A/N: this was written at the request of mustangwoman, who wanted to see "The Tea Sugar Experiment" from John's point of view. It's a little longer than I was intending it, but I left it as a one-shot, since TTSE is also a one-shot, and I've had a couple of one-shots get away from me lately. Needless to say, this is set at the same time as TTSE. I do not own, nor do I profit from. Enjoy!
"John!" Sherlock hammered on John's bedroom door, making John's heart jump even though he'd heard his flatmate barging up the stairs. "John!"
"Just a minute!" John snapped, all too aware that he was only in his underwear, that Sherlock had no concept of personal space when it came to John, nor did he subscribe to ideas about social niceties or decency.
He'd need to get a lock for his door one of these days.
But Sherlock would just pick it anyway, so it probably wasn't worth the effort.
He dragged himself into a pair of jeans he'd left in a heap on the floor and pulled a green jumper over his head, hardly caring it was back to front.
Sherlock hammered again.
"I can bloody well hear you, Sherlock!" John shouted. He was somewhat surprised and concerned that Sherlock hadn't just burst in on him by now, because almost certainly their little talk – all right, row – about private spaces hadn't sunk in. He set his expression to annoyed to cover the concern, yanked open the door, then blinked, everything draining away.
Sherlock was glaring at him with his typical piercing, grey-eyed glower, but John was an old hand at being on the receiving end of that now. He was used to the detective's changeable, malleable looks, the catalogue of expressions that shifted so quickly it was difficult to pin them down, responding to the astounding speed of his thoughts.
What he was not used to, however, was Sherlock going about the flat shirtless.
"Where is it?" Sherlock demanded.
John couldn't help but stare a moment longer – it wasn't the first time he'd seen Sherlock shirtless, really, but all of the other times were in response to him stupidly injuring himself during some case and refusing any medical treatment other than what John could give him in the flat.
And most of those times had been before John had begun to notice other things about Sherlock, things he was certain meant he was mad.
He refocused, with some effort, meeting his flatmate's grey eyes, which was preferable (no it wasn't) to eyeing up the lean muscle that Sherlock somehow maintained despite not eating nearly enough.
"Where is what?" John asked, forcing himself to sound put-upon, crossing his arms over his stomach and leaning against the doorframe, because it seemed maybe like it was a good idea to have something other than his legs prop up some of his body weight at the moment.
"The sugar, John, where have you hidden the sugar?" Sherlock snapped, wrinkling his nose the way he did when he had to explain something and did not want to, because it might waste precious time or oxygen or something.
"Sorry?" he asked.
"It's not funny!" Sherlock huffed. "I am in desperate need of a morning tea! Where is it?"
"I didn't move the sugar, Sherlock," John replied. There was a brief flash of something else in Sherlock's face, something John couldn't quite identify, but that he thought might be – what? Pleasure? What would be pleasurable about being told that the sugar hadn't been moved?
"It's not where it should be," Sherlock retorted.
"Maybe you moved it then?" John enquired, gesturing vaguely to Sherlock, then wished he hadn't done that. He had instinctively (deliberately) followed the movement of his hand with his eyes, taking them momentarily from Sherlock's face so that they raked over the smooth, white skin that was etched with the firm, defined lines of muscles.
How did he stay that fit without trying? John had never seen Sherlock do any actual exercise, unless one counted chasing down criminal madmen in dark alleys or dodging bullets in museum halls, whereas John himself had a gym membership which he used three or four times a week, more when the weather was too bad to run outside. Years in the army had taught him not to be slack about his activities, and he needed to keep up with Sherlock now, or at least the serial killers Sherlock insisted on chasing about the city.
John felt a stab of panic when part of his mind drifted down the paths of what it would be like to run his fingers over that skin, to feel the twitch of muscles beneath his fingertips, to cause the increase in heartbeats, to hear the change in breathing.
What was he thinking?
He hoped desperately that hadn't shown on his face and forced himself to look annoyed in order to cover it up.
For God's sake, it was Sherlock.
Not only was he John's flatmate and friend, but a man.
