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Castle and Sand

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Chapter One

"Is this a castle?"

Sherlock glanced up from his cell phone with disinterest. "Chateau."

"What's the difference?"

"Spelling and battlements mostly. Why are you looking at my personal files?"

"Don't be an arsehole, and it's open on my bloody computer, that's why." After a brief pause, John asked, "Why is there a castle on my computer?"

Sherlock went back to texting. "Mine was in the other room."

"And you couldn't be arsed to get up and get your own." It was a statement not a question. John knew better than to bother asking.

"Yours is adequate enough, though I highly recommend an upgrade with your next purchase."

John snorted and shook his head in weary amusement. "Yeah, I'll put that on the long list of things I can't afford at the moment, shall I?"

Still not satisfied with his flat mate's answer, he asked again, "Castle, Sherlock? What's this about?"

Sherlock finally looked up. "Oh, that."

"Yes, that."

"I was checking for comparables in the area."

Not quite sure he'd heard correctly, John's expression narrowed. "When you say comparables, are you saying you want to know what castles are going for in France these days?"

"Yes."

"Is this for a case?"

"No."

Frustration knotted his belly. Talking to Sherlock was often like getting Chinese translations from wigmakers in Chelsea. "Are you going to tell me why you need to know that?"

"Why are you asking?"

"I think I have a right to know since it's on my bloody computer."

"Actually..."

"Sherlock, just tell me for fuck sake. Why are you checking out castles in France?"

A familiar voice sounded from the doorway. "I believe I can answer that, Dr. Watson."

"Mycroft, why are you here?" Sherlock's displeasure was immediate, his voice suddenly tight and disapproving. "You have to call or at least knock first. We had an agreement!"

"Which I was more than happy to abide by, Little Brother, but you weren't answering my calls or texts."

"You should have taken the hint. You never used to be so dense. Government work has damaged your capacity to ascertain even the obvious."

Wearily, John stood up and motioned to the chair. The constant bickering between the Holmes boys got on his nerves, but he couldn't really say much, not since his relationship with his own sibling had gone into the shithole. John was many things, but he tried very hard not to be a complete hypocrite. If Sherlock disliked his brother so much, he likely had good cause. Still, there was no reason not to at least try to be civil in their own home. "Have a seat, Mycroft. Tea?"

"No, he bloody well does not want tea and don't bother to sit down," Sherlock snapped. "Again, why are you here?"

Mycroft settled into John's chair with an air of satisfaction and defiance. "I think you know. And, yes, John, I'd love some tea. Sherlock and I have some important details to discuss."

"We don't." Sherlock hesitated before he added, "I won't apologize. It's not my fault."

"I know that."

"Then why are you here? Why persist in going on and on about it?"

"That's not what I'm doing, Sherlock. I'm trying to handle the details, details that seem far too mundane for you to handle."

"Boring."

"As I said, mundane to you perhaps, but unfortunately quite necessary."

John frowned in confusion as he stood in the doorway of the kitchen. "What's going on? Am I missing something? I'm missing something, aren't I?"

"Nothing important. Go make tea." Sherlock made a shooing motion for John to leave.

John's face heated at being ordered about like he was some lowly servant, dismissed like he didn't matter, like he wasn't the same man who rushed around catching criminals and shooting people just for Sherlock, the ungrateful wanker. Hell, Sherlock was probably raised in a castle full of butlers and maids and fucking stable hands. That would certainly explain a lot about his behavior both at home and at crime scenes. John should be used to it, but he wasn't, never would be, not really. He crossed his arms and stubbornly asked, "What's this about a bloody castle then?"

Mycroft smiled, giving him that creepy, no tooth smile that made John want to punch him. "My brother has inherited an estate from our Uncle Charles. He died several months ago and we're in the process of probate. Dealing with it seems to be beneath my younger brother's attention."

"It's boring and I didn't ask for it."

Mycroft's expression actually softened. "I know that."

"It should have been left to both of us."

"I know that as well."

John interrupted, holding up his hand to stop the squabbling for a moment. "So, hang on. What you're saying is that Sherlock inherited a castle from your uncle, as in he owns a real honest-to-god castle?"

"Do try to keep up, John."

He ignored his partner's pissy comment and focused his attention on Mycroft. He knew better than to bother with Sherlock when he was in such a stroppy mood. "Explain."

"There's little to explain. My uncle and I did not get on." Sherlock snorted before Mycroft continued his story. "Uncle Charles was my mother's brother. When Mummy married our father, she signed away her rights to the estate in order to keep other properties and accounts. At the time it was financially agreeable to all concerned. It was, however, a way of cutting her off from the French side of the family for a bit. As it turned out, she was able to reestablish ties within a few years. That in turn allowed for Sherlock to spend some of his summers in France at the estate."

John still didn't understand completely. Not all the pieces fit. Not getting on was one thing, being ignored completely another. "But you got cut out of his will when he died? Why?"

Mycroft wouldn't meet his eyes. "It's not important. What is important is that Sherlock seems to be determined to make the probate as difficult as possible."

"I am not."

"You are. You still haven't signed the papers I sent over two days ago. I need those, Sherlock, if I'm going to obtain the deed so that you might sell the place. That is, after all, what you said you wanted to do when we last spoke."

Sherlock stood up and walked over to the window, his back to his brother and John, hands behind his back. His voice steady, he spoke softly. "It's not fair that you were cut out of the will."

"I agree, but it was his decision. We both know Uncle Charles wasn't exactly fair in a lot of his dealings. He always chose your company over mine. I assume that his leaving you his entire estate is a reflection of that preference."

Still not facing his brother, Sherlock said, "Handle the probate and the sale, Mycroft, and whatever is left after fees and taxes, take half."

Mycroft didn't respond right away. After taking a deep breath, he said, "That's uncharacteristically generous, Dear Brother. May I ask what brought on this charitable turn of events?"

"It's what you deserve. I won't perpetuate unfairness, especially not from my uncle. My half will go back to Mummy."

"Mummy's already said she doesn't want it and legally can't receive it even through a third party, not after the previous agreement she signed. It's a small fortune, Sherlock. You can't just not accept it."

"Then donate it to charity. I don't want it."

"Charity? Sentiment, Sherlock? How unlike you."

Turning around, a smile on his face, but his eyes cold, Sherlock responded, "It's got nothing to do with sentiment. I don't want to deal with the boring aspects of property transfer. With the present real estate market, you'll have quite a challenge to sell a 15th century chateau in the French countryside. It's not what one might consider a hot property. I believe that's the correct term for it."

"It is, and it's quite true that the real estate market isn't as strong as it once was. However, there have already been some inquiries. So, perhaps it won't be quite as difficult as first suspected."

"Good. The sooner it's gone, the better."

Mycroft frowned. "I would have thought you had fond memories of the place, Brother Mine."

"My memories are my own business. Now, are we done here? I have things to do and John can't sit around all day. He gets bored and limpy. We need to go out and find a case."

John turned his attention fully on Sherlock, his face red and his jaw clenched. "Bored and limpy? Seriously? That's how you see me?"

"I'm only stating the obvious."

John snapped, "It's my leg, so piss off."

Mycroft chuckled. "Ever erudite, my dear Dr. Watson."

"You can piss off, too." Angrily, John went to the door, grabbed his jacket, and headed down the stairs. All that money and he just gave it away when John could barely afford rent. Then he had the fucking balls to call him limpy in front of his brother. What the fuck, Sherlock? "I need some fresh air."

Sherlock called after him, completely unperturbed by John's sudden temper. "We need milk."

"Fuck the bloody milk."

After a few moments passed and they were alone, Mycroft stated, "He is really quite petulant sometimes, isn't he? As a soldier, one would have thought he would have learned to be less sensitive to criticism."

Sherlock shook his head, his energy suddenly drained. "Go away, Mycroft. You've done enough for one day."

"What did I do?"

"John's upset and it's all your fault."

"I fail to see..."

"Exactly. You fail to see. Leave."

"Sign the papers first. Then I'll go."

Sherlock grabbed the legal papers from under his files on the desk, signed them quickly, and restrained himself from tossing them at his brother. He held them out instead. "Take them and don't bother me about this again."

"I'll need you to sign various papers allowing me power to deal with the estate. I could just as easily put your money in another trust until you need it. Still, if you're serious about this charity business, then you'll have to let me know which one."

"Fine, whatever. You're annoying."

"He'll be back."

Sherlock didn't pretend not to know to what his brother was referring. However, he didn't answer, just turned his back and looked out the window. He took a deep breath. "I despise that place. I want nothing to do with it."

"Sherlock..."

Words came out harsh and breathy, as Sherlock made a rare confession. "Uncle Charles is dead and I'm glad. I wanted to celebrate when I heard. If John hadn't been here, I might have. It was close."

Mycroft paused, his expression darkening, not quite sure how to take those words. He knew all too well what Sherlock did when he celebrated. It was a chapter in his brother's life he had hoped was over. "Based on his dealings with Mummy and myself, I realize that he was not an honorable man."

Sherlock laughed without humor. "That's being kind. I'm glad Mummy left when she did and you were lucky to be sent away."

"Yes, no doubt." Mycroft hesitated, still unsure if his growing suspicions were justified. "Perhaps you should tell John about your summers there."

"Perhaps you should leave now, or as John would say, piss off."

Mycroft swallowed hard and felt like he was a teenager again, someone powerless to deal with a sudden dark truth. He hated that feeling and he suddenly loathed his dead uncle with every fiber of his being. "I had no idea."

"You still don't."

"Perhaps not, but your behavior would suggest..."

"Mycroft, if I ask you to leave one more time, I won't be accountable for my actions."

Mycroft gave a nod and a curt response. "Understood."

Mycroft left, his head down, disturbed by the notion that he'd missed something so vital about his brother, something that he should have guessed even as a younger, less worldly man. He shook his head and made his decision. He needed to store this away for later. Sherlock was Sherlock. Interfering would just make matters worse. That didn't mean that he couldn't be persuaded to desecrate a grave in France on his next day off.

&&&&&&&

Several hours and too many pints later, John returned to 221B Baker Street a lot calmer than when he'd left. It wasn't like he didn't know his limp came and went like some pimply teenager, moody as hell and just as unpredictable. That didn't mean he liked hearing Sherlock complain about it in front of Mycroft of all people.

He heard the violin from the bottom of the stairs. He took a deep breath and a few extra moments to steady himself before going up to open the door.

Sherlock ignored him and continued playing. As John took off his coat, he settled on the sofa to listen. He stretched out, his head back, his eyes closed. The tune sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it. Obviously, it was classical. Sherlock rarely played anything else, but this was really quite nice. After about half an hour more, the last note sounded. His eyes still closed, he heard his friend put away his instrument. John sighed and said, "I liked that."

"Paganini, Caprice in C minor, Op.1, No. 4."

"Sounded like you played it more than once, though, each time a bit different."

"I like to try variations. It's a particularly challenging piece."

"You been playing since I left?" When he got no answer, John opened his eyes and asked, "You okay?"

"Fine."

"You and your brother..."

"I don't want to talk about Mycroft."

"That was generous about the inheritance, giving him half."

Without saying another word, Sherlock left the room, slamming his door behind him. John let out a long breath and closed his eyes again. "Told me."

&&&&&&&

The next morning, John didn't remember making it up to bed, but he must have since that was where he found himself when he woke up. He still wore his clothes and needed a shower, the sooner the better. He smelled too much like one of Sherlock's homeless group, or even worse like one of his experiments gone wrong. The thought made him more than a little bit nauseated.

A tall glass of water and six aspirin tablets were on the bedside table. "Six? Jesus, Sherlock." He took two of the pills and drank all the water, hoping that the god-awful pounding would ease up before he had to go to work. It was a long shift, and he didn't have the time or the energy to be hung over.

Sliding out of bed, he headed downstairs, his leg aching all the way. Sherlock lay on the sofa in his blue dressing gown, his eyes closed, his fingertips steepled in front of his face. John asked, "Tea?"

"Yes. Thank you."

Sherlock rarely said thank you, so John stared a few extra beats before he turned on the kettle. He went to the bathroom, stripped off his dirty clothes, and put on a robe before going back out into the sitting room. He'd shower after tea, after he got his body up and running and the mental cobwebs cleared.

Worry niggled at the back of his mind. Something wasn't right about the whole castle business. He studied his friend before he said, "Sherlock, you okay?"

"You keep asking me that. Repetition is boring."

"I'm a doctor. It's what I do."

"I'm fine, John."

"You been up all night?"

"How's your head?"

John snorted to himself and went to the kitchen to finish the tea. He called back over his shoulder, "Seriously, Sherlock, six aspirin? Did you want me to end up with an overdose?"

"The standard male should be able to process..."

"Doctor, remember?"

"Then you should know that there's no significant concern if one should ingest twice the regular dosage of something as benign as aspirin."

"More like three times the recommended dosage and it could definitely cause concern under the right conditions, but never mind. It was a nice gesture. I appreciate it." John put the tea bags in the mugs and asked again, "Did you sleep at all last night?"

"Not everyone requires as much sleep as you do."

"That's a no then."

After a few minutes Sherlock sat up as John brought over his tea, already fixed the way his partner liked it. Sherlock sipped and John studied his friend's face. Dark circles bruised those closed eyes and his lips drew in a tight line when he wasn't drinking his tea. "You look tried."

"Stop fussing." The words were brusque, but not harsh, not snappish like they could be if Sherlock were really bothered.

John finished his own tea before fetching a second cup. Then he sat down again, clearing his throat. "I'm sorry for running out on you last night."

"Mycroft has that effect on people."

John shook his head. "It had nothing to do with Mycroft."

Sherlock met his eyes for the first time that morning. "You drank rather more than usual last night, six pints rather than two. That would indicate a much higher level of anxiety than normal."

John kept his voice even, not wanting to have another row. "You might say that."

"I'm not quite sure what triggered the severity of the reaction. Nothing we were talking about had anything to do with you, yet you seemed to take it all quite personally. Surely my comment about the leg was harmless enough."

"Forget about the leg, though in the future I'd appreciate it if you didn't refer to me as limpy."

"Not good?"

"Bit not good, yeah. War vets, we're a touchy bunch."

Rather than debate the point or, heaven forbid, apologize, Sherlock simply nodded. "Noted."

Putting down his cup, John considered his next words carefully. "Why am I here?"

"It's a bit early in the day for rhetorical or philosophical questions, John. However, I can recommend some excellent texts on existentialism."

"I need an answer, Sherlock. You and Mycroft, you obviously come from money."

"I don't see your point. Besides, you already knew that. I see no reason why that should upset you."

"Think about it with that massive brain of yours and you'll figure it out."

Sherlock studied John a few more moments before his expression softened as he finally solved the puzzle. "You're wondering why I'd need someone to split the rent."

"Got it in one. Well done."

"You think that I've played you for a fool in some way, tricked you as it were."

"Something like that, yeah. It makes no sense otherwise."

"Don't be an idiot."

Instead of being insulted, John pressed harder. "Maybe I am an idiot. Maybe that's what I've been all along. What I need now is for you to explain it, Sherlock. If you've got so much money, why in hell would you need me?"

"You really are terribly slow sometimes."

"Yeah, yeah, thick as a plank, got it. Stop stalling."

"As you've probably gathered, my git of a brother handles most of my finances."

"Figures since you can't be half bothered to deal with things as trivial as budgets and paying bills."

Sherlock ignored the sarcasm and continued. "Then you should also know that he often uses that as leverage."

"Leverage for what?"

"He blackmails me into doing his dirty work. Boring cases, labeled as national security, which are ridiculously tedious. I have no desire to work for Mycroft, never have, yet he persists in demanding that I work on certain cases. You've been involved in a few, so you know what he's like."

"I do, yes, but what's that got to do with anything?"

"When I asked you to be my flat mate, he had cut me off with just a minimal stipend to live on. It wasn't a trick or a ploy, John. I seriously needed your half of the rent in order to procure 221B Baker Street. It was vital for the work."

John hesitated to ask, but he had to know for his own peace of mind. "Needed it then, but not now?"

Sherlock sat back and took a deep breath. "No, not now. While a large portion of my trust..."

"You've got a trust?" John snorted and shook his head in amusement. "Of course, you've got a trust. Why am I not surprised?"

"Yes, well as I said, most of it is tied up, but I do have access to substantial funds at the moment. It's more than adequate for my needs."

John swallowed hard as the reality hit home. "So, you really don't need me anymore."

"You're being unbelievably obtuse today, John. I must insist you cut back on your alcohol consumption if it's going to so negatively impact your mental faculties in the future."

Frowning, John shook his head in confusion. "I don't get it. Why do you need me if you can now pay the rent on your own?"

"Think about it."

John snapped, "I am thinking about it. Stop playing mind games, Sherlock. What the hell do you need me for?"

Sherlock's voice was hushed, like he was telling a secret he wanted only John to hear. "You're my blogger and my friend, John. How can you sit there and not realize that I now need you for far more than the rent?"

John stared at his partner, not sure what to say. To have Sherlock be so forthcoming was totally out of character. But something still wasn't right. He cleared his throat before he answered, "I appreciate that, Sherlock, I do. I think of you as a friend, too."

"Then I hope we can put to rest any more discussion of why you're here. If you'd like, I can cover your part of the rent from now on. It's not a problem. Then perhaps you can stop working at that horrid little surgery when you should be helping me on cases."

"I'll pay my own rent, thanks."

"But you don't have to."

"I do. I pay my own way. Always have, always will."

"I was just suggesting..."

"Thanks, but no thanks." John sat back and asked the real question, the one that had been at the back of his mind since he'd learned about the inheritance and witnessed Sherlock's strange reaction to it. "Tell me about the castle."

Sherlock stiffened, his eyes suddenly dark. "That is not up for discussion."

"Why not?"

"Because it's not."

Sherlock stood up and headed to his bedroom. John got up and caught his arm. "Sherlock..."

"Remove your hand, John."

John released him immediately. He'd missed something, something important. "Why don't you want to talk about this? You've got a fucking castle and you're just giving it away. Nobody just gives away a castle, Sherlock, not even you. There has to be a bloody good reason. I've been thinking about it all night and I can't figure it out."

"Not surprising."

John ignored the insult and carried on analyzing his friend's odd reaction. "It's not sentiment because you don't care that much about your brother, or fairness, or for charities in general. So, why?" His voice tighter, John repeated himself. "Why give it away?"

Sherlock leaned closer and hissed, "I despised my uncle, John. He was evil. I want nothing of his."

"But why?"

Sherlock moved to his door and stopped, glancing over his shoulder. "I've said all I'm going to say on the matter. Don't ask me again."

John studied him a bit longer and nodded. "All right. No more questions. If you want to give away a fortune, it's your business."

"Yes, it is."

Sherlock disappeared into his bedroom as John stood stone still for a few more moments. He sat down hard on the sofa, his mind marching into dark corners, disturbed by what he'd just heard in his friend's voice. He'd heard anger and hatred, sadness and fear. A terrible picture formed in his mind and he closed his eyes in sudden realization of what it all meant. "Well fuck."

&&&&&&

Halfway through his shift, John crashed. He could hardly stand the thought of tending one more bout of flu, complaint of joint pain, or migraine. A thundering headache smashed around inside his skull and his leg was killing him. He refused to use his cane, but he knew if Lestrade didn't send them a case soon, he might have to. The damn leg had a mind of its own and sometimes it was all he could do not to beat it like the traitor it was.

There was a short rap and his office door opened. "John? It's time for lunch. Would you like to go out and get something or order in?"

"I'm fine, Sarah, thanks. I've got it covered."

"All right." She hesitated before asking, "Everything okay? You've seemed distracted all morning."

He rubbed his face with both hands, his brain thumping like a jack hammer. He knew he'd only half paid attention to his patients today, enough to get the job done, but nothing that would win him a doctor of the year award. "Bit of a late night."

"Sherlock?"

"Not everything is about Sherlock," he grumbled.

"Really? Could've fooled me." The words weren't accusing, simply a cross between a tease and a statement. After so many spoiled dates, she had a right to be bitter, but she wasn't, just accepting. He liked that about Sarah, the fact that she didn't hold it against him that he chose to work with Sherlock over dating her. None of his other ex-girlfriends were so forgiving. She spoke again to get his attention. "Want to talk about it? Might help to clear the head."

"No, thanks. I think I'll go out to lunch. I'll be back for the one o'clock."

"Mr. O'Banon? The old guy who comes in like clockwork every month to complain about his constipation?"

"That's the one, yeah."

"Lucky you."

John laughed, but not out of humor. Sometimes pathetic chuckles were all he could muster. He stood up, bracing himself with one hand on his desk, worried that the treacherous leg might give out again. It held, but just barely. "I'll be back." His leg knifed pain up through his lower back in complaint.

&&&&&&

"Lunch. JW"

It took only a few moments before a return text appeared on his phone. "Now? MH"

"Now. JW."

"I'll send a car. MH."

Less than two minutes later a black sedan stopped at the curb and John got in the backseat. The driver pulled off without speaking. A few minutes later he was in front of Mycroft's club. John got out of the car and went inside. An escort took him to the back where Sherlock's brother was already sitting at a table having tea. Mycroft pointed at the empty seat. "Please join me."

John kept his jacket on, but sat down, his hands stuffed deep into the pockets. "Hope you weren't too busy."

"It's been a relatively slow day." Mycroft paused before he added, "You've never asked me to have lunch before. I thought it might be an important occasion. May I assume that my brother knows nothing of this meeting?"

"You assume correctly."

Tea was served and orders for food taken. As soon as they were alone, John took a deep breath to still his nerves. He wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing, but he needed information and he couldn't ask Sherlock. Mycroft would have to do. "Did you know?"

Mycroft lifted an eyebrow and put down his teacup. "I know many things, John. You'll need to be a bit more precise."

"You know what I'm talking about. Don't sit there and act like you don't. Did you know about Sherlock and your uncle?"

Mycroft didn't feign ignorance any longer. "No, I didn't know. If you're suggesting that I'd let something untoward occur and do nothing about it, well, you've got an even lower opinion of me than I earlier surmised."

John bit back that a lower opinion really wasn't possible. But he still wasn't satisfied with Mycroft's protest. "When did you suspect?"

"Yesterday."

"Yesterday?"

"Yes."

"No sooner?"

"No."

John leaned back, his outrage slightly deflated. "Right."

"You?"

"Me what?"

"Sherlock would not have spoken to you about this, so something he did or said aroused your suspicion."

"Might have done, yeah."

Food arrived and they were both quiet until they were alone again. John pushed his sandwich away and rubbed his forehead, the headache worse than ever. "I've lost my appetite."

"If it's any consolation, whatever happened occurred when he was a teenager over twenty years ago."

"It's not." Turning his mind away from his flat mate, John focused in on Mycroft. "Why didn't your uncle like you?"

Mycroft cleared his throat, obviously discomforted by the question. He motioned for one of the waiters. "Bring me my regular."

"Yes, sir." The waiter returned quickly with a drink.

Mycroft sniffed it and took a long swallow of the whiskey before he spoke quietly. "We argued. I was still upset by how he'd cheated our mother out of part of her inheritance and I made that displeasure known, rather loudly I'm afraid."

"Is that the only reason?"

"My uncle had an eye for beauty. I was not a beautiful young man, nothing like my brother in that regard."

The idea of Sherlock being gorgeous was not a new one for John. He'd often thought about how physically stunning Sherlock was and how he must have left a trail of broken hearts behind him when he was growing up. Now he had a new picture, one of a young man who had been taken advantage of by someone trusted by his own family. It made his stomach turn. He kept his voice low, but he couldn't hide the anger. "And that didn't make anybody suspicious, that this Charles might have ulterior motives for having Sherlock there by himself in the summers?"

"He was our uncle, John. If we had even an inkling that something had happened..."

"What? What would you have done?"

"Someone would've stopped it, Mummy most likely. My uncle was a scoundrel, an absolute terror in the business world. He was accused of many unscrupulous affairs with women, but I assure you that there was never the slightest hint of pedophilia."

"Sherlock never complained?"

"Not until the end of the second summer. He came home early and swore never to go back. We just thought he'd grown bored like with everything else in his life. It never occurred to anyone..."

"That he'd been molested?"

Mycroft lowered his eyes in shame and shook his head, "No, it never did."

"And now?"

"Now what?

"What do we do about it?"

Staring at John for several long moments, Mycroft leaned forward, his face pinched. "There is nothing to do, John. We must respect his wishes."

"To pretend it never happened? Just like that?"

