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“What you did today, at the crime scene, that was unacceptable Sherlock, even for you,” John told him hotly, now that the door was finally closed behind them. John hung his coat and scarf on a hook with a little more force than was strictly called for. The detective drew his own belstaff closer around him like armor.

Sherlock was under a lot of stress and had been acting out for days. A meeting with Mycroft earlier in the week, a momentary slip of the tongue, a fond childhood nickname uttered in front of John, and Sherlock seemed ready to burn down the world. Something had to give.

“That man needed a hint of compassion, and you, you bulldozed over him,” John accused. He was properly cross; Sherlock could see it. John’s composure had fled him and he was flushed and breathing hard. It was useless of course, talking to the detective about this. Sherlock would never change. Yet, this had seemed more deliberate than usual, with an almost calculated cruelty in it and Sherlock was many things, but sadistic had never been one of them.

Being a doctor, John remembered the shaking hands of the man they were interviewing, his pallor, the ungainliness of his limbs. Their witness had had a proper shock, finding his assistant dead and bloodied as he did. John had assisted the EMTs in getting the gentleman calmed and settled. Yet while the medical signs of stress were clear as day to him, the novice student of human behavior missed the assessing glance their witness had given John’s partner - the momentary wrinkle in his brow as eyes raked over throat and groin, searching for something. Confirmation? The detective’s eyes had narrowed and he’d drawn himself up to full height, engaging in an inquisition that bordered on the cruelly callous.

Sherlock scoffed at John’s irritation, trying to affect an indifferent air, but too cross to pull it off properly. “Empathy,” he began, the word dripping with disdain, “is Donovan’s department. I am not. . .” he waved a hand, frustrated, as though he expected to pluck the word from the air about him, “built for that,” Sherlock snapped, his tone belying his affected calm. The sheer sexism of it nearly bowled John over. It was an ideology Sherlock had never exhibited before. He was a man who valued the mind over everything. Nothing else had mattered to him, except now, apparently, it did. Had he misunderstood and misjudged his friend so completely? It concerned John, and that took the anger right out of him.

“Come Sherlock, you don’t think I’m less of a man because of the work I do?” John said, adjusting his tone. “My job is all about caring for people, and many men are doctors, psychologists, teachers...” John implored him.

“Your job is all about professional detachment,” Sherlock snapped, “at least it would be, if you did it properly” a dismissive sneer in his voice. John just sighed. Snapping and snarling at the closest target was Sherlock’s default defense mechanism, when wielding observation as sword and shield was not presently an option. In this case, the lucky target was John. In the years he’d lived at Baker Street, he’d experienced this response from his difficult roommate on more than one occasion. It didn’t get any easier, being the object of Sherlock’s vitriol, but he knew to expect it, to brace himself for it. It was like being shouted at by the Drill Sergeants in basic, nerve wrecking, exhausting, but ultimately empty; he could take it.

He gave Sherlock an unimpressed look. “I know you have nothing but the utmost respect for my professional practice. If you didn’t you’d never bring me to crime scenes with you, or defer when I treat your injuries. Why can’t you accept that admitting to feeling something is not a threat to your manhood?” John demanded.

“Because some of us don’t have the luxury of being believed unless we live in extremes, meet all the expectations, tick all the arbitrary boxes!” he snapped, his voice raised. “You’re speaking on a subject you cannot possibly fully comprehend, and frankly it makes you sound like an arse.”

John assessed him curiously. Long moments passed while John allowed himself to process and Sherlock breathed heavily, red-faced, fists clenched. If John didn’t know better, he’d say Sherlock was on the verge of taking a swing at him. The tension went out of John’s shoulders. “Suppose I do,” he agreed, with a weak smile. “By a pure accident of biology I lucked into a body that meets societal expectations,” he agreed. “No one’s ever questioned me, not once, and it’s not fair that you didn’t have that experience,” John agreed. “But you don’t have anything to prove, at least not to me. Here at home, out there in battle, I see you, Sherlock. There is nothing you can say or do that will make me doubt that you are the man that I know you to be.” John declared with solemnity.

Sherlock stood there gaping at him, searching for the data that would allow him to conclude that John was lying. John’s words had had all the gravity of a planet, but Sherlock still hesitated to believe this declaration. So many others had claimed to see him only to betray his faith as soon as he became too comfortable - Mycroft with his fond, idealized remembrance of their youngest years, Sebastian and his casual disgust, the strangers who looked to discredit him by his body’s infinitesimal betrayals.

“That’s not what people usually say,” he murmured.

“What do they usually say?” John asked fondly, already suspecting the answer.

“Sod off,” Sherlock replied, the tension of the miserable week finally draining out of him, the hint of a smile tugging at his lips.