The television is on, the sound turned low - just the exact volume for it to be a comfortable, comforting background noise - and Sherlock is concentrating on the email he’s writing to a potential client, but he still registers the soft sounds of the front door opening and closing. His fingers freeze on the keyboard. Mrs Hudson is at home, he knows. The only person, apart from himself, who still has keys is John. It’s nearing midnight; John never comes so late, unless there is a case and Sherlock called him. There is only one possible explanation: something’s wrong.
Sherlock springs up and throws the door open. John is in the middle of the darkened staircase and starts at the sudden burst of light. Sherlock cannot see his face, but he’s standing upright and he’s climbed the stairs at his normal pace, so he cannot be badly hurt, but Sherlock runs down to meet him anyway.
“What happened?” he blurts out, and somehow his hands are on John’s shoulders, on his face, touching him, making sure he’s alright. “Are you hurt?” It would make no sense for John to seek out Sherlock if he was hurt, so of course he isn’t, but knowing that doesn’t make Sherlock panic any less.
John just shakes his head and continues climbing the stairs. Following him, Sherlock notices the slight stiffness in his left leg. The psychosomatic limp doesn’t return unless John is in a lot of emotional pain - like when he got a call that Harry was in hospital with liver failure. Something bad has happened. Was it Mary? John would never seek comfort with Sherlock if he could go to Mary instead. It must be Mary.
John stops in the doorway and turns to Sherlock without looking at him. His face is ashen. He looks ten years older than the last time Sherlock saw him - a little over 52.5 hours ago.
“Can I sleep here tonight?” John asks, his voice hollow, and something in Sherlock’s chest clenches; John should never sound like that, look like that, Sherlock wants to find what’s causing him distress and destroy it immediately, but the only thing he can do is to whisper, “Of course,” since the room upstairs is still John’s, will always be John’s; even when John gets married and moves to the country and forgets about 221b Baker Street and crime fighting and Sherlock, it will still be his.
Sherlock opens his mouth to ask what is going on, but before he has a chance to say anything, John whispers, “Mary and I have broken up.”
A voice in Sherlock’s head sings, I knew she wasn’t good enough for him, well done, another brilliant deduction. Another part of Sherlock doesn’t care about deductions and just wants to find Mary and kill her, because he’d warned her not to hurt John and she did it anyway. The rest of Sherlock doesn’t care about Mary either and only wants John to stop looking like his world has just fallen apart.
He wants to say something, do something, anything, to help, but he doesn’t know what, he’s never been good at this. He doesn’t know how to comfort people. (John, not people. He doesn’t want to comfort other people.) He hesitates, but John doesn’t seem to expect anything from him and enters the living room, sinks to the sofa, hiding his face in his hands.
Sherlock hesitates some more, and then decides to make tea. John always likes tea, under any circumstances. He puts the kettle on and pulls out John’s favourite brand of Earl Gray, and his mind is spinning fast.
Sherlock has only had to go through a breakup once, but he had been expecting it and also getting bored with Victor for some time, so it wasn’t really distressing at all. This was very different. It must have been all Mary’s doing and John couldn’t have suspected anything - it was only a week ago that Sherlock saw him looking at engagement rings (he remembers averting his gaze, pretending not to see, pretending not to care). Mary has broken it off, then, very suddenly, and...
Oh. Sherlock remembers the times in the last few weeks (months?) when Mary deliberately avoided him. Suddenly remembered a prior engagement and ran off. He didn’t really notice it - he and Mary aren’t exactly the best of friends and they only get along because of John, so Sherlock really didn’t mind when instead of dining with John and Mary, he only dined with John. He preferred it that way (he wished it could always be that way). He didn’t care about why Mary wasn’t there if it meant he had John for himself (had the illusion of having John to himself). But Mary had had a reason for avoiding him; that was clear now: she was afraid that what John had missed, Sherlock would notice.
She’s been seeing someone else. Sherlock couldn’t say for how long, but long enough.
Sherlock used to have an above-average opinion of Mary’s intelligence, but it was abundantly clear now that she was an idiot, because who in their right mind would cheat on John? Doesn’t she know that John is the best thing that ever happened to her? That will ever happen to her?
He prepares the tea exactly as John likes it and carries it to the living room. John hasn’t moved. Sherlock sets the mug down on the coffee table in front of John and sits down next to him. John doesn’t react.
“I made you tea,” Sherlock says, and it’s a remarkably stupid thing to say. He wishes he was someone else, someone who could be the friend John deserves, someone who could help him. John makes a muffled sound in response, and doesn’t move.
Sherlock lays a careful hand on John’s shoulder. John doesn’t flinch or shrug him off and Sherlock decides it’s a good sign. Sherlock remembers John rubbing his back to calm him when he was tense and unable to solve a case, he remembers that it helped (though it was perhaps not due to the rubbing itself but to the fact that it was John doing it). Maybe it could help John too.
He moves his hand between John’s shoulder blades and starts drawing small, misshapen circles. He hopes it’s enough to let John know that Sherlock is here for him, always, even if he doesn’t quite know how to say it.
John’s muscles don’t relax under Sherlock’s touch, and Sherlock is not surprised. He knows only too well what it feels like to love someone who doesn’t love you back, but he’s never had a reason to hope his feelings were returned. How much worse must it be, to be allowed to taste the other person’s love and then have it taken away? Sherlock hates that John has to go through it, John, who should be loved by everyone. He hates Mary for inflicting this kind of pain on John. He hates himself for not being able to stop it.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” he asks softly. Is it the right thing to do? Maybe he should rather be trying to take John’s mind off the matter...
John shakes his head and draws a deep, shaky breath. “Later,” he whispers, and it’s barely a word.
“Okay,” Sherlock nods and continues to rub John’s back, even though he can see it’s not helping at all.
“John,” Sherlock says after a while, when John’s breathing doesn’t grow any calmer. “Is there anything I can do?” John always knows what to do in those situations when Sherlock’s at a loss. Sherlock has nobody else to ask.
John lets his hands drop. His eyes are red and wet. Sherlock wants to take him in his arms and hold him close and protect him from the world, but he doesn’t think John would like that.
John shakes his head again.
“I think... I’ll just go to bed. I need to be alone for a while.”
“Of course,” Sherlock agrees immediately and takes his hand away from John’s back. He assumed John came to Baker Street because he wanted Sherlock’s presence, but of course it was only because he has nowhere else to go. He wants to be alone. Sherlock has probably only been making it worse.
“I know where clean sheets are,” John says, without looking at him, and gets up. Sherlock doesn’t know what to say. In the end, he settles for, “Aren’t you going to drink your tea?”
John stops and picks up the mug.
“Thank you,” he breathes, and smiles tightly. It’s the saddest thing Sherlock has ever seen.
Sherlock remains on the sofa, listening to John moving about upstairs, and despises himself for finding the sounds so comforting. It’s really only the little signs of John’s presence that make Baker Street feel like home, despite the fact that John has lived elsewhere for more than a year. (Sherlock only ever turns the TV on because it reminds him of when John still lived here, because he knows that John is watching the same show in his own flat. He only cleans the kitchen because John liked it clean.) He cannot help but like the fact that John is here. Maybe he’ll want to move back in again.
He’s a terrible friend. The woman John wanted to marry left him, and here Sherlock is, thinking about how great it would be to have John back with him. Of course he wishes it were under different circumstances - if John decided that he doesn’t love Mary or any other woman after all and is much better off with Sherlock - but he knows that is never going to happen. John was never fully happy when he lived here, and Sherlock prefers John happy and far away rather than miserable and right here. Of course he does. He’s always been selfish, though, and it still feels nice to have John close.
He hears John have a shower and then move around his old bedroom, making his bed. Sherlock hopes the room is not too dusty. He keeps it reasonably clean at all times, just in case (John slept there a few times when a case kept them up late), but it’s been a while since he’s been there. He doesn’t really like the room when John doesn’t call it his.
Eventually John settles down, and Sherlock wonders if he’s able to fall asleep. Probably not. Sherlock stays up all night himself, composing two mental lists. The first one is very long, and includes all the ways in which he is going to turn Mary Morstan’s life into hell. (He is glad that he has valid reason to hate her now. He wonders briefly if that makes him a bad person, but then he remembers that he never was a good person to begin with, so it doesn’t really matter.) The second lists the ways in which he is going to make John’s life better, and it’s very short. Currently, the number of items on it is zero.
He thought he could just accept any case that presented itself - John would probably find even the boring ones interesting and the excitement would distract him. But maybe it’s too early, and John will want more time on his own and Sherlock would only irritate him. John is too modest to ask for help, but how is Sherlock to know when offering it will be welcome? John doesn’t have anyone else to turn to for support, Sherlock mustn’t disappoint him, he must find a way to be there for him without being too much.
He feels like an idiot when he googles “how to make a friend feel better after a breakup”. Or like a teenage girl, since the article he finds seems to be written for teenage girls. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s in his mid-thirties and male that makes the article completely unhelpful. How exactly is he supposed to ‘encourage John to think about the positive aspects his breakup’? “John, isn’t it great that you’ll now have more time to chase criminals with me, since you won’t be busy having sex and planning a future?” That sounds terrible even to his own ears, and he has never cared much about what an acceptable thing to say is, and what is not. He knows he says a lot of hurtful things without realising. He cannot risk saying something like that to John now. Or ‘make him laugh.’ How should he tell whether it is acceptable to joke, or whether it will make it seem like he’s not taking John’s situation seriously?
He takes a deep breath and tries to calm down. He’s a detective and a genius. Surely he’ll be able to tell whether John wants to talk or not. If he does, Sherlock will encourage him, if he doesn’t, Sherlock won’t press him. He’ll try to ask about what John would like, and he’ll know by John’s expression whether his questions are welcome or not. He won’t mess up. He mustn’t.
He hears John getting up far earlier than he expected; it’s only half past five. John hasn’t slept well, or he hasn’t slept at all. Sherlock moves to the kitchen and makes another cup of tea. Then he realises that after a sleepless night John might prefer coffee, so he makes that too. He’ll drink whatever John doesn’t want. He doesn’t have any bread that isn’t mouldy, but he finds a box of cereal that John likes and sets it on the table next to the two cups.
“You’re up early,” Sherlock comments when John enters the kitchen. There are dark circles under his eyes - he looks even worse than he did last night.
“Couldn’t sleep,” he mumbles. “I have to go to work anyway.”
“Do you want to go?” Sherlock asks and a brilliant idea ignites in his mind.
