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Ampersands & Honeybees

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The invitation arrived on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. It was addressed to both of them, a thick, ivory envelope embellished with the flourishes of handwritten calligraphy. The ampersand, in particular, caught John’s eye.

As a child, his mother had taught him to see figures in the symbol: a snowman and shovel, a man playing a trumpet, a plump honey bee with its wings extended. These days, it reminded him of a posh, graceful man, reaching out toward him with a long, elegant arm.

Mr Sherlock Holmes & Dr John H. Watson
221B Baker Street
London

He admired the way their names looked together, side by side. That was nothing new, not really. Their names had been linked, on their lease, in the press, in the minds of criminals and clients, for close to two decades now.

He turned the envelope over and noted the familiar return address:

Metropolitan Police
Scotland Yard
Broadway, London

He wasn’t sure why, but he thought Sherlock should open it. Maybe because his name was first, or because the Met had always been his connection, inexorably linked to his career as the world's only consulting detective. John put the envelope on top of the towering pile of paper on Sherlock’s side of the desk, where he was sure to see it.

Over the next few days, Sherlock showed no interest in the invitation, or anything else in the pile. Perhaps, John thought, he needed a subtle prompt. He waited for Sherlock to make himself available, which meant flopping over on the couch, and facing the room for a brief interlude.

Pinched between thumb and index finger, John waved the sealed envelope in front of Sherlock’s face. Sherlock, in turn, rolled his eyes, flicked it out of John’s hand, and shifted to the back of the couch again.

The next morning, John carried his cup of tea to the desk, sat down, and held the envelope in front of him. The pointy end of the letter opener had only just slid under the flap, meeting the sticky resistance of paper sealed to paper, when Sherlock flew into the room, ripped the still-virginal envelope out of John’s hand, and shouted, “Don’t!”

“No?”

“Absolutely not.”

“I see.”

“I doubt you do, John.”

“Perhaps you would care to enlighten me?”

Sherlock retreated to his bedroom and slammed the door.

John counted to twenty, and as quietly as he could, he slit open the envelope. Several pieces of fine stationery spilled out, informing him that they’d been invited to Detective Inspector Lestrade's retirement party.

John knew that Lestrade planned to retire at the end of the year, but hadn't realized there'd be such a big do, or that the Met would host it. Probably should have figured, he thought, seeing as how the Detective Inspector had served on the force for thirty years or so.

What he couldn't figure out was why Sherlock would take such offense to his inclusion on the guest list. He had worked closely with Lestrade his entire career, and had solved a staggering number of cases for him. Well, Sherlock could just get over himself. This was one party they would most definitely attend.

“No,” Sherlock said for the seventeenth time the next afternoon.

“Just tell me why, for God’s sake.”

Sherlock sighed, glared at John over his microscope, and pushed back from the kitchen table. “Because it's absurd.”

“Having a party to celebrate three decades of a successful career is absurd?”

“Nooo,” Sherlock drawled, slamming his palm down on the counter. A dozen glass slides jumped and skittered across the surface of his samples tray. “I’ve been made to understand that having such a soirée is de rigueur. Ending a successful career, however, boggles the mind.”

“I see.”

“Do you?”

“You're boycotting the party because you don't want him to retire.”

Sherlock waved a hand vaguely near his ear and sniffed in offense, or agreement, John wasn’t sure.

“It’s not as if you’re dependent on the Met for work. You turn Lestrade down more often than not, and have been taking mostly private cases, anyway.”

Sherlock stalked into the sitting room, dressing gown fluttering behind him. He slumped into his armchair and stared at the fire crackling behind the grate, more comfort than necessity on this cloudy, but temperate day.

“Irrelevant.”

John tossed the invitation on the seat of his own armchair, and moved to warm himself near the fire. “Right. So, you don’t care if you never see another case from the Yard, and you agree that Lestrade is entitled to celebrate his retirement any way he sees fit. But you don’t want to go.”

