Chapter 1: In Which Sherlock Panics
John knew something was wrong. He may normally only see but not observe - after all, why should he do more? That’s not his job, it’s Sherlock’s. He tries, but he can never come close to deducing what Sherlock can. Still, this was the most alarmingly obvious deduction John had ever made.
The first thing that indicated to John that there was something wrong was right in front of him when he entered the flat. Or rather, it was a lack of what was right in front of him. There were no journals or books or case notes to avoid tripping over, no bills or letters scattered across the floor, not even half-empty cups of cold tea beside the couch. John reminded himself that he should thank Mrs. Hudson for all her hard work more often.
Secondly, Sherlock wasn’t sprawled out on the couch staring at the ceiling or shooting holes into the wall, either, which, given that they weren’t on a case, was fairly unusual. There was a smell - not a bad smell, or even the slightly sweet odour that sometimes accompanies chemicals, but the subtle scent of something...floral? John sniffed, but didn’t think too much of it. Mrs. Hudson’s perfume still lingering in the air, maybe.
The most obvious indicator, the one that was really met with a flashing neon sign in John’s head, was the kitchen. The table was cleared of all experiments, the fridge empty of all and any body parts and on the kitchen counter beside the sink sat a mug of tea, still hot, and a plate of biscuits. Not very appetising-looking biscuits, so clearly not baked by Mrs. Hudson, but biscuits all the same. John did get very suspicious at this point.
John had been about to call for Sherlock when said flatmate strolled into the kitchen, hands shoved into the pockets of his trousers and - humming to himself? Odd.
“Ah, John, you’re home,” Sherlock cleared his throat and leaned back against the counter, trying so hard to look casual but really he just ended up looking very uncomfortable.
“Sherlock,” John nodded cautiously. “Everything okay?”
“Yes, of course, why wouldn’t it be?”
“I don’t know,” John shrugged, “you just seem a bit...agitated.”
“Agitated? No, no, I’m fine. Bored. No case for three days. Bored.”
“Where are your experiments gone?”
“All of them?”
“Yes, John, all of them. Sometimes even science takes a break.” Sherlock cleared his throat again, loudly, and stood up straight. He pulled at his shirt collar and his buttons before picking up a pencil from the kitchen table and twirling it between his fingers.
“You’re fidgeting,” John accused, crossing the kitchen to stand in front of Sherlock and plucking the pencil out of his fingers.
“No I’m not,” Sherlock snapped, grabbing the pencil back and tossing it across the room. It landed in the sink with a clatter. John pursed his lips.
“No, no, I guess you’re not. Is Mrs. Hudson home?”
“No, went out at twelve o’clock, I don’t imagine she’ll be home for a while yet. She has a date.”
“Really? That’s nice. With who?”
“A butcher, sixty years old, originally from Liverpool but living in London for the past three years. His son moved to Australia four years ago and so he is currently living in his son’s old flat. It won’t work out though, so I’ll delete all that information later,” Sherlock waved his hand dismissively.
“We should really buy her some flowers or something sometime, Sherlock,” John frowned and looked around the kitchen. “I haven’t seen this place so clean in...well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this place so clean.”
Sherlock’s head snapped around, eyes locking onto John’s. “What are you talking about? I cleaned the flat.”
“You cleaned?” John wondered if his eyebrows were still visible or if they had disappeared completely into his hair.
“Yes, John, that’s what I said, I don’t know why that’s such a surprise,” Sherlock huffed and pushed passed John to the other side of the kitchen. “Look, I made you tea and biscuits too,” he spun around, holding out the cup and plate, eyes wide and the most innocent-looking expression John had ever seen on his face. John sighed.
“Okay Sherlock, what’s going on?”
“Nothing!” Sherlock’s eyes and mouth widened in outrage.
“Sherlock, what did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything John!”
“Why did you make me biscuits then? Wh- what did you put in them? Is this an experiment?”
Sherlock huffed out air and growled a little, slamming the plate and cup down on the table and swearing under his breath when a bit of the tea spilled onto his hand. “All I wanted was to do something nice for you, have the flat clean when you got home, make you a nice treat and I am met with suspicion! For Christ’s sake John, I even bought flowers and put them in your room!”
“You - flowers? Look, I’m sorry Sherlock, it’s just, you’ve never really...I mean, you can’t say you’re not acting a bit...out of sorts,” John bit his lip and hesitantly picked up a biscuit. “Thank you, Sherlock.” It took everything John had not to sniff the biscuit before taking a small bite.
“Mmm, delicious, well done Sherlock,” John forced himself to swallow the awful-tasting biscuit and considered what the most comfortable position would be when leaning over the toilet all night. “Really delicious, did you get the recipe from Mrs. Hudson?”
“Oh, stop it John, I know they taste vile,” Sherlock snapped. “Just...please sit down John. I need to speak to you.” He took a deep breath and raised his eyebrows at John, eyes moving pointedly to the table. With a sigh, John pulled out a chair and sat down.
“John,” Sherlock began, drawing out John’s name. “Earlier today, I received a letter. A very...worrying letter.”
“And that prompted you to do some spring cleaning?” John asked.
“No John,” Sherlock sighed dramatically and flung himself into the chair opposite John. “It was a letter from my mother.”
“Sherlock, this might make sense to you but I’m a total idiot and I still don’t understand why a letter from your mother has anything to do with you cleaning,” John frowned and took a sip of tea. Do not gag was his first thought. His second was dispose of immediately.
“Stop talking and let me explain then! And you’re not a total idiot,” Sherlock murmured, almost as an afterthought. “My mother wrote to me to tell me that my cousin Martin is getting married and I have been invited to the wedding. We were quite close when we were younger, so she thinks it is important for me to go.”
“You’re going to go just because your mum says you should?” John suppressed a smirk. The great Sherlock Holmes doing what Mummy tells him?
“Believe it or not John, I do have some feelings and my mother takes full advantage of that fact by making me feel guilty when I upset her. Never mind having to put up with Mycroft complaining over how I hurt her feelings for the next year,” Sherlock rolled his eyes. “And, like I said, Martin and I got along well when we were younger. It’s been a while since I last saw him but I imagine like most people he’s sentimental enough to still want me there.”
John sat and nodded while Sherlock spoke, struggling to imagine Sherlock feeling remotely guilty over upsetting anyone and picturing him, seven years old, running around the huge garden of some country estate with another young boy - Martin, wielding a plastic sword and pretending to be pirates. John couldn’t resist smiling at the thought.
“I’m sorry Sherlock, but I still don’t understand why you cleaned up,” John shrugged, quickly adding, “Not that I mind you doing it! This is...well, it’s nice coming home and not feeling like I’m walking through an obstacle course when I walk in the door.”
“John, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way.”
“As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I tend to...do things that will make you happy when I’ve done something wrong,” Sherlock said slowly, observing him carefully.
“Right,” John nodded, “like bringing me to that French place for dinner when you burned a hole in my favourite jumper.”
“Yes,” Sherlock paused and stared at John for a long moment - well, it was more like he was staring through him. Thinking hard, then.
“Oh,” Sherlock didn’t quite shake himself out of it, but he was close to it. “Yes. Well, you know I can also be...persuasive. I suppose you could say manipulative. I do things I don‘t want to do in order to get what I want.”
John narrowly avoided shuddering as he was reminded of Sherlock jumping from the roof of St. Barts and the impossible three years that followed. “Sherlock, please just say what you have to say. It’s really not like you to beat around the bush.”
“I need you to do something for me John,” Sherlock’s eyes bore into John’s. Jesus. How serious was this? And what the hell did it have to do with his cousin’s wedding?
“Anything.” Sherlock took a deep breath and spoke in a rush.
“After I came back and told my mother I was alive she became fixated with the idea of finding me a partner because she realised she ‘didn’t want me to die without having experienced love’ and now she’s written to me saying she would have a date for me for Martin’s wedding and if I knew what was good for me I’d be perfectly charming and lovely and get along very well with this woman but I called her and told her that wouldn’t be necessary, but you have to understand John, my mother is a very intimidating woman and I sort of - panicked, and I told her that I already had a date to the wedding and now I need you to come to the wedding with me.”
