Sarah, read the small paper slip, and on the bottom, Chocolate croissants!
Sarah was sweet, funny, and flirty. John did an internal cheer as he tried to catch her eye without her noticing. Chocolate croissants couldn’t be too hard, right?
He was making a mental list of ingredients he would need when a small noise coming from his side drew him out of his thoughts. John looked over to see Sherlock looking at his slip of paper with an expression of vague horror and shock.
“Who did you get?” John said, twisting his neck.
Sherlock quickly hid his paper. Colour tinged on his cheeks, stark against pale skin. He swallowed. “I―”
“Oh my god,” John said immediately, “you like them.”
The flush deepened. Sherlock scowled and said, “Shut up.” John dropped his jaw.
“Oh my god, you totally do.”
“I don’t,” Sherlock said weakly. Weakly.
John was flabbergasted. Sherlock had three moods: sarcastic, sulking, and sad. Who was this miracle worker?
Sherlock tightened his lips and blinked rapidly at the folded sheet of paper in his hands.
“Oh, come on,” John coaxed. “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
“I already know you got Sarah,” Sherlock said offhandedly.
“It was obvious the way you looked to her.”
“Wait, really? I was that obvious?”
“No, I just saw your paper.”
“Really,” John huffed, quickly folding up said slip of paper and tucking it into his pocket. Then, faux-pleadingly (but almost not really), he leaned over and head-bumped the side of Sherlock’s neck.
“Tell me?” he cooed, peering up at Sherlock through his eyelashes.
Sherlock scrunched up his nose. Blush was a good look on him, John decided. “No.”
Right when John was going to start borderline-nuzzling him, because he really wanted to know, dammit, Sherlock put a hand to John’s head and pushed him off.
John pouted. “Come on, Sherlock. Please?”
Sherlock chewed on the inside of his cheek, lips twisting.
“It’s fine, John,” he finally said. “It’s just a crush. It’s stupid.”
Something inside John swooped. “So it is a crush!”
Sherlock sighed. That was enough of a response.
John held out a fake microphone. “And who has fallen the almighty Ice Queen?”
“Don’t call me that.” Sherlock scowled and batted John’s hand away. “I told you, it’s stupid.”
“No, it’s not,” John said, so resolutely that Sherlock blinked. “Crushes aren’t stupid. But, not doing anything about said crushes is.”
“Seems backwards to me,” Sherlock said. “Seems pretty stupid to try something that most likely isn’t going to work out. With the added features of potential embarrassment and future awkward tension between the two of them.” He raised both his eyebrows. “What a package deal.”
“Wow, way to look on the bright side,” John said flippantly. “I mean, I guess it depends on the person. So at least tell me something about them. Throw me a bone here. An—an olive branch.”
“First of all, neither of those sayings were used correctly; second of all, you are not going to set me up.”
“Who says I am?” John said with such a wide-eyed look that Sherlock snorted. “OK, I am. But seriously, this could mean something!” He clambered a bit. “They’re your secret santa, right? This could be your chance to get to know them! Or, for them to notice you. Or for them to notice you like them. Or whatever, I don’t know anything about them right now but that’s why I’m asking you, so that I can help you more, see how smooth that transition was?”
Sherlock snorted again. “Right, smooth.”
“I know, right?” John grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “Anyway, tell me about this crush.”
Sherlock hesitated. “It’s s—”
John held up a hand. “Nope. If that word is going to be stupid, I don’t wanna hear it. Unless you’re trying to tell me your crush is stupid, in which case fine, but I don’t think you should refer to your crush as an it.”
Sherlock halted. “He’s not—”
“Oh,” John said, taken aback. “So it’s a he. I mean, not that I’m surprised, because—well, you’ve told me before, not explicitly but you know what I mean. I’m fine with that, of course, obviously, because hey, I swing both ways myself, but—”
“John,” Sherlock said, “can I talk?”
John snapped his mouth shut. “Yeah. Right. Sorry, I, um. Carry on.”
Sherlock eyed him warily, and then opened his mouth.
“I won’t interrupt you again,” John interrupted, and then winced. “I’m gonna shut up now.”
Sherlock stared at John for another second, and then nodded. “Alright.”
“As I was saying,” Sherlock said, “I’m almost certain that he’s not interested.” He blew out a deep breath, unsure. “He’s never done or said anything that would make me think otherwise. It’s not like I’ve made my feelings for him quite obvious either. However—” He glanced over at John and stopped. “You look like you’re about to explode.”
John shook his head, jiggled his leg, rapidly drummed his fingers along his jeans, and flapped at Sherlock with a ‘carry on’ gesture.
“Right,” Sherlock said, the corner of his lip quirked. “I thought I could use this opportunity to perhaps make my feelings known, although the fear of rejection is hindering that decision at the moment.”
He paused for a while. “I’m done, now.”
“You’re so in love!” John exploded.
Sherlock glared, but it was significantly less effective than usual. “Shut up, John.”
