Janine sighed happily as she opened the white paper bag, releasing the scent of fresh-baked, buttery scones. Heaven. One of the many perks of village life was the local bakery's early-morning delivery service. Not that she'd want to live here full time or anything -- she was too much the city girl for that -- but the odd weekend at the Nest Egg, as she called it, was a welcome diversion and refresher. She generally let it out during the season, bringing in a tidy side income that more than covered the costs of upkeep. This weekend it was all hers, though -- well, hers and Fabrizio's, who was still snoring underneath the feather comforter. The lazy sod. Although to be fair, she had kept him up late. And as soon as she'd enjoyed a peaceful breakfast on her own, she intended to put him to more than good use for the rest of the morning.
Janine took out a scone, slathered on a generous amount of blackberry jam -- also local -- and leaned over the gossip rag she had laying open on the kitchen table. You never knew what kind of knowledge might come in handy some day. She hadn't left Magnussen's employ without learning a thing or two about the power of being in possession of compromising information on people of public interest. As she skimmed the lines, one caught her eye in particular.
BI: Famously undead vigilante justice seeker spotted shopping for rings with long-time man pal. No denying it any longer, boys! Congrats!
Janine's mouth quirked up around her mouthful of scone. Famously undead indeed. Sherlock Holmes, the rascal. She hadn't thought of him in a while. The last she recalled seeing anything about him in the papers had been that Cereal Killer case several months back. She'd been shocked at the pictures. He'd obviously been unwell, looking even worse than when she'd visited him in hospital after he'd been shot, and that was saying something. John Watson had been visible in the background too, looking grim and haggard. Of course he had to be the long-time pal. It wasn't as if Sherlock Holmes had any other friends. Especially not ones he'd be shopping for rings with.
It was nice to see Sherlock had finally arrived at a point where he felt comfortable coming out. He'd sent all kinds of mixed signals during those weird weeks they'd dated; she'd eventually settled on either closeted gay in denial or lukewarm bisexual. And how about that John Watson! She hadn't really paid him much mind when she'd first met him, back when they'd been planning his and Mary's wedding. Boring, not much to look at, kind of a jerk if she was honest. The way his eyes kept drifting to her chest when he thought she wasn't looking and how he spoke to her as if she only had half a brain. But he'd been decent enough to Mary, and Mary had been so gone on him. She never would have thought he was anything but straight.
Well, almost never. She'd only seen him twice after the wedding: that one time at Sherl's place when he'd acted like a puffed up baboon, and then at the hospital where it had nearly come to physical blows before he'd been convinced to leave the room for five minutes so she and Sherlock could have some privacy. She'd chalked it all up to his feelings being hurt that Sherl had other friends, or possibly in the latter case (in hindsight, if she were generous), a genuine fear that she might pose some kind of danger. Still kind of a jerk. But maybe he'd been in some sort of denial too, harbouring feelings for his friend that he was afraid to act on or couldn't, being married to someone else. Maybe. Apparently?
She wondered idly as she took a sip of her foamy double latte, now cooled to just the right temperature, which way they went. She shouldn't be thinking of things like that, she knew, it was naughty of her, but it wasn't like they were strangers. She'd seen the man all but naked, for God's sake. That arse. You could bounce the Crown Jewels off it. Even if John Watson was as straight as Adam, he couldn't help appreciating it. Watson, on the other hand, she'd always considered kind of squishy. Verging on pudgy. True, it looked as if he'd lost weight in those last pictures, but at his age that would mean more sag than swag. No, if they were doing the deed -- or would be soon, if Sherlock had been serious about waiting until he got married -- Watson had to be the one delivering the bacon. Janine giggled to herself. Truly, she was awful. Someone should take her in hand.
"Janina?" As if he'd somehow heard her thoughts, Fabrizio's Mediterranean lilt came from the bedroom, deliciously rough and innocent at the same time. "I am having a small situation. I think I need your assistenza."
"How small?" she called back casually, her stomach already fluttering in anticipation.
The smile in Fabrizio's voice was clear when he responded: "Not so small. And it is getting bigger."
Janine grinned and took one more sip of her coffee. "Hold on, big boy. Don't touch, you'll only make it worse." She grabbed one of the scones as she stood. He was going to need some energy. She made a mental note to text Sherlock later. He had bloody well better send her an invitation to the wedding!
"You know I don't like to ask, Mrs H. I'd have rung Bea if it were really important," John said, wincing as he stood. Sherlock must have enjoyed that, Martha thought fondly. It was nice to see that they took turns.
"You're not asking, I'm offering. I insist," she said firmly. She'd come up to see what the ruckus was about after hearing Sherlock trampling down the stairs a few minutes ago, shouting for John to get on Skype before he ran out the door.
Little Watson -- she was glad Sherlock had come up with the neat circumnavigation of the name, as it spared her having to do it -- was sat in her high chair at the kitchen table, eating plain macaroni and peas with her fingers. A purple sippy cup was tipped over, slowly dripping an orange liquid onto her tray. She solemnly held out a macaroni to Martha. "Matanoni," she offered.
"No thank you, dear," Martha said to the little girl. "I have a nice slice of roast beef waiting for me downstairs." To John, she said, "You two deserve a proper evening, just the two of you." They'd waited so long to finally have each other, and here they were with an infant demanding constant attention. Not that Watson wasn't a darling. Martha loved having her here, and Sherlock obviously did as well, so that was all fine. But a couple needed some time alone, all the same.
John stiffened imperceptibly at the suggestion that he and Sherlock were a couple. As he always did. It was tedious, but she supposed he'd lived in the closet for so long it was unconscious.
"It's not like that," he said, predictably. Did he think she didn't have eyes or ears? She lived right underneath them. And this wasn't her first go round the park. "The Yard really did call him in," John insisted.
