When Sherlock is barely six months old, on his knees and tasting everything he can get his chubby little hands on, John Watson is five years old, quiet and self-possessed, in the shadow of Harriet Watson-called the devil child.
Christmas at the Holmes Household is vastly different from Christmas at the Watson’s place. Not better, mind. Just different. Much later a childhood therapist would privately scoff at the idea that Sherlock Holmes had any recollection of being six months old, because seriously. Mycroft Holmes would have him perfunctorily fired, because his baby brother was extraordinary, and anyone who did not treat him as such did not deserve to spend any time around him.
But for the moment, Sherlock Holmes is being paraded around to what seem like hundreds of relatives, dressed in nice clothes that itch, not even allowed to explore or taste or touch or smell Christmas. There are interesting things happening in the kitchen and there’s something on the table that’s bright and flickering, something that he very badly wants to touch. There are packages under the tree but he hasn’t been allowed to move for hours.
And there is Mycroft. Brother Mycroft, who is tall, and strong, and brilliant. Whose voice Sherlock can pick out from every other person in the world; to whom he looks first when he is carried into a room. Mummy thinks it’s adorable, but Mycroft’s voice is the only constant in his world. It doesn’t matter what day it is, what it’s like outside, what anyone else is doing. Mycroft will always come to his room in the morning, when Mummy has left, and he will speak to Sherlock, and read him books, and even if Sherlock doesn’t know what he’s saying, Mycroft’s voice is enough. And if Sherlock tries to imitate his brother, Mycroft will feed him crumbs of mince pie when no one else is looking, and it is perfect.
John Watson is five years old and his sister has her friends over, but Johnny isn’t close to other kids their age. His sister’s friends don’t particularly like him, but they won’t bother him, if only because Harry would have their heads. He watches from a corner, quietly. He smiles when people smile at him, but he watches carefully, and understands without being told that he shouldn’t touch the turkey, because there isn’t enough to go around.
The house is warm because there is company, but the heaters are turned off as the guests leave, taking the communal warmth with them. Harry’s not quite old enough to be going out, really, but it’s New Years’ eve, and no one minds turning a blind eye to share some cheer.
Harry doesn’t get any pocket money, so she can’t buy her own drinks, but she’ll steal sips from her friends and her parents and she’s young enough that they’ll all be cheery by the end of the night, when the countdown starts. Weeks later in school, people will whisper about Harriet Watson, too poor to have a new dress for Christmas and to pay for her own drinks at New Year, and she’ll come home and John will dry her tears.
But for that night, he’s been tucked into bed and left at home while the adults try to pretend that everything’s okay and Harry kisses a boy with long floppy hair that Pa calls a hippy. The best part of the night is when he gets to take out Harry’s biology textbook (she won’t notice it missing for days) and pull it under his duvet, shivering in the night chill, sounding out the words and trying to make sense of what it all means.
When Sherlock turns five, Mycroft leaves for Eton.
They’d all known it was going to happen. He’d been guaranteed admission when he was eight, because he was one of those exceptional students who’d have been given a scholarship, had Father not found the idea distasteful. They’d had to wait until Mycroft was twelve because the headmaster said they’d had problems with bullying for children who were too young. Mother had flat out refused, even though Father had said it’d make a man out of him.
Sherlock had pretended to not care, had pretended that it hadn’t affected him, but Mycroft was his entire world. Mycroft still came into his room at night, and read to him, because Mother didn’t want him to read too much, and Father didn’t care much for him.
Mycroft was the one who helped him with his studies, and Mycroft was the one who scared away bullies at school, and Mycroft was the one with whom he ate lunch every day in that intolerable place! Mycroft was the highlight of his day, the only one who’d notice if he went missing, the one who’d patch him up when he fell down, and clean his cuts and bruises. Mycroft was the one who ate his desert for him when Sherlock couldn’t stand the taste of it, the one who smuggled his carrots upstairs when they were the only thing Sherlock could eat without gagging. Mycroft was the one who told him that it was okay to be different, when Mother told him that he should try harder to fit in, and Father didn’t even look at him at the breakfast table.
Sherlock cared very much about Mycroft leaving home (leaving him).
Mycroft didn’t come home for Christmas because Father had arranged for him to spend it with the son of a fellow politician. Sherlock had kicked and screamed until Father had slapped him, and sent him up to his room. No one came for him, even though his nose was bleeding.
