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Another day, another case. In the eight months that had passed since John had left the priesthood, Sherlock Holmes had become something of a minor celebrity, and his fame had brought with it a sharp increase in cases. Sherlock was ecstatic - except when the cases were judged too boring or too easy to waste time on. John was just happy there was some money coming in thanks to a few high-profile clients. Apart from a couple of hours a week volunteering at a local shelter, John never had got round to getting a 'proper' job. In all honesty, he enjoyed working with Sherlock too much anyway.

Their newest case had come from Scotland Yard, brought to their attention by a desperate Lestrade. Two men dead so far, with identical wounds and all the markings of a possible serial killer. 

"Tell me about the first one," Sherlock demanded as they rode in the back of Lestrade's car, on their way to the second crime scene.

"Male, Caucasian, early thirties. No ID and no matching descriptions on the missing persons' database."

"Cause of death?" Sherlock asked.

"Strangulation. No murder weapon at the scene though."

Sherlock hummed and pressed his hands together, staring out of the window. John smiled fondly at the familiar sight and turned his attention back to Lestrade.

"What about this one?" John asked.

"Almost identical. Similar age, same cause of death. No ID again."

"Where were they found?"

"The first one in an alley. This one in an abandoned house."

They fell silent as Lestrade wound through the busy London streets. Sherlock was deep in thought, but when John laid a hand casually on his leg, Sherlock's lips twitched into a tiny smile.

Eventually they reached the scene, which was marked quite obviously by the heavy police presence. They got out of the car and made their way over to the house, Lestrade stopping at the door to consult with a constable there.

"Come on then," Lestrade said, turning to them. "He's in the front room."

They followed Lestrade into the house and waited for a moment as he waved the forensic team away. Once he had done so, Lestrade stopped in front of Sherlock.

"Five minutes, no more," Lestrade said.

"Fine," Sherlock answered shortly. It was obvious - at least to John - that all he was interested in now was getting a good look at the scene. Lestrade finally stepped aside and Sherlock moved into the room, John and Lestrade following behind.

The dead man was sprawled in the middle of the room, glassy eyes staring up at the ceiling. Without even thinking about it, John found himself stopping and making the sign of the cross. Sherlock headed straight for the body and John moved a little closer, but kept a reasonable distance; even after all this time, dead bodies still made him uneasy.

Sherlock dropped to a crouch beside the body, his eyes flicking over the man's clothes and settling on the bruising pattern on his neck.

"No murder weapon here either," Lestrade said, but Sherlock made no sign that he'd even heard. 

After several long seconds of silence, Sherlock seemed to freeze and his eyes flew to John's.

"What is it?" John asked. 

Sherlock looked back down at the body and then turned to Lestrade.

"This man was a priest."

John gave a little start and found Lestrade glancing in his direction, before turning back to Sherlock expectantly.

"Look at his clothes," Sherlock instructed, his gaze flicking momentarily to John again. "They're not new, but they're well looked after. He probably doesn't own that many clothes, so he looks after what he has. Now, the clothes themselves, they're fairly smart. Black trousers, black shirt. Pretty standard for a priest."

Sherlock glanced at John again and then gestured towards the shirt collar.

"The shirt's buttoned all the way up. Always is, you can tell by the wear on the top buttonhole. How many people wear their shirts like that? With no tie? And then, there's a tiny dent in the fabric just on one side, where his dog collar got caught as it was pulled off."

John let out a shaky breath as he looked at the man in this new light. 

"Any ideas about the murder weapon?" Lestrade asked.

"John," Sherlock said, beckoning him closer. 

John moved to the body and crouched down on the opposite side to Sherlock.

"Do you recognise the pattern?"

"Should I?" John asked with a frown.

"Ten small circles, then a larger one - right here to the side of the larynx - then ten small circles again..."

"Rosary beads," John breathed, feeling more than a little sick to the stomach. "He was strangled with a rosary."

"Probably his own. There's no sign of it."

John closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. When he opened his eyes again, Sherlock was watching him with concern.

"Right," Lestrade spoke up. "So who kills a priest?"

"Good question," Sherlock murmured, attention turning back to the body.

"Sir," a female voice spoke up and when John looked up he saw Sergeant Sally Donovan in the doorway, holding a file out for Lestrade. "This just came through. Autopsy on the other one."

"And?" Lestrade asked, stepping forward to take the file.

"There was something written on his chest. They found it when they undressed him."

John rose to his feet as Lestrade thanked Sally and she left with a slight frown in Sherlock's direction. Sherlock got up as well and moved to Lestrade, snatching the file from him and provoking an exasperated huff.

Sherlock looked over the file for a brief second and then handed it to John as he moved back to the body. John opened it up, but was distracted as Sherlock started to unbutton the dead man's shirt.

"Sherlock!" Lestrade protested, but by that point it was too late. 

In the centre of the man's chest, scrawled in black ink, were two numbers: 20 and 13. When John looked down at the file in his hands, the autopsy photos showed exactly the same thing on the other man.

"What does it mean?" Lestrade asked.

"I'm not sure..." Sherlock murmured, looking over the scrawled numbers. "A code of some kind, probably."

"I think it's a verse from the Bible," John said half to himself, his eyes fixed on the picture he held. "On this one, you can see a faint colon between the numbers. 20:13."

When John glanced up, Sherlock's eyes were fixed on him, bright with the thrill of the mystery.

"No indication of the book though," Sherlock said. "We'll need a Bible, Lestrade."

"It's from Leviticus," John said, before Lestrade could even move. "I think."

John glanced at both men and gave a sigh.

"If it's what I think it is, it's something I've seen before."

"Where?" Sherlock asked in breathless excitement.

"Hate mail," John said in a flat voice, watching the surprise register in Sherlock's expression. "Leviticus 20:13. 'If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.'"

The room fell silent as John finished and he held Sherlock's gaze, watching a myriad of emotions flash across his face.

"You never told me about any hate mail," Sherlock eventually said in a quiet voice.

"I just wanted to ignore it."

"Sorry, I'm a bit rusty on my Bible studies," Lestrade cut in. "What did all that mean?"

"It's the verse some conservative Christians like to use as so-called proof that homosexuality is wrong," Sherlock said sourly.

"So, this is some kind of hate crime?" Lestrade said.

"Seems like it," Sherlock said quietly. "We need to find out who these men are."

"There aren't that many priests in this part of London," John added. "Someone's probably already noticed that this man's missing. Or they will do soon enough. Someone might recognise the other man too, if he's a priest."

"Right," Lestrade said with a nod. "Thanks. We'll get pictures around the churches in the area, see what we can find out."

"Text me if you get anything," Sherlock said.

"Will do."

"Right then. We're done here," Sherlock announced.

"Yeah. Thanks," Lestrade said, already turning away and calling out to the nearest PC.

Sherlock and John made their way out of the house in silence and found a cab to take them back to Baker Street.

****

The cab ride passed in awkward silence. Watching Sherlock work himself up into a sulk was a little like watching a storm approach, John mused. You could see it coming from miles away but could never predict exactly when it was going to hit. In this instance, John had a pretty good idea what had got his partner so wound up, but he would have to wait for confirmation.

