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The Way to a Man's Heart

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Chapter One: Shepherd's Pie

 

That was not at all what he had expected when Lestrade had texted, asking Sherlock to meet him at the pub near New Scotland Yard after work. Specifically requesting he come alone. To be honest, Sherlock had thought the detective was going to talk to him about John. He'd been prepared for an awkward and painful conversation about the stages of grief and emotions and being a good friend. And he'd been willing to go through with it, for John's sake. Because it was clear that John still wasn't happy, even after all this time. It had been nearly a year. Fifteen months since the mess with Magnussen. Sherlock had done all he knew how to, taking as many cases as he could, even boring ones, when there was any sort of prospect of danger or thrills. When was he going to get the old John back?

A drawer in one of the filing cabinets deep in his mind palace popped open. He slammed it shut again, but not before his own voice had echoed back at him: But that was ages ago. Why would she still be upset? Sherlock shook his head as he unlocked the front door to 221B Baker Street. Not now.

As it turned out, Lestrade hadn't wanted to talk about John after all. Although it had still been an awkward and painful conversation. Sherlock went up the stairs, registering the muted sounds of the telly coming from Mrs Hudson's flat along with the mixed scents of shepherd's pie, cinnamon scones, and fish curry in the stairway. And very faintly, marijuana. The latter two from their landlady (Chatterjee must be on the outs with his wife again), the former from upstairs. John had been cooking. Not only cooking, but baking. Sherlock steeled himself and opened the door to the flat.

"That you, Sherlock?"

Sounds from the kitchen. The telly was on here too, the early evening news. A good sign. Sherlock relaxed slightly and grunted in a vague response -- it would have had to be a very clever intruder indeed to duplicate precisely the weight, speed, and rhythm of Sherlock's gait on the stairs along with the specific twist he habitually gave the doorknob and the rustle of his coat across his shoulders. But then John had likely been listening to the latest political furor or international outrage instead of paying attention to the sounds from outside. Or to his own internal demons.

Sherlock went straight to his desk after divesting himself of his outerwear, tapping the laptop that stood open there to wake it up.

"Lestrade says to say hello," Sherlock said over the sound of the sportscaster reading the league results or something equally vapid.

"Oh? You saw Greg?" John appeared in the kitchen doorway, florid and shiny-faced from the heat of the oven and with one of Mrs Hudson's blue-flowered tea towels slung over one shoulder.

Sherlock glanced at him then said as he entered his password, "You got off work early, they closed up half an hour early for that nurse's farewell party but you skipped out, not really your thing, plus you didn't want to give that other one..." Sherlock snapped his fingers in John's direction.

"Rona?" John grinned, half embarrassed and half flattered.

Sherlock pointed at him to confirm. "...Rona any more chances to corner you. You should just tell her you're not interested." Sherlock was of course not-so-secretly pleased that John wasn't interested in this Rona. He hadn't dated anyone since Mary. On the other hand, Sherlock knew it wasn't a good sign for John's mental state. Having a female companion was virtually a prerequisite of his identity. Sherlock might eventually have to do something about that. Eventually.

John came over and stood next to the table. Close enough that Sherlock could see the faint stubble on his chin (he'd shaved carefully that morning: another good sign) and smell the cinnamon caught on his jumper (he'd spilt some on the counter, brushed it away with his sleeve). Also his aftershave (when had he taken to wearing that again?) and the slight sourness of his breath at the end of the day (no alcohol, though; Sherlock might have been wrong about the reason for the pie).

"Who says I'm not interested?" But it was teasing. John was smiling at Sherlock, something warm and happy in his eyes. Maybe the baking did help. Something loosened inside Sherlock that he hadn't even been aware was clenched tight.

Sherlock reached down and clicked open the browser. With any luck he still had the pertinent bookmarks stored somewhere.

"Greg?" John prompted, his voice thrumming with an undercurrent of excitement and anticipation.

"Oh. No, no case," Sherlock said, regretfully, as he slid into his chair. They'd just wrapped up a case last week but it hadn't involved much legwork. Mostly combing through phone records and tracking down the manufacturer of a certain type of piano wire. John had been happy anyway. Sherlock wished Lestrade had a case for them. Sherlock would have liked to see again the way John's entire body came to life, the way his expression became focused and his jaw firm with purpose. But that would have to wait. Lestrade had other things entirely on his mind at the moment.

"Apparently Detective Inspector Lestrade and Dr Hooper are getting married," Sherlock muttered as he dug around in the bowels of his hard drive. Not that it was a complete surprise. They'd been dating for over a year, the man practically lived at her flat.

John barked out a laugh. "Really? That's fantastic. When?"

"In six weeks."

"Wow, that's soon," John said. "Cutting it close on invitations. You don't think... is Molly?"

"Not pregnant, no," Sherlock said. Refrained from adding a remark that might be construed as referring to John's wedding. He hadn't known, after all. "I gather they simply want to do it and don't see any reason to drag it out. Very close friends and family only, no big fuss," he said distractedly as he opened the bookmark library.

"Right. Right yes, of course." His earlier upbeat tone turning stiff.

For God's sake. While it was true John's interactions with both Lestrade and Molly had been more cordial than warm since his marriage, he was obviously included if Sherlock was going. "Don't be an idiot, John," Sherlock said irritably, "of course you're invited too. Although, that wasn't the only reason he wanted to see me." He scrolled through the entries. Ah, here it was. He hadn't deleted it after all.

"Then what did he want? You have a caterer who owes you a favour or something?"