Sherlock inspected his fingernails and smoothed imaginary wrinkles out of his trousers. The corner of his mouth twitched. He looked up at John, scanned his face, his posture, his slight heel-rocking.

“You plan to attend whether I do or not.”

“Damn right. I’m quite looking forward to it. And, I would like it very much if you’d attend with me.”

& & &

John spent the majority of the evening trying to train his eyes away from the figure Sherlock cut in yet another new suit. The man was ridiculous, John thought, sipping from the champagne flute in his hand. Yes, Sherlock was ridiculously attractive, is what he was, in his body hugging, worsted wool suit, his sateen shirt, his buffed and shined dress shoes.

John sipped more of the Met’s carefully budgeted bubbles, and let his gaze wander over that fine figure. He took in the way Sherlock’s suit trousers draped over the muscles in his thighs, the way the fabric suggested – no, highlighted – that the man was dressed to the left.

John gulped his champagne and signalled to a passing waiter. He replaced his empty glass with a full one, and set his eyes on safer territory: Sherlock’s neck. There, just there, he could make out the pulse of his carotid artery, counting out the beat of his heart.

“Do I have something on my neck?”

John blinked and raised his eyebrows. “Em, no. Well, maybe just a little smudge.” He pressed the pads of his fingers into the nape of Sherlock’s neck, and rubbed his thumb over the imaginary spot. Sherlock’s skin was a bit pink afterward, and the artery pulsed faster. John was quite pleased with the result.

“This is boring. Let’s leave.”

“We don’t have to be the last to leave, but we shouldn’t be the first.”

Sherlock’s pout was exaggerated by the flush of champagne in his blood. He’d never handled alcohol very well, but John loved the way Sherlock became more fluid, the way he would lean into John’s personal space, and stay there, when he’d had a few drinks. He would murmur deductions into John’s hair, and brush specks of lint off his shoulder and lower back.

“Are you batting your eyelashes at me?”

“No, but I can if it will hasten our departure.”

He demonstrated, and John found himself quite convinced.

They passed the fifteen minutes in the taxi back to Baker Street side by side, knees and shoulders bumping.

“Lestrade is under the ridiculous impression that scratching his arse and reading crime novels all day will be quite fulfilling, but he’ll regret his decision within the month.” Sherlock was slurring a bit, but trying his hardest to rise above his inebriation.

“You can’t possibly know that.”

The taxi pulled up to the kerb, and they continued their conversation as Sherlock swayed and John unlocked and opened the front door.

“Why not? I know all sorts of things. Important things of considerable, you know, importance.”

Sherlock aimed his coat at his usual hook, missed, and tried again. John hung up his own coat, then took Sherlock’s, and hung it up next to his. He slid Sherlock’s scarf off, and hung that up, too.

“You do. You know all sorts of things. But you can’t read the future, can you?”

Sherlock slumped against the banister and gave John’s question serious consideration. “I can infer the future based on what I know of the past and present.”

“Fair enough. Now, infer yourself up the stairs. I don’t fancy standing in the hallway for the rest of the evening.”

Inside, Sherlock made a half-hearted attempt to build a fire, and John retrieved two tumblers and a mostly full bottle of Glenfiddich. He filled the glasses with two healthy pours, set them down, and jostled Sherlock away from the hearth.

“Botching that up, as usual.”

“I am not botching it up. I do not botch, John. I am a master fire-maker. A veritable expert of the fire-making sort.”

“Sit down, master expert fire-maker.”

Fire tended to, they settled across from each other, and sipped their whisky.

“You never think of it, then? Retiring?”

Sherlock scoffed. “Why would I?”

“You’re going to solve crimes for the rest of your life? And live here, in Baker Street?”

Sherlock swirled the drink in his glass and raised it in a mock toast. “That’s the plan.” He leaned forward, squinting at John. “Why? Have you a plan to retire?”

John rested his head on the heel of his hand, and stretched his legs. “No, not as such. But I do give it thought, from time to time. I’m not getting any younger, and – no, hear me out – neither are you.

