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            This, John thinks, was a poorly planned idea that could not possibly have gone further awry. He thinks this drunkenly, which means that he actually thinks something along the lines of:

            This was so stupid, why am I so stupid?

            …Which comes out of his mouth in an even less intelligible fashion. Mrs. Hudson pats him on the back and hands him a cuppa, which he politely pushes away. He does this drunkenly, which means that it sloshes around quite a lot and Mrs. Hudson’s lovely doily may never be the same. But then he looks to her apologetically, which, thankfully, is an expression which usually comes across quite well regardless of state of inebriation.

            It started, oh, probably about four hours ago. No, technically it was two days ago. For all that, it might as well have been two years. (It almost was.) But, John thought, the bulk of the problems began with two days ago in particular. Everything was fine before that, which was why, of course, it was so very stupid of him to think to try for something even better. There was no even better. There was just how they were, which was fine, but now it wasn’t, because they weren’t any more, because…

            Mrs. Hudson arches her eyebrow and John realizes that he’s been mumbling.

            “You need to slow down, dear,” she says. “Clear your head.”

            He tries this. His head is definitely too fuzzy and blurry to be cleared. He looks across the table at the whiskey he’d left there, which Mrs. Hudson seems to be not all that happy about letting him have more of. It isn’t even because it isn’t his; Mrs. Hudson has no idea it’s Sherlock’s. But it isn’t as if Sherlock is going to drink it. He’d solved the case about the…the…something about switching alcohol out of sealed bottles. Their client gave it to him as payment. But Sherlock doesn’t drink, and Sherlock doesn’t need this right now. John definitely does.

            But it is across the table, which is very far away, and John’s head is swimming just a little.

            “Love, you need to stop looking at that.” She rubs a hand up and down John’s arm, which effectively draws his attention away from the bottle. “Tell me what’s got you in this state.”

 

 

 

            They decided to go out on a date.

            A real, actual date. Not a two-people-who-like-each-other-go-out-and-do-things-together date, but an official date, called a date, set aside as a date. It had been scheduled as just about any other event was scheduled at 221B, albeit with a little more shock from Sherlock.

            John had made himself his morning tea, brought another mug out for Sherlock to ignore, and dropped into his chair with a copy of the day’s newspaper. The thought—of dating—had been creeping around his mind for the past few weeks and then some, planted there by everyone who ever assumed they were together to start with and then nurtured by his own continual reassurance to himself he wasn’t interested. It grew a bit stupid after a while, and it grew even stupider after every woman he dated left him within the first month they were together, generally because of Sherlock. It grew unbearably stupid when John found himself staring at Sherlock’s neck and taking his own pulse. The day before, John and Sherlock had spent all day riding the Tube around central London for some bloody experiment of Sherlock’s. It required that John make observations of passengers’ reactions while Sherlock maneuvered about with a blindfold on. As John realized that each time he had unconsciously chosen the busiest car just so that he had to guide Sherlock to the handrail with a hand gently at his back, he knew that his feigned disinterest was roughly the stupidest thing on Earth.

            Or so he’d thought at the time.

            So John sat in his chair, flipping through the pages of the paper without reading them, while Sherlock typed up his findings for his website and argued with Lestrade via text message about the validity of his experiment.

            John cleared his throat.

            Sherlock kept texting.

            “Sherlock,” John said.

            Sherlock switched to typing madly on his laptop. “What?”

            In the face of Sherlock’s clear disinterest, John faltered. Bailed. Chickened out. “Any interesting findings?”

            “The victim may not be completely incorrect in his interpretation of the events leading up to the attack.”

            John rolled his eyes. “Who would’ve thought?” He shifted in his seat. “So what are you typing, then? An entry about the case?”

            “No,” Sherlock said, “that’s your job.”

            “My job is actually—”

            “Not what I meant,” Sherlock brushed him off. “No, I’m not typing anything for The Science of Deduction. As you so effectively put it,” and his voice was bitter, “our clients don’t come from my site.”

             “Look,” John said, “I—”

            “You touched my arm fifty-seven times and my waist thirty-three. Once, you stood with one foot between mine.”

            “You don’t know that was me,” was all John could think to say.

            “Yes,” Sherlock said, “I do.”

            “Those cars were all packed.”

            “Indeed,” Sherlock agreed. “They were. Certainly on the higher end of the norm for that segment of the Northern to Edgware that time of day, don’t you think? Same for the entirety of our rides on District. Central. All of them. Busier than average.”

