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The Reluctant Relationship

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"Are you jealous?” Irene Adler asked him, her eyebrows raised as she typed into her mobile.
“We’re not a couple,” John said, stumbled, really, his brow furrowed.
“Yes, you are,” Irene countered. She wasn’t even looking at him. Finally, she finished her typing.
“There,” she said, and held up the phone. “’I’m not dead. Let’s have dinner.’” John looked away as she hit send.
“Who - who the hell knows about Sherlock Holmes, but for the record, if anyone out there still cares, I’m not actually gay.”
“Well, I am,” Irene returned. “Look at us both.”

**

It hadn’t been the first time. It hadn’t even been the tenth time. It happened so often that most of the time John didn’t even bother to protest anymore. So the entire world thought that he and Sherlock were - well, whatever. It was fine. It was really fine.

It was fine right up until it started messing up his actual attempts at relationships anyway. And then it was just irritating. Exasperating and wrong.

After Jeanette broke up with him, John actively denied it for a time, made a point to say that no, it wasn’t that. Sherlock was his friend. His best friend. His flat mate, but no more.

Most of the time he felt like he was speaking in a vacuum.

Sherlock was no help. Maybe if Sherlock wasn’t so - so, well, Sherlock. Maybe then things would be different. But John couldn’t figure Sherlock out. Not when it came to relationships. Not when it came to sexuality. And if John couldn’t figure Sherlock out, if he’d given up a year ago, he had no idea how anyone else was supposed to get a handle on the whole thing.

He’d started online dating shortly after things fell apart with Sarah. Sherlock had made fun of his profile, which was uncalled for, but expected. Despite what Sherlock might think, John was intelligent. Not brilliant, certainly, but smart. At least by the majority’s standards. It just wasn’t worth the fight. Then when John wasn’t home, Sherlock made some debatable edits regarding John’s character, but regardless, it was going well. It was how John had met Jeannette. It was how he met Beth.

Beth was a pediatrician. She was bright and funny and kind. There was only one problem. And unfortunately it turned out to be a big one.

Beth felt particularly uncomfortable around Sherlock Holmes. She said she couldn’t read him. He’s so strange, she said again and again. There’s something ‘Off‘. She always said it as though the word was capitalized. Off.

“Don’t you think there’s something just a bit Off about him?” Beth asked.

“Yes,” John had agreed. “But you get used to it. You get used to him.”

The questions continued. Have you been friends long? Are you sure you know him well? Will he always be around? When are you thinking you might move out on your own?

And then toward the end it was, “Is he secretly in love with you?”

John’s mobile sounded. He pulled it from his pocket. Sherlock: “Come home quickly. Important.”

John sighed.

“That’s him, isn’t it,” Beth guessed. She pushed her dark hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear. She was frowning.

“Yes,” John said. “Yes, it’s him.”

Beth looked down. “I suppose you have to go?”

“No,” John said and shook his head. There wasn‘t a case. Sherlock had nothing important going on. It wasn‘t actually important no matter what Sherlock would have him believe. “No, I don‘t have to go.”

Beth smiled. “Yes, you do,” she said. “He‘ll keep texting. He always does.”

John received another text. He didn’t read it, held the phone tightly in his hand. Beth laughed though it was clear that she didn’t find it all that funny. She turned away.

“Is that what’s going on here then? He‘s secretly in love with you?”

“Well, if I knew the answer to that then it wouldn’t be much of a secret, would it?” John replied, weary.

It had been a mistake. The wrong response. He should have known the questions that would come next. “What does that mean?“ and “Are you in love with him too?“ And then shortly after that came the threat of an ultimatum. And when John said the wrong thing again, this time she pushed him out of her flat and slammed the door in his face.

So much for bright and funny and kind. Sherlock did that to people. Sometimes John wondered if Sherlock had done that to him.

Anyway, that was that. Girlfriend number five.

**

John took his time walking back to Baker Street. Beth’s flat wasn’t close. Normally, John would take a cab, but he needed the air. He was feeling stubborn. He needed to think.

Beth or Sherlock. That had been the choice. The pediatrician who cooked him dinner, who smiled at him, whose kisses warmed his heart. A kind and caring woman, or…Sherlock Holmes.

Sometimes John wondered why he put up with it at all, why he stayed. He thought of the girlfriends he’d ruined things with since he moved in with Sherlock, he thought of the life threatening situations, and he wondered what he was doing with his life. What did he plan to do with his life? Sidekick to Sherlock Holmes? Sometimes guinea pig? The assumed lover?

He trudged up the stairs, ignored Mrs. Hudson’s call of greeting. The lights were off in the sitting room, but the fire was going and the flat wasn’t empty. Sherlock was hunched over at the desk, typing, his face lit by the glow of the computer screen. He’d probably been sitting there for hours, since before the sun went down. He didn’t acknowledge John’s return.

John removed his coat. He threw it over the back of his chair, leaned on it, waited. When Sherlock continued what he was doing, John said, “Well?”

“I need your hands,” Sherlock said.

“My -” John started and then turned away. Of course. His hands. Sherlock had done nothing but go on about hands for weeks.

“Yes,” Sherlock repeated. “Your hands.”

“You know what my hands look like,” John said.

“I need to see them again,” Sherlock said. He waved John closer.

John sighed and stepped forward, held out his hand for Sherlock. Sherlock took John‘s hand in his, the pressure of his fingers firm on John’s palm. He looked at it for less than a full second, and then released John.

“The other,” Sherlock said.

John held up his other hand. Sherlock glanced at it and then turned back to the computer.

John sighed. “This has to stop.”

Sherlock made a face, but didn‘t turn away from his work again. He waved a hand in dismissal. “I’m going to purchase a new one, I just haven‘t - “

“No,“ John said. He shook his head. “Not that.“

Sherlock had broken his laptop. He’d thrown it across the flat and it was currently sitting in dissected pieces on the kitchen table. Of course, Sherlock was lost without a computer, so he was using John’s. Without asking. Again.

Sherlock looked up now, turned to look at John. After a moment, Sherlock said, “Oh. Well, that was inevitable, wasn‘t it?”

“Inevitable,” John repeated. He was starting to fume a bit. He’d liked Beth. Except for the bits where she’d clashed with Sherlock, John had really thought Beth might be good for him. If she had just given Sherlock a chance. If he’d just given her a chance.

John grabbed his coat from the chair and started pulling it back on.

“Where are you going?” Sherlock asked.

“Nowhere particular,” John said, his words clipped. “Out. I don’t know. Just a stroll perhaps.”

Sherlock was eyeing him, trying to work out if it was a lie. Sometimes 221B felt like it was closing in around John, suffocating him and he just needed to get out, to get away from it all and clear his head.

“I’ll come with you,” Sherlock said and stood from his seat.

“Oh.”

Sherlock, of course, caught the tone and sat back down immediately. “Actually, I have a lot to do here,” Sherlock said.

He didn’t. That was part of the problem. That was why he was occupying himself with hands of all things.

“Come with me,” John offered with a sigh. After all, if he left now, Sherlock would surely follow anyway, suspicions raised. And if Sherlock was offering to come, that must mean that John looked pretty terrible, terrible enough that Sherlock was concerned. It was rare, that Sherlock was concerned about him. About anyone, really. Of course, Sherlock knew that John had just walked home. Stupid to suggest he was going for a stroll having just walked across half of London. Who did John think he was fooling?