John opened his mouth. And closed it again. “I - o - you panicked?”
“No, no, bad choice of words, didn’t panic, thought on my feet,” Sherlock shook his head rapidly from side to side like a cartoon character.
“Wouldn’t you just explain to your mother that you’re...y’know, married to your work?”
“I have,” Sherlock muttered.
“She says in this case she would encourage bigamy.”
“Oh. So did - what - did you tell your mother you were gay? Why didn’t you just ask Molly if you needed a cover?”
“John,” Sherlock frowned, “I am gay.”
“Wha - but -”
“John, I told you women weren’t my area and that I am married to my work, which is true, but at another stage in my life before I invented the job of consulting detective I had relationships, with men.”
“Do you have a problem with that? I was under the impression that you didn’t care ab-”
“No, no, of course it’s fine! I’m just,” John was at a loss for words, “surprised.”
It wasn’t really Sherlock being gay that surprised John - it was the fact that he had sexual desires at all. To be honest, he hadn’t put a whole lot of consideration into it. Sherlock told John he was married to his work and John took it to mean that he was asexual and that was that. No point in thinking about it anymore. John was straight, Sherlock was asexual, why would he think about it any more than he needed to?
It also surprised John a little that his stomach flipped excitedly when he heard that Sherlock was gay.
“So will you come with me John? To the wedding? And, well, pretend to-” Sherlock glanced at John before looking down again and apparently examining the kitchen table. “- to be my boyfriend? I don’t - I’m not asking you because - I just thought, if you came, it would be slightly more bearable. I would be less likely to strangle Mycroft, perhaps.” John couldn’t help the snort that escaped him, followed by a fit of giggles. Sherlock hesitantly peeked at John again and started chuckling with him.
“Yeah, I’ll come. What would I do if you upped and married some girl your mother found for you?” John smiled. “Besides, I can hardly say no after you’ve bought me flowers.” Sherlock winced, but the corner of his lips curled in laughter.
“Unnecessary, Sherlock. You know I’d do anything to help you out. Even pimp myself out for a weekend,” John and Sherlock erupted in laughter again. Eventually the two calmed down, glanced at each other, burst out sniggering before finally taking deep, steadying breaths and relaxing. There wasn’t a sound in the kitchen but their breathing and the gentle ticking of the clock.
“Thank you, John.”
Chapter 2: In Which Sherlock And Mycroft Make A Bet
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“So Mycroft, why are you agreeing to go along with,” John waved a hand between himself and Sherlock, “this? I wouldn‘t have thought you would be okay with lying to your mother.”
A little over an hour ago, a sleek black car had pulled up outside Baker Street. Initially Sherlock had glanced out of the window, muttered under his breath and continued playing Beethoven’s Spring Sonata, studiously ignoring John, who cleared his throat pointedly and pulled back the curtains. However, when that piece ended and John heard the opening bars of the first movement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons drifting through the flat, he plonked Sherlock’s bag down in front of him and declared, “We’re going now.”
“No” Sherlock said. “I’m in the middle of a piece.”
“Sherlock, we do not have time to get through a whole year of music. We‘re meant to be meeting your mother for lunch, remember?” John pressed.
“I’m not getting in that car John.”
“Mycroft’s in it.”
“It is his car Sherlock.”
“He has lots of them, he can send a separate one for us. I refuse to spend any more time with him this weekend than I have to.”
John rolled his eyes, fished his phone out of his pocket and sent off a text to Mycroft - Send another car. Not leaving London in that one. The reply came in before John had even put his phone away - Tell your ’boyfriend’ if he does not get into this car immediately, Mummy will be hearing about the incident with the bust in the dining room. John frowned at the phone for a moment - how the hell did Mycroft know about Sherlock and John’s agreement? - before showing Sherlock the text. Sherlock’s eyes widened, the music stopped, he put the violin away and snapped the case shut and glared at John in a way that made John wonder if Sherlock had ever even heard the phrase Don’t shoot the messenger.
Sherlock was currently shooting daggers from his eyes at every tree and sheep that the car passed. It was a large, luxurious car - John sat at the other window, facing Anthea, who hadn’t looked up from her Blackberry once. Mycroft smirked at John from his seat opposite Sherlock. “As Sherlock had told you, Mummy wants his to find love. I’m sure Sherlock did not tell you, that he is in fact not the centre of our mother’s world, no matter how much he believes he is.” Sherlock shot Mycroft a dirty look. “Mummy wishes that the both of us find love. Unfortunately, the only dates she found for me previously were terribly unsuitable and they ended in disaster. So, I too have brought a ‘date’ to the wedding,” Mycroft looked fondly at Anthea, who smiled back briefly before returning her attention to her phone.
“Basically if he tattles on me, I’ll tattle on him,” Sherlock drawled. “And we both know how disappointed Mummy would be to find out that her golden boy lied to her.”
“That is the only way Mummy will be finding out that Anthea is not actually my ‘other half’,” Mycroft said smugly. “She and I have perfected our little act and will be leaving after the weekend with Mummy’s trust and the knowledge that she is completely happy to let me make my own choices from now on about who I date.”
“Are you implying that John and I will not?”
“Well, let’s be realistic here Sherlock,” Mycroft smiled at Sherlock in the most patronising way John could imagine. “You have never been able to lie to Mummy, and do you really think that you and John will be able to convince anybody you are ‘together’?”
“I bet you we will,” Sherlock leaned forward in his seat. “I bet you that everyone will believe that John and I are a real happy couple more than they believe that you and Anthea are. They’ll believe we’re...soulmates,” Sherlock smirked.
“Shall we bet the usual?”
“Of course,” Sherlock grinned and turned to his flatmate. “John, you should know it is vital that we win.”
“Right,” John nodded and looked out the window at the lush green fields they were passing. “Just so I’m sure, do you two ever stop acting like children?”
Mycroft’s lip curled unpleasantly. Sherlock’s eyes met John’s and he grinned mischievously.
* * *
For another forty five minutes, the fields just kept on coming and John wondered if they were ever going to arrive, or if this whole thing had just been some ploy of Mycroft’s orchestrated to drive Sherlock insane. The car was utterly silent for most of the journey. Only when the car turned off the main road onto a narrow country road did Sherlock turn to John and murmur, “This is it.”
The little lane sloped upwards, growing wider again towards the top and bordered by tall, neatly trimmed hedges. John’s mouth dropped open in shock when the gates finally appeared.
John was fully aware that Sherlock and Mycroft came from a wealthy family. Everything about them screamed money - their tailored designer clothes, the hugely valuable antiques that littered Baker Street, Mycroft’s flashy cars, the fact that they obviously went to an expensive private school and, of course, the fact that until John started working with him, Sherlock worked as a consulting detective for absolutely nothing - but John had never imagined they could be this wealthy. The gate alone was an enormous intricate thing with steel roses twisting and twining themselves around the bars while real white roses climbed and stretched across the pillars on either side. “Mummy’s favourite,” Mycroft explained.
The gates opened immediately to the car, which started on a long, broad path to what John could only describe as a mansion. It was a huge, grey brick house, three stories high with Victorian bay windows. Roses were everywhere - bright red roses scaling the walls of the house, delicate little pinks ones in windoew boxes on the upper levels and white rose bushes scattered around the garden. It occurred to John that perhaps addiction and obsession ran in Sherlock’s family. The car had just reached the top of the drive when the large mahogany door swung open and a tall, willowy woman drifted gracefully down the front steps.
Sherlock turned to John, eyes wide. “Listen to me John, it is of the utmost importance that my mother believes we are in a relationship.”
“I know it is -”
“Do not underestimate my mother John. She will appear to be innocent and clueless, but I did not learn to observe and deduce from my father,” Sherlock spoke rapidly. “She will interrogate you until you feel your head is going to melt but you will not even realise it is happening until it’s too late. You must keep a cool head John and do not let her break you.”
