John had his hands full with the shopping - Sherlock had texted him no less than six times with more items that were required at the flat immediately - so he couldn't even open the small umbrella he'd had tucked under one arm. Rainwater dripped unpleasantly down the back of his shirt and squelched in his shoes. The hallway and steps shone with a thin film of water, but it only highlighted their essential dinginess. Still, it was home, and he breathed out in relief when he finally got to his own door.
That calm lasted only a few seconds when he saw what Sherlock - who'd apparently swanned off for one of his marathon showers - had done to the place. He put the shopping away briskly, anger making him efficient, and strode over to the bathroom door. "Sherlock," he bellowed through it, "Mrs. Hudson is going to kill you." He heard a vague noise of assent and rested his fists and forehead against the door; he did not have the money to keep funding Sherlock's fits of boredom or genius, and Mrs. Hudson deserved better, no matter what strings Sherlock had pulled in Florida. "And I," he proclaimed, "am going to help."
"Sherloooock!" Mrs. Hudson wailed when she saw the neat row of bullet holes perforating the seam between ceiling and wall. John figured she hadn't yet seen the mess that used to be a serviceable hardwood floor over in the corner. Sherlock continued peering at something iridescent through his microscope and paid her no mind. She must have realised she didn't have his full attention (or, indeed, more than a fraction of a percent), because she turned to John to deliver her next words. "It's no good saying it's coming out of his rent, is it? Because he'll pay or not, but I can't keep hiring workers to come round and fix things. They all know me, did you know that? I've seen pictures of their grandkids, we've all got so friendly, being that I practically have a standing appointment with them." She shook her head, sadly, and John had a brief moment of panic at the gleam in her eye, as if he and Sherlock - God, strike that - he or Sherlock was supposed to provide her with "grandkids" of her own so she could keep up.
"I'm very sorry," he said, lamely, but he meant it.
She patted his cheek. "I know, love. It's this one here who needs to mend his ways." She took one last look around and blew out a despairing breath. "I honestly don't know what's to be done."
Her footsteps on the stairs weren't quite as quick as they'd been a year ago, and John listened to them diminish into the distance. "She's going to do something drastic," he said, more to himself than anything.
Of course Sherlock looked up from his specimen then. "Brilliant deduction, John," he said, and whisked the slide away.
Good to know he was getting the hang of this deduction lark. Bang on the money, he was.
He might have been sleepy, but he was still a soldier, and on top of that, being the flatmate of one of the most dangerous and oddly-wired men in London ensured that John was never completely off-guard. Still, five men and a person of indeterminate gender with a portable video camera on his doorstep made him take a step back.
All five of the men were smiling at him, gleaming sets of American teeth; it was like shark week right there in his flat. He rubbed at his twinging shoulder and asked, "Can I help you?"
"He's even cuter in person than he was in the photo!" said the one with short brown hair and a square jaw, who looked disconcertingly like the hero of an animated movie.
"And you were definitely cute in the photo," assured another, the one that John had thought, from his glasses and demeanour, would be the most sensible of the lot; there went that faint hope.
"And look! He's even conveniently pocket-sized!" said the blond, and John straightened his spine in indignation.
He pretended he wasn't in his ancient RAMC t-shirt and frankly ratty cotton pyjama bottoms and that his bedhead could have been designed by Frank Gehry. He was a doctor. He was a soldier. He was partner to the world's only consulting detective. Dignity. And anyway, one of them was shorter than him. "Can I help you?" he asked again, a touch of frost in his tone.
"We're here to help you, actually," said the one with the curls that would have been Sherlockian, only they were a lighter brown and more neatly tamed. "And lordy, does this place need it."
"What, seriously?" John asked and Becky, the cameraperson, nodded sympathetically at him. "You're here to fix me?" He needed a cup of tea. No, he thought, watching burly, anonymous men trample all over his flat, setting up cameras in strategic locations, he needed a vat of tea.
