“Sherlock?” John called from the hallway on his way downstairs. There was no reply. “Sherlock? Can you hear me?” Still nothing. He sighed before walking back into the flat. He found Sherlock sitting at the table and still in his blue dressing gown. His dark curls were sticking out in all directions, and his eyes were twitching rapidly across the pages of the newspapers spread out in front if him while an egg timer whirred impatiently. “Sherlock, what—?”
Sherlock immediately held up a finger to silence him. “Quiet, John!” He kept his hand up as he continued to stare fervently at the newspaper. He flipped the page rapidly before his eyes began to dance wildly across the pages once more.
John sighed again. “Sherlock, I have to g—”
“Shhh!” hissed Sherlock. John rolled his eyes. He really did hate it when Sherlock got like this. He folded his arms across his chest as he waited for Sherlock to finish…whatever it was exactly that he was doing. Lord only knew. Maybe it was for a case. Or maybe Sherlock had decided to make the daily paper a bit more exciting. John found he didn’t particularly care at the moment, as he was already late for work at the surgery. He glanced at his watch. Yep, definitely late. Not that that would be anything new. Sarah was used to him coming in late. Whenever he’d walk in past the time, she’d just glance up at him. She used to ask a quick, “Sherlock, then?” She didn’t anymore though. She’d just nod.
The egg timer decided then to interrupt the silence with a resounding DING. Sherlock leaned back in his chair with a loud exhale, rubbing his hands through his hair, only aggravating the shaggy mess that it was this morning. He took a deep breath before bending back over the table, hair flopping over into his eyes, and hastily scribbling down some notes into a notebook.
“Care to tell me what that was about then?” asked John calmly.
Sherlock marked down his last few marking before leaning back again and finally looking up at John, who immediately noticed his eyes. They were dark and baggy, too much so for John’s comfort. He ran a hand across his forehead as Sherlock spoke.
“You recall the Peterson case, John? The body you came with me to see three days ago?”
John nodded quickly. “Yeah, of course I remember. What’s this got to do with it?”
“Well, don’t you remember her husband? His story of finding her body?”
John nodded again. “Yeah, more or less.”
Sherlock raised his hands up toward him, looking expectant. “Well?” John was silent. “Don’t you see?” John continued to stare at him. Sherlock rolled his eyes dramatically. “Honestly…” he muttered. John scowled. “Mr. Peterson claimed he had just sat down in his study to read the paper when his wife went down to the kitchen to start cooking dinner. She was grilling fish. Two fillets. Tilapia. That, assuming they were average in size, takes approximately six minutes to cook. Call it seven to be safe and an extra minute to burn. Mr. Peterson then said he had just finished reading the paper, cover to cover, when he smelt burnt fish from downstairs. The smell drew him down to the kitchen whereupon he discovered his wife’s body.”
John caught on. “I see, so you’re timing—”
“How quickly one can read the newspaper. Mr. Peterson was a wealthy man and his wife a bit of a cliché. It was obvious that the man had never cooked a meal himself in his life. He probably had no idea how long it took to cook fish. He assumed that however long it took to read the paper would be enough time for someone to break in, kill Mrs. Peterson, and escape. He didn’t realize he was invalidating his own alibi with his attempts to add detail.” Sherlock grinned triumphantly. “Well, naturally, his mistake seemed clear, but I had to be sure. It was possible that the man was a speed-reader and was indeed telling the truth. So I acquired the Times from three mornings ago to perform a controlled experiment.” Sherlock paused for breath. “Which has, fortunately, proved successful. I was correct.”
John chuckled softly in mild amusement. The thought Sherlock had put into this. Fish and newspapers…Sometimes he could scarcely believed that that’s what his life had become. Standing and listening to his flatmate talk of fish and papers. And running. Lots of that too, he supposed. Sherlock was still looking up at him expectantly. John humored him.
“That’s brilliant, Sherlock. Really. I actually mean it when I say, only you….when you say ‘a controlled experiment,’ what’d you mean by that?”
