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Terms of Endearment

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It starts on a September afternoon at Baker Street, with the traffic noises filtering in and mixing with the sound of newspaper pages turning, the telly murmuring quietly in the background. Sherlock is doing something unspeakable to a collection of ears on their kitchen table as Greg tries to make his way through the Times crossword, and John is dozing lightly in his favourite armchair. All in all, it's peaceful and not exactly the sort of atmosphere one would expect to make somebody go utterly and completely insane.

And yet, Sherlock suddenly gets up, stretches his back and casually says: “God, I'm starving. Would you make me some risotto, baby?”

There is a stunned moment where nobody says anything and then Sherlock obviously realises what he has just said, his mouth working, his eyes blinking furiously, and then he turns bright red and hastily strides out of the kitchen, slamming the bathroom door behind himself.

“Did he just....?” John asks, dazedly pointing at where Sherlock was standing a moment ago.

Greg clears his throat and then shakes his head as if trying to dislodge water from his ears in a futile attempt to make reality make sense.

“I mean,” John says, twisting around in his chair to look at Greg, “he did just call me 'baby', right? Or was that for you?”

“No, you are definitely the risotto chap around here,” Greg confirms. “Also, it wouldn't really have been any less weird if he had called me....'baby'.”

“Do you think,” John asks, conceding the point, “he might have drugged himself again?”

It's a valid question. They haven't been attacked with psychoactive mist or the like in a while but Sherlock is perfectly capable of accidentally creating and ingesting his own mood-altering chemicals.

Greg is just about to suggest that they check on Sherlock, make sure he hasn't passed out from whatever noxious concoction he has clearly accidentally eaten, when the bathroom door slams open again and Sherlock re-enters the room. He is pointedly not looking either John or Greg in the face, instead fixing his eyes to a spot on the book shelf, and says: “Or we could go out to dinner, I expect. Angelo's is open again.” He is clearly pretending the little moment where he called John by a sickeningly sweet term of endearment never happened, but John is having none of it.

“Sherlock,” John asks, getting up, “are you alright? Did you...hit your head or something?” And there is the flush again, creeping up Sherlock's neck and mottling his skin bright pink.

“Of course not,” Sherlock snaps, “don't be ridiculous! I've been sitting here all afternoon. How could I possibly have hit my head?”

“Yeah,” John say, “only, you just... you called me 'baby' just now, Sherlock.”

Greg swears he sees Sherlock wince at that, the movement almost but not quite hidden by the way he twirls around on his heels and heads into the kitchen again, clattering his dishes into the sink. “Of course I did,” Sherlock yells over the noise of the water and glassware clinking together. “You're small, have a round face and big blue eyes. You look like a baby, John. Even you have to be aware of that! And most times you display the intellectual capacities of one.”

Greg looks at John, one eyebrow raised. John is frowning, evidently torn between helpless laughter, outright concern and annoyance. 'No drugs,' he mouths at Greg and then moves into the kitchen.

“Sure, ducky,” John says, his voice thick with sarcasm, “nice try. You know,” he then continues, slightly more serious and watching Sherlock as one would watch a lion poised to spring, “it's actually not, ah, uncommon to want to call a lover by a pet name. As in, it wouldn't make you a pervert or anything.”

If possible, Greg thinks, Sherlock turns an even brighter shade of red, even as he snaps: “I'm perfectly well aware of that, John.” Oh, for God's sake. Greg gets up out his chair and joins his two favourite berks in the kitchen to prevent any actual killing happening.

“Right,” John starts again, who sometimes just can't leave well-enough alone, “so you're actually going to try to make me believe you simply said that just now because - ”

“For fuck's sake,” Greg interrupts him, “will the two of you shut the hell up?” Which has the satisfying effect of making both of them whirl on him, brows wrinkled, mouths opening to protest.

“You,” he snaps before either of them gets a word out, pointing at John imperiously, “get working on that risotto. And you,” he points at Sherlock, “come over here, right now.” He snaps his fingers and when Sherlock makes a tentative step in his direction, he hauls him in for a kiss that should be interesting enough to derail whatever one-way street that brilliant brain has backed itself into.

