Actions

Work Header

A Beginner's Guide to Apiology.

Work Text:

It was a nice little place, cozy and warm – good for the arthritis in John’s hands, the old creaky joints of his shoulders and knees. He had finally finished unpacking the few boxes that contained the tangible remnants of his life, set them about the small flat above the pub he’d rented with his modest pension and retirement savings. His RAMC mug hung on one of the hooks above the drainboard near the sink. The box containing his old uniforms went up on a shelf in the bedroom cupboard. His gun, kept well-hidden and unused all these years, was slipped beneath his pants and vests in the dresser drawer. Three favourite framed photographs of him and Mary he placed upon the mantle.

The first was them young and laughing, only a few months into their relationship, on a beach in Majorca. He still needed his walking stick then; though he wasn’t holding it in the picture, he could tell from the way he leaned heavily on Mary, the way she held him tight around his waist, as much an embrace as support.

Their wedding picture was a different story. They were looking at each other before a backdrop of brilliantly orange and red autumn leaves. John’s back was straight and his legs strong and supporting both himself and Mary as he dipped her slightly. He remembered that seconds after the picture was taken, he’d kissed her well and deeply for long minutes, but he didn’t have to tell you that – the looks on their faces told anyone who saw the photo exactly what happened next.

The third photo was taken right before she fell ill. It was her sixtieth birthday, and she was wearing a silly plastic tiara and holding a fairy cake with a candle stuck in. Her eyes were closed but her smile was open and brilliant as she leaned into John’s side on a friend’s couch. John had a glob of frosting on his nose and a comical frown, but the undisguised love in his eyes for the woman who had just smushed his own cake into his face was clearly evident.

It had been almost a decade since she’d died, and he still missed her every day with an acuteness that never lessened. He just learned how to deal with it. He knew he’d never find anyone he’d love as much as her, and he never did bother to try. He was just grateful that he got to spend the time he did with her, that they’d found each other in this great wide world and made each other as happy as they could for the time they had.

John’s limp had come back after she was gone, but that was all right. He was getting to be an old man then anyway, and now, of course, he most certainly was. Mary always talked of moving to the country when they were old, though they both loved London fiercely. She should be here with him, really, but instead he was here now alone in her honour, for her spirit. He thought she would have loved Sussex.

So here he was.

A week went by and John realised that perhaps peaceful country life wasn’t exactly all it was cracked up to be. It wasn’t like London for certain. Everything seemed to close as soon as the sun went down. The streets were empty, the shops all shuttered. Only lonely cars would drive down the road intermittently. Even the noise filtering up from the pub downstairs was merely sedate murmuring.

No one came to visit, of course.

Harry, who had always resented and disliked Mary for reasons unknown, hadn’t spoken to him since before they were married. Last he’d heard, she was on her third wife, living in Manchester. All his friends were gone or else much too old to come jaunting out to Sussex for a cuppa.

So John, in his lonely restlessness, took to walking out late at night, taking in the sights of the town while everyone else slept inside their darkened windows. Sometimes he’d wonder if people would talk about him, this strange old man hobbling about after midnight, tapping the pavement with his walking stick like it was the middle of the afternoon. He decided quickly that he didn’t care. Let them talk. God knows they needed some gossip in this town.

At first he would only walk around near the centre of the town, where the lamplights still were. Soon he grew bolder out of boredom and took a torch with him down the darkened roads that lead to the edges of the town, where it was all sprawling manor houses and isolated cottages with acres of clover in between.

One cottage in particular seemed different than the others. Whereas all the other cottages were perfectly landscaped and manicured to the point of being painfully picturesque, this one was overgrown with climbing vines, flowers tumbling across the long-grassed garden, mushrooms and mosses lining the flagstone path to the door where others would have prim marigolds. John stood in the quiet night air looking at it, wondering if it was still in fact inhabited, when his question was answered by what sounded like a crash and an excited voice shouting triumphant swearwords. A light went on in the ground-floor window and a long shadow crossed before it. John took it as a cue to leave before he was discovered gawking at the front gate. But his curiosity ensured he would return.

Two nights later, he found himself passing the cottage again. There were no crashes or swearing this time. No lights on either. But after a moment John heard music floating from somewhere, likely the back garden. Violin music: soft and sweet and perhaps a bit sad. John realised he was holding his breath to hear better. He let it all out in a long, wistful sigh. He sat on the low wall of the front garden and listened. After a time – John couldn’t tell how long, and he didn’t care – the music faded out. John got up and walked home again. The music stayed inside his head, a quiet lilt, for the better part of the next week.

---


“Say, Joel. Do you know anything about that odd cottage down the north road going toward Edenbridge?” John asked the owner of his neighboring pub one afternoon, as he ate lunch. Joel put down the glass he was cleaning and leaned over the bar, thinking.

“Do you mean the one looks all a mess, with the bees?”

“Yes. Wait, there are bees?” said John. Oh, of course – that must be what all those strange boxes in the back garden were. He’d seen them one night, after the night he’d heard the music. All was quiet, though there was a light on in one of the upper rooms. He saw a figure pacing back and forth behind the shade. His curiosity had got the better of him, so he’d peeked over the wall to see the back garden, and had been puzzled by the rows of white crates he saw there.

“Oh, yeah. Crazy old codger lives there, studies bees. Sells the honey sometimes – Anna says she swears it makes the best lemon honey scones, and I’m inclined to agree. Oi, Anna!”

“Yeah, love?” Anna’s curly ginger head poked out of the kitchen doors.

“Doc Watson wants to know what that bloke’s name is, the one with the honey.”

“Oh, that’s Mr. Holmes,” she said, looking to John and coming over, wiping her hands on her apron. “Ooh, he’s a mean one. But his honey’s the best I’ve ever had.”

“Bit of an eccentric, I take it?” John said, smirking.

“Eccentric’s being nice. He’ll sell to me, all right, but only when he feels inclined to, and not to anyone he decides he doesn’t want to deal with. Good for my scone sales though, as I’m the only one he’ll sell to on a regular basis. You should try getting some. Trust me, it’s worth the rudeness if you can.”

“I can’t just walk up to his door and ask, can I?” said John, though admittedly the thought had crossed his mind once or twice before to knock up the door of the only other person in this town that seemed not to sleep at night.

“Only way to do it,” Anna answered. “He says he doesn’t have a phone, and he barely ever comes into town. You never know, he might like you. New face and all.”

