched him for a long moment, trying to see through the shadows covering his face, then sighed. “Okay,” he said with resignation. “Wow me. What are they seeing?”

Sherlock brightened slightly, as he always did when John asked him to explain something. “Over the last five years, we've spent roughly eighty percent of the time that you haven't been working or sleeping together,” he said in his rapid-fire keep-up-I'm-not-explaining-this-twice voice. “This has given us a familiarity that is difficult even for the densest person to miss. Living together has meant that we've been forced to put up with each other's more annoying habits, which in turn has led to instinctive compromises which, again, are easily recognisable to others. You have a tendency to make sure you know where I am in a room, seeking out visual confirmation of my whereabouts every few minutes in a way I'm not sure you're aware of, no doubt because I have a habit of leaving without keeping you informed. I tend to stand too close to you, or at least what other people consider too close, merely because I never developed a sense of personal space and you're the only person I actually like enough for that to become apparent. Having you along on some of my cases, particularly the dangerous ones, has given us a comrade-in-arms element to our relationship, and a shared black humour that most people don't tend to appreciate.”

“Gosh,” said John, feeling slightly overwhelmed, as he always did when Sherlock laid out facts for him like that. “I suppose, put like that, it is a little confusing.”

Sherlock shrugged elegantly. “People always go for the most obvious deduction,” he said scathingly. “They wilfully ignore the clues that go against their hypothesis.”

“What?” said John, clearing his throat and pulling himself together a little. “That we're not actually sleeping together? That you're asexual, and that I've a streak of failed relationships behind me?”

Sherlock stilled until he resembled a statue. “I'm not asexual,” he said in a very careful voice.

John waved a hand. “Fine, married to your work or whatever you choose to call it, but as the only examples of how such a union could be conjugated are, frankly, too horribly disturbing to contemplate, it amounts to the same thing anyway.”

“I'm not asexual,” Sherlock repeated in much the same voice, his head lifting slightly so that John could see the pale gleam of his eyes in the dark. “There's just very, very few people that I find appealing.”

John had absolutely no idea how to respond to that, and was a little relieved when the music came to a halt inside, and he could hear Harry's voice saying something loudly.

“This must be it,” he said. “Come on, we can go home after they're gone.”

He headed back inside, overly aware of Sherlock following half a pace behind him, and pushed his way to near the front of the room, to a spot where Harry would be able to see him from the stage, and so wouldn't have any cause to accuse him of deserting her big day.

“One of the great things about having two brides,” she was saying, “is that we have two bouquets to throw. Which means we can have one for the ladies, and one for the men.” There was a collective groan from the unmarried men, as well as an excited cheer from one or two of Harry's more flamboyantly gay friends. She grinned unrepentantly. “It's only fair,” she said. “Equal opportunities, and all.”

“Right,” said Jessica, stepping forward. “I'm going first. All the unmarried women to the front, please.”

There was a general shifting of people, and John moved back as much as he could. Jessica threw her bouquet, some woman that John didn't know caught it, and there was a cheer.

“Me now,” said Harry excitedly. “Unmarried men to the front. All of you – don't think I won't name and shame anyone who doesn't come forward.”

John very carefully didn't move, except to shift slightly behind a couple, for once grateful for his less-than-average height. The men came forward with less enthusiasm than the women had, and Harry watched them with sharp eyes.

“This isn't everyone,” she said, eyes darting around the room. “Where's my brother?” John sighed resignedly, and gave up on hiding. “Come on, Johnny,” she said, and then her eyes lit on someone behind him. “And you, Sherlock.”

“I'm married to my work,” Sherlock pointed out as John reluctantly joined the crowd of men.

Harry rolled her eyes. “That's hardly legally binding,” she said, but left it at that. She turned her back and threw the bouquet, somehow aiming it straight at John even with her back turned. John was going to ignore it, he was, let it fall to the floor or some other sucker end up with it, but at the last minute some previously forgotten cricketing instincts kicked in, and he found himself catching it. Bugger, he thought, looking down at the bloody thing.

Harry laughed. “You better let me give you away in return,” she said.