"Well of course they did, who else are they going to call? And you should know by now I'm not one to judge. You go on and help him. He thinks better with you there, and afterwards you can go to a nice restaurant or have a night in. Just bring her down along with her PJ's and nappies and whatever she needs. Better bring that pop-up cot thingy too and I'll keep her with me overnight. She does sleep through the night by now, doesn't she?" All good deeds aside, Martha wasn't about to get up and prepare a bottle at 3 a.m. But she hadn't heard the baby crying at night for many months now, which was why she was prepared to offer in the first place.
"Usually, yeah, but I couldn't," John said. "I'll put her down upstairs and leave you the monitor."
"Not with my hip, all those stairs!" Martha chided him. She smiled at Watson. "We'll have a proper girls' night, won't we, little lady!"
Watson smiled back, her face lighting up. "Yea!" She couldn't have understood exactly what Martha meant, but she knew enough to respond positively to an enthusiastic question directed at her. It usually resulted in fun -- or at least interesting -- things happening.
"If you're sure..." John said.
"John, I won't hear another word. Now hurry and gather her things. I'll sit with her while she finishes dinner."
"You're the best, I really, really appreciate this."
He dashed up the stairs to Watson's bedroom. Martha had been so gratified to see, once the movers had finished installing the nursery, that they'd also taken out John's old bed and put it into the lumber room. She could tell from the pattern of footfalls that John had slept in Sherlock's room that first night, and every night since.
No time like the present, she always said. Some people might have thought it unseemly, so soon after his wife's death, but then she hadn't been much of a wife, had she. Running off like that, making John and Sherlock worry so. Not to mention their poor baby. And then there had been that awfulness two summers ago, the night Sherlock collapsed so soon after leaving the hospital. Martha hadn't been quite clear on what had happened, but clearly Mary had done something to make John absolutely furious. Martha had been surprised he'd even gone back to her, quite frankly. It had probably been for the baby's sake.
Well, water under the bridge now. Done and dusted. John was here, where he belonged. If the two of them wanted to make up for lost time, she was going to help them however she could. She just wished there were some way she could let them know it was fine with her if they made a bit of noise. She was afraid they were holding back for her sake. On the other hand, perhaps they went at it like rabbits as soon as she stepped out to the shops, or turned on her hoover.
She had made a point of informing them that she liked to pop in her headphones whenever she hoovered the flat, so she was really quite oblivious to anything going on around her. Sometimes she even left the machine running for an extra five minutes after she'd finished, to be sure they had enough time for a quickie. Although she really had no idea how long either of them needed to get it up, get it in, and get it out, to put it crudely. She imagined Sherlock probably went off like a rocket, he'd always been so sensitive. John would need a bit longer, but Sherlock was a clever one. He'd find a way to satisfy his man. And judging by the way their faces lit up whenever they saw each other, they were both very satisfied.
"Sir," Sergeant Wyzoczky said, the bemused curiosity clear in her tone. "What are they...?"
Greg looked up from the fingerprint scans Wyzoczky had been showing him on her tablet. It took him a moment to catch on to what the sergeant was talking about.
Across the room, past the forensics team scurrying about the abandoned flat gathering evidence, John Watson was standing at the open window crowded up against Sherlock, who was bent over the sill with his top half hanging precariously far out into the nighttime city space beyond. John had one arm wrapped around Sherlock's waist, the other braced against the window frame. His legs were spread as if for maximum leverage. From this angle, it looked like... well, it looked indecent, is what. Of course they were both fully clothed, that was clear even in the oblique backwash light from the crime scene spots they'd set up in the middle of the room.
"Oh for the love of-- Sherlock! John, what the hell is he doing?"
"Hell if I know," John said gamely over his shoulder. "I'm just trying to make sure he doesn't do a swan dive while he does it."
Sherlock's voice snapped out something unintelligible; an insult, most likely, from the tone. John responded by jerking Sherlock's hips back firmly against his. Something possessive and warning in the gesture.
Jesus, Greg thought. Think of the kids. He raised his eyebrows and exchanged a look with Wyzoczky. It looked like she was trying valiantly not to laugh. Greg schooled his expression into a frown and asked her pointedly about the fingerprints.
Honestly, it was great that the two of them had finally got themselves sorted, but a little professionality wasn't too much to ask. From his team at least; he didn't hold out much hope for Sherlock and John. Greg was happy for them. Really. They'd both been through so much. Sherlock's fake suicide. John's wife shooting him (and Jesus, if that hadn't been a shocker). Her death. Sherlock's relapse. That whole nasty episode with Culverton Smith. Greg had the feeling there had been some other stuff too, either during or after that investigation. Sherlock had been unavailable for consultations for several weeks after Smith's arrest, both he and John cagy over what exactly was going on.
And the first case they'd come out on again, they'd both been edgy. Almost wary. Looking several pounds lighter and several years older. As well as closer than ever, both emotionally and physically. Sherlock had never had much respect for anyone's physical space, but John had always been a bit standoffish. Like there was a bubble around him you knew you'd sure as hell better not encroach on, mate. Arms folded was his standard operating mode. Maybe it was a leftover thing from the military, who knew. But when they'd come back, John discreetly handing Greg a lab report proclaiming that Sherlock Holmes had passed his drug screenings for the past six weeks, it was as if there were an invisible elastic band between them. They never separated for long, and when they came back together, there was always a touch, more often than not originating from John. A hand to the elbow, a clap on the back, a shoulder crowding in to get a better look at a boot scuff or a blood stain.
The elastic band connected their eyes as well. On opposite sides of a room, their attention would snap to the other within an instant of hearing their name. When they stood together... Greg honestly would not have been surprised to see actual sparks flying between them. He'd always felt there was something there -- you hardly needed to be a detective to see it -- but then John had gone and married that woman... In hindsight, maybe the whole thing had been a setup of some kind. Fake. A trap. He wouldn't put it past them. Although the baby was real enough.