            John shrugged. “Guess it was.”

            “You put us on the busiest car every time, John.” John opened his mouth, and Sherlock pressed on. “Including on our way back to Baker Street, when I didn’t have the blindfold on. You were used to leading the way for us and I let you. Whether it was consciously or not, you did it without fail.” His mouth pressed into a thin and contemplative line. “My only question is: Why?”

            At which point John pulled a Sherlock, cut to the conclusion without explanation, and this time it left Sherlock in the dust. “We should go on a date,” he blurted.

            “Oh,” Sherlock said, slowly, softly, accounting for new data. “I see.”

            John rapped his fingers against his chair.

            “Yes, all right,” Sherlock said.

            “Just to give it a try. See if—you know. Maybe it would be—it might not be that bad.” John had sorely hoped so. This wasn’t—well, it wasn’t exactly Sherlock’s area, was it? And it was only barely more John’s, since he’d certainly never asked a man out for dinner. But—well. There were no two ways about it. He had a bloody crush on Sherlock Holmes, a—a—well. They worked so well together, maybe—maybe making it something more would be even better. He had to hope for it. He had to—he had to convince Sherlock that it was a good idea, maybe, probably. John nodded to himself resolutely. “Dinner, Friday. I’ll get you the details later tonight.” He had some calls to make. “Does that sound okay?”

            Sherlock shrugged, still, by all appearances, slightly taken aback. “Yes. I’ll have wrapped up this case by tomorrow, anyway.”

            “Okay,” John tried to resume his attention on the newspaper. “Good. Yeah.”

 

 

 

            Friday afternoon, Lestrade called.

            “Beautiful!” Sherlock exclaimed into his mobile, and he hung up. “Oh, this is brilliant, John!”

            John glanced at the clock. In about half an hour, he was going to start getting ready. This being a proper date, he’d made a proper reservation at a proper restaurant and planned to dress accordingly. Well, as accordingly as he could; Sherlock, at his most casual, would only be slightly outdressed by John in his nicest suit. Still, Sherlock would deduce things like that John only wore this on special occasions, that John had never gone out looking quite this sharp with any of his other dates, and he’d still appreciate it. “What is it?”

            “Quadruple homicide,” Sherlock breathed. John could almost see clouds of icy-air crystals billowing from his mouth, like he was a child running outside to find snow on Christmas. “The bakery and sweet shop practically on Scotland Yard’s doorstep, but no suspects. No one was there but the employees and they all keeled over within thirty seconds of one another. Not a mass suicide; none of the classic signs. Murder.” He took John by the shoulders. “Beautiful and meticulously calculated murder.”

            “Our reservations are for seven,” John said, glancing at his mobile. “It’s four.”

            “You get dressed and meet me at the crime scene, then,” Sherlock said, shoving his arms into his coat. “We’ll go straight to the restaurant afterward. You needn’t worry about your suit. Lestrade said…” Sherlock grinned. “He said it’s surprisingly clean. Oh, lovely. Gorgeous.”

 

 

 

            John discovered, roughly two hours and thirty-seven minutes later, that while the crime scene was eerily clean, the narrow alley in which they’d managed to corner the man that Sherlock was fairly certain was an accomplice to the murderer was most definitely not.

            “I’m just his dealer, mate!” the man was saying, waving his hands wildly in front of his chest. “I dunno nothin’ about whatever you’re talkin’ about!”

            “Well,” Sherlock said with narrowed eyes, “he committed the crime using a drug…” He stalked forward like a predator; John kept close behind him, hand brushing against the gun tucked into the back of his trousers.

            In a panic, the man lunged forward for Sherlock, grabbing him by his coat and swinging him around to the other wall and pinning him there. John drew his gun. “Let. Him. Go,” he nearly growled through gritted teeth.

            The man crawled behind Sherlock, grabbing his scarf to choke him and hold him in place. “I dun deal nothin’ that could kill,” the man said.

            “Right,” John said, swallowing past the bile that rose in his throat at the reddening of Sherlock’s face as the scarf dug into his neck. “Of course not. Cocaine’s never killed anyone, has it?” he scoffed, or scoffed as best he could past the rapid swelling and beating of his heart, harsher and quicker in tempo than could be the result of pure adrenaline.

            “You know what I mean.”

