“So is that tall, gorgeous bloke coming towards us your flatmate?”
John twisted around in his chair to look - and yes, it was Sherlock tacking through the crowded pub. The moue of distaste on his face made it blatantly clear what his opinion of the noisy establishment was, but he didn’t stop until he’d dropped into the free seat next to John’s.
“Sherlock Holmes,” he announced, offering Bill a dignified handshake.
“Bill, Sherlock. Sherlock, Bill.” John didn’t even bother trying to hide his astonishment. “I can’t believe you actually came.”
Sherlock quirked an eyebrow. “Miss my chance to hear first-hand all about your adventure-filled days in Afghanistan? How could I pass it up?”
Bill laughed at that. “He’s just as posh as you promised, Johnny. God, that’s hilarious. The two of you together.”
John tamped down the instinctive annoyance at someone yet again making assumptions. Especially since Bill should have known better. Neither of them were exactly reticent about sharing personal details in their occasional keeping-in-touch emails - obviously John would have mentioned it if he’d started shagging his closest friend. “We’re just flatmates.”
Sherlock stiffened - not so much that anyone but John would have noticed, but John did notice because he noticed everything about Sherlock these days. “John’s not gay,” Sherlock said slowly. “Surprised you’d get that wrong, you being ‘best mates’ and all.”
“Oi, don’t be like that,” Bill retorted. “You’re his best mate nowadays; didn’t have to read between the lines all that hard to pick that up.” He grinned and took a long pull of his pint. “Besides, I’ve seen Three Continents Watson at work. A little detail like you being-”
“Dammit, Bill,” John grumbled. He could feel Sherlock mulling that over, and it was very definitely not something he wanted Sherlock deducing out of him. “Just - drop it, okay?”
Bill raised his hands in mock surrender.
Sherlock wasn’t done, though. “Three Continents Watson,” he repeated, mulling the consonants over in his mouth and expelling the T in “Watson” with a sharp snap. “Army nickname, I presume?”
Christ. “One I despised, yes Sherlock, now drop it.”
“It was for . . . sexual activities?” Sherlock nominally directed the question to John, but his eyes were on Bill across the table. Ready to deduce the answer from his expression if John and Bill didn’t answer him verbally. “Is that for shagging women from three continents, or on three continents?”
Bill threw his head back and laughed loud enough to gather a few curious glances from other tables. “Started out as speculation,” he said. “There was a fetching little redhead from the States who had her eye on him for ages. When John finally let her have him, she swore up and down she’d shagged blokes on three continents and John was by far the best. Was practically a line outside his tent, after that.”
John could feel his face growing redder the longer Sherlock stared at him. “Interesting,” Sherlock murmured.
“Word spread, of course,” Bill continued, totally oblivious to John’s mortification. “All John had to do was wink and he had his pick of the base. Never did hear anyone say the rumor was wrong, though.” He fluttered his eyelashes and threw an exaggerated pout John’s way. “Never did get to find out firsthand, either - arrogant wanker won’t succumb to my charms.”
“You don’t have any charms, you arse.”
“My arse is my favorite charm of all.” Bill grinned. “Never had any complaints, at least.”
“Not . . . not just women, then,” Sherlock said slowly. “You always . . .”
John sighed and buried his face in his hands. “I always say I’m not gay because I’m not gay, Sherlock. I’m bi, not that it’s anyone’s business unless they’re imminently likely to be in my bed. And I keep having to insist I’m not gay because I’m never going to get fucking laid again with you texting me all night whenever I’m on a date. Having everyone assume I’m shagging you kind of cuts down my prospects.”
Bill made a vaguely embarrassed noise. “Shit,” he said. “I’m sorry, mate - didn’t realize I was outing you. Never really knew you to be shy about your orientation and all, so it never occurred to me you and Sherlock weren’t . . . yeah. Sorry.”
“No, it’s . . .” John sucked in a deep breath and sat back up again. “It’s okay. Sherlock would have figured it out sooner or later anyway. I’m just sick of everyone assuming, that’s all. And honestly it’s kind of nice to not have to live up to that reputation anymore. Not that it wasn’t flattering, but I’d rather have been remembered for being a good doctor. Or a good soldier. Something other than just a good shag.”