“This is amazing,” John declared. “It’s perfect! You’ll get him a gift and confess your love and then you two can kiss and make out under the mistletoe—”
“Oh my god,” Sherlock said, “I’m never telling you anything again.”
John cackled. He ruffled Sherlock’s hair. “Sorry, sweetheart.”
“Uh-huh,” Sherlock muttered, ducking his head.
John was bursting with questions, but Sherlock was scowling in a way that told John he wouldn’t get any answers if he tried right then.
“C’mon,” John said instead, “you have Bio and Mr. Silva is an ass about arriving on time, I’ll help you carry your bajillion textbooks, let’s go.”
So what. SH
Any updates on Operation Secret Santa? JW
That’s the worst name ever. SH
I’m deeply wounded, Sherlock. JW
I’m sure you are. SH
Yup. So do you have a gift idea or what? JW
Not yet. SH
Dude, you have like, two days. JW
Cause that’s so much better. JW
Look, I’ll help. I happen to be an expert in the language of love and gift giving. JW
I’m sure you can imagine the face I just made. SH
I’m sure you can imagine mine. JW
You gave me nail clippers for my birthday, John. SH
Nail. Clippers. SH
Look, your nails were getting ridiculously long.
And don’t tell me you don’t still use them. JW
But this isn’t about me. This is about your secret santa/crush/magical creature who made the almighty Sherlock Holmes fall in love. Who is this elusive creature? JW
Please don’t refer to my crush as a creature. SH
Getting defensive, I see. You must really like him. Tell me more about your creature. JW
Damn autocorrect. I meant crush. JW
Stop avoiding the question! JW
What does he like? Does he have a hobby or something? Give me something to work with here. JW
Hot chocolate. Sappy rom coms. Ice skating. SH
A man of my culture, I see. Watch out Sherlock, I might steal him away from you. JW
That isn’t possible. SH
Why? What does that mean? JW
Dammit, that was a clue, wasn’t it? JW
Hmm. Who can’t I get to like me instead of Sherlock Holmes? JW
What kind of clue is that? JW
John, it was nothing. Can we get back to the gift ideas? SH
Pfft. Fine. JW
Hot chocolate, rom coms, and ice skating. That sounds like a solid date to me. Get him movie tickets and a skating pass and take him out and woo him. Voila. JW
I don’t like hot chocolate, I hate rom coms, and I can’t skate. SH
There are so many things wrong with that sentence. Oh, such tragedy. JW
You’ve never had REAL hot chocolate apart from the shitty instant watered down kind, you hate BAD rom coms, and you can’t skate YET. JW
Honestly, your secret santa would be so disappointed in you. I know I am. JW
Oh my god. JW
What, John? SH
I have the perfect idea! I can take you hot chocolate taste testing and rom com watching and teach you how to skate beforehand, and then when you go out with your secret santa he’ll be BLOWN AWAY at how you chose the perfect place for hot chocolate and the cutest rom com and how amazingly you can skate—ok maybe not that one, we have three days. JW
He’ll be blown away at how you won’t fall on your ass the moment you step onto the ice. JW
Sherlock? Hellooooo? JW
Are you listening? This is perfect! JW
Are you impressed? You don’t sound impressed. JW
I’m not. SH
Aw, spoilsport much? C’mon, it’ll be fun. JW
Hey, don’t worry about it, seriously. No hard feelings between us. I’ll just be the tester for your real date. I love all three of those things anyway. JW
Jesus, you type slowly. JW
Unlike you, I have a filter. SH
So whaddya say? You and me, hot chocolate and rom coms and skating on a quest to impress your secret santa. JW
It’ll be so fun, Sherlock, c’mon. JW
Is this just an excuse to drink hot chocolate, binge rom coms, and go ice skating? SH
But it’s also helping you, so ha. JW
I’ll plan everything, don’t worry. Just come to my house after school. JW
Am I going to regret this? SH
Not one bit. JW
I’m going to regret this. SH
“This is stupid,” Sherlock grumbled.
John hushed him. “This is the best hot chocolate place I’ve ever been to.”
“This is the local cafe two minutes from our school.”
John gave him a funny look. “So? It’s amazing. You’ll see.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes and John’s look turned to one of warning as their footsteps stalled in front of the cafe entrance.
“OK, here’s the plan,” John said. “Imagine this. He’s received his gift and now you’re going out for hot chocolate with him.” He patted down his chest and with a grin. “Exhibit A, your fake secret santa.”
Sherlock looked like he was one second away from ditching this entire plan. “What am I supposed to do again?”
“Be nice,” John said. “I know you’re a complete asshole, but maybe just be less of an asshole than you usually are. You want to impress him, and making the barista cry is decidedly not the best way to do that.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes even harder as John pushed open the door.
“Hey, Molly!” John waved at the barista, who paused from tapping something on the register and looked up, a smile breaking across her face.
“Oh, hello,” Molly said, and then her eyes fell on Sherlock. “Oh, hello,” she repeated, and, woah, her voice had gone up at least two octaves. “I haven’t seen you here before.” Definitely at least two octaves. John slowly came to a realization. Oh, no.
