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Siren Land

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1.

 

It had been years since he’d spent very much time at all in London.

Really, not since he was ten and found himself evacuated to the countryside during the war. Following those years, which had been the best of his life, he had been forced by his parents to go Liverpool. Then came the army and various postings around the world that left him very far from the capital city. Until that final posting in the Congo. And so, after all of that, here he was, back in the Smoke.

Or at least the shadow of the man John Watson used to be had returned to London, sporting a sporadic tremor, a psychosomatic limp, and a massive depression, and with absolutely no idea what a damaged former army medic of thirty-two was supposed to do with the rest of his bloody life.

So far, sadly, London had provided no answers to any of those things.

Part of the problem, of course, was that the city he’d found now, in 1962, was a far different place than the one he’d left in 1940. He often felt like a man out of his time.

His life now was lived in a small rented room, with a hot plate, a radio that barely worked, and the shared loo and shower down the corridor. Other than going to the pub, he mostly just left the room to attend his physical therapy appointments or for the occasional and useless chat with the shrink.

Well, to be honest, mostly it was the pub.

And he hated himself for it. Sometimes, he could feel himself slowly turning into his father and that frightened him more than anything he had ever faced as a solider.

After one particularly horrible night of drinking, John had decided that he had to get some control over his life.

[That horrid night. He did not pass out under the table or start a brawl or end up in bed with a whore. Bad as any of those thing might have been, they all paled when compared with what had actually happened. How stupid he had been. After several hours spent in the pub, downing one pint after the other, he got an idea. One of those blindingly brilliant ideas that only appealed to a very drunk man. Grinning broadly at his own cleverness, he opened his wallet and took out a slip of folded paper that seemed fragile enough to fall apart if mishandled. Even drunk, though, he unfolded it very carefully. Not that he really needed to, because the address written there was imprinted on his brain, no matter how often he tried to exorcise it. Finishing his pint, he left the pub in a very good mood. It took asking three different people, none of whom were thrilled to be talking to an obviously drunk man, for directions before he knew where to go.

The longer he walked through the cool night air, the less fine the idea seemed, but, nevertheless, he kept putting one foot in front of the other.

The house in Mayfair was pretty much just what he had imagined it to be all those years ago. Big and fancy and no place anyone like John Watson belonged or ever could belong, even as a visitor. He huddled in a doorway across the road and stared. There were lights on and he could see figures moving about. Who were they, he wondered. Did the Holmes family even still live there? Was it possible that Sherlock himself was inside at this very moment? If John walked across the road and knocked on the door could he ask to see Sherlock?

Of course, he didn’t do that. Instead, he stayed right where he was until all the lights had gone off and the house was silent. Suddenly, he felt all too sober.

John was very used to the actual pain in his shoulder and also to the phantom pain in his leg. But he had apparently forgotten what a lonely and broken heart felt like. No, not forgotten, really, but instead he had shoved all the emotions so far inside that they could mostly be ignored. Or maybe just drowned in alcohol; not even he could pretend that the drinking had become an issue only after his return to London in such dire straits. The first time John Watson got stinking drunk was when he was seventeen and preparing to head off for the army training camp. On the infamous day before his departure, he had stupidly hopped on a train and gone to Eton. He never saw Sherlock, of course, but he did drink. A lot.

Over the years a sense of numbness had set in. But coming to this house, even to just stand on the other side of the road and stare at it, remembering the past, remembering what he had lost---no, not lost, what he had thrown away---brought all of the pain rushing back. So maybe not so deeply buried after all.

But it had still been the right thing to do, John was sure of that. Better to walk away on his own terms than to wait and have Sherlock realise that there was no place in his life for John Watson. That would have been so much worse. His way was kinder to Sherlock as well.

John was in so much pain, physical and otherwise, that he barely made it back to his room.]

After that night, John started working to make things better in his life. It didn’t help the pain in his shoulder or his leg and made only a slight difference in the depression, but he still thought it was a good thing.

Instead of spending every night in the pub, John took to just walking the streets of London. It was always a slow and sometimes awkward journey, but he recognised and appreciated that there was some solace to be found in the anonymity of the city after dark.

John was surprised at how often the wail of various sirens tore through the night. Oddly, he found the noise rather comforting, perhaps simply because it wasn’t gunfire. Instead, it was like background music to his walks. Ambulances, fire trucks, police cars as proof of life. Sometimes when an emergency vehicle flew past, he would try to follow for a bit and occasionally, he actually arrived at the scene of whatever was happening. He would hang back and watch, feeling a certain vicarious thrill.