Sherlock's mouth is soft beneath his, his tongue coming out to play with minimal coaxing and so they snog for a good long while before coming up for air. When they do, Greg can see that John has already diced an onion and is in the process of cubing some zucchini, grinning to himself in a way that tells Greg he understands and approves of this division of labour for now. Sherlock follows his gaze and then evidently comes to a decision, pulling away from Greg to walk up behind John and embrace him from behind, pressing a kiss to his ear as he hooks his chin over John's shoulder.

“Your risotto is very satisfying,” he rumbles in that deep, contented voice he only gets after a good snog, and Greg can feel the corners of his mouth turn up in satisfaction.

“Yeah?” John asks, “I thought cooking was simply a less precise form of chemistry?”

Sherlock shrugs. “I might have slightly underestimated the skill it takes to make risotto,” he admits.

“Uh-huh,” John agrees, “ever so slightly.” He finally puts the knife down and turns around, drawing Sherlock in for another round of snogging. Greg leans against the door-frame, watching them and thinking, as he so often does, that they make a strikingly well-matched pair. John has both hands on Sherlock's hips. Sherlock is, in turn, angling John's face just right by pulling lightly on his hair, and they make a picture Greg would be happy to watch for hours.

After a moment, however, John pulls away and playfully swats Sherlock on the arse. “You, out of the kitchen, now. You remember what happened last time you tried to help me with the cooking. Also, you're still wearing that god-awful shirt.”

Sherlock pulls a face but leaves them without a protest, already unbuttoning the shirt reserved for experiments.

As John returns to his zucchini, a slight flush on his face, Greg gets out the disinfectant to wipe down their kitchen table.

“You should advertise, you know,” he says, as he rinses the sponge, watching John out of the corner of his eye. “'My risotto is so good, it turns Sherlock Holmes sappy' or something.”

John glares.

“No, seriously,” Greg continues, unable to keep a saucy grin off his face, “It is really good risotto and it would be a shame if the world missed out on it, baby.”

“I will cut you,” John threatens, raising his kitchen knife menacingly.

“Aw, honey, you wouldn't really, would you?” Greg can't help himself; growing up with two brothers means that the instinct to tease is deeply ingrained. He raises his hands, though, on the premise that John won't actually maim him if he at least pretends to surrender.

“Don't tempt me,” John growls, punching him in the shoulder so hard Greg carries the bruises around for a week.

The risotto is, indeed, excellent.

 

The second time it happens, they're examining a corpse fished out of the Thames at Canary Wharf while a sharp Eastern wind blows spray up into their faces. John is crouched over the body, trying to get a better look at the strangulation marks around the poor sod's neck while Sherlock is looking up the distribution of some kind of special mud on his phone, when Greg suddenly notices a tiny strand of vermilion silk caught in the bloke's beard and lifts it free.

“Right,” he says, vaguely in Sherlock's direction, “he was definitely strangled with the same piece of silk. See?”

He's holding out the tiny twist of fabric, the chilly wind freezing his fingers until Sherlock finally looks up from his mobile and then goes right back to perusing the tiny screen as he says: “Fibers, very good, baby.”

Greg flinches and then looks around cautiously, hoping, hoping, no-one but him has heard that little exchange.

No such luck. John, who is still kneeling next to the body so Greg can only see half his profile, is nevertheless clearly biting down on his bottom lip so hard Greg expects blood at any second, his body shaking with suppressed laughter. Worse, Sally, who is warming her hands on a cup of tea not two feet away, is trying valiantly not to choke on the hot liquid that must have gone down the wrong way.

Brilliant.

“Sir,” Sally asks, once she has her breath back, “did he just....?”

But Greg ignores her. “Sherlock,” he says as Sherlock keeps clicking away at the tiny keyboard of his phone, “what the actual fuck?”