Bracing himself for the incoming devastation of a rejection that was doubtlessly about to follow, he looked over to Sherlock.
Whose expression was one of someone who was utterly, utterly charmed.
Sherlock straightened his shoulders, stepped forward, and fixed Molly with a dazzling smile.
“And I am very resolutely fixing that,” he said, voice smooth and melodic. “I’m Sherlock Holmes. It’s great to meet you, Molly.”
Molly flushed and giggled softly. “It’s my pleasure,” she said. “What can I get for you today?”
“Two medium hot chocolates, please,” Sherlock responded, voice like velvet. “Whipped cream on both, if it’s not too much trouble.”
John was too busy picking his jaw from the floor to process the rest of the conversation. When he came to his senses, Sherlock had paid for the drinks and had taken him by the shoulders and was steering him to the side.
John imagined he was flapping like a fish. He looked wordlessly at Sherlock, unruffled and nonplussed as if he hadn’t just been possessed by some dark spirit of unholy, creepy kindness.
Sherlock dropped his hands from John’s shoulders. “What?”
“You—I—” John flailed a little before firmly and doggedly grasping for a purchase. “What the hell was that?!”
Sherlock sounded mildly confused. “You told me to be nice.”
“I told you to be less of an asshole than usual! Not—fucking James Bond! I thought you were going to kiss her hand back there!” John hissed, trying to keep his voice out of Molly’s range of hearing.
“Calm down, John.” Sherlock pursed his lips. “I was just being nice. That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?”
“Not like that!” John faintly recalled that he was practically squeaking with indignation. “You were flirting with her!”
Sherlock gawped. “I was being nice.”
John flapped his arms a little trying to gesture at Sherlock. “Maybe for others,” he scolded, “but for you, that had decidedly crossed the boundary of platonic interest. God, you said—please and thank you. What the hell, Sherlock. You never say please and thank you to me.”
Sherlock’s eyes were bright and curious as he watched John ramble on.
“You’re supposed to be on a date with your secret santa, you can’t do that to the poor guy.” John firmly shook his head. “God, I’m so glad we decided to act this out beforehand.”
Sherlock shook his head. “John, I think you’re taking this a bit too seriously.”
“No—” John started, but trailed off at the end of the syllable when Molly returned with two steaming paper cups, lids removed to allow for a generous swirl of whipped cream.
“Ah, thank you, Molly,” Sherlock said, stepping forward, a gracious smile already on his lips, turned up to the tens. John bit his tongue.
He stayed quiet until they had taken a seat. “I don’t know about your secret santa, but I’d definitely be jealous if my date was talking to the barista like that.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow, placing both drinks on the table and sliding one to John. “Like what? Please and thank you?” He gasped a little. “Manners, how scandalous!”
“First of all, that’s literally you,” John said, “second of all, let me rephrase that: I’d definitely be jealous if you were my date and talking to the barista like that.”
“Oh would you, now?” Sherlock said, his gaze suddenly turning intense.
John shrugged and looked away. “Obviously I’m not your date, but I know you well enough that, yeah , I’d definitely be creeped.” He tilted his head. “Does this guy know you well enough that he’d be creeped?”
Sherlock smiled from the side of his mouth. “Definitely.”
“Then don’t do that.”
Sherlock hummed. “Got it.”
John narrowed his eyes for a moment, scrutinizing, until he deemed the situation had passed. “Huh. Well, now that that’s done with,” he said, picking up his cup and looking at the mountain of whipped cream with satisfaction. “It’s time for you to lose your hot chocolate virginity.”
Sherlock nearly dropped his cup. “What the hell, John,” he complained.
John snorted. “Sorry. I forgot how alarmed you get about sex.”
“Sex doesn’t alarm me,” Sherlock said a little too quickly.
John peered up at Sherlock and grinned slowly. “How would you know?”
To avoid responding, Sherlock tipped the cup to his mouth.
He lowered the cup. His throat moved as he swallowed. His eyebrows furrowed.
John was practically holding his breath.
“Hmm,” Sherlock said, and licked some whipped cream from his upper lip.
“Hmm, what?” John said, intensely analyzing Sherlock’s face. “Good hmm? Bad hmm?”
Sherlock took another sip. “Neutral hmm.”
John narrowed his eyes. “Hmm.”
“Remember when I said I was going to regret this?”
“I know, right? How stupid was that?” John laced up his final skate and gave it a satisfied tug. He turned to Sherlock. “You know how to put these on, right?”
“Of course,” Sherlock muttered, sounding like he wasn’t sure whether to be sarcastic or not. He yanked hard at the heel and then hissed. “The blades are sharp.”
“WHAT. The blades are sharp?” John repeated, eyes wide.
“Shut up.” Sherlock finished lacing up his skates in silence.
“Careful,” John said when they stood up, hobbled their way across the outdoor arena and towards the rink. “The blades are sharp.”
