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Humdingers And Melancholies

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The day the hives were delivered, Sherlock spent nearly eight hours at the end of the garden with them, faffing about with one thing or another. John eventually had to go down there himself to get Sherlock to come in for dinner.

“They'll still be there tomorrow,” he pointed out.

“I'm aware of that,” said Sherlock. He hadn't spared enough attention from the bees to even glance at John yet. John wondered if it was possible to feel jealous of a swarm of insects.

“Come on, or dinner will get cold,” he said when Sherlock still showed no signs of moving.

Sherlock let out a long sigh. “As if food matters,” he mumbled, but he started to take off his protective gear anyway, so John counted that as a win.

As they headed back to the cottage, a bee circled over their heads. John glanced at it and had a sudden memory of a seven-year-old Harry cracking up with laughter.

“Hey, Sherlock,” he said.

“Hmmm?” responded Sherlock, his mind clearly still fixated on queens and drones.

“What goes zzub zzub?”

Sherlock's frown deepened. “I don't-”

“A bee flying backwards,” interrupted John with great relish.

Sherlock flinched and then turned to stare at him with a look of extreme horror. “John, why would you- No. Bees make precisely the same noise flying backwards as they do forwards. Don't be ridiculous.”

John just grinned at him, pleased to have Sherlock's attention back.

****

The next morning, John was alone in bed when he woke up. Sherlock was already at the hives, and looked like he'd been there a while.

“I wanted to see the effect that dawn had on their activity levels,” he said.

“Well, you've done that,” said John. “Come in for breakfast now.”

“Not hungry,” said Sherlock. “I'll just have tea – you can bring it out here.”

“Can I,” said John flatly.

The tone of his voice finally made Sherlock look up from whatever he was doing. “Don't be difficult, John,” he said. “There's hardly any point in me taking all this gear off just for a cup of tea.”

“No, I suppose not,” said John, and he turned and stalked back into the cottage. He made tea and toast for one and sat down to eat it alone. If Sherlock wanted tea, he could bloody make it himself.

They'd been retired for about four months now, and John had rather got used to Sherlock being there at every breakfast, and not just the ones that didn't coincide with a case or experiment. He supposed he should have realised that it wouldn't last forever, but he couldn't help being put out that he'd been abandoned for a swarm of insects.

He stayed in the cottage, trying to pretend that he wasn't waiting for Sherlock to come inside. He hoovered all the carpets and cleaned the kitchen, all while watching Sherlock through the windows. Sherlock didn't once glance at the cottage. He was far too fixated on the bees.

He's always like this with a new obsession, thought John. He'll lose interest sooner or later.

After he'd done as much cleaning as he could stand, he had no idea what to do. He sat down with a book, but it seemed strange to be reading in the middle of the day. Besides, he'd spent far too much time reading over the last few weeks, and he was getting a bit bored of it.

He made lunch, and then finally gave in and went back outside to where Sherlock was.

“Lunch,” he said.

Sherlock waved that away. “Not now, John, I've just worked out the-”

“You need to eat,” interrupted John. “It's not as if you don't have plenty of time for the bees.”

Sherlock let out a long sigh, but deigned to come into the kitchen for long enough to gulp down a sandwich. He was gone again before John could ask him if he wanted to do something in the afternoon.

Right, well, John wasn't dependent on him for entertainment. He'd walk down to the village and get something nice for dinner, and maybe a more interesting book.

He went to Sherlock to let him know he was going out and got a distracted hum in response.

“Do you want to come?” asked John, and then wondered what happened to 'I don't need Sherlock for entertainment'.

“No, no,” said Sherlock. “There's nothing I need.”

Sherlock's eyes shifted over to John and for a moment John thought he was looking at him, but then he realised Sherlock's focus was actually on the path of a bee that was heading towards the lilac bush at the corner of the house. He suppressed a sigh. It felt like the only time he'd successfully managed to get Sherlock's attention had been with that bad joke yesterday.

“Hey, Sherlock, why do bees hum?” he asked.

“Because their rapid wing beats create-” started Sherlock.

“Because they can't whistle,” interrupted John.

Sherlock stopped dead and stared at him. John gave him a pleased smile.

“That's disturbing on multiple levels,” said Sherlock eventually. John felt his smile grow.

****

The village was actually rather boring without Sherlock to tell him all the sordid details about their new neighbours. John bought some lamb chops and a spy novel that claimed it would keep him on the edge of his seat, and then wandered slowly home, nodding at the woman at Heather Cottage, who was out digging in the garden, and the bloke a couple of doors further up, who'd taken advantage of the nice weather to paint his garden fence.

John hadn't made any friends in the local area. He knew some of their neighbours well enough to exchange pleasantries with, but nothing beyond that. He hadn't really thought he'd need friends now, because he thought Sherlock would be constantly available. That was what retiring together meant, didn't it? And until the hives had arrived, he had been. They'd explored the local area on long walks together, gone to buy the final bits the cottage needed together, even gone to tea at the café in the village together.

It's just temporary, while they're new, John told himself. Things would go back to how they had been before.

****

Things didn't go back to how they had been. Sherlock remained fascinated by the bees, spending as many hours as he could with them. In the evenings, when he finally came in, he sat and read books about them, or wrote pages and pages of notes and observations.

“I'm thinking of writing a book,” he said when John asked what all the data collection was in aid of.

“Right,” said John, uncertainly. “Aren't there already hundreds of books about bees? What new things do you have to add?”

That was a mistake. An hour later, Sherlock was still talking.

When he talked this long about crime, or a science thing, I was fascinated, thought John. After an hour about bees, he was beginning to run out of 'interested' facial expressions.