Sherlock lowered his eyes. “Well obviously it had to be controlled. It would hardly be very scientific of me to make a single attempt and send a man to jail on its basis. No, I attempted it several times and recorded my times here.” He nodded to his notebook.
But John was not looking at the notebook. He was looking again at Sherlock’s ashen skin and baggy eyes. “Sherlock…” he began, “when you say several times…how long have you been at this?”
Sherlock met John’s look of stern disapproval with one of complete oblivion. “Since 8pm last night.”
John huffed and almost grinned in disbelief. “8 o’cloc—Sherlock, you can’t do that!” he shouted.
“Do what exactly?” asked Sherlock, furrowing his brow and drawing his hands together. “Solve a murder?”
“Not sleep! Run yourself ragged like that!”
Sherlock shook his head. “John, we have been through this, and I have little interest in repeating myself. When I am working, I do not have time to stop for trivial,” John scoffed at the word, “things like sleeping,” he went on. “The work is what is important, and I will go until I finish it. Sleeping, eating, they only slow me down.”
John’s eyes flared. “Eating? Not again, Sherlock. God, you’re like a little kid. When was the last time you ate?”
Sherlock tapped his fingers but didn’t look up. “You are not my caretaker John, and as you are not working this case with me, I really don’t see how it’s any of your—”
“I am a doctor, Sherlock,” John interrupted, stepping toward him with concern wearing its way into the creases in his face. “And…” he lowered his voice, “well, I wouldn’t be a very good one if I let my flatmate starve to death, would I?”
Sherlock considered his words. “I see,” he said in a low voice. “You take my personal habits as a mark on your career.”
“Oh, that’s—that’s not what I’m saying,” John huffed. “I—” he bowed his head, “I’m concerned about you Sherlock. All right? I don’t want to see you run yourself into the ground over some murdering husband. He’s not worth it.” Sherlock began to speak, but John cut him off. “I don’t care if you think it is. I don’t. You’re worth more than him any day to me.”
“To you,” said Sherlock slowly, looking into his eyes.
John’s cheeks flushed. He didn’t like where this conversation was going. Not yet. “Well, yeah. You’re…my friend, and—listen,” he said, changing the subject, “I want you to do something for me. Will you?”
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. John knew he didn’t miss John’s coloring, the way he diverted, but he didn’t really care right now. “Well, John, that largely depends on what it is you want me to do.”
“I have to be at the surgery today. I can’t—you need to eat. I need you to promise me you’re going to eat lunch and dinner today.”
“No, listen to me Sherlock. I need you to do this for me. And I want proof…I want you to text me. Tell me what you ate,” he said firmly.
Sherlock tutted and looked sideways. “Really, John? I’m not a child.”
“Well that’s news to me because you’re certainly acting like one!” He cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, it was much more calmly and delicately. “Please, Sherlock,” he said earnestly. “Please do this. If not for yourself, then for me. To put my mind at ease. Please.”
Sherlock looked up at John’s pleading eyes, and John watched a change come over him. He watched the hardness in his face slip away for something…warm. Human. It was…nice to see that in Sherlock’s face. John cherished the moments when he got to see that look. He shut his eyes in a calm expression.
“Fine…” mumbled Sherlock. “If you insist.”
“Thank you,” said John emphatically. “Really. Thank you.”
“Just go,” said Sherlock, waving him off. “You know how Sarah hates it when you’re late.”
John looked at him curiously. “Well, Sarah, as you say, is my boss now. And she has a right to be upset if I’m late.” He met Sherlock’s eyes. “As my boss,” he said pointedly. John hadn’t seen much of Sarah outside of work since their first date, if you can even call it that. He…well, he wanted to make that clear. It wasn’t often that Sherlock could be mistaken about something, but if he was…
He studied him for a moment, but finally, Sherlock nodded and waved again. “Go.”
John nodded and turned to leave but stopped when he had one foot in the hall and starting chuckling.