“We’ll go down to the pub for a drink,” John suggested.

“I’m not thirsty,” Sherlock said. He gestured toward the computer.

“I didn’t - I’m not inviting you to the pub for a drink because I’m thirsty.”

Sherlock shut John’s laptop and stood. “I know that,” he said. He reached for his coat. Invitation accepted.

**

They didn’t talk as they walked the short distance to Harvey’s Pub. John was still upset. He blamed Sherlock, just a bit, and he thought he could really use an evening alone, but then, it wasn’t often that they did this. Went out for a drink together. It wasn’t often at all. And when they did, for just a few moments, this friendship with Sherlock felt so ordinary, so normal, that John couldn’t turn down that reassurance. He needed this.

He needed it to show that Sherlock Holmes actually was his best friend. He needed to prove to himself that this life they’d created actually was worth the sacrifices. Fuming around the streets of London on his own wasn’t going to solve anything. A drink with Sherlock - well, it might go terribly wrong, but it might also be exactly the reassurance that John so desperately needed.

An attractive young woman was working the bar tonight and John smiled at her as they ordered their pints and then retreated to a table in a corner of the pub. It was a week night and it wasn’t crowded. John wasn’t sure if Harvey’s Pub was ever crowded, to be honest. It seemed a bit past its prime.

“You’re upset,” Sherlock said after a moment. It was a surprising observation from Sherlock. Usually he didn’t bother with things like feelings.

“Yes,” John said. “Yes, I’m upset. My girlfriend just broke up with me.”

Sherlock looked down into his ale. “Jeanette -”

“Beth,” John interrupted, shortly. “Jeanette broke up with me months ago. This time it was Beth.”

Sherlock frowned. “Beth. Right.”

“This has to stop,” John said again.

“The online dating,” Sherlock nodded, knowingly.

“No,” John hissed. He leaned across the table and pointed a finger toward Sherlock. “You. You’re ruining my relationships.”

“I’m ruining your relationships,” Sherlock scoffed. “How?”

“You’re polarizing.”

“Ah. Beth didn’t like me,” Sherlock guessed.

“I don’t know why,” John said. “She spends all of her time around children and you’re just an adult sized one.”

Sherlock sniffed and didn’t respond.

“I’m sorry,” John sighed. He sat back against the bench. “I didn’t invite you here to abuse you. I‘m just upset.” He sipped his ale and then said, “What did you mean back at the flat? It was inevitable, you said.”

“Nothing,” Sherlock said. “I meant - I was talking about my blog.”

“No, you weren’t,” John pressed.

“I’ve been working on a new one,” Sherlock continued. “I was compiling it when you arrived.”

“About?” It was a stupid question. One to which he already knew the answer, but Sherlock planned to tell him regardless, so John might as well ask.

“It details my experience in determining a person’s trade based on the form of their hands. It’s unfinished, but you’re welcome to read it if you‘re interested.”

“What was inevitable about it?” John asked again. He wasn’t an idiot. He knew that Sherlock was lying to him. Oh, not about the blog. Sherlock had been building to this, having Molly Hooper show him the hands of every body brought into the morgue at St. Bart’s, testing himself, guessing their occupation and then having Molly confirm for him from her records. The blog wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t what Sherlock had meant. Sherlock had meant that John and Beth breaking up had been inevitable.

“It is inevitable,” Sherlock said. “That my blog on determining a person’s trade based on the form of their hands - most useful when solving cases involving unclaimed bodies - will receive far fewer hits than your inane blog detailing our adventures and distorting them into some fantastical entertainment.”

John couldn’t help it. He smiled. The fact that Sherlock had just insulted his own work in an attempt to spare John’s feeling was exactly the sort of reassurance John was looking for in inviting Sherlock to the pub. It didn’t change the fact that Sherlock did think that Beth breaking up with John was inevitable, but it was something. It was a sacrifice, a small one, but for once it hadn’t come from John.

“Yes,” John agreed. “That is indeed inevitable.”

**

Back at the flat, John stretched out on the sofa. Sherlock was talking about hands again and John couldn‘t bring himself to keep listening. He grunted in the appropriate places and knew that down the road Sherlock would mention some of this again and then look at John in disbelief when John didn‘t remember every detail, but John didn‘t care. The events of the night, the exertion of the walk and the dullness of the ale had tired him out, and as Sherlock pulled out his violin, John closed his eyes.

John expected Sherlock to play something harsh, something loud and raucous in retaliation for John falling asleep as Sherlock spoke. He was surprised when the sounds that emitted from the violin were mellow, sad. Something Sherlock had composed himself. John had heard the music before, but not often, and not in some time.

A requiem for Beth, John thought. A good bye. He closed his eyes and tried to picture her smiling at him, but he soon found that he had a hard time forming the features of her face. He’d made his choice, again, and all he could see was Sherlock Holmes.

**

“There’s another bedroom upstairs,” the landlady, Mrs. Hudson, explained during that first meeting. “If you’d be needing two bedrooms.”
John frowned, confused. “Of course we’ll be needing two.”
Mrs. Hudson shook her head. “oh, don’t worry dear, there’s all sorts round here. Mrs. Turner next door’s got -” and this part she whispered - “married ones.”
John turned to Sherlock, suddenly began to wonder if -
“Sherlock,” Mrs. Hudson tsked, interrupting John’s thoughts once she’d had a glimpse at the state of the kitchen. “The mess you’ve made.”

**

Walking into The Cross Keys with Sherlock, asking for the room, it felt strangely like a couples holiday already, so when the innkeeper assumed that - well, it was to be expected, but it was also the last straw. He ordered a drink, got the information and the keys, called Henry Knight, and then met Sherlock outside just in time to be pulled into an acting gig to con the local tour guide. Information obtained, Sherlock stood, and John rushed to gulp down the rest of his stout before following.

They retrieved their luggage from the car and John led Sherlock to their room.

“They only had doubles,” John said. “Apologies from the owner.”

“Yes,” Sherlock said. “I heard.”

“You did,” John said. “So you know - they thought we were together.”

Sherlock dropped his bag in a corner of the room and then pushed aside the curtains, peered out.

“Well?” John asked from beside the other bed.

Sherlock turned back to John. “Well, are they wrong?” he asked. “We live together. We arrived here together. We booked a room together.”

“No,” John said, slowly. “They thought we were together. He called you mine.”

Sherlock shrugged and turned back toward the window.

“You don’t care?” John asked. “It doesn’t bother you? Not even a little?”

“Does it matter?”

John sighed. “I don’t know.”

But the truth was that yes, yes, it did matter. It mattered when you wanted to date women. It mattered when three of the women you’d met via your online dating profile had dumped you after determining that you were more in love with your male flat mate - or he was more in love with you - than you were with them. Depending on what he was trying to achieve, it did matter to John how he was perceived.

No, it didn’t matter that the innkeepers thought that John and Sherlock were together. But it mattered that Jeannette thought that John was a better boyfriend to Sherlock than he was to her. It mattered that Beth asked if Sherlock was in love with him and then forced John to choose. Those things mattered.

