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“...And that’s why Stamford refuses to eat avocados!” John concludes triumphantly.

Across the table, Moira erupts into uncontrollable laughter, nearly spitting out a mouthful of wine and she and John dissolve into mutual hysterics.

Sherlock narrows his eyes.

Christ, this was hateful.

Sherlock was trying to be good. Honestly, he was. Before they’d left for the restaurant, he’d run through his mental List Of Rules for Meeting John’s Friends:

Make eye contact (but not too much).
Don’t speak unless spoken to.
If speech is required, be as brief and vague as possible.
No deductions.

John doesn’t know about the List. Of course he doesn’t. If he did, he’d feel guilty and sad and he’d spend ages reassuring Sherlock that he needn’t change on his behalf, that he was proud to be with him no matter what, and that he should just be himself.

But Sherlock knows better. Because when he’s himself, he makes strangers feel uncomfortable and he says awkward things and dead ends even the most robust conversations. Normally he wouldn’t care about doing any of those things, but when he was doing it to John’s friends, it turns out he cared a great deal. So it was considerably easier to just stick to the List and endure the encounter for whatever interminable length of time it lasted.

So when John had mentioned that Moira was going to be in the city for a week and had asked if they’d like to meet up for dinner, Sherlock had agreed, and begun to mentally prepare himself for the intolerable display of social niceties to which he was about to subject himself.

Moira was John’s ex-girlfriend. Of course, John doesn’t call her that; he insists she was just one of his dear friends from Uni, and they’d reconnected at a class reunion John had attended several months ago in Surrey.

Of course, John knows he’s not fooling Sherlock for a second. Sherlock had deduced John’s past with Moira the moment he’d seen her in a picture John had sent from the reunion, and if tonight was any indication, their chemistry hadn’t exactly waned over the years.

It’s not that John isn’t being good. John is being very, very Good. Despite the fact that Moira had arrived at the restaurant in a deep plum dress (John’s favourite colour, and damn it, Sherlock was wearing his purple shirt he did not take kindly to appearing redundant) that was cut just a bit too low to be considered entirely incidental, John’s eyes had resolutely remained on her face (and not her cleavage) as they’d exchanged greetings and introductions. As they were being shown to their table, John’s gaze did not wander to her arse, which, even Sherlock had to admit, was honestly rather pleasant to admire (and he was gay, for Christ’s sake, so that was really saying something). And even now, as John and Moira engage in playful banter and flirtatious chiding, John is keeping his hand resting resolutely on Sherlock’s thigh beneath the table, his thumb gently moving back and forth, his affection grounding and affirming.

Moira finally catches her breath. “So. Sherlock. John tells me you’re a scientist as well as a detective?”

Sherlock clears his throat. “Yes.” He remembers to make eye contact, and internally commends himself.

“Working on anything interesting at the moment?”

Sherlock shifts uncomfortably and looks away. He’s not sure how much of his current laboratory work is appropriate for dinner conversation, and they’re only on the appetizer… if he bollockses this up, he may put Moira off her dinner altogether, and that would make John disappointed.

“I’m… working freelance for a company that’s pioneering a new embalming technique.”

Moira raises her eyebrows. “Embalming, eh?”

Sherlock takes a sip of wine. John takes his hand after he sets his glass down, and their eyes meet. John gives him a reassuring smile and an encouraging little nod-- apparently it’s alright for Sherlock to proceed with more details.

Odd, but he’ll defer to John’s judgement.

“Yes. It’s a way to preserve bodies without refrigeration while still being less expensive than the current embalming process, and negates the need to drain the body of fluids. It would primarily be used for victims of crimes whose bodies need to be preserved for an extended period of time while evidence is harvested and analysed.”

Moira takes another drink of wine and shakes her head. “Christ. Could have used that back in school. Would have avoided the entire body switching debacle.”

Sherlock quirks his eyebrow. “Body switching?”

Moira shoots John a scandalised look. “Oh my God, John, you’ve never told him this story?”

John is laughing already, his eyes bright and nostalgic. “Christ, I’d forgotten about it until just now.”

“FORGOTTEN about it? I’m scarred for life!”

“Well, yes, probably because you were actually there, whereas I only heard about it from you.”

Moira shakes her head, her gorgeous brown locks shining in the dim candlelight (God, Sherlock is starting to really detest her, was it possible she even had better hair than him? Unacceptable). “So back in school, for a while I was considering going into forensic pathology. One of my professors recommended doing a summer at a university abroad that specialised in forensic studies. So I went, and part of one of our classes was a cadaver dissection of a trauma victim--so, different from what you’d normally see in a classroom.”