            John tilted his head downward. “I set my gun down,” he said, “and you let go of my partner.”

            “And you don’t pick it back up and shoot me.”

            “And I don’t pick it back up and shoot you. I let you run, and neither of us will chase you.”

            Sherlock shot him a dirty look. John shot him one back for being stupid enough to complain even while he was about to pass out from lack of oxygen.

            “Right,” the dealer said.

            John slowly lowered his gun to the ground and paced two steps back.

            The man released Sherlock, who collapsed against the wall behind him, heaving air in and out of his chest.

            And then he dove for the gun.

            “Fuck,” John growled, and leapt on top of the man, prying the gun from him and sliding it far enough off to the side that neither could reach it easily, toward Sherlock, and earning himself a punch to the face in the process. He wrapped his hands around the bloke’s neck and forced him over onto his back—but that was when the man pulled a knife on John. He wove his arms inside John’s, placing the knife at his throat.

            The next thing John knew, he was sputtering blood and his ears were ringing. The man beneath him was missing a rather gruesome chunk of his arm.

            “Jesus Christ, Sherlock!” John leapt up, and took the gun away, switching the safety on.

            “I had to.”

            “Well,” John said, swallowing down what he hoped was only his own relief, rather than any more of the man’s blood. He wiped whatever remained from his cheek before thinking, and swore to himself as he inspected his sleeve while Sherlock phoned Lestrade.

            “You see,” Sherlock said, tucking his mobile away when the police arrived, “We’ll make our reservation on time. Well, nearly.”

            Lestrade walked onto the scene and gave Sherlock a firm glare. “Don’t you leave yet. We need a statement. How did he receive that injury?” He markedly did not notice the way John itched at his back.

            “I’m not sure,” Sherlock said. “I was mostly unconscious due to being strangled.”

            Lestrade looked to John.

            “Dunno,” John said. “He had a knife to my throat and next thing I knew his blood was all over my face.”

            “And your jacket,” Lestrade added. John grimaced as he noted the extent of the damage. “Hot date after this, or something?”

            “You could say that,” John flushed.

            “Speaking of which,” Sherlock said, breezing past them and readjusting his scarf, “we need to be going.”

            Lestrade raised an eyebrow at John. “‘Speaking of which’?”

            John stepped past him, heaving a sigh. “Don’t say a word.”

            “Good luck,” Lestrade said, clapping John on the shoulder. “If anyone can do it, you can.”

            “Thanks,” he mumbled.

 

 

 

            That, of course, was how John Watson came to enter a restaurant the likes of which would cost him an entire week’s groceries and then some, wearing a slightly torn, slightly muddy, rather scuffed, non-negligibly bloodied suit alongside his recently strangled possibly-soon-to-be boyfriend. Yes, he looked a mess. Both of them did; though, admittedly, John more than Sherlock (blood showed up rather starkly on powder blue). But he was John Bloody (actually really quite bloody) Watson and he was not going to give up on his reservation or his date because of such a small setback as a black eye and a ruined suit. And anyway, he thought, brushing himself off as much as he could, even if he looked slightly less sharp than he was hoping, he still had all the charm that had served him so well on dates past. He also had a bit of a secret up his sleeve—tickets to some sort of solo violinist performance later in the evening that he hadn’t told Sherlock about. By John’s estimate, either Sherlock would love it, or John would let him whisper cutting insults to the performer’s technique in his ear, and not even give him a single dirty look for it. He’d throw an arm around Sherlock’s shoulders to draw him closer, to feel his warmth and also reduce the likelihood of anyone else in the audience hearing Sherlock’s insults. It would be fantastic.

            “Watson, two, for seven o’clock,” he told the waiter, who narrowed his eyes at the two of them.

            “It’s nearly half past,” he said. “We gave your table to someone more punctual. And...cleaner.”

            John swore inwardly (being very careful not to even so much as mouth his words as he thought them). So much for suave and prepared.

            “Ah,” Sherlock said, “well, then at least tell Weston that Sherlock Holmes sends his regards. Place looks much nicer than last time.” John elbowed him, and then tried very hard not to elbow him again as he watched the waiter lose his composure.

            “Apologies!” the waiter said. “I will! Yes! Follow me, please!”

            John’s eyebrow rose.