“I don’t want to do anything right now.”
“Have breakfast, then, and I’ll deal with it.”
“Deal with it? Sherlock, what --”
Sherlock hurries to his bedroom and makes a very interesting phone call. When he returns to the kitchen he finds John sipping the coffee and the cereal untouched.
“Dr Clark will take care of your patients today,” Sherlock informs him.
“Oh?” That’s all the reaction Sherlock gets. John doesn’t even have the energy to ask him a proper question.
“I called him and informed him that it’s either that or his wife will find out where exactly the money for their new car came from,” Sherlock explains.
“What?” John says, and it’s a poor imitation of his usual indignation. “You cannot just blackmail my colleagues into doing my work for me.”
“Yes, I can. I will do it again if necessary. You haven’t slept. You wouldn’t be any help to your patients anyway.”
“You’re probably right,” John sighs and looks at his coffee, defeated. “But don’t tell me anything about Clark’s money, okay? I don’t want to know.”
Sherlock sits down in front of John and studies him for a moment. Should he ask? Or wait for John to begin? Sherlock has never wanted to hear much about Mary; maybe John thinks he cannot talk to him.
“Have you deduced it all, then?” John asks when he notices Sherlock’s scrutiny.
“Parts of it,” Sherlock admits. “I’d much rather if you told me the rest yourself, though. If you want to. You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to.” That should be all right, hopefully. He’s made it clear that he wants John to talk to him, but that he’s not going to pry. Not very elegantly worded, true, but John has never cared about that.
John continues to stare at his coffee for a while, and then he says, almost inaudibly, “She fell in love with someone else.”
Sherlock doesn’t say anything, because the only thing he could have said is that Mary is a living proof that humans can actually function without using their brain.
“A colleague of hers. I even met him once, at a party. Thought he was nice.” He laughs bitterly. “Apparently it was at that party that they first got together. Almost two months ago. She didn’t know how to tell me. Didn’t want to hurt me.” His voice breaks at the last sentence, and he closes his eyes for a moment. “So she waited until the night I popped the question.”
When Sherlock made the list of things he would do to Mary as revenge for hurting John, he didn’t think he would need Mycroft’s help. Now, though, he is seriously starting to reconsider.
“I don’t know how I could’ve been so stupid,” John continues, and a tear runs down his nose. “I never suspected anything. I thought she loved me.” He covers his face with his hands. “I should’ve known. She’s young and funny and beautiful, I should have known she wouldn’t want to be stuck with me for the rest of her life.”
‘Give your friend a hug,’ is one of the recommendations for socially inept teenagers Sherlock read online. He and John don’t usually hug. They touch a lot, certainly more than is common for standard British male friendships, but they don’t hug unless one of them has just escaped mortal danger. Close human contact is meant to make people feel safe. John is not in danger now, but maybe it’s time to break with tradition.
He walks to John and slowly removes his hands from his face.
“Stand up,” he tells him softly.
“What?” John asks, confused, but stands up anyway, since he’s used to following where Sherlock leads.
Sherlock draws his arms around John gently, slowly, so that John has enough time to withdraw if the gesture is not welcome. John doesn’t move, and so Sherlock pulls him close but keeps the embrace loose. John is stiff for a moment, and then his hands move to Sherlock’s back, grabbing fistfuls of Sherlock’s shirt. Sherlock tightens the embrace and John buries his face in Sherlock’s shoulder as a silent sob shakes his body.
It’s so wrong. John is meant to be strong and steadfast and unwavering, not like this, not shaking and leaning on Sherlock like he cannot stay upright on his own. What has the woman done to him?
“She’ll come to regret it more than you do, John,” Sherlock murmurs in his hair, though he is not sure if John hears him. “You’ll be all right and you’ll find someone else and be happy. I know you don’t believe it now, but I know it’s true.” He hopes it’s true. “But she can never find anyone half as good as you. It’s her loss.”
A choked sound escapes John’s throat, and Sherlock holds him, and holds him, and holds him.
“Sorry,” John mumbles after many long minutes, when his body has stopped shaking. He withdraws a little. Sherlock doesn’t want to let him go, but he knows he will have to, soon - the hug was meant to give comfort to John, after all, not to indulge Sherlock’s pathetic weakness.
“Sorry,” John snuffles again. “I didn’t mean to...”
“It’s all right,” Sherlock assures him quickly and resists the urge to wipe John’s tears away with his thumb. John wouldn’t appreciate that. He reaches for the paper towels on the kitchen counter instead and hands them to John. “Here.”
John takes them and stares at them for a moment, as if he has no idea what they are for. “Thanks,” he says then, and blows his nose noisily. He looks a little more relaxed than before, but the change is too small to make any difference.
“God,” John breathes as he sits back down. “I just don’t know what to do now.”
Sherlock stands next to him awkwardly. Is he meant to give advice now? What kind of advice? The obvious?
“Well... I suppose you’ll want to move out.”
Judging by the way John’s shoulders hunch forward, it was the wrong thing to say. Maybe he should have reminded John that it’s been a long time since he visited the Murrays or something like that.
“Yes,” John sighs. “Yes.”
“Do you know that Mrs Hudson’s birthday is coming up?” Sherlock says hastily. “I think we should go and buy her a gift. She told me yesterday that she’d quite like...”
“Mrs Hudson’s birthday is in two months,” John interrupts him.
“Yes, well. I don’t think we should underestimate it. She’ll be seventy-five, after all. That’s an important anniversary.”
Johns mouth twitches, and Sherlock recognises it: the beginnings of the kind of smile John gives him when he thinks Sherlock is being completely unbelievable, but John likes it anyway. It doesn’t develop into a full smile, far from it, but it’s something.
“No, you’re right. I don’t even have a change of clothes, I have to go and get my things. I just...” He looks around the kitchen as if searching for advice, and then his gaze settles warily on Sherlock. “Do you think... could you do it for me?”
“Get your things?” Sherlock asks stupidly.
“Yes. I don’t think I can go to that flat right now. I mean, it’s fine if you’re busy, I’ll just...”
“No, I’ll go,” Sherlock interrupts him. Is he really usually so inconsiderate that John feels unsure about asking him for a favour? “It’s no trouble.”
“Thank you.” John glances at his watch. “Just wait at least an hour, Mary might still be asleep.”
“Doesn’t she work on Thursdays?”
John shrugs and looks down. “I don’t know which of her shifts are real and which were just... smokescreen.”
Sherlock clenches his fists
“I’m going now,” Sherlock says in a low voice, “and I bloody well hope I wake her. I don’t see how she deserves a good night’s sleep. I think we’re going to have a little chat.”
John stands up again, looking slightly alarmed.
“Sherlock. Don’t be too mean to her, okay? This is not Mary’s fault, she doesn’t deserve...”
“How exactly is it not her fault?” Sherlock snaps. “Of course it is her fault! I warned her, at the beginning, that if she hurt you she’d regret the day she was born, and I intend to keep my promise! She deserves every single thing I --”
“Sherlock, calm down.”
Sherlock doesn’t want to calm down, because what was the point of his allowing someone to take John away from him if it didn’t result in John being happy? He hasn’t realised until now how much he wants to break things, to hurt everyone who isn’t John, but he shuts up instead. He doesn’t know what it is about John’s tone of voice that makes him obey.
“It’s nobody’s fault,” John says flatly. “People cannot choose who they love.”
On the other hand, people can very well choose if they’re going to cheat on people who love them, Sherlock wants to remind him, but thinks better of it and remains silent.
“She should have told me earlier, but I can’t blame her for loving someone else.”
Sherlock can understand that, partly, even though it makes no sense for anyone not to love John. And it doesn’t clear Mary’s name at all. That she doesn’t know what’s best for her is her problem, but she has no right to hurt John. She was in a committed relationship and failed to act accordingly. Sherlock can never forgive her, and nor should John.
“Just behave like you normally would, okay?” John insists.
“I cannot just ignore...”
Sherlock scowls at him. “I can’t vouch for what I’ll say if she makes me angry.”
John shakes his head resignedly.
“Just try, okay? I know you feel... protective of me, but leave this alone. Leave her alone. Please.”
He doesn’t argue. Sherlock hates the fact that John doesn’t even argue.
“I’ll try,” he promises reluctantly. Luckily, verbal abuse is far from being the only thing on Sherlock’s list.
“Thank you,” John says, sincerely even though he’s not looking at Sherlock anymore. That’s how John is: sincere, honest, open. He’s seen a lot and he’s by no means naive or gullible, but he doesn’t expect deception and betrayal from those he trusts, simply because it would never occur to him to suspect them of something he’d never do himself. The wound is all the deeper for that.
The shower is running when Sherlock enters John’s... no, her flat. Sherlock smiles in satisfaction that he’ll have an opportunity to speak his mind, but then he remembers his promise to John. Well, maybe she’ll spend long enough in the shower that Sherlock won’t even have to see her at all. He wants to go straight into the bedroom, but from the corner of his eye he catches a glimpse of a laptop lying on the kitchen table. Not John’s - Mary’s.
Without hesitation, Sherlock enters the kitchen and turns the laptop on. It’s not even password protected - basically an invitation. He doesn’t have time for anything too difficult, so he just deletes all her files. He knows it’s rather childish, but he’s promised not to do anything serious and this is going to annoy Mary, if nothing else.
He’s never been to the bedroom before - he never wanted to see the easy, unaffected intimacy that seeps out of every corner of a shared bedroom, a shared bed - a place where Sherlock doesn’t belong. Something he can never have. Not with John, not with anyone.
It’s a nice room, Sherlock supposes. Small, but not cluttered. Modern furniture, like in the rest of the flat. Pale colours. Mary’s taste.
The left side of the bed is made - John’s. A paperback novel lying on the bedside table.
Sherlock pulls John suitcase from under the bed and throws the book in it. He identifies John’s drawers unerringly and starts putting his clothes in the suitcase. There is... something about doing this, touching John’s things, something that makes Sherlock want to drag it out, savour it somehow, but he knows it’s just him being pathetic, so he doesn’t dwell on it and works quickly and efficiently.
It takes him an embarrassingly long time to realise that the sound of the shower has stopped. He hears Mary open the bathroom door and go still for a moment.
She pushes the bedroom door open and starts when she sees Sherlock sorting through the wardrobe. She’s wearing a pale blue dressing gown and automatically tightens the sash around her waist.
“What are you doing here?”
“I should think it’s obvious,” Sherlock answers without looking at her. He doesn’t think he could look at her and not give in to the urge to strangle her.
