"I'm sorry, sir, just the one room is still available," the clerk behind the counter said.
John Watson hesitated. Sherlock Holmes said briskly, reaching past him, "That will be sufficient, thank you," and passed over his card. The clerk ran the card, reading the screen confirmation. As he handed it back to Sherlock, he smiled and said, "I see it won't be a problem."
As they walked away, Watson grumbled. "What is it about our being flat mates that makes everyone think we are a couple?"
"Why do you think the clerk knew we were flat mates, before he said we were a couple?" Holmes asked, absently. "No, wait, I've got it: he saw that we use the same cleaners" - he indicated their coats, draped still in their plastic coverings over their bags, since the day was warm – "and noted that when I brought us both coffee, I didn't need to ask whether you took sugar. And of course he heard us use each other's first names as we came in. There is hope for the ordinary man yet," he said.
"Either that, or the address that came up when he ran your card was the same as the one I had just written in the register," Watson said simply. Holmes gave him one of his level looks. "See? I'm learning."
"Just testing you," Sherlock grumbled under his breath, picking up his bag and coat and walking away. Watson smiled. "You just can't admit it, can you," he said under his breath.
"Doesn't it bother you?" Watson asked a minute later as they found their room.
Holmes, his mind already four topics further on, asked, "Does what bother me?"
"Our being thought of as a couple."
"Why should it bother me? You know I don't care what other people think."
Sherlock used the key to open the door to their room and walked ahead of John into it. But before John could frame a reply, he turned and said gravely, "Most people. You are coming to be an exception. I know it does bother you."
"Because I just said so?" John said, startled that Sherlock seemed to finally be giving the issue his full attention.
Sherlock spoke in the rapid-fire way he used when he was pronouncing the results of an analysis. "It has always bothered you. You try to be nonchalant and pragmatic about it, because despite having been in the military, which has conservative views on the subject, you are a modern man and realize no disrespect to our characters is usually meant, you really are secure in your heterosexuality, and you are not attracted to me in that way. But unlike me, you care what people think, not only about you, but also about me. You worry that this constant misunderstanding is costing you chances with women. Finally, you do mention it more than occasionally."
Watson stared back. "Well, I suppose that sums it up nicely," he said. "I hadn't thought you'd noticed" – Holmes looked sharply at him – "all right, that you'd cared enough to give it a second thought."
Holmes looked at him for a long moment. Finally, he said, "We spoke of this when we first met. Now we know each other better, so for the record I suppose I should lay out the obvious." Watson listened, and then began to tense as Holmes went on. "You are my friend. My only friend. Of course I care. You've taught me how, with your excellent example. You have become more dear to me than any person on Earth ever has." Dear to me. Not a phrase I've ever heard him use before. John shifted uncomfortably under Sherlock's intense gaze, hoping he was wrong about what was coming.
"But I don't have romantic or sexual feelings toward you," Holmes said, watching Watson's face to be sure he was understood. Watson let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Nor toward anyone." He paused before adding quietly, "I'm not sure I can."