Sherlock is staring sulkily into the mirror over the mantelpiece, straightening the collar of his shirt. He catches John's eye in the reflection and pouts even more emphatically, causing John to chuckle and roll his eyes.
"I still don't understand why we have to go to this awful Yard holiday party."
John smiles, the patient, indulging smile of a parent who's had to explain something to a petulant toddler four times already.
"Because you flat-out refused to have another party here, and I want to socialise and spend some time with my friends."
Sherlock spins, turning to face John properly. He looms in close, and even after all this time, it's a little overwhelming. John steps away and grabs his new Christmas jumper.
"They're not friends. They're co-workers. Barely."
John sighs loudly, muffled by the hideous garment he's currently pulling over his head. "Greg? Molly? Come on, Sherlock. I know you. You can't tell me you feel nothing towards any of them. I'm not expecting you to chit-chat with Anderson or waltz with Sally, but it won't kill you to be sociable for one night."
Sherlock simply stares at John, mouth comically agape.
"What? Is it my hair? Did the jumper muss it up?"
Unable to control himself, Sherlock succumbs to a fit of giggles. "John, I should hope you're not wearing... that." He gestures to the front of the jumper with one hand, and John frowns.
"I know you don't like my wardrobe, but this one was a gift from Mrs. Hudson. Figured I'd get some use out of it. What's wrong with it?"
Sherlock sucks in a few large gulps of air, composing himself. "Mrs. Hudson? I wonder if she was dropping hints, or if she's merely as oblivious as you are."
Without saying another word, Sherlock steps to the side so John's now facing himself in the mirror. Carefully and skilfully knit into the front of his navy blue jumper are three reindeer. At first, John had just thought they were frolicking. But now, upon closer inspection, it's quite obvious they're... John's mouth falls open.
"There are three reindeer fornicating on your chest, John." Sherlock is overcome with another cascade of deep, throaty laughter as John flushes crimson.
"Yes, thank you Sherlock, for that clever and insightful observation." Despite himself, John's laughing too, as he pulls the jumper back over his head and tosses it onto the sofa. "Just... don't tell Mrs. H. I'm sure she had no idea."
Sherlock raises one eyebrow wryly. "No, no, of course not."
John glares at him briefly before whirling around, looking for something else to wear. Realising they're running late, he grabs a suit jacket off one of the kitchen chairs and shrugs into it. He looks up just in time to catch Sherlock's eye, and damned if Sherlock doesn't nod appraisingly, reaching out to dust some invisible lint off John's lapel.
"That suits you much better, John. You do yourself no favours hiding under all that bulky wool."
There's an unwelcome fluttering sensation in John's stomach, but he pushes it aside, chalking it up to having skipped lunch. Who cares what Sherlock thinks of his wardrobe, anyway? Just as John's about to snap at Sherlock, there's an impatient buzz at the doorbell.
"Greg's here then. C'mon, Sherlock."
Sherlock strides across the sitting room and pulls the curtain aside, peering out the window. When he turns back, John gives him a questioning shrug.
"Just making sure he's in his own car, not one of the Met's."
John smiles and rolls his eyes fondly again, tossing Sherlock's scarf at him as he heads down the stairs.
Greg's already back in his car, waiting impatiently in the driver's seat. John slides in behind him, leaving the front passenger seat free for His Royal Crabbiness. It's only fair, John supposes, since Sherlock is all leg anyway. He needs more space. Not that he needs to justify the gesture to anyone. Moments later Sherlock barrels out the door, shouting something incoherent at Mrs. Hudson before jerking open the car door and folding himself in with unfair grace and poise.
Greg greets them both with a chuckle. "Alright then, everyone buckled in?"
Being in the back seat has its advantages. While Sherlock prattles on in the front and Greg focuses on driving and tuning Sherlock out, John finds himself staring out the window, trying to convince himself those flutters in his stomach earlier really didn't mean anything, and absolutely weren't because of the fondness on Sherlock's face or the strangely intimate stroke across John's chest.
The trip to New Scotland Yard is a short one, under ten minutes with Greg's skilled but slightly manic driving. There's not much traffic out, oddly.
Stepping out of the car, John stumbles on the kerb, and in an invisibly fluid motion, Sherlock is standing beside him, offering a hand. Caught off-guard, John accepts the gesture gratefully, and there it is again. A tingle, starting in his fingertips and ending up somewhere under his diaphragm. He looks into Sherlock's face, and for a moment neither of them moves. Greg lets out a discreet cough and the moment - such as it was - shatters. Sherlock huffs out a breath, nostrils flared, and pulls his hand back, leaving John to steady himself.
