“Do you need anything while I’m out?” asked John.
Sherlock looked up, taking in John’s coat, the shopping list tucked in one pocket, and the handful of plastic bags in the other. Heading to the supermarket rather than the morgue then, pity. He could have done with some more toes. Oh, but thinking of the toes-
“Toothpaste,” he said. “At least three different kinds.”
John made the facial expression that meant he was curious but determined not to ask. Foolish – curiosity should always be followed up on. Sherlock might even have told him the truth about what he wanted toothpaste for.
“Any specific types?” he asked instead.
Sherlock made a mental list of the chemicals he would need in each variety, imagined trying to explain them to John, and then the likely confusion and irritating, lengthy explanation that would follow. No, too much effort. He jumped to his feet. “Easier if I come.”
John’s expression was so shocked than Sherlock wondered if he was putting it on. But no, the lines around his eyes indicated that it was a true reflection of his emotions. Apparently the idea of Sherlock shopping was truly that unexpected.
“You? You’re going to come shopping with me?”
“Yes,” said Sherlock, pulling his coat on. “Why not? It’s a perfectly common activity for flatmates to indulge in together, isn’t it?”
John let out a strangled laugh. “We don’t ‘indulge’ in the common activities between flatmates, Sherlock. We chase criminals and have biohazards in our kitchen.”
“Not true,” said Sherlock. “Last night we drank tea and watched the television.”
“I watched the television,” corrected John. “You just shouted at it.”
“The science was all wrong,” said Sherlock, settling comfortably into the familiar pattern of bickering with John. He hadn’t realised before meeting John that this style of conversation could be so pleasant with a friend, in contrast to the irritating minor confrontations that he was more used to experiencing.
“It was Star Trek, Sherlock. The science wasn’t meant to be correct.”
“Then what is the purpose of making the programme? Why should such inaccuracies be tolerated?”
“Because,” said John, and then stopped short. Ah, as Sherlock had suspected, there was no good reason for it. “Because it’s more fun like that,” said John after a pause.
Sherlock scoffed. “Not for me.”
“No, you made that very clear,” muttered John, then gestured at the door. “Fine, let’s go shopping. I doubt you’ll find it any more interesting than you did Star Trek.”
“It doesn’t need to be interesting,” said Sherlock as he descended the stairs. “It just needs to provide me with toothpaste.”
The supermarket was as boring as the programme last night, although it at least obeyed the laws of physics. John insisted on spending far longer in there than Sherlock needed to.
“I’m actually here to buy food, Sherlock,” he said when Sherlock pointed out they had the toothpaste and so could leave now. “In fact, since you’re here, you can tell me what kind of thing you want. There must be something you’d be interested in eating a whole plate of, rather than just picking at it.”
Sherlock let his gaze pass over the dull selection of only the most common foodstuffs. “Not particularly,” he said. “I’ve tasted it all already. There’s nothing new.”
John paused, and then frowned. “Wait, you don’t eat much because you’ve already tried things?”
Sherlock nodded. “It’s boring once you know what the taste and texture will be,” he said. “Nothing new to learn, just the same dull chewing and swallowing – ugh. Complete waste of time.”
“Except for the bit where it fuels your body and keeps you alive,” added John, because he was a doctor all the way through and far too concerned with such things.
“Yes, yes,” said Sherlock. He waved his hands at the shop. “Buy whatever you want, and then we can go home.”
“Right,” said John, and Sherlock could tell from the tiny crease in his forehead that he was having an idea. Oh, he’d just opened himself up to John’s attempts at cooking things he didn’t think Sherlock would have tried before. Well, given John’s rather basic cooking skills, that at least would be interesting, if not always edible.
They made it around the shop eventually, although Sherlock swiftly lost his temper with the slow-moving parents followed around by trails of small children, most of them whining, and all of them desperate to stand exactly where he was trying to walk.
He was holding forth on this topic as they made it to the check-out, ignoring that John’s lack of response meant he had stopped listening at least five minutes ago.
“-symptomatic of the way society indulges children far beyond what is acceptable, as if they are somehow deserving of-”
“Sorry,” interrupted the check-out woman. “Are you two together?”
“Oh, yes, sorry,” said John. He turned and pulled the toothpaste from Sherlock’s grip and put it on the conveyor belt. “Together.”
Sherlock stood stock-still with surprise, staring at the back of John’s oblivious head. They were together? Were they? John had always been extremely insistent that they were not a couple, and now he was announcing it in a supermarket? To a woman who was incapable of finding a job that couldn’t be done by a not-particularly-advanced robot?
Although, now that Sherlock thought about it, John had stopped bothering with his protests lately. Sherlock had thought that he had merely become tired of repeating himself over and over again, but perhaps there was more to it? Last night, as they had watched that awful TV programme, he’d sat on the sofa with Sherlock and allowed him to push his cold feet under John’s leg without comment. Earlier they had engaged in the kind of banter that was traditionally associated with married couples. On the way around the shop, John had made it clear that he was thinking of Sherlock as he planned their meals for the next few days. He was intending to cook a meal for Sherlock that was chosen specifically to please him.
Perhaps, thought Sherlock in shock, they were a couple. Yes, that was it. John must have assumed that someone as clever as Sherlock would have realised that by now.
“Sherlock!” said John, sounding exasperated, and Sherlock pulled himself out of his thoughts. “Come on, you’re holding up the queue.”
Sherlock focused on him. John Watson: his partner. That sounded rather good, actually. He smiled at John and got out of the way of the irritated old woman behind him. “Come on, then,” he said happily.
