A/N: So Mycroft can't fit into his jeans anymore.
Word Count: 2,000-something
Ship(s): Sherlock/John
Warning(s): Unrequited love angst and what is more or less angsty-teenager!Sherlock.

Of Stars and Mixed Signals

Being in love with John Watson, if you happened to be Sherlock Holmes, was pure torture. It wasn't that John was cruel or even unaffectionate. In fact it was quite the opposite. John was kind, patient, caring, affectionate, and gave out compliments like candy at a parade. He was sharp and brave, sturdy and reliable, helpful and generous, fun and adventurous, protective and loyal, warm and cuddly. And it was a problem.

Generally speaking, John Watson was the king of mixed signals.

Some days, Sherlock was sure that John was in love with him. He would sit too close to him on the couch while they watched Star Trek or rest his head on Sherlock's shoulder. Or, some days, he would let Sherlock lay his head on his lap and toy with his curls while they waited out one of his crash-and-burns.

But other days Sherlock would scoot closer to him in the back of a cab or rest a hand on John's back at the Yard and John would stiffen and brush him off or just act so painfully awkward that Sherlock would back off on his own. And then Sherlock would be sure that John didn't even want be near him, much less love him.

Some days, John would meet Sherlock's eyes from across the room or right up beside him, peer straight into Sherlock's soul right there in public. And Sherlock would peer back and think that John was beautiful, wonder if John might think he was, too.

Others, John would barely even look at him, and Sherlock would wonder what was so interesting over his shoulder.

Some days, John would drop everything for Sherlock, leave work or sometimes even dates to go sprinting through the city with him or sort through piles of evidence or even just be the wall that Sherlock bounced ideas off of. John wouldn't always do ti with a smile, but even when he acted irritated there would be a soft edge, fond amusement gleaming in his eyes or a teasing tone to his rants. If it was up to Sherlock, John would always be by his side like this, just like this until they were old and gray.

But other times John would be with a Katy or a Mary or a Jane and leave Sherlock to suffer loneliness without a second thought. John would act irritated more and more and sometimes even when John was right beside Sherlock his mind would be elsewhere, caught in a daydream that certainly had nothing to do with cold gray-blue eyes and wild curls.

Some days, John would be bursting with pride and affections in every way possible, calling Sherlock amazing and brilliant and listening to every deduction he made like it was the Word of God, or defending Sherlock's honor against insults with dark glares and defensive shifts towards his side. "Like a doting wife," Lestrade joked once, and even though Sherlock just rolled his eyes at the time he was bursting with side at the glory of the mere thought. John also protected Sherlock from himself. Some days Sherlock would retreat into himself in agony he denied and John would appear to pull him out of it, with gentle words or a rare, unexpected hug that Sherlock pretends to be irritated with but truly locks the embrace away in the safest part of his mind palace, where it can't hurt anyone but him and even then it feels so sweet.

Other days, John's words are biting and cruel. It's rare, hearing things from John, his best friend (only friend) but when words like "freak" or "asshole" or "machine" come tumbling from John's lips it slices through every barrier Sherlock so carefully constructed, ruthless in its arc. He tries not to let it – it's not as if Sherlock doesn't hear these things all the time – but against John he is defenseless. Some days, Sherlock would retreat into himself in agony he denied and John would be the one who put him there in the first place.

Some days John would scare the shit out of Sherlock, because over and over John proved that he would kill and die for him without a second thought. Rushing into danger, guns blazing; offering up his life with a bomb strapped to his chest; tackling armed criminals that get just a little too close. Days like this, Sherlock is absolutely certain that John is in love with him, because Sherlock is in love with John and he'd do the same thing for him.

Others, John would mutter about being middle aged and the woes of not having a wife, maybe never having kids. He'd lament his fears of never settling down and having that domestic fairytale life he'd always been told he'd have. And he would look at Sherlock as if he might understand, might sympathize, and Sherlock never could. Settling down with a woman, or a man for that matter, simply never occurred to Sherlock. At least, not until John. Often, far more often than Sherlock ever expected to, Sherlock would wonder if maybe John could want that with him. To move to the country and get married, adopt a child and maybe a dog. Sherlock could raise honeybees and take cases on weekends John would work at a surgery or whatever he wanted to do. And maybe John would call him "sweetie" or "love" and kiss his cheek on his way out to work and Sherlock would spend the day doing experiments in the garage and go on adventures with Hamish – they'd name their son Hamish, Sherlock had already decided – even though John would surely scold them both for doing such dangerous things Sherlock would take good care of him. And every night they'd curl up together in their bed and even when they were old and gray and their minds and bodies started to go bad they'd be happy, so happy, because they would have each other. And… the farther Sherlock got into this fantasy the more absurd it sounded, though, because John Watson still writes love poetry to dull girls with pretty lips who don't leave heads in fridges and Sherlock would really be a horrible husband, anyway.

