Author: Sfumatosoup

Fandom: Sherlock BBC

Pairing: Sherlock/John

Genre: Angst/Romance/Adventure/Humour

Words: 32,000/?

Disclaimer: I do not own. All Gatiss and Moffat and Doyle. No plan to profit.

Rating: Mature. Nothing too explicit (yet). Lot's of UST.

Warning: Spoilers for all BBC eps as well as for canon FINA, SIGN and EMPT (eventually). All main characters and even one or two OC's. Not brit-picked and self-beta'd so if you see errors or things that need to be changed please let me know.

Status: WIP (10/15/11- ?)

Summary: John is relentlessly pursued by a coworker, which all leads to an inevitable revelation by Sherlock. How will John react to this?

"Christ! God Damn It!"

The small break room in this particular Clinic in Paddington was the sole site for an array of expletives, abuse against refrigerators and cappuccino machines, kicked water coolers, and otherwise a rather volatile array of unleashed hysterics among the staff.

Not to say that they were particularly hysterical.

In fact, all the staff were, really quite mild-mannered, professionally calm, temperate people. It was only that, behind the closed door of that particular room, tempers flared and drama worthy of any reality show had a tendency to take place. The fact was, the office was too small, they had far too many patients, and even those of the most stalwart of heart were prone at times, and quite worthy to have, small emotional collapses. Hence, known as the Break 'Down' Room, it was not at all surprising when Sarah came rushing out of her office in a huff, red in the face and slammed shut the door behind her.

John shared a look with Amal as he poured a cup of coffee into Sarah's usual mug.

"That utter witch! I was just trying to explain to her the adverse interactions of crossing Digoxin with her Verapimil-" John handed her the steaming mug and she sighed, "I'm sorry, I'm just so exhausted. These people are monsters today. One can only take so much abuse. I became a Doctor to help people and I'm starting to regret that decision."

Amal laughed, "Only four more appointments until lunch. Think you'll pull through?"

In the recent few months, the clinic had obtained a new Senior House Officer due to the increased volume in patients. The Hindi intern was a transplant from Durham and on the cusp of receiving his license. He apparently fit right in to the London Hub, and was desperately hoping to be hired on as a permanent clinic physician.

"Thank God, Amal, we took you on when we did or I think I'd be on the edge of an aneurism," Sarah smiled up at John, "By the way, thanks for the pick me up, love." He nodded.

"John and I are going off for a nip after work, care to join?"

Sarah shook her head, "No, thank you, all I want to do is go home, take a long, hot shower, curl up on the couch and watch some bad telly."

Amal grinned, "Fair enough."

"Sherlock. What the bloody hell is this."

John frowned as he walked through the door of their shared flat of 221B, to face his friend and flat mate crouched down on the floor, hovering over several small (drowned?) indeterminate mammals laid out over a tarp.

"Looking for a flash drive."

"Do I even want to know why you'd think to find one in—what is that a… chihuahua?"

"Fennec fox. Exotic pet hoader. Paranoid Schizophrenic type 295.30. Had a fondness for hacking."

"Had."

"Dead. Obvious. Drowned himself and the animals."

"This really isn't the place for a forensic investigation. The Yard know you have these here?"

"No time, John. Dead man's lover's life is in jeopardy."

John grinned, "Sounds interesting. A case for the blog?"

"Don't bother, boring."

"Right then," John frowned, disappointed, "I'll let you keep to that."

"How's the boyfriend?"

John glared, "Shut up."

"Pass me the forceps?"

"No."

Sherlock looked up furrowing his brow, "Is there a reason you're being a prig?"

"And the prig said to the prat, 'up yours'," John quipped navigating around the obstacle in the middle of the room.

"You know I'm right!" Sherlock shouted as John made his way up the stairs.

"Bugger off!" He shouted back, cringing slightly, because honestly it wasn't very mature to feed into Sherlock's bating, and it would probably just make him even worse.

Insufferable git!

Thank God for his room. In ways, it provided a comfort reminiscent of his teenage years; that brief transitory time of chaos, where he could just escape all the world and just put on a vinyl and shut it out.

The blaring, angry crescendos and banging drums of the music in his Eaton's, providing a sound barrier muffling out the drunken shouting of his father, or Harry being herself; a literal maelstrom of rebellious dissention. The fighting, the hysterics, the typical woes of fighting off hormones and all that that entailed, all of it, drowned out by Led Zeppelin or the Clash or the Dickies.

Except, without the posters and knickknacks of youth. His room now, quite barren of all but the most basic of necessities, safe. Sane. Plain. Characterless. Sterile. The one safe haven against all the outside world where there wouldn't be any small animal corpses or stubbornly smug flat mates.

Flat mates which had become far, far too important in ways John could barely allow himself to consider.

Which was why it was that much more aggravating that he let the abrasive man get under his skin with snide running commentary and patently false accusations.

(Why did he have to care what the man thought. Why should it matter.)

Another reprieve was Amal.

Who was not, in fact, his boyfriend. As Sherlock seemed far too preoccupied with pointing out.

The short, slender man, fresh out of medical school, had a baby-faced look about him, though was not much younger than John, himself.

He had taken to John immediately, following him around, diligently taking notes, and asking a thousand questions a minute. Yet somehow, despite his exhausting, indefatigable pursuance, John was admittedly flattered and rather endeared to play the part of the lauded mentor.

Eventually, (to his utter relief), Amal cooled down and the two became comfortably companionable on a more equal basis. They had taken to lunching together and it was quite nice to have normal conversation. With someone other than his bevy of exes. Or Stamford (the man was utterly mundane). Or Sherlock who was not capable of normal conversation (understatement). Actually, it was an outlet for John, that he sorely needed after level-headedly putting up with the Consulting Detective's shenanigans that bordered on—well, they were rather extreme, (Another understatement).

"I swear she's driving me mad. It's as if I betrayed her by moving 300 miles away."

John grinned, "You should have seen my own, when I told her I was joining the Army. Had a conniption. Just about hit me over the head with a rolling pin."

Amal laughed, "So that's why you never moved back home when you were discharged."

Well, in all honesty, it had been more than that. He couldn't face her, after his father had passed. The man had righted himself, gotten sober, sent him off to Uni with all expenses paid as way of apology. Not that John had been ready to forget. Or forgive.

Particularly, Harry's decline into their father's former footsteps. She was a mess, and he partially attributed it to both of them. She'd outed herself at 14, and had nearly been estranged until she could escape at 18. Abandoned to an unwilling John. He'd been barely out of Uni, trying to scrape together his MD, when he'd been forced to scrape her back off the floor. Then Clara had come round into the picture. Thankfully.

He'd thought he was finally free when he joined the military, only to come home to find her once again nearly in the gutter. At the very least she somehow maintained a job, kept up with rent. Forced into AA by concerned friends. Which she had always had by the dozens. For all her faults she was unusually outwardly charming, optimistic, funny. Possessing of a Jois de Vivre masking underlying depression, tendency toward self-harm.

Which was why he desperately sought to live anywhere else but with her again. His own depression was immense at having been ejected from the one place he'd felt confident, felt alive, and now saddled back into the mundane of everyday… he couldn't envision assuming the burden of Harry's problems as well as his own. And she had begged him, and he was about to reconsider due to his lack of other options and waning finances just before fate had run him into Stamford. Thank bloody God, for that man.

But really, it was like trading one form of chaos for another, what with Sherlock. In many ways, the two were vaguely similar. Uniquely self-destructive, charismatic, obsessive, chemically dependent and prone to histrionics. Only Sherlock had some kind of odd mastery over himself that Harry had always lacked. And for some reason, when he was with him, beside him, or racing about after him, he felt a fulfillment that he'd never had with any other companion, associate, friend, lover, family member, etc.

And just as he was strangely possessive and protective over Harry (even though she was the older sibling), he felt similarly for Sherlock.

He'd shot a bloke for him, after all, barely even knowing the man for more than 48 hours.

John wasn't necessarily trigger happy, but he wouldn't think twice before taking someone out if they dared prove threat to his loved ones.

(God, when had he allocated Sherlock into that list?)

He glanced at Amal and sipped his coffee, now having gone quite cold. Where was the bloody waitress for a top off when you need her?

"So anyway, John, as I was unpacking, I came across this old sweater Mum had knitted back in Primary for me, and I was like, 'how on earth did this get in here'! I think that woman has some kind of mission-"

John laughed, as Amal's mobile rang, "How much do you want to bet that that's her?"

"Oh. Perfect. You're right, speak of the devil." Amal sighed apologetically, "Sorry, I have to take this or she won't stop pestering me."

Amal spoke into the phone in rapid Farci, as John paid their bill.

It was strange the differences in relationships with family. He wondered sometimes if his folks had been different, if maybe he'd be more… stable. Normal.

In many ways, he was a different man than he'd thought he'd be. Imagined he'd be growing up. Or at the very least, the one he'd thought he'd wanted to be.

He'd wanted so much to prove to himself that he'd wanted that kind of life. His parents were utterly disappointed in Harry, and John, at a very young age, very much sought their approval even in spite of his resentment for them. So much that he'd forgotten himself underneath the weight of trying to be someone else.

And he had tried. He'd received his PhD. Disentangled himself from his cumbersome sister to Clara. Tried himself, for a normal relationship. Tried to put the past aside, suppress his desire for something else. Something more. Even tried with Catharine. Tried the engagement thing. And he didn't want any of it. At all.

John had joined up with the Army, designated as a medic, fled Queen and Country and all that that had implied and reveled in it. For a time, a brilliant time, it freed him. Gave him purpose and quenched the thirst for fulfillment the medical profession had sorely lacked, that his life had sorely lacked. He'd thought that stint in A&E trauma ward would be enough, but nothing compared to the thrill, the adrenaline coursing through his veins as he dodged around bullets whizzing past, wary of possible mines underfoot, desperately trying to save lives and stay alive to do so.

Yet still, there was that nagging, underlying pull toward that sense of conformity. He felt compelled to answer to it. As if it was his duty.

Which was why, his life being pulled so far astray now as it was, he felt even more so, that he had to cling to the last threads of normalcy remaining.

John and Amal parted ways, and he walked home trying to clear his head.

The truth was, they'd been going out for lunch as well as after work quite often recently and Sherlock not only noticed but seemed to make a personal vendetta to plague John with all types of lurid insinuations.

Which, if he was truthful, hit jarringly close to home.

And he hated it. So the best approach was to ignore it and keep denying it.

Not a strategy, he reminded himself, but the truth of it.

Really.

"Lestrade phoned. Coming?"

"Actually I made plans with Amal-"

"Priorities John," Sherlock sighed, "Priorities before boyfriend."

What was worse was it wasn't just Sherlock.

Everyone else seemed inclined to follow suit: and then began the office gossip. "So the two of you- rather chummy wouldn't you say?" Harold implied.

"What."

"Well you know, you should watch it John, or we all might start thinking the two of you are… well you know." His coworker made a limp wrist and smirked.

"That's ridiculous," John sneered.

"I suspect he's a bit of a shirt-lifter-"

"Oh just ignore him, John. Please, Harold, can you be any more boorish!" Sarah accused.

A seed of doubt planted itself in John, however, and he couldn't but help reevaluating the lingering glances, the hesitant touches on his shoulder or back. The moments where Amal just looked at him a bit too…fondly.

And there was the interminable, endless talk.

"People do little else."

John sighed.

He wanted to ignore it. What did it matter anyway? It was fine. It was all fine. John couldn't be arsed to care whether or not the bloke was bent, it was none of his business.

And so he continued as always with Amal.

Yet, maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing to abate a few of the rumours. Certainly couldn't hurt. Since Sarah, it had been a number of months since he'd gone out with anyone properly.

John made his way to the front of the office, and spotted the pretty receptionist. Her blonde hair was daintily cropped into a bob that curled around her ears, framing her delicate, finely featured face.

"Hi, Diane."

"Oh, hi Doctor Watson!"

"John. And how are you today?"

"Busy. So, so busy," she moaned, "When will it be time for lunch break?"

"Would you like to join me on it?"

"Oh no. Thank you, Doctor Watson-"

"-John."

"You see, I've brought my lunch already," she stated placatingly with a little frown and wide, sad eyes.

"Right, some other time then."

She smiled placidly, without responding.

Back in the break room, John strolled in and found Harold and Diane by the microwave prattling on about something or another while Amal and Sarah seemed engaged in discussion regarding food.

John's stomach growled discontentedly and he made for the fridge.

"John and I had the best Cantonese over in Bayswater, just to die for," Amal informed Sarah, "That man has a serious knack for knowing all the good places in town. He's a real keeper." Amal laughed and John cringed as Harold and Diane shared a 'look'.

That was not on.

He frowned down at the sandwich in his hand. Not very appetizing anymore.

Sarah caught John's expression and leveled him a pointed 'look'.

Later in the day she sat down across from him in his office as he catalogued patient diagnoses and prescription cards in order to prepare for typing them in.

"About earlier," she sighed, "You know, it's been good to see the two of you get on, I mean, you really need some time away from that flat mate of yours. So don't listen to idle gossip. He's a nice guy, John."

"I don't. I couldn't care less what they think, really."

He tried to believe that. (Really, he did.) Only, it was very annoying that Sherlock kept asserting the gay clause in reference to Amal, and John kept assuring himself, it didn't matter.

Of course it didn't matter. And it's not like he'd be interested in him anyway. And even if he was, that was fine. It was flattering if anything, John was no homophobe. (I mean really, after all, after years with Harry's friends…)

And so they went out for lunch, yet again the following day.

"There's this fantastic club, I think the name is Via, or something, up in Manchester, I was there the other night, on my way back from visiting home. It's ultra swanky."

John had unfortunately read about it in the paper. Up on Canal. Which meant the infamous 'gay district'. Damn it. He groaned inwardly. And changed the subject, trying to be discreet about it.

"You hear about that earthquake in Turkey?"

"Oh! Yeah, and did you hear about that baby pulled from the rubble?"

"Saw a pic of it in Huffington. Incredible to believe she lived!"

"I love Huffington post. Addictive, that. I have the app for it on my phone."

"More reliable than BBC news, or at the very least, more interesting."

"Agreed. Right as ever, John," Amal replied smiling fondly at his companion.

(It was obvious the man admired him a bit too keenly.)

"I have to say, some of those pics in the Entertainment are quite interesting."

"Oh my God," John cracked, grimacing, "The Duchess of Alba. I don't think I can unsee that photo of her."

"An 85 year old Cougar. Fabulous."

"With no blouse is not 'fabulous'."

Amal laughed and slapped a hand on John's back. Which remained, a bit too long.

So, John noticed.

It couldn't really be helped. His flirting was subtle, but not subtle enough, and John had been around the block and back, he wasn't that naïve. He'd employed several of the same tricks with women he'd been interested in: the coffees or teas, the lunches, the casual, non-insinuating suppers, the jokes, the banter, the compliments, the arm brushes, the light shoulder touches…

"Boyfriend."

John refused to reply and Sherlock smirked, looking all together too self-satisfied for John's taste, (quite irking). So much so, that he decided to abandon his flat mate and head on downstairs to share a nice cuppa with Mrs. Hudson. (As usual she coos over him playing Mother Hen, fixes him some cakes, and doesn't say anything too much, which is really surprising since usually she's terribly nosy for a bit of gossip), but seems to sense, for once, that it would be counterproductive.

John never felt so ridiculously grateful.

He was sorely tempted to send in a suggestion to Oxford Dictionary Britannica, reestablishing the term 'Headache' to be redefined as 'Sherlock'.

It seemed, however, the man was warily aware of John's exacerbation. And really quite unhappy of it.

Surprising. When did Sherlock ever give a damn about anything other than himself?

At any rate, he seemed to go out of his way over the next couple days to wheedle his way back into John's good graces.

Hadn't said a damned thing to annoy him. In fact, was even rather polite.

Alarmingly, he made John tea one evening.

Even the proper way he liked.

Implying he actually paid attention to John. A bit unnerving.

Left him notes if he was going off somewhere, and not to worry, he'd be back later, at this specific time.

He even caught him once or twice, almost… (smiling at him?)

That was off.

And then, to his astonishment, he complimented John's blog on their latest case together. Left a comment:

'A surprisingly concise scientific documentation, John.'

Which was funny, since it varied little from any of the other's he'd written.

At any rate, this refreshing change in demeanor, though unsettling, was not wholly unwelcome.

(Well it was a bit.)

It was almost, for a moment, as if he was living with a stranger.

A very considerate, kind stranger.

John wasn't altogether sure if he liked this. His psychiatrist had said (back in the days he still made regular visits) he had a small bit of a trust issue. Which was true, really. But he couldn't help thinking it was all rather suspect.

In any case, he concluded, perhaps Sherlock had given up on the needling taunts. Or at least making a pest of himself at John's expense.

(Wrong.)

Days, later, John opened the refrigerator to toss out a few of the more precarious unlabeled containers, and noticed they were once again out of milk; a staple in Sherlock's rather sparing diet. So, John donned his coat to set out for Tesco's.

For once, his flat mate tagged along. Of course, he wasn't there to help with the groceries, rather, he didn't trust that John would actually pick up the other things he'd jotted down on the list at the last moment.

"Acetone… ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, aluminum foil, kerosene, pseudephadrine…Sherlock! I can't get these- they'll think I'm some kind of meth-head terrorist!"

Sherlock had darted off down the pharmaceutical aisle and abandoned John in produce.

"Oh, John! Hi!"

John looked up whipping his head around in an attempt to spot the subject of the voiced greeting.

Amal grinned broadly, waving as he neared him from around the cantaloupes, pushing his cart.

"Fancy meeting you here!" He laughed. John's heart sank practically falling through the linoleum tiles, hoping Sherlock wouldn't come strolling around in the next minute or so.

But as usual, hoping never came to any fruition when it involved Sherlock.

John cursed his luck as he spotted him. The unmistakable mop of black curls popping up from around a high, four-way soap display, and he nearly leapt from around it, with far too gleeful an expression. (The kind he got when an experiment proved successful, the 'Aha!' of fascinated interest.)

John groaned inwardly.

"Oh, this must be the Intern!" Sherlock exclaimed, as he approached, ducking behind John and circling his long, spindly arms around him possessively. (What?)

He dropped a quick peck on his cheek and John indignantly yanked himself away.

"Sherlock! What-"

"-It's great to meet you," Sherlock interjected, feigning an affected air, draping an arm around John's shoulders, "John here, talks about you all the time, I'm almost jealous." His grin was blinding, and John gaped in confusion, awkwardly shrugging off the offending arm, attempting to distance himself.

Sherlock stuck out his hand, and Amal tentatively took it.

"And you must be…"

"Sherlock Holmes."

"Ah yes, his roommate."

"Flat mate!" John corrected, seeing red.

"He didn't tell me the two of you were-"

"Oh, yes, John and I have been partners for the past year, we get on quite well," Sherlock declared with a smirking glance in John's direction.

John paled, horrified. "Colleagues!" he sputtered, "He means we're colleagues. I told you about it. I sometimes assist him on his cases."

"Yes, John knows just how to assist me," Sherlock leered.

Catching the implication, Amal started, "Oh, I-"

"-Sherlock!" John bit out in humiliation, "No, Amal. He means- Sherlock stop it!"

The taller man, yet again, draped an arm back around his neck and affectionately nuzzled John's short, blonde locks, breath blowing pleasantly warm against his scalp, and John shuddered before forcefully pulling himself away for the third time.

"Yes, well," Sherlock drawled, unbothered by John's scowl in his direction, "It was an absolute pleasure to meet you at last, John here, just speaks the world of you."

Amal flushed looking pleased and a small bit baffled, and Sherlock grinned, "But I must be off, and don't worry John, I'll grab the lube."

Sherlock dashed off, leaving John flushed, utterly mortified. "He means from automotive!" He explained, his ears feeling hot.

"Right," Amal responded, smiling not unkindly at the other man's discomfort.

"Seriously Amal, don't get the wrong idea, Sherlock is-" He exhaled with exasperation, "-we're not an item. Not even close. I'm not with him."

"Alright. No worries, John," Amal nodded, holding his hands up in capitulation, "You're single, I know. You complain about it often enough, so I believe you."

John huffed out a breath in irritation, feeling the red ebb from his complexion, "Er. Good. That's good."

