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Words of One Syllable

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He'd actually managed to hurt him with that. Sherlock didn't quite understand it. Still, the evidence of it was all there: the short, about two second silence that indicated John was processing; his voice deeper by two semitones, perfectly serious, sarcastic the way he only really got when angry or threatened; and the most telling: he walked away and went outside. John only ever felt the need to 'get some air' when he was hurt and angry.

The question was: why?

There were multiple possibilities. The first was that it wasn't the statement he'd made that made John mad. Not likely, he'd responded to that statement directly 'ever wonder why?'. So, probably the statement itself was at fault – that narrowed the possibilities down considerably. To...four. It was possible the statement was hurtful because he'd said it too many times – a completely irrational sentiment but he'd heard the idea mentioned too many times to not trust it had some emotional content he'd yet to grasp - a statement said too often could 'become' hurtful.

God. Sherlock growled at the fireplace, letting his hands dig into chair beneath him. He hated this. How was he supposed to understand anything if he was supposed to contend with something that was both irrational and yet still possible? Sherlock snarled at a waitress and saw her eyes widen and glance to the kitchens. Yes, she'd bring his tea faster that way – probably by a good 20% improvement. So, frequency was one possibility, still impossible to eliminate. Three others. He'd said it differently in some relevant manner, tone or volume, or there was something about the fact that Sherlock didn't have friends that was somehow hurtful to John.

How? Sherlock hissed at the fireplace. Volume wasn't likely, John was bothered by excess noise but not hurt by it. And he only ever got angry about it during normal sleeping hours when he was, in fact, trying to sleep. The waitress interrupted him, walking around to his side and clearing her throat too loudly to be natural.

"Sorry to disturb, now, but we haven't got any of the orange pekoe left, it's all run out. Will a normal black tea suit?"

Sherlock glanced up. Four options again. They'd run out of tea; she was lying to spite him; someone had lied to her that they'd run out; or there was tea, no one had lied, and she still couldn't find it. She was nervous, fiddling with something in her left trouser pocket. Her eyes kept straying to his open shirt, she leaned in slightly – possibly attracted to him. The thing in her pocket creaked, sounded like something small, hollow, and cheap plastic. Her uniform apron had a nametag on it, almost definitely hers, and the plastic tag was well-worn, had yellowed with time and the corner of the laminate was starting to peel – she had worked here for a long time. There was hair on her blouse; she had a cat or small dog that she carried. Probably no children. Too young for grown children and not sleep deprived enough for young ones. So, not the forth option then, - she'd worked here too long to not know where their second most popular tea was kept unless she was truly incompetent and she'd done well by him so far, disappeared nicely into the background before now so probably not. So, that left options one two and – the plastic in her pocket peaked out suddenly when she shifted – a straw.

Three options, she was carrying it to give to a customer, she liked to carry trash, or they'd drawn straws. People put random trash into their pockets occasionally but it was rare – a waiter with that habit would go home with pockets full to the brim, unlikely then. It'd been opened, so she wasn't giving it to a customer. And she was worrying it during this encounter, a fairly good sign he hadn't missed anything and that they had in fact drawn straws. Too many possibilities to name behind that action, but as it was still in her pocket and she was touching it now it was somewhat likely that she'd drawn straws on who would tell him the place had run out - and from how very short it had to be to fit in woman's trouser pockets – an average of five centimeters deep and her hands were fitting in as well – she'd lost the bet. So, some tangential evidence that she didn't want to lie to inform him of the lack of tea - less likely she'd done so. So, unless someone else had misplaced the tea, either they'd run out or someone had lied to her that they had done. Best likelihood was, regardless, it wasn't her fault. And apparently there was some possibility that he was an intimidating enough customer to warrant drawing straws. Pathetic, if true.

"That's fine. Black, two sugars please," he told her and she nodded politely, seeming relieved with the encounter. So pathetic, regardless of straws.

So it was either the tone he'd used or there was something about saying he didn't have friends that was hurtful. So if it were the content of the statement, presumably John wanted it to not be true or thought that it wasn't – either John wanted him to be friends with him or John wanted him to be friends with some one else. That was totally irrational, why would John care that Sherlock was friends with someone else? - but being as how 'he'd said it too many times' was still in the running, Sherlock had to admit he wasn't in the best position to weigh the statements' likelihood with anything converging on accuracy. John being upset because Sherlock had said he didn't have him as a friend felt the most reasonable but that had been totally fine before. He'd introduced John as a friend and John had accurately corrected him. He'd referred to himself as friendless multiple times even since then. John hadn't even really seemed to pity him when he'd said it, like some people did. What would have changed? The vision of the hound, the public room, the whole village thinking they were a couple? That was all new. Was any of that relevant?