The New Year brought new tutors. For the first time in his short life, there was nothing much worth celebrating.
When John is fourteen, Harry runs away from home. They don’t report it for a week, because his mother keeps telling his father that she’s staying with a friend. He’s increasingly suspicious but mother keeps him placid with amber drinks while John knocks on all her friends’ doors to see if she’s there, or if anyone’s seen her.
When it becomes clear that no one has, and when Harry’s boyfriend’s mother gets worried and calls the police, things go from bad to worse.
John’s father is very good at leaving marks where no one can see them, and this time neither he nor his mother is spared. The police come, and they go, and they come, and they go, and no one notices that John can’t quite sit straight, and that John’s mother is limping just a little bit. They bite their lips and carry on, because it’s freezing cold out there, and Harry has only the clothes on her back. She’s taken no money, because they don’t have any money in the house, and it’s a dangerous world out there.
Christmas day comes and goes unnoticed. There’s no tree, no dinner, no presents, no fire in the hearth. There’s a stifled silence in the living room, as they wait for Harry, and for salvation, and for better times. Ma knits and unravels the yarn and then knits it again, just to keep her hands busy. John sits in a corner and reads the same frayed textbooks over and over again until the words blur together, even as he can recite them from memory in his head.
New Years’ brings Harry Watson home, and Pa gives her a fat lip the moment the policemen have left the driveway (which hasn’t seen a car in almost a decade). She’s shorn off all her blonde hair, left it short and curling around her jaw, her blue eyes fiery even as she stares up at Pa from the lino.
Later on, in bed, listening to their mother cry in the next room, Harry holds John close, and whispers apologies into his ear, over and over again. John doesn’t cry, because he’s learned long ago that there’s no point, really. Harry rummages through her pockets, cold fingers fumbling in the dark, and slips a card into John’s hand. He takes it without comment, slides it into his own pockets without so much as a glance, and curls into her scrawny form for warmth and comfort.
Harry hums Christmas songs into his ears, and wishes him a Merry Christmas when he’s half asleep. The next morning, when he looks at the card, it turns out to be a library card, a small cardboard thing, belonging to some person named M. Jones. It’s the best present he’s ever received, and he smiles at Harry as wide as he can, despite their respective bruises. She smiles back, and for a short while, he is happy.
His big brother comes home from school, when Sherlock is ten. He has come home from Eton, and he will be leaving for Oxford come term time, and Sherlock will be leaving for Eton. Their holidays no longer coincide; if Sherlock is home, Mycroft is out, rubbing elbows with the rich and powerful. If Mycroft is home, Sherlock is in school. That meeting is short, but adequate. They have missed each other, and it is enough to be close to one another.
Neither of them enjoy spending much time at home, and it is not yet the era of connectivity, before the internet. Neither brother is sentimental enough to be spending much time writing letters. So they greet each other at Christmas, and Sherlock is gone, come New Year. He spends the day in his dorm room, staring at the blank ceiling. The school is still empty; it’s not yet term time. But it is better than being at home.
He’s alone, either way. At least this way, he has his books.
The week before John turns eighteen, his father dies. Finally. Ma opens her eyes to find a corpse beside her, and he’d apparently died of a seizure in his sleep. They hadn’t quite dared to celebrate, but Ma had bought a 20p bar of chocolate for him, and she hadn’t had to smuggle it to him under the table. He hadn’t had to smuggle back the last bite for her. He’d been able to hand it to her, over the table.
They have nothing, that Christmas. They barely have the money to pay the bills. Harry is trying to help, but she’s stressed out, and tired, at her marketing job in the city. Men are rude to her, and John wants to punch each and every one of them, give them black eyes. But Harry is strong, and she’s coping, and she’s sending home as much money as she can spare. They eat cheap cuts of turkey in sandwiches for weeks. John wants to go to medical school, to be a doctor, but they don’t have the money, and scholarships do not come to people of no social significance.
He finds a way, though, when a recruiter talks to him while his mother is at the market and he is holding her basket for her. He finds a way, and he buys them a bottle of fizzy with the first advance payment. They pop it on New Year’s eve, and they sing carols, and it is perfect, even though Harry isn’t there. It is perfect.
Sherlock is seventeen, and on the streets of London. He has run away from home. Both he and Mycroft had returned home for Christmas, and it’s the first time he’d seen Mycroft in almost seven years.