“Yeah,” said John, considering it a friendly challenge. “All right. If I do, I’ll get an extra jar or two for you.”

“Oh, bless you, Doc,” said Anna. She squeezed his arm and flashed him a smile as she went back in the kitchen. Joel was a lucky man to have found someone so sweet, and John told him as much. It made him miss Mary, but it lessened the ache to know that other people still had the chance to love as they did and, he always hoped, for just as long.

---


The cottage looked much different in the day. John could see that there was actually a rhyme and reason to the way the vines snaked up the exterior walls of the cottage, and the overabundance of wildflowers made much more sense now that he knew about the bees. He even noted that the fungi on either side of the path to the door seemed to be grouped according to type, and tended to as well as any flower bed. All around him, he could hear the soft hum of bees going about their work on the cloudy yet mild day.

John got to the door, on which he found a small brass plaque that read S. Holmes. He raised a steady hand to knock, but the door swung away from his knuckles, leaving his fist to drop through air. He looked up, surprised. In the door stood a very tall, very thin man wearing a very deep scowl. His curly dark hair was liberally streaked with silver and his eyes were grey as the sky and sharp as knives. He struck quite an imposing figure, clad in a perfectly tailored black suit, and would be quite scary if John was the sort of person to ever be frightened, which he wasn’t.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Holmes. I –”

“Afghanistan or Iraq?”

John froze, his offered hand wilting back to his side. The hand around the handle of his walking stick gripped tighter.

“I’m sorry, what? I was just here to ask about –”

“You’re not here about the honey. That’s all just pretext. Now tell me, I need to know. Afghanistan or Iraq?”

“Afghanistan. Sorry, but how did you –”

“The way you hold yourself, the command in your words, your mannerisms all say military. In the time you would have been young enough to serve, we were still embroiled in the Middle East. Not to mention the fact that you’ve been scouting my house for the past two weeks like a bloody reconnaissance mission, but that we’ll get to later. Come in already. Kettle’s just boiled.”

The man spun on the spot and marched away through the house, leaving John in the open doorway.

John was stunned momentarily, but came back to himself. He walked just inside and closed the door behind him. The sitting room he found himself in was a veritable den of curiosities. Entomological specimens pinned beneath glass and anatomical engravings hung on the walls, along with charts and graphs, all dominated by a sprawling map of London, speckled with pushpins and tacked with notes waving like little flags in the breeze coming from the open window. A laptop computer was hidden on a desk in the corner, poking out from the middle of a pile of newspapers. Piles of books were everywhere, overflowing from the shelves into small mountain ranges along tables and floor. On the mantle over the fireplace, a knife was stabbed through a thick stack of letters, and a human skull peered curiously at him from its perch there. The room was full, but it was an organised sort of chaos, and John got the impression that the man could find anything at all inside it in seconds if need be.  

“In here, Mr...” The man reappeared in the doorway leading to the kitchen holding a covered plate in one hand and a rack of test tubes in the other. “What was it again?”

“John Watson. Actually, it’s –”

“Doctor! Ugh!” said the man, before John could say it himself. He rolled his eyes in frustration, setting down the test tubes. He withdrew a pair of rimless glasses from his breast pocket and proceeded to squint sharply through them at John again. “Of course! General practitioner for about thirty years, RAMC and an A&E before. Your fingernails and the ridge of your left palm practically shout it. How could I have missed that? Oh, I really must be getting old.” He took the glasses off again and shook his head at them, as if it was their fault.

John was more thoroughly confused than he’d ever been. And, he noted with interest, impressed and more than a bit intrigued.

“I didn’t actually catch your first name,” John admitted, navigating carefully through the canyon of books to the kitchen, making sure his walking stick didn’t upset anything.

“The name is Sherlock Holmes. Sit. Tea.”

John sat, and took up the cup that Sherlock offered. It was evident that he was probably as lonely as John was, and certainly not used to visitors by the state of his kitchen (which looked like a lab more than anything else) and the fact that he neglected to use any kind of polite words when inviting him in.

“So,” said Sherlock brusquely. “What exactly are you doing on your nighttime sojourns around my house and garden?”

“I, er,” John looked down into his tea, suddenly embarrassed. “I apologise. I didn’t think you’d notice. I didn’t mean any harm.”

“Well, obviously. What sort of threat could a man in his eighties with chronic arthritis and a neglected psychosomatic limp pose to me? And, let me say just for the record, very little escapes my notice.”

“You missed that I was a doctor just before,” said John wryly, not wanting to pass up the chance to rib this odd, gleefully rude old man. Sherlock looked indignant, but his eyes were bright.

“I said very little, Doctor. But was I wrong about anything yet?”

“Honestly, no. How can you do that, by the way? See all that just by looking?”

“I don’t see, I observe. I’ve spent the greater part of my life honing my skills as a consulting detective. Until about a decade ago, I worked in London with the Met. When the police were out of their depth, as they so often were, they came to me.”

“A consulting detective?” asked John, amusement rapidly outpacing his confusion. “I’ve never heard of such a job.”

“As well you shouldn’t have. I was the only one in the world.”

“Hm. Extraordinary,” said John, and he meant it.

The man puffed out his chest and took a self-satisfied sip of tea. John thought he could see a bit of a blush come to his cheeks, which was amusing in its own way.

“I’m bored, you see,” continued John. “That’s why I go walking at night. Something to do. It feels a bit risky, you know? Exciting. Even though I know the biggest risk out here is tripping over a lost sheep. Anyway, I heard you. Crashing about and swearing, and playing the violin.”

“You heard me playing?”

“Oh yes. It was quite lovely.”

The blush on Sherlock’s cheeks was unmistakable now.

“Anyway,” John continued, “I was curious. Anna and Joel that own The Blind Cat told me you sold honey. So I came here, I suppose, with the intention of being a bit nosey.”

“Honest to a fault, I appreciate that,” said Sherlock. John saw his mouth twitch up on one side, the first indication of a smile he’d seen since coming in. “Sorry to disappoint, but there’s not much to stick your nose in. All my interesting days are behind me. Now all I’ve left to do is wait for the end, read my books and tend to my bees. If I could return the favour of blunt honesty to you, I never planned on making it this far into my life.”

“Neither did I,” said John.

They both sipped at their tea letting a weighty silence fall over them. John tapped his walking stick against his knee. Sherlock crumbled a biscuit between two long fingers.

“So,” said John, wanting to break through the sullenness. “Why bees?”