Sherlock nods, and remembers to make eye contact again. “Sure.”

“So my first week in the programme, my lab partner and I were assigned our cadaver. After our first class, we returned it to the refrigeration unit. But when I closed it… apparently the door didn’t seal all the way.”

Sherlock arches his eyebrows. This was getting rather macabre, indeed. Interesting.

“So we arrived to do our lab work four days later, and as you can imagine, the body was… well, in a rather compromised state. But both of us were exchange students, and we didn’t want to admit to the professor that we’d fucked it up royally. So we got an idea.”

Sherlock cocks his head. Next to him, John’s shoulders are already shaking with laughter.

“As part of the forensics programme, this university had a body farm. You know, a place where they put corpses out and let them decompose for a bit before studying them.”

Sherlock gives a slow nod. He’s fairly certain he can see where this is going, but… honestly?! This is grim, even by his standards…

“Well, we knew they’d just put out three new bodies that very afternoon. So that night, under the cover of darkness, we took our decomposed body out to the farm and dumped it, and swapped it for a fresh one. And no one ever found out.”

Sherlock opens and closes his mouth a few times. “That’s… Brilliant. Marvelous, really.”

Moira’s eyes glow mischievously. “I know, right? Of course, when I told John about it he was completely horrified, I thought he was going to throw up then and there--”

“It wasn’t so much the story as the context in which you told it, I mean, Jesus, we were in bed--”

All traces of good will dissipate instantly, and Sherlock snaps his head to glare at John.

But John and Moira are just tittering helplessly as the waiter strolls up and asks if they’d decided on their entrees.

Sherlock is not hungry.

He orders something anyway (the fish; it’s easiest to fake eating fish, as it’s conducive to pulling into small pieces and stashing under vegetables, giving the appearance of having been consumed), and spends the next hour saltily observing as Moira and John shamelessly flirt their way through the main course and on to dessert.

...Though, if he’s honest with himself, John’s not really flirting. And he supposes Moira’s not, either. They’re just relaxed and comfortable with one another, their conversation flowing effortlessly as they talk about everything from former classmates to work to their kids. John manages to prompt Sherlock into telling a few stories about Rosie, so he doesn’t feel completely left out, but watching the two of them together is infuriating.

Because as much as Sherlock values his own capabilities, as much as he’s confident he wouldn’t trade his ability to deduce for anything, sometimes it can be a curse.

Like right now, here at this table, he can tell a hell of a lot more about John and Moira’s past than either of them is letting on.

He can tell that their relationship was primarily physical, whereas emotionally, they got on more like friends. He knows by the way John’s eyes remain resolutely fixed on Moira’s face that her breasts were his favourite part of her body. John’s hands were Moira’s favourite part of his. He can tell by the way John smiles at her that she makes him feel young. He can see by the way Moira licks her lips absently while John is talking that she vividly remembers what it’s like to kiss him.

He imagines what they must have been like together. Young and whole and undamaged, their whole lives a blank canvas before them, making the most of their soaring sex drives and uncomplicated companionship.

He imagines what they’d be like together now. He knows John wants to look at her breasts. He imagines John wants to do a lot of other things with her, too.

John must miss women.

Sherlock stares down at his own figure, so male and lanky and strange.

John must miss women a lot.

“...Right, Sherlock?”

“Hmm?” Sherlock snaps back to reality to find John gazing at him intently.

“I was just telling Moira about how much you and Rosie enjoyed the Fibonacci exhibit at the Science Museum.”

“Oh. Um, yes, it was… good.” Great. Now he sounds like an imbecile, too. He frantically scrambles to think of anything worth saying, but nothing comes out.

But John just smiles at him reassuringly and takes his hand again before returning his gaze to Moira. “I’m pretty sure Sherlock is going to turn Rosie into a mad scientist before she even starts primary school. He was teaching her the scientific method using unicorn stickers and glitter yesterday.”

Moira grins, sincere and warm. “Are you available for hire? I’m fairly certain at this point my children are braindead to anything not on an iPad.”

John rolls his eyes. “Don’t get me started on the iPad. We got one a few months back and I can’t figure out how to use the damn thing to save myself, but I swear within two hours Rosie was a complete master…”

Sherlock permits himself to tune out.