John had moved back in with Sherlock sometime during that whole fuzzy phase. Greg hadn't exactly been keeping tabs, but he'd stopped by to drop off a file for that first case back, and had found John in the kitchen warming up a bottle and Sherlock holding the screaming kid, jostling her up and down on his shoulder. Both as casual about the whole thing as if this was their regular routine. Which it probably was. Which was... unexpected, and yet not. John had taken the baby as soon as the bottle was ready and said he'd take her up to bed, then disappeared upstairs, where the cries soon dwindled.
Greg had only been half aware of what he was saying to Sherlock as he went through the file with him. He'd probably come over as a proper idiot; not that Sherlock likely noticed a difference. Greg knew it was none of his business and he should concentrate on the bloody file, the whole reason he'd come over here, but it was just... this was Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. He'd been witness to their friendship since the day they'd met, had watched from afar and sometimes from too bloody close as it had grown and deepened and yeah, maybe he was a bit of a romantic at heart, even if he couldn't manage to keep a relationship of his own afloat, at least he was rooting for someone else to make it. And if ever two people deserved a happy ending...
Because if the baby was sleeping upstairs... she and John apparently living here... Greg knew for a fact that there was only the one habitable room up there, the rest of the space being an uninsulated loft. It was possible, of course, that they'd done some renovations... (A later guilty and dubiously legal check of the council records showed that there hadn't been any building permit issued for that address in the past ten years.) Greg also considered the possibility that John was sharing with the baby for the time being, although that wouldn't be tenable for much longer... Was he just staying here temporarily? Why had he left his old flat then? Was it for the convenience of having Mrs Hudson downstairs to provide childcare? But if he would be moving out again soon... or were they planning on moving somewhere else together? Him and Sherlock?
But then John had come back down once the kid was asleep and asked if he could be of any help, and Sherlock had said he needed sellotape and string, and John had grumbled a bit but agreed to run down to Ryman's. And then he'd gone into the bedroom -- Sherlock's bedroom -- to fetch his wallet, calm as a mountain lake, and jogged downstairs.
Well, that had been one question answered more than clearly.
And judging from their positions at the window, the other one had now been too. TMI.
Mycroft set aside the weekly surveillance summary from Baker Street. No news was good news, he supposed. Outside cameras only now, so he had to extrapolate, but there didn't appear to be any unusual or threatening incidents. It hadn't done any good to argue that the alley behind the flat was off the grid, nor that the child was a more than obvious target. John Watson had refused point blank to move back in without assurances that there would be neither eyes nor ears anywhere inside the building that didn't belong to living creatures, and of those, only ones that were expressly invited in.
Not that Mycroft's assurances meant anything, of course, John wasn't as naive as to believe that, but Sherlock's did, at least those he made to John, and Mycroft knew that a misstep here would destroy once and for all any scrap of brotherly sentiment that existed between them. The shocks and betrayals of Sherrinford were too fresh and went too deep. Although Sherlock had forgiven him those, more or less; he understood something of being motivated by love to do terrible things -- likely more than Mycroft did, come to that.
Love. A book with seven seals. Mycroft viewed the whole thing with scepticism. It was all so messy and unreasonable. However, it seemed that his brother had truly found that with John Watson. Mycroft sighed, part wistful, part regret. Not regret that he hadn't anyone of his own, God no. It was bad enough having blood family. Imagine having someone else living in your space, expecting you to inform them of your whereabouts, using your toilet, requiring interactions on an ongoing basis. Not to mention the hair in the drain and all the subscriptions to unfamiliar periodicals landing in your mailbox. No, the regret was for the dulling of Sherlock's focus that was the inevitable result of his emotional entanglement. A shame; he could have done great things. But he was happy, and that had to count for something. Perhaps for more than greatness, Mycroft admitted. Which accounted for the wistfulness.
Mycroft had thought at the time that John's insistence on privacy was little more than alpha posturing, but now he considered, given recent developments, that there may have been a more prudish reasoning behind it. He hadn't expected it at this late date; they'd lived together for two years previously without anything coming of their blatant if unaddressed affection for each other. But now... perhaps Mycroft should be grateful for John Watson's puritanical upbringing.
Because he'd observed, on the occasion of Rosamund Watson's first birthday party -- to which he'd been invited with a surprising lack of coercion on the part of their parents -- that John Watson was sleeping in Sherlock's bed. He hadn't even needed to enter the bedroom to come to that conclusion, nor to lay eyes on the upstairs room that John had used to occupy -- and which now most certainly housed only the nursery furnishings whose delivery the surveillance report had detailed a mere two days after their return from Sherrinford. It had been obvious from the condition of John's back, the way his shirt was buttoned, and most mundanely, the fact that he'd repaired hence to change his trousers when Rosamund's nappy had failed in a most unfortunately spectacular manner.
Of course there were also signs of Sherlock sleeping on the couch, but Myrcroft wasn't fooled. He knew that Sherlock spent long hours lying there while thinking, sulking, or catching up on sleep he'd missed while working on a case. That evidence was easily discounted. Not so easily dismissed was the increased level of intimacy between the two men as witnessed by the casual closeness as they transferred Rosamund between them, the effortless coordination and anticipation of each other's moves that spoke of an intense familiarity with each other's personal space.
Not only that, but there were the touches. Nothing crass, no public displays of affection. Small gestures originating with Dr Watson that the casual observer wouldn't even notice. A tap on the arm, a brush to the back, a nudge with a foot, a bump of a knee. He had never acted that way prior to his return to Baker Street. (And Mycroft had checked back over multiple years worth of footage to arrive at that conclusion.) But now he reached out to Sherlock at every opportunity. And Sherlock responded like a flower to the sun: re-aligning his posture, leaning in, pressing closer. Obviously, a physical barrier had been overcome at some point between then and now. And Mycroft had no doubt what that physical barrier was. In fact, it was so clear that his brain automatically filled in the rest of the blanks for him.