“Do people assume - do people talk to you of me as though we’re - “

“Rarely,” Sherlock said, butting in. He crossed the room, flipped through the contents of the tea and coffee tray, peered into the bathroom, and then paced back again. He hadn‘t removed his coat. John took that as a cue to keep his on as well.

“Why do you think that is?” John asked.

“Obvious,” Sherlock said. “I don‘t invite personal questions.”

“I don‘t invite personal questions,” John countered. He sat down on the edge of one of the beds.

Sherlock screwed up his face at the apparent ridiculousness of John’s statement. He gestured to John and John looked down at himself, confused.

“You’re warm,” Sherlock said. “You’re human. It’s the haircut, the height. Your nose. You’re welcoming. People will talk to you differently than they would another stranger on the street. It’s human nature.”

“So they’re afraid to ask you if you’re gay because you’re tall and you frown a lot,” John concluded.

“You asked me if I was gay,” Sherlock pointed out.

He hadn’t. Not in those words, but close enough.

“Yes,” John agreed. “Well. You didn‘t answer me.”

John raised his eyebrows and waited, but Sherlock had already moved on.

“Guess you’re not answering me now either,“ John muttered.

Sherlock picked up the car keys from the bed and then moved toward the door. John stood instinctively, started to follow, and they were outside again before he asked.

“Where are we going?”

“Baskerville,” was Sherlock’s response.

**

“Didn’t you know? Don’t you read the blog? Sherlock Holmes.” Franklin was leaning in close as he spoke.
“It’s -” John started, ready to explain.
“Sherlock who?” Dr. Mortimer asked. She looked to John for an explanation, but it was Franklin who jumped in to provide one.
“Private detective. This is his PA.” Franklin slapped John’s back jovially.
“PA?” John blinked and looked up at Franklin.
“Well. Live-in PA.”
John looked down at the table, nodded. He should expect it by now, shouldn‘t he? “Perfect.”
“Live-in,” Dr. Mortimer said. She said it slowly as she started to put together the picture that Franklin had just painted for her. Live-in PA. Just Marvelous.

**

“Live-in PA,” John said, coming down the stairs to find Sherlock set up at the table in the kitchen. “Live-in PA.”

“Mm,” Sherlock said. He was hunched over the microscope he’d borrowed from St. Bart’s. “Hand me that syringe.”

John stopped pacing and looked around at the mess that covered the counter and the table. Bottles, books, the pieces of Sherlock’s computer, and John’s laptop, in tact and open beside Sherlock.

“Syringe,“ John repeated as he scanned the table until he found the syringe in question. He reached for it and then realized what he was doing and looked up. “Are you trying to be funny?”

“Who called you my PA?” Sherlock asked. His hand was out for the syringe, his eyes still glued to the microscope.

“Bob Franklin,” John said. “The - from Baskerville. The Hound and - not just PA, Sherlock. Live-in PA. You know what that means.”

“That you live here and you’re my PA, I suppose,” Sherlock said.

He was just playing with John now. Mocking.

“Right,” John said. He picked up the bloody syringe and thrust it across the table toward Sherlock. Sherlock pulled back at the sudden movement, then raised his eyebrows at John before taking the syringe.

“It’s been two weeks since we returned from Dartmoor and Bob Franklin is dead.”

“No,” John said and shook his head. “I’m not. All right, yes, I’m dwelling, but is that how it seems? Like I’m a live-in PA, emphasis on live-in?”

“You live here and you assist me,” Sherlock pointed out. He was thoroughly bored with this conversation, busy with whatever he had in front of his microscope. John sighed. He took his laptop from the table and then retreated to the sitting room before Sherlock became frustrated and accused John of not allowing him to think. He sat down in his chair.

“It’s your blog,“ Sherlock said.

“What?” John asked. He glanced at the laptop and saw that Sherlock had a page open to his blog. John hadn’t written up Baskerville yet. He hadn’t had a chance.

“Bob Franklin wouldn’t have thought anything of you if he hadn’t read your blog,” Sherlock explained.

Ah, John thought. So it was John’s fault that everyone thought he and Sherlock were a couple. It was John’s blog that was to blame. Never mind that it had started before John had written a word about Sherlock in the blog. It had started right away, that very first night. It was Sherlock, John thought. No one had assumed anything about John until he began spending time with Sherlock Holmes. And anyway -

“Henry Knight wouldn’t have come to you with his brilliant case if he hadn’t read my blog,” John countered.

John couldn’t see Sherlock, but he could almost hear the smile.

“Touché,” Sherlock said after a moment.

**

Sherlock was still hunched over his microscope when John pulled on his jacket and left the flat. He informed Sherlock that he was leaving, but Sherlock hadn’t responded, though John repeated himself twice.

“Well,” John mumbled. “Have fun having conversations with the empty room once I‘ve gone.”

Sherlock still didn’t respond and so John left him to his work. He was intending to pick up some groceries, the refrigerator was nearly empty of all things edible, and after stopping downstairs to inquire if Mrs. Hudson needed anything, John was on his way.

The evening was damp, but the temperature was comfortable and John walked slowly, took his time. As he passed Harvey’s Pub he glanced in the window and caught the eye of the pretty barmaid, the same one who’d been working that night weeks earlier when John had stopped in for a drink with Sherlock.

The barmaid smiled at him through the window, smiled as though she remembered him from those brief moments a month ago. John had barely interacted with her that night. Beth had just broken up with him. He’d been upset with Sherlock. He hadn’t had the time. But she smiled at John as though she remembered and John thought well, why not? He pushed into the pub.

“Welcome back,” she said as he approached the bar.

“You have a good memory,” John noted.

“Oh, I never forget a pretty face,” she laughed. It was a joke, confirmed by the accompanying wink, but it didn’t matter. John was charmed.

“Listen,” he said. “I’m just going to go - “ he gestured toward the washroom in the back. “I’ll be - I’ll be right back.”

She nodded and grinned at him again. John left his coat on a stool, a promise that he planned to return. He used the toilet and then washed his face, checked his hair in the mirror. The barmaid was too young for him, probably about ten years too young, but she was friendly and the way she’d smiled, well, it was certainly worth a shot

When John emerged back into the pub, Sherlock was standing at the bar, his coat pulled tight, collar up. John cursed under his breath.

“Do you want to order a drink while you wait for your partner to return from the loo?” the barmaid was asking as John approached. “Oh, here he is. Nevermind then, what’ll it be?”

John smiled at her, then turned to Sherlock. “You followed me,” he said.

Sherlock opened his mouth as though to answer John, to defend himself, then turned to the barmaid and ordered two lagers instead. Drink in hand, John grabbed his coat from the stool, smiled apologetically, and then followed Sherlock to the same corner booth he’d chosen a month ago.

“You have to stop following me,” John said when they were sitting down.

“You left without saying goodbye,” Sherlock said. He was sitting against the wall and he scanned the bar, didn’t even look John in the eye as he continued. “I was worried.”

“I - “ John started, his eyebrows raised in disbelief. Sometimes Sherlock sounded disturbingly like his brother. “Are you - you know what, never mind.”

He glanced over at the barmaid again. She was busy now, mixing drinks for a couple at the end of the bar. John waited a moment for Sherlock to say something else and when he didn’t, John said, “You said no one brought it up around you.”

“Yes?”

“So, she just brought it up,” John said. “’Do you want to order a drink or wait until your partner returns from the loo.’”