"Right John, I'll see you at the Clinic tomorrow, then," he smiled, "Got to fly. You know, hop the Tube before my shows are on. New episode of the Doctor. Absolutely must see."

"Oh! Yes. Sure. Tomorrow then," John nodded.

Damn.

John could still feel the kiss burning on his cheek like a brand.

Damn.

"Sherlock! What was that!"

"Hmm."

John glared at the man accusingly, "Back at Tesco's. You made us look like we were some kind of… thing or something. You deliberately implied we were having it off together."

"Hardly. He still believes you're single."

"And now he thinks I'm…gay and single. Thanks."

"Your protestations to the contrary didn't aide your case."

"Sherlock. What were you playing at."

"Thought I'd help. Make it look like you were off the market."

"It didn't work."

Sherlock shrugged, "Evidently."

"So thanks for making it worse!" John groaned, slapping a palm to his face, "Real good job, there. You might've warned me you were going to do that."

"I was attempting to turn you a favour," Sherlock defended casually, "Thought you might appreciate a bit of assistance."

"Yeah, real good. Remind me to warn you off of those in the future," John grimaced, "Your brand of 'favours' are lethal."

"Exaggeration."

"What?"

"You don't look very post-mortem."

"I feel a bit," John snapped, shaking his head in disbelief.

Sherlock raised an eyebrow, "Another exaggeration."

"Well I may as well be. Look, now he thinks I'm… that way. And it's going to get around the office, and it's not what I want people to think," John sighed, "Enough people already think you and I are involved, and you go off and flauntingly confirm all suspicions. In public, nonetheless."

"We are involved," Sherlock countered.

"No. Sherlock. We are not involved."

"I see no difference."

"God! You are so impossible!" John groaned, pinching his eyes shut.

"This idea… that we're involved bothers you," Sherlock droned. "You know it's not the truth, and I know it's not the truth, why should it bother you what other people think," he yawned, stretching over and snagging his violin case.

John gaped incredulously, "Women are hardly going to be inclined to accept a date with a bloke they think is off buggering his roommate."

"Flat mate," Sherlock corrected, calmly plucking at the Strad, "And besides, what makes you think you'd be the one doing the buggering?"

"I really hate you," John growled.

"Unlikely assertion," Sherlock quipped.

Alright, hate was a bit of a strong word.

Yes, Sherlock had a strange inclination toward startlingly off kilter humour. This was a fact which John had grown accustomed.

He'd admittedly tolerated, accepted and otherwise grown rather fond of many of the man's more peculiar quirks of character, many of which, were quite understandably less appreciated by the vast majority of others, or society as a whole.

It was only that, it was extremely frustrating when he turned it all on John.

The constant haranguing. The implications. Just another way to amuse himself at John's expense?

And now this. Fuck, if this wasn't absurd beyond all reckoning.

Yet his justifications had almost seemed… generous?

No. Completely out of character. Either way. Regardless of the motive, he'd just made an utter mess of it.

It wasn't as if John hadn't enough to deal with, what with everyone within their mutual acquaintance (and a few of his blog followers) already assuming things between him and Sherlock, and now he had Amal to deal with at work as well.

The worst part of all of it, was that Sherlock never bothered to deny the jibes in their direction. It was as if he didn't even notice the pointed looks. The talk.

Which always continued in spite of John's tireless defense to the contrary.

Sherlock deemed himself too elevated to be arsed about trivialities of social convention. Really, everything was secondary to the work.

Like the time John had received that citation (wrongfully) for property vandalism. Goddamn Banksy. If he was Banksy that is. No one could be quite sure on that. Though, he suspected if anyone knew the rogue artist's identity it had to be Sherlock. Not that he would say, of course.

For all of his bloody single-mindedness, his isolating focus, maybe Sally Donovan had been correct in her original assessment; her warning to John when the two had first met.

John flipped over onto his stomach smothering his face down into his pillow.

High-functioning Sociopath.

Unhealthy to care about one.

Particularly since it was more than just being alright with being the man being a social pariah and not giving a penny for anyone other than himself. He was ridiculously cavalier about his own life. His own wellbeing. It was no wonder that Mycroft worried about him constantly. He was a literal, immeasurable risk to himself.

The man simply jumped at the word, 'Danger'.

Not that John was any different. He urgently leapt right after him.

Gladly. Without a second thought.

He idly mused if everyone could see his utter deterioration into insanity. He did keep a blog of it, so to speak, it wasn't as if it was any secret. Not the insanity literally, just factually disclosing in so many words that he followed the mad bloke about after criminals, which was, in essence, a clear admittance of said insanity.

The pillow was a bit suffocating just then, and John tossed over to his side, tucking up his knees as he had as a young child. Hadn't been able to in ages since Afghanistan.

The psychosomatic pain rendering him with a limp was all but a memory past, except when he was particularly emotionally done in.

And as if evoked by simply thinking of it, the pain suddenly flared.

He was emotionally done in.

John stretched his leg wearily, shaking out the phantom cramping.

(Damn it.)

He heard the man through the floor beneath him, downstairs manically pacing about.

(Damn him.)

John drifted off to sleep that night lulled by the strains of Sarasate's Rondo Capriccioso.

His dreams were unaccounted for when he awoke, in the middle of the night.

4:00 a.m. the clock blared in red lettering. All was silent downstairs so he imagined the man had worn himself out, finally.

Throat dry, he padded down the steps and into the loo to fill up a glass of water.

Staring at his reflection in the mirror, he tried to refrain from conjuring the image of Sherlock behind him, holding him, breathing into his short blonde locks which now, after several hours of fitful sleep, were standing on end in disarray on one side of his head and plastered to the other.

Splashing water into his face, he stared at himself. The tired lines beneath his eyes, the creases in his forehead.

He looked older than he ought and felt that way too.

Stress. Like Atlas; weighed down by the world.

He wiped up the remaining water dripping from his chin and frowned wearily.

Somewhere out there, there was a grave that was digging itself, a tombstone with his name on it.

He hated feeling so stupidly melodramatic. He'd face this as he had anything else. Nothing to be done for it.

Amal sat down across the resin table, topping off his mug, as John sat, cradling his face in his hands.

"Don't worry. I didn't say anything, John. I know how it is in the work world. Folks aren't always so accepting."

John glanced up at Amal catching his twinkling expression and frowned. "That. Yesterday? I was honestly telling you the truth. Sherlock and I? That's not going on. He just… he acts. You know? He does it for his own amusement. He gets off on it or something."

Amal smiled kindly.

"As I said, John, don't worry about it. The two of you aren't involved. I understand."

John breathed out a sigh of relief. Amal really was an upstanding bloke.

Thankfully, to John's relief, they changed the subject and argued for a bit about the recent Leeds United vs. Manchester match, and Amal suggested supper.

John agreed.

"Getting ready for your date?"

"It's not a date, Sherlock."

"You're wearing your Loughton Merino. It's a date."

"Its supper. Mates. Going for supper. Not a date."

"Oranges and apples."

"What?"

"Whatever you call them, they're still fruit."

John winced.

"It's a logical assumption that when a homosexual man asks another man he presumes is of according bent out to supper, that he considers it a date."

"Not. A. Date," John bit out, pulling on his jacket, "I'm leaving now. Sherlock."

"Have a good time, John," Sherlock leered, "On your date. With your date."

John seethed. It was very much not a date.

Amal leaned back in his chair and gazed over his wine glass at his companion, "I'm very glad we've become friends, John."

John felt the familiar flush creep onto his face.

"Oh, yes. Well."

"You know," Amal smiled, his teeth bright against his swarthy complexion, "I got out of this…relationship back six months ago, and when I moved here, I was so nervous. You know? Leaving all my mates and my family back in Durham, but you really put me to ease."

The man gently touched the tips of John's fingers resting on the table. "You're really… a good man, John."

John pressed his lips together, anxiously conscious of the other man's direct expression, and pulled his hand back into his lap, fingers still tingling from the light touch.

"Yes," John cleared his throat, "Well, we certainly get on just fine. You've er…proven yourself highly at the clinic. I wouldn't be surprised if you were offered something permanent."

Amal grinned.

"I'd definitely put in a word for you."

"That means a lot that you would say so, John. I very much respect your opinion," he said fondly, "as you know."

They continued on companionably well into the night.

And John sighed inwardly. Alright, so perhaps the man had a small… crush. It didn't hurt anyone. And he was sort of flattered if not a bit wary. He hated that Sherlock was probably right about the 'date' thing.

"So. You're back late."

John looked up to find Sherlock fiddling with some peculiar contraption, while the telly flickered silently in the background.

"I take it your date went well."

John sighed, "Look Sherlock, he's a good friend. We have a lot in common. He might be a bit…fond. Of me. But it doesn't mean anything. Doesn't matter."

Sherlock shrugged dismissively, and John joined him taking a seat and flipping the telly off from mute.

He made a decision then and there.

"Hi Diane," John greeted as the receptionist came into the break room.

"Hi, Dr. Watson," She nodded cordially.

"John," he corrected and cleared his throat, "I was wondering if you wanted to grab a bite later. If you're free."

"Oh," She stopped, looking at John with a small, puzzled frown, "I er. Would love to. But. I'm…I've a friend in town. She'd be a bit put out if I abandoned her. You know, she's sort of not from… around here?"

"Oh. That's fine. No problem. Another time, then."

"Yeah," she responded strangely, and all but bolted out the door as Amal entered.

"She looked like she was in a hurry," he said with an amused smirk.

"Uh. Yeah," John frowned.

Damn. Damn. It couldn't be what he thought. No. Scratch the idea.

Amal heated up water in a mug for some tea.

"So. Guess what," he prodded excitedly.

John glanced up. Oh right. That.

He hid his grin.

Amal had, days before, at last received his license, and earlier that morning, John had handed in a glowing recommendation for him. The Resident was promptly promoted, appointed to a position as a staff physician and now a permanent fixture in the Paddington clinic. Sarah had informed him earlier of the decision, but John let the buoyant man tell him anyway.

"I got it."

"Oh! Good!" John replied, smiling kindly.

"Thank you. John. Your reference was the clincher. Sarah told me so. I don't-" Amal blushed, gazing at John with glowing eyes, "-I don't even know what to say. It was really good of you."

"It wasn't anything. Don't worry about it. I'm sure my letter made no difference, you would have been hired on anyway. You're a brilliant Doctor, and you deserved the promotion."

"Let me thank you in some way," Amal replied sitting down across from him. "Let's go out. To the Pub. My treat."

John sighed, "You really don't have to…"

"No. Consider it a celebration. A party."

Sarah walked in and put a sandwich in the refrigerator. John grinned. Perfect. Well if it was a 'party'…

"Sarah, we're going out to celebrate after work, do you want to join us?" John offered.

Sarah exchanged a strange, cryptic look with Amal. "Well, er. Thank you for asking, but I've got... plans," She smiled, "But, congratulations, Amal. You definitely deserved it."

Amal smiled back. A little to gratefully, John mused warily.

They sat companionably watching the game, and ordered another round of house tap.

"Oh! I forgot to mention. A few days ago I called into Panjab. They were holding a contest for some tickets to the Bollywood film festival premier at Millbank next week."

"Oh?" John laughed, "Not the one with the pole dancers I hope."

"Desi boys? Already saw it," Amal grinned, "Nah, actually it's that Turkish detective bloke from that one show. Behzat C. He's supposed to be some kind of maverick homicide Detective."

"Oh, God. I have more than my fill of those."

"Anyway," Amal rolled his eyes, "So I answered all the questions right, and won two tickets! My first thought was my sister Nisha, but she's gone out of town for work that weekend. So…you should join me, John!"

Alright. Why not.

"Sure. Sounds good, thanks."

"When should we expect the happy announcement?"

John cringed, "You know Mycroft said the same thing about us, right? And we're just friends. So why do you imply that this is somehow different?"

Sherlock all but rolled his eyes.

"Please, John. Really," he sardonically drawled.

"It's nothing momentous. Just an extra ticket to see some movie next weekend."

"Date."

"Not-"

"-Date. With boyfriend."

"Movie. With friend."

"Gay."

"Not gay," John bit out, utterly frustrated.

Sherlock smirked and leaned back, propping his feet up on John's lap, "Are you sure?"

"Get your feet off me."

"Make me."

John sat up dumping off the offending appendages.

"I hate you."

"You've been saying that with regularity of recent. I'm beginning to believe you less and less."

John scowled.

"It's. not. a. date."

"A rendezvous with a paramour."

"Shut it."

"Shut what?"

"You're a complete moron- I'm going up to my room."

"For a good sulk, or to plan what you're going to wear for the grand gala? I suggest the Gant. It's very sharp on you," Sherlock leered.

Why did he put up with it?

"It's getting a bit old, Sherlock."

"You mean your protests?" He barbed, calling out, as John stormed up the steps.

If there could have been a dark, thunderous cloud over his head there would have been.

John sauntered over to the front of waiting room with staunch determination, leaned an elbow on the desk and peered kindly down at Diane.

"Hi."

"Oh. Doctor Watson! Hi!"

"John. I was wondering if you were free tonight."

"Oh, er…"

"Tomorrow night then?"

"Well Dr. Watson…"

"John. Your friend is still in town then?

She sighed. "Look Dr. Watson-"

"-John."

"You are really sweet to ask. I mean it's very nice and I would, under, well… under other circumstances consider going on a date with you but…"

John furrowed his brow. "You've a boyfriend then?" he queried with growing frustration, "Then what? Are you opposed to the whole 'office romance' bit? I mean it's fine if you're not interested-"

"No, it's not that. Its just well… I know about you and…" Diane cleared her throat with a little 'ahem' as Amal walked in, aiming her look in his direction. "I don't want to stir any trouble between you two."

"Diane!" John retorted with exasperation, "You've really got the wrong idea."

"What? You two are very cute together, and I know it's all very 'hush-hush'," she leaned over with a conspiring grin, "It's totally fine by me if you're… you know…gay."

"What!" John shouted, then looked around self consciously as patients glanced up at him in consternation. Lowering his voice he hissed, "'Im not… gay. Wait… is that what everyone's saying? That I'm gay? Who's saying that...Harold? I'm not. Really."

"Look, I know it's like some kind of secret, so you don't have to worry, I won't say anything," she replied earnestly, in a soothing manner that riled John even further.

Just then, Amal approached, "Hi John, Diane." He nodded.

"Oh, hi Amal!" Diane chirped.

"I really enjoyed last night, John," He smiled warmly.

Oh, not at all good.

"Er-" John sputtered.

Diane giggled sweetly.

"I was wondering if you wanted to go out for lunch. Some Thai or something," he propositioned, casually laying a hand on John's arm.

Flushing, John quickly yanked his arm back, "I'm actually busy."

"Oh."

"Yeah. Paperwork. Going to stay in. Get some of it done."

"Oh, don't worry John, I can do that for you-" Diane offered.

"-No. no. I'd rather see to it myself, thank you."

"Oh, not a problem. I've some as well. I can grab us some crisps and subs from the vending machine, and we'll camp out in your office and do it together."

Diane all but snickered and John glowered.

"Well, what do you say?"

Sarah strode toward the desk, and laid down some files.

"No," John bit out impatiently, "I'd rather do it alone."

"Oh. Fine. That's…er, fine, no problem," Amal frowned looking confused and a bit hurt, "I'll see you later then."

As he walked away, Sarah cleared her throat, "That wasn't very kind of you. I thought the two of you were friends."

"Yeah?" John grimaced, pulling her off to the side, "Well that was until everyone started implying we were some kind of…item."

Sarah crossed her arms, tapping her foot with irritation, "Honestly, John, since when do care about a little harmless gossip?"

"Since it's prevented very nice, attractive young women from accepting dates with me, thank you. I've been really very patient about it all. Ignoring it. But I've had enough of this," John expostulated, "It's like everyone here has somehow forgotten that you and I dated last year. That I actually like women."

"John, we hardly dated, and you haven't been out with anyone since. Have you? Anything serious? And besides, we didn't even kiss. Not even when you kipped at my place that one night."

"Other than the fact that my overbearing flat mate pretty much thwarted all of my attempts to do so… I try to be a gentleman," John frowned at her speculative look, "Wait. You think I'm gay too. Don't you."

"Oh, John, it doesn't matter what I think-"

"-Jesus!" John exhaled with sheer frustration, eyes rolling heavenward, "What is wrong with all of you!"

"Look, it doesn't matter-"

"No! You think I'm in the closet or something. Fuck me. This is ridiculous. Clearly out of hand!"

"I don't think you're gay."

"You're just saying that to pacify me!" He accused sharply.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

"No, John, I'll believe whatever you want me to believe. It's all fine. I just think it's not on that you were so harsh with Amal just now. He really looks up to you," She admonished.

Alright. He did feel a twinge of guilt at that.

"I'm saying, John, that you're one of the most kind hearted and open minded individuals I've ever had the fortune of getting to know, but right now, you're acting no better than….Harold, an utter homophobic twit," She bit out, "I really thought better of you than this. I very much recommend you make it up to him."

"God," John sighed, "You're right. I was an arse, wasn't I?"

Sarah smiled.

Before they headed out for the day, John caught up with Amal.

"Oh, hi, John," he greeted tentatively, sounding a bit down-trodden.

Sarah smiled over at the two with a prodding expression, and John sighed.

"Tonight. Supper? We'll get that Thai you mentioned," he offered as way of apology. Amal grinned and accepted, granting him a look of honest regard that bypassed subtlety.

He caught Diane's broad smile in his direction and from behind her Sarah nodded in approval.

Damn.

Double damn.

After supper, they decided to walk back, still engaged in idle chatter about the office, difficult patients and whatnot. Before he realized it, they'd arrived at 221.

"I'm not going to ask if you want me to come up."

Amal sighed at John's hesitant expression, "I mean other than having to face your impossible flat mate, I know you're really new at this. I remember what it was like when I first came out. I was one of those late bloomers, you know. Didn't actually say anything until I was twenty-four. Mum pretty much had to pry it out of me. Tooth and nail."

John frowned, "Amal, wait."

The other man laughed heartily, "Dear Lord, your expression, John!"

"Yeah but-"

"-No, its alright. I know it was a major step for you today. Asking me out in front of the office."

"Amal, please." John sighed, trying to formulate a way to explain this tactfully, "I think you may have the wrong impression."

He paused as Amal narrowed his eyes, "John, you don't need to defend it. Clearly, I like you too."

"Right. But Amal, I like you as a friend. You know. As a mate. We're mates. I felt like a prick earlier for blowing you off for lunch. I didn't ask you to supper as a date."

The man sighed, "I get it, John. No worries, no pressure. Like I said, I know you're new to this, we can take it slow. I don't want to push you into anything."

"I really don't think you're grasping what I'm trying to-"

"-No! I do!" he sighed, looking somewhat defeated, "I get it John. You just want to be friends. That's alright by me. It's fine. We'll just be friends. You don't have to say anything else."

"Oh. Well then. You're taking this better than I- er…never mind. I'm glad you understand," Inwardly, John sighed with relief. That went more smoothly than expected.

"I have an idea," Amal suddenly blurted out, "I have a friend coming into town from back home. An old ex of mine, but he's a super nice bloke. Maybe we could all get together tomorrow night, you know, as a group of mates going out for some drinks and a night on the town and you could bring Sherlock."

"Um…"

"You know, Tom's a mystery writer. Sort of made a name for himself in the genre, I'm sure he'd just love to get a chance to meet him, get to talk to a real Private Detective."

Ah well. What better way to reaffirm friendship than agree. They parted congenially, and John prepared himself to confront the man inside.

"So you've set us up on a double date. Considerate of you to ask if I would even be amenable beforehand," Sherlock bit out.

"It's not a date."

"No, it's not a date. it's a double date," Sherlock corrected wryly.

"You owe me, Sherlock," John retorted, combing the fringe back from his forehead, "For that stunt at Tesco's. You snagged me into this mess with Amal, and I just had to practically reject him on our door step. And I can't go without you, because that would be awkward with Amal bringing Tom and all."

"So I'm being set up."

"It's not like that."

"Go without me. Or back out. I don't really care what you do but don't involve me."

"You involved yourself by starting this all up in the first place," John scowled, "And I can't back out, or I'll just look like some kind of homophobic berk."

"Fine," Sherlock grumbled, assenting.

