Here's another one-shot for your reading pleasure, while I continue to plug away at my longer, canon-based Sherlock fic. This one was born out of two things:
The fact that I just had tea with a very good friend at a very nice tea shop, and
The fact that my first story with these two was so achingly sad that I wanted to give them something funny and warm and comforting to do in my second fic.
I hope you enjoy, and if you're moved to leave a comment, all the better!
Early morning in London usually meant grey skies. For many, it meant rush hour, crowded Tube trains, congestion charges, delayed Tube trains, lattes at Caffe Nero, out-of-service Tube lines, discarded copies of the morning's Metro swirling before approaching buses, and giving up on the bloody Tube and catching a cab instead.
In one particular flat in London, early morning meant tea.
John rose with military precision at 7:30 every morning, showered, dressed, and made a pot of tea. Sherlock was not so precise in his sleeping and rising habits—habits being a term John loosely applied, since John couldn't fathom how the man operated on so little sleep, grabbed at such odd hours. When Sherlock did sleep, it was often in fits and snatches, two hours here, three there. John had so far found only one thing that kept Sherlock in bed and sleeping peacefully at anything like regular hours—and he was more than happy to perform that particular task, all for totally selfless reasons, of course, as often as both men were interested.
But John, being precise in his habits, did occasionally need a legitimate night's sleep, and so on this particular London morning, Sherlock had been up all night, pouring over a dog-eared anatomy text, and was still on the sofa when John came downstairs, already dressed, and put the kettle on for tea.
"Did you know that the pupil of the human eye dilates up to 50% when viewing something attractive?"
John reached over and rumpled Sherlock's hair. "I'll take that as a compliment."
Sherlock shifted slightly to give John a look, then returned to the chapter. "And that under proper conditions, the eye can make out the light of a candle at a distance of 14 miles?"
"Not likely one could see 14 miles in one direction, not in central London." John moved back into the kitchen, hovering over the kettle, waiting for it to whistle. "What's got you on about eyes, anyway? This sounds like the kind of thing you usually delete, no?"
"Anatomy is critical to any detective work, John. Reading someone's mood in their eyes, judging what they could or could not see from where they were standing, noticing whether or not they're wearing contact lenses, noticing whether they should be wearing contact lenses but aren't, noticing whether they're wearing glasses instead of contact lenses…"
"OK, OK, I believe you." The kettle boiled and John dropped two tea bags, one in each mug, and poured, giving the tea a few minutes to steep as he located the milk—in the fridge—and the sugar—in the microwave (no idea). "I suppose you got no sleep last night," he said as he stirred.
"Sleep is boring, anatomy is not boring. Your deduction is sound."
John set one mug on the coffee table next to Sherlock and took a long draw from the other. "And I further suppose if I asked you to sleep today, just a little, that would be a waste of breath, right?"
"Why would I do that, when I know very well what lovely things you can do to make me sleep when you really want to?"
John blushed and snorted into his tea, coughing a little as some of it got up his nose.
"The mucous membranes of the nose can produce nearly a quart of mucus a day, most of which drains into the stomach."
John giggled. "Sherlock giveth and Sherlock taketh away."
"Nothing. It's just a bit of a shift for a bloke to go from talking about bed to talking about mucus."
Sherlock's only response was a brief twitch of his eyebrows. John leaned over and planted a quick peck on Sherlock's lips. Sherlock finally tugged his eyes away from the page and met John's, curving his features into something like a smile.
"Did you know that the border between the facial skin and the lip proper is called the vermilion?"
John smiled. "Yes, I did. I've studied an anatomy text or two in my day, you know." John brushed a finger against Sherlock's vermilion and glanced at the clock. "I'd better be off to the clinic, Sherlock. Do try to get some sleep today, will you?"
"Humans have survived up to eleven days without sleep with only minor ill effect."
"Let's not reproduce that experimentally, huh?"
And with that, John was gone. Sherlock went back to his book and sipped John's excellent tea. It tasted of bergamot and clove and vanilla and crème and honey and saffron and starlight and Stradiverii and everything good in the world. He wondered how he'd ever gotten any real brainwork done without it.
Sherlock sipped. And sipped.
And twenty minutes later, the tea was gone.
Sherlock sat up on the couch. He had no intention of stopping his anatomical studies. He also knew anatomical studies went much better with a good cup of John's tea.
John made the tea. John wasn't home.
