Disclaimer: I obviously do not own Sherlock. This month's Sherlock Challenge offered the prompt "tea", so this is my offer.

Unexpected effects of cups of tea

At ten, Sherlock doesn't get tea. Mycroft insists that his disregard for their national brew might cause his little brother to lose British citizenship, eventually, but he's just teasing…isn't he? And anyway, it's not like he hates it. Tea is…nice, sure. Warm and sweet.

Well, of course. The boy insists on his cup having enough honey to feed a small hive for the winter, according to his big brother. Mycroft, instead, will take his unsweetened, and assume an air of virtue…but he will eat no less than the triple of biscuits Sherlock munches on, so they're at least even.

No, what the youngest Holmes heir really can't seem to conceive is the need to interrupt a very pleasant and often instructive afternoon for tea. There are so many things to do! Games to play, observations to accomplish (Redbeard is a faithful companion for both of these), even experiments to conduct.

Invariably, when he's at his most busy, Mummy comes to call him away from whatever he is engrossed in…for tea? Come on, it's not worth it! He starts to beg for more time. Mummy is a scientist! At the very least, the days he's experimenting she should understand that what he's doing is much, much more important than any afternoon snack or warm drink.

Until one day, daddy comes to call him…and his youngest is ready to beg off as usual, when his father interrupts him, stern but still kind, "It's dinnertime, Lockie. I won't tolerate you skipping dinner."

The child finally looks around, ignoring the ants he'd been focusing on (social bugs are fascinating – true, bees are cuter, but they have no hive on the premise sadly) and notices that it's true. It's summer, so the sun is still out, but its angle makes clear that it's not at all mid-afternoon. Surprised, he follows without a word.

Oddly, he cannot help but feel mildly disappointed. True, he's been allowed to work undisturbed, the way mum is. But this missing the afternoon snack means…they didn't care if he was there or not? They'd just decided he whined too much, and wasn't worth the hassle? No, no, he obtained what he always wanted. He's not going to whine about it. He needs to be logic about this. Not let his silly feelings and fears get in the way. Probably everyone else was just too busy to remember to call him in. Yeah. Busy. That's what adults say, isn't it? And Mycroft considers himself an adult now, too.

Petulantly, he feels the need to point it out, as soon as he's seated at the table. "I don't know why you would bother me every other day. I've not had my afternoon snack, and I'm not any more hungry that I've been in the past." He's keeping his own usual stance, and reminding them all that they've forgotten him (why?).

His brother's eyes roll so hard that he could pull a muscle. Dad chuckles. "But you didn't, Lockie," Mummy points out smiling.

"I didn't…what?" he echoes, baffled. He would remember coming inside to eat. He might delete things sometimes, but he's not demented.

"You had your afternoon snack. I just gave up on you joining us at the table. Actually, that was someone's suggestion," Mummy explains, and from his brother's smug expression, it's clear that he was the responsible, and that he deems himself very smart indeed for thinking of it. He was just doing so to somehow get more biscuits himself, Sherlock is sure.

"I brought you a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits on a plate and left them by your side…and when I was back, you'd finished it. Well, at least the tea. You might have fed the biscuits to the ants, for all I know, but they were your favourites, so I don't think you would have," their mother tells him, grinning. "You were so absorbed in your observations, though, it's no wonder that you didn't register having eaten."

Since then, it becomes a habit. Sherlock's Very Important (capitals his, obviously) experiments are not interrupted, but still tea – and, occasionally, food – takes to appearing at his side at random intervals. Well, not so random if he'd paid attention, but there is always something more important to focus on. He learns to drink – and snack – without engaging his brain. Not like Mycroft, whose whole day seems to revolve around food, even if it clearly involves something else too, given the swiftness of his academic career.

Actually, that might have originated the kid's absurd theory that food slows his brain down, because the only times he heeds what he is introducing into his body are when he's too tired and/or ill to be able to keep his personal research up.

Time goes on, and Sherlock grows up, and leaves his parents' comfortable nest. Every chick has to, some day. The boy is certainly eager to make his own experiences…and, according to his brother, mostly his own errors. Really, there are only so many substances you can ingest before it haunts you. At least, Mycroft's lessons have taught the younger Holmes to be careful. He won't pop drugs with the same careless abandon he chugs any cup left next to his elbow, whether it is tea, coffe or juice.

With his big brother playing up on Sherlock's love of science, he agrees to at the very least record any chemical or illicit substance he takes. And if the teenager tells himself it is to determine accurately the best drug combination for his needs, not to save his own life or – much less – because his brother says so, it doesn't matter.

Still, Mycroft – now adult, and as always overwhelmingly nosy – is simply unbearable, so the youngest Holmes escapes from the latest rehab his brother tried to trap him in…to America, because that's far enough. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise him to discover that his brother started developing some ties to CIA then, because God forbid that he let Sherlock build his life.