This time had been a shock. Sherlock had been childish. He’d expected that his brother would be his brother. But Mycroft is not the same as he used to be. He has changed for the worse. He has developed a deplorable taste for sweets, and he now wears a pretentious suit with a vest and a pocket watch. He declines cigars and sips delicately on brandy and gives the toast for Christmas dinner, and people applaud.
Mummy’s friends send their daughters over to dance with him, and he does, charming them until they giggle daintily. He is tall, and skinny, and awkward. Mycroft has developed a paunch, but somehow people seem to like it.
He looks like Father, from across the room. It’s enough to turn his stomach.
So he leaves. There is nothing there for him. He has no family. It hardly matters whether he is there, or not. He has been at university for a year, and he has made more than enough trips on his own to be comfortable with travelling by train. Boxing day is past, so the trains are running again, and it’s simple enough to pick someone’s pocket and get tickets for London.
He likes London. So he wanders. Because he will not be missed, he knows that much. He is not alone, though. There are many others, far worse dressed than himself. He feels a twinge of pity, and hands whatever he can afford to spare to the nearest vagrant child, hoping that it will be enough for at least one hot meal, or something warm to wear in the bitter cold. It is soft, and he can only imagine what Mycroft would say. But he hardly cares. Mycroft’s opinion doesn’t matter anymore, because Mycroft doesn’t exist anymore.
The streets are beautiful, and silent. There’s a light covering of snow, and the wind is brisk and dry. He will not go to a shelter and deprive people who need it more than him. So he turns into an alley way to get out of the wind, and sits on the floor, legs crossed, creasing his fine trousers irreparably. He doesn’t care.
“I saw what you did back there,” someone says from the mouth of the alley, and it’s a voice he has never head before in his life, and accent that is as alien to him as a foreign language, but more so than Greek and Latin, because he speaks those. Alien, like Hindi or something.
It’s dark, and the lighting is poor, so he can’t see who’s speaking to him. And he knows it’s dangerous to speak to strangers, and any number of thieves and crooks wander the streets of London, looking for easy pickings (like him – he’s not a fool). But he doesn’t have anything to lose. Really, he doesn’t. He just has a train ticket, and nice shoes. (He doesn’t know this then, but men have been killed for far less. But at that moment, he is secure in the knowledge that he has nothing to lose).
“It was good of you, lad. Those kids had little enough as it is.”
Sherlock nods curtly, because he really just wants to be alone, but it’s nice to hear that other people can see good objectively, even if his blood cannot.
“Let me do you a turn. You look right miserable.”
“I have nothing to steal. I have nothing left,” he says, whispering the last line, as if against his will. Seeing Mycroft this changed was a shock. Mycroft was his rock. The unchanging, at least in his mind. Now that Mycroft has changed so much as to be unrecognizable, what then, is left as an anchor?
The man laughs, deep and rumbling. His breath mists in the freezing night air. “I know, son. You have that look about you, from one homeless man to another.” Sherlock’s lips twitch involuntarily, because he is a Holmes, and there is Holmes Manor, but he is homeless too, and this man is shockingly perceptive.
He tosses a small cloth bag at Sherlock, and Sherlock catches it, mid-air. He opens the drawstring, because that’s obviously what the man wants him to do. There are small pale pink pills inside, and fireworks are going off inside his brain.
Because he knows that only a fool relies on chemical supplements. Only a fool develops a dependency. Sherlock Holmes is no fool.
But he is also bored, and tired, and heartbroken, and sometimes the world is too much and not enough, and he is alone. And everything he’s been doing so far didn’t work, so maybe he’s been doing something wrong. Maybe this is the way to go.
He takes a pill, and accepts a flask from which the man swigs, once. He only remembers his vision blurring and his heart pounding like a rabbit’s foot on an earthen warren, late at night.
He wakes up in the morning, unsure of how much time has passed, freezing cold, and barefoot, alone, in a small holding cell. There is a young man asleep on a chair at a desk outside, shocks of grey in his hair; premature. He clears his throat and the man jerks into motion, rubbing his eyes and standing up, stumbling on pins and needles. Sherlock does him the courtesy of not commenting. “So, kid,” he says, and he’s kind, but weary, and Sherlock likes him. “Where do you come from?”
Sherlock laughs. It’s not a nice laugh. “It hardly matters, Officer. It only matters that I have nowhere left to go.”