Come home. I'm out of tea.
Isn't there some in the cupboard?
I shall rephrase. I need you to come home and make the tea.
Patients all day. Really, Sherlock, tea in cupboard, water in tap. I have faith in you.
Could be dangerous.
You are an unending torment.
Love you too.
So Sherlock sat on the edge of the couch, sorting through the facts.
Fact 1: Anatomy studies went better with a cup of tea.
Fact 2: Sherlock's tea was generally rubbish.
Fact 3: John's tea was grand.
Fact 4: John would not come home to make him tea.
Corollary Fact: John was, on occasion, a pain in the arse. Truthful yet irrelevant to this matter.
Fact 5: Despite his earlier protestations to the contrary, Sherlock was tired, too tired to walk to the corner shop for a cuppa.
Fact 6: Mrs. Hudson wasn't home.
Corollary Fact: Mrs. Hudson was to blame if Sherlock added to the holes in the wall due to her appallingly-timed absence.
After tossing these facts around in his mind for a moment, Sherlock lit upon this: only one of these facts, Fact Two, to be precise, was, at the moment, alterable.
He stood and walked into the kitchen. The kettle still sat beside the stove, John's mug in the sink, the box of PG Tips bags open on the counter. He'd seen John do this. There was no reason he couldn't do this.
The anatomy text would have to wait. Sherlock was about to attempt an experiment.
Test one was not entirely a failure, but definitely not a success. The resulting cup of tea was good, to be sure, better than any Sherlock had attempted to brew in the Before (Before was Sherlock's mental shorthand for Before John Watson Moved In), but it wasn't like John's. Serviceable. Slightly bitter. This would never do. Sherlock thought—perhaps more sugar, less tea? He'd just put the kettle on once more…
Test two was quickly sloshed into the kitchen sink. Wrong. Too sweet. Sugar wasn't the answer. Maybe honey—did they have any honey?—ah, there it was.
Test three oozed out of the mug and down the drain. Sherlock drummed his fingers on the counter and set another pot to boil. He suspected the proportion of honey to tea was as much a problem as the inherent flavor, but had no urge to continue his honey-based experimentations. This time he'd focus on relative tea concentration.
Two bags of tea?
Wrong. Teacup too small.
Steeping for more time?
Steeping for less time?
Maybe take the tea out of the bag first? Sherlock had never seen John do that, but in the interest of testing every possible variant…
Definitely wrong. Mental note to borrow Mrs. Hudson's broom before John gets home.
Sherlock scanned the countertop and spied salt. Salt acted pleasingly on human taste buds (anatomy was not boring), perhaps…
EUGGH. Most assuredly wrong.
This continued for several more cycles, the detective becoming more and more dismayed. Sherlock stepped back and surveyed the kitchen, now steamy and spattered with spilt tea. Every mug he could find was now in the sink, the remnants of one of at least a dozen different Tests slowly drying at the bottom of each, and Sherlock was no closer to the answer.
Sherlock hated not having an answer.
He climbed on the countertop and rustled through the cupboard, searching for more mugs. None to be found. If he wanted to continue his experiment, he'd have to first do the dishes.
Sherlock hated doing the dishes. But not as much as not having an answer. He muttered a curse under his breath. If John were to see him do this, he'd never get away with not doing the washing-up again.
Half an hour later, Sherlock had soap suds in his hair and a kitchen table full of gleaming mugs in front of him. He had also pulled out every kettle, saucepan, stock pot and other crock in which one could boil water and set the largest four, filled, on the stove to boil. Rummaging through every drawer, closet, and cupboard in the flat, he found two more boxes of PG Tips, some loose tea with a label reading Earl Grey Extra Fancy-For Special Occasions in John's neat handwriting, a half-crushed box of Tetley that might have been from the previous tenant, and just to be thorough, their entire current stash of spices.
OK. It was time to do this thing properly. Sherlock rolled up his sleeves.
Three cases of flu, two of chicken pox, one child needing stitches, a hypochondriac who insisted her freckles were cancerous and demanded an immediate (and entirely unnecessary) biopsy, and one very awkward conversation that included the sentence No dear, you're not getting fat—you're pregnant, John walked into the flat, drawn and tired.
"Evening, Sherl—what in bloody hell?"
The apartment was as steamy as a Nordic bathhouse and smelled only marginally better. John threw off his coat. "Sherlock, what on Earth are you doing?"