He’d seen several small fires. The aftermath of a collision between a cab and a fishmonger’s van. Once, even, the apprehension of a petty thief outside the sweets shop he’d just robbed.

One night, long after he should already have been back in his room, John heard screaming coming from very nearby. It was the kind of primal sound he had not heard since the Congo. He hurried around the corner and saw a woman in the middle of the road, kneeling beside another figure lying on the ground. A few others were standing around doing nothing. One man leaned out of a second story window. “I called 999!” he bellowed.

John moved as quickly as he could and dropped to his knees beside the injured man, who had blood soaking his dress shirt over a sizable gut. “I’m a medic,” John snapped to the woman who was still screaming and trying to block him from touching the man. “Move.” He pushed her none too gently aside, pulled the scarf from around his neck and began trying to staunch the blood.

He didn’t know how long it actually was [although it felt like an eon] before a police car and an ambulance roared onto the road and stopped nearby. The official medics arrived with their kit and John relinquished his place. He picked up his stick from where it had fallen on the pavement and moved away, still watching.

John could feel the blood drying on his hands, the feel and the smell of it dragging him from this street in London and right back to the battlefields he knew so well. It occurred to him that instead of frightening him as it should have done, he felt exhilarated. This was one more thing he would not be telling the shrink.

A tall, silver-haired officer in an ill-fitting brown suit was over-seeing the activity now, his underlings scurrying to follow his commands. John began to believe that this was more than just the simple street crime it had first appeared to be. There was a sense of urgency in the attitude of the people he was watching and he recognised that emotion all too well.

As John had anticipated, the officer in charge soon walked over to where he was standing. “D.I. Lestrade,” he said in an authoritative voice.

“John Watson. I won’t shake your hand,” John said, lifting his own to show the blood.

“You tried to help the victim, I understand.”

“I’m an army medic,” John said. “Former medic that is.” They both paused, watching the activity as the man was loaded into the ambulance. “Doubt it will make much difference to the poor bastard.”

Lestrade did not argue with that diagnosis.

Vaguely, John was aware of a cab arriving nearby, but then he returned his attention to the detective.

“How did you happen to be on the scene?” The question seemed casual, but John knew that it wasn’t

John glanced down at his hated military-issued stick. “I walk. At night.” He gave a soft and bitter chuckle. “Beats the alternative.”

Lestrade was obviously an intelligent man, with an understanding of human nature, because he did not have to ask what that alternative might be. “Well, you tried to help, so thanks for that.”

Before John could respond, a constable approached. His thin, almost rat-like face bore a look of disdain. “Sir, the Freak is here.”

Lestrade sighed. “Of course he is.”

“Shall I tell him to shove off?” The constable was clearly looking forward to that.

But Lestrade shook his head. “No, Anderson, you get back to work I’ll---”

He was interrupted by the arrival of a whirlwind in an overly dramatic long dark coat. “Lestrade, I told you the Kensington Butcher was going to strike again tonight. The pattern, man, the pattern!”

“Look, Sherlock, I know what you said. But what was I supposed to do about it? I couldn’t stick a bloody constable on every corner.”

John felt as if someone had suddenly shoved him off the roof of a very tall building and now he was spiralling down towards the inevitable crash. Both hands clutched his walking stick as if it might save him from the disastrous impact. He was standing on a dark London street and staring at the man named Sherlock but he was seeing a ten-year-old boy sitting in the grass and watching for aeroplanes.

“You might at least have left the victim here until I got a look at him.”

Lestrade grimaced. “The bastard was still alive, Sherlock. At least when he left here. Thanks to this gentleman. Mr Watson, right?”

John didn’t say anything.

Neither did Sherlock Holmes. His initially dismissive gaze raked over John quickly and then he blinked. And kept blinking, until Lestrade noticed. “What’s the matter?”

“Hello, Sherlock,” John said softly.

And with that, instead of responding to either man, Sherlock just whirled around and practically ran away.

Lestrade only sighed. “Sorry about that. He is an odd bloke who seems to hate everyone and everything but solving puzzles. And at that, he is a genius. Anyway, I need your contact information, sir.” John took the notepad and scribbled his name and address. “So it seems like you know Sherlock Holmes,” Lestrade said with an attempt to sound casual.

“Used to. A very long time ago.” John handed the notepad back. “May I go now?”

