The firelight sparkled and gleamed, reflected soft and golden through what little whisky remained in the tumbler. Sherlock tilted the glass to the side, watching the patterns change as the liquid tipped. He glanced up to stare fondly at where John – Watson, he corrected himself, had fallen asleep in the chair opposite.
The gas-lights had been turned to low, and shadows loomed large in the corners of the rooms, hiding their own secrets from view
Since when did you call me ‘John’? His friend had asked.
You’d be surprised, Sherlock had replied.
No, I wouldn’t.
Sherlock turned the interplay over and over in his head. The careless use of Watson’s name had been surprising enough to garner a response, even as his mind-palace cast them in the urgency of a final confrontation with his nemesis. And yet, his friend, his ally, his champion, and he must concede he’d cast him as at that had, in the end, not been surprised that this was not Holmes’ first lapse.
He rolled the whisky around the glass again. What did it mean?
Watson sighed gently, shifting in the chair and turning slightly to the side, settling deeper against the plush fabric. Sherlock should wake him and send him home. I’ll grant him just a few minutes more.
His mind-palace was a useful but often troublesome thing. The repository for all manner of carefully hoarded mental flotsam, it was a wunderkammer of epic proportions. As it grew and expanded with every passing year, his ability to subconsciously connect unrelated pieces and deduce a plethora of unexpected information was both a blessing and a curse.
Is that what’s happening here? He thought. And if so, is it blessing or curse?
The use of a colleague’s first name was the height of familiarity, most would even go as far as to say impropriety. Sherlock would never, NEVER, use John’s christian name so cavalierly. He’d never done so in private and CERTAINLY never publicly. To do so would be scandalous, and John – damn it, WATSON! would be rightly appalled.
And yet his mind-palace seemed to disagree. When presented with the imagined scenario, his subconscious John had merely commented, shrugged and moved on. How likely was it that this flesh and blood version gently snoring opposite would react the same way.
Sherlock shook his head. This was a dangerous path to walk down, even in his imagination. Any hint of such a relationship meant disgrace at the least, and more likely incarceration and worse. The world may be changing as the nineteenth century came to a close, but sodomy and those that practiced it were not just frowned upon, they were pariahs.
John slumped further in the chair, legs splayed lazily apart as all waking propriety fled his relaxed limbs. Sherlock wished he could lean over and loosen his boswell’s tie a little, perhaps unbutton his waistcoat and collar to allow him some respite from the daytime constraints. Would his eyes fill with disgust at my touch?
Only last night John, and with a sigh Sherlock finally conceded defeat and mentally used the name with the intimacy it inferred, had again pressed for information concerning his private life. He’d rightly remarked that opportunities such as those were rare, and now John was married, rarer still. Sherlock avoided these conversations wherever possible and where impossible, diverted or obfuscated. Because the alternative had seemed too horrific to contemplate.
John may be slow, and somewhat simplistic, but even he would be unable to miss the very clear signs of Sherlock’s very physical response whenever John began speaking of such things and Sherlock’s errant thoughts were left to cast his faithful Doctor in the role of romantic partner.
But his mind-palace seemed to think exposure may not mean the ruin he so feared. Sherlock considered for a moment the implications. He wasn’t naïve enough to think John would share his deviancy, but just to have someone to talk to, to understand him, what a treasure, what a gift that would be.
He checked his reasoning again, replayed the scene once more to be sure and the answer was clear. All the evidence pointed to John’s unwavering loyalty. There was just one last step to take.
Sherlock silently rose from his chair and crossed the small space between their chairs, kneeling gently on the floor between John’s spread legs, his purple dressing gown fanning out around his supplicant calves, he drew in a quiet breath and reached out a large hand to lay it on John’s thigh. As John’s eyes sleepily opened and his gaze focussed on Sherlock’s, the detective opened his mouth and uttered the word that would change their world forever…
Sherlock’s eyes snapped open and he lurched upright in his bed, the sheets tangling around him as he shouted the single slurred word into the dark, “JOHN.”
His heart was pounding, breath short and stuttering in the near darkness of his bedroom. As he reached to flick on the bedside lamp, a worried reply came from beyond the ajar door, “Sherlock?”
The familiar tone of John’s voice did nothing to calm his galloping pulse at the perceived intimacy of his first name on his friend’s lips. Sherlock blinked, trying desperately to reorient himself in the modern world he now found himself in. 2015, he thought, It’s 2015 and this is normal.
