Chapter 1: Geoff [surname withheld]
The first was for a case, and John found that he didn’t mind. Not really.
His name was Geoff, and he was a specky little nobody who took to Sherlock’s long dark hair and silver eyes like white on rice. It wasn’t his fault, not really. John couldn’t help skirting a glance now and then, especially when the consulting detective deigned to wearing a skirt (apparently she was rather competitive when it came to Sally Donovan in the fashion world - who knew?), and that was just when she was behaving her usual arrogant self.
At the end of the day, John would look at his life, his choices, the fingers half-consumed by maggots sitting innocently in the breadbox, and realize that, no matter how beautiful, Sherlock was a better friend.
With poor little Geoff, it was all an act. Almost painful to watch, really. Sherlock put on her ‘I’m pretty, but I view that as a negative side to my sparkling personality’ smile, touched his arm approximately three times, and he was hooked. Poor sod.
They dated (if it could be called that when only one was actually invested) for three weeks, until Sherlock and John helped Lestrade apprehend Geoff’s sister for the murder of their neighbor.
“You know,” contemplated Sherlock over celebratory Chinese and crap telly, comfortably settled nearly in John’s lap as usual, “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
John patiently chewed and swallowed before before asking, “What wasn’t?” knowing that it would make her irritable with him for not being instantly desirous of her opinion.
She poked the clicker with her toe and changed channels, wriggling as though uncomfortable with her own feelings. She seemed to consider several phrases before deciding on, “Being romantically involved with someone. Geoff was...nice. Dull, certainly not interesting in the slightest, but I wouldn’t mind giving it a go with a more worthy candidate.” She turned to look very gravely at John, and for a moment he wondered if she was going to say something controversial to their friendship, before using his distraction to her advantage and stealing the last egg roll.
“That’s your fourth one!” complained John loudly as Sherlock happily munched on the fried roll. “I haven’t even had two!”
One eyebrow quirked challengingly. “If you want it, why don’t you take it from me?”
Thus began the fourth Great Wrestling Match of 221B, Baker Street, for the Honourable Glory of the Last (Half-Eaten) Egg Roll, in that month alone.
Chapter 2: Max Hooper
The second was not for a case, and John was actually rather happy for Sherlock.
It wasn’t exactly typical for Sherlock to go out and meet new people, so it wasn’t a surprise when she started with Max Hooper, the mousy young man from St. Bart’s morgue who had been smitten with her for longer than John had known either of them.
Max was elated, of course, when Sherlock strode into the morgue bold as brass, crossed her long legs at the ankle, and asked him to dinner. He nearly banged his lower jaw against the table it dropped so quickly.
On her first date with Max, Sherlock wore what John had jokingly titled her "purple shirt of sex" and a merciless pair of slacks held in place by thin black braces. Not to be crude, but John thought she might attract just as many women as men in that get-up.
"Do I look all right?" she asked, almost sounding nervous if John knew better.
He smiled at her encouragingly. "You look like sex on legs, as usual, Sherlock." there was a knock on the door. "Now you have her back by midnight, sharpish, you hear?" teased John when the younger man smiled at him from the other side of the doorway.
His flatmate nodded gravely and flicked his ear before donning her coat and leading Max authoritatively down the pavement. Rubbing his ear, John shook his head with a smile and went upstairs for a cuppa and good book before turning in.
Sherlock tromped in at precisely midnight - waking John from the doze he'd fallen into on the sofa - threw her coat in the general direction of the wall hook, and crashed dramatically into what was typically John's unoccupied armchair.
"You know, I was joking about being back at midnight," slurred John sleepily, rubbing his face as he sat up.
She scoffed and rolled her eyes, toeing off her shoes, then slipping the braces from her shoulders and beginning to unbutton her shirt. "Believe me, John, your little joke was a life-saver," she huffed as she pulled the shirt off and pulled her hair loose, reclining in nothing more than a vest and trousers.
Instantly, John's protective side flared up, seeing how relieved Sherlock seemed to be home. "Max didn't try anything, did he?" he sharply asked.
"Don't be dull, John, of course he didn't," she replied. "Max means well, but he's boring and admires me too much to be taken seriously as a real romantic interest. As soon as the timing was appropriate I bolted."
"You won't even give the poor bugger a chance to get used to you?"
She narrowed her eyes at him. "I've known Max for five years, John. If he hasn't gotten used to me yet, he never will."
After a moment's consideration of how Max never had seemed to stop vying for Sherlock's attention over even the past year John had been back in London, he shrugged.
