John Watson was having one of those days. Since his flatmate outright refused to do any of the more menial tasks in life, such as shopping, cleaning, cooking or anything he might find in the least bit mundane, all of those tasks fell to the doctor. Not that he minded going through the everyday routines that most people did in their lives - far from it. He usually welcomed acting as if he had a normal existence. There was something comforting in rubbing elbows with dotty old ladies at the supermarket as they examined the soup can labels and the sale prices. It made him feel that the world had some sense of normalcy in it, and he could still be a part of it.
On this particular day, however, he was less than thrilled to be doing the shopping. He had checked his bank account before he went into Tesco and found that he only had £239, which wasn't nearly as much as he had thought, and he realized, yet again, that all this running around with Sherlock was starting to reflect in his finances. He received a modest compensation from the military for his past service, and a meager sum for serving as a fill-in doctor at the surgery, but more often than not he spent his time traipsing behind Sherlock, running through alleys or mucking around in the countryside. His sudden and unexpected disappearances from work had not made him particularly reliable as an employee, nor had it helped him pad his bank account. He often relied on Sherlock to pay for cabs and dinners, which was usually fine if they were on a case. But it was beginning to wear on him. He was tired of having to depend so much on his flatmate.
So here he was, comparing prices along with the little old ladies, and he was acutely aware that he needed to actually count his pennies. With a sigh he carefully selected some easy and cheap necessities: soup, bread, cheese, tea, biscuits and perhaps a treat of some apples, but that was all that he dared to spend. He went to pay, wary of the chip and PIN machine as he approached the queue, and was grateful that his card was accepted and the process went smoothly.
By the time he returned back to the flat, he felt tired. Without a word to Sherlock, who was sitting in his usual chair reading, he unloaded and put away the groceries. He grabbed the newspaper off the table and sat down in his own chair to read. He opened the paper to page two. After reading the same story three times without retaining a single word, he sighed and put down the paper.
"I need to get a job."
Sherlock continued to read. "I thought you already had a job," he said without looking up from his book.
"No, I need a real job. One that I show up to. One that, you know, pays me money," he said, realizing he was being much more surly than he intended.
At that, Sherlock closed his book, set it in his lap and fixed John with a placid stare.
"Haven't we already had this discussion? It would interfere with the work," he said.
"Your work. It would interfere with your work," John corrected. "But your work doesn't pay my bills, Sherlock. It doesn't even pay your bills. I don't know where you get your money, but I'm not rich. I don't have family to depend on. I don't have much of anything to speak of..." he closed his mouth and rubbed his hand over his chin. "I just... I need to work. That's all there is to it."
Sherlock tipped his head slightly and squinted at the doctor. It's one of those looks that made John Watson particularly uncomfortable, like he was a specimen under a microscope. Unpleasant statements often came out of Sherlock's mouth when he looked at John that way. He braced himself for the argument.
To his surprise, however, Sherlock simply picked up his book and started reading again. After a moment he said, "You can use my card. Or I'll get us a second one."
"You mean... you'll lend me money? Because I don't need a loan. I need-"
"No, I mean we'll just use my account. You don't need a job."
John's mouth opened and he stared at Sherlock in confusion for a moment, but then his eyebrows came together and his lips pursed. He felt an unexpected anger rise inside him and he didn't know where it came from. But he was sure of one thing. This idea of Sherlock's was no good.
"No. I'm not taking your money, Sherlock," he shook his head hard from side to side. At that, Sherlock instantly became exasperated and dramatically snapped his book shut.
"Oh for God's sake, John, why not? What does it matter? I have more than enough. I can pay for the groceries and whatever other nonsense we spend money on and then you can continue to assist me on cases and everything will be settled." He fixed John with a stubborn glare.
John shook his head again. In Sherlock's bizarre view of the world, it made sense. He had money and John did not, so they should spend Sherlock's money. But a warning inside him blared that it was a dangerous idea, and besides, he was able to take care of himself and didn't need the charity. Of that he was certain.
"I don't want your money, Sherlock," he repeated and stood up. He walked to the door, grabbed his coat and without looking back said, "I'm going out." He fled down the stairs and out of flat onto the street.