Sherlock stills suddenly, evidently replaying what just happened in his mind. “Um,” he says, staring fixedly at the screen.

It only takes him a moment or so to rally himself, though, and then he is off and running, the frosty cut of his voice making Greg wince almost as much as the endearment had earlier. “Splendid deduction, detective inspector,” Sherlock snaps, “really, you're putting me to shame here.” And, when Greg just stares at him, caught somewhere between deep amusement and utter horror, Sherlock continues: “Put it in an evidence bag already, will you? It's not every day you actually find anything useful, now, is it?”

And with that, Sherlock turns around and is off to examine the spot where the body had been caught against the harbor wall, just under the water line. Greg looks at John, who resembles, it has to be said, a demented guppy at this moment. A very handsome demented guppy, sure, but his mouth keeps opening and closing in a way that suddenly strikes Greg as much more funny than this utterly bizarre exchange.

He doubles over, laughing so hard he ends up with Sally pounding on his back and John pulling him up by the armpits, trying to get him into a position where he can draw in some much needed air. “Did you see his face?” Greg gasps, still bent over, tears streaming down his face. He hasn't laughed this hard since primary school and the sound of Sherlock stalking past and leaving in a hurry does nothing to calm him down.

“Oh yes,” John confirms, staring after Sherlock's retreating back as he steadies Greg, looking faintly worried. “You don't think he's actually sick, do you?”

The thought sobers Greg up almost instantly and they look at each other for a long moment, dread settling over them like flakes of ash.

Because....
Because, if Sherlock was actually, legitimately ill he would keep it to himself, wouldn't he?

 

They finally corner him in the flat, once the case is closed and the murderer put away. Sherlock is sprawled out on the sofa, picking at the strings of his violin while he stares into space.

“Now?” John asks from where he's leaning against the kitchen counter.

“Now,” Greg confirms and together they walk into the living room and pull up both the armchairs so they're facing the sofa.

Sherlock raises an eyebrow interrogatively though he keeps pretending he isn't looking at them at all.

“Sherlock,” John begins, hesitantly. “Are you...uh. Are you alright?”

Sherlock's face does something complicated. “...Yes,” he finally says, as if he was admitting an embarrassing disease. “I'm...fine. Utterly fine.”

“Right,” Greg says, “so that little performance at the docks last night was....” He trails off, in the hope that Sherlock will be annoyed enough by the unfinished sentence to complete it. It has worked before.

Instead, however, Sherlock blushes bright red, his eyes darting away to the cow skull on their wall.

“Wait,” John says, “were you really just – ”

“It's called a term of endearment, John!” For some reason Sherlock's harsh tone seems to ease some of the tension in the room. “One uses it, as you pointed out only a few days ago, with those one holds dear. Or have you forgotten that already?” And now Sherlock is glaring daggers at them. Yep, Greg is definitely feeling better.

“Lovely,” Greg says as he gets up, “I'm having a drink.”

“Yes, please,” Sherlock says behind him and he can hear John snort. That's sorted, then.

Once Greg has poured each of them a generous tumbler full of the good Oban Mycroft had given them for Christmas, both he and John move to the couch, ignoring Sherlock's grumbling as they squeeze in next to him, forcing him into a sitting position.

“Right,” John says, clinking his glass against Sherlock's, “baby.” The last word comes out like an afterthought and the way John holds himself tense tells Greg he is waiting for Sherlock to punch him or say something unbelievably cutting.

But, for a wonder, Sherlock doesn't. Instead, he blushes, takes a sip of the Scotch and - yes, that's definitely relaxation, right there. Greg lets himself melt back into the couch as well, Sherlock a soft weight against his shoulder and the whiskey a comfortable warmth in his stomach, as the traffic rumbles past outside and the three of them sit in companionable silence for a bit.

“So,” Sherlock finally asks, “will you make me some risotto, baby?”

John just snorts and hits him over the head affectionately, saying “Shut your idiot trap, you stupid git.”

But then he does make risotto and it is fantastic.