I must be losing my bloody mind, John told himself, and somehow, the prospect of insanity was more comforting than the prospect that he was actually attracted to Sherlock, because it just seemed so much less complicated.
"Oh," John said then, suddenly remembering, some other part of his brain thankfully doing what it was supposed to be doing, which was thinking about the question Sherlock had asked. "We've run out. I meant to pick up some yesterday and forgot."
"You forgot?" Sherlock demanded. "How could you forget? How am I to have tea now?"
"I forgot because we were busy chasing that bank robber through a maze of alleys in the rain," John replied, letting exasperation drip into his voice. He resisted pointing out that it wasn't as though Sherlock had remembered, for all of his massive intellect. Sherlock would just argue that he used his brainpower for more important things. "And you can have tea with honey, if you need it sweetened."
"Honey?" Sherlock sneered. "Foul."
"Then without anything," John suggested.
"Just as bad! And anyway, I can't find the sugar tin, there may be enough left for me to scrape by."
John rolled his eyes.
"It's on the counter, genius," he said.
"No, it isn't, I checked."
Pushing himself away from the doorframe, John clattered down the steps to the flat's main level, Sherlock so close on his heels that John worried the detective was going to trip him up. He led them into the kitchen and pointed to the mess of dirty dishes left from the night before.
"Here. Nothing left." He plucked it from the pile and passed it over, making sure to not accidentally brush Sherlock's hand with his despite the way his fingers were now itching for some kind of contact.
Sherlock snatched it and pulled off the lid, then huffed in disappointment and disgust. He upended it over his teacup but only a few grains came out.
"Brilliant," he sighed.
"You could always go buy more," John said, crossing his arms, fixing his eyes hard on Sherlock's face. It was just safer (duller) that way.
He was really going to have to have a serious talk with himself, wasn't he? This was utterly mad and completely unacceptable and it didn't help that he was not entirely surprised by it at this point.
Stop it, John, he told himself. You're daft. Anyway, even if you aren't daft, you know what he's like.
John did. All too well.
"Too busy," Sherlock replied, clearly evading the possibility of being forced into grocery shopping, which he always did unless he had some ulterior motive, like trying to trap psychopaths. "Honey will have to do. Where is it?"
John sighed and pulled open a cupboard, tossing a small plastic jar at Sherlock, who caught it easily. Sherlock turned, ignoring John, and set himself to measuring the honey out in a teaspoon, face set in concentration.
John breathed a silent sigh of relief and detached himself from the kitchen, heading back upstairs. He closed the door to his bedroom and leant against it, resisting the temptation to bang his head against the wood because Sherlock would hear that and probably demand to know what was going on. As it was, John knew full well he was lucky the consulting detective was distracted by the lack of sugar, or else he'd have pounced all over John's behaviour.
Rather have him just pounce on me, John thought, then snapped his eyes open at the thought.
What the hell was he thinking?
He screwed his eyes shut again, taking a deep breath.
This had never, ever happened to him before.
Well, it's bloody well not happening now, he told himself firmly, pushing himself away from the door, shaking his head.
The buzz of his phone with a text message distracted him and he was suddenly and pathetically grateful at the interruption. John grabbed the phone and his heart sank (lifted) when he saw the message was from Sherlock.
Remember to get more sugar. SH.
"Goddamn bloody hell!" John shouted, loud enough for Sherlock to hear downstairs, although he'd probably just ignore it. John pitched the phone hard onto his bed, glaring at it uselessly, resisting the urge to pull open his door and yell some more choice curses from his army days down at his flatmate.
It would make no difference.
To any of this.
Setting his jaw, he opened his closet and pulled out some clothing that would be more appropriate for work.
Somehow, John managed to make it through that day. Sherlock was working on some case that didn't seem to require John's assistance, and from what John could deduce he was spending less time actually investigating anything and more time antagonising Anderson, so it probably wasn't all that interesting. He didn't ask about it, because he was certain he did not want (did so want) to be dragged into a long conversation at this point.