“You’ve seen John, then? Is he at your place? I tried calling him, but he didn’t answer his phone.”
“Imagine that. What reason could he have?” Sherlock sneers. He’ll have to come for the rest of John’s belongings another day - he cannot stand being in her presence for much longer. He thought he could do it without committing a crime, but now it doesn’t seem possible.
“I know he must hate me now --”
No, he doesn’t, Sherlock thinks bitterly. Not John.
“ -- I know I hurt him, but I really didn’t want to.”
Sherlock throws the last jumper in the suitcase and closes it, even though it’s not yet full. He can feel his anger bubbling just under the surface.
“I didn’t know he wanted to propose, if I’d had any idea I would’ve...”
“Dumped him sooner? How considerate of you.” He pushes her out of the way, roughly, but not quite as roughly as he’d like to.
“I really am very sorry,” she whispers. “Could you tell him that? I didn’t get a chance last night and I... I did love him. I want him to be happy.”
“I don’t have time for your pathetic apologies,” he snarls.
She doesn’t say anything else until Sherlock is almost out of the door.
“Wait. Could you give this back to him?”
She hands him a small, dark red box. The engagement ring. Sherlock takes it and leaves without a word.
Later, in the taxi back to Baker Street when Sherlock has calmed down a little, he opens the box and takes out the ring - white gold with a single diamond. Simple but tasteful. It’s a woman’s ring - of course - too small even for Sherlock’s little finger. It doesn’t fit. It’s meant for someone else, just like John’s love will always be, and the fact that John is single again won’t change that.
John declares that he never wants to see the ring again and asks Sherlock to get rid of it. Sherlock doesn’t, though, thinking that John might find use for it later (or is it bad taste to propose twice with the same ring?) or that, when the wound has healed, he might want to sell it and use the money. And so he keeps it.
The following day, John insists on going to work. He’s managed to get some sleep and he looks better than he did yesterday - still sad, but determined. John likes his work. Sherlock hopes it will be a sufficient distraction for a few hours.
John only works until two, and Sherlock has plans for later. He first has to call Sergeant Hopkins. He considers the boy to be one of the most irritating people on the planet, but he can be useful: he seems to have founded a new religion and worships Sherlock as its only god, which means that he’ll provide Sherlock with whatever information Sherlock requires, even if his superiors have explicitly forbidden him to speak to Sherlock. Even if Lestrade decides not to inform Sherlock about what he’s working on, Sherlock will find out. And he’ll take John to a crime scene. He knows that this is not what the writer of the advice column meant when they suggested that people take their heartbroken friend out, but Sherlock doesn’t see why it shouldn’t work just as well as a pub or a movie.
He does go out to buy beer, though, and rent a few DVDs just in case. He carefully chooses some of those incredibly stupid action and sci-fi films John likes to watch, and he checks on the Internet to make sure that there are no romantic subplots in them. He feels strangely proud of himself for having thought of that.
Most of the other tips from the article are of no use for Sherlock, since they start with words like “encourage” or “discourage” or “remind”, but don’t specify how exactly Sherlock is supposed to go about encouraging and discouraging and reminding. One of them is very straightforward, though: it says “bake your friend cake.” Sherlock doesn’t know how a cake is going to make John feel better, but it seems like something he could manage. It’s worth a try.
He decides to make apple strudel, since it seems fairly easy and John likes apples. Sherlock has never baked anything before, but he’s found a very detailed recipe and he thinks he’s doing well. The strudel looks slightly misshapen when Sherlock puts it in the oven and the kitchen is a mess, but everything else seems just fine. Until Sherlock gets a call from Hopkins about a murder in Lambeth, gets distracted, forgets all about the strudel and when he finally pulls it out of the oven, it looks more black than the “golden brown” the recipe suggested.
“What happened here?” John asks incredulously when he comes home. (Home. It’s probably not home for John. Maybe it never was.)
“I tried to bake you a strudel,” Sherlock admits. There’s no point in denying it - the evidence is everywhere and even an idiot would be able to deduce it.
“A strudel,” John repeats.
“Yes. It’s an Austrian type of pastry filled with apples.” Or it’s supposed to be. This one looks more like coal. Why did Sherlock ever think this was a good idea? He should have asked Mrs Hudson for help.
“I know that, but... why?” He looks confused. That’s good. Confused is better than miserable.
“It was meant to cheer you up. But then I burnt it.”
John stares at him.
“You baked a strudel because you thought it would cheer me up?”
Sherlock resists the urge to roll his eyes. “That’s what I just said.” He’ll never give heed to anything he reads online ever again.
John stares at him some more and then, miraculously, he smiles a little. Maybe Sherlock’s being utterly hopeless is funny. That’s okay. John can laugh at him as much as he wants. If only John would laugh at him.
He doesn’t laugh, of course, and even the small smile fades quickly, but he says, very softly, “Thank you.”
“It’s burnt,” Sherlock reminds him.
“It’s not too bad,” says John, inspecting the strudel. “It seems just superficial.” He cuts off a piece. “Look, it’s fine on the inside.”
Sherlock looks at it suspiciously.
“And you know what? I’ve always liked the filling best. I used to eat only the apples as a kid and leave the dough.”
“You’re making this up.” It’s a well-known fact that children don’t like fruit.
“I am not.”
John takes a spoon and starts eating. There are lines of sadness etched deep into his face and they don’t disappear with the first mouthful, but his gaze is warm and tender when he looks at Sherlock and tells him to take a piece as well.
It’s not so bad after all. Even parts of the dough are edible.
The crime scene in Lambeth turns out to be a much worse idea than the strudel.
A woman, in her early thirties, dead on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Sherlock knew it would be a simple, boring case, but he didn’t expect how simple and boring. He should have, but he didn’t. The oldest motive in history: jealousy. She was killed by her lover’s wife.
Sherlock is momentarily lost when he realises all the facts. How is a crime motivated by infidelity supposed to distract John? Could the fact that it happens to other people too make it better somehow? Sherlock doubts it. He can see that John’s mind is engrossed by the case. If Sherlock explains what happened, he’ll go right back to thinking about Mary.
And so Sherlock does what he’s often been accused of doing when people couldn’t believe his deductions were real: he makes things up. He takes real facts and twists them so that they fit his invented story about how the dead woman was blackmailing someone and they decided to silence her forever. The evidence he provides is laughable, and the police will be able to see through it at once when they look at it closely, but they are all stupid enough to believe him now, and John declares it’s amazing and brilliant (less enthusiastically than usual, but that was to be expected), and that’s all that matters.
When they leave he sends Lestrade a text, saying he made a mistake and explaining how things really happened. John is quiet. Nothing really distracts him for long, not even a case. It’s been only two days, not nearly long enough for him to start getting better, but it already feels like an age. How long will Sherlock be able to watch John suffer when nothing he can do helps?
When they get home, John says quietly, “There was no blackmail, was there?”
Sherlock looks at him sharply. “Of course there was.”
John shakes his head.
“When you’re explaining your deductions, you look at the things you’re talking about, or you’re lost in your own head, and you only glance at the people you’re speaking to from time to time. When you’re making things up, on the other hand, you maintain eye contact to make yourself appear sincere.”
It takes Sherlock so completely by surprise that John notices things about him that he doesn’t manage to answer.
“You also never look at me until you’re finished, unless you’re talking to me specifically. Now you were looking alternately at me and at Lestrade - you were trying to make sure that I was following you and that I believed what you said. So you made it up for my benefit, and then you texted Lestrade to tell him the truth.”
“You cannot know who I texted,” Sherlock says, but he knows his voice betrays him - he sounds impressed.
“You never send such long texts unless it’s about a case. There is no case but this one. Therefore, Lestrade.”
They stare at each other.
“That was a brilliant deduction,” Sherlock says after a while. What a strange reversal of roles.
John shrugs. “I know you. It was easy.”
Why does everything Sherlock tries have to fail?
“She had a married lover,” he says flatly. “His wife did it. You were concentrating on the case and I didn’t want to... remind you.”
“Everything reminds me, Sherlock,” John says in barely a whisper, “I know you’re trying to help, and I appreciate it, but this is not something you can solve.”
“But I hate that! I hate that you’re like this I cannot help you!” That I only make things worse.
“These things take time. You can’t force it. And you do help, you know. A lot.”
“By burning pastry and distorting evidence?” Sherlock sneers.
John shrugs. “By being here. It’s nice to know you... care.”
Something twists in Sherlock chest. Has he gone too far in trying to hide how much he cares about John? Doesn’t John know that he’s the single most important thing in Sherlock’s life?
“Of course I do, John,” he breathes, placing a hand on John’s shoulder and squeezing it. “Of course I do.”
Most of the time, Sherlock hates it.
He hates it when one morning he finds John lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling, and two plates and a cup shattered on the kitchen floor. When Sherlock asks him about it, John says that he found the sound of breaking china quite satisfying. Sherlock knows that John is already embarrassed about it, and so he declares that the shards will be very useful for an experiment of his. The experiment is utter nonsense, of course, but John thinks that 98 percent of Sherlock’s experiments are nonsense, so he won’t notice.
He hates it when they come home and find two boxes at the bottom of the staircase, the address written in Mary’s neat handwriting - the rest of John’s belongings. John locks himself in his bedroom and doesn’t come out for three hours and thirty-six minutes.
He hates it when they watch a show on TV, the audience is roaring with laughter and some of the jokes are clever enough to make even Sherlock chuckle, but John does not even smile once.
But he also loves it, and he hates how much he loves it.
He loves having John close, being able to see him every day, the quiet sounds of him moving around the flat, cooking dinner, reading a newspaper, living, breathing, just existing in the same space as Sherlock.
He loves that John is more tactile when he’s sad, the way he seeks Sherlock’s touch as a source of comfort. Sherlock has learned how to offer it without being insistent. They sit close to each other on the sofa and in cabs; the hugs are still awkward but less so now. He loves the feel of John’s body in his arms, warm and solid, the way they seem to fit together. (He knows the last part is only in his head, he knows it doesn’t feel like that to John at all, but he likes it anyway.)
He loves the ease with which they fall into old habits, the way living together feels more natural than breathing.
He wishes it could stay like this forever, only with John not being unhappy. He wishes John would realise that life as a couple is not for him and he’s much better off single. Then they could live together, just as friends, and it would be enough. Sherlock would never ask for more.
It’s not going to happen, though, and he knows it. He knows there are people, like himself, who are meant to be solitary, and people who need to be part of a larger whole, like John. He knows he can never be what John needs, and all he has left is to hope is that John will forget about Mary and find someone else and not think about moving away with her too soon.
