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The Hedgehog's Dilemma

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1.

It's Friday night, and the scents of cologne and soap wafting from the shower are unfamiliar and obviously expensive. No case so far to keep John at Sherlock's side. A date, then. Sherlock stalks from his bedroom into the sitting room and throws himself onto the sofa, dressing gown fluttering around him.

He's lost in thought when John walks in, dressed in a new shirt and freshly shaved. His face looks so soft. Sherlock finds himself wondering what it would feel like under his fingers, and quickly shoves the thought aside.

"Enjoy your date, John." Even Sherlock's somewhat taken aback by how bitter his voice sounds.

"Everything all right, Sherlock?"

"Fine. Go away." Sherlock rolls over, exposing his long, narrow back to John, who looks discomfited for a moment before shrugging and leaving the flat.

After sulking on the sofa for a more-than-reasonable twenty minutes, Sherlock gets up and paces in front of the coffee table for a moment before heading into the kitchen to follow up on a couple of experiments. He sits down, fidgets for a moment, gets up. Gets a glass of water, stares at it, takes a sip, and pours it down the drain. Sits down again. Gets up, peers in the fridge.

Come on, Sherlock. This isn't like you. He shakes his head and sends his curls flying, trying to clear his mind. Every time he closes his eyes, though, he sees John. John laughing, John smiling at some insipid woman, John trying to coerce her to take just one more bite of her pasta.

"No!" Sherlock exclaims, to nobody in particular, slamming his hands on the kitchen table. I'm the one he's supposed to be badgering to eat. This isn't right.

He's worked himself into a right tizzy, pacing the kitchen and rearranging his beakers ineffectually for so long he's entirely lost track of time. It's a bit of a shock, then, when he hears John's keys rattling in the door downstairs. Sherlock darts across the flat, throwing himself onto the sofa, his back to the world, the picture of disinterest. He does his best to pretend he doesn't care about John's date, but he can hear in the weary way John shuffles across the floor, the heavy way he sits down in his chair, the exhausted groan as he removes his shoes, that it did not go so well. Sherlock half-turns on the sofa, looking over his shoulder at his obviously drained and irritable flatmate.

"Good date then?"

John sighs, rubbing his face. "Thanks, Sherlock. Mockery from my best friend is exactly what I need right now." He's trying to sound sarcastic, but underneath it all, his comment sounds strangely genuine.

Sherlock sits up. "Want to..." he fusses with his dressing gown belt for a moment, unsure about how to continue. "Want to talk about it?"

John's jaw drops, as though of all the things he's expecting from Sherlock, sympathy and an understanding ear are nowhere near the top of the list.

"Not much to talk about, really. She was a lovely woman, very pretty, seemed intelligent enough."

Sherlock does his best to stifle a scowl - only one person is intelligent enough for John - but nods for John to continue.

"Things were going great until she brought up the military. Apparently," he cringes, slumping further into the plush comfort of his armchair. "anyone who willingly joins the Army is a 'clueless idiot with a death wish and no respect for indigenous cultures'."

In one fluid motion, Sherlock sweeps across the room, perching on the arm of John's chair. Awkwardly, he pats John's arm.

"She's an idiot. You know that, right? What you did, what your fellow soldiers did..."

John turns, craning his head to look up at Sherlock, and in doing so, shifts his arm so suddenly Sherlock's hand is entwined with his. A sharp jolt causes Sherlock to pull his hand back, as if burnt. They stare at each other for a moment before Sherlock continues. "What you did was incredibly brave and noble, John. If she can't see that, she doesn't deserve your time."

"Yeah, well, no worry about that, I won't be seeing her again. Anyway, Sherlock, thanks for listening, but I think I'm going to head to bed now."

John is up and heading to his room before he can hear Sherlock's quiet "Won't be seeing her again. Good." echoing through the empty sitting room.


2.

Several weeks and several small cases have rolled by, and Sherlock finds himself at loose ends on a Friday night again. He can hear John banging around in his bedroom, so he barges up the stairs and pushes the door open. He's greeted to the sight of John in his pants, doing up yet another new shirt. If Sherlock's eyes linger a moment too long on John's bare legs, on his torso covered in just a thin cotton vest, neither man chooses to say anything about it.

