Chapter 1: One Year Before
John wishes he could pinpoint the exact moment he stopped correcting people who assumed they were a couple. It was a difficult kind of thing to put a finger on. He would have liked to question and analyze it and worry it like a loose tooth, that one particular moment, but he can't and it's very irksome.
Of the two of them, you would think the one with the greater tendency toward obsessive self-analysis would be Sherlock, but it isn't. Sherlock has always gotten along very well with his own mind (his very first flatmate, in a way) and he's never surprised by what it ends up doing even if he doesn't always pay attention to why. It tends to warn him before it does anything truly alarming, anyway. That is precisely why the human nature of other people is so fascinating and confounding—because he's so used to his own brain and everyone else's is so different.
He rather wishes John wasn't so concerned with remembering the last moment of "no, we're not a couple." John hasn't said anything, but Sherlock saw the question form behind his eyes—or more specifically, the little crease between his eyes—once at Angelo's. The site of their first not-a-date, which was probably what made him think of it. Sherlock, of course, knows the moment John is searching for. It was about a month ago in lack-of-response to Sally calling John his boyfriend. It was a rote jeer, off the cuff, just because "sidekick" and "lap dog" hadn't fit her mood that day. And John was going to say something to her, was just about to, once he finished this thought to Lestrade, and then he didn't, because there was a dead body and the grown-ups were talking and there was just no time for Sargeant Donovan. Sherlock saw it happening in John's face, and he remembers it because he was proud of John for, once, not being dull.
Sherlock knows the moment John's looking for, but he doesn't say because he also sees in the wrinkle of John's ophryon the intent to analyze it, and that would be almost as dull as rising to Donovan's bait for the dozenth time.
He is not worried about extremely straight John analyzing himself into a right panic and rushing off to marry some nice straight woman and have nice, straight babies. He is not worried about this because of the two of them, John not the one that usually goes rushing off into things but also because (in a train of thought suspiciously like how he relates to his own mind) he feels sure that if John were ever to lose the plot completely and do something alarming, he would warn Sherlock first. Perhaps in a text, or a note on the refrigerator. Have invented imaginary sexuality crisis for myself. Likely to propose marriage to first female person I meet. Please intervene accordingly.
But there is no such note, so Sherlock does not worry. He watches from the corner of his eye as John pauses in making the tea to search for the moment again, and Sherlock says nothing.---
Sherlock is surprised that he can't pinpoint the exact moment his personal bubble broke down.
He isn't sure why most people assume he's not a physical person. Human relations wise. What some people call "touchy feely." Awful phrase. "Physically affectionate" doesn't really work either, since it doesn't always hinge on affection. "Physically demonstrative" is closer, since there are lots of things one can demonstrate.
Anyway, he is a physical person. He thinks it should be obvious. Everyone calls it "no sense of boundaries" and "disregard for personal space" and shudders at how he has to see touch smell taste at every crime scene… and yet everyone also assumes he would be averse to physical contact. Really, just when he thinks he's figured out how other peoples' minds work, they find an even stupider way to go about things. The only reason he keeps his distance from people and not from corpses is that the living have a tendency to take issue, and he wouldn't normally care but they do go on about it, and it tends to distract from whatever he needs them for. He noticed this many years ago, and so he set a rule against it for his hands, instituted a shell of space between his body and others', like everyone else had. Touching is a bit like crying, now; he'll do it to shock, to manipulate, but never involuntarily, never just because he felt like doing it.
He doesn't even remember the first time he touched John casually, involuntarily, just because he felt like doing it—a hand on the arm, shoulder butted against shoulder, long fingers picking something from John's clothes or hair. It is remarkable that he does not remember, that he broke the years-old shell in a nothing moment without even noticing.
By the time he finally caught himself, Sherlock had moved on from plucking John's sleeve to get his attention to grabbing John's hand to drag him down an alley on a chase, to just leaning on him: elbow propped on John's shoulder as he watches John text, sitting back against John's shin as John watches telly and Sherlock researches on his laptop, slouching against John standing as one might against a door jamb when things are being dull.
Anderson witnesses one of these latter moments while they're being debriefed by Lestrade and sneers predictably. "Congratulations, you've made furniture," he says to John. "If you're actually aspiring to be his doormat, though, you might have to lie down first."
"I'm just not confident enough to attempt doormat yet," says John smoothly. "I feel like I need a transition object. A mop, maybe. Perhaps you could demonstrate by standing in the cupboard over there, closing the door, and being quiet until someone fetches you."
Sherlock tries not to look at Anderson or grin. In the former he succeeds; in the latter he fails miserably. He leans on John a little more showily. Lestrade rolls his eyes. John only stands up straighter.
Chapter 2: The Marriage
They get married for a case.
Well of course they do, of course they get married for a case, however farfetched that is, and the only thing surprising about this is how long it took Sherlock to find a case for which to get them married. A little over three years is how long, three years since they met, but he's only been keeping an eye open for one for the last year. It's still surprising.
It's mostly an experiment (of course it's an experiment) to see whether John can even be persuaded anymore to have that imaginary sexuality crisis. A year ago Sherlock noticed—sloppy of him, it had been true for months—that not only had John long ceased to correct others 'couple' assumptions, he was long since utterly unbothered by them, had stopped searching for the moment it had happened. Thus the experimental marriage. If there is one boundary Sherlock hasn't broken that could finally set off alarms in John (besides the obvious and ugh, no, not even his first marriage to his work is that physical) this is it.
And yes, all right, the experiment is only partially about whether it's possible to run John off. It's also about whether John intends to run off, which is a different thing entirely. A normal person might, if they felt the need, say casually "You're welcome to never leave, ever, by the way, if you like. How does that strike you?" Sherlock Holmes starts stealing Lestrade's active case files looking for one he can use to get them married.
John is sitting on the couch reading the paper the morning after Sherlock finds the perfect case. Sherlock comes in, picks up John's cup of tea from the table as though John made it for him, ad plops down in one of the chairs in a wide-planted stance only describable as "battle ready."