It’s just,” said John, turning to face him, “you know how long tilapia takes to cook. Of all things.”
Sherlock arched an eyebrow. “So?”
John grinned. “You know how to cook.” It wasn’t a question.
“John, I know a lot of things. Just because I choose not to doesn’t mean I can’t.”
“Right,” said John. “Sure.” He smiled at Sherlock. It was a soft, genuine smile, one full of clear fondness. Sherlock blinked at the expression and was surprised to find himself returning it. He grinned in earnest back to John. “Go. Heal the masses.”
John turned and plodded down the stairs, still smiling. “EAT!” he called back up.
“Oh, yes, dear…” he responded, but John heard the crack. God, they were like an old married couple. John smiled at that. My god, they really were…
That pleasing thought carried him all the way to work and refused to be deflated until three sniffling patients later.
Around noon, he started to get nervous. Even though he knew it to be in perfect working order, he kept pulling out his mobile every two minutes to see if he had a text. There was nothing. Half an hour later, as he was anxiously chewing his own sandwich, his phone finally began to buzz. John grabbed at it eagerly.
You first. –SH
What? thought John. He squinted at the phone.
Me first what?
He took another confused bite as he waited for the response, which came almost immediately. He swallowed before checking.
You tell me what you’re eating first. If I am to be subjected to this silly ritual, then it is only equitable that you participate as well. –SH
John tapped at the keys in annoyance.
It isn’t a ritual, and I’m not the one who has to be watched to actually take care of themselves. That’s you.
Another moment before the next buzz.
I refuse to participate alone. –SH
John groaned. He knew Sherlock had been too cooperative this morning. What did it matter, anyway?
Fine. Ham sandwich. Coffee. Crackers from the kitchen. And you??
There was a slightly longer pause before the next message.
Mrs. Hudson has brought up some chicken soup she made. It is up to her usual standard. –SH
John considered the text for a moment. It sounded like Mrs. Hudson overheard their…well, argument from this morning. They had been rather loud. Still, this was good. It was verifiable. He could check with her to confirm. He laughed to himself. Look at him, checking up on alibis, monitoring people. Maybe, he thought, if you want to be with Sherlock Holmes, you have to be a bit like him. And maybe that could be a very good thing. John liked that idea. Er, not necessarily the being with him! John blushed, despite being alone. Well, maybe, but…that Sherlock had some truly wonderful aspects. John knew that. Of course he did. But he was rather tickled by the idea that he might share one or two of them. It was an empowering thought.
He ended up having to stay at the surgery quite late that night. A big surge of people came in, and Sarah couldn’t handle them on her own, so he stayed to help. He became so distracted by broken wrists and fevers that he was genuinely surprised when his phone went off.
Pasta. Tomato sauce. Leftovers in the fridge. Different shelf from cat livers. Experiment. Your turn. –SH
John grimaced. Cat livers. He didn’t want to know.
Surgery’s packed. Haven’t eaten a thing yet.
Ah. Then I regret telling you. If I’d known you’d be holding back. –SH
I’m not holding back. I’ve barely had a chance to breathe, let alone eat. I’ll eat when I get home.
Very well, although I believe I was somewhat scolded for a similar notion just this morning. –SH
John clicked shut his mobile and returned to work with a second wind of energy.
He bustled into 221B much later that night by the light of the street lamps. He dragged himself upstairs, utterly exhausted by the day’s work. When he walked in, there was no sign of Sherlock. Not unusual, but curious. He slung his brown coat over a chair and stepped into the kitchen. He stopped. Blinked in surprise.
On the table was a freshly steaming bowl of pasta covered in red sauce. And maybe he was just starving, but frankly, it smelled bloody marvelous. Cat livers be damned. He sat down and began to eat. He shut his eyes in pleasure. Maybe it was just regular pasta, but it was heavenly.
“I take it you like it, then?” said a low voice from behind him.