"Jesus, Sherlock, can't you knock when the door is closed?" John turns around so his back is to Sherlock, but all that accomplishes is giving Sherlock an unprecedented and surprisingly interesting view of his rear end.

"I... um... " Christ, why is Sherlock's tongue so thick and uncooperative? "I thought we could head out to Angelo's for dinner, I'm bored."

"Sorry, Sherlock, I've got a date. I'll bring you back something to eat if you'd like."

Sherlock merely grunts and turns on his heel, storming back down the stairs and leaving John to finish getting dressed in perplexed silence. About ten minutes later, John comes down the stairs smelling of yet another new cologne, and Sherlock sniffs irritably.

"That scent doesn't suit you. I much prefer the way you smell normally."

"Good thing you're not the one I'm trying to impress then. So did you want me to grab you some dinner on my way home? I'm meeting her for Thai."

With an indistinct grumble, Sherlock heads into the kitchen.

"Alright then, I'll just grab those noodles you like." And with that, John has vanished again, leaving Sherlock to sulk. He glares at his phone, willing it to ring with a new case or something. It sits on the coffee table in stubborn silence. Sherlock sifts irritably through the stack of newspapers that's collected on the kitchen table before getting strangely absorbed in a writeup on one of Kate Middleton's new designer outfits. Is this really what his life has come to? Moping over the Royal family's frocks in tabloids like an unfulfilled housewife?

He scowls and flips back to the actual, legitimate news, but there's not even a whiff of anything interesting, so he lets the paper fall to the floor and heads back to the sitting room. Picking up his violin, he plucks out a tune that suits his mood - discordant and irritating, and hacks away for a bit, until he hears the seventeen familiar heavy steps that indicate John's coming home.

John stands in the doorway, looking haggard. "I'm sorry, Sherlock, I forgot your noodles."

Comfort him, Sherlock. It clearly didn't go so well. "John, you look tired. Can I get you a drink?"

"God, no!" John snaps, before biting down on his lip. "I'm sorry, Sherlock. You had know way of knowing…" He sits down heavily in his armchair.

"Let's just say the date was a bust. Shades of Harry. She started out quite nice, but after her seventh G&T. Maybe eighth? I lost count… I was treated to a charming discourse about all her useless previous lovers, insults about my new shirt, and awkward pawing in places I'd rather not think about. When I suggested we switch to straight-up tonic water or ginger ale or something, she told me I wasn't her mum and stormed off."

"How about some tea then?"

"God, I must look distraught, if you're offering to make me tea."

Sherlock bristles for a moment, he's being too obvious. "No, I meant if you were making some, I'd have a cup."

"Ah, there's the Sherlock I know and lo—" John cuts himself off, but the word hangs heavily in the air between them. Sherlock's heart pounds out an erratic rhythm in his chest, but he manages to convince himself John meant it an entirely platonic way. The air between them is tense, charged, until John gets up and walks into the kitchen.

"May as well get on that tea then. Can I get you something to eat?"

Sighing, Sherlock drapes himself across the sofa.

"No, thank you."


3.

By this point, Sherlock's given up hope and doesn't even bother trying to puzzle it out - it's a Friday evening and they don't have a proper case, so clearly John's going out again. He's in the kitchen, comparing the ink in two separate tattooed skin samples, when John wanders in. Sherlock feels John's hand drag absently across the back of his chair, feels the raised trail of goosebumps in line with where John's fingers accidentally brush his shirt.

He lets out a soft sigh, but John's seemingly oblivious as he fusses with his jacket cuffs. He turns to Sherlock, who looks up from the eyepiece.

"Make sure you eat something, alright? You've been working solid for almost two days on those tattoos, you need a break."

"Yes, thank you, Mother." Sherlock realises he sounds like a petulant child, but finds he doesn't particularly care. He looks back down into the optics of the microscope before he has to watch John's back as he leaves the kitchen.