He’s not sure how much time passes, but eventually the scraping of chairs against the floor indicates that they’re taking their leave. He rises, and John holds his hand as they exit the restaurant. He doesn’t normally do that. Sherlock’s not sure what to make of it.

They say their farewells on the sidewalk outside. Sherlock shakes Moira’s hand, and they exchange some bland platitudes about how lovely it was to have made one another’s acquaintance. Then John and Moira hug, and Sherlock can’t miss the way John’s eyes close and he inhales a little more deeply than necessary; he loves the smell of her. He misses it. Sherlock wants to crawl into a hole and die.

They’re walking distance from the flat, but Sherlock barely takes in his surroundings on their way back. He vaguely registers that John is still holding his hand.

Rosie is with Mrs. Hudson for the night, so Sherlock is unsurprised when John guides him directly into the bedroom the moment they arrive home, closing the door behind them and then pulling Sherlock in for a passionate kiss.

He’s clearly turned on by the hours-long flirtation with Moira. Sherlock stiffens at the thought.

John pulls back and stares up at him, his eyes fond as he runs his fingers through Sherlock’s hair. “You alright, you?”

“Mmm. Fine.” Sherlock blinks and looks away. He really doesn’t want to talk about this.

“Hey. Look at me.” Reluctantly, Sherlock meets John’s eyes. “I really, really appreciate you coming to dinner tonight. I know social stuff is hard for you, especially with strangers, but I wanted you to have a chance to meet Moira. For better or worse, she’s a big part of the man I became. And I wanted her to meet you, to see how amazing you are.”

Sherlock bites his cheek. “But I was awful.”

John’s brow furrows. “What are you talking about? You were fine. Quiet, but that’s okay. No one’s asking you to be the life of the party. It just means the world to me that you were there.” He sounds so earnest, so sincere that Sherlock can’t help but smile back.

So he lets John take him to bed. And John is wonderful, as always. He sucks Sherlock off while he fingers him open, and after Sherlock comes, he fucks him while Sherlock revels in post-orgasmic bliss. As the heat of John’s climax pulses into him, juxtaposed with the cool weight of John’s dog tags resting on his sternum, Sherlock finally lets himself relax; he can find a way to keep John happy. He will. He must.

It’s around 2 o’clock in the morning (John’s been asleep for ages, so Sherlock was taking advantage of the opportunity to get some uninterrupted brainstorming in) when he comes up with an idea. A perfect, fantastic, marvelous idea.

He falls asleep with a smile on his face.

The next night, after John’s put Rosie down for bed, Sherlock welcomes him back to the kitchen with a fresh mug of tea. John takes it, a slightly skeptical expression in his face. “What’s this?”

“I wanted… I wanted to negotiate something with you.”

John purses his lips, clearly confused. “Something… sexual?”

“Yes.”

“Oh! Um, okay.” John looks pleasantly surprised; they haven’t been having many negotiations lately as they were still taking baby steps back into having power exchanges, so the fact that Sherlock was proposing a negotiation out of the blue seemed to have caught him a bit off-guard, but he takes it in stride. “Sitting room?”

Sherlock gives an eager nod, and they retire to their respective chairs.

“So.” John takes a sip of tea.

“So. I was thinking. It’s your birthday next week.”

John raises his eyebrows. “You remembered?”

Sherlock resists the urge to roll his eyes. Of course he remembered John’s birthday, the date is stored in the most frequented filing cabinet in the Home Office of the John Watson Wing of his Mind Palace, but he decides not to elaborate. “I did. And I was thinking…. You were so generous giving me what I wanted for my birthday, and I’d like to do the same for you.”

A slightly apprehensive look crosses John’s face; months ago, Sherlock had convinced John to engage in a particularly extended and rough session as a birthday treat, and clearly he’s concerned that Sherlock is about to propose something as extreme.

Sherlock scrambles to overcorrect. “I just mean… I thought it might be nice for you to have a bit of a treat. Something, um, different.”

John licks his lips. “...Okay? What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I was thinking that maybe you’d like to watch straight porn while you fuck me.”

John had unfortunately just brought his mug to his lips, and he sputters and coughs before blinking rapidly in Sherlock’s direction. “I… what?”

“You could take me from behind and imagine I’m whoever you want me to be. Or I could wear my panties and bustier and heels and pad my chest, if you’d like, and wear a wig. Or I could--”

John holds up his hand, an unreadable expression on his face. “Sherlock, stop. Where… where the hell is this coming from?”

Sherlock stares blankly back at him. “I just thought you might like a change of pace.”

