Her name is Belinda, and she's almost perfect, all ivory skin and ebony hair and crimson lips. She's worked at the surgery for three months now, and John is going to ask her out.
He just doesn't quite know how yet.
He thinks it's entirely possible that living with Sherlock has started to sap his knowledge of social etiquette. He's so used to telling someone not to keep eyeballs in the cutlery drawer that he's almost forgotten how to tell someone that he likes them. But he's going to. Belinda is ridiculously attractive and she reads Poe completely unironically and she thinks that Elementary is a cop-off American show.
John might be in love.
She's at the reception desk, and John is going to make his move. He's only got one patient left to see, a Mr Henderson who's called for an emergency appointment because his toenail has turned a bit of a funny colour, and then he's free to pursue the beautiful Belinda.
He's contemplating which approach to try – he thinks he'll start with a compliment on her current reading material – when his phone rings.
"Shit," he says to the empty room, and roots around in the pockets of his best beige corduroy trousers to find his mobile. He doesn't even bother to read the caller ID. Only one person ever calls while he's at work. "Sherlock."
"John," whispers Sherlock, and that in itself is worrying because Sherlock never whispers. It's too hard to be heard that way. "You must come at once. I'm in grave danger."
John's blood runs cold. It must be Moriarty.
"I'm on my way," he tells him, trying to sound reassuring.
Mr Henderson's toenail will have to wait, and so will the lovely Belinda, who offers him a consolatory smile when he tells her he has a family emergency and will be back in a few hours.
"I'm telling you, John. That spider looked lethal under a microscope."
John ignores him. It's been two days, and Belinda has been transferred to another surgery.
Sherlock makes dinner three days in a row to apologise. It isn't even slightly edible, but John eats it anyway. When he thinks about it, Belinda read Poe.
It wouldn't have worked out.
"No, really," John laughs, leaning casually against the bar. "I'm a doctor."
The girl – Anna – pinks prettily, her long auburn hair falling over her face. She brushes it behind her ear.
"I used to want to be a nurse," she confides. "I decided I was too squeamish, though. I'm not great with blood."
"Yeah, that's a bit of a pre-requisite with nursing," he teases. Anna laughs.
John's about to follow up his charm offensive by telling her that her current career as a journalist is very lucrative when he feels a tugging on his sleeve. He sighs and turns around. Sherlock is standing there.
"John," says Sherlock. John closes his eyes resignedly and sighs.
Sherlock looks at Anna. Anna looks at Sherlock. Sherlock looks at John.
"Sorry," says Sherlock, gesturing towards Anna. "Are you busy?"
"Yes," John answers, through gritted teeth. Sherlock waves his hand, nonchalantly.
"It can wait," he tells John, flatly. Anna looks affronted. "However, the decomposition rate of the human eyeball cannot. A man's alibi depends on it, John! What do you know about the degenerative qualities of ocular tissue post-mortem?"
John wonders why this is his life, running around with a tall bloke in a coat and talking about decomposing eyeballs, but the fact remains that thisis his life, and he has to make the best of it.
So, John tells Sherlock everything he knows. Sherlock nods, interested, and John is so flattered by the intrigue that he adds a few extra details about the decomposition rates of other types of bodily tissues, and when he turns around, Anna has left.
He looks down at his beer, dejectedly. Sherlock pats him on the shoulder.
"Not to worry, John," he says, rather too cheerily for John's tastes. "There's plenty more fish in the sea."
Susanna claps her hands excitedly.
"I've never met anyone else who's read it!" she beams. John nods, awkwardly. He's in a little too deep, but there are shallower waters ahead.
"It's a great book," he says. Susanna nods, eagerly.
"It's one of my favourites," she agrees. "Tell me, what's your favourite part?"
John's about to recite the one part of the book that he knows from his research, but Sherlock beats him to it.
"He hasn't read it, I'm afraid," Sherlock tells her. He doesn't even have the grace to look up from texting profanities to Mycroft to see John's look of betrayal.
"I'm sorry?" frowns Susanna. John sighs.
"Look, Susanna - "
"He looked up the synopsis of the novel on Wikipedia before our appointment with you," Sherlock continues, ignoring John's interruption. "Despite the fact that this appointment was ostensibly made for the purpose of discussing your brother's potential motive for the murder of his boyfriend, John has rather taken a fancy to you. He noticed a copy of the novel in your handbag when we first interviewed you and decided to research the book so that you'd have a conversation topic in common." He finally looks up from his mobile phone. John is grimacing. Susanna is looking at Sherlock incredulously. Sherlock beams, falsely saccharine. "It's rather romantic when you look at it."