Sherlock stares at the two samples side by side long enough that they start looking virtually indistinguishable. He pulls away from the microscope, about to shout to John to ask if he has any input when he remembers that John, unreliable as he is, has gone out again.

He pulls his phone from his pocket and sends a text.

John, come home. I need your opinion. -SH

Not now, Sherlock. I'm on a date.

Dates are dull. Come home. -SH

No. Turning my phone off now. If there's an emergency, Mycroft can find me.

It's a testament to Sherlock's mood that for a moment, he actually debates calling Mycroft and asking him to track John down, but eventually he relents. He scowls and throws his phone across the kitchen, sighing irritably when it lands on the counter and doesn't even have the decency to shatter properly.

He heads into the sitting room and slinks down onto the floor, feet resting on the seat of John's chair. He's just getting ready to get lost inside his own head when John comes barging in the door.

"Ta, Sherlock. Really."

Sherlock merely lifts his head up off the floor, studying John from an entirely new and interesting angle.

"You're welcome. What did I do?"

"Ruined my date."

"How'd I manage that? You effectively shut me up by expediently turning your phone off, and you'll notice I had the decency not to track you down."

"Yes, well…" John rubs his hand over his eyes before grabbing Sherlock by the ankles, where his trousers have ridden up. The unexpected touch on his bare skin sends strange shocks straight up Sherlock's legs, ending somewhere between his groin and his stomach. John merely swings Sherlock's legs to the side, freeing the seat cushion, and lets them fall unceremoniously to the floor with a thud. Disgruntled, Sherlock gets up off the floor and peers at John, waiting for him to continue.

"It seems that once I mentioned you, explaining that my insane flatmate was texting me, I couldn't shut up about you. Her words, not mine. It's not my fault she asked about my job, and my hobbies, and my friends, and somehow you've managed to become the nexus of all three."

Somewhere in the back of Sherlock's head, there is a tiny voice telling him to be at least a little bit remorseful - even though he has no control over John's conversations; but really, all he cares about is the much louder voice pointing out that John talked about him all evening. He fixes his gaze on John's, one hand reaching out to surreptitiously adjust John's collar. Sherlock can feel the blood-warmth of John's flesh, the flutter of his pulse, as his knuckles graze across the thin skin of his throat.

Sherlock's voice drops to a throaty murmur. "That interesting, am I?"

John swallows, Sherlock feels the motion in his fingers and draws his hand away. John's tongue is running across his lower lip, a pause a fraction of a second too long before he responds.

"Overbearing, more like it. Why do you think I'm trying to diversify?"

"Why get emotionally entangled in two separate places, wouldn't it be more efficient to just deal with it once?"

"Yeah, cause efficiency is exactly what I strive for in my love life. Would you get out of my bloody personal space and let me go to bed?"

Defeated, Sherlock pulls away, watching John square his shoulders and march up the stairs, before retreating to his own bedroom.


4.

"I'm going out again tonight." Is it Sherlock's suddenly over-active imagination, or does John actually look resigned about this, rather than excited? He's wearing the same shirt he wore last time. It's been laundered, but not new. Just worn enough that the buttons would slip open easily, with a bit of assistance from some long, violinist's fingers. Sherlock shakes his head. Won't do to be thinking like that again. He just looks at John blankly and nods.

"Oh, and Sherlock?"

Sherlock steps forward, closing the gap between them. "Hm?"

"Don't bother me unless it's an emergency." John looks up, defiant, almost challenging.

Sherlock leans in, pinning John against the wall, hands on his shoulders. John meets his eyes, the look on his face a strange mixture of consternation and… anticipation? "Define emergency."

"Unless…" John's voice catches in his throat, his gaze drops to Sherlock's lips. "Unless you're dying." And with that, suddenly, he slides out from under Sherlock's arms and darts down the stairs.

John's been gone for an interminable hour and a half when Sherlock can't take it anymore. He pulls his mobile out of his pocket and stares at the screen for a moment.

Dying. Come home. - SH

Dying?

