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Blaze

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John felt a bounce in his step as he emerged from the tube station and began down Baker Street. It’d been a week since he’d consulted with Sherlock on a case, and he already felt older and slower. He almost, but not quite, felt the leg stiffening up on him. He felt like he needed to chase and tackle a criminal or something, like a dog needing to chase a thrown stick. He grinned at the mental image, then realized it had also been a while since he’d grinned that way.

He’d had a lot of long nights of waking frequently to the sounds of a crying baby girl, and a lot of days of short, irritable exchanges with Mary, and dragging himself unrested to work. He loved his sweet Hannah, of course he did. But the first few months of parenting were rough—too little sleep, too much take-away for dinner, and not for the exciting reasons that he’d used to have those things when he’d lived with Sherlock, he thought to himself ruefully. He felt like he wasn’t eating enough real food, and wasn’t getting enough exercise. Also, he and Mary were not getting on. The first months of new parenthood weren't easy for couples who went into it without all of the baggage they had, and the two of them had enough to fill an airport carousel.

Working a case with Sherlock wouldn’t help with the eating and the sleeping, but usually at least it would with the fresh air and exercise. And of course with the vital change of scenery.

Upon arriving at 221, John tried the door and found it locked. He used the key he still had tucked into his wallet and ascended the stairs as another man began his descent. As they passed each other, John looked the stranger up and down with the frank appraisal born of long habit, stopping himself from licking his lips just in time. The visitor was very tall, with straight jet hair and ice-blue eyes. These bore into John’s, while his lips quirked sardonically at the shorter man’s obvious assessment. Like what you see? They seemed to say.

The taller man did not look back as he exited the flat, but John watched his departure as the door closed behind him. John continued up the stairs, reminding himself that he was married with a three-month-old child and that the time for being so obvious was past. His choice had been made and then made again.

For better and for worse.

Even though it’s mostly been for worse.

Even though my wife is a murderous assassin (redundant, but whatever) who has lied to me since the day she met me, and has mostly been a resentful pain in the arse who picks fights for the past six months as if *I* did *anything* wrong.

Watson, he reminded himself, this isn’t helping. We’re supposed to be starting afresh, remember?

He thought it would be helpful if his dick would also get this memo, on a couple of levels. One, on the showing-interest-in-his-wife level, which it had not since he’d found out about the whole pathological liar/career assassin/shooting Sherlock thing, and Two, on the compelling-him-to-obviously-eye-up-attractive-strangers level, which he still did without even realizing he was doing it, so ingrained was the habit, and which was bound to cause problems someday. What would he have done if Stranger-on–the-Stairs had begun to chat him up? It’s not like he was about to act on these impulses or anything. But, really, the sexual frustration born of Problem One could only exacerbate Problem Two.

John reached the lounge and found Sherlock in his chair, fingers tented in his “thinking pose.”

“Client?” John asked.

“Hmm?” Sherlock seemed not to have heard.

“That man who just left. Was he a…client?” John was curious. He didn’t look like their typical walk-in client sort.

“Oh. Oh! No.” Sherlock finally came out of whatever reverie he’d been lost in.

“Well, who was he then?” John was slightly impatient now.

“Oh, that was Alex,” Sherlock said dismissively.

“Alex.” John said this as though it was a statement, although it was still clearly a question.

“Yes.” Sherlock obviously felt the conversation was over.

More prompting must be required, so John prodded him further, even though he knew what sort of reaction he was likely to get for repeating himself and trying to get Sherlock to repeat himself. “Alex?”

“Really John.” And there it was! John was not disappointed. Sherlock huffed impatiently.

In for a penny, thought John, “Alex who is…?”

“John, for God’s sake, must I really repeat myself? That’s his name. Alex Thornton,” Sherlock said, as though he could not believe that he was actually being reduced to such stupidity.

John matched his impatient tone, although getting Sherlock to reveal a last name actually was kind of getting somewhere,Yes. I’ve got that part, but if he wasn’t a client, who was he then?”

Sherlock switched to sarcasm, “Is this an interrogation? Perhaps we should call Graham? Possibly we ought to go down to the Yard and he can play the good cop?”

“I’m merely taking an interest in your life. Is that a problem?” John said innocently. He felt like there was something he was missing about the mysterious Alex. Like Sherlock was hiding something. Why would he do that? Why would he be evasive? Just to spite him? Was John suddenly to be treated like another Mycroft now, meddlesome and unwanted? The thought stung, and made him more determined to have whatever information he could get out of him about this person that he seemed not to want to discuss, even though he knew it was both counterproductive and illogical. He could feel his pulse rising though, and seemed powerless to stop himself now that he was started.

“Taking an interest?” Sherlock seemed incredulous.

“Yes, taking an interest. I’m your best friend, aren’t I? I don’t see why you’re so defensive.” John heard the defensiveness in his own voice, and hated it, and didn’t know how to stop it.

“I am not defensive. It so happens that he was a client. I was able to solve his case without leaving the flat. It wasn’t even a four. It was--,” Sherlock began to explain, but didn’t get far before John cut him off, voice rising.

“You just said he wasn’t a client.”

“No, I said he isn’t a client. And he isn’t. Currently,” Sherlock had this way about him when they were having an argument that never failed to drive John completely mad. The more irrational and angry John got, the more rational and calm Sherlock got. Sherlock was employing this very infuriating, and in John’s opinion, completely unfair tactic just then. Sherlock was the very portrait of composure.

John nearly lost it entirely, and stopped himself from all-out shouting only with effort, but couldn’t control the shaking of his voice, “Stop playing bloody word games with me. If he isn’t a client now, then what exactly is he now, and why exactly was he here?”

John suddenly realized that he probably (no probably, definitely) had taken it too far with that last. It was, of course, none of his business why Sherlock had anyone in his home. He had no right to demand answers to any of the things he was asking, and should apologize, immediately. He knew it. However, the words, as emotional words always did, stuck in his throat. He breathed heavily, steadily, trying to calm his racing thoughts and nerves, waiting for what Sherlock might say next.

Sherlock gazed steadily at John for long seconds that felt like minutes. When he spoke it wasn’t to answer the question.

“You’re here because we are supposed to go look at the scene of that double murder in the West End. Are we going or do you want me to go alone? Because I’m not about to sit here and row with you all day.”

“Fine, let’s go,” John replied, relieved to have an out.

They descended the stairs. John felt deflated. All of his previous good humor had left the afternoon. He hated being at odds with Sherlock, and he wasn’t even sure what it was about this man (Alex, his name is Alex) or the entire situation that had John so on edge. There’d been maybe thirty seconds of interaction between he and John, during which no words had passed, and he hadn’t seen Alex and Sherlock together to judge how they got on.

So what was it?

John worried at it like a loose thread hanging from a sleeve. Certainly John was no Sherlock Holmes, but he hadn’t worked with Sherlock for all this time without picking up some deductive skills, and John knew enough to know that there was something about this situation that wasn’t right.

So he worried at it. He thought about it as Sherlock swept to the kerb and hailed a cab. He thought about it during the cab ride, where he studied Sherlock carefully from the corner of his eye, as Sherlock remained exasperatingly inscrutable. He pondered it all the way to the crime scene. He thought about it at the scene, from which the bodies had been removed the night before. He thought about it as Sherlock went through his observations and deductions, calling John’s name more than once without getting an answer.

“John. John! What is the matter with you today? I can’t remember you ever being quite this inattentive and stupid. Are you coming down with something?” Sherlock asked.

“Cheers. Just have a lot on my mind,” John muttered. Sure do have a lot on my mind, he thought. A whole lot of big, tall, gorgeous bloke. Like I needed another one. God, what am I thinking of? What the fuck. Where is this coming from?

“Well you’re no good to me if you’re not going to pay any attention to me when I speak to you,” Sherlock said peevishly, “Not that it matters. The scene has been contaminated by Lestrade’s imbeciles trampling all over it.” He removed his nitrile gloves with an irritated snap and looked around for a bin to toss them.

“Why were we not on the scene last night when it was fresh?” John asked.

Sherlock looked over at him and John thought he recognized the Look-of-Praise Sherlock sometimes gave him when he made some kind of good observation, but he couldn’t imagine why he was doing it now. “Because I only just found out about it today. Let’s go. We’ve done all we can here. I’ll text Lestrade. It was clearly the brother of the female victim who is responsible. I can see that, even through all this mess.” Sherlock said briskly. During the cab ride back he proceeded to rattle through all of his reasons and explanations.

Also in the cab on the way back, John tried not to continue his ruminations. He felt no less unsettled, and had no more clear reason for feeling that way.

Maybe it was because he keenly felt how out of line he’d been earlier, but couldn’t bring himself to say whatever needed saying to fix it. He felt like there was more distance now between him and Sherlock than there had been since Sherlock’s return.

The cab pulled up in front of 221 Baker Street.

“Do you think you’ll need more help wrapping up this one?” John asked him after they exited the cab and stood outside the flat.

Sherlock shrugged and looked off into the air. “Hard to say. It seems open and shut to me. Nothing really left but the statements at the Yard.” He was all studied indifference.

John waited a moment. Nothing else appeared to be forthcoming. He sighed. Sherlock was going to make him work for it. “Well, do you want me to come for the statements?”

“No, that won’t be necessary,” Sherlock said coolly.

So I see we’re going to be in a strop about this then. Fine. This was actually kind of comforting. While not ideal, this was at least familiar ground.

I’m not playing these fucking games though, John thought, suddenly angry again. Whatever else there was that was going on, Sherlock was treating him like an outsider, and he didn’t like it. John’s feelings were hurt. “Bye, then. Text if there’s anything else.” And he turned on his heel and walked back toward the tube. He tried hard, and succeeded, in not turning around to see if Sherlock watched him going. He tried just as hard, and was not as successful, in trying to figure out what had bothered him so much about his encounter with the stranger Alex on the stairs.

>~<

In the drifting time between sleeping and waking, John jolted wide awake, hard. He looked over to see if he had woken Mary, but thankfully she was still asleep. He woke up seeing those ice blue eyes, right after letting himself in the door of 221B. The locked door. That was the thing that had been bothering him all day that he couldn’t put a finger on—that the door to the flat had been locked when he’d arrived there. Since when did Sherlock lock the door during the day? Alex was already there, in the flat, the door locked behind him, as if he’d been there a long time. Like maybe long enough to sufficiently distract Sherlock into missing a fresh crime scene the night before? No, that couldn’t really be, could it? Was Alex living there at 221B? Was Alex Sherlock’s new flatmate? How could he not notice the evidence of someone actually living in the flat? Right, because there was so much evidence of *you* living in the flat when you lived there, right, Watson? Or, what if Alex had just…slept over? Why would he? No. That…Couldn’t be. Right? John fell back to sleep worrying these fresh threads. It took him a long, long time.

>~<

In the light of day, John convinced himself that he had overreacted. Probably Alex just locked the door behind him when he came in. He needed to calm down and stop trying to be the Sherlock he certainly was not.

After a couple of dull yet anxious weeks passed with no texts from Sherlock, John was ready to give in and extend the olive branch. He had fucked up, he knew he was wrong, and with his stupid pride he had a hard time admitting that.

He’d spent those two weeks at first not really admitting that he was checking his phone too much for the texts that weren’t there, and then just giving in and checking the damned thing constantly, to just having it where he could actually see it at all times, and then still checking it all the time.

Finally he’d texted Sherlock twice himself to ask if anything was on with no result.

Once more, John thought. I’ve already acted like a complete idiot in the first place. I’m not going to look like I’m a pathetic puppy now.

He considered what he should text.

He sent: Hey, are you alive? Refusing to speak to me? Or just somehow managed to break all of your fingers?

This got a reply.

I’m fine. Not refusing to speak to you. Just nothing noteworthy to say. –SH

And John was starting to get that dog-been-penned-up-in-the-kennel-too-long feeling again.

He needed a case.

God, I sound just like he always used to sound before I’d find rat intestines in the blender or nitroglycerine in the Mr. Coffee or something.

Well, and why didn’t Sherlock text him? Surely Sherlock had been on cases in the time intervening. Was he just going it alone now? There was just no way that he had done no cases in the past several weeks. He would have run mad, shot up the walls, burned down the flat...unless.

John felt his stomach clench slightly.

Was Sherlock spending time all that time with Alex?

Was that why he suddenly didn’t need to text or talk with John? What if Sherlock’s best-friend/conductor of light/texting partner/crime-scene companion needs were being filled by Mr. Tall, Dark and Unfairly Attractive? All of John’s determination that he’d overreacted blew away like smoke. Had he? Well, partially—the idea that Sherlock was in the throes of a hot and heavy love affair was surely an overreaction, because really, the very thought was just absurd! Even Janine had turned out to be a sham! Sherlock, John reminded himself, just didn’t operate that way, of course. The thing with Janine had been...upsetting at the time; when it turned out to be just for show, John allowed to himself that he really should have known all along.