“Yeah, yeah. We’ll be in touch.”

John only nodded and walked away.

 

He managed to make it back to his room without either smashing something along the way or just sitting on the kerb and crying like a hurt child. Because that was what he felt like doing. At least he remembered to stop in the loo and wash the blood off his hands, watching the rusty coloured water as it drained away. Once in his room, he went directly to the heavy trunk in which he kept most of his clothing and various other things for which there was no place in the small room. At the very bottom of the trunk there was an unopened bottle of whisky.

John sat on the bed and drank until he passed out.

 

2.

The knocking woke him sometime the next day.

As he blinked open his sticky eyes and tried to sit up, John somehow knew who was at the door. And it seemed as if he would not go away until John answered. So he shuffled towards the door. The clothing he’d slept in felt unpleasantly damp from being sweated into all night. “For crissake, stop the bloody pounding,” he said, throwing open the door.

Sherlock Holmes stood there, still in that coat, with a blue-grey scarf looped around his neck. John certainly didn’t remember those cheekbones from before. Instead of saying anything else, he turned around and walked back to the bed, dropping to sit there, waving Sherlock towards the lone chair. If he were interested.

Apparently, he was, because Sherlock sat, after a fashion, perching on the edge of the chair, spine military-straight, hands flat on his knees.

Despite the posture, there was a hint of the vulnerability that John remembered, even over-laid as it was now by a veneer of arrogance.

“Hello, Sherlock,” John said quietly.

“What did I do wrong?” was what Sherlock finally asked, as if the question had been lying in wait for a very long time..

John took a breath. “You did nothing wrong, Sherlock, except be you.”

The wince was faint, but there.

“Too odd, too much the freak to be the friend of John Watson? As simple as that, was it?”

John would have killed for a cup of tea, but he had none left. And why was he thinking about tea at the moment anyway? He shook his head. “No, Sherlock, no, that’s not what I meant.”

“I have spent years trying to understand why you just disappeared.”

John sighed and wished he were less hung-over. “Sherlock, you are rich. You are smart, so damned smart. The world was waiting for you. I knew that you could do anything you set your mind to. And what was I? A nobody.” He cleared his throat and looked around the small, bland room, as if the surroundings proved his point. “And here I am.”

Sherlock stared at him. “What you were, John, was my best friend. My only friend.”

The room was silent for several moments.

“You became a soldier,” Sherlock said finally.

“I did. A medic. Until the Congo.”

“I’m sorry.”

“And you? Solving crimes, I guess?”

“Consulting detective. I invented the job.”

“Of course you did.” John smiled. “And what else? Married? Or girlfriend?”

“Girlfriend? Not exactly my area. Never has been.”

They looked at one another for a long minute.

“I spent a couple of years living as a squatter with a heroin habit,” Sherlock said casually.

“No? You?” John felt grimy and his head was pounding. “Was that my fault?” The question was not defensive, but genuinely curious.

Sherlock seemed to think about his answer. “I don’t know. Possibly. Probably not.”

John stared at Sherlock, maybe trying to convince his muzzy brain that this was real and not just some hangover-fuelled dream. “I’ve missed you,” he said, not intending to say those words. But he meant them.

Sherlock looked away, apparently suddenly fascinated by the out-dated calendar hanging on the wall. “Have you really?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“The ‘of course’ is not that obvious to me.”

John closed his eyes and rubbed his temples for a moment.

Sherlock stood suddenly.

“Where are you going?” John knew that his voice sounded a bit frantic. Just a bit.

“You are clearly in no condition to have a serious conversation at the moment.”

“Are we going to have a serious conversation?”

Sherlock tilted his head a bit and studied him the way he might study a just-arrived Martian. “Do you not feel it is long over-due?”

John nodded wearily, accepting that.

Sherlock took a pen from his coat pocket and moved over to scribble something on the calendar. “Dinner tonight. This is the address.”

John wondered what this might all be leading to, but “All right” was the only thing he said.

Sherlock walked to the door and opened it, then paused, not looking around. “I have been reliably informed over the years that I have no heart,” he said. “But what no one understands is that you took it away with you when you went.” Then he left, closing the door quietly.

John fought off the urge to chase him down, drag him back into the room and…well, it was because he had no idea what would come next that he did not go after Sherlock. What he really needed, he decided, was a shower, some clean clothes, strong tea and maybe a bacon sarnie. After gathering his towel and soap, along with fresh pants and trousers that had not been slept in, he stopped by the calendar.