Dismissing it all with a shake of his head, John slams the car door shut and marches into the building, leaving Greg and Sherlock behind him. He's here to have fun tonight, not to let some misguided crush on his disinterested flatmate muck things up for him.
Sherlock sidles up to John in the hallway, unravelling his scarf. "I hope you're not intending to stay too long here, John. Or if you are, I should hope you're not expecting me to stick around."
John glances sidelong at Sherlock, smirking. "God forbid I inconvenience you for once, rather than the other way 'round, right?"
Sherlock pauses and turns to peer straight at John. "You inconvenience me all the time, John."
John's brow furrows. "How so?"
"By not being around when I need you. By going to work. By going on..." he pauses, as if the word itself is an affront. "Dates. It's a nuisance having to track you down when I want you."
"When you need me."
Sherlock rolls his eyes. "That's what I said, don't repeat things."
John knows that's not what Sherlock said, and he's sure Sherlock knows it too, but he doesn't say anything. He just shrugs and keeps walking, heading towards the large room at the end of the hall.
The door's open and the party's clearly already in full swing. Plenty of familiar faces - Sally and Anderson, DI Dimmock's over in one corner with a mousy woman John doesn't recognise. Molly Hooper's there too, in yet another shockingly form-fitting and exceptionally flattering dress. She grins and waves eagerly at the trio, but her gaze eventually focuses on Greg. John smirks and elbows him lightly in the ribs, chuckling as Greg makes a beeline for her.
Sherlock's made a beeline as well, setting up camp in one of the tables in a far corner of the room, back to the wall. He's studying people very intently, and John finds himself relieved that Sherlock's decided to be antisocial for the evening, rather than deducing and embarrassing the hell out of everyone at the party.
John feels a light tap on his shoulder and looks up to see Sally, a slightly sardonic but not entirely unfriendly grin on her face.
"You actually managed to get the Freak to come. Colour me impressed." She nods in Sherlock's direction and hands John a cup of egg nog. He takes a sip, finding it cloying and far boozier than expected.
"Dunno how long he's going to stick around, but I thought it'd be good for him to get out."
She nods. "He's never bothered coming before. You're good for him."
"We're not..." John's not sure whether he has the energy to bother denying it again. "I'm not..."
"No, no. You are. I honestly don't care if you're shagging or not, but you are good for him. He's calmer, somehow. Less of an arse."
John shakes his head, downing the rest of the egg nog. Whatever was in it packs a bit of a wallop; he already feels his cheeks warming a bit. "I can't imagine what he was like before, then." He glances over at Sherlock, who appears to be dissecting one of the leaves of the poinsettia plant in the middle of the table. Figures, he'd find something poisonous to analyse.
As if Sherlock can sense John staring, he looks up. For a moment their eyes lock, and whatever Sally's saying goes right over John's head.
"I'm sorry, Sally. I'm going to go see if he wants anything." John steps over to the table laden with tipples and snacks, and fills a small plate with a selection of things he hopes Sherlock might deign to eat, and grabs another cup of egg nog for himself.
Sally chuckles and shakes her head. "If you two aren't shagging, you're getting the short end of the stick. All of the hassles of marriage, none of the benefits. Go on then."
John rolls his eyes and crosses the room, sitting down at the table next to Sherlock.
"I brought you some food. But that poinsettia’s toxic, might want to wash up before you eat any of it."
As if to prove a point, Sherlock pokes his fingers into several of the sad little sandwiches, tainting them. Nobody's going to eat them now.
"Did you have fun chatting with Donovan, then? And what is that, your third drink?" He sounds surly and petulant.
"I did, actually. She's really not that bad, Sherlock. And this is only my second. What's it to you?"
Sherlock ignores the question and pulls another leaf off the pot plant, segmenting it precisely with a small knife he'd secreted away in some pocket or other. Frowning, John finds himself finishing off the second glass. The warmth in his cheeks is spreading down his neck, but his stomach feels cold and hollow. What's Sherlock's problem, anyway?
Feeling peevish, John rolls the empty plastic cup between his fingers. Sherlock returns to the poinsettia leaf, studiously ignoring him. They're saved from the awkward silence when Molly bounces to the table, Greg in tow and looking slightly overwhelmed. Without asking, she grabs a seat, Greg looming hesitantly behind her.