John gave him a very suspicious look, but didn’t say anything. As they left the shop and started walking home, Sherlock tried to work out what he should do about this revelation. What did one do when one was in a couple?
He glanced over at John, who was carrying all three bags of shopping. He could start by taking one of them, surely? Wasn’t that meant to be chivalrous?
He reached for the bag in John’s nearest hand. “Here, let me,” he said, pulling it from John’s grip. He also smiled at him; displays of pleasure at the other’s presence was definitely good relationship behaviour.
John gave him the most startled look Sherlock had ever seen, beyond even that time the Swedish burglar had tried to attack them with a frozen fish. Sherlock was easily able to take the bag from his grasp while he reeled from the shock.
“Sherlock, is something going on?” asked John.
“Not at all,” said Sherlock, and tried smiling at him again.
John continued to stare. “Seriously, come on. Is there some experiment involved in all this? Although I’m not sure what even you could find to experiment on during a trip to Asda.”
“Plenty of things,” said Sherlock, making a mental list of eight without any problem. “However, I am not currently running any such experiment.”
“Right,” said John, his eyes narrowing in a way that said he wasn’t convinced. Sherlock just kept smiling at him, which continued to fail to have the effect he would have expected. Really, John was the one that had indicated they were a couple, why was he not recognising Sherlock’s actions? Perhaps he was doing them wrong.
Well, Sherlock would just have to try harder. The only way to learn how to do something properly was to keep trying. He spotted a couple on the other pavement who were holding hands. That looked easy. He couldn’t get that wrong, surely?
He swapped the shopping bag to his other hand, then reached for John’s now-empty one. It was warm and a bit damp, but a lot more satisfying than he would have thought to feel it caught in his fingers.
John stopped dead in the street to turn and stare at him.
Sherlock felt himself twitch awkwardly, but refused to let go of John’s hand. This was what couples did! He might not have paid much attention to the details of such things, but he knew that much. “Problem?” he asked.
John let out a very careful breath. “No,” he said, and then resumed walking. Sherlock found himself smiling again as they continued back to Baker Street.
Once inside, Sherlock let go of John’s hand with more reluctance than he would have expected. John looked down at his hand as if seeing it for the first time, clenched it a few times like he did when he was feeling nervous, and then gave a little nod.
“Right,” he said. “We’re putting this shopping away, and then we’re talking about this.”
Sherlock felt all the traces of pleasure wipe from his face. “Why do we have to talk?”
John fixed him with his I-was-a-soldier-do-not-fuck-with-me glare. “Because not all of us can read minds, and lack of communication is the best way to cause a rift that I know.”
Sherlock considered. Sadly, that seemed fair, and he reluctantly nodded. The last thing he wanted was a rift with John.
He left actually putting the shopping away to John, in favour of watching him and noting the way he moved under his clothes and all the places Sherlock would like to touch with the tips of his fingers, just to feel the muscles shift under the skin. So many new things to learn! Really, John was to be congratulated for deciding to try this couple thing.
Eventually, John put the final item away and then leaned back against the cabinets with his arms folded. “Right,” he said. “What’s going on?”
Sherlock frowned. “In what manner?” he asked.
John scowled. “Don’t play innocent with me, Sherlock. You’ve never offered to carry bags before, let alone come shopping. And the hand-holding – that’s definitely new. What’s going on?”
Ah. Sherlock wondered how long ago John had decided they were together, and therefore how long ago he had given up on expecting such gestures from Sherlock. It seemed Sherlock would have to come clean. “I have to admit something, John.”
“Oh?” asked John.
Sherlock took a breath. “Yes. I must confess that I had not realised our relationship had moved on to what might be defined as ‘the couple stage’. I am afraid that it was your words in the shop that enlightened me. As such, I have not been engaging in the acts that such a status calls for, but I promise you, I am prepared to rectify that.”
“What?” said John, and he was back to the blank staring again. Sherlock was getting rather bored of that expression today. “My words in the shop?”
“To the check-out assistant,” clarified Sherlock.
John was silent for a long while, and then his eyes finally – finally! - widened in realisation. “You mean when I said we were together? But I just meant-” He cut himself off suddenly. “Wait,” he said. “You’re fine with this?”
“Of course,” said Sherlock. “I am sorry if my actions thus far have indicated that I am not interested in the more physical aspects of such a relationship, but I was not aware they would be welcomed.”
“They would be welcomed,” repeated John in a quiet, breathy voice. “So, we could-” He stopped, half-shook his head, then ran a hand through his hair.
Oh. Oh, what had Sherlock done? Had his actions really made John so uncertain that Sherlock would want all of this sort of thing? Clearly, John had been right about the dangers of a lack-of-communication. He would have to remedy that immediately.
He stepped around the table, moving close enough to John to feel the warmth of his body through his clothes. “We could,” he confirmed, and then bent his head to kiss John.
It was even better than he had thought it would be on the rare occasions when he had allowed himself such thoughts. John was frozen against him for a moment, then he just melted, pushing into Sherlock and gripping at his arms with a strength that surprised Sherlock.
“Oh,” he said when Sherlock pulled back. “I- Okay then.”
“In the interest of full communication,” said Sherlock, “I feel you should know that I am very interested in experiencing most of the other typical couple behaviours with you.”
“Oh,” said John. “Good. I mean, yes, me too.”
Sherlock smiled, and this time, an answering smile crossed John’s face for the fraction of a second before he pulled him down into another kiss.