Of boredom. It's possible. -SH

No it's not. But this woman is driving me crazy, so thank you for giving me an out.

Sherlock debates ducking off for a quick shower and then realises how absurdly like a teenage girl he's acting. He opts instead to change into his red dressing gown, the one John seems to gravitate towards, and he's casually settled in his armchair, chin resting on his violin as John slouches into the flat. Seeing the violin, he cringes as if ready for an auditory onslaught, but Sherlock's got other things in mind.

He pauses for a moment before putting bow to strings, and welcomes John home with the cheerful strains of the Promenade from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. John smiles, a familiar combination of bemused and pleased that Sherlock's grown so fond of, and drops into his chair again.

"Thank you, Sherlock. That's lovely."

Sherlock manages to give a slight thrust of his chin without jostling the violin, as if to say go on. Tell me about it.

"It wasn't the worst date ever, I just don't think I got more than six words in edgewise. But damned if I can't tell you what she had for breakfast every day for the past two weeks, her hopes, dreams, and aspirations from the time she was a toddler, and every accomplishment - however minor - since she burst forth from her mother's womb. If I want to listen to someone sing their own praises for two hours, I'll just stay home with you."

Sherlock merely chuckles, working the slight shift of his shoulders into the music. He lets the song taper off quietly before putting the violin down and striding across the sitting room and closing the space between them. Suddenly he's looming over John's chair, one hand on each arm of the sofa and his face inches from John's.

"Why do you do it then?"

John exhales slowly. The warm air puffing across Sherlock's cheek smells faintly of John's dinner but more of John himself. "Do what?"

"Go on all these awful dates?"

"Well, that's one what does, isn't it?"

Sherlock leans in closer, his lips nearly touching John's ear. "What then, make yourself miserable for no good reason?"

John sighs and turns his head, breaking the tense contact between them. "I'm getting old, Sherlock. I don't want to be alone my whole life."

"But you're not alone. I'm here."

"That's not the same, and you know it." He sounds discouraged.

There's something fragile and tentative fluttering inside Sherlock's chest, and it feels as though if he stays here talking to John any longer it may shatter. Without another word he pulls away from the chair and barges into his bedroom, leaving John perplexed and frustrated.


5.

Sherlock has decided the easiest thing to do is just completely ignore John's dates, completely ignore the strange way this all makes him feel. He's done it for years, what makes John any more special than anyone else?

He's settled on the sofa, feet propped up on the arm closest to the window, when John comes downstairs. Despite telling himself he's going to stop caring, Sherlock can't help passing a cursory glance over John's appearance. His jeans are freshly laundered, but considering Sherlock had him crawling through skips yesterday, that's unsurprising. His shirt's far from new - nice enough, but slightly frayed at the cuffs and collar. Most unexpected, he hasn't shaved.

"Making an effort, are you?"

Huffing, John's shoulders slump in what looks like defeat. "Let's just say after the way things have been going, I don't have high hopes for tonight."

"Why are you bothering then?"

John's face is inscrutable as he runs his eyes over Sherlock, who finds himself feeling exposed and discomfited. He's not used to being on the receiving end of a gaze like this.

"I wish I knew, Sherlock. I wish I knew." He opens his mouth again to say something else, but changes his mind and turns abruptly, grabbing his keys and phone and heads down the stairs without another word.

Frustrated, Sherlock beats his head against the sofa cushion a few times. He toys with the idea of getting up and working, but knows he'll never get anything useful done in this state. Instead, he watches the play of light on the ceiling, the sky shifting from warm gold to blue-black, the bright yellow and red tracks of car headlamps reflecting in from the street. He loses track of time again, waiting, watching. Sherlock is so distracted, so transfixed by the play of bright and dark, that he doesn't see or hear John sneak in.

He doesn't turn any lights on, just walks across the sitting room so he's standing in shadow by Sherlock's feet, silhouette outlined by the window.

"Have you moved at all since I left?" Sherlock shakes his head, curls rumpling against the sofa cushion.

"What time is it?" He feels disoriented, disconnected from everything and everyone.