“Sharp enough to beat a horse to death, evidently,” Sherlock said.
“What—oh, you’re good.”
The air was dark and murky. Lights beneath the arena lit up the ice in a pale, glowing blue. The wall surrounding the rink was dappled with red and green bulbs.
John stepped into the rink and made a tight half-circle turn to face Sherlock. “Now get over here so I can teach you how to not fall on your ass in front of your crush.”
He had to admit, it was nice to see the effortlessly, infuriatingly graceful Sherlock Holmes in a situation where he couldn’t be effortlessly, infuriatingly graceful.
Both hands wrapped tight around the rail, Sherlock glowered. “I can’t remember how I agreed to this.”
John snickered and skated past Sherlock and then back over in a small figure-eight because yeah, this was like the only thing he had over Sherlock and he was definitely going to milk it for all it had. “Anything for love, right? Not really romantic if your secret santa does triple-axels around the rink while you clutch to the railing like a lifeline.”
He couldn’t quite tell under the blue light, but John could swear Sherlock was blushing. “Then teach me how to get off the railing, then,” Sherlock muttered.
“I thought you’d never ask,” John said, dramatically pressing a hand to his chest. “First lesson of skating: don’t cling onto the railing like a limpet.” He gave Sherlock’s hands a pointed look.
There was a certain tightness around Sherlock’s lips that gave away his nervousness. He blew out a breath through his nose and uncurled his fingers.
“Good,” John said approvingly. He reached out towards Sherlock, but kept his hands hovering, an inch away. “Now take a step.”
Sherlock tentatively lifted a foot, stepped forward, and stumbled, his skate slanting to the side.
On instinct, John’s hands shot out and steadied him.
“Woah,” he said, fingers wrapping around Sherlock’s wrist, “easy there. You’re lifting your foot up too high. It’s not like walking. Try again.”
Keeping his hold on Sherlock’s wrists, the two of them stumbled along, step by step.
“Good,” John said. He lightly squeezed Sherlock’s wrist in what he hoped felt reassuring and not apologetic for what he was about to do next. “Now let me tell you a story. First time I was on the ice, I was eight and my instructor carried me into the middle of the rink, unceremoniously dropped me onto the ice, and spent the entire first lesson there. And the next. And the next.” As he spoke, he slowly picked up the pace, began to stir the tracings of his skates. “And, you know what? It worked.”
Sherlock realized what John was doing and, with an indignant noise, tried to tug his hand away. John’s hand slid from Sherlock’s wrist to his fingers, where he held on tight as he began to speed up, pulling Sherlock along the ice. Sherlock’s fingers went slack as he tried to escape, and then tightened impossibly into a white-knuckled grip.
“John,” Sherlock said with a tinge of warning, and then, “John!”
“Second lesson of skating,” John said, now at a steady speed. “You have to get used to gliding, and the best way to do that is to do it fast.”
“You’re a terrible instructor,” Sherlock said.
“Aw, thanks, sweetheart,” John said, and skated faster.
Sherlock glared, the grip of his fingers giving away his apprehension. “John, let me go.”
John grinned. “Sure.”
“No, wait—” Sherlock made a low, frustrated noise in his throat that turned into a sharp inhale as they passed over a nick in the ice. They had passed the halfway point of the oblong, now; John lengthened the strokes of his left skate and eased the two of them into a slow, lazy turn.
Sherlock cursed softly. “You asshole.”
John grinned, and then let it slide into a small smile.
“Hey,” he said, “don’t worry. I won’t let you fall.” He squeezed Sherlock’s hand. “Promise.”
He brushed his left thumb back and forth, felt the soft fuzzy fabric of the mittens Sherlock was wearing. He met Sherlock’s eyes, saw him hesitate.
Sherlock’s hands fell from their rigid positions, fingers twining into John’s. “I trust you,” Sherlock said, and John felt something warm light up in his chest.
Sherlock was improving quickly, already getting better; the sweeps of his skates steady, smooth, and sure.
John glanced back to steer them narrowly out of the way of a passing couple, and said, “So I think you’re going to be a-OK for your future date with your secret santa. Unless he’s really good, in which case, you can hang around while he does triple-axels.”
Sherlock sighed a little, though John didn’t really understand why—it’s not like he knew enough to know anything. “He’s not a figure skater. He did hockey growing up.”
John looked back to Sherlock with surprise. “You know, I’m really starting to like this guy. Seriously, how come you’ve never introduced me?”
Sherlock glanced over John’s shoulder. “You know him,” he said.
John said confusedly, “I do?” and then excitedly, “I do! That was a clue!”
Sherlock paused for a long time before saying, “Yeah, it was.”
“I see,” John said, already rattling off names of people in his hockey team last season in his head. “Well, now that we’re on the topic, it wouldn’t hurt to tell me more.” He wiggled his eyebrows in a way he knew Sherlock found ridiculous (but it made Sherlock laugh).
“You’re ridiculous,” Sherlock said, but laughed (see?).