The man’s eyes fill with an uncomfortable pity, and Sherlock wants it to stop. He wants to snap at him, wants to bite, to find a soft spot. But his brain is still fuzzy, and he’s never felt like this in his life. The deductions are not popping to the front of his mind, and it feels like… it feels like peace. It’s got him in too much of a good mood, and he doesn’t want to fight. He’s mellow, even though his feet are freezing, and he’s sure his ticket’s been stolen. He’s not sure why; it’s a return ticket under his name.
“My name is Sherlock, Officer. And I am eighteen, I assure you. Simply know that it would be preferable for me to freeze on the streets, than to go back.”
The man sighs. He’s only slightly older than Mycroft, Sherlock thinks. A little bit. He has a plain gold band on his ring finger, and it looks well loved. A good man, he thinks. This is a good man.
“So I’m to let you out onto the streets, am I?”
Sherlock shrugs. “I don’t see what else you can do.”
“Come on, kid. I’ll get you some shoes and a ticket to where you want to go.”
Sherlock narrows his eyes in suspicion, because Mycroft said that only fools showed kindness without expecting anything in return. Sherlock knew he was sexually flexible, but he wasn’t going to get on his knees—
“No, no, Christ kid, not like that.” He shrugs awkwardly. “You remind me of my brother. It’s the least I can do, in his memory.”
Sherlock nods, once. His judgment had been sound. This is a good man. “Thank you,” he says, because his manners are impeccable. “I will pay you back, I swear it. I just need a one way ticket to Cambridge.”
The man raises an eyebrow. “You a student?” Sherlock nods again. He snorts.
“Happy New Year, then,” he says, when he hands over the small chit.
“And a Merry Christmas,” Sherlock responds, as if by rote. “Thank you, Officer.”
The man shrugs, uncomfortable with the praise. “Good luck, kid.” Sherlock’s going to need it.
John Watson is 23, and things are looking up. He is in his final year of uni. He’s training to be a doctor, at St. Bart’s, and his mother is so proud she could burst. His classmates are looking for jobs, for internships. He is safe, till an extent. He is smart. He is charming. He has excellent bed side manner, and people like him. His classmates like him. His professors like him. He’s on the dean’s list. The army has agreed to pay for his degree, and for his placements, as long as he agrees to serve, after.
He sees no problems with this. There is no other way he could have afforded this. But the army is even giving him an allowance, and he’s sending it back home because his tuition is paid for, as is his housing and board. He works hard. He sends reports in to the correct authorities. They keep a track on his progress. He does well.
He can even foresee himself training as a surgeon, in emergency medicine. He is solid; steady, even at the sight of cadavers, when all his classmates squirm and moan.
For the first time, life is easy. Not easy, but smooth. Things fall into place. He gets all the admission letters he needs. His grades are unbeatable. His referrals are solid. He’s found his place in the world.
He even manages to get home for Christmas. His mother is frail, and she looks her age, but she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. He loves her so much. He handles dinner, and the house is warm, and full of laughter. Harry said she’ll be home for New Year. Things are improving for her too. She’s climbing the ladder, because she’s good at what she does. Sharp, and clear headed. He’s proud of his sister, too.
Christmas comes and goes. New Year comes and goes. Harry doesn’t come home.
Eventually he has to leave, but it’s okay. Ma is okay. She’s fine. They’re not rich, but they’re comfortable. Harry’s okay. He’s okay. They’ll all be fine.
The world is smaller than it’s ever been; spinning faster than the speed of light. Sherlock is aimless. Pathless. Dizzy. He doesn’t remember his own name, let alone his age, or his address, or anything. That’s how he likes it. He hates Sherlock. He doesn’t want to be Sherlock. This is an easy way to not be Sherlock. He is nameless.
The fireworks are loud and brilliant in the sky, like flowers made of fire, and he lies on a park bench in London and laughs with delight, because never has there been anything as beautiful as this in the world.
The clock strikes twelve and in better lit parts of town, couples are kissing and huddling for warmth. In the darkness, lying on the damp ground, Sherlock is not cold. He is not hungry. He is not bored, because the world is spinning around him, the ground shaking, the very molecules in the air trembling.
He’s sucking in air like it’s running out, the oxygen in his lungs is heady, beautiful. He looks like every other homeless person in the city; he has learned better than to wear nice shoes out to get high.
