It's not till she gets the text from John that Clara remembers Harry's civil partnership ceremony must have happened by now.
She'd been doing her best to forget all about it. Well, you would, wouldn't you? Must have done a better job than she thought.
After that call from Harry, Clara had gone home, filed the dissolution paperwork in a safe place and then fainted, a thing she hadn't done since she was thirteen. She'd come round on the sitting-room floor with a nasty cut over one eye. Note to self: if you're going to faint, take your glasses off first, especially if they have metal frames.
So much blood from a tiny mishap; she'd needed stitches. She could see nobody in A&E believed her story about the faint. She and Harry had ended up there a few times for some drink-related injury of Harry's. I'm not with her any more, she'd wanted to say, and anyway it was never like that.
But that was all weeks ago now: the cut long since healed, nothing to show for it but a minuscule scar that would probably fade in due course. She'd almost stopped noticing it, stopped thinking about it, till she got John's message asking if they could meet.
She's certainly not going to ask John how the CP went, and she hopes to god he'd have more tact than to tell her about it.
She's half-right, as it turns out.
They meet upstairs at the Lemon Tree, haven't been there for a while, and John's nearly half an hour late, which isn't like him at all. He's obviously run all the way from the Tube – his shoes and trousers are splashed and his hair's sticking up where he's run his hands through it trying to shake off the rain. Clara gets him a drink and they order something to eat. John pushes his green curry around the plate, not really making any inroads on it, which also isn't like him. He loves Thai food and usually he'd pretty much inhale it, especially at the end of what looks like one hell of a day.
“You look terrible,” Clara says incautiously. “Are you OK?”
John explodes: “Why does everyone keep saying I look like shit?”
Which is not what Clara said, and they both know it.
“Who's everyone?” Clara says. Asking questions is what she does for a living, after all.
John looks uncomfortable and mutters something about Lestrade.
“Well, if he saw you looking like that, I'm not surprised,” Clara says tartly.
There's an awkward silence. Clara wonders if she ought to change the subject, but she can't think of anything to change it to, and asking about this incident with Lestrade obviously isn't a good idea at all.
“I slept with him,” John blurts out.
Was that before or after he told you you looked like shit? Clara wonders.
“When?” she says, this being the most neutral question she can think of at the moment.
“After Harry's wedding, sorry, civil partnership thing,” John says, seeing her wince.
“Oh,” Clara says blankly. “I didn't know he was friendly with Harry and Sarah.”
So much she didn't know. Doesn't know, now. There's no shame in not knowing, not really; but it always feels that way somehow.
“He isn't,” John says, looking even more uncomfortable than before. “He – I rang him, because – because Sherlock and Harry had a row and then Sherlock disappeared and I–”
Oh fuck. For the umpteenth time Clara wonders what a nice man like her ex-brother-outlaw sees in Sherlock Holmes. Who is brilliant, though not as brilliant as he or John thinks, and good-looking if you like them skinny and Byronic. But has the emotional capacity of a not very mature goldfish. Which is probably a slander on goldfish.
“So Lestrade came to – to support you? That was nice of him.” God knows John would have needed someone to be there for him for that. Bloody Sherlock.
John nods miserably.
It's easy enough to imagine what happened next – Clara doesn't even ask. Too much drink, too many emotions, and bingo – next thing you know you're waking up with someone you shouldn't have gone to bed with in the first place.
“He's a good friend,” John says, as if it's something he's been telling himself but doesn't quite believe yet.
“Yes,” Clara says. He must be.
She's not sure what to say next, and it's a relief when the waitress comes to take away the plates. John's eaten hardly anything, so there's a small kerfuffle where he feels he ought to explain or apologise, but they get through it somehow.
“So what happened to Sherlock?” Clara asks when the waitress has disappeared. It's still early, thank goodness, and they've got the upstairs room to themselves, though they can't count on that much longer.
“Turned up last night,” John says. “I'd started to think something had–” He clears his throat. “I didn't know when he'd be back.”
Or if, from the looks of it, Clara thinks. Bastard. She wonders what Sherlock will do when John tells him. If John tells him. It'll probably emerge anyway; these things always do, even if your partner isn't the world's only consulting detective.
John's looking at her expectantly. What's she supposed to say now, for fuck's sake?
It probably shouldn't be what she does say: “So what's the score with Lestrade?”
John winces. “I don't know. He said See you back in town, and then–”
“I must have drifted off,” John mutters. “While he was in the shower. And then I woke up and he'd gone.”
What a mess, Clara thinks. So now Lestrade probably thinks John was pretending to be asleep or couldn't be bothered to say goodbye, or...
“Don't you think you should call him or something?” she says. And then, because she can't stop herself: “It's going to be awkward if you and Sherlock just run into him on a case.”
John looks horrified; clearly he hadn't even thought about that. She wonders why sex makes men so dense. Not that women are immune to that either, god knows.
“I can't,” he says. “I think he – I – I just can't.”
Not just a drunken shag then – or at least not for Lestrade, from the looks of it. Shit.
There's another longish silence.
“You do know you'd probably be better off with someone like him,” Clara says, thinking Shut up you fool. It's true, though.
“I know,” John says. “Doesn't work like that, though, does it?”
No, Clara thinks, it bloody doesn't. You don't choose who you love.
They sit there a while longer. Clara's not sure whether to suggest another drink or just go.
“How about you?” John says with an effort, as if he's remembered there's this other thing you're supposed to do when you meet a friend. “Are you seeing anyone?”
Why do people always think those questions go together? Clara wonders. He means well. People mostly do. Doesn't stop it hurting, though.
“Not right now,” she says, as lightly as she can manage. “There've been a couple of possibles, but nothing came of it. I think it's still too soon.”
Neither of them says that apparently it wasn't too soon for Harry, but it hangs in the air.
“I'd better go,” she says. “Lot of work on at the moment.”
Which is true, but not why she's going; she needs to get out of here now, away from the mess and the unhappiness like a mirror of her own.
The journey home is slow – signalling problems – and there's a text message from one of the “possibles” when she comes up out of the Underground, asking if Clara wants to meet up for coffee. She's about to text back with an excuse but stops herself, decides to sleep on it. It may be too soon to move on, but she's not going to spend the rest of her life grieving.
She has a long bath, reads a couple of chapters of that crime novel she's been trying to finish for ages, makes herself a hot drink before bed. But her mind's too full to fall asleep straight away, and she lies awake for a while, remembering the things John said and struggling not to think about Harry and Sarah. Hard to shut out that white noise altogether but she knows she has to try.
Perhaps she and Lestrade should form a support group: Fucked Up By Watsons. And wouldn't that be one hell of a conversation, Clara thinks, surprised into laughter for the first time in weeks.