Unbidden, a grainy image formed in Mycroft's mind as if recorded by a hypothetical hidden camera. A darkened room, two forms moving beneath the sheets. Faint words and sighs. Another scene with one shadowy figure on its knees, the other on hands and knees, grunts punched out of lungs, the sounds of skin slapping skin. The living room was a likely venue as well. The two chairs. In broad daylight. The couch, where he himself had sat. Hadn't there been that greasy spot? Mycroft came to he sudden, horrifying realisation that no surface in their flat, horizontal or vertical, was likely to have remained unsullied. He resolved to send John Watson a bottle of Glen Elgin in reward for his foresight, along with several bottles of Domestos. Let Sherlock explain it to him.
(Mycroft himself had security cameras installed in every room of his own home, including the bathroom, although a wily assassin would find the shower area and toilet to be perfectly invisible lurks, should he or she somehow make it to the inner sanctum otherwise undetected. He wondered in an abstract sort of way whether he might have added additional blind spots, had there been any prospect of another body warming his sheets. Probably not.)
"Look, Bill, isn't this a sweet one. She's getting so big." Vi Holmes tilted her tablet so her husband could see it from his position beside her in bed. He lowered his own tablet, where he'd been reading Philbrick's latest. Gripping stuff. He cleared his brain of muskets and revolutionaries to focus on the small grinning face displayed on the screen. Rosie Watson. Sixteen months old now. Her wispy brown hair was scraped together into a pigtail sprouting out of the top of her head. She had her plump hands clasped under her chin and her eyes closed. 'Rosie deducing', John had added as a caption across the bottom.
A tiny clench jolted Bill's heart as he momentarily flashed back to their own little girl. So long ago. So much pain. He'd locked her memory away, tried to forget her. Like the stillborn boy Vi had delivered between Myc and Sherlock. They hadn't even named him. Best that way, the nurses had advised. These things happen. Nature's way. Wasn't meant to be. Put it behind you and try again. It was different to lose a seven-year-old, of course. It had to be. And yet the pain had felt remarkably similar.
(They hadn't named him, but the name they had picked out was Sherrinford. He had no idea how Rudy had found that out. Bill had felt completely disconnected when they went to visit the facility. The woman in the soft white scrubs with the unkempt hair was a stranger to him. Not his daughter. He was there for Vi and Sherlock. Not her. (Not Mycroft either, but that was another story.) His Eurus was long dead. )
But now they had Rosie. They'd agreed after a bit of awkwardness that he was to be Pop and Vi was Gran. Mr and Mrs Holmes would have been oddly formal, and their first names somehow unsatisfactorily casual. Sherlock was still Sherlock, to Rosie and to John. No Daddy or husband. It had been strange at first anyway. Having to confront head on the fact that his son was gay. Oh, Sherlock had told them when he was fifteen, but it had been rather theoretical and remained so, despite hints of a boyfriend of some sort when he'd been at uni. They'd never met the boy -- young man, Bill supposed -- nor had his name ever been explicitly mentioned.
Then Sherlock had met John, and he and Vi had thought the two men lived together the way young people meant it when they said they 'lived together' these days. They had contrived to meet him once, dropping in unannounced one day not long after Sherlock had returned from his mission. John had seemed a nice enough chap, and Bill had been prepared to do the right thing, but then Sherlock had told them John was engaged to someone else. Mary. Lovely woman. Such a shame she'd been killed, and leaving the baby behind too. But then John had suddenly returned to Sherlock's, and there had been the birthday party, and once again they were 'living together'. Raising Rosie together. Pop and Gran. It seemed rather clear cut this time.
"We should have them up the weekend after next," Vi said, withdrawing the tablet so she could gaze at the little girl, dreamy-eyed. She was besotted. Bill wondered whether she saw shades of their sweet, lost baby in Rosie Watson's face too.
"Sounds nice," Bill said, picking up his reader again.
"There's that county show on at the polo ground. I'll bet Rosie will love to see the animals."
Bill made a sound of agreement. "Heard they'll be doing a historical military re-enactment too. John might like that."
Vi swiped and tapped at her tablet. "Oh look, and there's going to be a concert on Saturday evening. A strings orchestra, pops and classics. Sherlock will want to stay for that."
"It'll be late for the little one," Bill pointed out.
"She'll stay here with us, of course," Vi said briskly. "Let the two of them go out and enjoy themselves. They can stay as late as they want, and sleep in Sherlock's old room afterwards. We can have Rosie in here with us. Do you think we should buy a cot for when she visits? On the other hand, I suppose she won't be small for much longer. They can bring her travel cot. I'm sure I saw one propped up in the hall when we were there."
"Why can't she sleep in their room?" Bill asked, suddenly affronted at the proposed invasion. "Or Mycroft's."
"Oh, Bill, don't be so stuffy. Young people need their privacy. And she shouldn't be alone at night in a strange place. You don't want her getting a fright. Now let me write this email."
Bill stood down, knowing it wouldn't be worth the fuss. One night wouldn't hurt. It would just be mighty odd knowing his boy was down the hall, sleeping in the same bed with another man. Would they ... make love? Did they do that? It was hard to imagine. Not that he imagined specifics or anything, although he knew what those were, knew what was technically possible, and also knew that not all gay men did everything that was technically possible, no more than he had ever done everything with Vi (or any of the other women he'd known Biblically during the course of his life) that men and women could do together. He understood intellectually the idea of a man falling in love with another man. It wasn't that it made him uncomfortable per se. It was simply so... foreign. He supposed they did. Do those things. Some of those things. Might be doing them now. Might do them down the hall in Sherlock's old bed in a fortnight.
Perhaps the baby would cry like theirs had used to, and he could volunteer to take her out for a stroll in the pram to calm her. That had always worked with Mycroft and Sherlock.
Sherlock lay on the couch, listening intently to the sounds in the flat. It was past midnight, and the street outside was quiet. Watson was asleep upstairs. The faint static from the monitor on the coffee table revealed that all was peaceful. John had the other receiver in with him. It was unfortunate that there was no way to open a channel between the two receivers. He would have liked to listen to John sleeping. Even if it meant all he heard was silence. He could fill in the breaths. He'd been doing it for years. Imagining John beside him at night. In dark places. While he'd been away. While John had been away.