The evening dragged on just as quietly, the tension growing thicker every minute, and it wasn't until they were getting ready for bed that the first lightning bolt hit.

"Why didn't you tell me you'd been getting hate mail?" Sherlock asked, sitting on the bed in his pyjamas, arms crossed angrily over his chest. The intimidating tone Sherlock was going for was a little spoiled, John thought, on account of how adorable he looked curled up like a small boy, bare feet tucked under the edge of the covers.

"Sherlock," he sighed. "I told you, I just wanted to ignore it."

"But why you?" Sherlock asked with a frown, as if he couldn't possibly fathom why anyone would target John. 

"I don't know," John said. "Maybe they'd seen the blog. Does it matter?"

"You still could have told me," Sherlock said after a moment's hesitation.

"It was nothing. Just angry zealots with nothing better to do with their time."

Sherlock scowled, bright eyes fixing on John.

"There's some other reason you didn't tell me."

"You know now. Can we just leave it?"

Sherlock gave him a hard look in reply and John heaved a sigh, settling on the edge of the bed and placing the pyjamas he had yet to change into on the covers next to him.

"Sherlock, I..." he trailed off and ran a hand through his hair. "You've never said anything... but I've seen the way you look at me sometimes. It's like you're waiting for me to turn around and say, 'no, actually, I made the wrong choice. I'm going back to the Church'. I was worried that if I told you, well..."

Every single time John had seen that look, it had made his heart ache, but Sherlock never said anything, so neither did John. If John was a little more affectionate afterwards, Sherlock never commented on that either.

"Can you blame me?" Sherlock asked softly, his eyes fixed on the bedspread. "I know you miss it."

John didn't really have an answer to that. It was true that he sometimes missed being a priest, but never enough to seriously consider going back on his decision. 

"You crossed yourself at the scene earlier, did you realise?" Sherlock continued pointedly.

"That doesn't mean I'm thinking about going back to the Church, Sherlock," John said tiredly.

"Every Sunday you go for a walk," Sherlock continued. "You usually pass at least one church and you always stop. You don't go in, but you do stand outside for ten, sometimes fifteen, minutes."

"Jesus Christ, Sherlock," John got out in a tone of exasperation. He couldn't tell if Sherlock's observations were the result of deduction, or if he'd actually followed John, but it made him wearily angry.

"You might want to stop blaspheming if you're planning on rejoining the priesthood."

John took a deep breath and let it out slowly, clamping down on the urge to strangle his partner.

"Sherlock," he said softly, moving to sit next to the other man. "I'm not going back to the priesthood. I chose you, you idiot."

Sherlock still wouldn't look at him, but John could tell he was listening intently.

"I do miss it," John added. "Of course I do. It was my life for thirteen years. And, maybe one day, I might start going to Mass again."

John wasn't exactly sure what had kept him away from church for the last eight months. It wasn't that he had lost his faith - in fact, when he had the time, he found himself praying more than ever. He prayed for Sherlock, and for himself; for more cases when there were none; for a break in a particularly complex case. He'd thanked God on far too many occasions that he and Sherlock were still alive - and had asked that the next near-death experience not come too soon.

It was something else though, something he almost couldn't pinpoint, that was holding him back. It was a little like the end of any relationship, really. He still remembered what it was like to be part of something special; he remembered being happy and content, and the split had left a sour taste in his mouth. It still hurt that loving Sherlock apparently meant he couldn't love and serve God just as he always had.

"But," John said. "None of that changes how I feel about you."

Sherlock turned his head towards John, eyes still downcast.

"Sherlock," John coaxed, reaching out to brush his fingers over the back of Sherlock's neck. Sherlock leaned into the touch, and then shifted until he could rest his head against John's shoulder. John pressed a kiss to his hair, holding him close.

"I'd come with you, if you decided to go to Mass," Sherlock murmured. "For moral support."

"Thank you," John said with a huff of laughter. "Knowing how much you hate the 'ridiculous charade', that definitely means something."

Sherlock pulled back to give him a strange look.

"I was fifteen when I said that."

"You were," John said with a fond smile.

"You remembered that?"

"You were pretty memorable," John answered. 

Sherlock stared at him for a long time, and then all of sudden he lurched forward, pressing his mouth to John's. John let out a muffled noise of surprise but let Sherlock push him to the bed, kissing him back, hands buried in Sherlock's hair.

"What was that for?" John got out, when Sherlock pulled away for breath.

"You always surprise me," Sherlock murmured, reaching down to work at the buttons of John's shirt. "Now get this off."

****

Sex with Sherlock was something John still couldn't get used to sometimes. Even after eight months together, it was the most intense thing he'd ever experienced. He was overwhelmed every single time by the intimacy of the act; by the sheer pleasure of seeing Sherlock as no-one else could.

Sherlock was beautiful like this. He spent so much of his time being carefully controlled, maintaining a facade for the outside world, but in the bedroom he would finally let it all go, and be all the more breathtaking for it. John craved the sight of him like this - flushed with pleasure, eyes heavy-lidded and dark. 

The feel of Sherlock's body - the feel of being on him, under him, in him - was addictive. John could happily spend hours mapping the angles and curves of that lean body, learning every part of this man - and he had. In eight months, he had worshipped every inch of Sherlock, had made love to him a hundred times in a hundred ways and it was never anything less than awe-inspiring.

"John," Sherlock gasped, arching into him, head thrown back with pleasure. 

The way he said John's name like that was intoxicating, and it made John do everything in his power to hear it again and again.

Sherlock moaned and John bent his head to capture the sound, sliding his open mouth over Sherlock's. Sherlock let out a stuttered noise and wrapped his long legs tightly around John's waist. John kissed him hard, moving against him, drowning in the taste of him. 

A moment later, Sherlock was tensing underneath him and letting out a cry against John's mouth. Following him over the edge a beat later, John collapsed on top of him in a tangle of sweaty limbs.

John couldn't bear to move just yet, even as the sweat began to cool, and he pressed a kiss to Sherlock's shoulder. 

"Anyone who thinks this is an abomination has no idea what they're talking about," John murmured against that pale skin.

He felt Sherlock give a silent huff of laughter under him and closed his eyes as long fingers trailed over his back and shoulders.

"Or they haven't seen you," John added with a smile.

Sherlock laughed out loud this time.

"Really, John..." Sherlock murmured, shifting so he could look at John. John smiled down at him and leaned in for a kiss.

"I love you," John murmured, pressing his forehead to Sherlock's.

"I love you too," Sherlock whispered, holding him close.

****

John was just on the verge of sleep when the sound of Sherlock's phone vibrating on the bedside table jolted him back awake. Sherlock rolled over and picked it up, the glow of the screen lighting up his features.

"Lestrade," Sherlock explained. "They've identified both men... As expected, they're both priests."

John's heart sank a little at the news. Sherlock's phone vibrated again and he flicked through the screen quickly.

"The first man, Father James Kenwood, was from out of town. Came down from Buckinghamshire yesterday."

"Probably a conference or something," John suggested, receiving only a hum in reply. "And the second one?"

Sherlock's phone vibrated again, signalling another message.

"Father Robert Lewis. London-based. In fact, he's from..."