"Suppose you're right. Did you at least eat? I know you've been thinking over that missing grandmother case..."
Chapter 3: Martin Harrows
The third was at least someone up Sherlock's alley, a biology professor named Martin Harrows. John didn't like him.
They both met him during the course of an investigation (luckily he was not a suspect or relative of the victim). A university student had been murdered in Manchester, and he let Sherlock work in his lab. He was clever - had to be if he was a professor, of course, but even Sherlock was impressed - devilishly handsome, and didn’t find Sherlock’s deadpan attitude at all off-putting. In fact, he found her blatant honesty to be charming and rather sweet. She was instantly smitten.
For two weeks after the student’s advisor was arrested, Sherlock slumped and sighed around the flat, staring into space and unable to focus on her experiments. Just when she began eyeing John’s gun as though the wall had offended her, someone knocked on the door, and there stood Martin Harrows on the other side, holding a crumpled bouquet of daffodils and asking for Sherlock.
There was a barely-muffled shriek and an echo of pounding feet in the flat as the woman evidently sprinted for her room to change out of her PJs.
“Why don’t you come in for a cup of tea?” suggested John with an amused grin, standing back to give Harrows room to pass.
He stayed in London for four days before returning to Manchester, and in those four days Sherlock refused all texts, calls, post...any form of communication that didn’t come directly from the lips of Martin bloody sainted Harrows. Two weeks and four days without cases, without murder, without the Game, and John was going mad. His left hand was beginning to tremble again, his leg ached, and he was in an all-around bad mood until it was flooded with guilt. It wasn’t Sherlock’s job to keep him supplied with bloody fights and adrenaline. He was probably just jealous that she was in a relationship, and the last woman he’d seen was Sarah, which ended abruptly after the Pool.
When Martin left, Sherlock moped for a full three hours before dragging John to Scotland Yard for the case Lestrade hadn’t stopped texting her about through the past four days.
John waited a week before asking why Harrows hadn’t called. When he did, on the pavement outside of their most recent successful arrest, she shrugged a bit limply and hailed a cab.
“We were too similar,” she explained over curry in a steam-filled shop, ears and nose still pink with cold from outside. “I enjoyed talking to him, but there was nothing to give, or to be gained. When I’m with someone, I want to be able to educate them.” At his raised eyebrow she sighed. “Not like that, John, not like a professor or anything crass. It’s like with you, isn’t it?”
He wasn’t expecting to feel his heart jump. “What?”
She eyeballed him with her signature don’t-be-such-an-idiot stare. “When I met you, you had a psychosomatic limp, a tremor, and a therapist. Within three weeks all but occasional comments on your blog from Ella were gone. I helped you. And you...” She gestured vaguely with a forkful of rice, spilling grains across the tabletop. “You ground me. You taught me Good and Not Good, and make me keep my body parts in the mini-fridge, and you even got me to take that case from Mycroft last month, remember? I had to be in a very small office with him for two hours, and I didn’t even hit him. I both give and gain in our relationship, and I want that in a romantic relationship as well.” She ducked her eyes, still pink around the ears, and took another sip of beer.
“You...Sherlock, you do realize that you’ve given me a lot more than my leg back, don’t you?” asked John, his throat oddly tight. Sherlock’s bright eyes snapped up to his, uncertainty dwelling there in only the way that he was able to recognize. “I now know the names of fifty poisonous plants that you also happen to have in the back garden of your family estate.”
That got him a roll of eyes and wadded up napkin to the face. He snatched away her hand, grinning, before it could retreat under the table. “I know how long it takes for fingers decompose at 3 degrees Centigrade, and what sorts of acids are capable of burning through the carpet on the stairs, and exactly what it takes to make a self-diagnosed sociopath laugh. I’ve learned a lot from you, Sherlock.”
Staring at the table, she smiled to herself, just a twitch in the corners of her lips, but it was enough to make John feel warm as August on that cold December night.
Chapter 4: Victor Trevor
“Why are we at the airport, again?” asked John blearily as Sherlock nearly vibrated right out of her skin, having woken him at three in the morning to make a mad dash for the airport, clicking away on her phone all the while. It had been two months since a rather disastrous Christmas for the both of them, and even though she had insisted she hadn’t gotten any flack from her father about not yet being in a relationship (Mycroft brought Anthea to Christmas every year), Sherlock had been a bit down lately.