"What changed?" he shouted at the fireplace and the room got quiet around him. Better.

God, emotional reasoning didn't get anywhere. It all deteriorated in circles, where irrational statements could still be true. Meaningless.

"Here you are, then," the waitress said. "Would you be needing anything else?"

Sherlock turned to look at her and met her eyes. There was no use.

"If I said 'I don't have friends' to you, would you be hurt?" he asked her, peering over her face. She'd had a nose ring years ago, let to heal – irrelevant. She was older than she looked at first – relatively low stress life, out of the sun, smiled a lot – irrelevant. She looked baffled now, and slightly socially awkward. Normal reaction to one of his questions, generally.

"I … uh, sorry?" she asked, blushing. Blushing? Oh dull, she thought he meant now.

"No, I'm not going to be hurt by you saying 'no'. You're an idiot, do you know that?"

Her eyes widened, her teeth clenched. Angry. So no, she probably didn't know that.

"Back on topic, would you be hurt?" he pressed.

"N-no," she replied, like that should be obvious. Good, that fit with most evidence – it was fine to say 'I don't have friends' generally.

"If I were to repeat it a hundred times over, then would you get hurt?" he asked. She was looking at him like he was daft now. Good, so that was supposedly obvious too.

"No," she replied, starting to glance around the room for an excuse to escape. He needed to speed up.

"So, what would make that statement hurtful? If I said it differently? Softer, louder, deeper? Public, private, this chair?"

The woman blinked and her whole face softened except the muscles around her eyes that tightened, crinkling - sympathy now – and he knew she had his answer.

"If we were friends," she stated, smiling slightly. Condescending pity, that he didn't already know that. So that was supposed to be obvious too.

"That's useless. Irrelevant. I introduced John as my friend and he refused it – he wasn't scared of the idea, no, he's introduced Mike Stamford of all people as his friend and that man is an idiot, most would be embarrassed to be in public with him – it's his decision I don't have friends, not mine, so how on earth could me acknowledging it hurt him?"

She didn't look scared of him now. Great, now all his tea would arrive colder for the rest of their stay. Brilliant. Her eyes flickered to his, her face still soft, and she smiled slightly, almost a smirk but one of those that are somehow universally understood as 'nice'. So she thought she understood him, then. Sherlock returned his gaze to his tea in her hand. Still steaming, too hot to bother taking from her.

"Let me guess, that was a long time ago?"

Sherlock glanced up, surprised. What? Was this woman interesting now - could actually make connections? He glanced over her again and doubted it.

"You were forced together by something after that, he spent more time with you, got over how obnoxious you are?"

Sherlock blinked and knew he looked like he'd been hit by a skillet. He schooled his expressions back in order and peered at her.

"How do you think?" he asked seriously.

"It's obvious isn't it? He's changed his mind. He wasn't your friend last time you said it, but he is now."

Oh. Sherlock felt that wonderful click of a new option opening up. And God, Mycroft would have a field day laughing if he knew he'd been stumped by something so simple, due to pathetic self-induced blindness onset by his not even considering the option that given enough time he could make friends. So that was the secret then, of how acquaintances did it, all it needed was time? And John was offended because somehow he was supposed to have known that enough time had passed; they were friends now, not colleagues, and he's broken some rule denying it.

The woman glanced out the door John had left through. So, she'd seen the exchange.

"Or at least he was," she added, smiling at him sadly and placing his tea down on the table beside him, apparently deciding her help was sufficient. Hardly. He had to figure out how to apologize. Oh, hell.

~~/~~

They weren't ever going to get closer than this. Sherlock was his best friend. The best man he'd ever met and – oddly enough – the most human. The most honest. Sherlock could fake courtesy; he knew that people didn't just take each other's things or wake each other up with gunshots or put eyeballs in the microwave without cleaning it up after. He just didn't know whythey didn't and so refraining to do so was only an elaborate lie, carefully hiding the reality of who he was behind who he was supposed to be. And Sherlock was such a bloody phenomenal liar he could pull it off. He just didn't. He proved at every public occasion that he'd rather be himself than be liked and John found that just amazing enough to deal with the results of it.

The gunshots, the microwave eyes, the nasty angry hisses that they were not, in fact, friends. They were. John knew it. Knew Sherlock would figure that out and come to make it better – it'd just take him thirty times as long as it'd take anyone else.