"John, will you marry me?" he asks, as someone else not-Sherlock might inquire after the score for the match yesterday.
John flicks his eyes up to Sherlock, registers confusion, down to his tea, registers annoyance, back up at Sherlock, hesitates in consideration, and then looks back down at his paper.
"You're going to make me say yes," he says. It's not a question.
"You can say no."
John snorts, because well, that's a lie.
"Yeah, all right," he sighs after a long moment. "I'll have to get my good suit laundered. There's a stain on the front I've been meaning to see to."
"I'll send it out with mine," says Sherlock automatically.
John nods absently, frowning at a headline. "Thanks."
A pause. Sherlock sips John's tea.
"It's for a case," he says.
"I figured," says John. Another pause. He looks up from his paper again. "Did you want to tell me about it?"
"Only if you want to hear," says Sherlock mildly. And John snorts again because that's a lie too. But he smiles.
"After the paper, then." Sherlock nods but continues watching John. He hadn't actually expected the imaginary sexuality crisis, but he hadn't expected this either.
"We'd have it annulled immediately following the case," he clarifies. John's eyes are still on the paper.
"I should hope so," he says, but not in tones of any real concern. Without looking up he tugs out a section of the paper and hands it to Sherlock. "Here, go look at the obits. I'm reading."
Sherlock takes the obituaries page and finally goes, a broad smile on his face that John doesn't see. John looks up and calls "And leave my tea!" but a moment too late.
John goes to pick up some rings without Sherlock, who is hard at work on the case although he oddly doesn't seem that concerned about the outcome. He doesn't express any opinion on the matter of the rings, so John gets just a crackerjack pair, the cheapest the jeweler has. If they're expensive, he reasons, he'll feel like has to go to the bother of selling them after.
Before the day is even out and long after the morning post makes its usual rounds, a small package arrives, containing two ring boxes holding lovely heavy gold bands, each with a bit of tasteful decorative engraving, nothing too showy. There is a note enclosed.
Congratulations on this happy occasion, says the note. But let's try to make your devotion to each other at least a little bit convincing, shall we? – MH
Sherlock considers this to be an unnecessary abuse of both the postal service and coy irony.
Lestrade doesn't make jokes about the marriage like everyone else, but also doesn't really acknowledge John's insistence that it's "for the case." He seems to take it more seriously than almost anyone else, including Sherlock and John, and it makes John a little uncomfortable, to be perfectly honest.
The case is solved without incident, although it takes Sherlock much longer than things of the type usually do, and he doesn't brag about the conclusion. John only knows it's over because they go out for Chinese.
About a month and a half later, John is sitting in Gregory Lestrade's office wrapping up some paperwork or other that Sherlock couldn't be bothered to come in for. Lestrade is rifling for something in his desk and the paperwork reminds John of the forms they picked up the same day of their wedding before they left the courthouse.
"I don't even know where the annulment forms have got to in that disaster zone Sherlock calls a flat," he comments. He sees that look, that look that Lestrade gives him, but he firmly pretends not to. "I'll probably never find them. I ought to just go pick up new ones."
This time Lestrade actually sighs. "John…"
"Are you waiting for me to tell you that it's okay if you don't want an annulment?" he says. "Because I will. Because it is."
Lestrade looks back down at his desk drawer with a resigned shrug of the eyebrows as though he wasn't really expecting John to take it well.
"Forget I said anything."
"Of course you are."
"No, I mean it," Lestrade insists, holding his hands up defensively. "Of course you are. I don't doubt it. And yet the fact remains that you're married to your flatmate—"
"For a case!"
"That's been over for a month! And you just sort of haven't bothered to get it annulled. You still wear your rings, for God's sake."
John crosses his arms over his chest, ring hand tucked out of sight. "What are you saying, then?"
The detective laughs, a little exasperated huff of breath. "God forbid I should dare to say anything," he says, shaking his head. "I just mean… Well, nothing about Sherlock's ever followed any rules. Maybe this doesn't either. Maybe for you blokes marriage just means taking each other off the rest of the world's hands." He sits back in his chair with a wide-flung gesture. "A publically declared unwillingness to move on."
John untucks his ring hand and stares down at the gold band, frowning mightily. Lestrade watches him, his own arms crossed now, eyebrows raised in challenge.
"We're just friends," John tries.
"Please," says Lestrade. "Friends isn't the word."
That evening, John gets home from some errands, comes straight into the kitchen where Sherlock is at his microscope, and holds out his hand.
"Ring," he says.
Sherlock has maybe a bit of a pang. Just a little one. Because he's perfectly fine with an annulment. Really he is, John's already proven all he needs to. But he'd stopped expecting it two weeks ago, and he's gotten to like the weight of the ring on his hand. He suspects his finger will feel a little naked without it. But the barely-there, nothing-at-all-really pang takes less than a second, and he pulls the ring off his finger and drops it in John's open hand. He turns back to his microscope quickly, and John busies himself at the sink.
Sherlock assumes he is making tea, but a few minutes later he realizes that the kettle hasn't whistled on time, and for that matter, the smell is distinctly un-tealike. He turns around, curious.
John is standing facing the sink, so Sherlock can't tell what he's holding. But the smell is coming from an open jar of jewelry polish on the counter next to him on the worktop. Sherlock stares at John's back until he turns around a dishrag and both their rings in his hand. He holds Sherlock's out to him, and Sherlock opens his hand dumbly.
"You can tell a lot about the state of a man's marriage from the shine on his wedding ring," says John with a wry grin, and drops the ring in his palm.
Sherlock's answering smile spreads across his face. It's wide and foolish but he can't help it. "Wouldn't want people to talk."
"People do little else," says John, replacing his ring. He screws the lid on the polish. "Tea?"
"Please," says Sherlock, and pushes the ring back onto his finger.
Chapter 3: Three Years
Whoops, did I say that this was all domestic fluff? There's a bit of angst at the end of this chapter. Sorry about that.
