Waiting took a long time. And it was boring. John almost debated joining Sherlock's bullet-holes in the poor wall with a few of his own.
Instead, because he was a normal upstanding citizen and not a madman sociopath, he sat through the remainder of Bugsy Malone, followed by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and a couple of old Wallace and Gromit episodes. It felt odd, though, watching family entertainment with no one else there, so he phoned Harry (who was back together with Clara again, so spending the holiday with her) and they spent a while reminiscing about Christmasses from their childhood. He hung up on her when she tried to get back onto the subject of Sherlock; he was worried that if he started to talk about his flatmate, he wouldn't stop, and then the whole ridiculous story would come out.
NO NEW MESSAGES
He decided to drink some beer as the day wore on to late afternoon, but there weren't any left in the kitchen and he couldn't imagine where would be open today. He could text Sherlock to ask him where he'd got the milk, he supposed, but he probably wouldn't reply. Stupid bloody Christmas, he thought, glaring at the miniature plastic tree he'd put up in the corner of the room. Stupid bloody tree.
"What is its purpose?"
"It doesn't have a purpose, Sherlock. It's a tree."
"That is not a tree. Saying that that awful, gaudy thing is a tree, John, is like saying a Tussaudian waxwork is a person. That is not a tree."
He'd refused to help decorate it, preferring to watch John painstakingly cover it in baubles and tinsel, watching from the sofa with his fingers steepled together. When John had finished, he'd regarded it critically, as though there were something missing.
"Shouldn't there be something on the top of it?"
"What, like a fairy, or a star or something? I don't have anything."
"Hm. I have something."
"I thought you weren't helping?"
"I wasn't. Now I am."
"Well what do you - oh, Sherlock, no, not the skull. Not the skull, what are you doing-"
"I am helping."
John sighed, massaging his temples. Just how long was Sherlock going to sulk about this? He knew he was upset about his mother going behind his back and interfering, but honestly, he didn't see why he deserved to take the brunt of his anger. It wasn't as though he'd been in on it, for chrissakes - he'd only even really found out about half an hour before Sherlock had! And if Sherlock had rethought the whole thing, and didn't want them to be involved, then that was alright – though his chest contracted suddenly at the idea – then things would just go back to normal. But they couldn't go back to normal if Sherlock wasn't even here, could they, he thought, kicking at the coffee table moodily.
He sat there for quite some time, his brain rushing with thoughts as the sun completed its journey and sank back beneath the horizon. He wondered whether Sherlock would even be back tonight, and his stomach sank. A sudden noise from the hall downstairs roused him from his thoughts and he leapt to his feet.
"Sherlock?" he called, moving towards the stairs to intercept.
"Yoo hoo, only me!"
John let all of his breath out in one. Mrs Hudson. He collapsed back into the chair, picking up the remote again and flicking listlessly between channels. His landlady's feet were on the stairs, and then she bustled in through the door.
"I've brought you some of my home-made Christmas pudding, dear," she said, pottering into the kitchen with a huge platter in her arms, "I'll just put it in the fri—oh, what has he done now?"
John hid a smile behind his hand as Mrs Hudson stared into the fridge in silence. She turned to him, a look of alarm on her face.
"Do you need any milk, Mrs Hudson?" he asked, innocently. She gave a long-suffering sigh and pulled a few cartons out of the fridge.
"Well, I've almost run out anyway. I'll just take a couple, to make room for the pudding. But honestly, John. Where is he?"
The smile dropped off John's face and he changed the channel again. Mr Bean. Top Gear Special. Big Fat Quiz of the Year, from two year's ago.
"I was hoping you might have an idea," he said, "I haven't seen him in hours."
Mrs Hudson looked at him sympathetically and came and perched on the chair beside him, patting his hand.
"Oh, dear. Have you two had another domestic?"
John blinked at her, about to contradict her out of habit, then wondered exactly what there was to contradict anymore and hung his head.
"Yes. A bit."
"Well. It never did run smooth," she said, stoically, and stood up, "I'll make us a cup of tea, shall I?"
He smiled at her in assent as she made her way into the kitchen, and began thumbing his way through Sherlock's book on bee-keeping as though it contained the answer to his problems. It contained plenty of answers, he supposed, but mostly they were to questions about bees.
His phone beeped suddenly and he grabbed it quickly off the table, feeling a little embarrassed at his haste and glad no one was here to see him.
REQUIRE IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE, OXFORD CIRCUS. SH
He flung himself off the sofa, casting around for his shoes and jacket.
"Mrs Hudson, I'm going out!" he yelled toward the kitchen. She appeared round the corner looking a little put-out, two steaming cups of tea in her hands.