John shakes his head, his brow furrowing in confusion. “A change of pace?”

“Well, yes. I mean, you’re a straight man in a relationship with another man. You must miss being with women, so I thought--”

“Sherlock, we’ve been over this. Yes, outside of you, I’m exclusively attracted to women, but that’s outside of you. I’m wildly attracted to you, and I don’t regret not being with anyone else.”

Sherlock bites his lip. “But last night, with Moira--”

“I’m objectively attracted to Moira, Sherlock, the same way I’m objectively attracted to a lot of women. Yes, sometimes I fantasise about women on the off-chance I’m not thinking about you, and yes, when I watch porn, it happens to be straight. But I don’t wish you were female, I don’t fantasise about you being female, and I never want to pretend that you’re female. I love you. I love your body. That’s all I want. Ever. Do you understand?”

Sherlock stares into his mug. What John is saying is so kind, so affirming, was it possible that it was true?

One glance at John’s face reveals that it is.

Sherlock feels suddenly very foolish.

“Oh. Oh, um. Alright. Never. Never mind, then.”

Across from him, John’s lip quirks up into a lopsided grin. “You know, it means a lot to me that you’d… that you’d offer to do that for me. I know you’re not much for costumes and role-play.”

“Please, John, you know it’s entirely dependent on the situation. In fact, I’ve just remembered that I believe I have a long-standing request in for a particular Victorian-themed session based on the acclaimed film Wilde--”

“Oh, shut up, you.” And with that, John’s deposited his tea on the end table and he’s straddling Sherlock and kissing him and kissing him and from there things very rapidly devolve into a pair of very satisfying blow jobs, and as Sherlock watches John’s perfect lips work over the flesh of his throbbing cock, he can’t for the life of him remember why he’d ever questioned this in the first place.

Three nights later, they’re lying in bed and Sherlock is just on the cusp of sleep when John speaks out into the darkness.

“So I’ve been thinking.”

“Mmm?” Sherlock’s brain shakes off the veil of unconsciousness that had been settling over him; he’d had a long and frustrating day at the lab, and was looking forward to resetting his hard drive.

“About my birthday. I was wondering… would you still be open to having a session that day?”

Sherlock rolls onto his side and snuffles absently as he nuzzles into the pillow. “That day? Don’t you have work?”

“I do, but don’t you have the day off?”

Sherlock blearily pulls up his calendar from the front desk of his Mind Palace (a relatively new addition; for a majority of his life he couldn’t be arsed to know what day of the week it was, but with his laboratory schedule constantly in flux, it had become rather imperative as of late). “I...do. But I’ll have Rosie--”

“I’ll make other arrangements.”

“...Oh.” Sherlock blinks his eyes open in an attempt to read John’s expression, but it proves impossible in the dim light of the bedroom. Was it possible John was really proposing an extended session? They hadn’t had one in ages, not since before they’d put the brakes on their power exchanges and started counseling. Sherlock wants to jump at the chance, but he’s still not sure what exactly is on offer here. “Yes, that would… be fine. What… what exactly do you have in mind?”

John clears his throat and shifts beneath the duvet. When he responds, his tone is nonchalant. “Oh, just something I’ve been fantasising about for a while. Nothing too extreme. We’d only need to pre-negotiate a few points in advance. I’d just… like your undivided attention for the day, if you’d be amenable.”

“Oh. Yes. Yes, that would be fine.”

John makes a contented little humming sound that makes Sherlock’s heart feel weirdly fluttery. “Good. Looking forward to it.”

“...John?”

“Hmm?”

“Mrs. Hudson was going to teach me how to make a Victoria Sponge that day. Should I… still do that?” That was John’s favourite cake, and Sherlock had, up until that point, succeeded in manipulating Mrs. Hudson into baking it on Sherlock’s behalf whenever he and John had a row, and Sherlock wanted to apologise. Sherlock had thought the arrangement worked quite well, but after the last time, Mrs. Hudson had put her foot down and insisted that if Sherlock needed apology cakes, he ought to be baking them himself. Sherlock had reluctantly acquiesced.

John chuckles and pulls Sherlock into his arms, somehow managing to accurately aim a kiss to his forehead despite the dark. “That’s really thoughtful of you, love. But I’m afraid you’re going to be rather… indisposed. The cake will have to wait.”

Sherlock swallows hard. “...Oh.”

And with that, John infuriatingly drifts contentedly off to sleep, leaving Sherlock alone to bask in the thousand salacious fantasies now parading through his mind.

He can hardly wait.