Molly is understandably disappointed when she realizes they're married for good, but, in a moment of surprising practicality, moves on. It turns out that when she is not besotted she is good fun to talk to and very intelligent, and she and John get on well. They get together for coffee sometimes and complain about Sherlock. The only drawback is that she starts seeking John's advice on men and shoes.
The others in their workplace, without Molly's vested interest, take longer to figure out that an annulment is not forthcoming. Sherlock and John—mostly Sherlock, as it is assumed John was coerced—were of course mocked at the time, but there was no single explosive moment of shock as there might have been.
The moment when Sally Donovan figures it out, however, is clear. Sherlock and John are on a case, bent over a body. John's attention is focused on trying not to step in the blood soaking the accounting office's carpet, but Sherlock is expecting Sally's realization and has been watching her with a closeness he normally saves for work or John. He sees the thought form on her face and does not try to stop it.
"You know," she says slowly, in her usual unnecessarily loud voice, "I always had my suspicions about those two." Dull. "But now it comes to it, you never see them kissing or holding hands or anything." Oh, so she had been paying attention! Interesting. "I bet you it's just a scam for the benefits or something."
Inspector Lestrade takes Donovan by the shoulder—not roughly, but it's a bit outside the sphere of professionalism all the same—and turns her toward him. Her expression is startled.
"Sergeant Donovan," he says in a voice much quieter than Sally's but which somehow still can be heard by everyone in the room. "If you can look at those men and tell me they don't mean as much to each other as any romantically involved couple you've ever seen, I will take you myself to the courthouse or wherever the hell you go and help you file against them for tax fraud right now." She looks.
John's smirk is thin and self-conscious, Sherlock's smug. They don't intend to exchange looks, but each tries to sneak a glance at each other at the same time, to try to see what Sally is seeing, and their eyes meet. Each man's smirk gets a little broader and John's looks less nervous. There is what feels like a long pause.
"Yeah, okay," Sally mumbles, and inspector Lestrade releases her shoulder and everyone gets back to what they were doing. John catches a glance at Donovan, and she looks so chastised and humbled that he wonders how they do look, what she saw.
Sherlock doesn't wonder.
Whereas Lestrade understands intuitively and others on the squad pick up hints (that usually just confuse them), Mrs. Hudson, bless her heart, never gets it. Until the end she believes Sherlock and John are as gay as larks. Never mind that they'd have to be exceptionally quiet larks to carry on a physical relationship for so long without her hearing anything of it; still Mrs. Hudson persists.
She delivers tea and advice to whichever remains whenever one of them storms out after one of their "domestics," gives them ostentatious privacy that they appreciate but don't actually need whenever they're having a prescheduled quiet night in, and tuts and worries when John has a night shift at the surgery, until he takes mercy and explains he's not having an affair. John makes one honest effort to explain the truth, just once, long before the wedding. The look she gives him is so reproachful, so I'm-not-angry-I'm just disappointed (presumably for trying to stay closeted to sweet, accepting, all-seeing Mrs. Hudson, of all people) that John feels a little ashamed in spite of it all and excuses himself. He never tries again. After they actually get married, he rather feels he's lost the right to.
And the thing is, it never really matters. Aside from the time a box of condoms showed up in their medicine cabinet and they both spent a week looking askance at each other before figuring out it was Mrs. Hudson who put it there, there was nothing about her assumptions that ever actually made her wrong. Her advice was always just as good as her tea.
"Sherlock needs to be right sometimes, dear," she says to John after Sherlock has swept dramatically out one evening. She pushes a mug of tea comfortingly into John's hands. "Even when he's wrong. My husband was the same way. Sometimes you just have to let the people you love be right."
"We both know he's not," John grouses, sipping the tea disconsolately. "He's only being stubborn."
"Well," says Mrs. Hudson mildly, "if you both know he's wrong, what are you so concerned about? Sounds like you understand each other perfectly well to me."
John feels suddenly a little foolish. "He won't… he won't admit it though," he says, knowing even as he does that it's not the point.
Mrs. Hudson tuts as only Mrs. Hudson can. "And who's being stubborn?" she chides fondly. "Marriage is a thing of give and take. And sometimes," she says again, "you just have to let the one you love be right."
Sherlock comes home that evening with a grocery bag containing an inexplicable bundle of asparagus and a new box of tea they didn't need. John apologizes humbly and Sherlock frowns, but puts the kettle on.
Another time it is Sherlock taking Mrs. Hudson's offered tea, sniffing imperiously as though the tea has done him a disservice.
"I know you're not the most affectionate of people"—only a grunt in reply—"but I do think John feels a bit taken for granted now and then."
"Taken for granted?" Sherlock snorts, as though it's a ridiculous proposition.
"A bit," replies Mrs. Hudson, almost apologetically. Sherlock gives her suggestion a dismissive wave off.
"John is invaluable to me. He knows this."
"Sometimes knowing isn't enough, though," says Mrs. Hudson. "Sometimes even if we know we have to see. John sometimes needs to seethat you care about him."
Sherlock frowns. "Of course I care about him," he says. "I married him, didn't I?"
Mrs. Hudson smiles indulgently. "No, dear," she corrects Sherlock. "He married you."
Three years after they are married, six years after John met their landlady for the first time, eight years after Sherlock dealt with her husband's case in Florida, Mrs. Hudson is diagnosed with cancer. When she mentions her chemotherapy—just by the way, just in passing, as she might comment on the early spring this year—John drops the dish he was washing back in the sink with a splash and a clatter and crosses the kitchen to wrap her in a hug. She accepts it without a word, and they stand there for a long minute, silent, John's dishwatery hands wetting the back of her blouse.
John fetches her from all her chemotherapy appointments even though she insists it isn't necessary. He also buys her fresh flowers every week, bringing them home casually with the groceries, and takes out the old bouquet, never letting them wilt in her vase. Sherlock, for his part, makes her tea sometimes, bringing it downstairs with such a steady hand it doesn't even dribble into the saucer. He scalds it savagely, of course, but she drinks it anyway.