He doesn’t remember that year. Or the next. Or the one after that. Or the one after…
Christmas doesn’t mean anything, in Afghanistan. Well, not like it did, back home. John is 34, and he’s a doctor, and a soldier, and an officer of the queen. He’s well on his way to becoming a Captain, and people still love him. But war doesn’t stop for the holidays.
They get tins of shortbread from charities back in London, and an extra ration of Chocolate, regards of Her Majesty the Queen, but he spends Christmas day cleaning up some poor bastard who’d been unfortunate enough to stumble across some mines on his way to take a piss. Bad way to go.
He’ll be signing the documents for the body to be sent back home, but he’ll do what he can so his family don’t get the news on Christmas day. He shakes his head, soundlessly. Just because they didn’t celebrate Christmas didn’t mean they didn’t want to. Soldiers celebrated in whatever ways they could. Sharing stodgy fruit cakes and stale biscuits baked by someone’s sister was good enough. It prevented the men from getting too homesick, especially this time of the year. It made them feel like they were at least doing something in common with their families back home; Christmas fruit cake didn’t really vary around the world.
He’ll send the letter on the second, or the third, and they’ll get word by the fifth, and it will have to be enough. Hopefully the dead kid had had a chance to speak to them at least once, before Christmas.
Three days after New Year, he receives a priority one phone-call. A detached voice informs him in cool, connected tones that his mother had passed away on New Year’s eve, of natural causes. The person gives him all the details of his flight home and disconnects, before he gets the chance to ask how it’s possible, because he still has her last letter, and she’d said she was fine. He still has her letter, from the beginning of December, and it’s not possible…
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this, he thinks, numb. She wasn’t supposed to leave him behind. Not while he’s on the front lines. It’s not. This is not how it was supposed to be.
He was a month off, because he’s an exemplary officer, and his CO’s like him, and so do their CO’s, and his mother has just died. Harry doesn’t meet him at the airport, instead choosing to arrive at three in the morning, after John’s made all the arrangements, red-eyes and smelling of cheap booze and cheaper perfume.
He lets her scream at him, and then cry on him, all the while touching the soft creases of the letter that still smells like his mother.
“I’m clean!” Sherlock yells, and Lestrade rolls his eyes. Sherlock is thirty three, and Lestrade is almost Sherlock’s father.
“Sherlock,” Lestrade says, crossing his arms, and yes, they even act like father and son. Sherlock is clean, but being clean has always been a perilous state. Mycroft is powerful now, and 40 years old, thinning, and with a magnificent paunch. Sherlock still has the body of a very tall twenty-two year old, living on a student budget, and he takes every opportunity to rub it in Mycroft’s face.
“I know you’re clean, you bastard, but it’s Christmas! No one’s here! No one’s working any cases!”
Sherlock’s face curls up in a moue of disgust, tossing his head to show his disdain. The way his curls bounce is positively adorable, and Lestrade makes sure to tell him so. Sherlock scoffs, and his coat looks fancy, but his shirt is cheap underneath. And clean. It warms Greg’s heart, because it’s the best indicator that Sherlock’s clean, and doing as well as can be expected.
A high Sherlock luxuriated in silks and furs he didn’t own, which didn’t work out well for anyone involved, including the rich old lady who’d found an intoxicated vagrant snuggling with her mink fur in the alleyway beside her Belgravia house. Thankfully this year is nothing like that. It looks good, and he’s happy, even if Sherlock is pouting, the great big man-child.
“Tell you what, if you come to the office party and behave, I’ll give you some cold case files for Christmas, you loon,” Lestrade says, but it’s affectionate.
Sherlock pouts and flaps about dramatically, but the twinkle in his eye tells Lestrade that he has the younger man’s attention. It’s a good Christmas, even if Sherlock whispers deductions at him the whole night, making it difficult to keep a straight face.
John is thirty eight, and he’s doing alright. They’re at war, but he’s used to this now. He’s a captain, and a respected man. New Year in Afghanistan isn’t so bad anymore. Obama’s declared that American soldiers are going to be withdrawn over the next couple of years, and even though everyone logically knows there will be no immediate effect, people are in a good mood. This damn war is coming to an end.
And while it’s still ongoing and people are still being shot, and it’s hardly a pleasant place to be, there’s at least hope. That maybe their children won’t have to fight a war. That they might be home, soon. It’s foolish, but hope would make the strongest man foolish.
There are consecutive weeks now, without skirmishes and shootings. They have a wonderful peaceful spell between December and February, and it makes for a very nice holiday. They keep in shape; regiments still train every day, but nobody dies. Nobody is injured. And his standards must be really low, but it’s enough.
