Sherlock brings it up first, at the breakfast table of all places. It could be argued that it was John’s fault it came up, as the newspaper and initial comment were his, but the argument would not fly very far. Sherlock was the one who continued the line of conversation.
“Hmm,” says John.
Sherlock barely glances up from his laptop. “Something interesting?”
“Oh, nothing really. The state of Maryland just legalized gay marriage. That’s nice.”
“Ha,” Sherlock snorts.
John lowers his newspaper, settles back in his chair, crosses his arms across his chest and raises an eyebrow. Sherlock pretends not to notice.
“Ha,” says John, having grown tired of being ignored.
“Yes, ‘ha.’ I’m glad to see your hearing’s still perfectly operational. Now, if you don’t--”
“Funny, that. I’d say it’s pretty bloody relevant. News about gay relationships, that is. Seeing as you’re in one.”
Sherlock heaves a long-suffering sigh and shuts his laptop. “Obviously I’ve no personal objections to the granting of equal rights to all persons, but this crusade for marriage is moving in the wrong direction.”
John nods, lips thin. “Go on.”
Sherlock narrows his eyes, smelling a trap, but continues. “Marriage in its original form was more or less a sales transaction in which an object called ‘daughter’ became an object called ‘wife.’ Its aims were to continue familial lines and promote families to high social status. The modern Western mindset has changed so radically from that idea that it has become repellant, and yet we still continue the same practice under the same name as if nothing has changed. Not to mention the absurd notion of permanence. Roughly one-third of marriages end in divorce within fifteen years, and yet the expectation is still that the partnership will last for life. Ridiculous.”
John’s body language has gone very quiet. Sherlock is aware he’s done something wrong, but is not entirely sure what it is yet.
“Oh hell, what is it now?” he shouts.
John shrugs. “Oh, nothing. It doesn’t matter. Nothing does, does it? What with this not being permanent.”
“Please, John,” Sherlock scoffs. “Neither of us is ordinary; don’t pretend otherwise. We both know very well we wouldn’t last a month without each other.” He frowns, reconsidering. “Hmm, call it a fortnight.”
He moves to open his laptop again, but is blocked by John coming round the table, taking his face in both hands and kissing him.
They don’t quite make it to the bed, but they’re near the sofa and it’s close enough. Afterwards, neither of them feel much like moving for various and sundry reasons, so they curl up under the duvet and put the telly on with the volume turned down.
“That’s why,” says John.
“It’s just about impossible. That’s why people say they’ll be married forever. So when they’re ninety years old they can turn to their grandchildren and say ‘ha, see what I did.’”
“Thought you might see the point there.”
“I didn’t say I saw anything.”
“No. Of course not.”
“And that’s all?”
“No. There’s the promise that you’ll try to do the impossible with this person you’re enamored of, stay with them, and that’s pretty exciting, as I understand it. There’s the public recognition of your relationship and its permanence. There’s the security of knowing there’s somebody who’s got your back at all times.”
“Plenty of people manage all that without binding themselves together via archaic religious ceremony.”
“There’s the financial benefits.”
“Laws can be rewritten.”
“Not likely to happen anytime soon.”
Sherlock lapses into silent thought, and the subject is laid to rest for some time.
Sherlock is also the one to propose, shockingly enough.
It also happens in the kitchen while they eat their way through enough takeout to feed the entire British Army. Two hours before, they had found a kidnapped newborn in a rubbish skip, hypothermic and nearly unconscious. John had wrapped her up in his coat and held her, keeping her warm for half an hour, until the ambulance came.
Now Sherlock is watching John’s face, trying to remember the exact lines at the corners of his eyes and precise twitches of his lips that said “I care deeply for this helpless being in my arms.” Instead he is imagining them superimposed on his own face, if his face can even form those shapes, looking down at John, eighty years old and dying of advanced-stage cancer, climbing into bed next to him--
“Marry me,” he blurts out.
John nearly chokes on his dim sum.
“What?” he says when he’s recovered.
“Marry me,” Sherlock repeats. He reaches across the table and takes John’s hand in both of his. “I need to have you forever.”
John’s mouth has dropped open. He appears to have forgotten to breathe.
“Erm,” he says, “I--hold on, give me a bit.” He scratches at the back of his neck. This is a nervous tick of his, and that it is appearing now is absolutely terrifying the wits out of Sherlock. “What happened to ‘archaic religious ceremony’ and all that?”
“Recognition,” says Sherlock. “If marriage is the only way by which society will recognize a permanent mutual ownership--”
“--partnership between two people, then we must get married.”
John’s eyes soften. “You want everyone to understand.”
“They won’t, of course; they couldn’t. But they might come close.”
John smiles, leans across the table, and kisses him softly. Sherlock sighs, because even if John hasn’t made up his mind yet (and he hasn’t), this means he will.
“Look,” he says, like Sherlock knew he would, “that’s not a yes. I need time to--to think. Okay?”
A week later, John has still not answered either way.
Sherlock has descended into a furious sulk and has not changed out of his pyjamas in days. He says nothing, of course, but the constant pointed looks and heavy sighs are wearing on his nerves.
On Friday night, he calls Lestrade and they go down to the pub together. It is three drinks in before John works up the courage to tell him what’s happened. Lestrade, unsurprisingly, spits out a bit of his beer.
“He said what?”
“Yeah, that’s about how I reacted too.”
Lestrade shakes his head. “Always thought if it were either of you, it’d be you.”
“You’re telling me.” John takes another swig. “I’ve got no idea what to say. Well, next to none. I mean, makes sense. But I keep thinking, what if he’s just saying it because he’s supposed to?”
Lestrade experiences his second beer-related mishap when he nearly snorts some of it up his nose. “Sherlock Holmes? Do something because he’s supposed to?”