Well, not that he's exactly developing a career if not accidentally. Obviously, he goes looking – rather persistently – for quality drugs, and somehow – trying to show he has talents he can use to pay rather than money – he ends up waiting for a drug lord and drinking a warm cup of tea that reminds him so much of home.

The kind woman who offered it – without being asked –, and who's very much involved with the drug smuggling, tells him in a whisper to run away, you don't really want to work for Frank, love, you can do better. And suddenly – even through the crushing need for his next hit – Sherlock sees her fear, and pain, and regret, and realises that yes, he can do better.

This sweet lady, who offers tea, homemade scones and wise advice to a random junkie who stumbled at her door, deserves better, too. And using his brain to earn himself drugs, by furthering whatever scheme Mr. Hudson wants, is definitely the wrong choice. Not even causing Mycroft a conniption by becoming a full-fledged criminal is worth it.

So Sherlock does what he came to do, offer his services, but to a different person and for a different reward. He asks for nothing more than tea and biscuits, though Mrs. Hudson has undoubtedly access to as many drugs as he could ever desire, and ensures that she doesn't have to live with fear at the bottom of her eyes anymore.

Which leads him to a discovery – police, despite having a number of detectives, forensics, informants, and whatever you want to add, can be surprisingly blind and useless. They're not corrupt. They're honestly hopeless. And Sherlock – even shaking with the need for his next hit – has enough brainpower to point them in the right direction.

Also, he likes helping people. He thought he hated people, but it appears more like a case of people hated him – everyone did, for some reason. Knowing that someone stopped being hurt and afraid because he helped put their tormentor away (well, in this case, have him executed – it's the safest way for her) is something that makes him feel happy.

Mrs. H. announces that she's going back home and assures him that he'll always have a cup of tea and a place to kip in her house.

"A scone, too?" the young man raises the bid, and she musses his hair, like his mother used to, and agrees with a smile to keep the biscuits coming when he'll stay with her. Like him, the old woman was born in England, and even with Frank taken care of, it's just better for her to get away from his associates. They won't bother going after a simple accountant overseas, as long as she keeps quiet, and she wants out of the 'family'.

As for Sherlock, he's finally realised that he can do something with his brain, besides getting high to satisfy it. He goes back to Mycroft, and rehab, and afterwards starts pestering officers of the law. No, he's not becoming an actual policeman, or a forensic investigator – he'd have superiors, at least at the start, and he refuses to take orders from idiots.

He can do their job for them, though. For free, too. After all, nobody would hire a consulting detective when nothing of the sort existed before. He can solve crimes, have the mental stimulation he craves, help people by ensuring murderers and other various scum are put behind bars, and stay (mostly – he's human, and he relapses…especially if it's a slow time for interesting crimes) clean of illegal stimulants, all in one.

He doesn't go back to Mrs. Hudson yet. He wants her to be proud of him (he's never cared what anyone thought of him – it's so odd, this new feeling), and to be able to show off, he needs to have a somehow well established career. It takes him five years, another three stints in rehab, and moving thirteen times, because for some reason his landlords don't appreciate him, to decide it's time to take the sweet woman's offer.

She's 'accidentally' just had her last set of tenants moving out. The sleuth doesn't want to know if his brother is involved in any way, but he suspects it, because who would willingly move out of 221B? A brainless, awful human being, it turns out, because – without being asked – Mrs Hudson expresses her joy at the swapping in her flat, "…not just because it's you, dearie. They moved out when the married ones next door moved in. Live and let live, I always say. If they couldn't stand that, I don't want them in my house."

The flat – as opposed to all his former accommodations – does come with self-appearing teacups (and, in the best days, biscuits). If the consulting detective remembered that old promise, he wouldn't be surprised. He does recognise some of the sweets as Mrs. Hudson's creations (there's a great – and delicious – difference with industrial biscuits).

For some reason, Mrs. Hudson insists that he needs a flatmate. She does realise that people – even people he helps, people whose job he does for them and for free – hate him on sight, doesn't she? Well, no, not on sight. Just as soon as he opens his mouth. The old woman is a precious snowflake – the exception to the rule – but her continuous nagging that she doesn't want him to get lonely is so annoying sometimes.

When Stamford – another not evil bloke that seems to find idle conversation an inviolable, divine commandment – feels the need to interrupt him mid-case with boring pleasantries, the sleuth grumbles about his landlady being completely unreasonable. A flatmate? Him? That's ridiculous!

He would have never imagined the result of a casual sentence. Words like 'chance' and 'coincidence' make his skin crawl – usually, it means there's a connection you missed, a cause you ignore, and in his line of work, that's dangerous. But 'lucky chance' (or maybe 'fate', if he admitted the existence of such a thing) seems to be the only proper definition for the way he acquires his flatmate. Colleague. Friend. Caretaker. Blogger. Doctor. His everything, really, and it's too scary to delve on the thought too long.