It's frustrating, not knowing things. Sherlock never claimed to have infinite knowledge, of course, but he likes to know everything about the things he deems "important," and John has become not only an important part of his life but a crucial one. Not knowing the nature of John's feelings for him was constantly bothersome, hanging over him like a dubious fog. Typically Sherlock doesn't have a problem with judging people's opinions of each other – he had no trouble with Irene, pinning her love for him easily like a lazy butterfly to a cork board, ripping past her defenses with hardly a quiver of struggle. And she'd been truly something, the Woman who beat him once and charmed him twice – clever, brilliant even. Although Sherlock considers John incredible in many ways, never dull despite his domesticity, there is no air of mystery to him. Everything else about John Sherlock reads like an open book – what he's thinking, where he's been, how he feels about any given topic. Those things that Sherlock cannot read off of him right away John has few issues revealing anyway, never having been an especially guarded person nor one that is hard to trick.

So why this, then? Why is it this that eludes him?

It's these thoughts that he tries and fails to push aside, haunting him from the backburner, pestering him at every free moment. Somewhere in Sherlock there's a little boy with a daisy in his hand, plucking petals off one by one. He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not…

It's this that so plagues him when he goes for a walk this afternoon, John hot on his heels. Today might've been a He Loves Me day, for all the devoted time-spending they've been doing, going to a movie and dinner at Angelo's and now this midnight stroll through the city, but Sherlock knows better tonight. John just broke up with one of his women, a writer named Alexandra or something who, although John had found her a little annoying and had no long term plans with, had enjoyed the sex with very much and was sad to see her go. That was why he was clingy today, working on building his self-esteem up again. Pathetic, then, that Sherlock still felt that niggle of joy to hear John's footsteps padding faithfully after him.

"Where are we going?" John asks, breaking Sherlock out of his thoughts. Sherlock just shrugs, not looking at him. No point in it, since if he looks at John it might break his heart a little more, since judging by the tone of John's voice he's got that big, ridiculous smile on his face again. And, anyway, it's this ignorance that makes John take his hand, squeeze. "You alright, 'Lock? You seem out of it."

Sherlock is out of it. And maybe that's it. Maybe John's driving him truly mad and that's why he can't figure out the solution to this problem. Sherlock risks a glance. John is, in fact, smiling, eyebrow quirked. Sherlock looks away with a jerk. Damn it. No one smiles at Sherlock like that, like he's something special and fond and not just a burden to be dealt with for the sake of the greater good. But then, John smiles like that for a lot of people, doesn't he?
Has John had a best friend before? Did he hold their hand?

"Sherlock?" John tugs on Sherlock's hand again, worried. Sherlock turns to him and finds the smile gone, replaced by a puzzled frown. Worried. Sherlock forces himself to smile.

"I'm fine."

They walk a little longer, still holding hands, and Sherlock lets himself relax a little. John is warm and big around his and the stars are so bright tonight, even through the smog of London air. Sherlock lets himself feel light and happy for a moment, tilting his head heavenward and tightening his grasp on John's hand. It occurs to him that, if anyone cared to look their way, they'd assume they were just another gay couple walking down the street after a date, enjoying each other's company. In love. But then John seems to have similar thoughts and, with one more gentle (apologetic?) squeeze he drops his hand. "We could get coffee," he says.

"We could," Sherlock replies, glancing at his abandoned hand.

"Do you want to?"

"Do you?"

"Not really."


John smiles at him again and Sherlock really doesn't know what that says. That fond light in his eyes – is that telling? The curve of his lips, bare hint of white teeth – fondness, kindness, comfort, all real, but why?

Eventually they find a bench. They weren't looking for a bench but still they find one and they settle beside each other. John sits first, on one end, but Sherlock is feeling helpless today and he sits in the middle, closer to John than necessary but not so much that John might push him away or give him that look.

The realization comes abruptly, as realizations do. John starts speaking about something (Doctor Who, probably) but Sherlock isn't listening anymore, because it occurs to him what all of this means. He can read John like a book, knows his boundaries and his desires and his talents and his opinions. Sherlock could know, if he tried, about this. He could finish with the daisies, stop picking new ones and find a real answer, allow himself to pluck that last petal and stop dwelling on the what-ifs. It wouldn't be difficult, in theory. Nothing about John Watson is difficult – he's a reflector of light, soft and easy with casual brilliance, and he's Sherlock's best friend. Always there, never wavering, always honest and loyal. Sherlock wouldn't even have to deduce it. If he asked John what his feelings were, truly enacted a heart-to-heart with him, John would tell him.

The problem was bias.

With most of the puzzles Sherlock faces, he doesn't particularly care what the result turns out to be. He's not in it for money or fame, and although Sherlock prefers his findings to be exciting or clever there would be no point in trying to make the solutions fit his preferences. However, with John, it's different. For once in his life Sherlock is desperate for his results to lean in one particular direction, for a revelation of love requited. Sherlock wants to have that with John, to love and cradle, grow oldl and gray, to die knowing there was someone out there that would think of him, too.

Sherlock could find the answer, but he wouldn't.

"You're right," John says, eyes trained heavenward. "It is beautiful." Then he tilts his head and looks straight at Sherlock and for a moment Sherlock can almost pretend he's talking about him and not the bright, irrelevant blips lighting up the sky.

Sherlock smiles a bit but says nothing, tearing his gaze away and looking back up to the sky himself. He waits, patiently, for John's eyes to leave him again and, eventually, they do.

If I don't update soon, blame Omegle RPs and the Avengers fandom. They've taken over my life simultaneously.