Actually, Sherlock was proving to be rather a good sport of it, seemingly not altogether bored for once, and even genuinely enjoying himself, much to John's unending surprise. He carried on with Tom rather successfully, and the man, in turn, was proving to be quite amiable and intelligent.

Amal pleasantly regaled a few particularly funny stories involving his past with Tom, and John noticed in his periphery Sherlock's steady gaze on him. John gave him a pointed look and the other man glanced away.

It happened again, later as he and Amal bantered over football. Sherlock mysteriously kept darting strange, indecipherable glances in John's direction.

Amal seemed to notice and grew contemplative, narrowing his eyes at Sherlock across the table. The detective matched his gaze with a pointed look of his own.

Whatever it was, this peculiar, wordless conversation they were having was baffling to John, and Tom seemed oblivious to all of it.

At last, they all agreed it was getting late, and made to part ways.

Tom and Sherlock headed outside with Amal and John trailing behind, when Amal grabbed John suddenly, pulling him aside.

"I had a really good time tonight, John."

"Yeah, me too," he replied, a bit apprehensive as Amal encroached upon his personal space, still clutching his arm.

"Tom thinks Sherlock's quite a swell bloke."

"Well yeah, I think… that Sherlock had a good time," John responded hesitantly and the other man smiled, "And uh… so did I."

"Good. I'm glad to hear you say it," Amal responded warmly, "Then if you're free tomorrow night perhaps you'd accompany for a bite after work. My treat since you went to the trouble of dragging the monster out of his lair."

"Er, yeah, I suppose that'd be fine-"

Amal pressed his lips to his own. Stunned, John stood stock still as the other man wrapped a hand around the back of his neck. For the briefest of moments in his haze of confusion, he just nearly gave in, when he felt a prickling feeling that he was being watched, and with that, John's mind fell back into focus and he tore himself away, turning to match Sherlock's piercing gaze.

Under the surface, it seemed triumph warred with acute ire. Very confusing.

Tom grinned at them, as the detective stood by his side in front of a cab. Before John could react, Amal relinquished his grasp and darted away toward the two.

Sherlock narrowed his eyes with a peculiar, hostile mien as he and Amal exchanged glances, and the slighter man looked far too pleased with himself.

John followed suit, too stunned to do anything but mechanically move forward.

Tom and Amal hopped into the cab and bid them goodnight, before shutting the door.

John frowned and wiped a hand across the back of his lips.

What the Hell had just happened?

Sherlock coldly answered his unspoken question, "Seems you've been manipulated into yet another date."

"Fuck."

"I'll say."

"He kissed me."

"Looks like he took your rejection last night rather half-heartedly."

"He kissed me," John repeated. Sherlock rolled his eyes.

"You don't seem overly traumatized."

"What?"

"You just nearly kissed him back."

"What!"

"You tilted your head, John."

John flushed angrily, "I was a bit shocked, is all. I did not kiss back."

Sherlock shrugged dismissively.

"Sherlock. You have to get me out of this mess."

"I don't have to do anything," the taller man snapped.

"I don't think he's going to believe me unless you tell him that the Tesco's incident was all a fraud."

"You forced me to go out on this ridiculous farce tonight, you can't manipulate me into yet another favour. Hate to remind you but, we're all squared away."

"This is not a bit alright, Sherlock. For some reason, I don't know what you're doing, but he's got this wrong impression-"

"-I really doubt its anything I am doing, John."

"You kept looking at me-"

"-Observing is not the same as looking."

"Fine, but Amal assumed otherwise and staked his claim. You practically bated him into it."

"You're making things up."

"He'll persist with this… and I really don't want to fuck this up. You have to tell him the truth. He won't believe me and I have to work with him now. He's permanent."

"You could press a sexual-harassment suit."

"Absolutely not!"

"You could find another clinic."

"No. Sherlock. You have to do this."

"I don't have to do anything," Sherlock repeated with exasperation.

He leveled a look at the other man, noting his desperate expression, and reluctantly softened, "Fine. But this is the last time, and you have to leave my experiments alone. And buy all the groceries. For one month. And get the things I put on the list. All of them."

Amal smiled warmly, as John entered the restaurant, yet as soon as he noted Sherlock following close behind, his eyes widened.

"Oh. You brought him too?"

"Amal, we…er," John frowned, "We need to talk."

The two sat down, sliding into the booth across from the other man.

"Alright…?"

"Er…I don't really know how to start-" John began hesitantly.

"-No. No, it's fine. I get it," Amal interjected, disappointment crossing his face, "The two of you. You're an item. I mean it's obvious. I should have picked up on it. I mean, you weren't exactly forthcoming and I know you were probably trying to keep it some kind of a secret or something, for some reason," he shrugged, shaking his head, "but it would have really been considerate of you to have just told me."

Sherlock smirked.

"No. No, no, no. That's not it at all. Please. Sherlock and I are not like that, because I'm not gay, and Sherlock is an arse and thought'd be amusing to hit on me in front of you at Tesco's," Amal nodded thoughtfully as John pressed on, "And I can't even express how sorry I am that it seemed like I was leading you on in any way, because you're a real great bloke, and we really get on well. I just hope we can still be friends. You know. If you can forgive the fact that Sherlock is an utter cretin."

Sherlock scowled. "Drag me out here, so you can impugn me. Lovely, John," he drawled.

Amal leaned back, crossing his arms across his chest and swallowed. "Okay, so this is all true?" he queried, glaring at Sherlock, "You were really just pretending. All of it. The Tesco's thing, and then all those looks, just for kicks. To get a rise out of me? Because that's a real dickhead move. I don't know if I believe you. Those looks were pretty real," he accused sharply.

John cleared his throat feeling suddenly defensive of his friend, "Actually, I think he was just trying to help me in his own, weird way, to… you know. Let you know that I wasn't available. Without me having to outright say anything. It was really, really, poorly thought out on his part."

Sherlock frowned, "I never think things out poorly, John."

"That's really messed up. I mean he pretty much inferred that you were gay, and then you denied you were in a relationship, so what was I to think?"

John frowned. This wasn't going at all well.

"So it's true then. John's not gay," Amal demanded, peering at Sherlock, and the other man shrugged dismissively.

John sighed. Really? This again?

"No, I'm not," John pressed, utterly exasperated.

Amal narrowed his eyes at sherlock with a keen, prescient expression, "But you are."

Sherlock very coolly and slowly nodded, "Yes."

John gawked at him in disbelief, "No you're not."

The detective glanced at him with a pointed look, and then back at Amal who was smirking unkindly, "Right. So my gaydar isn't totally dysfunctional, after all."

"I would say it's very much intact," Sherlock quipped, quirking a grin.

Amal leveled him with a peculiar, examining look, and raised an eyebrow before looking back at John. "Right. Well anyway, John," he paused, "I don't know what to say, I'm a bit embarrassed. I'm sorry I was so persistent."

John nodded, "No, it's fine, Amal, like I said, I just hope we can still somehow be friends."

"it's not like any of this is really your fault. So I'm not mad. Disappointed, yes. But I won't hold it against you," he granted John a tentative smile, "Well then, I guess I better head off. I'll let the server know we're not going to stay, and I guess, John," he sighed wearily, "that I'll see you at the office. We'll grab lunch or something… you know- just as friends?"

John sighed with relief, "Absolutely. I'd like that."

"Why did you tell him you were gay? You're not gay," John demanded as soon as they exited.

Sherlock gave him a retiring look and John folded his arms. "You said you weren't- when I asked, back at Angelo's back round when we first met."

"Really John, your memory is startlingly poor. You asked me if I had a girlfriend or a boyfriend- to which I replied 'no'; not the same thing as asking me if I was 'gay'. I can't help it if you're prone to forming presumptive conclusions without evidence."

"I just figured you didn't have any interest in anybody. I hazarded a guess that you were 'asexual' or something. You said it was all 'transport'. You said 'you were married to your work'," John defended.

"Yet another naïve assumption-"

"-So it's an open relationship," John quipped.

"No, but it was true I wasn't interested in any entanglements."

John breathed an incredulous sigh, "So this wasn't just another ploy, then? Another twist to the plot? So you actually are-"

"-Bent?" Sherlock grinned toothily.

"You're having me on! Really? I would never have thought! You actually are…?"

Sherlock gave him an exasperated look.

"Fine. You are."

"Is that a problem?"

John frowned defensively, "Well you know it's not. But you might have told me."

"I hadn't deemed it relevant to do so, and you never formally asked," he shrugged, "Besides, you said it was fine. That it was 'all fine'."

"Right then. It is fine. Whatever. You're gay and you're married to your work. Weird. But whatever. Call me for a fool! I had no idea."

"Not every homosexual feeds into your flamboyant stereotype."

John shrugged and grinned, "I don't know. It was probably a bit dense- you're not exactly the very essence of the prototypical heterosexual."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow, "…Really."

"Well other than the sty we live in which would definitely disqualify you from joining the QE team, you dress a bit too… dapper."

"Fallacy. I prefer tailored suits, fitted for efficiency of movement. If you want the definition of 'dapper' go call my dear brother."

"Oh, God. He's not—er… also, is he?" John asked with dawning horror.

Sherlock smirked.

"Carry on John. What other scintillating details can you draw for me?"

John shrugged, "You've got a penchant for scarves."

Sherlock frowned, "It's a scarf. Hardly a rainbow flag."

John laughed, the tension draining, "Well, it's not like it's an ascot, at least."

"You're rather inclined to your stereotypes, aren't you," Sherlock smirked.

Gay. Sherlock.

Sherlock is…

Seriously. No lies, straight up not straight. Not asexual nor apparently aromantic. Just gay. What?

It was proving very difficult to apply the meaning of the word to what he knew of the man. The more he repeated the fact of it in his head the less he felt he was able to wholly comprehend it.

The less it seemed to all make sense. Yet, the more it seemed to make sense. Maybe. God, it was confusing.

For the rest of the night, John couldn't help but dwell, even as his companion studiously ignored him and typed busily away on his laptop.

"You're staring."

John flushed, "Sorry."

With a quirk of his mouth, almost smirking, Sherlock gazed over at John, "It's fine."

Truthfully, it was nearly unmanageable for John to cease his imagination as he lay sleeplessly.

Everything he'd thought he'd known of his companion, completely flipped on its head. There would be no fathomable way to see Sherlock as he had before.

Nothing would change, he tried to remind himself. Sherlock was the same man he'd been before; that he'd always been. It didn't matter. It couldn't matter.

Why would it matter?

With burning shame, John tried to suppress the jealousy he felt picturing Sherlock.

All clean, sharp lines, perfect capacity of movement. Graceful and elegant and sweeping energetically in to Kiss another man. Bedding one.

Fuck.

Diane. Diane. Diane. Think about the pretty receptionist.

Yes, that would do, just fine. Be more than enough.

Fortunately, at the clinic the next day, Amal and John overcame the initial expected awkwardness and slipped quickly back into easy comradery.

"You really didn't know that he was gay?" Amal asked disbelievingly.

John sighed, "Well, he was all rather vague about everything. It's not like he's ever brought a man home."

"That's because he has a 'man home' already."

John rolled his eyes at the insinuation, "He's married to his work."

"Which you're very heavily involved in."

"And that has any relevance at all, why?"

"I'm just saying, that kind of makes you a part of his work- and if you're a part of his 'work', then essentially that mean he's married to you," Amal cracked a grin, "And he doesn't cheat."

"Oh. You're very funny, aren't you, we sure you're in the right profession?" John drawled.

Diane passed by the two holding an arm full of folders.

"Hi Diane," John nodded.

"Oh hi, Dr. Watson."

"John," He corrected, smiling warmly.

"Er… here's the paperwork for the prescription log you asked me to organize…"

"Thanks, Diane," he nodded, gathering the files from her arms, "I'll get this typed in, then."

John gazed after her with a touch of wistful regret. Amal grinned teasingly, "You fancy Diane, don't you, you old cad."

"Oh. No. it's nothing. Not a big deal."

"Right."

Back in the break room, the two men were chatting amiably when the receptionist walked in, with a mug in hand.

"Hi, , Amal," She nodded.

"John," he corrected wearily, "hi, again."

Amal grinned slyly and cleared his throat as the woman busied herself at the microwave.

"So Diane," She looked up and Amal smiled pleasantly, "John and I were just talking about that Film Festival happening Saturday."

The receptionist's eyes lit up and she grinned, "Oh! Yes! The Bollywood Premier! That's such an exclusive event, I tried to get tickets but they were all pre-booked or ghastly expensive. Way out of budget for this little pocket book."

"Well that's great then! See, my sister won some tickets, but had to fly out of town last minute… so she gave them to me."

John furrowed his brow in confusion.

"And really, I'm more of a sports type myself, so I offered them to John here, but he was just saying he had no idea who he could go with. But since you seem like you'd really like to…" He raised a brow at John, grinning.

"Oh, no. I really couldn't accept. It's-"

"Don't be silly, John would love to take you, right John?"

"Er…well," John stammered eyeing Amal warily, "That is if you wouldn't mind going with me?"

"Oh, absolutely! Thank you so much John, that's so thoughtful!"

They exchanged mobile numbers, and Diane ducked out with a giddy expression on her face. John eyed Amal.

"Why did you do that? I thought we were going to go together."

"John, please, after all the trouble I put you through, let me make it up to you. I mean if it weren't for me, you would've already been dating her."

"Amal, that's…"

"No. Don't worry about it. You've been great. I mean with everything. You were a mentor to me and essentially the reason I got this job, and even though I was a bloody git chasing after you, you still for some reason want to be mates. Let me do this. And don't worry, I'll win more tickets you know, next year. I'm a Bollywood expert, after all!"

"Right. Okay. That's very… I mean. Really. Very good of you."

He seemed happy as they parted, but there was a touch of longing just beneath the surface, nevertheless, and John felt, just slightly, guilty.

But. He had a date with Diane. Perfect.

John fixed his tie looking in the small mirror on the wall of the sitting room.

"Going down to Barts to pick up some toes from Molly. Want to come?"

"Nope," John grinned, "Going out."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "I… see," he replied falteringly.

"Got a date with Diane. From the office."

"Right."

"Night then!"

Something in Sherlock's expression nagged at John, and he wanted to dismiss it, yet it clung persistently ever so as he walked out of their flat.

"I mean really, I didn't expect it to end like that. It was so amazing," Diane breathed, "Thank you so much for taking me. Especially after all that…well that misunderstanding we had."

"Not at all," John smiled as they approached the entry to Diane's apartment complex.

"I don't suppose you might want to come up for a nip."

"Thank you. I would."

The apartment was small but tidy, and smelled like perfume and new wallpaper. He liked it. It was just like Diane. Not that she smelled of wallpaper, that is. Just that it was simple, and tidy, and well put together.

Diane came out with two beers in hand and sat down beside John, their knees just slightly touching. Setting down her bottle, she grabbed his hand in her own, looking up at him beseechingly.

"Really John, I meant what I said. I am so sorry that I fed into the gossip. Obviously you and Amal are just…well, you know. I feel like an absolute berk," she smiled warmly, "I really like you John, you're very nice. And I'm glad you asked me to go with you tonight. I had a good time."

It was the perfect opening, "I did too."

John leaned in with the intention of seizing the opportune moment when both were startled backward by the sudden ringing from John's pocket.

"Maybe you should get that," Diane suggested hesitantly.

"Damn it, Sherlock," John muttered under his breath, "It's not important."

He leaned in and tried again, yet just as their lips brushed together, it rang again.

"Damn. Damn, I'll just put it on silent."

Diane looked wary, "What if it is important? Maybe you ought to check."

The blasted thing beeped, signaling a text. Fumbling, he pulled it out of his trouser pocket and exasperatedly flipped it open.

Need you. ASAP. –SH

He switched it to vibrate and tossed it on the table. "Not important."

They tried once more, just barely pressing in, when the cell suddenly vibrated fiercely against the glass.

Diane sighed and John scowled, utterly chafed.

Emergency at the Dock. I'll send coordinates. Be here in 15. –SH

"Really, it's alright John, I understand if you have to go. Sarah sort of mentioned that you have some kind of thing with crime solving."

"I'm not really the one who does much of the 'crime solving'-"

"-No, it's fine. Go ahead and go. I understand."

John looked regretfully at the very pretty woman sitting so close beside him. This better be important. There better be at the very least one body to show for it.

"Right then. Maybe if you're free we can try again tomorrow?"

"I'd like that," she smiled kindly.

He rushed out of the cab and glanced around for his flat mate, spotting him across from the D.I.

"Sherlock! What? What was the emergency? What was so pressing that you had to interrupt my date?" John bit out with unsuppressed irritation.

"Oh. You're here John," he furrowed his brow, "I thought I texted you that you weren't required."

"Nope. Didn't get that text," John gritted out.

"Must've forgotten," Sherlock shrugged, "Anyway, it's all taken care of."

Lestrade frowned and backed away warily, really not wanting to get involved and went down to rejoin Donovan. He didn't blame him.

John let out a frustrated groan and glowered at the subject of his irritation. "Damn it Sherlock!" He glanced heavenward, "Why? Why do I even bother?"

Sherlock grinned in off putting manner.

"What was it, Sherlock. What was the bloody emergency. Do I even want to know?"

"Anderson was being a prat and refused to let me inspect the body. I thought you might be able to talk some sense into him, but I convinced Lestrade to do it for you instead, since you weren't here yet."

John gaped incredulously, "That's it? Are you bloody out of your gourd? You're a complete and utter git!"

"Really John, you need to be more conscientious of your priorities."

"Implying that me leaping after your every beck and call should be my priority," John huffed, "You're a real prize, aren't you."

Sherlock sniffed, "Priorities, John."

It was a perfectly beautiful day, and Diane and John were getting on quite well. Which was why it was beyond antagonizing to John when he spotted Sherlock strolling up to them from literally, out of the blue.

"Sherlock! What in the blazes do you think you're doing?"

"That case from last night. I need you to come see about something."

"Absolutely not."

"It's important," Sherlock frowned pointedly.

"Diane, I'm sorry about this," he turned to her, "this is my flat mate, Sherlock, and he's a bloody-minded arse."

"Er…" the woman floundered.

"It can't wait," Sherlock stated tersely, impatiently tapping his foot.

"Sherlock I'm on a date. Go find yourself someone else to assist. I'm sure Molly would be happy to."

Sherlock rolled his eyes, "Really of all the people you could've suggested-"

"-Sherlock! Just please," John hissed, "Go. Away."

The detective pouted almost petulantly, "But you're the one who knows best about these things."

"What kind of things are we talking about here?"

"You know…things," he scowled at Diane, "I can't say with her here. Statute of Secrecy and all."

John floundered, "Statute of-are you saying this is some kind of Government thing? How is that even—how could I possibly be needed for-"

"-No. It's just a thing. I need you to see about."

John eyed the Detective suspiciously, "Sherlock-"

"-Look, it's fine, John," Diane sighed cutting in with exasperation, "Its obviously important. Just go. I'll see my way home just fine."

John being irritated was an understatement. Sherlock had, yet again, dragged him on some pointless errand that could've been well handled without his presence.

Seriously, why did he always do this?

He glared down into the swirling steam from his cup as Amal entered the break room.

"Well…?" he grinned, "How did it go?"

"It didn't. I mean the film was excellent and then we headed back to hers and I was pulled away by Sherlock for some piss poor reason and it turned out he didn't even need me. Then we tried Sunday, and it was all going quite splendidly, and he does it again. It's absolutely maddening."

Amal narrowed his eyes, "That man acts like he owns you and doesn't care one whit who he walks over in order to keep you. I don't know why you put up with him."

John sighed, as his memory replayed that odd, crestfallen look of Sherlock's when he'd informed him of his date.

"He's not always so bad," John defended, "I mean, he's really not much more than a child sometimes. He doesn't always realize what he's doing is wrong, and he may act to all the world like he couldn't be arsed to care, but he's… his intentions aren't… he doesn't mean to be a prick. It's just that everything else around him is immaterial to his focus."

"Yeah," Amal muttered, "You."

John snagged Diane as she walked past later that day.

"Diane, I just wanted to apologize again for this weekend. I was hoping maybe you'd consider giving it another go."