"Ah," he said, "Yes, sorry about that, but I think Sherlock might be in trouble."
He flung his jacket on, deciding it was better equipped for danger than a woolly jumper, and knotted one of Sherlock's scarves around his neck. Most of his brain was engaged in gearing up for adventure, flashing through possible scenarios, but another part altogether went off on an ill-advised ramble about how the scarf smelt of Sherlock and what really did Sherlock smell like anyway now that he came to think about it and he smelt like strong coffee and the stain of chemicals and the air at night and that was nice, wasn't it, yes he liked that very much; luckily the more sensible part of his brain took him upstairs to grab his gun from the desk drawer.
TELL MRS HUDSON NOT TO WAIT UP. SH
"Don't wait up, Mrs Hudson!" he called, galloping past her on his way back down the two flights of stairs. She tutted audibly.
"You're getting just as bad as him, John Watson, it's not civilised! Just make sure you both come back in one piece, I don't want blood on my carpet again."
"Will do, Mrs Hudson!"
He dashed out onto the pavement, footfalls ringing on the frosty pavement and his heart thudding in his ears. He felt properly awake for the first time all day, his surroundings seeming to shift into focus around him. He put out his arm to call for a taxi, his breath turning to steam in the air in front of him.
He wasn't quite as masterful as Sherlock when it came to commandeering cabs, but managed to flag down the third one that passed and clamber into it, directing the driver toward Oxford Circus.
ON MY WAY. ARE YOU OK? J
BE QUICK. SH
John felt anxiety thrum through him and wondered for a moment about phoning Lestrade, but decided Sherlock would have mentioned it if he thought that best. He wondered what idiocy his flatmate had managed to fling himself into this time - where other people, under stress, might hit the bottle, Sherlock preferred instead to run into the path of the nearest scrap of danger he could find, and the more complicated the better. It was just a coping mechanism, John knew, much like his own endless cups of tea had been that afternoon.
It wasn't a long drive, and to be honest he could have walked it easily, but he got the impression that time was of the essence and he couldn't afford to waste a minute of it. The taxi pulled up on Regent Street and John vaulted out of the seat, wondering where to go next. He paused on the pavement, but couldn't hear any of the normal racket that followed Sherlock around: there were no gunshots, no sirens and no screams.
ON REGENT ST – WHERE ARE YOU? J
W1S 2QB. HURRY. SH
He stabbed the postcode into his phone as quickly as he could, then followed his GPS as he ran along the road and crossed over to turn right, not sure whether the quiet of the night was reassuring or disconcerting. Visions ran through his mind unbidden of all the possible worst-case scenarios, his heart beating in his throat: Sherlock waylaid by assailants, tied up to a chair somewhere, beaten up in an alleyway.
He was so preoccupied with these thoughts that he almost ran straight past him, half-concealed in shadow as he was.
He came to an abrupt stop, trying to catch his breath. Sherlock was leaning casually against a wall, looking perfectly calm, his coat pulled around him against the cold. John sagged in relief.
"Sherlock! What's going on? I have my gun-"
"You won't need it."
John stared at him, trying to read any information about what was happening from his face, but his expression was as blank and controlled as usual.
"Right. Ok, well, good. So. What's the case?" he asked.
"Yes, Sherlock, the case, the reason you brought me here? You told me to hurry, I thought you were in danger."
Sherlock's expression cleared suddenly.
"Oh! No. No danger. I was just getting chilly waiting for you."
John stared at him, and then growled in exasperation, stalking up and down the pavement in front of him. Making him worry like that, of all the self-important, smug, arrogant-
"So I just nearly killed myself running over here, and it turns you're not even in bloody danger, you werejust feeling a bit nippy-"
"Oh, don't be so melodramatic, John, you came most of the way in a cab, look at your shoes. Besides, it wasn't just because I was 'feeling a bit nippy'."
John huffed and came to a stop in front of him, glaring up at his friend.
"What, then? What's the case? Do we have a case?"
Sherlock beamed unexpectedly, his eyes glittering blackly in the darkness.
"We have a reservation, John."
"I'm sorry, what?"
Sherlock's brow creased in consternation, and he deflated slightly, looking at John uncertainly. He gestured behind his back and across the road.
"A reservation. Well. You said you'd been hankering for Thai food lately. I thought-"
John spun round to see an ornate Thai restaurant on the other side of the road, which he hadn't noticed during his sprint down the street.
"No, I did - I have, I – this is a date?"
Sherlock raised an eyebrow at him.
