"These are probably too dated to donate," John said, looking down at the stack of medical textbooks in his hands.
Sherlock picked up a beaker and wrapped it carefully in yesterday's news. "I don't know why you've kept them this long."
"Sentiment." John carried the books across the room to the sofa and added them to the pile of things to be recycled or otherwise disposed of. "How did we fit so much stuff into this place?"
John laughed. His hair was gray now, his face more wrinkled, but he still giggled the way he had when they'd first met. Sherlock was still charmed. The sound of it was reassuring, but not quite reassuring enough. Sherlock was ready to go, to move on to another phase in their lives, but John loved London, the excitement and the people.
"Are you sure you wish to do this?"
John had filled his hands with another stack of books and he looked from their spines to Sherlock. "We've discussed this. We agreed it's time to retire."
"Sussex isn't very exciting."
"You plan on keeping bees, Sherlock, I think that'll be quite exciting enough. And, honestly, I'd rather treat stings than bullet wounds."
Not knowing what to say to that, Sherlock resumed wrapping his chemical equipment. "Bee stings aren't very exciting," he said as he placed a test tube beside the beaker in the box.
"So that's what this is," John said. Placing one of the books in his hands into the box of books they're keeping and the other into the donation box, John turned toward him. "You and Mycroft aren't always right, you know."
"Mycroft isn't," Sherlock answered automatically.
"It was never about the danger," John said and Sherlock frowned. "Well, not only about the danger."
"What else was it about?"
"Keeping you out of danger."
He'd known John wanted to protect him, of course. "You succeeded admirably," Sherlock said. The sarcasm was expected.
"Yes, yes I did," John answered with a grin, ignoring Sherlock's sarcasm, also as expected.
Willing to let John have the last word, Sherlock concentrated on packing his equipment until John left the books to stand next to Sherlock, his body facing Sherlock's side and his hand resting familiarly on Sherlock's now annoyingly soft midsection. "I had an ulterior motive, you know," John said.
"For keeping me alive?"
Nodding, John stretched up and kissed him. "If you think really hard, I'm sure you can deduce what it was." John withdrew his hand, but before he could step away Sherlock kissed him again.
"Obvious," Sherlock said.
John returned to his books, and Sherlock smiled to himself as he packed up his microscope.
Sherlock tapped his index fingers together and glanced at the clock. John would be home in ten minutes and he still hadn't reached a conclusion. The way things were progressing, or rather not progressing, he was going to have to simply ask.
Sherlock despised asking.
The entire mess was Mycroft's fault, Sherlock was certain of it. He'd had to go and change the rules, which had naturally made the papers, which John had read that morning before leaving for the hospital after uttering a single brief remark.
A remark whose meaning Sherlock had still not deduced.
Hearing John's footsteps on the stairs, Sherlock resigned himself to asking.
John entered with the post in hand, as usual. Stopping beside the desk, he began to sort through it, bills in one pile, junk mail in another. "Case?" he asked, nodding at where Sherlock sat, legs stretched out in front of him, fingers pressed together, clad in pyjamas and a dressing gown.
"Do you wish to get married?"
"I haven’t given it much thought."
"So the approval you expressed this morning about the end of civil partnerships and the institution of gay marriage was general and not specific."
"Is that what you've been pondering all day?" John asked, dropping the junk mail into the recycling bin he insisted on keeping next to the desk.
"I may have given it some thought, yes."
"And what did you conclude?" John walked past him, heading for the kettle. John was very particular about his end of day ritual, claiming it helped him to leave his work at the hospital behind him.
Sherlock followed. "There are several benefits, lower taxes, ease of inheritance, hospital visitation."
"Always an important one with us." Having filled the kettle, John set it on the counter and turned it on. "And the disadvantages?"
"That's it? That's all you could come up with?" John was smiling up at him, and Sherlock wasn't certain why.
"For many people, the mingling of finances might be an issue, but we've combined our finances for quite some time…"
"Almost four years." Their money had been entangled before they were.
"Almost four years," Sherlock confirmed, although John was the one who took care of the bills and such. "Willingness to commit isn’t an issue, not that I'm aware of."
"It's not," John said, to Sherlock's great relief.
"We could probably find a way to make it less conventional. A nude ceremony in the park, perhaps." It was an absurd suggestion, but that was the point.
"I have no problem with an outdoor ceremony, but I draw the line at either of our siblings being naked."
"Does that mean you're agreeing?" Sherlock asked.
"Does that mean you're proposing?" John countered, taking a step forward.