For a long time John walked without paying attention to where he was going. He instinctively stayed off any busy streets with cameras and opted instead for alleys or less traveled side streets. He made a loose, wide circle around Baker Street, as he didn't really want to go far, he just wanted to think. How had his life come to this, to revolve so completely around Sherlock? Was there such a void inside him before they met that this one man could step in and fill everything? He stopped suddenly on the pavement as he realized the answer. Yes, Sherlock seemed to be the center of everything he did. Work. Sleep. Eat. It all centered on Sherlock.
"Fucking great," he mumbled as he continued walking, this time a little more slowly and with a firmer destination. He was going to have a pint.
As he walked into the pub, he realized again what it was he liked about being around other people - people other than Sherlock. In the supermarket or the pub, he could pretend that his life was his own, that he had choices, that he had control over what happened. If he wanted a beer, he would drink a beer. He didn't have to have the biting commentary, or the alternative of ignored silence. He wouldn't have to stop whatever he was doing and put everything on hold because Sherlock had some sudden, insane impulse. He could pretend that he was just a normal bloke at the pub watching a footy.
He sat down at the bar and ordered a beer, and when it came he drank down half in one long draught and then ordered another. As he tilted the glass back and finished it off, he could feel someone sweep behind him and sit on the stool to his left. He put down the glass and sighed. He didn't have to look up to know it was Sherlock.
"You're too proud," came the low, rumbling voice, and John took a deep breath and held it for a second before letting it out slowly.
"I understand. You want to support yourself because there is some sort of masculine pride in it. But it's irrational. You know that I am right."
John turned his head and looked Sherlock in the eye. Sherlock looked puzzled and displeased that John wasn't simply going along with what he obviously thought was a brilliant solution to the problem.
"No, you don't understand."
Sherlock frowned. "All right, fine. Explain."
"Look, I... I know you want to help, and it's a kind offer, really, but I don't think it's a good idea." He looked at Sherlock with his head slightly lowered and his eyebrows raised with a "you know what I'm saying?" look.
Sherlock gave an exasperated groan as he turned away and then quickly turned back.
"You are not only proud, but a very stubborn man, John Watson. Don't be stupid. Hasn't it been you who has gone on about the value of friendship and how friends help us or some such nonsense, and now here I am, your friend, offering to help. So that we can continue working," he said, with an emphasis on "working" as if it were the only word important in the entire statement.
That was it. John had had enough of this.
"Yes. Right. Friends. Friends go out to a pub to watch football and drink a beer. Friends have each other over for dinner to talk about their work or their wives or whatever. But friends don't pay for all of your food, or your housing, or train tickets and inn accommodations and rental cars for some spontaneous far off adventure in the middle of nowhere. Maybe that's what family or a …" John searched for the right word "... a boyfriend would do, but you are neither. So what does that make me?"
He looked at Sherlock with desperation, and then as quickly as he arrived, Sherlock left without another word. John groaned and stuck his head in his hands and rubbed his eyes. Why is everything with that man so fucking difficult? He opened his eyes and noticed another full drink in front of him - it must have been set down while he was arguing with Sherlock. He didn't even notice. He took a long drink and ordered another.
Sherlock was thoroughly annoyed. He strode back to the flat, taking a shorter route than John would surely take because John doesn't seem to think these things through, and bounded up the stairs. Once inside he began to pace, puzzling through the new problem that seemed to have presented itself. Surely there must be some more information that John is not letting on. Perhaps he has debts that he is too embarrassed to admit? No, Sherlock would have known about them. There would have been emails or mysterious bank withdraws. Sherlock knew all about John's financial situation, of course, as he had watched the man's bank account bob up and down. When John's finances were low, without acknowledgement Sherlock would simply pay for everything, and so far it seemed that John did not notice that Sherlock was particularly magnanimous when John had no money. But on those occasions when John had a period of some steady work, or his military compensation had come in, he let John pick up take-away or pay for a cab. As much as he thought it ridiculous, he recognized that John needed to feel some sense of paying his own way in the relationship.
But it was utter nonsense. It was as if John were stubbornly clinging to this romantic notion that he could maintain some sort of a normal, boring life on the side. Nonsense. Sherlock had plenty of money. Most of it was mummy's, and whether he liked it or not, Mycroft never let his bank account get anywhere near empty, no matter how much money he spent. But what use did Sherlock have for money, anyway? He just wanted the work. Why didn't John understand that? If Sherlock could take care of all the expenses then they wouldn't have to have another conversation about it and John could accompany him on all of his cases without being distracted by the mundane elements of everyday living. Everyone's needs were met. It was an elegant solution.