Ted, the "food guy," anticipated him and filled the kettle and set it to boil. "We're not going to fix you. Just give you a boost, because it looks like, living conditions aside, you're totally fine."
"What do you mean, 'living conditions'?" John asked suspiciously. Some gingernuts would not go amiss. If only he knew which packet was uncontaminated.
Thom, the "design expert," rolled his eyes so hard that John blinked his own in sympathy. He was starting to suspect that Thom was a bit of a drama queen. Thom pointedly moved some beakers and the microscope out of the way before leaning across the table to capture one of John's hands in his own. "You are the only thing in this place that does not need fixing." He actually looked like he meant it, which was rather nice in a terribly insulting way. Suddenly John regretted his "spectacularly ignorant" line in that damned blog post. "Pumpkin, you're a catch, and this place just isn't you."
He was a grown man, and not anyone's pumpkin. Still, no doubt Thom meant well. "No," he said evenly. "This place is us, my flatmate and me. And you can't change anything, because we only rent - it's Mrs. Hudson's -"
"Oh, she's the one who signed you up for this," said the little one, Jai, from the corner where he'd been browsing through their record collection. "She told us all about you – the camera loves her – and she's down for whatever."
Mrs. Hudson had let these people into the flat with the orders to turn him into a metrosexual? Right. Then it was every man for himself.
"Usually it's the straight guy who contacts us," said Carson, lounging artfully in Sherlock's chair. John, sitting forward in his own, tried to listen while keeping track of Thom, who still looked outright horrified, as he wandered around the flat. Thom picked up the skull and seemed to pray for guidance; his eye caught Carson's and he gestured at it, saying, "I mean . . ."
"Honey," Carson said, nodding I know at Thom and tapping John on the knee to get his attention back. "We work toward a specific event - a work party, an exhibition, a family picnic. Something like that. And then we get a sense of how I should dress you, how Kyan should groom you, et cetera, et cetera, okay? But since it was your landlady - she is such a doll, by the way - who asked us to help you out, we don't know what your event is."
John was nodding sort of vaguely when he realised he could only see three of them. Oh, God, he'd left Ted to his own devices in the kitchen, where Sherlock conducted his most delicate experiments and there was biological matter in the fridge. "Um, dinner," he said, stumbling in his haste to get to the kitchen.
Ted turned around from one of the cupboards with a welcoming smile; John was relieved to see that he hadn't yet been in any of the dangerous ones. "Dinner? For you and your girlfriend?"
"No girlfriend right now, actually," John said, trying not to picture how gorgeous Sarah had looked when she'd let him down gently. A pair of strong hands descended on his shoulders and he glanced round in surprise, only to see Thom looking sympathetically at him. "I, um, it's hard for me to schedule things because of my flatmate's work - I help out with his work, and there's no set timings for it, so it's probably best if we don't plan an 'event.'"
He got the feeling that there were a lot of significant glances going over the top of his head at that, but he told himself that he didn't care what they made of the truth. Also, Christ, but it was cold in the flat, and he needed a hot shower and a warm jumper straightaway. "So, what about dinner with the flatmate?" Ted asked, and there was a chorus of approving murmurs at that suggestion - the other three had joined them, Kyan evidently coming from the bathroom, judging from the shampoo bottles he held and the disapproving look on his face. "What does he like to eat? Any special dietary requirements?"
John couldn't help laughing. "If you figure that out," he said, "let me know. All I've seen him voluntarily consume is tea, coffee, biscuits, and cheese. Though he does like to steal my spring rolls, for what purposes I cannot imagine." He shrugged out of Thom's rather comforting grasp, plucked his shampoo out of Kyan's hands, and said firmly, "I'm going to shower. The door does not lock, but that does not mean that anyone is welcome to join me."