John glared at her. “I'll make you wear avocado,” he threatened. “With frills.”

He slunk back to where Sherlock was waiting with an amused tilt to his mouth that said far more than a smile ever would have. “Not a word,” John threatened.

“I wouldn't dream of it,” said Sherlock blithely.

Harry and Jessica left in a taxi, covered in confetti and already kissing before the driver had pulled away. John watched them go, then sighed and turned to Sherlock. “Time to go home?” he suggested.

“Definitely,” said Sherlock with considerable relief.

As he went off to call a cab, Aunt Judith tottered up behind John. “Are you leaving?” she asked, blearily trying to focus on him.

“Yes,” said John. “It was good to see you again, auntie,” he lied. “We must catch up more often.”

“Yes,” she said vaguely. “You should come up and stay.”

That was about as likely to happen as Hell freezing over, but John managed a polite smile anyway, then glanced over to Sherlock to see if he'd had any luck yet.

“He's a nice young man,” said Judith. “Pretty hair. You should ask him about it.”

John frowned. “His hair?”

“Marriage,” corrected Judith. “It's nice to make it official.”

John rubbed a hand over his face. “We're not...” he started, then gave up. There really didn't seem much point, especially as she wasn't likely to remember this in the morning.

“Carl proposed at a wedding, you know,” she confided. “After I caught the bouquet.”

“You must have been as drunk as you are now to say yes,” said Sherlock acerbically. “John, I've got us a taxi.”

Judith looked sad. “I think I was,” she said.

John sighed and bent forward to kiss her cheek. “Go back inside, auntie,” he said gently.

“Right,” she said and wobbled back into the hotel, heading for the bar.

“Let's get out of here,” John said to Sherlock, who wordlessly gestured towards the waiting cab.

There was silence in the cab for the first few minutes, until Sherlock shot John a mischievous look. “So, should I be asking for your hand?” he asked.

John groaned. “Don't,” he begged. “I swear, that's enough of my family to last me a good long time.”

“You did catch the bouquet,” Sherlock pointed out, still smirking.

“And you're already married,” John reminded him, “if we're going to get ridiculous about this.”

Sherlock shrugged. “You're practically part of my work now,” he said carelessly. “We could make it a threesome.”

John choked a little. “It's creepy enough having a skull as a flatmate without being in a marriage that involves murder victims,” he said, and then caught sight of the cabbie's horrified face in the mirror and started laughing.

After a beat, Sherlock joined in, and then it was just the two of them, giggling together about something that was really not meant to be funny, just as it always was. John already felt so much better.

 

****

 

When they got back to the flat, John regarded the bouquet with a frown. “I suppose these need water,” he said. “Do we even own a vase?”

Sherlock glanced at the flowers, then ducked into one of the many kitchen cupboards that had been taken over by chemistry equipment and pulled out a large beaker. “Try this,” he suggested.

John took it gratefully, filled it with water and dumped the bouquet in it, then looked around for somewhere to put it that wasn't hopelessly covered with clutter. “We really should tidy at some stage,” he said.

Sherlock frowned. “Why?” he asked. “This system has worked perfectly well so far.”

John gently nudged a pile of purloined police files to one side and put the beaker down. “I don't know,” he said. “Just seems like the sort of thing one does, I suppose.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Like getting married?” he asked. “Or going to weddings so that you can get hounded by relatives?”

“It's funny,” said John. “I remember quite enjoying Harry's first wedding.” He undid the belt of his uniform with a sigh he couldn't quite contain.

Sherlock's eyes were dark as he looked at him. “Perhaps that was the influence of Caroline,” he said, saying the name with the usual note he reserved for John's attempts at a lovelife.

“Perhaps,” acknowledged John. He could remember dancing with her for most of the night, trying to ignore the way that Harry was dashing back champagne as if it was water. “I was a lot younger then, I think weddings were still a bit of a novelty, instead of just a phenomenal drag.” He started to unbutton his jacket, and Sherlock turned away with a quick movement.

“The uniform rather suits you,” he said, taking off his own jacket and tossing it aside, then starting to carelessly roll his sleeves up. “Caroline was a fool to have missed out on the sight of you in it.”