Harry calls him, and she sounds sober, and he’s on speaker with Clara and her family and he uses his full half hour to chat with them during dinner, and it’s left him smiling for days. Things are going well.
The Christmas of 2010 is unlike any other Christmas John has experienced. The same goes for Sherlock, even though he’d never admit to it. It’s fantastic. Just really cracking.
They spend it chasing some punk through lower London, and John is thirty nine years old but he feels like a teenager would have, like a real teenager, with no worries and no fears, and nothing in mind but the next ten minutes. His heart is pounding as he tackles the kid to the ground and Sherlock is right behind him, fancy coat flapping in the air, laughing like a child.
They get the kid to the nearest station and the poor bastard on lone duty processes him quickly, because Sherlock’s impatience is legendary. But the man looks like he’s perfectly friendly, if a little posh, and he-who-had-pulled-the-short-straw isn’t sure why Anderson is constantly going on about how horrible Holmes is.
They go to the office Christmas Party, and it’s nice, and Sherlock whispers deductions into John’s ear and John doesn’t bother stifling his laughter, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
Harry’s at Clara’s place; Mycroft is back at Holmes Manor. No one’s missing them, but for once, they’re not missing anyone either. Mrs. Hudson’s still awake when they get home, and they smother her in affection and watch her blush like a teenager. She gets flustered and giggly and it’s clear that the herbal soothers have been in play this evening, but it’s the only night they’ll get to spend with her. She’ll be leaving to spend New Year with her sister, soon, so they don’t bother waiting. John gets her a tea pot she’d been lusting after, and Sherlock gets her a new set of baking equipment.
She laughs, and teases that she gets the hint. It’s a wonderful Christmas. John hasn’t had one so good since that last one with his mother. Sherlock’s never had such a good Christmas in his life.
John gets Sherlock an old, first edition medical textbook, and Sherlock gives him a booklet of coupons, of things he’ll promise to do. It makes John laugh that there are ten coupons with the words “Get Milk” scrawled on them. It’s one of the nicest things he’s ever received, and the wine is making Sherlock flush. Sherlock is making rude comments about the Doctor Who Christmas special but John notices that they don’t change the channel. Sherlock is funny, and sarcastic, and they’re just sitting on the couch and giggling like school boys. He doesn’t mind. It’s good.
It’s everything John never believed Christmas could be. And the New Year only promises to bring good things.
They don’t go out anywhere, this year. They stay in, away from the huge drifts of snow, in the cosy warmth of 221B, curled up on the couch, snogging like teenagers. His life is playing out like a love song, or a romance movie. It’s incredibly sappy and silly and he feels like a fool, but he’s so happy, he doesn’t even have the words for it.
He never thought he’d find… Well. He never thought he’d find love, and Sherlock’s just basically unexpected; unprecedented. Nothing in his life had prepared him for Hurricane Sherlock, and people keep asking him whether he’s happy, and safe, but god, he’s never been happier in his life.
They don’t have any cases, and Sherlock gets a little tetchy, but now John can kiss him into submission and rub his hair until he falls asleep like a massive cat on their couch, face buried in John’s crotch, and don’t think he hasn’t realised what Sherlock was doing.
It hardly matters, though. He was a sure thing, for Sherlock, and it was the same the other way around. It’s the best relationship John’s ever been in, and Sherlock seems happy, too. They spend a lot of time talking. Well, Sherlock talks, both about himself and deducing John’s life. Somehow that Sherlock knows everything without having to be told is more comforting than terrifying, and he only speaks up to add details to the whole story.
This is how it is, much of the time now. He is safe. They are safe, even when John carries around a loaded gun and they chase killers around London. They get take-away for three days in a row, and on New Years’ day, John bakes a pie for them, using his mother’s recipe.
It’s a complete disaster, because John is many things but he is not a cook. The burned, deformed thing that sets of the fire alarms sends them running to the corridor laughing and Sherlock holds his hand while Mrs. Hudson scolds, and it’s perfect. This year is going to be perfect.
He is more alone than he has ever been, because now he knows what it feels like to have loved, and it has been stolen from him. Whoever said that it was better to have loved and lost was an idiot; John would rather have cut out his own heart than feel what he is feeling.