“London has its charms, but I don’t see myself chasing criminals around back alleys forever. I’ve always fancied a place in Sussex, actually, with a garden. Maybe something close to the sea.”

Sherlock was staring at him in abject horror.

“Leave London?”

“In time, I suppose.”

Sherlock drained the rest of his glass and held it out for another splash.

“And when do you envisage this, this abandonment, to take place?”

“Abandonment?”

“Of city life, of course.”

“Of course. I’ve no idea. When it feels right?”

Sherlock swished the whisky around in his mouth, swallowed, and smacked his lips. “Perhaps you’re right, John. Perhaps I can’t see the future very well, after all.”

John inched his foot forward, inhibitions lessened by the drink, and rubbed his toe against the arch of Sherlock’s foot. “Maybe you’ll come with me.”

Sherlock curled his toes. “And why would I do that?” he purred, pressing the cool glass tumbler to his cheek.

John twirled his glass in a small circle near his ear, and shrugged. “We’ve been together for a long time now, yeah? No reason for that to change. We’re, you know, good. Together.”

“Are we?”

“I’ve always thought so.”

Sherlock trapped John’s stroking foot under his, held it still, and nodded.

John tried not to think of Sherlock licking whisky off his lips when he retired to his bedroom later that night.

& & &

Once the idea took root, it was hard to deny. John began to peruse the property pages of the newspaper, familiarizing himself with the housing market in the southern counties. At first, he thought that Sherlock was too busy scraping cytological matter onto his smear slides to take notice of John’s reading habits, but after all these years, he should have known better.

The first day the property pages were missing from his newspaper, he chalked it up to a mistake. The second day the pages were missing, he entertained certain suspicions, and switched to his laptop for his research needs. The third day, not only were the property pages missing, but his laptop could no longer access any website containing the words ‘real estate,’ ‘Sussex,’ or ‘property agent.’

That night they ordered dim sum from their favourite takeaway shop, and John broached the topic as he popped the lids off plastic containers and dished up their dinner.

“You know I’m not going anywhere, right?”

“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Then I needn't waste my time telling you that my recent interest in the property listings is in no way indicative of my intention to vacate this flat anytime soon.”

Sherlock popped an enormous xia jiao in his mouth and chewed while he stared at John. He was still chewing when he started speaking.

“But you will, eventually.”

“We both will, eventually.” John reached for a dumpling, but Sherlock knocked his chopsticks away and swiped it for himself.

“I was going to eat that.”

“I noticed.”

“Prat. You’re an overgrown child.”

“So you’ve said, a thousand times before.”

John jabbed at a shumai. “Yes, I have said it a thousand times before, because you are. You are stubborn, and self-centred, and frequently selfish. And yet, Sherlock,” he said, dipping the shumai in soy ginger sauce, “here I am. And, as I said the other night, I’m happy with our situation, and wouldn’t object to its continuation, here, or wherever we may end up.”

“Are you? Happy?”

“Do you doubt it?”

Sherlock reached for a cha siu bao and dragged it through plum sauce before dropping it on his plate.

“You contradict yourself, John. You say you’re happy here, yet you want to leave.”

“I don’t want to leave. Not yet, anyway. And when I do, I want you to come with me.”

John couldn’t tread much further. They rarely spoke so openly about their relationship, or the lines that occasionally blurred into suggestions of something more. To do so, without any sense of surefootedness, was terrifying.

All these years, minutes upon days, upon weeks, upon months, of sharing this space, the work, their personal lives; all the harrowing rearrangement of John’s life, had led to the crystal clear realization that he’d rather have what he did with Sherlock, than anything with anyone else. He’d have accepted more, of course he would’ve, but this was a boat easily rocked, and John was resigned to not stirring unnecessary squalls.

& & &

In time, Detective Bradstreet retired, followed by Hopkins and Gregson, and with the taking of each leave, Sherlock deflated in incremental measures. The petulant resistance he’d expressed over Lestrade’s retirement looked like joyful exuberance when compared to the indignant rage he'd been inflicting on everyone over the past year and several months.