Days go by, however, weeks, and forgetting Mary never starts to appear the tiniest bit closer to possible. Sherlock didn’t expect it to happen overnight, of course not, but he’d hoped to see some kind of gradual development. Just a small indication that John is slowly getting better would be enough, but there’s nothing. Nothing.
Sometimes Sherlock watches John frowning at his laptop, typing a few words and then deleting them and starting again. Sometimes it takes John over an hour to compose an email. He sighs deeply when he’s finished and closes his laptop, and then opens it again about fifteen minutes later, checking his inbox for an answer. There isn’t one, and John’s lips form a tight line as he tries to convince himself that he wasn’t expecting anything, that it’s too early, and he closes the laptop again. He fidgets on the sofa, glancing at the computer every thirty seconds, forcing himself to wait a bit. And then he checks again and is disappointed again, and again, and again. And then, maybe, a day or more later, his face will light up when he finally receives a reply, and then grow sad and tired and defeated with every word he reads.
Sherlock knows he shouldn’t, but one day, when he borrows John’s laptop because it’s closer, John’s email account is open and Sherlock... looks, since he’s never been any good at resisting his curiosity. He reads the emails John sent to Mary: friendly, casual, not at all reproachful. He talks about interesting cases, or patients, a new café he discovered, random things that happened to him and that, Sherlock supposes, what normal people share with their normal friends. He asks about Mary, too, inquires about her welfare, her work, her friends, her Zumba classes and what she’s currently reading. Mary’s replies are brief and bland, and then stop altogether. John wrote two more unanswered emails, and then a very short one where he thanks her for their time together and wishes her happiness. Sent the evening before; Sherlock remembers John retired to his bedroom around six and didn’t emerge until the morning.
John used to have a picture of Mary set as the wallpaper on his phone. He’d deleted it, but kept all the other photos, and Sherlock can tell when John is looking at them, sometimes smiling, when he remembers the moment when they were taken, sometimes... not smiling. But he thinks about her without looking at pictures, often - Sherlock can tell by the set of his jaw, the way his eyelids drop.
Sherlock does everything he can think of to help - he’s done with Internet advice, so he has to rely on his own ideas. He calls Bill Murray and reminds him that it’s been a while since he and John went for a pint. He contacts a man who owes him a favour, and two days later John gets a phone call from a publishing house that would like to publish his blog entries. (Sherlock hates the idea of being made into a character in a story, but the smile when John tells him about it is real and bright, though short-lived. Sherlock thinks it’s worth it.) He accepts a case in Vatican City and makes sure they have enough time to see all the historical monuments Rome has to offer.
Sometimes he can feel John relax under his touch, sometimes John smiles at him, or shoots him a grateful look, or Sherlock notices the lines on John’s face smoothing a little, and he knows that John hasn’t been thinking about Mary for a while. Mostly, though, there don’t seem to be any long-term results.
Until the day when John starts making breakfast with a vague sense of determination about him. He then proceeds to get rid of everything that reminds him of Mary - which seems to be about a half of his belongings - and starts talking to Sherlock about his publishing contract with excitement that does not seem to be fake.
Sherlock doesn’t know how much conscious effort John puts into it. The change seems too sudden, but maybe that’s normal, maybe John has finished his period of mourning, or grieving, or whatever it was that he’s been doing, maybe he needed to make a conscious decision to move on in order to be able to do it.
“What?” John asks, and Sherlock realises he’s been staring.
“Nothing. You... look better.”
John smiles. “I feel better. I just... I was lying awake last night, and I was thinking - God, this must stop. I need to make a new start. I decided to concentrate on the writing, since it’s something I always wanted to do, and then I realised I can’t keep being all out of it all the time, I have work to do and I need to make sure you don’t get yourself killed, or set the house on fire or something, and I realised all of this and...” he shrugs, “life goes on.”
Sherlock studies him attentively. He fears believing it: if it’s true, then it’s great, wonderful, the best news in months, but what if John has just talked himself into believing it? Wouldn’t it get even worse than before once he realises he’s been deluding himself?
“I know what you’re thinking,” John interrupts his thoughts. “You think it’s too sudden to be true, I know. It’s like... it’s just occurred to me now that I still have a future that’s worth it, and... yeah.”
Sherlock reaches for Johns hand and gives it a light squeeze. If John has decided to adopt a positive outlook, Sherlock is certainly not going to discourage him. He just hopes it will last.
Two days later, John comes home from work and announces that he has a date. Her name is Lisa, they met at the library and they’re going to the cinema. Sherlock thinks it’s great. (Mostly. His views on John’s love life will always involve regret to some extent, even when he’s happy for him.)
He spends the evening pacing agitatedly about the flat. Pre-Mary, he never wanted John’s dates to go well, but now he hopes desperately that Lisa is interesting enough and completely unlike Mary and everything else that John needs her to be. (Everything that Sherlock cannot be.) He wants John to continue getting better, and a new romantic relationship is part of that.
He can hear John climb the stairs barely three hours after he left, however, and that can’t be a good sign. When John opens the door, the positive energy that’s been radiating from him in the last two days is all but gone.
“What happened?” Sherlock blurts out immediately.
John hangs his coat without a word and moves to sit down on the sofa, dragging his fingers through his hair. Sherlock sits next to him and tries to stop himself from panicking. If it didn’t go well, if John now feels worse than ever, if what Sherlock’s been dreading happened, then... then he doesn’t know what he’s going to do, he’s tried everything already, he’ll -- he’ll just go mad and then there will be nobody to help John...
“Nothing really happened,” John shrugs. “We saw the film, and then I -- I couldn’t go through with it. It just felt wrong.”
“It’s all right, John,” says Sherlock, trying to reassure himself just as much as John. “You -- you said it yourself, that it takes time, that you can’t force it. It’s okay if you need more time.”
John makes a noncommittal sound. “I just thought that I could be with someone for a while, nothing serious, you know, just... to move on. Leave it behind me.”
“But surely you can still do that? What you said the day before yesterday, that you wanted to concentrate on your work and your writing, can’t that help you to move on? And then you’ll meet someone when the time is right and it will all be better.” It has to be.
“You forgot about the most important thing,” says John, and Sherlock has no idea what he means.
“The most important thing,” John repeats and looks at him earnestly. “I said I wanted to concentrate on my writing and my work and you.”
John rests his hand on Sherlock’s forearm.
“Because I realised Wednesday night how much you’ve been doing for me, and I thought how selfish it was of me that I wasn’t even trying to get over her, when it was obviously troubling you. And then it hit me, you know, that I still have so many reasons to want to be okay. And you’re the most important one.”
Sherlock’s throat is tight, which is good, because if he could speak, he would say I love you, John. I love you. I love you.
“So you’re right. I’m going to move on anyway, because now I want to.”
Sherlock would have told John that he should be trying to be all right not because of his patients or readers or Sherlock, but because of himself, since John is the one who matters the most. But he’s glad that John has found motivation and he wouldn’t dare to say anything that might discourage him, and then he also feels quite ridiculously touched. That John should acknowledge Sherlock’s efforts like that, that he should freely admit how much he values him, that Sherlock should be his most important reason... it’s not something Sherlock could ever have imagined. It’s almost as if John loved him back, almost as good. It’s more than anything Sherlock has ever dared to hope for.
John does not succumb to depression anymore. There are still times when he’s sad and wistful, but if he does not speak for hours it’s only because he’s tired or because there’s no need to speak. He does not try to ask out any more women, but he and the new receptionist at the surgery (Diane Miller, thirty-six, divorced, irreproachable past) seem to be friendly. John has a strong will - Sherlock is convinced that all will be well soon.
And then, in the middle of December, after they have successfully solved a complicated case, they decide to have dinner at a rather fancy fish restaurant. They have just started eating when John glances around and freezes, staring towards the entrance.
“What is it?” Sherlock asks, but turns to look before John has a chance to answer.
There are four people waiting to be seated, and one of them is unmistakably Mary Morstan, hanging on the arm of a tall, dark-haired man. Sherlock vaguely remembers he met the other two people once - some incredibly dull friends of Mary’s. Sherlock turns back to face John before they can catch him looking.
“We can leave at once if you want to.”
John looks blankly at his smoked salmon.
“I... no, I don’t...”
Sherlock sees the waiter show the four people to a table not very far away, but fortunately they cannot see John’s face from there. It is highly probable that they’ll notice him and Sherlock sooner or later, however.
“We can just leave and go somewhere else,” Sherlock says. “It doesn’t matter.”
“No,” John insists. “We’ll finish the meal.” He sounds determined, but he also shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Sherlock tries not to look at the other table. He doesn’t want to know anything about them. He’s going to talk about the case and pretend that she is not here.
Mary’s laugh reaches them and Sherlock sees John’s fingers tightening around his knife and fork, his knuckles whitening.
“Could we...” he begins tentatively, not meeting Sherlock’s eyes. “Would you mind -- could we pretend we’re here together?”
“We are here together,” says Sherlock, before he realises what John means.
“No, I mean together. As a couple.” A faint blush rises in John cheeks.
“I... yes. Of course.” Sherlock cannot refuse. John doesn’t want to leave, since it would look like he’s running away, and of course Sherlock is going to do anything that will make John less uncomfortable, despite the strange hollowness that seems to be spreading inside his chest.
“Thank you.” John drops his fork, reaches for Sherlock’s hand and grips his wrist almost painfully. “Sorry. I know it’s stupid, I just....”
“It’s okay.” Sherlock pries John’s hand gently away from his wrist and holds it in his own for a while, before letting it go so they can resume eating. “I don’t mind.”
Sherlock feels strangely numb. How is he supposed to make romantic gestures that will seem real to the other people but fake to John? What if John notices that they are not fake at all? At least while they’re eating he doesn’t have to do much, just maybe lean a bit closer to John.
Sherlock doesn’t eat much more, despite John nagging him about it. They ask for the bill as soon as John has finished eating. Sherlock helps John into his coat, and then takes hold of John’s hand, lacing their fingers together, since they’ll have to walk past Mary’s table. Sherlock has never held hands with anyone like this before. It’s such a simple gesture, but Victor was always unsure about public displays of affection, and there’s never been anyone else. He can feel the heat of John’s palm against his, the dry skin on John’s knuckles. The fact that it doesn’t mean anything weighs in his stomach like a stone.