However, Sherlock was susceptible to loneliness, contrary to what he’d have the world at large think, and it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that he might have tried to (clench) replace John and the role he’d played in Sherlock’s life with a new friend. Who knew? Maybe Sherlock was even bringing this Alex Thornton, tall, chiseled, fit…guy on cases. Possibly Alex was some kind of supergenius too. Maybe all the people at Scotland Yard just loved Alex. Maybe…

John could feel nothing but a sick sadness at the thought of Sherlock out on cases with someone else, laughing with him, sharing deductions with him, getting take-away together, complaining to him about Anderson, all of it. Being friends together like John and Sherlock were friends. John recognized the fundamental unfairness and unhealthiness of this feeling, but that didn’t make the feeling any less there. Of course Sherlock should be allowed to have other friends, and of course Sherlock should even be looking for a new flatmate, since John had moved out and married, and even had a child now. But that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt to see someone moving into John’s place.

Truth was, John missed Sherlock, and although he didn’t get to go out on cases and just hang out with him in Baker Street as much as he once did, he loved it when they did, when he got to feel like they were reliving the old times. John’s new times, to be honest, weren’t so great most of the time, apart from having Hannah, and the good times he knew waited for him made having Baker Street to visit that much sweeter. Somehow he knew that if Sherlock found a new partner it would be the death knell of them sharing those times ever again. Things would never be the same. John ruthlessly squashed the thought that wanted to surface that he wanted his place to still be there in case he ever needed it back.

>~<

How about some pints? John texted. He thought it would do him (and really, Mary) good for him to get out of the house for a bit. And if he went out for pints with Greg, John would absolutely NOT pester him about what Sherlock was up to. Really. He would NOT ask Greg if Sherlock ever brought anyone else on cases.

Sounds great! It would be good to catch up. Been awhile. Friday?

John smiled. Friday sounds great. What time?

The reply was quick. You know how it is. Supposed to be done at 6, but who knows really. Why don’t you meet me here at my office. It will help me make my escape if I have someone waiting for me.

John sent back Sounds good to me. See you at 6.

>~<

On Friday afternoon, Lestrade texted John to come to the Yard closer to 7 because of the amount of backed up paperwork he had to get done before he could leave for the night. John sighed, but understood. It was a little sad how much he was looking forward to the simple companionship, and conversation that didn’t have to do with bottles, nappies, or sleep schedules, which was what he and Mary could manage without bickering these days. And sometimes not even that much.

He took the tube to Scotland Yard.

It was a pleasant evening, and he arrived a little early, so he got off a stop ahead of where he needed to and walked. John was always a walker. Whenever something was bothering him a brisk walk typically made him feel better. When he was angry, “I need some air” was always his response, and usually both the air and the exercise did help him clear his mind.

John’s mind had not been placid in weeks.

The walk was not long enough for a full head-clearing, but it would help, anyway.

He got to Scotland Yard around 6:30. Not wanting to barge in on Lestrade before it was time, he went looking for a vending machine and some coffee, which he was planning to take back outside to enjoy the spring evening. Coffee had become much more important in John’s life since becoming a father. The quality of the coffee mattered less than it ever had, which was a good thing, since the coffee from a vending machine at Scotland Yard was highly unlikely to have any quality at all.

John didn’t make it that far, but found himself suddenly wide awake all the same. He made it to the doorway and skidded to a dead halt. In the room with the vending machines, he found Sherlock and Alex Thornton. They failed to hear John’s arrival and it wasn’t hard to see why.

John stood frozen to the spot. He felt as if all of the blood had left his body, his fingertips ice cold, his knees locked. Alex had Sherlock pressed against a snack machine, had Sherlock’s head tipped back and was snogging him thoroughly. One of Alex’s hands was in Sherlock’s hair at the nape of his neck, the thumb caressing Sherlock’s jawline, and the other was somewhere inside Sherlock’s coat, invisible. Sherlock’s eyes were closed. His long legs were all tangled with Alex’s, one hand on the back of Alex’s neck, the other cupping his arse.

John’s throat started to feel like it was closing up, like he had hardly enough airway to pull in each breath. As John watched, gaping, Sherlock began to suck gently on Alex’s lower lip. Without breaking this contact, Alex put the hand that had been invisible under Sherlock’s coat on Sherlock's shoulder and pushed him back, hard, so that the snack machine tilted, closing the ten centimeters or so of distance between it and the wall behind it with a bang as he began to grind into Sherlock, who let out a moan. Bags of crisps and candy bars rained to the bottom of the machine.

John felt everything go a little faint around the edges.

There had been Janine. He thought that had been…something. In retrospect, John could see how the kisses with Janine had really been rather chaste. How they were rather closed-mouthed affairs. The way Sherlock didn’t participate in so much as allow those kisses. The way Sherlock had pointedly forgotten Janine’s existence the instant he closed the door.

This. This? Wasn’t that.

This was not being able to wait until you got home even though it was completely inappropriate, looking like being about to fuck RIGHT THERE, being about to cause the destruction of property with the violence of it, not really giving a flying rat's ass who saw you, being about to get an ASBO right in the police station for it, this was...Sherlock was being eaten alive by this man. And was clearly a very willing participant.

Very willing.

IwasrightIwasrightIwasrightIwasright. Why don’t I ever trust my first instinct? All that time, bloody years! At Angelo’s I was right and you ARE gay and there was the Irene Adler fiasco and all the texts and the violin composing and I wanted you so fucking much and then the Janine thing and the bloody fucking engagement ring and fucking SHERL for fuck’s sake and I thought but no I guess he’s not gay BUT you WERE and you ARE but I thought you didn’t want anyone or you didn’t want men but NO you just didn’t want ME all that time, and see, I was RIGHT all the time I was right about ALL of it. GODAMMIT. Motherfucker.

John’s hands balled into fists at his sides. His mind’s eye saw himself using those fists to punch out the glass of all the vending machines, slashing Alex’s pretty face with the glass, maybe putting his head right through one of the panes. Maybe Sherlock’s too. Or maybe his just his own. He really wanted to break things and smash them right now. He felt really stupid, and like he’d been lied to and kept in the dark. What right did Sherlock have to keep this from him?

Instead of shouting, he went deadly calm.

“So now I see why you haven’t been texting me. Got someone new to talk to, do you?” John said hoarsely.

John was mildly gratified to see Sherlock start in surprise at this, “John!”

“Hello, Alex. So nice to finally meet you. I was Sherlock’s best friend.” John turned to go.

Sherlock’s eyes widened at John’s use of the past-tense verb, and he jumped away from Alex and started after John as he strode down the hall and toward the exit. “John!” He called again.

“Fuck off,” John spat on his way out the door.

 

Chapter Text

John woke up late the next day to bright sunshine streaming in the windows, not just wanting to die, but being sort of worried that he might not. He’d fallen asleep on the sofa, and every single part of him hurt. Everything. Maybe even some things outside himself, like possibly the couch cushions. He had a vague memory of being ill in the loo during the night, more than once. There was a note on the coffee table. He reached over for it and read it without sitting up, moving it back and forth in front of his eyes trying to make them focus:

Out shopping with Hannah and Jen & Lily from prenatal class. –M XOX

XOX. Right-O. John experimentally tried to sit up. Pain sliced through his head, and his stomach roiled alarmingly. He dug his phone out of his trouser pocket, where he’d slept with it all night. It was blinking. Then he remembered. Everything. He dropped his head (gently) into his hands, then checked the texts. John read Lestrade’s text first. It was under six missed texts from Sherlock. Those he deleted unread.

What happened to you last night mate?

John had gone home, waited (using an almost unheard-of amount of will power to disguise his upset) until Mary had taken Hannah up to nurse and then had gone to bed herself, and then he had dispatched most of an entire bottle of Scotch all by himself. He considered his response to Greg, and decided he really didn’t have it in him to construct any kind of elaborate lie this morning. Morning? Try mid-late afternoon.

I am so sorry, Greg. I ran into Sherlock at the Yard and we had a row before I was to meet you, and I’m afraid it was bad enough that I just went straight home and got plastered on my own. I will make it up to you.

Wow. Must have been some row. I won’t even ask.

Thanks for not, and thanks for understanding. John wasn’t sure if Greg really did understand, but whatever.

No worries. We’ll plan for it again soon.

Thanks, Greg.

>~<

John now had the task of working through the reasons for his upset over Sherlock and Alex. He decided he wasn’t going to do it. Not with this headache. Or really, probably not at all, because what was the fucking point? What would it help, and he had overreacted again, certainly, because, married man, after all. Right. Now that was dealt with. Moving on.

>~<

He spent most of Saturday feeling like complete and utter shit, enough so that he was able to mostly avoid thinking, so, mission accomplished? He guessed? There really had to be a less painful way to go about avoiding thought. One that didn’t involve hangovers, narcotics or a lobotomy.

John deleted more missed texts, and even several voice mails. Oh, how important am I now? Mr. I Prefer to Text is actually calling me. Wonder if he calls Alex, Valiant Slayer of Vending Machines. See, this is just what I need not to be doing. This is just childish, and accomplishes nothing.

He ignored the hollow feeling in his chest as much as he could, along with the persistent sickening thudding in his head. Drink that much Scotch and there’s only so much that over-the-counter pain relievers are going to do for you, he thought.

Shockingly, Mary actually could be arsed to notice that he was alive and unwell—when the rubbish needed to be taken out after dinner. “You look like hell, you know it? What’s the matter with you?” She asked, holding Hannah up on one shoulder to be burped.

“Ta very much. I think I may be coming down with something,” he muttered.

“Hmph. Try not to get either of us sick, would you? Think you can take this bag out?” She asked.

He bit back a retort about what a model of sweet matrimonial sympathy she was, and took the bag, kissed Hannah on the top of her head, then announced that he was going to bed when he returned.

>~<

Sunday was worse. The headache was gone, and all he had was time to think.

He ended up taking the train into Central London and walking, walking, walking.

His mind wasn’t getting any clearer.

He found himself in the park, not on the same bench where he’d sat with Mike Stamford the day he met Sherlock, but not far from it, either.

John had long since reconciled himself to feelings of unrequited want, which had nearly driven him crazy when he’d lived with Sherlock in Baker Street. Once Irene Adler was dead, he realized he didn’t just want Sherlock; he knew that he was crazy in love with him. He also knew that he may as well just pack his bags and move right out as confess a thing like that. To come out and tell Sherlock that? Would surely ruin their friendship, and their friendship was the most important—really, the only—thing John had. Even if it didn’t do anything so dramatic as ruin the friendship, at the very least, Sherlock was likely to find such a proclamation from John distressing, disconcerting—and John didn’t want to put Sherlock in such a position.

So John held on. He stopped living in denial (to himself, at any rate). He stopped dating women, which was a pathetic joke anyway, with his present lifestyle. He instead dedicated himself fully to being everything he could be to Sherlock in whatever capacity he could. When Richard Brook happened, he tried to be everything to Sherlock then, so that Sherlock would know John was for real like he told Sherlock he knew Sherlock was for real. But somehow John still failed. He didn’t see through Sherlock’s ruse at Bart’s. He believed the worst of Sherlock, just as Sherlock had always counted on John (and probably everyone in his life) to do. And then Sherlock had jumped.

John tried not to think back, as he sat in the park, of the crippling grief and guilt of those days after, of drinking too much and sitting in his flat alone too much, of wandering the streets until he didn’t know where he was, and then later of the dreamlike quality of his early days with Mary. Then even later, the betrayal he felt when Sherlock came back with a stupid joke and a stupid penciled-on mustache on his lips—somehow John felt nearly as betrayed now.

Did Sherlock owe him any explanations about how and with whom he spent his time? No. However, Mr. Married-to-His-Work didn’t look so married to it now. Certainly he had implied asexuality, or…something. Asexuality was the wrong term. Enforced celibacy. As if the thought had never even crossed his mind. As if sex was something other, lesser people did. As if… Alright, fine, whatever. Maybe John was owed no explanations of any kind.

Maybe John just felt horribly, awfully rejected.

John would never admit it aloud, but while some anger he felt when Sherlock returned was because he'd faked his suicide, obviously, there was also a measure of anger left over for putting John in the position of being immediately and irreconcilably conflicted about his choice with Mary from the instant of his arrival. It was this more than anything else that made John make his hands into a ring around Sherlock’s throat to choke him right there in the swanky restaurant where he was supposed to be putting a diamond ring around his intended’s finger.

Because it had not taken long for the want to come back, and work its way from the subconscious to the conscious, and now more than ever, it was a hopeless thing.