John tried to buoy him with cases and clients, but Sherlock refused to be redirected from his ongoing tantrum.

“What the hell is wrong with everybody? Why must they do this to me?”

“Do what? Move on with their lives? Not centre their every decision on the whims of the world’s only consulting detective?”

“Is that what you think? That I’m disappointed to not be the centre of attention?”

John snapped his newspaper down in his lap and threw his hands in the air. “I’ve no idea what this is all about, Sherlock. This is what people do. They work, they save up, they retire. It’s an age-old story, and one that you should probably consider.”

Sherlock sat still as stone for the next several minutes. When he spoke, his voice was thick with anger. He spat his words into the space dividing them. “And then what would you have me do, John? What would you have me do?”

John copped on then, comprehending what had been eluding him since Lestrade’s invitation had first arrived. Sherlock had endeavoured his entire life to be exactly who he was, and he did not readily embrace change. He did not care how anyone else's decisions played out for them, but he did care that his colleagues were following a pattern of behaviour that he neither understood, nor had foreseen, and one that would leave him on his own.

“Whether you like it or not, Sherlock, your life is a reflection of the people around you. Your family, and friends. You’ll adapt. You can take private cases, or you can do something else. Surely you have interests to explore in this life other than solving crime?”

Sherlock raised an eyebrow. It was a dangerous eyebrow; John knew it well, but he was loathe to back down now.

“Chemistry. You love chemistry. And indices. You could publish a journal of all your different indices. Ash, soil, brick, grass –”

Sherlock raised the other eyebrow. John changed tactics.

“Or move away from detective work, altogether. Take on something completely new. Fashion, maybe? You’ve always loved clothing, you know everything there is to know about fabrics, and all the best tailors.”

Sherlock’s eyebrows came slamming down, and his brow furrowed.

“Horticulture? Yixing teapots?”

Sherlock sneered.

“Bees?”

One eyebrow went back up.

“Bees?”

“Bees. You’ve frequently said how much you admire bee society. The segregation of the Queen? Drone death after mating? Communicating through dance?”

“Bees.” Sherlock rose and went to the bookshelves, running his fingers up and down the spines of his collection, until he found what he was looking for. He retrieved a thin, faded book and returned to his chair. A little puff of dust rose as he opened it, and he absentmindedly swatted, finally, blessedly, distracted.

“Sherlock?”

“Bees, John. Bees.”

& & &

The estate agent’s frustration was palpable. She had shown John sixteen different properties over the course of several weekends.

“Dr Watson,” she said, hugging her portfolio to her suit jacket. “I’m not sure what else I can do for you. I cannot create houses out of thin air. We’ve exhausted everything that meets your requirements.”

“Surely there’s something else out there?”

She scanned her notes, shaking her head, then pulled a computer printout from a glossy folder. She ran a finger down the first column, then the second, while John tried to scan the sheet from where he stood. She was about to flip the page when he saw it.

“Wait, what’s that, there?”

“This? Bee hives, on the property.”

“I’d like to see that one.”

“This house doesn’t meet your specifications, or you’d have already seen it.” She stuffed the papers back into the folder, ready to call it a day.

“I’d still like to see it. Please. I know it’s getting late, but if it’s not too much trouble, I really need to see that house.”

The agent looked unconvinced, but John had worked years on that specific smile, and she sighed, and told him to hold on. She tapped at her phone, huffing her fringe out of her eyes, and had a brief conversation with someone about lock boxes and key codes.

“You’re in luck, Dr Watson. It’s not very far from here. It’s vacant, and there’s a key.”

“Thank you. I just have a feeling about this one.”

She gave him a weak smile, and dug her keys out of her handbag. “Let’s go, then.”

& & &

“Where are we going?”

“Haven’t you deduced it? Surely you can tell by my shoes, or jumper, or a spot I missed shaving, where we’re headed?”

“Fine. Let’s go.”