            “The restaurant one street over started releasing rats in their kitchen,” Sherlock explained, smirking. The smug bastard, John thought, and crossed his arms. Well, that took the wind out of his sails. Still, at least they were here. The place itself was marvelous—maybe a little overly marvelous, if it were possible for a building to be full of itself. John let himself relax as he imagined the similarities between the restaurant and Sherlock. Way too posh, he mentally ticked off, fully aware of its superiority to other restaurants, he ticked as well. He looked around and his expression softened. Full of art that nobody properly appreciates. By the time they reached their table (or somebody else’s table, probably), John had recovered a bit, and set to repelling the stares and the markedly-not-looking of the restaurant’s other patrons. He grinned at Sherlock. He was ready to turn on the charm.

 

 

 

            “Well,” Sherlock said, as they slid into their seats. He tried not to smirk at the sight of John, so at odds with the rest of the restaurant. “A curious choice.”

            John raised his eyebrows.

            “Seems out of your price range.”

            “I can afford this,” John hissed.

            “Nothing at all like where you take your other dates.” An obvious deduction, but worth noting.

            “No,” John said, “no, it’s not. It’s nicer.”

            “Besides the veal sirloin,” Sherlock pointed out, “which they spice atrociously. Also, the vichyssoise is questionable at best.” John should avoid those, of course. Sherlock pretended to look over the menu to avoid the glare John sent him. So this was a “date.” Sherlock had rather been hoping they’d skip the restaurant, do something fun instead. Wasn’t that what dates were supposed to be? Fun? But perhaps John knew best.

            John had dressed about as well as he could have for the day. Sherlock made a mental note to replace his suit with a nicer one; it was his fault it was ruined, anyway, and John would look so much nicer in a darker blue.

            It was curious, though. He didn’t dress this way for his other dates; he didn’t take his other dates to places like this. If he were trying to go on a “proper” date with Sherlock, wouldn’t he have done roughly the same thing as before? Why wear his best suit, particularly when he knew he’d be helping Sherlock solve a crime, when any of his others would have been perfectly acceptable for this outing?

            Then there was the way he smiled at Sherlock: that Sherlock recognized as being a practice from other dates. It was a magnanimous grin, tinged with just a bit of shyness, meant to lure the viewer in. It made Sherlock shiver. He liked John’s regular smile much more. He also liked their regular Chinese takeout for after cases. He was not overly fond of John’s jumpers, but he would have taken a reasonable amount of joy in seeing one splattered with blood, the perfect example of the paradox of John, warm and good and deadly and dire.

            When John had suggested the date, he had been…caught by surprise, to an extent. After all, John staunchly defended his heterosexuality at regular intervals, whether there was any heterosexuality to defend or not. Maybe the train experiment had been too much. True, it was useful. It served as a solid backup for the victim’s claim. But perhaps he should have told John, eventually, that he could still see through the blindfold. Perhaps it was a bit heavy-handed for Sherlock to give John such an opportunity to guide him, to stand near him, to touch him, and for Sherlock to then, the next day, quote the figures back at John.

            But they were so relevant, so meaningful. He had to. He had to show John. Maybe then John would admit it. Maybe then John would touch him some more, hold his hand, press his fingers against the small of Sherlock’s back to give him direction.

            John asking him out on a date was one of the possible favorable outcomes. Sherlock accepted. He’d been hoping for something more like—well, more like what they already did. But if this was how a date went, then Sherlock would make the best of it.

            He could impress John, at least. John always particularly enjoyed his deductions, their twists and turns and fine details that no eye but Sherlock’s bothered to observe.

            “Do you see that woman over there?” Sherlock leaned forward over his menu, glancing to his right. John’s eyes followed his as he leaned in. “She thinks she’s here to meet her fiancé, but he’s not coming. He’s sent his friend to tell her that he’s breaking it off with her.”

            John smiled and shook his head. “Sherlock,” he said, in a warning way, but also in a warming way. Sherlock thought it was warming, anyway. It warmed him.

            “That fellow who just walked in through the door is the fiancé’s friend. See, here he comes.” They watched as the nervous man approached the table, waved uneasily to the woman there and came close to exchange words with her. She stood abruptly, swooping away from the table and carelessly bumping into the friend as she left. John looked back to Sherlock and grinned at him, and Sherlock resisted the urge to run a finger over the darkening skin around John’s eye and cheek, where the drug dealer had punched him. He waited, but no brilliant or amazing or how did you know? came. Instead, John leaned farther forward, and so Sherlock leaned back, to give him space to look at his menu. He would just have to make a more impressive deduction, then.