Five months later she is finally hospitalized for symptom control. John goes to visit her almost every other day, and Sherlock tags along; at least that's how it looks to the hospital staff, with John's easy bedside manner—just the right amount of cheerfulness in the right places—and Sherlock's largely unsmiling reticence. They don't realize that this is how he always is, and his sameness comforts Mrs. Hudson better than any platitude could do. If Sherlock has a case he's working on or has just finished he tells her about it, and then he does smile, and she smiles back and tells him it isn't decent.
John continues to bring her flowers. If they're looking a bit droopy he doesn't even let them last a week before replacing them. Sometimes when they get home, John cries while he makes the tea.
Sherlock never cries. John doesn't ask him to.
Mrs. Hudson gets thinner and more tired-looking with every passing day. John takes to holding her hand when they visit, as though trying to tether her to them. One day during a pause in conversation, she gestures Sherlock over. He scoots his chair, which is next to John's, closer to her bed, and Mrs. Hudson holds out her other hand for his.
Sherlock obliges, an eyebrow raised in question. Their landlady just smiles at them both, a proud, maternal smile, and places Sherlock's hand in John's. After only a moment's hesitation, their fingers close around each other's. The conversation moves on, as comfortably as if nothing had happened at all, but Sherlock and John remain with hands clasped, Sherlock's right in John's left, for the rest of the visit.
Just before they leave, as they are standing in the hospital room doorway saying goodbye, Sherlock presses a dry kiss to John's cheek. The smile on Mrs. Hudson's face is so happy, they both wish they had thought of doing something like it long before.
She is gone the next week. A nurse tells them it was quiet and peaceful.
She does not have family left. Sherlock and John are de facto chief mourners at the funeral. John cries, quietly, respectfully, and then again at home on the sofa, even more quietly, shoulders shaking. Sherlock sits next to him, arm around John, and stares dully at the skull on the mantel. He does not cry.
Three days later John is watching telly when Sherlock comes in shuffling uninterestedly through their mail. John doesn't pay much attention until he hears paper hit the ground. He looks up. Most of the mail is scattered on the floor. Sherlock is standing very still, staring at a single opened letter.
He doesn't respond. John comes over and takes the letter gently from his hands. Sherlock lets him and, to John's shock, starts to weep. It is the first time John has ever seen Sherlock cry. He looks at the letter.
It is a legal notice of the last will and testament of Martha Hudson. She has left them 221 Baker Street.
Chapter 4: Six Years
Then there is the time Sherlock gets shot.
They trace a confidence scheme to this little laundry on the east end, in the back room of which Sherlock assures John they will find at least 35 thousand quid in cash and no more than five but no less than three men, ages 29 to 40, with two guns among them.
"That's what you said about the last place," whispers John. Sherlock actually pouts.
"That's where I thought it was. John, you know the statistical unlikelihood of my being wrong twice in a row. Besides, I'm positive this time."
"You were positive last time. I'm not calling Dimmock just to raid a perfectly innocent Suds4Less."
"There is nothing perfectly innocent about using a numeral in place of a word," Sherlock mumbles, and John rolls his eyes.
"Let's just check it out first."
"I mentioned the guns among them, correct?"
"Afghanistan, remember? Give me some credit."
Sherlock quirks his mouth in an unreadable expression that might be an unwillingness to have his hesitancy associated with a lack of credit to John, and says nothing. They both draw their guns and advance silently on the laundry.
"No more than five, right?" John whispers.
"And no less than three," Sherlock whispers back.
John nods. "That's just fine."
There are four, actually, but it isn't precisely fine. John is served well by the instincts Afghanistan has lent him; Sherlock's instincts are of a different kind less useful here, and though he may be a master of baritsu, it is not to the extent of dodging bullets. One catches him in the right knee and he goes down.
Two of the men are dead before John quite realizes what he's doing and the other two are running and Sherlock is telling John to follow them, he's fine, and John is laughing shrilly because, yeah, that's not going to happen.
"It glanced," Sherlock is grunting through gritted teeth, hands clutched around his knee and blood seeping through his laced fingers. John kneels over him, his hands spread over Sherlock's hands, getting blood on them both. "It glanced, that's all, I'm fine, don't let them get away."
"I'm not leaving, you idiot," John fires back, unbuckling his belt. "Straighten your leg."
"Straighten it!" John barks in his best army tone. Sherlock straightens his leg.
"I'm not going to die, John," he hisses as John cinches his belt around Sherlock's thigh. "It's too complex an injury to do anything with now! There's no point in staying. You can still catch them if you take the street outside down to—"
"No I can't," snaps John, fumbling to send a text on his phone, hands slippery with Sherlock's blood. "It's too late, I can't catch them. I wouldn't if I could, you stupid berk."
"There's no point to staying," Sherlock gasps pointlessly.
"I'm not staying because there's a point," John bellows suddenly. "I'm staying because you're my… you're my bloody husband and you've been shot in the damn knee!"
Sherlock is, at that, mercifully shocked into silence, but only for a moment. He sees a flash of bewilderment replace frustration on John's face, and he grins tightly through the pain.
"Particularly bloody, at the moment," he quips, panting a little. "Have you only just realized I'm your husband, John? Again? I really feel the surprise should have worn off by now. It's been six years." He takes a shuddering breath and tries to sit up. "This is why I never celebrate our anniversaries, out of concern for your heart. I never know what reminder of our state of bliss is going to startle you."
"You don't celebrate our anniversary because you can't be arsed to know what month it is," says John, replacing Sherlock's hands with his own on the wounded knee. "Stop moving."
"It's April. Stop moving."
"I know we were married in April, I meant what month it is now."
"So did I. Stop moving or so help me I will shoot you in the other knee."
"Oh," says Sherlock. He stops moving. There is a brief silence. "Happy anniversary."
John snorts. "Early by a week and a half, but thanks. Happy anniversary to you too."
"A week and a half," he repeats, his eyes squeezed shut. A pause. "We'll go somewhere."