It was like the scene John had witnessed yesterday was designed to underscore these things. The want: God it was hot, hotter than John could have imagined. When he’d watched Sherlock kissing Janine, he’d been full of jealous confusion, yes, but he’d not had this reaction of delayed arousal thinking about it after. In fact, he’d always thought that Sherlock would be an awkward, self-conscious, inexperienced sort of lover. (Would John have minded? Of course not.) But, boy had he been wrong. Sherlock biting Alex’s lip, so lost in it he didn’t even hear John in the doorway, the way Alex had his head tipped back, and was rubbing along Sherlock’s jawline (of course the bastard would be taller than Sherlock, wouldn’t he?) and the way he had slammed Sherlock back into the machine, and he'd liked it. That noise he'd made! What would he feel like under John’s hands? Under John’s mouth? What noises could John make Sherlock make, hmm? Well, he’d never know, would he? Yes, John’s bitter arousal recalling the scene emphasized both the want and the hopelessness.

>~<

On Monday, John went to work. That was as good of a way as any to forget about what felt like a huge hole in his life and his heart. He took the car to the train, took the train into the city. He did not, absolutely did NOT think about the time that he and Sherlock were on the train carriage that he thought was going to blow up but didn’t, and he forgave Sherlock, and the two of them ended up laughing like loons…

He really wasn’t wondering what Sherlock was up to, and if he missed John, really , or what Sherlock's reason could really be for continuing to try to contact him.

It didn’t matter. John didn’t think it was possible for him to be around Sherlock if he was going to be —physically demonstrative with Alex in front of him. A clean break was better. Really, it was more than past time for him to make a real decision about his marriage, and to stop being distracted by Sherlock in that process. Obviously this wasn't a healthy relationship/friendship for John.  It was so much better this way.

He treated cases of strep throat and colds and piles and just plain old nervous hypochondria. He nodded politely in the right places. He smiled reassuringly. He frowned sympathetically. At the end of the day he barely remembered anything that had happened. When he looked back through the day’s notes, it was like it had all happened to another person.

At 5 he checked his phone. A message from Mary saying that she was really enjoying herself at the home of the same friend she'd spent most of Saturday with, and asking if he could fend for himself for dinner. He replied that it was fine, and it was. He wouldn’t have to fake cheerfulness for her. And three more messages from Sherlock. Delete, delete, annnd delete.

He tidied up the place, taking his time. He had no place to be. He was in no particular rush to get home. Why would he be? What did he have to go home to, really? Finally, long after patient appointments had ended and the other doctors had gone, he left for the evening.

Almost as soon as he stepped out the door, Sherlock was there, with a dramatic sweep of coat. John should have expected it. He gusted a sigh and stopped walking. Cut his eyes sideways. Began walking in the opposite direction. John didn’t really know where he thought he was going, because it was the wrong fucking way, as Sherlock also surely knew.

“John, really, I fail to see why you are ignoring me, or just what I’ve done to deserve such ill-treatment from you,” Sherlock said to John’s retreating back as he strode away.

“Really? How about stalking?” John answered shortly.

“If you’d talk to me like a person, I wouldn’t have to stalk you. I don’t understand why you’re angry in the first place, since as far as I can see you are the one who has…” he trailed off.

John whirled about suddenly, “Who has what, Sherlock? Who has what exactly?” He had raised his voice significantly, and people on the sidewalk were starting to stare.

Sherlock snorted. “Please. Don’t you think we ought to have this conversation somewhere else? Somewhere not in public? Come to Baker Street.”

“Absolutely not,” John could hardly think of a worse idea than going with Sherlock to Baker Street just now.

“I have a case that I really could use your particular assistance with, but if you insist that you won’t help me…”

John was at war with himself. He really wanted to just tell Sherlock again to fuck off. So much, he did. He was, however, a confessed addict to the Sherlock-crime-solving adrenaline rush. A close second was the need to feel wanted and needed. Sherlock was presently hammering on both buttons, hard. Had he not just told himself that he was making a clean break from Sherlock? He had. Really. Christ. “What sort of case could possibly require my particular assistance? Is Alex too busy grooming himself or something?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes dramatically, but otherwise ignored this. “It involves racehorses, and travel to Dartmoor, things with which I thought you might be familiar, and possibly even enjoy. I thought you would have more experience with and knowledge of horseracing than I.”

“Why would you think that?” John asked sharply.

Sherlock had turned toward the street, as though preparing to depart, but gave John a knowingly deductive side-eye. “Really John? Which part?”

“Any of it?” John huffed.

How does he know? How does he ALWAYS know?

The answer, John thought, was probably that it was Mycroft with his CCTV cameras and God alone knew what else who knew about John’s habit of betting on the horses during Sherlock’s absence. He probably sent Sherlock regular reports while he was on his Great Hiatus in Abu Dhabi or Xinzhou or wherever the fuck it was he'd spent his time while John mourned him and played Bad Decision Bingo. Well, betting on the horses beat Russian Roulette, right? Because that sometimes felt like a serious consideration.

“Would you prefer to meet at Baker Street or at the train station? We’re looking into the disappearance of an apparently important horse and the death of its trainer. That is if you wish to accompany me to Dartmoor to look into it,” Sherlock amended, with deferential modesty. He seemed to realize that the time for the kid gloves had come.

“How long are we talking about?” John asked.

“I have no idea, John, the culprit or culprits didn’t let me know how long he, she or they would take to make him-, her-, or themselves known. I find murderers and horse-thieves can be so unreasonable that way.” Sherlock snarked. Well that didn’t last long, John thought.

John dithered.

“Well, if you can’t tear yourself away from all this…” Sherlock gestured at the non-descript building that housed the surgery and its dingy surroundings.

John bristled, “I have a daughter waiting for me at home, in case you forgot.”

“A baby, yes, and a wife, too. The baby is not going to notice your absence, you know. Babies don’t develop a sense of object permanence until four months at the earliest. Your wife, well, she may say she misses you, but that just may be because she wants your help with the child rearing responsibilities,” Sherlock observed.

“Believe it or not, you aren’t actually helping your case here,” John said.

Sherlock just blinked at him in genuine perplexity. “You mean it’s not helpful to know that the baby isn’t going to miss you?”

The baby, my daughter, has a name. It happens to be Hannah. I know you’ve only seen her twice since she’s been born so that may not have registered as an important detail to you…” John began, but Sherlock interrupted him.

“Fine. Hannah won’t even know you’re gone. How long do you intend to bicker with me on the sidewalk for the entertainment of the passerby before you make a decision?”

“Let me talk to Mary and I’ll text you,” John said. He wasn’t even sure why he was pretending he was going to consult Mary about this. He was just stalling.

“Don’t bother. I plan to get a cab to the train station at 11 AM sharp. Be at Baker Street if you plan to come with me.” Something changed in Sherlock’s demeanor then, as if he realized how harsh that had sounded, and it wasn’t exactly what he’d meant. “I hope you’ll consider coming. I really could use your help, John.”

Sherlock had turned and raised his hand to hail a cab, which was pulling up to the kerb. Suddenly John had to know, even if he sounded pathetic for asking, “Sherlock!” he called after him. Sherlock turned. “Will it just be you and I going to Dartmoor?”

Sherlock, thankfully, didn’t say anything derisive, or look at him like he was crazy or anything like that. He simply said, “Yes,” with a nod, turned, closed the door behind him and was gone.

John was glad, because he could feel the tears he hadn’t shed in the past two and a half days rising, and his vision blurred. Although they didn’t fall, Sherlock would have seen them there.

His latest bad decision, to go to Dartmoor, had already been made before he realized he’d made it.

Chapter Text

In the morning, John showed up at Baker Street at 10:45, just as Sherlock probably knew he would. He paced twice outside the door, not sure what he would do or say if he went inside to find Alex sprawled in what used to be John’s chair, or locked in a passionate embrace with Sherlock, but he steeled himself, went inside, and to his immense relief, found Sherlock alone.

“Ah, John, you decided to come. Good. Give me just a moment, and we’ll be off.” Sherlock gathered up a bag with his essentials and of course, The Coat, and they departed.

If Sherlock noticed that John was quieter than normal during the cab ride and as they boarded the train, at first he withheld comment.

They were seated across from each other, and there was plenty of space for them to spread out; the train was very sparsely populated at this time of the day. Sherlock was switching back and forth between tapping away at his phone and a tablet, doing God only knew what. Angry Birds, maybe, or thwarting Mycroft trying to start a war somewhere. John stared at a book without reading it and tried not to be obvious about studying him.

However, he was seeing him in a whole new way. Not for the first time had he looked at Sherlock’s lips and wondered how they’d feel under his own or to his fingertips, or at the length of his throat and wonder how much pressure it would take from his mouth to leave a bruise there. Now he knew for sure that Sherlock went in for such things, and that someone else was getting to enjoy it. Once he thought Sherlock would meet actions like those with universal revulsion. Now he knew better.

John tried looking out the window at the scenery. Lovely. Useless. Not helping. He sighed.

The train ride from London to Exeter was a long one. He’d really better come up with a better plan than pretending that he wasn’t staring at Sherlock and wondering about his sex life. He forced his eyes to focus on the words on the page in front of him. He didn’t make it through an entire sentence before he had the thought, I wonder if he’s a top or a bottom. Or maybe he likes a little variety in the sack. Alex had certainly seemed to dominate the situation at the Met, but it was hard to say, really…

Without ceasing his electronics-tapping Sherlock said, “Well?”

John jumped slightly, so used to Sherlock deducing his exact thoughts that for a split second he was sure Sherlock was asking him what he’d decided on the particular question of Sherlock’s sexual position preference. Then sanity (sort of) reasserted itself. Because while it was the wrong duck, it turned out it was the right pond, and John really wasn’t sure he was ready to talk about this at all.

“You have questions. We need to talk about this like adults, please,” Sherlock said.

John nearly barked with laughter. That was rich, coming from Sherlock. John looked around the carriage, just to double check their proximity to others. There was no one in the immediate area except an elderly sleeping woman several seats in front of them, and a young man two seats behind with music blaring out of his headphones. They had about as much privacy as they were likely to get for this conversation.

John took a deep breath and put his book face down in his lap. “Ok, so, you’re gay then.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes, “Obvious. And that was a statement, not a question.”

John gestured vaguely with his hands, “It wasn’t obvious to me. What about Irene Adler?”

Sherlock spread his own and shrugged, “What about her? That wasn’t really a question either. You’re not very good at this, are you? Maybe that’s why we can’t have these conversations.”

“Are you kidding me?” he nearly shouted. John, as always when the topic was their relationship, was quick to anger and to become defensive.

“Of course I’m not kidding you. Is this how we discuss like adults? Because I’m about to be done.” Sherlock again grew calmer in response to John’s obvious upset.

John, who really needed answers to preserve his sanity, struggled and managed to get himself under control by taking several deep breaths. “No, no. Ok,” He steeled himself and felt slightly not-all-there as he forced himself to ask the things he really needed to know. Well, some of what he really needed to know. “What is Alex to you? Are you in love with him?”

“That’s two questions.” Sherlock replied.

Having felt like he’d taken a risk by asking, John was annoyed that Sherlock was evading the question, but not wanting him to end the Q&A session prematurely, he kept his voice even and reasonable with an effort. “Fine. What do you call your relationship with him?”

Sherlock folded his hands neatly in his lap and answered primly, “I don’t call it anything.”

John sighed. Deep breaths. “What does he call it?”

Like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, “I’ve never asked him.”

Again, John knew the consequences of repeating himself. But he had to know. Had to. “Are you. In love. With him?”

“I think that’s enough now, don’t you?” Sherlock picked up his tablet and began to tap again, and wouldn’t meet John’s gaze, acting done with the conversation.

John somehow, somehow, managed not to explode. The anger in his voice was still apparent when he asked, “Why did you tell me I could ask questions if you weren’t going to answer them?”

“Ok, fine. I’m not…not…that.” Sherlock, for his part, sounded like he’d been somehow surprised into revealing more than he’d intended.

John felt immense relief rush through him at this admission, although he still had all kinds of issues with everything else that Alex might be to Sherlock, now and in the future. At least he had this for now. Not only was Sherlock not in love with Alex, he couldn’t even say the words.

John decided not to press his luck with any more questions for the time being.

>~<

Instead, he picked his book back up and pretended to read it, and thought about the first time they had gone to Dartmoor, back when their friendship was young. It had almost been like being on holiday, except for the looking-for-the-giant-terrifying-mutant-hound part, the hacking-their-way-into-the-top-secret military-installation part, the watching-someone-get-blown-up-in-the-minefield part, the seeing-poor-Henry-Knight-lose-his-mind part, the being-drugged-and-trapped-in-the-lab part, the scary-nighttime-on-the-moor part… You know what, fuck it. Only like being on holiday if you’re a nut-job.

The country, however, had been lovely there. And it had been nice, watching Sherlock climbing around on the rocks like something out of some Romantic painting, and the two of them driving around in the Range Rover through the country. There had been hours of the two of them in the quiet, without the usual distractions of London and Baker Street. Maybe having this couple of days of time together would help them get sorted, and they could get back to just being friends again.

Honestly, for the past three months or so, Sherlock had been acting more like the person he’d been when they’d gone to Baskerville than the Sherlock he’d been since he returned from wherever he went after The Fall—once more aloof and distant, prone to cold sarcasm; for just a while before he’d reconciled with Mary, and especially prior to the wedding, John had thought…well, never mind what John had thought, but he really hated the way things were between them now. Had Sherlock not wanted John to reconcile with Mary? For Christ’s sakes! He’d done everything he could to convince John to reconcile with Mary!