They reach the exit calmly, but then they have to stop, since Mary doesn’t have any sense of shame at all. She could have just let them pass without acknowledging them, or maybe just said hello, but no, she has to run after them and talk to them and Sherlock has never hated anyone more in his life.
He drops John’s hand and wraps his arm around his waist instead, pulling him close.
Sherlock has often complained that John is a bad actor, but he seems to be scintillating this time. There is a tightness around his mouth and eyes, but Sherlock only notices it because he notices everything, and especially everything about John. To Mary, he probably seems completely natural.
Sherlock can’t make himself pay attention to what she’s saying - some lies about how nice it is to see them and how glad she is that John looks happy. Sherlock glares at her and John says something polite in response and Sherlock pulls him even closer. For once, he has the opportunity to act jealous and get away with it, so he’s going to use it.
“We don’t have time for mindless chatting,” he snarls when Mary opens her mouth to say something yet again and he drags John away.
“You didn’t have to be so harsh,” says John once they are outside. “She was just being polite.”
Sherlock growls something incomprehensible in reply.
“And you can let go of me now.”
Sherlock didn’t realise he was still pressing John against his side.
“Thank you for doing this, though,” John continues as Sherlock lets go of him and stuffs his hands in his pockets. He feels cold and empty.
“I don’t see what use it was,” he hisses. He’s not angry at John, but he feels like a spring ready to pop, irritable and itchy. He walks too quickly, John has to jog to keep up with him, but he cannot bring himself to care.
“I didn’t want her to think that I’m still pining after her,” John says quietly. “I’m sorry. I know it was pathetic.”
“There’s nothing pathetic about you, John, and I’d really appreciate if you would stop
John gives him a strange look, but Sherlock barely notices it, since he’s busy staring straight ahead.
John obviously feels a bit down after the encounter with Mary, and maybe he’d like to talk to Sherlock about it, but Sherlock is determined to ignore the whole incident since only thinking about it makes him want to jump out of his skin, and John picks up on that fairly quickly.
And Christmas is fast approaching, which makes John think about his one and only Christmas with Mary. Sherlock thinks it would be best to ignore the holiday completely, but with mistletoe and fake snow and carols everywhere, it’s absolutely impossible.
On Christmas Day, they are going to have lunch with Mummy, Mycroft and Mycroft’s annoying wife Christine, which Sherlock agreed to only because Mummy is fond of John and they like to spend hours making fun of Sherlock and it’s apparently very entertaining. So there is a possibility that Sherlock will get to hear John laugh, and that’s worth the torture that several hours spent in Mycroft and Christine’s company inevitably entail.
In the end they spent most of Christmas Eve chasing a gang of robbers across London, which is good, since the adrenaline rush makes John forget about Mary for a while, and then John makes spaghetti for dinner, and they watch a terrible film and drink wine.
“You know,” John says in a low voice after a long period of silence, “sometimes I think that being married to one’s work is a very wise choice.”
“You wouldn’t like it.” Sherlock doesn’t particularly like it either. Not anymore.
“No,” John agrees. “I suppose not.” He hesitates, and then he asks slowly, “Did you always want it to be like that? Was there... was there never anyone?”
Sherlock wonders if John has been waiting for an opportunity to ask Sherlock about this, or if it just occurred to him now.
“There was,” he admits. “Once.”
“Oh? You never told me! When was that?”
“At university. It’s not important.” He hasn’t talked about Victor for years.
John’s eyes widen.
“It wasn’t that idiot Sebastian, was it?”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I think I had better taste than that.” He doesn’t want to talk about Victor with John, but John seems very interested and Sherlock has possibly had too much wine. “His name was Victor. We met when his dog bit me in the ankle. He kept apologizing to me for days afterwards – he was rather sweet.” He smiles at the memory. “We were together for a few months.”
John appears to be absolutely shocked that Sherlock would use the word “sweet” to describe a person.
“What happened? Why did you break up?” John asks, as if he couldn’t well imagine the hundreds of reasons why people might want to leave Sherlock.
“As you may have noticed,” Sherlock smiles wryly, “I can be rather difficult.”
“He didn’t like the body parts in the fridge?”
“I didn’t have access to a mortuary at that time, so unfortunately there were no body parts. Not human, at least.” John chuckles. Sherlock shrugs. “I suppose we just drifted apart. Wanted different things.”
“Did you miss him?”
“Yes. I missed having someone to talk to, most of all. It was before I had the skull.”
John looks at him with a strange softness in his eyes.
“Why didn’t you find someone else?”
“It didn’t seem worth the trouble.”
John eyes him thoughtfully. “Did you love him?”
Sherlock should give a definite answer, yes or no, and cut the conversation short. He likes the way John looks at him, however, the way he concentrates only on him, and it makes him light-headed. “I thought I did, at the time.”
“How do you know you didn’t?”
Sherlock has drunk about half the bottle of wine and he has low alcohol tolerance. That’s the only explanation for what he says next.
“Because I fell in love with someone else later.”
John smiles. “You know, it’s possible to love more than one person in a lifetime.”
It’s possible for John, in any case. Sherlock’s heart – the metaphorical one – is much smaller, drier and colder than John’s. Sherlock can only love one person, and even that is a miracle.
“Maybe,” he concedes. “But with Victor, it wasn’t anything like… anything like it.”
“Why didn’t things work out with the other guy then?”
“He wasn’t interested, obviously.”
“How… how long after Victor was that?”
“A long time.”
Of course, the imprecise answer piques John’s interest. Sherlock always gives information as precise as possible. He should have known that John would notice.
“When was it?”
Sherlock swallows. He can sense the impeding catastrophe hovering in the air, but he does nothing to stop it. The morbid part of him wants it to happen, wants John to find out, because maybe if John knew, maybe he’d consider...
“About three years ago.”
“What?” John straightens in his seat. “Do I know him? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s not important, John,” Sherlock says brusquely and he thinks he might throw up. “It’s not someone I can have.”
There is a moment of ringing silence. Sherlock stares at the last drop of wine in his glass and he doesn’t look up at John’s low, surprised “Oh.”
Sherlock feels all frozen inside. He cannot lift his eyes. He knows John won’t be offended, or laugh at him, no, but he will feel sorry for him, pity him, and Sherlock doesn’t want to see that. He wishes he could erase this entire conversation from the space-time continuum. It’s going to ruin everything, and it’s Sherlock’s own fault.
“Sherlock...” John whispers, very softly.
“It’s nothing, John,” Sherlock says sharply. “It’s fine. Nothing you need to concern yourself with.”
“But I... you’re my friend. Of course I‘m concerned.”
Sherlock closes his eyes to make sure he won’t have to look at John, in case his head decides to turn towards the source of John’s voice of its own accord.
“I assure you it’s completely unnecessary. I’m fine with the way things are now and I have no intention of trying to change them, since I know perfectly well that they never will.” He’s unable to say it in more concrete terms. He hopes it’s enough to assure John that he’s absolutely safe from Sherlock’s advances and that Sherlock is not unhappy (he knows John would worry about that). He stands up. “I’m going to bed,” he says with his back to John.
“Sherlock, I’m really...”
“John, please,” Sherlock sighs. “Let it go.”
There’s silence for a few seconds, and Sherlock can feel John’s gaze on his shoulder blades.
“Good night, then,” John says gently, and Sherlock flees into his room without another word.
He leans against the door in his bedroom without turning the light on and just breathes for a minute, his heart beating fast.
What will happen now? How can he ever look at John, knowing that he knows? He’s ruined everything. John will probably want to leave now. It’s going to make him uncomfortable, he’ll think that some space between them might help Sherlock (but it won’t. Sherlock went to France for two months to solve incredibly boring cases when John moved in with Mary, and it didn’t help at all). And even if John doesn’t leave, it’s going to be so awkward. The easy touches are definitely over. (What does John think about them now? Does he wish he hadn’t allowed them?) Will everything Sherlock does suddenly seem to have a different motive?
Sherlock thinks about the gifts he bought for John. A custom-made leather notebook embossed with John’s name and a set of elegant pens, since John types so slowly that he prefers to scribble away on paper, a dark blue cashmere jumper that will make his eyes stand out, and choice Dian Hong tea (stolen from Mycroft who brought it from his last trip to China, but John doesn’t have to know that). Maybe all those things together are slightly more expensive than what one should give to a friend. Will it now look like a cheap attempt to seduce John? To buy him? Sherlock just wants him to have nice things, and John would never buy them himself. He was happy that John was living with him again, and so he bought a bit more than in the years before. What else should Sherlock spend his money on if not the person he likes best, after all? He didn’t mean anything by it. (Did he?)
And then the lunch with Mummy. Mycroft and his wife, Sherlock and John. Will John see a pattern? He never minded before, but might now. Maybe he won’t come. Maybe a growing distance will appear between them. Maybe today was the last day.
He doesn’t know what he’ll do if he loses John’s friendship because of this.
Sherlock remembers what it was like at the beginning. The breathless delight, the dizzying thrill of being in love, when every look, word, touch seemed electric, laden with sweet hidden meaning, when it seemed that he could live on nothing but John’s smile and shared air, when he woke up every morning thinking I’ll see him againand it was glorious. Nothing has ever felt quite so good.
And then it somehow stopped being enough and Sherlock wanted something. More. He remembers the realisation that he would never have it, a heavy emptiness that seemed to drain life out of him. John liked women, and that was it.
Later it had turned out that wasn’t quite it, after all, and that made things even worse. An old friend of John’s, an absolutely incompetent Foreign Office employee, contacted them about some documents that had been stolen from him, and it soon became obvious that rather than an old friend, Percy Phelps was an ex-lover. It gave Sherlock short-lived hope that maybe he could have a chance. He found out, however, through careful questioning of Harry Watson and Mike Stamford, that while John’s been known to have a passing fling with a man or two, it was many years ago and he’s only ever had serious relationships with women. And if John sometimes gives a man a quick, appreciative look, it is never Sherlock.
There are obvious similarities between the people John chooses as romantic partners: they are all ordinary, kind, reliable, calm, polite, normal. John likes adrenaline and danger and madness, but he likes his love life steady and calm and orderly. A safe haven. Everything Sherlock is not. Sherlock would change for John, if he could, he knows he has changed, but not enough.
He’s learned to be satisfied with what he can get, and it’s not bad, not at all, and he’ll go on like this if only John lets him.
Sherlock spends most of the night awake, feeling sick, and in the morning delays leaving his room for as long as he can. When he finally gathers up the courage, he finds John sitting on the sofa, reading a book Harry has given him and drinking his second cup of tea. Sherlock is almost surprised, since he’s managed to half convince himself that John would be gone.