"You've been shot in the knee, Sherlock. We're not going anywhere for a while. Points for the sentiment, though." He shifts his legs beneath him and Sherlock hisses at the changing pressure on his knee. "Sorry."
"You texted Dimmock?"
"Yeah, he's bringing an ambulance."
They are quiet for a few long minutes, John pressing Sherlock's injury, Sherlock focusing on breathing slowly. Suddenly, Sherlock grins a wide, wild grin.
"What is it now?" asks John. Sherlock turns the grin on his husband.
"I have a battle wound, John," he says, as though he's been given a fantastic present. John rolls his eyes.
"That would please you, wouldn't it? You won't be so excited being stuck in a wheelchair for weeks. I don't trust you on crutches. You'll be a peach in physical therapy, too."
"No, John, I mean… I've got a battle wound." He smiles like a little boy on his birthday, like John's hands aren't red from holding Sherlock's blood in his leg. "Like you."
John blinks and sits back on his heels when he realizes what Sherlock is saying.
"Like me?" He blinks again, several times, too rapidly. "Sherlock…"
The sound of nearing ambulance sirens interrupts the thought and John sighs as gustily as though he'd been holding his breath since the sound of the gunshot.
"Make sure they leave a scar," says Sherlock urgently, grabbing John's wrist.
"You don't want a scar," John says. "Scars are hell. You don't want a scar."
Sherlock just looks at him as though John has misunderstood. "Yes, I do."
John stares, swallows thickly.
"You were shot," he says. "There will be a scar."
Sherlock nods, satisfied, as the police cars and the ambulance pull up outside. They hear shouting and the slamming of car doors.
"Happy anniversary," says John. Sherlock just grins.
The wound is not quite, as Sherlock guessed, glancing, but having come in from the side it is not nearly as bad as it could have been. John, who has seen too many gunshot wounds, is not willing to make any guesses at all. Upon first hearing the extent of the damage—joint intact, nerve damage minimal to nearly nothing—John excuses himself to the hospital restroom and vomits from relief.
When Sherlock comes home from the hospital, John goes upstairs and brings back down a cane. Sherlock frowns and, even though he is more at crutch stage at the moment, is about to reject it for sign of weakness when it strikes a memory; it is John's cane, of course, the utilitarian aluminum cane he was leaning on on when they first met. Sherlock smiles at that, and takes it.
Several months later, when John buys him a gentleman's cane of dark wood, Sherlock has gotten used to the weight and drama of a cane in his hand, learned its particular art of gesticulation, and accepts the more permanent version without complaint. He never leans heavily on the cane—never leans at all unless the weather is wrong, or at home when there is nobody but John to see. But its presence is straight and solid by him, until soon nobody really remembers what Sherlock looks like without the elegant instrument there swinging dramatically as he walks and balancing his profile as he stands.
There is physical therapy, of course, at which Sherlock is, of course, a peach. John does not permit him to complain. Walking is a luxury now, a privilege he should not necessarily have been allowed. Sherlock acknowledges this silently and does not bring up that it was technically the fault of John's recklessness, not his own, that he was shot at all. Not more than once or twice. Not directly. John does tend to do even more chores and fetching things than he did before, however, and with less complaint.
Mycroft, meanwhile, makes the two dead con men at the laundry disappear. Nobody at the Yard questions it, not even Anderson.
Chapter 5: Eight Years
Lestrade retires. He really should have done it earlier, but he was always the only one up to dealing with Sherlock. He still is, but he's just past sixty and he's earned this.
They throw him a party. A dinner, actually, as though he's getting married instead of just getting old. He objects, but not very strongly. He knew it was coming and was actually sort of hoping for it.
He insists that Sherlock and John be invited, despite not being part of the department. Sally Donovan, who is organizing the party, objects, but not very strongly, for much the same reasons.
Sherlock behaves himself surprisingly well—he doesn't deduce people at the table or make conversation about anything he's ever learned while investigating in any part of the food processing industry. So everyone, including John, is too off their guard to stop him when he stands to make a toast.
He taps his wine glass with his spoon, but it's entirely unnecessary since every eye turns to him as soon as he stands. John reaches up automatically to seize his elbow, but recognizes it as too late and stops to drag his hand over his face instead. He smiles a little apologetically around the table—"my husband, ladies and gentlemen, as least as long as he doesn't mortally offend or embarrass too many people in a moment" says the smile—but Sherlock doesn't notice.
Sherlock clears his throat, and looks toward Lestrade and Lestrade smiles a little bit back at him.
"Gregory Lestrade," Sherlock says in a quiet voice, meeting the other man's eyes firmly, "thank you."
And, to universal surprise, he sits back down.
There are a few other little toasts, including from new Detective Inspector Donovan, but somehow none of them ring quite as eloquent as those two words.
Lestrade gets an encore afterward. John comes up to him as everyone is leaving and shakes his hand, a quiet, warm smile on his face. "Thank you," he says.
"Now John Watson, I wonder what it is you're thanking me for," returns Lestrade with an equally warm smile.
"Well, much of the same as he was," John says, and that means Sherlock's first case, but the cleaning up you made him do to get that first case too. Coming over yourself when he wouldn't answer texts. Drug busts to keep him serious. Sherlock has told him little, but it's been there to see, through the years. "Thank you for getting him to me, Greg." His smile widens into a grin. "But also for convincing me of something a long time ago."
He doesn't need to say anything more than that for Lestrade to grin back at him and clap a hand to John's shoulder. "I didn't convince you," he says. "I just pointed out that you'd convinced yourself. But you're welcome all the same."
They hug brusquely before the moment gets too saccharine, and John goes to find Sherlock and keep him from catching up on any offending he didn't do.
Some eight months later, they are in the morgue. They have been for a full forty minutes, and Sherlock hasn't once given John even a hint, though it only took him ten to examine the body and John suspects he dragged that out a bit. He just lets John go on chatting and Molly go on waving her hand about casually, and just as it looks like they're about to leave, Sherlock says "Do you have a date set, then?"