He rounded the corner into the kitchen and came face-to-face with a sodden Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock's dark curls were plastered to his forehead due to the steam, and he had removed jacket and shirt, leaving him standing in dark dress pants, Italian leather shoes, and John's ratty old Mind The Gap t-shirt. Mugs were thrown about the kitchen, some full, some empty, some toppled, all clearly having contained some concoction or another that may have borne some kind of resemblance to tea. Three pots and the kettle were going at full boil on the kitchen stove, splashing hot water onto the tiles. A thin layer of spices and loose tea covered the floor.
John simply stared. Sherlock met his gaze.
"How do you do it, John?" he asked, despair filling his voice. "I've tried everything, every possible combination at every possible temperature. I've used additives, spices, milk, cream, sugar, honey, salt—"
"You put salt in tea?"
"—nothing's right. John, I'm desperate, please," Sherlock crossed the room and took him tightly by the shoulders, "please make your tea!"
John looked into Sherlock's eyes, saw what could only be described as desperation and utter helplessness—and began to giggle.
"Sherlock—is this what happens when I tell you to make your own tea? You wreck the kitchen?"
"I wasn't trying to make my tea. I was trying to make your tea."
"Yes, John's tea. John's tea is good. Mine is not. And I don't know what it is you do differently."
John was flabbergasted. "I—I don't do anything, Sherlock. I boil water, steep the tea bags for a few minutes—hey, is that my good Earl Grey at the bottom of the sink?"
Sherlock looked guilty. "I'll buy you some more. Now, after you steep the tea—"
John, still laughing, shrugged. "You've seen me do this. Milk, sugar, stir. It's not difficult, Sherlock."
Seeing the look of despair in Sherlock's eyes, John smiled and pulled him into a hug. "My Sherlock, I should have known something like this would happen." He separated to arm's length, an affectionate smile on his face. "Come here, you daft idiot."
John pulled Sherlock into a gentle kiss that Sherlock, exhausted, overheated, and confused, easily fell into. His lips parted and he ran tongue lightly over John's lips (vermilion), relieved just to feel him, to be warmed by him, to taste him…
With renewed energy, Sherlock shoved John against the wall and passionately kissed him, tasting every inch of his mouth. John let out a surprised squeak as Sherlock finally reached his experiment's conclusion.
It was John. John tasted of bergamot and clove and vanilla and crème and honey and saffron and starlight and Stradiverii and a thousand other wonderful things besides. When Sherlock sipped John's tea, Sherlock was sipping delicious, heavenly, concentrated John, and it was extraordinary. No wonder he couldn't seem to function without it.
That bit with the salt had been a silly idea. He'd delete that later.
He released John, who looked a bit dazed and wobbly and very happy. "What was that for?"
"You taste good."
"Oh, um, thanks?"
"You taste good. Your tea tastes good. Elementary." Sherlock still had an arm around John, smiling.
John blushed. "Well, you, um, you…you taste good too, you know."
"Don't be absurd. I've tasted my own tea, it's disgraceful."
John laughed and rubbed Sherlock's arm. "I didn't mean that, exactly, but we'll leave your Tea Hypothesis for another day, shall we?" John looked over Sherlock's shoulder at the kitchen. "I suppose I should get to straightening up, shall I?" He attempted to extricate himself from Sherlock, but the taller man held him in place, gently but firmly.
"No, you can't. You see, now that I've solved the Mystery of John's Tea, I'm feeling sleepy."
John tilted his head. "What?"
"I said," Sherlock whispered, leaning his forehead down to John's shoulder and breathing ever-so-lightly on John's neck. "I'm sleepy. I'd very much like to get a good night's sleep." God, how he loved watching the hairs stand up on John's neck, as John put two and two together.
"Oh, sleepy…" John dropped his hands to Sherlock's waist and tucked two fingers under the hem of his t-shirt, feeling soft skin underneath. "Well, I do believe I have just the treatment for that…"
"Yes doctor, and don't forget," Sherlock added, placing a kiss just underneath John's ear, "I did stay up all night studying anatomy. I've learned several interesting anatomical facts that I think you'll find intriguing. For instance, do you know how many nerve endings are in the head of the-"
John's eyes (pupils fully dilated) met Sherlock's as the two fell into a kiss. There would be no more tea made in the flat that night.
But in the morning, John would make an extra large pot to last Sherlock the day.