“Alright,” he followed it with. “What do you want to know?”
“Hell yeah,” John said. “Let’s see, so far we have: it’s a guy who I know, who likes skating—specifically hockey—hot chocolate, and rom coms.” He clicked his tongue. “I can’t believe you’ve never told me about this crush of yours until now.”
“As I mentioned before, I wasn’t sure if he liked me back. And there wasn’t any reason to bring it up.”
John tilted his head. He was getting ridiculously intrigued. “You said you’re not sure if he likes you back. How does this guy act around you? Are there any, uh, signals?”
Sherlock chewed on his lip. “That’s the confusing part for me. It’s—he keeps giving off so-called signals, I suppose, but never more. It’s almost as if he does it as a joke, or like he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. Or like he’s pretending it isn’t there.”
John swallowed. Sherlock rarely let anyone in on his feelings, hence the name of Ice Queen (and god there had to be a pun somewhere but for once in his life John had more important things to deal with at the moment), and seeing him like this was like walking on thin ice (heh), to the point where he didn’t know the right thing to say. He never was one to pick his words carefully, and he didn’t want to mess things up, not when it came to this.
“That must be annoying,” he decided. “I guess I can add ‘oblivious’ to the list, then, right?”
Sherlock sounded slightly strained. “I guess you can.”
There was a lull in the conversation, then, as they fell back into a silence.
John was quickly caught up in his thoughts. They whisked across the ice, passing other skaters left and right, John still skating backwards with Sherlock looking over him, guiding them through the gaps of the others. John realized that sometime during the last few moments, he had unconsciously sped up to his usual brisk pace, and Sherlock was keeping up quite easily.
“You’re good at this,” he murmured. “Skating, I mean.”
“Yeah?” came the reply. “I wasn’t taught too terribly, then, I suppose.”
John nearly stumbled. “Thanks,” he said, too surprised to come up with a snarky response. He cleared his throat. “You’re a really fast learner.”
For a moment, Sherlock smiled in a way that made his whole face go soft, and his eyes took the light and refracted a pale opal blue, and he looked so apprehensive and vulnerable and open that John’s breath caught. Something tumbled in his stomach.
The floor went out from beneath his feet.
He barely registered hitting the ice, the dull impact landslided by the churning chaos that had exploded in his head.
He was in love with Sherlock.
He was in love with Sherlock.
Holy shit. What the actual fuck.
(And through the layers and layers of his mind repeating the same statement over and over again with increasing levels of panic, he thought dimly that this was the absolute worst possible timing, because at any other time he’d be fine with it, or as fine with having a fucking crush on fucking Sherlock Holmes could be, because Sherlock Holmes was Sherlock Holmes and he could live on with the comforting fact that it was just a stagnant, unattainable crush
—but Sherlock had just confessed to him on crushing on someone else, and that made it so much worse, because it meant that there was someone else who had caught Sherlock’s eye and turned him on his heel, and the thought sent a cascade of twists and tugs down his torso, stupidly, irrationally
—and then it was guilt tangling with the jealousy, because John was Sherlock’s friend, one of his closest if not his best, and if he wasn’t here to support him through this then he might as well just write ‘asshole’ over his forehead along with ‘in love with his best friend’
—it wasn’t supposed to be like this.)
Someone was shaking him.
John opened his eyes to see Sherlock looking down at him, face filled with worry.
“John?” Sherlock said urgently. “Are you alright?”
John squinted up at Sherlock and saw that he had snowflakes in his hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes; stark white against dark hair. He wanted to press his lips to them, feel them melt against his mouth.
“Fuck,” he said eloquently, and let his head fall back against the ice.
He was a terrible friend to admit that he was glad the final activity constituted of staring at a screen without any obligation to speak. Admitting that was easier than it should be, as the good friend side of him had been significantly damaged when he ate a mouthful of ice along with an epiphany that was a few years too late that came a few short hours ago.
He couldn’t even look at Sherlock without his mind screaming traitorous, terrible-friend thoughts. Once he started noticing, he couldn’t stop noticing. His presence was a huge neon sign above his head: Sherlock Holmes, object of John’s unwanted decidedly non-platonic interest. At your location. Would you like GPS directions? Exit Comfortable-Friendly-Platonic lane, take the second exit at Inevitable Heartbreak roundabout, your destination will be on the right.
“I don’t know if I’m making my feelings clear enough,” Sherlock said, right out of the red-and-green, after half an hour of The Holiday.
John tried to ignore the fact that the space between where the two of them were sitting on the couch was decidedly not large enough for him to ignore. He felt like he was going to vibrate straight out of the blanket he had pulled up to his shoulders.
Not trusting himself enough to look at Sherlock, John nodded to indicate that he was listening.
“He’s so oblivious that it would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating.” Sherlock blew out a breath between his teeth. “Especially over the past few days. It’s like he’s refusing to acknowledge it.”
John opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. “OK,” he said.
Sherlock looked like he wanted to gently strangle something. “That’s all you have to say?”