John wasn't sure what to make of that. “Well, I doubt I'll be wearing it again,” he said. “I rather think my days of being a soldier are over.”

“Nonsense,” said Sherlock. “You'll stay a soldier the rest of your life, in uniform or not, just as you'll always be a doctor.” He looked John up and down briefly, and offered him a small smile. “In fact, I'd suggest keeping the uniform on for the next week, as no doubt you're going to end up in an ill-advised relationship as some sort of coping mechanism, just as you always do when we get referred to as a couple more than three times in an evening, and I suspect it would make attracting a woman considerably easier.”

John gaped at him, then wondered why he was so surprised. Of course Sherlock would have noticed that pattern, even if John himself hadn't until three months ago, which was when he'd given up on the whole thing. He pulled his jacket off and put it deliberately over a chair. “I think I'm done with caring about that,” he said. “Seems a little petty, somehow. As long as we both know the truth, I really can't be bothered with what other people think any more.”

Sherlock smiled brightly. “Five years, and you've finally seen my view,” he said. “Other people are so insufferably dense, why even think about them? We know you're straight and that I'm preoccupied with my work, what more-”

“Ah,” interrupted John. “Actually, I wouldn't say I was straight.” Sherlock stopped dead and looked at him, and John felt a little like he was getting his own back for a similar revelation earlier that evening. “I mean,” he continued, “I'm certainly not gay, but I wouldn't say I was totally straight either. It's just that women are easier. Were easier, I should say. I think I'm done with the chase for now.”

Sherlock frowned, then shook his head a little. “Do you know what the most brilliant and infuriating thing about you is, John?” he asked, moving two steps closer until he was right up close in John's personal space.

“That I insist on at least one meal a day?” suggested John.

“That sometimes I just can't read you at all,” corrected Sherlock.

John felt curiously flattered by that. The idea that Sherlock Holmes, who could read a whole life history with one glance at a corpse, might find anything a mystery, particularly anything about John who had always been the complete opposite of mysterious, made him smile.

Sherlock frowned. “I just can't...” he said quietly, staring at John as if the answers to the universe were written somewhere on his face. “You're not going after any more women?” he said eventually.

“No,” agreed John. For the first time in a long time, he felt like moving away from Sherlock, out from under his scrutiny, but he kept himself firmly in place. A second later, Sherlock's hand shot out and gripped his shoulder, keeping him forcibly in place. Can't read me, bollocks, thought John.

“Why not?” asked Sherlock. “Have you simply given up, or do you no longer want the things you used to want from them?”

John shrugged uncomfortably. “I don't-” he started.

“This is important,” said Sherlock in the voice that made policemen who hated him still come out with every detail of an investigation.

“Fine,” said John, gritting his teeth. “I suppose I realised I was just going through the motions out of habit, and that the things a girlfriend would ultimately lead to weren't what I wanted anymore.”

“Ah,” said Sherlock, letting go of John's shoulder but not moving away. “Marriage, children, a house....those things?”

“Yes,” said John. “I suppose I'm just happy with what I've got. Our home here.”

Sherlock nodded slowly. “Our home,” he mused to himself, pacing away a few paces, and John thought that he was off the hook for now. Sherlock pivoted on his heel and came back a moment later, grabbing John's shoulder again. “And what about sex?” he asked intently.

John flushed. “I really don't think-”

“Oh, don't be a prude, John,” said Sherlock. “Sex is a primary motivator in these things, and I must know.”

John sighed. When Sherlock took that tone, you had to answer him or risk stirring up an explosion of temper that was on a par with a small child. “I suppose it's just not as important as it used to be to me,” he said. “Maybe I'm getting old.”

Sherlock half-laughed. “Hardly,” he said.

John scowled at him. “Well,” he said grumpily, “I can always ask Uncle Carl for the number of his 'massage therapist', if it comes to that.”

“Or-,” said Sherlock under his breath, then stopped abruptly and stared hard at John again. “I can't read you at all,” he marvelled.

“You could try just asking me,” suggested John.