“Ah!” John watched Sherlock’s face brighten again. “Well, bees are noble creatures. And so misunderstood. I confess I am a bit enamoured by the paradox of how such tiny things that can be so violent can produce such vast quantities of the loveliest substance ever to touch the human tongue.” Sherlock rose from the table and beckoned for John to follow him out into the garden through the back door.

“Loveliest substance to ever touch the tongue, eh? I can think of a few others,” said John under his breath.

“Doctor Watson, was that a crude attempt at innuendo?” Sherlock said over his shoulder, but John saw the smile in the creases around his eyes. It was John’s turn to blush.

“What can I say, I’ve become a dirty old man.”

Sherlock turned to face him again. He was holding a strange metal contraption that looked like a cross between a bellows and an oil canister. The look he gave John was long and appraising.

“No,” he said finally. “You’ve always been a good man. You’ve had lovers in your time, but when you found your late wife, she was the greatest, and last.”

John was stunned for the second time that day.

“It’s like you’re reading me like a book. Is it all that obvious?”

“To me it is, because it’s written on you in a language only I have trained myself to read.” He took a step back and his eyes darted to the side. “I...I should apologise, shouldn’t I. For being too forward. I fear I’ve never cared for proper protocol when it comes to polite social interaction.”

John found himself smiling. “I’ve seen as much already. But no. No apology needed.”

Sherlock tilted his head, as if that wasn’t what he’d expected to hear. Then he nodded. “Right. Well. Are you afraid of being stung?”

“Not particularly. Should I be?”

“Oh yes,” said Sherlock, and John had to laugh. “But this should allay the worst of it,” he said, brandishing the metal contraption. “The smoke makes them listless, so we’ll be able to take a look unmolested.”

Sherlock created a rather formidable cloud of pungent smoke around them, and John followed close at Sherlock’s back. He chose a crate, took off its top and slid a panel up from inside it. John watched with fascination the clots of fuzzy little bees milling about on the panel, saw the perfect formations of hexagonal combs, even spotted a bit of honey dripping down.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?” said Sherlock. “I watch these little working gangs as once I watched the criminal world of London. Remarkable how similar they sometimes seem.”

“Indeed,” said John. “I’d like to hear about that some time, as well.”

Sherlock slotted the frame back into the crate and replaced its cover before he looked back up at John.

“Would you really?” he asked.

“Oh, yes.”

“Would you...would you come again to visit?”

“Certainly,” said John, smiling again at the look of barely disguised excitement on Sherlock’s face. “No use in both of us being lonely.”

“I should like to hear of your time in the army as well, if you don’t mind telling. Perhaps you could start with the story of how you got shot in the shoulder, and work your way back from there.”

John stared again.

“Damn it all. I’ve done it again, haven’t I,” Sherlock said, slamming down the bee smoker on a bench near the back door.

“I still don’t know how you knew that, but I’ll tell you,” he said, surprising himself a bit. “It’s been a long time since I’ve told any war stories, but I suppose they are worth telling.”

Sherlock looked back up at John. “I know already they’re worth hearing.”

John looked up at the sky above the softly shifting trees, at the steadily darkening clouds.

“Better get back before it starts to rain,” he said.

“Come again tomorrow, if you’ve nothing on. Same time, about?”

“Yes. I’ll be here.”

Sherlock walked with John back through the house to the front door.

“Oh! One more thing.”

Sherlock disappeared into the kitchen again. John heard a bit of knocking around, then Sherlock came back, his arm cradling four jars of dark amber honey and a burlap bag.

“Take these to Miss Anna; I know she asked.” He placed the jars carefully into the bag. “Keep this one for yourself. Consider them a gift, please. I’ve plenty of other dupes willing to pay for what they haven’t the expertise or patience to get for free.”

“Thank you,” said John. “You like Anna, but no one else, it seems. Why?”

Sherlock sighed. “She reminds me of a girl I knew. Very sweet to me, though I always treated her unkindly. It’s a sort of futile, backward penance, I suppose.”

“Well, she knows you’re not as bad as you try to seem,” said John. “And now so do I.”

“How will I ever live it down?” said Sherlock, and John saw him smile fully this time, wide and real.

“See you tomorrow, then,” said John, took the bag of honey and left. The walk back home was a pleasant one, and even though he got a bit damp having not been fast enough to beat the rain, he still felt warm and happy for the first time since he’d moved to Sussex.

“Made a friend today, I think, Mary,” he said out loud in the quiet of his flat later that evening. He popped open the jar of honey with his jar-opening gizmo and stirred a generous spoonful of it into his bedtime tea. “First one in a long time. Odd bloke, but then again I always did like the odd ones, didn’t I?”

The tea tasted like the way a springtime field smelled, all grass and clover and clean breezes. Not overly sweet or flowery, but full and almost earthy. John savoured it well, and went to bed that night still smiling.

---


The next day was sunny and warm, the smell of damp earth drying filled his nose as he walked down the road at a leisurely pace. Something told him he’d better save his energy for his visits to Sherlock’s. The man might be almost as old as him, but he acted as spry as if he were still three or four decades younger. It’s as if he just disregarded the rules of aging as easily as he did the rules of social convention. John wished he could be that nimble again.

He was wishing it double an hour later, as he ran fast as he could from a swarming of accidentally angered bees. (When you’re eighty, however, “running” is a relative term.) Sherlock had enlisted his help in collecting the honey from a particularly full hive, and had accidentally upset his collecting bucket, which in turn knocked John’s walking stick over, which rapped rather forcefully against the side of the hive, sending the bees into a panic that the cloud of smoke couldn’t assuage. Thankfully, today Sherlock had insisted on the precaution of long canvas gloves, work aprons and silly-looking wide-brimmed hats draped with netting for the both of them. Soon they’d outrun the bees, but not before falling over the garden wall, loping through a rugged patch of clover, dodging through a stand of scrubby elm trees and finally laying flat on their bellies in a stream. John was out of breath, wet, and dotted with stings.

On top of that, his stomach hurt from laughing so hard.

Sherlock clung to him, just as helpless in the throes of hysterics, and they gathered each other up to sitting, still in the stream.

“You’re a madman,” John wheezed.

“I’m a genius,” Sherlock huffed back. “You forgot your walking stick.”

John looked down and around him, splashing in the stream as if it would come swimming up beside him. Sherlock only laughed harder. John looked back up at him, and Sherlock was beaming. Absolutely beaming at John, as if he were the most fantastic, extraordinary, fascinating thing Sherlock had ever seen. They pulled each other up out of the wet muck and clambered up the bank and back toward the cottage.

