A/N: Happy belated birthday, danflan! This one's for you!
Sherlock, who had been looking uneasy since they'd left the flat, now looked as though he'd been ambushed.
"You don't own this place, do you?" he asked. Sherlock's eyes narrowed slightly, expression cool in an attempt to cover his uncertainty – John thought it probably would have fooled anyone else. Provided anyone else hadn't just led him to a pub on quiz night.
It was busy and they were largely ignored as they squeezed into a very small table at the back. Sherlock sat stiffly, spine rod straight, arms tucked close to his body. John grinned again, shrugging off his jacket.
"You're going to be a bit warm in that," he said, nodding, eyes flickering down to the buttons of Sherlock's greatcoat. With obvious reluctance, Sherlock divested himself of his coat, looking unhappy that he had to let it rest over the back of the chair. John's grin faded and he reached across the table, folding a hand over Sherlock's, startling him with the comfortable and public display of affection.
"Hey," John said. "If you really don't want to be here, we can leave."
Sherlock hesitated and for a moment, John thought he was going to take the offer, but then he shook his head minutely, expression resolute.
"It's fine," he said with the air of someone who was deliberately deciding to have a good time. He glanced around again, the disdain not quite masked, eyes skimming over the crowds – a mix of university students and patrons closer to John's age who were matching wits against each other as loudly as possible. Amidst the joyful chaos, Sherlock looked out of place in his black suit and the blue-grey shirt (that John suspected had been chosen because it matched the shifting colour of his eyes). He looked cool in this warm place – cool, but not cold.
"Why here?" Sherlock asked and John gave a light shrug.
"It's a favourite of mine," he said. "And the crowds are nice. There's a certain privacy in a crowd. No one's paying any attention to us."
It wasn't entirely true – Sherlock had drawn some glances and was currently the focus of two young women near the bar, who were eyeing him appreciatively and unabashedly. As if sensing their gazes, Sherlock fixed them with a stare and twisted his wrist so he could curl his fingers over John's, running his thumb over the back of John's hand slowly and pointedly. It didn't seem to have the desired effect; one of the girls winked at him – extremely suggestively, in John's well-practiced opinion – and the doctor tried not to blush.
"Oh, Lord," John murmured. "Don't give them any ideas."
"I have a number of ideas of my own – eleven so far – that have nothing to do with them," Sherlock assured him, meeting John's gaze again.
"I bet you do," John said amiably. "You just hold onto them. I'm going to get us some beers. Try not to get into any trouble while I'm away."
"I'm not the one interested in trouble," Sherlock murmured. John sighed but caught his partner's wry expression and relaxed. Sherlock wouldn't be bothered if he didn't want to be bothered. He could most likely flirt with women just as well as with men but he probably wouldn't unless he wanted something out of the exchange.
John shouldered his way to the bar, steering clear of the girls who had been paying them undue attention – noting that one of them was focused now on him, which made him want to blush harder. He ignored her and ordered two beers although he doubted his partner was much of a beer drinker at all. But this was John's date – Sherlock had cooked for him last time and provided him with the finest wine he'd ever had. He could stand to try something new. He could even stand a little gentle nudging outside of his comfort zone.
When he returned to the table, Sherlock was ignoring the continued stares by means of being on his phone, frowning at the small screen in concentration. John felt his heart sink a little bit – yes, he'd been gone for a few minutes, but surely work could wait for one evening?
"Yes," Sherlock said without looking up. "It's why I have employees."
He turned his phone so John could see the screen and the doctor relaxed. Sherlock had been reading The Times – still a bit business-y for John's taste, but he'd take what he could get.
He set Sherlock's beer down in front of him. The younger man looked at it dubiously then tasted it very gingerly as though it might be poison – no, John thought, he'd probably be less cautious tasting poison. Sherlock looked thoughtful for a long moment, then nodded slowly.
"Surprisingly palatable," he said. It was probably a ringing endorsement from Sherlock Holmes. John took a longer sip of his own beer, enjoying the cold taste that chased down his throat, a welcome contrast to the warmth of the pub.
"Don't tell me you've never had beer before," John said. Sherlock shot him a scowl that didn't have any actual bite behind it.
"Of course," he said. "Though not often. And I've never enjoyed it." He paused to take another sip. "But this is quite good."
John grinned, pleased with himself. He'd picked an old standby favourite for himself, but for Sherlock, he'd chosen something darker, a little more sophisticated. Sherlock took another drink, looking thoughtful, as if he was sorting out the complexities in the taste. John swallowed on a chuckle; of course Sherlock would enjoy a puzzle, even in the form of an alcoholic beverage.
"Why?" Sherlock asked.
John, snapped from his reverie, frowned. "Sorry?"
"You said it's one of your favourite pubs. Why? Geographic location? It is easily accessible from your flat, but so are many others. Do you participate in the quizzes?"
"Sometimes," John said with a grin. "There's a small group of us – me, Jamie, Bill, a couple others – who get together to play occasionally. It's fun. I like the atmosphere here. It isn't always this busy."
"I see. You chose to bring me here as a means of introducing me to the peculiarities of this pub in particular and regular life in general."
"It's probably a little different from the places you like. Not filled with shadowy dealings and dim lighting and silent, invisible waiters in waistcoats."
"Oh, please," Sherlock said, rolling his eyes. "You talk as though I spend all of my time in some sort of fictitious den of intrigue."
John started to laugh, managing to put his beer down before he spilled it.
"Den of intrigue?" he repeated.
"You're the one ascribing some sort of dark and mysterious character to the places I choose to socialize."
"'Den of intrigue'," John said again, dropping his head into his hands as he chuckled. "Who says that?"
Sherlock sighed heavily, as if put upon, which made John laugh harder. He gulped in a deep breath, trying to exert control, but glancing up at Sherlock made him dissolve into laughter again.