“Sherlock, it’ll be fine, I -”
“You remember how we met? Where and when we had our first date? When we became a couple? Our first kiss? - John, my mother will not be afraid to ask personal questions and your answers must be the same as mine!”
“Sherlock, I think I’ll be fine,” John sighed. “We met exactly as we actually did, in St. Barts looking for a flatshare. We were just roommates for a long time but after you came back from the dead, we realised that our feelings for each other ran much deeper and I finally got the courage to ask you on a date an-”
“Remember John, you asked me, my mother will not believe that I asked you. I never instigated relationships.”
“Or stayed in them, for that matter,” Mycroft added. Sherlock spared time to glare at Mycroft.
“Sherlock, I promise you, it will be fine,” John said earnestly. “Really. Just...” the car stopped and the driver jumped out of the car. “Just don’t panic.”
“I don’t panic!” Sherlock’s door was opened and he stepped out with the same grace with which his mother had descended the steps and skirted passed the driver to reach John’s door first. John knew Sherlock would be acting as if he was in love with John, but he was not expecting this. Sherlock opened the door, fixed a radiant smile on his face and held his hand out to John. Hesitantly, after one look at Mycroft and Anthea’s matching smirks, he took Sherlock’s hand gently. Sherlock clutched John’s hand tightly and practically dragged him out of the car, laughing his fake, yet very convincing, laugh, as if he and John were enjoying some lovely joke. John laughed along, but he didn’t think he sounded nearly as convincing. He wondered then slightly if he really could do this, because honestly he hadn’t thought about the ins and outs of all this and how it would feel to be Sherlock’s boyfriend.
“Mummy!” Sherlock grinned, a genuine smile now, and walked forward to greet his mother, never letting go of John’s hand. John had to jog slightly to keep up with Sherlock’s long strides. “Mummy, I want you to meet my boyfriend,” Sherlock pulled John next to him and wrapped an arm around his waist (John barely stopped himself from jumping in surprise), staring at John with such instensity that John had to force himself to tear his gaze away from Sherlock to his mother. “This is John.”
There were times, when John had come home from the pub after having a bit too much to drink, or after Sherlock had called him away from a date to chase down a criminal, that John had wondered what his life would be like if he was dating Sherlock. John wasn’t gay - he definitely liked women - but he supposed there was something...appealing about Sherlock. He could be rude and harsh and completely ruthless, but there was an innocence and a sweetness to him too that John found so charming. And of course John could see that Sherlock was indeed attractive too - you didn‘t have to be gay to see that. John knew everyone else thought he was something special in Sherlock’s life - Sherlock did things for John he would not do for anyone else, told him things he would not tell anyone else, asked things of him he would not ask of anyone else - and John had wondered if Sherlock saw him as something special. If he would actually show affection for him in a way he never ever showed it to anyone else, or if that were even possible for Sherlock. He had wondered if Sherlock would make him an exception, take him on dates, bring him breakfast in bed, kiss him just because he wanted to - if Sherlock would be that dull, or normal, or obvious, just for him, because Sherlock thought John was something special. No matter how drunk John was, he never imagined that was possible.
The way Sherlock said John’s name, as if he was all Sherlock thought about, as if he put everything he felt into that one word, as if he loved John with all his heart - well, it made John feel very special.
“I wouldn’t have thought you did want me to meet him, the way you’ve been hiding him from me for all this time,” Mrs. Holmes chided her son gently. She and Sherlock were very alike. Both were pale, tall and slim and although Mrs. Holmes hair was now a light grey, it reached her shoulders in curls like Sherlock’s. He had inherited her high cheekbones and her full lips and they shared those lovely eyes that were a shade he could never quite figure out. John guessed that Mycroft had taken after Mr. Holmes. “It’s lovely to meet you John,” she smiled, holding out her hand. “Would you believe you’re the first one of Sherlock’s boyfriends that I’ve ever met? He must be quite serious about you.”
“Lovely to meet you too,” John took her hand; her grip was firm, warm, like her son’s, who still had his arm around John’s waist. “It is about time we met though. I don’t know how much Sherlock told you but we’ve been dating for nearly a year now.”
“Yes, Sherlock told me all about you on the phone when I was speaking to him,” Mrs. Holmes’s eyes flicked to her son and back to John, “but you’ll have to tell me all about your relationship at lunch, you know how Sherlock is about telling you things. Ah, Mycroft! And this must be Anthea!” Mrs. Holmes walked around Sherlock and John to her other son and took one of Mycroft’s hands and one of Anthea’s. Anthea chatted confidently with Mrs. Holmes, smiling and laughing at all the right times, resting one hand lightly on Mycroft’s arm while Mycroft looked at her adoringly. John could only wish he had looked anywhere near that comfortable with Sherlock.
“Mummy, I’m going to show John our room,” Sherlock called to his mother, picking up his bag in one hand and reaching out for John’s hand with the other. John slipped his hand into Sherlock’s immediately this time, remembering Mycroft’s bet - why wouldn’t anybody believe Sherlock loved John? - and smiled in a ‘I’m-so-in-love’ sort of way. Mrs. Holmes waved her hand at her youngest son in a dismissive way and continued talking and laughing with Anthea. Sherlock grimaced at the smirk Mycroft sent him.
“Come on,” he muttered, tugging at John’s hand.
First of all, thank you so such for reading and leaving kudos! It really makes my day every time I see that somebody has left kudos :)
Secondly, I want to apologise for the long gap in updating. I was hoping to update sooner but unfortunately my laptop has been acting up and decided it wasn't going to turn on for the past few days (plus I just got my first ever 9 to 5 job and am finding it really really hard to understand how anybody has the energy to do anything after a day at work!)
Lastly, unfortunately (well, fortunately for me, unfortunately if you're reading the story and hoping for a quick update) I'm going on holiday for two weeks and so the next update probably won't be until two and a half or three weeks time. Sorry!
Again, thank you so much for reading and please keep reviewing. Hope you enjoyed this chapter!
Chapter 3: In Which Sherlock Becomes Agitated
I have a huge apology to give you all - I am so sorry it has taken me so long to update. I was hoping to update much sooner and really I don't have a very good excuse. I could always say that I'm just keeping with canon and having a huge gap between Chapters 2 and 3! Anyway, I promise I'll be more consistent in future and if you're still reading, thank you so much!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sherlock dropped John’s hand as soon as the door shut behind them and stood in the foyer, looking around. John had grown to be able to read Sherlock quite easily - not in the way Sherlock could read people, but most of the time he could guess how he was feeling. Sherlock’s face was a blank mask, but the way he held himself, shoulders slightly hunched and fingers drumming against his thigh, and the way his eyes shifted around made John think he was...nervous? Wary? John couldn’t figure it out this time.
The house was everything John had expected and more. It wasn’t too showy or ostentatious, but it was tastefully decorated in rich colours and gleaming vases that held, of course, roses of every colour and John edged a little closer into the middle of the room for fear of knocking over one of them. On one wall of the foyer was a large mirror and, Christ, John hadn’t realised he looked so terrified, while on the wall opposite hung a portrait of a short, stout man with a moustache and an angry brow. John couldn’t help taking a dislike to the man in the photo, especially when he glanced at Sherlock and saw that his eyes had fixed on the man’s face, mouth turned down and his forehead creased in anger. And something else too, but again, John couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
“Hmm? Oh,” Sherlock blinked and turned to John. “My father,” he waved a hand dismissively at the portrait and took a deep breath. “Let’s go.”
Sherlock walked briskly through the hallways, but he curled in on himself slightly as if he was wounded or carrying something heavy. Back in Baker Street, Sherlock seemed to fill up the entire room. He would stride across the living room, waving his hands around as he spoke and told John all about how the view from a victim’s window proved that the murderer was the neighbour three doors down. He stood tall and strong and even though he was as skinny as a toothpick he managed to take up the whole room, not to mention taking up a significant amount of space in John’s head. Here though, Sherlock was small and he was swallowed up by the manor’s gigantic corridors.