Both he and John having a monitor tuned in to the same signal, both listening to John's daughter sleeping peacefully upstairs, was nice in its own way. Like looking at the moon in Istanbul and knowing that the same moon was shining down on John in England. And that he might even be looking up at it in the same moment.
Sherlock knew John wasn't exactly happy about taking Sherlock's bedroom. Even though it was the only logical solution. The only one that made sense. Of course John needed to live here again. The flat he'd shared with Mary was full of ghosts. Not conducive to John's mental health, which continued to be precarious. Aside from that, he couldn't go back to work without someone to take care of Watson, and putting her in daycare was out of the question. They weren't about to entrust her to the care of strangers outside of their home. Especially not so soon after what had happened with Mary. And Eurus. John needed to know that she was safe.
Sherlock would mind Watson on the days when John worked. He had always done most of his casework from home anyway, and much of the legwork for the rest could be farmed out to Wiggins and his other contacts around the city, or saved until the evenings or weekends. Mrs Hudson was generally willing to spring in for an hour or two until John got home, on those occasions when Lestrade or Hopkins called with something urgent. And they had found a good, steady babysitter, a former nanny to the royal family with training as a bodyguard, whom they could schedule to come when they knew in advance that they'd both need to be out for a longer period.
But all of that wasn't what bothered John. It was the bedroom situation. John felt guilty at displacing Sherlock, thought he was imposing. He'd protested long and loud when he'd found his old bed disposed of and all of his things unpacked in Sherlock's room. The logic was clear, however. John couldn't sleep upstairs with the baby; he needed his own space, a place to withdraw to. And of course Watson would need her own room eventually anyway. Sherlock couldn't allow John to see this as a stop-gap measure until he found a new place. This was his home. He needed to make it clear from the start that this was an arrangement that would work on a long-term basis. John was a creature of routine, for all that he thrived on excitement and spontaneity. He needed to be able to sit in bed and read before going to sleep, not bumble around in the dark because Watson had gone down hours earlier. He needed to be able to get up early for work without waking her, or alternately sleep in after they'd been out all night on a case. (Sherlock, of course, would quietly disable the baby monitor in his room, and stay up a few hours longer to spend the morning with Watson while John slept.)
In the best of all possible worlds, of course, John would have simply moved into Sherlock's room with Sherlock still in it. Slipped under the sheets and let Sherlock put his arms around him the way he had on Sherlock's birthday, only he wouldn't have cried, he would have been happy. Sherlock would have been happy too. This wasn't the best of all possible worlds though. This was what they had been dealt. What he and John had been dealt. In this world, Sherlock slept on the couch because he kept odd hours and John had a steady job that he needed to be relatively alert for during regular business hours, as well as a bad shoulder that would be exacerbated if he didn't sleep on a proper mattress.
And of course he needed privacy for... other things. Things he only did in the bedroom with the door stealthily locked, because he didn't want Sherlock to know he'd locked it. Because then Sherlock would know what he was up to. Pleasuring himself. He'd used to masturbate regularly when he'd lived upstairs. He never did it in the shower, likely worried that Sherlock would hear him. Or that he wouldn't clean up thoroughly enough, that he'd leave traces behind that Sherlock might find. He didn't know that Sherlock had been able to hear him quite well from his own bedroom directly below anyway, the telltale squeaks of the bed, the low, vocal exhale at the end when he climaxed. That Sherlock sometimes got hard listening to those sounds. Palmed his heavy sac and squeezed his throbbing erection, curled on his side, resisting the shameful urge to get himself off in time with John.
But Sherlock was happy, he reminded himself sternly. John was here. John trusted him with his daughter. John was breathing in Sherlock's bed. It was still his bed, even if he wasn't in it. Even if they'd washed the sheets, bought new pillows, flipped the mattress, and hoovered thoroughly underneath, there would still be traces of Sherlock's sloughed off skin cells. Eyelashes and tiny hairs. Trapped in the seams of the floorboards and bedframe, worked deep into the foam of the mattress. John was breathing him in every night. And his discarded bits of skin and hair were getting mixed up with Sherlock's.
Sherlock had masturbated in that bed too. Thinking of John, back when he'd been upstairs. Even later, when he'd been with Mary, when it had become absolutely crystal clear that Sherlock had blown every last chance he ever had of being anything more than a casual friend to John Watson. When John had been on his honeymoon with his new wife, Sherlock had lain in the middle of his bed, naked, a towel under him, wet his fingers with lubricant he'd bought especially for the occasion and stuck them up his arse. He'd imagined it was John deflowering him, and he'd held his dick in his hand and imagined it was John's hand, and that his own gasping breaths were John's as he'd taken his own pleasure, and he'd come with a jolt, his anus clenching around his own fingers. It had been a surprisingly powerful image.
John hadn't needed to deflower Mary. Their wedding night had been far from their first time.
Sherlock had also fucked and been fucked by men before. With their mouths, to be sure. He'd never been interested in anal penetration, for whatever reason. It wasn't that he was fastidious. The notion had simply never appealed, in the same way he wasn't aroused by breasts or vulvas or toes, although others apparently found them titillating. But that night, fuelled by a very mellow amphetamine mix he and Wiggins had put together for just such an eventuality, he'd succumbed to the fantasy of a traditional wedding night complete with virgin sex, and had felt moved to enact it on himself.
It had been interesting enough for him to repeat the experiment another day, without the artificial stimulants. He hadn't managed to hit his prostate that first time, so he made a concerted effort to do so on the follow-up. It made the whole thing justifiable as a scientific endeavour. It had been physically pleasurable, the orgasm even stronger than the wedding night, but had left him feeling vaguely hollow. Not the sensation of emptiness when he'd pulled his fingers out, leaving his hole twitching vainly around nothing, but the space beside him, under him, over him, inside his heart, for want of a better metaphor, where no one was.