The receptionist sighed, and shifted uncomfortably, "You know John, I really like you, I do. I meant what I said. It's just that… well, I remember Sarah's stories of why you two didn't work out, and well, honestly John, I really did want to give you a fair chance, but… I can't compete with…" she waved her hand around expressively, "that. I hope you won't feel too unkindly toward me, but I prefer someone that's…well, I want somebody to only want me. I don't want to have to share. Besides. This whole…chasing after criminals thing…it's dangerous. I'm interested in just a bit more stability. I don't want a call at four in the morning that my boyfriend is laying out in some hospital somewhere. I don't want you to take any of this in the wrong way, but I'm really not interested in giving it another go, Doctor Watson."

John was not at all pleased. Very much the opposite, in fact.

"You're in a tizzy," Sherlock remarked. John wanted to wipe that smirk off his face, but resisted the temptation.

"Yes. No thanks to you, Diane called it off with me. It's 'Sarah' all over again."

"Oh please, John. I'm hardly to blame for your poor luck with women."

"I'll have you know I had no bad luck with women prior to your interference, Sherlock," John retorted, seething.

The man snorted. "Right. Prior to me, in all the vast years of your dating life, can you honestly tell me you had one, real long-term relationship? I mean something over two month's tops? Because I know you haven't"

John glowered.

"See? You don't contradict me. No, you get off with them just fine most of the time, but you obviously have some sort of impediment when it comes to building any kind of lasting foundation with women."

John sneered, "Well you're really one to talk, I don't see you with anyone, and you pick apart my failures. From what soap box do you stand on? You know I could have had something with Sarah but then you went and cock-blocked me on that, and then you went and did the same with Diane. Has nothing to do with me."

"They're just not very understanding of your priorities."

"Again! Implying that my main priority should feature you at the top of the list. Is it so wrong if I just want to have some normalcy every once in a while?"

"You don't have to come but you do anyway. You know as well as I that this is part of who you are. You're not meant to sit around festering in the humdrum conventional family fixture with wife, two and a half kids and dog. You'd grow restless and you'd start to resent them- and you know all of this already."

"Not that I obviously don't to some extent enjoy occasionally assisting you and the Yard, but really," John sighed wearily, "I'm not some automaton. Unlike you, I need the intimacy every now and again. For the sake of my sanity, if nothing else. I mean sure, maybe I don't want the good old-fashioned family unit, but it'd be nice to find a like minded partner, and my point is…I'm trying to do that, Sherlock."

"Well maybe you're not… metaphorically speaking, 'barking up the right tree'."

John exhaled and shook his head, "Fine. I give in. What do you mean exactly?"

Sherlock shrugged, "That's not something I can instruct you on- that's something you have to figure out for yourself. But what is most probable, is that you already have some sort of notion as to what it is- you're just not ready to accept it."

John narrowed his eyes, "If you're going to be obtuse and toss out cryptic implications at me, then I'm really not interested in hearing anymore."

"Suit yourself," Sherlock shrugged with disinterest.

With further rumination later that evening, John hit on what he was getting at and cringed, wishing to suppress the idea.

He found Sherlock draped over the divan like some kind of lackadaisical housecat.

"It's because you don't like women isn't it."

Sherlock yawned. "Absolutely unsupportable observation, John, I have the utmost respect for the gender. The best of them are exceedingly cleverer than the majority of their male counterparts. If they lacked the innate nurturing, empathetic tendencies they're inclined to out of biological imperative," he drawled, "then we'd be very likely living in a Matriarchal society."

"No, you just don't think I should be dating them," John accused.

"I think there could be a very probable reason that you're unsuccessful with them, and you just don't have the insight to realize this."

A festering, nagging thought once again resurfaced, and John frowned.

"What," Sherlock peered at the other man with a speculative gleam, "It's obvious something's occurred to you. It's tedious watching you trying to avoid mentioning it. And I know what it is anyway, so why don't you just spare us both the trouble and be forthright."

"What was the real motivation behind that whole charade at Tesco's? Something doesn't seem right about it. I can't think that you were just trying to help me put him off of me by making him think I wasn't available- you're not that selfless. And I'm beginning to think your motives went beyond simply amusing yourself with throwing me into an awkward situation- you're callous- but I doubt you seriously meant to make my life more difficult."

"Astute," Sherlock nodded appraisingly, "But you already suspect the truth."

"You think I'm interested in blokes, don't you," John muttered incredulously.

Sherlock raised an eyebrow.

"Really John, I'm not in this job because my hair smells nice, I am fairly adept at what I do", he replied acerbically.

"You thought if you threw a hint at Amal he'd take advantage of it and we'd get on, and date or something. I mean in a twisted, sick, and very bit not good way… that was almost rather a generous thing you did. Trying to play match-maker, which was funny, because the two of you seem at constant odds."

"I decided he wasn't good enough for you," Sherlock pouted, "You really can do much better… there are other men out there who-"

"-Sherlock!" John huffed, "When have you ever seen me take a man home?"

"Well you don't take any women home either."

"Don't play coy. You know what I mean."

Sherlock sighed relenting, "You may exclusively date women but you don't exclusively prefer them."

John gaped at Sherlock, 'What the hell are you talking about!"

"It's really bothersome how dense you're being about this. Kind of offensive."

"Are you really serious, or are you just taking the piss!" John exclaimed, "So I was nice to him, and he read that wrong."

"Your method of rejection was hardly very concise, nor were you particularly bothered by his interest. If anything you were flattered."

"Look, apparently, you claim to be bent-"

Sherlock raised an eyebrow (claim to be-?).

"-and I'm fine with that. My god damn sister is too, and I'm fine with that. You'd think you'd give me a little credit. Or do you have some derailed notion that a bloke might be a little shirt-lifting himself if he so much as attempts a platonic friendship with a queer? Because that would be absurd. So absurd it'd be a miracle that someone with such lauded intellect could possibly maintain such a belief."

Sherlock laughed, and so strange a sound it was, it took John aback, "That couldn't be any further from fact if it tried, John. How do you come up with this? Truly, I don't give you enough credit for your imagination."

John sighed for the umpteenth time with incredulity, and stood from his chair defensively, "Then why do you think I'm some sort of closet-case?"

"I'm not slapping a label on you John, you only do that to yourself. And no, your maintaining of platonic relationships with gays obviously does not make you gay by proxy. That would defy logic and imply that the British Psychological Society really has it wrong after all. To infer that I'd make such a retrogressive assumption in that vein is wholly unreasonable," Sherlock grinned and stood up, striding forward toward John, his voice audibly lowering, "I'm offended you think so lowly of me."

They were all but a foot away and John could practically smell the man's unique mixture of unscented detergent and the tea he'd had earlier and something spicy underlying.

For a moment, he almost felt light-headed.

John grimaced, "Why would you imply then… that I have any interest, whatsoever, in men?"

Before John could react, Sherlock closed the space between them, kissing him far too soundly for argument.

It was a surprisingly good kiss.

Holy Hell.

Suddenly John was boneless, altogether paralyzed, unable to pull back as the taller man pressed in, snaking an arm around him, holding him tightly while his other hand clutched the nape of his neck, bracing him, guiding him.

John's lips parted of their own accord and Sherlock took the advantage as an opening, his tongue invading his mouth, tasting him, owning him.

There was an odd, smallish moan, and (dear God, did he make that sound?) Sherlock pulled off just slightly and seemed to grin imperceptibly as he angled his head and John gasped as his mouth was once again full of Sherlock and God it was not even slightly clumsy. The man's eyes fluttered closed, and John's followed suit reflexively.

It was sheer grace and perfection and his tongue was like something far too wicked to be real, all silk and heat. He tasted sweet, and something a little bit tangy and salty and utterly Sherlock and John groaned.

Then there was the dawning horror as Sherlock pulled back breathlessly.

Fuck.

Sherlock slyly smirked at John's expression, eyes gleaming.

"Pupils dilated, elevated pulse, shortening of breath, amplified subcutaneous vessels most likely due to a flood of beta-adrenoceptors suggestive of an emotional cause to the blush spreading across your face," Sherlock parsed out in one long, run-on sentence.

(What…?)

A deep flush coloured the man's own high cheekbones as he glanced down appreciatively, "I'm sure if there were a more thorough examination we might discover a parasympathetic autonomical response expanding within the confines of your trousers."

He leveled John with a look of triumph and John yelped with abject horror.

"Sherlock!"

John pushed himself away, humiliated, only for the other man to seize him, pulling him back. "-All informative physiological data here is symptomatic of attraction, John."

"Sherlock, please-" John cried, anguished. Sherlock smirked, his lips within mere centimeters of his own.

"-All this leads to conclude, John, is that it's more than evident that stimulation from a male subject has the capacity to induce within you arousal-" he grinned broadly, "-Suggesting that you harbour, perhaps a latent propensity or inclination toward homosexuality, yet you sublimate this part of you."

John punched him.

In the jaw.

It wasn't that hard, but he definitely made sure it would get the message across.

Sherlock stumbled back a bit stunned. He swiped a hand across his split lip and frowned down at the traces of blood before grinning back up at John, "I should have expected that."

"A bit not good, Sherlock!" john shouted, "Kissing me to prove a point is not on!"

Sherlock cracked his jaw, massaging it with a trace of awe, "You really pack quite a punch. Remind me to never get you really, truly angry."

John seethed, "I am. Really, truly angry."

"I didn't think the kiss was all that bad though we could try again if-"

"Sherlock!" John roared, "The fuck were you thinking?"

"I was rather thinking, you didn't quite hate kissing me. And that you've too hastily decided to not date men, when it's evident you wouldn't particularly mind engaging in sexual activity with one. It's also obvious none of this comes to any surprise to you, though you vehemently repress it. '

"Oh?" John hissed, hot with barely suppressed rage, "How do you figure."

"I think you know exactly what I'm alluding to."

What more did he have to lose. (Other than his dignity.)

"Fine, Sherlock," he exhaled, slumping back down into his chair, "I'll humour you. What are you referring to?"

"You had a liaison with Murray," Sherlock informed him.

John cringed.

Well, fuck.

He just knew everything didn't he.

"How in the name of everything Holy, could you possibly think that!"

God, that was ages ago, among many of the things John no longer wanted to think about.

Sherlock grinned, as he too, took a seat once again across from him.

"Actually, no don't tell me, I don't want to know,' John paused, and then relented, (because really he was rather curious), "Fine. You know what? I want to know. Tell me."

"Please, John, you continuously underestimate me lately, how could it not be obvious?" Sherlock sniffed, "You must've known to some extent your inclinations, yet you persistently denied yourself and focused solely on hetero-conventional coupling. Probably due to your sister's eventual revelation and you felt it was your responsibility to play normal, ever the good son. Inevitably, anything so repressed is bound to convey itself explosively outward, and when Murray expressed his interest, you couldn't resist. I mean, not that it was very serious, it had to be strictly sexual."

"How do you figure any of this," John pressed.

"Easy. On your blog he called you a 'dirty boy' which referenced your tendency toward flirtation and promiscuity."

"Yes, with women."

"When I first asked about your time in the military, specifically mentioning him, you had that tense look you have now. You get that every time you attempt to dissimulate. You're very poor at doing so. At first I couldn't be arsed to decipher what it meant. But it nagged at me, John, what could lead you to be so tight-lipped about that relationship? Clearly you didn't part on poor terms, as he was rather quite forthright and congenial in his comments to you. Was it because you associated him with the war? Or was there something else—something I wasn't seeing. Then I began to observe something peculiar about you, John. You seemed to notice men almost too appraisingly. Even when we first met at Bart's, I couldn't help but acknowledge that you-"

"-Oh dear God, Sherlock. Don't flatter yourself," John cringed.

Sherlock narrowed his eyes, "You weren't unresponsive when I kissed you just now!"

John blanched, "Shut. Up. I haven't had any in awhile, thanks to you. I'm just-"

Sherlock frowned, "-desperate?"

"Anyway, Sherlock! Continue to make your point," he bit out, "Obviously your bursting at the seams to do so-"

"-Fine," Sherlock snapped, "So I catalogued your responses to males that we crossed that could be perceived as statistically attractive."

John furrowed his brow.

"Lestrade, for one."

John went from deathly white back to burning red almost instantly, "That's not true."

Sherlock smirked, "Oh don't be so mishish, John, honestly. Anyway, allow me to proceed. You were very demurring about your intern bloke making eyes at you though it was painfully obvious. Instead of simply correcting him outright sought to deny it. Why? Because it hit too close to home. You loathed that it was a very real possibility that Amal had seen in you a subtle mutual response. He's not unattractive by any means. And he's acutely perceptive. Or at least his 'gaydar' is very finely honed."

John barked out an abrupt, angry laugh. "Now you're just being patently absurd. And you accuse me of going on without unsubstantiated evidence. I was not interested in Amal, I was interested in Diane."

"Absolutely. Doesn't mean you weren't a little more that flattered by Amal's interest. Even slightly curious."

"Wrong, Sherlock. We got on just fine as friends. You're grasping at straws here."

Sherlock shrugged. "Alright, I concede, you weren't attracted to Amal. Which means, that he simply instilled in you a sense of fear by association; that you'd once again recognize your own particular set of alternate inclinations," he leveled a keen glance at John, "Even if you insist I'm wrong on every account thus far, you cannot deny there were telling physiological reactions when we kissed, nor can you admit that you failed to effectively dissemble when I implied the true nature of your dalliance with your old orderly."

John raised an eyebrow, "So you inferred that without any real evidence, but you weren't sure."

"Until just now, you don't outwardly deny it –which is very confirming. A crude method of enlisting confession, but effective nonetheless; which is why it remains to be a time-honoured, valid interrogation technique."

John could hardly bear the victorious look in his friend's eyes, "Fine, I experimented back in the day, so do most folks. I'm very much attracted to only women."

"Oh, John," Sherlock groaned, "You're being tediously uncooperative. You and I both know the truth, so why don't you just admit I'm right?"

There was a tightening in John's chest, and an unnamable emotion gripped him. Furiously, he sprang up and stormed away without a backward glance.

Unmitigated Bastard!

He paused at the top of the stairs before entering his room, feeling exposed and weary.

Fuck it all.

John inwardly deflated.

They were walking on egg shells around each other as it was, and now Sherlock had to up the ante and make it worse.

Why did any of this even matter? Why did he have to insert himself in this as if it was any of his business?

He still felt the sting from where his knuckles had connected with the man's face.

Well, that had been a bit satisfying.

"You're in a mood. Worse that yesterday," Amal bit out after John nearly snapped his head off for the hundredth time that day.

"I don't mean to take it out on you, sorry."

"Want to talk?" Amal offered.

"Not really."

"Sherlock then."

"Pretty much sums it up."

John kicked the water cooler.

"Lestrade asked about the lip."

John raised an eyebrow.

"Told him how you're hitting me these days, and he said 'good on you'," Sherlock smirked, "Spousal abuse. Apparently he advocates for that sort of thing now."

John grimaced, "'Spousal'?"

"Fine. Domestic abuse," Sherlock corrected woundedly.

"Oh, don't put on the tear-works. It was hardly a knick."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes, "It was very unmannerly."

"Yes well. It was in self-defense. Getting kissed without permission, Sherlock. Could be construed as sexual-harassment."

"My apologies, fair damsel, I shall henceforth cede to your quaint sense of virtue," he drawled wryly.

John quirked a grin in response, "Honourable of you."

"I notice how you fail to apologize."

John gaped. "You deserved it!"

"Responding with violence is a rather neanderthalian way of resolving disputes. Not that it doesn't have its time and place."

He sighed, "Your face going to hold together?"

"A bit. Hurts though," Sherlock chirped, favouring his chin with a rub, "A Doctor who hits his patients. Interesting that."

"Oh, please."

"I noticed how when Amir kissed you, you didn't sock him in the face."

"He wasn't trying to prove a point."

"Yes, he was," Sherlock argued, "He was trying to prove that he set his claim on you."

"Either way, he's not a bastard like you."

"I'll have you know I was born completely within the legal binds of wedlock."

John snorted.

"I apologized to you."

"And you called me a 'damsel'."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes and pouted petulantly. John rolled his eyes.

"Sorry then," he bit out, not really meaning it.

"Clearly half-hearted, but I accept."

They fell silent once again.

John thought back to several evenings before when he'd stood before the mirror. Staring into his face, into the meaning behind the lines. As if they were some kind of oracle, like palmistry, declaring the past, foretelling the future.

There were just some things he hadn't wanted to face looking at himself, and this was one of them. It brought back the pain of isolation, that fear of rejection, that he'd suffered upon reaching adolescence with that particular revelation, seeing how Harry suffered under the weight of it, and he hated that to this day, how it all still gnawed at him. He'd sorely envied his sister being the type of person to be right enough with herself in her own head for accepting it, for not giving a fuck back then, but he was never, never that person. That brave. Not in that way.

Yet, he had given in. Once or twice. Just to see. But it had never proven to fill that strange void within, and it was too damn alien. Not that it hadn't felt… clearly as right and fucking amazing as anything, just that he hadn't been able to wrap his mind around it, to grasp the idea that it could be a viable option for his life. So he'd put it aside, up on the highest shelf, out of reach, out of sight out of mind. Focused on the other side. Attempted a stab at that ever evasive normalcy.

All a big, pitiful Fuck You of a failure.

The silence grew oppressive.

And John caved.

"Look Sherlock," he sighed, "Just because I may be a small bit bisexual—sort of- does not mean I have to explore it any further."

Sherlock laid down his laptop and seemed weary as he glanced up at John, "Why."

"Why does it matter why. Why does any bit of any of this concern you? It's none of your business."

"Then why did you bring it up again."

"Because it shouldn't matter, but you're such a goddamn know-it-all and you always have to be right. So there. You know the truth of it, you forced it out of me. Are you quite satisfied?"

Sherlock frowned, considering, "You're right, it shouldn't matter, but as you seek relationships with people, you make choices that inevitably fail to pan out. Or else you choose people who can't accept your priorities and it's distracting to the work."

John shook his head, "How is any of that even the least bit correlated?"

"Unfortunately, you've wormed your way in and proven your worth as my colleague, and I…" Sherlock darted his glance away, and pulled at a loose thread on his cuff, "I've found myself becoming reliant on you. I'm not even sure if I could go back to the way it was before... You've anchored me somehow. That being said, in order to keep functioning with focus, I need my anchor to be unwavering and steadfast, which you can't be when you're unhappy. You get all unbalanced, and it's very, very…as I said before, distracting. So I recognize that you need for companionship, and I just want for you to make the accurate choice."

"That's obviously something I want as well, you know, but It doesn't help that you always cock-block me."

"Crude assertion," Sherlock drawled, "And even so, It's not purposeful. It's not my fault if your chosen paramours fail to understand your priorities."

"And you think a man would be more understanding," John responded skeptically.

"Males are statistically more prone to logic and rationality in that regard."

John grimaced, "Again. With the misogyny."

"I'm not inferring that all women lack these characteristics- I'm just saying a male partner would be more likely to understand the fact that your priorities go beyond sole focus of setting up house."

"You think all women just want to set up house then?" John mused, raising an eyebrow skeptically.

"No, there are plenty who would just as well settle, or even want for casual intimacy or independent partnership without cohabitation- or even those with romantic inclination whom would endeavor to appreciate a lifestyle sans progeny."

"Then why men?"

"Why not men?" the detective countered, "The women you insistently consider for romantic involvement-due to your incredible lack of good judgment for appropriate selection-share one common trait: they don't want to share you. They perceive me as some form of threat—competition, and persist with jealousy. Selfishness. You are, again, more statistically likely to discover a wider selection of men whom would be more affable to the idea of-"

"-What? Polyamoury?" John grinned at Sherlock's cringe, "Sherlock- I'm not interested in a partner who'd be willing to share me in that sense."

"I'm not implying that they would share you in that sense," Sherlock gritted out.

"Most normal-"

"-Conventionally harnessed as you are-"

John exhaled with irritation, "-Fine. The romantic partners I'd be inclined toward, and hypothetically, Sherlock, of either gender…would be little likely to accept or appreciate your level of involvement in my life. You know—with the honestly unnecessary butting in on every intimate moment?"

Sherlock considered this, tapping his fingers on his knee.

"Point taken. Fine. I won't bother you when I know you're on a date," he conceded.

He didn't look very happy about it.

"Good of you, but we both know that it doesn't matter. I'm very little likely to find anyone anyway that will understand that I'd still rather spend most of my spare time chasing about the city with you than wasting away a quiet evening home snuggling in front of the telly."