“Okay, okay,” he interrupted eventually. “I get it – there's lots still to learn. No need to keep droning on.”

Sherlock stopped talking and a look of hurt crossed his face for a split-second that made John feel terrible, then Sherlock's expression hardened into a sneer. “I hope you realise that these atrocious puns are a symptom of an extremely poor sense-of-humour, and make you look like a fool.”

John stopped feeling bad. “Well, you know what's worse than being with a fool, don't you? Fooling with a bee.”

Sherlock let out a groan and got up for his violin. “No more,” he said firmly.

John couldn't stop himself. “You should play the bees' favourite composer,” he said. “Bee-thoven.”

The noise Sherlock made on the violin was shrill enough to shatter eardrums.

****

Several weeks passed. The weather was bright, if a bit chilly, so John started spending more time in the garden, mostly just watching Sherlock. He always looked so busy and engaged in what he was doing and John couldn't help comparing that with his own tendency to drift through his days, wondering what he should do next.

He found himself staying in bed later and later every morning. It wasn't as if there was anything to get up for. No patients to treat, no criminals catch, even Sherlock didn't need his help, unless it was as a live-in housekeeper.

The day he stayed in bed until lunchtime, Sherlock came upstairs to look at him.

“Are you sick?”

“No,” said John. “Don't mind me. I'm just enjoying being retired and not having anywhere to be right now.”

He pulled the duvet up over his head to hide from the frown Sherlock was giving him.

“Come and see the bees,” said Sherlock after a minute or two had passed and John hadn't moved.

“Seen them,” said John. “Very interesting.”

Sherlock was silent for a bit before turning and going back downstairs.

Good, John told himself. Means I can laze for a bit longer.

Lazing was getting pretty boring, though. Maybe it was time to get up and- what? Sit in the garden and watch Sherlock being busy and engaged? Watch daytime telly? Do more sodding housework?

Sherlock was back twenty minutes later. “I have made lunch,” he announced.

John rolled over to stare at him. “I can't remember you ever doing that before.”

Sherlock sighed. “Sandwiches are hardly difficult. Get up, get dressed, and come downstairs.”

John thought about the kind of sandwiches that Sherlock might have come up with, and did so.

The sandwiches were disappointingly normal, but Sherlock stayed with him while he ate, and actually spoke to him rather than staring into the middle distance with his mind clearly on the bees.

When they'd finished and Sherlock was still sitting indoors while they drank tea together, John decided to push his luck.

“Want to go for a walk this afternoon? We could head out over Mapleton Hill, that was a nice walk.”

Sherlock shook his head. “I have several important observations to make this afternoon,” he said.

John told himself that there was no use being disappointed because he'd known that was going to be the answer. “Those hives really do keep you bee-sy, don't they?” he said instead, just for the malicious pleasure of Sherlock's flinch.

Sherlock set down his mug. “John, I am aware that I have, perhaps, neglected you recently in favour of the bees. However, owning hives has been a lifelong dream of mine, and finally getting to study bees in this much detail is one of the things I have been most looking forward to from retirement.”

John suddenly felt like a horrible person. “I know,” he said. “I'm glad you're happy.”

I just wish I was too, he thought as Sherlock gave him a nod and left to go back to the hives.

****

He went on the walk on his own, but it seemed rather pointless without someone beside him to enjoy the beauty of nature with and chat quietly too. He returned to the cottage feeling as bleak as he had that morning, when getting out of bed seemed like too much effort.

What am I going to do tomorrow? he thought. There still wasn't going to be anything worth getting up for, and there wouldn’t be for the foreseeable future.

Sherlock came in rather earlier than was his usual habit.

“Don't bother cooking,” he said. “We're going out.”

“Are we?” asked John.

Sherlock nodded. “We have yet to find a replacement for Angelo's,” he said. “I have investigated, and there is an Italian in the next town that might be suitable.”

“A replacement for Angelo's?” asked John.

Sherlock let out a long sigh, as if John was being irredeemably stupid. “As our favourite restaurant. It makes no sense to have a favourite that's in London when we're living down here.”

“Oh right,” said John. He looked down at his walking outfit. “I'll get changed.”

“It would be best,” said Sherlock.

He got changed as well, putting on one of his suits rather than the old clothes he wore beneath his beekeeping gear. John looked at him and remember the young man he had first met, so certain that the world was nothing but boredom punctuated with murders, and wondered how he had become someone who could spend hours fixated on the movements of insects.

He glanced at himself in the mirror, and wondered when the purpose-filled doctor he had been became this old man who pottered through life without any direction.

The restaurant was good – it couldn't match Angelo's, of course, but that was mainly for sentimental reasons rather than quality ones. Sherlock spent the evening actually focused on John, without any mention of bees, and John found himself remembering how to have a good time without wondering what the point of all the empty time stretching ahead of him was.

Sherlock took John's hand as they walked back to the car. John glanced at him with surprise. Sherlock had never been physically demonstrative, and especially not in public. Sherlock didn’t meet his eyes. John squeezed his hand but didn't comment, too content to just enjoy the moment.

They were home and getting ready for bed before Sherlock gave any explanation for the evening.

“I am sorry, John,” he said as he unbuttoned his shirt, keeping his eyes down as John glanced over. “In my eagerness to explore apiology, I forgot the other thing I was looking forward to from retirement. Sharing it with you.”

He slipped into bed before John could respond, turning so that his back was towards John.

If there was one thing that John had learnt over the years of being with Sherlock, it was that responding to such announcements only made Sherlock prickly and awkward. Instead, he crawled into bed behind Sherlock and put his arms around him, pressing a kiss to the base of his neck.

Sherlock relaxed back into his grip after a few minutes, when it became clear that John wasn't going to inflect any unnecessary emotional statements on him.