He'd got as far as brushing past the lot of them when the front door slammed open. There stood Sherlock, cold, damp, and triumphant, holding a box that John was sure he would not want to know the contents of. "John," was all he said before he realised they had company, but he recovered in an instant and pinned each of the five men and poor Becky with a contemptuous, assessing gaze, then stalked off to his bedroom without another word. They had just started to recover when his bedroom door opened and he stalked past all of them in his dressing gown and stole the shampoo from John's hand on his way to the bathroom.
John sighed, and heard the six of them chorus, "Ohhh," sounding suddenly enlightened about his lot in life.
He took himself off to Mrs. Hudson's while Sherlock did his best to use up all of the hot water. If he was clever about it, he could possibly get her feeling abashed enough to offer up her own shower while he got some answers about what on earth she'd been thinking to sign him up for this group's services. He had an inkling that Sarah was trying to find him some nice, dimwitted girl who would never utter a word of complaint at the number of dates he broke to save Sherlock's sorry hide, but Mrs. Hudson's motivations were murkier. She firmly believed he was the "nice boy" Sherlock needed, so what was she doing matchmaking?
From the fresh pot of tea and the plate of scones with jam and cream, he guessed she was feeling sufficiently guilty to give him all sorts of answers. "John, dear," she began hesitantly, and that turned the shame back on him. Had he ever given her cause to look so cautious in speaking to him? She was an elderly lady who'd opened her home to him and his mad flatmate both, and she shouldn't be scared to speak to him, at least.
He deliberately moved slowly and took a seat so she would stop cowering in the corner. "Yes, Mrs. Hudson?" he asked, pouring them each a cup of her deliciously fragrant tea.
He was rewarded by seeing her smile and settle into the chair across from his. "I hope they're not - upsetting you too much," she said. "It's just that -"
"They'll redo the flat at no cost to you," John finished with sudden clarity. "Rather clever of you, really." He reached out to steal a scone.
She relaxed all the way then. "Aren't they gorgeous?" She held up her hand. "I know - you're happy with Sherlock, but still." She giggled like the schoolgirl she'd once been. "It's nice to have seven lovely men running around instead of just the two."
He was clearly never going to be able to disabuse her of the notion that he swung that way, or that Sherlock had ever had feelings more tender than John is not quite as painfully dense or boring as the rest of humanity. He can stay and fetch my tea. He stuffed the scone in his mouth and tried to lose himself in doughy bliss.
That wasn't quite fair of him, he supposed. He knew quite well that Sherlock counted him as his only friend; he had only to look at the tension in Sherlock's lanky frame, stretched taut and brittle on the couch, and contrast it with the indolence he was used to being the sole audience for. At the very least, Sherlock liked him, and liked him tremendously.
Though the chill in his voice was enough to make John doubt that he was feeling anywhere close to fond at the present moment. "At some point, doubtless, you will be explaining why we seem to have acquired six nosy new flatmates?" Sherlock sniped.
John opened his mouth to defend himself, then reconsidered. "I told you Mrs. Hudson was going to do something drastic," he said simply.
Sherlock's eyes widened. A direct hit. "Do you honestly mean to tell me -" was as far as his retort got before the sound of the team tromping up the stairs to the flat became audible. Sherlock blew out an aggravated breath. "Never mind." He rolled off the couch and stomped into his bedroom in spectacularly bad humour.
"How was your lunch?" John asked to forestall any questions from their side.
"Ted always knows where to go," Carson assured him. "How about you? You ready for your big day?"
"Why not," John said, bracing himself. But they were gentle with him, thoughtful even, and he found himself genuinely enjoying the company.
Thom was first. "If you could only keep one thing about this place, what would it be?" he asked, with a wild gleam in his eye that made John wonder if he was considering arson as the best way to start fresh with the flat.
He didn't realise his gaze had darted to the table positioned between the two living room windows until Thom followed his line of sight, swivelling at the hips to do so. "What's important about it?" Thom prodded.
"I don't know," John said, flushing unaccountably. "We sometimes read the paper there on Sunday mornings, or I'll have tea while he's working. You know."