"Just like that." He paused and added, "What would you want to do about it so many years later if it were you?"

"But it wasn't me, was it? It was Sherlock."

"Sadly, yes, though he'll never confirm it."

"He doesn't have to. It explains so much, especially the drugs and the way he hates to be touched."

"Yes, it does."

John stood up to leave. "This was a major clusterfuck, Mycroft. Don't worry. I don't blame you. You weren't much more than a boy yourself when this happened, but someone should've seen it, done something about it. There's no excuse for the fact that he suffered though this alone."

"What would you have me say?"

"There's nothing left to say. Just sell the fucking castle as fast as you can and be grateful your uncle is already in the ground."

Storming out, John didn't bother to wait for a response. Anything Mycroft bothered to say at that point would be pretty damn useless anyway. The past was the past and couldn't be changed, but that didn't mean he had to like it even a little bit.

His world went flashing red for a while, a really dangerous color for a man named Watson or anyone sorry enough to get in his way when all he wanted to do was to murder a man who was never going to see the light of day again. That kind of hatred was so much easier to handle when he was marching in a warzone, knowing he could put down his enemy with one fatal shot. If there was one thing John knew how to do, it was to take steady aim even when there were bombs falling all around.

However, carrying and controlling the war inside him, that required a different battle plan entirely.

&&&&&&&

Sherlock sat alone in his flat, staring out the window, the inside of his left arm lined with three fresh nicotine patches. The stimulant lifted his brain to just the edge of the fog. He was bored, seriously bored. He'd already texted Lestrade five times that morning and there were still no interesting murders or thefts to investigate. London crime just wasn't what it used to be.

At least if John were home, he wouldn't be quite so bored. John always had something to say or do to amuse him. If nothing else, John could make tea. He knew just how Sherlock liked it, with two sugars. In fact, John usually seemed more than willing to make it for both of them without complaint. Sherlock hadn't said as much, but he'd certainly noticed the pleasure John took in serving him tea and trying to feed him. He rather enjoyed the little game they played, Feed the Sherlock, letting it seem like John had won when Sherlock would've eaten anyway. It pleased John so it pleased him. Sherlock wasn't quite sure when that shift had happened, but being aware of it made him a bit uneasy, not uneasy enough to stop, but enough to store it in the back of his mind for further study.

Moving from the window to the sofa, Sherlock stretched out and closed his eyes. John wouldn't be home for hours. Why he was so stubborn about continuing to work as a doctor when Sherlock could so easily support them both made no sense. Why should working himself sick at a tiresome surgery give him more pride than working by his side, solving crimes or writing his blog? Their partnership was far more important and valuable than John's work with Sarah.

Why he still wanted to be friends with that Sawyer woman baffled him, too. It was obvious that she no longer considered John a viable sexual partner. Idiot woman had lost her chance after their first date. Granted, she'd been kidnapped and nearly killed, but so had John. John didn't mind, so why should she? John thrived on such experiences. Obviously, she didn't have the superior mettle to be a suitable mate for his friend.

Not that she was alone in that distinction. There were no women who deserved his John, no men, either, for that matter. Sherlock recognized his own possessiveness. He'd never been good at sharing, no reason to start. John was his no matter how many times his friend dated or continued to search for some ridiculous notion of a traditional relationship.

His cell phone beeped. Sherlock frowned at the interruption to his meditation. When he recognized the surgery's number, he sat up quickly in alarm. Why wouldn't John just use his own phone? He would if he could. Sherlock pushed the button. "John?"

"No, not John, sorry. Sarah."

Troubled by her anxious tone, he leaned forward, his elbows braced on his knees. "Has something happened to John?"

"I was hoping he was there with you."

"He's supposed to be working today."

"He left for lunch and hasn't returned. He's not answering my calls. I thought I'd check with you to see if he'd gone home or was on a case."

Sherlock's body went on alert, but he forced himself to sound calm. John could take care of himself. Even so, he was a man of routine on workdays and when that changed for no obvious reason, Sherlock needed to investigate. "He didn't call in?"

"No, and that's not like him. If he can't make a shift, he always calls, even if it's last minute."

Sherlock heard the hesitation in her voice and pushed for more information. "What aren't you telling me?"

"Maybe it's nothing, but he wasn't himself this morning."

"Be more specific." God, the woman was infuriatingly slow.

"He obviously had a headache and was distracted...and he was limping."

"Limping?"

"Yes, it comes and goes, but this was the worst it's been in a while. He said it was nothing, but if he's not here and he's not with you...well, now I'm worried."

"I'm sure he's fine. I'll find him."

"Thank you."

Sherlock disconnected, but before he could dial John's number, his phone chirped a text. "Do you know where your blogger is? GL."

He texted back. "With you I take it. SH."

"Yes. GL."

Sherlock swallowed hard, his chest tight as he typed. "Is he unharmed? SH."

"You should see the other guys. GL."

Good god. "On my way. SH."

&&&&&&&
Lestrade studied the perfectly average-looking man sitting on the bench next to Mrs. Edith MacPherson. She was an elderly lady, grey-haired and stooped, the recent victim of an attempted mugging. Still distressed by the experience, she sniffled into her white hankie. John Watson's arm went around her shoulders, comforting her, and it seemed to be working. She was no longer sobbing out of control. Dr. Watson had a great bedside manner even if he was sitting in the middle of a busy police station.

John certainly looked a bit worse for wear, his clothes ripped around the edges, his right eye puffy, a wound above it, blood seeping through the makeshift bandage. Both hands were wrapped, his knuckles as tattered as his sleeves. He would no doubt need stitches. Of course, the thugs who attacked Mrs. MacPherson would need much more than that. One was already in surgery and the other was still unconscious.

John Watson didn't look that dangerous, but over the years Lestrade had learned the hard way that looks were deceiving.

"Inspector?"

"Sherlock. Glad you're here." Lestrade turned and saw his friend, the worry and concern etched into his pale features. He'd never seen Sherlock care about anybody before except maybe Mrs. Hudson. It was an odd thing to see the changes in Sherlock since the arrival of John Watson into his life, but it was a good thing, or at least it had been so far.

"What's going on? Is John being charged?"

"For stopping a mugging, no."

"Then why is he still here?"

"We're working on witness statements."

Sherlock glanced across the room and zeroed in on John, who looked up at the same moment. Watson smiled with a nod of acknowledgement to Sherlock's presence but then turned his attention back to the needy woman next to him.

Before Sherlock could go over to John, Lestrade stepped closer and motioned for him to follow. "Come to my office first."

"What's going on, Lestrade? John's been injured. Why isn't he in hospital being treated?"

"He's fine. He's got a black eye and he'll need stitches, but otherwise he's in one piece."

Once inside his own office, he closed the door. Sherlock said, "And the men you mentioned in your text? I assume those are the assailants."

"You need to see something before I answer any more questions."

Lestrade turned on his computer monitor and played the video of the attack. The images pulled from the CCTV monitors were grainy, but the situation was plain to see. Two burly men approached the elderly woman, not only grabbing her purse, but roughly shoving her down to the pavement. One of the men, the taller one, pulled back a foot to kick her, but didn't have the chance to finish. A blur of motion caught him off guard and slammed him to the ground. Several quick blows later he was out and John sprang up and swung around for the second man who held a knife in his right hand. There was a glint of steel knuckle dusters across the assailant's left fist. The fight was brutal, but over so fast that Lestrade was tempted to rewind and do it in slow motion. The opponent landed only a handful of blows, but John's own punches and kicks were efficient and well placed. Lestrade had only seen fighting like that in training courses for special forces or in martial arts films. He'd never let on, but he'd always suspected that John wasn't just a doctor in Afghanistan.

Lestrade turned to Sherlock and asked, "You want to see it again?"

"That won't be necessary." Sherlock crossed his arms. "Quite clearly he stopped a crime in progress."

"Yes, but he put both men in the hospital."

"It's better than killing them, which, as you can see by his skill level, would have been just as easy to do."

"You don't find that disturbing?"

"Why should I? We both know John's a soldier at heart. Just because he's disabled from active service doesn't mean he's forgotten all his training."

"He didn't look the least bit disabled to me."

Reluctantly, Sherlock agreed. "No, he didn't."

"One of the men is having his spleen removed and the other had a serious head trauma. He might not recover."

"Crime has its risks."

"You're missing the point."

Sherlock's voice remained unemotional, with that detached way he had of speaking that got right up Lestrade's nose. "What point is that, Inspector? John thwarted a crime. Are you saying he might be in legal trouble because of the condition of the felons who tried to rob an old woman?"

"He might. He didn't just stop a crime, Sherlock. He beat the men to bloody heaps. In law enforcement we call that overkill."

"Some would say that they deserved it."

"Some might say that, yeah, but I'm not one of them. It's one thing to stop a crime, another to commit manslaughter in the process. I know sometimes in the heat of the moment, people get carried away. This seemed like more than that. I think he knew what he was doing every second."

"There are no grounds for a criminal case against John. If those idiots were injured during the commission of a crime, that's of their own doing. He's a civilian now and not a police officer."

"Which is probably the only reason he won't be charged."

"If they were to bring a civil case..."

"If they survive."

"A civil case would be foolish. John would have the very best legal representation. I would see to that. He's a decorated war hero. All we'd have to do is bring out his service record and the woman he rescued. It would be a waste of time for all concerned."

"I'm not worried about a trial, Sherlock. You're missing my point completely."

"What point is that?"

Lestrade brought up a screen capture of John in the midst of his fight. "This is my point." The picture showed a blood-spattered John still fighting like a madman as he hammered the second man already defeated and lying unconscious on the ground.

Sherlock reached over and turned off the screen. "I understand your concern, but he's fine."

"Is he?"

"Find us a good case and you'll see."

"It's not just about cases, Sherlock. Cases might not be enough anymore."

"Don't be so dramatic." Sherlock smiled and stood taller, totally confident and assured of his own position. "Be glad that John saved a life today, an innocent woman who needed his help. He might have used a bit more force than you deem necessary to subdue the suspects, but you weren't there and neither were any other police officers. He did what he had to in order to protect a victim just like he did when he was a soldier."

"He's still a soldier. Sometimes I don't think he even realizes he's home." Lestrade shook his head and bit his lower lip. "He worries me, Sherlock, he really does. To look at him, you see this everyday guy, this easygoing bloke who gets along with just about everybody, including you, which is a miracle in its own right. Then I see this video and I know that it's all a front. He's not who he seems to be, not even close."

Sherlock snorted, his lips thinned in cynical amusement. "Are any of us who we seem to be on the surface?"

"But..."

"If you'll excuse me, I must collect John and get him medical attention. Call me if you have a real case that deserves our consideration."

"Sherlock, don't dismiss this. It might be his PTSD or it might be something more."

"There's nothing to dismiss. You're overreacting. John's perfectly sound. Are there any papers to sign for his release?"

"He's not charged and he's already given a statement."

"Then we're done here."

Sherlock left his office and Lestrade followed. He watched as Sherlock went over to John, who stood up and introduced the woman beside him on the bench. After a few moments Mrs. MacPherson gave John a final hug. Then Holmes and Watson left together, John walking fast enough to keep up with his friend's long stride.

&&&&&

John's body still hummed with the adrenaline that had pumped through his system during the fight. Instead of shaking, his thinly bandaged hands were steady as he ate, stuffed his face really. He was bloody well starving and the Chinese takeaway was fantastic. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd eaten and everything tasted so perfectly spicy. He'd missed that feeling, that rush that came from a good fight won, the whole world amped up around him.

The only thing missing was a good shag after, but that wasn't likely to happen. He hadn't dated in months and with Sherlock cock blocking him at every turn, it was just too much trouble. Still, he was half hard, had been since the fight, and the only one he really thought about was Sherlock. He knew it was wrong, even worse now that he knew his friend's history with his uncle. It still didn't stop him from thinking about kissing him, running his hands all over his long, lean body, feeling the tight muscles below miles of pale skin.

John pushed the erotic images away before he got harder and had another dumpling instead.

"You were certainly hungry."

"Yeah, I was actually." John glanced over and saw that Sherlock hadn't eaten anything, not even an egg roll. "We don't have a case. You should eat while you can. Lestrade's bound to come up with something soon. I'm sure all the murderers in London haven't gone on strike yet."

"I'm sure they haven't. There have been several murders over the last few days, but they're all typical and petty, husband kills wife, wife slashes the girlfriend. Boring."

John stuffed the last of the pork into his mouth, his mind still flashing back to fighting off the men who'd attacked Mrs. MacPherson. He nodded at Sherlock's words, but he really wasn't paying attention.

"John?"

He finally looked up and focused. "What?"

"I called your name three times. You didn't hear me."

"Really? Sorry." Then he smiled and shrugged. "Blow to the head. My hearing might be affected."

"No, it's not."

"You're right, it's not."

"You're terribly cheerful for a man who just got eight stitches in his forehead, ten in his left hand, and has an impressive black eye blooming."

Without thinking, John flexed his fingers, touching the edge of the bandage on his left hand. The analgesic hadn't worn off so he still felt no pain, just a dull ache. He was just happy he hadn't broken any bones. Hands were a bitch to heal and for a doctor that could be problematic. "Well, I did save a woman from being robbed and beaten."

"That you did." Sherlock paused before he added. "Your limp is gone, too. I noticed when we left the Yard."

John frowned and then nodded slowly in realization. He no longer felt like a cripple, which was a definite improvement over how he'd felt only a few hours before. "I guess it really is all in my head, yeah?"

"You're a strange man, John Watson."

"You're one to talk."

"Quite true." Sherlock sipped his tea. He still wore his black coat, the collar turned up, even though the heat was on inside the flat. Sherlock said, "I called Sarah. She sends her oh my gods and best wishes."

"Oh, shit, I forgot. Fuck." John put down his chopsticks and wiped his hands on a napkin. "I should've called. I always call."

"You were obviously a bit busy."

"True, but that's no excuse. I should call her now, explain a bit, say I'm sorry."

"But you're not sorry."

John looked up and met knowing eyes. He sighed and sat back against the sofa. He rarely hid a thing from Sherlock. He had no idea why he kept trying. "Well, I am sorry for not calling, but you're right, I'm not sorry for not going back."

"Why go at all?"

Crossing his arms, John tensed up. "We've had this discussion. I have to work. Rent and bills to pay. We're not all born to money."

Sherlock ignored the jab. "But you don't have to necessarily work at the surgery. There are other jobs, John."

"I know. It's my own fault. It's just been easier to stay there."

"Easier, but not easier, not really."

"That actually makes sense."

"I try."

John chuckled and relaxed. "I should start looking, maybe work in an A&E for a while. That's bound to be more exciting that dealing with vomiting and diarrhea day after day."

"Sarah would miss you."

John tilted his head and studied Sherlock. The words might have sounded innocent, but he knew better. Sherlock tolerated Sarah, but he didn't like her any more than his other exes. Sherlock wasn't the only one who could read his partner. "No, she wouldn't, not after about a week. You do realize we're just friends."

"I realize that. I wasn't suggesting..."

"Yes, you were, and that's okay, but there's never going to be anything between Sarah and me, so it's not an issue."

Sherlock stood up, took off his coat, and threw it over the back of the sofa. He sat back down in the chair opposite John before he casually asked, "Did my brother kidnap you again today?"

Surprised by the question, John's eyes narrowed. He didn't want Sherlock knowing about that meeting, but he wasn't about to lie about it, not exactly. "No, why would you think..."

"I saw the CCTV footage, John. The incident didn't happen anywhere near the surgery. It was, however, only a few blocks from my brother's club."

Damn Sherlock and his eagle vision anyway. "Well spotted."

"So?"

"So what?"

"If he didn't kidnap you, you went voluntarily."

"Yes, I did."

"Why?"

John took a deep breath. He wasn't quite sure how he would smooth over what he'd done, which was to invade Sherlock's privacy. At the same time, he was glad he had seen Mycroft when he did and had decided to walk off his anger. Otherwise, he couldn't have saved Mrs. MacPherson. She deserved saving and he hadn't enjoyed an afternoon quite so much in months.

"If I said it was personal, would you leave it alone?"

"No."

"I didn't think so."

"Was it about me?"

"Yes, but not in the way you're thinking."

"You were concerned about me because you feel I've somehow revealed something disturbing about my childhood and you wanted it confirmed by my brother."

John shook his head in amazement. Sherlock was bloody brilliant and never ceased to impress. "Maybe it was the way you were thinking after all." John leaned forward, his hands together, his eyes no longer meeting Sherlock's solemn stare. "Look, I wanted to talk to him. You won't talk about it and I respect that. I am sorry if you feel like I've overstepped. I didn't mean it that way and I won't push you to talk about anything you don't want to talk about."

"How kind."

"Don't be a surly bastard." John hesitated, planning his words carefully. "I've been thinking a lot about this all day and my head is a lot clearer now. We all have things in our past that we don't want to talk about. That's fine, it really is. I mean, I was upset this morning, but I realized, hell, I don't talk about a lot of things that happened to me when I grew up or about the war or about how I feel about..., well, a lot of things. So, it's all fine, couldn't be more fine. Understand?"

Sherlock visibly relaxed, his shoulders no longer tense. His pale eyes sparkled a bit brighter and his lips turned up just a bit, not into a grin, but into that half smile he gave when he was pleased but didn't really want to show it. "I do."

"Good. There is just one more thing and then we don't have to say anything else about all this."

"What's that?"

"If you ever do decide you want to talk about it, you can talk to me, not as a doctor, but as a friend, your best friend. Nothing you say will go in a blog or be repeated to anybody. You can trust me."

"I do trust you, John, but there's nothing to talk about."

John sat back, more relaxed, hoping he'd done the right thing, feeling in his gut he had. "That's sorted then. Who does the wash up?"

"Is that a serious question?"

Laughing, John stood up and started to pick up the take away boxes. It took all of his self control not to reach out and ruffle his friend's thick black curls. Instead, he just complained, "That's what I thought, you lazy git."

&&&&&&&

John still ached a bit all over a week later, but it was a good ache, the kind of pain that made him remember how many times during the war he'd felt the same way, all beat up and edgy, but ready to get back to fighting and saving lives. He probably looked a bit daft standing at a crime scene, completely content as he waited for Sherlock to finish surveying the whole area without interference.

Lestrade interrupted his thoughts. "How are the head and hands doing?"

"Fine, thanks. The sutures are itchy, but they're coming out later today." He touched the raised area on his forehead just above his right eye. "Shouldn't leave a scar if I'm lucky."

"I figured you might take some time off."

John studied the serious features carefully. Lestrade wasn't one to dance around an issue when he could come at it straight on, but he was all but doing a two-step at the moment. Come to think about it, the inspector had been antsy around him since he arrived, avoiding eye contact, watching John on the sly, like living with Sherlock hadn't taught him every the cop trick in the book. There was nothing like the direct approach to get the ball rolling. "So, what's on your mind, Inspector?"

Lestrade's eyebrow lifted in surprise at John's question, but he had a quick response. "Miller and Jones will recover."

"Who?"

"The two men you put in hospital. Remember them?"

"I do, yes." John made a fist with his damaged left hand. "The guy with the knuckle dusters especially."

"That would be Miller."

He still wasn't sure what Lestrade was on about, but he was sure he didn't like how the man was staring at him like he was some kind of freak, like he felt sorry for him for some reason. He ignored the prickly sensation and asked, "What about charges? Will they be arraigned once they're well enough?"

"They will, but that won't be right away. They'll be in hospital for a while, a few more weeks probably."

John stopped watching Sherlock waltz around the corpse and brought his full attention back to Lestrade. "Weeks? Seriously?"

"Miller had internal bleeding and had his spleen out. Jones had to have emergency surgery for blood on the brain. So, yeah, a few weeks yet."

John wasn't sure what it said about him as a doctor that he felt so detached and not even a twinge of regret for his actions. Still, he couldn't escape the stare from Lestrade and noted the concern there. He suddenly suspected he knew the reason for it. He cleared his throat. "In the war we had a definite enemy. It was them or us, twenty-four seven, no breaks, no time off. I had to worry every day about whether there'd be another day, had to patch up kids with limbs blown off, see my mates explode in front of me. Took a round in my shoulder and nearly died for my troubles."

"John, listen..."

"No, you listen. I need you to understand something. I wasn't thrill seeking when this happened. I was just walking along a public street, minding my own fucking business. This is London, not some backwater town in Afghanistan, the roads littered with IEDs and booby-trapped children. I should be able to take a walk just like everybody else." He fought to keep his voice steady, but his face heated with a rush of anger and frustration. "These men were the enemy. They attacked first, and, no, I didn't pull any punches. I'm not going to apologize for that."

"John, I'm not accusing you of anything."

"Sounded like it."

Before Lestrade could respond, Sherlock called out impatiently. "John, there are questions about cause of death. Stop wasting time and come tell me what you think."

John didn't move to his friend immediately. Instead, he gritted his teeth and stared down the inspector. He kept his voice low, not really wanting to deal with what Sherlock might say if he overheard their conversation. Thank god his partner was concentrating on the corpse more than on what John was doing. "I might have beaten those men, but I also saved them. If you'll read the report, you'll see that when the ambulance arrived, I triaged their care, making sure they were checked carefully for possible internal and neurological injuries. I didn't realize they were injured quite so severely, but it doesn't matter. If they hadn't attacked that woman in the first place, none of this would've happened. You can't blame me for that."

"I wasn't blaming you, John, and I did read the report. You did help save them. The doctors said so, commented on how professionally you directed treatment."

"Then what's your bloody problem?"

"I'm worried. It's not like you to lose control like that." Greg paused and then added, "And it all feels off, not right somehow."

"John!" Sherlock called out again in frustration and then started to head their way.

John shouted back and held up his hand. "I'm coming!" He met Lestrade's brown eyes. "Are we done?"

"For now, yeah."

As John headed over to see what Sherlock was on about, the hair on the back of his neck stood straight up. Lestrade was still watching, still observing his every move. He really shouldn't care so much about what Greg thought about him, but he did. It bothered him that the inspector seemed to think he overreacted, that there was something off about his behavior. Still, given the same circumstances, John had no doubt that he'd do the exact same thing again. Soldiers didn't just stop being soldiers because the geography of the battlefield shifted.

"Where's the fire, Sherlock?"

"No fire, just an injection site behind her left ear. See there? I don't think the bullet to the chest killed her, John. I think she was poisoned first." Sherlock could barely contain his excitement. He grinned as he guided John closer to observe his discovery.

John kneeled by the body, his leg sound and his hands steady.

&&&&&&

"Well, that was disappointing in the extreme." Sherlock flopped down on the sofa still wearing his coat, slumping dramatically, ungodly long arms stretched up and out across the back.

"They can't all be challenging."

"But the sister? How banal."

John took off his new grey jacket and hung it up. His old one was still at the cleaners being mended. He hoped they could get the blood out because he really loved that jacket. His mum had given it to him before the war. "You solved it faster than the police would have. That has to count for something."

Sherlock shook his head and sighed heavily, very put out. "I had such high hopes."

"Oh, well, there will be another one soon enough. Tea?"

"Yes." He finally sat up while John put the kettle on. Sherlock took off his coat and threw it to land on the back of the chair across the room before sitting back down.

When John didn't fuss about dropping his things wherever they fell, Sherlock frowned. "You've been moody all day. What's wrong?"

"Moody? I'm not moody. Besides, coming from you, that's a laugh."

Sherlock shook his head in dismissal and waved a hand. "You knew that about me when you moved in. It's no use complaining about it now."

"I wasn't."

"Don't change the subject. You've been reticent ever since we first got the case."

John watched Sherlock close his eyes, processing the day through that mental slideshow he had in his head. He really didn't want to deal with a Sherlock-style interrogation at the moment. "I'm tired."

Sherlock opened his eyes, staring at John intently, and announced his conclusion. "Lestrade said something that bothered you."

"It's nothing. By the way, I called Sarah and told her I wanted to look for something else, maybe an A&E position. She actually gave me some leads on openings."

"Did she?"

"She did."

"How accommodating of her and you're changing the subject again."

"I am. No wonder you call yourself a detective."

Sherlock didn't respond right away, just watched him as he made tea and then served it. John's skin got all itchy from the scrutiny. After a few sips he finally put his cup down. "All right, all right, he did say something."

"He's worried about you."

John's head snapped up. They'd been talking behind his back. What bloody bastards. "He spoke to you about it first?"

"He did. He thinks you overreacted during the attack. He called it overkill."

John snorted. "Overkill? That's bollocks. If I hadn't stepped in, we'd be having a different conversation."