****

The next morning, Sherlock woke John up obscenely early.

“Get up,” he demanded.

John groaned and turned over to hide his face in the pillow. “Too early.”

“Nonsense,” said Sherlock. He grabbed the duvet and pulled it away from John with a sharp tug, leaving him exposed to the cold air.

John let out a pained noise and tried to burrow into the mattress. “What's worth getting up for?” he grumbled.

“Swimming,” announced Sherlock.

That made John pause. He turned over enough to be able to see Sherlock's face. “What?”

“We're going swimming,” said Sherlock. “The sun's coming up and the air is warm, and we live right next to a beach that contains innumerable rockpools that are perfect for swimming. It seems ridiculous that it's taken us this long to use them.”

John stared at him. He'd never even pictured Sherlock swimming, let alone seen it for real. That was worth getting out of bed just to see.

Sherlock owned swimming trunks. John wasn't sure he could have ever foreseen that knowledge. He was also a graceful swimmer, but John would have guessed at that. Sherlock didn't do things if he wasn't good at them.

John hadn't been swimming in years, possibly decades, but after ten minutes of splashing about trying not to swallow any sea water, it started to come back to him. He managed several laps of the rockpool they were in, then pulled himself up onto the rocks next to Sherlock to dry out in the morning sun.

“This was a good idea,” he said.

“My ideas generally are,” said Sherlock. He was leaning back on his hands with his eyes shut, enjoying the sun.

“Generally,” repeated John, thinking of one or two that hadn't been but tactfully not mentioning them.

“We'll do this every morning,” said Sherlock with an air of command.

“Will we?” asked John.

Sherlock opened his eyes. “Yes,” he said. “Daily exercise, John. Apparently it's beneficial to those who are growing older.”

“It's beneficial to everyone,” said John. “But yeah, you're not wrong.”

“It's particularly beneficial for you,” added Sherlock, shutting his eyes again. “You are more likely to become morose if you haven't engaged in physical activity in the outdoors for a few days. I can show you the spreadsheet, if you like.”

“Ah, no, that's fine,” said John. It had taken him rather a long time to get used to the way Sherlock conducted studies on his behaviour, keeping pages of notes on the effects of his diet, his sleeping habits, and a whole range of other things. It had taken him even longer to realise it was Sherlock's way of saying 'I love you'. “I'll make sure to get more exercise, then.”

Sherlock nodded approvingly. “The walks you were undertaking were working well, but you seem to have stopped those,” he said.

“Yeah, well, it feels a bit pointless when you're on your own,” said John, and then wondered if that sounded too whiny. It wasn't as if he wanted Sherlock going on walks with him if he didn't enjoy them.

“Ah,” said Sherlock. “I thought you'd got bored of staring at the same landscape every time, like I did. I thought that seemed a little out-of-character for someone who is content to read an endless series of nearly identical books.”

John scowled. “They're not-”

“There's a spy,” interrupted Sherlock. “He's hunting for a double agent. At least one of the women he meets will prove to be evil. At the end, there's a dramatic showdown that reveals that someone he trusted is also evil.”

That described the last book John had read. And the one before it. Damn it. He glared at Sherlock. “There's a lot to be said for the changing details.”

“Oh, I'm sure,” said Sherlock in the way that meant 'you're wrong.'

Before John could argue further, Sherlock's eyes lit on a man who was walking along the beach, passed their rock pool. “Good morning!” he called with a wave.

They had been passed by a handful of early morning walkers, many of whom were accompanied by dogs, but Sherlock had completely ignored them. John stared at this man in an effort to work out why he had attracted Sherlock's attention, but he looked just like any other retired man of around their age, wearing an old rugby shirt and carrying a bag from one of the shops in the village.

“Hello!” called back the man, stopping. “You're the new owners of Clifftop Cottage, aren't you?”

“Yes,” said Sherlock. “I'm Sherlock Holmes, and this is John Watson. And you're Harry Stackhurst.”

The man laughed. “I'd ask you how you knew that, but your name gives it away.”

Sherlock shrugged. “It's obvious you're on your way home from a quick trip to the shop in the village – realised you didn't have enough milk for breakfast, did you? - and there aren't that many houses at this end of the beach that you could be heading to. And only one of them is occupied by a retired rugby player.”

“You played rugby?” asked John, trying to remember if he'd seen the name Harry Stackhurst at any of the games he'd managed to catch over the years, in between university and the Army and catching criminals.

“A long time ago,” said Harry. “For Richmond, mainly.”

“John was on his university team,” said Sherlock.

“I didn't know you knew that,” said John, turning to him.

Sherlock let out a long sigh. “John, I know everything about you. You must have realised that by now.”

“What position?” asked Harry.

“Hooker,” said John. “But that was so long ago it feels like another life. I just watch it nowadays.”

“Looking forward to the Nine Nations?” asked Harry, moving closer to them. “What do you think our chances are?”

John made a face. He may have lost track of the details of English rugby, but the last few years of international play had made it clear that optimism was a waste of time. “I wish I could be confident, but...”

“I don't know, there's a couple of lads on the team right now who are just starting to hit their peak,” said Harry. “If they can pull together, we might be in for a proper chance. Do you have plans for Saturday yet? I'm meeting a couple of other blokes in the Crown to watch it, if you want to join us?”

Christ, was the Nine Nations starting already? John tried to work out what the date was, and realised he had no idea. He'd just been letting time flow by without bothering to glance at a calendar.

“That sounds great, actually,” he said. He glanced at Sherlock, who was looking quietly smug. “Sherlock's got no appreciation for sport.”

“Moronic waste of time,” said Sherlock.