He realised how pathetic it was, the tragic stereotype of a gay man pining over his straight best friend. Only John wasn't straight, no matter how often he decried that he wasn't gay. Major Sholto had provided the nail for that coffin, even if it had remained unburied, as it were. Not that it made it any better. It was wrong of him to imagine John like that, to imagine himself and John like that. John would be angry if he knew. Wouldn't he? There were moments -- moments that were longer than moments, long minutes, interludes, whole afternoons and evenings -- when Sherlock started to doubt and hope. Eyes lingering, smiles broadening, hands on backs, two bottles of wine, shoulder to shoulder watching Watson sleep, breaths on cheeks, close enough to touch, closer, John solid at his back, arm wrapped around his waist. (Sherlock had found what he was looking for after three seconds, but had hung out the window for a full three minutes until one of the forensics techs had said the draught was scattering his papers and John had hauled him back inside.)
And now John slept in the same bed Sherlock had done those things in, imagined those things. Maybe he did those things too. Certainly he was masturbating there. Sherlock had incontrovertible evidence of that. He had no direct input anymore, to be sure. Sherlock's bedframe didn't squeak. And he was too far away or else the acoustics weren't right for that breathy moan to reach him out here to the living room. He had indirect evidence, though. The leftover flush on John's upper chest. The soft, dreamy look around his eyes. The wadded up tissues in the bin. (He'd managed to retrieve live samples on multiple occasions when John had to leave early for work.)
Sherlock didn't just dig used tissues out of the bedroom bin either. He sometimes went in there when John was at work and Watson was napping, and lay in the bed. Just lay there. Pretended it was the old days and John was upstairs. Or worse, the new days and John was lying next to him. He didn't touch himself. He never knew when Watson would announce herself and he'd need to go fetch her. But while she slept, he let his thoughts drift to that best of all possible worlds.
John had invited him along the other day when he took Mary's rings to be cleaned and buy a proper box for them to be stored in until Watson was old enough to inherit them. Asked him for input on the ring box. It was the same shop where they'd bought the wedding rings, although it wasn't the same assistant. That had been more than odd, in retrospect: the three of them shopping for wedding rings. John and Mary had wanted Sherlock to try them on too. For purposes of comparison, they'd said. He hadn't thought anything of it at the time. He'd liked the dark gold one best, narrower than John's but wider than Mary's. It had felt pleasantly solid on his finger without being restrictive or weighty. Of course they hadn't bought him one. Of course not. There were limits. But in the shop this time, Sherlock had seen John browsing the case with similar rings. He still wore his ring. He missed Mary, of course. He'd been widowed less than a year. It was too soon. Or too late.
John wasn't stupid. Nor was he unobservant. He hadn't lived and worked with Sherlock Holmes without picking up a few of his methods. He knew Sherlock was coming in here. Obviously, he still kept all of his clothes in here. His disguises and notebooks. His collection of tobacco ash samples. It wasn't that though. Sherlock was coming in here and lying in this bed. He could smell Sherlock's aftershave on the pillowcase. What he didn't know was whether Sherlock was doing it with an ulterior motive. To test John for some reason. Or whether he'd simply wanted to have a few hours of good sleep on a real mattress after so many weeks on the couch. (The mattress was actually too soft for John's liking, didn't support his lower back properly. It was probably moulded to Sherlock's body at this point.) Sherlock could have washed the sheets if he'd wanted to erase any trace of his presence. Although John supposed it would have been even more suspicious to find all the bedding changed.
He couldn't complain, though. And he wasn't. He was grateful. More than grateful. Having him and Rosie here was a huge imposition, but he couldn't keep foisting her off on people he called friends for the sake of convenience but didn't really know all that well. They'd really only been friends of Mary's. And given what Mary had turned out to be...
Sherlock's parents had invited them to come down next weekend. Some county show thing. They had a whole itinerary planned, apparently. It would involve staying overnight if they did everything, the petting zoo and the rides and the re-enactment and dinner and the concert. They didn't have to, of course, but Vi had assured them it wouldn't be a problem. They'd watch Rosie when she got tired so John and Sherlock could enjoy themselves. Sleeping arrangements weren't mentioned, but John had a feeling. They thought he and Sherlock were together. Together-together.
Practically everyone did. Even Mrs Hudson, who really should know better, seeing as she lived with them. She'd worn rainbow-coloured glasses ever since he'd known her. Denials fell on deaf ears with that one. Mr and Mrs Holmes, however, could be excused for the assumption, after John had perhaps made the blunder of asking if they wouldn't mind if Rosie grew up seeing them as grandparent figures, given that his parents were dead and he had no idea about Mary's. He'd meant it in an honorary way, not literally, but they'd both been so delighted and immediately started discussing what she should call them, and he hadn't had the heart to correct things. And anyway, it was more or less the truth.
But staying at their house overnight would mean that either they would have to explain that no, he and Sherlock didn't actually share a bed, or else following the path of least resistance and sharing the bed anyway. Either route would involve discussing things with Sherlock beforehand. Which was not an option. The only reason they'd managed to hold their friendship together through all that had happened was because they didn't talk about it.
'It'. This thing between them. By unspoken mutual agreement. They could talk about Sherlock forcing John to watch him jump off a roof. They could talk about John's wife shooting Sherlock in the heart. They could talk about John losing control and beating Sherlock up. They could talk about Sherlock's drug use. But the one thing they couldn't say, that wasn't allowed, was the fact that they loved each other. More than life, more than death. More than anyone or anything. Including, quite likely, his daughter. Although he didn't want to examine that one too closely because it was frankly terrifying.
So Sherlock was coming in here while John was out and lying in the bed. It wouldn't let John go. He knew the reason. Of course he did. As faintly as the sheets smelled of Sherlock, they smelled that much more of John. It didn't take a genius to make the deduction.