"So there's no case. You dragged me over here for a date?"
Sherlock frowned, looking a little discomfited.
"Is it bad? Have I behaved incorrectly."
John stared at him for a moment, wondering if he was joking, and then shook his head.
"No, I mean - no, actually this is… brilliant," he said, and then grinned broadly in relief, "Brilliant, Sherlock. It's just – you'd been ignoring me all day, so I thought..."
Sherlock's eyebrows flew up.
"I was busy, John. You mustn't get jealous of my work, I don't mind it when you go off and do your bit of doctoring at the surgery, even though it would be more helpful by far for me to have you around the house all day. Shall we go in, then?" he said, striding towards the door and removing his gloves as he walked. John followed, trying to process this latest turn in events; he was back to that feeling of emotional whiplash, again.
"But it's Boxing Day. Are they even open?" he asked. The lights were on, but he couldn't see any other patrons inside.
"They are for me," Sherlock said, rapping on the door and winking at John. He nodded in comprehension.
"You're calling in a favour," he said, knowing that Sherlock could probably get free service in half of London if he wanted it. There was movement inside the restaurant.
"But I thought you didn't know anyone who owned a Thai restaurant?"
"I told you," said Sherlock, vaguely, waving a hand, "I've been busy."
The door was flung open, and a short balding man stepped out and threw his arms around Sherlock.
"Mr Sherlock Holmes!"
Sherlock looked a little taken aback by the sudden embrace, and cast an apologetic glance toward John.
"Welcome back to Patara, my friend! I'm so glad you've returned!"
"Mr Chén," he said, "This is my partner, Dr Watson, that I was telling you about; we've come to trespass upon your hospitality tonight, I'm afraid."
"Of course, we have been expecting you!" he said, waving them both in through the door, "I have the kitchen quite prepared. I can't thank you enough for your help today, we're all very grateful-"
The man nudged John in the ribs.
"Has Mr Holmes told you what he-"
"The table by the window, I think, Mr Chén," Sherlock said, interrupting smoothly.
"Of course," Mr Chén said, and took their coats from them to hang up before leading them across the room, "Lin is very pleased that you came back, Mr Holmes, she wanted to thank you personally."
John noticed a group of waitresses peering out of the back room at them, one of whom was making her way towards them.
"Of course," Sherlock said, thumbing expertly through the wine list. Mr Chén disappeared off into the back room, leaving them with the waitress, who approached and had a brief conversation with Sherlock in – well, what sounded like Mandarin, thought John, his eyes widening as Sherlock replied in the same. His mind shot back suddenly to the book on Sino-Tibetan languages that he had found lying in the living room.
"I took the liberty of ordering the wine, I hope you don't mind," Sherlock said, breaking into his thoughts. John blinked; the girl was heading back into the kitchens. He gaped across at his friend.
"Sherlock, did you learn-"
"Only conversational. Is red ok? You seem to prefer white in the Summer months, but you switched to red in September."
John nodded as though it was perfectly normal for someone to catalogue which alcoholic beverages you drank and when.
"Red's fine, yes, I think it's more…warming…" he said vaguely, his mind fixing together everything he'd just learnt. Apparently Sherlock had stormed out this morning, leaving him alone in a bed on his brother's estate, and had then spent the day finding – and solving – a case for one Mr Chén, presumably owing to the simple fact that he was the proprietor of a Thai restaurant. He had also possibly learnt a new language during the same time period.
Well. It was no wonder Aracelia had refused to tell him where he was.
The waitress came back and poured their wine.
"You seem a little thrown," Sherlock said, watching John over the top of his glass.
"It's just...all quite unexpected, that's all. You… spent the day on a case just so you could take me out to a Thai restaurant? That's… well. That's amazing."
"I thought I made my intentions quite clear last night?"
"Erm," he said, "You did. But then you didn't follow through on any of them, and then you ignored me all night - apart from your unconscious intrusion into my personal space - and then you disappeared, and then you ignored me all day, and with one thing and another I rather assumed whatever intentions you'd had had gone right out the window. Along with you - or did you use the door?"
"The door, John, and you should never theorise without all the facts. What are you having? I hear the abalone with ginger is excellent."
John stared down at his menu.
"A type of sea snail. Family Haliotidae, genus Haliotis. The larvae are lecithotrophic, they feed off a yolk sac," Sherlock said, examining his own menu. John wrinkled up his nose.
"Perhaps not," he muttered, deciding that he'd probably stick to the lamb in red coconut curry, "I think I'll stick to the lamb in red coconut curry."