Letting John into his life also means a fundamental change in tea. It doesn't just start appearing at his elbow much more often than once or twice a day (apparently he asks for it – or at least agrees to it – even if he can never remember having done so). It should not be possible, but it seems like the quality of the beverage has improved dramatically. John is certainly not into high-quality loose-leaf teas, both because he's on a rather strict budget and because Sherlock searched the flat while the man was out in an effort to solve the Tea Conundrum.

So how is it that John's cups make him want to sigh in pleasure? He has to rein in sounds that would make him blush sometimes, and other times, the simple warmth the rather common beverage provides seems to spread past his stomach to his chest, where hardly anything should be influenced by his drink, not if he doesn't suffer from reflux at least. But there's no pain to accompany it, so this can't be the case. When John is at his side, there is hardly ever pain, as if the man exuded a natural analgesic. Oh – John isn't secretly drugging him, is he? No, he's a doctor, first do no harm, and strong moral principle, he wouldn't dose a former junkie without a reason.

The Tea Conundrum is never solved, becoming just one of the facets of the clearly unsolvable, endlessly fascinating John Conundrum. His flatmate is not a man – men are often dull, in Sherlock's experience. John is a puzzle, a walking contradiction, a complex creature that the sleuth simultaneously wants to know everything about and keep being forever surprised by.

The consulting detective can't dedicate nearly as much time to unravelling his friend's mystery as the man would deserve, because other matters – and other people – continue vying for his attention. Especially one Jim Moriarty. Jim is novel, and unpredictable, and should be the detective's dream come true – someone at his level to play with, to be challenged by, to ensure he won't be bored.

But while his cases stem from people being hurt – kidnapped, murdered, and otherwise abused – what Sherlock has always liked is the power to stop it. Someone kidnapping and exploding people for fun makes him want to growl, even if he respects genius when he sees it. Someone threatening John for fun…well, Jim Moriarty has no idea of the beast he's just unleashed.

It doesn't happen immediately, of course. There are still many more cups of blessed tea between this and the small-scale apocalypse that's to come, because neither of the consultants are eager to start an all-out war that could only end in at least one's destruction. It's cold war, for a while.

Sherlock learns to enjoy things while they last (it can only be so long), stores shared giggles in his mind palace because he'll need them, and shows off as much as he can, because John's praise might not be handy for a while. Tea at Buckingham palace – and everything that follows – is only another occasion to play. Yes, he's working, but he's enjoying himself – teasing Mycroft, loving his (not-gay?) blogger's jealousy. Good times. Simple times.

And then of course – pardon his French – shit hits the fan, and it involves tea. Of course it involves tea, because they're British, and Jim can't help but come to taunt him, riddle him, politely threaten and show off his education. And the sleuth offers him tea, because why not, it's only proper, and he thinks about poisoning it, but Jim's too smart. Whatever he has in place, it will go on regardless of his continued survival, or he wouldn't be here, at his enemy's mercy. So the only – tiny, passive-aggressive, even ridiculous – act of spite Sherlock allows himself is offering him tea with the cup's handle turned towards his nemesis' non-dominant hand.

The following two years are a never-ending nightmare. even when the work goes well. Especially when the work goes well. Because if it's easy it means that he'll have time to think, and having time to think means he'll have time to miss – London, home, John – and that's hell, as far as he's concerned.

He learns quickly not to drink tea anymore, because there's no having a proper cup out of London. It's not surprising in Argentina, or in Italy. But one would think that in fricking China they'd be able to make a cuppa. He almost chokes on the sheer wrongness of it, though. Nobody who's had John's tea – every day, several times a day – can settle for anything less.

So the only thing to do is drink anything but tea and go on, as quick as possible. He needs to get home. Possibly yesterday. But he can't get home until John and Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade are safe. It would defeat the point otherwise.

And when he has free time, and is in danger to slip into that aching, desperate longing again, fill his head with useless trivia to be deleted a day after. Trivia about tea, too, of course. It stops him from drinking the thing, at least. He can't repeat anything of that, though, because it's all long gone. Not that it ever mattered, anyway.

Eventually Sherlock does get home, but instead of everything in his life finally fitting, like a puzzle completed after so long, it's a worse hell than ever. Sure, there's London, and 221B, and Mrs. Hudson's biscuits.

But there's no home, because John moved out (on), and hence the tea is all wrong again. Not awful, of course, it's still appearing on its own – apparently courtesy of Mrs. Hudson – and it's not the wrong everything anymore. It's decent tea. But it's not the John-tea he has been forced to admit he's addicted to, by now. He wouldn't be able to pinpoint and put into words what's wrong with the beverage – despite his talent for analysis and care for details. It's just not good enough, and he can't complain, because offending his landlady (too) is the very last thing he wants. He deserves a punishment for hurting his only friend, anyway. Maybe that's it.