Angelo’s. 231 Northumberland Street. 7PM.

Then he went to shower.

 

3.

 

Angelo’s turned out to be a cosy Italian café that John rather liked immediately, even before he stepped inside. He was aware [despite what his shrink might say, he did possess some sense of self-awareness] that it was easier to focus on the red-and-white checked tablecloths and the really dreadful paintings on the walls than to acknowledge that he was here to see Sherlock Holmes.

John had dressed carefully in his best grey trousers, with a not-too-threadbare white shirt, his navy blue blazer, and a grey tie that was only slightly out of style. All in all, he felt pretty good.

And then, through the window, he saw Sherlock sitting at a table.

Sherlock was apparently studying the wine list, so John had a moment to look at him. An obviously expensive tailored black suit and a dark aubergine dress shirt that John suspected had been made especially to just about fit Sherlock. Throw in the perfectly tousled [and much too long] curls and John was suddenly aware, yet again, of his own shortcomings.

At that moment, Sherlock looked up and saw him through the window. It looked as if his first impulse might have been to smile, but he seemed to catch himself and only nodded.

John gave in to his fate and went inside.

It was absolutely no surprise that Angelo himself bustled over to their table, although John was not quite sure that he believed the whole story of how Sherlock had saved the man from a long stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Angelo brought over the bottle of Chianti that Sherlock ordered, along with a candle that he set on the table and lighted. He put down two menus and vanished.

Sherlock poured two glass of the wine. “What shall we toast, John?” he asked thoughtfully.

“To old friends?” John suggested, picking up one glass.

“Boring.” Sherlock lifted his own glass and held it out. “To new beginnings.”

There seemed to be a universe of possibilities in those words and John wondered if perhaps he should think about them a bit. But something in those verdant-grey eyes eyes made him just tap his glass against Sherlock’s. “To new beginnings.”

After a quick glance at the menu, John ordered lasagne and Sherlock, with a shrug to indicate how little cared, chose the same. Alone again, they looked at one another. “What are you thinking about?” John asked, then wished he hadn’t because Sherlock would no doubt say ‘boring’ again.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he sipped some Chianti, then set the glass down. “I was actually thinking about when I first knew how much you meant to me.”

John was about to drink more wine, but at Sherlock’s words, he set his glass down as well. “When was that, then?”

“It was only a couple of months before the war ended.” And you disappeared from my life, he did not say, but the sentiment was there anyway. “We were on the hill, but there were no aeroplanes to be seen. You were scribbling away at something and I was pretending not to watch. The sun hit your hair at just the right angle so it looked golden. The very tip of your tongue was sticking out just a bit, the way it always did when you were concentrating. And then you looked at me and smiled.” Sherlock returned to his wine, took two small swallows and then looked at John. “My fifteen-year-old self knew right then that I wanted to have you in my life always. I almost grabbed you and made you promise never to leave me.”

“But you didn’t do that,” John said.

“To repeat, John, I was only fifteen and, honestly, a very naïve fifteen.” His gaze sharpened. “Would it have mattered if I had?”

John was watching a waiter deliver a massive piece of cake to a man across the room. “I don’t know,” he replied honestly. “I was not as naïve as you. I saw the world in a different way. A harsher way.”

“So you left and then you vanished.”

“Sherlock, I was young and scared and stupid.” He shook his head. “You want the absolute truth?”

“I always do,” Sherlock said dryly.

“I thought it was just a pre-emptive strike. It seemed certain that one day soon you would look at me and see how…inadequate I was. See that I did not belong in your life or at Eton or in that Mayfair house. That would have been worse.”

“Worse for you,” Sherlock pointed out.

“I was just a boy. I was selfish.”

Sherlock nodded, not disputing that judgement.

Their meal was delivered and John ate enthusiastically while Sherlock mostly pushed his around on the plate. For the moment, they left the previous conversation behind and Sherlock related some of the cases he had worked on while John expressed amazement.

It was over the tiramisu that Sherlock said, “I don’t live in that Mayfair house, you know. My parents do. The money is theirs, not mine, except for a small trust.”

“Where do you live?”

“Actually, I just moved into a new flat on Baker Street.”

“That’s nice.” John gave a thought to his own dreary little room.

“Come see it,” Sherlock said.

“What, now?”

“Why not now?

Sherlock refused to allow John to pay for his own meal and then shuffled him out of the cafe and into a cab. “221 Baker Street,” he ordered the driver briskly.