"Yes, I thought you might go for that. The nua tom kati for me, I think-"
"You're actually eating?" said John, surprised, "Blimey, that's the second day in a row, that must be some kind of record!"
Sherlock made eye-contact with one of the waitresses – a different one, this time, not Lin – who brought over a basket of prawn crackers to start, and started jotting down their food order at Sherlock's instruction. John watched him carefully, still not quite able to wrap his head around what was happening. It wasn't as though they didn't usually spend a lot of time in restaurants, so in some ways this felt completely familiar - but in other ways, it was completely alien. They were normally on a case, he was the only one that was ever eating and Sherlock was normally staring distractedly over his shoulder. And, he supposed, they hadn't normally spent the evening before almost-but-not-quite having sex. Not to mention the sudden turnaround in Sherlock's mood; last night, he'd seemed so angry about everything. Angry with his mother, angry with his brother, angry with himself, angry with John. He couldn't see a sign of that now.
He looked at him closer. Perhaps, he thought, he could see a sign of it after all; there was a slight tension in the way that Sherlock was holding himself, as though he was vibrating with hidden energy. On the other hand, he was often like that straight after a case, until the adrenaline wore off and he went into a terrible slump for the rest of the week.
"You're going to be intolerable for days," he told Sherlock, who was nibbling on the edge of a prawn cracker. Sherlock put on a mock-wounded expression.
"Is that your idea of a chat-up line, John?" he asked, "It's no wonder none of your little girlfriends lasted very long. Although I rather suspect it wasn't the only reason."
"Go on, then, genius. What was the reason?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes, and was about to reply when the waitress returned with a candle. He smiled, thanking her in Mandarin.
"Did you ask for that?" John said, incredulously.
"I'm told that it's more romantic. Actually, I was hoping you could help me with your opinion on something I've been wondering about."
"Right," he said, shovelling a couple of prawn crackers into his mouth, "Ok, go on then."
"How many candles are required for optimum romance?"
John stared at him. Sometimes having a conversation with Sherlock was like trying to explain the human race to a complete outsider. Maybe he actually was an alien, he thought. It would certainly explain the bone structure.
"I don't think that there's actually a… set number."
Sherlock huffed in exasperation, glaring at the candle as though it had committed a personal slight against him. Not for the first time, John started to wonder whether getting involved romantically with Sherlock Holmes might not be the worst idea he'd ever had; although, he supposed, it wasn't so much an idea he had had himself than one that had been foisted upon him.
As if exactly on cue, his phone bleeped in his pocket, and he pulled it out to look at it.
MESSAGE RECEIVED – UNKNOWN SENDER
DARLING! I TOLD YOU HE JUST NEEDED A LITTLE MORE TIME TO SORT THINGS OUT. DINNER LOOKS LOVELY. AH x
John shifted in his seat, glancing around the room as though he'd be able to spot wherever Aracelia's surveillance cameras were. He couldn't see a thing, of course. He wondered whether Mycroft was watching too, and felt distinctly uncomfortable at the thought.
TO: UNKNOWN SENDER
ARE YOU GOING TO WATCH US ALL NIGHT? J (PS PLEASE SEND COPIES OF PHOTOS FROM LAST NIGHT TO 221B)
MESSAGE RECEIVED – UNKNOWN SENDER
JUST CHECKING IN ON YOU. MH OUT OF THE COUNTRY. GOING TO BED NOW – HE'S ALL YOURS ;) AH x
"Who's that?" Sherlock demanded, watching John carefully. John shook his head.
"Nothing. No one. Just work."
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, and opened his mouth again to say something – but then the waitress returned with their food, setting it down on the table in front of them, and he closed it abruptly. It smelt delicious, thought John, accustomed to an endless rota of Indian and Italian and Chinese takeaway - he couldn't remember the last time he'd had Thai food. He inhaled a deep breath over it and then tucked in straight away, using his chopsticks to skewer bits of meat. He'd never been very good with chopsticks. Sherlock, obviously, was irritatingly perfect.
They ate in silence for a while, working their way through their food, which tasted as fantastic as it smelt. John dragged his eyes away from Sherlock in favour of his curry, but noticed that he kept shooting him glances as they ate; in the end he looked up at the same time on purpose, and caught Sherlock with an expression on his face that was half affectionate and half irritated.
"I've told you before, you need to keep the bottom chopstick still whilst pivoting the top – it's quite simple," Sherlock moaned, manoeuvring rice into his mouth. John glared at him, and stubbornly stabbed at a piece of red pepper.
"And what makes you think I'll be intolerable for days?"