“Right,” said Harry, clearly taken aback by the change from Sherlock's earlier friendly attitude. “Well, I won't bother asking you if you want to come as well, then.”

Sherlock shook his head. “John is much better suited to that kind of social gathering,” he said. “Besides, I have plans.”

“With the bees?” guessed John.

Sherlock gave him a smile. “Precisely. In fact, I should be getting to them now. Come on, John.” He stood up, draping his towel around his shoulders and picking up his clothes without bothering to put them back on, although he did push his feet into his shoes.

“I'll see you on Saturday, then,” said John to Harry.

Harry nodded. “Game starts at four, but we'll probably be there from three.”

John smiled and said goodbye, and then followed Sherlock back up to their cottage feeling rather pleased at the prospect of an afternoon in the pub with a pint and the rugby.

Sherlock caught his eye as they reached the top of the cliff path and the smug look was back on his face. A suspicion crossed John's mind and then hardened into a certainty.

“You planned that,” he said.

“Yes,” agreed Sherlock. “He often walks along the beach in the mornings – we'd have seen him one morning or another. It was even easier than I'd anticipated to turn the conversation to rugby and secure you an invitation.”

John stared at him. “Sherlock, are you setting us up to be mates?”

“Yes,” said Sherlock again. “Of course. You need ‘mates’, John. You enjoy evenings out at the pub, and talking about sports, and so many other things that I never will. He'll be able to provide you with them.”

John didn't know what to say to that. The idea that Sherlock had decided he needed a friend, found someone in the neighbourhood who fitted the bill, and then manipulated events so that they'd end up arranging to meet up was enough to keep him quiet until they were nearly back at the cottage, quietly boggling at how lucky he was to be with this amazing man.

A thought occurred to him as they walked up their garden path. “Just how much do you know about all of our neighbours right now?”

“A truly ridiculous amount,” said Sherlock. “Do me a favour, John, and become friends with Stackhurst so that I can delete it all.”

John laughed. “I'll do my best,” he promised, moving to put the kettle on. On his way past Sherlock, he gave his shoulder a squeeze. “Thanks.”

Sherlock just gave a little shrug as if it was nothing, then slipped away to his hives.

****

John thoroughly enjoyed watching the rugby with Harry and his mates, and they made arrangements to meet up again for the next game. He got home a little bit drunk and very happy to find Sherlock playing the violin in their sitting room.

He was struck with a sudden surge of affection and went over to put both his arms around Sherlock and giving him a squeeze.

Sherlock endured it for a minute, then said, “John, you are preventing me from playing.”

John let go and went to slump in his chair and listen instead. Sherlock played a couple of his favourites, and then let his bow rest.

“It's very hard to concentrate when you're beaming at me like that,” he said. “Did you really have to drink so much?”

“Yes,” said John. “I drank just the right amount. Just the perfect amount.”

“You're slurring your words,” Sherlock observed.

John just shrugged. That didn't seem very important right now, although it did spark a thought. “Hey, Sherlock, what do you call a bee who can't speak clearly?”

Exasperation immediately took over Sherlock's face. “Bees can't speak, John, I don't-”

“A mumble bee,” interrupted John, and started to giggle.

Sherlock's face went blank, and then he turned away to put his violin away. John kept giggling.

“Come to bed,” he said once he'd stopped. He held out a hand to Sherlock. “Come to bed and have a cuddle.”

Sherlock paused for a moment. “You'll have to shower the smell of pub off first,” he said.

That seemed a fair compromise. John stood up. “Give me ten minutes,” he said, and stumbled off in the direction of the bathroom.

****

Now that John was swimming every morning with Sherlock and seeing Stackhurst every few days his life felt much fuller than it had before, but he was still spending the majority of each day on his own, trying to fill his time. Even now that Sherlock was making more of an effort to come inside for lunch, and sometimes even afternoon tea, it was a lot of hours to fill.

He wondered if he should take up gardening. That seemed a retired-person thing to do. He spent an afternoon or two weeding the borders and trying to care about what flowers he should plant in them.

On the day he'd decided he'd go to the garden centre, he stared at the garden and thought about the sheer amount of effort it would be to plant and weed and cultivate some plants, only to have something growing in a space that would actually grow things all on its own, if you just left it alone. Not the same things, but John really didn't care about the difference between weeds and flowers.

He wandered down to the end of the garden where Sherlock was bent over a hive, frowning at whatever he could see inside. Bees were buzzing around his veil, and the sun was shining down brightly enough to make the white of his protective clothing shine. It made a nice picture and John thought for a moment about going to find the camera, but it seemed like a lot of effort. Instead, he just took an extra moment or two to memorise it, and then spoke.

“Swarm today, isn't it?”

Sherlock froze, then looked over his shoulder at John with a glare.

“I hope you realise that you're not funny.”

John grinned. “I make myself laugh. That's good enough. Hey, who's the bees favourite pop group? The Bee Gees.”

Sherlock shuddered and turned back to the hive. “You're going to put the bees off their pollen, and that will affect the quality of their honey,” he said. “Go away.”

John went. He went to the garden centre, spent a while wandering around trying to care about the things there and then came home without buying anything.

****

Two days later, after they'd come back from swimming, John put on the kettle and waited for Sherlock to wander off out to the hives.

“Drink your tea quickly,” said Sherlock. “We'll be leaving in twenty minutes.”

John looked at him. “Leaving for where?”

Sherlock gave him a mysterious look and left the kitchen without replying.

By the time they left the house, John was itching with anticipation but trying not to show it. From the smirk Sherlock gave him as he started the car, John thought he wasn't really doing a very good job of it.

“How far are we driving?” he asked.

“Not far,” said Sherlock, unhelpfully.