Sherlock trailed off, turning towards John.

"He's from St. Mary's, in Brixton."

John felt all the breath leave him in a rush. It was the church he had called home before choosing to leave the priesthood.

"He must've been my replacement," John said quietly.

Sherlock said nothing, but he reached over to place his hand on John's arm.

"I should go and see Lawrence tomorrow," John said after a while.

"Of course," Sherlock agreed. "We'll need to question him. Find out what-"

"No," John interrupted. "Not yet. I'll go alone."

Sherlock looked like he wanted to protest, but he gave in with a small nod. John moved his hand to rest over Sherlock's, squeezing it against his arm. Sherlock shifted closer, pressing himself along John's side. John pulled him close as he let out a shaky breath. This whole case was hitting a little too close to home.

****

It felt more than a little strange to be coming back to a place that had once been his home. John hadn't been back since the day he'd collected his belongings and left, eight months ago. In truth, he felt a little guilty for his long absence - after all Lawrence's help - but he had simply got caught up in his new life.

The door swung open only a few seconds after John's knock and Lawrence stood in front of him, smiling warmly as soon as he realised who it was.

"John! Hello," Lawrence said, shaking John's hand. "Come in, come in."

John entered and Lawrence waved him to a seat at the table.

"Sit down. Make yourself at home," Lawrence said, taking a seat.

John did so, settling on the chair opposite Lawrence.

"How are you?" Lawrence asked. "You look well."

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm really good. Thank you. And how are you?"

"In all honesty, a little thrown by what happened to Father Robert."

John couldn't help but raise his eyebrows in slight surprise at Lawrence moving onto the subject so soon.

"I thought I might be hearing from you," Lawrence explained with a smile. "The PC who came round last night told us that Sherlock was working on the case."

"Ah," John said. "Well, I wanted to see you first, unofficially... I wanted to see if you were alright. If there's anything you need..."

"I'm fine," Lawrence assured him. "Just a little shaken up, really. Such a horrible thing to happen... Simon's quite upset about it."

"Father Robert... He was new?"

"Yes. He'd only been here a couple of months," Lawrence said. "He was settling in well." Lawrence trailed off with a sad smile, but brightened slightly a moment later. "He seemed to be having a very good effect on Simon."

"Oh?"

"Well, I must admit, Simon was a little worked up after you left. He just couldn't understand why you made the choice you did. And well... you know what he's like."

John gave a weak smile.

"Anyway, Robert was rather more liberal-minded, which is always a useful trait in a parish like this, and he had a way of explaining things... I suppose you could say he had the gift of the gab," Lawrence remarked. "In any case, Simon listened to him, miraculously. It seemed to be doing him some good..."

Lawrence trailed off again and let out a sigh.

"Such an awful waste of life," he murmured.

"It is," John agreed quietly, thinking of both priests and the horrible end they had come to.

"Do you have any leads?" Lawrence asked.

"Not yet," John said with a frown. "Did the police tell you about the other priest? And the message?"

"Yes, they told us about that. And they asked us lots of questions about Robert."

"Such as?"

"If there was anyone who'd want to hurt him. If he knew the other priest. If he was gay."

John paused for a moment and then met Lawrence's gaze.

"Was he?"

"Not that I knew," Lawrence admitted honestly. "But then, how do you tell?"

John frowned, lost in thought for a moment.

"Come on, enough about that for now," Lawrence said. "Tell me what you've been up to all this time."

John smiled shyly and started to regale Lawrence with a few stories of cases and living with Sherlock and the mad adventure his life had become.

"You sound happy," Lawrence commented when John had finished.

"I am," John said with a smile. "Very."

"I'm so glad, John," Lawrence said warmly, reaching out to press John's hand with his. "Really I am."

"Thank you."

Lawrence smiled and drew his hand back.

"Tea?" Lawrence asked. "It's been so long since I saw you and there's only so much you can glean from a blog."

John laughed and nodded.

"Yes, please."

"White, no sugars?"

"Yeah."

Lawrence got up to make the drinks and John settled back in his chair with a smile.

****

"Did you have a nice time?" Sherlock asked as soon as John walked in the door, a touch of annoyance in his voice. John looked down at him where he was sprawled across the sofa.

"Don't even start," John warned him good-naturedly.

"You were there far longer than necessary."

John snorted and crossed to the sofa, lifting Sherlock's legs out of the way and sitting down. 

"I didn't realise there was a time limit."

"I need you here."

"No, you don't," John said with a smile, resting his hand on Sherlock's knee and squeezing gently.

"Fine. I want you here."

"I was only gone a few hours," John said. "And now I'm all yours."

Sherlock let out a little sigh, but he pressed his legs against John's in a silent acknowledgment. 

"Any news?" John asked.

"Nothing. Did Father Lawrence say anything useful about Father Robert?"

"Nothing that would explain why someone would want to kill him."

Sherlock frowned and pressed his hands together.

"I've been thinking though," John said. "If this person wanted to send a message about these priests... Why take their dog collars away? Why make them look like regular people by removing their single most distinguishing feature?"

Sherlock looked at him for a long time and then tipped his head towards the ceiling.

"Trophies, perhaps?" he mumbled, mostly to himself. "No. Too obvious. He must have wanted to send another message. But what? Why take away a priest's collar? Why strip him of that - Oh. Possible. Yes."

"He took their Bibles too," John pointed out. "Presuming they carried them with them."

Sherlock gave him another long look - surprise mixed with pride - before speaking up slowly, working his way around a theory.

"What if he didn't think they deserved any of those things - the collar, the Bible... the rosary? What if they're traitors? Deviants, even."

"Sherlock, be careful what you start accusing these men of," John interjected. "They're men of God, remember."

Sherlock levelled his bright gaze on John.

"That doesn't make them free of sin though, does it? I think the sheer number of child abuse cases involving priests is proof of that."

"Yes, yes, alright. Just... be careful where you tread with this one."

Sherlock gave him a long look, but didn't comment, and eventually turned his gaze back to the ceiling.

"And the message... Why that verse? Why were these specific priests chosen for an anti-gay message?"

Sherlock fell silent, and John left him to his thoughts. He turned on the TV and halfheartedly settled down to watch a nature documentary, one hand idly drawing circles on Sherlock's leg.

****

John yawned and made his way out of the bedroom the next morning, blinking in surprise when he found Sherlock hunched over his microscope.

"New evidence?" he asked, brushing a hand against Sherlock's shoulder as he moved to put the kettle on.

"Hmm? Oh, no. Just something to pass the time," Sherlock said in a bored tone.

"You could've stayed in bed," John suggested with a smile.

"I couldn't sleep. I didn't want to disturb you."

"Thinking too hard again," John teased, leaning against the sideboard as Sherlock turned towards him. 

"I need to find the link between these men. They obviously weren't random choices, so how is the killer selecting victims?"

"I really don't know."

"John..." Sherlock started, almost hesitant in a way he never was. "Is there a chance these men were gay?"

"Well, it's possible," John said. "Of course it is."

"Would they have confided in anyone if they were?"

"I don't know. It could cause a lot of trouble, if you told the wrong person."

Sherlock hummed and pressed his hands to his lips, lost in contemplation. John turned away to finish making his tea.