Being grateful for having been shot seems like a rather odd reaction to have, too. He honestly didn't expect that – he told her he only wanted to help, and he was honest, so Mary knowing when he's fibbing shouldn't have mattered. When it happens, though, all John's doctorly instincts flare up. Sherlock needs his doctor, and let it never be said that John Watson, MD, abandoned someone in need of his professional care. He didn't on the fucking battlefield – that's how he earned a bullet and a medal at the same time. There's no way that he's letting a seriously sick and still reckless consulting detective to the undoubtedly tender care of his old landlady and her hip.

Also, Mary's lies (about everything, from her name onwards) mean that she's fallen out of favour with her husband, and John is back in 221B. It's a temporary circumstance – of course it is, his wife is pregnant, John is too honourable to abandon a baby – but it means that the world is not askew anymore. The sleuth is going to enjoy it while it lasts (blessed, warm, proper tea included).

And if he starts pondering if – not all the time, of course, John will need to be present for his child, but…every once in a while, maybe – getting purposefully shot (can stabbed/otherwise hurt work, too?) can lead to having John back in the flat for a few days, at least, it's only sensible. No, better not. Mary would pick up on it, no matter how really dangerous his career is, and John would get angry again.

Things seem to end even worse than he would have expected (somehow, criminals having mind palaces feels like they're cheating) and he fully expects his journey to end in a blast of chemicals and a nice dream about the only person who's made him feel…not loved, maybe, but cared for, beyond obligation and usefulness and whatever else. Of course, he tried to fuel John's adrenaline addiction, tried to ensure he deserved at least minutely his flatmate's affection, but he suspected that even if he didn't earn it John would still be fond of him, at least a bit.

To his surprise, he's saved. By John, of course, and – surprisingly – Moriarty. For someone who worked so hard at destroying his life, he's amazingly helpful. There's a hectic, glorious, exciting time that almost ends in everyone's creative murder. However guilty he feels for it – Very Not Good, he knows – dying together with his blogger, like they've been ready to do since the start, sounds almost heavenly.

If he was a man to believe in God, Sherlock would credit their undoubtedly overworked guardian angel with the both of them surviving the Third Moriarty Wave. Secrets are aired on every side, and – amazingly – John does not run from him in disgusted horror for his past. It's not-Mary, rather, who disappears (never to return, if she knows what's best for her), with her child who is very much not John's kid.

Somehow (the consulting detective can barely believe it himself), they're once again back home. John asks permission to stay – as if it's needed, as if in 221B could ever not be room for him – and is, obviously, warmly welcomed. For a while, it seems almost as if they've time-travelled back to 2010, when they were young and reckless and so very, very happy.

And then, of course, one cup of tea changes it all. Because one random day the sleuth wakes up and follows his nose to the kitchen to find John in the process of making them breakfast like so many other mornings. He accepts a cup of perfect tea (he's not asked what his flatmate uses, simply resigned to the fact that his blogger is a tea-making wizard), takes the first sip of the day, and lets out a rather indecent moan. It's not Sherlock's fault. John's tea is just that good. And then, theine barely in his system, clearly not awake still, the dreaded words slip breathily from the consulting detective's delectable lips. "God, but I love you."

"What?" his officially-best-friend asks, sharp and wide eyed and… not panicked, hopefully not, but shocked, certainly.

There's only one way to contain the disaster. "I love it. You make the best tea in the world, John," the detective hurriedly says. He's perfectly honest, and hopefully this correction will be enough. Hopefully he's not ruined it forever.

"That's not what you said," John chides, stern and…no wait, he can't be hopeful. Sherlock's feelings are fucking up his deductive powers again, certainly. The grit in the lens, indeed. "Say it again," the former Army Captain orders.

Barely awake still, Sherlock has no power at all to resist Captain Watson's commands, Insides melting, from desire and fear and adoration combined in an inextricable Gordian knot, he repeats, voice still soft but firm, "I love you… John." If it's going to be his death sentence, like he always suspected, he deserves to at least say it properly.

"Do you mean it?" his flatmate-friend-doctor-colleague-blogger-everything queries, looking at him intensely, as if he's trying to deduce the detective.

Unable to find his voice again, the raven-haired man simply nods. That's it. Now…

Now John is… kissing him? It makes no sense, but – oh – he's going to examine it later. Busy now. Very busy. John's lips, and his tongue, and… mmmmmm

Of course, vocal assurances of reciprocated feelings eventually come – later. And, well, there's much more to come.

But they're British men, and one cup of tea – one blessed, perfect cup of tea – finally brought them together as they should have always been. Mycroft's threats of retiring Sherlock's citizenship are going to be void, now. The younger Holmes is rather certain.