"You don't have to defend your actions to me, John." His voice was very quiet, very calm.

"No?"

"No."

John relaxed, thankful that he wasn't being criticized by the one person whose opinion really mattered to him. "You don't think I overreacted?"

"I wasn't there, neither was Lestrade. You were. You have to trust your own judgment. Besides, if you think I care one wit about either one of those nasty miscreants, you're mistaken. I care about you being safe. That's all that matters to me."

John suddenly felt warm all over like he was standing in the middle of the desert again, his body blasted by the heat of the noonday sun. He smiled. "Yeah?"

"Yes. Surely you must know that."

"I did, but it's nice hearing it."

"Is it?"

Sherlock studied him like he was a brand new puzzle, a new case to be cracked and added to his collection of successes. He had to admit that for once he didn't mind it. "Yeah, it is."

"So you're saying that you like to hear me state the obvious." Sherlock stared a few more moments and then shook his head like a child the first time he was told to multiply fractions. Then Sherlock shifted, took his shoes off, and stretched out on the sofa, his eyes closed. "I don't think I'll ever get used to this."

"This what?"

Sherlock moved his right hand in a circular motion, first pointing at John and then around to himself. He put his left forearm arm over his eyes. "This. You and me, give and take, talking about emotions. It's all new to me."

"Is it?"

"Yes. I find it unsettling, but..."

"But what?"

"But interesting, too. I usually master things quickly."

"Goes without saying considering you're brilliant."

Ignoring the compliment, he continued. "But not this, not you. I still have no idea why."

John held his breath for a few moments, not sure how to take Sherlock's revelation. He kept his voice steady, not wanting to assume too much. With Sherlock it wasn't a good idea to expose his heart, open himself up to harsh words that could slice through and cause more harm than that sniper bullet did to his shoulder. So he teased instead. "You saying I've got you baffled? The great Sherlock Holmes is stumped by somebody as simple as me?"

"Not baffled. Intrigued. And don't be stupid, you're anything but simple."

"Intrigued is good, stupid not so much."

"Well, stop saying stupid things then." Sherlock's voice faded a bit. "Definitely intriguing."

"How so?"

Instead of answering, Sherlock lay there, his breathing suddenly slower and more even.

Well, hell, just when John thought he might finally get some insight into Sherlock's view of their relationship, the sod fell asleep. Sure, he'd been awake for at least three days, maybe more, and needed the rest when he could get it. Still, John regretted the lost opportunity of having Sherlock explain why his wasn't tired of hanging out with John yet.

John stepped over and picked up the long black coat from the chair and draped it over Sherlock's still form. He smiled with affection, wishing that he could have Sherlock sleeping upstairs, warm and safe in his bed. It was never going to happen, but that didn't mean he couldn't dream about it when Sherlock wasn't paying attention.

&&&&&&&

"That tears it, that bloody well tears it!"

"Calm down, Inspector. An aneurysm serves no useful purpose." Sherlock followed closely behind Lestrade as he ranted at the edge of the crime scene. Technicians worked to secure the area, all carefully ignoring their commanding officer's snit.

"You saw what he did. He's got a bloody death wish, that's what. He's not coming back on my patch, not until he sorted."

Sherlock lifted his chin defiantly. "Sorted? Explain."

"He's barred until he sees somebody."

"As in a therapist?"

"Bloody well right. He's barkin' mad and I can't have him on the job when he pulls shit like this, Sherlock. I won't be responsible."

"He already sees a therapist." Of course, Sherlock didn't mention that John had stopped going months ago since it was counterproductive to his argument.

"Then he's not doing his job, is he?"

"She actually."

Lestrade ignored the correction and continued complaining. "Jesus Christ. Shetland was armed. Your man nearly got himself killed."

"John disarmed the suspect. If he hadn't, Donovan and others might have been injured or killed."

"Donovan might have been in range, but Shetland was aiming at you."

"I'm well aware of that fact, Lestrade."

"He put himself between a bullet and you when he didn't have to. We could've negotiated or used the sniper. Shetland wasn't going to shoot until John went at him."

"I disagree. It was obvious from the involuntary spasms of his trigger finger that he might fire at any moment. John realized that and disarmed him, rather efficiently considering the circumstances."

"He was shot."

"Grazed."

"Same difference."

His voice pissy, Sherlock retorted, "What does that even mean, same difference?"

"Sod the semantics." Lestrade stared over at the ambulance as the paramedics treated John's wounded right side. Cooling down a bit, he took a deep breath. "I'm surprised you're not over there supervising."

"It's a minor injury and they're more than competent."

Lestrade looked him straight in the eye. "You're not fooling anybody, Sherlock. I saw your face."

"My face?"

"When the gun went off."

"Ah."

"Yes, bloody well ah. You were as scared as I was. He could've been killed."

"Any of us could die at any time. It's what people do."

"Yeah, we could, but most of us don't go charging in headfirst to hurry it along. I swear, a little crazy goes a long way between you two. I really don't know how the pair of you get by, I really don't."

Sherlock turned his collar up and stuffed his hands deep into his pockets, never taking his eyes off John sitting on the step at the end of the ambulance. His throat dry, he swallowed several times before he spoke. "You can't bar him from the scenes."

"I can and I will."

"Then you'll have to bar me as well."

"I will if I have to."

Sherlock turned and met the dark, determined gaze, surprised by the adamant tone. "You're serious."

"Damn right I am."

"We have a mutually beneficial relationship, Lestrade. Let's not spoil it with a hasty decision."

"It's not hasty. I've been thinking about it since I watched the fight. This just makes me more sure."

"You're being unfair to both John and me."

"Maybe. But I won't sleep at night if I thought I allowed him in and he got killed pulling another stunt like this."

"You don't sleep anyway."

"Not the point."

Sherlock offered a compromise. "What if I talked to him, get him to rein in some of the more impulsive aspects of his behavior?"

"You think you can do that on your own?"

"I don't see why not."

"Because being a therapist is easy, is it?"

"No, because I know John better than anyone. He'll listen to me."

The inspector's face had gradually returned to its natural color and his voice wasn't so strained. Lestrade shrugged. "Maybe. We'll see, but I need a break from all this lunacy, I really do. I'm getting too old for this shit."

"Sussex is nice this time of year."

"Seriously? You're going to make a joke right now?"

"I'm not joking. I actually have a house there."

"Yeah, you would have. Anyway, we'll see. Ask me again in a week." Lestrade scrubbed a right hand over his face, finally showing some recovery from the stress of the shooting. "Go on then. Go see how he is. You know you want to."

Sherlock walked away and headed over to the ambulance where John argued with the paramedics. "I'm a doctor. It's just a scratch. I don't need stitches."

Sherlock interrupted. "Stitches?"

One of the attending answered, "Yes, sir. We were just saying that it might be a more appropriate than just a simple bandage from us. The laceration is rather deep and still bleeding."

John shook his head, still stubbornly resisting any other treatment, holding his side while he talked. It obviously hurt more than he was letting on. "It's fine. I've had worse cuts shaving."

"I'll take him."

John looked up, ready to put up another fight. "I don't need..."

"Shut up," Sherlock snapped. John sat up straighter, his eyes wide. Still, he followed orders and remained silent.

Sherlock waved the paramedics away and stepped in closer, his voice a whisper, his face only a few inches from John's. He put a firm right hand on John's left shoulder and squeezed, not tightly, but enough to make him really feel it. "I'm taking you for stitches, you incredibly stubborn, brave man."

John swallowed hard, his cheeks suddenly a lot pinker. "Okay, sure if it'll make you feel better."

Sherlock turned around and called for a taxi, avoiding the hungry blue eyes that watched his every move. They'd talk later in private.

If John wanted him to state the obvious, he would. He'd tell him exactly how much he meant to his work, to his very quality of life. He'd make it clear that while he might go on breathing without John beside him, he wouldn't want to. Surely that would be enough to make a difference.

&&&&&&&

"Get cleaned up and changed. I'll fix the tea."

John's footsteps stuttered in the doorway. "Tea? You?"

"I do know how to make tea, John. It's just basic chemistry."

"Too basic usually. I can't remember the last time..."

"January 12th. You had that respiratory infection."

John smiled at the memory, not the infection part, but the bit about Sherlock serving him tea in bed. "Oh, yeah, I remember."

Sherlock clapped his hands together quickly in a hurry up motion. "Now go. Ten minutes. That should be enough time surely."

"Should be if we've got any clean cups and milk left."

John went to his room, chucking the ruined jacket and shirt in the bin. He winced as he stripped off his bloody tee shirt and threw it away as well. The bandage covered the 28 new sutures in the area across his right rib cage and just along his underarm. Despite the pain medication, it still ached and he'd sport a spectacular bruise before long. He couldn't complain, though, not considering just a twist of the wrist inward and the bullet would've gone through his right lung instead of skimming right along the edge of his chest. That would've certainly hurt a lot worse and having treated enough pulmonary injuries in the war, it wasn't something he ever wanted to experience personally.

He took a clean tee shirt, jeans, and blue jumper with him to the loo. He carefully washed with alcohol around the edges of the bandage to remove the blood and Betadine stains. The whole thing looked nasty, but he's seen and had a lot worse. He had survived and so had Sherlock. That's all that mattered.

As he dressed, he thought about Sherlock's behavior since the shooting. He'd been unusually accommodating. Maybe Sherlock thought he was in shock. Maybe he was. He still felt a bit dizzy at being touched and called brave by his friend. He hated to admit how much Sherlock's high opinion meant to him. It was a rare thing to hear and he treasured it all the more because of that.

When he came out of the bathroom, Sherlock sat on the sofa ready to serve. On the coffee table was a tray with a pink flowered teapot, a plate of fresh pecan scones, and raspberry jam. He snorted in amusement. Sherlock was a cunning bastard. "Mrs. Hudson made the tea. How'd you manage that?"

"She was quite tearful when I told her you'd been shot, but I assured her it was only a slight injury, certainly a lot less than it could have been. She gave us this as a get well present for you. She'd be here fussing over you herself, but she had a previous appointment."

John sat down in the chair, his mouth watering. Nobody made better tea and scones than Mrs. Hudson. "That was nice of her."

"It was." Sherlock poured the tea and paused before handing it to John. "Or perhaps you'd prefer something stronger. Whiskey, perhaps? We've got a bottle leftover from Christmas in the cupboard somewhere."

John took the cup. "Tea is fine, thanks." He drank half of it while Sherlock fixed his own cup with two sugars. Something was off. Sherlock was far too pleasant and not himself at all. Maybe he had a head injury and didn't tell anyone. Now that would be like the Sherlock he knew, to bash his head in and keep it quiet. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

"You sure? You seem different."

"Different how?"

"I don't know, calmer than usual, polite, serving tea, normal. We just solved a case. It's really not like you to be so calm."

Sherlock sat back and casually sipped his tea. "Well, I'm certainly calmer than Lestrade."

John put his cup down, bracing himself for what was coming. "I saw him yelling. It's not his fault I got shot if that's what he's on about."

"I know. It's my fault."

"What?" John shook his head in confusion. "How in the world do you figure that?"

"You disarmed Shetland to save me."

"And Donovan and anyone else the mad bastard decided to shoot. The man was in a panic, waving that gun around like a maniac. Sally was closest, but she couldn't do anything from where she was positioned. I know there was sniper on the opposite roof, but Shetland was canny enough to stay just out of his line of sight. I could see Shetland's trigger finger twitching. I couldn't take a chance that the gun would go off and hit someone. When he looked away at the last second, I had a chance to stop him so I took it."

"He was aiming at me."

John sat very still and studied Sherlock, the bright eyes locked onto his. He worked hard to block the image in his mind of Shetland just seconds away from killing Sherlock. "Yes, he was."

"And so you stepped in to stop him primarily to save me."

Hesitating, John saw that it was no use denying the truth. "Yes, but..."

"So, essentially it was my fault you were shot."

"Don't be stupid. I miscalculated. Bottom line, it's nobody's fault but Shetland's. He's the one with the bloody gun, not you."

"Miscalculated? How?"

"I thought I'd have enough time to get the gun off him, but I didn't and it discharged." John held his side, the throbbing a reminder of how close he'd come to losing everything.

Sherlock tilted his head as he studied him. Then he drank the rest of his tea before placing the cup on the tray. He said calmly, "Lestrade thinks you've got a death wish."

"What? Me? No. I like living, thank you."

"If I thought you were suicidal, John, I'd section you myself, but I don't think that."

Relieved that Sherlock didn't think he was entirely off his head, John smiled. "Good to know." He picked up one of Mrs. Hudson's scones and then added the jam. He hadn't eaten since that morning and he stuffed half in his mouth at once. It tasted like heaven.

"However, we still have a problem."

John finished chewing and swallowing his scone and asked, "What problem?"

"Lestrade didn't used to be so squeamish, but he must like you."

"Like me?"

"Yes, he's rather protective. Thinks you don't have enough sense to understand the concept of self-preservation."

"What does that mean exactly?"

"It means he's banned us from crime scenes until he's sure you're in your right mind again. He thinks you should stop risking your life for others so eagerly."

John's blood ran cold. Sherlock would surely leave him behind if he thought John kept him from working with the Yard. "Ban us? Or ban me?"

"It's the same thing. I told him as much. I won't work without you, not anymore." He paused before he added, "I've found that you're quite helpful to my concentration."

Pleased by the compliment, John took a few moments to respond. "Thanks, but surely he won't keep you off the job."

"When the first complicated murder comes along, he'll change his mind. In the meantime, we find ourselves on leave for a few days. I was thinking perhaps you'd like to accompany me to Sussex."

"Sussex? What's in Sussex?"

"I have a small house there. I'm sure Sarah could spare you from the surgery for the week."

"You have a place in Sussex? Why am I just hearing about this?"

"Mainly because I rarely go there. It's been five years in fact."

John wiped the crumbs from his fingers as he processed the new information. He wasn't sure what Sherlock was playing at, but there was no way it was to get him to just spend a week in the country doing nothing. "So is there an unsolved murder you want to investigate firsthand? A cold case of some kind? A missing person's case? I can't really help if I don't know the details."

"March is rather a nice month to visit, not as nice as June or July, mind you, but pleasant enough. I'll have Mycroft call and have it prepared. We've got lovely caretakers, the Halloways. They've worked for the family for decades."

John still couldn't believe it. "So you really want to take a vacation?"

"People do take vacations, John. Why is this such a novel concept?"

John tried not to be angry, but he found it difficult. He didn't want to think Sherlock would flat out lie to him, but he'd seen him do it to others to get what he wanted. What he couldn't figure out was what that lie might be in this case. What the fuck was in Sussex? Maybe Sherlock really did think he'd lost it and needed time off. "Some people take vacations, Sherlock, but not you. You've only had a handful of days off since I've known you. So, why now? You think I need a rest cure? Is that it?"

"If by rest cure you mean do I think your mental capacity is diminished and that you need to have complete rest to recover, no."

"Then why Sussex?"

"I actually thought you'd like it. I'm rather fond of the place. It's quite private and there an apiary. Of course, it's a bit early for bee activity, but it's one of the best things about summer if we should ever go again."

John still didn't understand. Sherlock must be winding him up. "I'm not following. Don't get me wrong, I'm flattered, but why would you want me to see it?"

"You told me once that you liked me to state the obvious, so I thought I was, but apparently not clearly enough. Let me be more plain." Sherlock cleared his throat and leaned forward, his eyes trained on John. John had never seen him more serious. "I don't have friends. I only have one. I'd like very much to keep you and share my life with you, John. Sussex is just a small part of that life, but I thought I'd start simply."

Stunned, John found his heart in his throat. He barely managed to say the words, "Keep me and share your life with me?"

"Yes. I've thought for some time now that such an arrangement might suit you, but I had no serious motivation to pursue confirmation. Your actions of late force me to make my intentions clear. I want you with me. I realize I can't stop your heroics completely. That's simply part of what makes you so attractive. However, I thought, perhaps, if you knew the nature of my true feelings that you might curb your risk taking to some small degree in order to appease me."

"Heroic actions? True feelings?"

"John, I once told you that heroes don't exist, but I was wrong. You are a hero in every sense of the word. You would gladly sacrifice your life for another, a friend or stranger, it wouldn't matter. In addition, you've guarded me with your own life. You've even killed to save me. How is that anything but heroic? As for true feelings, yes, I care for you. I haven't said it, because I'm not naturally demonstrative about such things, but I feel it necessary to state the obvious."

John could hardly breathe, hardly take in the meaning of all those words strung together, but he definitely got the gist of it. "You care for me, yeah? But is this care for me as in best friend or something else?"

"Don't be dim, John."

"I'm really trying not to be, but I need it spelled out. Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

Sherlock sighed in frustration. "This isn't going as I planned. You should understand by now."

"Just say it. What is it you want from me?"

"I want you, John Watson, to be my partner in all things, my work and my life."

Bloody fucking hell. John's mind screamed for him to say yes, but he couldn't. It was too much. He stood up, one hand on his side, the other on the back of the chair to steady himself. He actually felt faint, like he was still in a dream somewhere, not awake and hearing Sherlock making a proposal. "I swear to god, if you're messing me about with this because you know how I feel, I'll leave today and never come back."

Alarmed, Sherlock got up and stepped closer. "John? Do you seriously think this is something I'd say as a kind of trick?"

"I wouldn't think so, but I don't understand." John met serious grey blue eyes staring into his. "That sounded like a marriage proposal."

"I was actually thinking civil union, but marriage will do."

"We're not even dating."

"We live together already. We've gone out to hundreds of meals together. I supposed if you wanted to revert to traditional courting rituals, we could do that."

John snorted in disbelief. In his dreams, the times when he'd actually let himself imagine Sherlock coming on to him, it'd been a quick kiss that led to more, a little snog, maybe a shag or two. Nothing ever made him think it would be more than that, anything deeper. "Sherlock, you know I care about you."

"Obvious."

"Yes, well, I didn't realize you realized."

"You should have. It's not like you've been hiding it that well and I am the world's greatest detective."

Slightly embarrassed that he'd given himself away so easily, John complained. "All right, all right. I get your point. It's hard to hide anything from the Great Sherlock Holmes." He swallowed hard before he confessed. "It's just that I couldn't handle it if you really didn't mean it, if this were just another one of your experiments to see how I'd react."

Sherlock stepped closer and studied him before he spoke. "You don't trust me."

"I do trust you. I trust you with my life."

"But not about this."

"It's just so sudden and so extreme."

"What about that isn't like me?"

John chuckled and admitted, "True, but what about the rest of it?"

"Rest of it?"

"I date women. You don't date at all. How's this going to work?"

"Ah, you're referring to the sexual intercourse aspect."

John sputtered, embarrassed by Sherlock's bluntness. "Sexual intercourse? Bloody hell, we haven't even kissed yet."

Sherlock put his hands on both sides of John's face and leaned in, his breath warm against his skin. His lips touched John's softly at first and then with more pressure. The tip of his tongue flicked out for just a second and then he pulled back. "Now we have."

John could hardly catch his breath to speak. "Jesus. This is really happening."

"Only if you agree."

He hesitated, wanting to say yes, but still fearful. Sherlock could declare his feelings one day and deny them just as easily the next. A minefield was less dangerous. Of course, a minefield didn't kiss like that. "I can't commit, not yet. We need to take our time and make sure..."

Sherlock stepped back, his face suddenly paler. "You're saying no."

"No, I'm not saying no."

"But you're not saying yes. How is that not no?"

"I'm saying yes with conditions."

"That's the same as no."

"No, it's not."

Sherlock walked over to the window, the earlier brightness gone. He crossed his arms, his expression suddenly guarded and unhappy. "What conditions?"

"I don't want to go to Sussex, not yet. I do want to see it, but later, once we've actually been together for a while, once we know it'll work out."

Sherlock took a moment before he nodded. "What else?"

John moved closer and kept his voice steady. "I want to be with you, I do, but this is all new and I'm not like you. I can't just jump into something so serious without knowing you really mean it."

"I don't say things I don't mean."

"You say and do things you don't mean all the time to get what you want."

Sherlock grudgingly agreed. "That's true, but I'd never lie about something like this, not to you."

John put his hand on Sherlock's back, happy that his friend didn't pull away from him, didn't even flinch. "If you mean it now, then you'll mean it a week from now, or next month, or even next year. We need to go a bit slower. I need to go a bit slower."

Sherlock turned, his eyes shinier than John had ever seen them. He wrapped his arms around him, drawing John closer, but careful not to put too much pressure on his wounded side. "You're not sure of my affection. Then I must work harder to prove it to you."

Their lips met again, this time with more passion. John hadn't kissed like that in ages and drew back to catch his breath. "Wow."

"You approve?"

"I do." And he did. John knew it was just the first step, but it was a good one in showing him that Sherlock wasn't just using him to make a point, wasn't trying to control him or run an experiment on his feelings.

"Are there any other conditions?"

"None that I can think of right now, no."

"Good." Sherlock kissed him again and then asked, "Angelo's tonight? We could make it our first official date."

"Angelo will be pleased."

"Angelo already thinks we're married."

John joked. "If we do end up getting married, he'll have to be the caterer."

Sherlock grinned, very pleased. "Oh, Mycroft would love that. He just looks at Italian food and gains weight."

"Maybe we won't invite him."

Sherlock rested his forehead against John's. "Oh, I do like the way you think."

&&&&&&&

If John were honest with himself, he'd fallen for Sherlock months ago. He'd tried to fight it, gone on as many dates with women as he could, but they never worked out. It wasn't just because Sherlock kept calling or showing up. John's heart was obviously yearning for someone else, someone like Sherlock.

So it really shouldn't have been a big surprise that he'd taken to kissing Sherlock like a baby to sweets. Kissing a man wasn't much different from kissing a woman. There were the whiskers and the larger tongue to get used to, more power overall, but otherwise, it was all good, more than good really. He loved kissing and John found that kissing Sherlock took his breath away.

Despite how much he liked it, crashing from the rush of the shooting and then the shock of Sherlock's proposal made his head swim. Or maybe it was Sherlock nibbling on the side of his neck, nipping and tugging the skin up between his teeth, sending heat jetting right down to his groin. "Sherlock?"

"Uhhhm?"

"What are you doing?"

Sherlock lifted his head, his eyes unfocused and dreamy. "Marking you."

John hadn't had a love bite since he was a teenager when Jane Wexford nearly gnawed him to death, not that he ever complained about it at the time. "Why?"

"You're mine."

He knew he shouldn't, knew it would open him up for abuse with the nurses tomorrow, but he didn't care. He liked the idea that Sherlock wanted to own him like that. "Show off."

Sherlock did another long, lazy lick up the side of his jaw, his hands roaming up under John's jumper, carefully avoiding the wounded right side. Then his hand wandered down between John's legs, cupping his cock and balls through the fabric of his jeans. His breath hitched and John reached down and captured Sherlock's wrist. "Wait."

Sherlock took an extra second to respond. "Wait?"

"Yes, wait."

Sherlock eased back and met John's eyes, checking to see if he was serious. "I thought we were supposed to be snogging. Isn't that what you called it?"

"I did and we are, but if you go much further, it'll be in shagging territory and I'm not sure I'm ready for that."

"I am."

"Yeah, I get that. But it's been a long day and I have work tomorrow."

The spell broken, Sherlock sat back and moved away, taking a deep breath. He ran a rather unsteady hand through his mussed curls. "I never took you for a tease, John."

That was a new one. He'd never once been called that before. He didn't much care for it, either. "A tease? Seriously?"

Sherlock complained, whined really. "We had our first official date and now we're supposed to be having sex. That's the natural progression in such matters."

John sat up, wincing at the stab in his side. Snogging was a great pain killer until it was over and then all the hurt came rushing back. "Just because you bought me dinner doesn't mean we're having sex."

Sherlock objected. "Why not? When you had your first date with Sarah, you wanted to 'get a leg over'. Isn't that what you called it? How is this different? Why do other people get to have sex on the first date and I don't?"

John studied the man beside him, not really sure how to take the aggressive change in attitude. Was that Sherlock's plan all along, to say he cared about him just to have sex? It didn't seem likely, but there were a lot of things about Sherlock he didn't completely understand yet. "First off, I never had sex with Sarah thanks to that disaster of a first date."

"Not because you didn't want to."

"But that was with Sarah, not with you. Is that what you want from me, just sex? Is that why you proposed in the first place?"

"Don't be stupid. I want sex because that's what people do. That's what you do. You like sex. Lord knows you've moaned enough about not getting any after more dates than I care to count. Now I want to have some, too, and you say no. How is that fair?" Sherlock sounded downright stroppy.