John sat back and watched as the rainbow lights of a London night flickered over Sherlock’s face.

 

 

4.

 

It was hard to believe that Sherlock had just moved into the flat, given how much stuff there was everywhere. Books and scientific equipment and papers and a harpoon[?]. Not to mention the skull.

Which John did mention, of course, because who wouldn’t?

“A friend,” Sherlock muttered. “Well, I say ‘friend.’”

And it might have been meant as a joke, but John thought he saw something else, something deeper, and he felt vaguely guilty. I was just a kid. Which was true, of course, but apparently not exculpatory.

Sherlock gave him a whirlwind tour of the place, even including, for some reason, a small room up a short flight of stairs that was obviously being used for storage, although it also contained a bed and a wardrobe. He introduced John to the landlady, who seemed very nice, then hustled her off rather rudely with a reminder that it was time for her evening soother, wasn’t it? She didn’t seem to take offence, though, just gave Sherlock a light slap on his arm and went.

Sherlock offered tea, John accepted, and then somehow found himself actually making it, while Sherlock checked on the progress of a very important experiment. Something to do with fingerprints and involving several actual fingers.

Thankfully, they sat on the sofa to have their tea, with no fingers in sight.

Well, except for Sherlock’s, which were long and slender. But none of John’s business, he told himself.

Sherlock took a sip of the tea. “Oh, very nice,” he said.

John shrugged. “Not difficult.”

“And yet one so often gets bad tea,” Sherlock pointed out. “You should move in here and be in charge of making the tea.”

John almost choked on his own tea. “Are you serious?”

“I’m always serious, John.”

John made a few objections, the main one being that he would barely be able to pay his share of the rent and still have any money left to live on, but Sherlock airily dismissed everything he said. “You can help me with my cases,” he suggested. “The way you used to.” There was a sort of faraway look in his eyes, as if he were watching a sepia film of a long ago time.
Suddenly Sherlock jumped to his feet. “Loo,” he said before leaving the room.

John set his tea down and stood, wandering the room and looking at the mess with a certain fondness he was unable to deny. His gaze skimmed over the bookshelf, which held mostly criminology or scientific volumes. But also, tucked carefully between A History of Forensic Science and a thick chemistry text in French was something unexpected, but which he recognised immediately. It was a school essay book and he knew before he pulled it out what would be printed on the cover.

THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES AND JOHN WATSON

He felt the lump in his throat and the sudden dampness in his eyes. Behind him, he heard Sherlock re-enter the room. “You kept it,” he said in a soft voice.

“Of course I did,” Sherlock replied. “It is the only love letter I ever received.”

John moved in, of course.

 

5.

 

The sound of an ambulance racing up pre-dawn Baker Street woke John abruptly.

He felt disoriented for a moment, which was a bit annoying. After six weeks of living in 221B, he should certainly be accustomed to his new bedroom by now. He blinked upwards for a moment, sluggishly realising that he was not looking at the usual ragged map of Italy he had discerned in the cracks on the ceiling above his bed.

Something big must have happened somewhere nearby, because now a police car was following the trail of the ambulance.

And it was then that John realised that the ceiling he was staring at was the one in Sherlock’s bedroom. Because he had slept in Sherlock’s bed. He thought about closing his eyes and then opening them again to see if this was actually reality.

“It’s not a dream,” Sherlock said, his voice morning husky and very nearby.

John turned his head and found himself looking into Sherlock’s face. “All right,” he said slowly.

It crashed into him then.

A case, a chase through the Docklands [without the hated cane, which had been unnecessary after his first week in 221B], and John somehow ending up in the water. Well, both of them ending up in the water, actually. Because Sherlock immediately jumped in after him, grabbing him and holding on tightly until Lestrade’s officers managed to pull them both to safety. They got a ride home from Lestrade and squished damply up to the flat.

There had been tea provided by a tutting Mrs Hudson and spiked with whisky by John. Wet clothes were pulled off and pyjamas and dressing gowns pulled on. Without much conversation, they sat on the sofa and drank two more cups of spiked hot tea. Nobody was drunk, but everybody was feeling relaxed and contented.

To the surprise of everybody in the room [Sherlock Holmes and John Watson] it was John who started the kissing. He realised that Sherlock was leaning against him, talking [of course] about how brilliantly he had solved the case and then John was kissing him.

And now he was waking up in Sherlock’s bed.