No, John wanted to say. It wasn’t all; there were just so many words that they all pushed and shoved and got snagged in his throat so that all that slipped out of the chaos was, ‘OK’.
Words like, I can’t believe you’ve been seeing other people which was 1. horribly, devastatingly cliche and 2. stupid, because it wasn’t like John was everything in Sherlock’s life and he obviously could see other people, have other friends, date someone who wasn’t John, stop making me feel jealous when it’s not something I have in the first place, maybe you should let that crush go and have me instead because obviously he doesn’t deserve you (god, even his own mind was turning against him) and that explanation was so many words that it all got caught up again and John swallowed, his throat gummy and dry.
He coughed. “Yeah.”
“Hmm,” Sherlock said.
“What made you like him?” John blurted.
Sherlock paused, surprised.
“Sorry,” John said quickly. “I wasn’t thinking. It’s just, well, I’m curious is all, it’s not like I’m uhh,” he trailed off into a strangled sound and then picked up from where he left off, rattling off words like rapidfire. “It’s just that he sounds like a strange guy right now and I just wanna know why you like someone like that, not that I’m judging you on your crush choices! I just wanna know, but it’s totally cool if you’re creeped out at me asking and how fast I’m talking right now and how nosy I am and oh my god, I have got to shut up, commence shutting up.” He clamped his mouth shut and mimed zipping his lips.
Sherlock looked faintly stunned. His nose creased in that adorable way it did when he was thinking.
John’s thumb and index finger were still on the corner of his lips. He blinked slowly, and then dragged them across to the other side, unzipping.
“You know what, nevermind,” he muttered. “Let’s just watch the movie.”
Sherlock seemed like he wanted to say something, but then decided against it. He turned his attention back to the movie. John tried desperately to do the same himself.
They spent the twenty minutes in silence before Sherlock spoke up.
“I’m not sure why I like him, to be honest,” he said.
John turned and was fully facing him before he could stop himself. He nodded wordlessly, determined not to shove his foot into his mouth again.
Sherlock continued speaking. There was a freckle to the side of his left eyebrow. How had John never noticed that before?
“He’s just—there. He’s funny, I guess. A little snarky. He keeps me on my toes. He’s impulsive. He doesn’t think before speaking, and when he does it’s like an unplugged dam—the words just come tumbling out. He doesn’t know when to shut up sometimes. It’s endearing in a irrational kind of way.”
Sherlock said all of this slowly, deliberately, and then very resolutely turned his eyes to the floor. The blush that had faded had returned in full force, a rosy pink dusted across his cheeks. He bit the corner of his lip as if fending off a smile, his eyebrows drawn with nervousness.
John made a small noise in his throat. Seeing Sherlock like this—like he was truly, genuinely, absolutely in love—it made something tug painfully in his chest. He wanted Sherlock to look at him like that, wanted to be the one who put that look on his face, and he knew it was self-absorbed and selfish but he just couldn’t help but want.
It was almost freeing to admit it. That he wanted. Before, all he could do was to brush it off, cover it up with his usual line of defence—which was to say, joke about it.
Which is what he did.
“Aw, darling,” he said, lowering his voice into a teasing coo. “You’re in so deep. Now I’m really curious as to who this guy is.”
Rosy pink turned to red. “Shut up,” Sherlock said, rolling his eyes, the previous expression on his face disappearing in an instant.
“You know it’s true,” John said, ignoring the way Sherlock slipped his cover back on, vulnerability quickly fading away; the way the tugging in his chest began to twist. Fuck, he was the worst kind of person, brushing Sherlock off like that right when he was beginning to open up, turning his feelings into a stupid joke. So Sherlock liked someone else, big deal. Suck it up. He didn’t have the right to make fun of it every time, like it didn’t mean anything at all. What was he even doing?
He blinked, not realizing the stinging in his eyes until it was too late.
“Aw, shit,” he muttered, pressing his fingertips into his eyes.
Sherlock caught it. He frowned. “John, are you alright?”
“Yeah, yeah,” John said quickly, embarrassment a creeping heat on his face. “It’s just—” He glanced at the television, where the fates must’ve taken pity on him, because Amanda was running back to Graham, orchestra music swelling to a crescendo in the background.
“This part makes me cry every time,” John stated, feeling relief that it wasn’t a total lie, because it did make him cry every time; it was just that, this time, it was because of something else.
And Amanda was hugging Graham, now, her face streaked with tears that hadn’t fallen since she was fifteen. John felt more like Iris at the moment—snivelling at the slightest mishap. God, he was a mess.
A hand passed over his arm, hovering for a moment before settling down, a feather-light touch. Sherlock’s fingers were warm and felt hot on his skin.
John was sure he could tell it wasn’t just the movie. But Sherlock stayed quiet, didn’t push, didn’t joke about it, and John didn’t deserve him at all, so it was good that Sherlock liked someone else, really.
Moments passed. John felt a tremor run through him, draining the tension into a dull heartache. He curled his shoulders in on himself.