John nearly choked, not used to being caught so off guard like that, and spun around. Sherlock stood before him in one of his buttoned shirts smiling tentatively.
“What? Yes!” he said through mouthfuls. “Sher—Sherlock? Did you make this?”
Sherlock straightened his shoulders. “You seemed to doubt my culinary abilities this morning. As I have just completed my latest case, I found myself with a bit of time and decided to prove you wrong. Unfortunately, we were somewhat sparsely stocked, food-wise, but I managed to find a few suitable ingredients.”
John paused with his fork half-way to his mouth. “Sherlock…” he said very carefully. “There isn’t any cat liver in here, is there?”
“No, of course not,” said Sherlock, scowling.
“Nor any body part that came from anywhere other than a grocer’s?”
“Well that’s interesting, as I happen to know a quaint little grocer’s that carries many varieties of liver, including cat—”
Sherlock grinned devilishly. “No, John. Nothing you would be uncomfortable with.”
“Good,” said John, settling himself. “Right.” He went back to eating contentedly.
Sherlock lightly placed a hand on his right shoulder. “But…you do like it?”
John glanced sideways at Sherlock’s hand and felt himself growing warm. He cleared his throat. “Yes,” he said looking up at Sherlock’s face. There he was again, looking so…un-Sherlock. Or maybe this was more Sherlock than ever. But it was cute, how tentative he looked, waiting for John’s approval—for his approval! “Very much so.”
Sherlock beamed with pride. “Excellent!” he said, withdrawing his hand. John found himself a bit disappointed. And genuinely hoping Sherlock hadn’t noticed.
The next day, a particularly gruesome murder prompted DI Lestrade to call Sherlock in, so John found them spending the next several days in each other’s company, where he was able to personally ensure Sherlock’s regular meals. It wasn’t until almost a week later, when he next picked up a shift at the surgery, that he remembered their deal.
Promptly at noon, his phone buzzed.
Leftover Chinese. Beef with Broccoli. –SH
John didn’t think. He just replied.
Tuna on rye. Apple juice.
Apple juice? Really? –SH
John flushed with embarrassment.
What? I like it, and we happened to have some in the fridge here. It is good for you.
So is cat’s liver. When will you be home? –SH
Blinking, John reread the text.
Um, I’m not sure. Probably 6 or so. Why do you want to know?
Just curious. –SH
Right, thought John. Because it was so ordinary for Sherlock to take an interest in his daily habits, especially ones as mundane as his work schedule. Oh god, what was he up to? He swore, if he came home to find the flat burned down, he’d never forgive him.
“Sarah?” he called. “I think I need to take off early today.”
In the end, he couldn’t get off and found himself walking into the flat at ten after six. It was still there. That was a good sign. Probably the best he could hope for. He bounded up the stairs, afraid of what he might find. He found, much to his surprise, nothing. But he did smell…what was that? Fish?
“Yes,” called Sherlock from around the corner. “That is fish you smell.”
John tilted his head and turned into the kitchen. The table was actually clear, and Sherlock was standing in front of the stove, frying something. John couldn’t help it as a dumb grin spread across his face.
“Tilapia,” he said.
“Tilapia,” said Sherlock. He grinned back at John. “I thought you might enjoy that.”
John laughed loudly. “You know, Sherlock? I think I will.”
They sat down together six minutes later and began to eat the fried fish happily.
He kept trying to catch Sherlock’s eyes when he glanced up. To smile. To make some conversation. But Sherlock was peering down steadily at his plate. He was about to make some stab at talking when a loud buzz cried out from the living room.
“Oh! That’s, er, that’s my phone,” muttered John. “I should see if it’s important.” He slid out and walked over to his jacket where his phone was stashed. He flipped it open.
Fried Tilapia. –SH
John exhaled and shut his eyes. For a moment, he stood like that, clutching his phone.
“Sherlock?” he called, his back still to the kitchen.
“Yes, John?” said Sherlock evenly. The bastard.
“You’re not funny.”