"Hullo John, Hullo Sherlock!"
Something in Molly's demeanour makes John sit up and take notice. She's usually so skittish around Sherlock, but tonight she's friendly and chatty and exuding confidence. His eyes cast over towards Greg, who makes a point of staring at the back wall.
Sherlock looks up, studying the two of them for a moment. "I suppose congratulations are in order? Lestrade, I hope you finally left that harridan of a wife."
Molly's cheeks blush a furious red, but neither of them say anything.
"It's obvious, really. You're giddier than usual, but also emboldened. Someone's done something to make you feel good about yourself. Now, Greg here..." He rolls the name around in his mouth, as if he's still unfamiliar with it after all this time. "He's wearing a new shirt, there's still a pin in the collar and the creases are far too sharp. He came to the party with John and me, and clearly he's not interested in impressing either of us. You two have been clinging together since we arrived. Not exactly a puzzle."
John cringes, expecting an outburst from poor Molly or an admonishment from Greg, but neither happens. Instead, a huge grin spreads across Molly's face.
"See? I told you he'd figure it out." She leans over, kissing Greg demurely on the cheek, and he grins, one of those goofy, nauseating grins people newly in love tend to sport. John glances over at Sherlock and feels as though he's been punched in the chest. Sherlock, unsurprisingly, is oblivious to everything besides confirmation that his deductions were correct.
Deciding it's safe to leave the three of them alone, John crosses the room again and picks up another cup of the volatile egg nog, downing it in one gulp before grabbing another cup. He knows he should slow down, but his stupid, stupid feelings are getting in the way of what should have been a pleasant evening. He's debating just suggesting they go home. Surely Sherlock wouldn't argue, seeing as how adamantly he didn't want to be here in the first place.
He glances over towards the table, where Greg and Molly are lost in their own little universe, orbiting around each other. Sherlock, however, has his eyes locked on John. There's something unrecognisable in his expression. He almost looks confused.
Sighing, John settles against the wall under a heavy bulkhead, relatively comforted by the shadow protection it affords. It's too late though - Sherlock's spotted him staring, and is stalking across the floor, gracefully evading anyone who tries to talk to him. He slips through the tangle of partygoers and misplaced chairs like a panther. John finds himself slightly mesmerised by the roll of Sherlock's hips, the flow of his long legs. He sucks in a shaky breath and shakes his head, trying to clear it, just as Sherlock sidles up to him.
"Are we done here?" John blinks, unsurprised that Sherlock seems to have been reading his thoughts again.
He nods up at Sherlock. "Yeah, I think so. Greg seems to be having fun with Molly, we can just grab a cab back, or walk, it's a nice night."
If Sherlock's expression looks disappointed, surely that's just John's imagination playing tricks on him. He's bored out of his gourd and didn't want to come, why on earth would he be upset about leaving now?
They're just about to head off when Sally's voice cuts through the noise of the crowd.
"Hey Freak," she calls out, but her tone of voice is warm and friendly, not acidic. "Look up."
Perplexed, John follows Sherlock's gaze up towards the ceiling. Suspended from the bulkhead with a piece of red ribbon is a sprig of fresh mistletoe. Plump white berries gleaming against dark green foliage. The look on Sherlock's face is thoughtful. He's got to know what Sally's expecting, John muses. There's no way he's that clueless about holiday traditions.
"WOO! KISS!" Molly voice is shrill with excitement and booze, and she bursts into a fit of giggles as Greg grabs her tightly.
Sherlock peers down at John. If there was any question about his knowledge of mistletoe-related customs, Molly's alleviated it.
"Go on, then!" Greg shouts, punctuated by a groan from Anderson and an impressively loud wolf-whistle from Sally.
There's blood thrumming in John's ears, loud enough to muffle all the hooting and catcalling. He bites his lower lip, staring into Sherlock's eyes. His pupils are wide, clearly visible in those celadon eyes. His are cheeks flushed too - has Sherlock been drinking? His tongue darts out, running along that plush, plump lower lip, a gesture mirroring John's.
For a moment, it feels as though neither of them is going to make a move. There's a proper crowd gathering around them now - all the people they work with and even a few they've never seen before. Suddenly emboldened by the alcohol pounding through his veins, John realises this may be his only chance. He takes a step forward, vaguely aware of an increase in pitch and volume of the crowd's noise. Before Sherlock has time to react, John grabs the lapels of his jacket and pulls him down, pressing his lips firmly against Sherlock's.