"What about in Confession?" Sherlock asked after a long silence.

"Maybe, but you know that could never be confirmed."

Sherlock let out a moan of frustration.

"Idiotic!"

John just rolled his eyes and fished his tea bag out of the cup, throwing it in the bin.

A knock downstairs, followed soon after by the lilting cadence of Mrs. Hudson's voice, drew their attention. A moment later there were footsteps on the stairs and Lestrade appeared at the kitchen door.

"There's been another one," Sherlock said instantly, rising to his feet.

"Yeah," Lestrade said tiredly.

"Do we know who?"

"Yeah. A bishop this time. Malcolm Foster, Bishop of... Brentwood, is it?" Lestrade looked to John for confirmation and John nodded, feeling queasy as he reached out a hand to steady himself.

"Christ," John breathed.

"John?" Sherlock called quietly, taking a step closer.

"Malcolm," John got out, his voice rough with shock. "We... We studied together, at the seminary."

John bowed his head, rubbing a hand over his eyes. 

"Can you come?" Lestrade asked Sherlock in a low voice.

"Yes. Wait downstairs, I'll be there in a minute."

John looked up as Lestrade shot him a worried look and left them alone. Sherlock turned to him and stepped forward, reaching out to grasp John's arms.

"Are you alright?" Sherlock asked worriedly.

"I... It's just, I knew him... And now he's dead."

John let out a shaky breath and leaned forward to press his head against Sherlock's chest, shaking it slightly as he tried to calm himself.

"Don't worry about me. Go on, they need you."

"What about you?"

"I... This isn't something I want to see," John admitted. "I really shouldn't be there." Sherlock's grip tightened on him for a moment.

"Are you sure?"

John took a fortifying breath and righted himself, nodding firmly.

"I'm sure. Go."

Sherlock hesitated for a brief pause, but then bent to press a quick kiss to John's lips. He rushed into the living room to fetch his coat and threw it on quickly as he made his way back into the kitchen.

"And Sherlock?" John spoke up, halting him at the door. "Solve this."

Sherlock held his gaze for a long moment, then nodded sharply and disappeared out the door.

****

When Sherlock returned home several hours later, John hadn't done much with his time. He'd showered and dressed, and tried to distract himself by watching television and then reading the newspaper when that failed. Eventually he'd given up and spent most of his morning in silent contemplation, the rosary he'd had stashed away all this time clutched between his fingers.

When Sherlock walked in the door, he paused to study John where he sat on the sofa. After only a minute, Sherlock sat down beside him, placing a hand over John's, his fingers just touching the beads.

"Anything?" John asked hopefully.

"Some fibres. I'm getting them checked at the lab. Nothing else of importance."

John nodded and let out an unsteady breath.

"John, I... I don't know how to make this easier for you."

John jerked his head up, meeting his partner's concerned gaze. He tightened his grip on Sherlock's hand.

"I'll be fine," John whispered. "You focus on catching the killer."

"You're worried about who might be next."

"Of course I am. The thought of more people - people I might know - suffering at the hands of this mad man... I'd be lying if I said it didn't scare me."

"You're too close to this," Sherlock said after a short pause. "I need you to be objective, otherwise you're of no use to me."

John started, snatching his hand back.

"Sherlock, someone I know is dead. Someone who took my place only a few months ago is dead. Of course I'm too close to this!"

"It won't help them now, will it?" Sherlock countered.

"No, but that's not the--"

"I need you thinking clearly. You have a much better insight into these men's lives, I need you to--"

"No," John interjected. "You don't need me. You just want me around to make you feel good, to tell you how brilliant you are."

Sherlock recoiled as if he'd been hit and John felt his stomach lurch.

"I didn't mean that," John said hurriedly. "Sherlock, I... That's not true. Ignore me."

John ducked his head and ran a hand through his hair.

"I don't know what's wrong with me. I- I need to get out and get some fresh air before I say something even more stupid."

John rose unsteadily to his feet and turned to look down at Sherlock, whose expression was guarded in a way that made John's chest ache.

"Sherlock, I..." He didn't know what to say and he trailed off awkwardly. "I'll see you later?"

"Probably," Sherlock said in a deceptively even tone. "Unless I get something to go on."

"Yeah, of course."

John realised he was still holding his rosary in his hand and he stuffed it quickly in his pocket as he moved to put on his jacket. Sherlock looked as if he was deep in thought already, making no sign of acknowledgement when John hesitated by the end of the sofa.

"I'll be back later," John said awkwardly, resting his hand on Sherlock's shoulder. Sherlock did nothing for a long time, but just as John pulled his hand back, he gave one single nod. John let out an inaudible sigh and left the flat.

****

Somehow, John found himself making the short trip across the river to Brixton, to St. Mary's. It was only as he reached the church that he realised it was the time Lawrence had always held Confession. Not wanting to risk an encounter with Simon, John instead found himself sitting at the back of the church, absently turning a battered missal over and over in his hands.

"John?"

John was startled out of his daze by the sound of Simon's voice and quickly raised his head, trying not to let his annoyance show in his expression. 

"Simon. Hello. How are you?"

"Fine, thank you... And you?"

"Yes. Fine."

There was a moment of awkward silence and John wondered if it would be enough to make Simon leave, but when he looked up, Simon seemed to be working up the courage to speak again. John watched him expectantly.

"And how... How is Sherlock?"

John was a little taken aback that Simon would even mention him, and wondered if this was evidence of Father Robert's influence. 

"He's well. Thank you."

Simon gave him a small smile and John cleared his throat awkwardly.

"We - uh, well he actually - has been investigating Father Robert's murder."

Simon's expression dropped, his eyes vaguely teary when he met John's gaze.

"He was a good man," Simon said somewhat shakily. "I don't know why anyone would want to kill him."

John hesitated for a moment, but then decided it might do him some good if he tried to do something constructive for the case, instead of torturing himself with his thoughts.

"Simon... Is there anything you can tell me about Father Robert - about what he'd been doing the last few weeks - anything that might give us a lead?"

Simon thought for a moment as he settled next to John in the pew.

"He was very busy," Simon started hesitantly. "He always was, of course, but the last few weeks he'd been preparing for the conference."

"What conference?" John asked. He had guessed it might be the reason for the first victim's trip to London, but he hadn't heard anything to confirm it.

"There was a big one just a few days ago. The day before Father Robert was - the day before he died."

"Was there anything particular about this conference?"

"Usual sort of stuff; regional issues, declining attendance, you know... But I think Father Robert said they might discuss the issue of, uhm, gay marriage."

John wasn't surprised in the slightest. The argument between the government and the Church had been all over the television, ever since the government had announced proposals to legalise it.

"What was Father Robert's view?" John asked.

"He was for it. He said it was about time gay people were allowed to declare their love in front of God just like everyone else."

John thought of the effect those words might have on more hard-line traditionalists, and couldn't help picturing Father Robert's dead body - and the numbers daubed across his chest.

"Simon, I think you've been more helpful than you know. Thank you."

John got to his feet and Simon rose too.

"You think there's a link?" Simon asked.

"Maybe," John said. "I can't be sure. I need to talk to Sherlock."