John’s leg didn’t hurt at all.

He left the walking stick in the garden, lost among the long grass.

Sherlock changed and made tea. He lent John one of his dressing gowns while his clothes dried out by the fire. It was a lovely garment, more luxurious than anything John had ever owned, made of a striped blue silk that felt like warm water on his skin.

They settled into Sherlock’s mismatched armchairs and had their tea.

After a bit, Sherlock leaned forward and spoke, his eyes shining. “Would you like to hear about the time I sneaked into a top-secret, secured military base in order to investigate an unsolved murder committed under seemingly supernatural circumstances?”

“Oh, god yes,” said John, knowing his eyes were just as bright.

John only remembered the time when he happened to glance out the window and see the sun glowing bright orange, dipping beneath the horizon.

“I’d best get back, then.”

Sherlock nodded, though he looked a bit disappointed. John knew he’d have talked all night, and John would have let him if he wasn’t so tired. As much as he wanted to stay, even Sherlock would find it rude if he fell asleep, surely.

“Tomorrow?” Sherlock said, somewhat tentatively, when John re-emerged from the loo after changing back into his now-only-slightly-damp clothes.

“Yes.” John didn’t even hesitate.

Once again Sherlock stopped him by the door and disappeared somewhere in the cluttered little cottage. He came back brandishing a gold tin of salve.

“For the stings,” he explained, and pushed up John’s sleeve, exposing an angry little red welt. Sherlock dipped two elegant fingers into the salve and applied it, smoothing it in completely using the whole of his palm. John couldn’t help but sigh. Sherlock’s hand stilled. Of course he’d noticed.

“Sorry,” John said. “It’s...been a long time since someone else has touched me.” He winced, hearing how embarrassing that sounded. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said it like–”

But Sherlock only dipped his fingers in again, and pressed them to a sting on the side of John’s neck, never breaking eye contact with him. He massaged it in, using slow, deliberate movements, and it felt like heaven. The mint-cool of the salve combined with the heat of Sherlock’s palm made John involuntarily lean into the contact, and his eyes fluttered closed for a moment.

Then Sherlock’s hand was gone. John straightened up and cleared his throat.

“Thank you,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound as strangely affected as he felt.

Sherlock pressed the tin into John’s palm. “Keep it. I’ve a hundred of them about. I mix it myself; it’s useful for loads of things.” Sherlock’s tone was casual, but John noticed he wasn’t meeting his eyes any longer.

“Goodnight, Sherlock,” John said as he walked down the flagstone path back to the road, back straight, no limp whatsoever.

“Safe home, John,” Sherlock answered.

John put the tin inside his pocket, but kept his hand on it. It was still warm from being held by Sherlock, and John didn’t let go of it until the warmth seeped out and all that was left was his own. When he finally got home, John was too tired to make tea, but he snuck a spoonful of Sherlock’s honey anyway. It tasted a bit different this time, sweeter and more smoky, with a hint of mint. John licked the spoon clean and fell asleep with the last bit of sweetness still clinging to his lips.

---

 


They continued seeing each other almost every day, for weeks that quickly turned to months. John went out into the woods with Sherlock, hunting for chanterelles and strange poisonous leaves. They spent some lovely late summer afternoons on a hillside that overlooked the valley in the seat of which the next town over was cradled. Clear autumn nights would find them huddled together beneath a pile of blankets as John traced the shapes of the stars for Sherlock, teaching him the names he never knew they had. John still helped with the bees, too, and also with experiments and concocting new recipes to use the honey in. When John could persuade him, Sherlock would follow him into town. They’d take lunch and spend the afternoon on a bench in the small square, John marvelling at Sherlock as he relayed the town gossip he could glean from things like the scuffs on handbags and the wear on coat-sleeves.

All the while they traded stories, exciting tales from long lives well-lived, lessons learned from grave mistakes, and soon the deepest secrets and regrets they’d carried inside the dark of their minds.

He was only eighteen, and my hands were in him when he died John would choke. Or I never got a chance to tell her again how beautiful she looked; to me, she never changed.

I later found out I hadn’t done anything to him, but the uncertainty of the blackout scared me more than anything in my life, Sherlock would say in a hushed voice. And He was always good to me, always protected me, and not once did I thank him outright.

On nights like those, they’d abandon the armchairs in favour of sitting together on the couch, not touching, but close enough for each to feel the other near.

 

---


“Oh my, look at that mess,” Sherlock said, glancing toward the window. The time had got away from them again, it seemed.

“Bloody hell, when did that happen?” John got up to get a better look outside; Sherlock followed, coming up close behind him to peer out the small window over John’s shoulder.

“Judging by the size of the flakes and the rate of snowfall, I’d say it’s been happening since half four.”

“How am I ever going to trudge home in this?” John groaned and ran a hand across his forehead.

“John, don’t even entertain the notion of it! Your toes will be black with frostbite before you even reach the bridge.”

“Well what am I to do, I haven’t got anyone I could call for a ride at this hour, and besides–”

“Stay,” said Sherlock.

John stepped back from the window and looked at him.

“Yes, well, I suppose I could kip on the couch, given the circumstances. Better than freezing–”

“Nonsense. With your shoulder, and your arthritis? You won’t be able to move for a week. No. You take the bed.”

“And leave you to sleep on your own couch like a transient? Certainly not.”

“I just won’t sleep. I hardly need to. I have that mushroom experiment I could–”

This time it was John’s turn to cut Sherlock off.

“We could both stay in the bed. Is it a double?”

Sherlock hesitated, then nodded.

“All right then. That’s sorted,” said John, feeling a bit triumphant at having won the argument against Sherlock. But Sherlock was looking concerned. He’d gone over to the mantle and was running a finger along the ridge of the skull’s sutura coronalis.

“What’s the matter?” asked John.

“Hm? No, nothing. Nothing.”

John fixed him with a look.

When Sherlock realised John was set on being stubborn, he relented.

“All right,” he said, flipping his hands up in the air and rolling his eyes before slumping heavily into his armchair. “I’ve never actually slept with anyone before.”

John couldn’t hide the smile that spread across his face.

“Sherlock, your virtue’s safe. I’m not going to try anything funny. I’m too old for all that now.”