Sherlock stopped pacing and sat down in front of John's laptop. He opened the old phone book sitting on the table where John less-than-cleverly tried to hide his convoluted passwords, and logged in. He began by looking at John's bank account, then perused his email, but when he did not find anything new or interesting, he began to get distracted by a cold case he'd been puzzling through and then all of the sudden he realized John was there. He looked at the clock on the computer. More than an hour had passed.
Sherlock sat up straight in the chair, and without turning around, strained all his senses towards the presence of his flatmate standing in the doorway. John stood still for a long time and then shuffled over to Sherlock and put out his hand.
"All right, then. The card," he said in a flat tone.
Sherlock reached for his wallet, took out his bank card and set it in John's hand. John slipped it into his pocket and walked over to his chair and slumped into it. John had not even reprimanded Sherlock for using his laptop. This was not good. Sherlock turned to observe.
The man looked defeated. John had circles under his eyes and he was vacantly staring in front of him, as if he were exhausted and perhaps bordering on despair. Sherlock found this deeply troubling. It was not how this was supposed to go.
"John, why is this so upsetting to you?" he said tentatively.
After a moment, John looked at Sherlock. His eyes were haunted.
"When I met you, Sherlock, I had three things, besides the clothes on my back. Three things. My cane, my laptop and my gun. I had nothing in my life when I returned from the war. But then I came here -" he waved his hand around the flat "- and you and your things are everywhere. Your books, your cases, your furniture and violin and fucking skull ... You have so much, and I have nothing."
John looked away, his eyes roaming the room, and Sherlock could feel a sinking in his chest. John's eyes rested again on Sherlock. "This is all I have, Sherlock. Everything I have is here. And it's not much."
Sherlock felt a pang of annoyance run through his body and - something else. Something he didn't quite identify. Something similar to what he felt when he left the bar. No, it's not that he couldn't identify it, it's that it scared him and he pushed it away. He stood up and walked over to the window to look out over the street. It was getting late, the sky was getting dark and there were fewer people about. His voice sounded bitter in his ears when he spoke.
"Is that such a bad thing?" he said quietly to the window. He realized he felt a distant panic rising inside him. He wanted a smoke. No, he wanted something stronger than a smoke. Something to help him focus.
"What you said in the pub. About family," Sherlock said and then hesitated before he continued. "You are my family, John. I don't have anyone else, not really. None of these physical possessions matters to me, including the money. I would gladly give it all to you. It means nothing to me."
Sherlock could feel his emotions begin to betray him. He finally realized its source: By offering John his money, he had opened himself up for rejection. He had put himself out as an offering, and what if John refused? Where would that leave him? It was a stupid risk, this was why he didn't get close to people, he cursed himself for the slip, he should have realized that John wouldn't accept him. Perhaps he could salvage the situation. His mind started to consider possible solutions.
But before he could think of how to take his offer back and make everything right again, he heard John stand up and walk over to him. Sherlock kept looking out the window, but John's close proximity stopped his mind from spinning. All he could focus on was the brush of John's jacket against his sleeve. Somewhere in his mind he noticed that his heart rate had increased.
"I don't know what to say, Sherlock, I really don't," John murmured beside him. Sherlock turned to look at him.
"Then stop being a stupid git and let's move past this absurd argument so we can get on with our work," he said as he looked sternly at John. John smiled and then half laughed, and Sherlock could see the light returning to his eyes. A welling of something warm spilled over inside Sherlock's chest at the sight of John's smile and he couldn't help but smile back. John seemed similarly affected and he took in a breath then shook his head. John took Sherlock's hand and gently squeezed it.
"All right then," he said as he nodded, and then he blushed and looked away self consciously. He dropped Sherlock's hand. "Um, yeah. Ok. I'm tired. So I'm going to bed?"
Sherlock gave John a slight nod and watched as the doctor walked up the stairs, entered his room and closed his door. Sherlock gave out a triumphant whoop and leaped over to his violin case. He removed the instrument and the bow and started to play an Irish gig. Somewhere upstairs, he could feel John smiling.