"Mm-hmm," Thom said, evidently used to musing aloud and gesturing madly. "Got it. Go - Kyan's been waiting all day to get his hands in your hair." Thom swatted his backside, steering him toward the bathroom.
There was no point protesting, and once he got this over with he could mimic Sherlock and take five minutes to lie on his bed and pretend he was alone in the flat. Kyan grabbed him five feet from the bathroom door. "John," he said, tone so sombre that John rather expected him to announce that Lestrade was on his way over due to a triple murder in Lambeth, "tell me about your daily hair regime."
Regimen, John wanted to correct, but Kyan had either mastered the perfect deadpan, or, far more likely, he was simply utterly serious about grooming. "I, uh, wash it most days, never less than every other day, dry it -" he was embarrassed to find himself gesturing to indicate a vigourous rub with a towel; that Becky made it easy to forget that she was there, filming everything "- and, when I remember, put in some of this stuff." He rooted through the medicine cabinet until he found the tube of goop Harry had bought him. It was too expensive to use every day, and he honestly often forgot it was there. He sniffed at it, wondering if it had gone off. Could hair product go off?
Kyan had a pained look on his face, but he was nodding like he'd sworn to keep mum until John had unburdened his soul of all its ugly secrets. "And how do you feel about this length and this cut?" Suddenly his fingers were buried in John's hair. "Because you've got a really nicely-shaped head and could go short with your hair, but I've gotta say, between you and your flatmate, I bet you've inspired all kinds of hair-pulling fantasies."
"Ah," John said, determined not to blush at the memories of Natalia, whose aggression he'd happily matched and who'd never left him without a satisfying ache in his scalp from her enthusiasm for his exertions. "Right. Um, I'm fine with it as is." Too short, and he'd feel like a soldier once more, uncertain whether he'd ever see his home again.
All he got was another nod and a lecture on exfoliating and moisturising, not one word of which penetrated. He really did need a nap.
But his bed, he saw when he finally made it to his room, was covered in the contents of his wardrobe, every last thing from pants and socks to his one suit and good belt. Only his dress uniform hadn't been touched, which was a mercy, because he rather liked Carson, who was lounging on top of the piles of clothes and clearly waiting for an audience; John recognised the signs from living with Sherlock.
"Can't I just have a nap?" he asked plaintively.
"Only if I can watch you sleep," Carson said, not missing a beat. "No, come on, it's my turn to play doctor with the doctor, and this actually shouldn't take very long."
John brightened a bit; Carson looked like he could run on at the mouth endlessly, but if he hadn't much to say, that was all to the good, surely? He knew he might not be the most fashionable man around, but Sherlock and his swishy coat had a way of eclipsing everybody.
"It's all wrong," Carson said simply, bursting John's bubble. "Well, the sweaters anyway. And the shirts. The jeans are good. The pants are fine. But the only top I'd even let you out of the house in is this one." The striped jumper John had always been rather fond of was in Carson's hands, being displayed like a flag. "The rest of these -" he indicated the rather massive pile of thick woollen jumpers "- honey, you're young and you're hot. Don't dress to impress the denture set."
"I -" John started, then considered how much he really wanted to say in front of the cameras. Sod it, they already had his entire pants drawer on film. "I got used to the heat in Afghanistan, and I've had a hard time adjusting since I've been back."
Carson considered him for a long moment, his eyes surprisingly kind. "I know a couple of ways to generate heat, and one of them we can even do in front of the camera. Jai and Ted still need to talk to you, but then we're going shopping."
"Nap?" John pleaded.
"Change, then talk to Jai and Ted," Carson said inexorably, and John sighed his assent. He turned his back and changed into the striped jumper and the rather tight pair of jeans Carson had tossed him, determined not to wonder how his arse rated on Carson's scale. He trudged downstairs, tired enough that he needed to grip the railing as he went.
Jai, small and quick, caught him first. "Tell me about this record collection and that music stand over there," he invited, curled up in one of the chairs.