Sherlock almost seemed to puff with pleasure at the declaration and just nearly smiled, "Thus accepting your predilection toward atypical habits-admitting you take solace in such a panacea. 'Chasing about the city' has rather cured you of your lingering malaise. But I understand, John, despite this, it's not enough. You maintain a need for balance—romance, intimate companionship."

"I am a normal man with normal wants and needs, Sherlock," John defended.

"Obvious!" he drawled, "But back to the main point- you still deflect to answer to why it is you only seek women, patently refusing to even consider the alternative probability there may very well be- out there- a male partner whom would prove better suited."

John sighed. Should he tell him? It wasn't as if he wouldn't deduce it all anyway, the utter twat.

"Technically…I have. Once or twice. There was this time right after Uni. This bloke, Aaron. We got on real well. Saw each other for a short bit there, might've been something maybe…" John hesitated, "Point is, it didn't work."

"Because you didn't want it to."

"Not for the reasons you think. Not because I'm chained by 'convention' or ashamed or anything-"

"-So banal as that would be. But you are a little, at any rate," Sherlock interjected, smirking.

"It was just that their came to be these expectations, and it was…uncomfortable. The idea of bedding a man and enjoying his company is different than actually carrying on a relationship with one. It's easier with women. We fall into these expected roles, and the rules are preset. With men—I don't know, Sherlock it's complicated."

"Why? You keep defending that women and men have so few differences despite scientific evidence supporting otherwise," Sherlock pressed, "So why should it be more complicated?"

"There's no precedence that assigns a way we're supposed to get on."

"So it's all about following some sort of set guidelines?" Sherlock queried looking oddly suspicious.

"Look, Sherlock. It's not really that either. It's not like I've deeply analyzed it or anything, alright? I just… it's easier," John frowned, "How do you get off questioning me about this? At the end of the day it's none of your business who I bed. And it's not like you have some repertoire of knowledge in the area. To you it's all just 'transport'. So stop pestering me about it."

"I have sustained for years, that relationships are for the most part, diversionary and irrelevant, yes, and true, they are admittedly not my area of expertise, but I still make it my responsibility to thoroughly educate myself in the whole spectrum of human nature," Sherlock defended scowling unhappily at John's assessment, "That, you can't deny, is relevant to my profession. Since I've long since classified my identity, it would be rather negligent of you to presume I've no experience. And again, extremely naïve."

"I thought you were 'married to your work," John quipped.

"It is my work. Understanding the fundamentals of functional sexuality aids my insight into crimes of passion. Which, most often, many of them prove to be. It's almost boring how often this turns out to be the case."

"Lord. You really are a robot aren't you. Some secret project of M16 or something. Or maybe you're part Vulcan," John mused, "Like Spock? Oh, Lord. Never mind. No pop-culture references for you."

Sherlock frowned, "I know what Star Trek is, but I hardly think it's a fair comparison."

John sighed, "Fine, whatever. So yeah, anyway, I gathered you wouldn't just declare yourself 'bent' to get a rise out of me. Clearly you've based it on some kind of experiment of some sort. So have you?"

"What."

"You can't base a sexual identity out of celibacy."

Sherlock frowned.

"You must've been with a bloke or two to figure that out."

Sherlock paused with strange reticence.

"Purely, out of the necessity to collect data, I have bedded a few females. It was conclusive enough," John waited and Sherlock sighed, "I deemed it… unsatisfactory. Then there was Victor Trevor. Cambridge. I was 19. His terrier attacked my ankle, and he made a fuss about it and was very… contrite. I observed he had a marked preference, gauged his interest- which was considerable but tentative, so I took the liberty of propositioning him, which proved to be all rather educational."

"But you don't date," John remarked, baffled.

"We didn't date, John, sexual congress does not a relationship make."

John snorted.

"'Sexual congress'? Do you even hear yourself when you speak?" he sighed, "At any rate, would it be wrong to assume you were…friends?"

"Of a sort. In the capacity that I am capable of maintaining."

"And… I imagine that you, er, got off with him with…some kind of regularity for a time?"

"Correct."

"And you didn't consider that… I don't know…sort of dating?"

"As I've informed you exhaustively many times, it's all transport. Unnecessary. Distracting. It was just an experiment, a pleasant one, yes, but still an experiment."

"And he understood this, did he?"

"We had an understanding- which he was quite fine with."

"It was all just drop trou and shag then, so you've never wanted for anything more?"

"Please, John. With Trevor? Of course not," Sherlock huffed.

John gaped incredulously at his friend, who seemed to nervously tug at a stray curl that had fallen over his ear.

"So you seriously haven't seen anyone since Uni?"

"As I said. Transport John. Don't you listen?"

"Yeah, you say that a lot," he retorted, "And that appeals to you does it?"

"Asceticism is practiced quite successfully in a number of elevated professions," Sherlock defended, "When one can tune out the external, the brain can be finely tuned to focus. It's proven."

"That's…ridiculous-"

"-And, you, are at the mercy of your sensory obligations, John, I made the decision not to be."

"It's biological necessity, not sensory obligation. It's human nature. And you're one of the more hedonistic men I've ever met in that sense. You may want to remain chaste for the sake of limiting distraction- I recognize that- but you can't pretend you're not susceptible to desire or you would never have performed successfully enough to recognize your sexual identity in the first place."

"Wrong. I can tune it out if I must," Sherlock smirked, "And it's also extremely inaccurate to imagine one has no sexuality if they opt to desist from acting upon it."

John sighed exhausted. (It was like running in a circle, when you're trying to get across town.)

Then, as if out of nowhere, it all made sense. John sat up with the dawning revelation, "So you admit that you are in fact capable of desire, then?"

Sherlock, for once, looked dubious as to John's motive and frowned, "Repetitious, John. I'm beginning to suspect you lack some innate sense of comprehension."

John grinned, delighted to have one-upped the master of one-upmanship.

"Then asceticism is a manufactured decoy. Like your label as a High-functioning Sociopath. Another defense mechanism you've constructed under the guise that falling prey to instinct somehow makes you vulnerable, and less functional as an objective scientist."

Sherlock almost looked angry and vulnerable suddenly.

A look that was a bit unnerving to John, whom had grown accustomed to the man's apathetic and/or manic disposition. Not a wide spectrum of displayed emotions, that.

John knew Sherlock was a consummate actor with a repertoire of many expressions, yet all were contrived, and thus: shallow, transitory.

This, on the other hand, was intensely real and raw.

"Last time I checked, you were a General Practitioner—a physician and retired army surgeon- hardly a licensed psychiatrist. So how can you pronounce any of this without substantiated proof?"

"Because I know you, Sherlock," John replied confidently.

"You imagine yourself so perceptive," Sherlock snapped, "You seek to see something in me that you wish to see. It doesn't mean that it's there."

"Sherlock! Seriously? This label… it's like my limp was—psychosomatic. On the surface, you act it out- even though you know that it's not real, maybe you even think you believe your contrivances- but you don't," John sat back in his chair, crossing his legs, "Granted, you may exhibit a trait or two under the vast umbrella of Anti-Social Personality Disorders… but it's not who or what you are. This? It's a veil—a pretense to push folks away. It's all just armour. Cold, steel, armour."

"You think so," Sherlock bitterly spat out.

John smirked, "Please. Tell me the name of the Doctor who diagnosed you. I want their number."

Sherlock scowled and John grinned triumphantly, "Hah! So you admit you had no formal diagnosis? I knew you must've pulled that off of some Psychiatry website. What'd you do—take some online test or something?"

"Regardless of any Professional opinion, how is it you convince yourself that I'm making any of this up?" Sherlock demanded.

"You pretend it's all just boredom—that compels you to do what you do. But you've chosen to solve crimes. Not commit them. It may be a way you keep yourself occupied or even a way to earn a living, but still. If you were truly a Sociopath, you wouldn't care how you filled your time- who you hurt in the process."

"Unconvincing argument thus far," Sherlock drawled.

"Sherlock- I sincerely doubt your disregard for the majority of what you deem to be 'important' laws, is borne from the notion that you'd find it 'tedious' to be caught. Or that Mycroft would eventually step in to stop you. No, if you truly were what you maintain to be, it wouldn't matter. You'd think it was fun to flout authority."

"You'd be confusing me with a psychopath, then."

"So you insist you don't have one iota of compassion for anyone?"

Sherlock raised an eyebrow as if to infer ('obvious.')

John raised one in response, grinning, "Fine. Sure. But I've never seen anyone look the way you did when I walked out that night at the pool, and you thought—for just that fraction of a second, that I was Moriarty."

Sherlock blanched and visibly retreated back in his chair as if caught.

"You can pretend for the rest of the world that you are some ruthless, unfeeling, undiluted thinking machine, Sherlock, but you can't pretend you didn't- for half a moment feel something."

"What are you-"

"-I'm saying-" John laughed accusingly, "-You felt betrayed. Hurt even!"

Sherlock snorted.

"You can't deny the fact that on some level… you've managed to… in spite of yourself… grown to care about another human being."

John gazed speculatively at Sherlock's sudden flush.

"We're friends," John smiled, "You don't have friends. But you have me. And you've let me in. You don't like it, maybe, but you-"

"-No, John. No," Sherlock sighed, relenting, "I don't deny that I-"

"-What," John pushed, "That you-"

"-Yes, John. You're convenient. You've proven yourself necessary," he defended, "For the work."

John frowned, with sudden nagging doubt, "So, you say that's all it is. Like I'm some kind of… handy weapon you keep around for utilitarian purpose. If anything happened to me, or if I should leave you for some reason- which is why you sabotage all of my dates- because you're afraid I'd leave you—you'd be displeased because you'd be inconvenienced."

(God, what was this ache in his chest suddenly?)

Sherlock winced, looking a bit peakish, and John felt an overwhelming moment of Doctorly concern in spite of his umbrage. The man seemed to visibly deflate.

"John," he sighed, dragging a hand through his thick, tangled locks, "I would… not be thrilled if anything… if we should be… separated. Not because you're just… useful... I, rather you've become a sort of…"

The sting subsided. God, did he want to hear whatever Sherlock was going to say. He needed to hear it.

"Yeah?"

"Fine. You're right. You're very clever. Very insightful."

John leaned forward, furrowing his brow, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I can't, John. I can't let anyone close to me. Not with what I do. It's too—there's a good chance that at any moment, if I just turn my head for a second, that something—unforgivable could- and almost did happen to you."

Awash with relief, he exhaled, feeling almost winded, "I choose to put myself in that position, full well knowing the risks involved. I wouldn't still be here if I didn't think you didn't… have use for me. Or care about me. In that stubborn, stupid, ridiculous way of yours."

Sherlock's glared at the floor, looking deeply uncomfortable in his own skin.

"So we've accepted that we are in fact friends."

"I never denied that we were."

John sighed, "Is it really so bloody awful to imagine you might actually be human? Might give a bloody damn about someone other than yourself? To admit that you're capable of doing so?"

"No, it's that I would otherwise have no use for it. As I said—the rest of it? Distraction. And you, John, are a distraction on many levels."

(Again, what was that supposed to mean?)

"I wouldn't otherwise accept it, but now it's all become utterly incontrovertible. Which is my own fault and I shouldn't have let it become," he frowned, "You've managed to incorporate yourself in it all nevertheless, and now I can't be rid of you."

"But it's all secondary. I get it. I'm some kind of interloping exception," John grinned, "And we're unhealthily codependent in that respect."

Sherlock frowned in contemplation.

"'Codependent'," He muttered, seeming to latch onto this term warily, unhappily, as if it implied something he hadn't wished to traverse.

"But I do get it, Sherlock. It's nice that you recognize that you occasionally have use for me."

"You're not exactly unnecessary."

"Glad you don't take me for granted," John stated confidently, "You have to maintain focus on the job. Got it. Like you said. You're 'married to your work'. The rest is 'transport'."

Sherlock appeared suddenly apprehensive.

And it clicked. The second half of the equation. John's eyes widened with the revelation, and he nearly leapt from his seat. "…oh my God. It's more than all that."

"Stop it, John-" Sherlock hissed warningly.

"-You have been interested in someone. All of it! All of your many layers of armour; just one massive deception. And the last one? You—being 'married to your work'—because the rest is 'distraction'—this charade of pushing people away so they don't come to any danger—all another cover! Isn't it!"

"Wrong."

"No, I'm right about this."

"Your vague intuition- this stab at conjecture- would never stand up in the courts."

"I'm not stupid."

"Debatable."

"No, you have considered someone… haven't you," John needled, swelling with repletion, "I can tell. You paused when I said that 'you're married to your work'—oh, my dear God, It's just a cover over a cover. It's all just subterfuge!"

Sherlock glared petulantly, "Playing detective, really? Please."

"I'm right!" John exclaimed, bracing himself down by clutching the armrests.

"John," Sherlock tried, placating, "you're just expounding on vagaries, there is absolutely no substance behind your sudden- '

"-No, Sherlock! I can tell when you're prevaricating."

"Use my own methods against me. Very well done of you," he bit out acidly, "You've caught me with my pants down. Once again."

"You're admitting that you have then."

Sherlock sighed, "For all that 99% of the population contains of utter imbeciles, I'd have to concede there may be one whom proves an exception."

"And you found someone that interests you."

Sherlock breathed, "…Exceedingly."

"Why haven't you pursued anything?"

"I considered it briefly. But…It won't work."

"Why not?"

"it's not mutual."

There was a bitter edge to his tone.

John paused. (Oh.)

"Who-"

"-Anyway, as much as I've loved this little chat of ours," Sherlock bit out abruptly, "Lestrade now requires my full attention."

Sherlock whipped out his mobile, and rapidly began texting.

Feeling rather cut off just as he'd been getting at something, John frowned.

Sherlock muttered something about 'incompetence', as he glared down at his phone.

Well.

Fine, then.

That's when it occurred to him.

(Oh.)

He grinned.

John took a bite out of his sandwich and Amal leveled John with a raised eyebrow, "So you're saying Sherlock fancies someone?"

"Yes. But he thinks it isn't 'mutual'. Thing is, he's not always the best judge of these things… you know for all his 'great' powers of observation."

"So…?"

"I have an idea as to who it is."

Amal sat forward with interest, "You do."

John smirked, "Tom!"

The other man raised an eyebrow.

"Obviously!" John said excitedly, "It all makes sense."

"Umm….okay," replied the other man hesitantly, "could be. Perhaps you should ask him."

"I could do so… but only if Tom is still available…or even interested. I know he's out of town, but it wouldn't matter to Sherlock. I mean, I doubt he'd be the type to need for any sort of constant contact or anything."

"Tom…er, did intimate that he wouldn't mind hooking up again…" Amal shrugged, "He'd probably be thrilled to learn of Sherlock's interest."

Well, that was affirmative.

Yet, in spite of his intentions, John wasn't altogether overly familiar with the role of 'match-maker'.

What if this worked out?

John suddenly felt a niggling reticence: Would he regret if their involvement somehow… displaced him? If instead of John, Sherlock raced across the city, solving crimes with Tom? The mystery writer would probably love it, maybe even be of better assistance. Sherlock would completely forget about John altogether…

As if they'd never met.

God. It felt like a hole had suddenly been punched through his chest, and he couldn't breathe.

Amal gazed at John warily and he quickly tamped down the thought.

(What was this? Jealousy?)

No. No, no, no, no.

(Stupid. Bad thought. Not even remotely true.)

Amal glanced at John with a concerned expression, "Are you… alright?"

Yes, Tom would be good for Sherlock, he reminded himself. The man was not an automaton after all. Just a man. Maybe this would heed in reminding him of that fact-if it worked out between the two.

"Of course! Fine. I think he and Tom could be…er, you know, good together. Maybe."

Amal frowned thoughtfully, "So you plan on… er… asking him, then?"

John smiled resolutely, "Yes."

The man smiled peculiarly, smugly.

(What was that about?)

"I'd be interested in hearing how this goes."

John nodded, "You'll be the first to know, I promise."

It was well past midnight and he still hadn't figure out how to broach the subject.

John sat across the room cringing at Sherlock in the kitchen as he carefully pealed back nails off of the toes Molly had lent him from Bart's Morgue.

Seriously. He made it through medical school, countless anatomical dissections, far too many roadside bombings, emergency amputations, and yet still.

(Ugh.)

Did he have to do this on the kitchen table?

Sherlock smirked up at John, "Hungry?"

"Not anymore. That's very unhygienic. We eat there."

"You do," he quipped.

Sherlock resumed the strategic plucking, and John paused to consider what he was going to say.

He phrased the question carefully, "How long ago?"

"What?"

Sherlock glanced over reading his expression.

"Oh. That. Really John? Can we speak of nothing else? We've been at this for days, it's all trivial."

"How long ago since you were interested in this…er, bloke?" John repeated.

Sherlock sighed, shrugging, "Relatively recently, historically speaking."

"Meaning…"

"In the past year."

John bolted upright from his chair victoriously, strolled into the kitchen, and dropped his closed laptop down on the table.

"Do you mind?" Sherlock frowned, annoyed, "I have carefully arranged specimens here."

John rolled his eyes and grinned, taking a seat across from Sherlock and the mouldering toes reeking of formaldehyde, "It's Tom isn't it!

Sherlock scraped a sample from under the nail and placed it on a piece of glass under his 134-cled, unresponsive.

"You know," John pressed, "Amal implied that he was interested, you might consider pursuing it."

"Seriously. Are we in Secondary? Is this a 'he likes you do you like him' bit of query? Juvenile."

"A bit," John grinned, "He does you know. Fancy you. Do you? I mean, fancy him back?"

Sherlock grimaced, adjusting the lens, "How is this important to anything?"

"Just humour me," John sighed.

"To what end?"

"Christ, Sherlock! It's not that hard of a question!"

"No, it's not," he agreed.

John stifled a groan with creeping irritation, "Then do you?"

Looking up from the microscope, Sherlock exhaled slowly and peered at John, "Not really my type."

John faltered.

"Not really your type," He repeated with a furrowed brow.

Sherlock leveled him with an expression of wry amusement, "Very good, thank you for repeating me I'd completely forgotten what I had just said."

"But you said…recently. I figured you meant-"

"Yes John, recently. Do try to keep up."

Then who could he have-

(Oh.)

That's why Amal was so damn smug…

Sherlock fell uncharacteristically silent and looked a bit ashen.

'Um…" John queried hesitantly, 'the… er…thing you did, the other night-that kiss-"

Sherlock barely breathed as John formulated his thought, "-You er… it was more than, you know, something to prove you were right about me."

The man remained tight-lipped.

"Did you… I mean," John gulped, "Right. Fine. How long?"

Sherlock shrugged.

"Why didn't you tell me?" He whispered, leaning forward in his chair.

"'You exclusively date women'," Sherlock quoted back at him.

John squirmed with discomfort.

"And you said you were 'married to your work'."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow, 'That's the fifth time you've quoted that back at me in the last few days. I'm fairly certain we had moved past that."

"Even so, you did say it," John countered.

"And I meant it. We'd just met. For all your many considerable charms, surely you couldn't think that it was love at first sight."

John frowned.

"Not that you're unattractive," Sherlock added, sighing, "I didn't know you yet."

"But then-"

"-For all I knew about you, within seconds of our first meeting, John," he continued, "the rest came to me as bit of a surprise later on. So is that sufficient for you? Or do you need an essay on it?"

"But the thing about you being married to your-"

"-Really, John, if you say that one more time I'll have to commit you to a Specialist," Sherlock sneered, "Besides it was established that we both were guilty of falsification on various fronts. So you need not restate the obvious."

"So, alright then… "John blushed, "are you, er, saying you want to date me?"

Sherlock narrowed his eyes, "Absolutely not."

He sighed at the look of confusion on John's face, "As per previously determined, though you may have some kind of amenable inclination, you are not a viably receptive candidate. I have neither the time nor wherewithal to pursue thin air."

"Right. Well… this is a lot to take in. I mean. I didn't even know you were…er, gay until a few days ago. I mean. It's fine, really, Sherlock," John expressed, "I mean yes, I'm surprised, but no, it… it doesn't…bother me that you fancy me. I'm er…flattered."

"Oh, John, desired-by-all Cock. How all should pity you," Sherlock bit out, "Not the first time you've said you were 'flattered' in the past few days."

"It has been a turn of luck for me, recently," he grinned trying for humour, "usually it's all rather the other way around."

Sherlock glowered. Alright. (Humour- no good.)