“Partner can mean any number of things,” Sherlock said. “Professionally you are my partner.”

John rolled his eyes and when the bartender passed to wipe off a table that had just cleared, John waved her over.

“What would you say that my relationship is with this man?” John asked and gestured to Sherlock. Sherlock signed heavily across from him.

The bartender looked surprised, then confused, then wary.

“It’s okay,” John said. “You can say it.”

“I thought you were his boyfriend,” she admitted.

“Thank you,” John said and then turned to Sherlock. “Do you see?”

“She’s a writer,” Sherlock said once she‘d gone.

“What?”

“The calluses on her fingers,” Sherlock said. “She writes. But not like most people would these days, not on a computer. She still uses paper. Most likely she finds it romantic.”

“Thrilling,” John said.

“Why is this upsetting to you?” Sherlock asked, circling back to acknowledge that John had spoken. He was looking at John now, finally, studying him. “Why does it matter what the bartender at Harvey’s Pub thinks of us?”

“Because it isn’t just the barmaid at Harvey’s Pub,” John said, pressing his fingers to the table to emphasize his point. “It’s everyone. It‘s people who don‘t know us. It‘s people who do know us. Do you know what Lestrade asked me last week?”

“Yes,” Sherlock said. “I heard.“

“Of course, you did,” John mumbled. “The point is - it’s my girlfriends, Sherlock. It’s everyone.”

“That’s because they aren’t living with your denial. They see us as a couple because, whether we want to admit it or not, we are a couple.”

“Don’t you think that in this - what?”

“Everyone sees it except for you because you are the only one who is trying not to see it,” Sherlock said in an agitated rush. “We are together. We are a couple. For once they are using their minds to observe something and they are not wrong.”

Sherlock would go on, John knew. If John said anything, Sherlock would go on. The evidence would be laid out. The conversation would become loud. The turn of John’s shirt collar would become obvious and conclusive evidence that John and Sherlock were undeniably ‘an item.‘ People would stare. And so John did the only appropriate thing that he could do in the moment. He took a sip from his pint.

“Okay,” he said. He stared down at the table. “Okay.”

They fell into silence after that, sitting across from each other, nursing their drinks.

Several times Sherlock looked like he wanted to say something and then changed his mind and shut his mouth once more. John didn’t know what to say, so finally he said, “I promised Mrs. Hudson I’d bring her bread and eggs when I returned.”

**

Out on the pavement John found his voice again and he turned to Sherlock and said, “Did you down a couple of shots while I was in the loo? Is that what that was?”

“No,” Sherlock said, his response measured and confused, unable to imagine why John might even think such a thing. “I’m sorry if I’ve upset -”

“You’re apologizing now,” John cut in, surprised. “How many was it then?”

“I’m not intoxicated,” Sherlock said. “I think if you stopped for one minute and actually paid attention, you would see that - “

“That we’re dating,” John supplied. “That you are my boyfriend.”

Sherlock was quiet beside him.

“Listen,” John said. “I think - you’re confused. You’re not -”

“John,” Sherlock sighed. “Why haven’t any of your other relationships been working?”

“Because I haven’t found the right woman yet,” John stumbled. “Because -”

“Because you repeatedly choose me over your girlfriends. Because you would rather spend your time with me than with the relationships that you only have to prove to yourself that you’re trying. To prove that everyone is wrong about you, that you really aren’t the last one to put together the pieces of your own life.”

“This is ridiculous. You didn’t - you said you were flattered but - “

“A year ago I said I wasn’t looking for a relationship,” Sherlock said. “That was true. I ended up with one anyway. And you said that you weren’t gay.”

“I’m not,” John agreed. He frowned.

“And yet, you’re still here.”

They were at the shop. Sherlock pushed in and John followed him.

“Because you’re my friend,” John sputtered. Sherlock was standing there now as though he had no idea where to go or what do. Sometimes John felt sure that Sherlock would starve if John didn‘t bring home some food once in a while.

John began collecting the items that they needed, handing Sherlock bread and milk when his hands became full.

“Most people have friends, you know,“ John said. “For most people, this is normal.”

“Is it?” Sherlock said, tucking the eggs beneath his arm.

“Yes,” John said. “It is.”

“I guess I wouldn’t know, would I?” Sherlock asked.

The conversation dropped off until they were nearly back to the flat. That was when Sherlock, dutifully holding the bag that John had shoved into his hand, said, “Perhaps you can enlighten me, John. If this is what most people have, then why do most people assume that we’re a couple?”

**

“Please don’t feel obliged to tell me that was remarkable or amazing. John’s expressed that thought in every possible variant available to the English language.”
John looked up from the computer. Sherlock was stiff and Irene was, well, predatory. Her look was hot, charged, and then she spoke.
“I would have you right here on this desk until you begged for mercy twice.”
Well, there you go, John thought. John had never expressed it quite that way.

**

John watched as Sherlock pretended to read a book. He was flipping the pages too quickly, even for Sherlock Holmes. There was no way that he was actually reading. John had retreated to his room the night before, as soon as they‘d returned to the flat with Mrs. Hudson‘s groceries and the few things to stock their own kitchen. He‘d stared up at the ceiling above his bed, couldn‘t sleep, didn‘t for most of the night. He awoke with the sun and stumbled down to start a pot of coffee. The noise woke Sherlock and now here they were, John with an empty mug in his hand, coffee in his gut that had not yet started to take affect, and Sherlock pretending to read a novel in the chair opposite.

“Okay,” John said, finally. “So say we’re dating? What does that mean? Does it - “

“It doesn’t change anything,” Sherlock said, fast, as he continued to turn the pages.

John laughed, set down his mug and leaned forward. “It changes everything.”

Sherlock turned another page.

“I know you‘re not reading that,” John said.

Sherlock turned one more page, stared at it for a moment in defiance, then shut the novel and regarded John.

John shook his head. “So, it doesn‘t change anything?”

Sherlock shrugged. “I’m happy with the way that things are between us.”

“But if -” John stumbled. “You and I -”

“Sex,” Sherlock guessed, his fingers tapping against the book. “Yes, that would be a factor for you. Well, if you need me to sleep with you, of course, I will.”

“What?” John asked. “No - if I - I’m not going to make you sleep with me.”

“You wouldn’t be making me,” Sherlock said, reasonably. “I just offered.”

“You offered like it was a chore,” John pointed out.

“It isn’t something that I require, but if you do, then I want -”

John closed his eyes for a moment, tried to make sense of it all. “You want to sleep with me?”

“If that’s what you want,” Sherlock confirmed.

John was quiet.

“Do you?”

“Want to sleep with you?” John laughed.

“Yes,” Sherlock said.

“No,” John said, then amended, “I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I don’t - No. Of course not. No.”

“All right,” Sherlock said with a nod. He sighed. “I’ve agreed to have lunch with Mycroft today.”

“Good,” John said, absently, hardly listening to Sherlock at all now. Of course he didn’t - why would Sherlock think -

Sherlock set his book aside and stood, lingered as though he was thinking about the appropriate course of action. Eventually he seemed to make up his mind and he approached John. John had been staring hard at the carpet and when Sherlock moved to stand in front of him, John looked up.

“What -?“ John started. Sherlock was just standing there, staring down at him. And then Sherlock leaned down, leaned in and kissed him lightly on the mouth.

It was awkward and brief and light, so light that John could almost have imagined that it hadn’t happened at all. Almost, except that even with a brush of mouths that brief, that feather light feeling lurched through John and he turned away from Sherlock, surprised by his own reaction
Sherlock cleared his throat and then mumbled something about being late. He disappeared toward the back of the flat and after a moment John heard him turn on the shower.

John sat there, staring at Sherlock’s empty chair.

Was John dating Sherlock Holmes?

Of course not. Of course not! They were friends. Partners, yes. But they weren’t - Nothing had to change, Sherlock said. But if John just opened his eyes and paid attention he would see that everyone was right about them. They were in some sort of relationship, they were a couple, but they weren’t - so a sexless homosexual relationship then? Was that what this was? And if so, how in the world had John ended up here?

Oh, but Sherlock would have sex with him, if that was what John needed.

Jesus, Sherlock had actually just offered to have sex with him.

No one seemed to care at all that John wasn’t gay. No one seemed to care that John dated women. That John had always dated women. He’d never - Sherlock was the first man that John had ever kissed and honestly John wasn’t sure that that kiss even counted. It was hardly a kiss at all.

But then, he’d felt something, hadn’t he? It had hardly been a kiss at all, but for such an insignificant press of lips, it had felt significant to John. It felt significant enough that John hadn‘t moved since it had happened, had only vaguely registered that Sherlock was out of the bath, that he‘d moved down the hall and shut the door to his bedroom. It was significant enough that John’s mind was racing with it, turning it over and over, testing it from every angle.

Would he mind it if Sherlock chose to kiss him again? Would he push Sherlock away in disgust, brush him off, shoot him down?

No. No, probably not.

John shook his head. Sherlock did not actually want to have sex with him. Sherlock, as far as John could tell, did not want to have sex with anyone. That was part of what made Sherlock Sherlock.

But if Sherlock wanted to, would John sleep with him? If the tables were turned. If it was something that John thought Sherlock might want, would John have offered himself as Sherlock had just done? Offer to have sex with Sherlock? Have sex with Sherlock?

John shifted in his seat. Well, it clearly wasn’t the turn off that it probably should have been. And John was far too old to still be working these things out.

Sherlock emerged from his room, his hair wet, but dressed, ready for something.

“Are you going somewhere?” John asked.

“Lunch with Mycroft,” Sherlock said, slightly exasperated. “I’ve just said.”

“Did you?” John asked. He watched Sherlock straighten his jacket, looked at the long lines of his friend and then turned away, his eye catching on the clock. “It’s nine in the morning.”

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed. “Well, of course I don’t actually want to have lunch with Mycroft.”

John nodded. “If you go over there now when you know it will be inconvenient for him, he’ll tell you what it is that he wants, you’ll refuse, and that’ll be that.”

“Precisely,” Sherlock agreed.

“So I should expect to have lunch with Mycroft today then,“ John concluded. “As soon as you refuse, he’ll come to me instead.”

Sherlock shrugged. “You could come with me now,” he suggested. “Save Mycroft some time.”

John didn’t respond. He was too busy trying to decide how he’d feel if Sherlock chose to kiss him again, right then.

“John,” Sherlock said.

“Sorry,” John said. “No, I think I’ll stay here. I have - there are things that I should do.”

Sherlock nodded, then opened his mouth, apparently deciding the right thing to say next. Sherlock was flustered, as flustered as John, and trying hard to hide it. Finally he turned away from John, reached for his coat and his scarf. He left the flat without another word.

A relationship, John thought again once Sherlock had gone. With Sherlock Holmes. It was too ridiculous for words.

But then if John took the sex out of any of his previous relationships what he was left with was - was almost exactly what he had with Sherlock.

No. It wasn’t the same. What he had with Sherlock was friendship, wasn’t it? This was just friendship. Why would Sherlock of all people assume - well, it was obvious, wasn’t it? Sherlock had said it, not a month before.

Sherlock didn’t have friends. John was it.

So that was it then. Sherlock was confused. He wasn’t accustomed to having someone always there, to having a friend who cared about him, who liked him. It was new territory for Sherlock. Confusion over their friendship, that was all.

“We are a couple,“ Sherlock had said.

Sure. A couple of friends. Close friends. Perhaps a little codependent. Perhaps they should work on that. But friends.

That was all.

**

John waited until the last possible moment to break the news to Sherlock. He hid away in his room, rushed through the sitting room on his way to the bathroom to shave. Eventually he was ready. He couldn‘t avoid Sherlock any longer, and he came to stand in front of the sofa where Sherlock was stretched out.

“I have a date,” John said.

Sherlock looked up at him, looked John up and down, and then said, “Yes, I noticed.”

John looked down at himself. He smoothed the wrinkles in his shirt, checked for lint on his jacket, then glanced at his hair in the mirror.

“You don’t mind?” John asked.

Sherlock hadn’t brought it up again. It had been a week and neither of them had said a word. John wanted to. He wanted to talk to Sherlock about it, about their friendship, and Sherlock’s misconception. He thought about talking to Sherlock about it often, but he couldn’t seem to find the right moment.

Sherlock certainly wasn’t bringing it up. And since that day, nothing had changed. Sherlock didn’t try to kiss John again. In fact, everything went right back to exactly how it was between them before. Except that now John was thinking about it all differently. Now, instead of wondering why people were assuming that he and Sherlock were together - now John caught himself wondering if he and Sherlock were together. He caught himself thinking of it often before he reminded himself that it was preposterous and pushed it back out of his mind.

A sexless homosexual relationship.

When John received a message on his profile from a woman named Theresa, he thought, well, perhaps this was exactly what he needed. A test for Sherlock‘s theory. A date to prove that it was all ridiculous, that John wasn‘t in a relationship with Sherlock Holmes, that he just hadn‘t found the right person yet. At first glance, Theresa didn’t seem his type, but he thought, why not? What did he really have to lose? So they set a date to meet for dinner.

“Why would I mind?” Sherlock asked now.

“Because we -”

“John,” Sherlock sighed. He pressed the steepled tips of his fingers to his chin as he stared down toward his feet at the other end of the sofa.

John checked his watch.

“Yes?” he asked after a moment.

Sherlock looked back up at him. “If you require the company of women, then you should seek it out. It changes nothing.”

John shook his head. A date with another person changed everything. It was, John thought, a sort of rejection. One that he’d felt guilty about all week. He wasn’t sure if he was doing the right thing, but he needed to know. It wasn’t just - he wasn’t just looking for -

“This is a date, Sherlock,” John said. “It’s not merely about sex.”

“I know,” Sherlock agreed. “But if you need sex - if you need anything that I can’t - I don’t mind. That’s all.”

“You don’t mind if I date other people,” John clarified.

“You’ve been dating other people for the past year,” Sherlock noted.

“You don’t think it’s different now?” John asked.

“Do you?” Sherlock countered, too quick.

“I don’t know,” John said. “I don’t know.”

He checked his watch again. “I have to go.”

“Mm,” Sherlock grunted. He turned on the sofa, his back to John. John stared at the back of his head for a moment, and when Sherlock didn’t turn back, John left the flat.

**

It didn’t take long for John to realize that once again Sherlock Holmes was right. He was right about everything, and John wanted to hate him for it.

As soon as he sat down at the table, John could see how this would go. He would choose Sherlock over Theresa. He would choose Sherlock again and again, not even realizing that he was doing it. And then Theresa would dump him and it would be just as it was the last time.

“Sherlock is a very lucky man,” Jeannette had said.

“I don’t think there is room in your life right now,” had been the start of Sarah’s exit speech. “It’s too new. What you have with Sherlock and what you have with me. It’s all too new and you don’t - I think you should concentrate on the person who matters the most in this.”

She’d meant Sherlock. Of course, she had. And at the time it had been new. Life with Sherlock was new. It was infuriating and frustrating and exciting. John had felt alive for the first time in years. He’d needed that. Sarah had been right.

But now - now it had been a year and a half. Now it was no longer new and John still - he sat here now across from a beautiful woman and he knew in his heart that Sarah was right. Sarah and Jeannette and everyone else who had seen it when he hadn’t.

John was going to choose Sherlock. He was going to choose Sherlock every single time. He was going to walk home after his date and Sherlock would be there waiting for him. Sherlock wouldn’t ask how it went because Sherlock would already know. He’d be able to tell just by looking at John. Just as he’d been able to tell that John -

John looked at Theresa, at the blonde waves of her hair and the curve of her lips, the bright pink of her lipstick. He looked at her and he caught himself wondering what it would be like if Sherlock kissed him again. He knew what it would be like kissing Theresa. Theresa would feel soft against him. Her perfume would fill his nostrils. Sherlock wouldn’t be soft. Sherlock was hard and angular, but his kiss hadn‘t been that way at all. Kissing Sherlock, even for that brief second, it had been the exact opposite of what John might have imagined. It wasn’t sharp or hard. Sherlock Holmes believed that he was in a relationship with John and he had kissed John to show that he cared. And what had John done? He’d rationalized it. He’d pushed Sherlock away without even saying a word about it. He’d laughed it off, assumed that Sherlock’s feelings weren’t valid, that Sherlock couldn’t know.

Everyone had realized it but him. Everyone could see it. Everyone.

“Theresa,” John said then. “I’m sorry, but there’s something I have to tell you.”

**

He found himself in Harvey’s Pub, a pint of beer in hand. He drowned his confusion for half an hour, but eventually he couldn’t take it. He gave in and sent Sherlock a text message - Harvey’s Pub. Come quickly. Important. - and twenty minutes later Sherlock arrived and came to stand beside him.

“You’ve been spending too much time in this pub,” Sherlock noted.

John turned to look at Sherlock and Sherlock winced. John watched the movement of Sherlock’s eyes over him, the gathering of information.

Theresa had been wearing a ring. A ring with three stones judging by the width of the scrape upon John’s cheek. Theresa had a good right hook. John Watson would have a lovely bruise.

“I deserved it,” John sighed. “I daresay I deserved it.”

Sherlock was quiet beside him.

“John,” he sighed and then he fell silent again. John heard him step away, felt his presence retreat from John’s side as Sherlock wandered away from the bar.

The barmaid caught John’s eye and then nodded toward Sherlock.

John had expected Sherlock to wander away, then eventually come back, but Sherlock had chosen the booth in the corner and sat down. He hadn’t removed his coat.

“Right,” John said.

“More privacy back there,” the barmaid noted.

“Yes,” John agreed, absently.

“I’m glad, you know,” she said. “I thought - you’d quarreled the last time you were here and then - “ she gestured toward John’s face.

“What?” John asked. He reached up to touch his cheek. “No, this. It wasn’t - no.”

“That’s good to hear. You hope for the best for people, you know,” she said.

John squinted at her. “You’re very familiar.”

“It’s my job, isn’t it,” she said with a shrug.

“I suppose that it is, yeah,” John agreed.

The conversation, on any other night would have been encouraging. Any other night he would have meant it as a complement, an opening to flirt. Now though, now John had been punched by his date after telling her he might be more interested in dating his possibly gay but possibly asexual, definitely dysfunctional, sociopath male flat mate. Obviously he hadn’t included any of those details when he’d broken the news to Theresa, but it didn’t matter. Telling your date that you just realized you’d rather date a bloke didn’t go over so well no matter how many details were omitted.

“He’s funny,” she said and gestured to Sherlock.

Sherlock was staring straight ahead, his hands shoved into the pockets of the coat he hadn’t felt the need to remove.

“It’s nice,” she said. “You can tell how much you care for each other just by looking at you. Rare, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” John said again, then narrowed his eyes. “Really?”

Sherlock followed him to the pub, usually uninvited. They argued and they frowned and then they left to argue some more. Sure they’d had the rare comfortable visit to Harvey’s. Post-case bevvies and pub grub during which Sherlock was relaxed and pleasant and John cherished their easy companionship. But how often did that happen?

On the other hand, John had come here to work through things, to come to terms with the fact that he was perhaps ready to commit himself to Sherlock after all. He had the bruise forming on his face to prove it.

“How can you tell?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I just see it. You change when he shows up. You try not to but you do.”

“So if we were dating - you and I - and you saw me interacting with him - “

“Oh, I’d dump ya. Waste of my time,” she said, her face screwed up.

“Right,” John said. It was a good thing he’d never actually tried the flirting then. Well, he hadn’t tried it much.

“I better get - what’s your name?” he asked. He felt like he should know now. He felt like she’d served him enough drinks that he should know.

“Chris,” she said. “Christine, but I go by Chris.”

“John,” he said in return.

She nodded. “I know.”

“I better -” he gestured toward Sherlock.

She smiled and nodded and moved down the bar.

“You’ll be happy to know that the bartender at Harvey’s Pub no longer thinks we’re in an abusive relationship,” John said, sliding into the booth opposite Sherlock. He set his coat and his wallet across the end of the table.

“What did you say to her?” Sherlock asked.

“To the barmaid?” John asked, then realized Sherlock was talking about Theresa. “Oh, sorry. You can’t tell just by looking at me?”

“I can tell she didn’t like it,” Sherlock said. “It’s just as well. It never would have worked out between you anyway.”

“How do you know?” John sighed.

“The receipt from the restaurant is sticking out of your wallet,” Sherlock said. “Le Rivage. Pricey. Not the sort of place you would choose. She chose the restaurant. The hair on your coat, blonde, bleached. A smudge of lipstick smeared on your cheek, too much makeup.”

“Most women wear makeup on a date,” John said, his voice weary.

“Not that much, and not that shade,” Sherlock said, dismissive. “She expects a certain standard. She knew as soon as she saw the state of your jacket that you’d have a hard time meeting it. She was too much work for a man like you.”

You’re too much work for a man like me,” John countered.

“Yes, well the relationships would certainly have conflicted then, wouldn’t they?”

“So you read her profile,” John guessed. “You checked up on my date.”

“You left the page open,” Sherlock said.

“Sherlock -” John said, then he sighed and shook his head. No, they weren‘t doing this again. It didn‘t make John feel better and it wasn‘t actually true. Not anymore. “You aren’t ruining my relationships.”

“I know,” Sherlock said, surprised. It wasn‘t what Sherlock had expected John to say.

“I choose you,” John said. He knew he was stating things that Sherlock already knew. He knew that they were things that Sherlock had told him. But it was John’s turn now. He had to say them out loud in order to make them real. “I choose you over them every time and then I act surprised when they leave.”

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed.

John looked over toward Chris. She was preparing a line of drinks for a group of women who had just entered. They didn‘t look like they were just starting their evening. One of them was wearing a pink boa. Hen party, just returned from the theatre. The short woman on the end had purchased a program. Chris looked up, met John‘s eyes, nodded.

Sherlock followed John’s line of vision and when Chris saw him looking she smiled before going back to her work.

“When did you start to think that this - that we?”

“Not long,” Sherlock said. He looked down at the table and it told John all that he needed to know. The realization coincided with the Irene Adler case. Was it before she died, he wondered? Somewhere in the midst of it? Did she inform Sherlock of the fact the same way that she’d informed John? Probably. Perhaps it had even been that same moment.

“We’re not a couple.”

“Yes, you are,“ Irene Adler had said, and Sherlock had been standing right there.

But John had brushed it off. Just another in a long line of assumptions. John had brushed it off, but Sherlock had listened to everything that Irene Adler said. He hung on her words, listened to them. Why should this be any different?

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“You’ve been trying so hard to prove otherwise that I didn’t want to disappoint you.”

John stared at Sherlock for a long moment and then he started to laugh.

“You didn’t want to disappoint me,” John repeated. “By informing me that I was in a relationship with you. You thought that would disappoint me.”

Sherlock shrugged. “It has, hasn‘t it,” he said. “For a time.”

“Do you want to be in a relationship with me?” John asked.

“It’s a weakness,” Sherlock said. “A relationship is a weakness. To get to me, they merely have to target you. Strap a bomb to you, point a gun at your head.”

“So this isn’t a relationship,” John said.

Sherlock looked at him as though he was the stupidest man Sherlock had ever met. “The American pointed a gun at you in Adler’s sitting room. Not at me, not at her, he chose to threaten you. Moriarty strapped a bomb on you to get to me. You’re already my weakness. You have been for a long time.”

“It’s a relationship but you’d rather it wasn’t,” John concluded.

“No,” Sherlock said.

“No, it’s not a relationship, or no you wouldn’t rather it wasn’t?”

“John,” Sherlock said.

“All right,” John said with a shrug. “All right, we don’t have to talk about it.” They had to talk about it sometime. They wouldn’t be able to get around that. But if Sherlock wasn’t entirely ready to articulate what he felt, then well, John could understand that. John wasn’t sure he was entirely ready either.

John left the booth and returned to the bar for another drink. He thought about ordering a beer for Sherlock as well, but he could tell that Sherlock wasn’t in the mood and wouldn’t drink it. As he waited for Chris, one of the women from the hen party turned to him. She was smiling and he nodded in return.

“You make a handsome couple,” she informed him. He could smell the alcohol on her breath, but her expression was genuine.

John opened his mouth, the dismissal on the tip of his tongue, like a habit that was hard to break. And then he turned back to look at Sherlock. Sherlock looked back and John smiled.

“Thanks,” he said to the woman, and then left the bar and returned to the booth without his drink.

“Do you want to leave?” John asked, leaning on the edge of the table.

Sherlock looked up at him and immediately began to slide out of the booth.

“Please,” he said, and handed John his coat.

**

He’d thought about it the entire walk back to Baker Street. He’d contemplated it, and then decided it was inappropriate. He was too old to hide in doorways and on street corners. So he’d waited, the walk feeling twice as long as it had before.

“Wait,” John said once they were inside, but before Sherlock started up the stairs.

Sherlock turned to him, a question on the tip of his tongue. When John pressed him back against the wall, Sherlock went stiff for a moment. He most likely thought that John had noticed something amiss, that there was danger in the flat, an intruder. But John had other motives. Sometimes John had to conduct his own experiments.

Sherlock still seemed a bit stunned when John kissed him. It was exactly as it had been the first time. A simple uncomplicated kiss that felt neither simple nor uncomplicated.

Sherlock wasn’t good at this. Not really. He didn’t know what he was doing, hadn’t learned the rhythm of it during his youth.

None of that mattered to John. What mattered was that after a moment, Sherlock’s body lost its rigid posture. Sherlock kissed John back. His hands moved up to hold John close.

John wondered how many others Sherlock had kissed like this. He wondered how many people had been allowed to get this close. There was no way that John was the first. Not when Sherlock was so - well, irritating, yes. Offensive and abrasive. But he imagined a younger Sherlock. Brash and mean and totally unattainable. Girls, the ones who weren’t put off by his demeanor, would have found it irresistible.

John heard the sound of a door latch and then Mrs. Hudson’s surprised gasp. He quickly pulled away from Sherlock.

“Oh,” Mrs. Hudson said. “I heard the door but no one on the stairs and I worried that - “ She trailed off, her face flushed, her hands fidgeting nervously at the front of her skirt.

John cleared his throat.

“My fault, Mrs. Hudson,” John admitted. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Mrs. Hudson brushed off the apology. She was looking from John to Sherlock now, trying hard to suppress her smile. Behind him Sherlock started quickly up the stairs, taking them two at a time.

With Sherlock gone, Mrs. Hudson’s smile emerged. “Good for you boys, that’s what I think. It’s about time, isn’t it.”

“I don’t know,” John said. “I suppose that maybe it is.”

“I think so,” Mrs. Hudson said. She gestured toward the stairs. “You better follow him up, dear.”

**

Sherlock was pacing the sitting room when John came up the stairs. John stopped in the doorway and Sherlock turned, acknowledged John‘s arrival and then gestured toward John‘s computer.

“You know the problem with hands?” he asked.

John shugged from the doorway.

“There are so few trades these days that use them. Oh, you can still deduct a lot from a hand, but how often does someone die who was doing real work, manual work.”

“Now it’s all just carpal tunnel,” John guessed.

Sherlock looked up at him.

“Do you -” Sherlock said. He gestured to himself and then began to remove his jacket. “Should I -?”

“No,” John said. “No, not tonight.”

Sherlock relaxed a bit after that.

“I think it’s probably best to ease into it, don’t you?” John asked.

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed. “It’s probably best.”

A sexless homosexual relationship, John thought.

“You’re laughing,” Sherlock said.

“Yes,” John agreed. “It’s funny.”

“What?”

“I never thought I’d have so much in common with Harry.”

Things were different with Harry now. She was seeing someone new. She seemed happy. She seemed sober. But for a while with Clara, well, a sexless homosexual relationship, with the addition of one partner being a drunk, described her relationship pretty well from the limited information that John had gathered.

Not that - John wasn’t unhappy with this development. He wasn’t - it was just funny. That was all.

“Perhaps you can bond,” Sherlock suggested. “Mend your relationship with these new similarities.”

John looked up. Sherlock was smiling. A joke. Strained relationships with their siblings was something that Sherlock and John had always had in common.

“Probably not,” Sherlock guessed.

John laughed. “Probably not.”

They were quiet for a while after that. John went over their conversation in the pub. They were in a relationship. They were a couple, though reluctantly from the sound of things. A relationship complicated things. It was a weakness for Sherlock. And yet -

“Sherlock,” John said.

“Hm,” Sherlock asked and looked up.

“When Mrs. Hudson was threatened you threw a man out a window. Multiple times.”

“Yes,” Sherlock agreed.