Simon shuffled out of the way and John moved quickly out of the pew.

"Thank you, Simon."

"Didn't you want to see Father Lawrence?"

"I'll call in another time," John answered hurriedly. "I have to go. Thank you again."

John gave him a quick goodbye and left the church, rushing to find the nearest taxi.

****

When John got home, Sherlock had disappeared from the sofa and was in fact nowhere to be found in 221b. John sent off a quick text asking where he was, and settled at the desk, opening the laptop in front of him.

John liked to think his computer skills had improved in recent months - although Sherlock still mocked now and then - and as soon as he was logged on, he brought up the Internet browser. After a few failed searches, he managed to find details of the conference and flicked through the news articles, searching for anything that might prove what he was beginning to suspect.

He clicked on another article mentioning the conference and suddenly he was met with a large picture of Malcolm Foster. His eyes flicked to the headline - Top Bishop Backs Gay Marriage - and back to Malcolm's picture. According to the article, Malcolm had given a rousing but rather controversial speech in support of gay marriage. It had been a rather daring move on Malcolm's part as well, dissenting so publicly against the party line. John let out a little shaky breath and ran a hand through his hair. Could it really be plausible that a madman was killing these priests because they dared to speak in favour of gay marriage? 

John spent a little longer trying to see if he could find anything on the first victim, but with no luck. He may well have shared the same view as Father Robert and Bishop Malcolm, but it was unlikely to be in the media anywhere, given that he was only a small-town priest. John could have really used Sherlock's expertise right about now.

He'd received a very short reply from Sherlock about ten minutes after his original text, saying that Sherlock was at Bart's. Sherlock gave no indication as to when he'd be back and John wasn't exactly surprised, after his own rash words earlier. This case was messing with his head and he knew he shouldn't have snapped at Sherlock but it was hard to remain distant and objective when it was all tangled up with his own issues - his own vaguely confused guilt about being gay in the first place.

There was nothing to be done but wait for Sherlock to come home and so John busied himself as best he could - tidying a bit, flicking aimlessly through the newspaper again, making dinner, taking a long shower. By late evening Sherlock still hadn't returned and John retired to bed alone, halfheartedly attempting to read the book he had started a few weeks ago. It was only as he searched for the place he'd left off that he remembered he was reading Dan Brown's Angels And Demons. He shut the book with a sigh - he'd had more than enough of dead priests. In any case, Sherlock had already spoiled the ending, so it was mostly pointless to keep reading. John threw the book on his bedside table and lay down with his hands under his head. He wasn't even really tired.

A moment later he heard noises downstairs that signalled Sherlock's return and he moved to sit up, listening as Sherlock climbed the stairs, entered the flat and, by the sounds of it, threw his coat onto the sofa. There was a brief silence and then footsteps approached the bedroom. Sherlock appeared in the doorway and hesitated almost nervously, bright eyes locked on John.

"Anything?" John asked quietly and Sherlock shook his head, moving slowly to sit on the edge of the bed. 

"I may have found something," John said and proceeded to tell Sherlock what Simon had told him and the research he'd done off the back of it. 

"The killer must have been at the conference," Sherlock said when John had finished. "How else would he know who to pick? How many people would have attended?"

"A couple of hundred, maybe. All sorts of representatives from across the Church."

Sherlock hummed and stared into space contemplatively. John shifted over the bed and reached up to press his hand to Sherlock's arm.

"Sherlock, I'm sorry for what I said earlier."

"It's fine," Sherlock said dismissively, turning towards John.

"No. I was out of order. It's not true anyway."

Sherlock dropped his gaze to the bed for a moment, then raised it again, meeting John's eyes.

"I'm sorry too. I don't expect you to switch off with something like this... I wouldn't want you to either."

"Come here," John said, running his hand up to Sherlock's neck to draw him closer. "I love you," he whispered, just as he pressed his lips to Sherlock.

They shared a tender kiss, but Sherlock pulled back far too soon, drawing a smile from John.

"I don't suppose I can tempt you to come to bed?" John teased, brushing his fingers against Sherlock's nape.

"John... I--"

"No, I'm joking. Go on. Work your magic with what I found."

John drew away with a smile. Sherlock hesitated for a brief moment, but then smiled too, shifting off the bed.

"And make sure you have something to eat," John reminded his partner. "I bet you've hardly eaten all day."

Sherlock rolled his eyes in fond exasperation.

"Oh John, this is too important to waste time eating! This could be the break in the case I've been looking for."

"Wake me if you need me?"

"I will."

Sherlock bent double to give John a parting kiss and then left the room as John settled down in the bed.

****

John woke the next morning to a cold space beside him; apparently Sherlock hadn't made it to bed at all - certainly not an uncommon occurrence when he was caught up in a case. John got out of bed and threw his dressing gown on, making his way into the kitchen.

As John approached the living room, he spotted a more than familiar figure in one of their armchairs. Both Holmes brothers turned towards John as he entered the room and Mycroft nodded politely.

"Hello John."

"Mycroft. What brings you round here?"

"Oh, just doing my part," Mycroft said enigmatically.

"Mycroft has the CCTV coverage from the conference but he won't give them to me without a suitable sacrifice," Sherlock said crossly.

"Come now, Sherlock, I merely asked if I could rely on your assistance on some future occasion."

Sherlock continued to scowl at his brother and John had to try hard to suppress a smile.

"I didn't think a Church conference would be the sort of thing you're interested in," John commented to Mycroft.

"Quite the contrary," Mycroft replied. "There's very keen interest in the current debate on the legalisation of gay marriage, as I'm sure you've heard. We'd very much like to move things along, you see."

"Right," John said, moving to perch on the arm of the chair Sherlock was sitting in. "You know you'd have more luck putting the screws on The Vatican, it's not like Catholics in this country get to make up their own rules..."

Mycroft rolled his eyes. "None the less. It would be a terrible shame to lose any more of our supporters." 

John usually had a certain amount of patience for dealing with Mycroft - and the potent cocktail of SherlockandMycroft - but his patience seemed to be wearing very thin at the sight of Mycroft's callous indifference. He clenched his fists tightly and forced himself to look away.

"Fine," Sherlock snapped, shattering the silence. "I agree."

"And you will make yourself available whenever I choose?"

"Yes, yes, alright."

John looked up again as Mycroft rose gracefully to his feet and retrieved a small flash drive from his pocket, handing it to Sherlock.

"I won't keep you any longer then," Mycroft said. "Good day, Sherlock. John."

John forced out a polite nod - not trusting himself to speak - while Sherlock chose to ignore his brother altogether, moving over to the desk where his laptop sat. Mycroft left and John let out a grateful sigh, slipping into the chair Sherlock had just vacated.

"I like to look for the good in everyone," John spoke up. "But your brother really is a pompous arse."

Sherlock's only reply was a distracted hum and when John looked around, he was absorbed in watching the images on the screen.

"Tea?" John asked, pushing himself up.

"Hmm?" Sherlock got out, eyes still fixed on the screen. "Oh. Please."

John watched him for a few seconds, smiling warmly, and then turned away and headed for the kitchen. He wondered idly if he'd have any luck getting some food down Sherlock as well, but a glance at Sherlock - completely wrapped up in what he was doing - soon threw that idea out of the window. 