 

 

 

            John was fairly certain Sherlock had given up on the idea of eating anything, or at least on looking at his menu. Well, if he knew everything here that was bad already, he probably knew what was good, too. John huffed and looked one more time, calculating how many bullets he could buy with the sort of coin he was about to spend on dinner. Sherlock, meanwhile, seemed hell-bent on being insufferable and clueless, making deductions about everyone in their immediate and then general vicinity with increasing urgency, as if he were trying to prove something to John about the sort of clientele of this restaurant.

            When they finally ordered, Sherlock actually did choose something, which surprised John beyond belief.

            “John,” Sherlock said, after taking a bite of his meal, “let me taste yours. Something is off with mine.” John sighed and pushed his steak forward and let Sherlock sample it. If it was enough to shut him up from the incessant—well, what essentially amounted to gossip, then that would be fine. He tried leaning in again, to brush his hand against Sherlock’s as he took his plate back, and once more, Sherlock leaned back, nearly jumped away. Really, John, he thought to himself, it’s as if you’ve never seduced anyone before. His thought echoed.

            Oh, wait. It didn’t echo.

            Sherlock had just said the exact same thing.

            “Excuse me?”

            “I said,” Sherlock started, “that—”

            “I bloody heard what you said!” John snapped.

            “For instance, just there you could’ve—”

            Yes, yes, yes, he knew what he could’ve done, thanks. He could’ve cut a bite off and held it up to Sherlock on his fork. But he didn’t. “Yes!” he said, “I get it! All right? I get it.”

            “I was also wondering,” Sherlock said, “if you’ve been following any of my deductions at all. You seemed…”

            Yes, okay, so maybe a couple of them had been a bit over John’s head and he hadn’t bothered to ask Sherlock to clarify some of the in-between steps of his reasoning (such as, for instance, why it ought to be so bleeding obvious to him why “wearing red tie but ordering salad” meant “uncertain about his career and came here hoping a prospective employer, who dined here regularly, would also be here”). “Stop it, Sherlock,” he said, and before he could think of what he was doing, stood up, and let the chair wobble behind him. “Just…give me a minute. I need to—use the loo.” He needed a minute. He needed a minute to find out why this was going so bloody awfully.

 

 

 

            Sherlock ran a hand through his hair once John was gone.

            That had been…counterproductive.

            He and John worked so well together at crime scenes. They squabbled at the flat, but not like this. Why was John acting so differently? It was as if dating (dating, “dating”) compelled him to act in ways that weren’t the way that John was. Normally if Sherlock did something stupid, John would tell him off, they’d have a laugh about it, and go on about their day. But here he was, rattling off deductions that neither pleased John nor aggravated him, despite that they grew increasingly loud, enough that at least the adjacent tables could hear. Sherlock would’ve gladly been told off for it, but John was making such confusing attempts at being—nice? Was that it? It was odd. Curious. Confusing. This wasn’t John. This wasn’t the person he wanted to touch his back and hold his hand. John would’ve taken him for Thai. Wouldn’t he have?

            There was also the more pressing matter of the odd taste of the food. When it had just been his, Sherlock had put it down to some accidental spill of spices, but John’s had the same peculiar flavor.

            With John gone to collect himself—or, Sherlock thought, hopefully become himself—Sherlock set off to the kitchen to investigate.

 

 

 

            When John got back to the table, Sherlock was gone.

            “Fuck,” John groaned, loudly enough that the woman at the table beside him shot him a look. Whatever, he thought at her, that can’t possibly have been more offensive than any of the deductions you overheard Sherlock making. Sherlock had started getting louder and louder, and John tried to keep his mouth shut, because dates were not about arguing, they were about having a pleasant time, thank-you, and also ideally not making a spectacle of oneself.

            His coat was still there, though. But he hadn’t been at the toilets. John rubbed at his eyes. Maybe he’d gotten nervous and broken in and gone out for a smoke. John had tried to remove any last traces of cigarettes, or anything that could be use to make them, but it was possible Sherlock had a stash somewhere that John hadn’t yet found. Anyway, it was unlikely Sherlock was nervous; he’d been nothing but his usual self all evening, maybe just particularly keen on making an arse of him and John. Maybe it was the adrenaline. Either way, John thought, there weren’t many other places he’d have gone and left his coat, unless of course he was making rounds around the restaurant to deduce the last few people who’d so far remained unscathed. John scanned the area. No, no sign of Sherlock. He made his way toward the door, tentatively, so that the staff would hopefully pick up on that he had no intent of leaving without paying, and stepped out.