Everything narrows down to this one moment. Sherlock's lips are - impossibly - even softer and lusher than they look. John bites his own tongue to prevent himself from parting his lips and slipping his tongue into Sherlock's mouth.
He realises what he's done, and freezes after letting go of Sherlock's jacket. They stay like that, lips brushing together but no contact elsewhere, for a second, an hour, an eternity. And suddenly, Sherlock is kissing him back. Those lips, lips John's dreamed about more times than he's willing to admit, lips he's thought about while having a sad and furtive wank in the shower, are parting, inviting his tongue in. There's a warmth spreading across John's back that he realises is Sherlock's hand, broad and strong. Without thinking, he reaches up and fists one hand into the soft curling hairs at Sherlock's nape, pulling him in deeper. When he tugs gently on the hair, Sherlock lets out a gentle moan that makes John weak in the knees.
He slides his tongue against Sherlock's, tentatively, and finds him eager and receiving. John's other hand has found its way down to the small of Sherlock's back, fingertips just brushing the curve of his arse.
"OI. YOU TWO. DON'T MAKE ME GET THE CROWBAR."
Greg's shout brings them back down to earth, and John pulls back, dizzy. Dizzy with too much egg nog in his veins. Dizzy with not enough oxygen in his lungs. Dizzy with hungry, desperate need for Sherlock in every fibre of his body.
He coughs and steps back, studying Sherlock's face. His pale eyes are wide and pleading, his cheeks vivid and flushed. His lips are wet and swollen, parted slightly, and the knowledge that this is all because of him is almost too much for John to bear. He grips the edge of the table and giggles nervously.
"Honestly, you two. I'd almost think you'd never kissed before. That was some seriously pent-up tension there." Greg chuckles.
Sherlock blinks, snapping back into the moment. "We haven't. Hadn't. Uhm."
An awkward murmur and titters of nervous laughter ripple through the crowd, and everyone starts slinking away. John turns back to Sherlock.
"Hey, you alright?"
Sherlock nods, curls bobbing madly, and John's reptile brain pushes all sorts of unneeded but not unwelcome images to the forefront of his imagination. What other things could he do to Sherlock to get his hair to bounce like that?
"You. Me. We need to talk. Right now." He grabs Sherlock gently but forcefully by the wrist - not the hand, too intimate right now - and drags him out of the party room and into an empty office halfway down the hall.
Sherlock leans against the desk and John sinks into an uncomfortable vinyl chair, scrubbing his hands over his face.
"Shit, Sherlock. I am so sorry. I don't know what I was thinking." He stares at the carpet, unable to look Sherlock in the eye. "We can just... it never happened, okay. I've had too much of that bloody egg nog. I think it's time to go home."
"I kissed you back."
John cringes. "I'm sorry, I took advantage of you. I got caught up in it."
Sherlock laughs gently and pushes off from the desk. He closes the gap between them in two smooth steps and squats down, so he's looking up at John.
"I kissed you back. You know I hate repeating myself, John."
"You... kissed me back." Realisation dawns on John's face. Sherlock returned the kiss willingly. No, not willingly. Eagerly. "You. Me?" The words are stupid and clumsy in John's mouth, but if anyone can fill in the blanks, it's Sherlock.
He smiles, one long hand reaching up to cup John's cheek. "Yes. You. It's always been you, John."
The chair tips back as Sherlock straightens himself, looming over John. Sherlock drops his face forward and closes his eyes, his intention clear across his face. John stretches, pressing his lips carefully against Sherlock's. The kiss is awkward and fumbling at this angle, but it floods John with warmth from his belly to his extremities. It's not as frantic as the last kiss, not as lascivious, but there's a heat behind it, heaviness, a promise of things to come.
Sherlock pulls away and holds a hand out to John, the gesture nearly identical to helping him out of the car earlier. This time John takes it comfortably and easily, and Sherlock helps him out of his awkward perch in the chair.
"Is this why you were sulking earlier? Because you thought I was flirting with Sally?"
"And Molly. And Dimmock's boring-looking date."
"She was quite boring, honestly. Can't even remember her name." John wraps his hands firmly around Sherlock's waist. "You're jealous. That's adorable."
"Shut up. You can make it up to me by having one last dance before we go home."
Grinning, John brushes his lips gently across Sherlock's cheek. "Thought you'd never ask."