The flat is silent, and he thinks he will have to leave. He should have known that in his life, good things did not last. Harry is clean-ish, and she’d visited once. They’d sat in silence for a couple of hours before she’d kissed him on his cheek and left, saying that he could spend Christmas with her and Clara if he liked. He’d thanked her, with no intention of actually doing so, and he was sure she knew it.
Mycroft had visited too. He’d spoken of love. John had asked him to leave. He had left, with only a single pitying glance back.
He’s locked the doors, and retreated to his bedroom. Their bedroom. Nothing smells like Sherlock, anymore. He’s worn it out. Their bed just smells like him now. Like solitude. Like it always used to.
He doesn’t notice the passing of the days. It’s just like being back in Afghanistan, because he knows that there’s something important going on. But he can’t celebrate it, because he is removed from the ordinary. He’s not on the same plane as anyone else, because his anchor is gone and he feels like he’s just going to fade or float away. Lestrade visits him on New Year’s day, and doesn’t stay long. Between the two of them, there is too much emptiness in the room. Too many blank spaces.
Isn’t that the story of his life, though?
Christmas is just another day. He’s doing better than he was last year, but he’s still not well. He’s still half-empty. But he’s working again (mostly because he can’t afford not to). Locum work is boring, in comparison to working with Sherlock. But then again, most things are.
John’s psychosomatic tremor has faded to nothing, and it’s curious but he thinks it’s because he’s fighting to survive every single day. He doesn’t say it out loud, because he knows that it’s a bit not good, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It has made it slightly easier for him to work in emergency medicine, even if he doesn’t trust himself in a surgery situation.
It’s better than nothing, though, and he looks forward to the days he gets called into the A&E. There are some people he works with, who are friendly enough. Sherlock’s name has been mostly cleared, and with all the loose ends tied up neatly, the public has wrapped up that story and put it away. The once head-line news has faded into obscurity, overshadowed by things like a naked teenage girl doing a sexy dance on stage and some Norwegian guys singing about a fox on the internet.
But that isn’t how it works for the near and dear. John only remembers that he’d not got the chance to tell Sherlock he loved him. Even after two years, that is what he remembers. And the fall itself, because he isn’t likely to ever forget the love of his life on a pavement—
—and the sound it had made—
John is in bed at six in the evening, because there’s nothing left to do. He doesn’t want to lie down on the couch and watch meaningless telly on his own. It’s too cold, in more ways than one. His bed is too empty. His life is too empty. There’s a hole in his heart that feels like it will never be plugged. And he’s a doctor, he would know.
He waits for sleep, and doesn’t say anything when it doesn’t come. (He is grateful, because sleep only brings dreams, and he will always wake up disoriented and miserable, because he will either dream of Sherlock’s life, or of Sherlock’s death, and there was happiness for him in neither).
There’s nothing to say, and no one to say it to. He wonders if it will be like this for the rest of his life. He’s not sure his life will be very long, because he doesn’t know how much more of this he can take.
Lestrade had taken his gun, shortly after the fall. Because they’d placed him on suicide watch. It had been very sensible of them. But foolish also, because they assumed that a doctor did not know a hundred-and-one ways in which he could kill himself, if he so chose.
He’d chosen to live, back then. But his will was flickering. Nothing was worth it, anymore.
-New Year – 2014-
The day is just another day, like any other. The sun comes up, and John goes shopping.
They He doesn’t have any milk left. He’s making the motions, because he genuinely doesn’t give a fuck. He will, at some point, he’s sure, but he doesn’t care about milk when the dreams are still fresh in his mind.
It seems like the perfect start to yet another year, and it’s all so tedious. He’s barely opened the front door of the flat when he hears Mrs. Hudson screaming, and like a fool he drops all his shopping and runs to her rescue, armed with an umbrella from the hallway. When he bursts into her flat, she’s on the couch, a cast iron frying pan gripped in her white-knuckled fingers. He does a quick once over, to make sure she’s okay, then turns to see what scared her so badly.
And what he sees is enough to have him swaying on his own feet, knees gone shaky. Standing there, in the middle of her living room, dressed in his usual black, Belstaff coat, is Sherlock Holmes. Ideas and thoughts are rushing through his head, and he’s torn between punching the man and crying all over him, and he knows which one would make Sherlock more uncomfortable, because god knows he deserves it. For what he’s put John through. (He badly wants to kiss the man but it’s been two years and there is no guarantee that things are the same even though he wants them to be).