"Look. I don't know exactly what I'm supposed to say."

"You don't have to say anything. I didn't expect for it to be reciprocated. But now you've satisfied your curiosity. Good on you."

"Sherlock I-"

"No. Drop it. It doesn't matter. Delete it."

"How am I supposed to do that? I can't just delete the fact that my closest mate just told me he-"

"John. It doesn't matter. I don't care. And I don't want to pursue this further. Drop. It."

John felt a pressure knot just between his eyes and kneaded the bridge of his nose. "I'm going to, er.. go to bed. It's past 2. You should probably as well, come to bed," Sherlock raised an eyebrow and John frowned, "I mean not my bed, your bed. And not with me. I mean alone. Fuck."

(Fuck.)

Sherlock smirked and the headache pounded through John's skull, "I mean you should really try to get more sleep. Okay, I'm going to shut up now."

Sherlock looked far too amused.

"Don't be a prat," John bit out.

"You're flustered."

"I'm not. I'm tired. I have a migraine," John huffed, "It's been a long day."

"Mm," Sherlock answered noncommittally, picking up John's laptop.

"You can't use your own?"

"Yours is closer. Shouldn't have put it over here if you didn't want me to use it."

John sighed, ceding, "Night then."

"Observant."

He rolled his eyes, and tromped off to bed.

And as he lay there, his mind speeding at 1000 mps, his heart pumping furiously within his chest, he couldn't help but replay it all. Every second.

Every moment between them in the entirety of their association now up for reevaluation.

The lingering touches, the glances, the moments they'd sweep in, out of breath with exhilaration from a case, adrenaline pumping, tingling with excitement. There were moments where, in retrospect, without John ever really realizing it, when Sherlock would look at him with barely suppressed something, like a tightly bound string ready to pop, and John realized what that was. That hunger. That longing.

That need.

And God, did his body react to it, but at the time, he hadn't registered just what exactly he was responding to.

Inevitably his brain replaced the images of Sherlock kissing another man, with John, himself. And it was…

Utterly terrifying.

(Needless to say, he didn't sleep well.)

Amal looked up curiously as John took a seat across from him.

"So?"

"Yeah. It's not Tom."

Amal smirked, "Clearly."

"Not to me."

"He told you then."

John grimaced, "It was like removing glass splinter shards from the bottom of a foot, but yeah."

"A delicate operation, indeed," Amal laughed, amused.

"Basically."

"Ah. Well. I'm not going to go into the fact that I knew… that'd be tactless and inconsequential."

"Er…thanks?"

"So. What did you say?"

"Didn't have much to say.''

Amal paused considering. "Hmm. I wonder if it's occurred to you, John," He grinned, "that you feel the same way."

John gaped. "You didn't really phrase that as a question," he bit out, folding his arms across his chest defensively.

Amal sighed, "Look I get that you're not into me, but that doesn't mean-"

"-I'm not interested in dating men," John defended.

The other man continued to smirk, much to John's unending exasperation. "You don't have to go chasing tail, snogging all the available females in a 100 mile radius to convince me."

"I'm not gay."

Amal laughed heartily, "This is like that song from Avenue Q. I swear. Hilarious."

John glowered petulantly. "I'm. not. gay," he repeated.

"Dear Lord are you dense! I'm just saying… Look John, my last boyfriend was bisexual. I'm not completely blind. I hate to be the one to point it out to you, but your preoccupation with Sherlock is, well… it's more than you running about chasing down criminals. You really… genuinely…like him."

"As a friend," John corrected, "God, this is turning in to the argument I had with him about you. So what. I… might have a passing interest in…the male form as well as the female. Doesn't mean I-"

"-John, enough," Amal held up a hand, "I'm not ordering you to go pursue it. Hell knows, I don't know if it'd be healthy for anyone to try it off with that bloke. All I'm pointing out is- after I kissed you- the first thing you did was immediately search out for him. It doesn't take an idiot."

John scowled, "I don't date men. It's as simple as that."

"I don't mean to sound preachy, but forming relationships with people ought not to be about what's between their legs, or some role you think you're required to play. It's more than that. And whether you like it or not, you're already in a relationship with Sherlock. You just haven't accepted the other aspect of it, yet."

"It'd ruin it. If things changed."

"How would things change? You already care about him as he does for you- the shagging would just be an added benefit."

"Sex and Sherlock," John retorted, "Not really something I can even wrap my mind around."

Amal leveled him with a disbelieving stare, "Why not? He may be a complete git, but he's a ridiculously hot one."

"Oi!"

"See! You're jealous!"

"No, I'm not."

"You're being obnoxiously obstinate. I really have a hard time believing you. I mean, seriously how could a guy not notice? He's like a gazelle or something- all sleek limbs, and sensual movement…" Amal smirked and gazed away dreamily.

John sneered, "If you're trying to convince me with sexualized animal analogies- you're failing."

The other man chuckled warmly, "Alright, so animals are a bit of a put off, sure, but you have to admit he has gorgeous eyes… and oh! That mouth! How a man could put that to use!"

John blushed remembering the kiss, but quickly quashed down the passing image. "Dear lord I'm not hearing this."

"…And those curls you just want to run your fingers through…" Amal sighed teasingly.

"Knock it off."

"And I bet he's fierce in bed."

"Right then. Should I just inform him that while I'm not game you'd be willing to have a go?"

"I'd love to watch the two of you-"

"-That's wrong on not just a few levels!" John bit out.

"Please, you're such a prude."

"I'm completely not. I'm just. Not. interested." John grimaced, "And your sudden salacious lust for my flat mate is beyond weird. Particularly since the two of you do not get on."

"Understatement," Amal huffed, "But I'm just saying. Though utter gits are not really my cuppa, you can't deny he has a certain appeal."

"Oh?" John queried, ironically.

Amal quirked a grin, "I like them short, sweet, dumb and blonde."

John blushed hotly, "Amal-"

"-What," the man retorted playfully.

"You make me sound like some kind of bimbo. And I'm not dumb."

"I'm not arguing your intelligence, but you're rather ignorant about a lot of things. I mean it's kind of cute in a way. But a bit irritating, I mean I shadowed you obsessively in those first few weeks, remember? Do you know how long I waited before you caught on that I was interested? Well imagine how your flat mate must feel and multiply that. What's worse is that you know what you want in your heart but your brain is too slow to catch up."

"You're completely wrong."

"Am I?"

"Can we change the subject or something. I mean I appreciate your concern and all, but why are you pressing this so hard?"

"Because someone needs to wake you up, John Watson."

Damn Amal.

John couldn't help but reanalyze everything about Sherlock over the next few days. It was true. The man literally exuded sensuality out of every pore.

It was growing more and more impossible to deny his body's response to the other man's proximity.

And thus, it was also becoming increasingly difficult to stop from outright staring at him, and a few, horrifying, humiliating times, he swore that Sherlock caught him glancing at his mouth.

Ridiculous.

Somehow, in spite of it all, the two men still functioned as per usual; John was still, just John. Overly abused flat mate, grocery shopper, errand-runner, crime-scene side-kick, and house keeper (Mrs. Hudson had put her foot down quite sharply on this matter, and John had accepted the role ruefully, out of necessity- military service driven obsession with tidy organization and all that.) Really did the man have to leave everything everywhere? ('Organized clutter', Sherlock had long since explained, exasperated.) He left the 'experiments' in the refrigerator as per agreement. But seriously? Leaving everything strewn about more than usual had to be just to annoy John. (Is it so much to ask to put one's dishes into the sink- at the very least?) (Busy.) (At least do your own laundry? Pick up your own dry cleaning?) (Boring.)

All the while it was as if Sherlock had completely shut out the entire confession.

And it was driving. John. mad.

It was all he could think about as he lay in bed at night staring through the dark up at the ceiling. What was Sherlock doing? What was he thinking about?

God, and that cursed mouth. Seriously. Why couldn't he stop replaying that kiss?

John entered their flat after coming home from the Laundromat laying down Sherlock's freshly pressed trousers over the chair in the kitchen.

"Er… Hello!"

John glanced up at the strange greeting from the sitting room.

Across from Sherlock sat a ruggedly handsome man, with strong, straight features and a chiseled, Adonis-like physique evident through a keenly tailored navy Cavalli. He smiled congenially over at John. "You must be the famous Doctor then?"

He darted a glance at his flat mate who appeared a bit put out and John furrowed his brow in confusion, "I'm not sure 'famous' is exactly correct-"

"-I've heard so much about you! I absolutely love following your blog about Sherlock's cases— it's so good to finally meet you in person!" He exclaimed with a brilliant grin, smoothing a hand across his cropped golden hair.

John faltered, "And you are…?"

"Victor. Victor Trevor." John's eyes widened in a priceless expression and the man smirked.

"Oh-"

Sherlock frowned, "John, he's-"

"-Here for a bit of a drop by," Victor explained.

"Ah."

Something squeezed tight in John's chest.

"Come, sit down, Doctor Watson, join us!"

John complied and sat down uneasily across from the two.

"It's been ages since I've last seen my old mate, here! We went to Uni together," Victor laughed, fondly, "I suppose he never bothered to mention me."

John smiled, reticently, "Um-"

Sherlock gently cleared his throat, seeming uncharacteristically nervous, "I've-"

"-He's done so. A bit," John quipped.

Victor leaned back and laughed heartily, "Oh dear, I don't even think I want to know what he's said, by that look on your face!"

"He was informed of the relevant facts."

The man had the sheer gall to blush pleasantly. "You know…er," he gazed over at John, "My dog nearly took a chunk out of his calf, and I was like… utterly mortified… I tried to make it up to him, and then we-"

"Don't bore John with the details, Trevor. He's well aware of it."

The man faltered anxiously, "…I see."

John attempted to maintain an impassive expression.

But dear Lord, was it proving difficult.

"So he knows about-?"

"-Enough of it," Sherlock bit out, darkly.

Victor looked back over at John, "Ah, and you're…"

"-Yes. Fine. With it. It's all fine," John replied stiffly.

"Oh, Christ," Victor cringed, "I hope I-"

"-No. Victor. John and I, we're not-"

John blushed. It was literally impossible not to.

"-Oh. Oh! I mean…" Victor grinned, appearing a bit too relieved, "Good! I mean, I didn't want to make anybody uncomfortable with bringing all that up, I just assumed the two of you-"

"-We're not," Sherlock bit out tersely.

Victor grinned and sat back rubbing his chin.

"Well that was awkward of me to imply, my apologies, Gents!"

"Victor's in town from Norfolk over the next few days lecturing on biotechnical-pharmaceutical advancements. He works for a chemical research facility developing new product lines for various corporations," Sherlock explained, catching John's look of utter confusion.

"Yes, well, I couldn't help but stop in to say 'hi', while I'm in London, I mean it really has been ages. You know this man once rendered me a service, and never requested payment?"

"It was a family matter of Victor's, very trivial," Sherlock defended.

The man laughed heartily. "Well, we never really got the chance to arrange for proper remuneration," he spoke warmly, all but leering at the detective. His eyes glittered, and John repressed a grimace.

It was very much too intimate and John tried to resist squirming in his seat. He folded his arms across his chest and attempted to maintain a stoic demeanor.

He wasn't jealous. Not in the slightest. It would've been absurdly to be so. Well really, the man was unrealistically attractive. It was not that John was unhappy with himself physically, he knew his attributes and deficits just fine, thank you, and had worked them well for decades. It was just that really? Did the man have to be some kind of model walked fresh out of a Prada ad? God, what the hell could Sherlock possibly see in a plain Doctor verses some kind of Cambridge Medical Scholar with a Mr. July photospread smile?

Sherlock, ever attuned to John, warily seemed to pick up on his discomfort. Their eyes met for all but a fleeting second, and John darted his glance away.

God, how he hated when Sherlock too keenly observed him. (Seriously, couldn't he have any secrets to himself?)

Not that he had any secrets. No. There was nothing to hide. (Relax, John, breathe.)

"Anyway," Victor continued, seemingly unaffected by the palpable tension between his companions, "that brings me to my point. I'd be delighted if the two of you fine Gentlemen would accompany me to supper."

John furrowed his brow and Victor added, "Sherlock and I have much to catch up on, and it would be splendid to get acquainted with the extraordinary man he's chosen to retain company with this past year."

John breathed a reticent, assenting sigh and nodded, "That would be…fine."

Victor grinned, pleased, "Excellent!"

"Thank you for extending the uh…invite," John added with tentative courtesy.

"Not at all, John," he grinned, "I was thinking that place down by Hyde, I made us reservations, so what say we?"

Sherlock seemed to slump in his seat, and John sighed.

God, how he didn't want to go.

Supper was…surprisingly not too awful. Victor engaged John in rather interesting conversation. Both being in the medical profession they had admittedly, a bit in common.

Over the entirety of the situation, Sherlock seemed to grow ever more withdrawn, darting his gaze warily between the two of them.

"You know this berk didn't even take a degree?" Victor exclaimed, clapping a hand on the taller man's shoulder.

He just nearly flinched and John grinned.

"Flitted about changing majors, dabbling in a bit of this and that, can't even imagine the monetary expenditure, though I suppose he was at least on Scholarship. And then he runs off to join the circus," he laughed smoothly, "Oh, I mean, I'm sure this is a very fulfilling profession and all, Private Consulting Detective. And he did put it to good use for me some time back, but Sherlock here is a prodigy. A practical genius to shame the best of Mensa. Could've been a Nuclear Physicist the way he'd invent formulas out of thin air like some kind of magician, shamed the professors, that. And then, the prat would slag off lecture to go toss about volatile chemicals-"

"-I was making a study of alkaloids-"

"-Ah, right for that grand thesis you never turned in," he laughed, and turned to John, "Doctor Frankenstein, here, used to steal into the surgical lab at all hours of the night and frighten the bejeezus out of the Professor the next morning when he'd enter with his class- and there he'd be—all covered in blood and gore, limbs strewn about—you can only imagine the talk around campus!"

"I can imagine," John said dryly.

"Lord! I wishI shared even a fraction of that brain," he exclaimed kindly, "John! And you've seen it in action—that masterful skill for deduction- the way he can dissect a person down to the lunch they had three weeks ago is downright terrifying! All of that combined-It's a good thing for the world he didn't end up being some kind of International terrorist."

John reflected back on the shopping lists and smirked.

Sherlock glowered and Victor perceptively caught his err. "I digress," he smiled fondly, looking at the Detective, "You've really made something of it all. I'm glad."

The admiration in his tone was just a touch too blatant for John's liking.

"Well, it does admittedly astonish me that Sherlock here, has taken to an actual human being. He was such an obstinate recluse of a chap back at Uni. Utterly unpersonable. Not without his charm, mind you, but all of that was rather superficial."

Sherlock glared, "Victor-"

The man laughed once more and draped an arm affectionately around the Detective's neck. Sherlock drew stiff. "No, John, what I mean is this man here, is among the best of them. He's got a great, big heart, he just hides it to throw the rest of us off the trail."

He grinned at Sherlock, and the other man faltered warily.

John suppressed an equivalent grin in response. This bloke was rather growing on him, after all. If he wasn't so God Damn overly familiar with Sherlock, John imagined he take kindly to him.

But Dear God, was he 'overly familiar', and knowing their history…

John was loathed to admit he was maybe…

Ever so slightly jealous.

(Understatement.)

As the cab pulled round John made to get in, and Victor pulled Sherlock aside.

"How would it be, for old time's sake, if you were to come back with me for a bit this evening?" He propositioned, leveling Sherlock with a dark, heavy-lidded look.

A look of… promise.

Sherlock frowned and glanced at John hesitating.

"We still have a lot to catch up on, old chap. And we still have that matter to discuss about repayment for prior services. What do you say, it'd just be for a short while?" the man pressed.

He turned his gaze on John, "No worries, my dear, I'll return him good as new in a bit."

John huffed and rolled his eyes. Fine.

"Sherlock, it's…. Just go with Victor. You haven't seen each other for years," he sighed, "Don't worry, I'll tell Mrs. Hudson it's tea for one tonight."

Sherlock nearly cringed, looking for all the world like he'd counted on John extracting him from this, and that he'd somehow let him down.

Really, John wanted nothing more than to contrive of some excuse to force the other man home with him. But what reason would suffice?

No. It was fine. Sherlock was free to do as he pleased. In fact, it would be for the best if he did so. He made no claims to the man. They were friends. That was it. And John would keep it that way.

"Right," Sherlock muttered, sounding to John's ears alone, almost defeated.

Victor grinned broadly and possessively wrapped his arm around the other man, clutching him close.

Sherlock did not pull away, and John shuddered unpleasantly as he lowered himself into the cab, feeling a flare up of pain running through his leg. He cringed with it, and for a second, he thought maybe Sherlock had seen.

The ride home, alone, was tense for John. He frowned unhappily as he stared out the window at the passing buildings and cars and couples walking arm and arm.

After a while, they became just blurs of colour like a word said too many times—losing all meaning.

Fuck.

He could just picture it: their bodies twining together passionately, Sherlock tilting his head back, Victor kissing down that long throat, Sherlock arching upward, sweating, and naked, lithe and smooth and perfect, and wanting…God.

He swallowed thickly, pressing down his erection with the palm of his hand. No place worse that the back of a cab for this. And no matter what he tried, the images would not stop ghosting their way past beneath his eye lids.

Fuck.

Sherlock walked in at half past 1, and noted John sprawled out on the sofa, staring listlessly at the laptop resting on his belly.

"Ah, you're still up," he tried, hesitantly.

"Mm," John replied, feigning disinterest, (and probably failing miserably at it).

"John I-"

"What?" he bit out more harshly that intended. Yes, that was a real good show of calm collection.

He dared a glance up, and noted the other man seemed relatively unrumpled; fastidiously groomed as before. Relief washed through him, and he quashed it back, but it was too late. Sherlock had already caught the relaxation of his posture, the slight, ever so quiet exhalation.

"You're-" Sherlock queried, "Are you… mad?"

"That's ridiculous. Why would I be."

Sherlock frowned, and dropped onto a chair across the room with a huff. "You are."

John sighed. "I'm not the detective here," he drawled, "what makes you think so."

"You're acting petulant."

"Why would I?" John asked, furrowing his brow, "I know the two of you have… history. Why should that bother me?"

Sherlock peered at the other man speculatively, so John sat up, and set his laptop aside, "What you decide to do with whomever you chose to do so with, makes little difference to me."

"John, I-" he smirked dropping the look of concern, "When I first came in you instantly examined my person for evidence of anything unsavory. That's rather telling of your concern."

John exhaled and rubbed the bridge of his nose, shaking away his exasperation, "Honestly? It doesn't matter to me, Sherlock."

"Your actions speak volumes to the contrary. For your information I didn't- I mean he attempted- but it was thwarted."

"Dear Lord. How can I convince you I don't care? Seriously, you ought to have done whatever it is you wanted to do without concern for me. Really. I. Don't. Care."

Sherlock sighed, and his frown deepened. "I did care, however," he looked pained to admit so, "I can assure you I-"

"-I don't need to be 'assured'-"

"-John! Listen. I have no interest in further entanglement with Trevor. I mean, Victor is… he's not…"

John looked querulously at his friend. It was uncharacteristic of the man to stumble so ineloquently.

"…It's not that he's unattractive," John offered.

"No, but he's not the one I…" He stopped himself, and sat back up, "For all his many fine qualities, he's not the one that piques my interest. It would be meaningless. Boring and utterly insufficient."

John frowned.

"I'm not going to pursue a quick pull for the sake of transient relief," he explained, "But I'm equally disinterested in festering uselessly in anything unrequited, John."

John gazed at Sherlock despairingly.

God, how he wanted in that moment to reach out and cross the distance between them, offer some kind of comfort…

"Oh, please! I'm hardly some spurned maiden, cease with your pity. It's grotesque. Stop it."

John dragged a hand down his face, "I don't know what to say to you, Sherlock… This, whatever this is between the two of us-"

God, had he really said that last part out loud?

(Stupid!)

"-I can't."

God, why did Sherlock have to look so decimated?

"I have accepted that fact," the man retorted wearily, resting his face in the palm of his hand.

"No. You don't understand-" John sighed.

"-Really, then why don't you extrapolate. You know. So that I… 'understand'."