Susanna shakes her head.
"No, it isn't," she disagrees. She turns to John, and shoves her copy of the novel into his hands. "Read it," she tells him. "You might learn something about truth and honesty."
With that, she storms off. John looks at Sherlock. Sherlock looks at John, and shrugs.
"Her brother didn't do it," he says.
John's surprised to find that he doesn't miss Susanna's company at all.
John is about five minutes from being able to ask George to come home with him. They've been talking at the pub for hours now, sharing jokes and anecdotes, and they're getting on famously. It's not often that John picks men up in bars, but he'll make an exception for this one. There's definite chemistry.
He downs the last of his drink and grins at George, who smiles back. He's going to ask.
"John," says Sherlock, and John clenches his fists. Of course Sherlock knew he was here. He always knows where he is. "I don't mean to start an argument in public as I've always found public disputes rather gauche, but I must ask you to stop removing my toes from the fridge."
George's eyebrows rise so high that they're in danger of meeting his hairline. John smiles at him reassuringly, and turns to face Sherlock. He looks dangerously attractive in this light, all cheekbones and sarcasm, and John wishes he were more capable of thinking with his upstairs brain in this sort of situation.
"I'm busy, Sherlock," he hisses. Sherlock raises an eyebrow.
"Well, I would be, but my plans for the evening have been thrown out with the potato peelings," he retorts. John throws his hands up in mock surrender.
"I'm terribly sorry that I didn't want severed digits mingling with the celery!" he cries. "Really. If only I were a normal human being who kept fingers in the cutlery drawer and severed heads in the freezer!"
Sherlock regards him coolly.
"George has left," he says.
"Has he now," states John, flatly. "Great, because so has my self-esteem and general sense of happiness. But hey, at least the fridge is clean enough that I can make a sandwich big enough to distract me from my awful, awful life."
"It's full of lamb brain," he tells John.
John isn't even remotely surprised.
John is such a mess that he barely remembers to cancel his date with Joanna after it happens. He phones her three days later, voice hoarse from shouting at the unfairness of it all. She answers on the fourth ring, sounding expectant and pleased that he's called.
"Hi, John," she says. "I'm glad you called, actually, because - "
"I have to cancel on Thursday," John interrupts. He wonders if he'll manage to explain without bursting into tears. He doubts it, but he tries anyway. "It's Sherlock. He's..."
"I know, John," she says. "It's all over the news. I'm so, so sorry. I completely understand. Take as much time as you need, OK? I'll call you next week and we can reschedule if you want."
John nods, then remembers that she can't see him.
"Thank you, Joanna," he manages to say, before hanging up and bursting into tears again, because Sherlock's gone, and without Sherlock, there's nothing. There aren't any eyeballs in the fridge, there are no sarcastic text messages, there are no thinly veiled attempts at ruining his dates. There's just an emptiness to the flat that was never there before and the ticking of the clock.
Joanna said he could take as much time as he needed. It takes three years.
"I don't understand," says Sherlock. "Why you won't just say yes."
John closes his eyes, exhales slowly and counts to ten. When he opens his eyes again, Sherlock is looking at him like he's gone slightly mad. Perhaps he has. It would be all Sherlock's fault if that's the case.
"Because," John explains. "You left for three years. You lied to me, Sherlock. I thought you were bloody dead. I mourned you. I went to your funeral. I put flowers on your bloody grave!"
"And they were very nice flowers," Sherlock says. "Thank you. So you'll give me flowers, but you won't go to dinner with me?"
John wants to throw something. Preferably at Sherlock.
"I didn't give you flowers," he grits out. "I put them on your grave. There is a marked difference!"
"It was just an idea, John," he says. "I won't force you."
John thinks. When he really looks at it, the reason he's so upset is because of how much he missed Sherlock, how pointless everything felt without him. He has him now. And from what he's heard from Mycroft, Sherlock suffered in those three years too. Possibly even more than John.
John sighs, and squeezes the bridge of his nose.
"One dinner, Sherlock," he acquiesces. "One. And you're paying."
Sherlock beams, and it's such an alien sight that it makes John's heart beat faster.
"How does Angelo's sound?" asks Sherlock.
"Perfect," replies John.