S.J. Hartsfield

John flipped the kettle's switch and watched the roiling water settle a bit before lifting the carafe from its base. He rarely used the full set, opting instead for the casual comfort of single bags brewed in favourite mugs. Steam rose as he poured once, twice, and he watched warm, friendly brown seep out to transform the water. He leaned against the worktop, shoulders folded inward, palms creasing on its edge, and let the tea brew.

Footfalls at the front door made him raise his head. He heard the shuffle of a coat being removed, probably imagined the slither of a scarf unknotted. When Sherlock's face peeked around the door frame, evaluating, eyes penetrating, John's mouth lifted in one corner. "You took your time." He straightened, grabbing the spoon rest and carefully lifting the teabags out of the mugs and onto it before reaching for the sugar.

"Got tied up," Sherlock responded, ducking into the kitchen. He ran his hands across the bits and bobs of his laboratory almost reverently. John hadn't disturbed any of it. As though he would. He smiled to himself, a small shake of his head as he splashed milk into both mugs. No sugar for him, thanks.

He took a sip and pushed Sherlock's toward him. "Not literally, I hope." The corner of Sherlock's mouth shifted; he didn't smile so much as that corner pushed in, settling itself somehow deeper into his skin with amusement. It was wry, and John had seen it often.

"Not this time." He ignored the mug and instead wandered from the kitchen. John followed, as usual.

Sherlock's eyes darted around the sitting room, taking in details as though something may have changed in his absence. Not bloody likely. He touched everything, skimming fingertips across the mantle, greeting the skull near-fondly, drinking in minutia instead of the tea John had taken the trouble to make for him. John leaned against the wall, just watching him work, never boring of the predatory swoop of that long body, of the way his energy emanated almost visibly from his being.

He paused next to his chair. If he wanted to sit down, he couldn't. John followed his shrewd gaze to the bouquet laying on the cushion and sucked in a breath. Total silence for a moment, before Sherlock frowned. Not a displeased frown, John noted - he'd watched that face long enough to know the difference, for the most part. A thoughtful frown. Consideration. "Those are pretty," he offered.

Unfortunately, no amount of time spent with Sherlock Holmes was enough to definitively know when he was sincere and when he was taking the piss. John liked to think that, in this particular moment at least, he really meant what he said. He considered asking, but Sherlock had already moved on, still looking around the room.

"You on a case?" he asked instead. Sherlock rarely devoted this kind of skulking to anything else. He turned his pale eyes on John at the question, one eyebrow raising just the slightest bit. A tiny nod. "Anything I can do to help?"

Sherlock scoffed, shook his head. "No, there never really is, is there?" John's mouth drew into a thin line; Sherlock had turned away, but looked back almost immediately. A strange look crossed his face, as though he was performing a mental recheck. "No," he said. Trying again. "Your particular area of expertise is... not needed." He paused, brow furrowing momentarily. "Thank you."

John scrubbed a hand over his face. "Right, okay." He noticed Sherlock staring and felt a pang of something like irritation, almost like embarrassment. "What?"

"You look very smart." John coloured and glanced down at himself. The black shirt didn't really fit very well. He hadn't worn it in ages. "Date tonight, is it?" He didn't answer. Just stared at a spot on the floor. After a moment, Sherlock said, "Just as well. Shirt doesn't fit you."

His shoulders raised, suspended. Lowered again. "Yeah, well," he sighed. "Thought it was..." The thought hung in the air between them. He knew Sherlock could tell what he was thinking - couldn't he always? - but was glad he didn't voice it. They stared at each other until John cleared his throat. He felt the need to change the subject. "Your brother came by today," he offered.

The taller man's mouth tugged down at the corners as he pulled a face. "What did he want?"

"The usual." Sherlock whirled around, going back to his perusal of the flat as John continued. "He was... nice."

A true scoff now, this one not tempered by second thought. "Mycroft," he sneered, as though the name turned sour on his tongue. "My brother is never nice, John. He's only soft when he thinks it'll get him his way. Kind when it's convenient." He paused, hand outstretched, nearly brushing the absurd face he'd painted on the wall, but his eyes weren't focused on it. "Like me."

John stared down at his mug. The handle had broken ages ago - God knows how. It still functioned, of course. It didn't need its handle to function. Still and all, it looked... strange, without it. "Like you?" he echoed, and looked up to see Sherlock studying him again. "I don't know, Sherlock. Is that like you?"

Sherlock's eyes, bright and strange and infinitely intelligent, flicked across John's face as they stared in silence once more. A feeling stirred in John's chest then, like the water in the kettle, rolling over and over, hot and unsettled. He needed. "There's something," he began, and Sherlock was already drawing away from him, closing off his features, shutting down. "No," he said. Almost pleading. "No, listen, there's something I need to tell you." He'd felt it for ages, certainly, something deep in him, under skin, under bone, lodged somewhere in his marrow and flowing through his veins. "It's..." he struggled with the right word. Important was relative to Sherlock, he knew. Celebrity gossip and solar systems and the feelings of another person's heart. Unimportant. "It's relevant."

Ah, there. He actually looked interested. John opened his mouth, but was interrupted in voice and in thought by a tiny knock. The cheerful, inquisitive chirp that usually accompanied it was absent. He turned and Mrs. Hudson was watching him from the door, looking sympathetic. Miserable. Broken on his behalf. "Your cab's here, dear," she said quietly, as though she didn't trust the strength of her own voice. "Are you ready?"

John looked around to the place where, only moments ago, Sherlock had been standing. He felt the air rush out of him, his shoulders sagging, a sharp pain shooting through his leg. He clamped a hand over his mouth to stop himself crying out in agony. Turned it into a cough. "Yeah," he finally answered. Gruff. Keep it together. "Yeah, I'm ready."

He headed for the door, limping just a bit, and was nearly down the stairs before Mrs. Hudson said, "Oh, don't forget your flowers." He looked over his shoulder - couldn't look her straight in the face as he accepted the bouquet and nodded curt thanks. She smiled, eyes wet. "Don't want to leave him undecorated."

"No," he agreed. "No, I don't."

- End -