John looks up from his book when Sherlock enters.
“Ah, good. I was starting to worry you died in your sleep.” He picks up a blue tie lying on the coffee table. “Is this yours?”
Sherlock doesn’t answer for a while and just stares at John, who seems... normal. Like any other day.
“Maybe,” he answers cautiously, in case it’s some kind of trick question. He doesn’t wear ties when he can help it, and he doesn’t even remember what those he owns look like.
“It was in the fridge,” John explains with raised eyebrows. “Do I want to know why there was a tie in the fridge?
Sherlock considers. He remembers, now: he was so bored last week that he started several experiments at the same time, and then John came home and announced that if the kitchen wasn’t immaculate in half an hour, he was going to set Sherlock’s violin on fire. Sherlock tried to clean up in a hurry, which apparently resulted in several items being... misplaced.
“No,” Sherlock says. He can feel a nervous tingling at the back of his neck. This isn’t right. John is supposed to be embarrassed or angry or something.
John shakes his head in disbelief and throws the tie at Sherlock, who stuffs it in his pocket.
“Do you keep tomatoes in your drawers?” he asks with a laugh. “Anyway, I made you tea, but it’s probably cold now. So make yourself another and hurry up, I want to open the gifts before we go.”
Sherlock decides to drink the cold tea, since John made it for him, and he feels waves of relief washing over him. John is not leaving, or distancing himself from Sherlock, or being awkward. He’s done what Sherlock asked him to do: he let it go. There is a new kind of softness in his eyes when he looks at Sherlock, but that’s all. He understands. He deals with this like he deals with everything Sherlock does. He puts the new jumper on immediately and rests his hand on Sherlock’s shoulder for a moment. He knows and he doesn’t mind. He’s wonderful. They’re all right.
Two days later, Diane the receptionist asks John out. He accepts.
Sherlock hates the fact that hope is such an everlasting, inextinguishable thing. He doesn’t want to hope. He hates that no matter how well aware he is, rationally, that John will never love him, he still hopes. And then it only hurts more, when John tells him, rather evasively, about his date with Diane. He didn’t expect John to give up dating just because now he knows about Sherlock’s misguided feelings, of course he didn’t. And John seems more optimistic about Diane than he was about Lisa, so it’s good. It is. That it makes Sherlock feel like his insides turned to stone for a second is only due to his own stupidity.
Moreover, it’s obvious that John is unsure about telling Sherlock. Of course he is - John is always considerate of other people’s feelings, he doesn’t want to cause Sherlock unnecessary pain, but he knows there is no way Sherlock wouldn’t find out. Sherlock keeps a carefully neutral face. He mustn’t give John a reason to worry.
“That’s good,” Sherlock assures him.
“Yes,” John says stiffly.
If Sherlock acts pleased, if he enquires about Diane and where they are going, will it seem faked?
“John,” Sherlock says slowly, turning away, “I hope you know... that I sincerely hope that things work out for the best for you. If... if you liked her, then I’d be genuinely happy for you.”
“Yes,” John sighs, “I do know that.” As if it made him unspeakably sad.
“Why are you still in your pyjamas?” John asks when he comes home at the most boring time of the most boring day of Sherlock’s life. Sherlock is lying on the sofa and he doesn’t answer, since answering is boring. Judging by the way John’s moving, he’s going out tonight, and that is far from being a motivation for Sherlock to do boring things.
“Sherlock, did you hear me? Get dressed.”
“It’s already dark. It would be counterproductive.” Maybe talking to John is slightly less boring than staring at the ceiling.
“No, it wouldn’t. We’re going to Angelo’s. I know he’s very tolerant, but I think he likes his guests to be properly clothed.”
“My clothing is perfectly adequate for my evening plans, which don’t include going anywhere.”
“Yes, they do.”
“No, they don’t. I’m not hungry. What would I do at Angelo’s?”
“Celebrate,” says John as if it was obvious.
“What is there to celebrate?” Maybe John’s success with Diane. For some reason Sherlock doesn’t feel like celebrating that.
“Your birthday, genius,” John laughs.
Oh. Sherlock had completely forgotten.
“Birthdays are boring.”
John sits down on the edge of the sofa.
“More boring than what you’re currently doing? Which is nothing?”
Sherlock looks at him through narrowed eyes. John seems to like the idea of celebrating Sherlock’s birthday.
“All right, then,” Sherlock agrees. It might not be so boring. Spending time with John is hardly ever boring, after all.
He sits up, and he finds himself closer to John than he expected. He wants to lie back down immediately, but that would mean acknowledging the lack of space between them.
“Mrs Hudson is coming too. And Lestrade and Molly.”
“I thought it would be nice,” John says defensively. “They like you, you know. And they have gifts for you.”
“Gifts are boring.”
“Should I just call them and cancel, then? I don’t know what Molly’s going to do with the three corpses she saved for you, though.” He frowns. “God, that sounded terrible.”
“Molly said I was forbidden to enter the mortuary until 2030, after the last... mishap,” Sherlock reminds him.
“I convinced her to reconsider her decision,” John smirks. “I had to promise to introduce her to my friends who’re still in the army. Apparently she likes men in uniform now.”
“What’s Mrs Hudson’s gift?” Sherlock asks, intrigued.
“She promised not to complain about any sounds or smells from your experiments, or about your violin, for a month.”
“And who does she want to be introduced to?”
“No one. But I’ll have to paint the walls in her kitchen.”
Something warm is spreading in Sherlock chest.
John smile broadens. “You’ll have access to Scotland Yard archives. You can solve any cold case you want to.”
“John!” Sherlock grips his arm. “That’s... thank you.” He doesn’t know what to say. Nobody has ever gone to such lengths to give Sherlock something he’d really appreciate.
John turns his head to face him. They’re very close. Sherlock’s chest almost touches John’s arm. John’s eyes are very blue. He’s still smiling. If they were any closer, Sherlock could feel John’s breath on his face. What if he dared to lean in little?
John’s phone beeps. Sherlock flinches.
John reads the text, frowning. Sherlock could look, but he doesn’t need to, to know who it’s from.
“You can go to her,” he says, and he hopes it sounds less bitter than it seems to him. “I wasn’t planning to do anything tonight anyway.”
“But I was,” John says, looking him straight in the eye, and he puts the phone back in his pocket without sending a reply. Then he turns away and says quietly, “It’s not... it doesn’t feel right anyway, with Diane. She’s... I like her, and we have a lot in common, but she’s more like a friend. I can’t... stop comparing her to Mary, and... I just can’t.”
It’s the first time John has spoken about Diane since Christmas Eve. They’ve had three dates so far, but John didn’t seem eager to speak about them, and Sherlock didn’t ask.
“But it’s better now, isn’t it? Better than it was?” Sherlock asks.
“Yes, I suppose, but...” he stops himself and shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter.” He gets up. “Get dressed, will you?”
By the third week of January, John and Diane have decided that they really should be just friends. It doesn’t seem to trouble John, although he is disinclined to talk about it - to Sherlock, at least. He’s had lunch with his ex-sister-in-law Clara three times since Christmas, which is about three times more often than they usually meet. Sherlock considers it probable that they talk about things John doesn’t want to talk to him about anymore.
John does not actively try to find anyone else after Diane. Sherlock thinks it’s just as well, since John seems more relaxed this way. Maybe it’s still too early for him to begin a new relationship. Sherlock accepts a lot of cases, since it is more likely that John will continue to be satisfied with being single if he has a lot of things to do. It doesn’t work out exactly according to plan, however.
In late February, Sherlock takes a case from Mycroft: find Lady Bardsley’s stolen diamond necklace. Searching for lost jewellery is absolutely beneath Sherlock, of course, but Mycroft says that Lady Bardsley is “an old family friend” and “a person of great influence” and then threatens to call Mummy, which is really extremely childish of him, and in the end Sherlock accepts.
Sherlock finds Lady Bardsley to be just as unpleasant as he remembers her from some dreadfully boring party Mummy held at least ten years ago. What he didn’t remember, however, was that she has a son. Michael Bardsley is a young man of about thirty years of age and it is instantly obvious that he’s the black sheep of the family, since he had never shown any interest in politics, is a primary school teacher, doesn’t drive, and is gay. It is also abundantly clear that he is attracted to older, blond-haired men with a military background and wearing woolly jumpers.
Fortunately, John seems oblivious to Michael’s unsubtle offers to “show him around the garden while Mr Holmes is busy questioning the staff.” He tells him that he has to stay with Sherlock and take notes. Sherlock shoots Michael a triumphant look, which Michael catches, frowns, and looks thoughtfully from Sherlock to John and back to Sherlock again.
Sherlock is irritated for three reasons: first, he doesn’t see why Michael has to spend time at his parents’ house and cannot just go back to his own flat or somewhere else far away. Second, the stupid necklace was not stolen at all. Sherlock finds it lying under the bed in one of the guest bedrooms. Lady Bardsley, blushing furiously, declares that she has absolutely no idea how it got there.
And third, it occurs to Sherlock that dating a man for a change might be exactly what John needs to finally get over Mary and start a new relationship. It is unlikely that Michael would remind him of Mary, and the novelty of being with a man for the first time in years, maybe even for the first time without the help of alcohol, might prove to be both a welcome distraction and a challenge.
John seems to enjoy talking to Michael. It would be worth it, if it helped John. And so Sherlock steels himself and drags John aside before they leave the mansion.
“Ask him out,” he says with a calm he doesn’t feel.
“You heard me. He’s obviously taken with you, he’s good-looking, he’s not completely stupid and he seems like the sort of person you could like. He won’t ask you, since he’s alternately convinced that you’re straight and unsure about the nature of our relationship, but if you ask him, he’ll say yes.”
John just stares at him with a rather endearing confused expression on his face.
“What?” Sherlock huffs. “Did you think I didn’t know you’re occasionally attracted to men? I would have to be blind not to notice the way you and that Phelps character behaved around each other, even his fiancée noticed.” She seemed to like the mental images it called up much more than Sherlock. “And since you find it difficult to be romantically involved with a woman again, maybe it would help you to be with a man for a while.” He takes a deep breath. “I’ll wait for you at the station.”
He turns on his heel and walks away with long strides.
John and Michael agree to meet for coffee the next day, though John seems dreadfully embarrassed about it, at least in front of Sherlock. Sherlock makes sure to be away at the mortuary the whole afternoon, so that John doesn’t have to face him when he leaves, nor when he gets home. He dislikes the fact that there is now something that they cannot talk about, but considering how much worse it could have been, it’s really not so bad.