There was only one time that John had seen Sherlock like this before. Late one night - the 3rd of May - John got a call from Mrs. Hudson, asking him to come and visit her the next day. John had initially said no - Mary had finally reached her breaking point and left him and really, there was only one person he wanted to be around on the 4th of May and there was no chance of that happening - but after she had broken down in tears and begged John to be there because she couldn’t stand to be alone in Baker Street on Sherlock’s third anniversary, he reluctantly agreed to see her. John didn’t know if Mrs. Hudson knew when she called him that night - though he suspected she did - but he never asked because he knew the answer would only make him angry with one of them. Either way, Sherlock appeared in Mrs. Hudson’s kitchen on the 4th of May, the third anniversary of his death, looking the way he did now. Worn down. Lost. Broken.
It was only when John had taken several deep breaths, punched the bastard in the face and hugged Sherlock as close to him as he possibly could that Sherlock finally let a smile creep onto his face and he almost seemed like his old self again.
John hesitantly put his hand on Sherlock’s forearm. Sherlock stopped so suddenly it was as though a current of electricity had passed through him.
“John?” Sherlock’s gaze moved from John’s hand to his eyes and back again.
“Sorry,” John cleared his throat and removed his hand. “I just... I’m here.” It was nowhere near what John really wanted to say - where is my Sherlock gone? What happened to you here? Leave, Sherlock, run, I’ll come too, please, I cannot stand to see you like this, I never wanted to see you like that again, you can trust me I promise, I’ll be there for you, tell me, I can help you, please - but Sherlock seemed to understand and one corner of his lips lifted up into a half smile for John.
Sherlock’s rooms were in the East Wing of the estate - John tried to keep his jaw from dropping when Sherlock told him that he and Mycroft had a whole wing to themselves when they were growing up - and all together probably were the same size as 221B, including John’s room upstairs. Sherlock pushes the double doors open - John wonders idly how long somebody had to polish the mahogany for to get them that shiny - to reveal the lounge, a room that was painted in midnight blue and that John was sure was at least three times the size of his and Harry’s shared room in their parents’ house. At the back of the lounge was another set of double doors that led into the most luxurious bedroom John had ever been in.
Sherlock visibly relaxed as soon as they entered his own rooms - all the tension left his body and his bag literally dropped to the floor. Sherlock’s room was furnished much more extravagantly than his room in Baker Street, but in a way they were similar enough. There were bookshelves that reached the ceiling covering the walls either side of the double doors to Sherlock‘s bedroom, filled with thick volumes written in French and Latin and German and and tonnes of books on biology and chemistry and John thought for a moment that he spied one on astronomy (though that one was covered in a very thick layer of dust). To John’s left was an enormous fireplace, on top of which sat assorted trinkets, shiny things that spun in the breeze or made light tinkling sounds (John imagined a young Sherlock running around the estate and taking these things that fascinated him to his room to take them apart and figure out how they worked), insects encased in glass and higher up on the wall, a stuffed animal - not the plush type you would give to an ordinary child, though John suspected Sherlock appreciated this much more. A highly-polished desk sat in the corner next to the fireplace, littered with papers and petri dishes (Sherlock let out a sigh and mumbled “Oh thank God,” when he glanced into the petri dishes and saw they hadn’t been cleaned out). There were huge bay windows with cushy seats in the two other walls, beside which tall racks held various bottles of what John presumed were chemicals, and what he hoped were reasonably safe chemicals.
John got the feeling, looking at the French chaise longue chairs, the huge deep snow white couch in front of the fireplace and the fluffy white shag rug on the floor that must have cost a fortune, that Sherlock was allowed to stuff his room with all the ancient tomes, chemicals and dead animals and insects that he wanted on the condition that Mrs. Holmes was the one to furnish the room. There was no mismatched furniture as there was in their sitting room in Baker Street. Everything was obviously carefully chosen from high-end stores, artistically placed and kept obsessively clean. The light, billowing drapes matched the rug, which matched the colour of the bedroom walls exactly. The midnight blue of the lounge walls was carried onto the silk bedding and the silk curtains and all the little things scattered around the bedroom that it never would have crossed John’s mind to think of. Sherlock, evidently, got his eye for detail from his mother.
Sherlock took off his coat, hung it up on a coat hook on the back of the door and coughed. John had been so busy gawping at the room that he hadn’t even realised that Sherlock was waiting uncomfortably for a response.
“This is...this is lovely Sherlock, very...you,” John’s lips curled up into a grin, but Sherlock still seemed unsure as to whether ‘you’ was a compliment or not. “I like your room Sherlock,” John clarified.
“Good...I...good,” Sherlock coughed. “Well, make yourself at home, I suppose. I, uh, I called ahead, I - there’s an empty drawer in the bedroom for your clothes and some space in the closet. Just - just take what you need .”
“Sherlock, this is your house, you don’t have to be nervous or -”
“I’m not nervous!”
“Well, just relax then. You’re...agitated.”
“Oh, not this again. Is that your new favourite word now? I’m fine.”
“Okay. If you say so.”
“I do.” Sherlock took a deep breath and started to move towards the couch, then the door to the bedroom, then back to John again before spinning around and waving his hands around in front of him like he does when he rants or is in his Mind Palace, eventually coming to a sudden stop in front of John.
“Just...just you - my mother - Mycroft - convincing John, you must be convincing and you are a terrible actor.”
“Thank you for that vote of confidence Sherlock,” John chuckled. “But I think your mother is a lot more likely to believe us if you would just calm down. We did fine outside. You were very believable.” I almost believed you love me.
“I didn’t think this through John,” Sherlock shook his head and started to pace up and down. “No, I thought it through, I considered all the variables, but I don’t know, actually doing it is-”
“Sherlock, we’ve gone under cover before for cases. You once convinced a man you were a German drug dealer!” John stood in Sherlock’s path to put an end to his pacing. Sherlock stared at a spot on the wall behind John. “What is different about this? And don’t tell me it’s your mother, because you were fine with her outside. What’s bothering you?”
Sherlock sighed and covered his face with his hands. “It’s...this is different, John. We have never gone under cover as a couple before. You are straight, I am - I am not the relationship type. How can we possibly be realistic? Will you be comfortable doing...putting on a show?”
“Sherlock, I know this isn’t a normal situation but I can handle it. We both can,” John said, and he meant it. If he had to hold Sherlock’s hand, he would. If he had to put his arm around his waist, or hug him, or kiss him, he would. If convincing Sherlock’s mother that they were a couple meant that Sherlock could stay single and be happy, then John would do whatever it took. If he was being honest with himself, John would do anything to keep Sherlock happy.
Besides, Sherlock and John had never had an ordinary friendship. Sherlock never had many friends, so he clearly didn’t understand the boundaries of friendship. John was fairly used to being poked and prodded and generally having his personal space invaded in the name of science or for the key to solving a crime or just because Sherlock didn’t realise friends didn’t get that close. Being woken up in the middle of the night by Sherlock climbing into his bed to discuss a case wasn’t an irregular occurence. It never occured to Sherlock that two males friends stripped down to their boxers - who were nothing more than friends and didn’t want to be anything more - didn’t share a bed in the middle of the night. To Sherlock, it was just two friends discussing work and the logical thing to do was to snuggle down under John’s covers to keep warm. It didn’t mean anything to Sherlock, so John supposed he shouldn’t let it mean anything to him either.
Kissing Sherlock wouldn’t be that big of a leap. It would just be acting. Like playing out how a murder was carried out with Sherlock. It would mean nothing.
(Only really, John felt, it sort of would.)
(But he would do it anyway, because it would keep Sherlock happy.)
* * *
“Time for lunch, darling,” John called to Sherlock from the lounge, pulling at his tie and the collar of his shirt. “Do I look okay?” Unknown to John, Sherlock had ordered him four new suits and a bundle of new shirts from his designer on Saville Row (Sherlock sent John the most patronising look one could imagine as he told John “Of course you can’t wear that jumper to lunch, John. Do you want my mother to think you were born in a barn?” and pointed him towards his new suits in the walk-in wardrobe).