>~<

John woke with a start.

“I said, wake up, John. Don’t you want to hear a bit about the case?” Sherlock asked, in a tone that indicated that he’d said this more than once now.

“Uh, sure. Sure!” John said. He looked out the window, as if what he saw would mean anything to him. “How much longer to Exeter?”

“About an hour, going by the placement of the electrical poles.” Sherlock said. John was puzzled, but decided not to even ask how one could calculate this, or why one wouldn’t just consult Google Maps instead of doing insane self-invented algorithms, but whatever.

“I’m surprised you haven’t heard about the case. It’s been in the news,” Sherlock said. “A famous disappearing horse and dead trainer was just sensational enough to cause comment beyond the ordinary run-of-the-mill homicide case, and it’s been fairly prominent in the papers and on telly.”

“I haven’t had much time to pay attention to the news,” John replied.

“Have you heard of the horse, Silver Blaze?” Sherlock asked.

“Hmm, might have, but not sure. I don’t pay as much attention to horseracing as you seem to think.” John said.

“Well, I pay no attention to it whatsoever, but it’s my understanding that the horse is a perennial favorite to win the Gold Cup, and that he’s also a big crowd favorite, so even though the odds aren’t that favorable for winning large sums of money, three-to-one in this next cup, large amounts of money are still bet on him regularly. He’s owned by one Maxwell Ross, who’s the one who called me. Now, since there’s also foul play involved with the death of the trainer, Jack Straker, the local police are also involved, an Inspector Gregory,” Sherlock explained.

“And he’ll work with you?” John asked.

“With us, yes. He knows us by reputation, and welcomes our assistance, or at least is pretending to,” Sherlock replied. John appreciated the correction to us and didn’t bother to hide his satisfaction.

“So are we investigating the disappearance of the horse, or the murder of the trainer?” John asked, since he figured it could go either way—or both.

Sherlock smiled his Good-Observation-John! Smile. “That’s just the thing. I was called in about the horse by its owner, but really I was much more interested in investigating the death of the trainer…but only if the horse didn’t turn up in 48 hours or so. Because really, I figured the person who stole the horse was almost certainly also the murderer of the trainer, and it’s not like someone can steal and hide probably the most famous racehorse in Britain for very long, could they? The horse is called Silver Blaze because of the characteristic white markings on his front foot and on his head. However, you were kind enough to make it take the 48 hours required to make the case interesting! The horse has not, in fact, turned up, and now there is, in fact, something to investigate.” Sherlock smiled a tight little smile.

“Wait. I made it…” John began.

“By delaying us. But no matter.” Sherlock said in an artificially placating tone, “I understand you were having personal issues.”

“I was having…personal issues?” John said incredulously. Had he just had good feelings about the us less than three minutes ago? He really could not believe the fucking nerve. Why was he bringing this up again? It was like he was purposely winding him up.

“It’s ok, John.” Sherlock said, in a voice dripping with condescension.

“Sherlock, my God. Did you get me hours from home just so that you could piss me off as much as you possibly could? What happened to discussion like adults?

“I don’t think I expected you to get so…personally invasive. Those were the kinds of things Mycroft would ask. They’re not the sort of things I expected you to ask.

This caused John’s temper to flare white hot. Because there it was, out of John’s insecurities and out there in the air, a reality. The Mycroft comparison that John feared. “Really? How about this then if you want to hear an invasive question: Are you fucking him?”

Sherlock leaned forward until he was in John’s space, and his voice dropped about half an octave. “Oh, would you like to know? Why would you be interested? Is it any of your business? Still taking an interest?” Sherlock’s voice sped up, as it sometimes did when he was explaining a crime scene to all of the people too dense to see what should have been clear, if only they had the ability to see. “What does the evidence tell you, what you saw with your own eyes, doesn’t it seem pretty obvious to you that I am indeed, and that I am pretty satisfied with the arrangement that I’ve made? It doesn’t really take a deductive genius to figure that out, now does it? So I think you probably already knew the answer to that question before you asked it. Or did you just for some reason just want to hear me say it?”

Then he sat back, eyes narrowed, and studied John and his reaction.

John knew better than to make any kind of verbal response. John tried not to visibly react at all, and feared he did a poor job. He went back to his book. All the relief he’d felt from their earlier conversation was quite gone. He found that he certainly hadn’t wanted to hear Sherlock say it, but that he really had no one to blame but himself, did he?

They passed the rest of the train ride in uneasy silence.

Chapter Text

Things were still tense when Sherlock and John arrived at Exeter Police Station in their rented car. Sherlock was even more surly than normal upon meeting the men they were there to see, not bothering to say hello or engage in any of the required introductions, merely nodding stiffly when it seemed absolutely necessary to acknowledge speech. John cleared his throat and introduced himself to Detective Inspector Gregory and Maxwell Ross, owner of the missing Silver Blaze. “John Watson,” he said, and smiled thinly. He resisted the urge to introduce Sherlock, or in any way seek to mitigate Sherlock's rudeness. It wasn’t his problem or his responsibility. Both men shook with John, but he knew it was Sherlock they were interested in speaking with. John was used to this.

John removed a notebook from the messenger bag he carried as they walked toward the Detective Inspector’s office. Sherlock was busy not engaging in the small talk the two Devon residents were trying to start about Sherlock and John’s trip and the weather, which left this particular social duty to John, as usual. Sometimes John wondered if this was why Sherlock kept him around.

“You’ve said you don’t think Fitzroy is our man,” DI Gregory said to Sherlock, once they were all seated in Gregory’s glass-walled office, with terrible coffee in Styrofoam cups at hand. “Why not? He’s got no alibi—even confesses to going to the King’s Pyland the night of the murder, and he’s got a motive…we had plenty enough to bring him in.” Everything about Gregory appeared to be at the median; he was of average build, average height, and his hair was straight and mouse brown. He had the sort of placid face a person would forget shortly after meeting him.

John grimaced as he swallowed some of his coffee. What is it with police stations and horrible coffee? “You already have a suspect in custody?” he said, surprised.

“I’d have thought you’d have known that, Dr. Watson,” said Gregory, glancing from Sherlock to John, “Yes, we brought him in yesterday. We’re still awaiting the autopsy results, but—“

“I didn’t get the chance to fill in Dr. Watson completely on the details of the case,” Sherlock said, not meeting John’s piercing look.

“During a train ride that long? Man, what on earth else had you to do?” Asked Ross incredulously. Spots of color rose on his cheeks. He was shorter and rounder than Gregory, with slicked back salt-and-pepper hair and strikingly light eyes. He eyed John and then Sherlock shrewdly.

John cleared his throat uncomfortably, and then felt ridiculous. Am I afraid he’s going to scold me? “Perhaps if you could run through the particulars of the case again for my benefit it would help me get up to speed.”

“Really, John, I know the particulars of the case, isn’t that sufficient? I can tell you what you need to know, if you need to know,” Sherlock said in his John, Be Reasonable Voice.

John felt small explosions behind his temples, and stopped himself from clenching his fists. “Gentlemen, please excuse us for just one moment. I need to have a word with my colleague,” John said smoothly. He was smiling, but the smile was nowhere near reaching his eyes. “Sherlock, would you mind stepping outside the office with me?”

Sherlock kept an impassive expression as he stepped out of the DI’s office, and John pulled him by the sleeve until they were away from the glass walls. There were, however, people milling all about the place, and John leaned in so that he could be heard by whispering. He was glad not to have to try speaking in a normal conversational tone, because he didn’t think he would have managed it. His throat was tight. It had been a long time since he had been subjected to that good old-fashioned Sherlockian cruelty and thoughtlessness, but he felt Sherlock was certainly making up for lost time today.

“Look. I don’t know what you’re playing at. I came out here with you because I wanted to help. I thought you wanted my help. I didn’t know I was just here so that you could repeatedly try to score points off me and try to hurt me and now I guess try to make me look like an arse too. Unless you want me on the next train home, when we go back in there, instruct those men to fill me in on the case, so that I don’t look like a complete fucking idiot. I will NOT be humiliated for your enjoyment. Got it?”

John could feel his heart hammering in his chest as he finished this little speech.

When John had finished speaking Sherlock narrowed his eyes slightly and said, “Oh, I’ve got it, all right.”

An impulse seized John, and, no longer whispering, before he could pause for thought, John said to Sherlock’s back as he was returning to Gregory’s office, “Sherlock! I shouldn’t have done that. On the train. Asked you those questions. I’m sorry I did that. It was none of my business.” And instantly thought, Well, that was easy. Who knew how easy that could be? The trick is just not to think about it first, I guess and just fucking SAY it.

Sherlock turned around in the open doorway and said, “You’re absolutely right. It wasn’t. Are you coming?”

John’s shoulders slumped, (so much for that) and he followed Sherlock back into the office and sat back down to his horrid coffee, which now had the bonus of being horrid cold coffee.

“My apologies. It was brought to my attention by my partner Dr. Watson that he really cannot do his part to assist in the case if he is not properly briefed, and he is absolutely correct. I have been remiss and I apologize to both of you and to John. Would you gentlemen mind terribly running through the main facts of the case once more so that both Dr. Watson and I may hear them? I may also ask questions at this time.” Sherlock said, fingers tented under his chin. He let his eyes flick over to John for a moment, but his expression did not change.

John gazed at him and wondered at how Sherlock could sometimes be such a dick, and yet. That was nice, what he’d just said, wasn’t it? Not assistant, not even colleague. Partner. And the way he’d said all that, about how he’d been remiss, and apologizing. In front of people. How often had that happened?

Why couldn’t they work this out?

Why did it have to be so fucked up?

John realized Maxwell Ross was speaking and he wasn’t paying attention.

“So the night watchman that night is named Ed Hunter. He’s got a Doberman that he uses to patrol the perimeter. It’s his dog and she’s tame as a puppy for Ed, but God help anyone he gives her the command to attack,” Ross said.

“Do horse stables normally have guards with watch dogs?” John asked.

“Ours does. We have over three dozen thoroughbred horses, including two Gold Cup contenders. Some of those horses are mine, but plenty just board there. People are paying a pretty penny to have secure facilities for their horses,” Ross replied. “It’s a big money industry, horse racing.”

Sherlock added, “But it’s not just the watchman, correct? You have a security system that was breached the night of the crime?”

“Yes, somehow, the alarm system was disarmed,” Ross confirmed.

John asked, “Wouldn’t that suggest that it’s someone who already knew the code?”

Gregory replied, “Either that, or that the person who was supposed to arm it didn’t remember to do it. It could go either way.”

“A clever criminal also could have figured out a way to steal the code or disarm the alarm without already having known it, but that doesn’t seem like the most likely scenario,” Sherlock mused. “Anyway, go on, Mr. Ross.”

“Ed claims a man approached him in the night, around 11 PM. Said the guy brought up the two horses we have in the Gold Cup, and wanted to know if it was true that the people here at the stable, the trainers and owners and such, are involved in betting for and against our own horses. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘I bet you can tell me which one, Silver Blaze or As You Wish is meant to win, and which is meant to take a backseat, can’t you? I bet if we work together on this we can make some real money, can’t we?’ implying we meant to fix the race.” Here Maxwell Ross let off a string of invective about what he thought of people who thought he would fix races by having his own horse lose.

Sherlock tried to get him back on track by asking, “What did Hunter reply to this?”

“Ed told him he and his dog would show him what we think of people who call us a bunch of dirty cheats here at King’s Pyland, and he took off at a run after him as he tried to get away,” Ross related, “He didn’t catch him, although he looked all around the buildings for him.”

“Wait a minute. Did he leave the place unlocked all this time? Perhaps an accomplice could have entered and taken the horse while Hunter was busy running all around looking for him?” John asked.

“I’m glad I asked them to retell the tale John. You are on fire today,” Sherlock said. John glared at him for just a moment before he realized that Sherlock wasn’t being sarcastic. Sherlock was wearing The Look, that one that made John glow when he could elicit it. He struggled to maintain the same expression and took a sip of his disgusting coffee to hide any signs of discomposure. He was sure Sherlock would see them anyway.

“No, the place was all locked up already and Ed was outside at the time, so there was no locking up that needed to be done. But that was a good thought,” DI Gregory said.

Ross continued, “In the morning Ed was found unconscious next to the stable doors. A&E doctor said it was a fast-acting anesthetic, and that there was an injection site at his neck.”

“Did the A&E doctor know what the particular drug was?” Sherlock asked.

Gregory rifled through the papers of the case file, moved his finger around on the report until he found it. “Says here…Ketamine.”

“Hmm. How about the dog. Did anything happen to the dog?” Sherlock asked.

“Oddly, no, the dog was just fine. We found her whining next to her master, but otherwise unharmed,” Ross said.