“Sherlock?” he asks, voice breaking – it would be embarrassing if John cared, but he had cried over this man, and he had suffered from the worst case of a broken heart. If Mrs. Hudson hadn’t seen him first, he’d have thought it was an illusion; a hallucination. But Sherlock is definitely here, and he’s not dead, and it too much for his exhausted mind to handle.
“John,” he says, and his voice is painfully familiar, striking every chord in John’s hind-brain, of warmth and comfort and high-speed chases. Sherlock takes the first step because it’s clear to everyone in the room that John’s feet aren’t working the way they’re supposed to be. He steps towards John, slowly and cautiously, and John is very aware that Sherlock is aware that he has an umbrella in his hand and he’s not afraid to use it.
But it’s a split second decision. They’ll have time for anger, later. The key word is time. They’ll have time. He drops the umbrella, and Sherlock takes the last, smooth step towards him and swoops him into a hug, and it’s like coming home.
Sherlock’s coat smells like him, and he’s warm, and he’s just tall enough to have his chin on John’s head, his hands warm on John’s back, and it’s breath-taking, because he hadn’t thought he’d ever feel like this again.
There is too much to talk about; too many questions to ask; too many kisses to share. Possibly even a punch or two. But for now, it’s like the new year has truly brought a new beginning, and it’s more than John’s ever expected in his life. Yesterday, he had only been able to see his life stretching out into the horizon of mediocrity. Today, he can’t see anything past Sherlock’s riotous curls (both metaphorically and literally) and he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t particularly care, because he feels like he’s complete – like there’s nothing else he needs. He feels whole, and good, and fine.
It feels like the sun’s come up, after two years of darkness. This New Year is the best they’ve had yet, and Sherlock’s only been around for fifteen minutes. At least the rest of the year won’t be so much of a drag.
John Watson is sixty, and he lives in Sussex with his husband, Sherlock Holmes (who is fifty-five). They’re not legally married, as far as they know (because Mycroft is a bit of a wild card, really) but they’re as married as it gets. John bakes and treats the neighbours when they suffer minor injuries, and Sherlock keeps bees.
It is an idyllic life, full of simple pleasures, and the occasional explosion. Sherlock has gone grey, and John loves it. Sherlock has also put on a bit of weight, and John loves that too. John’s limp is back, and it’s not psychosomatic this time, so he uses a cane to potter around their cottage. Sherlock bullies him off his feet and gives him massages every time he deduces that John is in pain. His mind is still as sharp as ever. As is his tongue.
And John loves him.
They’ve stopped celebrating Christmases and New Years, because every day is like Christmas. They don’t work on a regular basis, and Sherlock only solves cases via the internet and Skype. He was given the award as the most crotchety old public figure in Britain a couple of years past, and John had printed out the mocking award, laminated it, and hung it on their living room wall. It wasn’t like he hadn’t known that, anyway.
Their lives haven’t been easy, and they found peace later than they deserved. They had suffered greatly, both physical and mental pains. But they’d survived, and the only time that had ever been in question was when they’d been apart.
So they decided to never be apart. Sherlock had understood, after much yelling and crying and sulking, what his leaving had done to John. John had understood exactly what it had cost Sherlock to leave him, instinctively. (They’d always had different strengths). And it had been changing the habits of a life time, but it had been easier than expected. It was easier for Sherlock when John was around, and it was a small concession to wait ten seconds longer, if it meant that John was by his side for the rest of the night.
They had never been planning to live safe lives, so they hadn’t. They’d chased bad guys through alley ways and down the streets of London for as long as their legs had supported them. And when Sherlock had found John looking at websites to shop for canes, he’d started looking at websites to look for real estate, outside London, where maybe they wouldn’t have to climb so many stairs, and he could finally start keeping bees. He’d had an interest ever since John had got him a book about apiaries, on one of their birthdays, he isn’t quite sure anymore.
And then, very simply, they’d not spent a single day apart. Well, sometimes one of them had stormed out of the house, but they’d always come back. The other had never even considered that they’d not come back. And now, every day is like Christmas. They eat what they like, and spend the days doing what they like. Sometimes Sherlock gets things for John that he thinks he’ll like. Sometimes John will get things for Sherlock. They only have one bank account anyway, so it’s not like it matters. John writes his books and Sherlock solves cases and plays with his bees. They don’t even count the years anymore, because there’s no need to. It’s taken for granted. They have the rest of their lives together. And it’s perfect.