A men stepped out from the gate - tall, dark, handsome, and just as exhausted as John - and Sherlock was suddenly gone, flinging herself into the arms of the pleasantly surprised man with a cry of “Victor!”
“Sherlock!” cried back the man Victor, hugging her tightly and even swinging her around once. John felt the smallest twinge of envy that he wasn’t tall enough to do that with, well, anyone.
Then Sherlock grabbed Victor’s face and kissed him, and everything became a bit of a red blur.
“Alright, you have questions,” stated Sherlock when they were in the cab home, still smiling from the lengthy snog with Victor in the airport.
John was unable to bite back a snort. “Yeah, a bit! Who the hell was that bloke?”
Absurdly enough, the detective raised an eyebrow at him, looking thoughtful. “Interesting.”
“Nothing. I told you at baggage claim that his name is Victor Trevor. He’s an old...friend, from university. His dog bit me, and he felt so guilty that he took me to the Symphony. I stayed at his father’s estate for a month that year, met his mother, all that. Everyone thought we were going to get married, even Victor. Mummy was planning everything, until I rather rudely announced in the middle of Christmas dinner that I did not, in fact, plan on getting married, or going with him to India. India’s ghastly; Mycroft loves it there.”
“But you kissed him in the airport,” said John, brow furrowed in puzzlement. “And it didn’t seem awkward between you at all, seeing as you broke things off with him.”
She grinned in that devilish way that he always associated with bodies and murder. It was enough to make his heart beat faster. “We’ve kept in touch,” she said simply. “He understood why I felt pressured by the prospect of marriage - I was only 16 when I entered university, after all - and we have retained an... amicable relationship over the years.”
“So, phone sex?”
Laughter resonated through the cab.
“Once or twice, a few years ago when I didn’t want to let on that I was on cocaine, yes, I often divulged in relaying sexual fantasies to Victor over the phone. To distract him, you know.”
“And you kissed him in the airport.”
Sherlock nodded, still smiling faintly. “And I kissed him in the airport.”
Four months went by, cases carried on, and Victor Trevor became more and more integral to life in 221B Baker Street. He was there almost every night for dinner, bearing a bottle of wine if they’d just finished a case and a book to read if they were in the middle of one. He never intruded on Sherlock’s work, or assumed the worst of her friendship with John (like half of London tended to), or did anything but support Sherlock’s independence. He was mild, friendly, he and John got on great, and yet somehow John couldn’t help but feel a swelling urge to...do something whenever he looked at the couple together.
Sherlock seemed softer, somehow, with Victor. She smiled more easily than even with John, seemed more capable of understanding the emotions of other people with him whispering how they felt in her ear, and even settled for watching the “horrible” comedy films John and Victor were so fond of.
Victor, on the other hand, was gaining just as much from the relationship as Sherlock. He was showing the same signs of the learning curve John went through when he first moved into Baker Street. A look of wonderment crossed his face every time Sherlock smiled, laughed, kissed him, learned to understand just a bit more about humanity. She even spoke cordially to Mycroft when he dropped in to visit or plead she take a case. Victor, who had known her at her worst, was suddenly beginning to learn what she was like at her best, and was falling in love with her fast.
As more time went by, John found himself less and less willing to be in the same room as the couple when they were in the flat, and retreated to his room more often than not, claiming fatigue. Some childish part of him insisted that it was his job to look after Sherlock, to keep her grounded and safe and secure in a world that constantly rejected her. The rational part of him, however, knew that everything had to end sometime. Things would go on as they were, Victor and Sherlock would shack up, get married, and solve crimes off into the sunset, leaving John in the dust.
After the first week of Month Five, Sherlock noticed John’s reticence and left Victor in the sitting room to follow him up to his bedroom. “This is the fourth time this week you’ve claimed to be too tired to spend time with me and Victor,” she stated accusingly. “You haven’t taken on more hours at the surgery than normal - in fact, your hours are reduced compared to last week - and you’re not ill, I would be able to tell. So why are you lying to my face, and to Victor’s?”
Her arms were crossed, her back rigid; she was prepared for a fight. John could do nothing but stare back, lost for a way to vocalize exactly how he felt about the whole situation.
“I didn’t want to intrude,” he finally settled on, lamely. Sherlock scoffed at him, and he bubbled with irritation. “Well, it’s not that odd, is it? I mean, you’re a couple. You’ve been dating for a few months now. When couples are together that long, they usually don’t like when one of their flatmates won’t leave them alone.”
“Victor has already said he doesn’t mind your company, and your presence is invaluable to me, you know that, John,” she snapped back. “I like having you around. It makes me feel less...obligated.”