His door was pushed open and the hallways light bracketed John as he stood on the threshold, “You OK?”
Sherlock raised a hand to rub at his eyes, before running his fingers up and through his tangled curls, Curls; not slicked back. “Fine.”
“You called for me,” John paused, “You sounded upset.”
“No, it’s alright, I was just…” Where was I? In my mind-palace, dreaming, memory? “Thinking.”
John hovered in the doorway, “Want to talk about it?”
“No,” he answered quickly before blurting out, “…yes. I… I don’t know.”
Deep ridges appeared between John’s furrowed brow, “You’re really shaken, aren’t you? Hang on, I’ll get us both a drink. I’ll be back in a second.”
As John padded back down the hall in stockinged feet, Sherlock tried to calm his erratic thoughts. Now that he’d committed to talking, he wasn’t at all sure what he was going to say. Sorry about the anxiety attack, but you see, I dreamt that I used your christian name and I’m concerned that I might be arrested for sexual deviancy.
John returned with two remarkably familiar tumblers, both carrying an inch of good Scotch and an ice-cube. The way the lamplight shone through the amber liquid buffeted Sherlock with another way of memory and he shuddered as his hand closed around the cut crystal.
John gestured toward the edge of the bed with his own glass, “Mind if I…”
“Of course,” Sherlock muttered and edged to the far side as John shuffled up to sit on top of the blankets, fully clothed but for shoes.
“So…” John probed softly.
“So…” Sherlock stared at his glass, avoiding John’s patient stare.
Silence settled on the room as the two men sipped, Sherlock unsure where to start, and John content to wait.
Finally, Sherlock cleared his throat, “Do you remember how I resolved the issue of Moriarty’s death?”
“On the jet?” John replied, “You solved that other case… The one from 100 years ago.”
“One hundred and twenty,” Sherlock mumbled.
John chuckled gently, “Alright, one hundred and twenty. Go on.”
“I told you that I imagined us there, in that time; a tool to help me solve it,” Sherlock raised his eyes to look at John beside him.
“Yes, I remember you said I had a rather extravagant moustache,” John smiled, “to accompany your rather extravagant ego,” he added.
“Yes, thank you,” Sherlock smiled, this was easier than he expected, John’s quiet comfort a panacea to his rattled nerves, “Well, as you can imagine, times were different in the nineteen hundreds, people were less… tolerant.”
“Mmmm,” John made a noncommittal noise.
Sherlock forged ahead, “My mind-palace seems to be taking the opportunity to explore what may have happened if I’d have told you I was… that I… your response…” he trailed off.
John watched the flush rise on Sherlock’s cheeks and surmised the unspoken words, “Ahh, I see; and what was my response?”
Sherlock’s eyes widened before he gave one slow blink at John’s lack of surprise, with a sigh of frustration he offered, “I don’t know, that’s when I woke up and called out to you.”
John nodded slowly and drained what little remained in his glass, before placing the glass aside and turning back, “What do you think I’d have said?”
Sherlock frowned a moment before he continued at little more than a whisper, “I think you’d have been fine with it. I hope you’d have been.”
John leaned and gently took the glass from Sherlock’s tightly clenched hands, “I would have been. I am fine with you being gay, Sherlock.”
Sherlock looked away and huffed a small indecipherable breath.
“What?” John prompted.
Silence fell again.
“There’s something else, isn’t there. Something’s still bothering you. Tell me, you know you can tell me anything, surely?” John lay a hand on Sherlock’s thigh before removing it as Sherlock started at the touch, “Sherlock?”
“I’m wondering if my mind-palace is trying to tell me something more. Something that goes beyond that time and place.”
Sherlock shock his head, his mouth tight.
“Please?” John asked softly.
Sherlock sighed and seemed to slump in defeat, “You’re a man of your time, John; as am I. Sexuality isn’t the taboo it once was, and it doesn’t surprise me that what terrified my past-self isn’t a concern anymore.”
“But there are still lines, John, and I’m just as terrified of those new lines today, as I was of those in our other life. I can’t lose you, John”
“You won’t lose me, Sherlock.”
“You won’t lose me,” John repeated firmly, laying a gentle hand at Sherlock’s jaw to ensure he maintained eye contact.
As John’s eyes held Sherlock’s, the detective opened his mouth and uttered the words that would change their world forever…
“I’m in love with you.”