John's voice softened. "I do like sex, but I'm tired and hurting. I wouldn't be up for much and I want our first time to be good for you, too."

Sherlock's eye's brightened. He put his hand in the center of John's chest, his fingers splayed. "But it would be. I want to fellate you. I've been dreaming of it for some time, how you'd taste, how you would look when you had your orgasm. I've got a list of things I want to observe."

John's heart beat a lot faster and his face flushed. "You want to give me a blowjob?"

"Yes."

Closing his eyes, it took all his strength not to give in. The idea of Sherlock's mouth on his cock, Sherlock sucking him off, it was something he'd only dreamed about. He got hard just thinking about it. He gulped and then opened his eyes. "You have no idea how much I want that, too, but not tonight."

"Why not?"

"I know it's going to sound crazy, but I want it to be special between us and right now I hurt too much. I couldn't return the favor."

"I'm not asking you to."

"I know you're not, but I want to."

Sherlock studied him for several long moments and then removed his hand. He shook his head in confusion, a rare state for Sherlock. "I don't understand. Nobody's ever turned me down before."

"Nobody?"

"No."

John wasn't really sure he wanted to know, but he had to ask, "Who's nobody?"

Sherlock shrugged. "Just people, nobody special."

John frowned. "Just people? How many just people are we talking about and when was this?"

Slouching on the sofa, his head back, eyes closed, Sherlock sighed heavily. "It was a long time ago, John. No need to be jealous."

"I'm not."

"You are."

"Maybe a little. It's just, I've never seen you show sexual interest for anyone and now you're wanting to give me a blowjob on our couch. You have to give me time to get used to the idea."

"I give spectacular fellatio, or so they tell me. I hardly remember it."

John had no doubt that whatever Sherlock did with that divine mouth, that it would be spectacular. That wasn't the point. It was the other part of that statement that triggered all kinds of red flags in his head. Still, if he were going to commit himself to Sherlock, he needed to know what he was in for, all of it, not just the brilliant bits, but all the other. "When you say you hardly remember it, what are you talking about? Is this when you were using drugs?"

"Do we really need to discuss this now? I'm no longer feeling quite so amorous."

"Join the club. Now, tell me."

Sherlock kept his eyes closed, his voice even, but he sounded detached like he did when he was simply reporting the facts at a crime scene. "I started using different drugs at school when I was fourteen, nothing too drastic, just experimenting really. It didn't become a problem until several years after I left university. I didn't know what I wanted to do. Life was tedious and dull and I went clubbing a lot. The cocaine made it so much easier to cope until it didn't. After Mycroft cut me off, well, things got desperate for a while. However, I found that there were men who liked how I looked and they would pay for the things I wanted in return for favors.

John's mouth went dry. He had known about the drug use, but this was something worse, something he hardly imagined. His eyes stung as he urged Sherlock on. "What happened?"

"You want prurient details?"

"I'm not sure what I want."

After an extended silence, Sherlock opened his eyes. "There are things I've done that I really don't like to remember, but find difficult to delete." He reached out and took John's hand, their fingers intertwined. "I fear that my earlier sexual experiences have somewhat mired my ability to understand what's appropriate." He swallowed hard. "I've never actually been in a committed relationship. So, while I might have had many previous sexual partners, you're the only one I've ever really wanted."

"You've never had a boyfriend?"

"No. Not really."

"What's that mean, not really?"

"There were men I was with for a while, but it was more for their convenience. I've never really cared about sex before. It was just a means to an end."

"You mean to get drugs?"

"And shelter. After all, there's a reason I'm able to use the homeless network so well."

John was shocked. "You were homeless?"

"On occasion."

John's heart ached at knowing Sherlock had been alone for so long, so alone and so desperate that he'd given his body away for drugs and a place to sleep. He squeezed Sherlock's hand in reassurance. "That was the past. Now you're with me."

Sherlock smiled, but his eyes still didn't have the earlier brightness. Some of the light had been stolen by the ugly memories.

John stood up and tugged him to his feet. "Come on. Let's go to bed."

"For sex?"

"To sleep."

"You're a stubborn man, John Watson."

"I'm a tired man. I've got work tomorrow."

They stood there an few moments before Sherlock asked, "Which bed should we use?"

"Well, since yours is covered with god knows what, I'd prefer mine."

"Agreed." As the headed up the stairs, Sherlock added, "You know if you marry me, you don't have to ever work again, at least not at a local surgery. You could have your own practice. You'll be quite rolling in it."

"Rolling in it?"

"Isn't that what they call it when one is filthy rich?"

"Yeah, they do, but..."

"Then you should quit."

"We're not married yet and I'm not quitting even when we are. I'm paying my share of the rent."

Sherlock flopped down on John's bed without bothering to pull back the covers or change out of his clothes. "You're really one of the most obstinate people I've ever met."

"You've met yourself, right?"

"Very amusing. Would it bother you if I slept in the nude tonight?"

John nearly choked. "The nude?"

"Yes, you haven't done the laundry this week and my pajamas are all dirty."

"You can borrow a pair of mine."

"There's nothing wrong with the human form, John. As a doctor, I would think you would know that. Besides, your pajamas will be far too short. I'll look ridiculous."

What John knew was that Sherlock hadn't given up on the idea of seducing him. He tossed the gorgeous man in his bed his spare pajama bottoms. "Put those on while I get changed. If you stay with me tonight, you'll wear them. I need to get some sleep."

"Sleep is boring."

"Sherlock..."

"Very well, but I can't promise to fall asleep right away."

"Then maybe you should go back downstairs and come to bed later when you can. I'll be useless tomorrow if I don't get at least six hours. It's late."

Sherlock got up, kissed John softly, and pulled back. "If I called Sarah and told her you were shot saving my life, she'd give you the day off."

"I know, but I'm not taking the day off. I need the money."

Sherlock stared for a few extra moments and then nodded. "Sleep. We'll talk in the morning." Then he took the pajamas and left.

John wanted to call him back, wanted to fall asleep in his arms, but he knew better. Sherlock would likely be up most of the night. John changed into his own pajamas before he took one of his pain pills and got under the covers. Sleep didn't come right away, not until he heard the familiar strains of Sherlock's violin following him into his dreams.

&&&&&&&

John rolled over and woke up quickly to a slicing pain across his chest. He hissed, "Shit." After a few minutes, the pain eased. He had to be more careful how he moved until the wound healed a bit more.

The spot beside him was empty. John frowned and wondered if Sherlock had ever made it to bed. If he did, he didn't remember it. The Percocet had knocked him out for the night. He glanced over at the clock and saw it was nearly time to get up anyway.

He got out of bed carefully before changing into clean underwear, jeans, and a fresh tee.

Downstairs he paused when he saw the empty flat. "Sherlock?"

When there was no answer, John pushed the worry to the back of his mind. He had to pee and he had to get cleaned up for work. He couldn't take a shower, but the dressing needed changing.

He prepared all the materials he would need for cleansing the wound and replacing the bandage. After putting on rubber gloves, he peeled off the old dressing. He heard the door to the flat open and called out, "Sherlock?"

The taller man appeared in the doorway with a familiar bakery sack and paper cup. "I got you doughnuts and coffee from Lenny's."

John smiled, pleased by the gesture. "Thanks. You must have left early. Did you ever come to bed?"

Sherlock never took his eyes off of the wound. "I slept for a few hours. I didn't want to wake you so I slept down here."

"You didn't have to do that."

"I know. Does it hurt?"

John looked at the puckered line, some of the stitches tugging hard at the reddened skin. A livid bruise flowered out about six centimeters all around it. There was a section near his nipple that puffed up more than the rest. John knew he needed to watch that more closely for infection. "A bit."

Sherlock snorted at his lie and left. He quickly returned and said. "Let me clean and dress it for you."

"You don't have to do that."

"I know, but I want to. Just tell me what to do."

So John did, directing Sherlock to don gloves and told him how to use the antiseptic and antibiotic gels. Then he watched as a kneeling Sherlock carefully positioned the bandage before taping it in place. He did an expert job. "Well done. We'll make a medic out of you yet."

"I hope not." Before John could ask what he meant, Sherlock leaned in and kissed his stomach right over his navel. He stood up, removed the gloves, and then left the room, leaving John more than a little bewildered.

By the time John had finished cleaning up and dressing, Sherlock was standing at the window, his arms crossed and his face gloomy. John asked, "What is it?"

"I'm not a doctor."

"I know that."

"Even if I were, what good is knowing all the medicine or science in the world if the person you care about goes and does something stupid and gets himself killed? It doesn't really matter why he did it, just that he's dead. How do people live with that?"

Taking a deep breath, knowing Sherlock wasn't just talking about any old bloke who nearly got offed, he stepped closer. He placed a hand on Sherlock's arm. "I'm not dead."

"But you might have died."

"So might you a dozen times a day. A person could go mad if he stood around worrying about when his time is up."

"I don't worry about me."

"I know that. You leave that to me."

Sherlock turned to meet his gaze, his voice intense. "Is this how you feel whenever I take off without you? When I go into danger and you're not there?"

"Every time, yeah."

"Good god, how do you stand it?"

"Practice, but it's not easy, never easy."

"I'm sorry."

John reached up and cupped the side of Sherlock's face. "I'm not asking you to change. Just take me along for the ride."

Sherlock's lips twitched and he smiled. "Why would I go anywhere without my blogger?"

Why, indeed? John leaned in and stole his first kiss of the morning. If he had to show up late for work, he couldn't think of a better reason.

&&&&&&&

"Is that a love bite?"

John's hand flew up to the side of his neck to cover the tell-tale mark, his face suddenly pink. He knew he should've picked the turtleneck jumper. "Uh, maybe."

"So, here I am thinking you've been wounded in action and you're out snogging a new lady?"

"Well, I really did get shot, just a graze though."

"Do I need to check it?"

John hugged his side. Since he was working, he'd not taken the pain pill. He could definitely tell a difference. "No, it's fine."

Sarah continued to tease. They were sitting in her office taking a tea break. It was one of those rare slow days, for which John was very grateful. "That would explain your funny walk when you got here this morning."

"You'd be singing a different tune if you'd had to call in Stevens to cover my shift."

"True. Look, it's none of my business, but this is the second injury in less than a month. You need to start taking better care of yourself, learn to duck and cover or something."

"I'll keep that in mind, thanks."

Sarah sipped her tea and then casually asked, "So, who's the new woman? Do I know her?"

Sherlock and he hadn't discussed telling anyone. John wasn't quite sure what to say, especially to Sarah. She'd been a good friend, but she wasn't exactly a huge fan of Sherlock. She'd told him more than once that he'd be better off leaving and finding a place on his own. She'd nagged and said repeatedly that he'd never find anybody as long as Sherlock was there to run interference. He'd lost count of how many times he denied there was anything between them other than being flat mates. Now that had all changed.

He decided to take a risk. He cleared his throat, a bit nervous and not sure how Sarah would respond. "Actually, you do know the person. It's Sherlock."

"Well, it's about bloody time."

"What?"

She sat back in her chair and waved a hand of dismissal. "Please, the only one here who didn't know you two were together was you." She grinned and leaned forward, her elbows on the desk. "So, who made the first move, him or you? I'll bet it was him. You wouldn't do it."

Even though she was right, John didn't particularly like the smug way she said it. "And why in hell wouldn't I do it?"

"Did you?"

"No, but I could have if I'd had any idea that there was a chance."

Sarah stopped grinning. "What happened?"

"It was after the shooting. I think he got scared and decided to tell me he cared."

"Just like that?"

"Yeah, just like that."

"Well, he always was a direct fucker."

"The mouth on you."

"You've got the dirtiest mouth this side of Bristol. I was a delicate flower before I met you."

"I hate to say it, but you're probably right. I am a bad influence or so I've been told more than once."

She sighed and stood up, moving around her desk. She settled herself next to John on the sofa, her warm body right up next to his. "We have to get back to work, but before we do, I just want to say I'm happy for you." She reached out and squeezed his knee.

"Thanks. You can't tell anyone else. It's still really new."

"Sure, I'm good with secrets. Look, I've got no clue what you see in Sherlock Holmes other than the brilliance and the sodding good looks, but I sure know what he sees in you."

John was almost afraid to ask. "What?"

"A damn fine man." She kissed the side of his cheek and then gently rubbed away any traces of lipstick with her thumb. "All the girls are going to be crushed when they find out you're off the market."

"They had their chance."

Sarah laughed so hard she nearly cried. "Oh, John darling, they so didn't."

&&&&&&&

"What the hell is that smell?" John trudged up the stairs and through the door, worn out from the flood of patients who'd shown up during the second half of the shift with everything from piles to puking. The odor coming from the flat wasn't a lot better than the ton of bile little Bobby Fletcher had thrown up when he'd checked his tonsils. He looked around at the mess and grumbled, "What the fuck, Sherlock?"

"Ah, John, you're finally home. Hand me that bunch of yellow gladiola. It's right next to the basket of lilies by the doorway."

John took in the sight of what had been their living room. His eyes and nose itched as he fought back a sneeze. "Please tell me you didn't rob a funeral home."

Sherlock was in the kitchen glued to the microscope. "Don't be absurd. I have a friend who works at Morgan's who owes me a favor. He was charged with indecent exposure and I proved it wasn't him, but his twin."

"So, his twin exposed himself and went to jail instead of him?"

"Yes, thus the favor. Would you believe they just throw these away after services if the family doesn't want them?" He held out his hand and snapped his fingers without looking up. "Gladiola, now."

Out of habit John complied and got the flowers. Once he did, he scanned the place and saw two funeral wreaths along with about twenty arrangements, mostly made up of different varieties of lily, but also carnations, roses, and even orchids. The flat reeked, bringing back memories of how many funerals John had attended over the years, especially when he first got back from Afghanistan. There must have been four or five a month until he finally had to stop going or lose his damn mind.

When John saw the kitchen table littered with Petri dishes containing human fingers covered with yellow dust, he'd had enough. "What the hell are you doing?"

Sherlock didn't look up as he explained, "Pollen, John, pollen. The stamen of individual plants hold varying amounts of the stuff, millions of particles. They all have their unique appearance. It's amazing! I wanted to see if different forms of pollen affected the decomposition rates of human flesh. Plus, I'm mentally cataloguing each type. I might someday use it to determine the location of a corpse based on pollen found on the tissue."

John sneezed several times in a row and Sherlock looked up in surprise. "Oh."

"Yeah, allergies."

"I didn't know."

"You never asked."

"But I should know these things. Is it just certain types of pollen or all kinds? Maybe we should test..."

"Shut up."

He did at first, but then said, "You've had a bad day."

"Well deduced, that. I'm tired, I'm going to take a pain pill and lie down. When I come back, I want the flowers out of the flat."

"But..."

John sneezed before he demanded, "What?"

"I actually got them for you."

"What are you talking about? Why would you get me a flat full of stinky funeral flowers?"

"I read on the internet that when one is dating, that flowers and chocolate are good gifts for one's romantic interest. So, I got you flowers."

John pinched the bridge of his irritated nose in frustration. "But funeral flowers, Sherlock?"

"Flowers are flowers. What's the difference?"

John closed his eyes and prayed for patience before he explained, "It was a nice thought, but you don't have to get me flowers."

"Why not? I thought a proper courting ritual was what you wanted."

"I'm not a woman. I don't need flowers or chocolates or Valentines, nothing like that for you to date me."

"That sounds incredibly gender-biased."

"When the hell have you ever cared about gender-bias or any other social convention when it didn't suit you?"

"I don't, but you usually do. You're usually quite politically correct."

"Yeah, well, while some men like flowers, and I'm sure there are plenty, I don't need them, and I especially don't want a bunch of funeral leftovers. Besides, be honest, you really just wanted them for your experiments."

"I promise you that was just an afterthought once I got them here. I was particularly inspired by the conspicuous stamen of the lily. What a magnificent reproductive design. It was then that I..."

"Get rid of them."

"But my experiments..."

"Use what you have and then get...rid...of...them." John turned away and headed upstairs. Within a few moments, Sherlock was there, watching him take a pain pill. "I thought it would please you."

"I know. I'm sorry. I don't mean to be ungrateful."

"But?"

"Do you have any idea how many funerals I had to go to during and after the war? That god awful cloying smell just triggers memories of some of the most miserable times of my life." His voice choked up. "I lost mates, Sherlock, good friends who I'll never see again."

"I had no idea you would react this way."

"I know." John held up a hand. "It's me who's wrong here. You tried to do a nice thing and I'm just too fucked up to appreciate it. I'm sorry."

Sherlock dismissed his apology. "Don't be. It's a silly convention. The internet is an atrocious source of misinformation about romance."

Sherlock stepped closer, wrapping his arms around him and then drawing him close. John let his face fall against Sherlock's chest. John was grateful for Sherlock's understanding and for his touch. "Thanks."

Sherlock lifted John's chin with one hand and smiled. "You rest and I'll have the flowers cleared out by the time you get up." He paused suddenly and turned John's face, frowning. His voice suddenly took on an edge of accusation. "She kissed you."

John remembered the peck on the cheek earlier. "I won't even ask how you know that, but yeah. It's nothing."

"Sarah kissing you is nothing?"

"It is when she's congratulating me for hooking up with you."

"You told her?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

John touched the side of his neck where Sherlock had left his love bite. "Because you, you possessive sod, had to mark me and she wanted to know who the new lucky lady was."

Obviously relieved, Sherlock relaxed. "I'm glad she knows about us. I want everyone to know."

"Do you?"

Sherlock sneaked a kiss and pulled back. "Just try and stop me."

"But what if..."

"If I fail to convince you of my affection?" Sherlock studied him for an extra moment before adding softly, his voice full of disappointment. "Or perhaps it's not my affection about which you're unsure."

John hugged him closer. "I'm sure about how I feel. Even if we never work out romantically, I do love you."

Sherlock's voice lowered slightly. "Love?"

John pulled back and met Sherlock's gaze. "That is what we're talking about here, right? I haven't misread things?"

"Yes, but we've never said it out loud."

"That's true."

"Then it's about time we did. I love you and I want to be with you for the rest of my life. Whatever it takes to make that happen, to convince you of my sincerity, I'll do." He kissed John briefly and pulled away just a little. "Tell me what I have to do and I'll do it."

John had never felt so powerful and vulnerable at the same time. He didn't want to say the wrong thing, so he decided not to say anything, but leaned in for another kiss. That was as good a place to start as any.

&&&&&&&

It took several moments before John opened his eyes in the dark and registered what it was that woke him up. There were angry voices, very loud irate voices inside the flat. He couldn't make out the words, but he sure as hell knew the tone. Shit.

He got up too quickly and then sat back down just as fast, the room spinning around him. He shook his head to clear away the dizziness. Damn pain pills always made him light-headed, not to mention his throat felt like he'd swallowed half the goddamn desert. He got up again more carefully, steadying himself with one hand on the bedpost, and slipped on his shoes. Then he headed downstairs to find out what was going on before World War Three broke out.

The first thing he noticed was that the flat was cleared of all the funeral flowers, thank god. The second was that Sherlock and Lestrade were yelling abuse at one another in a very tense face off. "Oi! What's going on?"

Sherlock and Lestrade both shut up immediately, looking more like angry schoolboys caught out by the teacher than grown men. Sherlock's face was flushed with rage as he poked a finger into Lestrade's chest. "See what you've done, you idiot. I told you he was sleeping."

"I wasn't the only one shouting."

John took a deep breath, knowing from experience that the explanation might take longer than he had patience for. So, he cut to the chase. "Both of you shut it and tell me what's going on."

Sherlock frowned, puzzled. "How can we both be quiet and explain at the same time?"

Lestrade smirked. "And you call us idiots."

"You're an idiot."

His head pounding, John snapped, "Shut up! Jesus." Both men hushed. "Thank you. Now do we have tea?" Neither man spoke, but Sherlock shook his head. "Right, well, let me put the kettle on and then we'll talk. In the meantime, try not to fucking kill each other while I'm in the kitchen."

John didn't miss Sherlock glaring at Lestrade, if looks could kill and all that. He'd seen that angry expression more times than he could count usually aimed at inept police but sometimes at himself. He filled and turned on the kettle and set out the things to make tea. From the other room he heard the frantic, hushed whispers of the two men still having whatever pissing contest they were having. It was like babysitting children sometimes, honestly.

It took a few minutes, but once the tea was made, he carried the cups back into the sitting room on a serving tray. Sherlock sat sulking with his arms crossed on the sofa and Lestrade was still standing and staring out the window. That was usually Sherlock's spot, but his partner was too busy fuming and being all dramatic. Strained silence would've been an improvement.

John put the tray down and got his own cup. He thought about sitting next to Sherlock, but considering his foul mood, he thought better of it and settled into his own chair. "Serve yourselves."

"Lestrade won't be having any. He's leaving."

"Lestrade can speak for himself." Lestrade came over and got himself some tea. "Thanks."

Grudgingly, Sherlock fixed his own drink with sugar. No one spoke for an extended period and despite the obvious tension, John rather appreciated the silence while he got his bearings and the tea kicked in. Finally he asked, "All right, I know I'll probably regret this, but what are you two on about?"

Sherlock put his cup down, his voice harsh. "Do you want to tell him or shall I, Inspector? You are, after all, the one who brought us this ridiculous information."

"Don't shoot the messenger, Sherlock. I'm not the one who made the decision. If it were up to me, these arseholes would be put away, no question."

"It might not be your decision, but you work for the fools who made it."

"It's the bloody Crown, not me. Tell them about it and leave me out of it."

John held up a hand as he broke in. He was getting the picture, and it was an ugly one. "Wait, are you telling me the Crown isn't going to put those men who attacked Mrs. MacPherson in jail? Why the hell not?"

Lestrade put his teacup down and cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable with what he was about to say. The words came out as if they'd been rehearsed. "On advice of their solicitors, both men made a deal for lesser charges and got off without jail time. The Crown decided since nothing was actually stolen and the victim wasn't seriously injured, unlike the offenders who were, it wasn't in the best interest of the public to pursue it further."

Sherlock chipped in, "Had they slit the poor woman's throat before John stopped them, then they would bother. Unless there's absolute mayhem, it's apparently not worth their time to prosecute criminals. What utter idiots. It's no wonder crime is rampant in this country."

John took it all in, stunned and quite numb. It wasn't the result he'd expected. He found it hard to believe that thugs could go after little old ladies with knives and rob them blind in broad daylight, and nothing was going to be done about it. Was this what he'd fought a war for, what his mates had died for? It didn't make any sense and it was supposed to make sense, make all the suffering mean something. He wasn't brilliant like Sherlock, but he knew that much.

After he hadn't spoken for a few moments, Sherlock asked, "John, are you all right?"

"I'm not sure."

Lestrade said, "I know it's not fair, but that's the system."

Sherlock complained, "Your precious system is broken."

"It's the only one we have. We do what we can."

"Which isn't much apparently."

"Both of you just stop it." John rubbed both hands over his face, suddenly incredibly tired, and stood up. He couldn't listen to another minute of bollocks. His voice sounded much calmer than he felt. "What's done is done. It's over."

"But..."

"No, Sherlock. I don't want to talk about it." John stepped over to Lestrade and held out a hand. "Thank you for coming personally to tell me. I appreciate it."

Greg studied him with concern for an extra heartbeat but then shook his hand. "You're welcome. I really am sorry about this."

"I understand." He said the words, but he didn't mean them, not really. He didn't understand any of it. "Now, if you'll both excuse me, I need some fresh air."

Sherlock stood up. "I'll come with you."

"No, not this time. I need to clear my head."

Hesitating, Sherlock studied him closely, but finally nodded. "Understood."

John grabbed his jacket and headed outside alone, his leg joining in with his aching chest to remind him of how human he was and how damaged he felt.

&&&&&&&

John ordered his second pint, counting out his money carefully to make sure he had enough to pay for it. His check wasn't due until Friday, two days away. While he waited for his drink, he closed his eyes, drowning out the usual hum of pub voices, women laughing a little too loudly, rude comments from blokes on the pull. All of it played out with a background of out-of-date music from the nineties and the clink of glasses. He really should find a different place to drink. The whole thing was giving him a massive headache. The pint arrived and he paid for it. He'd no sooner drank about half when he heard a familiar voice. "John? John Watson?"

Not really in the mood for company but not wanting to be unfriendly, he turned and smiled at his old friend. "Mike. What brings you around?"

"Just in the neighborhood. I've got a cousin who lives not far from here. She's getting married next month. Needed a bit of tension relief."