"Anything you've heard of is mine, the rest is Sherlock's. He plays the violin."
"Oh, he's a musician?" Jai asked, getting even perkier.
"Not professionally," he said around a yawn. Especially considering that it was anybody's guess whether, on any given occasion, Sherlock would actually play music or just those discordant series of notes that he claimed accelerated his cognitive processes. "Though he could be. I mean, he's good enough."
Jai smiled like John had just offered a highly confidential revelation. "Have you told him that?"
John laughed. "The last thing Sherlock suffers from is a lack of self-confidence," he said, standing when he saw Ted beckoning from the kitchen. "Are we done?"
"Yes," Jai said, though he looked a little too cat-with-cream-on-its-whiskers for John's comfort. "Go right ahead."
Ted grabbed him before Becky could regroup and follow him to the kitchen. "I didn't let any of the cameras see what's inside your fridge. Or your kitchen cabinets," Ted said under his breath. "There are things that no amount of brain bleach will ever clear away."
"Sorry," John offered. "Sherlock - he performs a lot of experiments for his work, and he does like to work from home when possible."
"So the kitchen is pretty much his territory, then?" Ted asked, a little louder for Becky's camera. John nodded thoughtfully. "Does he cook?"
Rather than laugh in the man's face, John contented himself with a simple, "No."
"I can, though I haven't, properly, not since I moved in here. Nothing fancy, mind, just simple meals."
"So it's a lot of take-out usually?"
"He doesn't eat all that much, honestly. He thinks eating's a waste of time. And he gets bored easily, so it's not like I can figure out what he likes and then stock up, because odds are he won't touch it again, no matter how much he's enjoyed it previously."
Ted had the oddest look on his face. Slowly, he said, like one hesitant to repeat another's blasphemy in case the lightning strikes weren't fussy about who the real sinner was, "A waste of time?"
John shrugged, having no answer for the man. "Though if you wanted me to cook something for that dinner, I'd be happy to give it a go." Ted didn't say anything, but John wondered if he had some kind of silent-alarm trigger in his pocket because before he could get out another word, the other four men surrounded him and were tossing jackets at the two of them.
John barely had time to tie his shoes before Becky was herding them out to the waiting van, and then they were whisked away.
John drifted awake to find himself still in the car, pleasantly warm and surrounded by the five men discussing some client. He checked his watch discreetly and found he'd managed forty-five minutes of decent sleep. London traffic was no joke, and he had no idea where they were headed anyway, so he closed his eyes again and listened to the voices swirling around him.
"He's so clearly in love with him," Jai was saying. "You should have seen his face when he was all, 'oh, Sherlock could be a professional musician!' It was the. cutest. thing. ever. You guys, we have to help him land his man."
John nearly bit through his tongue in shock. That was him they were discussing, thinking that he wanted Sherlock as a lover. He couldn't even begin to imagine what that would be like. He felt his body tense as he waited to hear more.
"I don't think so," Ted said. "He sounds like he's just used to taking care of his roommate, like a permanent babysitter."
There was enough truth in that to make him squirm on the inside. He didn't want to be just Sherlock's keeper, but there was no denying that Sherlock seemed to require - or at least strongly prefer - that there be some buffer between himself and the rest of the world, and if it looked and talked and acted like John, then that was the best and simplest solution. Better him than drugs, John thought.
"Their landlady thinks they're already doing it, remember?" Kyan said, and John kept himself from scowling only through sheer effort. Mrs. Hudson would have thrown them a bloody parade if it meant her flat would be redone; he had no doubt she'd played up a "star-crossed lovers" angle for the chats she had to have for the cameras.
"I don't know. I think he loves him, but not like that," Thom said. "The real question is, what does Sherlock think?"
"That's where it all could get very messy," Carson chimed in, just as the car finally pulled up. "I've got John, and we'll see the rest of you back at Baker Street."