Sherlock had a funny look on his face, like he didn’t know how to arrange his features.
John told that to Sherlock, who twisted his fingers into his lap and looked at them instead of John.
“I rarely see you cry,” he conceded.
John wiped his hands on his jeans. “Yeah, well, watch more rom-coms with me and that’ll change.”
“Why are they called comedies if they make people cry?” Sherlock mused.
John laughed, though it still sounded weak to his ears. He sniffled. “Ugh, sorry about that. Hopefully your secret santa isn’t this much of a baby.”
“He is,” Sherlock said, and jerked his chin towards the movie. “This part makes him cry every time.”
“Oh,” John said, and thought, Does this secret santa have to beat me in everything? Even crying? Are you serious? “Well, you’ve already seen me cry, so you can feel slightly less uncomfortable when he starts crying.”
Sherlock inhaled noisily and then let it out in a sigh, the tension seeping from his shoulders. He said, “And if he starts to cry, what am I supposed to do?”
“Huh?” John said. “Oh. Um. Hold him, I guess. Comfort him.”
Sherlock raised an arm and placed it across John’s shoulders, tugging him a bit closer. “Like this?”
Holy shit, he was so friendzoned he was being used as a placeholder for the real thing. “Yeah,” John said, his voice strained. “That’ll do it.”
Sherlock hummed, and then used his other hand to smooth back John’s hair, scanning his face with concern. He probably caught on that John wasn’t that empathetic and was just being pathetically over-reactive and feeling sorry for himself. He couldn’t muster the energy to care.
“Are you alright?” Sherlock asked him quietly, squeezing his shoulder lightly.
“I’m alright,” John said, and tried not to show how much he wanted to curl into Sherlock’s chest and never come up.
They watched the rest of the movie with Sherlock’s arm around John. At some point he began to play with his hair, lightly twisting the blond strands around his fingers, and John was too tired and too wired to tell him to stop, so he didn’t, and Sherlock didn’t, either.
“I am so ready for winter break,” John muttered, pausing to gently bang his head against the locker before opening it. “I’m going to royally fuck my sleep schedule six ways to Sunday.”
When Sherlock didn’t comment on that, John looked over at him to see him holding a small square box. There was a bow and a tag on top.
“Huh,” John said, “what’s that?”
Sherlock wordlessly held it towards John, a high flush giving away his nervousness. “It’s a gift,” he muttered.
“Aw, you shouldn’t have,” John said, and then hesitated. “I have a gift for you, too, but it’s in my room—”
“Just take it, John,” Sherlock said.
“For my Secret Santa, from Sherlock,” John read from the tag. “Oh.”
He tried not to let it show how completely crushed he was. Like, seriously—woah. “It’s, uh, pretty. I guess. He’ll probably like it. Or, I mean, whatever’s inside it. Not that the box isn’t pretty, obviously, but usually the gift is what’s inside the box, not the box itself. Unless it’s a gag gift, in which case there are multiple boxes inside boxes, but you really like your secret santa so I don’t think you’d do that to him, so I’m sure whatever gift is inside this box is an adequate gift for your secret santa, and while I am really curious as to what’s inside this box I’m not going to open it because it’s for your secret santa—”
“Oh my god, it’s you,” Sherlock yelled.
John cut off with an urrk.
“What?” he said faintly.
“You’re my secret santa,” Sherlock said, his voice high and quick and desperate. “You’re the one I have a crush on. It’s you, John, it’s been you the whole time.”
“What?” John said again.
“I tried to hint at it, and then I tried to make it obvious, and then I tried to make it blatant, and you just—you were so fucking oblivious that I thought I had misinterpreted it all, but then it wasn’t, but you kept talking about the stupid secret santa, John, you—” Sherlock shoved a hand through his hair. “You were driving me insane, do you know that?”
“I,” John said, and very politely asked his mind where the rest of that sentence was, because there was absolutely nothing there. “What?”
Sherlock gave John a look that said Are you shitting me right now. “Forgo the past tense; you’re driving me insane.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. He held it out to John, who took it in a daze and unfolded it without thinking, his mind still occupied with fruitlessly searching for the rest of that sentence that began with I and ended with what.
JOHN, the paper read in a crooked all-caps, and below it, surprise me ;)
(And, no, he had literally drawn the winky face emoticon on paper. What the fuck, past self.)
John forced his mind to come up with something. Anything, goddamnit.
“I’m an ass,” he said.
Sherlock looked like he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was heavily relatable. “Yes, you are.”
“Surprise me,” John read. “That’s an asshole move.”
Sherlock took the paper from John’s hands and tucked it back into his pocket. “Still, I’d like to think I succeeded.” He took the box from John’s hands and placed it back into his locker. “There’s nothing in it. My real gift’s at home. I thought the tag would be enough but apparently it wasn’t.” He gave John a long hard look. “I honestly can’t tell if you’re joking at this point.”
John was simultaneously going to pass out and combust. “I’m such an ass,” he said.
“Yes,” Sherlock said.