“That’s not what I meant!” Sherlock protested, sitting up straight as a rod before wilting down again to lean on his knees. “I meant I’ve never shared a bed with anyone in any capacity – platonic, sexual or otherwise – for an entire night. Is there – is there some sort of protocol? You know I’m not the most adept at that sort of thing.”

John was laughing outright now, but Sherlock was looking more and more serious. The old man doth protest too much, thought John.

“When have you ever cared about protocol of any kind? You’re overthinking this, Sherlock. All we’re going to do is lay down next to each other and fall asleep. In the morning I’ll call Anna and ask if she wouldn’t mind coming to pick me up. That’s all.”

Sherlock’s scowl loosened, but he pressed his steepled fingers to his lips. “What if I kick you?” he asked.

“I’ll kick you right back.”

“Well, that’s not very nice.”

“Don’t kick me then!” John hadn’t felt this giddy and this tired at the same time in a long while. He was just now realising how late it had got.

“Let’s turn in. I promise not to kick you if you don’t kick me, all right? Come on now, it’s getting cold down here.”

Sherlock lead John upstairs to his bedroom. John was genuinely surprised to see how sparse and neat it was, compared to the rest of the cottage. Just a large bed, a wardrobe, two bookshelves and a chest of drawers that looked like an old-fashioned library card catalogue.

“What’s that?” John asked, pointing to the card catalogue as he pulled on his borrowed t-shirt and pyjama bottoms. Sherlock carefully kept his gaze averted as he changed, facing the far corner. John often forgot about the protocol of modesty himself, having first been in the army, then living with a wife who preferred to lounge naked about the house. “I’m dressed, you can look,” he added.

Sherlock turned finally to see where John was pointing.

“Oh. Sock index,” said Sherlock, in the tone that John had come to know as meaning that’s all the explanation you’re supposed to need.

“It’s a good thing I don’t actually live with you,” said John.

“And why is that?” Sherlock said, raising a brow in confusion and slight offense.

“I don’t think I’d ever be able to understand the way you keep house.”

Sherlock smirked. “You’re assuming there’s a method to the madness.”

“Is there?”

“Not one you’d ever be able to understand.”

They clambered into bed after a cursory negotiation of which side they should each be on. Sherlock laid flat on his back and pulled the covers all the way up to his chin. John settled on his side, facing away from Sherlock with a generous gap of space between them, so Sherlock wouldn’t feel any more awkward than he already did.

“So you really slept all those years with another body in your bed?” Sherlock said after a few silent moments.

John turned onto his back and glanced over at his friend’s sharp profile in the darkness, the only light the reflection of the silver moon off the snow, through the window.

“Yes. Actually, I’ve found I always tended to sleep better when there was someone beside me.” John was feeling candid, so he took a chance that Sherlock was feeling the same. “You say you’ve never slept with anyone, but surely you’ve...you know, slept with someone, right?”

“I’ve taken a few lovers, none of which were particularly long-lived or well-advised bed partners,” said Sherlock. “And what about yours, before Mary?”

“You know I’ve had my share of adventures,” John says, thinking himself quite sphinx-like.

“That sounds deliberately vague, but the undertone is of smugness, not defensiveness, so I’d say it’s a greater number than you’d care to share rather than a smaller one you’d feign and embellish.”

“Let’s just say there are people on three continents who have, er, come to know me.”

The bed shook a bit with Sherlock’s deep, almost inaudible laughter.

“Oi! Don’t laugh at me. I didn’t laugh at you. What’s so funny?”

“I like you, John Watson,” Sherlock said, simply. “I don’t know why or how, but I actually do. Perhaps I’ve finally succumbed to sentimentality in my old age.”

John was quiet then, and very still. Sherlock shifted next to him.

“John?” he said, a hint of worry in his voice. “I didn’t mean–”

But Sherlock’s sentence was left unfinished as John reached out across the bed, beneath the duvet and found Sherlock’s hand. He laced his short fingers in Sherlock’s long ones, feeling the papery skin, soft and warm, the catch of calloused fingertips against the back of his palm. Sherlock remained very still. But after a moment, he lifted John’s hand cradled in his own, and held it against his chest. When John felt brave enough, he turned his head on the pillow and looked over at Sherlock. As it turned out, Sherlock was already looking at John. The soft snow-light made his eyes seem bright even in the dark; it caught in the silver strands of his hair and smoothed the wrinkles on his face.

“You were blonde,” Sherlock said.

“I was,” said John.

Sherlock turned onto his side without letting John’s hand fall away from over his heart. He reached out a tentative hand and touched what was left of John’s hair. John had absolutely no control over the smile that pushed itself across his face. He leaned up into the touch of Sherlock’s hand, encouraging him.

Slowly, by hesitant degrees, they inched closer to each other. Soon John found himself wrapped up in long, bony limbs, the warmth of Sherlock’s lithe body against his own soft pillowiness. He sighed, pressing his cheek to Sherlock’s clavicle, his forehead tucked in the crook of his neck. There was a sweet ache in his hands that had nothing to do with arthritis, and everything to do with the feel of a body next to him again. He felt secure, and cherished, and wanted – things he’d never thought he’d feel again in this life.

Sherlock held him near with a strength that seemed incongruous for his thin frame. His hands trembled ever so slightly, one in the middle of John’s back, the other laid against his scar, fingers brushing over the old gnarled crater through the thin cotton of his borrowed shirt as if Sherlock was reading the shape of it like Braille.

“How have I spent my whole life without knowing this?” Sherlock whispered into the wispy grey strands of John’s hair. His tone was at once marvelous and sad.

John had no words for him, though even if he did, he didn’t trust his voice to work. So he just held Sherlock tighter and hoped it was answer enough.

---


If we were young men, I would kiss you.

I would suck sweet purple bruises into the delicate flesh of your neck. I’d tongue at your nipples and run my fingertips along your sides and drag my nails through your soft dark curls until the want inside you made itself known in the hardness you would push against my hip, and my own would nudge up against your belly in answer.

Out of clothes, under covers, hidden from the world. Just you and I, nothing between us but our shared breath and the slick of sweat as we press our bodies together. There would be time enough for soft and slow, then time enough for it to give way to hot and desperate, mouths sliding against each other, tongues laving salt-sweet skin, hands cupping and smoothing and caressing, fingers delving, plunging slick and clever into your tightest, warmest place.