Sherlock clicked his tongue. “I was not trying to be, John. I believe you made me promise that on days you worked at the surgery, I was to tell you what I ate for meals. I was merely fulfilling that obligation.”
“Sherlock…” said John, his voice filled with annoyance, but he was shaking with dull laughter, grateful that Sherlock couldn’t see the trembling of his face.
“I also believe John, that you agreed to maintain an end of this bargain. I’m waiting, John.”
Finally, John turned back around. “Sherlock, you’re watching me eat. I’m not going to—”
But Sherlock was smirking at him. “A promise is a promise John. It’s only fair.”
Fine,” said John, throwing up his arms and returning to the table. “I’m having tilapia, Sherlock. Satisfied?”
He shook his head. “The agreement was that we would text each other.”
John hunched his shoulders. “Really Sherlock? Really?” Sherlock nodded, his mouth twisted up evilly. “Fine!” He grabbed his phone. “I—am—having—tilapia—Sherlock,” he announced as he typed. “Now are you happy?” Sherlock didn’t say anything until, beneath the table, his own phone buzzed. He glanced at it pointedly.
“Quite,” he said, and they both dissolved into fits of laughter.
The next few weeks were catalogued not by cases solved but by pairs of food.
Chips and soda—Greek salad
Peanut butter and Jam—Oats and yoghurt
Baked chicken—Beef stew
Pad Thai-Grilled pork
The texting became more than second nature. They started doing it every day, not just surgery days. And after the fish night, it became a bit of a competition. John didn’t know how it started, but he knew their competitive edges had taken control. Who could text the other first when they ate in each other’s company. Eyes scanning the other, never glancing at the food. Calling each other out the second a hand disappeared beneath the table.
Sherlock always won. Somehow. Bastard.
But John was getting better. Sneakier.
His real moment of victory came one night about a month later when they were out for Chinese down the street. Both their eyes were fixed on the other, their menus clutched in their hands. It almost alarmed John, the intensity of Sherlock’s gaze, but he grew to…enjoy it. He wasn’t surprised when his phone lit up. (Buzzers on silent. Must have some element of surprise.) Sherlock’s order flashed up on his screen. He made a show of looking slightly defeated. Not too obviously. Sherlock would pick up on it. But he’d been practicing. Oh, he was ready for this.
When the waitress came over, smile plastered on her face, John was set.
“And what can I get you gentlemen?”
John sighed dramatically. “He’ll have the Hunan pork,” he conceded with a nod to Sherlock.
“Uh, and yourself, sir?”
But John said nothing. He just stared across at Sherlock, who was looking down at his lap, astonishment written into his face.
“He’ll…he’ll have the chicken cashew,” he said slowly looking up. The waitress thanked them and walked off. “John, when did you—I didn’t even see you this time!”
John beamed with pride. “That’s the point, isn’t it?”
Sherlock shook his head. ‘Yes, but I always see you.”
Well,” said John, “maybe I’ve learned a thing or two. Maybe I’m becoming a bit more like you,” he said, resting his phone and hands on the table.
Sherlock tilted his head. “And…is that a good thing?” he asked carefully. Their eyes met, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. They held each other’s gaze .
John smiled softly. “Yes. It definitely is. Yes, Sherlock.”
Sherlock smiled too. Gently yet genuinely. It was another one of those rare looks that John loved so much, and he felt himself falling into it. Just watching Sherlock’s face. The crinkles around his pale eyes. The turn of his lips, the light on his cheekbones. He was utterly entranced by the man across from him.
So much so that he didn’t notice when Sherlock slid his own hands onto the table, reached out, and took one of John’s. John’s eyes shot down at their hands, but he didn’t dare pull back. He looked back up at Sherlock with his heart pounding loudly in his ears.
“Oh,” was all he said.
“John,” said Sherlock slowly. “I—thank you. For…this. For everything. For…being concerned enough about me and for…You…” he struggled through the words, staring down at their hands as he spoke.