“And what led to your arrest of Simpson Fitzroy?” Sherlock asked, “I know you told me this on the phone, so this is mostly for John’s benefit.”

At this point, DI Gregory stepped in, “Well, the watchman’s description of the man who approached him at Kings Pyland matches Fitzroy’s description. He also was known to be a big-spending betting man, and to have some dealings with Ross’s rival of sorts, Samuel Brown of Mapleton stables, who owns the number-two favored horse for the Cup, Cinnamon. Fitzroy himself has a lot of money riding on Cinnamon in the Gold Cup by his own admission, and would stand to gain if Silver Blaze was taken out of the race. However, the most damning piece of evidence was that a scarf belonging to Fitzroy was found near Straker’s body. How else would that have gotten there?”

“Can you take us to where Straker’s body was found?” Sherlock asked, choosing to ignore Gregory’s question.

<~>

While Sherlock drove them to the scene in their rented car, and Ross and the DI followed in DI Gregory’s car, John asked him, “Will you tell me about the body, or would you rather wait for them to tell me?”

“From what Gregory told me on the phone, his case won’t hold up in court. I’ll let them explain it, but you’ll see. Evidence is all circumstantial and problematic,” Sherlock said absently. He sounded like his mind was a thousand miles away.

“You’ve already solved it, haven’t you?” John’s tone was nearly accusatory. He was almost getting sick of himself now, and wasn’t even going to try to pinpoint the source of this hour’s irrational anger. Probably it was how day-dreamy Sherlock was, which meant nothing John would have any interest in knowing about. Or maybe John would. And then after he knew he would wish he didn’t. Did Sherlock miss Alex right now? Was that what he was thinking about? Because John didn't miss Mary, not even a little. How fucked up was that?

Sherlock seemed to pull himself back momentarily from wherever he was mentally vacationing. “Well, not entirely. There are a few points I’m still unclear about.”

John scowled out the window at the lovely quaint town that was presently giving way to the lovely countryside. None of this trip was going the way he’d hoped it would. The scowl lines between his eyebrows un-furrowed and his expression went sad. He just wished he knew what to say to fix this. Sherlock was so impossibly closed off. He feared his chance to heal what was wrong with them was gone forever.

“You seem rather deep in thought,” Sherlock said pleasantly.

“I was just thinking that, about you. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t want to ask any more invasive questions,” John replied conversationally.

“I wasn’t trying to ask you an invasive question,” Sherlock said, much more coldly, “It was a simple observation. I thought you might be thinking of the case. I thought you might have some kind of insights to share. Forgive me.”

“Actually, what I was thinking was that it’s a shame that we can’t just have a normal conversation anymore the way friends do without being dicks to each other,” John said.

“You were not,” Sherlock said, disbelief evident.

“No, I really was.”

John went back to watching out the window. Sherlock stole glances at his profile from time to time. If John had been looking, he would have seen Sherlock’s expression was quite a bit less indifferent than it had been over the past few weeks. However, after a few minutes of studying John, whatever he saw there brought him to some kind of decision, and he once again put on the emotionless look he’d worn prior to getting into the car.

<~>

They pulled up behind the inspector and the horse-owner near an area roped off with yellow crime scene tape, but otherwise it was indistinguishable from the surrounding moor, wild and desolate. The wind blew Sherlock’s curls riotously about his face and both he and John pulled their coats closer about them. John was reminded forcibly of the Baskerville case, and felt a wave of nostalgia. He tried to beat it back but there it was, heavy in his chest, just one more pang of regret and loss in a run of years full of them. He watched Sherlock pull his collar up higher against the wind, and remembered that day, also at Baskerville, when he’d teased Sherlock about trying to look cool. He tried to imagine doing something like that now, and really couldn’t. He stepped under the tape and tried to focus on the task at hand.

“This is where the body was found,” Gregory said, indicating a patch of ground that looked just like all the other ground around them. “Straker had a stab wound to the thigh, bled a lot, but the thing that killed him will surely be found to be the wound to the back of the head. He was found holding a knife of his own, which was covered with blood. Strangely, Fitzroy doesn’t have a scratch on him, other than the very minor ones you might expect from running around in the woods.”

“Do you have the knife?” Sherlock knew it was unlikely that he would be able to examine the body first- hand without a tedious bureaucratic fight. This wasn’t London, and whatever morgue they had here wasn’t Bart’s. He wouldn’t enjoy the same privileges and familiarity here that he did with the Yard at home. He wasn’t sure he was going to need to bother anyway.

Gregory produced photo of the knife, in a folder that included photos of the body, taken from different angles. The knife was an unusual item, with a very narrow blade. It didn’t look like the sort of thing a person would have on them with the intention of defending themselves from any kind of attack.

Sherlock studied the photos, then said, “John, will you have a look?”

John also studied them, then furrowing his brow in concentration, “Hmm. Possibly Straker stabbed himself with his own knife during the struggle? That wound looks consistent with that type of blade. It’s a very small, unusual blade, and it isn’t likely the murderer would have had the same kind of blade, is it?”

“No, I was thinking the same,” Sherlock said.

John nodded in satisfaction, then looked at the photos of the back of Straker’s body. “Blunt force trauma to the back of the head, certainly sufficient to cause death.”

Sherlock examined the crime scene. The ground was trampled, and two days and the presence of countless police officers and the forensics team had done its work to make the scene nearly useless to him. He checked it over briefly anyway, just in case there was something he was missing. There wasn’t.

“I think we’ve seen what we can see here. Gentlemen, I have another stop to make,” Sherlock said briskly.

“What do you mean you’ve seen what you can see? You’ve barely looked!” said Ross unhappily, “Are you going to be able to tell me where my horse is?”

DI Gregory cut in, “Mr. Ross, I know you’re concerned about your horse, and of course we all are, but we’re also worried about bringing justice for the death of a man. Now, I think the case against Fitzroy looks pretty good, pending autopsy. What more do you need, Mr. Holmes?”

“And I think the autopsy report is just when it would all fall apart for you, Detective Inspector, when it’s revealed that the blood on the knife is Straker’s own. But allow us just a few hours and we’ll return. Will you grant access to Simpson Fitzroy to Dr. Watson for an interview?” Sherlock asked. To Ross he said, “Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the horse.”

“I suppose so, but we’ve already interviewed him extensively,” Gregory said. “Dr. Watson and I can speak to him again if you—“

“No,” Sherlock interrupted, “John should interview him alone. Fitzroy already knows you think he’s guilty. He’s not going to be open in front of you. There is a chance he might be with John, once he realizes John’s not with the police. If you want someone else to sit in on the interview, fine, as long as it’s someone who hasn’t spoken with him before, and they sit there and shut up and let John do all the talking.”

“Wait, where are you going?” John stopped him with a hand to his sleeve, as he was already on his way to the car.

“I have another interview to conduct. Come, John. I’ll drop you at the police station.” Sherlock was already behind the wheel.

<~>

John found himself in a small interrogation room with Mr. Fitzroy and a uniformed officer, who true to Sherlock’s directive, relayed faithfully through DI Gregory, sat there and shut up. John didn’t really know what he was supposed to be asking Fitzroy, but decided to wing it. Like I have options, John thought. He took out his trusty battered notebook and smiled in what he hoped was a comforting, convincing way at the suspect. Ordinarily he would have been convinced this man had killed Straker and taken the horse, but If Sherlock said no, he was going to take him at his word. How often was Sherlock ever wrong? Ok, there was that time. Ok, and that other time, and boy had they been big fuck-ups. But other than those?

Simpson Fitzroy was dressed in a standard prison issue uniform, but John could tell as soon as he started talking that he came from money. And he was polite, if mildly arrogant. He was sort of blondly, blandly good-looking in that way that had never really done it for John. He was confident, even in these surroundings, but John could see that it was a shallow sort of confidence. Simpson Fitzroy struck John as the sort of man who could not be depended on in a fire-fight and who would leave you cleaning up a mess when you got into a jam. He’d known men like that when he’d been in the army, who talked big until the shit hit the fan, and then you found out the real depth of their characters—or in many cases, the lack of depth.

“I’ve already been questioned by the police, but you don’t appear to be a police officer. Do you mind telling me who you are?” Fitzroy asked him.

“I’m Dr. John Watson. I’m—“, John began.

Fitzroy interrupted, “You work with Sherlock Holmes. I’ve heard of you. But what are you doing here?”

“Oh, so you’ve heard of Sherlock?” John asked. He didn’t know why he was still surprised by this, and he still felt a little warm glow of pride every time, but he did.

“I’ve heard of you both, of course I have, everyone has. I’ve read your blog. Wonderful stuff, but I’m sorry, I don’t want to seem churlish…I can’t really talk about that just now. I have to know. Who’s called you in? If I’m already arrested, why are you involved?” Fitzroy leaned eagerly over the table.

John began once more, “Well, the horse is still missing, and—“

And was interrupted again by an agitated Fitzroy, “I can’t tell you where he is, because I had nothing to do with it, I swear!”

“I’d like to hear your version of events, if I could. We’ve been called in by the horse’s owner and are working with the cooperation of the police. Sherlock is also out interviewing someone right now, which is why you’re stuck with me instead of him,” John explained.

Simpson Fitzroy’s face transformed with wild hope, “If Holmes is out interviewing someone else, does that mean he thinks I didn’t do it?” John thought that whatever his shortcomings might be, Fitzroy was no fool.

“I wouldn’t want to go that far just yet. How about you just tell me what happened first and then we’ll see?” John couldn’t bear to get the man’s hopes up in case it came to nothing.

“Alright. Where to start. I am a betting man. I don’t know if you ever bet on the horses at all, but it’s easy to let it get out of hand,” Fitzroy began, and looked at John, who simply nodded. John was not about to get drawn into a conversation about his own personal life.

Seeing that no more reply was forthcoming, he continued, “My circumstances are generally…comfortable. But still. There is only so much money one can lose before it’s going to be noticed out of the family finances. My wife takes an active role in such things, and there is a limit to how much financial damage I could easily hide. So I started also taking bets as a bit of a sideline, just among my friends, just to sort of ease the sting of a few bad weeks at the track, you know, and it allowed me to place bigger wagers than I’d been able to previously without my wife noticing any change in the bank accounts.”

Here he took a deep breath.

“Bookmaking,” John clarified.

“Yes, I suppose you could call it that. It began to get away from me. I owed money.”

John stopped him here by raising a hand, “You say you owed money. Did you start betting from the money other people were placing bets with? Is that how you got into trouble?”

Fitzroy lowered his head, swallowed, then sat up straight and nodded. “So, I started to take loans from sources that were…not banks. I became more and more…interested that the money should be paid back in a timely fashion to avoid…unpleasantness. I had heard some rumours that there was the possibility of race fixing between the stables at Mapleton and its proprietor Samuel Brown and the owner of King’s Pyland, Maxwell Ross. I decided to pay a visit, first to Mapleton and then to King’s Pyland. If there was any possibility of an inside tip, it might be the answer to all my problems.”

“You might be able to pay for information to help you win bets,” John said.

Fitzroy nodded again, “My visit to Mapleton was fruitful. Brown said he had an inside line that someone at Pyland was planning to fix the race so that the Blaze would lose, but he wasn’t sure if there was any plans around As You Wish, which was a close number three. I bet heavily on Cinnamon, Brown’s horse, which was favored to come in second, and the two of us worked together to get others to bet on him as well, and I promised him a share of the profits for the tip.”

“Did you visit King’s Pyland?” John asked him.

“I did. I started to wonder if it was true that they were fixing the race with Blaze, or if Brown was just trying to stir up interest in his horse, or taking the piss, or what. No honor among thieves, as they say. Also, I was wondering about As You Wish, because who knows? I had thousands and thousands of both my and other people’s money riding on this race, and some serious people getting itchy for repayment of some debts, so I decided to go to Pyland.”

Fitzroy paused here.

“This is where it gets hard to believe, and my luck turns for the absolute worst. I thought the worst thing that could happen was that I could end up being on the hook for a lot of money that my wife would find out, that I would have big marital troubles. I had no idea how bad things could really get. I went to the King’s Pyland, and tried to talk the night watchman into giving up information about the horses or any plans to fix the race. I offered to pay him off. He took offence and tried to sic the dog on me, and I ran. It was dark, and I managed to get off into the surrounding trees, not worrying at first about the fact that I had no idea where in the hell I was, but I ran straight into a man in the dark,” he said.

“And then what happened?” John asked.

“Well, I was terrified. I tell you, Dr. Watson, I was not cut out for a life of crime. I thought I was going to piss my pants. I took off running in another direction. How I ever even found my way out, I’ll never know,” Fitzroy shook his head.

“But you did,” John said.