He kept a tight rein on his thoughts, refusing to allow himself to think about his flatmate with anything other than irritation – which really wasn't that difficult. He did normal things, like deal with his patients and their endless stream of bafflingly simple ailments, and thought about getting a job as a surgeon again, but at the moment, he rather liked the banality of his work.
Something in his life needed to be boring, he thought.
He got some groceries, including sugar, and went home after work to a mercifully deserted flat. John did the washing up, since Sherlock could never be counted to do much in the way of household chores at all, and it was only through some miracle that he had clean clothes. Unless Mrs. Hudson took care of those that could be washed in a regular washing machine. Sherlock probably had some service that took his dry cleaning for him.
Then he realised that he was not doing a very good job not thinking of his flatmate.
He cursed to himself, refilled the dratted sugar tin after drying it, and returned it to its proper place, giving it a glare for good measure. It was responsible for starting all of this, after all.
John hung the dishtowel haphazardly and fixed himself something to eat before retreating to his room to read, because being holed up upstairs seemed like a better option at the moment. Although if Sherlock wanted him for something, John being upstairs wasn't going to stop him getting it.
John had a feeling the things Sherlock might want him for were somewhat different than the things John wanted Sherlock for at the moment.
He growled to himself, shaking his head.
Stop it, John, he told himself. You're being ridiculous.
He thought about Sarah, who had broken up with him several weeks ago, and felt oddly better. Surely this had to be some weird aberration, because when had he ever been interested in a man before?
And, he pointed out to himself, it was clearly some form of madness, because if he were going to discover suddenly, after thirty-eight years, that he was bisexual, surely it would not be because of Sherlock Holmes. It would be for someone normal, who didn't consider chasing after criminals in rain-soaked darkened alleys to be fun. Who didn't have absolutely no understanding that other people had opinions and desires that were actually valid in their own right. Who didn't almost completely lack social skills but could pass himself off as having them in the blink of an eye.
Someone who wasn't a sociopath.
Although privately John doubted that now; he wasn't a psychiatrist, but neither was Sherlock, and there was a difference between a sociopath, even a high functioning one, and someone who just didn't have the patience for other people or a good grasp on empathy. It was the difference between someone who couldn't care, and someone who had trained himself not to bother because it was baffling for him.
John thought high functioning Asperger's was a much more likely diagnosis, but Sherlock liked to cling to his ideas about how he was, and John had never bothered trying to correct him.
He realised he was doing it again and shook his head, as though this could dislodge all of the troublesome thoughts.
He forced himself to eat and read, concentrating on the words on the page with deliberate effort. He'd had unrequited feelings for other people, of course, but always women. He thought about them now, or at least tried to, but couldn't really bring any of the details to mind. It had been some time since he'd felt that way – there had been some American woman serving in Afghanistan who'd caught his fancy but was uninterested in him, and that had been several years ago now, at least a year before he'd been shot. Since then, Sarah had been the only woman he'd dated, because a warzone was not entirely conducive to having a romantic relationship, although if all the gossip he and Tricia had endured about them was anything to go by he was actually as good as married.
The thought made John smile suddenly and he pulled open his bedside table drawer, picking out the picture he kept there of the two of them. The smile faded somewhat, became bittersweet, because he did miss her, and she was there for another two years, during which time anything could happen. He hated thinking that, but it was always hovering below the surface.
He could call her, he realised suddenly. John dropped the picture back in the drawer and picked up his phone, shuffling his empty plate aside as well. Sherlock was home now, but if John was quiet enough even the consulting detective wouldn't hear what he was saying. Although he'd have to keep a sharp ear for Sherlock's tread on the stairs, because he was certain his flatmate wasn't above listening at the door if he felt like it. He'd probably justify it as having something to do with the case, which it most certainly did not.
He rang Tricia's mobile number in Afghanistan, checking the time to determine it wasn't the middle of the night there first, but it went through to voicemail. John sighed – this wasn't unexpected because it wasn't as though she maintained a set schedule, but it was disappointing.
"Tee, it's John, how are you? Can you ring me back? Nothing's wrong, promise, just wanted to chat."