John let out a sigh and glanced at the window. An aeroplane was flying by, far overhead.

“Hey, Sherlock, what's black and yellow and thirty thousand feet up?”

The smirk was wiped off Sherlock's face and he refused to answer. John provided the answer anyway.

“A bee in an aeroplane. What do bees chew?”

Sherlock made a pained noise and put his foot down on the accelerator so that they sped up.

“Bumble gum,” said John. “What bee is good for your health?”

Sherlock's shoulders hunched and he took on a hunted expression.

“Vitamin bee. Why do bees have sticky hair?”

Sherlock was gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles had gone white.

“Because of the honeycombs. What kind of bee drops things-”

Sherlock snapped. “Stop! Just stop!”

John stopped, but he made sure Sherlock could see his smirk reflected in the window.

Sherlock let out a long, steadying breath, relaxing himself as he did so. “John, are you aware why I got the bees?”

“Apparently it's not because you appreciate jokes about them,” said John.

“I don't appreciate your jokes about them, no. I've wanted to study apiology in detail for a great many years, but there was no opportunity while living in central London and dedicating so much of my time to detective work. Now I'm retired, though, it's the perfect chance for me to delve as deeply into the field as I want to. That's what retirement is. It's an opportunity to do all those things that you've not had the time or circumstances to enjoy.” He glanced at John and then back at the road. “You've been treating it as an extended holiday. That's why you're getting bored now. You're not the kind of man who can be happy living without purpose.”

That was so right that John was struck dumb for a minute. “So, what,” he said eventually. “You're going to find me some purpose?”

Sherlock turned down a long, rough driveway. “Don't be silly,” he said. “You're the only person who can provide your own purpose. I'm just trying to give you some of the things that you've finally got the chance for. Getting to see all of your rugby matches, rather than just the ones that a case doesn't clash with. Regular exercise in a beautiful location. And this.”

He turned the car into a farmyard and stopped it with a jerk. John looked around. “I actually only wanted to be a farmer for about two months when I was six,” he said. “It's not a lifelong ambition.”

Sherlock stared at him. “You wanted to be a farmer?!” he asked incredulously.

John shrugged. “I liked animals. Besides, I don't think you're one to talk, Dread Pirate Holmes.”

“At least pirates are exciting,” said Sherlock. He shook his head with disappointment and got out of the car.

A man had emerged from one of the barns, probably alerted by the sound of the car. John followed Sherlock as he walked over to him and shook his hand. “Mr. Cartwright? I'm Sherlock Holmes. We spoke on the phone.”

“Yep,” said the man with a nod. “This way.”

He turned away towards the farmhouse without further elaboration. Sherlock and John followed, John thinking that he thought he'd done with following Sherlock around without a clue what was going on.

They went inside the farmhouse into the kitchen, where a border collie was sprawled on a blanket by the Aga, surrounded by puppies.

“Oh!” said John. He couldn't stop himself from moving to drop to his knees at the edge of the blanket, even if bending like that was a bit of a strain these days. “Oh, they're lovely.”

“Yep,” said Mr. Cartwright.

One of the puppies wobbled towards John, then stopped about a foot away and fell into a sitting position. He stared at John for a long moment, and then tipped his head to one side, as if a different angle would give him different information. John felt his heart melt.

“Pick one,” said Sherlock.

John's head whipped round. “What?” he asked.

Sherlock let out a long sigh. “You've wanted a dog since you were a child,” he said. “Your parents wouldn't allow it, and then you were in the Army, and then you were with me, and there was no opportunity. There is now. Pick one.”

John stared at him, then back at the puppies. One of them had snuck up on the first one, leaping for his twitching tail and bowling him over in a ball of fur and playful growling.

“Oh,” he said. He realised what Sherlock had been trying to say in the car. He could finally get a dog, and he wouldn't have to leave it behind when they ran off to chase criminals, or worry about it being trapped in a small flat all day, or any of that.

The two puppies had separated now, and were nudging each other with their noses as if to see if the other was hurt by the playfight. John reached out a careful hand to tentatively touch one of their heads. The puppy immediately turned to him, headbutting his hand. John carefully stroked down its tiny body.

“Pick one?” he echoed. “I don't-”

Sherlock let out a sigh. “I apologise,” he said to Mr. Cartwright. “This may take a while.”

“Yep,” agreed Mr. Cartwright. He sounded amused.

It took John about twenty minutes of playing with the puppies to make a decision, and then another ten minutes to bring himself to leave the other puppies behind. Mr Cartwright made them tea that John was too distracted to drink, and answered a barrage of questions from Sherlock about the health and breeding of the puppies with single syllable answers.

In the end, John came back to the first one who had come over to him. “This one,” he said, holding him in his lap and ruffling his stomach, making the puppy spasm with glee.

“He's a good 'un,” agreed Mr. Cartwright, in what was the longest sentence he'd managed so far.

“Excellent,” said Sherlock, reaching into his pocket for his wallet and handing over a stack of notes. “Let's get going then.”

John blinked. “Just like that?”

“Just like that,” said Sherlock. “Come on.”

He left the kitchen and John stood up, holding the puppy in his arms. “Thank you so much,” he said to Mr. Cartwright.

Mr. Cartwright just nodded in response.

John followed Sherlock back out to the car, completely focused on the puppy in his arms. He squirmed around so that he could sniff at John’s jumper and John wondered if he could smell toast crumbs on it, which led him down a train of thought that made him realise he had nothing to feed a puppy, let alone any of the other things you’d need for one.

“We’ll need to stop at a shop on the way home,” he said to Sherlock.

“No, we won’t,” said Sherlock, opening the boot.