“Yes, fine. Much better.” Sherlock stepped out of the bedroom, frowning at the tie knotted in his hands.
“Are you wearing a tie? You never wear ties,” John smiled to himself as Sherlock twisted and turned the tie, his forehead creasing in concentration.
“My mother insists at lunches such as this,” Sherlock muttered.
“Lunches like this? What do you mean?”
“You didn’t honestly think this was just going to be lunch with my mother, did you?” Sherlock stopped fussing with his tie long enough to look at John.
“Obviously not. She’s probably invited the whole family and half of the world’s royalty,” he ignored John’s shocked look. “Old friends, aquaintances, work friends and the likes.”
“Where did your mother work?” Sherlock just smirked at John and resumed fiddling with his tie.
“Here, let me,” John laughed and took the tie out of Sherlock’s hands. He played around with it for a while before just untying it completely and starting again. “You made such a mess of that I couldn’t fix it.”
Sherlock stayed still while John fixed the tie and patted it down and didn’t move again when John finished.
“Darling?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Do you prefer ‘honey’?” John replied innocently. The two burst into a fit of giggles.
Thank you for leaving comments and kudos! It means a lot to me and I would love if you would continue to!
Chapter 4: In Which John Meets 'The Other Half'
This chapter is dedicated to the wonderful Latte429, who has very very kindly translated this story into Chinese.
The name of this chapter refers to the phrase 'How the other half lives', just in case you were wondering. I've been fighting with this chapter for two weeks, but I think I came out on top. Hope you enjoy it!
Sherlock was right - this wan’t just lunch with his mother. This was a full blown garden party, complete with caterers, fascinators and a string quartet. Considering Sherlock was the nervous one, he acted more comfortable than John did. Though, to be fair, he had probably been attending events like this since he was old enough to walk.
Mrs. Holmes had greeted them at the bottom of the main staircase.
“Oh darlings, you look fabulous!” she gushed, taking one of John’s hands and one of Sherlock’s. “Yes, this is much better than that old jumper John, I’m so sorry Sherlock didn’t explain to you what I meant when I said lunch.”
“Thank you Mrs. Holmes,” John replied politely, trying to not be too offended by all the verbal abuse his favourite knit jumper was getting that day.
“Oh, call me Violet, dear,” she patted his hand and turned to Sherlock, holding him now by the shoulders with both hands. “And Sherlock darling, how nice to see you all spruced up. I never understand how one can spend so much money on clothes and still manage to buy such awful suits. All about three sizes too small for you too,” she shook her head with a fond smile. Sherlock rolled his eyes, but John could see that he was tempted to smile too.
“Now John, I gather that you aren’t used to lunches like this but I don’t want you to worry,” Violet linked her arm through John’s and began to walk him through the hallways. John reached behind him only slightly frantically for Sherlock, who quickly fell into step with him and put a hand on the small of his back. “Sherlock was probably frightening you upstairs with horror stories from his childhood,” she shot Sherlock a withering look around John, “but I’ve kept it small for today. Just a few friends of the family, relatives - oh Sherlock, did I tell you Martin is here? Very traditional, the fiance, didn’t want to see him until the wedding so she kicked him out of the house and sent him to his mother’s, but of course Meredith still disapproves of the poor girl so he’s staying here.” Sherlock made a vague noise that made it unclear whether or not he was listening.
“Meredith, my foolish brother’s wife, God rest his soul,” Violet explained to John. “Horrid woman, I always thought so, but would James listen to me? No. Anyway, she doesn’t like Martin’s fiance, something about “class” or “social status” or the likes - that’s code for “the girl isn’t good enough because she doesn’t have money”. Ridiculous, if you ask me, she’s a delightful girl and if Martin is happy, then let him be! Charming young fellow Martin, you’ll like him. He’s a bit of an oddball to be honest, but who in this family isn’t?” Violet took a moment out of her rapid speaking to laugh. It is a family thing then. “He and Sherlock used to play in the garden all day, running and jumping around. Did terrible damage to my roses, mind. What was it you two used to play dear?”
Sherlock was blushing - actually blushing. “I don’t really remember, actually.”
“Oh, you must, darling,” Violet pressed. “Didn’t you - yes, you played pirates, wasn’t it? How could I forget? He cut up a red and white striped towel to make a bandana and sash and ran about in his best waistcoat and a pair of bright blue pajama bottoms. He would come back covered in mud and - actually, I must have a photo somewhere around here -”
“No mummy, that won’t be necessary,” Sherlock interrupted quickly. “I should introduce John to...well, everyone,” then under his breath, “Might as well get it over with.”
“Now Sherlock, is that any attitude to have about introducing your family and friends to the love of your life?” Violet arched an eyebrow at him.
“No,” Sherlock grimaced, then fixed a smile onto his face and wrapped his arm securely around John’s waist. “I suppose I just want to keep him all to myself.” Violet beamed at them as Sherlock dragged John away from his mother.
Sherlock came to a stop at the door to the back garden and looked at John warily. “Ready?” He held out a hand.
“As I’ll ever be,” John smiled and grasped Sherlock’s hand tightly.
John felt that his impression of a fish must have vastly improved with all the gaping his mouth had been doing that day. This couldn’t be defined as a back garden. Not by John’s definition anyway. To John, a back garden was the type of thing he and Harry had grown up in - a small patio and a patch of overgrown grass big enough to kick a ball around. This - this was like the beautiful park around the corner from John’s childhood home that he had loved spending time in. The doors opened onto a wide terrace that overlooked the estate. Four steps led down to the lawn that ran on for miles, broken only by paths that wound off in different directions and dotted with colourful rose bushes and, right in the centre of the lawn, a fountain. In the distance, at the end of one of them numerous paths, was a dark blue lake that sparkled in the rare sunshine that was there today.
At the moment, a huge white gazebo was standing on the lawn to the left of the fountain, under which sat round tables and a stage for the string quartet.
And at least fifty people.
This was keeping it small?
“Don’t worry,” Sherlock whispered to John. “Most of the people here are not only unbearably pretentious but infuriatingly dull. I wouldn’t ask even ask you to meet them.”
“Says the man who’s asked me to pretend I’m his gay lover,” John joked.
“Come on, I’ll introduce you to a few people who’ll actually remember your name and hopefully that’ll be enough for my mother for one day,” Sherlock said as he led John down the steps.
John tried to ignore the way his stomach twisted nervously as Sherlock strolled confidently across the lawn. The only indication that Sherlock wasn’t really as comfortable as he seemed was the way his hand tightened instinctively for a moment around John’s when they approached a table of people in designer dresses and expensive suits with Eton educations. Brief introductions were made - “Boyfriend did you say, Sherlock? Well imagine that. John, was it? Lovely to meet you” - followed by muttering (loudly) amongst themselves - “Sherlock’s got a boyfriend, isn’t that just delightful?” John got the feeling that delightful didn’t necessarily mean good. More like interesting. Odd. Shocking.
Sherlock was true to his word and only introduced him to a few of the guests, all of whom inspected John with arched eyebrows and bemused expressions. Finally Sherlock brought him to an empty table and called over a waiter carrying a tray of champagne. Sherlock downed the glass in one and took another before the waiter walked away.
“You don’t drink,” John commented, taking a sip of his own drink. God, one bottle of this stuff probably cost what John earned in a month when he was working at the surgery.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Sherlock muttered, looking around the garden. “Oh, brilliant,” he sighed.
“Just, wait here. There’s one more person you have to meet. I’ll bring him over,” Sherlock pursed his lips, pulled his shoulders back, stuck his chin in the air and walked briskly away from John towards a group of men gathered at the fountain, laughing obnoxiously.
“Hello John,” Mycroft appeared out of nowhere by his elbow, a smug smile on his face. “You and Sherlock have a little tiff already?”
“No,” John replied, rolling his eyes. “My wonderful boyfriend is saving me from extraordinary dullness and pretentiousness, I think. What about Anthea? Cheating on you with her Blackberry?”