“I did, and I went home, called Samuel Brown, told him I couldn’t find out anything about the horses at the Pyland, and that was it. I decided I was done scheming and that I was going to have to find another way out of the mess, even if it meant taking a legitimate bank loan and confessing to my wife about the gambling. Then I heard about the murder of Straker. I didn’t even realize I’d lost my scarf until they came to arrest me and they said they found it on the dead man when they questioned me, but I swear on my life I didn’t kill that Straker. I may be a shitty person, and a degenerate gambler, but I’m no murderer, or even a horse thief,” Fitzroy said earnestly.

John couldn’t help feeling sympathy for this man, even though he was obviously not without guilt. “If it helps, I don’t think Sherlock thinks you did it either. I think he’s trying to clear you right now.”

“Oh, thank God. Thank you, Dr. Watson, for listening to me, and thank Mr. Holmes for me as well,” he said fervently.

“There’s no guarantee,” said John, to caution him.

“Is there ever? Everything’s a gamble,” said Fitzroy.

<~>

John had some time to sit and think while he waited for Sherlock to return. Not always a good thing, although today it gave him time to reflect that this was one of the many reasons he loved doing this with Sherlock. He was going to have a hand in helping an innocent (well, ok, somewhat innocent) man escape a long prison term for a murder he didn’t commit. John believed Fitzroy’s story. He no longer had faith in himself as a good judge of character or when people were lying to him; Mary had put paid to that notion. However, everything Fitzroy had said was consistent with the evidence and with what he’d heard from Sherlock, Ross, and Gregory.

And despite Sherlock’s assurances that it was always all about The Game and about the thrill of the case itself, he knew Sherlock derived no small satisfaction from seeing such justice served as well.

He felt a buzzing on his hip and took out his mobile.

Meet me at King’s Pyland. Bring DI Gregory and Ross. –SH

Chapter Text

John arrived at the stables with the DI and Maxwell Ross, who was less than amused. “Taking us on a merry chase, your partner. He’d better have something for me, if he intends to get paid.”

“I expect Sherlock has a reason for wanting to meet us here, or we wouldn’t be here,” John replied, and left it at that. He knew Sherlock wouldn’t give a toss about the money, because he never did.

The three walked toward the stables, and Sherlock emerged from one of the buildings to meet them.

“Hello, John, I trust you had a good conversation with Mr. Fitzroy,” he said cheerfully.

John knew immediately from his demeanour that Sherlock had solved the case, and was about to make the big reveal.

“I did.” John decided not to say anything else until or unless prompted.

“Good! What did you think of what he had to say?” Sherlock asked, hands clasped behind his back like a good listener, but his slight bouncing motions betrayed his impatience.

“I thought he sounded like what he said he was: a gambler who let things get out of hand, but not capable of murder and horse thievery.”

“Excellent. Then we’re in agreement. While you were gone, I found something Mr. Ross might be looking for. Come with me,” Sherlock said, entering the stables.

“Have you found him, then? My Silver Blaze?” said Ross peevishly.

They reached the stall where Silver Blaze had lived until his disappearance, and in it was a gorgeous all-black horse. “And here you are,” said Sherlock.

“That’s not Silver Blaze!” cried Ross indignantly. “Obviously, he’s called that because of the blaze of white on his head and his foot, this isn’t the same horse. I thought you were supposed to be the very best. What—“

“Really, Mr. Ross. Can you actually not know it is possible to dye hair? You cannot be serious. I assure you that I spoke with the man who had the horse in his possession, and who offered his safe return in exchange for my maintaining his anonymity,” Sherlock said. “Surely you will have methods of confirming the horse’s identity which will be tedious and which I will not have to remain to witness? Micro chipping, DNA records, something of the sort?”

“What! How does that work, we’re going to shield a murderer now because he returned a horse? I think not,” exclaimed DI Gregory.

Sherlock corrected him, “Not so fast, not a murderer. An opportunist. Someone who found the horse out there wandering the moor after the trainer who stole him died, and who knew what he’d found. He also knew there must be some way to profit from it but not how, so he kept the horse hidden. Really, I think he’d realized he had no way to sell him and was almost glad to have me take him off his hands.”

“Wait, what?” Gregory asked.

“Are you saying Straker himself stole the horse?” Ross said incredulously.

“He did, and he was planning to return him, after using his tiny knife to nick one of the tendons of Blaze’s leg to cause him to lose the Cup race. Such a tiny wound would have been undetectable, but it would have meant everything on the track. So there was race fixing going on in your stables, Mr. Ross, even if you were not the perpetrator,” said Sherlock.

“Son of a bitch! So then how did Straker get killed? And what about the scarf?” Ross asked.

“Fitzroy heard rumours of race fixing somehow, and did indeed come to Kings Pyland hoping for information, but he was turned away by your honest night watchman, Ed Hunter. Fitzroy ran off only to run into Jack Straker as he was on his way to drug Hunter with Ketamine, a drug which is noted not only for its ability to render a man unconscious in a short time, but which is also a horse sedative and a thing that a horse trainer could gain access to. Fitzroy dropped his scarf, and for whatever reason—to stanch the flow of the horse’s blood maybe? Straker picked it up and carried it with him. Once Fitzroy was gone, he drugged the watchman, Hunter. The dog, recognizing Straker, failed to attack. Since Straker works here, he was able to disarm the alarm and take the horse. He takes Silver Blaze away to the moor where the noise the horse would undoubtedly make upon being injured wouldn’t alert anyone or startle any other horses. However, either the torch he must have turned on to perform his operation, or some noise must have caused the horse to startle and kick him in the head, breaking his skull and causing the blunt force trauma that killed him. He stabbed himself in the leg at that time. Simple.”

“My God, only you could say so! It’s like you were there!” said Maxwell Ross, now full of nothing but admiration.

And now Sherlock was so over it. He sniffed. “If there will be nothing else, I think we really should be going.”

<~>

“Who had the horse?” John asked as they walked back through the stable grounds.

“Samuel Brown at Mapleton. I knew he would. He didn’t just find it, he went looking for it as soon as it was reported missing. He was only planning to hold onto the horse until the Gold Cup was run, and then the horse would have mysteriously returned to his owner. Brown was smart enough to know there was no way to sell a famous horse like that without detection,” Sherlock said.

“I had no idea horse racing had so much drama and intrigue,” John said.

“I’m not sure if it really does, or if just these two stables do,” replied Sherlock.

“So we may have saved the Gold Cup,” John said wonderingly.

“Yes, It was helpful that you’d got over your little ‘crisis’ so that we could finally get here and investigate. Silver Blaze had been missing and Straker had been dead nearly 48 hours before we even boarded a train,” Sherlock replied.

“My little crisis?” John could not believe that Sherlock was going to start with this again. Just when things were starting to look a little less tense between them.

“What would you call it?” Sherlock asked nonchalantly.

They were walking between two long, low stable buildings, Sherlock taking the lead, since his stride was longer, John trotting slightly behind. John managed to get ahead of Sherlock so that he was at a backwards pace, and then he fisted his hands into the lapels of Sherlock’s coat, drawing a surprised interrogative noise from Sherlock, “Wha? Oof!” as his back met the wall of the stable building to his left.

John’s voice went low and dangerous as he used his strength and the lapels of the Belstaff to pull Sherlock down so they were eye-to-eye. John’s strength may have surprised many, but Sherlock, who may have been surprised to have finally provoked John to this point was not surprised to be physically matched by John. He knew how strong John was, despite his stature.

“I thought we’d had this out once already, but I guess you aren’t though with it. Well then I’m not either.” With these final words, John banged Sherlock against the stable wall to punctuate his sentence, and felt Sherlock exhale sharply. You think I’m having a ‘little crisis?’[bang] Do you think it’s cute [bang] or something?” John was crazily exhilarated to finally vent some of his anger physically. Sherlock made no attempt to defend himself, but John could see the derisive mask that he normally wore had not left him. The pressure inside to show Sherlock what he was doing to John rose even higher in response to Sherlock’s impassiveness. “Do you?” And he slammed Sherlock back against the wall again, even harder. He was becoming desperate to see that mask slip, to see some change in Sherlock’s emotional state caused by John. John felt so close to dangerously losing control, but he had just enough left to not want to actually strike Sherlock, in spite of everything.

And of course, having Sherlock in that position, and the topic of their argument, of course he couldn’t keep his mind from the way Alex had manhandled Sherlock against the vending machine in NSY. And angry and humiliated as he was having Sherlock call him out that way, he felt powerful now having Sherlock in this position himself, finally feeling him under his hands, and he could feel his arousal rising…although just having his hands in his coat, it wasn’t enough, not nearly enough. He looked Sherlock in the face, and could see that Sherlock’s pupils were slightly dilated, and that his cheeks were slightly flushed. Oh really? John thought.

John lowered his voice slightly and said, somewhat slyly, “And you. Let’s see how you like having the tables turned. Speaking of nearly 48 hours and having a little crisis.” And he took a half step closer.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sherlock said, trying still to maintain the mask, but his voice came out with a slight quaver that John was certain he didn’t intend, and his heart was suddenly in his mouth. Was it possible? Or was it just a physical reaction that would have happened with anyone?

“Oh, you know what I’m talking about, Mr. Married to My Work. You won’t even eat when there’s a case. Suddenly, you miss the chance to examine the scene of a double murder until the day after when the scene’s been ruined, and I know the reason why now, don’t I. It’s because you were too busy [bang] “with other things, [bang] isn’t that right? Giving me a bunch of shit about this case, when you were too busy off fucking Alex [bang] to be bothered getting to the West End double murder until that scene was 48 hours old [bang].”

The flush was definitely in evidence now, spreading from Sherlock’s chest where his shirt was open from the second button, all the way up to his cheeks, and he was visibly working to control his breathing.

John leaned in, pressing his advantage, “Mmm. And I see you like it rough too, don’t you,” John growled, “I never would have thought it of you, always so proper and controlled. Actually, maybe I should have known. You like that, do you? When Alex takes you hard? Do you like it when he—“

Sherlock’s hands found John’s coat, and pulled him in, and his mouth closed hard on John’s, effectively silencing him. John allowed his mouth to open under Sherlock’s and their kiss felt like a surge of electricity running from his head to his palms to his groin to his feet. For his part, from the way Sherlock was giving as good as he was getting, he was feeling much the same way.

John eased his grip on the lapels of Sherlock’s coat only to slide them inside to his shoulders and crash him against the wall anew, and then take one hand to the nape of Sherlock’s neck and own his mouth with a kiss the way he’d been wanting to do for at least the past three years. His other hand found Sherlock’s arse, and oh, it was glorious, better even than he thought it would be. Where the rest of Sherlock was all straight lines and angles, his arse was rounded sweet perfection. John allowed himself the joy of a good hard squeeze, and then of allowing his hand to rub along the curve underneath. He had no idea if he’d ever get another chance, so he had to make this one count while also storing up the memory. He let himself fully explore Sherlock’s mouth, because who knew if that would ever happen again either.

But then his self-sabotaging tendencies reasserted themselves, as they tended to do. John broke away first, “So, what about Alex, then? You seem a bit confused.”

Sherlock gave his head a shake, as if to clear it, and barked with sarcastic laughter. “I seem confused? Are you serious? My God, John.” Sherlock broke completely free from John’s grip and brushed at his clothing as if dusting himself off. “I can assure you, I have never been the one in this scenario who is confused.”

There was approximately two meters between the two buildings. He grabbed John by the front of his jacket, and walked him back into the wall of the opposite building. Hard. And he began talking. “Confused by what exactly? By my sexuality? I’ve never once been confused by that. Insofar as I have sexual feelings toward anyone, I have them toward men. Never women. I’ve gone many years without any sexual urges at all.”

Sherlock gritted his teeth, pulled John from the wall, and smashed him back into it again, looking into his face, watching, deducing. He continued, ducking his head, so that he could practically whisper into John’s ear, dropping his voice an octave. He could feel the heat rising from John, feel the increase in John’s rate of respiration as he spoke, knowing the effect of his baritone voice on John, “But you, you were a puzzle to me. ‘I’m not gay, he’s not my date’ even as you clearly were coming on to me, and I could see you giving the eye to every half decent looking man or woman around. But you lost interest in me immediately as far as I could see, and you never seemed serious about being with a man, or at least never brought one home. But I could see you could be attracted to nearly anyone. Your string of girlfriends indicated an ability to find gratification with just about any woman. I wondered if you were finding gratification with men in secret. Were you, John?” Sherlock brought his lips close to John’s ear, so close John could feel his hot breath, and when John didn’t answer, Sherlock let the tip of his tongue just barely graze from the lobe all the way around the shell of John’s ear as he continued, and John let out a shuddery breath. John was as hard as steel, and Sherlock’s hands holding him up were the only thing keeping him standing right now. John knew whatever advantage he’d had in this “argument” was long gone.

“So in the past eighteen months or so I’ve had this problem. My libido seems to have woken up. Unlike you, I don’t have the ability to find gratification with just anyone.” As Sherlock said this, he pressed forward, and John could feel Sherlock’s answering hardness. “But I decided to run a little experiment. And contrary to what I expected, it does seem that even if I can’t have exactly my heart’s desires, if my partner is sexually attractive enough, and there is a suitable period of getting to know him first, I can, in fact, find gratification with him. Thus, Alex. So now you know.”