There was a moment of silence. "Well then," John said.
"Mycroft will be unbearable," Sherlock said.
"Mycroft is always unbearable." Placing his hands on Sherlock's waist, John smiled up at him. "That's the last time we're mentioning your brother tonight."
It wasn't as if Sherlock was going to argue. Resting his fingers on John's neck, he stroked John's jaw with a single thumb. "This is one of those times when sex is expected, is it not?"
"Yes, yes it is."
"Should I mention that I was too busy thinking to shower?"
Laughing, John rested his forehead against Sherlock's shoulder.
Sliding an arm around John's back, Sherlock smiled. Widely.
"What are you doing out here?" John asked.
Sherlock turned his head to where John was standing in the doorway to their bedroom. Not his anymore, theirs, which was the reason he wasn't in it. "Thinking," Sherlock said and turned his face back toward the ceiling above the sofa. John was wearing only his pants, and John in just his pants was not, Sherlock had discovered, a sight conducive to thinking.
"You haven't a case."
"Well then," John said, approaching the sofa. "Out with it."
"It's nothing. You should go back to sleep."
"Uh-huh. Out with it."
If he told John, John would no doubt have the answer to Sherlock's questions. Sherlock hated it when other people had the answers, even John. On the other hand, John was wearing nothing but pants. If he handled this correctly, there was a good chance he could get John out of them again.
Spinning from his back into an upright position with his feet on the floor, Sherlock said, "I don't know what this is."
"This being us?"
Sherlock nodded as John insinuated himself between Sherlock's knees.
"What do you want it to be?" John asked.
"Don't be difficult."
"Okay," John said, sliding his hand into Sherlock's curls. "We're two people, both adults, both male, who care rather deeply for one another."
Sherlock considered that. John's answer sounded probable enough, except for one thing. "How do you know how I feel?"
"It's right there, Sherlock. Every time you look at me and your expression softens a bit, or when you say my name with that hint of affection underlying whatever annoyance or frustration you're feeling." John smiled. "It's in your hands every time you touch me."
Sherlock had been doing a great deal of touching lately. Wanting to do more, he rested his hands on John's hips and pressed a kiss to his abdomen.
"Come back to bed," John said, tugging on his hair.
"Will you make it worth my while?"
"You'll have to come with me and find out." John stepped back and Sherlock stood.
John made it more than worth Sherlock's while.
"Have sex with me."
"You heard me."
"That doesn't mean what you said made any sense."
"I, John Watson, want to have sex with you, Sherlock Holmes. Did that make sense?"
"No." Closing his laptop, Sherlock studied John who was sitting on the sofa across from Sherlock's chair. John didn't look any different, like he had somehow been dosed with an aphrodisiac – not that those existed -- or like he'd lost control of his faculties. "Why do you want to have sex with me?"
"You do things simply because you're bored all the time."
"Yes, but my understanding is that sex is not something one does merely to alleviate boredom, particularly with one's friends, even more particularly when both friends are male and one of them is given to loudly proclaiming his heterosexuality to anyone who will listen."
"Those are all good points," John said.
Satisfied the issue was settled Sherlock opened his laptop.
"But you've overlooked one thing."
"What's that?" Sherlock asked, most of his attention still on his laptop.
"You are insatiably curious," John said, and Sherlock looked up. "You've been wondering about sex for awhile now, but there is no person you trust enough to try it with but me."
"And you know this how?"
"If I reveal my methods, it won't be so impressive."
Sherlock glared. He disliked having his own words turned back on him. Even more annoying was the fact that John was right. Sherlock was curious and the only person he could imagine allowing see him naked and exposed was John. "So because you're bored, you're willing to assuage my curiosity."
"No," Sherlock said, closing his laptop again and placing it on the table next to his chair. "Now tell me the truth. Tell me why you asked me to have sex with you."
"I've already told you."
"You expect me to believe that you, who have told me repeatedly that boredom is no excuse for reckless behavior, have decided boredom and curiosity are adequate reasons for us to have sex."
"Deduce me. If you don't believe I've told you the full truth, deduce it."
Sherlock narrowed his gaze. John had showered earlier and then dressed in the pair of denims that showed his backside to best advantage. He was also wearing the blue button-down that drew attention to the color of his eyes. John rarely dressed so carefully on his day off. Normally, he was a bit haphazard when shaving on his day off as well, but there were no missed spots today. "This isn't a sudden response to boredom. You were hoping to have sex with someone today."