Sherlock made a face. “Like a normal person?” he said. “What if you don't give me the right answer?”

John frowned. “What's this all about, Sherlock?” he asked. “Either tell me or don't, but hurry up either way. It's been a long and tedious day, and I really want to get out of this uniform.”

Sherlock tipped his head to one side. “I could help with that,” he offered.

John blinked at him. “What?” he said, dumbfounded.

Sherlock pushed him back against the wall, crowding in close. “If you don't want this,” he said in a hurried voice, “then just say and we'll forget it, forget the whole thing as completely as if it never happened and go on as we were, but I have to find out, John, I have to know, it's been five years and I just can't read you...”

“Want what?” asked John with a dry mouth, suddenly aware of where this whole thing might be headed and feeling his toes curl up with apprehension inside his shoes.

“This,” hissed Sherlock, and pressed in for a kiss, his lips desperate and hard against John's as his fingers dug into his shoulders as if expecting a fight. John had had just enough of an idea that it was coming not to automatically flinch away, and tilted his face up towards Sherlock, running his own hands up the back of Sherlock's expensive shirt as he kissed him back.

Sherlock pulled away as abruptly as he'd initiated the kiss, regarding John with a narrow-eyed look.

“Can you read me now?” asked John breathlessly.

The assessing look on Sherlock's face didn't fade away. “John,” he said in a hushed growl. “What are you doing?”

John huffed out a laugh. “What are you doing?” he returned, and pulled Sherlock's lips back down towards his, taking his time to kiss him properly this time, to explore his mouth the way he'd always wanted to. Sherlock gave in to him with a tiny noise in his throat that John instantly wanted to hear over and over again until he'd memorised every nuance of it. Like any of Sherlock's surrenders, though, it barely lasted long enough for John to realise it had happened, and a moment later, Sherlock had taken control again, his confusion obviously forgotten in his desire to lay claim to John.

The wall was hard against John's back, and Sherlock was forceful enough to bump his head on it a couple of times before he caught hold of John's face and just held him in place, taking what he wanted in a way that made the blood rush through John's veins, his pulse thumping in his ears as if he was drowning. He fell into it, losing himself in the burning thrill of it, but eventually he had to push Sherlock away, just far enough so that he could breath.

They stared at each other for a long moment, both their chests heaving for air and Sherlock's face so close to John's that he could barely focus on his eyes, then Sherlock abruptly let go and stepped away, burying his hands into his hair instead.

“John!” he demanded. “What is this?”

“I was hoping you'd already know that,” said John. He felt crazed and punch-drunk, two steps away from hysteria.

Sherlock shot him a manic look that made John think he was feeling something similar. “It's ridiculous,” he insisted. “You shouldn't- You hate it when the waiter brings a candle, and you told Anderson that if he made another insinuation you'd tell his wife about Donovan, and you just-”

He broke off, leaving John reeling from trying to follow his train of thought. He hadn't realised that Sherlock had known about John's little conversation with Anderson - well, of course he had. He was Sherlock bloody Holmes.

“I don't understand you at all,” said Sherlock, more distressed than John had ever seen him.

John let out a sigh and took a careful step towards him, holding out a hand as if to a wild animal. “You like mysteries,” he reminded him.

“I like mysteries I can solve,” corrected Sherlock.

John put his hand on his arm and stroked it carefully. “I'm easy to solve,” said John. “The waiters, and Anderson, and all my bloody family - it's like a constant reminder. 'You can get this close, close enough so that everyone sees what you really want, but no closer.' It's like they're mocking me.”

Sherlock relaxed in one long breath, his eyes brightening. “What you really want,” he repeated carefully. He smiled widely enough to brighten the room. “How did I miss this?”

John shrugged. “Apparently you can't read me,” he said, returning the smile.

“Only sometimes,” corrected Sherlock immediately. “And I'm going to understand the rest even if it drives me insane.” He put his own arm out to take hold of John, and gently began to draw him in towards him.

“You're already insane,” John pointed out.

“It doesn't seem that that's a problem for you,” he said, and kissed John again, gentler but with no less passion, one hand tangling into his hair.