And you would say Please, I need

And I would say Yes oh, oh god yes

I can’t, I want...I want it, give it all to me...more, more

And I would try, but I couldn’t hold it inside me any longer

So I would come, moans pouring out of my mouth like water

Cock pulsing inside you

Or yours inside me

I would want to feel what it’s like to be filled up with you, pushed up inside me and wrapped around me at the same time.

I could take you in my mouth until you begged and panted and burst, your semen coating my lips and tongue like honey.

I’d have liked to feel you writhing beneath me, breathing deep and trembling as I held you, watch your face open as you unravel in my arms, all the clever words quieted and racing thoughts halted – for one moment your full mind blissfully clean and blank and white like the field after the first snow.

Then I would hold you, as I’m holding you now. Back pressed up against belly, arms circled tight, my hands over your heart that beats steady inside your chest. Protected from the cold, from sadness, from being alone – the night could be infinite.

And we would feel as if we had all the time in the world.

---


Shortly after the new year, John had dressed and was about to leave on his daily walk to Sherlock’s cottage when he realised he didn’t think he would make it much further than down the stairs. So he sat for a while, willing the strange feeling to pass, but it didn’t. He fell in and out of a fitful slumber in his chair, and before he even registered that time had passed he woke with a start, night having suddenly fallen outside his window.

A sharp rapping at his door caught his attention again, and he realised that was what woke him. He mustered his energy and shuffled slowly over to the door, opening it to reveal a rather flustered looking Sherlock.

“John!” he said, his tone strident and a little accusatory. “You never came today. I waited for you. I even called, but your mobile is dead again and –” he stopped, squinting as he did when he was looking closer for something he’d spotted. He drew his glasses from his pocket and slipped them on his long nose, though he hardly needed them to see the state John felt like he was in. “I was worried,” Sherlock finished, all the bravado knocked from his words. “You’re not feeling well.”

“I was going to,” John tried to explain, gesturing to his shoes and coat, still on. “See? I was on my way. But I. Uh.” It suddenly felt like too much exertion to stand and speak at the same time. John wilted, but Sherlock was there to catch him before his legs disobeyed. He guided John over to the small faded settee, and sat him gently down, kneeling before him on the carpet.

“You’re here,” John said.

“Obviously, John.” Sherlock cocked an eyebrow at him as he worked the laces of his shoes loose and slipped them off John’s feet. “You’re not delirious.”  

“No, I mean you came into town. You never come into town by yourself, ever.”

“There was nothing worth coming in for until now,” Sherlock said. He helped John off with his coat. “You haven’t eaten. Goodness, John. We’ve reversed roles, here.”

John smiled. “There’s bread in the basket on the worktop,” he said. “Tea’s in the cupboard over the stove.”

Sherlock shed his own coat and shoes and rolled up his sleeves like he was preparing to dig a ditch. John watched him through the kitchen doorway, darting back and forth from kettle to toaster to cupboard to fridge. Soon enough, he came out bearing a tray laden with two steaming cups of tea, toast, a cheese and tomato sandwich cut in two, and the nearly-empty jar of honey Sherlock had given him in the summer.

“You didn’t have much, but I made do,” he said, though he was clearly quite pleased with himself.

“That’s because I’m always eating at your house anyway, you git,” John said with laughter in his voice. “But well done, you.”

“Thank you,” Sherlock said magnanimously as he drizzled a bit of honey on a triangle of toast.

John could only make himself eat three bites of the sandwich and drink half his tea. But Sherlock was trying to coax him into eating at least a bite of toast and honey more.

“Did you know that Hindus believed that honey is an elixir of immortality?” he said. “And in ancient times it was used as medicine because of its antiseptic properties. Some believed it to be a god-given panacea, as it is the only food that will not spoil.”

“How is it you know all that, yet you couldn’t even find the Big Dipper in the sky?”

“It’s a matter of importance, John. Please, eat. Just this last bit.”

Sherlock dipped two fingers into the sticky, golden translucence that pooled in the bowl of the spoon balanced precariously on the jar. John saw the honey dripping, watched Sherlock bring his fingers up and separate them slightly, creating little threads that stretched between like rope bridges. He brought them to John’s lips.

And John took Sherlock’s fingers into his mouth, suckling at the sweetness, swirling his tongue around pad and nail and knuckle, licking every last bit of sweetness from them. The honey tasted better than it ever had yet, mixed as it was with the slight tang of Sherlock’s skin.

“Oh,” Sherlock breathed, his eyes heavy-lidded and mouth slack as he watched. John hummed around the fingers, unable to help himself, not wanting to stop sucking though the honey was gone. Sherlock withdrew them slowly, eyes locked with John’s, lingering to swipe the moistened tips along John’s lower lip, sending a shiver right through him.

“More,” John whispered. Sherlock dipped the spoon into the jar. But this time he spread the honey right across his lips, making the creased, pink bow of them drip and shine. He looked up at John almost quizzically through his lashes, blinking slowly.

John didn’t need any coaxing this time.

He leaned forward and pressed his lips to Sherlock’s, feeling the stickiness smear onto his own lips, thick and somewhat deliciously filthy – like something he would’ve done in his younger days. And indeed, inside that moment, it did make him feel young. He sucked the pillow of Sherlock’s bottom lip between both his own, the honey not even half as sweet as the sigh Sherlock made when he did so. He traced the tip of his tongue along the peaks of Sherlock’s upper lip then, and Sherlock pressed back, soft yet insistent. His hands came up to curl around the back of John’s neck, cradling the bottom curve of his head, fingers burying themselves indulgently in the short, feathery strands of hair. John circled his arms around Sherlock’s chest, pulling him in close, holding on as tight as he could muster until he felt faint, and not just from the delirium of happiness. He closed his eyes and let Sherlock’s big hands support his head, let Sherlock continue to press slightly sticky little kisses along his jaw, his brow, his cheeks and nose. The joints in John’s hands ached from gripping the fabric at the back of Sherlock’s jacket, but he didn’t want to let go. Finally Sherlock drew back, and John opened his eyes.

“Thank you,” John said.

“I should be thanking you,” said Sherlock.

“Whatever for? I made you worried and annoyed, forced you out of your nice warm cottage into the snow just to get here and have to take care of me.”

“Yes, but today is my birthday, you see.”

“Oh, Sherlock.” John’s heart dropped. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know–”

“No, no. Any apology you attempt to offer is completely pointless. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift than to finally get to kiss you after all these months.”