"You haven't dated anyone new in four months, haven't had sex with anyone in seven. You're either exceptionally – I believe the vernacular is 'horny'- or you have been considering this for some time." Sherlock's heart began to pound as the implications of his own deductions sank in.
"This isn't a lark for you. Why present it as one?"
John shrugged. "Rejection is painful." By making his approach so casual, there was less at stake and if Sherlock said no it wouldn't hurt as much. Sherlock understood the theory, although he wasn't certain it was accurate.
"Do you honestly think I'd reject you?"
"You're an idiot," Sherlock said, standing and holding out his hand. John stared at it. "Come on, get up. I may be a virgin, but I do know my bed will be a far more comfortable place for two grown men to have sex than the sofa."
His expression shifting from surprised to pleased, John stood and placed his hand in Sherlock's.
Sherlock was, of course, right. His bed was a much better location for sex than the sofa, as they proved two days later when they accidentally rolled off of it while trying to remove John's trousers and Sherlock's shirt at the same time.
"You'll come with me, then?"
"No. I'm going to let you take on Moriarty's right hand man all by yourself," John said, looking a bit annoyed by the question. "Of course I'm coming with you."
It was more than Sherlock had any right to ask for; he knew that. There were limits even to Sherlock's insensitivity, and what he'd done to John had been cruel. And yet here was John getting out his gun, tucking it into the back of his trousers, fully prepared to risk his life once again for Sherlock.
"Why aren't you angry?" Sherlock asked, because he honestly didn't understand.
John was facing away from Sherlock toward the bookcase where he had hidden his gun in a fake copy of Great Expectations. For just a moment, he went perfectly still. Then he slowly pivoted to face Sherlock.
John's new flat faded away. The only thing Sherlock could look at was the dark blue of John's eyes. They seemed darker than they had been before Sherlock left.
"What would it accomplish?" John asked. That made sense to Sherlock. John was nothing if not eminently practical. "I could yell at you, maybe even hit you, tell you in great detail what it felt like to believe you dead, what it feels like to know you weren't willing to find some way, any way, to let me know you were alive. Would any of it change anything? Would it stop Moran?"
Sherlock didn't have an answer.
"What's done is done," John said.
"Lestrade's waiting," Sherlock said, when he couldn't think of anything that wouldn't sound breathless and ridiculous, like 'you're a marvel,' or 'you're a better man than I will ever be,' or 'I in no way deserve your friendship, but I am more grateful for it than words can express.'
John's hand was on the doorknob when Sherlock reached out and wrapped his fingers around John's forearm. "Wait. I—" John shifted to look at him and Sherlock let the words come. "I wanted to come home, wanted to tell you the truth. I missed you every day, John. No one else, just you. If I'd have come back, it would've made you a target again, and I couldn't—I couldn't risk that. Please believe me."
"I do," John said, patting Sherlock's chest. "But I still reserve the right to make you feel like complete crap about this whenever I like for at least a year."
"I promise to feel like crap whenever you command it."
"Good." John smiled. "Come on, let's go catch ourselves a bad guy."
And The End
"You're thinking," John says, his voice thinner than it should be.
Sherlock lowers the fingers pressed together beneath his chin. "I never stop. You know that."
"Yes." Standing, Sherlock ignores the twinge in his hip as he moves from the chair to the edge of the bed. John's hair has gone from grey to almost white and it's thinner now. It's still soft to touch, and Sherlock slides his fingers through it. There are so many things he's never said, didn't know how to put into words, and now…
Swallowing, Sherlock speaks. "You were—" He catches himself. "Are. You are the best part of my life."
"I know." Of course John knows. John is perceptive. If he hadn't been, Sherlock wouldn't have spent nearly half a century with the man.
Years ago they had watched something on telly, a documentary, one of those stupid science fiction programs John liked, or maybe a film, Sherlock didn't know, he'd long ago deleted it. But he remembers what John had said afterwards about other universes. "Do you remember the theory of parallel universes?"
John nods slightly.
Sherlock takes John's hand in his, doesn't let himself think about how cool it is to the touch. "If they exist, if there are other John Watsons and Sherlock Holmeses out there, then in every one of them Sherlock Holmes loves John Watson. But none of them love their Johns as deeply as I love you."
"Or I you."
With a small nod, Sherlock leans in to press a soft kiss to John's lips.
Sitting back, he strokes his fingers through John's hair again. "Rest now. I'll be here."
John closes his eyes.
Drawing in a breath, Sherlock looks to the side. His morocco case is just visible inside the open closet. It has everything he'll need. He looks back at John. It won't be long now.
Then they'll both forget.