John mimed waking up and Carson, twisted around from his front-seat perch, smiled indulgently at him. "Quick like a bunny," he chirped, and took John's hand to lead him into some overpriced store.
Carson had clearly called ahead and pulled certain pieces to create the towering pile of stuff John was expected to try on. Between the size of that stack and the fixed grins of the staff, John felt like he should bow or apologise or something.
Carson didn't say a word before dragging John to the fitting room. It was disconcerting not to have price tags on anything he was trying on; even more alarming was the fact that Carson and Becky seemed to think it no problem to come into the room with him. He did his best to ignore the unblinking black eye of the camera and tried to listen to what Carson was saying.
"Feel this," Carson murmured, stroking the jumper - and John's chest beneath it - in a way that was too frankly appreciative to be resented. "Almost as soft as your hair. This is cashmere. Learn it, live it, love it. It will keep you warm but won't hide your gorgeous bod." John willed himself not to flush that unattractive pink he always went when embarrassed; judging from the eyeful he got of himself as Carson swivelled him by his hips toward the mirror, he was failing spectacularly. "And do you see what this colour is doing for you? You need to stop with the bland, oatmeal-y clumps of wool and get some nice sleek sweaters in cornflower blue and celery green, these bright, clean colours that work with your skin tone and those eyes of yours."
John's eyes widened involuntarily when he saw the armsful of clothes that Carson and some of the shop assistants were carrying to the register and Carson laughed, pinched his cheek, and told him he was just precious.
The hotel room was oddly featureless, an almost completely anonymous space. Had Sherlock not been lying on one of the twin beds in his habitual prayer pose, long black coat and an angry pink flush on his cheek, the entire place would have been beige. It wasn't until he saw Sherlock that John realised he must have missed a battle royale; nothing less would have budged Sherlock from 221B. Or possibly -
"Good, John. You're quite correct; Mrs. Hudson offered to waive our rent for next month if I would leave her merry band of helper elves to their business."
The woman had no shame, at least not since Sherlock and his magic bullets had forced her hand. With a flash of gratitude, John saw small suitcases at the foot of each bed. Sherlock's was open, a selection of his crisp shirts and an extra black suit visible. He wondered who had packed the bag, and what Sherlock had deduced from the contents. "What do you think of them?" he asked.
"Boring. They choose to define themselves solely by sexual orientation."
"But they're good at what they do -"
"Three of them are competent," Sherlock interrupted. "And soon I will be able to delete all five of them from my brain." Sherlock's eyes suddenly shot open. "They had better not have touched my skull."
Crimes that required Sherlock's reasoning force to solve didn't occur on any kind of set schedule, so even though John texted Lestrade to beg him to keep Sherlock occupied for the hour the team needed to go through all of their improvements with him, help was not forthcoming.
He followed Sherlock up the seventeen steps to their flat and found himself getting a faceful of that rough swishy coat as Sherlock had ground to a halt just inside the doorway. John peeked around him to see what was going on.
The flat had been completely transformed. Thom was standing by the sliding doors that separated the kitchen from the living room, looking endearingly anxious. "So I scrubbed everything first and found out that your fireplace has some really gorgeous deep-red glazed tiles, so I picked up that colour for the rest of the living room. The wallpaper was vintage - Nureyev - and I bought the same design again, since that's where so much of the character of the room comes from."
John nodded, amazed at how different, how much warmer, the flat felt. Sherlock didn't look quite as excited. "Where are my files?" he asked, voice dropping down to a dangerous growl.
"Here," Thom said, looking particularly smirky; John would bet that Sherlock had been more than usually abrasive with the man at some point. Clear filing drawers mounted on wheels rolled forward with a gentle motion, and Sherlock raised an eyebrow, clearly impressed against his will.
Without the clutter of Sherlock's beloved folders and newspaper clippings and general papery mess, the flat seemed more like a home and less like a laboratory. There were soft, thick, woven blankets adorning the arms of the new extra-long couches, and new paint on the walls of the bedrooms. He knew Thom was watching him, so he trailed his fingers along everything he admired and didn't stop the smile that bubbled up when he saw the table between the windows had been kept just as it was.