---


Sherlock held John fast to him, helped him walk the short distance to the small bedroom on the other side of the kitchen. He sat him on the edge of the bed and changed him into his pyjamas, careful fingers undoing his zipper and buttons, pulling soft cotton on and smoothing it down as he lay back. John had to smile sadly to himself; he didn’t think the first time Sherlock would help him out of his clothes would be like this. But the gentleness he used tugged at John’s heart all the same; even more since he knew by now just how finite Sherlock’s patience was.  

“Rest now. You’ll feel much better in the morning.” Sherlock said it with the sort of conviction that told John he wanted it to be true more than he actually knew it to be.

John woke somewhere inside the grey light of dawn to find Sherlock dozing in a chair at the foot of his bed, long skinny legs propped up on the end of the mattress, wrapped up in John’s old spare quilt. In a pile by the door was an overnight bag, a toiletry kit, and a violin case. He must’ve gone and come back while John was asleep. As if he could feel John’s gaze on him, Sherlock opened his eyes and looked at John, shifting just slightly in his chair.

“Moving in, are you?” John said, his voice still sleep-rough and quiet.

“Only until you’re feeling well again,” Sherlock answered. “I’ve grown accustomed to your assistance, John. I’ll need you in top form for the early spring honey harvesting.”

John chuckled, though a pang of sadness welled up inside him.

The unfortunate thing about being a doctor was that you knew what it was when you began to die. John had been expecting it for some time now. It was the entire reason he’d tied up all of his loose ends in London, closed his practice and took his ease out here in Sussex. To say he was looking forward to it wouldn’t have been entirely wrong – but that was last summer, before he’d made an unlikely friend in Sherlock Holmes and found himself wishing, however subtly, that he hadn’t begun something so wonderful so close to the end.

Sherlock gave a great yawn and stretched his arms up and out, his joints cracking loudly in the quiet of the bedroom.

“I am going to make use of your shower,” he announced. “And then I shall assist you in your own ablutions, if you wish. After that, I’ll make us breakfast. You should go back to sleep for a bit. You have a few hours before I could officially wheedle you about being a lazy lie-about for still being in bed.”

John laughed at that. It was rather difficult to be sad when Sherlock decided the day was one to have a sense of humour. He drifted off a bit listening to the sound of the shower and Sherlock’s baritone humming, trying not to wonder how awful this would have been if he was alone, as he’d planned.

John never did get out of bed. But Sherlock didn’t poke fun at him as he’d promised. He did hold to helping John wash up, with a soft flannel and bowl of comfortably hot water at the bedside. Sherlock even shaved him, his dexterous fingers pulling John’s wizened skin taut with infinite care. It felt intimate in a way John hadn’t even expected – he’d never let anyone drag a sharp razor across his face before, but Sherlock did it quick and smooth, with not a single nick at all. It was the greatest indication John could think of to show how much he’d come to trust Sherlock over the past few months, and the significance of it wasn’t lost on either of them.

Sherlock brought him tea when they were through. John took only a sip or two before he decided he hadn’t the stomach for it. Sherlock didn’t try this time to get him to drink any more. The little he did have was wonderful though, John had to admit. It tasted like Sherlock’s kiss had the night before; was scented like his sweet breath, felt like his warm, honeyed lips upon John’s own.

“I see you brought your violin,” John said. Sherlock looked over at the curvy black case and waved his hand at it dismissively.

“I was just going to polish it up to pass the time while you were resting, perhaps re-string it as I’ve been meaning to.”

“Could you maybe – play a bit for me? I haven’t heard you play since – well, since before I met you.”

Sherlock smiled.

“It’s not usually something I do for an audience, but for you I’ll make an exception.”

He went to the case and took out the instrument. After a rub of rosin and a bit of tuning, Sherlock began to play. John closed his eyes and let the music carry him in and out of a sort of twilight sleep. It was sometimes exuberant, sometimes mournful, sometimes bursting with joy. John didn’t know how long Sherlock played – it could have been minutes or hours – but when he let the last timorous note drift from the strings, John felt as if Sherlock had been speaking the entire time through the music, telling him things words alone couldn’t convey. He finally understood why a man as rooted in rationality as Sherlock was staunchly refusing to believe that John was about to die.

It didn’t make it any easier to accept that he’d be leaving him behind.

---


“I used the last bit of honey for your tea this morning, so this one’s just got a bit of sugar,” Sherlock said. He set the cup on the bedside table, though he knew John couldn’t drink it. “I have another jar for you. Perhaps two.”

“I don’t think I’ll be needing any more, Sherlock,” said John.

Sherlock looked at him with a sort of futile anger in his eyes. John mustered up the last of his energy and scooted over in the small bed.

“Come here,” he said.

Sherlock took off his jacket and shimmied beneath the covers. He scooped an arm beneath John and wrapped his legs over him until he was as close as possible. Sherlock still looked angry, but John could feel him trembling against his side.

“It’s okay, you know,” said John very softly. “People die. That’s what people do.” He got the idea that no one had ever been gentle with Sherlock’s feelings, try as he did to suppress and deny his emotions.

“But it isn’t fair, John,” Sherlock said. John felt moisture against his neck as Sherlock buried his face there and hugged him tighter. “We should have had our entire lives together, or at least more time than this.”

“I had my life, and you had yours. We’re both lucky we got the time we did,” John said, though his voice was growing feeble and thin. “But yes, I would have loved to know you when you were younger.”

“And I you,” said Sherlock, drawing himself up just enough to look at John. “We would have made quite a pair. Dashing about London being clever and brave.”

John smiled at that, and Sherlock returned it though the tears still slipped traitorously from his eyes.

“Oh, come on. None of that now,” John chided gently, wishing his arms didn’t feel so heavy so that he could reach up and swipe the little wet trails from those lovely cheekbones. “Tell me one last story of yours,” John felt the pull of deepening slumber overtaking his body. It wouldn’t be long now. “I just want to hear you.”

“It’s not a last story, John,” Sherlock said, so certain that John ached to believe him. “But I’ll tell you the best. It begins like this: Once there was a grumpy old man who lived alone with his bees and his genius in the countryside. He didn’t even know he was lonely, until a nosy ex-army doctor came sneaking ‘round his garden.”

“I think I’ve heard this one before,” John whispered.

“Yes, well, it’s my favourite.”

“Mine too,” John admitted.