He rang off and set the phone aside, trying to keep himself from glancing at it every few minutes as if this would make Tricia return his call any faster.
He'd have to venture downstairs eventually, he realised, if only to brush his teeth and use the toilet before going to bed. He was actually somewhat surprised that Sherlock hadn't come upstairs demanding some stupid thing or another yet – like a pen or the use of John's laptop, which was resting on top of his dresser at the moment. The man had an irritating (loveable) habit of going out of his way to get John to do things for him that would take less than half the time to do had he just done them himself.
He went downstairs when Sherlock took his out violin, because it was the safest time. Whatever he was working on, he was deep in thought, and John moved through the flat almost incidentally, surrounded by music. Sherlock could be quite good, when he had a mind to be, when he wasn't trying to annoy Mycroft.
"You've been upstairs all night," he heard over the rise and fall of notes as he set his dishes in the kitchen. "Are you ill?"
John sighed to himself, shaking his head.
Yes, he wanted to answer. I've gone completely insane. Have anything for that?
"Fine, just tired, and waiting for a friend to return a call," he replied instead.
"Hmm," Sherlock said, in total disinterest.
See? John told himself. And that is why this is a mad and stupid idea.
He got himself a glass of water, brushed his teeth and went back upstairs, shutting the door gently behind him. John set his water down on the bedside table and changed into the sweatpants and t-shirt in which he slept. He wondered what Sherlock, with his silk pyjama sets and dressing gown, would think about them.
Stop it! he admonished himself.
John put his clothes in the hamper and crawled into bed, checking his phone to ensure Tricia hadn't called while he'd been downstairs. Then he clicked off the light, settling down. It was earlier than he normally went to bed, but sleeping seemed a good way of avoiding the thoughts that were plaguing him. If he could sleep through the incessant (exquisite) violin music, of course.
No sooner had he thought that than it ceased, and John relaxed somewhat, closing his eyes, and willing himself to sleep.
The buzz of his phone broke into his dreams just after four-thirty in the morning and John raised his head quickly but blearily, blinking away sleep. He reached for it before he was fully awake and saw it was Tricia – of course it was eight am in Kabul, where she was still stationed.
"Hello?" he murmured, trying and failing to keep the fuzziness of sleep from his voice.
"I know it's early," Tricia's voice said from the other end of the line, and it was astonishing how close someone could sound when they were so far away. "I've been working all night and wanted to call you back before I needed to sleep."
"Mmm, it's all right," John said. "Hang on, let me make sure my flatmate isn't up."
"What, he doesn't sleep at this time of day?"
"Fairly sure he doesn't sleep at all," John replied. "And he has ears like a hawk. Give me a second."
"Isn't it eyes like a hawk?"
"It's four-thirty in the morning," John reminded her, keeping his voice low.
He opened his door quietly and peered out, but there were no lights on. John crept down the stairs, wondering if Sherlock was actually sleeping, which would be almost unheard of, but the flat was empty, and the detective's coat and shoes were gone.
Probably decided to go find some killers to apprehend, John thought. Or just decided he needed a walk.
It was, after all, a normal hour for Sherlock, who couldn't comprehend things like schedules and daytime hours.
"Not even home," John sighed into the phone. "Where are you?"
"Found an out-of-the-way place," Tricia replied. "I told the others I was going to talk to you. They'll leave me alone for the phone sex." At this, John heard the grin in her voice and resisted rolling his eyes – at least it gave her some privacy when she wanted it, and John wondered how often she trotted out that excuse. Since so many of his former army mates remained convinced he and Tricia were shagging, she'd begun to use it to her advantage.
He went back upstairs and shut his bedroom door again, just in case.
"What's new?" she asked.
"I desperately want to shag my flatmate," John said, then cursed to himself in surprise, because he hadn't meant to admit it so abruptly.
There was a pause.
"Sorry? You got a new flatmate?" she asked.
"Um, no," John replied.
Another pause, this one a bit longer, a bit different in tone.
"You mean that strange bloke, Sherlock?"
"Yes," John sighed.