“Well,” he said, thinking that it pretty much summed things up.

“Are you moving out?” Sherlock asked.

“Do you want me to?”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Sherlock said sharply. “But what do you want?”

John belatedly realised that both of them were naked and rather sticky in a way that spoke decidedly of their late night activities, which were actually coming back to him in rather explicit detail now. “Well, a shower for sure. Some tea free of alcohol definitely. Probably a bacon sarnie at some point.” He took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and then scooted closer to Sherlock. “And positively a morning kiss, bad breath and all.”

Sherlock looked a bit offended, as if something as banal as bad breath would never happen to him.

The kiss was slower and sweeter than John had anticipated. When it ended, they slipped into what was almost a cuddle. Sherlock sighed. “I do not know if you are cut out for a life of subterfuge, John,” he said.

John thought for a moment. “I can do what is necessary.”

It was not what he wanted, of course. Given a choice, he would climb to the roof of 221 Baker Street and shout to the world that Sherlock Holmes was his lover. But that could not happen. He suspected that even Sherlock’s all-powerful brother would not be able to shield them from the law if it were known they were engaging in unnatural acts. John almost wanted to laugh at the absurdity of that thought. To him, nothing had ever felt more natural than lying here in Sherlock’s arms and feeling Sherlock’s hands moving over his flesh. Than feeling his cock responding to those hands.

It was only right and proper and so bloody natural to have Sherlock’s body responding in the same way and for them to move together in a ritual as old as life itself. Sherlock was murmuring words that John could only half hear and did not understand at all. But it didn’t matter.

They climaxed together and got even stickier and sweatier.

“Our secret,” John whispered after a moment.

Sherlock just nodded and held him more tightly.

 

6

 

Sherlock Holmes was sitting at the top of a small grassy rise, observing and scribbling in a leather-bound journal. It was a lovely summer day, warm and sunny, with just a light breeze wafting across his Sussex perch.

He glanced away from the journal to see John climbing up to join him, a basket in one hand and his walking stick in the other. After so many years without the ‘bloody thing’ as John always referred to it, time and tide had made it necessary again.

John reached the plateau and lowered himself to the ground carefully. “How goes the research?” he asked, opening the flask and pouring two cups of tea, adding sugar to Sherlock’s and cream from a little container to both.

“It’s fascinating,” Sherlock answered enthusiastically. “The new hive seems to be settling in nicely. And those roses you planted are a decided success.”

“Glad to be useful.”

“You always are, John,” Sherlock said, frowning and looking at him over the top of his spectacles.

John only smiled and reached into the basket again, this time pulling out two chocolate cupcakes. “A special treat in honour of the day.”

“Tuesday?” Sherlock said, eagerly taking the cupcake and touching his tongue to the lemon icing.

“It’s Thursday, you git, and that’s not what I meant anyway.”

Sherlock took a bite of the cupcake and then smiled. “Do you really think I would forget the day we became lovers thirty years ago?” he said.

John debated answering or licking the glob of yellow icing from Sherlock’s upper lip. Always a practical man, he chose the licking. Under his tongue, Sherlock’s lips formed a smile.

They settled down to finish the tea and cupcakes

John sighed in satisfaction as he surveyed the scene below, watching the bees flit from flower to flower busily. “Life is good,” he said.

Sherlock clearly wanted to say something snarky about the triteness of the phrase, but he had learned over the decades. “Of course it is,” he said instead. “The two of us would have it no other way.”

John chuckled. “Even the universe must bend to the will of Holmes and Watson, is that it?”

“Always.”

John cleaned up from their tea and then stretched out in the grass. He held one arm up in obvious invitation, until Sherlock shoved his journal out of the way and curled up next to him.

They were quiet for a time, listening to the busy hum of the bees.

“Oh, by the way,” John murmured, “there is a bit of a mystery in the village.”

“What’s that?”

“Lucy in the bakery told me someone has stolen the RSPCA donation box from the counter.”

“What is the world coming to?” Sherlock replied.

“I think she was hoping that the great detective Sherlock Holmes would take on the case.”

“The great detective Sherlock Holmes is retired. Mostly.”

John nuzzled Sherlock’s ear, blowing lightly on silver-tipped curls. “So you will look into the case?”

“Of course I will. After my nap.” Sherlock snuggled closer and closed his eyes.

John smiled faintly and soon the combined lullaby of Sherlock’s breathing and the sound of the bees at work eased him to sleep as well.