"He's asked me to be his best man." Sherlock opened the internet page. Tips for a Best Man Speech. It had all ended up being entirely useless for what he'd wanted to say at John's wedding, but this was only Lestrade. It didn't really matter what he said.

Beside him, John stilled, then shifted. "Oh?" Too casual. What was wrong now? Sherlock glanced up at John but he was already moving away. "You should open a side business." His voice tense and clipped.

Sherlock blinked at the retreating figure, then sprang up and followed him into the kitchen.

"What-- you're not jealous, are you? You're welcome to the job." He hadn't thought it was that important. John rarely saw Lestrade outside of their investigations. But then John rarely saw anyone outside of their investigations and his own erratic locum assignments. He'd never actually gone back to work full-time. Maybe Sherlock had underestimated the strength of his friendship with the inspector.

John went to the oven and took out the pan with the pie. The scones were already done, cooling on the sideboard. He sighed. "No, no. Greg wants you. Course he does. You eating?" He didn't sound angry or hurt now. Conciliatory. Maybe resigned.

Sherlock took down two plates and got cutlery from the drawer to lay the table while John cut up the pie.

"It's nice, for Molly and Greg," John said, and that sounded more sincere. "Nice to have some good news. I'll call them later to congratulate them. Or is it all right that you've told me? Not meant to be a secret or anything?" John raised his eyebrows and glanced at Sherlock, but immediately looked away again, concentrating on serving up two large, piping hot portions of potatoes and vegetables onto the plates.

"No, I don't think so." Sherlock was nonplussed by John's reaction. He was also somewhat distracted by the fact that the pie looked suspiciously like his father's recipe. "We were in that pub all the Yarders go to," Sherlock said. "Anyone could have overheard."

John nodded. His mouth did that thing where the corners turned down to indicate he'd heard and acknowledged the statement. It made him look unnecessarily grim.

Sherlock frowned. He'd used to be baffled (surprised, delighted) on a regular basis by John's reactions to things, but he hadn't been this far off base in a long time.

"This doesn't actually bother you, does it? I don't know why he asked me, really," Sherlock said, waving his hand around. "It would have made more sense for him to ask you in the first place. Or that sergeant, Dimblock --"

"Dimmock," John sighed under his breath, shaking his head, but his mouth was edging towards a smile.

Sherlock ignored him -- pointedly, he knew the man's name perfectly well -- and ploughed on: "They seem to get on swimmingly. After the way I botched it at yours..."

That got John's attention. He stopped dishing up the food and looked at Sherlock earnestly. "Sherlock," he said in that firm, low voice that meant he was not going to accept any arguments. "You did not botch being my best man. You were you, and you were perfect. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way."

Sherlock felt inexplicably warm. His ears tingled. Something in his stomach too. He recognised the sensation but knew it wasn't productive so he ignored it. Tried to anyway. It wasn't easy, not with John's blue eyes staring into his. All Sherlock would have to do was lift his hand to rest it on John's arm or place it against his cheek. The roughness of his five o'clock shadow under Sherlock's thumb. His breath hot and damp on Sherlock's palm. But that wouldn't be welcome. Still, the moment hung there, as if waiting for the prompter to whisper the next line into one of their ears. Sherlock became extremely aware of his body, his chest rising and falling inside his shirt with his breaths, the slight prickling of nervous perspiration under his arms, his hands hanging large and buzzing with undirected energy at his sides.

John's tongue darted forward to touch the inside of his bottom lip. He broke eye contact suddenly, his gaze skittering down across Sherlock's mouth before landing on the food again, almost surprised to remember what he was doing. He took a quick step back. When he spoke again, it was with a casual, almost false cheer.

"Greg's probably just hoping to end up with an attempted murder at the reception. You know, spice things up a bit. It's his third, have to make it special." He flashed Sherlock a quick, tight smile and picked up one of the plates in one hand, knife and fork in the other. "Think I'll just take this upstairs. Get out of your way and let you work."

Sherlock was momentarily aghast. This was absolulely not the way he'd imagined the evening going. He hadn't visualised it in detail, but he'd had the vague notion that John would help him, that this was a project they'd work on together. Well, honestly, that John would do most of the speechwriting. But if the mere thought of it was causing him to flee in panic... Fine. Sherlock could adjust.

"No, no," he said quickly. "No need. Plenty of time, I've hardly anything to do anyway. Nothing, really. Forget about weddings and all that rubbish. We can..."

Sherlock stepped over to the desk and disconnected his laptop from the charging cable so he could bring it back to the kitchen with him. He sat down, haphazardly shoving dishes aside to balance the computer on the edge of the table and twirling it around so the screen would be facing John's chair. If he would sit down.

"Here, check my inbox," Sherlock said, pointing from John to the computer. "I'm gasping for a good missing pet case. Maybe an affair with the secretary." He picked up a forkful of food from the plate in front of him and shoved it into his mouth, hoping to make John believe they were already eating together. It would be rude of him to leave now.

John chuckled. "You are not, you bloodthirsty savage. You need a good decapitation is what. All right, let's see what you've got then..." He put his plate back on the table and sat down catty-corner from Sherlock. When he scooted his chair in, his knee accidentally bumped Sherlock's, but he didn't move it away. Maybe he thought it was the table leg. Sherlock didn't dare move. Hardly dared breathe. He took another bite of the pie. It tasted like his father's too. He poked around, visually gauging the ratio of sweetcorn to peas and surreptitiously testing the viscosity of the gravy.