John blew out a heavy breath, glancing around the little graveyard where he'd cloistered himself, waiting for Sherlock to come and acknowledge their friendship, hopefully looking at least a bit remorseful. There was a possibility of that, at least.

It'd be enough. He'd figured that out. He'd stopped trying to find a woman who'd be okay with the fact that he'd rather eat take-away on paper plates staring at a bucket of fingernails with his flatmate than spend time with her. He'd cross all of bloody London to send a bloody text, because it meant Sherlock wanted him there and they just had so much damn fun together. John never wanted to give it up, wouldn't give it up. Even if it meant trailing three meters behind the man, never able to keep up, spending twenty quid on a taxi to be slightly more helpful than a human skull on a mantle.

But they weren't going to get any closer. Sherlock didn't talk about his personal life. He didn't talk about his childhood, his sexuality, his past relationships - any of the normal things that should have come up after a year and a half of sharing a flat. Hell, even vaguely personal things, his past pets – if he'd ever had any. John didn't know. He didn't really think he'd ever know. And yet, for the little scraps of himself Sherlock did grant him and for the present life they lived that he loved so much, he was going to have no girlfriend, no great search for a future.

Until Sherlock got bored with him. In the meantime, he'd pine until he got over it and enjoy what he had. A life sitting across the kitchen table, doing his best to hide his sexuality, until inevitably the prat deduced it from his toothpaste brand or some nonsense. Then some "I'm married to my work' awkwardness as if John hadn't already adjusted to that years before. But he'd keep it secret as best he could, because after Sherlock got bored he was going back into the army and despite all the propaganda being bisexual was not helpful to one's career in a male-dominated hierarchy, thank you. His leg was healed now, his psychosomatic issues gone, and he knew he'd be grateful even as he finally bled out back under the Afghan sun that Sherlock had given that back to him.

John glanced over at the sound of Sherlock walking up to him. Damn, the man was handsome but he still managed to look like a drowned rat when put in an awkward social situation.

Well, good, he thought, anger flaring up. The man had been an arse.

But at least now they could acknowledge their friendship, the last step in getting as close as they ever would. He couldn't think of anything that would change it, depressing though it was.

~~/~~

Sherlock barely managed to say that he hadn't friends, just the one – a pathetic attempt to twist language around - To say Set A was not contained in Set B excluded every element of it, not just the set in its entirety and English worked on the same principle – if he didn't have friends then he by definition didn't have a single friend either and it grated to use words so idiotically but all the same, John listened to him when he spoke afterward, and he hadn't needed to apologize to fix it so it had certainly been the better of two evils. And he'd barely finished processing that John was acting less angry again before it was coming to him. H.O.U.N.D – an acronym, or at least possibly one – a new option had opened up that merited exploring.

God, John was stimulating. And his friend. That was certainly an unfamiliar idea, Sherlock thought as he wandered back toward the town. It was probably a bad thing. It likely meant John would get hurt, when he got bored with him, found something better to help him in his work. It might have been kinder to leave it as it'd been, only a few moments before he apologized. Let John think they had no further connection, until the man left. And there, that horrible sickening feeling on his transport. That at least he couldn't wait to have gone. Sherlock glanced into the pub as they passed it, looking for the strange gay couple there only to see Lestrade hanging out inside like he belonged. Multiple possibilities, none of them good.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded, striding toward the man.

~~/~~

Franklin was bloody ruining his reveal, running off into the woods instead of standing and admitting his crimes, the genius of driving a man to insanity, and better; his method of doing so. Still, Sherlock loved the chase, loved when they took off and John and he tried to beat each other to taking them down because in the end, they pretty much always caught them. They got out of the woods and Sherlock grinned, able to open his stride. This one, at least, he'd get to before John.

"Sherlock!" John shouted. He didn't get jealous about the chases, wasn't likely that he was trying to cheat and make him hesitate. A warning or a better opportunity then. Sherlock let his legs slow, looked around, tried to see the danger.

Franklin was running into the mine field. Sherlock threw himself backwards, away, his mind desperately searching for data. What proportion of labeled minefields were actually charged? What was the likelihood of an explosion given one approximately 33 x 110 meter field and one man running through it? What was the area of effect of a single landmine?

He heard a quiet plastic-y click, out in front of him and suspected that unless Franklin was smart enough to not step off, he'd have the data for his last question.

Damn.

~~/~~

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