"Obviously there is something…here," He confessed, "It's not as if you haven't already deduced this, it's just- I… I don't know if it's something I can do. I can't just convert years of this…way of being…of acting, into something that's amenable or even extendible enough to… allow for me to embrace this."

"Your conviction is overwhelmingly intransigent, and I wouldn't seek to change it," Sherlock drawled, getting up, "For once, John, I'm going to go and sleep for a few hours. You know, Doctor's orders and all."

John wanted to just fall back into his grave and hope that the sod would simply be kind enough to follow suit and bury him.

He'd done it: acknowledged their mutual attraction, and he hadn't even meant to do so, yet before he had been able to refrain, the confession had poured literally from his mouth, '…there is something…here', he had said. Out loud. To Sherlock.

John, stricken, betrayed by his own tongue, has been involuntarily forced to face that moment; as the verbalized words hung in the air, suspended for all to see. And it was too tangible, too pellucid to avoid recognizing them for the truth they bespoke. It was liberating. And it was terrifying.

There were those nights again, where the ceiling coalesced into blurs, illusory images of fantasies he'd wake with, agonizingly hard and dripping with sweat, and he'd give in, wrenching off the covers and pumping himself furiously, hating himself as he moaned his release.

He didn't want it.

Didn't want this; the wrenching ache of it, as he imagined Sherlock's beautiful face all but crumple, first pained, then crestfallen; after he'd said to the man, 'I can't'.

The tense dissidence between them was thicker than the Berlin wall, and twice as divisive, yet somehow the magnet magnified a hundred-fold. By concordant proximity it rippled through them both, leaving John utterly breathless in its wake.

It vibrated like a plucked string, reverberating through the room, as they merely sat across from one another, each engaged in their own activities. He'd look up to see if the other man had felt it, but there would be no evident sign other than the suddenly disquieting stillness of his form.

Then, dragged out to various crime scenes, John, sucked behind by the cyclonic tempest that was Sherlock; utterly electrical, brilliant and unmerciful, would wonder at the pull of it. And Lestrade or Donovan or Dimmock would be saying something, and John would notice they would stop and look strangely at John, and he'd wonder why and look over to find Sherlock, un-self-consciously transfixed on him. As if he wasn't even aware he was doing so.

And Christ did that make them talk. John bet they were placing wagers.

There were moments when he simply forgot whatever reason he'd postulated which excluded feasible possibility that he could be with this brilliant, impossible, clever, aggravating, eccentric, and sometimes nearly alien man.

The unfamiliar ache of longing gnawed at him like some kind of feasting Candiru. He hadn't felt so gutted-really ever and failed to cite one instance, one infatuation that had ever been so all possessing of mental faculty; all consuming and bitterly, wretchedly keening.

John didn't like to think he was capable of swooning, but there was really no other way to describe how captivated he was by the other man's sheer presence, which was proving to be quite humiliating. Sherlock need no more than brush past for arousal to shoot through him like a brush fire.

If Sherlock noticed, he didn't say one word.

Yet he could see the man was equally undone.

Sarah sighed as she noted John's distracted expression.

"John. I was asking you if you'd filled out the reports on Mrs. Lewis."

John glanced up, startled out of his reverie. "Oh. Yes. It's on my desk," he replied, "Sorry… I was, er… elsewhere."

She and Amal shared a look, and Sarah shrugged as she walked out of the break room.

"John?" Amal tried, "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Amal gave him a pointed look and narrowed his eyes. "Alright, no. No, I'm not fine. I'm the complete opposite of fine."

"Need to talk?"

"Not really, no."

"Fine, if you don't want to discuss it, that's alright, but you've been a bit tetchy lately," he grinned, "I think everyone's kind of… noticed."

John sighed and dropped his head into the palms of his hands.

"What would you do if your entire world was flipped upside down—if everything you thought you knew about yourself was completely upended?"

"I'd have to take a moment to reevaluate," the man answered kindly without pause, "but as we all undergo constant evolution of self, is it really so surprising you might have prematurely formulated notions you can no longer sustain?"

John furrowed his brow and stared at Amal, "The past few days my brain has somehow completely rearranged itself."

"That sounds rather anatomically hazardous."

"I'm a complete moron."

"A bit melodramatic don't you think?" He grinned, "What did you do?"

"Realized I'm completely enamored with my flat mate."

Amal looked far too pleased.

"As they say- 'the truth will out'!"

"Stop it," John glared.

"I did say so, not that you ever listen to me. But please, John, accept my genuine sympathy—I wouldn't for all the world want to be in it for that one."

"He's a better man than you make him out to be, Amal, you don't know him at all!" John snapped defensively.

"Christ, you do have it bad."

"Fuck. Fuck, I know!"

"Instead of brooding in self-castigation, why don't you …take action?"

"Because it's too late to backtrack."

"What makes you think it's too late? You can't seriously believe every word you've ever spoken is cemented into stone."

"It was… a rather concrete rejection."

"And you changed your mind."

"I don't know…" John muttered, "I think it's possible I might have done."

Amal frowned, "You need to make sure he knows this."

"He's a bloody Goddamned detective for Christ's sake! You really think he doesn't know?"

"I don't know him obviously as well as you do, John, but I think, though he's very observant," Amal responded treading cautiously, "I also think he's a got a bit of a blind spot when it comes to you."

John exhaled disconsolately, staring past the other man.

"I pretty much remember admitting I was attracted to him, and then simultaneously shooting him down. Not really easy to say, 'oh hi, remember how I told you I can't do this thing here? Well maybe I was just blowing steam'."

"So, John, he's played his hand," Amal said quietly, "and it's your turn to make the next move. You stumbled a bit, yes, but the game's far from over."

"I can't," John huffed, folding his arms.

"The two of you are dancing around this. You especially! I mean between the two of you, you're clearly the more experienced in these matters!"

"Alright-"

"-No, John, it's not alright. What it is, is painfully disconcerting to see two grown men acting like teenagers; all this hesitant, puppy-love bull-shite is vexingly immature. Start acting your age," Amal bit out, "It's ridiculous. Man-up."

"'Vexingly immature'," John repeated, grinning.

Amal rolled his eyes, "Yes. It's extremely 'vexing', John, all this is blown entirely out of proportion and defies common-sense."

"You're…right," John sighed resolutely.

"Oh, thank Bloody Mary, he sees the Light!" Amal smirked, "I can't wait for you to just fuck and be done with it."

John winced, "Crass."

"Prude." Amal smiled warmly, "Now what say we ditch out for a bit of lunch. I'm absolutely famished."

John darted quick glances down at Sherlock throughout the evening, as the man sat cross-legged, putzing away on the antique clockwork contraption strewn across the floor.

There was nothing of it. No way to broach the subject.

He finished typing up their last case into his blog, and shut his laptop flipping on the telly, seeking distraction.

Sherlock sighed impatiently, "Do you really have to watch that inane crap right now?"

"I like this show," John defended.

"I can tell you what happens."

"I'd rather you not, thank you."

Sherlock huffed, "Fine, then. Can you at least fix us some tea?"

John smirked, "No."

The other man scowled, "Fine. I'll call Mrs. Hudson. I'll tell her how you're being a prat, and that she should immediately stop baking you those cakes you like."

"Tell-tale! Cold streak of vengeance you have," John remarked, "fine, I'll put on the kettle."

(What. They were good cakes.)

"Good," Sherlock smirked.

John sighed with exasperation and got up to head into the kitchen. He espied Sherlock quickly nabbing the remote and flipping off his shows, and grinned. (Seriously childish.)

He reached up and grabbed down the jar of tea bags, and just as he was turning on the burner, Sherlock came stalking in.

"Forget something?" John queried humorously.

He turned, looking startled.

"Yes."

John furrowed his brow as Sherlock strode up beside him, reaching just past pulling open a drawer. As he did so, he brushed just slightly past his hip, and John perceptibly flinched.

There was a sharp intake of breath and he looked up at John with strange, gleaming eyes.

An exotic energy crackled, igniting the space between them, and it was irresistible to do anything but grab the man. With a speed heretofore unknown he was capable, John darted out his fist and clutched the man by his shirt nearly slamming him against the counter.

He kissed him for all he was worth, and Sherlock responded immediately.

It was crashing and intoxicating. He could barely restrain himself from pushing into the man, coursing his hand through those thick, impossible curls, pulling his head down to intensify the pressure of their mouths against each other. Seeking, tasting, ravishing, thrusting outward into the hard line of his body.

It was everything he'd wanted to do and not let himself admit he wanted. All there. All real.

He could just imagine bending him over the counter and tearing down his trousers, lifting those slender, pale legs over his shoulders and taking him, knowing him, possessing him, feeling that hot tightness close around, and God, how he wanted-

'John!" Sherlock gasped out, "Stop!" He pulled himself away, face flushed, eyes glittering under lids heavy with arousal.

John audibly groaned with the separation, angry, desperate.

"Why?" John demanded rasping out, voice coarse and deep with burning, unspent lust.

"You don't really want this."

"I think I can be my own judge of that, thanks," John countered irately, stabilizing himself against the counter.

God. His head was swimming. Could a man pass out from sheer want?

"No," Sherlock breathed, chest still heaving he braced himself with one arm yet resting just at John's hip, "You don't want this."

"I'd think it's clear I feel otherwise," John retorted bitingly, aching with his trapped arousal. God he just wanted to lean in again-

Sherlock raised an eyebrow, and glanced down appraisingly. "Obvious," he hissed, "But it's the 'horse', John, not the 'rider'."

John frowned, still hazy, "…What?"

"You're just responding to the stimuli, it's all physical. You're not thinking. And I don't want you for your body."

John gasped angrily. "That's a bit harsh, and I find that-" he pulled the taller man back into him once more, feeling the evidence of the man's erection pressing up against him, "-highly unlikely."

God, he was so hard, why were they still talking?

Sherlock flushed, pushing John back. "That's a manufactured reaction borne of mutual attraction, John, not-" he sighed, "-all that I want from you."

John snorted, "Do I have to court you or something? Should I set out the candles, put on some mood music? Pour you a glass of Chablis and wax whimsical on the beauty of your eyes?"

Sherlock cringed, "Christ, do you do that?"

"Is that what you need for me to convince you?"

"You mean for you to get me to bend over the counter?" Sherlock sneered, clearly reading John's immediate thoughts. As if they were written boldly across his face. Which he was sure they probably were.

Fuck. Why was the man choosing now to decide to be some paragon of quixotic virtue?

"Suddenly you need me to get down on one knee-"

"-Don't assign me with your vapid notions of romance, John."

That was it. He was psychic. He had to be. John cringed.

"I hardly need a passionate delivery of your everlasting devotion-"

"-You accused me once of being obtuse, Sherlock, and now you're being impossibly thick. I want this. I want you," John pressed, "I'm just trying to see if this fits. I need to know if I can do this. If this will work."

Sherlock scowled and stepped several feet back, "Well, I've no interest in being some willing receptacle for your experimentation! You can look elsewhere for that."

"Sherlock-"

"-I'm sure your little friend, Amal, would be more than pleased to satisfy you," he drawled acidly.

John cringed, and fell unresponsive as Sherlock turned and stormed away. John fell back and slunk against the counter.

"I'm going out!" Sherlock shouted, "Don't wait up!"

Fuck.

The ache in his chest was unparalleled, like some kind of mitochondrial infarction but even more fatal.

(Like the really bad one, where the pulmonary muscle pretty much ceases all function.)

He wondered again about that open grave and helpful soil.

John stormed into Amal's office and slammed the door.

"It was a no go. Completely balls up."

"We're talking about Sherlock again, I imagine," the man responded bemusedly, leaning back in his chair, "take a seat?"

John threw himself down into the chair, "We kissed and then he pulled back and basically told me to either declare my undying love or shove the fuck off."

"Christ, who would have guessed he was the sensitive type?" Amal mused.

John cringed, "I feel like I took advantage of him or something."

"Oh please, as if anything could be less than consensual where the two of you are concerned. Maybe you should try asking him out on a date?"

John frowned, "That's so not-"

"The two of you occasionally go out to supper?"

"Well, yes."

"Then suggest to him that- only make sure he understands that it's a date."

John groaned, "God! I can't believe I'm scheming up ways to woo my flat mate. This has to be the 'Twilight Zone'. It's verifiably possible, medically speaking, that I may be developing an ulcer from this."

"Well, you really put your foot in your mouth. I mean you were being cock-led and he's utterly besotted with you, you berk! You might've pacified him with a few reassurances it was more than just a bit of a quick tug for you."

"He's not really one for romancing, Amal. Can you honestly see me trying that? With him? Of all people?"

Amal breathed out an exasperated sigh, "Well, he's also obviously looking for a bit more from you than you're currently offering, and he doesn't seem very patient. I doubt he'll be willing to wait for you to figure yourself out for very much longer, so you better decide what it is, John Watson, you want from this man, or you'll irreparably destroy whatever friendship you have left."

"Sherlock."

"Mm," Sherlock responded distractedly.

"Sherlock. I want you to go out with me tonight."

"That sounds suspiciously like an order."

"It's an invitation," John sighed.

"Why should I."

"Because I'm asking you to."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow looking up from the clockwork thing that had now completely disassembled and cannibalized for parts.

A new smaller contraption was in the making that looked suspiciously like a tiny robot.

John stepped forward toward his flat mate, attempting to navigate through the carefully organized piles.

"As my date," he amended.

"You're standing on the pinions, you clumsy oaf. Off."

John hopped back feeling a bit derailed.

"Sherlock," John huffed, "will you?"

"No."

"Why not? What have you got going on?"

"I'm working."

"Fine. Another time?"

Sherlock narrowed his eyes and steadily matched John's gaze, "No."

"Why not."

"I think my reasoning should be fairly obvious."

John folded his across his chest, "You know the interest is mutual."

Sherlock paused considering, "It is."

"Yes, I'm interested in you, and you said you were in me."

"Were. Past tense."

"Ah, right. I got it. So you aren't then? Changed your mind suddenly? That whole bit in the kitchen just some farce?"

"No, I was merely pointing out your use of tense."

John nearly slapped a hand to his face, "What?"

"It was incorrect as you used it in the past form."

"So you are interested in me."

Sherlock shrugged, "Depends on your definition of the word 'interest'."

"Are you having me on? This is ridiculous!" John exclaimed, staring at the man incredulously, "Sherlock do I have to spell it out? I'd like to see where this goes."

"Is that so," Sherlock drawled disinterestedly, sorting out small gold pin screws from the gear train pile.

"That was a clock wasn't it. Oh Shite, don't tell me you knicked that off Mrs. Hudson's mantel," John groaned, recognizing the flower motif on the amputated pendulum.

"I'm borrowing it. I'll put it back together."

John blew out a breath, pulling at his restrictive shirt collar, "Why are you being so bloody damn stubborn about this. I don't see what the issue is here, I'm telling you I want to be with you. I can't make it any more transparent."

"Then allow me make this perfectly transparent to you, John. I am not interested in dating you."

John seethed.

"Thought this out have you? Tell John you want him but he can't have you. Fine. Got it. Makes a lot of sense."

John turned to leave, utterly irate.

"Wait."

John sighed, and look back at the other man, gazing up from the floor at him with a leveling frown, "I'm not going to date you-"

"-Yes you already said that, thanks, want to drive it in a bit further?"

"Let me finish. I'm not going to date you because this, this dating men? John? It's not something you do… or rather, it's not something you're used to. And me? I don't date, period. At all. And, even if we were to try, it wouldn't work."

John knelt to the floor, and crossed his legs in front of him, "Alright, you have my attention. Why? Why wouldn't it work, Sherlock?"

"Primarily, because I refuse to be your trial boyfriend," He bit out, as if the word were distasteful in his mouth, 'I can't be some experiment."

John listened patiently.

"Secondly, John… I can't afford to lose our friendship if this turns out to be some unmitigated disaster, which it would inevitably, because I'm… not an easy person. We'd fight, and I'd take you for granted, ignore you, insult you, and even use you, and you'd resent me for it among other things eventually when the initial infatuation wanes."

"All of that is just you, being hyper-focused and self-involved. It's nothing I don't already know and accept about you."

"Then while we're bearing our souls, so to speak, pray tell, John, what exactly is it you see in me?"

"Are you fishing for compliments?" John grinned, "You want to know what I see, Sherlock?"

The man frowned, warily.

Right. For all his arrogance, he was spectacularly insecure.

"Sherlock," John exhaled, "I see an impossibly brilliant, callous and clever man. You're quick to observe, but careful to conjecture; calculatingly, brutally unbiased in doing so, much to my never ending dismay because I can't keep a damned secret from you. You know everything I'm thinking and everything I've ever done-"

Sherlock rolled his eyes, "-If it's any consolation, you're hardly the only one this applies to-"

"-There are also times when you're utterly manic, and you drive me up the very same bloody wall you shoot holes in when you're bored," John continued, steam rolling over Sherlock's interjection, "You leave body parts on the kitchen table. I've found human teeth in the coffee mugs. You're a complete slob, you can barely feed yourself or do any of the shopping or errands, and half the time I think I'm completely out of my mind for putting up with you. Most of the time, you're one of the most ridiculously annoying, obstinate, mercurial and childlike men I've ever met, Sherlock."

"Do you read off a list of faults to all your potential paramours? Unique way of convincing your ardour, that," Sherlock drawled, "You must have some peculiar fetish for the defective."

"Yes, Sherlock you're extremely flawed. But you're not defective. I'm just stating that sometimes, its really hard to understand why I-"

"-Stick around?"

"You're like a bad stain and I can't get you out-"

Sherlock smirked, "-A rather passionate delivery of one of the most dIsparaging essays on my person I've ever had the privilege of hearing."

John smiled softly, "I'm saying, you're the stain I don't want to get out. In spite of it all."

"No? I think I have a tide stick laying around somewhere if you'd care to use it," Sherlock retorted with an ironic grin.

"You may be difficult, but for every bit of you that's challenging, you more than make up for it in nearly every single way otherwise. And when you want to be? You can be kind. And even endearing and your loyalty is unshakable; you have an innate sense of good and generosity that's…breathtaking."

John flushed. It was a bit off having to be so candid toward a man who could just as easily take all of his open, honest sentiment and toss it carelessly back in his face.

"You think I'm…good," Sherlock frowned disbelieving, repeating John as if trying to convince himself.

"Yes. You're good."

The man seemed to soften with John's conviction. Right then. No time like the present to bare all.

"And," he sighed, "Sherlock, you have to know you're probably one of the most strange, sensual, beautiful men I've ever seen. I'm not sure you're even real sometimes. I don't think I was ever really even alive before you; it's like I was only half breathing before and now? It's like I've been resuscitated. I'm some kind of enhanced version of what I was."

"You're no more than you've always been, John," Sherlock whispered, "I've always known you were better than the rest of the lot."

Something fluttered within, and John pressed on.

"The truth of it all is," he confessed, "you're the most amazing, brilliant, incredible man I've ever met, and half the time I can barely think when you're in a room, and when you're not in a room, you're all I think about."

The clock clutter was all but abandoned as Sherlock flushed, gazing across at him.

"All of that is well and good, John, but what we have now? I'm not sure friendship is even a sufficient or worthy enough term to convey how important you've become. And that will always be my first and foremost priority. I couldn't…" he cringed, "If this were to happen and fail? I would not handle it at all well if you were to leave me- I would not be able to hold myself accountable for…possible consequent actions."

"I don't know how to convince you that you're wrong about this. I can't imagine one reason, one conceivable scenario in which I'd willingly leave you— look at us. I've been fighting tooth and nail for ages to convince people we're not together- the only thing that would change is that we actually would be. And I can't keep denying that I want this. But I can accept, for the reasons you shared, that you don't want to even try, fine, but I can't understand it. You've never backed down from anything before. Why now?"

"I…I can't."

He stood up and John followed suit, standing before each other as if they were about to engage in battle.

It felt a bit like battle.

"You repeat my words of rejection back to me. I grasp the irony. So we'll just continue on as friends, fine. You focus on your work, I'll continue to see other people," John retorted bitterly.

Sherlock looked miserable.

"Please. Don't John."

"You won't let us try, but you hate the idea of me moving on, don't you. You can't fathom me having anyone else, or for that matter, and more to the point, anyone else having me. Because you're utterly, rottenly selfish and self-absorbed."