Mycroft simply smirked and nodded towards the other end of the gazebo, where a table of guests and Violet were hanging on Anthea’s every word. John’s gaze shifted to Sherlock who, on the other hand, was frozen in place by the fountain, chin still pushed up into the air, but now his shoulders had slumped - just a subtle difference that nobody but John would see - and his face was a blank mask. The men around him were still roaring with laughter and their laughter seemed to be directed at Sherlock.
“I - see you later Mycroft,” John said, gulping back his drink and marching over to the fountain. As he got closer, he could hear the men speaking.
“...didn’t actually believe Holmes was in a relationship, did you Andrew?” a tall, burly man - the type John would have played rugby with - snorted.
“Not really no,” another man - Andrew, presumably - laughed along. “But Violet Holmes told my mother the other day that Sherlock here was coming home and bringing a date. I knew it couldn’t be true. Who would put up with this pain in the arse?”
“Poor Mrs. Holmes, getting all excited like that,” the tall man chuckled. “Do you always let your mum down Holmes?”
John gritted his teeth and pushed his way into the circle, not bothering to even try to be polite. Sherlock’s face - so carefully composed that even John could only barely see the hurt showing in the tiny movements he made - broke out into a grin at the sight of John. John immediately flung his arm around Sherlock’s waist and held on tightly and, not caring that they were just friends, or that he was in public, or that he was straight and caring only that these men were insulting Sherlock, his best friend, the man who made his life worth living, kissed Sherlock firmly on the lips.
“Oh,” Sherlock breathed, sounding awed, when John pulled away.
(The kiss had lasted less that five seconds. It doesn’t count as a kiss, John figured.)
(He also wondered when his lips would stop tingling.)
(He wondered if it would help if he were to kiss Sherlock again.)
“Sorry I took so long love,” John smiled at Sherlock, whose mouth was still open a little in shock, and turned to the others. “Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt,” he grinned at them, trying to look sheepish. “I’m John Watson, Sherlock’s boyfriend.”
“These are some of my old schoolmates,” Sherlock explained.
It was as if John had broken the men with his actions. They didn’t move. They didn’t speak. The stupid grins were still stuck on their faces from moments before. Let’s rub it in.
“I was just on the phone to Greg,” John said to Sherlock. “Scotland Yard is falling apart without you down there. And he said you were spot on with the last case, too. There’ll be a big knees-up when we get back to celebrate. Greg’s so delighted, he’s invited everyone - Molly, Sally, Lizzie” - as if they would ever call Mrs. Hudson Lizzie - “Anderson, Mike, Sarah” - now he was just naming anyone he could think of - “everyone! Kept saying it was about time we had a party in your honour, too, with all the work you’ve done. You never let anyone down,” John added pointedly.
“Well, isn’t that nice of him,” Sherlock let a small smile creep onto his face.
“You don’t deserve anything less, love,” John grinned like a maniac at him, unable to help himself. The men still stared on as if wires in their brain had short-circuited. John turned to them. “Did Sherlock tell you? He’s always helping Scotland Yard with their hardest cases, you know the ones that would otherwise go unsolved,” John explained, a proud smile plastered across his face. “Everyone loves him down there.”
“Uh huh,” one of the men managed.
“Anyway, Mycroft’s looking for you,” John said, already guiding Sherlock out of the circle. “Nice meeting you all, I suppose.”
“Hold on,” Sherlock whispered, turning back to the men. “Come with us, Martin,” he called to a man sitting on the wall of the fountain whom John hadn’t noticed before, but who was looking positively ecstatic, rather than shocked.
The three returned to the gazebo, where John was properly introduced to Sherlock’s cousin Martin, the groom, who looked fairly like Sherlock but was much more...human. Compared to the Holmes family, he was a normal, friendly guy, who worked as a pilot and was just as uncomfortable at this classy lunch as John was.
* * *
Mycroft was joined by his mother shortly after John left him. The two watched as John made a big deal out of Sherlock in front of the boys who had been Sherlock’s childhood torturers and who were only invited because their parents were a part of Violet’s social circle. They giggled to each other as he went completely overboard.
“So tell me Mummy, what do you think of John?” Mycroft raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, he’s a sweet boy,” Violet smiled fondly at her youngest son now striding confidently away from the bullies. “He’s good for Sherlock. John takes care of him?”
“Excellently. I have never met anyone quite like Dr. Watson,” Mycroft took a sip of his drink. “He is willing to do things for Sherlock that nobody else would ever consider and seems to enjoy it. He cares more for Sherlock than I think even he realised. He was distraught when Sherlock left. If I hadn’t sent Mary to stay with him I doubt he would be alive today.”
“That doesn’t make what you did any less cruel, Mycroft,” Violet scolded. “Paying somebody to get into a relationship with the man. Playing with his emotions like that.”
“It was the only way Mummy,” Mycroft sighed. “John needed a shoulder to cry on and he wouldn’t accept anyone’s help. He needed company but he wasn’t going to find it himself, not in the state he was in. And Mary wasn’t paid. She was a friend of Anthea’s looking for a relationship. I simply compensated her with the understanding that no matter how she felt about John she would leave when Sherlock returned.”
“What if she was happy with him? If he with her?”
“Then I would have let them be.”
“Did he love her?”
“Not like that,” Mycroft replied, watching John and Sherlock, head close together, deep in conversation. “Mary was nearly at breaking point anyway. Even being so generously compensated, one can only take so much of coming second to a dead man after three years.”
Mycroft and Violet simply watched Sherlock and John for a while. At times their act was strained, like when they were trying to show off to Mummy, but when nobody was watching them, they were the most natural couple in the world. Their hands stayed linked under the table, resting on John’s leg. They joined in conversation with Martin, but every so often they would glance at each other, as if to reassure themselves that the other was still there, and smile.
How was it that a romantic like John Watson and one of the most observant men in the world had never realised that they were perfect for each other?
“How is Sherlock with John?” Violet asked. “Heaven knows he isn’t easy to live with. Do we really want to put poor John through a relationship with him?”
“He is a different man with John,” Mycroft said simply.
“Good,” Violet nodded. “Hopefully at least one of them will realise this weekend how they feel. After all, life imitates art. You don’t mind that you’ll have to lose the bet to Sherlock, then?”
“If Sherlock wins the bet, I will not consider it a loss to me.”
Another moment passed as they watched Sherlock turn his head and rest it on John’s shoulder, unable to stop himself giggling at something like a little boy. John grinned down at him affectionately.
Violet moved to block her eldest son’s view of Sherlock. “Now, down to the harder business. What about you?”
“You, Mycroft. You may like to believe you don’t care, but we both know your heart is not made of stone,” Violet gazed sternly at her son.
“She doesn’t care for me as I do for her,” Mycroft’s eyes shifted to Anthea, who had entranced the table with one delightful story or other.
“You won’t know that until you try,” Violet pressed. “She is just as good as you are at hiding things.”
“Fix up one relationship at a time, Mummy,” Mycroft sighed, stepping around his mother and heading to take a seat next to Anthea.
Chapter 5: In Which John Tells A Lie (But Of Course It's The Truth Really)
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“So John, you have to tell me all about yourself,” Violet smiled sweetly at John from across the table, hands clasped under her chin. The first course of lunch had been taken away - “There’s more than one course for lunch?” John frowned when he saw the row of knives and forks on either side of his plate. Sherlock gave him a look that clearly said, “Don‘t be an idiot John.” - and John had actually been doing quite well at holding conversations with some of Sherlock‘s relatives. Nothing too intense, but he managed to discuss work and the weather and all the things that you discuss with people you don‘t know. In fact, he was doing a better job at being sociable than Sherlock, who just sat scooping up some soup and letting it run off the spoon back into the bowl again, occasionally whispering deductions about the other guests in John‘s ear, none of which were complimentary. “Why on earth did you move in with Sherlock in the first place?”
“To be honest I don’t know. A moment of madness, maybe,” John grinned at Sherlock, whose lips quirked up. “Whatever it was, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
“Oh,” Violet sighed, “isn’t that lovely? And when was it exactly that you two - ” she waved a hand between them, “got together? Sherlock tells me very little about his life, but Mycroft first mentioned you, oh, it must be nearly six years ago now, is it?”