John paused, looked at Sherlock hopefully. “But you do like me?”
“Oh my god,” Sherlock said, and then crowded John against his locker and kissed him.
John was too stunned to reciprocate. Holy shit, what was happening? Oh, right, Sherlock! He liked him, right? Hooray, hallelujah, what was that about the secret santa again? what the fuck was going on? well, none of that was important now, now Sherlock was kissing (kissing!) him and it was the least he could do to kiss him back—except he couldn’t really remember how lips worked anymore.
Sherlock backed away before John could remember. He kept a hand on the back of John’s neck, a thumb lightly brushing across his pulse point, back and forth, back and forth. John thought faintly that if he kept doing that his artery would burst out of his skin. “Does that answer your question?”
“Hng,” John said. Sherlock waited patiently.
I’m so sorry, John wanted to say. I was an idiot. I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell. I was too blindsided by my own emotions to notice anything, really, I’m so sorry and I don’t deserve you and I love you so much, you gorgeous wonderful person, you, I can’t believe you like me back, I’ve liked you since maybe like grade three and I just didn’t realize it until a few days ago, it’s like I’ve loved you for so long I just never really noticed, because it was absurd to think of it any other way.
“Kiss me again,” John said, and then, “holy shit, I am going to stab myself.”
“Don’t do that,” Sherlock murmured, eyebrows quirking up, and kissed him again. John tried (really) to reciprocate this time, but somewhere after the 0.5 second mark his mind had helpfully turned into the mental equivalent of passed out on the floor.
Sherlock kissed him for quite a while longer than 0.5 seconds, which, hell, showed his devotion, because John had gone completely slack after that and was probably doing an accurate impersonation of a dead fish.
“I’m usually much better,” John said immediately once they had parted. “At kissing, I mean. Like, way better, seriously, what the hell, the only time I actually care about this shit—oh my god, what am I even talking about, can you shut me up please fuck no I didn’t mean kiss me again even though I’d be totally cool with that if you were down to kiss a dead fish again, seriously what the fuck—”
Sherlock looked like he was trying not to laugh when he leaned in and kissed him again.
This time, John very determinedly grabbed his mind by the lapels, shoved it menacingly against a wall, and intimidated it into not passing out.
“A dead fish?” Sherlock said once they had parted again after a significantly better kiss.
“Oh my god, why don’t you hate me?” John said desperately.
They had a do-over.
Molly smiled brightly when Sherlock came into the shop and Sherlock smiled back, dazzling and charming, and this time Molly flirted a little and Sherlock did it back, and John smiled passive aggressively and made sure she could see their joined hands over the counter and, later, him kissing the whipped cream off the corner of Sherlock’s mouth. He was taking no chances.
The skating rink was crowded with couples, enough that skating backwards holding hands would be a death wish, but even side by side Sherlock managed to distract John enough for him to fall. His hand had narrowly missed someone’s skate blades. Be more careful, Sherlock had said—the blades are sharp.
They watched Elf this time, and had a lovely two hours watching Will Ferrell romp around in green tights making an ass of himself. John still cried, but it was from laughter this time when they realized that Sherlock had a dead on impersonation of Miles Finch and missed half the movie convincing him to make a prank call.
When the movie was over, Sherlock said, “I know this wasn’t part of the plan but I have another gift for you,” and pulled out a box of chocolate croissants. The tag read, For Sarah, from Your Secret Santa.
John said, “And you say nail clippers are bad; this isn’t even for me,” and then, “I’m kidding, oh my god you look like a kicked puppy I’m kidding. I love it, Sherlock. It’s perfect.” (It really was, because the thought of Sarah hadn’t even crossed his mind since when he first drew that paper slip.)
“And I have a gift for you, too—” He twisted over to his bedside table and grabbed the nail clippers.
“Thanks, I hate it,” Sherlock said.
John smiled and tried not to look towards his bedside drawer, where he had a book on the history of bees hidden for Christmas Eve.
“You’re a grumpy elf,” he said instead.
“Seventy-one degrees!” Sherlock tried to scowl and broke into a grin.
John cackled. “Merry Christmas, you filthy animal.” Then at Sherlock’s confused look: “You’ve never—how—we have a movie for tomorrow.”
They ended up under the blankets on the couch, Sherlock fitfully dozing off with his head on John’s shoulder.
And if his parents had taken photos when they came back from their date and saw the two of them tangled together—well, ignorance was bliss, and Sherlock needed a little more of both.
After wishing his parents good night and a merry Christmas, John turned his attention to the screen and watched until the credits faded into a black screen and the background music dissolved into silence.
John absentmindedly ran his fingers through Sherlock’s curls. Sherlock rumbled happily. Seriously, it was like he was a cat.
“Do you think you could purr?” John asked him.
Sherlock squirmed closer and mumbled something that sounded like Merry Christmas.
John kissed the freckle on the side of Sherlock’s eyebrow, leaned into the warmth, and closed his eyes. Merry Christmas, indeed.