"Tension relief?"

"Dr. Who marathon. She loves it, but her bloke is a wanker who can't stand it. Can you believe that?"

"Who doesn't like Dr. Who?"

"I know, right? Anyway, he's away at a conference, so she had me over. Then I thought I'd drop in for pint on my way home. See you've had the same idea." Mike raised a hand to order his drink and kept talking. "So, where's your better half?"

"Not a fan of the pub scene."

"I don't think Sherlock's ever been to a pub unless it's for a case. I remember..." He droned on for several minutes and John's mind wandered, didn't really go anywhere special, just went in circles still trying to figure out the law and order thing. How did the legal system tally with letting thugs go when they were caught red-handed. "John?"

A hand settled lightly on his shoulder and John flinched away from the touch. "What?"

"You drifted off there. Sorry if I'm boring you." Mike paused. "I hope you don't mind me saying this, but you look a bit rough around the edges. You okay?"

"I'm fine. Just tired. The surgery was busy today. You know how it is. I really should be getting back." John turned to leave but his fucking traitor of a leg nearly gave way. He caught himself on the edge of the bar.

"Your leg still a bother?"

"It's fine, just a bit dodgy every now and again. No worries." John hated his leg, wanted to beat it into submission even though that never worked, never really did much but give him bruises. "I'll see you later, yeah?"

"Sure. Hey, I heard you were looking for an A&E job."

"I put a few feelers out but no luck so far."

"Royal London is looking to expand services. You might try there. Talk to Dr. Carl Reynolds. He's a mate of mine and I happen to know he's partial to vets. I can put in a good word if you like."

His spirit lifted, John nodded. "Thanks. I'll look into it."

"Good luck. Say hi to Sherlock for me."

"I will, thanks."

As he headed out into the night, the drizzle suddenly got a bit heavier, flirting with turning into real rain. John didn't have an umbrella, but didn't really care. He was thinking instead about how he needed a boost in his career and A&E might be just the ticket. As he walked along, his leg cramped up again, but he kept moving, limping and trying his best to ignore the pain. He wanted to get home and talk to Sherlock about the possibility of a new job.

About halfway back to the flat, John slowed, his senses suddenly on full alert. One thing the army taught him was to trust his instinct and it was screaming that he was being followed. He stopped and looked all around. A few people hurried along, huddled close together under umbrellas, and shops were closing up for the night. He saw nothing suspicious, but he knew without a doubt someone was watching.

As he scanned the area once again more carefully, he saw it, the glow of a cigarette in the dark alley just half a block away. John waited, wondering if the person would show himself or just hang back. Was it a robber or someone else, someone connected with Sherlock or worse, Moriarty? After a few moments, the person stepped out of the shadows and came toward him. John tensed and readied himself for an attack at the approach.

The man was tall and stocky, a lot heavier than John, and his face oddly familiar, but not exactly the same as the one in his memory. John asked, "You related to Miller?"

"So you do know his name."

John fought down the desire to call him an ugly bastard. "What do you want?"

The man took a long final drag off his cigarette and then dropped it, crushing it with the toe of his boot. "You don't look like much. And Joe never said you were a cripple."

John stiffened, but ignored the taunt. "Why are you following me?"

"Just wanted to see the man who nearly killed my brother and his mate."

"You've seen me. Now what?"

"Nothing yet."

"Yet? Are you threatening me?"

"I'm just warning you to watch yourself. A bloke like you never knows when he might get his arse kicked."

Keeping his voice even, John stepped closer. He calmly studied the face of the man trying to intimidate him. He saw evidence of an often broken nose, a missing front tooth, and a previous fractured jawbone. The man had obviously had his fair share of being a bruiser. John met his gaze, his own eyes hard and full of intent. "Why wait?"

Caught off guard, the man frowned. "What?"

"You heard me. Why wait? You want to kick my arse, go for it. I should warn you, however, that it's a one-shot deal. I can't guarantee that you'll do any better than Joe did." His voice steely, John smirked. "In fact, I'm pretty sure you won't fair as well."

The stare down didn't last as long as John had hoped. The man swallowed several times and blinked first. His voice wasn't nearly as threatening as before. "Well, I'm just warning you, that's all. Stay away from my brother."

"I've no intention of going near your brother. That said, you come after me again, I'll put you and anyone you bring with you in the ground. Clear?"

The man studied him for a few extra seconds and shook his head in disbelief. "Blimey, Joe said you were mental. I never believed it."

There was nothing crazy about protecting oneself and others. But John wasn't about to debate the point with some overgrown bully. "Are we done here?"

"Yeah, we're done for now."

"Might be a good time to take off before I change my mind and beat the shit out of you for being a fucking tosser."

"Yeah, all right, all right." The man took a couple of extra seconds before he turned and walked away, the swagger all gone as he headed back into the darkness.

John didn't move right away, his body still hyped on the surge of adrenaline he'd gotten from the confrontation. He wasn't quite sure if it was over with the Miller brothers, but he found he really didn't care.

When he finally turned to go home, he realized his leg didn't hurt anymore. Fucking leg was as much a danger junkie as he was.

&&&&&&&

"Something's happened." Sherlock looked up from typing on his laptop as John entered the flat.

John didn't answer right away, but instead hung up his jacket and then settled onto the sofa. The side of his chest hitched, but the pain was manageable, not quite as bad as before. Sherlock got up from the desk and sat beside him. "What happened? Something dangerous it would appear."

"What makes you think something dangerous happened?"

"You're not limping."

John snorted in amusement. "So my leg is your gauge of my mental health now, is it?"

"It does seem to reflect it more times than not." Sherlock reached over and touched the offending right leg. "It seems to have a mind of its own at times."

John laughed, but more out of frustration than humor. "It's a pain in more ways than one."

Sherlock asked again. "John, what happened? You know if you don't tell me, I'll deduce it."

John ran his hand through Sherlock's curls and smiled. He spoke with affection. "Arrogant prick."

"John..."

"All right, all right. When I left, I really didn't know what to think."

"Granted. I could see you were disturbed by Lestrade's news."

"Putting it mildly. I walked a while, went to a pub, saw Mike Stamford, and then met Joe Miller's brother. Ugly sod, I must say."

Sherlock straightened, his eyes narrowing as he studied John more carefully. "You're uninjured, so I assume there was no actual physical engagement involved."

John loved how Sherlock talked, loved how he made fighting sound so much classier than it was. "No, not that I would've walked away from one if he'd been up for it. Seems the guy didn't have the bollocks for a good fight."

Sherlock's brow furrowed. "Explain."

"He threatened to kick my arse and I told him he could try."

"And he just walked away from the challenge, just like that?"

"He did."

"You're not telling me everything. Normally, a man like that wouldn't walk away from such combat."

John sighed heavily and shrugged, not sure how to explain it. "You don't see it, but I've been told I can be rather intimidating when I choose to be."

"You're wrong."

"What? You don't think I can be intimidating?"

"No, I know you can be. You're wrong about me not seeing it. When you need to be, you can be extremely commanding."

John grinned. Sherlock didn't give many compliments, so he took them where he could. "You think so?"

"I know so." Sherlock traced a finger down the edge of John's jaw. "I find that side of your personality quite attractive, but then I find all sides of you appealing."

John cupped the side of Sherlock's face as he leaned in closer. He whispered, his voice huskier. "You do, eh?"

"I do."

"Good. That's bloody brilliant." Their lips met and tongues wrestled. John pulled back only to catch his breath. "I really do love you."

"I know." Sherlock met his gaze and smiled. He teased, "I deduced that ages ago."

"What gave me away?"

"Do you want a detailed list?"

"Might as well."

"It started when you shot the cabbie."

&&&&&&&

Chapter Six

The first time John was captured, they starved him for five days and gave him only enough water to keep alive. When he passed out from dehydration, they poured buckets of slop over his head to bring him around. Then they kicked him over and over again as they asked ridiculous questions he had no intention of answering.

Information is currency in a war, and he kept all his savings at the back of his mind. No matter what they asked or how they demanded, he never told them what they wanted to know. Four ragged scars ran along the inside of his left upper arm and two smaller round ones marred his lower back. X-rays would show a roadmap of mended bones. They were all mementos from interrogations that provided nothing for the enemy, but gave John the knowledge that if seriously pressed, he would not break.

The second time he was captured on patrol, he nearly broke, not because of his own pain, but because he wasn't captured alone. After they tortured John, they tortured Corporal Danny Bailey. In the end, they threw the whimpering, battered man back into the cell so John could watch him die.

John, his hands cuffed behind his back and chained to a wall, weak from the heat and from listening to Danny scream for hours, could do nothing except talk. He spoke quietly throughout the night, whispering encouragement, telling Danny all about what they'd do when they were rescued, all about the ballgames, food, movies, anything nice he could think of to keep Danny from being alone in the freezing dark. By morning, he had no voice and Danny was dead, too far gone from any comforting words John might have left to say.

When John was rescued that same day, he had a dislocated shoulder and two broken wrists, but the enemy didn't break him. He'd not told any state secrets. He also didn't speak for two weeks while recovering in hospital. In his sleep he still heard the final cries of his brother in arms, the final words of thanks for not leaving him alone. It was enough.

The third and last time he was captured, he was on his own and it was on purpose. He killed all but one of the four enemy soldiers who had dragged him into the hut for questioning. He'd let the one man go as a warning to others in the village and because he was really just a boy, fourteen at most. Others might have called it sentiment; he called it practical mercy. Back at base, he reported that the local cell had been neutralized and they gave him another medal.

It was shortly after that when it all went seriously wrong, when a high caliber bullet brought him down and finally did what the enemy couldn't do before. It broke him and forced his discharge from service. Some nights, when he was honest with himself, John secretly wished that the enemy soldier had made a clean kill shot to finish him off. Of course, he never told his therapist that or wrote it in his blog. Sherlock could never know about the darker hours when he'd lie awake, fighting with all his might against the bloody images parading through his brain even when he wasn't sleeping.

Bad enough his dreams were littered with bombs and corpses, but being awake was sometimes worse. The crushing impotence to change anything of importance robbed him of his good sense of self preservation.

The war was supposed to be over for him, or at least it should have been, but it wasn't, not really. He had a new thing in his life, being with Sherlock, but sometimes he had trouble believing it was real. What could Sherlock possibly see in him, a wreck of a soldier, a man who couldn't even control his own fucking leg? He envied Sherlock's emotional control, his ability for cool detachment while investigating a violent crime, he really did. He wished more than anything that he could believe that his life had finally turned around, that there would be a way to finally leave the bloody desert behind. Sherlock deserved better than a man still buried up to his neck in sand.

What he really needed was sleep, real sleep. From long experience he knew any chance for that was slim to none for the night. John looked at the digital clock glowing a pale blue 4 am in the dark. He had to be up in a few hours anyway.

Turning on the bedside light, he sat on the edge of the bed.

"You're awake."

Sherlock's voice startled him, but he quickly recovered. "You, too."

"Yes, but it's not unusual for me."

John looked at Sherlock and grinned, trying not to laugh out loud at what he saw. "You're wearing my pajama bottoms."

"And you still haven't done the laundry." Sherlock looked down at himself, the pants at least a foot too short on his long legs. "They're actually quite comfortable even if they are a bit breezy."

"They look ridiculous."

"I said they would."

"You were right."

"I usually am." Sherlock paused before he asked, "Why can't you sleep?"

"I guess the long nap after work was enough."

"Hardly."

"Leave it." He stood up and walked over to Sherlock, gave him a brief kiss, and then walked downstairs. He had no intention of discussing his chronic insomnia with a man who barely slept at all. "Guess I'm up, so I'll make us something to drink."

Sherlock followed him down to the kitchen, his bare feet padding close behind. John put the kettle on and then turned to find his partner in his space. Sherlock asked again more forcefully, "What's wrong? Tell me."

"It's nothing."

"You're pale, you've got double bags under your eyes, and those tight little lines around your mouth that you get when you're stressed or too tired."

"That sounds attractive." John refused to look up. Instead, he reached around Sherlock to get the cups. He had to use the small space on the counter to make the tea since the damn Petri dishes with pollen-covered fingers were still scattered all over the table. "When are you going to clear out this mess?"

"I haven't finished the experiment yet."

John wrinkled his nose in disgust. "It stinks."

"Decomposition does that. I would think as a doctor and a soldier you'd be accustomed to the odor of rotting flesh by now."

"Whether I'm used to it or not doesn't change the fact that it reeks and it's in our kitchen."

"Where else should I put it? It's not like I have a proper facility to work."

"I really don't care, just somewhere other than our fucking kitchen!"

John turned away, angry, but not sure why. It wasn't like oozing body parts in the flat were anything new.

Sherlock's calm voice questioned, "Are we fighting?"

"Seems like it."

"But it's not really about human remains in the kitchen, is it?"

John closed his eyes, suddenly deflated, and braced himself against the counter with outstretched arms. "I'm sorry. I'm just tired."

"Which is why you should be sleeping." Sherlock paused, the way he did when he figured out problems. "Ah, I suspected as much."

John turned, his arms crossed, feeling defensive. "Ah? What the hell does that mean?"

"It's not nightmares because you haven't slept, but the insomnia is no doubt triggered by the incident with the Miller brother."

"No."

"No?"

"Well, that might be part of it, but just a small part."

"The war then."

"Yeah."

The taller man studied him a long moment. "Do you miss it?" John snorted and Sherlock frowned in confusion. "What?"

"The first time I met him, your brother told me I didn't have PTSD, that I missed the war."

"Well, do you?"

John didn't answer. Instead he turned and finished fixing the tea. Sherlock was being incredibly patient, quietly waiting for an explanation. He didn't usually show that much restraint. Finally, John took his cup and headed for the living room and Sherlock followed, holding his own drink. When John settled on the sofa, Sherlock sat beside him and waited.

After a few more minutes, John finished drinking, put the cup down, and spoke quietly. "I don't miss the war. I miss being useful."

"You are useful. I couldn't do the work without you."

"I appreciate that, I do, but I miss being a surgeon and being able to keep seriously injured people alive. I know I couldn't save them all. Lord knows I know that, but I do miss being able to practice medicine like before. I was a good surgeon."

"I'm sure you were."

John lifted his left hand out in front of them both, holding it steady. "I want to do it again, but I know I can't. The tremor comes and goes just like the pain in the leg. I can't trust either one or myself for that matter. I guess what I miss the most is myself, or the myself I used to be, before the war."

"War changes a man."

John dropped his hand to his lap and then turned his head. He spoke more harshly than he meant to. "Platitudes, Sherlock? That doesn't sound like you."

"What would you have me say? I can't even imagine what you went through, and believe me I have a stunning imagination."

"That you do."

"Maybe if you told me about it, it might help. It's never done a thing for me, that whole sharing business, but I read somewhere that it sometimes works for others."

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because there are things about me I don't want anyone to know, not even you. Besides, some of it's classified. If I told you, I'd have to kill you."

John expected hurt, but instead got understanding in those pale blue eyes. "We all have our secrets, things that we bury away."

"Yes."

"In the war, you were more than a doctor."

"You knew that."

"I did, yes. I would think it quite conflicting to be a doctor, pledging to do no harm, and then to have to kill men in the line of duty."

"You'd think that, yeah."

"And yet you found it easier than you thought it should have been." Sherlock made it a statement rather than a question.

"In the end, yeah, I did." John eyes stung and he fought down the choking sensation. He was not going to cry, he was not going to shed tears over what had happened, all the awful things he'd done in the name of Queen and Country, all the terrible things done to him. "I had bad days, days when it was sometimes hard to tell the difference between me and them."

"Was there really any difference?"

"God, I hope so. Otherwise, I am well and truly fucked." John leaned his head against Sherlock and closed his eyes. "I'm so tired."

"I know. Sleep."

"I can't. I've got to get up in a couple of hours and go to work."

Sherlock shifted and wrapped his arm around John, pulling him closer. "You'll do nobody any good if you walk in like some kind of reanimated corpse."

"You mean like a zombie?"

"I believe that's what I said."

John chuckled, his nose pushed into the blue silk of Sherlock's dressing gown. The musky smell of his partner mixed with the faint hint of tea and sugar. Comfortable for the first time all night, he snuggled closer. "You make a great pillow."

"It's one of my greatest achievements. I'm glad you approve."

"I do." Eyes squeezed shut, he let himself drift and didn't even tell Sherlock to wake him. He ignored the nagging throb in his chest and let himself drift, safe in Sherlock's strong arms.

&&&&&&&

John knocked on Sarah's office door and heard her quick reply. "Come in."

John stepped inside and asked, "You got a minute?"

"Sure." She put her pen down and frowned in concern. "You look shattered. Another late night out with Sherlock?"

"No, and a good morning to you, too."

She stood up and came around her desk. "I'm serious, John." She put the back of her hand to his forehead and he didn't pull away. "You've got a slight fever."

"I know. I've got an infection. Probably just need some oral antibiotics."

"What kind of infection?"

"I was shot, remember? Part of the wound is seeping."

She motioned with her head for him to follow. "Let's go to an exam room."

"Is that really necessary?"

"If you want me to write a script, yeah."

John muttered a curse under his breath. He knew she'd insist on seeing the wound, but that didn't mean he had to like it. In the examining room, she ordered, "Take off your shirt."

"You've been wanting to say that for a long while, yeah?"

Sarah smiled and shook her head in amusement. "You're an incorrigible flirt."

"Might be." He joked as he loosened his tie and then unbuttoned his plaid shirt to remove it.

Sarah remained quiet while she checked his temperature with a digital ear thermometer. When it beeped, she said, "38.3, slightly elevated."

"Thought as much."

As directed, John sat on the table while she listened to his lungs, checked his pulse, and then took his blood pressure. "Lungs clear, heart rate sixty, pressure 100/65, well done. Other than the fever, those are excellent readings. Now, let's look at this wound."

She put on latex gloves first and, even though she did it carefully, John yelped as she pulled away the bandage. "Oi! Chest hairs!"

She ignored his complaint. "You're right about the infection." She used her gloved fingers to probe around the puffy edge of the stitches, especially the tender area around his right nipple. "You're using topical antibiotics?"

"Doesn't seem to be working."

"No, it's not. Are you allergic to penicillin?"

"No. I'm from hardy stock, no drug allergies. Just don't send me flowers."

"Pollen allergy?"

"Yeah."

"Common enough. Best I give you a script for an antibiotic and you can fill it when you go home after I drain this mess."

John shook his head, not wanting to lose another day's pay. "Can't. I've got morning appointments."

"I'll call Stevens in. Do him good to get off his lazy bum and he could use the extra hours. You need to go home, take the medicine, and rest." She paused before she commented, "I got a call from Carl Reynolds. He said you contacted him this morning about a job."

Surprised, John said, "Yeah, I did. That was quick. Did he call for a reference?"

Sarah talked while she worked, efficiently draining away the thick, yellow discharge. "Yes. Carl and I know one another."

The way she said it made it clear that she meant the knowing to mean more than just being medical colleagues. "So, you dated. Was it serious?"

Sarah snorted. "Sherlock's rubbing off on you. You would've never picked up on that before."

"Maybe. Is he a good guy, this Reynolds bloke?"

"He's a good doctor." She patted the skin dry around his stitches and then applied more antiseptic.

John bit his lower lip, trying his best to ignore the sting and discomfort. The damn thing hurt more at the moment than it did when he first got shot. He spoke through clenched teeth. "I hope you put in a good word for me."

"I did." She finished cleaning the area and dressed the wound before she said anything else. "You do realize that's probably going to leave a scar, right?"

"Won't be the first."

"I see that. Anyway, Carl's going to call and tell you to come in for an interview, probably later this afternoon. He's got an immediate opening."

"That's great news." And it was. He remembered the thrill of being in the thick of things, treating trauma patients, dealing with one medical crisis after another with hardly any time to think. He really missed the rush of that kind of medicine. If he couldn't do surgery, it was the next best thing.

Sarah interrupted his musing. "I'm probably overstepping, but I don't think it'll be a good fit."

John frowned, wondering what she was on about. "Why not? I started out in A & E. I know the ropes."

"Oh, I'm sure you could do the work, no question, but only if that were your only job. It isn't. Let's face it, John, you don't work a regular schedule here. You come in, but you're just as likely to tear off as soon as Sherlock calls about a case than to stay a full shift. We're just a small surgery so there are people to cover when you leave. Working an A & E might be more exciting, but you won't have the flexibility you have here."

"You think it'll be an issue then, me working with Sherlock while trying to do that, too?"

"I do. Carl's a real stickler about attendance and rules."

"Bugger." That didn't sound good at all, not considering John rarely went a week without missing a shift. "One of those, eh?"

"Well, on the plus side, he's well organized. He'd have to be to run that kind of program." She finished his dressing, stripped off her gloves, and then spoke as she washed and dried her hands. "I'm really not trying to discourage you. I just want you to be prepared. He's a knob if he thinks you're putting the job second to something else."

"I appreciate the warning and the reference, thanks."

She nodded, her job nearly done. "I'll write that script. If the fever gets worse, take some paracetamol to bring it down. If the infection doesn't get better in a day or two, I might need to give you a stab of something stronger or change the antibiotics."

John smiled and tilted his head as he said, "I am a doctor. I know what to do."

"In my experience, doctors make the worst patients." She patted his cheek and said, "Now, go home and get some rest, doctor's orders."

When she left the room, John sat on the exam table a while longer, disappointed. He'd had hopes for an A & E job, but Sarah had a good point about the possible conflict. Given a choice between working with Sherlock or sticking with medicine, there really was no hard decision to make. Sherlock would win every time, not that he'd tell the arrogant bastard that. His head was too damn big as it was. Besides, he had no doubt that Sherlock already knew John favored him over all else anyway.

&&&&&&

Sherlock hit send and then stood up. He went to stand by the open window, raising his arms high above his head to stretch his lower back muscles. Sleeping on the sofa with John, while comforting, also reminded him that his body wasn't quite as young as it used to be.

He didn't like to think about aging so his thoughts quickly returned to the last email. If Lestrade wouldn't give him cases, he'd find his own. Unfortunately, private cases tended to be far too simple, dull really. The first only took five minutes to solve and the second one of the morning took even less time. How could people be so stupid and survive?

"Good morning, Dear Brother. I hope I'm not disturbing you."

"You always disturb me." Sherlock didn't bother to turn around. "It's a bit early to be out. You usually don't rise before sunset."

"You're not nearly as amusing as you think." Then Mycroft cleared his throat, strangling a chuckle. "Good god, Sherlock, do my eyes deceive me? Are you really wearing your flat mate's pajama bottoms?"

Sherlock kept his features calm, not wanting to give Mycroft the satisfaction of seeing his embarrassed reaction. It was one thing to be teased by John, but totally different when it was his obnoxious brother. "John hasn't done the laundry yet."

"The good doctor does your laundry? How very domestic."

His brother said it in that dry, smug way he had. Sherlock refused to rise to the bait. He snapped, "What do you want?"

"I thought you'd like to know that Uncle Charles's estate is settled and his castle sold."

"Good." Sherlock hadn't thought about that whole business for weeks. If he had his way, he'd delete it completely. Unfortunately, while he might be able to erase general information like astronomy, personal information was a bit more persistent, annoyingly so. "Are there papers to sign?"

"No, I just thought I'd let you know that the selling price was four million pounds."

Immediately suspicious, Sherlock said, "But that's more than you originally asked."

"Yes, but apparently bidding wars have their use. The final buyer was highly motivated and really wanted the property."

Sherlock studied his brother for a moment and realized the truth. He wasn't sure whether to be admiring or disgusted by his brother's ingenuity and greed. "You were the other bidder."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because the odds of two bidders wanting that same property in this market are extremely low and you have a tell."

"A tell? I do not."

"Oh, you do. It's a little tick to the side when you've had a small success."

"Four million pounds is a bit more than a small success."

"So, I'm right!"

Mycroft sighed, realizing the trick a touch too late. "I have no tell."

"Not really, no, but I do know you and if there were a way to get a higher price, you'd find it even if you had to resort to cheating. You're a greedy prat, Mycroft, you always have been."

"Just because I don't want to live in squalor with a nearly penniless ex-soldier doesn't make me greedy, Little Brother."

"John is a richer man than you'll ever be."

Mycroft pursed his lips and studied him briefly. "Please tell me that this obsession of yours hasn't progressed any further than letting him tag along on your outings."

Sherlock crossed his arms and held his chin high. Nobody ever put him on the defensive like Mycroft. "And what if it has? What if I've asked him to be my partner?"