“Sherlock,” intervened John, saving the man from his own fear of emotion. “It’s fine.” He took a breath and began rubbing his thumb across the rises of Sherlock’s knuckles. They both smiled. “I know.”
Sherlock didn’t need to stumble through his words. John understood. Because he felt the same way. It had alarmed him at first, he supposed, but he knew when he caught himself following Sherlock’s face, knowing what the little crinkles by his eyes meant, how he took his tea, and what he had for every meal, he had known he was a lost cause. He supposed he had been from the start. Sherlock was like that. He was a flame. So brightly burning, full of power and spirit and anger but yet so…beautiful. So entrancing. And what was John other than a moth? Drawn straight in. He hadn’t stood a chance. But as he sat here, rubbing Sherlock’s hand, and how nice it was, he didn’t particularly mind.
They ate the rest of their meal quickly, making polite conversation, but rarely breaking away from the other’s gaze. They walked quickly back to their flat. As soon as they had shut the door, Sherlock turned to him.
“John,” he breathed.
“Shut up,” said John, grabbing Sherlock and pulling his lips in to meet his own. It was perhaps more sudden than he imagined their first kiss. And yes, all right, he’d imagined it, but it didn’t seem to matter now. They both knew how the other felt. All that mattered right now was that John taste every inch he could of the man in his arms.
He pulled them both back against the wall with Sherlock in front of him and ran his hands down to his hips. Sherlock was practically tearing at his mouth, and John had to fight the urge to whimper. He almost told Sherlock to slow down, but the way his heart was fluttering in his chest told him he wasn’t feeling very patient himself. There was so much that was being unleashed in these passionate kisses. So many silences, so many moments, so many glances. It was a long time coming, and John grabbed onto Sherlock’s neck in pure celebration.
Sherlock ran his hands into John’s hair before pulling back, gasping for breath.
He ran a hand across John’s cheek, and John leaned into the touch. “Upstairs?” he murmured. John nodded and allowed himself to be led up the stairs to his bedroom.
A couple of hours later, Sherlock and John lay together on his bed. John was curled into Sherlock’s chest as he ran a hand through his graying hair. John sighed contentedly.
“What?” asked Sherlock quietly, twisting a lock between his fingers.
“Nothing,” whispered John. “Just…this. You. …us. It’s—nice.”
Sherlock chuckled softly. “I would certainly hope it was a bit higher on your comparative scale than simply ‘nice.’”
John punched Sherlock’s bare chest playfully. “You know what I meant.”
“Yes,” laughed Sherlock. “I do. And I would agree.”
They let themselves rest in the perfection of the moment, letting the thoughts of what their future together would be like carry them on through their bliss.
“You know,” Sherlock said eventually, “I think I’m starting to see it now.”
“See what?” asked John, raising his head a bit.
“The importance of eating meals.” He inclined his neck so he could press light kisses into John’s hairline before speaking again. “If they always result in this, I could become significantly more fond of regular eating habits.”
John shook his head and laughed. “You’re impossible. Do you know that?”
Sherlock smiled down at him. “And yet, you are not complaining.”
“No, no I’m not,” said John, reaching up to kiss Sherlock once more.
After a moment, Sherlock pulled back with a slight smile. “I would really like some tea right now.”
“Oh, right,” said John. “I can run down and put the kettle on.”
“No, no,” said Sherlock, climbing out of the bed and pawing through John’s clothes for something to wear, “I’ll go myself.”
“Really?” laughed John in disbelief.
“Yes, John. I’ve proved to you my culinary skills. I think I can handle a cup of tea. You stay here and…rest.”
John grinned and spread out on the bed. “All right then.” Sherlock disappeared down the stairs, and John shut his eyes peacefully. He had almost fallen asleep when a buzz from his desk brought him back to reality.
In his endorphin-high, he didn’t think. He just walked over to pick up his phone. He could’ve kicked himself.
John pulled the phone into his chest and clutched it as he awaited Sherlock’s return.