John made tea for the both of them and toast for himself, and settled in an armchair with the newspaper. He flicked through the first couple of pages - all about government cuts - and stopped abruptly when he caught sight of a familiar picture. There was a double page spread on Bishop Malcolm's death, and right there in the bottom corner was yet another familiar picture.

"You've made the paper again," John said, glancing up at Sherlock.

Sherlock looked up and scowled, before turning back to his laptop.

"Genius detective, Sherlock Holmes, has been called in to investigate the suspicious death of Bishop Malcolm Foster and at least two others." 

Sherlock scoffed under his breath but didn't move his attention from the screen this time.

"At least they didn't refer to you as 'amateur detective' this time," John commented, raising his head just in time to see Sherlock roll his eyes. John smiled and turned the page again, quiet settling over them once more.

****

Sherlock seemed to be getting increasingly agitated, muttering and huffing under his breath as he painstakingly went through hours of CCTV footage. He'd been at it for over an hour now and he didn't seem to be having much luck.

"Can I help?" John asked.

"No," Sherlock snapped, then glanced up, his expression softening. "But thank you."

John nodded absently, hovering in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. He didn't really know what to do with himself. He was just turning towards the kitchen, wondering how much of Sherlock's impromptu lab he could get away with cleaning, when Sherlock made an excited noise.

John turned back, only to find Sherlock looking at his phone instead of the computer. Sherlock got to his feet and moved to the window, looking out into the street.

"What is it?" John asked.

"Lestrade," Sherlock said. "We're going to talk to everyone who visited Bishop Malcolm the day he was killed."

Sherlock had moved to pull on his coat but paused now, turning towards John.

"Will you come?"

"Of course," John said, going over to grab his own coat and pull it on.

"Good. You know I don't have the patience for these people."

"And by 'these people' you mean anyone who goes anywhere near a church?" John clarified with a teasing smile.

"You know exactly what I mean," Sherlock answered haughtily, fighting the smile that lurked in his eyes. He opened the door and preceded John out of the flat.

"Your poor mother would be turning in her grave," John commented with a smile.

"I can assure you an aversion to religion would be the least of my sins in her eyes," Sherlock returned, turning back to give John a wry smile before moving quickly down the stairs and out the door to the waiting car.

****

The first person to greet them at the Bishop's residence - set in the gardens adjoining the cathedral - was the deacon, a middle-aged man named Thomas. He had worked closely with the Bishop, for all intents and purposes serving as his personal assistant, and seemed pale and sad-eyed as he cast his gaze across them.

"Deacon Thomas, this is the consultant I mentioned," Lestrade said, gesturing towards Sherlock. "Sherlock Holmes. And this is his partner, John Watson."

They all shook hands and the deacon ushered them inside.

"I think I've found everyone who was here two days ago," Thomas said. "They're waiting in the dining room."

"I think we'll want to see them one at a time," Lestrade suggested and Sherlock nodded in agreement.

"I'll bring them in," the deacon said with a nod, showing the three of them into a small sitting room.

They went into the lavishly decorated room and John stood by the window, keeping one eye on Sherlock - who was nosing around at the bookcase - as Lestrade settled hesitantly on an old, incredibly decorative sofa.

"This is... really quite posh," Lestrade commented, looking over at John. "What happened to the vow of poverty thing?"

"None of this belongs to the bishop," John explained with a smile. "It's all the Church's."

Lestrade gave a vague 'ah', leaning back and making himself more comfortable. Sherlock and John exchanged a smile, then turned as one to the door as it opened. John was surprised to see a familiar face following the deacon. The young priest broke away as soon as he saw John, crossing the room to take John's hand.

"Father John, what are you doing here?" 

David had also been at the seminary at the same time as John and Malcolm, although he had been several years younger and had been ordained some years after them.

"David," John greeted him, shaking his hand warmly. "It's so good to see you."

David smiled widely and pressed his free hand over their joined ones.

"And it's just John now," John added quietly.

"Oh," David said in a low voice. "I didn't realise. When did you leave?"

"About eight months ago," John explained, before clearing his throat and turning his attention to the room. "David, this is Detective Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard. And this is Sherlock Holmes."

"Are you with the police as well?" David asked Sherlock.

"No," Sherlock said, glancing at John and then fixing his attention on David. "Why don't you sit down, Father. We'd like to ask you some questions."

The deacon left the room and John lingered by the window as Lestrade and Sherlock asked David a series of questions. Lestrade's were always direct and to-the-point, while some of Sherlock's seemed almost random, but John knew better than to doubt either of them. Once they were done, David rose and moved over to John.

"I hope you'll be able to make it to the funeral," David said quietly. "I think Malcolm would've liked you to be there."

"I'll try to be there," John said hesitantly, his eyes flicking to Sherlock's. "I hope I can be."

"It's just a shame you can't be involved in leading the service," David said, adding after a pause: "What made you leave the priesthood?"

"Personal reasons," John explained, more than aware of both Sherlock and Lestrade watching him. David nodded and gave him a weak smile, apparently content not to push any more. "Well, it was nice to see you, David, although I wish it was under better circumstances."

"Yes," David agreed, shaking John's hand once more. "I hope to see you again soon."

John smiled awkwardly and, after a grave nod towards Sherlock and Lestrade, David left. John shared a look with Sherlock, and then settled in the window seat, content to blend into the background as the deacon brought a little old lady to the room.

A procession of people - clerical and lay - passed through over the next few hours, and John hadn't seen or heard anything remotely suspicious. Sherlock and Lestrade never gave any indication to their thoughts, and it all seemed to be a bit of a waste of time. 

When the last person had shuffled out, Lestrade asked for a word with the deacon and they both left. John moved to the sofa, where Sherlock had joined Lestrade about halfway through. Sherlock was quiet, but he looked up as soon as John sat down.

"What do you think?" John asked.

"I think you need a name badge."

"Excuse me?"

"A name badge," Sherlock said, his lips twitching in amusement. "With 'Just John' on it."

John laughed and leaned in close, elbowing Sherlock in the side.

"You ridiculous man," he said, curling his fingers around Sherlock's wrist.

"It would certainly be efficient, save a lot of explanations. Maybe you could--"

"Okay, shut up now," John said, resting his other hand against Sherlock's neck. "You are--"

John was cut off as the door opened again and Deacon Thomas appeared, his gaze flicking over the two of them. 

"That sofa is over three hundred years old," he said with a strained expression. John straightened somewhat guiltily as the deacon continued. "Inspector Lestrade had to take a call. He said he would meet you at the car."

"Thank you," John said and the deacon retreated again. 

As soon as he was gone, John let out a helpless giggle and Sherlock's low baritone joined him only a second later. 

"I feel like I've been caught snogging by my mother," John got out, drawing his hand away from Sherlock's neck. "No, actually, your mother."

Sherlock curled his fingers around John's and sat up, bending his head to John's ear. 

"Want to get caught properly?"

John laughed and gave him a little shove.

"Not here. We should probably get moving, Lestrade will be waiting. I don't fancy getting stuck in the middle of Surrey if he gets fed up."

Sherlock huffed but stood up quickly, drawing John with him.