It takes about two and a half seconds of processing and then John looks immediately at Molly's left hand. He feels a bit foolish since the ring is modest, but definitely recognizable as what it is. John reaches out and arrests her fluttering hand to look at it better, and if the ring didn't give it away, Molly's megawatt smile would.
"Oh Molly, congratulations. I'm sorry for being so thick. I can't believe Sherlock didn't say anything till now. That was rotten of him, you know he saw it at once," he explains, just in case she didn't know. It's a fond reproach, and the grin she shoots at Sherlock is also fond, and it's nice but John thinks with a flash of amusement and faint dismay how much they're like a couple of girls clucking about their silly men. He lets go of her hand. Sherlock just smiles.
"When isthe date?" John says quickly, because he has an uncomfortable feeling Sherlock could see that last thought in his mind.
"Oh we haven't got a date yet," says Molly. "It was just last week."
"Apparent," says Sherlock. "You didn't start trying to catch our eyes with your hand until after the inspection of the corpse was quite done, and although you were attending fully to my analysis at the time, you were still unconsciously wiggling your fingers and touching the ring occasionally, indicating that you aren't used to its presence yet. Couldn't be more than two weeks." He doesn't add that it took him exactly four days to get used to his, or that sometimes its presence still surprises him eight years on. "For that matter, this isn't a profession very conducive to the wearing of rings, and yet despite the inconvenience of removing it whenever you need to use your hands, you haven't had the heart to leave it at home yet."
Molly smiles all the brighter, enjoying having her fondness for her new ring laid bare, and John smiles too, both impressed as always and pleased to see Molly pleased.
"Well good for Alan then," says John. "Took him long enough."
Molly laughs affectionately and Sherlock shoots John a look that means he's as mystified by where John has pulled this name from as John is about where Sherlock gets most of his deductions. John sighs inwardly. When they leave he'll have to remind Sherlock again about Alan Edwards, Molly's cat's veterinarian, who Molly has been dating. For nearly four years.
"You're both invited to the wedding, of course," says Molly. John smiles and thanks her and revises 'he'll have to remind Sherlock about Alan the veterinarian' to 'he'll have to make Sherlock memorize Alan the Veterinarian before the wedding.' There's another look, the briefest of looks, from Sherlock, like he's overheard John's brain again, and John returns the look before he can stop himself and they smirk. And then he looks back hurriedly at Molly, in case she's misinterpreted the exchange. But she's just smiling still, looking between them, that blinding, toothache-inducing smile.
"I hope," she says, "I can have half the happiness you two have found."
It doesn't really occur to John to correct her, even in his head. Because even if it's not precisely what she's thinking, they arehappy, in their strange way. It does, however, occur to him to step covertly but firmly on Sherlock's foot.
"I'm sure you will," John says warmly as he does so, and Sherlock makes a small noise of pain that he turns into a hum of agreement.
A few minutes later they offer one more congratulation each and say goodbye. Sherlock scowls at John as soon as they are out of the hospital.
"You didn't need to step on my foot."
"Oh, didn't I?"
"I wasn't going to say anything about the average divorce rates in Great Britain while she was actually standing there."
John smirks. "Really? Well that's awfully thoughtful of you. Why so tenderhearted?"
Sherlock rolls his eyes, the only concession he'll give to John's sarcasm, and sniffs, as though it's a ridiculous question. "Molly is our friend," he says stiffly.
John just smiles.
John comes in a new suit, which is likely Sherlock's doing, since John would have probably worn his ten year old suit from their own courthouse wedding if left to his own devices. Sherlock comes in a tie, which is likely John's doing, judging from the slightly dated cut and pattern compared to Sherlock's always crisp and modern wardrobe. They both benefit considerably from each other's concepts of respectability.
John picks out an espresso maker for the happy couple from their registry, and includes a nice card that he even gets Sherlock to sign. To those who know Sherlock, it is difficult to miss him sizing the groom up throughout the ceremony. John has met Alan a few times, and he's pretty sure Sherlock has too, but Sherlock has clearly deleted him. And besides, now it means something it didn't.
Alan Edwards is kind and intelligent and can hardly take his eyes off Molly. And Alan is not particularly like Sherlock (nobody is like Sherlock), but not particularly unlike him either. There is nothing about the two of them that invites any real comparison or contrast. And after his close inspection of the groom something about what he's seen leads Sherlock, upon reaching Molly in the receiving line, to smirk as proudly as though he were the groom himself and bend down and wrap his arms around her in a sudden hug that nobody, least of all the bride, could expect or explain.
When they get home, John just happens to notice the brand new espresso machine on the counter.
"Sherlock, how did you—? I got that for Molly and Alan!"
"A waste. They don't even like espresso."
"Then why did they register for it?" John challenged, irked. Sherlock snorted.
"Yes, why on earth would anyone ever get carried away when asking for what free things they want people to give them? Don't worry, John, I delivered the card."
"The card… Sherlock, did you tamper with the card?"
About two weeks later they get a very nice card in the mail from Molly and Alan, thanking them both deeply for the second-honeymoon tickets scheduled for their anniversary next year.
John says nothing about Sherlock being a secret romantic or about them apparently having much more disposable income than John is usually led to believe, but he thinks it very, very hard.
Chapter 6: Twelve Years
John curses when the killer leaps the fence and flees, but Sherlock doesn't say a word. He just whips off his long coat and wool scarf and shoves them, along with his cane, into John's arms. The coat is unexpected—-especially considering the downpour of rain-—but John knows what the cane means and curses again, louder. "Sherlock!"
He isn't fit to go running about on that leg like that, especially in this weather, but he does it anyway and never apologizes for rushing off or for being an arse and worrying John. John doesn't run after him—-his legs are fine, but he has armfuls of coat and scarf and cane, and somebody needs to text Inspector Donovan. So John does that.
Donovan finds John before either John or her got a text, and there is a period of anxious waiting in Donovan's police car while the rain lightens up and John frets himself mad. Then he finally gets a text that says merely "Bushy Park SH" and John curses again and tells Donovan to drive and she drives.