John frowned. “Obligated.”
She twisted her mouth and sighed loudly from her nose. “I have a very low sex drive. I’m capable of arousal, and I’m not asexual - but when Victor and I are alone, it sometimes feels like I owe him intercourse.”
“Have you and Victor talked about this?” asked John, softening instantly and desperately regretting his negative attitude toward Victor’s presence. Victor was good for Sherlock, and she didn’t have many good things in her life.
She shrugged. “He lets me initiate sexual contact, so as not to make me uncomfortable when I’m not in the mood. We’ve talked. But...I don’t want to disappoint him, or deny him, or make him feel -”
John stood up from the edge of his bed and hugged her tightly. She sputtered for several seconds before gingerly returning the embrace. “A lot of people feel panicked at this point of a relationship,” he said, still holding her. “It’s normal, Sherlock. But you don’t need me around to confuse you any further, so I’ll just keep myself up here and let you to have at it. Tell Victor how you’re feeling; I’m sure he’ll understand.”
He felt Sherlock sigh thoughtfully, still squeezed against him. Warmth exploded in his lower abdomen, and he quickly let go before he embarrassed himself, turning back to the bed and sitting down. He really needed a girlfriend.
Staring at the floor, John was unprepared for the gentle flick to his ear, and the smile Sherlock had reserved for him. “Thank you, John. I meant it when I said your presence - and friendship - is invaluable to me.” She ruffled his hair - knowing it would annoy him - before disappearing back downstairs, gently closing the door behind her. Lying awake, John listened to the mingled sounds of Sherlock and Victor’s voices confiding in one another late into the night. He warred against the feeling of something fighting to claw its way out of his chest. He and Sherlock would never come back from this, would they? Not when he felt so angry every time Sherlock gave Victor one of those sweet, adoring looks.
The happy couple was back in Paradise the next day, until Sherlock received a lilac-scented manila envelope filled with photos of herself and Victor together.
Sherlock fought, tooth and nail, to get Victor into hiding, but he refused to go without her. She called in favours, ripped into the Moriarty case with more passion and zeal than even in the weeks after John was strapped in Semtex. She even got Mycroft involved, though it didn’t take much begging to get big brother running to the rescue. John watched in awe as Sherlock Holmes tore apart half of Moriarty’s network in one afternoon, rose higher and shone brighter than she ever had before in John’s memory, dove right into the Thames to apprehend an escaping criminal, and still...it wasn’t enough.
Victor Trevor’s mutilated body hung by the neck from the ceiling of their sitting room when they got home.
Chapter 5: Sebastian Moran
Sherlock didn’t mourn for Victor. She didn’t let shock or grief immobilize her. Instead, she rode the anger, the bloodlust, the call of revenge, straight into Moriarty’s clutches, and over the edge of a balcony on the fifteenth floor.
Three years after her funeral, Sherlock Holmes sat in the sitting room of 221B Baker Street and sobbed into John’s chest. He would never forgive her for not trusting him with such an important secret as her staged death, but it wasn’t the time for anger, so he held her instead.
“I’m not finished yet,” she croaked after five minutes of hysterics, pulling herself together with astonishing speed. “There’s one more agent left of Moriarty’s network, and I need you to help me, John. I know that what I did was unforgivable and a great betrayal of trust -” well, at least she knew, “- but the past three years without Victor - without you, John - have been more torture than I ever imagined. A few times, I thought that perhaps I created Moriarty’s victory. At times...it felt as if I’d had the heart burned out of me.”
John hugged her tight and kissed her head, trying to convince himself that the pressure in his chest and behind his eyes was barely-suppressed rage, not relief or joy or...
Turned out, Sherlock was striking as a blonde. With her hair cut short, coloured contact lenses, and a change in wardrobe (though the past three years hadn’t exactly kept her stocked with designer suits anyway), she was a completely different woman.
Colonel Moran was a possessive and jealous lover, probably leftover from his obsession with power Moriarty gave him. It was easy for Sherlock to fall into his good graces under the name of Hannah Tyler. After their “dates,” using a veritable maze of alleys and side-streets to keep from being followed on her way home, Sherlock would crawl into John’s bed, wrap herself around him, and feel John breathing until the sensation of his chest rising and falling rocked her to sleep.
“He talks about you like an old friend,” she told him quietly one night, comforted by the night-light John had installed when she kept waking after a nightmare and panicking. “I’m almost certain that without Mycroft’s intervention, he would have found and killed you ages ago.” Her fingers tightened compulsively where they had been splayed across his chest. “I won’t let that happen, John. I promise. He won’t take anyone else from me.”