This was stupid. He was being stupid. They were both being stupid. John threw the covers back and sat on the edge of the bed. He was going to do this. No talking necessary. Before he could push himself to his feet, though, a fresh wave of doubt hit him. Sherlock didn't want a physical relationship. If he did, he... no. No. It didn't matter. They were already in a relationship. They had been for years. They were raising a bloody child together. He wasn't imagining it. Nor was he imagining 'It'. It didn't matter what they got up to in the bedroom, if anything. What mattered was that they were honest with each other, and with themselves. And that Sherlock didn't sleep on the couch for the rest of his life like some dishonoured spouse. Which was, perhaps, too apt a comparison.
John stood up and went into the kitchen. The lights were all off, but he could see the uneven bundle lying across the couch. John's heart was in his throat. Maybe this was a terrible idea. Sherlock was going to say no. This was a mistake. He should just leave things as they were. Let Sherlock's parents think whatever the hell they wanted. They'd beg off after dinner, say they needed to get Rosie back. Say Sherlock had an experiment running. Say they had a case. Lies. No. Not the way he wanted to live. No more lies. Lies had got them into this mess. Lies had ruined him and Mary. He didn't want them to ruin him and Sherlock. Not any more. They still had a chance.
"John?" The bundle moved, turned its head. John had hovered in the kitchen too long.
"Nothing, Sherlock." Damn. John clenched his fist. Not nothing. Everything.
"Everything all right with Watson?" Sherlock's arm reached out from under the comforter he had wrapped around himself and felt for the monitor.
"Everything's fine. She's fine. I'm fine. I just..."
Sherlock's arm stilled. He was quiet. Waiting.
"Come to bed, Sherlock." John's voice came out raspy. Dry.
"I was sleeping," Sherlock said irritably.
"No, I mean. Sherlock." John straightened his shoulders and flexed his hand. Swallowed. "Come to bed." There. Steady. Firm. Good.
"John?" Confusion. Maybe half a warning.
Silence again for several seconds. Then the sound of the comforter shifting, the creak of the couch leather. The bundle righted itself, sat up.
"Should I bring the monitor?" Sherlock's voice was hesitant, uncertain. John would need to make sure there was no uncertainty.
"No, you can turn it off. Mine's on."
Another moment of thought. "Should I bring the blanket?"
John smiled in the dark. "If you like. Whatever you want, Sherlock. I just want you to come to bed."
"Okay. Yes, okay." His answer quick now, almost impatient. Sherlock stood up, letting the comforter drop back on to the couch. On the way across the living room, he crashed into a chair.
John laughed, shushing him. "You're going to wake Rosie and Mrs Hudson."
"I think my shin's bleeding."
John's heart squeezed with fondness. Affection. More. "Come here, I'll turn the light on and have a look."
"No, it's fine. It's fine, John." Sherlock was in the kitchen now. In the light coming in from outside, John could see his pale face, his t-shirt sliding off one shoulder where he'd stretched out the neck. His heavy breaths were audible. Respiratory rate elevated. John's was too. His stomach fluttered and his heart thudded so hard against his ribs he was certain Sherlock must be able to hear it. Sherlock was close enough to touch. So John did. He reached out blindly where he reckoned Sherlock's hand must be, caught him by the pinky and ring finger. Sherlock gripped him back, their hands now awkwardly intertwined. But together. It was fine.
John tugged gently and started to walk back to the bedroom. Sherlock followed, a silent shadow, his fingers warm and hard between John's. His left, Sherlock's right. John still wore his wedding ring. He should take it off. He wasn't married any longer. Any promises he'd made to Mary had ended at her death, if not before. And yet. There was still something. The wedding, the preparations. Sherlock had been such an integral part of it all. And Sherlock was still here.
It had been Mary's idea for Sherlock to try on rings too that day. They'd all laughed at how ridiculous it was, but he'd tried them on anyway. It had turned out he and John had the same ring size. Sherlock's fingers just looked thinner because they were longer, his knuckles more prominent, but in the end the same ring had fit both him and John. Mary had been delighted, Sherlock uncomfortable, and John... confused by the complicated pride and fear at seeing the matching rings on his and Sherlock's fingers. He'd quickly shoved those feelings away, as quickly as Sherlock had taken off the ring and put another one on from a different display, as if to erase the presence of the first one.
John hadn't even thought about it again until they were in the shop a few weeks ago to take care of Mary's rings. He'd only asked Sherlock to come along because it seemed like a nice excuse for an afternoon outing. (Well. Not only. He may have been slightly apprehensive about a reappearance of the spectre of Mary as he took this final step of disposing of her personal items.) The weather had been nice anyway, and they'd taken Rosie's collapsible push-chair so they could go to the restaurant by the Serpentine afterwards for tea. The second ring Sherlock had tried on was still there. Pride and fear. Not dissimilar to the way he felt right now, with Sherlock's bare hand wrapped in his be-ringed one.
The bedroom was dark, but John knew the way. He nudged Sherlock to get into bed first because Sherlock favoured sleeping on his left side. He had to let go of his hand so they could get in, and surely he was imagining Sherlock drawing out the contact until the last possible second. The sheets were still warm. John pulled the covers over them and settled on his back, one hand behind his head and his heart in his throat. Sherlock was a dark heap beside him. Like a black hole, a gravitational sink, an unknown entity that drew all of John's focus, all of his attention, all of his energy toward it.
"This okay?" John asked, feeling nervous and awkward and excited and so, so happy, even though he knew they were just going to sleep. That was all. But Sherlock was here, he'd agreed to sleep next to him, or at least to share a bed for a while. It was more than John deserved.
"It's fine," Sherlock said, although there was a question in there somewhere.
"Seemed silly for you to keep sleeping on the couch. Bed's big enough," John said, by way of utterly insufficient explanation.
"If I were unhappy with the arrangement, I could have brought your old bed down from the attic," Sherlock pointed out.
"Yeah." John hesitated. They'd gone back and forth on this ad nauseum that first day, when John had come home from work to find everything moved around. The very first moment, he'd thought this was what Sherlock intended: the two of them together, sharing a room, sharing much more. He'd been overwhelmed, unable to articulate a coherent thought in the face of what he thought was a blatant declaration, touched nearly to the point of tears. Sherlock must have seen something else on his face, though -- or perhaps exactly that, a commitment he didn't want -- and hastened to assure John that he, Sherlock, would be sleeping on the couch. That John would have his privacy. But now he was here, willingly. If confused.