John hadn’t expected it to be so easy to lure Sherlock out of the flat and into the estate agent’s car. He’d imagined all sorts of scenarios that involved yelling, slamming doors, and a sulk of epic proportions, but Sherlock had only pretended for thirty seconds to not know what was going on. It was disconcerting, and John had no sooner climbed into the agent’s car, than he’d decided he was making a colossal mistake.

“Stop it,” Sherlock said from the backseat. “It’s a house, not a nuclear missile site.”

& & &

“How many houses have you made her show you?” Sherlock asked, hands clasped behind his back, taking in the overrun garden and crumbling cottage in front of them.

John chanced a glance in Sherlock’s direction. “This is the seventeenth,” he mumbled as he unlocked the front door.

Sherlock took a step back and looked up at the original windows, the bird nests on the chimney, the patchy, shingled roof. “You must like something about this one very much.”

“Yeah. I do. Actually, you know what, let’s look at the grounds. There’s something I want to show you. I mean, I want you to see the house, too, but I want you to see this, first.”

“Lead on, John.”

They walked around the side of the house, through the back garden, and to a decrepit, leaning gate. John jiggled the rusted latch with increasing, nervous aggression until the whole thing came off in his hand, then he scraped the gate through the overgrown grass, adopted his most official gait, and started down a dirt path. He could hear Sherlock on his heels.

John heard the bees before he saw them, and shortly after he heard Sherlock. “Bees? You found bees for me? Hives? Oh. Oh, John.”

Sherlock moved past him, picking up his pace, until he stood closer to the hives than could’ve possibly been safe.

“Apis mellifera carnica, John! Carniolan honey bees, perfect for this region, as they forage in the early morning, not minding the cold and damp, and overwinter quite well. They’re gentle, too, although they have a reputation for swarming if not managed properly. We’ll have to be careful about that. Oh, look. These are very mature colonies, very well cared for.”

Sherlock produced a notepad and pen from some hidden pocket and began scribbling as he talked. “They crossbreed well, which will behoove a number of experiments I’ve been contemplating. They might do well with the British Black, recently rediscovered, not extinct after all, having somehow survived the Spanish flu of 1919.”

John let him ramble, let him go on and on about colony politics and cross-pollination and honeycomb tiling, but he heard almost nothing after, ‘we’ll have to be careful about that,’ because Sherlock had used the plural, simple future tense of the verb ‘to be,” and that sounded much closer to a promise, than a veto.

“I’m glad you like the bees. Thrilled. You should see the house, though. It needs some, em, work. There would need to be some, well, adjustments.”

Sherlock finished jotting notes in his notepad, swung the cover shut, and slipped it back into his pocket. John experienced a tinge of déjà vu when Sherlock turned around, seeing before him a younger version of the man, one who lit up like Christmas over a locked room murder, or an impossible hound, or an ancient cipher that spelled out corruption. Switched on, that’s how Sherlock looked right then. Enjoy it while it lasts, John thought. This next bit might not be as delightful.

They made their way back to the house, depositing the broken latch on a fence post before going inside. John, having already explored the rooms, let Sherlock wander, while he stood at a window and looked out over the back garden, and the hills beyond, and then, the sea.

He could hear Sherlock’s footsteps as he moved from room to room, dimmer, louder, depending on where he went. Sherlock made his way upstairs, and John pressed his forehead against the dirty glass pane, and closed his eyes.

He knew the moment Sherlock found it. Silence throbbed for two eternal minutes, and then Sherlock descended the stairs, crossed the room, and came to stand behind John. John opened his eyes. The air around him changed in Sherlock’s presence, absorbing and amplifying his confusion.

“John. There’s only one bedroom in this house.”

“Yes. I noticed that on my first walk through.”

“How would that work, exactly? I get the hives, you get the bedroom? Have I spent so many nights at the desk, or on the couch, that you’ve decided I don’t require a proper bed any longer?”

“No. I haven’t made any such decision.” John was still looking out the window, talking to the tangle of weeds outside. Don’t be a coward, he told himself.