“God, has it been that long since I got back from Afghanistan?” John shook his head. Time flies. “It was a few months ago, a little while after Sherlock got back,” John said, hoping the ‘from the dead’ was implied and he wouldn’t be forced to say it. Violet raised her eyebrows at John, expecting him to continue. He tried to ignore her and took a sip of his drink. Sherlock had told him to keep his answers short and that was exactly what he was asked to do.
Anthea, sitting between Violet and Mycroft, laughed. “Come on now boys, are you really going to deprive everyone of the adorable story of how you two got together?” She turned to Violet. “They were all talk on the drive up here, Sherlock especially, telling the story over and over and over again.”
“If it’s that good I want to hear it,” Martin chimed in from beside John. Anthea and Mycroft both pinned sickeningly sweet smiles to their faces. I hate you two.
John glanced at Sherlock, who nodded slightly. “Okay then,” he sighed. Stick as close to the truth as possible. That was what Sherlock had said. Less room to be caught out on questioning then. “Sherlock had been back two or three weeks. It was hard to be back in Baker Street. It was...really strange actually.” He chanced a peek at Sherlock. For the first time since they sat down for lunch he was paying attention, listening closely and staring intently at John. John had never intended to tell Sherlock how he felt in the time after he returned - after all, if he cared, Sherlock could deduce it - and having him care so much now was a little disconcerting.
“I, uh, I had found it difficult without him there. Difficult to...well, I mean, he was my best friend. He is my best friend,” John added quietly, staring at the napkin he was twisting and folding on his lap. “I never got used to not having him around. Even when I was living with Mary - that - she was my girlfriend, for a while, when Sherlock was gone - even then, I was still expecting texts asking me to bring home milk or to come to a crime scene or something,” John smiled bitterly to himself. Probably best not to mention that I still saw you everywhere I went and heard your voice in my head every day. “But at the same time, I knew that he was gone. I believed it.” John looked up at Sherlock, still concentrating on what John was saying, mouth opened slightly. “Too convincing for his own good. Or my good, really.”
“Anyway, when he came back and we moved back in together - I mean, it was just unbelievable. I was so happy, but it was the strangest thing. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Enjoy it while it lasts, because any minute now you’re going to wake up and he’s going to be gone again.’ It was what I had wished for all the time when I thought he was gone, but believing that he was alive was much harder than believing he was dead. No matter how much I wanted it to be true.”
Sherlock was no longer looking at John. Instead he was staring at his hands, frowning.
“Long story short, two or three weeks later, Greg Lestrade from Scotland Yard called looking for help on a case and then it occured to me that that meant I wasn’t imagining this. We were at a crime scene and I had just finished examining the body. Sherlock was doing what he does best - being brilliant and showing off to everyone. Then he said something - I can’t remember exactly what it was anymore, but it was something about how we were all utter idiots for not noticing the victim’s eyebrows or something like that - I don’t think it was really to do with what he said anyway. I just remember thinking, ‘Sherlock’s back. He’s here. He’s a genius and he’s insulting me but he just lights up the whole room.’ And then I thought, ‘How did I ever survive without this man?’” John laughed to himself, not even noticing that Violet had teared up or that Anthea was staring at the place name card in front of her, looking guilty or that Sherlock had closed his eyes and was clenching his hands under the table.
The table was silent, but eventually Martin timidly asked, “Then what?”
Get back on track John. “Then when we got home from the case that night, after Sherlock had figured it all out and caught the murderer, we were sitting in front of the telly eating Chinese. We were on the couch. Normally we never sit on the couch together, normally Sherlock steals the couch and I sit in the armchair, but I didn’t want to be too far away from him that night. I needed to - to have him there,” John wouldn’t dare look at Sherlock, not now, not while what he was saying was still the truth. Did Sherlock know that? Did he remember that night as well as John did, when they were sitting so close together because John needed to know that Sherlock was real, and Sherlock needed to know that he was finally home?
Stop John. Tell them the story. The one you rehearsed with Sherlock.
(The one you want to be real?)
(No. You imagined what it would be like when Sherlock came up with the story. That does not mean you want it to be real.)
(You would like to know what it’s like though, wouldn’t you? To be that special to him?)
Tell the story John. Move on.
“We were watching Doctor Who. Sherlock hates it, but he watched it anyway because I wanted to. He was complaining about how something just couldn’t possibly happen and how ridiculous the show was, so I told him to shut up, kissed him and asked him what he was doing tomorrow night,” John grinned and took Sherlock’s hand, out of his own head now and back in the act. Sherlock stared at John’s hand around his and ran his thumb over a scar across John’s knuckle. He struggled to smile, but added, “We went to Angelo’s the next night. It just went on from there.”
Violet smiled at Sherlock and John, eyes watering. “Oh dear,” she laughed, dabbing at her eyes with a hankerchief. “Look at me, getting so emotional. Silly.” She sighed happily. “I’m just glad to see you so happy Sherlock. Thank you John.”
The waiters came with the second course and, thankfully, the conversation moved to the easier topic of their most recent murder case.
(John tried his best to ignore the feeling of guilt in him that was getting stronger with every kind word Violet said.)
* * *
“So the two of you will come?” Martin’s eyes darted from Sherlock to John, face lit up with excitement. To be honest, Sherlock looked like he would rather tell Anderson that he loved him than go to Martin’s stag night tonight, but John saw his expression soften when he saw how delighted Martin was at the idea.
“Of course we will,” he said grudgingly.
“Great! It’ll be fantastic, I promise,” Martin beamed. “You can meet some of the fellas from work - well, there’s only two of them, Arthur and Douglas, but you’ll like them,” Martin paused. “Maybe though Sherlock, you could go easy on Arthur. Please.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be on my best behaviour,” Sherlock rolled his eyes, before narrowing them, staring over Martin’s shoulder. “Excuse me, I’ll be back in a moment.”
Martin waited until Sherlock was out of earshot before turning back to John and grinning.
“Jesus John, you must be something really special,” he shook his head in amusement.
“Sherlock, he’s just - it’s incredible,” Martin shrugged. “I haven’t seen him so happy in a long, long time. I mean, he was laughing earlier, actually laughing! I know it sounds crazy, but I nearly died of shock. He was so miserable for so long, but around you he’s like a different person.”
John shook his head. “No, I don’t think that’s because of me, really...”
“It is, I’m telling you,” Martin insisted. “Listen, I’ve known Sherlock my whole life. We were best friends when we were little, but I haven’t seen him laughing since we were eleven years old. And normally he won’t even speak when he’s back in this place! I don’t know what you did John, but thank you. It’s nice to have the old Sherlock back.”
John shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably. “Well I don’t know what I did either,” he scratched the back of his head, “but I’m glad.” He glanced over Martin’s shoulder to try see Sherlock, but couldn’t spot him. “What uh...why won’t - why is Sherlock so unhappy here? You said he doesn’t even speak...”
Martin frowned and fidgeted nervously. “I - it’s - I don’t know John. I mean, I know, but I don’t think Sherlock - I think - ” Martin stopped and took a deep breath, forehead creasing in concentration. “It’s complicated John. I’m sorry. I think if Sherlock hasn’t told you then I shouldn’t be the one to do it. It’s not my business to tell.”
“No, that’s...fine. I understand.”
“Thanks,” Martin nodded. “It’s just, he’s never told anyone.” Martin took a sip of champagne and checked his watch. “Listen John, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. I need to talk to the caterers and the priest and the tailor and let Anna know how it’s all coming along. I’ll see you tonight though?”
“Yeah sure,” John smiled. “It was nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Martin bit his lip, considering his words. Eventually he seemed to come to a decision, nodded to himself and said, “If he was to ever tell anyone John, it’d be you. He loves you, I can see it. Anyone could. I think you should ask him. You deserve to know.”
John wanted to ask more, but instead just nodded. “See you later Martin.”