“You’re a good man,” Sherlock announced unexpectedly. And stood. “I apologize; I need to get back to Baker Street. Time sensitive experiment - I’m sure you understand. Nice to meet you, Bill.”
The rest of the evening got a bit blurry after several more pints, John and Bill finally getting to catch up in person after nearly a year of hasty emails and the occasional text message, but John couldn’t quite get Sherlock out of his head. The fact that Sherlock actually came. And the fact that, when he left, he couldn’t meet John’s eye.
Things went back to normal (well, almost normal) for the next two weeks. Sherlock was perhaps a bit quieter than usual, and John had just reached the point of convincing himself he’d escaped scrutiny when Sherlock ambushed him over dinner at Angelo’s one night with questions.
“Is the reputation deserved?” he asked suddenly, paying no attention to the other diners around them. “The ‘Three Continents’ nickname?”
John nearly choked on a forkful of lasagna. “I’m not really the best judge.”
“But to the best of your knowledge - is it true?”
John flashed his best drop it glare. Not that it usually worked, but still. “Can’t you just deduce it?”
Sherlock held the eye contact for a moment, but then - to John’s surprise - lowered his gaze. “I’m . . . not really the best judge either,” he admitted.
“Let me guess - not your area.”
“Don’t mock me, John.” Sherlock tried to glare back, but there was no heat in it. More like . . . embarrassment? Seriously?
“Sorry,” John said automatically.
“It’s fine,” Sherlock said, dropping the facade. “It’s only fair that you know. I’m not ignorant of it by choice, I just . . .” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, a surefire sign he was trying to be on his best behavior. “I usually can’t stand to be touched.”
John thought back to all the times he’d seen Sherlock interacting with people he cared about - himself, Mrs. Hudson, Molly, Lestrade. Even Mycroft. He’d have never noticed it without Sherlock’s comment, but . . . “You accept it better from some people than others.”
“I acknowledge the role touch can play in reinforcing bonds, so I allow it from Mrs. Hudson and I tolerate it from a handful of specific acquaintances.” Sherlock stared down at his barely-disturbed plate. “The only person I’ve ever actually enjoyed touching me is you.”
“Oh.” John wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about that. Sad, perhaps, that Sherlock had clearly been missing out on a fairly major mode of human comfort, but also a bit chuffed that he was the exception. And fuck if that wasn’t a screwed-up reaction. “I didn’t realize.”
“I’ve taken pains to hide it. I assumed you’d be disgusted if you discovered I . . . other-than-platonically enjoyed your hand on my shoulder or your fingertips on my arm as you saw to my cuts and scrapes. Most heterosexual men find homosexuality deeply threatening.”
“You’re gay, then?” John put his fork down - clearly this was going to be a conversation worth focusing on. “You never have said, so I always assumed you were either asexual or you were gay and intentionally celibate. I never felt it was my place to ask.”
“You may always ask,” Sherlock retorted immediately. “But in truth . . . demisexual, maybe. I’ve never been motivated to find out.”
John suddenly had a very good idea where this conversation was going. “And you are now?”
Sherlock’s gaze snapped up to his. “I . . . you . . . are you offering?”
Am I? It wasn’t exactly a difficult decision - John had been keeping any and all inappropriate thoughts about Sherlock tightly under wraps since day one. Now it felt like a dam had broken. “I guess I am,” John said slowly. Whatever it takes to get my hands on that delectable arse . . .
Although that wasn’t it, not really. Yes, Sherlock was gorgeous and aloof and untouchable and unbelievably posh and all those things that made everyone want to take him down a peg - but he was also so wonderfully expressive in other ways. Sex with Sherlock wouldn’t be as much about getting ahold of his body, fit as it was, as it would be about getting ahold of his mind. Seeing what made him moan and what made him shiver and made his ridiculously oversized brain shut down completely before rebooting. The concept of introducing him to all that - of being his first - that was more arousing than any pornographic tableau Sherlock could have arranged himself in.
“What do you . . .” Sherlock cleared his throat. “What would this entail? With this offer?”
John looked down at his own half-finished plate, then at Sherlock’s barely-touched one. Food first. While he figured it out. “Eat.” He speared another forkful of lasagna and nodded toward Sherlock’s fettuccine. “Give me a sec to think it over, and we’ll talk more back at the flat.”