Sherlock pressed against John, so that they were in contact from shoulder to knee, and rubbed against him, so that John could feel the answering hardness there. John felt giddy. Ordinarily he was knew he was at least as strong as Sherlock and could have broken his hold easily, but not now. He felt completely weak, and who was he kidding? He had no interest in pushing Sherlock off him, even though his mind was in complete turmoil.

John tipped his head back so that it was resting against the wall, and huffed, eyes closed, and Sherlock bit lightly at his neck, then just breathed John in, using both his nose and mouth at the same time, tasting, smelling, as if he was investigating John and gathering evidence. For some reason John found this insanely hot. He felt like coming right in his pants was not entirely out of the question.

Sherlock held him captive there, whispering in that low voice, hot in his ear, “So no, not in love with Alex, not even romantically involved with Alex. Sexually involved with Alex in a mutually beneficial arrangement in which we have sex regularly and there is no emotional quagmire. He enjoys it, I enjoy it, no one gets hurt. Tell me John, can you even give a number to how many people you have fucked and had it be just fucking? Or can you tell me how many you have fucked while you were living with me and it didn’t have to be some earth-shattering fraught thing, but now that it’s me, it’s different for some reason? Because I am some kind of machine, yes?” Sherlock bit lightly at his earlobe and John moaned softly.

“Sherlock,” he breathed, but said nothing else. It didn’t matter, because Sherlock was speaking again already, still pressed against his body, still breathing into his ear, still making him dizzy with want.

When Sherlock continued, his breathy voice was filled with knowing sarcasm, “But you—you’ve seemed confused to me John. So jealous, aren’t you? I thought I could maybe be wrong about that—me! Wrong! Because you’re also…so married! Aren’t you John? Not to your work but to an actual person, with vows and everything. I mean, I know we wouldn’t want people to talk. I know you’re just taking an interest.” Sherlock took one hand off John’s shoulder and slid it down John’s chest, down his stomach, to cup around John’s achingly hard erection. “Thought so. One thing I will always be thankful to Alex for is giving me confidence in the only area where once I felt a lack. You may shortly thank him too.”

Sherlock dropped to his knees in front of John, who looked from side to side in panic. Someone could come see them at any moment! And was this really about to fucking happen? Jesus Christ! Sherlock quickly undid John’s belt, opened his trousers and pulled them and his pants down, and suddenly John was engulfed as Sherlock took him all the way to the base, and John could feel Sherlock’s throat muscles work as he swallowed around him. He let out a loud groan before he mastered himself and bit down on his lip to try to stifle his own noises a bit. There was no need to actually draw spectators. Trust Sherlock to be as just as much of a bloody overachiever at giving head as he as he was at everything else. John politely also tried not to buck forward, no longer interested in punishing Sherlock, but it took a lot of will-power. Sherlock pulled back for air, and slowed down, taking teasing strokes at the head with his tongue, moaning softly himself, the vibrations of which increased John’s sensations. The same deductive genius that made him so talented at a crime scene also made him be able to bring John to the brink of orgasm nearly a half a dozen times in less than ten minutes, pulling away each time. John was beginning to see spots in his vision from the effort to maintain some semblance of quiet, and his breathing was so erratic he thought he might pass out.

Finally, when John thought he probably was going to die if Sherlock didn’t let him come soon, he could feel the tightening in his balls that meant it was about to happen. Sherlock surely knew, but he wasn’t pulling back. “Sherlock,” John panted, in what he hoped was a warning tone, “Sherlock, I’m going to. Oh my fucking God!” His mind went briefly offline as his orgasm ripped through him, the hardest one he’d had in recent memory. Sherlock took it all in, letting John go only when he could tell John was squirming from oversensitivity, then kissing John’s thighs, stomach, and rising to his feet and looking John in the face uncertainly. Despite all his previous hauteur, there was vulnerability in his expression now.

“So, how much did I get right?” Sherlock asked softly, as John fixed his pants and trousers.

“About which part? You said so much.” John said softly, his anger gone. He thought, about thanking Alex? Well, maybe someday, because that was fucking phenomenal, but I’m not quite there yet. Not about to say it out loud, anyway.

“About you…” Sherlock began, and trailed off, uncharacteristically. He looked down and away, hiding his expression.

“Am I completely straight? Obviously not. Attracted to men? Yes. Getting off with men in secret? No. Jealous of Alex? Absofuckinglutely. Like eating me up inside, wanting to kill him, jealous. Not just because he was sleeping with you, but because he was with you in any way that I wasn’t. In spite of my marriage? Really, at this point, what fucking marriage? I have a daughter, and that’s why I’m still married. I’m not as confused or conflicted as you seem to think.”

John’s lips found Sherlock’s again, and his hands again went to Sherlock’s face, stroking his jawline with both thumbs and then he ran both hands into his soft curls. He guided him to turn, gently this time, so that Sherlock’s back was again to the wall, and brought one hand down to the front of Sherlock’s trousers, where he found that Sherlock was still hard and wanting. Sherlock’s arms were around John’s waist, bringing his large coat up around them like a partial curtain hiding them from view as John undid Sherlock’s flies and reached inside, beginning to stroke him. John broke contact and looked both ways, and Sherlock sensed that John was about to go down on him as well, but as much as he would love that, if this was the only time he would have this, he wanted as much time to memorize the taste of John’s mouth, the feel of his tongue, God, his kisses made him feel like he was falling…”No, John, wait. Just keep doing that.”

“But I don’t have any lube or anything, isn’t it going to be uncomfortable?”

“It doesn’t matter. Please just…”

“Just what, Sherlock? What do you need?” John said in his ear, and then kissed softly, wetly just behind his earlobe, still stroking him, fucking him with his hand.

Sherlock’s breath caught, and hitched, and he was afraid it was going to be over before it had fairly begun. “Please just kiss me some more,” he said, and he hardly recognized his own voice. Alex had been a technically skilled, experienced lover. He had taught Sherlock a lot of things. He was very attractive. However, he wasn’t the man Sherlock had been in love with and wanting and yearning for missing, and all of that for years, and his kisses were nothing like John’s.

John was happy to oblige him. John kissed Sherlock, nibbling at his lower lip, his chin, sucking at the pale column of his throat as it was Sherlock’s turn to try not to make too much noise. He cried out quietly and brought both hands to the sides of John’s head, bringing John’s mouth to his own, and then he was coming, even as he kissed John as if he could pour out all of the things he couldn’t quite bring himself to say, as if he could at the same time consume John and memorize all of the pertinent data, freeze this moment forever, as he moaned into John’s mouth, and then John fell into him and held him, and Sherlock wanted, oh he just wanted never to start thinking ever again.

Neither said anything for long moments, neither wanting to break the spell, each thinking that awkwardness would be likely to ensue. Finally they each shifted at the same time. They pulled back just enough to look into each other’s faces. There was no awkwardness, no more anger, at least for the time being.

“That—That was a crazy thing we just did. Do you have some kind of public sex kink or something?” John asked Sherlock. Seeing the storm clouds beginning to gather on Sherlock’s brow, John said “I’m not saying it’s crazy that we just had sex, I’m saying that it’s crazy that we just did it in a public place. Unless you think it’s crazy that we just had sex. I mean, your trousers are still open. In public. I guess I’m technically hiding it by leaning on you. But still.” He grinned hugely, like a man who has just gotten off, and well.

The storm clouds cleared. Sherlock smiled one of those Just-for-John-smiles. John realized that he hadn’t seen one of those really long time. “Do you always babble this way after?” Sherlock zipped up his trousers and gathered his coat around him to try to hide the messy ruin of his clothing. “And I wouldn’t call it a kink. Besides, you started it.”

“Well you escalated it. Rapidly.” John also decided that zipping up his coat might not be a terrible idea. His own trousers were kind of a mess.

“I disagree, John. And on the subject of things you are wrong about, do you remember that time we played Cluedo and you told me that it was impossible for the victim to have committed the crime? I think this case proves you were wrong about that, too,” Sherlock said.

They continued to bicker good-naturedly as they started back for the train.

Chapter Text

The train ride back to London was much less tense than the train ride to Dartmoor had been. John, who had originally been inclined to be disappointed that they weren’t staying at least one night for old time’s sake, found that he really couldn’t be. Suddenly he wanted nothing more than to be at the flat in Baker Street with Sherlock.

What was missing, the two of them together in the flat in their old companionable way, finally seemed within reach—but now there was the anticipation of new possibilities. He ached for the familiarity of his chair, the popping of the fire, the homey chaos of Sherlock’s (and what used to be his) belongings covering every surface.

They enjoyed a strange kind of silent communion on the train. They sat side by side and barely spoke, in constant contact from shoulder to knee. They didn’t speak of what had happened between the two stables. They didn’t speak of what had happened in the past or what would happen in the future. For now, they just drifted, each man in his own thoughts. This time Sherlock had the window seat, and John wondered what he thought of as his seawater eyes flitted from rocks to trees and trees to rocks, his electronics forgotten.

For John’s part, his thoughts drifted from the 221B he knew, to the one he didn’t yet. How would things be different now? Would they share Sherlock’s bed? Or would Sherlock still prefer to sleep alone? John, relishing even the warm contact of his arm and thigh through clothing with Sherlock’s, from whom he had been separated for so long, felt he could hardly imagine what it would be like to actually sleep all night with him and have that be allowed, so much touch between them.

As soon as they disembarked at the station, John texted Mary that the case might take a bit longer to wrap up, and that if it did he was going to stay the night in Dartmoor, as he’d told her he would. He didn’t know for sure that Sherlock would want him to stay at Baker Street, but he was hoping. If he didn’t, he decided on the fly to find a cheap hotel someplace. He was in no mood to face her just then. He decided not to dwell on the fact that he’d just told her a bald-faced lie. Not that she hadn’t told him countless lies, but it wasn’t a contest.

John was oddly reluctant to break the spell of silence as they exited the station, but once they were on the sidewalk, a decision had to be made. John knew what he wanted. A slight drizzle was progressing to a more petulant rain, and they stood there facing each other, for the first time slightly awkward.

Sherlock had his coat collar turned up against the chill (of course) and his hands deep in his pockets. He broke the silence first. “Dinner?”

John felt a knot relax in his middle that he hadn’t even realized he had, and a grin lit his face. “Starving.”

Sherlock found that his own smile insisted on answering in kind and his face seemed to lose years it had gained since his Fall. He no longer felt the rain.

“What are you in the mood for?” John asked.

<~>

Over a Chinese feast that could have fed four people, they stuck to mostly safe conversational topics. Sherlock shared gossip disguised as deductions about who was sleeping with whom and who was trying was trying to steal whose job at the Met, by which John was appropriately and genuinely amused. They rehashed the non-public-sex parts of the case they’d just solved. John talked about how he used to enjoy watching and placing small wagers on horse races, just to have a rooting interest.

“You seemed to think I had some big gambling habit. That’s not it at all,” John said.

“No, I guess it wouldn’t be, with you. The thrill of the game, the chase, always, isn’t it?” Sherlock replied.

John was reminded of what Sherlock said to him about his attraction to danger that terrible night in 221B after Sherlock had revealed Mary’s secrets in the Empty Houses at Leinster Gardens. He looked up from his plate at Sherlock, ready to be annoyed or wondering if he should be reading into his comments, but the look on Sherlock’s face was fond.

John sighed and pulled out his mobile to see if Mary had texted him back. He hadn’t felt it vibrate, but sometimes he didn’t notice it. She hadn’t. He sighed again. On one hand, great. One complication not to worry about. On the other, this was the mother of his daughter…where the hell was she?

“You texted Mary when we returned.” Sherlock said. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes.”

“You haven’t heard back from her.”

“No, you were right, as always. She doesn’t miss having me around at all. I guess the rubbish hasn’t needed taking out,” John said bitterly.

“John…”Sherlock trailed off. He seemed to consider whether to continue for a moment, then to come to a decision. He sat up straighter and opened his mouth to speak.

John cut him off before he could, “It’s not that I miss her or something if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“No, that’s not what I was going to say at all. Obviously, despite the phone checking,” Sherlock said wryly.

“Sherlock, if you’re going to give me some variation on the speech that you gave me when you pushed me to go back with her after she shot you please. I have to leave her. The past 24 hours have made that clear. You haven’t lived what I’ve been living, and after what just happened I can’t hear that from you right now,” John said, pained.

Sherlock shook his head sadly, “No, John. I can see how unhappy that’s made you, and I am sorry. I feel I’ve—made mistakes, and said and done some other things that weren’t mistakes, but which I wish I’d handled differently—but they’ve been well-intended. I hope someday you can see that. That wasn’t what I was going to say, at all.”

“What then?” John asked.