A second text giving a more specific location arrives on the way. John nearly jumps out of the car before it's stopped moving, but remembers to grab Sherlock's cane, only praying that he'll actually need it. He tears across the sodden, muddy grass, halfway to falling with every step he's running so hard, and then he hears Sherlock calling out for him and he only runs faster. Then he stops, because there he is.
Sherlock is on the ground, bent over a prone murderer, clamping the man's hands behind him and pinning him with Sherlock's good knee in the man's lower back. All his weight is surely on his prisoner, for Sherlock's bad leg is bent uncertainly to the side. If there is a cringe of discomfort in Sherlock's expression, however, it is utterly overwhelmed by the exhilarated grin. The other man, meanwhile, looks very uncomfortable indeed. And they are both completely covered in mud. John thinks he knows where the mud has been collected—-his own shoes and trouser cuffs are dark with it from his dash through the drizzly park—-but these two must have hit the ground and rolled right through it.
"Did you know you'd be flopping about in mud puddles? Is that why I have your coat?"
Sherlock just grins that grin at him, but relief is finally hitting John and he is not in the mood.
"You won't be so happy when the adrenaline wears off and that knee starts complaining," he snaps. "You're in no fit state for stunts like that anymore."
Sherlock's smile falters, but Inspector Donovan and some others are showing up and so nothing more is said on the subject.
"I think if you search this man," Sherlock says instead to Donovan in his smugly triumphant case-solved voice, "you will find the gun that killed Miss Abigail Dunham, and if you search his flat, you will find the music box stolen from her home, and those from the two other thefts."
"Music boxes?" says one of the officers. "Thefts?"
"None but Miss Dunham's ended in murder," clarifies Sherlock. "And one was unreported."
Donovan rolls her eyes, but she is smiling. She directs one of her men to handcuff Sherlock's prisoner and John comes forward to help Sherlock to his feet and thrusts his cane at him.
"He'll have associates, almost certainly, almost certainly. Definitely a superior. I think in questioning—-"
"We'll do the questioning," Donovan interrupts, still smirking, not unkindly. "John, why don't you take Mrs. Watson home to get cleaned up?"
"You don't need us to stay and give statements?"
"Like you ever stay for statements. We'll just take them tomorrow."
"Thanks, Sally," says John. "Can we trouble you for a ride? I don't want to think of the tip I'd have to give anyone who had to clean their cab up after us." She nods and sends another of her men to drive them home.
Sherlock is struggling not to be seen limping, but in a fit of pique John does not offer him the usual surreptitious arm. He grabs Sherlock's coat and scarf from Donovan's car and they ride home in silence. John stews a bit but tries to calm himself. He wants to say that Sherlock will be feeling this for days, if not weeks, just like he always does, wants to say that this isn't psychosomatic, isn't something he can outsmart with another dose of danger and he should know that by now. He wants to say that Sherlock is too bloody old to take such risks, and John is too old to watch him take them, and for God's sake he actually told Donovan that he knew the man had a bloody gun. He wants to say all these things but he doesn't because he has said some variation on all of them before, and Sherlock hates it when he repeats himself.
Sherlock (or more Sherlock's mud) hasn't half dried by the time they get home. John pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs.
"Go on then," he says. "I'll make tea." He goes into the kitchen and puts the kettle on and glares at it while he waits for it to boil.
Then he walks into the living room with Sherlock's mug and sees Sherlock stretched out on the sofa. Still dripping, still mud-smeared. Mud is on everything. Dirty water is collecting in a crease of the sofa cushion and dripping into a puddle on the floor. Sherlock's eyes are closed serenely.
John carefully sets the mug of hot tea down on the table and then erupts in cursing fit to rival any he's done tonight. Sherlock's eyes pop open and he looks over startled at John.
"What the hell are you doing?" John roars. "Get off the sofa! Get off!" Sherlock dutifully and stiffly does so, carefully concealing his wince, and eyeing John as though he has nothing to explain his outburst. "Why on earth were you on the sofa you… you idiot?"
Sherlock draws himself up, offended, although the effect is a little lessened by his plastering of mud.
"Where else should I be?" he grouses.
"Washing up!" John growls. "Obviously washing up, what did you think? You're filthy!"
"Tea wouldn't do me much good in the shower," Sherlock sniffs.
"I thought you might like a cup with a soak," John says through gritted teeth. "And I figured you might have a soak since you buggered up your knee. But apparently the great Sherlock Holmes' prescription for a buggered up knee is to get mud and rainwater all over the sofa!"
Sherlock narrows his eyes at John. "You aren't really angry because of the sofa," he decides. "You're angry because of the risk I took tonight."
"You know what? No," John shouts, throwing his hands in the air. "You're wrong. I really am angry about the sofa. I don't even careabout you running off tonight. You know why? Because I have already accepted the fact of your untimely death. It may not have happened tonight, but it will someday. You are going to get yourself shot doing something stupid, and I've accepted that. I've moved on. So now I am free to really, honestly be upset about my sofa!"
There is a silence. John breathes heavily. Sherlock and the sofa drip.
"It isn't properly your sofa," Sherlock offers.
"But I'm the one who will end up cleaning it," John snaps. "And it will be mine upon the event of that untimely death I mentioned, and I'd like to inherit it in passable condition, thanks."
Another silence. They stare at each other.
"Too bad," Sherlock finally pronounces. "I'm leaving it to Mycroft."
There is only a beat before John laughs, an involuntary huff of breath that turns into a chuckle and then, with another look at his mud-caked husband, into a full on giggle. Sherlock just grins, a triumphant grin, a happy grin, almost like the one he wore bent over his captured criminal but not quite.
"Oh, just go wash up," John groans through his laughter. "You're a mess."
"So I've heard," says Sherlock, but he takes his tea from the table and his cane from its place leaning against the couch and goes off to his shower and soak.