“Fair point. But I mean...he’d do a lot, if you catch my drift. For...me.” John clears his throat uncomfortably.
“Well, yeah. But I mean, he’s...” Lestrade gestures vaguely. He is about two drinks ahead of John. “Principles, and things. He doesn’t do things he doesn’t want to do at all, does he?”
“There you go. And besides, isn’t it a good thing if he’s doing something just because you want it? I’d kill for my wife to do something just because I want it.”
“But isn’t marriage supposed to be mutual?”
Lestrade snorts again, thankfully sans beer. “Come on, John. You two’ve been married for ages. Might as well make it official.”
John nods slowly. He is coming to a sudden realization.
“You okay over there, mate?” the bartender asks, eyeing John as he chugs back the remainder of beer number four.
“I’m about to go get engaged,” says John, shrugging on his coat.
When John barges through the door of 221B, he nearly startles Sherlock off the sofa.
“What in the--”
“Yes,” John says, breathing hard. After all, he’s just more or less sprinted the seventeen steps upstairs.
“Yes. I want to marry you. Let’s do it.”
Sherlock shakes his head. “You’re intoxicated.”
“You don’t mean it.”
“Yes, I do!”
“Then tell me why!”
John throws his hands into the air in exasperation. “Bloody hell, Sherlock, for the same reasons anybody gets married! Because I want to get old with you, if we live that long. Because I want to stay with you forever. Because we’re already more or less married and we might as well sign the paper so everybody else knows it. And because I love you, you utter twat!”
Sherlock blinks. “Oh.”
“You’re bloody right ‘oh!’”
“Shut up, I’m coming over there and once I’m over there I’m going to shag you.”
John figured Sherlock was the type to favor a civil ceremony. He’d expected to put on a nice-ish suit, quietly sign a certificate and have a small celebration afterwards with a few folks. He forgot to account for Sherlock’s dramatic streak.
“Mycroft’s lending us the house for the day, but ‘I’ll owe him,’ apparently.” Sherlock snorts.
“Sherlock, it’s considered polite to repay the people who provide your wedding venue in some form.”
“It would have been half my house if I--”
“Not actually that important at the moment, Sherlock.”
Half the Yard is invited. John understands there’s a betting pool on how long it takes before Sherlock goes off-book with the vows. John has every intention of making sure Anderson loses a lot of money.
The less interesting bits of planning have mostly been delegated to Mrs. Hudson, although Sherlock pops in from time to time to make minor adjustments.
“Oh, put Mycroft next to Lestrade, it’ll be brilliant.”
“Sherlock, do not design the seating to start fights.”
John tries to stay out of the planning process as much as possible, but feels it is in everyone’s best interest if he interferes occasionally.
They opt for the traditional vows and a short ceremony, as no one likes two-hour weddings and neither of them are the type to proclaim their undying love in florid language in front of dozens of spectators.
But at half past midnight the night before the wedding, they find themselves doing just that. They're alone, but it's much better that way.
“You know I’d give anything,” John says, mostly into Sherlock’s hair, “anything, to make you pull that face, like when I’ve almost gotten myself killed, and you look like you’ve almost died yourself. It’s the only time you slip up, and anyone in the world could see your heart’s as big as your brain. The depths of loyalty and love in you are completely astounding, and it’s worth a thousand gunshot wounds.”
“I do hope you won’t get yourself shot to prove your point.”
“I’ll make an effort.”
Sherlock is smiling, though John cannot see it. “My dear John, you are the one fixed point in a changing world. To me, you are invaluable.”
It is all he says. It is all they need.
John yawns. “Christ, I look like I haven’t slept since the Thatcher years.”
Sherlock, buttoning his suit jacket, rolls his eyes. “Come now, John, Mrs. Hudson would’ve said if you looked off.” Naturally, Sherlock looks ready to walk a red carpet.
They exchange a brief grin.
“I’m mad,” says John. “We’re both mad.”
There is a knock on the door. Molly peeks round it.
“Are you two ready?”
Sherlock looks at John and raises his eyebrows. John smiles and nods.
“Let’s go, then.”
Sherlock holds out an arm. John links his through it.
It is a short ceremony, and Sherlock does not go off-book. He does, however, pause at several instances, and John can practically hear Anderson holding his breath in anticipation, only to let it out again when Sherlock continues. John later discovers that there was another bet on how long the kiss would last. Lestrade wins, having been the only one to put his money on two to five seconds.
It is difficult to keep it brief, to be sure. John has just spent thirty minutes of his life trying to work out what color Sherlock’s eyes are, admiring his cheekbones in the low light, remembering how his fingers feel in that hair, and thinking of everything they said to each other the night before and how absolutely, incredibly unbelievable it is that he is here, right now, with this person. All he’d really like to do is kiss Sherlock until he can’t feel the air in his lungs anymore. But that comes later.
He doesn’t have to wait long. Mrs. Hudson distracts most of the guests into dancing, shoots John a wink and nods towards the staircase. John and Sherlock make their way upstairs as quickly and quietly as they can, John swearing all the while that they will never, ever be out of her debt.
“You should wear ties more often,” says Sherlock, tugging John forward by his.
“I will if you will,” says John, undoing Sherlock’s.
It lasts much longer than either of them expected, but they still can’t be fussed to move afterwards. They lie there for a long time, kissing slowly and languidly, pretending there’s nowhere else to be for the rest of time.
“Blue,” says Sherlock.
“My eyes. During the ceremony. They’re blue. Today, at least.”
John bites him on the jaw. “You wanker. Even your eyes can’t make up their bloody mind on what they want.”
“Now, John, you know that’s ridiculous. If I know nothing else, I know what I want.”
John smiles. “Yeah. Me too.”