"Partner?"

"Domestic partner, as in my husband."

Mycroft's shocked expression was definitely worth telling him about John sooner than he planned. "Good God, you can't be serious."

"I'm deadly serious."

Mycroft pinched the bridge of his nose, acting totally put out, as if what Sherlock did with John had anything to do with him. "And I'm sure he no doubt jumped at your proposal."

"Actually, he's thinking about it."

Mycroft paused, his voice no longer quite as abrasive. "Now, that is surprising." After another second, he added, "Though I don't doubt for a minute what his final answer will be. We both know he's been smitten from the start. It's really rather pathetic, all that simpering loyalty."

"You know nothing about real loyalty. You have to buy yours, rather like you have to pay for your dates."

Mycroft ignored the jibe. "I fear you're making a horrible miscalculation with Watson."

"Why can't you be happy for me like a normal person?"

His harsh laugh echoed in the room. "Normal? Neither of us are normal, never have been, and for that I'm very grateful."

"Sometimes I hate you."

Instead of addressing that comment, Mycroft changed the subject. "You do realize that you're setting yourself up for heartbreak. We're not like other people, Sherlock. Have you learned nothing of what I've tried to teach you? Feelings are not an advantage."

"You're wrong."

"Not about this. This man, this doctor of yours, he's damaged."

"He's no more damaged than I am, or you for that matter."

"Surely if you want to form a romantic attachment, you could find someone more appropriate."

"More appropriate? Like someone from the peerage, someone with money? Someone who could further your agenda, perhaps? Is that what you mean by more appropriate, you fat bastard?"

"Calm yourself. There's no reason to be overwrought. I'm just trying to look out for your best interests. I wouldn't want someone like your doctor to take advantage."

"Take advantage?"

"The term gold-digger comes to mind. You have to admit, it would be quite the windfall for him, a man with next to nothing to his name attaching himself to someone of your wealth and status."

Sherlock fought back blind rage, the building roar that threatened to block out any ability to think clearly. He knew what Mycroft was trying to do, what he always did, replace reason for anything that truly mattered. "John Watson has more courage, more honor, than you'll ever know. You have no concept of what he means to me. You can never understand."

Mycroft remained silent for a few extra moments and then nodded, conceding the point in his own way. "Perhaps you're right. He does seem rather remarkable considering his less than fortunate upbringing."

The words wer nearly more than he could stand. "You should leave."

Mycroft didn't move, but instead asked, "Are you really serious about giving away your half of the proceeds from the sale of the castle?"

"I am."

"Then I need the name of the charity or charities you want named. I can take care of that this afternoon."

Sherlock didn't hesitate. "There are two, Help for Heroes and the Army Benevolent Fund. You can split the money between them."

"Ah, I see your doctor's influence on your choices."

"John doesn't know. You don't need to tell him. Make the donations anonymously."

"For tax purposes..."

"I don't care how you do it, just take care of it!"

Mycroft nodded and then stepped to the door, turning at the last moment. "You really have changed, Little Brother. I hardly know you."

"Good."

"Is it? I fear you'll find romantic love is nothing like you might expect. Please be careful."

Mycroft sounded sincere, but then he was good at that, an expert at shamming true emotion without feeling a thing. "I don't need to be careful. I have John."

"Perhaps. Or perhaps he has you."

"Oh, there's no perhaps about it, Mycroft. I'm his for as long as he'll have me."

Mycroft shook his head in disappointment. "I thought I'd taught you better than this."

"You tried, but John's a much better teacher. He knows what truly matters."

"I hope so, Sherlock. For your sake, I truly hope so."

&&&&&&&

"Why are you home so soon?"

John countered, "Why aren't you dressed?"

"Laundry...still not done."

"Oh, for god sakes, you're a grown man."

Quietly Sherlock said, "I want you to teach me."

"Teach you? What, how to do the laundry?"

"Yes."

"Seriously? It's pretty boring stuff."

"Before you, I sent it out."

John settled on the sofa next to Sherlock who had obviously spent most of the morning sulking. "So, you're telling me that I not only provided half the rent when I moved in, but all the housework?"

"John..."

"I'm just kidding. What's brought this on, this sudden desire to learn about domestic chores?"

Instead of answering, Sherlock reached out and gently touched John's cheek, cupping his face with his long fingers. "You're ill."

"Just a slight fever, nothing serious." John reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a bottle. "Sarah gave me antibiotics and sent me home. Guess I have time to teach you how to sort and fold, eh?"

"Absolutely not. You're going to bed to rest."

"Nice thought, but as much as those short bottoms amuse me, I much prefer you wearing your own. Besides, I've run out, too."

Sherlock smiled, his voice suddenly husky. "Sleeping in the nude seems our only recourse."

"Horny sod."

Sherlock asked, his voice more serious. "You're really not seriously ill?"

"I'm fine." He patted Sherlock's leg and then stood up. "Let's get the laundry started. I can rest between cycles."

"Cycles?"

"God, what did they teach you growing up?" John held up a finger as if suddenly remembering something important. "Oh, yeah, that's right, you had servants for such lowly manual labor."

"That's not my fault."

Sherlock's surly, snappish tone surprised him. "I was just joking."

"Mycroft was here."

"Well, that explains it. He always gets your back up." John sat back down before he asked, "What did he want this time?"

"The chateau sold."

"So, you no longer own a castle."

"Apparently not."

After an extended period of silence, John asked, "You want to talk about it?"

"Why would I want to do that?"

"I don't know. It seems to be on your mind."

Sherlock stood up and paced, his voice suddenly angry. "I don't understand why I can't just delete it, be done with it. It's incredibly irritating."

"Bad things happen. They stick with us whether we want them to or not. We're not computers, Sherlock. We can't just delete whatever it is that's bothering us. It doesn't work that way."

"Why not? It would be more efficient. You'd certainly sleep better at night if we could."

John stiffened. "We're not talking about me here."

Sherlock came over and nudged John over so he could sit on the other side of him. He put his right arm across his shoulders and dragged him closer. "I don't care about the chateau, I really don't. That was years ago. I'm not fine with what happened, but I've dealt with it, I really have."

John wasn't sure who Sherlock was trying to convince, but he wasn't going to push the point. "All right. I'm glad."

"But you haven't."

"Haven't what?"

"Dealt with whatever's bothering you."

John looked away, his eyes closed. He took a long, deep breath. "It's too early in the morning for this conversation."

Sherlock kissed the top of his head. "Then you should go to sleep. You can teach me the mechanics of the washing machine later."

"It's not rocket science. You could actually figure it out yourself if you bothered."

"But it would be so much more fun to do it together, don't you think?"

John chuckled, "Oh, yeah, sorting underwear and socks, that's the domestic bliss I've dreamed of."

"I think I must be losing my mind."

"Yeah? Why's that?"

"Because the idea of you sorting my underpants suddenly seems incredibly erotic."

John laughed and met Sherlock's hungry mouth with his own, figuring the laundry could surely wait another hour or two.

&&&&&&&

Fever and desire never mixed well. At least that was John's excuse for what happened next, how he completely lost his resolve to hold off having sex with Sherlock until he was more sure of their relationship.

They both stumbled up the stairs, desperately shedding their clothes, Sherlock more aggressive with his touches and kisses than he'd ever been before.

Both stripped bare, Sherlock had John on his back, John's legs bent, raised, and spread wide, totally exposed and completely vulnerable. "Sherlock, wait."

But Sherlock didn't wait, took his cock in his mouth and John swallowed all protests, words fleeing like refugees from a firestorm. Sensation flooded over him, John's body screaming for release far too soon. Sherlock sucked and licked John's cock and balls like he was starving. John's hands tangled in a mess of black curls, Sherlock's head bobbing. Strong hands held down his hips, but then one hand slipped between John's legs and a long, spit-slick finger teased his hole, just barely touching before suddenly pushing in.

John grunted in release a few seconds later, a starburst flashing bright colors like exploding bombs behind his lids, his cock twitching, releasing a deluge of nothing but pure pleasure all though his belly. He arched and shuddered as Sherlock continued to suck the tip of his cock while fucking his ass with his finger. Every muscle tensed to the edge of breaking, not able to handle even one more rush of heat. He remembered only one word, one glorious name as John panted and moaned, "Sherlock!"

His partner gave a few final licks and then climbed his body, pushing John's legs flat on the bed. He lay across John, chest to chest, belly to belly, crotch to crotch. Sherlock rubbed his own erection against John's spent cock, releasing with only a few desperate thrusts, the eyes squeezed shut, his face contorted with coming. A few seconds later he slumped, his weight solid, pure muscle, and pushed John hard into the mattress.

Despite the pressure and discomfort to his chest, John wrapped his arms around Sherlock's sweaty body, kissing the side of his jaw. He held him close, afraid he'd be up and away as soon as he came to his senses. The great Sherlock Holmes trembled in his arms, his face wet with tears. John whispered, "Are you all right?"

"Good god, you're going to kill me."

"But what a wonderful way to go, yeah?"

Sherlock whiskered his face against John's shoulder, his voice incredibly sexy, all out of breath and still panting. "I can think of nothing more enticing than to die in your arms."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

Sherlock chuckled. It was the most glorious sound John had ever heard. "Thank you."

"I think I should be the one saying that. That was fantastic."

"I told you I was good."

"You didn't lie."

Then John said quietly, "I thought we were going to wait."

Sherlock lifted his head, his eyes studying John carefully. "Do you regret what we just did?"

"No, god no. It's just not how I thought it would happen."

Rolling off John, Sherlock jerkily reached down and picked up the pajama bottoms from the floor and proceeded to wipe himself off before doing the same for John. His face was suddenly sullen and he was quiet, too quiet. John frowned at the unexpected change. "I'm not saying I didn't like it, I'm not."

"But you would have preferred that we waited for hearts and flowers, perhaps some romantic poetry or music in the background?"

"Don't be a prat. That's not what I meant and you know it."

"I really don't."

John sat up, sitting naked next to Sherlock, their backs resting against the headboard and pillows. One thing the army taught a man was to not worry about modesty. Plus, considering what they'd just done, it'd be stupid to cover up at that point. "I just meant that I wanted to take it slowly and maybe return the favor. Look, I've never done it with a bloke before. That thing you did..."

"Fellatio."

"No, not that, the finger thing, it was...unexpected."

Sherlock looked puzzled. "But you liked it. I could tell."

"I did, yes. I just wish you'd asked first."

Sherlock stared at him briefly and then snorted, a big grin on his smug face. "My mouth was full at the time."

John choked back his own giggle. "Yeah, it sort of was." John traced a finger along Sherlock's lower lip. "God, what a gorgeous and talented mouth you have."

"I can show you more of my genius if you like."

John shifted, put his hand to the back of Sherlock's neck and drew his face closer, his fingers tangled in dark curls. He kissed him, his tongue sneaking in between parted lips. He could taste himself there and he loved it, loved thinking about how willingly Sherlock wanted to please him. He pulled back and nodded, "Brilliant."

&&&&&&&

John was right about the laundry. It was incredibly simple and downright tiresome. How in the world could someone do such an activity on a regular basis and not go insane with boredom? Sherlock much preferred their previous arrangement. He wore the clothes and they just reappeared clean and folded without any effort on his part. It was the perfect system.

Intellectually, he knew that was unfair to John, but his partner seemed far more suited to such mundane tasks. He rarely even complained about it, just did it like it was the most natural thing in the world. Sherlock didn't understand John's attitude at all.

"Sherlock, dear, is that you?"

He turned to see Mrs. Hudson in the laundry room doorway, staring at him in surprise. "Unfortunately, it is."

"Well, this is a bit of a shock. I don't believe I've ever seen you down here before."

"You haven't and, if I have my way, you won't ever see me here again."

She smiled in apparent understanding and patted his arm gently. "A bit of a domestic, dear? John go on strike and make you do your own laundry for a change? Well, jolly good for him I say. Do you good to share the workload a bit more." Before he could argue, she continued. "You know, people just like to be appreciated for their efforts, Sherlock."

Mrs. Hudson sometimes meddled, but she often had quite a bit of wisdom when people bothered to listen. "I do appreciate John."

"Actions speak louder than words, dear. You can't expect him to do all the housework, do his doctoring, and then run around all night with you. It's a bit much for anybody, even a fit young man like your John."

Sherlock refused to acknowledge the whine in his own voice. "But John likes doing laundry and taking care of the flat." He didn't say John liked taking care of him, but he figured Mrs. Hudson knew how to read between the lines. "He wouldn't do it if he didn't want to. It's not like I force him to do anything against his will."

"Oh, we all do a lot of things for the people we care about, dear. Sometimes we do things we never thought we'd ever do."

Sherlock chuckled and held up one of the bloodstained shirts. He'd been spot cleaning the thing the way John had shown him earlier. "Like laundry?"

"Exactly."

As she turned to go, Sherlock asked, "Was there something you wanted?"

"John and I have our little chats and tea when he comes down, but since he's not here..."

"I wouldn't mind some tea, Mrs. Hudson."

"Oh, that would be lovely, Sherlock. I'll put the kettle on. Mind you don't let that last load sit in the dryer too long or your things will get all wrinkled."

"Yes, ma'am." As she left, Sherlock grinned. Well, that explained why John didn't hate the laundry as much as he should have. Free tea with Mrs. Hudson went a long way to make the whole ridiculous cleaning business bearable.

&&&&&&&

John woke with a strangled cry. He sat up quickly and gulped for air, drenched in sweat, his heart racing. After a few moments he finally realized he was stretched out in bed, not the scorching desert. He swung his legs over the side of the mattress and dropped his face to his hands. After a few moments he focused and recognized the sound that woke him, the beeping of his cell phone.

He quickly found his trousers, retrieved the phone from the pocket, and answered. "Yes?"

"Dr. Watson?"

"Yes."

"Dr. Carl Reynolds here."

It took a few seconds for the name to register. When it did, John said, "Yes, I remember."

"I've talked to a few people about you."

"Have you?"

"Yes, and I liked what they had to say. I'd like you to come for an interview. Three this afternoon would be convenient."

"Fine, that's fine, yes."

"Good. I'll see you then. Good day."

The man hung up before John got a chance to say another word. He put his phone down and fell back across the bed, his arms outstretched. He was still groggy from the pain pill he'd taken and he could tell the antibiotic was messing with his stomach, making him slightly nauseated. He probably should've eaten before he took it. Closing his eyes, he wondered whether to even bother with the interview. As much as he'd love to have an A & E job, there was no way he'd let it interfere with his work with Sherlock.

A pile of clothes landed dangerously close to his head. "You, John Watson, have been keeping secrets."

"Have I?"

"Yes. You've been having clandestine liaisons with our landlady."

John smiled at the thought of one of Mrs. Hudson's lovely teas. "Did she have those buttery pecan scones?"

"She did. Of course, I didn't eat any, far too sweet."

"That's disappointing."

"You'll be pleased to know that I brought you my share. They're wrapped and on the kitchen table. You can have them later with your tea."

John groaned in disappointment. His scones would taste of rot before he could eat them. "Oh god, please, not with the fingers!"

Sherlock totally dismissed his concern with a quick wave of his hand. "Oh, don't worry. Those have been cleared out."

Opening his eyes, John studied Sherlock for an extra moment to gauge the truth. Sometimes Sherlock fibbed when it was expedient, but this time he seemed truthful. "Cleared out? Really? Since when?"

Sherlock shrugged. "I gathered all the data I needed."

"Sick of the stink, too, yeah?"

"Entirely." Sherlock busied himself putting away John's clothes, making sure everything was placed precisely in the proper drawer or hung up neatly in the closet. "By the way, did you know that Mrs. Turner's tenants are going away on holiday next week?"

"Really? Where?"

Sherlock sat down next to him on the bed and smirked. "John, do you seriously sit downstairs and gossip every week about the neighbors?"

"Not every week. Besides, you never know when the information might come in handy."

"So, the fact that Kevin and Barry are going off to Paris for a romantic weekend will help us solve a case how?"

Instead of answering, John sat up and leaned against Sherlock's side, keeping his eyes closed and drinking in the heat of his lover's long, lean body. "It's about time those two got away for a bit. Mrs. Turner was worried that they were going to split up a few months ago. She actually lost sleep over it."

"Who knew soldiers could be so horribly romantic?"

"Who knew consulting detectives could fold so neatly? Have you indexed my sock drawer yet?"

"Oh, please, like you have enough socks to index."

"True." After a few seconds, he added dreamily, "Two miracles in the same day."

"Two miracles?"

John teased. "Sex and laundry. Who are you and what have you done with the real Sherlock Holmes?"

"Is it so bizarre that I'd want to please the person I care about?"

John frowned at the unexpectedly serious tone. He opened his eyes and stared over at Sherlock. "It's not bizarre. I didn't mean it that way. It's just surprising, that's all. You don't usually give a toss about pleasing other people."

"You're not just other people, John. Believe me, I would not fold under garments for just anybody."

"Oh, now I do feel special."

"You should."

"And the sex part?"

Sherlock cocked his head to one side and studied him before he answered, "You're the only one I've ever wanted. It makes no logical sense whatsoever, but it's true."

"Love isn't logical."

"So it would seem."

John reached around Sherlock's waist and hugged him. "Thank you."

Sherlock returned the embrace briefly before he asked, "So, who was that on the phone?"

John glanced over and checked the clock. It was already one. He needed to get cleaned up fast so he stood up and stepped to the dresser to get some clothes. Showing up nude probably wouldn't win him any favors toward getting the job. "Dr. Reynolds. He's giving me an interview for a position."

"A position? What kind of position?"

"A & E at Royal London. Sarah put in a good word. They used to date."

"Does that woman try to date every doctor she meets?"

John shook his head, growing very weary of Sherlock's constant sniping about his friend. "Don't be that way."

"What way?"

"Mean about Sarah."

"It makes no difference to me if she sleeps with every physician in England as long as she keeps her predatory advances away from you."

John stepped over to Sherlock, who was still sitting on the edge of the bed. He stood between his legs and took his face between his hands. "Shut up, you jealous berk." John kissed him soundly and pulled back. "I need to clean up for this interview. It's at three."

"You're hot."

Sherlock rarely used slang, but then Sherlock was doing a lot of things he didn't normally do, so he went with it. "Thanks. I think you're hot, too."

"No, I mean, you're hot as in your fever seems worse." John touched his own face. That would explain the blurry way the world looked. Sherlock said, "I'll get the thermometer."

"Don't bother. It'll be fine."

"I'm taking your temperature, so sit back down and stop arguing."

"Bossy man." John did as he was told. He really did suddenly feel a bit off, like the desert heat was creeping in around the edges again.

"Here." Sherlock handed him the glass tube.

"We really need to invest in a digital one of these." John reluctantly stuck the thing under his tongue. Sherlock crossed his arms as he waited impatiently.

After the longest three minutes in history, Sherlock removed it, wiped it off, and asked, "What's normal?"

"How can you recognize any patch in London just by a soil sample and not know what's a normal body temperature?"

Sherlock spoke with annoyed persistence. "John, stop being irritating and just answer the question."

"Thirty-seven degrees Celsius."

"It's 39. How bad is that?"

"It's not dangerous. I'll take some paracetamol to bring it down. After the interview I'll rest, I promise."

Sherlock left the room and returned with two pills and a glass of water. "Take them now. If it's not down in the next hour, you'll reschedule."

"And how would that look if I had to reschedule our first meeting? I doubt he'd be happy about that."

After John took the medicine, he put the glass down on the bedside table and Sherlock sat beside him. He asked, "Why should rescheduling make a difference in his opinion of your qualifications?"

"Sarah said he was a stickler for attendance."

Sherlock's tone became brittle again. "Sarah said?"

"Don't start. She was trying to be helpful. Anyway, I don't want to get off on the wrong foot."

"The man's a doctor. Surely he'll understand if you're ill."

"He'll think I'm unreliable and a slacker."

"Then he's a fool and you don't need to work for a man like that anyway." Sherlock hesitated before he added, "Besides, how will it be if you work there when I need you on a case? They might not let you leave when I need you."

John met Sherlock's worried gaze. "You know I'll always put you and the cases first."

"I would imagine this Reynolds character won't like that much."

The pounding in John's head got louder and more painful. He was just too damn tired to argue. "You know what? Call him and cancel. I don't care. I'll work at the clinic. It's mind-numbingly boring but it's flexible."

"John..."

"No, Sherlock. My head hurts, I ache all over, and I'm going back to sleep now." He stretched out on the bed and pulled a blanket up over himself. He closed his eyes as he rubbed his face into the pillow. "Call Reynolds and let him know. His number is on my phone."

"You really want this job?"

"I'd be lying if I didn't say I was disappointed, but you're right. Your work comes first."

Sherlock quickly corrected, "Our work."

John smiled at that concession. Sherlock would never have said that even a few months earlier. "Yeah, our work."

Sherlock's fingertips teased John's hair as he whispered, "Sleep." A soft kiss touched John's cheek before he drifted off thinking, tender Sherlock, miracle number three.

&&&&&&&

When he woke up, it was dark. John frown and glanced at the clock and did a double take. It was almost midnight and he'd managed to sleep nearly eleven hours with no nightmares. He hadn't felt so rested in weeks.

John sat up, his body stiff, but a lot less painful than before. Touching his face, he realized his fever was also gone, which was great news. The urgency to urinate hit him, so he got up, pulled on fresh pajama bottoms, and headed downstairs to go to the loo. Shortly after that he went looking for his partner.

Sherlock lay on the sofa, wrapped in a white sheet, looking very much like a half-finished mummy. He was stretched out, his fingers steepled in front of his face. Flames from the fireplace lit the room with a soft, flickering glow. John apologized, "Sorry about that."

"About what?"

"Sleeping the day away."

"You obviously needed it."

John settled in his chair across from the sofa. "I guess I did."

"Besides, we've got no case right now, which is massively boring, but rather fortunate. It gives you time to fully recuperate." Sherlock sat up and looked at him. "How do you feel?"

"Better, thanks." John's eyes crinkled, but worked hard to cover his amusement. "Okay, I have to ask, why the sheet?"

"It helps me think."

"Does it?"

"It does."

"And what are you thinking about that requires a sheet?"

"I have a proposal."

"Yes."

Surprised, Sherlock asked, "Yes?"

"Yes. I should've said it earlier. I want to be with you, too, so, yes, I accept your proposal."

His eyes brightened as Sherlock patted the seat beside him. "Come over here, please."

John obliged and settled beside Sherlock. A strong arm stretched over his shoulders and pulled him in closer. "You're sure? No conditions this time?"

"No conditions, well, other than I really would like to be consulted more before body parts show up in the kitchen and bathroom."

"Easily done."

John grinned. "I can't believe we're really doing this, you and me, it's just not something I ever expected."

Sherlock lowered his mouth to John's and kissed him not with passion but softly, rather sweetly. John found he liked it. Then Sherlock whispered, "I never for a moment ever imagined I'd find someone I could trust and care about. I thought love was dead to me."

John pulled away just enough to stare at Sherlock, stunned at full meaning of the words. "You've never loved anyone? Never?"

"I told you before, John, there's never been anyone I could trust or consider worthy of affection. Until recently I thought I was unworthy of love and acted accordingly, making sure everyone would agree with that assessment."

"You're saying you acted like a knob because that's what everyone expected. If they wanted to treat you like shit, you'd give them a bloody good reason, yeah?"

"Crudely put, but insightful." Sherlock swallowed hard before he added, "No one has ever treated me the way you do."

John's heart squeezed like a fist, the air thinner because of his lover's confession. How had Sherlock survived for so long, remained so stubbornly vital in a world without warm emotion and caring? His hate for Mycroft cranked higher and he wanted to pound the man into the sand. He closed his eyes to hide what he was feeling, but Sherlock saw right through his reaction. "You do understand now why I find my brother's company so difficult."

"I do, yeah, but what about your mother or other relatives?"

Sherlock sighed and leaned away, his head resting on the back of the sofa. "Other than a few scattered cousins, aunts, and uncles, there's really only Mummy. She was never deliberately cruel. She did what had always been done in our family, relegate my care to a long string of nannies and then later send me away to school. I rarely saw her except on special occasions and even then our meetings were more obligatory than emotional."

"That sounds horrible."

"It was the same for Mycroft. He flourished, while I, well, as you can imagine, resented it. I was a bit difficult growing up. I went through nannies and tutors like you went through first dates when we met."

John ignored the jab at his pathetic dating history and focused on what was important. "That had to be hard on you."