John stared at the contents. There was just about everything you might ever need for a dog, from two shopping bags of a variety of food to a bed, and even to a collar that John was pretty sure was going to be far too big for him for a good while yet.

“Oh,” he said. “You planned this.”

Sherlock let out a long sigh. “Yes, John,” he said. “We didn’t just come here at random.”

He pulled out a cage that was designed to be belted into a car seat. “Come on, let’s get him home so that I can get back to the bees.”

“What do you get if you cross a bee with a door bell?” said John absently as he gently tried to persuade the puppy that he wanted to be put inside the cage and not clean John’s face thoroughly with his tongue. “A hum dinger.”

Sherlock made a pained noise. “John,” he said as John shut the cage door behind the puppy and then had to endure his look of utter heartbreak from behind the bars. “I would like to make it clear that I am only agreeing to you having this dog in exchange for an end to all these dreadful bee-related jokes.”

John just grinned at him. “Too late,” he said. “If you wanted to set conditions, it should have been before we had a puppy in the car. Besides, you’re not my parents – if I want a dog, I don’t need your permission.”

Sherlock made an anguished face. “I don’t think you understand the pain that such bad humour causes me.”

John relented. “Oh, fine,” he said. “I can’t promise no more at all, but I will lay off unless I think of a really good one.”

Sherlock gave him a long look, and then gave a jerk of a nod. “Acceptable,” he said.

He went round to get in the driver’s seat and John looked down at the puppy, staring up at him from the cage.

“Uh, I’m going to travel in the back with him,” he said.

Sherlock sighed. “He’s going to be spoilt,” he predicted.

John ignored him.

The puppy started with surprise as the engine started, and then whimpered as Sherlock put it into gear and started back down the farm’s driveway.

“Hey,” John said to him. “Hey, it’s okay. Not long, and then we’ll be home, and you can run about in the garden and upset Sherlock’s bees.”

“It’s more likely to be the other way round,” said Sherlock.

John reached his fingers through the bars of the cage to fondle the puppy’s ear. “Nonsense, you’re going to be able to cope with a few insects, aren’t you? Show them some mammalian superiority?”

“There is a strong argument that insects are vastly superior to mammals. Population size alone-” started Sherlock, pulling onto the main road and speeding up. The puppy scrabbled to keep his balance and John found himself making shushing noises.

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s all okay, puppy.”

Sherlock stopped his monologue on the superiority of insects and gave a sigh. “It’ll need a proper name, you know.”

John thought for a moment. “Melon,” he announced.

“What?” said Sherlock.

“Because then he’ll be a melon collie,” said John.

Sherlock pulled the car over, turned the engine off, and turned around with a glare. “John, if you subject me to that kind of horrific-” John couldn’t keep the grin off his face. Sherlock stopped himself. “You were kidding,” he observed.

“Yep,” said John. “No dog should have to deal with that kind of name.” He looked back at the puppy. “Maybe Boneparte. Or Barkimedes.”

“Dog-related puns are just as forbidden as bee ones,” said Sherlock, trying to sound firm but John could hear the desperation in his voice.

“I know,” said John. “Sorry, couldn’t resist, but I’m done now.”

Sherlock gave him a long, considering look, then turned back to start the engine again.

John looked at the puppy. “Jokes aside, I really have no idea what to call him,” he said. “Baker? After Baker Street? We had some good times there.”

“We had some excellent times there,” agreed Sherlock. “However, if you have a dog named Baker, people will expect you to have two others named Butcher and Candlestick-maker. Why not something more generic. Mozart? Schubert?”

“If I was going to name him after a musician, it would be David Bowie,” said John. “Bowie.” He looked at the puppy and considered it for a moment, and then shook his head. “No, no good. I can’t name an animal after someone I had a crush on when I was a teenager; it’s too awkward.”

He thought for a bit longer, then shook his head. “I don’t know. I want something that means something, but that isn’t ridiculous.”

“If you want to be sentimental, there are other place names in our past that might do,” said Sherlock. “Barts, where we met. Westminster. Rotherhithe, given the events of the Gadding case.”

The Gadding case had been the one which finally tipped them over the divide from friends to...whatever they were now. Life partners. John considered that, looking at the dog and trying to imagine him as a Rotherhithe. “Seems a bit of a mouthful,” he said. “And Barts is just asking for people to make Simpsons assumptions.” He thought a bit longer and then beamed. “Stamford.”

Sherlock was silent for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, we do owe him a lot,” he said. He turned the car into their driveway. “And he is the type to be flattered rather than insulted.”

John nodded and reached out to unlatch the cage and let Stamford out. “There you are, boy,” he said as the puppy surged into his arms. “Good boy, Stamford. Good boy.”

Sherlock disappeared off to his hives, but John was far too distracted by the way Stamford was investigating the cottage to notice. He brought in all the things from the boot of the car, finding places for them and giving a running commentary to Stamford as he did so.

“And we’ll put your bed here, shall we? Next to the radiator. Sherlock’s not going to want you in the bed – he was cagey enough about me being there when we started, a dog’s got no hope, I’m afraid. And there’s your food. Hmm, a high shelf, I think.”

Stamford followed him around, giving him interested and adoring looks, and then getting distracted by the dust behind the sofa or the space under John’s chair that he couldn’t quite squeeze under.

After about half an hour, John settled down with a cup of tea and just watched him, thinking about the ways they’d need to puppy-proof the place. No more shoes piled up by the door, and he should probably put some hooks in for Sherlock’s bee-keeping clothing. At the moment he just left it on the bench by the back door but once he was a bit bigger, Stamford would be able to drag it off there and give it a good chew. Sherlock’s reaction to that would be akin to a nuclear explosion.