Sherlock remained pointedly silent, even when he walked into his bedroom and saw the skull resting on his bed like he was a child drawn by Edward Gorey and that was his demented version of a teddy bear. It was only Thom's revelation that he had soundproofed and expanded the small room that might once have been intended as a nursery that got Sherlock to clasp his hands together and say, "Oh!" like it was Christmas morning.
For that alone, John would have offered his thanks. He hugged Thom, got a smacking kiss on the cheek, and left Sherlock happily conversing with the skull about what experiment to run on the soundproofing first.
Ted's ideas about what and how to cook for Sherlock were rather brilliant in theory, even if they were based on the premise that Sherlock was nothing but an overgrown child. If they worked, John would happily cut fresh fruits and vegetables into unusual shapes, disguise one food as another, and serve everything in interesting patterns until Sherlock stopped looking all gaunt and fascinating and started looking healthily slim.
He nearly dropped the shiny lacquered dishware Ted had purchased when he heard Sherlock's frustrated groan, never a good sign. At least he knew that Sherlock couldn't have got hold of his gun, now locked in Mrs. Hudson's wall safe; Thom's new decor wouldn't suffer so grievously so quickly. "No!" Sherlock shouted, and John set the dishes down and raced for Sherlock's room.
There was a minor pile-up at his doorway; it seemed that the whole team had heard Sherlock's aggravation and either wanted to watch the explosion or save Jai, his current target. "It is none of your concern," Sherlock snapped, expression lightening fractionally when he saw John, which at least meant that he saw him as an ally still.
"Not good," Sherlock said, pointing at Jai, as if he were confiding in John.
"What happened?" John asked.
Jai said, still more bewildered than offended, "I was just trying to explain how tonight's event could be an opportunity for both of you to discuss where your relationship is, and where you want it to go."
"By which he means that we should be shagging before the night is through," Sherlock translated - accurately, to judge by Jai's suddenly guilty face. "Despite the fact that you are heterosexual and more importantly not interested in me in the carnal sense and that I am asexual and uninterested in fucking anybody at all."
"Spare me the protestations," Sherlock snapped. "It's not a waste, I won't 'change my mind' when 'the right one comes along,' and I'm not repressed or frightened. I am simply uninterested."
"But you do love John," Thom said, and John was relieved to hear that tone - neither idle curiosity nor perverse satisfaction - because it meant Sherlock would answer honestly.
"Love and sex are separate issues. I can love someone without wishing to express it sexually." He loomed deliberately over Jai, who looked like he wanted to curl into a ball until he was left alone. "In other words, I do not feel the need to wag my genitals around any time I wish to express an emotion." Sherlock evidently didn't see the comprehension he expected on Jai's face; he sighed in aggravation and continued. "Would you be turned on by a lover who felt the urge to push his nose at you?"
John got a brief flash of Sherlock nosing at the soft underside of his jaw, pink mouth trailing damply behind, or nosing at his hip, hot breath steaming against skin, moving dumbly and gracefully like an animal, acting on instinct alone; from the looks of them, the team were imagining much the same thing. It didn't matter that none of them desired Sherlock, just that the images were sensual, undeniably arousing to men accustomed to thinking of sex as a necessity of life.
Sherlock took one look at the lot of them and blew out a disgusted breath. "Evidently that was a poor example. Try elbow. Just as it would baffle you to have a lover who tried to stick his elbow all over you, so am I by the idea that I would have to use my penis to demonstrate the depth of my feeling for someone."
The beep that broke the silence startled John almost as much as Sherlock's small smile. "Ah, Lestrade. Impeccable timing for once."
John was trying to listen to Carson explain zhuzhing and watch Kyan demonstrating the proper application of hair product. He was trying not to wonder what Lestrade's text had said.