"Intellectually I understood why I was treated the way I was. However, I do believe my emotional development was somewhat stunted. I found relationships and empathy difficult. Also, because I was insatiably curious, appropriate boundaries were often crossed in order to appease my thirst for knowledge. Even now, I forget about the victims involved and focus only on the crime itself, not the emotional impact it causes. I fear that's one of my greatest failings."

John reached out and laced their fingers together and squeezed encouragement. Sherlock had never been so forthcoming. His words made John incredibly thankful for his own family. They might have had their problems, but he'd never really doubted their love for him. Even with all his troubles with Harry, he knew she still loved him and he loved her. Sherlock had never had that. "Then we're a good match, you and me. Empathy is sort of my thing."

Sherlock smiled at him and nodded. "Yes. You've taught me to care about things I never thought worth caring for before. I find it fascinating. I find you completely enthralling. It's one of the few things I can't explain."

"I can."

"Can you?"

"You love me."

Sherlock brought their clasped hands to his lips and kissed each of their paired fingers. Then he said, "I've heard that word love a million times and never once truly understood it until now." His smile faded a bit and his expression turned serious.

John asked, "What? What is it?"

"This feeling, it makes it difficult to think clearly. You're in my thoughts and my dreams constantly. I'm always worried about losing you. It's incredibly distracting."

"That's normal. I do the same."

"But how does one function with this relentless flood of feeling? How does one control it?"

John shrugged, not sure how to explain something so alien to the man he loved. "I don't think you can control it. It's just something you get used to. I mean, it's called falling in love for a reason. There's no real safety net, you just have to go with it. It's something that becomes part of you."

"And this is how you feel about me all the time?"

"It is, yeah, for a while now if I'm honest."

"But you never said."

"But you knew."

"I did, yes, but I ignored it. Nobody ever stays with me for long. I've found it best not to get too attached. With you it was different from the start. No matter what I did or what happened, you stayed."

"And I always will. I'm stubborn that way."

"I'll confess, in the beginning, your obdurate nature was one of your most irritating traits."

"Takes one to know one."

Sherlock snorted and conceded that point to John. "Yes, obstinacy has always been one of my consistent character traits."

"Nothing wrong with standing one's ground when you know you're right."

"No, there's not." Sherlock hesitated and then asked, "So, you're okay with our engagement now?"

"I am, yes."

Sherlock kissed him again and then rested his forehead on John's. Quietly, he said, "Thank you."

John had never been more certain of love in his life or more frightened of what he would be willing to do to keep it.

&&&&&&&

John finished up the leftover sesame chicken and jam-smothered pecan scones when Sherlock interrupted. "I called Dr. Reynolds."

Licking his fingers clean, John shrugged, not really caring since he wouldn't be taking the job anyway. "Yeah?"

"An atrocious man, blatant in his homophobia, no doubt the result of his own unresolved sexual yearnings for a male colleague. I'm sure it's put a strain on his already troubled marriage, which translates to bullying in the workplace. You're lucky to have escaped dealing with him."

John wasn't even sure where to start. "He dated Sarah. How could he be married?"

Sherlock gave him his famous don't be dull look. "Does it really surprise you that your precious Sarah would date a married man?"

"In her defense, married men cheat all the time without telling the woman they're married. You can't just assume she knew."

Sherlock grudgingly admitted the possibility. "Perhaps."

"And even if she did know, it's none of our business."

"God, you're so blind when it comes to that woman."

John ignored the complaint and asked, "And what about the homophobia bit? How do you reckon that?"

"As you know, it's much easier for me to collect data visually, but my auditory deductive powers are a close second in their perfection."

"Perfection...yeah, of course."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow. "You're teasing me."

"I'm not...well maybe a little, but that's only because I know it's true. Now, go on. Tell me how you got all that from one short phone call."

Sherlock reddened slightly, pleased with the praise as he continued to explain. "When I identified myself in order to cancel the appointment, his tonal quality shifted substantially. He automatically assumed we were more than flat mates."

"Which most people do and we are."

"But that's not the salient point. The point is that once he made that conclusion, his voice took on a particularly nasty tone of disapproval."

"Well, a lot of people are bigots, no news there. How does that explain your notion that he's repressed?"

"Statistics show that the vast majority of men who discriminate against homosexuals are, in fact, latently homosexual themselves. Since he's in a profession which by its very nature is predominantly male-oriented, he's likely to have been attracted to male colleagues and refused to act on it. This is most likely due to the societal and/or familial pressure against such relationships. As to the bullying, aggression is often the external manifestation of sexual repression or other unresolved internal conflicts. Men of authority are particularly prone to this type of hostile behavior. I'm sure you experienced similar instances in the military, men who overcompensate to sublimate their urges by resorting to hyper masculinity."

"You mean you think all the super butch guys are really trying to hide the fact that they're gay?"

"It's true for a higher percentage than one might think, yes."

John's mouth fell open just a little bit, but then he smiled in admiration. He knew at least four commanding officers who fit that description, men who bullied during the day and fucked subordinates at night. He was engaged to a genius. "That's amazing."

"Is it?" Sherlock's lips quirked up, pleased with himself. "Just basic deduction."

"So, lucky miss for me then?"

"Indeed."

John got up and cleared away the plate and containers for his late night supper. When he sat back down again, he settled next to Sherlock. "I guess I'm stuck doing the surgery for a while yet."

"Not necessarily."

"Sherlock, we've talked about this. I have to pay my own way."

Standing up, Sherlock paced, his energy suddenly cranked up to what it was during a big case. "I know you're unhappy at the surgery."

"No super deduction needed for that conclusion."

"No, but I might have a solution, one that would be satisfactory to us both."

Intrigued, John asked, "What?"

"Remember Seb Wilkes?"

John crossed his arms and frowned. He remembered all too well the bastard from the bank who'd tried to shame Sherlock about his university days in front of John. He'd hated him on the spot. "We're not working for that big git again. Don't even ask."

"No, we're not, but if I remember correctly, you were the one who took his rather substantial check and put it into my account."

"Well, yeah, since you can't be half bothered to worry about something as silly as money for services."

"Exactly!" Sherlock clapped his hands in excitement like he'd just solved the crime of the century.

"Exactly what?"

"You can handle the money."

John still didn't understand. "What money?"

"Money from the cases."

"But we don't charge for cases."

"But we can. Don't you see? You always said that we should and you're right. I don't know why I didn't think of this before. From now on, you can be the one to collect it. It's perfect!"

Stunned, John asked, "But you don't care about the money."

"No, but you do. If we start charging, you can take the money and pay yourself. You won't have to work at the surgery." Sherlock smacked himself in the forehead with the heel of his hand. "Oh, I'm so blind. I don't know why I didn't see it before."

John had to admit it made sense. "So, you're saying you'd be okay with charging a consultant fee, one that we'd split fifty-fifty?"

"You can have all of it if you want, but if that wounds your masculine ego too much, you can set up separate bank accounts. Fifty percent each sounds reasonable."

John rubbed the back of his head, patently ignoring the slam against his pride. It certainly would solve a lot of his financial problems and he wouldn't be completely dependant on Sherlock. "You're sure about this?"

"Absolutely." Sherlock plopped down beside him, very proud of himself, and slapped his knees. "I don't want you working in a place that is 'mind-numbingly boring' as you put it. I can't stand the idea of you suffering that way."

Remembering the wall shooting and the extra nicotine patches when Sherlock had no cases, John teased, "You're the expert on suffering from boredom."

"I am. I can't abide the thought of you doing something you hate just to pay the rent which you insist on paying despite my protests."

"I don't hate hate it."

"Hate hate?"

"I mean, I can do it if I have to."

"But you don't have to. That's what I'm trying to explain."

John reluctantly agreed. "It would make life a lot easier."

"And we could focus on the cases. Of course, I suppose we could ask the Yard for a fee, but I doubt this is the best time to approach that possibility."

"No, probably not, not with the banning and all. I don't know if I'm even comfortable asking Lestrade for money. He might tell us to piss off permanently if he actually had to pay us."

"That's an excellent point. Then we should focus on the private cases."

"So what does one charge for solving a murder or kidnapping?"

"I suppose that would depend on who was murdered or kidnapped and resources available. I'll leave all that to you. You should probably start right away. Come up with some sort of scale that normal people can understand." Sherlock waved his hands in dismissal, like worrying about money was way too much trouble.

"That's a lot of responsibility."

Sherlock met his gaze, his eyes bright, his face flushed with anticipation. "I trust you."

John drank in those words, realizing that for Sherlock trust was just as important as love. "I trust you, too."

Sherlock answered with a breathtaking kiss, one that led them both back up to John's room, which had by default become their room. John was happier than he could ever remember being, all because of Sherlock.

&&&&&&&

Sherlock stood in the doorway of his brother's office, watching smugly as Mycroft finished his call. As soon as he hung up from cancelling the security alarm, Mycroft rolled his eyes. "You could ask for an appointment like everyone else."

"I'm not everyone else. Besides, you'll thank me when your PA gives you the list of four immediate security breaches I discovered. Seriously, Mycroft, it shows a careless disregard to the safety of State secrets to hire such incompetent workers. Common criminals could do a better job."

"I assure you, they're the best in the business."

"Not better than I am."

"Of course not. Few are." Giving a long-suffering sigh, Mycroft asked, "Why are you here, Dear Brother?"

Sherlock stepped inside and closed the door before taking a seat in front of his brother's desk. He glanced around the room as he removed his leather gloves and scarf. The office was totally banal in its posh decor, totally boring with the dark paneling, accents of deep red and green, and far too much leather in the seating. There were degrees on the wall, but not a single personal item in sight, no family pictures, no books, no mementos. However, there was a wet bar containing both liquor and a tea kettle. So, Mycroft did make some concessions to comfort, not surprising.

Mycroft was always so predictable in what he wanted people to see, someone with prestige and power. To Sherlock it just showed a serious lack of imagination not to have at least one skull sitting around, if for nothing else but a conversation starter. It was, after all, one of the first things John noticed and asked about at Baker Street.

Back to the subject of his visit, Sherlock refocused his thoughts. "I want to make a will."

Mycroft's eyebrow arched to new heights. He was a hard man to surprise, but Sherlock was pleased to have managed. "A will?"

"And I need to make some changes to my estate. I want John's name on the deed to the house in Sussex as well as my other properties and accounts. It should be effective as soon as possible."

Mycroft's lips pursed with obvious disapproval, but his voice stayed annoyingly calm. "Ah, I see the good doctor has said yes to your proposal."

"He has."

"I should congratulate you..."

"But you won't mean it, so why bother?"

"You can't blame me for having my concerns. We're talking about a substantial amount of money and property."

"John is going to be my legal partner. I want to make sure that what's mine is his."

"How very conventional of you. However, I would highly recommend a prenuptial agreement be drawn up before you officially marry."

"I don't need one. John is never going to leave me and if does, none of it will matter anyway."

"Very well." Mycroft gave up far too easily before he threw the next verbal punch. "Have you told Mummy?"

Sherlock bristled, sitting up straighter in the chair. "She doesn't have a say in my personal life."

"She won't approve of your choice any more than I do."

"I'm aware of that, but she won't stop me." Impatiently Sherlock snapped, "Why are you bothering to state the obvious? I need you to set up an appointment with the lawyers so I can make the will. You can do the paperwork for the other."

"And if I refuse?"

Sherlock laughed, knowing full well Mycroft was bluffing. "You'd lose your access to a resource to fix whatever mess your top professionals can't handle. Do you really want to risk that? I think not."

Mycroft sat back in his chair, his eyes narrowed and then shook his head in frustration. "You've always been so ridiculously contrary."

"And you've always been an obnoxious and pretentious bore."

At a stand off, Mycroft finally relaxed and then consented to Sherlock's request with a slight nod. "I'll set up the appointment for this afternoon. Please try not to expire before then."

"Even if I do, I expect you to honor my wishes about John," Sherlock insisted.

"He'd never accept it."

Sherlock hesitated, knowing that for once his brother might be right. "Perhaps not, but I expect you to try to persuade him. You're good at that."

"I'll do my best." He said the words far too weakly to be even slightly convincing. Then Mycroft asked, "Does John know your background?"

His lips formed in a thin line of displeasure. Mycroft was never opposed to bringing up issues he'd just as soon leave buried. "He knows about the drugs. He found out about my old habits that first night when Lestrade resorted to that ridiculous drugs bust to get my attention."

"I'm not talking about the drugs, Dear Brother. I assume if you're going to marry this man, you've either already engaged in sexual activity or will soon do so. Does he have any idea about the scope of your promiscuous behavior only a few years ago?"

Sherlock had to take a few calming breaths before he answered. John would be proud of him for not reacting impulsively and ripping his brother's head off right in the heart of Great Britain's national security center. "He does."

"Then he really is rather open-minded, more than I expected considering his provincial upbringing. I applaud his progressive attitude." Mycroft paused and then got that crafty, I know something you don't know expression. Sherlock hated that look. "As a gesture of full disclosure, I assume he's told you his history as well?"

"I'm fully aware he's slept with women on three continents, Asia, Africa, and Europe. I could care less."

"I'm not talking about the impressive number of his sexual conquests. Even though I must say he was definitely quite the ladies man before meeting you."

Sherlock frowned, not wanting to fall into his brother's trap, but needing clarification. "Stop playing games and just say what you mean."

"I'm referring to his army record."

"He's a war hero, shot in the line of duty. He was a doctor and a soldier. What more is there to know?" Sherlock didn't add that he knew whatever happened during Jon's service still haunted him, still wracked him with guilt and made his life hell when he wasn't kept busy.

"Oh, Dear Brother, that's being exceedingly modest. He was much more than that."

Sherlock flashed back to the way John killed the cabbie with a single expert shot from a remarkable distance. He also knew John didn't fight like a common soldier, so his special training was obvious. "I assumed as much. I don't need the details."

"But you really should know all there is to know about the man with whom you wish to share your life."

"He told me his work was classified."

"That's never stopped you from ferreting out information before. Why now? Are you afraid of what you might discover?"

Sherlock stood up, determined not to let Mycroft goad him any longer. "I don't have a problem with whatever John did during his service to his country. He's a good man and, regardless of your personal feelings, I fully expect you to show him respect and accept him as part of the family. Feel free to pass my feelings along to Mummy."

Sherlock put both hands on the desk, his arms outstretched as he leaned forward, his voice flinty. He stared into his brother's eyes, making sure Mycroft knew he was dead serious. "If you ever disrespect him, ever cause him harm in any way or allow harm to occur that you could have prevented, I will disown you completely as my brother. Make no mistake about that." Sherlock let the words sink in before he smoothly added, "I might even have to end you."

"Sherlock..."

"Do...you...understand...me?"

After a few seconds of shocked silence, Mycroft nodded and said, "I do. I had no idea your feelings were so..."

"Real?"

"Intense."

"I would die for John Watson and he for me. More importantly, he plans to live for me and I for him."

Sherlock stood up straight, pulling on his gloves and wrapping his scarf around his neck. "You should be so lucky as to find someone like John." He looked around the office as he made his point. "There's more to life than these power games and intrigue, much more."

"I do hope this thing between you and John works out." Mycroft's voice choked up and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair obviously rattled. Sherlock met his brother's stare without sympathy or regret as Mycroft continued. "I'm not completely heartless, regardless of what you might think. I've always only been concerned with your best interests."

"What you thought was best for me nearly led to my destruction."

"You still blame me for cutting you off, for what happened later. I assure you..."

Sherlock quickly held up a hand. "Don't. Just don't. Take care of the paperwork and contact me about the lawyer as soon as possible." As he walked out the door, Sherlock paused and added, "You really need a love life, Mycroft. It would do wonders for your diet."

&&&&&

John made his excuses to Sarah, noting her eye rolling, and promised to make up the hours later, honest. Then he ran out of the surgery and grabbed a cab. He worked hard to control the panic he always had when he got a worrying text from Harry, especially one that told him she needed to see him right away, 999. She hadn't answered when he called her back.

By the time he got to her apartment, he'd managed to scroll through far too many possible scenarios in his head, everything from an overdose to finding his sister in the tub, her wrists slashed and bleeding out, or with her already dead, choked on her own vomit. It was the last one that scared him the most.

John knocked several times, hoping he wouldn't have to break the damn thing down to get inside. Harry opened the door, dressed in her raggedy blue terry dressing gown, a beer in one hand and her deep blue eyes puffy from crying.

"About fucking time you got here."

John saw nothing obviously wrong other than her half-sloshed condition. His voice breathless, he asked, "What's going on? Why'd you call me?"

"Does something have to be wrong to get you to come see your big sister?"

Harry was fine, not dead, just drinking like usual and making a right pest of herself. John didn't know whether to be pissed or relieved, and settled on being glad she wasn't dead. In exasperation, he complained, "You sent a 999 text."

"It's the only thing you'll answer."

"Bollocks."

"When was the last time you called or came by?"

Guiltily, John admitted, "Yeah, yeah, I see your point." He sighed in relief and looked around the place, still huge, expensive, and cluttered with Harry's stuff. Clara had been more than generous in the divorce settlement. It was probably the only reason Harry hadn't ended up living with their mum and on the dole. She hadn't held down a decent full-time job since Clara left her.

John reached over and pulled Harry into a hug and then drew back with his hands on her shoulders to study her more carefully. "You really okay?"

Harry waved off the concern and plopped down on the sofa, tucking her feet under her while he remained standing. He didn't really want to stay longer than he had to. "Rough patch, same old shit." She drank more of her beer and said, "I'm sorry about scaring you. I wanted to see you, that's all."

John didn't say it was okay, because it wasn't, but he understood why she might feel neglected. He'd been so caught up with Sherlock, he'd really not made any time for his sister in months. "How's Mum?"

"Pissed that you call her even less than me."

"I call."

"Not enough. She's getting older, Johnny. She won't be around forever." She hesitated and then added, "None of us will." Then she polished off the drink and tossed the can toward the bin, missing by several meters. "So, what's new in your life? Still running around with the crazy flat mate, solving crimes and saving the bloody world?"

"You might say that, yeah."

Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. Harry might be half-drunk, but she knew him like only an older sister could. "Johnny? What's that look?"

"What look?"

"That one. It's the look you get when you...good god, don't fucking tell me you're falling for the bastard."

"Sorry, but yeah, I have, sort of." John cleared his throat and announced, "Actually, we engaged."

"You're engaged?"

"Yeah."

"Since when?"

"Last night."

"To Sherlock Fucking Holmes? Are you a masochist or just plain mental? I mean, you've obviously lost your fucking mind if you said yes to that arsehole."

John took a deep breath to stay calm. Even after years of practice, dealing with his sister tested his limits. "How can you say that? You don't even know Sherlock."

"And whose fault is that? Who doesn't even return my calls anymore, much less invite me over to meet the man you've been fucking? How long has this been going on anyway? Jesus motherfucking god, I don't fucking believe you."

Harry got up and jabbed an accusing finger into his chest as she demanded, "Oh, and just when did you go queer, Little Brother? Was it in the army or have you been hiding it behind all those skirts you've been chasing since you could get your dick out?"

"Harry, it's not like that."

"What's it like then? All those times Mum and Dad raked me over the bloody coals for being a lesbian and here you are as gay as me?"

"Nobody's as gay as you, Harry."

His sister paused and then cracked up laughing. "You've got that right. If there's pussy to be had, I'm having it!" She slapped him on his bad shoulder, suddenly in good humor. John winced, but just rubbed away the pain as she asked, "Want a beer?"

"No, but tea would be nice, thanks." He couldn't afford to booze it up if Harry was on a binge, not when he might have to stick around to make sure she was okay later.

Harry shrugged and motioned with her head for him to follow her to her kitchen. It was larger than the whole flat at Baker Street, with stainless steal appliances, everything done in black and white. It would've been a showcase if it weren't littered with old takeout boxes, dirty dishes, liquor bottles, and an overflowing trash bin. Harry opened the refrigerator and got another beer. "Help yourself."

As he made the tea, Harry's good spirit vanished as quickly as it had come. Her moody disposition had always amazed him, fun and full of life one minute, morose and sorry the next. She could rage and attack and then turn around and be full of I'm sorry all in the same breath. It was like walking on eggshells all the time, never knowing what would set her off. Wearing Moriarty's bomb didn't scare him half as much as watching his sister self-destruct as surely as if she wore those explosives herself. He really didn't know how Clara had stayed with her for as long as she had.

Harry interrupted his dark thoughts as he tidied the kitchen while waiting for the water to boil. "So, Sherlock, huh?"

"Yeah."

"I read your blog, you know. Sounds like an absolute tosser."

"He can be. He's also a genius."

"You always did like the brainy types. Usually they had tits and a pussy. Though, I guess it might work out since he sounds like a complete twat."

John cleared out the sink and ran hot, soapy water so he could wash the dishes. "He's been called worse."

After a few minutes of watching him work, Harry said, "I've got a dishwasher, you know."

"I know."

"You always did like cleaning up when you were upset. I remember when Dad used to come home smashed and tore up the place. You'd have it sorted by daybreak like nothing ever happened. Helped Mum make sure the place was spotless so he wouldn't complain about a mess and start a another row."

John refused to think about his father staggering home, yelling abuse and breaking anything his mother valued. Sober, his dad was a regular bloke, worked hard, went to church, and played with his kids, but with a few drinks, he hated his life and everyone in it, especially his mum. He didn't like to remember, so he mostly didn't.

"I don't like cleaning. It just needs doing. And I'm not upset."

"You hate mess, always have. Even as a little boy, you'd clean up your room, everything in its place, all your toys put away and your books in alphabetical order."

"Unlike your room which was an absolute pigsty."

"Organization is overrated."

"Not if it means you can find your books or clothes so you can be to school on time."

Harry took a long pull of her drink, and then tilted her head, studying him with unfocused eyes. "You always hated being late."

"And you never showed up on time."

"So, I guess this Sherlock bloke, he's a neat freak and always shows up on time like you, yeah?"

John choked back a laugh, realizing that many of the patterns of his youth had somehow translated to the present. Not that knowing made any difference. He never had any real intention of changing Sherlock. He loved him just the way he was, aggravating or not. Plus, it wasn't exactly the same thing. Sherlock was sober, unlike his sister, who refused to clean up even to save her marriage.

John made the tea as he finished up the dishes before he finally answered her question. "No, he's messy as hell, does all kind of smelly experiments with body parts, slime molds, and other nasty shit. It can be a real nightmare sometimes just walking through the flat."

"You write about it on the blog, but I thought you were exaggerating."

"Not a bit."

As he finally sat down at the table across from his sister with his cup of tea, she asked, "Then why him?"

John took a few sips before he put the cup down. "Because he's the most brilliant, exasperating man I've ever met. He drives me half mad with his bloody rudeness, his total disregard for his own safety, and his lack of any kind of common sense. Then he'll turn around and do something that's so utterly amazing that it takes my breath away." He swallowed several times before he finished, not sure if he could ever do justice to the glory that was Sherlock. "I've seen him bring down murderers, pedophiles, kidnappers, and terrorists, people nobody else could stop. He does it all with clues nobody else can see much else figure out. I've never known anybody like him because there's nobody else like him in the world and never will be."

"Jesus, you really are in love."

"Yeah, I really am. Oh, and one more thing."

"What's that?"

"He loves me, too."

His sister grinned and lifted her beer as John raised his teacup. They clinked their drinks together lightly as Harry said, "Well, fucking cheers then."

&&&&&&&

 

Later, John had her tucked into bed, the duvet up to her chin. He kissed her forehead and turned to leave, but she grabbed his hand, squeezing so tightly that it hurt. The words were slurred. "Stay a bit longer, Johnny. Please."

He couldn't say no, so he pulled up a chair and sat down beside the bed. "Go to sleep. You'll feel better after some rest."

"Why don't you ever tell me to stop anymore?"

He hid his surprise at her question before he asked, "Would it make a difference?"

"I don't know. It might."

John's chest tightened and he leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his eyes stinging. "Do you think I don't care enough, is that it?"

"You used to be on me to quit all the time."

"Harry..." John fought back the anger and the hurt, the memory of all the times they'd butted heads about her drinking. "I love you, but I'm tired of fighting. You'll either quit or you won't. Nothing I say or do seems to matter."

Tears fell down Harry's face as she reached out for his hand again. When he took it, she admitted, "I know. Clara said the same thing."

"Then stop."

"It's not that simple."