"You still haven't said if you've worked anything out," John pointed out.

"I've got a few ideas," Sherlock said distractedly.

"Care to share?"

"Not yet. Not enough data."

John rolled his eyes, but smiled fondly and followed Sherlock out of the room.

****

Sherlock had been silent for hours, pacing the floor, or sometimes perching on the armchair, his hands occasionally making erratic little movements. He was so completely absorbed in his thoughts that he barely noticed the cups of tea John placed on the nearest raised surface, but he did drink them almost unconsciously in moments of stillness.

John kept out of the way - in a case like this, silence like this usually meant Sherlock was getting close. It was only when Sherlock hadn't even moved in about ten minutes that John looked up from the laptop balanced on his knees. Sherlock was folded up in one of the armchairs, his fingers twisted in his hair, but instead of looking contemplative, he just looked exhausted.

"Sherlock," John called softly.

He had to call Sherlock's name another two times but eventually Sherlock started and turned towards John.

"Did you actually sleep at all last night?" John asked with a frown.

"I'm fine," Sherlock answered a little too quickly.

"Do we need to have this argument again?"

"I can't sleep," Sherlock said quietly, turning his head away.

"Yes, you can," John said firmly. "This case can wait a couple of hours so you can get some rest."

"No, John, I can't sleep. I physically can not sleep. I can't switch off," Sherlock said a little desperately. 

John closed his laptop and set it aside, before patting the space on the sofa next to him. "Come here."

"John-"

"Come here."

Sherlock climbed out of the chair and crossed the room to drop down at John's side.

"Lie down."

Sherlock gave him a look but then complied, lying down with his head in John's lap. John smiled softly and rubbed his fingers against Sherlock's temples, gratified by the almost instant flutter of Sherlock's eyelids.

"You should have told me," John chastised gently.

Sherlock only hummed, some of the tension seeping out of his body as John gently massaged his temples. It went quiet for a while, but John should have known better than to think Sherlock was actually dozing.

"Why is the Church so afraid of homosexuality?" Sherlock murmured.

"This isn't relaxing," John pointed out.

"It's strange though, don't you think, in an organisation that preaches forgiveness and kindness to others."

John sighed, continuing to rub soothing circles against Sherlock's skin.

"I'm not sure it's quite that simple. We're talking about very old scripture, Sherlock; a code of behaviour that's been held sacred for thousands of years and has resisted change because it is inspired by the Divine. For millions of people it is the word of God. What do you want to tell them, that it needs updating because it lacks modern-day context?"

Sherlock hummed lowly, and then went quiet again. John thought he might finally be dozing - until Sherlock spoke up again a few minutes later.

"I'd marry you."

John froze and looked down at Sherlock in astonishment. "Excuse me?"

"I'd marry you," Sherlock said, opening his eyes to meet John's stunned gaze. "If they legalised gay marriage."

John was a little too shell-shocked to make any sort of sensible reply.

"I'm not asking," Sherlock added. "But I'd consider it. I know a civil partnership wouldn't mean the same to you."

John continued to stare at him, but finally shook his daze away.

"You really are the most ridiculous man," John whispered, coaxing Sherlock up so he could kiss him, just a tantalising brush of lips. "You don't even believe in religion, or God. Or in marriage, come to think of it."

"It's different when it comes to you," Sherlock breathed, leaning into John's loose embrace. 

"Mad," John whispered, brushing his lips against Sherlock's. "Now, let's go to bed."

"You're supposed to be helping me sleep."

"I am."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow, but got to his feet anyway and made his way through to the bedroom with John right behind. 

****

Sherlock was gone by the time John woke the next morning, but when John found him in the living room, he looked considerably more refreshed. In fact, he was practically vibrating with excitement and was just pulling on his coat when John entered the room.

"You've got a lead?"

"Yes! No time to explain now, I'll tell you later," Sherlock said, crossing the room to kiss John quickly, before rushing out of the flat. John just shook his head and went to get washed and dressed.

John had planned to visit Lawrence that morning and was just getting ready to leave when the doorbell rang downstairs. He ignored it - it wasn't likely to be for him anyway - but a few moments later, Mrs. Hudson's voice called out as footsteps clattered up the stairs.

"Sherlock? John?"

"In here, Mrs. Hudson," John answered.

Mrs. Hudson appeared a moment later, followed by none other than Deacon Thomas.

"Hello," John got out in surprise.

"Hello."

"No Sherlock, dear?" Mrs. Hudson asked.

"No, he's just popped out. Said he had a lead."

"Oh, I was hoping to see him," Deacon Thomas said.

"If there's anything I can do..." John suggested. "I'd hate for you to have wasted a trip."

"John here's very clever too," Mrs. Hudson spoke up. "He used to be a doctor, you know."

"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson, but there's really no need to pretend I even come close to Sherlock. Nonetheless, I'll do whatever I can to help."

"I'll leave you to it," Mrs. Hudson trilled, and disappeared.

John showed the deacon to the nearest chair and settled opposite him. "Well, uhm, what can I do for you?"

"I was checking the Bishop's diary, and I suddenly remembered that he'd had an appointment the day he was killed, with a visitor who never turned up."

"Right..."

"Well, that's rather suspicious, isn't it?"

John hummed. "There could have been any reason the person didn't turn up," he said reasonably. "If you have the name though, I'll look into it."

John got up to search for a pen and some paper on the desk.

"That's the most interesting thing. He left the name 'Father John Watson'."

John stopped and turned to the deacon in surprise.

"Are you sure?"

"Positive."

John shook his head, dropping his gaze to the desk. 

"May I ask, Mr. Watson, why you left the priesthood?"

John looked up at the deacon and frowned.

"I don't think that's relevant."

"Really?" Thomas countered. "So you didn't leave to carry on a homosexual relationship with Mr. Holmes?"

"I really don't think that's any of your business," John said tersely.

"Tell me, Mr. Watson," Thomas said, getting to his feet. "Have you asked God's forgiveness?"

John blinked, too shocked for a moment to react, and then moved forward, gesturing to the door.

"I think you'd better leave."

"Have you repented for the vile acts you've committed?" Thomas spat out, taking a step closer. 

"Get. Out," John snapped, all attempt at politeness gone.

"You are an abomination," Thomas said in a low voice. "You do not deserve God's grace. You will burn in hell for what you've done."

The deacon hissed the last words and before John could realise his intention, Thomas had tackled him to the floor, his large hands wrapping around John's throat. John hit the floor with a thud, his head bouncing off the floorboards. He struggled as best he could against the other man's hold. Even so, he could feel his air supply being cut off and panic truly started to set in.

"You are an abomination," Thomas repeated, as John helplessly tried clawing at his hands. It was no use - the other man had all the leverage, and was larger than John in the first place.

Black spots were starting to float at the periphery of his vision and John wriggled in vain, fighting with the little remaining strength he had left. His addled mind conjured Sherlock's face behind his fluttering eyelids and it was all he could focus on as the world slowly faded to black.

****

"John."

John could hear his name being called, but it sounded very far away. He struggled to open his eyes and when he finally succeeded, he tiredly shut them again after only a few seconds. It had been just long enough to take in Sherlock's worried face looming over him.

