John was the one who started the coat pocket exchanges. It was the third day in a particularly busy stretch, and as Sherlock was handing solutions to Lestrade (obvious - a child could have solved it), he dropped his hand into his left coat pocket and found an index card.
Don't forget to eat something, it said, in John's tilted scrawl.
"Boyfriend leaving you love notes?" Lestrade said. Joking tone, genuine eyes - so, fishing for data in addition to teasing. Tiring. May as well confirm it for him.
"Boyfriend," Sherlock said, enunciating the word clearly, "using outmoded communication methods to nag about lunch."
"Oh," Lestrade said, smiling a little more than the situation called for. "You want some? There's a fantastic deli down the--"
"No," Sherlock said. He considered texting John back, but wasting the doctor's time and pocket space in return seemed a more pointed gesture. When he got back to the flat that afternoon, he left the index card folded in John's coat pocket, the original note crossed out and written over with the words More important things to do with my time than fetch lunch.
The next morning, his coat weighed a few ounces more than usual when he put it on. Sherlock noticed but didn't bother checking the pocket until later, when he'd been thrown into a wall by a surprisingly aggressive art thief and heard the crunch. As the Met carted off their thief, Sherlock dug a small plastic bag out of his pocket: a single-serving packet of smoked gouda and the crumbled remains of what had once been a handful of water biscuits. Accompanying them was a fresh index card, reading: No fetching required.
I don't eat while I'm working, he wrote back, leaving the card and the remains of the snack in John's pocket that evening. John watched him leave the note from over the top of his laptop screen but said nothing. The next morning, there was another pre-portioned snack and another note:Maybe you should start.
No need, Sherlock responded, shoving the bag into John’s pocket.
Allow me to introduce you to the looming spectre of your own mortality, read the next day’s card. Sherlock, mortality. Mortality, Sherlock. Now that you’re acquainted, please eat your damn lunch. Included along with the cheese and crackers this time was a fruit cup and a plastic spoon.
This is the sort of thing you feed a child.
Your point being? came the reply in the morning, this time with a juice box.
I endeavor to entertain. A lollipop this time. Sherlock dropped it on the sidewalk on his way out of the flat and stared up at the window where John stood watching. He crushed the candy beneath the heel of his shoe, stone-faced. John winced.
There were no more notes for the rest of the week.
They had one Sunday where neither was working. John puttered around the kitchen in his pajamas, his back to Sherlock and his shoulders pulled in tight, spending far too long on the tea. When he took a seat on the sofa beside Sherlock, he set only one mug down on the coffee table.
“Where’s my tea?” Sherlock said.
“I thought you didn’t want me taking care of you,” John replied curtly, curling into the arm of the sofa.
Sherlock settled against him, the back of his head on John’s shoulder, and pulled John’s arms around himself like a blanket. “What does that have to do with anything?”
John sighed and grabbed the remote. “Never mind.”
Sherlock snatched John’s mug from the table with one long arm and sipped from it. The channels flicked past, stopping at one of those horrid talk shows at which Sherlock liked to yell. John’s hands settled back on him, one across his chest and the other fidgeting at the hem of his t-shirt. The fingers drew up his stomach slowly, examining the planes. Sherlock’s attention drifted from the telly and his own creeping boredom, taking stock of John.
Shoulders held tight. Eyes fixed on the screen. Quiet. Worried - but why? Steady, forced intake of breath as his fingertips dipped into the slight hollow between ribs. Hands studious - an appraisal.
Sherlock pulled his dressing gown closed around his torso and adjusted himself until he lay flush with John, face-down on the man’s chest with those fingers carding through his hair instead. It helped a little, but John’s silence stretched out like a cold draft between them. After the episode ended, John tried to make cheerful conversation, but that was somehow even worse. He gave up after a bit, and they passed most of the day at opposite ends of the sitting room, John writing and Sherlock reading. After John went to bed, Sherlock perched in his chair by the fireplace and drew long, low complaints out of his violin.
It had been a month since they’d begun seeing each other in a romantic capacity. A month seemed like such a small, fragile unit of time, in retrospect - hardly longer than a minute.
Sherlock examined the facts. There were John’s notes - teasing, obvious. The lack of tea - a passive-aggressive move. The distance - anger. Except...John had never pulled away from him. In fact, he’d tried to maintain affection all through this mood. So, not anger?
Disappointment fit better. But over what?
Further data: I thought you didn’t want me taking care of you. John studying ribs. His medical background. Not teasing - caretaking. Rejection of caretaking led to disappointment - therefore, caretaking a desired outcome. What was John not saying?
Oh. No. It was so obvious. Stupid, stupid.
Sherlock rifled through the contents of the table until he found a stack of index cards. Cheese and biscuits only, he wrote on one, and dropped it into John’s coat pocket.
The next day when he was called away to a case while John was at work, there was a distinct added weight in his left pocket. Sitting in Lestrade’s office waiting for a forensics report, he pulled a small plastic bag and an index card from his pocket and smiled.
Sure you don’t want a juice box?
Lestrade quirked his lips. “More love notes?”
“Yes,” Sherlock answered, stowing the index card back in his pocket for safe keeping.