John knew that was the truth. He'd seen it first hand far too many times not to realize how fucking hard it was to change old habits. As a doctor, he'd taken courses about addiction, grew up as the son and brother of alcoholics. At school, mates got hooked and dropped out, lost scholarships and bright futures. In the service, soldiers destroyed their lives because of it, getting arrested, their money all gone, and their families losing everything to try to save them. They blamed bad luck or the war, but it was always more complicated than that. In his head he knew all the facts about addiction. In his heart he just weighed down with the disappointment and anger he'd carried with him most of his life.

His grip tightened as he tried a different approach. "I can find you a program if you'll go."

"Programs are shit. They never work."

"You haven't tried."

Harry jerked her hand away and sat up in the bed, pushing her tangled brown hair out of her eyes. "You don't think I've fucking tried to stop?"

"I know you have, but you need help. This isn't something you can do alone."

"Lots of people manage."

"Lots of people fail."

Harry crossed her arms and worried her bottom lip with her teeth. "Did you hear the news?"

"What news?"

"Clara's engaged. You could have a fucking double wedding."

Well, that explained the 999 and the crying earlier. "Fuck."

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

"I'm sorry, Harry."

She closed her eyes, tears falling freely as her weeping turned to sobs. John reached over and handed her the box of tissues from the bedside table. She blew her nose and then tossed the used tissue on the floor. John picked it up and put it in the bin. After a few more moments, she spoke quietly. "I always thought we'd get back together. I used to dream about it."

"That's only natural. You were together for a long time."

"Six years on and off." She threw the box across the room in a fury and it bounced off the wall. "Six fucking years and what does she do? Leaves me and takes up with that slag Lisa Dentworth. Bitch!"

John knew better than to argue, but he defended Clara anyway. "She stayed a lot longer than most people would have."

"What's that supposed to mean? I mean, fuck you, Mr. High and Mighty, I'm a doctor and a war hero, Mr. I've got a bloody boyfriend now! You're got no fucking right to judge me. You just don't understand."

Calling on all his patience, John repeated himself. "You need help, Harry."

"What's the bloody point? Everybody leaves me. Now even you have somebody and who do I have? Nobody." Harry fell back down in the bed, her face buried in the pillow, and bawled.

John retrieved the box of tissues and then sat on the edge of the bed, his hand on her back, rubbing circles of comfort. He felt like a complete shit for a brother. How did he let it get so bad? "You have me, Harry. You'll always have me."

She cried out the words. "It's not enough."

Sighing, John agreed and gently massaged her shoulders until she fell asleep. When she was finally snoring quietly, he stood up. He didn't want to wake her, didn't want to leave her like she was. Like so many times before, he had no clue what to do about his sister.

&&&&

Sherlock was in the kitchen working, but looked up from the microscope at John's arrival. It only took a few seconds before he stated coolly, "You've been to see your sister."

John hung up his jacket and dropped down into his chair, mentally exhausted. He knuckled his fists against closed eyes. "Yeah." He didn't want to talk about it, so he changed the subject. "What experiment is it this time?"

Moving from the kitchen to the living room, Sherlock stood by John's chair. "I'm doing a comparative study of beetles' wings." He paused and then asked, "How is Harriet?"

John bit into his thumbnail, chewing at the worn cuticle. "She's fine."

"John..."

"You already know how she is, so why ask?" The words came out a lot angrier than he'd meant. "I'm sorry. I just, she's just, well, you know."

"I do."

John looked up and met Sherlock's level stare, wanting to let him show off a little, make up for being a prat. "So, impress me. How did you know I'd gone to Harry's?"

"You went to the surgery to give notice, but you came home early, obviously upset. You wouldn't go to her place for just any reason, not during a workday, so she must have sent an emergency message to lure you there. A false alarm is an unfortunate behavior for one who might at some later point have a real crisis. Also, I can smell the lemon-scented chemicals you used for cleaning, a brand you certainly don't use at the surgery. You no doubt scrubbed Harriet's apartment and set it to order. Cleaning is something you do almost obsessively when you're distressed. There's also the lingering odor of beer, not your usual brew, so you didn't go to the pub, but hugged her or had close contact. You stayed until you were sure it was safe to leave, likely putting her in the recovery position, using a pillow against her back so she wouldn't roll over."

Hard facts, but still impressive, Sherlock got it nearly all right. "Amazing as always, except for that last bit."

"You didn't put her in the recovery position?"

"No. She was awake when I left." John remembered Harry's face all creased from the pillow, her eyes still bleary, but more aware than she had been. "I made her some tea and toast, not that she cared."

"I always miss something."

"Not much, though."

Sherlock tilted his head as he studied him a few seconds longer. "You didn't give notice."

"Wrong again."

"Wrong? How am I wrong?"

"I did give notice."

"You're no longer going to the surgery as of today?"

Sheepishly, John shrugged, picking at a loose thread on the seam of the chair. He didn't want to see the look of disappointment in his partner's eyes. "All right, all right, I didn't exactly quit straight away like we planned. I couldn't. I couldn't just leave her in the lurch like that, not after all she's done for me. So, I gave her two weeks to find a replacement."

"What's she ever done for you other than give you a couch to sleep on and listen to your rants about me when you storm out after a fight?"

John ignored the pissy tone and said, "She gave me a job when nobody else would."

"Only because she wanted to sleep with you."

"That's not true. I was, am, more than qualified."

"Please, she was attracted to you. Having you at the surgery in a secondary position only feeds into her need to dominate you."

Sherlock rolled his eyes and John just wasn't in the mood for some kind of hissy fit about his friendship with Sarah. "She doesn't dominate me, Sherlock. I leave that to you, thanks." His words hit home like he knew they would.

Sherlock turned and stormed back to his microscope, the temperature in the room suddenly very frosty. After a few moments, regret set in and John said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

"Yes, you did."

"Well, yeah, I did, but not in the way it sounded."

Sherlock snorted, his words heated. "You think I'm overbearing and insensitive, that I don't take your feelings into account when I make decisions, and that I don't care what you want, that what I want comes first."

"How'd you know?"

Sherlock's head jerked up, and then his expression relaxed when he saw John smiling. "You're teasing me again."

"Yeah, pretty much. Leave the bug wings alone and stop being such a dick."

"But you like my dick."

John's ears pinked up at Sherlock's silky, sexy tone. "Yeah, I do." John got up and moved to the sofa and Sherlock joined him. He pulled Sherlock's head down for a quick kiss and said, "I didn't mean it in a bad way."

"In my experience, domination doesn't usually have a positive connotation."

"I just meant that how I feel about you dominates my life, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I love you."

"I do know that."

"Then why take the piss about Sarah?"

"I don't know."

"You're jealous."

Sherlock pulled away and stared John down. "I am not jealous of that woman. Being jealous would indicate that I had some reason to be threatened by her and that would be ludicrous."

"It would be, yeah, but you are jealous."

Sherlock crossed his arms and complained huffily. "If you persist in insulting me, I'll go back to my beetles' wings."

"Jealous and just a little bit childish." John paused and smiled, dragging Sherlock closer and then flicking out his tongue to lick his ear playfully. John pulled back, his voice suddenly husky. "You're the only one for me, you big idiot."

"Of course I am." The tension melted away and Sherlock captured John's mouth with his. The discussion part was pretty well over for the night.

&&&&&

John woke up in Sherlock's arms, alert right away. "What is it?"

"Nothing."

"I heard something."

"It was the phone. Bloody Mycroft. Go back to sleep."

Relaxing slightly, John yawned and then snuggled in closer to Sherlock, who was still holding John and using his other hand for reading his phone. Sometimes John hated that damn thing, especially when Sherlock played with it most of the night. "What's he want this time?"

"He's just sending me confirmation about some documents."

"Documents? State secrets or conspiracy plans?"

Sherlock chuckled. "My brother would never send anything classified over the phone, John. He would bring those himself, so thank god it's nothing like that. I hate when he shows up unannounced. I've been considering booby-trapping the door, but I can't seem to get around the threat to Mrs. Hudson."

"No killing the landlady who brings us tea and scones."

"Agreed. I'll figure out something."

John kissed the warm shoulder and then took a deep breath. "Siblings can be a pain."

"You are the master of understatement."

"What I meant to say was that my sister wants to meet you."

Sherlock's body tensed up and John opened his eyes. The bedroom was dark, but not completely. A light filtered up from downstairs, so he could see the worried frown on his lover's face before Sherlock said, "I'm not sure that's a good idea."

"Look, if I can put up with being kidnapped, the least you can do is have a meal with my sister."

"A whole meal?"

Suddenly annoyed, John sat up and leaned back against the pillows as he pulled up the sheet. "Bloody hell, Sherlock, she's my sister."

"So? I can most certainly guarantee such a meeting would be an unmitigated disaster."

"That doesn't mean you can avoid her."

"Why not? You do." Sherlock saw the flash of John's angry expression and immediately backpedaled. "That didn't come out as I intended. I just meant..."

"I know what you fucking meant."

"I'm sorry."

John frowned and then shook his head, waving off Sherlock's rare apology. "No, you're right. I do avoid her. Seems like she always wants a row and it just better to steer clear of the whole situation."

"I understand. Believe me I avoid Mycroft every chance I get."

"I told her about us. That might have been a mistake. Now she's demanding to meet the Great Sherlock Holmes, the man who turned her bird-chasing brother queer."

"Most studies show that one's sexually is more flexible than once believed. Given the right mixture of attraction and circumstance, nearly everyone can be tempted to reevaluate their normal parameters."

John ran his finger up Sherlock's arm and felt the slight shiver in response to his light touch. "So you're my right mixture of attraction and circumstance?"

Sherlock kissed him and then drew back with a smug smile. "So it would seem, yes."

"You've still got to meet my sister."

"I don't see why. She'll despise me. She probably already has some preconceived notion and she'll no doubt harbor a resentment because I've stolen your attentions."

"She already thinks you're an arrogant twat."

"A twat?"

"You miss the arrogant part?"

Completely affronted, Sherlock ignored John and asked, "Why does she think I'm a twat? In colloquial terms that would imply I'm a fool, and I'm not."

John chuckled as he explained. "Twat also means..."

"Ah, a woman's genitals."

"Right."

"So, since you've only been with women before, she was making a rather sophisticated allusion."

"I don't think calling someone a twat would in any way, shape, or form qualify as sophisticated."

"Perhaps not. Still, the fact remains putting your sister and me in the same room for any length of time will end in serious histrionics."

"Don't worry. I'm used to your drama."

Sherlock gave him the evil eye. "I wasn't talking about me."

"I know."

Suddenly laughing, Sherlock cupped his face. "Did I ever mention that I love your sense of humor."

"I like yours, too."

"I've been told that I don't have one."

"Then they're not paying close enough attention."

Sherlock slowly moved his long fingers across John's lips, his voice softer. "I'll meet your sister, but in a restaurant, not here, preferably some place that doesn't serve drinks. She'll be less likely to make a scene with temporarily enforced sobriety."

"You don't know my sister. She'll be bitchy as hell if she can't take the edge off."

"Perhaps. Still, for your sake, she'll at least try to behave as long as we're not alone."

John kissed Sherlock's fingertips before he said, "Thanks. I'll set it up."

"Not anytime soon, I hope."

John grinned and put both hands behind Sherlock's neck to drag him down and across his body. Dark curls tickled his face as the bare flesh of their chests and bellies pressed together, his skin heating up as he whispered, "No, no time soon."

&&&&&&&

Sherlock typed in the last of his email and hit send. He'd worked less than hour and finished ten undemanding cases, child's play really. He was proud that John's simple system seemed to be working rather well. Each case only took a few minutes to solve and, with a quick Paypal click, the recipients of the solutions paid nominal fees. It all added up to more than enough to make up for the loss of John's income when he finished with the surgery. Once they started taking on serious cases together, John could stop worrying so much about money and paying his own way. He could finally give Sherlock his complete and undivided attention. It was the perfect plan really, having John all to himself without any mundane medical distractions.

The knock on the doorframe came as no surprise. "Come in, Lestrade."

"You didn't even look up. How did you know it was me?"

"You arrived over ten minutes ago, but you've been sitting outside in your car, ambivalent about your actions. I assumed you'd eventually decide to come inside. You have a case for me?"

Lestrade's eyes narrowed and he asked, "Why are you wearing a sheet?"

"It's comfortable."

"That or you're just too damn lazy to get dressed like a normal person."

"Normal is boring. Besides, you came to me. What does it matter what I'm wearing in my own home?"

"You're right. It doesn't. Sorry."

Sherlock got up with as much dignity as one could muster wearing a white sheet, wrapping it around himself tightly. If it was good enough for the palace and John, it was good enough for Lestrade. "The file?"

Lestrade handed him the folder. "Happened a couple of days ago, a teenager beaten and left behind an abandoned building. We've gone round and round with the family. My money's on the uncle, but he's got a pretty solid alibi and the mother's so drugged up, we can't get a thing from her."

"Why the uncle?"

"He's a ex-con with a violent temper. Has a list of priors that fit the bill."

Sherlock sat on the sofa, fanning the pictures out across the table, scanning quickly through the notes as Lestrade continued to stand and wait. Within a couple of minutes, Sherlock said, "Do another interview with the stepfather. He's your man. He's punishing the mother for some preconceived personal slight."

Lestrade scratched his head and frowned. "What? How do you get that?"

"I think you'll find with a more thorough background check that another boy died a few years ago during his previous marriage. He had a different name then." Sherlock closed his eyes and touched his forehead as he went through his memory. Finally, he opened his eyes, having secured the retrieved data, and said, "Eric Benson."

"How in the hell could you know that?"

"I remember the case from the newspaper. I thought it was suspicious at the time, but here wasn't enough evidence to support further investigation. This is a pattern for him. The earlier death was ruled accidental. This time he apparently got too angry, likely because this boy was older and fought back."

Sherlock scooped up all the materials and slotted them into the folder. He handed it to Lestrade and sat back, his arms folded. Self-satisfied, he enjoyed the astounded look on Lestrade's face. The man was just so easily impressed. "Anything else, Inspector?"

"I think that will do, thanks."

"Given that I've just saved you and your team weeks of legwork, when may John and I return to active fieldwork?"

Lestrade didn't answer right away, but instead sat down in the chair across from Sherlock. He asked, "How's John doing?"

"He's fine, more than fine. He's excellent, in fact."

Lestrade suddenly studied him more closely and his eyes widened. "Oh, my god, are those love bites and scratches on your neck and shoulders?"

Sherlock didn't even try to hide them, though he really hated when his skin pinked up. He should be able to control such traitorous biological reactions. "Yes, and to answer your next question, John and I are now in a romantic relationship."

Lestrade shook his head, smiling but slightly irritated. "You realize you just lost me twenty quid."

"How so?"

"There's a pool."

Annoyed, Sherlock asked, "A pool as in gambling?"

"Yeah, and I bet that you'd never in a million years end up shagging somebody, especially not John."

Sherlock frowned, not really sure what to make of the inspector's statement. "First of all, my sex life is nobody's business. Second, why would you think especially not John?"

"Well, I thought he was still trying to date that doctor he works with."

"They only had one date and they're just friends."

"What about all those other women he chases and all the flirting? I mean, I know you can't always tell about people, but I never had him pegged for gay."

"I suppose technically he's bisexual, but labels are meaningless." Sherlock paused and asked, "And me? Did you have me 'pegged for gay'?"

Lestrade's expression suddenly became more serious. "You forget that I knew you back before you cleaned up."

Sherlock pulled the sheet up a little further. "I didn't forget. I never forget."

"I guess if I'm honest, I'm surprised that you'd have sex with anyone after all that. You never seemed to show any interest in it, so I just figured it wasn't something you did anymore, that that whole thing put you off sex completely."

Sherlock fought back the flood of memories from the years before, the time when his body was just a tool for getting the drugs he needed. He took a deep breath and blocked them out, locked them away again before he spoke, his voice strained. "John is the first person I've ever wanted to be with in either a romantic or sexual sense. He's different."

Lestrade nodded in understanding and said, "I'm glad you found somebody, I really am."

Sherlock met caring brown eyes. "Thank you. I supposed I should add that we're engaged."

"Engaged as in to be married?"

"Yes."

"Damn."

"What?"

"There goes another twenty."

Testily, Sherlock asked, "What was the bet this time?"

"That John would find a nice lady friend, get married, and have a houseful of kids."

Sherlock shook his head in frustration. How could they possibly predict that John would ever leave him? Didn't they have eyes? "Do you people have nothing better to do than waste your time making frivolous and, I must say idiotic, wagers? I mean, this explains so much about why criminals are allowed to run amok in our city."

Instead of addressing his rant, Lestrade just got a stupid grin on his face. "Congratulations."

"Thank you."

"You know, maybe since he's got something to officially lose now, he won't be so foolhardy and ready to throw himself in front of a bullet."

"Are you saying you think it's time to lift your impetuous ban and allow us back at crime scenes?"

It took several long moments before Lestrade reluctantly nodded. "Okay, we'll give it another shot. Next thing that comes along and I think it'll suit you, I'll call you in. Just tell him to keep the heroics to a minimum."

"I'll do that."

As Lestrade left, Sherlock didn't add that to ask John not to be a hero would be the same as asking his lover to give up breathing. That was never going to happen, not if Sherlock had anything to say about it.

&&&&&&

"Are you sure about leaving?"

John looked up from reading the applications. Sarah stared at him waiting for answer, her expression a cross between hopeful and sad. While he wouldn't miss all the routine cases of flu and backaches, he would miss seeing her at work every day. She'd been a good friend, especially when he just needed someone to listen to him moan when things got to be too much with Sherlock. She'd always been a good sport about it, too. She let him rant on about his infuriating partner when most women would've thrown him out on his ear.

"I am, yeah. I do appreciate everything you've done for me, but it's time to move on."

"You're such a good doctor, especially with the kids. Won't you miss medicine?"

"I will, yeah, but I can't do both medicine and solving crimes anymore, so my time with Sherlock has to come first."

Sarah sighed and settled back in the chair on the other side of his desk, obviously disappointed but accepting. "I had to ask."

"I know."

"I hope this doesn't mean I'll never see you again."

"God, no. I mean, Sherlock's bound to piss me off at some point. Hope I've still got a standing invitation to kip at your place when I need to."

"My sofa is your sofa." She paused and nodded, "I appreciate you at least giving me some time to get a replacement."

"It's the least I can do. Stevens would be rubbish fulltime. You'd spend more time looking over his shoulder than working your own cases and he only half-arse does his paperwork now. I hate to say it, but he's a lousy GP." John handed her another folder. "This Sharon Blake looks promising."

Sarah nodded, but didn't look at the file. Instead she put it in front of her and said, "Carl called me."

"Did he?"

"He said you didn't show for the interview for the open position."

John studied her a moment, the worried creases of her face making her look tired and rundown. She was working too hard and his leaving wasn't going to help that. They were understaffed and overworked, a chronic state for the NHS. That wasn't going to change anytime soon no matter who she hired to replace him.

John explained, "You were right when you said it wouldn't be a good fit. I didn't see the point after I'd thought about it. Plus, I was feeling lousy that day. The antibiotics are doing the trick, by the way, thanks."

"I'm glad you're better." She paused before she added, "He was pissed off." She shook her head, avoiding his eyes. "I don't know what the hell I ever saw in that man. He's such an obnoxious, self-important prick." She got up and poured herself some tea and held up the pot. "Want some?"

"No, I'm fine. I hope he didn't give you a hard time. I know you and Mike both put in a good word for me. I feel bad about that."

She waved a hand of dismissal. "It's fine. You're better off." She sipped her tea before she confessed more. "I didn't know he was married when I dated him."

"That bastard!"

Sarah shrugged, obviously over the idea of being lied to. "Yeah, he was, is, a bastard. When he called, he said some nasty things about you being gay, and I told him to piss off."

"You didn't have to do that."

"I knew he was a liar, but I had no idea about the bigot part. I was shocked that he had the nerve to think that I'd listen to that kind of bollocks and not say anything."

"But you might have to work with him someday. Best not to make enemies."

"Sod him. He's a throwback, anyway. I'm glad you didn't take that job. You probably would've ended up knocking him on his hairy arse and getting hauled in for an agro."

"That bad, huh?"

"Pretty rotten, yeah." She put down her teacup, composing herself before coming back to sit down at the desk. "I think you're right about Dr. Blake. I also like Dr. Carrington. I'll set up interviews tomorrow."

"You want me to sit in?"

"No, that's fine. Just another joy of my job." She straightened up the files, that part of their meeting over. She asked, "So, have you two set a date yet?"

"No, not yet."

"Is it going to be a civil ceremony or in a church?"

John hadn't really thought about that side of it, the actual wedding planning part. His mind pretty much dreamed more about the honeymoon bit. "I figure it'll be civil. Neither of us are religious. I hate to think what sacrilegious shit Sherlock would get up to in a church. It really doesn't bear thinking about."

"Yeah, I can't imagine Sherlock going in for a big church wedding."

"It's going to be small, just a few friends and family."

"Not so small that I'm not invited, I hope." When John hesitated, she said, "Look, I know Sherlock doesn't like me, so I understand why he wouldn't want me there and why he's making you quit." She added more bitterly than he expected, "I know he's been jealous of me from the start."

John covered his mouth with his hand, not quite sure what to say. He had hoped she hadn't picked up on Sherlock's disdain, but he had always known Sarah was smarter and more observant than Sherlock gave her credit for. He cleared his throat and finally said, "Sarah, he's not making me do anything. And, you and I, we're just friends. I hope you don't think..."

"Sherlock still has his doubts, and I totally understand that. You're a sweet man, John, and I like you, probably a lot more than I should."

John wanted to stop her, but she held up a hand to keep him from interrupting. "I hope he understands that I'd never act on those feelings. More importantly, I hope he knows you wouldn't do anything, either, even if I threw myself at you. Some men are like dogs, men like Carl, and then there are the faithful few like you. Your heart belongs to Sherlock and I respect that."

How the hell had he been so fucking clueless? All the months working together and he'd totally missed what Sherlock had been talking about. Sarah really did care for him as more than a friend, really wanted more than he could give. He wanted to give her a hug or take her hand, but he kept still, knew she would see it more as pity than as compassion.

John finally spoke quietly. "I'm such an idiot."

Sarah avoided his eyes. "I thought about not telling you, but I thought you had a right to know."

"I'm so sorry."

"I know. I'm sorry, too." She stood up and gathered the folders, trying hard to keep herself together. "Forget I said anything. Honestly, I still just want to be friends."

"Sure, sure, nothing's changed on my end." But he knew it was a lie as soon as he said it.

As she rushed out, she spoke over her shoulder, "I'll let you know about the interviews."

John sat still for a very long time, his left hand covering his eyes. He beat himself up inside for being such an oblivious fool. "Fuck, fuck, fuck." He was blind as well as stupid.

Worst of all, how could he hide his new knowledge from Sherlock so his partner wouldn't spend hours gloating, saying I told you so. Well, one thing was for sure, he had to find another sofa to use when Sherlock forced him into the night after being too much of an arrogant bastard to handle.

God, it was going to be a hell of a long two weeks.

&&&&&

Slammed with a slew of cases of food poisoning, back spasms, and bloody lacerations, John didn't get a break until late afternoon. He was dying for a tea break around three and headed to his office, only to have more unannounced patients show up screaming for his attention before he could even take a sip. By the end of the shift, he'd been without tea or food for eight hours and he was ready to head for a crime scene just to get some downtime.

In his office he grabbed his black jacket, hoping like hell that Sherlock wasn't in a stroppy mood when he got home and that he could make water boil faster. Neither wish seemed all that likely but it didn't hurt to look forward to an hour or two of peace and quiet with a bit of fanciful thinking.

Reaching into his pocket as he headed out to the street, he pulled out his cell phone and checked his messages. He hadn't had a spare minute to read them all day. He scrolled through and saw the first twenty were from Sherlock, but then he stopped walking. He recognized Harry's number and he clicked the text to see the 999 come up. It was from earlier that morning, right before the big rush of patients. "Shit, not again. I don't have time for this."

He was seriously tempted to ignore the text and just go home, but he couldn't. It was Harry. She might be a needy pain in his arse, but she was his sister. He couldn't take the chance that this time she might really need him. He made the call, but only got her voicemail. He left a message. "Harry, what's going on? Call me back and let me know you're okay."

After he hung up, he had to decide whether to grab a cab and go to her place or go home to Sherlock and wait for her call. Sighing, he scrubbed his face with both hands. Finally, he shook his head and sent a text to Sherlock that he'd be home later after he checked on his sister. Bloody cow had better have a damn good reason for dragging him across town during rush hour.