           

 

 

            Oh. This one was good. John would definitely enjoy this one.

            “Well,” Sherlock began, as he rounded the corner of partially enclosed booths that preceded their table, “I found out why the food tastes off, John: mold infestation in the kitchen!”

            The woman at the table beside them gasped, along with a few others.

            “What?” one man shouted. “Mold in the kitchen?”

            “Where they’re cooking our food?”

            “Oh my god!”

            People were standing, chairs were clearing, customers were demanding to speak to the head chef. Sherlock stopped. John wasn’t back yet.

            “There is no mold infestation!” one man—presumably the head chef—burst out, shouting, a minute later, after the customers had all but swarmed in the direction of the kitchen. The heads of the customers swiveled toward Sherlock.

            “There is,” Sherlock asserted. “Or did you not notice by the particularly unique color of your Stilton?”

            “That is how it is supposed to look!”

            “No,” Sherlock said, “the coloration of the rind was completely off, and you only get that type of effect from one type of—” By now the crowd was chattering again.

            “You do not know what you are talking about!” the chef hissed.

            Sherlock smirked smugly. “I do, in fact. I’ve got a perfect example of the stuff on a slide back at my flat, if you’d like proof. I noticed it based on the slightly musty flavor of the two dishes I sampled, which could have come from a number of factors, except that there ought to be so little overlap between the spicing used on steak and on a tempura-based dish that they ought not to have such a markedly similar flavor. What, I thought, then, could have contributed this flavor to these two rather different dishes? I—”

            “Mine tasted musty, too!” one customer shouted.

            “This is ridiculous!” shouted another. “I’m not paying for this!”

            The chef looked over their heads at Sherlock, and tried to shout something at him, but the clatter was already too loud. “Prove it!” Sherlock finally heard.

            “Fine!” he snapped, and marched back into the kitchen.

 

 

 

            When John got back inside, having checked around the block just to be sure that Sherlock hadn’t slunk off to smoke where he wouldn’t be seen, the place had cleared out. There was no sign of anyone—including Sherlock—although his coat was still there. John sighed. Apparently there had been a ruckus while he was gone, and John had no doubts as to who had caused it. But, with no better lead as to Sherlock’s whereabouts (Probably, John thought, he got called in for some other case and hasn’t bothered to tell me, or maybe he got shooed off after doing whatever cleared these people out), he left a couple of fifty-pound notes on the table and started back toward the flat, hands stuffed in his pockets.

            He and Sherlock ought to have worked at least pretty well together. Everything went so much more smoothly, when they worked side-by-side. What was it about sitting across from one another that changed? It was just a perfectly normal date. It should have gone exactly as smoothly. Then again, perfectly normal tended to disagree with Sherlock. But John had done his best to be considerate, to be a good date. He made the reservations, he dressed as best he could. He held off on all the snapping remarks he wanted to make at Sherlock’s cruel deductions.

            Usually he at least made it back to his date’s door with her still beside him.

            What was it? Was he supposed to have held the door? No, no, he’d done that too.

            He made his way up the stairs.

            Fuck.

            From the way things had gone, there was no way Sherlock would want to try it again. He’d say something like, “That was pointless. Now hand me those calipers,” and get back to work. He’d realize what John was up to anytime John brushed up against him on a busy train car in the Underground. And that was it. He’d just have to suck it up, to deal with it. Things weren’t so bad before, if they could go back to that.

            He fetched the whiskey from the shelf where Sherlock had stowed it away several weeks ago and poured himself a glass. He could suck it up tomorrow. Tomorrow was a new day. John swallowed a gulp. Tonight was awful. He heard Mrs. Hudson humming to herself downstairs, and downed the rest of his glass before carrying it and the bottle with him. What he needed right now was some pleasant company, to comfort him or to at least prevent him from doing something completely moronic. Anyway, he didn’t especially care to be around when Sherlock showed up.

            “Good evening, dearie,” she greeted him after he knocked at the door. “Oh no, what’s that?”

            “Alcohol,” John said, already feeling its effects.

            When he stepped into her flat and she finally got a good look at him, Mrs. Hudson gasped. “What’s happened to you?”