John has wiped the sofa down when Sherlock emerges sometime later, leaning on his cane and wrapped in his dressing gown, and is hoovering up the bits of dried mud, and has left two tea towels on the wet spots of the rug. He smiles and switches the hoover off when he sees Sherlock and pushes it into the corner.
"Hey, I wanted to say," John says as Sherlock lowers himself into a chair. "I'm sorry about not helping you to the car earlier tonight. That was childish. And, uh, for snapping at you."
"Expected," is Sherlock's non-apology. "'Bickering like an old married couple' is the phrase, I believe."
John gives a little incredulous chuckle as he too sits down heavily in an armchair. "We're really doing it, aren't we?"
"Or a good imitation, yes."
"No, not the bickering—well, yes, but… Growing old together. We're really doing it."
"That wasthe purpose of the original agreement, as I understand it."
"Cheeky. And no, actually!" he exclaims suddenly. "The purpose of the original agreement was to solve some case! I don't remember it now, though I'm sure you do. I'm not certain you ever even told me. And now that it's on the table," he adds, pointing an accusing finger at Sherlock and barely keeping himself from laughing, "I've always suspected it was all a ruse. I bet we didn't even have to get married to solve it. I think you made it up."
"A bold accusation," says Sherlock behind steepled fingers, with a straight face but letting his eyes twinkle. "And a bit late. By about twelve years."
"Yes, well, I'm sticking to it."
"As it happens, you're right. It was all an excuse to get you to make an honest woman out of me."
"A flimsy excuse."
"An excellent excuse."
John laughs and gets up to go throw the wet tea towels in the bathroom hamper. When he comes back in he stops and leans against the wall.
"I'd like to grow to be quite a bit older with you, though," he says, and it's almost a by-the-way except for his solemn eyes.
Sherlock looks him in those eyes and then, finally, nods once.
"I'm sorry, John," is his quiet and unexpected answer. "So would I. It is, in fact, very important to me that I do so. I will be more careful in the future."
John is shocked into momentary silence, and then smiles. He knows better than to believe it, even if Sherlock thinks he's being sincere. It's a promise that will only last until the next chase. But… it's nice to hear all the same.
He looks over at the sofa and shakes his head. "The mud is never coming out of those cushions, I'll have you know."
Sherlock smirks. "Have it steam cleaned," he says. "And send the bill to Mycroft. It's going to be his sofa, after all."
John snorts, and Sherlock snickers, and then they both laugh, and keep laughing, for far longer than the joke really deserves.
Chapter 7: Thirty Years
They are old now.
John always knew how he would look old. He looks like his father, the spitting image, but really, that's not as bad a thing as it could be. He's gotten fat, though. He's always kept good care of himself, but eventually age and body type joined forces and ganged up on him. When he's frowning at his tummy and his laugh lines in the mirror, he tells himself that his silver hair makes him look dignified. (He's right.)
Sherlock meanwhile, has settled upon an unfairly handsome dark salt-and-pepper, with some noble touches of white at the temples. The lines on his face are like perspective lines on a painting, only framing and outlining his good looks, and the length age has added to his nose and chin only make him look more elegant, like a classic poet or a bust at Oxford. It's unseemly. But, John reasons, if you can't be devilishly handsome, you might as well be married to someone who is. When he's feeling cheeky he calls Sherlock his trophy husband in his head loud enough for Sherlock to hear.
There are no cases anymore. Really, they should have stopped after the move to Sussex, but people love the drama of calling the legendary Sherlock Holmes out of retirement for the perfect murder or the heist of the century or something, and for a while neither Sherlock nor John objected. But Sherlock's knee got worse and John's shoulder was no treat either, and John's joints were getting rheumatic and Sherlock's doctor (or more Sherlock's second opinion) was tutting about a heart condition and it just wasn't as much fun as it was, and finally the world moved on.
They don't mind. They've both mellowed with age. The game is not all-important to Sherlock anymore, and John's hand doesn't shake just because it's not holding a gun. They find other pursuits. Sometimes Sherlock solves a case by e-mail, but mostly he's content to focus on his scientific experiments. As always there's some forensic stuff involving decaying bits in the breadbox, but also a lot of chemistry these days. Solutions and compounds are forever arriving by post, and Sherlock rushes to the door, dressing gown flying behind him, and then sits down on the floor and tears the package open like he's a boy on Christmas day instead of a whitehaired old man who left his cane in the other room and is going to need to call John to help him get up. He's made some really impressive discoveries, apparently, and is forever sending papers in to scientific journals, and John remembers hearing that there's a couple college chemistry textbooks that will have Sherlock Holmes' name in them for a long time. Sherlock also keeps bees; there are a dozen white wooden beehives out back of the house, and two beekeepers' suits hanging in the mudroom. The second one is donned by John only at harvesting time, when everything—-all pursuits, visitors, and experiments—-are put on hold to collect and store the honey.
John, for his part, mostly reads, and works on his memoirs.
John is reading now, legs crossed, right elbow propped up on the sofa arm. Sherlock is reading too, spread across the remaining length of the sofa, slouched against John, his shoulders butted comfortably into John's ribs. Sherlock is reading some scientific journal in which his research has been cited, so naturally he is frowning testily. John is reading one of the long classic novels he's always said he'd read when he had enough time but it's just as long and stodgy as it was when he was in college, and his attention keeps wandering.
His left arm is draped over the back of the sofa, so Sherlock won't pin it to his side with a shoulder and cut off the circulation. John looks down at the untidy fluff filling the curve of his arm. Sherlock's hair has barely thinned with age, and wants trimming. It's not nearly the mop that it once was, but it puts John in mind of how it looked when they were young and he smiles.
A few minutes later, John opens his mouth to say something.
"After a certain point," cuts in Sherlock without looking up from his book, "I should think that the distinction between 'to love' and to 'be in love' becomes rather more academic than practical, don't you think?"
John shuts his mouth again, and then after a moment grins.
"Yes, Sherlock," he says in a soft voice, "I suppose you're probably right." And John goes back to his book.