Stamford started to hunt around the room as if looking for something, and after a moment John realised he was searching for the other puppies.

“Oh,” he said, “Oh, come here.” He crouched down awkwardly, giving Stamford a rub all over that made him wriggle with delight. “I’m sorry none of your friends are here, but don’t worry. I’m going to be your friend instead.”

Stamford looked up at him with joy, and then sprinted off to sniff at the doormat. John watched him with a smile.

****

Getting used to having Stamford around and doing research into the best ways to train a puppy kept John happily busy for a good week or so before he started to really think about what Sherlock had said in the car.

You're the only person who can provide your own purpose.

What did he want his purpose to be? What had he always wanted to have time to do that he could do now?

He considered the problem on the long walks he took Stamford on, sorting through all the things he’d wished he had more time for. When he realised he knew what he wanted to do, he’d just been avoiding it for fear of Sherlock’s reaction, he told himself to stop being silly and just talk to him.

He waited until they were getting ready for bed that night. Stamford had finally got to the stage where he could be left to sleep downstairs alone without howling the whole cottage down while John lay in bed listening to him and feeling horribly guilty. Tonight he had given a few half-hearted whimpers, and then given up. Somehow, that had only served to make John feel even more guilty than the howling had.

Sherlock was frowning as he squinted at his pyjama buttons and John wondered how much longer it would be before he admitted he needed glasses.

John pulled on his own pyjamas, climbed into bed, and then cleared his throat, wondering how to start.

“I don’t need glasses,” said Sherlock irritably, doing up his final button and glaring at John.

John blinked. Of course Sherlock had known he was thinking that. “Of course not,” he said, using the tone of voice that they both knew meant the opposite. “I’m sure it’s just that your buttons are getting smaller.”

Sherlock scowled as he climbed in next to John, and John wondered if he shouldn’t put off the conversation until he was in a better mood.

No, he thought. Time to bite the bullet and just do it.

“I’ve decided what I want to do with my retirement,” he said as casually as he could.

“Oh?” asked Sherlock. “Finally decided that moping around wasn’t doing it for you?”

John ignored that. “I want to write up the cases on my blog properly. Turn them into real stories, maybe collect them all into a book.”

He held himself still, waiting for Sherlock’s reaction.

Sherlock nodded. “That sounds like a good plan,” he said, and settled down under the covers, ready for sleep. “You need to start using your brain for something on a regular basis, or you risk descending into senility.”

John stared at him. “That’s it?” he said. “That’s all you’ve got to say?”

Sherlock opened his eyes with a frown. “What else would I say?”

“You spent the whole time we were working making rude comments about my blog! You hated it – I thought you’d hate this as well.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “That was when I was trying to engage in a career while you turned me into a celebrity sideshow. What does it matter what you write about me now that I’ve retired? Besides, if you’re going to write them up ‘properly’, no doubt you’ll be paying more attention to the logic behind my deductions, and less to whatever I’d done to piss you off that week.”

“I didn’t-” started John, and then stopped because he had, a little bit. “It was my blog. I was talking about my everyday life, and of course that included being irritated by body parts appearing in my living space.”

Sherlock humphed, but didn’t say anything to refute that. John turned the light out and settled down beside him, trying to tell himself to just be glad it had been that easy.

“I’d suggest you also read a book or two about grammar before you get started,” said Sherlock into the dark. “Unless you want to contribute to the on-going erosion of the English language.”

John took a deep breath and slowly released it without saying anything. He counted to ten in his head, and then said, “Hey, Sherlock, how many bees do you need in a choir? A humdred.”

Sherlock groaned in misery and John smiled to himself.

****

Two weeks later, the weather was warm enough for their early morning swim to be a relief after a hot night. Sherlock swam his twenty lengths slowly while John tried to remember the butterfly stroke he’d known as a boy and eventually concluded that his shoulders weren’t up to it. Stamford crouched at the edge of the rockpool, sniffing at the water and occasionally dashing off to investigate an interesting rock. Just as John was thinking that it was time to get out, Stamford got over his indecision and leapt into the water, creating a splash that caught both John and Sherlock.

“Control your dog,” spluttered Sherlock.

John beamed at Stamford, who was now determinedly doggy-paddling towards him. “Good boy, Stamford,” he said. “Good boy.”

Sherlock sent him a glare and pulled himself out of the water. “I told you he’d be spoilt.”

“He’s very well-trained,” said John, following him over to the edge. “He’s just having fun.”

“Fun,” muttered Sherlock darkly.

John leant over and kissed his cheek. Sherlock sent him an unreadable look and then took hold of his hand tightly as they both watched Stamford splashing about.

They were still holding hands when they got back to the cottage. Sherlock only let go to go and get changed while John flicked on the kettle.

“For me too,” called Sherlock from upstairs.

John got out a second cup while Stamford butted his leg.

“I know, I know,” he said to him. “Breakfast time. I was just getting there.”

He gave Stamford his food, which earned him some ecstatic puppy glee, and then made the tea just as Sherlock came back down.

“Got time before the bees, then,” said John.

Sherlock shrugged as he sat down at the table. “Just the normal observations today,” he said. “Nothing to rush for. I do have a great deal of time to collect all the data, after all.”

“Years and years,” agreed John, sitting down with the tea and pushing one mug across to Sherlock.

After tea, Sherlock did go out to his bees and John got ready for his morning walk with Stamford, who knew what was coming and insisted on getting in the way as much as possible to show his excitement about it.

John took him out along the clifftop path as the weather was so nice, nodding at the other walkers and occasionally saying hello to someone he recognised from the pub, or as another enthusiastic dogwalker. Stamford ran around in big circles the whole way, occasionally trying to herd some of the other walkers. John threw a stick for him and reflected on how nice it was to be outdoors with someone who really enjoyed it.