            “’S a long story,” John said. “Bad…er…bad date. With Sherlock.”

            “Oh,” Mrs. Hudson said, in a tone that John was fairly certain was supposed to express sympathy but came out as more intrigued.

            He was stupid, stupid for ever thinking it would work. Having a good working relationship meant shit-all as a comparison for anything of a less platonic nature. Sarah was a good enough example of that. John had just thought…well. He and Sherlock worked well together, but they also did everything else well together. They were two people who were definitely not meant to have flatmates who had, somehow, found the sort of equally fucked-up other half who knew exactly how to live with them. John had thought, maybe, that this was a little different than his fling with Sarah, that somehow he and Sherlock would just work because there was something more at work there.

            But sitting across from someone was different to sitting beside him, John thought, taking another deep drink. He had to look Sherlock in the eye and think, This is how he acts for me, once everyone else is removed from the equation, and there Sherlock was, still rattling off half-intelligible deductions, keeping his distance from John, questioning his finances, critiquing his seduction. John had cleaned up, made reservations, held doors, tried to be nice. Sherlock didn’t change at all. Sherlock was still Sherlock, too brilliant for the rest of the world.

 

 

 

            “This was stupid,” he mumbles, after telling Mrs. Hudson what had happened, “Why’m I so stupid?”

            “Dr. Watson. John.” Mrs. Hudson tuts. “You’re already stupid; why would you drink yourself into an even dumber state?”

            John gapes.

            “Your word, dearie, not mine.” She lays a hand on his. “Of course Sherlock’s too brilliant for all of us. I haven’t the faintest idea how his brain works; have you?”

            John shakes his head. It makes him dizzy.

            “But I think I’ve got a bit of an idea of what happened.” They glance over their shoulders at the click of the door opening and the sound of Sherlock running up the stairs to 221B.

            John slouches.

            “I think,” Mrs. Hudson pushes on, and adds, “—now I can say this, dear, because I’ve known Sherlock for a while longer than you, and I’ve had much more experience with boys just as foolish as either of you—that you’re both stupid.” John opens his mouth. “I mean it in the nicest way I can.”

            “Right,” says John.

            “You didn’t ask each other a single thing about what you thought a date was, did you?”

            “Well, no,” John said. “But I know what a date is. And Sherlock knows what I’ve done on dates before.” He laughs bitterly. “He stalked me on enough of ‘em.”

            “You know how he is,” she said. “You should’ve taken him to see a nice cadaver or something.”

            “He wouldn’t think of that as a date,” John argues. “Like I said, he knows what dates are.” He slouches further. “He even knew that I took him to a different restaurant than I took any of my other dates to. He’d know I wasn’t taking him on a proper date.” John looked up to Mrs. Hudson. “I wanted him to—you know—to know—that I—I mean, I want to…” She leans in slides the tea toward him again. John finally accepts it, taking a sip. “I want to be that. With him. I think. More’n we already are. So I thought. Do more. Don’t do the same stuff. Show’m…I’d do that for him. All those date things, all those couple things. All that stuff I did for everybody else,” he sighs, sets the tea down, looking back up at the whiskey, “and then some.”

            “That’s lovely,” Mrs. Hudson coos, “just lovely. You should tell him that. And don’t you think about drinking more, or he won’t be able to make the slightest bit of sense of you. You don’t need help making any more a fool of yourself.” She sweeps the whiskey bottle away and puts it into her own pantry, out of John’s view.

            “Mm,” John says. She has a point. Now when he stumbles upstairs Sherlock will just have something else to point out to him dryly, in that stupidly deep voice of his. And John, he’ll be—well, he’ll have forgotten about the—the bits he’s supposed to do to—whatever good dates do and—probably he’ll say something really inadvisable instead, or, or collapse against the wall and make funny choking noises to keep back all the really stupid emotions that keep swirling just below his consciousness, contained beneath a thin layer of alcohol.

            “You go back up there,” she says, and pushes a tin of biscuits into his hands. “Take these, and tell Sherlock sorry you drank his whiskey.”

            “How’d—” John starts, but Mrs. Hudson herds him out the door with gentle swats, and he is hardly in a state of coordination where he can fight it. He makes his way up the stairs with relative success, only dropping the biscuit tin once.