* * *
John found Sherlock standing far away from the gazebo by one of the paths that lead to the lake with a woman who looked about the same age as Violet. She too was dark haired, but not quite as thin or as tall as Sherlock. An aunt maybe, John guessed. They weren’t speaking, just looking at the lake and occasionally at each other.
John cleared his throat as he approached.
“John,” Sherlock turned and smiled. The woman nodded politely at John and turned back to the lake. “Would you like a tour of the gardens?”
“Uh, yeah. Sounds good,” John glanced at the woman and raised his eyebrows at Sherlock. Sherlock just nodded towards the lake and started to walk away. John jogged after him, sending the woman a half-smile as he passed her.
Sherlock took a path to the left that led away from the lake towards a small forest of pine trees that sloped downwards. Sherlock stopped at the edge of the forest and waited for John. Nobody around, nobody to put on a show for.
(That doesn’t bother you John. It doesn’t.)
“Who was that?” John asked. “You two seemed...comfortable. Not like you are with the other guests.”
Sherlock stared straight ahead. “It’s not important.”
“She looked a bit like you. Is she family?”
“John, it’s not important.”
“I’m just curious,” John shrugged. “You said you’d introduce me to people you weren’t bored by. You weren’t bored by her and she didn’t even speak.”
“John,” Sherlock stopped suddenly, making John stumble over a fallen branch. Sherlock caught his arm and pulled him up. “Please John.” He closed his eyes and released John’s arm. “Please just leave it.”
“Right,” John murmured. “Sorry.”
Sherlock and John walked in silence through the forest for another few minutes. John was completely confused about where they were going - didn’t Sherlock say he was taking John on a tour of the gardens? It was darker and colder here with the cover of the trees over them. Sherlock was so pale out of the light that he was nearly translucent and he moved so fluidly over the rough ground that he could have been mistaken for a ghost. John was reminded of how he walked through the hallways, like he was lost and wounded, and he moved a little closer to Sherlock so that their elbows touched. He’s here. We both are. He won’t disappear. I can help. What happened Sherlock?
They kept going and going and John knew even if he wanted to, there was no way he could find his way back to the lawn on his own. The forest was deceptively small from the front, only about ten feet across, but looking around here, there was nothing but pine trees for miles. There was no path here for them to follow, though John was sure Sherlock knew exactly where he was going. He had probably created a database of every tree in the whole estate.
Finally, after a long winding, sloping route, Sherlock came to a stop and his breath caught in his throat. For a moment, John was too preoccupied staring at Sherlock - lips parted, eyes open wide in awe, sun shining on his face - to notice what had taken Sherlock’s breath away. It was only when Sherlock breathed, “Beautiful,” almost without realising it, that John looked.
It was breathtaking. The trees somehow were aligned into two parallel lines, creating a valley between them. A narrow stream ran alongside the trees to John’s left and John didn’t know if it was because of the water or the light that broke through the trees, but dainty white flowers and small bushes and taller plants with petals of scarlet red and sky blue sprung up out of the ground beside the trees in a way that they did nowhere else in the forest. For the first time it occurred to John that he hadn’t heard a single bird in this forest so far, only because now he could hear two singing, one after the other, as if having a conversation. The line of trees ran on for twenty feet or so until they disappeared completely and the valley opened up to a small patch of grass overlooking the lake. Squinting, John could see the house and lawn beyond it. Sherlock had followed a route through the forest that went all the way to the other side of the lake.
“Wow.” Sherlock didn’t even hear John. He had stepped into the middle of the valley, where he was completely in the light, spread his arms wide, threw his head back, closed his eyes and smiled broadly.
John never imagined he would see Sherlock like this because he didn’t know that this part of Sherlock even existed. The thought had never even crossed his mind. John had created several ‘boxes’, as he called them, that he could fit Sherlock into at any given time (living together for so long, it was inevitable that some of Sherlock’s habit for cataloguing every aspect of life would rub off on John). There was ‘Case Sherlock’, who was impatient and exciteable and brilliant, there was ‘Not On A Case Sherlock’, who was bored and destructive and nearly unbearable and there was ‘I’ve Blown Up Something Important Sherlock’, who was apologetic and helpful and who never stuck around long. ‘Mechanical Sherlock’, ‘Rambling Sherlock’, ‘In The Company Of Anderson and Similar-Minded People Sherlock’, John had seen them all. But this was something new.
This wasn’t quite ‘Child-like Sherlock’, because child-like Sherlock either pouted and teased Mycroft about his weight or bounced around John telling him about new experiment and giggled at crime scenes. It wasn’t ‘Interested Sherlock’ because interested Sherlock concentrated and touched things and sniffed the ground and took notes on it all. The closest thing that John had seen to this Sherlock was a version of ‘Violin Sherlock’, the version that played gentle, lulling melodies that John loved while looking the very picture of ease. (John felt, however, that ‘Violin Sherlock’ was not a definitive box, as playing the violin was often a characteristic of many other types of Sherlock.)
John decided that he had no box to put this Sherlock into and that a new one must be created. John named this box after the impression of Sherlock he got simply looking at him: ‘Free Sherlock’.
* * *
“I came across it when I was twelve,” Sherlock spoke as if to himself - John hadn’t even asked him about the valley, though he had been considering it. They sat on a root of a tree that jutted out of the ground at the mouth of the valley, looking out over the sparkling lake. In the distance, they could see tiny dots of people in the garden and they could just about hear the string quartet play, if they listened closely.
“Mycroft and I used to walk through the forest together. That was when we still got along,” Sherlock added, a bitter smile on his face. “He would take me there when - well, that’s not important, but he left for university when I was eleven, so I had to go alone. Mycroft always stuck to the one route and he always made me do the same. You should have seen him once when I wandered off and he couldn’t find me,” Sherlock laughed. “He was absolutely livid. I told him that if he had just observed, he would have seen that I left him clues as to where I had gone, but he said he was too worried to look for clues. Anyway, when Mycroft left, I went where I liked. I had to come into the forest more and more often and for longer stretches of time. Eventually I found this place. I love it here.”
“You had to?” John repeated. Sherlock froze, shoulders suddenly tense. “What do you mean you ‘had to’ walk in the forest?”
“It was better.”
Sherlock’s tone told John it would be better to drop it, so he did. A bird’s song rang out across the otherwise silent valley.
“How much of what you said today was true?” Sherlock asked hesitantly, as if John might bite.
“The story. I told you to stick to the truth but the only part of the story that I recognised was that we were watching TV after a case and you kissed me and asked me to go on a date.”
John’s face turned tomato red. “I - well I -”
“I just - just in case my mother asks me. Couples would have normally talked about their feelings about those things, wouldn’t they?”
“Oh. Yeah. Yeah, I guess. Well, it was weird when you came back. It was difficult. Unbelievable. And it took a while to get used to it, I suppose.” No need to tell him that everything I said but the kiss was the truth.
“That night really happened. I remember. We sat on the couch and watched Doctor Who and ate Chinese.”
“Yeah.” We didn’t kiss though. (What would have happened if we did?)
“I remember.” John didn’t reply.
“It was hard for you. My being gone. I never thought it would be so hard.”
(Don’t ask if we sat together that night because I needed you near me. I can’t lie to you.)
(Don’t ask if you really light up the room. You know you do.)
(Don’t ask if I could survive without you. I can’t.)
“I’m sorry, John.”
Thank you so much for all your comments and I'm very sorry if I haven't thanked you individually, because I really do appreciate each and every comment. I've just been spending a lot of time trying to finish this chapter (and I've been responding on my phone, but AO3 hasn't been working great on my phone this week). But I am very. very grateful for every comment and kudos I get.
The reason I've been working so hard on this chapter is because I'm going away again for a week and I don't know if I'll get a chance to write and then I'm back in school (ugh). I'm into my last year and I'll be sitting my Leaving Cert, so unfortunately there will be a lot of work and pressure, so I imagine updates will become a bit sporadic. But I am going to try my best - this story is always begging to be written at the back of my mind.
Thank you again - Shauna :)