He stopped at Stackhurst’s for tea on the way back, taking the chance to rib him about the poor showing his old team had shown in their match over the weekend. Stackhurst responded by asking if Sherlock had forgiven Stamford for destroying the doormat yet. Given that John wasn’t even sure Sherlock had realised they had a doormat, let alone noticed it was now missing, Stackhurst’s shot missed.

When John got back, it was a bit later than normal and he found that Sherlock had pulled himself away from his bees in order to make lunch. He stared at the table in surprise until Sherlock twitched.

“I don’t see why I should have to wait until you’re done cavorting with that mutt to have lunch,” he said.

“He’s not a mutt,” said John automatically, bending down to give Stamford a pat so that he’d know he was loved despite what Sherlock said about him. Stamford pressed closer for a moment, then escaped to investigate his food bowls.

Lunch was a quiet affair. Sherlock’s mind was clearly still with the bees and John was distracted by trying to decide if he was ready to actually start writing this afternoon, or if he should take some more time with the research and planning. Stamford, exhausted after his walk, was napping in his bed. He tended to spend most of the afternoons napping, presumably because he’d worked out that John wasn’t going to be doing anything more interesting than working on his book.

John cleared up lunch as Sherlock went back outside, and then settled down in the room he had turned into a study for himself. He decided to stop being a coward and just get stuck in with it. He spent the afternoon trying to decide how much of his own biography should be included at the beginning of A Study In Pink while occasionally jotting down descriptions of Sherlock’s appearance when he’d first met him that would probably be too rose-tinted for him to actually use.

Sherlock came in from the garden as it started to get dark and John went out to join him, reasonably confident that he had the first five hundred words of his book. He cooked dinner while Sherlock sat at the table and watched him.

“How well do you remember our first meeting?” John asked.

“Extremely well,” said Sherlock. He tapped his temple. “It’s on the permanent hard drive.”

Sherlock only put his most important knowledge and memories on his permanent hard drive. John let himself smile at the pasta for a moment.

“Would you mind writing down the conversation as you remember it?” he asked. “I can’t quite remember which order things came in.”

“Of course,” said Sherlock.

He found a piece of paper and spent a few minutes scribbling, barely pausing to think at all. He handed the paper to John when he was done, and John ran his eyes down it. It looked accurate enough – not quite how he remembered some of it, but it had been decades. John was surprised he remembered anything they’d said at all.

“I’d forgotten Molly came in,” he said.

Sherlock shrugged. “That’s because your memory is an imperfect thing,” he said. “I suppose you’ll have to rely on mine for this book of yours.”

“Or just make it all up,” agreed John, enjoying the look of disgust that crossed Sherlock’s face at the thought. “Dinner’s ready,” he added. “Lay the table, will you?”

After dinner, Sherlock set to work on more of his apiology notes while John worked on getting a version of their first meeting that actually captured all the fascination and bewilderment that he’d felt when presented with Sherlock Holmes for the first time.

He hadn’t completely managed it before it was time to take Stamford out for his evening walk, but there was always tomorrow. He asked Sherlock if he wanted to come along and got nothing more than a disgusted snort, which he could have predicted.

Stamford was just as overjoyed to be out and about as he always was, and John watched him gambol about and thought about how nice it was to have someone around who was always so delighted with the world.

When he got back, he made tea and pulled out the biscuit tin. Sherlock had given up on his notes for the day and settled in his armchair with a journal, but he set it aside when John brought the tea in.

John sat in his own chair opposite. “We’re nearly out of digestives. We’ll have to go shopping tomorrow.”

Sherlock made a face. “You’ll have to go shopping tomorrow,” he corrected. “You’ll be walking about all morning anyway, might as well give it purpose.”

“Taking the dog out is plenty of purpose,” said John. “Besides, you know I have an imperfect memory. Send me to the shops alone and I’m bound to forget something.”

Sherlock let out a sigh. “After lunch, then,” he said. “I need the morning.”

John tried to work out why it would matter if whatever Sherlock had planned for the bees tomorrow was done in the morning or the afternoon, but gave up when he realised he didn’t know enough about them to even guess.

“How are the bees?” he asked.

Sherlock gave him a suspicious look. “You haven’t asked me that once since they arrived.”

Ah. Rumbled. John just gave Sherlock an innocent smile and a shrug. “Haven’t I?”

Sherlock’s eyes narrowed, then he let out a breath and returned his attention to his tea. “They’re fine. Thriving, even.”

“That’s good,” said John, and then realised that it was good. Apparently he wasn’t jealous of the bees anymore. That was nice to know.

There was a warm weight on his foot and he looked down to see Stamford had sat on his foot and was gazing up at him with all the hopefulness of a dog who hasn’t yet realised he’s not going to get any of John’s biscuit.

“I think next year I’ll replant the garden with nothing but clover,” said Sherlock. “This year’s honey will be a mix of everything, too late to prevent that, but after that it would be interesting to restrict their diet a bit.”

“You’re going to do the garden?” asked John, disbelievingly.

“God, no,” said Sherlock. “I’ll pay someone to do it.”

That sounded much more likely. “We should get a bench or something put in as well,” said John. “Then we could have our morning tea outside.”

He could picture it now. Both of them relaxed with a cuppa, Stamford trotting about around them, bees drifting through the air... Yes, that sounded lovely.

“Good idea,” said Sherlock with a smile that said he was thinking exactly the same thoughts.

John met his eyes and felt a wave of pure contentment roll over him. He had everything he had wanted from retirement, and more besides, and it was all because of this incredible man in front of him. He slid his foot forward to rest against Sherlock’s and let the smile take over his face.