John doesn’t mention how the date went, but he’s relaxed and in a good mood when Sherlock comes home, and he and Michael are going to have dinner next week, so Sherlock hopes that all is well.
Sherlock retires to his room at nine the evening of the dinner, turns the lights off and puts headphones on. John will think Sherlock is asleep when he returns, so he won’t have to talk to him, and Sherlock won’t hear him come, and he will be able to pretend that John arrived early. He lies awake for a long time in the dark, thinking about how happy John used to be, when he was still with Mary. Even though he’s mostly all right now, there is still something missing, and if Michael helps him to get that something back, then Sherlock cannot hate him, even if he takes John away.
John is lost in thought and distracted the next day. Sherlock wonders if something went wrong at the dinner, but prefers not to ask, at least not for now. John turned the telly on when he came home from work in the evening, but Sherlock knows that he’s not watching it, since he doesn’t flip through the channels during commercials.
When Sherlock offers to make tea, John doesn’t react at first, and then he says, instead of answering, “I’m not going to see Michael again.”
Sherlock stops halfway to the kitchen.
“It didn’t go well, yesterday?” he asks softly.
John shakes his head. “It was fine, but... I don’t think it would work. I couldn’t concentrate on him.”
Sherlock takes a few steps back towards John.
“Were you still thinking about Mary?”
John looks at him for a moment without saying anything, and then he stands up.
“No, not about Mary,” he says quietly and steps closer without breaking eye contact. He licks his lips. “I was thinking about you.”
It takes Sherlock a few seconds to realise what John means, what he must mean. Dear, kind John. Of course he dislikes the idea that he might be causing Sherlock pain.
“No, John, no, please,” he says urgently. “I told you, it’s fine, you mustn’t concern yourself with me, if there’s a chance you could be happy with him, then that’s great and I --”
“No, no!” John shakes his head emphatically. “That’s not what I meant at all! I mean that I was there with him and all I could think about was that I’d much rather be there with you.”
John cannot mean it the way it sounds. It’s impossible, there’s no reason why Sherlock’s heart should be threatening to break out of his ribcage. There is undoubtedly a logical explanation. John probably means that he’d prefer to spend time with Sherlock as friends, rather than trying to date people when he’s not ready for it. Yes.
“I’m sorry I talked you into it, John, I honestly thought it could help you.”
“Sherlock.” John steps even closer, frowning, and reaches up to rest one gentle hand on the side of Sherlock’s face, fingertips brushing his ear and the skin on his neck. “Are you deliberately trying to misunderstand me? I’m saying that if I’m going to go on dates, I want them to be with you. I want you.”
John moves his hand to the back of Sherlock’s neck, pulling his head down, and he plants two short, chaste kisses on Sherlock’s lips.
Sherlock doesn’t move. He doesn’t think, he probably doesn’t even breathe. He stands there and stares at John, who looks at him with soft eyes, his thumb drawing small circles under Sherlock’s earlobe.
“Okay?” John asks in a low voice. Sherlock nods - there don’t seem to be any words left in the world. John takes Sherlock’s hand in his and leads him to the sofa, where he sits next to him without letting go of his hand.
“Are you sure it’s all right?” John asks again, sounding slightly concerned. “You’re shaking.” He strokes along Sherlock’s upper arm firmly.
To Sherlock, it seems more like the world is shaking. He feels he like he’s been hit in the head with a blunt object rather than kissed. His thoughts are floating aimlessly in the vacuum that his brain has turned into. Nothing makes sense.
John takes Sherlock’s head in his hands and looks at him intently. “What is it?”
Sherlock hesitantly covers one of John’s hands with his own. “John,” he breathes, since that is the only word that still exists.
John smiles a little. He leans in and rests his forehead against Sherlock’s. “Can I kiss you again?” he whispers, and Sherlock can feel his warm breath on his face. Sherlock’s own breath hitches with the “yes” he doesn’t quite manage to pronounce, but John understands. He tilts his head and presses his mouth to Sherlock’s again.
John’s lips move against his with gentle pressure, slow and unhurried, and the world rights itself slowly, and then it hits Sherlock: John Watson is kissing him. His John is kissing him. Sherlock hasn’t kissed anyone for fifteen years, he’s probably terrible at it, but it doesn’t matter, this is John, John’s mouth, John’s hands, John wants this for some reason, he’s right here and he’s kissing Sherlock.
Grabbing a fistful of John’s shirt, Sherlock pulls him closer and starts to kiss back.
“Yes,” John sighs, obviously pleased with Sherlock’s response, running his fingers through black curls. His tongue flicks against Sherlock’s lips and Sherlock’s mouth falls open of its own accord, inviting John in. John licks at his lower lip before slipping inside and oh, Sherlock had forgotten how strange it feels to have another person’s tongue in his mouth, and also how perfect, or maybe it never was perfect before because it wasn’t John, but now it is, it’s John, John, wet and hot and strong but still very gentle, caressing Sherlock’s hard palate, the edge of his teeth, his tongue. He runs his fingers down Sherlock’s spine with the faintest hint of nails and it’s electric, it makes a soft involuntary sound escape Sherlock’s throat and John evidently likes it, since he presses closer and his teeth scrape lightly on Sherlock’s lip. His tongue gradually retreats, coaxing Sherlock’s into following, past Sherlock’s teeth and past John’s, into the wet heat of John’s mouth, oh, he can taste John, tea and cheddar cheese and John. He wants to get closer but he can’t because they’re sitting next to each other, why on earth did they sit down, it’s not enough, not enough.
John pulls away slightly and presses their foreheads together again. Sherlock’s back and neck are starting to ache from the contorted position, but it doesn’t matter because John’s hands are on him. They breathe each other’s breath for a while, and then John whispers, “Come to bed.” His voice is low and husky, unlike anything Sherlock has ever heard, and it sends a faint shiver down his spine.
“It’ll be more comfortable,” John continues, dropping a kiss on Sherlock’s hairline, his jaw, the tip of his nose. “We won’t do anything you don’t want.”
Sherlock smiles and kisses the corner of John’s mouth. Doesn’t John know that there isn’t anything Sherlock wouldn’t want to do with him? He takes hold of John’s wrist and pulls him to his feet and then closer, closer still, until John’s body is flush against his, finally, finally, it’s nothing like the comforting embraces they shared before, no, it’s raw and blazing and vibrating with energy, he can feel John’s heart hammering against his chest, or maybe it’s his own heart. He bows his head and kisses John clumsily again, thrusting his tongue deep, claiming John’s mouth, claiming John. His for tonight. John hums against Sherlock’s mouth and grinds his hips into him and yes, yes.
They make it into Sherlock’s bedroom eventually and collapse on the unmade bed, and then John is under him and his hands are under Sherlock’s shirt, on his naked back, and they’re still kissing, Sherlock could go on kissing John for the rest of his life.
Then Sherlock’s shirt is gone completely and so is John’s, and there is so much of John’s skin to touch and explore and taste and John lets him do it, John smells like his shower gel and wool and sweat and late winter in London and Sherlock feels high on it, lightheaded, breathless, dazed. He places his hand on John’s groin and John sighs, “Sherlock.”
They struggle with belt buckles a little and then they’re naked, legs tangled together and faces close. John’s left hand is on Sherlock’s hip and the other buried in his hair as Sherlock strokes him. He’s years out of practice but he doesn’t think John minds, based on his laboured breathing and the small noises he makes that sound mostly like “yes” and “god” and “Sherlock”. Then he lets out a deep, wordless groan and his release spills over Sherlock’s fingers just as the hand in his hair tightens, and Sherlock is pulled into a messy kiss.
His own climax takes him by surprise the moment John touches him. With John in his arms to focus on, his own arousal barely registered, and suddenly the world goes bright and black and still, and if he makes any sound at all, it’s drowned in the kiss.
They stay motionless for a while, breathing and holding on to each other and there is nothing in the universe apart from the two of them. John kisses his shoulder and whispers something that Sherlock doesn’t catch, he doesn’t care, he feels soft and boneless and drowsy and he just wants to John to stay right here --
But John doesn’t. Suddenly there is just cold air next to Sherlock and John is gone. Sherlock sits up, staring at the open door and wondering emptily if this is it, if this is all he gets, if it’s over for John now. It probably is. There was never any chance of it being more than one night anyway, so it’s for the best it ended early, Sherlock didn’t expect anything more, it’s fine, it was more than he’d ever dared to hope for, so it’s more than fine, really, it’s...
John comes back. He comes back with a wet towel and a bottle of water, and he cleans them both up while Sherlock drinks, and then he strokes Sherlock’s hair and whispers tenderly, “I’m here. I’m here.”
They settle under the covers, John buries his nose in the crook of Sherlock’s neck, and Sherlock’s heart beats John-John-John.
Sherlock wakes early - judging by the sound of traffic, it must be about four o’clock. He feels well-rested already, he’s used to sleeping little and they went to sleep early last night. They. He and John. Last night.
He turns his head and looks at the man lying next to him. They haven’t shut the curtains, and there is enough light coming in through the window -- he can see John’s sleeping form well enough. He has moved in his sleep - he is now facing away from Sherlock. Of course, that doesn’t mean anything, people have no control over their movements in sleep, and John has always been a restless sleeper, but... still. John has turned away from him. Were Sherlock superstitious, he’d think it a bad omen.
What happened last night?
They had sex. People (normal people who are not Sherlock) have sex all the time. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just an activity. John doesn’t sleep with people he doesn’t care about, and that’s why he chose Sherlock - he still feels too much for Mary to be able to form a new attachment with one of his dates, and so he went for Sherlock, whom he likes, albeit only in a platonic way. People have sex with their friends sometimes, and it doesn’t mean the friendship changes into something else. It’s nothing out of the ordinary.
It makes perfect sense. John missed physical affection, but Mary had hurt him in such a way that he was unable to form a meaningful bond with someone new. But he trusted Sherlock. Yes. With Sherlock, he was able to overcome whatever it was that prevented him from being with someone else, because he trusted him, because he knew that Sherlock would be happy to do anything to help, wouldn’t hurt him, wouldn’t expect anything. Maybe John even thought that it would help Sherlock to get his stupid infatuation out of his system.