“What, then? Have you decided to move here on your own? Are you no longer happy with our ‘situation,’ as you called it? You’ll invite me to visit every few weekends, to tend the bees for you, have a cup of tea and a biscuit?”

John risked a look. Sherlock’s face was flushed with anger, his eyes icy, his mouth set.

“No. No, that’s not what I thought.”

Sherlock ignored him.

“You’ve spent the better part of the last few years convincing me that all things must end, that people move on, that they transfer attention from one interest to the next. You’ve quite effectively painted a scenario in which I have rather favourably imagined myself. The country, the sea, bees. You. What changed your mind? And why wait until now, like this, to tell me?”

“Christ, Sherlock, you’ve got it all arse backwards. I’ve made a right mess of this, but not in the way you think.” He bit his lip and shook his head, frustrated with his inability to make this clear. “Can you not deduce this? Really? After all these years?”

“I cannot deduce what is not visible, or what someone has taken great pains to hide.”

“Or something that you don’t want to see?”

“Explain yourself.”

“Since we first met, Sherlock, since the very beginning, you’ve been telling me that you prioritize the work above all else, that you have no need for more intimate relationships. So, I’ve waited. I’ve waited for the better part of twenty years, Sherlock. I’ve tried to not wait, believe me, I have. But I thought, maybe, after the work, you would reconsider. Me.”

Sherlock reeled back against the wall as if John had punched him. “And in those years, John, were you also waiting for a shift in your own interests? Because God knows, you’ve dated most of the women in London. You even went as far as to marry one of them, for Christ’s sake.”

John stared at the scuffed wood planks under his feet and nodded. That was fair. He had given Sherlock no sign that he might be interested, and he had pursued women with a ferocity designed to quell his other, more Sherlock-centric desires. “I’m sorry for that. I should have been more direct with you from the start. It’s just, I was sure you’d reject me, or worse, ask me to move out.”

Sherlock pushed off the wall and pivoted on his heel. “What are you saying, John? That in the face of your anticipated rejection, you created a façade behind which you could hide, and that now, all these years later, you think you can, what, simply dismantle it?”

“Would you not have rejected me, then?”

“Oh, I don’t know! It was far easier for me to tell you that I had no need for emotions of that nature, or for intimacy, than to face your rejection of me. You had only just moved into Baker Street when you started dating women. You were married, John!”

“Yes. Well. Briefly. But, I came back.”

“Because she died!”

“But I could have gone anywhere, Sherlock, and I didn’t. I came back to you. I couldn’t stay away from you.”

For the first time since Sherlock came downstairs, John held his eye. His knots were beginning to unravel, loosened by the hint of a confession Sherlock had offered. He shook out his fists from where they were clenched by his sides. He gathered his courage, or his stupidity, whichever would soon be proven true, and planted himself in front of Sherlock. He grabbed his arms, just above his elbows, and nodded to himself, fortifying his resolve.

“Sherlock. Listen to me. You are, I have, that is – Shite. Okay. You are the most extraordinary person I have ever known. My life has been insane and dangerous and chaotic and bloody brilliant since the day we met, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything, not for one thing.

“I love you. Always have done. Won’t likely stop, either. I thought, maybe, we could restart here, the way it might have been from the beginning, had we not both been such complete idiots.

“I know I’m making a pretty big assumption here, but there have been so many times, Sherlock, that I thought maybe I wasn’t the only one who felt like this. Who wanted more. That’s what I want. More. Actually, I want everything. Except another bedroom. I only want one bedroom. Do you understand?”

Sherlock stared. He blinked. Then, without a word, he wrenched himself free of John’s hands, and bolted out the front door.

Well, there was that completely bollocksed.

A minute later the front door slammed open, and Sherlock sailed back across the room. He strode to where John waited, still standing by the window, in the corner of this empty house with its hives and its one bedroom, and he waved a sheet of paper under his nose.

John scraped together the last of his dignity. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed anything. I should have talked to you about this, first. Probably years ago.”

“Sign.”