"Sher..." John trailed off weakly. It hurt to speak.

"I'm here," Sherlock said quietly, his voice strangely rough too. John became aware of the pressure on his hand and weakly brushed his fingers against Sherlock's wrist.

"Where?" John got out weakly, trying to open his eyes again.

"You're in the hospital, John," Sherlock explained, his hand resting against John's chest. "Just relax. I'll explain everything later."

John nodded sleepily, his head lolling to one side. Sherlock's grip tightened on his for a moment, and then John was asleep again.

****

The next time he woke, John's head felt somewhat clearer, but he still felt dizzy and weak as he struggled to focus on Sherlock's face.

"You're alright," Sherlock murmured, wrapping his fingers around John's again.

"What happened?"

"What do you remember?"

"The deacon... He came round, he wanted to see you. Except, I don't think he actually did. He... He killed those priests, didn't he?"

"Yes."

John let out a shaky breath, wondering how this man had penetrated so deep into the heart of the Church without raising any suspicion.

"He confessed everything," Sherlock added. "Once he'd woken up."

John frowned in confusion, his mind not quite succeeding in following Sherlock's words.

"For once, my brother's infuriating need to follow my every move - and yours - turned out to be a very good thing. I would have been halfway to Brentwood if he hadn't called to let me know Deacon Thomas had come to 221b."

"Did you suspect him?"

"There were a few things he'd said that made me suspicious. That's why I was heading to Brentwood. However, it seems he couldn't bear to wait any longer to... well, 'fulfil God's wishes' was how he put it. I walked in the door and you were already unconscious. Thankfully, my entrance distracted him and he let you go in order to attack me."

"I'm guessing that didn't work out to well for him," John said with a weak smile. Many men before Deacon Thomas had made the mistake of underestimating Sherlock, and John almost wished he could have been awake to see Sherlock deliver one of his astonishingly effective attacks.

Sherlock just smiled and squeezed John's hand in his, before turning serious.

"John, I... I'm sorry I didn't warn you."

"It's not your fault. I should've realised it was strange for him to have come all the way into London."

"I should've--"

"Sherlock," John cut in, brushing his fingers against Sherlock's wrist. "I'm okay, and a murderer has been stopped. That's what matters, right?"

"I'd rather you'd not been in any danger at all."

"You didn't say that when you took me to that stakeout that turned into a gun fight," John teased.

"That's different."

John laughed and tugged on Sherlock's arm until the younger man bent down and allowed John to pull him into a gentle kiss. Sherlock sighed into the kiss, his hand clenching tightly around John's. 

When they parted, Sherlock pressed his forehead to John's.

"I thought I'd lost you," Sherlock whispered, his voice gone rough. "You weren't breathing and I- I didn't know what to do. If Mycroft hadn't sent the emergency services as backup..."

"I'm okay now," John whispered, stroking a hand over Sherlock's hair. He felt Sherlock shudder, and then he was pressing his mouth to John's in a desperate, hungry kiss. John clung to him, pressing up into the kiss, opening his mouth under Sherlock's onslaught.

A throat being cleared in the doorway drew them reluctantly, breathlessly, apart and when John looked up, Mycroft was leaning against the doorframe, his usual smarmy smile in place.

"John, so glad to see you're feeling better."

"Mycroft," John got out with a polite smile, as Sherlock scowled at his brother - although perhaps not with his usual menace - and settled in the chair next to John's bed. "I believe I owe you thanks."

"Not at all."

"What do I owe you now?" Sherlock asked in annoyance.

"Sherlock, surely you don't think I require compensation for saving John's life. I'd say that accomplishment in itself was reward enough."

Mycroft gave John what approximated to a warm smile - at least as warm as Mycroft could manage, before turning towards his brother. "And after all, I think it's safe to say John has done the same for you many times over."

"Yes, yes. Are you done, Mycroft?" Sherlock got out, apparently having reached the limit of his patience for dealing with his brother.

"I'll leave you to rest then, John. If you need anything while you're recovering, do let me know."

"Thank you," John said.

With a nod, Mycroft was gone and John turned his attention back to Sherlock, reaching out for him. Sherlock stood once more and took John's outstretched hand in his.

"When can I come home?" John asked.

"I'll check."

John smiled softly and squeezed Sherlock's hand as he relaxed back on his pillow once more.

****

Epilogue

"Are you sure about this?" Sherlock asked.

"Yes," John replied with a smile, squeezing Sherlock's elbow and steering him through the enormous wooden doors of Brentwood Cathedral. "I want to do this."

They were greeted by one of the cathedral's canons, and then made their way towards an empty pew. They genuflected and then sat down. John fixed his eyes on the Bishop's coffin on the bier at the front of the cathedral, his hands clasped together. He felt a little uneasy, but he knew it was important to do this - both for himself, and in memory of Malcolm. 

A few minutes later the service began and John listened, enraptured just as he always had been by the unfathomable power of Mass, as Father David went through the Introductory Rites. It was all as familiar as it had ever been: the readings, the songs, the Eucharist. He wasn't surprised when Sherlock chose not to join him to receive Communion, and when he returned to his seat, they shared a small smile, Sherlock's fingers just brushing against his.

Finally, the service finished and the congregation made their way out to the graveside for the final blessings as Malcolm's coffin was lowered into the ground. As the mourners began to dissipate, John stepped forward to pay his own respects, whilst Sherlock waited a few metres away.

When John finally turned away, he was greeted by a familiar face.

"David."

"John."

The two men shook hands, David's hand lingering in his for a moment longer.

"I'm glad you could come," David said softly, his gaze drifting momentarily to the almost-faded bruise on John's neck.

"So am I."

"Mr. Holmes," David greeted as Sherlock joined them.

"Sherlock, please," Sherlock answered, shaking the priest's hand.

"I never got a chance to thank you for your help," David said. "The thought of Deacon Thomas continuing... Well, it's an awful thing to think about."

"Yes," Sherlock agreed in a low voice. "Although I'm not sure I can claim any of the credit. If he hadn't chosen John as his next victim, maybe he wouldn't have been caught."

John had grown increasingly uncomfortable, still plagued by the memories of the deranged man lunging for him, and cleared his throat as he turned towards Sherlock. "Maybe we should get going. It'll be a nightmare getting back into London."

Sherlock gave John an appraising look and then nodded. "Of course."

They said their goodbyes to Father David and left, walking out of the cemetery in silence.

"Are you alright?" Sherlock asked once the cathedral was some distance behind them.

"I'm fine. Honestly." He reached out to brush his fingers against Sherlock's arm. "Thank you for coming with me."

"I trust you can cope by yourself after this," Sherlock suggested with a hint of a smile.

"Come on, it wasn't that bad," John said.

"True," Sherlock agreed. "The homily could have been longer. Your predecessor in Withyham was quite accomplished when it came to hour-long homilies."

John laughed lowly, but forced himself to stop, elbowing Sherlock at the same time. "Stop it. We shouldn't laugh. We've just been to a funeral."

Sherlock smiled and hooked his arm through John's.

"If you say so."

"I do." John smiled widely and squeezed Sherlock's arm against his side. "Now, let's go home."

THE END