            “Ah,” Sherlock says from the sofa, “John. You’ll never…” he trails off at the sight of John, who paces over to the table in the center of the sitting room.

            “Sorry ‘bout the…whiskey,” John drops the tin on the table. “Mrs. Hudson took it away.”

            “You drank the Ta…” Sherlock trails off and narrows his eyes. John prepares himself for an onslaught of cutting remarks. “Why?”

            “Oh, I dunno, Sherlock!” John throws his hands in the air, which turns out to be a bad idea, because he stumbles backwards as he does. “Something about this being a crap date that I somehow managed to completely fuck up, and you didn’t help, by the way, and you’re too bloody brilliant and I don’t know why it didn’t work but I just wanted to—” he waits for Sherlock to cut in with his deduction. Sherlock doesn’t. “To impress you,” John finally finishes.

            “Why didn’t you tell me off for being so…” Sherlock pauses, thinks about it, “for being so…obnoxious?”

            “I was trying to be nice. You know. Not. Not. Ruin everything by getting mad.”

            “I thought you might like the deductions,” Sherlock says quietly. “But you acted so differently. I…can we just…can we…” He swallows something down. “I’d rather we didn’t date,” he finally says, and John feels a stone drop into his stomach. “Not if that’s how you’re going to act. You shouldn’t…you should be…you’re an arse, sometimes, John. I like it. And if…and if that’s not how…how things are when people date, then…I’d rather not.”

            “I don’t have to,” John says quickly, “I can be an arse.”

            “Can we eat at places that look less like places where Mycroft would eat?”

            “We can get takeaway all the time, if that’s what you want,” John says. He feels warmer. He’s pretty sure it’s not the alcohol. “It’s sure as hell easier on my wallet.”

            “Can we go to crime scenes?”

            “We already do that.”

            “As part of a date? Can an experiment be a date?”

            At this, John bursts into a grin, and then a fit of laughter. “Can I shove you in and out of crowded trains and call it a date?”

            “Of course!” Sherlock says. “Presuming you enjoyed it.”

            “So what you want,” John scratches his head, crouches on the ground, thinks better of it as he wobbles off balance, and leans up against the sofa, “is to do the exact same stuff we’ve always done.”

            Sherlock nods.

            “But that’s not—Sherlock, I want—more, that’s the point of—it’s that our—relationship—would be—” He huffs. “If we weren’t dating before, but we are dating now, what changed? What’s the difference?”

            Sherlock looks thoughtful, and then stretches an arm toward John, and trails his hand down John’s arm until it rests in John’s hand. Sherlock squeezes it. “This.”

            “What’s…” John squeezes back. “…‘this’?”

            “The same thing as before,” Sherlock says, “but more.” He slowly sits up, removing his hand from John’s thoughtfully, and adds matter-of-factly, “You also have to touch me sometimes.”

            John finds himself cracking into laughter again. “Well,” he says, “if I must.”

            “Particularly on trains.”

            “Of course.”

            “And in restaurants.”

            “Sure.”

            “And especially in the flat.”

            John lifts himself up to sit beside Sherlock on the sofa, and experimentally runs the backs of his fingers down Sherlock’s arm. Sherlock shivers.

            “Yes, like that,” he says. He frowns down at John’s trousers. “What’s that?”

            John sincerely hopes he’s not asking about—oh. John yanks something from his pocket. “Tickets,” he says. “I, er…I was gonna take you to a concert by a violin soloist after dinner.”

            “Oh,” Sherlock says. “That’s…” He takes the tickets, looking them over. “Oh,” he says again. “Good job we missed it. He’s awful.”

            “I was going to let you sit in back with me and mock him, in that case.”

            Sherlock beams. “That’s a proper date, John! We should’ve just done that, sod the restaurant.” He stands up from the couch, which leaves John feeling slightly chilly. “As it stands, I think at best I can refund you.”

            “You don’t have to—”

            He retrieves his violin case from the desk and looks around the flat. “It’s not exactly the Royal Albert Hall,” Sherlock says, and John realizes what he means, and smiles. “But it is a private concert, which must be worth something.”

            “Do I get to shake the musician’s hand afterward?”

            Sherlock sets the violin to his chin. “If you’re very lucky,” he says, “he might let you kiss it.”

            “And if he’s very lucky,” John says, settling in, “I might let him kiss me.”

            “He is very lucky,” Sherlock says. He raises his bow and says over the first faint chord, “Definitely.”