When they head back to the party, they're greeted with an oppressive silence. The crowd seems to be holding its collective breath, likely anticipating an outburst from Sherlock. Tentatively, John reaches out, fingers just brushing the palm of Sherlock's hand. Thankfully, Sherlock welcomes it, running his long, thin fingers between John's and squeezing gently.
A relieved sigh spreads through the partygoers and everyone spreads out again, going back to their collective mingling and munching. Everyone except Molly, who lets out an adorably excited squeal. She runs towards them and kisses John on the cheek. She turns to Sherlock and rises up on her toes. John squeezes his hand, the message clear. Play nice. Smirking, Sherlock winks at John and angles his head so Molly can reach his cheek, planting a lipsticky kiss right on his cheekbone.
She looks up at them, suddenly wise beyond her appearance, and quirks an eyebrow. "I suppose congratulations are in order?"
Sherlock lets out a bark of a laugh, clearly amused by having his own words turned around on him. He looks at John with uncharacteristic fondness in his eyes. "I suppose so. Thank you, Molly Hooper. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to dance with my date."
John starts. "Date?"
Sherlock shrugs. "I'm at an event with the man I am apparently currently involved with. What else would you call it?"
Leave it to Sherlock to simplify things, to uncomplicate everything. John lets go of Sherlock's hand and threads his arm through Sherlock's instead. "Date it is, then."
The music being piped through the speakers is tinny and insipid, modern pop remakes of classic holiday tunes. Not exactly the sort of thing John would have chosen for a first dance. Thankfully the tweeny pop group he doesn't recognise fades out and the more comforting and pleasant strains of Dave Brubeck's version of Walking in a Winter Wonderland starts playing. Taking it as a sign, John holds a hand out to Sherlock.
With a smirk and a wink, Sherlock takes the proffered hand and rests his other one on John's shoulder. He would lead, the arrogant sod. John smiles fondly and curls his other hand around Sherlock's waist. The dance is clumsy and awkward, due in no small part to John. Sherlock would probably have been equally graceful and elegant dancing with a hatrack as a partner. He doesn't seem to mind though.
As the song picks up, John feels Sherlock's soft lips and warm breath caressing the shell of his ear, and he shivers slightly.
"I do believe we were getting ready to head home?" Sherlock's voice is a deep, breathy whisper that reverberates straight down John's spine. He nods, not trusting his voice right now.
There's a tap on Sherlock's shoulder, and John finds himself face to face with Sally, grinning conspiratorially.
"Freak, can I cut in? Your date's pretty charming and I'd like to apologise for embarrassing him."
Clearly not the least bit put out by the insult, a slow, predatory smile creeps across Sherlock's face. "No, sorry. I don't feel like sharing."
The holiday mood must be infectious, because Sally just laughs and nods, holding up a cup of the lethal egg nog in mock-toast before stepping away. A few more shuffling rotations in place and the music fades away, leaving John and Sherlock to pull apart. John's not sure if Sherlock looks wistful, or if his imagination's just playing tricks with him.
"C'mon, let's get you home." John murmurs, quiet and close, any excuse to brush his lips against Sherlock's soft, warm skin.
Their goodbyes are quick and perfunctory, and they head out to hail a cab, leaving a contented Greg behind with Molly.
Sherlock's quietly pensive in the cab, and John is itching to lean in, to take his hand, to kiss him again, but he keeps to himself, unsure of how Sherlock's reacting to the sudden change in the status quo. Thankfully the ride is quick, and John pays the cabbie as Sherlock runs up the stairs. At least that hasn't changed.
When they get upstairs, Sherlock empties his pockets, pulling out various wilted bits of poinsettia and tossing them on the kitchen table. When John shoots a second glance onto the surface, he notices the sprig of mistletoe is there too.
"Are you going to cut that up too? Doing some experiment on the toxicity of various holiday decorations." He laughs a little too loudly, still warm and giddy from the alcohol and the evening's events.
Sherlock studies the mistletoe for a moment before reaching out to squeeze John's hand in a charmingly uncharacteristic gesture.
"No, no. I'm just... holding onto that one."
The fluttering's back in John's stomach, but this time he welcomes it. He smiles at Sherlock. "Sentiment?"
Sherlock picks up the mistletoe, rolling the stem between his fingers as he studies it. "Sentiment." he agrees, his voice low.
John makes a mental note to hang the silly branch back up in the doorway first thing tomorrow morning, but tonight he's got more important things to worry about. Grinning like a fool, he wraps his arms around Sherlock's waist and pulls him close.