"A little after midnight." When John says this, his voice drops imperceptibly. Sherlock casts a roving eye over him, studying John in the dim half-light. His posture is relaxed, no tension around his eyes, but he's not smiling. His hands are loose at his sides, fingers of his left hand drumming lightly against his thigh - no discernible rhythm. There's no evidence that his date went particularly badly, but then, it's not even midnight and he's home already, so clearly it didn't go that well either. Sherlock's at a loss.

"What… What was wrong with your date?" It frustrates him to sound so clueless, to ask such a mundane question.

"That's exactly the problem, Sherlock. There was nothing wrong. She was funny, kind, engaging, pretty… I probably could have gone home with her. And yet, here I am."

Sherlock unfolds himself from the sofa and stands up, stepping into the pool of streetlight framing John. They're close, too close probably, but neither makes a move to pull away. Sherlock can feel his breathing, foreign and erratic, in his chest.

"Why, John? Why are you here?" Sherlock realises his hands are gravitating towards John's waist and he drops them abruptly.

"I'm… I…" John stammers. "Sherlock, c'mere. There's an eyelash on your cheek." Slowly, gently, as if he's afraid of startling a wild animal, John reaches up and strokes Sherlock's cheek with his index finger. He holds the finger up between them. "Make a wish…"

"Silly childhood superstition." Sherlock smiles, pursing his lips, as if to blow it away. Just kiss him, damn it. John closes his eyes, and his head is tilted up ever so slightly, as if encouraging Sherlock. Do it. Now. You'll never have a better opportunity.

The tense silence is broken by the shrill ring of Sherlock's mobile, and both men come back to their senses, jumping apart as if shocked.

"I should… um… the…" The phone keeps ringing, loud and insistent. Sherlock darts across the sitting room and grabs it off the kitchen table, attempting to compose himself before answering.

"Sherlock Holmes. Oh, hello, Lestrade. Sure, we'll be right there." He hangs up and looks over at John, whose face betrays a strange mix of relief and disappointment. "Come on, John. We're needed at a crime scene." Sherlock sighs as he slips into his coat, attempting to clear his head.


+ 1.

"No date tonight, John?"

"Thought we might stay in and order takeaway. Maybe watch another James Bond film?"

"The women of London mourn the loss of their most eligible bachelor."

"Oh, shut it, you prat. I'm just tired of this string of bad dates interspersed with ridiculous cases, I just want to relax with my best friend for once."

"Let me just text Lestrade, make sure he doesn't need me for anything."

Sherlock waits for John to head back up to his room before digging out his phone and sending a succinct text to Lestrade.

Busy tonight. Don't bother me. Or John. Or else. -SH

They're halfway through On Her Majesty's Secret Service when John lets out a thoroughly disheartened sigh and mutes the film, leaving George Lazenby and Diana Rigg and gesticulate in peace and quiet. He turns on the sofa so he's staring at Sherlock's profile.

"I think I should just give up on dating. I just feel like nobody can get close to me. I don't think I'll ever find anyone who can put up with our lives."

"Haven't you already?"

John swallows heavily, and Sherlock can't help stare at the wide expanse of his throat.

"I'm… Uh…" John stammers. "That's not what I meant, Sherlock, and you know it."

"Isn't it, John?" Hesitantly, Sherlock reaches out and runs one finger along the smooth line of his jaw, highlighted by the blue glow of the television screen. He shaved today, even though he had no plans to go out. It's softer than Sherlock expected, and yet still somehow rough. John's breathing is quick and shallow, and Sherlock finds himself mirroring the reaction. They stay that way for a few seconds before John pulls back.

"Sherlock. That's — what're you… ?"

Sherlock's gaze takes John in. Breath still rapid, gooseflesh on his arms, eyes wide. But his body language is open, trusting. He's apprehensive - no, not apprehensive - nervous, but not of Sherlock. The situation then? Before Sherlock has time to reassess, John's leaning forward again, bringing their faces even closer than they were before.

"Is this what you want, Sherlock? Have you thought this through?"