John didn't want to leave Sherlock with the impression this was just for practical reasons, or because he felt guilty. His hand clenched under the sheet when he spoke again. "The thing is though... I wasn't. Happy. Not just because I felt bad about kicking you out of your room. I also... thought it would be nice to have you in here." He turned onto his side and patted Sherlock's shoulder. A brief squeeze. Friendly, warm yet casual.
He didn't know when he'd started doing that. Casual touches. Sometime after Rosie was born. After Mary had died. But he couldn't for the life of him say whether it was before or after he'd moved back in. Maybe it had something to do with having become accustomed to being in physical contact with another person, carrying the baby for hours in the kangaroo pack, keeping a hand behind her floppy head. Feeling the weight of her on his shoulder, holding her in the crook of his arm as he read and she slept or listened attentively to his voice. Communicating by touch. Stroking her head or back to soothe her, tickling her tummy to make her laugh. He'd noticed that his arms felt empty when he put her down. Maybe that's when he'd started reaching for Sherlock. He didn't think he meant anything by it. Not conciously. Maybe it meant more that it was unconscious. He let his hand drop back down to the mattress.
"You can leave it there. I don't mind," Sherlock said, his voice low. Neutral.
John had said he didn't mind on his stag night too. He'd almost thought... but they'd both been drunk. It wouldn't have been good. He'd probably read more into it than had been intended anyway. Like now. He and Sherlock had touched each other lots of times. Hugged, even. It had never led to anything more. It was just a sign of how close their friendship was. Natural.
John carefully laid his hand back on Sherlock's shoulder. "Like this?"
Sherlock bent his arm up across his chest to lay his hand on top of John's. No words. Just an agreeable hum and a warm clasp. The baby monitor hissed faintly on the nightstand. John shifted his arm a bit so his wrist was at a more comfortable angle. Sherlock responded by squeezing his hand. John started to relax, prepared to fall asleep like that. Or to lie awake enjoying the feeling of being happier than he could recall having been in a very long time. Longer than he'd been married. He had chafed under this same domesticity just a few months ago. Only it hadn't been the same domesticity. He had felt trapped, weighed down, a sense of not so quiet desperation. Now it was as if that weight had been lifted. As if he were finally able to breathe again. Breathing. He became aware that his breaths were coming fast and shallow. He inhaled deeply and tried to relax again.
"Let me know if I snore or anything," John said.
"You only snore when you're on your back," Sherlock informed him matter-of-factly, and of course he would know that.
John smiled. "Oh, so that's why you want to hold me in this position," he said, rubbing Sherlock's hand with his thumb.
There was a longer pause before Sherlock answered this time. "Not only."
John's heart skipped a beat. "No?"
"I also like having you here. Being here with you." The silence following that announcement was loud in John's ears. Rushing, dizzying.
John squeezed Sherlock's shoulder, wishing he could do the same to his entire body. "Yeah, it's nice," he said, hoping his voice didn't come out too shaky. Holy hell. He couldn't-- Sherlock couldn't know what this was doing to him. He didn't mean it like that. True, most people would say the situation was rather clear-cut. Unambiguous. Perhaps it was, in the sense that it was an affirmation and acknowledgment of what they meant to each other, the exclusive nature of their connection, that no one else could fill that space at their side and in their heart. No matter whether this was as close as they ever physically got.
But then Sherlock drew John's hand down off his shoulder onto his chest. His breaths ragged now too. Under his ribs, John could feel Sherlock's heart pounding. Racing. Calling. Answering. Sherlock's grip was like steel and gossamer. Determined and fragile. John splayed his hand beneath Sherlock's, felt the heat of his blood, the reality of his flesh. A long moment on the precipice. Then words tumbled out as they spoke over each other:
"I didn't mean--"
And then John slid his arm all the way around him, and Sherlock turned onto his side, and they were hugging. Bodies pressed together, length for length, fists in shirts, gripping hard. Noses to necks, breath in ears, lips on jaws, and somehow they were kissing. Somehow, their hands were in each other's hair, trembling over shoulders and backs, venturing down and sweeping up again. Slow, soft, wondrous, both familiar and new.
John hadn't intended this, hadn't thought this far, but now that he had Sherlock in his arms, chest heaving, loins quaking, hot and damp and keening, it was as if his body took over, a reverse kind of muscle memory: muscle prediction, somehow knowing just where to touch, how much pressure, tongue or fingers, lips or palm. A gentle suck on Sherlock's lower lip making his breath catch. A thumb dipped into the delicate hollow beneath his jaw, where his carotid pulsed fast and strong, eliciting a moan. Drawing up the back of Sherlock's thigh to hitch his leg over John's hip, fingers barely brushing his tender, soft bollocks in passing, and Sherlock's pelvis shot forward as if electrified. Maybe it was just that Sherlock was so primed and on edge that he responded enthusiastically to everything. Anything.
John could sympathise. Sherlock's breath in his mouth, the flavour of him, made his blood sing and surge. His large hands spanned John's ribs, thumbs seeking out his hardened nipples under his t-shirt and punching the air out of John's lungs with a sparking arc of pleasure. His cock thick and heavy against John's thigh; John's pulsing and throbbing in burgeoning sympathy.
"Yes oh God--"
"I'm going to--"
Long seconds of pleasure, intense, inescapable, rolling through him, rolling through them, reverberating, echoing, redoubling, crescendoing and crashing. Trailing in its wake a bone-deep ache that left them clinging to each other, legs entangled, foreheads leaning, drained yet fuller than ever. Clothes half off, damp with sweat and semen. Murmured kisses. Basking. Shy now, but certain. Giggles and more kisses.
"Why didn't you--"
"I love you."
Text message from Sherlock to Janine: