John looks up from Mary's face, animated and glowing with the story she's telling, and into Anthea's unsmiling visage.
"Mr. Holmes requests your presence."
"No," John says. "No, I'm having a lovely dinner. I'm not at his beck and call."
"It's the younger Mr. Holmes," Anthea says, fingers tapping away at her Blackberry and words as precise as a Victorian novel. "They've taken him to," a pause as the barest frown creases her forehead, "St. Thomas' Hospital."
"Oh, God." John drops his fork, puts his napkin on the table with more care. "I've got to go," he says to Mary, whose face has darkened with the kind of resignation John is all too used to seeing on women's faces. "I'm sorry. I'll phone you."
How's the flatmate? Mary texts two days later.
John winces and sends, Sorry I didn't call. Been busy. He had his appendix out. They do it laparoscopically now. Enough stitches for him to be irritated, not enough for him to tear them out.
"It's not that different-" Mary stops in the middle of her sentence and frowns.
John turns to look behind him. A veritable squadron of police come into the restaurant and fan out from the doors. "Greg," he calls.
Greg separates himself from the rest and comes to their table. "John, Miss."
"Mary Morstan, Inspector Greg Lestrade," John says. "What's all this?"
"Non-lethal serial poisoning," Greg says. "Ours because one of them became lethal. Sherlock says next one will be here tonight. Trying to catch it before it happens."
John and Mary both put down their forks.
"You ought to be all right," Greg says. "He says it's in the desserts. Sugar hides the taste." Greg doesn't look as if he quite believes it, but his division is guiding diners away from their tables and securing the kitchen.
"Perhaps," Mary says, when they leave, both of their appetites gone, "you should ask your flatmate about the safety of restaurants before you take me there."
"If he knows where we are," John says, "he'll only show up himself."
John ignores his phone the first dozen times it buzzes. He's wandering the Tate Britain with Mary, and whatever Sherlock wants - because no one else would text him twelve times in twenty minutes - can wait.
Then it rings. Sherlock's been at his phone again, because John wouldn't have chosen such a loud ringtone for calls. He checks the screen, and it's Sherlock.
"Sorry," John says, "it's only that he never calls. I'll only be a minute."
"John," Sherlock says in obvious relief when John answers. "I've need of your assistance."
John steps away from Mary and hisses into his phone. "Sherlock, I'm on a date."
"And I'm locked in a freezer," Sherlock snaps.
Now that he knows that, John can hear his teeth chattering. "Where are you?"
"I texted the address. Do hurry. My coat is outside."
John hangs up and scrolls through the texts to find the one with the address. "I'm so sorry," he says to Mary. "Sherlock's gotten himself locked into a freezer, and I need to go get him out before he ends up with frostbite."
Mary sighs, but kisses his cheek. "At least we've already seen the Turner nominees."
Angelo's was probably not a good choice of place for the three of them to have dinner together. Angelo keeps eyeing Mary as if she's an interloper, and Sherlock spends more time looking at the street outside than at either of them.
"Your last boyfriend." Sherlock's eyes flicker over Mary. "Left you, did he? It's been at least a year, and you've not dated in the interim. Serial monogamist."
Mary's jaw clenches, and John watches her pry it apart to answer. "Died," she says. "Iraq. Two years." She stands and shrugs on her coat. "This has been a perfectly horrid evening."
"Not going after her?" Sherlock asks, no doubt watching her stalk down the street or get a cab or whatever she's doing to get away from him.
John stares at him. "Not much point. She's lasted longer than any of the others, but I think you've finally driven her away."
Sherlock gets a look on his face that means he knows he's supposed to feel guilty but doesn't.
It's another meal John doesn't finish; Angelo boxes the rest of it up for him, looking all too pleased with the outcome.
Sherlock has appalling manners, Mary texts him three days later. Leave him at home next time.
John texts back, There's going to be a next time?
If you like. Your taste in flatmates is suspect, but I quite like you.
"I'm so sorry about last time," John says.
"It's- It seems like it should get easier, people knowing about him, but it doesn't."
"And Sherlock only makes most things harder."
Mary relaxes a little. "I imagine he does. He must have good qualities."
"He's absolutely brilliant." Talking about Sherlock is something John can do with even more ease than apologizing for something that can be traced back to him. "He can look at an ordinary crime scene and tell you exactly how it was done." John grimaces. "Which means he gets bored easily and only takes on the interesting cases."
John bows to the inevitable and turns to look at Sherlock standing beside their table.
"Miss Morstan," Sherlock says, looking as uncomfortable as John has ever seen him, "I apologize for the distress I caused you on our last meeting."
Mary quirks a smile in John's direction - it's not quite a real apology - but matches Sherlock's seriousness when she says, "Thank you, Mr. Holmes. I accept your apology."
Sherlock flashes her an uncomfortable smile. "John, we have a case." The gleeful look on his face is much more genuine.
John looks to Mary, who shakes her head and laughs. "Go," she says. "We'll do this some other time."
John goes around the table to lean down and kiss her cheek. "Thank you."
Mary squeezes his hand. "Have fun."
"Text Sherlock you're going out with me, and then give me your phone."
John does as Mary says, and watches her put his phone with his into a small pouch that she drops into the large bag she's carrying.
Mary pulls him along outside to where a cab is waiting. The cab drops them at Moorgate, where Mary makes him put on a hat, dons one herself, and leads him onto the Tube.
"Where are we going?"
Mary holds John's hand and smiles. "On an adventure. Without Sherlock." The hats make much more sense.
They get off the Tube, put the hats in Mary's bag, and board a bus. John doesn't have Sherlock's encyclopedic knowledge of London, but he is reasonably certain they're going in circles.
They get off the bus in front of Regent's Park. Mary takes John's hand and leads him into the park until they find a vacant expanse of lawn. "Help me unfold this." Mary has a blanket in her bag, and after they spread it out over the grass, she brings out a bottle of wine and a pair of plastic wine glasses.
John takes in the set-up. "Do you have a book of verse too?"
"You hate poetry."
"I don't hate- All right, I don't like poetry."
"Of course you don't. That's why I brought Agatha Christie."
"Brilliant." John leans across the blanket to kiss her.
Mary kisses back before rearranging them so she has her head in his lap. They take turns reading for a bit, until John glances up between sentences and sees a familiar figure striding across the grass towards them. His groan makes Mary look up.
"I'm sorry about this," John says just before Sherlock reaches them.
"What have you done with your phone?"
Mary retrieves their phones and gives John his. He has dozens of texts and two missed calls.
"Faraday cage," Mary says. She gets out a third glass.
"Alcohol dulls my thinking processes."
"I know. That's why yours is grape juice." Mary pours juice into the third glass and unpacks the rest of her bag. She has a picnic lunch, with more food than she and John can eat alone.
"You planned this," Sherlock says before John can.
Mary hands him a plate without answering.
"You planned this?" John makes it a question to prod her into talking.
"He was going to show up no matter what we did." Mary turns her grin on Sherlock. "And I expect that was the most fun you've had in days."
Sherlock picks up the abandoned book instead.
"Don't ruin that for us." Mary takes it out of his hands. "If you can be pleasant until after lunch, I have the unpublished draft of Eleanor Kelly's latest paper for you to read while we enjoy the sunshine."
Sherlock glares at her suspiciously. "How did you get that?"
"I was at school with her wife." Mary tucks the book away and dishes out food.
"Brilliant." John leans across the plates and kisses her.
Sherlock looks mildly disgruntled, but he takes a plate and they have a pleasant lunch, Sherlock's choice of topic - blood spatter patterns and how best to simulate them - aside.