Maybe, if Sherlock was lucky, he’d get a few weeks with John. He remembers what John said after the lack of success with Lisa: that he wanted nothing serious, just to be with someone for a while in order to get over Mary. A rebound relationship. What was more likely, however, was that John really wanted just the one night, because what could he get from a relationship with Sherlock? Sherlock cannot give John anything that he could possibly want.
It would probably be easier if it was just the one night. Hurt less. But whatever John wants is fine, of course. It doesn’t really matter. In the end it will be John with someone he loves and Sherlock on his own. That’s the natural order of things. That’s what he’s used to.
He watches the back of John’s head, the rise and fall of his chest. He’s breathing deeply and regularly - his sleep is calm and undisturbed. That’s good. It’s nice to know John feels safe in Sherlock’s bed, if nothing else.
He should just get up, like he would after six hours of sleep on any other occasion. It’s not like anything has changed. It’s even possible that John would find it embarrassing to wake up next to Sherlock.
He leaves the bed and finds some clothes in the dark, careful not to wake John. He’s tempted to look at John’s sleeping face from the other side of the bed, but he forces himself not to. He would never leave the room otherwise.
He takes a cold shower, makes himself a cup of coffee with lots of sugar and decides to continue his experiment on bee larvae. It will be better if he’s busy with something when John wakes up.
He hears John go to the bathroom shortly after six, and considers preparing breakfast, but discards the idea very quickly. He never makes breakfast, it would look... suspicious if he made it now. No. Just tea. That’s normal. It will be a clear signal that he’s fine with what happened and doesn’t expect anything more. Yes. He should just behave normally.
“Morning,” John says rather cheerfully when he enters the kitchen. Sherlock peers through the microscope instead of looking at John and makes a vague humming sound in response.
“What are you doing?” John asks, and Sherlock hears him move towards him, and then feels him lean in to look over Sherlock’s shoulder. John makes a disgusted sound and straightens up. “Well, I really should know better than to look at your experiments first thing in the morning,” he says laughingly, brushing his hand over Sherlock’s shoulder lightly. “Thanks for the tea. Do you want some breakfast?” He opens the fridge. “I feel like scrambled eggs.”
“I don’t want anything,” Sherlock says, and even he can hear that his voice sounds off.
The fridge door falls shut.
“Sherlock? Are... is everything all right?”
“Of course,” he says, and he hopes he sounds calm enough.
John shuffles his feet hesitantly.
“I think... maybe we should talk. About last night.”
“That’s completely unnecessary.” He keeps staring through the microscope, but he doesn’t see anything.
“No, I just think you should know...”
Sherlock can’t listen to it. He just can’t, he couldn’t take it.
“I understand, John,” he says flatly. “You don’t need to explain anything to me.”
He hears John’s slow steps towards him.
“I rather think I do,” he says very softly. “Sherlock, look at me.”
Sherlock jumps up before John can touch him and turns his back to him.
“John, please. It’s fine. I understand. I’m... I’m glad to have been of use, and --”
“Of use?” John interrupts him sharply. “What are you talking about? Is that what you think I’ve been doing? Using you? Sherlock!”
He grabs Sherlock’s arm and forces Sherlock to turn and face him. His features are tense, as if... as if he was in pain.
“No, John, no,” Sherlock says hastily, “of course not, I didn’t say that well, I just meant that it’s all fine and I don’t expect anything from you, I...”
He sounds so ridiculously pathetic. He must pull himself together and hold on, the conversation will be over soon, and then he can go... somewhere and have a breakdown. Just not in front of John.
John looks at him with something deeply sad in his eyes, and then he takes his hand and guides him towards the table.
“Let’s sit down. We need to talk about this.”
Sherlock sits down obediently, taking deep breaths and trying to remain calm.
John doesn’t let go of his hand. Instead, he strokes gently at Sherlock’s pulse point.
“You have a right to expect things from me, Sherlock,” he says gravely. “Why wouldn’t you?”
“Because it’s foolish to expect things that won’t happen,” Sherlock huffs. Why does John have to drag it out? Can’t he just let Sherlock go?
“But why couldn’t they? Sherlock, if I’d wanted a one-night stand or whatever, I would’ve found somebody like-minded and not my best friend.” He places his hand on Sherlock’s face and lifts his head gently, so Sherlock would to look at him, but he prefers to lower his gaze and look down. “Just -- look at the evidence. When, in all the years you’ve known me, did I sleep with someone without wanting something more?”
“You said you didn’t want anything serious,” Sherlock reminds him.
“Yes, I did say that,” John agrees. “More than three months ago. Why do you think I waited so long?” He leans in closer and squeezes Sherlock’s hand tighter. “Because I had to be sure that it was you I wanted and not just a distraction, that the thing with Mary was behind me. Do you think I could risk hurting you like that, knowing how you feel about me? Do you think I could risk our friendship? I wouldn’t have let last night happen if I hadn’t been absolutely sure that I wanted to be with you.”
Sherlock looks at him then, because John sounds so sincere, and Sherlock so desperately wants to believe him, even though he knows he shouldn’t. He knows that if he allows himself to believe, to hope, it will only make the pain worse when it inevitably fails.
He doesn’t know what John sees in his face, but it makes John’s own face contort.
“Oh, Sherlock,” he breathes, and suddenly he’s straddling Sherlock’s lap and hugging him close to his chest.
“I cannot be what you need,” Sherlock mumbles weakly, even as he wraps his arms tightly around John.
“Of course you can. You are.” John presses a kiss on Sherlock’s temple. “You’re everything. I’m sorry I didn’t know it sooner, but I know it now.”
He means it, Sherlock thinks suddenly. John would never say things like that without meaning them. He might find later that it’s a big mistake, but he means it now. He means it.
“John,” he says, and it sounds like a sob.
“I’m scared too, you know,” John whispers, tightening his embrace and kissing Sherlock’s hair. “And I can’t promise you that it will always be perfect, or that it will last forever, but we’ve been through so much together and I think -- we have a good chance. Better than most couples, even. We can be happy together, I know we can, but not if we keep denying the possibility. I know it’s a risk, but, well, so is everything else. I think it’s worth trying.”
He withdraws a little to be able to look at Sherlock’s face. His eyes are bright and honest and Sherlock loves him.
“Just think about how brilliant it will be if it works, Sherlock. Think about it. Isn’t it worth trying?”
Sherlock looks at him and thinks about being old and having a house in Sussex and keeping bees and watching John wake up every morning
“Yes,” he says, and John smiles and it’s the most wonderful thing Sherlock has ever seen. “Yes, I think it is.”
Chapter 11: Epilogue
“Where is it?” Sherlock asks sharply.
John looks up from his newspaper. “Where is what?”
“The ring. Mary’s ring. Where is it?”
John smiles and folds the newspaper.
“I can’t believe it took you four days to notice it was missing. You’re supposed to be the master of observation.”
“Where is it?” Sherlock insists. There is a panicky feeling rising in his chest. He knows it’s stupid, he knows it, but it’s still there.
“Oh, it has a new owner now,” John says nonchalantly. “A very beautiful young woman named Chloe. The wedding will probably be in April.”
Sherlock stares and he can feel colour drain from his face.
John tilts his head and rolls his eyes.
“Sherlock, come on! What are you thinking? I sold it!”
Sherlock feels like an idiot. Of course John didn’t just go and propose to a random woman. He is with Sherlock now and he likes it - it should be impossible, but somehow it isn’t. The way Sherlock’s judgement gets clouded when it comes to John is absolutely unacceptable.
John smiles and stands up.
“By the way, do you know what I did with the money? I bought you a present.”
“It’s not my birthday,” Sherlock tells him, but he knows he sounds excited. He just likes getting presents from John, because it means John has been thinking of him.
“I know that, but I want to give you something anyway.”
He goes to the bookshelf, pulls out a few books and then he takes out a black leather case that was hidden behind them.
“Here,” he says with a shy smile, and hands the case to Sherlock.
Sherlock weighs it in his hand. It’s too big and too heavy to contain jewellery. He opens it.
There is an antique-looking magnifying glass with a silver handle inside.
“I know it’s not very practical,” John says hesitantly. “It’s mostly just decorative, but I know you don’t care for jewellery, and this seemed more fitting, so...”
Sherlock stares at the magnifying glass, because there is an engraving on the handle. The engraving says, With love, J.W.
He lifts his eyes to find John looking at him expectantly.
“Do you like it?” he asks rather charmingly.
Sherlock kisses him. He can feel John smile against his mouth, and then he wraps his arms around Sherlock’s neck and they kiss languidly for a while. John’s lips are soft and yielding under his and his body warm, and Sherlock knows that there is nothing in the world that compares to kissing John Watson, who’s just let him know he loves him.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” John breathes when they break apart.
“A definite yes,” Sherlock agrees and nuzzles the top of John’s head.
John moves his arms to Sherlock’s waist, setting his head against Sherlock’s shoulder and sighing contentedly. Sherlock carefully balances the case on top of a pile of books so he can have his hands free to hold John. He quite likes the way John’s head fits right under his chin.
“I met Mary this morning,” John says, and Sherlock forces himself not to tense.
“Hmm. Quite by accident, at the supermarket. She said that she and that boyfriend of hers broke up a month ago. Apparently he turned out to be a jerk, and now she regrets that she left me.” He presses himself closer against Sherlock. “I told her that I didn’t regret it at all.”
“I used to, of course, but I don’t anymore,” John says, pulling away slightly to look Sherlock in the eye. “I’m happy now, and I love you.”
It’s just words, but they make warmth burst deep inside Sherlock’s chest and spread to every cell of his body until he’s tingling with joy, and he thinks that he’s quite probably the luckiest man in the world.
“I love you too,” he breathes. It’s the first time he’s said it directly and it feels wonderful. “And now I want to take you to bed and examine every inch of your body with that magnifying glass.”
“Do you now?” John smirks. “Well, if you insist, I think I might be persuaded.”
Later, when they lie in bed, bodies entwined, warm and satisfied and in love, Sherlock thinks that he indeed doesn’t like wearing jewellery and that he’s expressed his negative views on matrimony several times, but he finds himself quite willing to reconsider many things where John is concerned. He doesn’t think he would mind wearing John’s ring. No, he wouldn’t mind that at all. It’s too early to be thinking about such things, they’ve only been together for three months, a week and two days, and less than a year ago John was planning to marry someone else, but maybe, in half a year or so... he could ask John. Perhaps on the 28th of January, in the lab at Bart’s, where they first met - that could be rather romantic. John might say no, of course, but Sherlock has a feeling that it’s a little bit more likely that he would say yes. And it will be brilliant if he does.