Sherlock told the story of the last six months as if it were a fairy tale, embellishing and hyperbolising as he saw fit. John let himself relax into the sound of Sherlock’s voice, against his body and the hum inside his chest as he spoke. If he could have chosen a way to go, this felt as close to perfect as he ever could have imagined. He remembered doing the same for Mary, laying with her in the hospice bed and murmuring sweet nonsense into her ear until she slipped away, holding her until she grew cold and the other doctors came to take her body from him. He looked up into Sherlock’s face, the deep lines around his eyes crinkling fondly as he returned the gaze.

“You love me,” John said.

“An excellent observation, Doctor,” said Sherlock. “Now, if you please, I’m just getting to the best part.”

“By all means, continue.”

John closed his eyes and breathed out for the last time, Sherlock’s storm-grey eyes the last sight he saw, Sherlock’s big hand curled around his face the last thing he felt, Sherlock’s voice the sound that carried him out into the quiet, peaceful darkness.

---


John was never very religious. Yes, he believed in God, to an extent, but he never went along with the notion of afterlives for the good and bad. He always held the rather rationalist belief that once you died, that was it. You ceased to exist, just like before you were born.

Which is why he found it a bit strange that he was suddenly someplace bright.

He knew he wasn’t in heaven, or anyplace like that. This place felt more like a dream than anything else, but it was more solid, more vivid and detailed. He could see colours and hear specific sounds, smell the exhaust from cars and the freshly-cut grass.

It was a park, to be exact. A place he recognised – near Bart’s, back in London.

His heart started to beat hard inside his chest when he realised just where he was, and when. He looked around – and then he saw her, sitting in the distance a few metres away.

Mary.

“This is the day I’m going to meet you,” John said, not loud or soft, because somehow he knew she would hear him either way. He felt his chest fill up and his breath caught inside his lungs. “Just here, as I’m walking through the park. You’ll be sitting right on this bench.” He sat down next to her, took her hand in both of his. Tears welled up in his eyes. “This means I get to see you again, we can have more time with each other –”

But Mary placed her hand on John’s cheek and looked him in the eyes, her rich brown ones into his deep blue. It stilled him. She shook her head. All the happiness that had filled him was lost, and the tears that slipped from his eyes then were in sadness instead of joy.

“What do you mean? Why can’t I see you again? I want to. God, I miss you so much. I love you. Please.”

Mary took her other hand and placed it on his opposite cheek, wiping away his tears with the soft pad of her thumb.

“You can’t see me because I don’t exist here. I had my life with you. We found each other when we needed to be together the most. You’re a rare man, John Watson.”

“And why is that?” He couldn’t stay sad, not when she was touching his face and looking at him with such love.

“You know how they say people have soul mates? Well, it’s sort of like that. Some do and some don’t. And sometimes someone has two. You’re one of the odd ones, John. You’ve got two people that needed you. You actually found both of yours, so you get to come back. If you want to.”

“So I have a choice?” John asked.

“Of course,” said Mary.

“What if I want to stay here with you?”

“You don’t,” said Mary simply.

John knew she was right as soon as she said it. In any case, he knew better than to think he could stay inside a dream, no matter how wonderful it felt to be with Mary again.

“But he existed before; why didn’t he need me then?”

“Because this time is going to be a bit different. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen, because I don’t really know. But something is, and you’ll be there because he needs you to be there. Just like I needed you there. John, I was always going to die. That’s what happens. But my days would have been miserable and much fewer had you not been there to take care of me. To love me and be mine. I had you all to myself, and I loved you with my whole heart. Now he needs to love you just as well, because you deserve more time together than you got. And because you’ve already fallen for him.”

“I have?” John asked, his mouth quirking into a smile against Mary’s palm.

“You have,” she answered, raking her fingers through his hair.

“I have,” John said, and this time it was a statement. It was true. After Mary, he never thought he would have had enough love left to give someone else, but as it turned out his supply was replenished. And now it belonged, improbably yet completely, to Sherlock Holmes.

For the first time, John felt worried, and even a bit scared. Mary seemed to know, because she moved closer to him on the bench and wrapped her arms around him. He could feel her warmth, the beat of her heart and the movements of her breathing, as if she was real.

“Will I remember you?”

“I don’t know,” she said thoughtfully, rubbing her soft cheek against his stubbled one, the way she always used to. “Maybe. I’m a part of you already; I have been for a long time. I don’t think that will go away, though you might not recognise it’s me.”

“So will – will this keep happening, then? Will I die again and wake up and lose him too?”

“No. This is it; if you decide to go you’ll only come back the once. And you’ll likely live a fine, long life, just as you had. It’s not going to be any easier, though. No life ever is. There will be long stretches of sadness. You might even hate each other for a time. It won’t change the fact that you’ll need each other. But if it’s meant to, you’ll wind up in Sussex again, together.”

“I knew you would have liked it there,” John said. God, he could even smell her hair, her favourite perfume, and the unique way it mixed with the scent of her skin.

“You knew me best, my John,” she said, leaning in close to his face, putting her forehead against his. “I would be so jealous, if I didn’t get you first.”

“I love you, Mary,” he said, his voice the barest thread of a whisper.

She drew back to look him in the eyes once more, before he felt her lips, soft and pliant and so achingly familiar, against his own. John closed his eyes because he knew it was ending, could sense the edges of the dream slipping away, all the scent and feel and warmth of Mary blurring together and fading until his eyes opened.

And he was alone again.

The beige bedsit ceiling stared back at him blankly.

He put his own hand to his cheek, where Mary’s was. He could still feel the ghost of pressure there, and the damp of his tears. He could still smell her scent, faintly, still see her eyes behind the lids of his own, still hear the echo of her calm voice.

Then it was gone.

All of it.

Lost through the sieve of his subconscious mind, like so many dreams before, leaving only the vague dregs of a feeling.

Something warm and purposeful. Something poignant and necessary.

---


John went walking later that day. He took a path through the park instead of around it, on a whim. He breathed in deep the thickness of the London air, let the noise of voices and vehicles flow through him like the blood through his veins. For a moment he felt he could almost lose the strange pain that gripped his leg, the nightmare images that stained his memories.

“John?” A voice, somewhat familiar. “John Watson!”

John almost kept walking. He didn’t want to be recognised like this, looking so weak and strange. But something held him, made him turn around and greet the amiable, bespectacled smile of a friend. They got coffee, sat on a comfortable bench. They talked of this and that, old life and new. John mentioned trying to find a flatshare, and Stamford laughed and took him inside Bart’s, up to the old labs.

He looked at the man looking at him from across the room. Their eyes met.

And for a moment, John tasted honey on his tongue.