“John, I’m pretty sure Mary is having an affair, and has been since before you were married,” Sherlock said quickly, like he was pulling a splinter and wanted to get it out as quickly as possible. “I think she’s just getting bolder about it now and not trying as hard to hide it. She’s probably with him right now, and that’s why she’s not replying to your texts, and why she was so agreeable to your coming on the case.”

John harrumphed gently. He should care about this, he really should, but he found he really couldn’t, especially since he’d just been unfaithful to Mary. But wait. Suddenly the full impact of Sherlock’s words dawned on him.

“But that means--”

Sherlock nodded, “Hannah. I have not seen her since she was a newborn. The reason for this is that when I came to see her, once in the hospital and once at your home, Mary was clearly agitated in my presence. She was a professional, and thus her tells are few, but I could see that she had something to hide from me by the coldness she displayed toward me, the very pointed looks she gave me when you weren’t looking. Having been at the wrong end of her gun once, I was not about to cross her again. I decided to stay away. The first hypothesis I formed was that there was something to hide about the baby, obviously. You noticed my absence from your lives and thought I was avoiding you and your family out of indifference. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I had nothing to go on and no plan to safely extricate you even if I had.”

John closed his eyes. He was determined not to overreact and lash out at Sherlock. That was the old way. He had to do better. This was not Sherlock’s fault. “You’re right of course. She disappears with this new friend of hers for hours and hours, doesn’t come home when she says she will, doesn’t care when I come home, doesn’t care anymore about our love life, the signs are all there. How can I be so bloody stupid? You know what? Don’t answer that.”

“Your marriage has not been a usual marriage from the start. I do not think you are stupid for not seeing this. There have been plenty of other reasons for your marriage to be troubled besides infidelity. She’s also a masterful liar. She’s only recently become careless,” Sherlock reasoned.

It actually meant a lot to John to have Sherlock affirm that he wasn’t a fool for not realizing. “So you think Hannah is not my daughter. She looks like me.” John struggled to control his emotions. His baby girl.

“John, I don’t know. I saw Hannah last when she was a week old, and it’s impossible to tell at that age. I think Mary probably isn’t even sure. If she looks like you, maybe she is. I’m saying it’s possible that she’s not, now that the signs seem to be there that Mary is having an affair,” Sherlock said. John looked up at him and was astonished to see that Sherlock’s eyes were shining with tears just as his own were. “Do you have a recent photo of her, John?”

John thumbed open the gallery on his phone, and pulled up a photo of Hannah in which she looked more cherubic and less Winston Churchill than she had when Sherlock had last seen her.

“It’s still pretty hard to tell, isn’t it?” John admitted.

“Yes.” Was Sherlock’s only reply.

<~>

Back out in the rain, Sherlock raised a hand for a taxi, which stopped obligingly at the kerb. “Would you like to take this one?” He asked opening the door.

John hesitated, tried to think of a pretext to invite himself to Baker Street, but nothing came to him. He began, “Uh, sure?” at exactly the same time as Sherlock started speaking again, “Or would you like to come to Baker Street?”

They both laughed nervously. God this is ridiculous, John thought. I feel like I’m fifteen. And on the heels of that thought, and it feels fucking FANTASTIC.

“Which?” Sherlock asked softly and raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll come to Baker Street.”

<~>

In the darkness of Sherlock’s bed, John came up for air after a humid lifetime of kissing to ask breathlessly, “So tell me, Sherlock, what was it that woke up your libido? And can I presume to hope to have any part in your heart’s desires?”

“We have to talk now?” Sherlock said from beneath him, nibbling all around John’s ears and neck. “I don’t want to talk now. Yes of course, you’re my only heart’s desire and always will be. Obvious. More kissing, less discussion.”

And more kissing there was. But John wanted to know. He broke the kisses again. “But your interest in sex? We lived together all that time, and you weren’t interested?”

“You’re not going to leave this alone are you?” Sherlock sighed, “It’s not that I never thought of you that way. But I didn’t think it would ever happen, so I suppressed it. Deleted the thoughts as they happened. Then I was away, as you know. It was--unpleasant sometimes. So I thought of you. Constantly. I no longer tried to delete any thoughts of you, as it was how I was getting through my days, and the incredibly lonely, tedious nights. John, I--I missed you terribly. I think I thought I just missed our friendship and the cases, the flat, London…but then the minute I saw you in the restaurant, I knew.”

Sherlock let out a small huff of breath, and turned his face into John’s shoulder, hiding his expression.

“You knew…?”

“Knew. It wasn’t just the friendship that I missed. And I knew I was too late,” Sherlock said, and it sounded like a painful admission.

“But clearly it’s not,” John said, turning Sherlock’s face back toward his own by the chin, and kissing his nose, his chin, and each eyebrow. This. This was what John thought of on the train. That he hoped to be granted the permission to do this. And here it was. He was filled with wonder. There was no way he was ever giving this up again, for anything.

“Clearly, but I didn’t know that then. I didn’t think that this could ever be. Didn’t think we could even be friends again. I thought I’d ruined everything. I thought--” Sherlock was talking faster and faster, growing distressed with the memories of that terrible time.

John stopped Sherlock’s mouth with his own, and then pulled away just for a moment to say, “You were right. Less talking and more kissing.”

<~>

For long moments, the only sound was the buzzing of the geriatric refrigerator.

Then Mary found her voice.

“Well, that’s just spectacular. I suppose you think you can just walk out on me just like that?” Mary said. She began to pace. John remained seated on the sofa, determined to be calm. Remembering the effect this had on him when Sherlock employed it as a tactic during arguments, he was determined to use his calmness and her apparent fury to his advantage.

“Mary. This has not been a real marriage in a long time. Hardly at all, really,” John began.

She threw up her hands laughed incredulously. “How could it be? You may as well have been married to someone else the whole time!”

“Now look,” John said, and realized he was pointing his finger, that it was a bit not good, and put his hands in his lap. “That’s crap, and you know it. I’m asking you point blank, right now. Are you having an affair? Don’t lie to me, because you know I’ll find out. And you know HOW I’ll find out, so lying is pointless.”

Even if she had decided to lie, she hesitated slightly before answering, and it would have been all the answer he needed. But Mary had not an ounce of shame so it didn’t really matter. “Yes. Just like you probably are, since you never want to fuck me, you must be getting it from somewhere,” she spat.

John exhaled heavily. He decided not to dignify that with a response. “And Hannah. Is she my daughter?” He steeled himself for her response. He really didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of falling apart if he got an answer he didn’t want to hear. Whatever else happened, he loved Hannah.

“I don’t know. Maybe she is, and maybe she’s not,” Mary answered nonchalantly.

“So you’ve been fucking around for that long then. Nice. I’ll pack a bag. I’ll want a paternity test. If Hannah is my daughter I will pay support as appropriate, of course. We will work out a visitation schedule. It will be a generous one, because I want very much to be a part of her life. You will not cross me on this. Don’t forget I have enough on you to put you away forever,” He smiled thinly at her. “Beyond that, I will see you in court.”

Mary exploded, as much as one can when trying not to wake a sleeping infant, “You think you can just walk all over me, then do you?”

“I’m not trying to walk all over you, Mary, I’m just trying to get what’s fair for both of us, and for Hannah,” John replied calmly.

“And what are you going to do, move back in with your boyfriend? You think he wants a baby around?” Mary sneered. “Good luck with that. He hasn’t even seen her since she’s been born. Some friend. I’m sure he’ll make a great second dad.”

“Right. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that. It’s no longer your business or your problem, is it?” John said as he threw shirts, jeans, jumpers and other necessaries into his duffel bag, hardly looking at what he was taking.

“How are you going to go fight crimes with a baby? You going to sling her across your back while you run through alleys and over rooftops? She’s probably not even yours anyway. She knows David as much as she knows you at this point. Probably more, since he actually sees her and spends time with her, unlike you,” Mary continued to goad him. Her arrows were hitting their targets, but John was seething silently.

John kissed the sleeping Hannah on the head in her crib, and headed for the door. He turned to Mary and smiled again, completely without humor. “Again, don’t worry. Once I’m with her on my own, Hannah and I will be able to bond much better. Then I’ll be able to spend time with her without the package deal of her pathological lying snake of a mother who I can no longer stand the sight of.”

He exited the house and didn’t give the door the satisfying bang he would have liked to out of deference to the sleeping baby and walked to the end of the block, where Sherlock was waiting for him.

John sat heavily on the kerb next to Sherlock.

“Dinner?” Sherlock said hopefully.

John sighed and nodded.

<~>

Angelo lit the candle at their table with great flourish. He had not seen Sherlock and John in many months, and he admonished them dramatically for this omission.

“John, you look peaky! I will bring gnocci!” Angelo cried. “And Sherlock! Bolognese!”

After Angelo was out of hearing distance, Sherlock asked, “So I presume she admitted the affair?”

“Of course. Was happy to rub my face in the fact that she’s been screwing around since the beginning, in fact, not that I have any room to be upset about it,” John said.

Sherlock looked uncomfortable, “John, somehow I hardly think it’s the same thing,”

“It’s not? I guess it’s sort of not, but we’re splitting hairs aren’t we?” John asked. “Anyway, she said she doesn’t know if Hannah is mine or not. I told her I want a paternity test. I told her I want shared custody, Sherlock.” He looked at Sherlock and then away. “I’m sorry if that’s something I should have talked to you about first, but I’m talking to you about it now. If that’s something that’s a deal-breaker for you, I’ll—I’ll understand. I know a baby, a kid, doesn’t really fit into your lifestyle.” Everything in John’s vision blurred, and he blinked, hard. It was hardly eighteen hours after he’d had the thought that he’d never give Sherlock up again, and yet—what was he supposed to do? Abandon his daughter? What kind of shit parent would do that? Not this one, that was sure. And he wasn't giving Sherlock up. More like letting him go if he wanted to be let go. Christ knew John didn't want him to go.

“John, you’re right, a baby doesn’t really fit into my lifestyle, and I’ve never really seen myself as a kid person. But are you—“

John’s heart felt like it was breaking all over again as Sherlock stopped speaking so that Angelo could bring the pasta to the table. He really had lost everything now, hadn’t he?

“Enjoy my friends! Eat in good health!” He saluted them as he bustled away.

John didn’t pick up his fork, his appetite quite gone.

“Are you telling me,” Sherlock continued, also ignoring his food and leaning over the plate, eyes shining, “that you’re considering moving back into the flat? Because I will try not to ruin your daughter. I think I was ok with Archie, didn’t you think I was ok with Archie? He seemed to like me. You could help me make the flat safe with the experiments when she comes to visit. And tell me when I’m being. Like I am that’s. Not good,” He finished, and looked suddenly terrified, like John was going to stand up and leave his plate of gnocci untouched.

Relief and affection flooded John. “Are you actually the same person who was so unkind to me these past few weeks? Listen to you.” He shook his head disbelievingly. Never would John have expected this, that Sherlock would not just be willing to have a child in the flat, but concerned about whether John would allow his child in the flat. He was going to have to reexamine quite a few of his long-held assumptions based on this new information, later.

“Well, that was when I thought that you—well, never mind that. We’re friends again now, right?” Sherlock asked. “And you’re avoiding the question.”

“It seems to me that there were a lot of questions just then. But I guess I should ask first if you’ll have me back in the flat. Will you have me?” John asked.

“Of course I’ll have you! It’s always been our flat!” Sherlock smiled then, and this time it was John who couldn’t help answering with a smile of his own.

His smile died when he said, “As for Hannah, we could be getting ahead of ourselves. We won’t know if she’s coming home to me—to us—for a while yet,” John reminded him. “How are we going to solve crimes with a baby in the flat?” John echoed Mary, who had gotten to him more than he would have cared to admit.

“Shared custody would allow for the solving of crimes, wouldn’t you think? And ordinary people do employ things like babysitters when they go out, don’t they? Relatively little of what we do occurs on the actual crime scene or in the vicinity of the criminals themselves. Most of it is in the lab, or looking for clues in paperwork, or on the internet, and there’s no real reason a baby can’t accompany us on those endeavours, wouldn’t you say? Molly would love to see a baby at Bart’s,” Sherlock reasoned.

John had to smile, although a little sadly. “You’re right, she would, not to mention how thrilled Mrs. Hudson would be to babysit.”

“Whatever happens, I want to help you deal with it together, if you want that,” Sherlock said.

“I do,” John replied. The conversation was getting into such emotional territory that Sherlock could see that it might be time to switch to a less maudlin subject.

“You should eat your gnocci before Angelo comes over here and force-feeds you,” Sherlock said. He poured more wine and they ate, and began to tentatively make plans for moving John back into the flat.

<~>

Without any discussion or negotiation necessary this time, they took a cab together to Baker Street. John looked pensively out the window as the rain turned the city at night into a colorful bokeh landscape against the blackness. He was warmed, and the colors blurred further in his vision when Sherlock’s hand found his across the seats.

How much John stood to lose was yet to be discovered, but also, it seemed, not yet fully revealed was the richness and depth of what he stood to gain, unlooked for and unexpected.

Everything was finding and losing, losing and finding.