“What?”

“We’re buying this house.”

“What?”

“Oh, for the love of God, John, do keep up. Here. Let me make this perfectly clear to you, lest we have another twenty-year misunderstanding.”

Sherlock shoved the paper into his pocket, smoothed down his coat, and stepped forward. He took John’s face between his palms, angled his head down, then John’s, up, then to the right, then to the left.

“I don’t know how to do this. You’ll teach me.” He leaned closer, and laid his lips over John’s, and pressed, ever so slightly, and then a bit more.

John stepped into Sherlock’s arms, yanked at his lapels, and smiled into the kiss. He broke away for long enough to say, “Hell, yeah, I will,” and kissed Sherlock back, a proper kiss, with slotting and tugging and licking.

When he pulled away, a small concession to his lungs, Sherlock followed, bumping their noses and taking another kiss.

“Which side of the bed do you want, John?”

“It doesn’t matter to me. The right side, I suppose.”

“No, I want the right side.”

“Sherlock, you fantastic berk, we’ll still have a couch, and I will make you sleep on it.”

“No, you won’t.”

“No, I won’t.”

& & &

The late afternoon sun was setting on Baker Street. Sherlock hung his head over the side of the bed, his hair dusting the floor. John looked up from his stack of pillows, put his book down, and raised an eyebrow.

“What're you doing, love?”

“Searching.”

“For what?”

“For whatever it is you've hidden from me.”

John picked up his book and turned the page. He'd learned long ago that the best way to manage Sherlock when he wanted something he couldn't have, was to do so with silence. To respond was to engage, to engage was to negotiate, to negotiate was to lose.

“I will find it.”

John turned another page, and Sherlock came back from dangling over the mattress.

“I'll make you tell me. I have my ways.”

John held the book a little higher and smiled into the margins.

“You like my ways.”

“I taught you your ways.”

“You’re an outstanding teacher.”

John pressed his face into the hinge of the book and breathed in the distraction of papyrus and ink.

Sherlock rearranged long arms and legs until he was sitting on John's book, straddling his lap. John smiled up at him, mouth sealed, then tilted his head to the side, and let Sherlock bury his face in his neck. Sherlock puffed hot little breaths under John's jaw, and hummed.

John closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of Sherlock's affection, giving up on distraction. He wrapped his arms around Sherlock, and smoothed his hands up and down his back, pressing his fingertips into the spaces between vertebrae, tracing the curves of shoulder blades, kneading the swells of muscle.

Fifteen minutes later John couldn't breathe at all, or hold anything but fistfuls of sheet.

“Tell me, John.”

“God, yes. No.”

“Tell. Me.”

“Mmm, yeah. Can't.”

“John.”

“Won't. Oh. Oh, God.”

“Will. Now.”

“Yes. Yes. Yes! It's. Oh!”

“Where?”

“Yes, oh, please. At.”

“At?”

“Sher. Sherlock. Yes. House. The house.”

“Oh, yes.”

“Oh, God.”

& & &

John could've sworn the car was still moving when Sherlock jumped out and ran for the front door. He slung a duffel bag over his shoulder, and followed.

Sherlock was stood in front of the fireplace. He'd taken the simple frame down from above the mantelpiece, and was holding it in both hands.

“You saved it.”

“I did.”

“And you made a new one and sent it here.”

“Mmhm.”

John crossed the empty room and joined Sherlock. They stood there, together, and studied the envelopes, preserved between two panes of glass. On the left was the one for Lestrade's retirement party, their names in calligraphy, connected by the suggestive ampersand. The envelope was as it had been, creased along a corner, slit across the top, the postmark smeared over the perforated edge of the stamp.

The one on the right was the same size and colour, their names written in the same calligraphy, side by side, connected by an ampersand. The address, though, was this new one, for this house, with its hives, and its one bedroom. The postmark was crisp, the stamp a new honey bee edition. The return address was fondly familiar:

Mr Sherlock Holmes & Dr John H. Watson
221B Baker Street
London

END