He could almost see the expression on Tricia's face. He knew what it felt like. He'd felt it himself, when he'd first started to realise he was checking out Sherlock's ass when the younger man wore jeans – something that happened only rarely and was, as far as John could tell, only done when Sherlock's wool trousers were all at the cleaners. Or when he was feeling particularly lazy, which was also rare.
"And how long has this been going on?" Tricia asked. John was glad she hadn't asked if he was serious; it was a mark of how well she knew him.
"About a month," he sighed.
"Well," she said. "Is there a reason you haven't just shagged him yet?"
It was John's turn to pause in surprise.
"He's a bloke, Tee," he pointed out, on the off chance that she'd missed this.
"Yes, I rather got that from all the things you've said about him," she replied. "If you want to shag a man, shag a man. It's not the end of the world. Get it out of your system. It might be good for you."
"He's my flatmate," John hissed into the phone.
"Well yes, that could complicate matters," Tricia conceded, then paused again. John was suddenly intensely glad they were having this bizarre conversation over the phone, so he could not see her face. He was certain she was wearing a very calculating expression that would just urge him to do whatever he wanted, and he really didn't need the encouragement.
"Aha," Tricia said in a soft tone that told John she'd pegged him and there was no way around it. John wanted to squirm – he hated that tone, because she was so good at reading him it felt as if she knew him inside and out. "This isn't just about you wanting to shag him, is it, Johnny? I've known you a long time, and you've never been much of a love 'em and leave 'em type of man."
"Shut up," John hissed, unable to conjure any real venom in his voice.
"You're the one who called me," Tricia pointed out. "And you're the one who sprung this on me, remember? Anyway, what of it, John? Why is this so bad?"
"Oh, I don't know? He's a man? He's my flatmate? He's married to his work? I'm thirty-eight, Tee! It's a little old for the sexual confusion and experimentation stage!"
At this, she began to laugh and John scowled, wishing now that she could see him, although it would probably just make matters worse. He could picture her giggling, sitting on some concrete step somewhere, clutching the phone in her right hand and pressing her left arm against her stomach, doubled over.
"I'm glad my mid-life crisis is so amusing to you," he commented dryly, which just made her laugh harder. After a few minutes, he heard her get herself back under control with some effort.
"Look, John," she said, then paused to giggle again, "I'm sorry, I'm not laughing at you, I'm really not. Okay I am. But look, John, you're not gay, and why does this mean you're bisexual?"
"Did you miss the whole conversation we've just had?"
"No," Tricia replied, laughter still in her voice, then she swallowed and her tone levelled out again. She drew a deep breath, he could even hear that over the line, letting it out slowly. "Sorry, this is a tad unexpected. But, John, how many other men have you ever fancied?"
"None," John grumbled.
"So, what if it's not that he's a man, what if it's that he is who he is?"
John frowned, staring absently at his bedroom wall in the pre-dawn greyness.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Well, Sherlock sounds pretty interesting by all accounts, from what you've told me about him and what you've put on your blog. I checked his website, too, after you moved in with him – good looking bloke, if you go in for that whole pale skin-dark hair combo, which I could, easily. But have you ever stopped to think that maybe this is it?"
"This is what?" John asked.
"This is the person you're meant to be with," Tricia replied simply.
John blinked again, then frowned.
"That sounds like total romantic rubbish, Tee," he said.
"Why?" she asked and John could picture her sitting up now, resting her elbows on her knees. John wondered, inconsequentially, what the temperature was like there, if she were outside.
"Because it is total romantic rubbish."
He could almost hear her smile.
"Maybe," she admitted. "But then again, maybe I'm right. If you are actually genuinely attracted to him, if you want to shag him but not just because he's got a smoking hot body, then maybe something else is going on. But if you've never been interested in men before, then maybe it's him. Would that be so bad?"
John wanted to say yes, because a thousand complications played themselves out in his mind, starting with Sherlock's insistence that he was married to his work, to not actually knowing what Sherlock's sexual preferences were – if he even had any whatsoever – to destroying their relationship as flatmates and friends, to prejudice against same-sex couples, to just being wrong altogether and mistaking lust for something else, or mistaking something else for lust.