John frowned at the sudden return to his earlier comment. Perhaps conversation with Sherlock wasn't like speaking to an alien, he thought; more like trying to piece together the plot of a novel when all the pages were in the wrong order.
"You always are when you're bored after a case. And the telly's even worse over the Christmas period, so you'll have nothing to distract you. I should know, I spent the entire day staring at it," he grumbled.
"Well, I'll just have to find something else to do then, won't I," said Sherlock, his lips quirking up at the corners.
Sherlock gave him a pointed look, as though he was being purposefully obtuse.
"The implication is sex, John. I was given to understand that sexual recreation was supposed to be referred to in broadly euphemistic terms within a dating scenario, both parties giving no clear verbal expression of their desire for sexual conduct until it is actually about to take place, and sometimes not even then. Is this incorrect?"
John's eyebrows shot up. He had a horrible feeling that this was Sherlock's version of flirting.
"Right," he said, swallowing, "Good. So-"
"Apparently both parties are supposed to draw these conclusions for themselves using other distinct markers: verbal allusion, body language, sensory titillation," Sherlock went on, "Touch."
He reached out and grazed his thumb over the back of John's hand. John felt shivers go down his back, a heavy heat pooling at the bottom of his spine. Sherlock smiled, triumphantly.
"Excellent, your pupils have dilated. You do make quite a satisfactory subject, John, even if you are euphemistically lacking."
John shook his head helplessly, opening his mouth wordlessly as he stared across the table at Sherlock. He was wearing a tie, he noticed, as though he'd actually dressed up. It almost looked like he'd tried to flatten down his unruly hair, too.
"Well, it's just-" he said, not sure exactly how to broach the subject, "Last night. You said you didn't want to be… a pawn? I'm a little confused at how we got from there to here."
Sherlock nodded, his eyes darkening a little.
"Ah yes. How is Mummy, John? I assume it was her texting you a moment ago?"
John winced and nodded, not sure why he'd even bothered trying to hide it. Surely he should have learnt better by now, given how that had turned out last night.
"Well, you're quite right. And you can tell her I refuse to be a pawn in her ridiculous games," Sherlock said, glaring over the table.
"If I'm doing this," continued Sherlock, flipping John's hand over and sliding his fingers through his in one sudden movement, "Which, by the way, I fully intend to – then I'm doing it my way, and not my mother's."
John's eyes widened, suddenly understanding the purpose behind all of this – Sherlock's dash out of the house away from his mother this morning, the day spent solving problems on behalf of Mr Chén and Lin, this bizarre date in an entirely empty restaurant on Boxing Day.
"I am perfectly capable of doing things without my mother's help," Sherlock muttered fiercely, scowling down at their fingers laced together, "I can do it on my own."
John smiled, then, at this stubborn little boy trying to understand how to relate to people for the first time ever, and put his other hand on top of Sherlock's too.
"I think the point is, with relationships, that you don't have to," he said. Sherlock looked up at him, his eyes widening almost imperceptibly, and then creasing a little at the corners a moment later.
"Well, I suppose you can help," he agreed, giving John a shy smile that made his stomach flip over. He stared at the alarming man on the other side of the table - the most bizarre and exasperating and incredible man that he'd ever met - and wondered what on earth he was getting himself into.
"So. Does that mean that we're-"
"I think so-"
Sherlock watched him carefully, as though he was uncertain of what to do next. John downed the last of his glass of wine, deciding he wouldn't give him any clues. Sherlock gestured at John's almost-empty plate.
"Have you finished-"
"I should just say goodbye to Mr Chén, and then…"
Sherlock trailed off again, looking at John helplessly.
"John, I'm not sure that I'm going to be very good at all of this," he mumbled. John almost smiled at the sight of the most intelligent person he'd ever met looking utterly anxious and bewildered.
"It's a good job you're a fast learner, then," he said, "I'm sure we'll work something out."
He wasn't exactly sure what that would be, though, if he was entirely honest. What were they going to do, stroll around crime scenes holding hands? Make out in the morgue? Sherlock had never been capable of paying attention to anything else when they were on a case, and he couldn't imagine that he was going to change once they were together. On the other hand, he thought, he wasn't sure that he particularly wanted him to.
"So what do we do now?" Sherlock demanded, looking unsettled.
"We go home," said John, standing up from his seat, "We go back to Baker Street. Just like normal."
"Well, I'm sure we'll find something to do."
John smirked at his friend over the table.
"The implication was sex, Sherlock," he said, raising his eyebrows.
"Right," said Sherlock, swallowing heavily, "Good. That's good."
And John turned and strode toward the door of the restaurant, leaving Sherlock to follow him for once.