Sherlock seemed lost, "John I-"

"No Sherlock, you're right. I was stupid to think this would be a good idea. We'll carry on as always, forget this ever happened. I'm not going to leave you for the forseeable future, but no definite plans, alright? I may hopefully, one day, meet someone who will be willing to give it a try."

"I can't-" Sherlock breathed, "God, John. Please, please don't."

The man pressed a hand over his eyes looking wretched. When did he use the word 'please'?

"'Can't, don't' what?"

Sherlock dropped his hand and leveled John with piercing, brutally variegated want.

"Can't let you leave me, don't try."

And they were kissing.

God, for just those few seconds, it was as if the world had suddenly stopped spinning on its axis, completely shut down, nothing mattered, nothing-

"-Sherlock!" a voice bellowed.

Both men tore apart instantly as the door to 221 crashed open and feet pounded up the steps. By the time the interloper bolted through into their flat, they were literally across the room from each other.

"Sherlock-" Dimmock all but panted, "-where the hell have you been and have you seen the news? We've an emergency on our hands! Lestrade tried to get a hold of you ages ago!"

John's face, still flushed, still breathing too hard, utterly wrecked from being torn from that kiss, was suddenly gobsmacked.

What the hell was Dimmock on about? His phone was just in his-

"-I…that's not-" Sherlock sputtered, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his mobile.

"-Yeah and we tried to call you too, Doctor-"

"-Wait, what?" John flipped open his phone, "No missed calls-"

"-No service bars," Sherlock mused paling, "John you-"

"-None," John confirmed, confusion knitting his brow, "And I have Xinix, not the same provider as you-"

"-Clever," Sherlock mumbled.

Dimmock looked at the two men with exasperation, "Moriarty he-"

"-Escaped from Belmarsh." Sherlock completed.

John started, becoming very still and very pale, "But that's the highest security-"

"-Not if you've got-"

"-Minions and Secret Bank Accounts floating across the globe, what the hell happened-"

"-What happened, Dimmock, you said something was on the news."

"Bombing in Soho, it happened-"

"-Less than 30 minutes ago. That's why he cut off our service. As I said clever-"

"-Sherlock, this is hardly a situation to be praising-"

"-I'm not-"

"-Shut it! Both of you! I'm getting a bleeding migraine having to listen to the two of you carry on!" The D.I. bit out, "Oi. Do you even hear yourselves? Like some kind of yammering old marrieds'."

Sherlock grinned.

"Car downstairs for you both, and we're sending someone over to escort your landlady off the premises. There's a good likelihood he has agents on the way."

At Scotland Yard, John gazed in horror at the telly at the news broadcast of Berwick taped off and swarming with officers where a bomb had exploded right in the middle of a festival, 2 dead, 14 critical, 23 injured in the blast.

All reports indicated mass confusion as to the identity of the party responsible as well as the motive.

"A gesture of greeting," Sherlock mused looking far too chipper for John's taste. He could practically smell the other man's enthusiasm.

"A big Fuck you, if you ask me," Donovan added.

"No one asked you," Sherlock muttered.

"And Moriarty plays into this how?" John queried, looking up at Lestrade.

"We were just informed, not half an hour ago of the breach up at Thamesmeade . There was some kind of insider," he scowled, "The M16 network firewall at the facility was hacked and the Security system including all alarms and cameras shut down for over 2 minutes."

"So he has friends in high places," Sherlock smirked.

John imagined a very irate at this very second Mycroft and shuddered inwardly.

"There was a Guard, Robert Hascal, reported MIA seconds after the incident. Scoured his files: inscrutable, cleanly falsified documents. No identity on him, yet," Lestrade explained.

"What else." Sherlock demanded.

"We discovered this at the site," Lestrade handed over a plastic sealed bag holding a jump drive to the Detective.

Sherlock furrowed his brow.

"I uploaded the files."

"Show me."

The D.I. pulled up the images onto his computer as the two men looked on.

Shit.

Photographs of 221 taken from various angles. Multiples of John on various days to and from the Clinic as well as of Sherlock at various locations around London.

The following image read: CORDIALLY INVITED!

"I tried to warn the two of you immediately and failed to get through. Message Operator reported your lines were cut, so I sent out Dimmock to retrieve you. Checked the system for your networks," Lestrade informed, "And took the liberty of switching your service back on about 5 minutes before you got here and placed tracking on it, just in case you should be contacted. Also, take a look at this."

The last file was a PDF with a jumble of numbers and letters:

("):/B2M?T6N8C3E5L3C5QA?E?OEPRHSKBO(X2)PLEOnosidewaysA:

"We first thought he was citing some sort of numerically coded literary passage, but then our Decrypter System determined the first part are-"

"-Coordinates-" Sherlock interjected, "Too obvious, meant to make you over think it."

"The 'T' and 'Q' threw us off at first. We're still unsure of that."

Sherlock furrowed his brow, frowning.

"The second part is also a scramble. This we concluded to read: BOMB AT TEN O CLOCK SHARP(X2), which means there will be two sites for the next explosion," Lestrade explained, "-GLS pulled up 7 locations possible in London and we've dispatched several squads to each site. We're missing exacting pin points though so it's all too vague. We scoped the areas and found nothing remotely suspicious thus far. With such broad regions, with thousands of people, it's too soon to evacuate and alert the media. They're already in hysterics over in Westminster. We're not sure why Soho was targeted, but it could be just a highly populated area chosen at random to create the most havoc. Get the best reaction."

"But there are key alphanumerics and symbols dropped from the combinations that make up the warning and time," Sherlock accused, "We're left with: 2?683535?."

"And what does 'nosidewaysA:' mean?" John added, "or 'PLEO'?"

"We figured 'nosidewaysA:' to reaffirm 'PLEO'. As in, 'no sideways about it.' Another words, "Don't disregard the previous comment'."

Sherlock groaned, "Lame."

"'PLEO' is short for 'Pleonastic'," Lestrade continued to explain, ignoring Sherlock's eye-rolling, "He's implying that he's given 'too many words necessary for clear expression', which lead us to the fact that the other numbers and symbols were unworthy of being deciphered. Irrelevant leftovers."

"Nothing is irrelevant!" Sherlock glared at the D.I., "Are the whole of you lot complete imbeciles?"

"Hey!-" Lestrade bit out defensively.

John frowned, "Sherlock, really-"

"-Why is this familiar. Ah! Quick, Lestrade your phone! Old model PDA with keyboard!"

Sherlock scrawled out: 2?683535? = WNYIETETNN

"So it's a code based on a PDA phone keyboard…" The D.I. mused.

"The '(X2)' is not how many sites there are. It's telling us how to decode your 'leftovers'," Sherlock instructed, "Rearrange the letters by two."

Lestrade furrowed his brow and counted over the letters. T.W.E.N.T.Y.N-"

"29," Sherlock informed, "See?"

He jotted out the rest: 523?56?8?3 = TWENTYNINE

"29 of what?"

Sherlock pressed his lips together and narrowed his eyes.

"Letters in an alphabet!"

"A stab at thin air, how do you get-"

Sherlock ignored Lestrade and began to pace back and forth across the office listing off languages, "-Turkish Vietnamese, Arabic, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Nigerian and Lycian."

God, the man was like Wikipedia on steroids.

"Which one is it and why use English to infer a foreign alphabet?" John inquired crossing his arms, utterly baffled.

Sherlock grinned brilliantly at John, and his heart nearly stopped. "Genius! Perfect question!"

Lestrade frowned, "What-"

"-Which and why…" Sherlock mused, "You're like a bloody filter for my brain, John, absolutely perfect in every way!"

John flushed and the silver haired D.I. eyed him quizzically.

Damn.

Yard wagers on the status of their relationship were bound to be verified by the fond look Sherlock was granting him.

John's lips still tingled with the kiss from earlier.

"Forward it to my phone," Sherlock sharply demanded, "Cold leads. All of them. Something crucial is missing."

Using his Iphone he took a quick snapshot of Lestrade's mobile keyboard.

John darted after the Detective as he stalked out of Scotland Yard and into a nearby Starbucks.

John sat across from the other man, trembling inwardly with exhilaration. Of course, outwardly he was stiller than he'd ever been. The opposite manifestation of PTSD, yet another of his many dissentions from normalcy.

(God, what had been interrupted.)

The night had, in a manner of an hour, flipped completely on its head. In fact, so many things of recent, had been flipped on their various aforementioned heads, he wondered if they all hadn't suffered some massively severe brain trauma.

To think, if none of this had happened, where they might be this very second. So frustrating.

He stared at his companion wistfully, watching him busily scrawling out theories, idly wondering if the man so immensely focused, had even given a moments thought to reflecting back, as he was.

Sherlock bolted up suddenly with a transcendent expression, jarring John out of his thoughts.

"Of course! Obvious! Pleo is . Lions! Scandinavia! All the flags have lions! 29 numbers in the alphabet excludes Finnish, leaving us with either Danish, Swedish or Norwegian- which all contain diametrical alphabets!" Sherlock looked eerily reminiscent of Doctor Frankenstein. (Couldn't blame Victor for that analogy…) Totally a 'Eureka' moment if ever there was one.

"'nosidewaysA:'," he continued, "refers to 'umlauts' which look like a parallel colon, so we can also exclude Swedish. That leaves Danish or Norwegian, since the 'A' looks smashed together with an 'E'."

"Okay then-"

"'TQ' according to the mobile keyboard code, stands for '51'. Meaning 51 are the first numbers of the coordinates. Narrowing us down to this single, generic location. John, pull up your GPS. Put this in and tell me what you get."

51°29′18″N 0°11′37″W / 51.48833°N 0.19361°W / 51.48833 = Old Brompton, Kensington.

"South side. Pull up your browser. Get up GoogleMap and zoom in to street level. Name off all restaurants, stores, offices, etcetera."

"Gallops, Western Union, Dajani, Only Roses, Café Nero, Madsen-"

"-Madsen. Danish restaurant," Sherlock grinned, "Quick John, call a cab!"

On the way toward Kensington, Sherlock fidgeted anxiously beside him, staring out the window when John suddenly felt the vibration of a text from the phone in his coat.

Sherlock darted his glance over, as John flipped open the screen.

"Sherlock. Look."

Well solved, my dear. Having fun, yet? –JM

(IM forwarded: 20:03)

"He's sending this from a computer," John mused.

Don't worry. Your friends can't see my IP nor my forward texts, good on me for being nice to the blokes at the mobile kiosk. –JM

(IM forwarded: 20:03)

One minute later:

HINT: Red tie. –JM

(IM forwarded: 20:04)

Tell your friends and the fun is over now. But If you can find my little hyperbaric friend before 10, I'll call it quits, and let you invite them to disable. –JM

(IM forwarded: 20:04)

Shit.

The restaurant was swarming with Friday night business. John glanced around warily, as if expecting to see Moriarty seated as a casual diner.

Sherlock leaned over and spoke into John's ear over the noisy din, "There. Man to the left of morbidly obese lady. Red tie."

John looked over inconspicuously in the direction Sherlock aimed him at. Ah. Not Moriarty. Some frail elderly chap with a toupee.

Before John could stop him, his companion was walking in a beeline toward the man, bumping into his large companion's chair.

"Oi!" She yelped, startled.

"Pardon me Ma'am!" Sherlock dropped to his knees and crawled under the table to John's horror. The woman cried out, alarmed. "Dropped my cufflink," he explained.

The couple at the nearby table frowned with disdain at the commotion and Sherlock popped back out looking altogether pleased. "Found it."

The Detective nearly pranced back over to John, snagging his arm dragging him.

Before they fled out the door John gave the offended Maître d an apologetic shrug.

"Look at this, John!" Sherlock brandished a post-it.

"God. It's like a scavenger hunt! Seriously? Another code?" John frowned, "You realize it's closing on 9:25? We're running out of time. I know he'll find out if we contact Lestrade from our phones but can't we call from another?"

As if he'd been heard, his question was answered.

Watching you. :D –M

(IM forwarded: 20:25)

John looked up at the CCTVs.

Think broader, John. –JM

(IM forwarded: 20:26)

How?

Were they being followed? He darted around a glance, and Sherlock glared.

"No time, John, look at this." Sherlock handed him the note.

T^2

"'T squared'?"

Sherlock frowned appearing stumped.

"Is it a code for another code? Let me pull up the pic of Lestrade's phone," He studied the keyboard, "No. Not it."

T squared. T square. As in the measuring stick?

(Oh.)

"It's a pun!" John exclaimed, his heart beating out of his chest, "Trafalgar Square!"

Sherlock grinned, "Brilliant John, once again!"

"I found it!" Sherlock shouted tromping through the water in the fountain, "Here!"

He pulled out a water logged notebook and flipped open the cover. Empty pages stuck together, but on the inside of the back was a bleeding, black marker scribble:

Penelope L.

CelestialX Tachycardia's Eudicot

Location: (B's Verb within and after A's ref to a Happy Event, location thereof's nearest $ inst.)

Sherlock frowned.

"Penny Lane!" John shouted. Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "Beatle's reference. For the street."

"Ah, but-"

"-Stars times increased pulse rate equals…flower varietal?"

"Don't be literal. Star Crossed Lovers. Shakespeare. John, pull up GoogleMap again. Look up theatres on or near Penny Lane."

"Bearcat, Turk's, Rose-"

"'A rose by any other name...' Quaint. What are the nearest banks?"

"Shit. Doesn't matter, it's 12 miles away. We'll never make it!"

"It's something else then," Sherlock huffed, "He doesn't mean for us to be late. I'm missing something. What am I missing. What's the last part mean."

As Sherlock's rapid-fire synapses darted cross a spectrum of conjectures John grew tense with anxiety.

Shakespeare, theatres, plays, Rose, Penny Lane, the Beatle's...

"The Rose Theatre. Verb: what do they do? Put on plays. John! Look up the song lyrics."

"Ah, here it is. B's Verb "play" within the song and the previous line should be the event."

A pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray

And though she feels as if she's in a play

"Selling poppies. Remembrance Day Parade."

"But that takes place here!" John argued.

"Right, then the nearest financial institution is the Royal Bank of Scotland."

John felt the vibrations in his pocket of another text and frowned.

The clock is ticking, lads. Oh, and because I'm feeling generous, I'll give you a bit more fun: (B's trope, once done by A; this creator's 10th book's subject matter.) You can appreciate the irony later.

JM

(IM forwarded: 20:43)

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It secondary."

"But shouldn't we figure out what the hell he's talking about?"

"No time."

John frowned.

It felt like they were being bated into a trap.

It was 9:56 when they arrived in the front of the towering white stone Financial Institution between Leicester and Trafalgar.

Sherlock glanced around frantically, and John tried to spot anyone suspicious.

Sherlock's phone was the one to vibrate this time.

I'm John Wilson Croker, I do as I please; instead of an ice house I give you a frieze, OR am I inside what's beside me, in which was placed a wager of 180 days. (I'm in a suitcase placed just within the front door. Can you beat the clock?) –JM

(IM forwarded: 20:57)

"Ah. The Athenaeum Club is the first one and then Jules Verne's novel hints at the Reform Club."

"Which one is it?"

"You check the first, I'll check the second."

The two split, John darting toward Anthaeum, and Sherlock toward Reform.

Sherlock threw open the front door to find the suitcase, feeling awash with relief, just about to call down the block to John, when he received yet another text:

BTW, my dear, the answer to the question before was: 1.) Trope: Pyramus and Thisbe. Funfact: performed by the Beatles in 1664. 2.) Ovid. 3.)10th Book is Metamorphoses. Get it, Sherlock? –JM

(IM forwarded: 20:59:49-)

It took 4 seconds to read the text.

What?

(:54-)

Oh.

(:55-)

Sherlock's eyes widened in horror. There were two suitcases.

(:56-)

4.) Subject Matter of Ovid's Book 10: Doomed Love.

His would not be the one set to go off. The fucking bastard.

(:57-)

"JOHN! STOP!-"

(:58-)

John looked around in the direction of Sherlock's shouted warning-

(:59-)

-but not soon enough.

(:00)

The first thought he had was of the weird sensation of deafeningly loud buzzing in which everything external was muffled; like being stuffed inside of a tube packed with cotton.

The second thought was more of an awareness of sensation rather than an actual moment of coherence. Something shaking gripped his hand, and it was too tight, and too warm. He wanted to pull away, in that moment, but was unable.

Which was rather alarming. So with that being his third thought he cracked open his eyes and instantly regretted doing so, as blinding light poured through and an overwhelming array of foreign, blurred images crowded within.

He felt his hand released.

"John!" Cried a startled, deep and tremulous voice.

His fourth thought moment of awareness was that everything suddenly hurt.

Particularly his head.

He clenched shut his eyes once again.

Orders were shouted, and footsteps padded in around him like thunder.

It was too much.

Then all was black.

When he finally awoke from the paralysis of his pain management cocktail of Demerol and Neurontin, the first epiphany he had was, 'Back at the hospital.'

Concussion. Gash 2 inches above left ear requiring 12 stitches. 1 broken rib, 2 fractured. 1 broken collar bone, reset. Wrist and Ankle sprained.

Abrasions, contusions, and general swelling not withstanding, John decided he looked like he'd seen the worse end of a bad job. Maybe he shouldn't have looked into that hand mirror he'd requested from the night nurse.

This was the second time he'd awoken in an ICU in the past two years. Both times, utterly baffled to how he'd ended up there.

Sherlock had patiently and with clinical, cold precision, informed him of the details after his debriefing with Donovan and Lestrade.

It could have been worse. Far worse, if Sherlock hadn't yelled out. If he'd opened that door—

Sherlock looked absolutely miserable, pale, dark rings under bloodshot eyes as if he hadn't slept in… well what had it been, nearly 72 hours? But it was more than that. As if he'd been waging some inner war and lost.

He'd finally been released and the two sat uncomfortably beside each other in the cab home.

John's head throbbed despite the oxicodone. And his thoughts were just as blurry.

God, was he tired suddenly.

Why was Sherlock so distant? So physically removed?

He remembered that shaking hand holding his own as he drifted in and out of consciousness in his coma. How he ached to have it once more. The man couldn't be sitting further away if he tried. As if repelled from John, and it hurt.

They arrived at 221 and Sherlock helped him in, with Mrs. Hudson supporting him from the other side. She fussed over him for a bit until he was settled in, reprimanding Sherlock for letting harm befall him.

He was not entirely grateful for this, as he had wheedling doubts as to whether this would simply reaffirm whatever notion his friend had been so pensively contemplating.

Awhile later they were alone once more. He couldn't help but notice Sherlock appearing strangely cool, as if trying to refrain from looking at him

"So, you're saying there were two suitcases," John confirmed once more, trying to get the story straight in his head.

"Yes."

"It was a trap for me then."

"No, it was a trap for me."

John frowned, "I don't-"

"-I was an idiot," Sherlock muttered. He leaned back in his chair, clenching shut his eyes. "He'd warned me he would. And he did. And it's. My fault."

'I'll burn the heart out of you.'

Oh. (Well, fuck.)

"It won't happen again, John. I will catch him-"

"-Sherlock-"

"-I will kill him. Tear him limb from limb. Slowly-"

"-Sherlock-" John tried again.

"-No. No, John. I can't do this. He will keep coming after you until-"

"-Sherlock-"

"-This is it. Done. Shouldn't have been in the first place. The end, John. We can't do this. I can't. Never should have thought. Have been so—Stupid. Wrong…selfish to think I- You're a distraction I can ill afford."

A sharp agony pierced through him, and he shuddered coldly against it, "Sherlock-"

Don't, don't.

(Fuck.)

Don't, God, don't.

But Lord was he enfeebled by the narcotic, he could barely utter his resistance.

The other man leveled him with a resolute, tense look, "There is no feasible way for this. It can't happen. It was proven so."

"I told you, I know the risks, please," John begged without pride, without dignity, utterly uselessly helpless. "Don't do this," he rasped out in just the barest form of a whisper, such that, he couldn't be sure it'd even been articulated.

His gut wrenched inwardly, violently churning. How could this, how could he—

John could barely utter another protest, as his throat was thick with an unnamable, indescribable fear.

For the third time, in the past few weeks, John wondered again if that grave was still available, and if it would be amenable at this point to his lunging into it.

It was so close. They had been just so—

He had been so close. To finally being.

Something like happy.

And that, in this very moment had been torn from him, and was a pain like nothing he'd ever felt.

TBC…

A/N: No worries, I'm writing part 2 as we speak.