"It wouldn't work," he said shortly, trying to sum all of that up in a single sentence.
"You can't predict that without trying," she pointed out.
But John felt he could, knowing Sherlock. Everything about him was complicated, and his inability to deal with personal relationships wouldn't help this kind of situation. He could imagine what approaching Sherlock about this sort of thing would be like – and it would be disastrous. He liked living in the flat, and he liked having Sherlock as a friend. Why ruin that? What purpose would it serve?
"I don't know," he sighed.
"I think you do," Tricia contradicted gently. "I just think you don't want to. Think about it, John. Stop trying to not think about it. It doesn't matter what you decide, as long as you actually do so."
He wanted to know how she'd known he was trying to avoid the whole thing in his mind, but didn't ask. There were days when he felt he was surrounded by people who were secret telepaths, even though really he knew that he was simply surrounded by people that knew him very, very well. Even from thousands of kilometres away, it seemed.
"I have to go, I'm dead on my feet," Tricia said, and John could hear that in her voice. "But I will ring you again in a few days. You can ring me before that, if you need to. Just think about it, John."
"I will," he said gruffly, not entirely sure if he meant it. If she realised that, she didn't say anything, but bid him to have a good day and to not make himself go mad. John rung off with her, feeling a familiar pang of loneliness – he'd never felt that when saying good-bye to Harry over the phone. He wished Tricia and Harry could physically switch places. Not because he wanted Harry to be in any danger of course, but because he wanted Tricia back in London and didn't really care where his drunk sister took herself.
He stared at the phone for a few minutes, then sighed. Too late to go back to sleep.
"Right," he told himself. "Buck up, no more nonsense." He pushed himself out of bed and went down to take a shower.
He ended up sabotaging himself a few days later and he knew he was doing it, but couldn't seem to stop himself nonetheless. John crept downstairs in the very early hours of the morning, avoiding the creaky patches on the stairs by habit, and tiptoed into the kitchen.
He eased the tea cupboard door open quietly and nicked the sugar tin from its place on the shelf and went silently back up to his bedroom. John deposited the tin on his dresser, next to his powered-down laptop, and crawled back into bed. He still had to work in the morning, after all. He lay back down, snuggled under his duvet, and went back to sleep.
When he got up again, it was a little after six in the morning. John did some stretching to offset any pain in his shoulder and to ease the stiffness of sleep from his muscles. He listened to the sounds from below him in the flat; Sherlock was awake now, and moving about. John selected his work clothing and changed, not at all surprised to hear the sudden thud of footsteps on the stairs, taking the flight three steps at a time.
There was a knock on the door, more restrained this time, but with definite overtones of irritation.
John pulled the door open and tried to quell the response from his eyes – triumph and desire, because it had worked. Sherlock was standing there, gloriously shirtless, his black trousers contrasting beautifully with his lean, pale frame. He had his hands tucked into his pockets and an impatient look on his face.
"Ha bloody ha, John," he said. "Turn it over."
There was satisfaction in Sherlock's expression when John snagged the sugar tin from his dresser and returned it with a smirk. But something else as well, creeping around the edges, flashing in his eyes. Shock? Confusion? Displeasure? Some combination of those three? Whatever it was, Sherlock's face was suddenly a touch darker, his eyes narrowed at John.
John just gave him a grin and shut the door, leaving him in the corridor, but the smile faded once he'd barred Sherlock from his room.
Well, you have your answer, he told himself, fishing a pair of socks out of his dresser, mostly to keep his hands busy with something. Not really surprising, either. Plenty of other fish in the sea, as they say. You'll get over this, too.
He shut the drawer when he heard Sherlock go back downstairs and leaned his head against the smooth, varnished wood, closing his eyes, trying not to feel disappointed, knowing it wasn't that shocking of an outcome. Sherlock had been upfront with him about his personal preferences the day they'd met, and there was nothing in the past nine months to suggest he'd changed his mind.