God, yes, John. It's all I've thought about. The words run through his head, but get all jumbled before they can get out. What is it about John that gets Sherlock so damned flummoxed? Without thinking, he leans forward and kisses John. It should be awkward, unpleasant even, but there's just a wealth of new sensations to catalogue. John tastes how he smells, warm and familiar, only stronger. There's a tiny snag of dry skin on the corner of John's mouth, and it's all Sherlock can do not to grab it between his teeth and pull. Sherlock parts his lips slightly, running his tongue along John's lower lip. He's seen John do it to himself so many times, surely the gesture should be comforting.

It's infuriating, not knowing what's running through John's mind right now, but within seconds he's moving his lips against Sherlock's, sliding his fingers through Sherlock's curls, and all is right with the world.

Somehow, the world shifts sideways, and Sherlock is on his back, John on top of him. There's a familiar rush of blood to his head, a less familiar rush of blood elsewhere. Sherlock can feel his prick stirring, under the thin barrier of his pyjama bottoms, exacerbated by the sudden weight of John on top of him. Can he feel it too? Does he mind? This is what's supposed to happen in a situation like this, isn't it?

Sherlock realises the panic is distracting him, his mind going a million miles a second in the wrong direction. John, kind, understanding John, who always knows what he needs, pulls back and props himself up on his elbows.

"All right, Sherlock? Too fast?"

John's eyes are wide, his cheeks flushed, and all Sherlock can think is how he wants to kiss him again.

"Maybe. It's…"

"Overwhelming?"

"Yeah, um… yeah, good."

John sits up, shifting slightly and giving Sherlock some desperately needed space. He reaches out, stroking Sherlock's knee gently, a gesture almost chaste in its delicacy.

"We don't have to do this, you know. Not unless you want to. We can take it easy. How about we put the movie back on for now?"

If John is frustrated, or upset with Sherlock, he's doing an impeccable job of masking it. Sherlock sits up, awkwardly trying to hide the slight swelling in his pyjama bottoms. John grins and grips Sherlock's knee tighter, rocking his leg comfortingly.

"It happens. Don't worry. I'm not going to take it as a sign that you want me to jump your bones right now. Relax."

"Bones? There's only one, and it's not really a…"

"Oh, for the love of Christ, Sherlock. It's an expression." John smiles, not unkindly, and lets go of Sherlock's knee. He un-mutes the movie, which is nearly over by this point, and makes a point of sitting up close enough for Sherlock to reach, but not so close that any sort of contact is going to be expected. After a moment's hesitation, Sherlock slumps over, his head falling onto John's shoulder. Despite their height differences and the awkward discomfort in his neck, it feels right.

As John's arm wraps around Sherlock's shoulders, Sherlock feels himself relaxing, feels his eyelids start to droop. He's not sure how long he's been asleep for when John gently nudges him awake.

"C'mon, Sherlock. Wake up, sleepyhead. Time to head to bed." John's face is soft and blurry, and Sherlock can't help it, he reaches up and strokes John's cheek. More awake now, what John's just said reverberates in his head. Bed. Now. Does John want Sherlock to go with him? Should Sherlock invite John to his room? Why is the protocol for this so alien and infuriating?

John, marvel that he is, seems to read the conflict fluttering across Sherlock's face. "You. Your bed. Me. My bed. Slow, remember? We're fine. We're good. We'll sort this out, all right?"

A sigh of relief escapes Sherlock's lips, even though he's not sure he doesn't want to drag John to his bed.

"Thank you, John. Goodnight."

And then Sherlock leans down, kissing the top of John's cheek, where the downy thickness of his eyelashes casts a soft shadow. Before he can change his mind and pin John to the wall, insist on touching him, being touched, right then and there, Sherlock ducks down the hall into his bedroom.

Lying on his bed, he runs his fingers across his lip, where he'd felt John just a few minutes ago. No wonder I've forsaken all this. He finds himself thinking. It's so bloody infuriating. Groaning in frustration, one hand absently running over his torso, seeking friction and contact it's never going to find, Sherlock turns his light out and rolls over.