He could hear Sherlock racing around the flat, steps a little slower than usual, most likely due to the new configurations of new furniture, and stood, ready to accompany him as always.
"There's no reason for you to come, John," Sherlock called out, like it honestly made no difference to him. John sat back down on his bed, trying not to let the rejection sting. He couldn't speak, and he heard Sherlock's footsteps charging up the stairs to his bedroom. "Did you hear me?" Sherlock asked. "Lestrade's finally caught the runaway arsonist, and there are a few other crimes I'd like to discuss with the man."
Sherlock was pulling on his gloves as he spoke, so he had an excuse not to look John in the eye; still, though, John knew what that careful lack of eye contact meant and his heart lightened. "You're not going to be running around London after some nutter, then?"
"Not without you," Sherlock answered, eyes snapping up to John's, then turned abruptly to leave, his coat flaring dramatically behind him.
"Now that's an exit," Carson said, and Kyan just whistled.
Sherlock poked his head into the flat, curiosity still his most salient characteristic, but only stepped inside when John waved him in. "I thought they'd bought you new clothes," he said, unwinding his scarf and tucking it under the coat's collar, looking for all of the cameras mounted in discreet corners.
John looked down at his striped jumper and shrugged. "I went with an old favourite," he said, not bothering to confirm the presence of new jumpers, new jeans, and a crisp charcoal-grey suit in his closet. "That's rather the theme of the evening."
"Is it?" Sherlock's voice was less inquisitive than wary.
"Mmm," John said, just remembering to turn on the iPod, resting in a dock, that Jai had loaded with the best that Sherlock's record collection had to offer.
"Beethoven, symphony number seven, second movement," Sherlock said as the haunting strains began. "I played -" he began before cutting himself off and looking hard at John.
"Dinner's ready, so have a seat." John went into the kitchen to fetch their meals.
"What is this?" Sherlock asked, looking down at the large bento box John had placed in front of him.
"You're going to have to play detective to find out," John said, smiling. He was going to take full credit for the idea to disguise the foods by serving them in formations that weren't common in British cookery, though Ted got points for finding recipes simple enough for John to attempt and flexible enough to withstand some fiddling.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at the first compartment, surprising John by taking the mission seriously. "This looks like a muffin," he finally said, braving an uncertain glance up, as if he suspected he was missing the point.
"Try splitting it instead of just tapping it with your fork," John suggested, grinning at the look of surprise that flashed across Sherlock's face when he saw what was inside. "It's a macaroni-and-cheese casserole made in a muffin tin. You like cheese," he reminded Sherlock, who took several bites and set about trying to deduce the contents of the next compartment.
"These flowers have a peculiarly meaty smell." The tip of his tongue darted out to gain more data. "They're sausage! Sliced finely and arranged to look like blossoms on top of these -" he paused again to take another taste "- roasted potatoes turned inside out." Sherlock shovelled in a big, hearty bite, then looked down, seeming abashed. "This must have taken hours and a lot of patience."
"Nope. Hands of a surgeon," John joked, raising them as if he were surrendering.
He wasn't expecting Sherlock to catch them in his own and inspect them. "No more tremors," Sherlock said, looking almost shy as his eyes locked on John's and then away again.
"I'm too busy to shake these days," John said lightly, pulling away gently. He ate his broccoli trees and the shredded carrot-and-apple salad that looked like confetti swept along a honey-mustard river.
Sherlock was dawdling over his meal, though it seemed more because he was fascinated by it than bored with this mundane bodily function. He took each bite slowly, examining it and letting it linger in his mouth. John finished what was in his box, then rose to get dessert. Sherlock was fond of both chocolate and pistachios.
Sherlock stayed silent as John set the dessert plates down; John stayed easy under his gaze as he sat back in his chair, content to let the music speak for him, here in this lovely and familiar new space. John looked across the table at his prickly, brilliant best friend and thought that the smile breaking across Sherlock's face was really rather a wonderful thing.