“You aren’t in a relationship with Mrs. Hudson,” John said. “But she was still - “

“It’s different,” Sherlock cut in.

“How?”

“It feels -” Sherlock started to say, and then he stopped when he saw John’s face.

John looked down. He wondered if he should voice the question that had just occurred to him or if it was safer to let the moment pass.

“Are you in love with me?” John asked, before he‘d fully made up his mind on whether he should ask it at all.

Sherlock laughed. It could mean a number of things. He wasn’t. He was. He thought he might be, but he wasn’t sure. John thought it most likely that Sherlock wasn’t sure. That must be making him crazy. Uncertainty didn’t set well with Sherlock. They’d certainly learned that in Dartmoor, hadn’t they.

“It doesn’t matter,” John said.

“Of course, it matters.”

“I know,” John said. “I only meant that -”

“I know what you meant,” Sherlock cut in.

John nodded.

Sherlock didn’t ask if John was in love with him. The truth was, John’s answer was the same. Jesus, he really would do anything for Sherlock, wouldn’t he? Jeannette had been right. He’d shot a man, he’d been prepared to sacrifice himself by that pool, and now here they were, dating. Was that love? Probably. It had been some time for John, but the feeling in his gut told him that it probably was.

**

 

“I’ll be right next door if you need me,” John said.
“Why would I need you?” Sherlock asked.
“No reason,” John said. “No reason at all.”

**

They sat together in amiable silence until finally John yawned and Sherlock excused himself and retreated to his room. John sat up alone, thought about what it was that he’d just agreed to, what came next. It was the strangest relationship he’d ever been in. It was the only relationship he’d been in where he didn’t know about the relationship until months after it had apparently started. Sherlock had said again and again that nothing had to change, but it did, didn’t it? It did for John.

John’s laptop was sitting at the table and he crossed to it now, sat down at the desk. Perhaps it was time he wrote up the Baskerville case. Perhaps it was time to -

He stared for a long time at the computer. He wrote a few sentences, deleted them, wrote the same sentences again. He opened the dating site that he frequented and looked at Theresa’s picture. It never would have worked between them. Theresa could never be Sherlock Holmes, and that was what John had been looking for, wasn’t it? Someone who could bring John back to life, change him, infuriate him, someone who kept him guessing, who made him want things again.

John thought about how it had been, he thought about his limp and his therapist, of that empty room and the dullness that pervaded. He thought about how quickly it had all changed for him. And all of it was because of Sherlock. All of it.

Sherlock was wrong. If they were going to do this there were things that had to change. Sherlock might be fine with things the way that they were, but John wasn’t. John would need just a bit more.

He shut down his computer and turned off the lamps. Instead of going up to bed he passed through the kitchen until he found himself standing outside of Sherlock’s door. After a moment he knocked. He waited and then he knocked again.

“Come in,” Sherlock said, his voice low.

John pushed open the door.

Sherlock was in bed, his back to the door and he twisted to blink at John, waited.

“Do you mind if I stay?” John asked.

Sherlock frowned and for a moment John was afraid he was going to ask why. Why in the world would John want to stay? Why would it be important, the physical intimacy of sharing a bed with another person? John found that he was holding his breath, waiting for Sherlock’s response. It was a test, as much as the kiss had been. John needed this. If this was to work, if there was even a chance -

Sherlock shifted, moved over on the bed and then threw back the blankets. He didn’t say anything, just waited there. John let out the breath he’d been holding in a sigh. He kicked off his shoes and removed his trousers, threw them over Sherlock’s chair, then added his jumper to the pile. Finally in his shorts and t-shirt, he climbed into the bed beside Sherlock.

Sherlock eyed John for a moment, and then he threw the blankets back up to cover them both.

“Good night,” John offered.

“Good night, John,” Sherlock replied.

John rolled onto his side, his back to Sherlock and after a moment he felt Sherlock do the same. Sherlock was warm behind him, present, and John caught himself wondering if Sherlock had ever lied awake in this bed, thinking of John in the bedroom above him, wondering if it would ever come to this.

Probably not, John thought. Highly unlikely.

But still, here they were.

If John turned now and kissed Sherlock, he felt reasonably sure that Sherlock would let him. Sherlock might even kiss him back. John closed his eyes and imagined it, turning and kissing Sherlock’s shoulder blade, pressing his mouth to Sherlock’s shirt, the warmth of Sherlock’s skin radiating out from beneath the thin fabric, warming John’s lips. Sherlock would turn, twist back toward John, a question on his tongue, and John would kiss him, move in to cover Sherlock’s parted lips with his own.

John’s breath caught in his throat at the thought and he coughed to cover it up. Sherlock shifted slightly beside him.

John pressed his face into Sherlock’s pillow. He hadn’t expected this. He hadn’t expected that a person could hide from themselves so well, bury something so deep only to discover that perhaps it had been there, somewhere, all along. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes.

He thought of Irene Adler. I’d have you right here on this desk until you begged for mercy twice.

And look at us both.

“Are you all right?” Sherlock asked beside him and John jumped at the sudden intrusion.

“Yes,” John said, cleared his throat at the hoarseness of the word. “Yes, I’m fine.”

John took a deep breath. It was all fine.

**

He woke up alone, the sun shining in around the edges of the dark curtains. The door was shut and the flat was quiet beyond.

John turned toward Sherlock’s side of the bed. The sheets were rumpled, the blanket thrown back. John pressed his hand to Sherlock’s pillow. It wasn’t quite cool yet. Sherlock hadn’t been awake long.

John sat up, looked at his clothes on the chair, his shoes by the bedroom door. Sherlock’s dressing gown was missing from the hook.

He didn’t remember falling asleep, but he felt well rested, awake, and he stood and stretched before opening the door and stepping out into the hall. He found Sherlock in the sitting room, John’s computer open on his lap.

“Right,” John said. “That settles it.”

Sherlock looked up. His feet were bare and John caught himself watching the curl of his toes against the floor.

John shook his head. “We’re shopping today. It’s time to get you a new computer.”

Sherlock shut the laptop quickly and held it out for John to take.

“I didn’t mean you had to -” John started.

“I’m finished with it,” Sherlock said and extended his arm further.

John stared at the offering for a moment before he accepted it and took the computer from Sherlock’s hand. He felt Sherlock’s eyes on him as he crossed to the desk and set the computer down.

“Do you want coffee?” John asked.

“No,” Sherlock said, but John knew that if he made it, Sherlock would drink it with him. He always did.

John shuffled into the kitchen, could feel that Sherlock was still watching. Oh, Mycroft was going to have a field day with this, John thought. Lestrade would laugh and laugh. Even Anderson would gloat.

As the coffee brewed, John used the loo and washed his face, brushed his teeth and then searched the kitchen for two clean mugs. He added sugar to Sherlock’s and then carried the two cups back to the sitting room, held Sherlock’s out to him. Sherlock took it from him without a word. He waited until John was settled in the chair opposite before he spoke.

“You’ve deleted your profile,” Sherlock noted.

John looked up, met Sherlock’s eye, then found he had to look away.

So this was what they all saw then. This tension between them. John felt it now, wasn’t sure how he’d ever missed it before. He sipped his coffee, too hot, and then set it down on the table beside him.

"Yes," John said. He cleared his throat. “As it turns out, I’m not on the market after all.”