"Oh, really," Sherlock huffed as John's shoulders shook helplessly.
"Sounds like some kind of secret society or one of those," he began, making a gesture with a hand, trying to find the right word. "You know, swingers' clubs."
"I can't speak for the former but I believe the latter are simply called 'swingers' clubs', John."
"Oh my god," John groaned, leaning his head into his hands. "We are not having this conversation."
"Are we not?" John looked up again to see Sherlock sitting back in his chair, looking for all the world comfortable and relaxed, sipping his beer with equanimity.
He's getting back at me, John realized suddenly. For bringing him here.
Sherlock sat forward, elbows on the table, and reached across to take John's hand, interlacing their fingers. He raised John's hand to his lips and kissed his palm – John half expected something teasing like the tip of his tongue or a faint bite, but it was just a kiss. Soft, warm, and somehow proprietary. John thought he could feel the gazes of the two girls at the bar and hoped he was wrong, but Sherlock's eyes were on him – this wasn't teasing anymore.
John felt a flush of warmth that had nothing to do with the beer or the temperature in the room, but Sherlock settled their joined hands on the table again. He was still smiling but the expression was more subdued now, without the laughter underneath.
"If you'd prefer to have a conversation more appropriate to this venue, we could always discuss sports," Sherlock suggested.
"Yeah right," John replied with a grin. "What do you know about sports?"
"You may be surprised."
"Uh-huh," John said, not bothering to hide his doubt. "Is this another thing you just have to know for business? Do you own a football stadium?"
"Not that I know of," Sherlock sniffed.
"Not that you know of?" the doctor echoed. "You mean you might and you just haven't noticed?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes in response.
"No. I'm aware of all the property I own in the city and approximately ninety-five percent in the rest of England, but I do own an international real estate business, John. I have regional managers whose job it is to acquire property for me in other countries."
"Among other responsibilities," John murmured.
"Among other responsibilities," Sherlock agreed. "However, my knowledge of the intricacies of football is mercifully non-existent."
"What, you mean you've never played?"
"If by 'played' you mean 'was forced to participate' then yes. I did go to school, you will remember. For some reason, they were very keen on having us participate in sport, which generally seemed to mean running around without any goal or direction whatsoever while someone blew a whistle incessantly at us."
"And of course your memory of that isn't skewed at all," John commented with a twitch of his lips.
"Of course not," Sherlock sniffed.
"Well if you don't know anything about football by this point in your life, I can't imagine you want to listen to me go through the rules."
"And I'm very happy not to," Sherlock replied. John huffed a chuckle.
"Then what? Rugby? Tennis? Golf?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Cricket, John!"
"What?" John demanded. "What, sorry? Cricket? You play cricket?"
"No, of course not. I'm not a team player."
"So you watch it?"
"Dull. No point. The game will turn out as it turns out regardless of my passive observation. I follow the scores."
"You. Follow cricket."
"Yes, I did just say."
John cast about for something to say and came up with:
"Why?" He pressed his lips together, shook his head, then spoke again. "I mean,cricket? No one even understands cricket, even the people who play it!"
There was a gleam in Sherlock's eyes and a smug hint around his lips as they twitched upward before he sipped his beer again.
"Oh, I get it," John said.
"Do you?" Sherlock asked smoothly.
"No one understands the rules of cricket, so you made a point of learning them so you could say that you do and impress everyone."
"Of course not," Sherlock replied with a disdainful note in his voice that was completely belied by the light in his eyes. "That would be vain and self-serving."
"So not at all what you're like," John snorted.
"No," Sherlock said coolly. "I'd best be described as resourceful, dynamic, and enigmatic."
"Sure you would," John agreed, grinning at the pointed look Sherlock shot him. "And how would you describe me, since you're so good at reading people? One word."
"Only one word?" Sherlock asked. "I just used three for myself."
"One word," John said firmly. "Because of the three that you picked for yourself, if I had to choose one, it would be resourceful."
"I far prefer enigmatic," Sherlock sniffed.
"I bet you do," John replied with a grin. "But you were fourteen when you… went into business for yourself. Resourceful wins."
Sherlock rolled his eyes, obviously covering a moment of thought by taking a sip of his beer. He let his gaze slide away, over John's shoulder, fixed on nothing. John could see the little flickers of expression in his eyes though as he skimmed through options and discarded each one. He sipped his own beer while he waited, feeling something that bordered on nervousness.
"Surprising," he said and John felt a flash of surprise himself.
"There are a number of other adjectives I could have used – loyal, resilient, dependable, adventurous – and they are all true but they fail to capture what is at the core."
"I'm surprising at the core?" John asked.
"What would you have picked for yourself?" Sherlock asked in return. John hesitated, eyes dropping away, worrying his lower lip between his teeth.
"Normal," he finally settled on. Sherlock raised his eyebrows.
"Normal," he repeated.
"Yeah – I guess I always felt– well, like you said, dependable. Predictable. Normal."
He was aware of the shift in light as Sherlock leaned toward him, the warmth of his partner's body as he drew closer, the faintly bitter tang of beer he could just smell on Sherlock's breath. Sherlock's eyes had darkened, his gaze steady and close. John felt his lips part slightly, felt the pulse in his neck jump.
"Normal," Sherlock said again, his voice barely above a murmur.
"Yeah," John said, licking his lips, swallowing against a sudden dryness in his mouth. "I mean, a bit."
"Oh no," Sherlock replied, his voice low and smooth. "Not even a bit, John. Not for a moment. Do you imagine I would ever find myself in a place like this with someone who was 'normal'?"
John tried to frame a reply, tried to remember how to speak, but it was all lost when Sherlock closed the rest of the distance and kissed him.