He pressed his lips to the crown of her head, eyes burning. “I know, Sherlock.”
It took a month to collect enough evidence to arrest Moran. He was sent to the highest-security prison in the United Kingdom, charged with terrorism, manslaughter, thirty-seven counts of first-degree murder, domestic abuse, and the attempted murders of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, and half the Met.
When it was all over, Sherlock and John returned to Baker Street and sat wrapped in their respective shock blankets. “I’m finished with detective work,” she said in a low voice, shaking like a leaf. Or a drug addict.
John’s head snapped up and he stared at her. Her roots were beginning to show, but they weren’t black; they were ginger. He swallowed thickly. “You don’t mean that. The only time I’ve seen you looking even remotely like your old self in the past month was when you were explaining to those idiots at the Yard exactly why they were wrong about damn near everything, including your death.”
She rubbed wearily at her forehead and leaned against her hand, looking resigned as she stared at him, thankfully without the contacts in. “I suppose you’re right,” she agreed, eyes showing the barest hint of shine, but it was enough.
Chapter 6: The One
It was another year before Sherlock was back to her old self, back in the Game. It wasn’t easy, and certainly wasn’t what one would call fun, but John kept to a promise he’d made himself after darkened swimming pools and sniper’s lasers. He would not leave Sherlock to fend for herself in a world that didn’t understand. Not ever.
They had just been on a cross-London hunt for a serial rapist and accidentally broke up a smuggling ring of teddy bears full of cocaine. Still in shock from the unintended discovery, Sherlock and John stood breathless in the entryway to 221, leaning against the wall and gasping.
Then Sherlock began to laugh. It was quiet, scattered, but there nonetheless.
She was a hurricane on the best of days, and a bullet hole in the wall on the worst. A combination of nightmares and insomnia kept her awake most nights, crawling into John’s bed to seek comfort from the memories of her years in exile. Her hair was black again, getting longer, and his was getting grayer. He had just had his forty-second birthday, and he was madly in love with his best friend.
There was no appropriate time or place for this to happen. Sherlock was his best friend, his flatmate, his colleague, his partner, and her last boyfriend had been strung up in their sitting room with his guts hanging out. He didn’t want to remind her of that; she was in a fragile enough state already.
Well, alright, that was a lie. She had been fragile, certainly enough, but enough time had passed for her to make leaps and bounds in mental capacity. Mycroft had sent her to a veritable plethora of psychologists after Moran’s arrest, and after a certain degree of hostile resistance Sherlock had buckled and cooperated. He doubted that she would ever be back to her old self from Bart’s hospital all those years ago - Afghanistan or Iraq? - but she was on her way.
“Do you think you’ll ever try again?” he asked one night over Korean after a long day of doing good, bringing about justice, and all that. She looked up suspiciously. “Dating, I mean. Do you think he’s out there?”
Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Do I think who’s out there, John? Do be more specific.”
“Oh, you know,” he grinned, nudging her from across the table. “The perfect man? Mr. Right?”
The tinny music in the restaurant was all John got in reply for several minutes before Sherlock took a deep breath. It was her pre-deduction deep-breathing exercise, he was sure of it, and it was thrilling.
“When I started this endeavor I said I was looking for someone interesting, someone I can relate to, and yet not an intellectual equal. He would have to be brave, of course, to handle my lifestyle and career, and strong, to be able to fend off any potential attacks. Someone who isn’t easily shocked, as well, to deal with the experiments. Not to mention being the sort of companion I can trust not to judge me too harshly if I do something a bit Not Good, and yet also understand that sometimes being a bit Not Good is the reason I am who I am, respecting my independence while supporting me. Someone who I’m comfortable and safe with, without a doubt.”
She left off there and continued eating as though that had proved her point.
John blinked at her. “Sherlock, you know I’ve been getting better, but...I’m not following you at all.”
Suddenly his hand was very warm, covered by Sherlock’s after she patiently put down her fork. Her fingers gently squeezed his, thumb chafing his knuckles in a strangely intimate gesture.
“John, I’m talking about you, you idiot. My perfect match has been with me all along.”
Warmth erupted in John’s chest, and he couldn’t have stopped himself beaming across the table at Sherlock even if he’d been paid. They used their free hands, John’s right and Sherlock’s left, to finish their food in companionable silence. Nothing else was needed.