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A Thousand Kisses Deep

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And fragrant is the thought of you
The file on you complete
Except what we forgot to do
A thousand kisses deep

                                Leonard Cohen

 

 Saturday

It was November again and the season was changing. Leaves were falling, skittering across the grass in front of the wind. Sherlock loved the change in season, this shift from autumn to winter, more than any other. When he smelled the crispness in the air, he’d shiver, pull his jacket close and begin to feel strong again.

He stood in the front garden of the cottage and whistled for Graham. Bloody dog was always running off, chasing anything that moved. He enjoyed this weather as much as Sherlock.

The wind shifted and he wound his scarf a little tighter. Truth was, he was jealous of the dog, running as hard and as fast as he wanted, investigating every scent that piqued his interest. Those days were behind Sherlock, it had been years since he ran anywhere. Even walking was difficult now. Until last winter, he’d always managed the two mile hike to the village, carrying home the week’s provisions in a worn carrier bag. But in February, he fell on ice he never saw and broke his left ankle. Three hours in surgery, then three months in a wheelchair. He almost went mad from the boredom of it. Now he drove to the village in the ancient Bentley that Mycroft had thrust upon him when he moved here.

He breathed in and let the cold air fill his lungs. Some days he felt like a plant kept too long out of the sun, wilted and faded. He whistled again and heard Graham bark in the distance. Get off my arse, old man is what that bark meant. Fair enough.

He’d missed this weather.

He missed John too. Missing John was a constant nagging ache since the day John told him he was moving with Rosie to take a position at a small surgery in Sussex. They needed a fresh start, John said. Why the hell did a ten-year-old need a fresh start? Rosie had flamboyantly whinged about changing schools and houses and friends until John promised a puppy in return for a smile. She’d been whinging successfully ever since. Sherlock stayed in London and kept working, calling on John for the occasional consult. When Rosie went to uni, John had quit his job at the surgery and started writing full-time – a series of crime novels he set in London. His protagonist was a brilliant doctor, and although several inches taller and at least one stone lighter, he was clearly John. In the novels, the doctor spent much of his time pining for a former nameless colleague. The most popular question John received at book signings was “Will they ever get together?” Sherlock had never read them.

Eventually Sherlock bought a small cottage a few miles from John’s. They managed to narrow the geographic and emotional distance between them with a weekly lunch or a pint at the local. Until John suffered a heart attack six months ago and Rosie confiscated his car keys.

Rosie was a nurse now, with two teenage children and an ex-husband to whinge about. Her text said she was bringing John by for a visit today. Before lunch, she promised. “Give you two a chance to catch up.” Sherlock couldn’t decide if she was being ironic, what could they possibly have to catch up on? Neither of them did anything worth talking about. “I’ll be back to fetch him after tea.” Only he never showed up and it was half-four already. He sighed. Next week, then. Nothing to be done about it.

He walked carefully around to the back of the cottage to inspect the hives, checking the supply of honey that would keep the queens alive through the winter. After a while, the leaves crackled behind him. He didn’t turn around. “You’re late. Tea’s cold. I ate all the biscuits.”

There was just silence and Sherlock turned his head and looked back over his shoulder at John.

“I’m sorry,” John said, though they both knew it wasn’t his fault. His voice was soft and he sounded sad. He almost always sounded sad now. “Rosie got called to the surgery just as we were leaving. She’ll be back around eight.”

Sherlock checked his watch. Less than four hours, then. It was never enough.

Dusk was falling and the breeze had turned sharp, almost biting. The last of the sunlight seemed to have settled in John’s hair and his eyes were bluer than the sky ever was. He shivered at the wind, hands jammed into his pockets. His shoulders were hunched and even though he gave Sherlock a grin, he looked afraid.

Sherlock looked away for a second and stared at the changing, falling leaves. It hurt to breathe sometimes, but you kept on doing it.

He looked back at John. “Cold?”

John shivered again, but shook his head.

“Come here,” Sherlock said and when he did, he put his arm across John’s shoulder, and pulled him close. John let him, and after a moment, rested his head against Sherlock’s chest. Sherlock felt the familiar ache, a longing for what might have been. If only he’d been braver, more sure of John’s feelings. He dropped his arms and stepped back. It was too late. Things were as they were meant to be.

But it was autumn in Sussex, and everything was changing.

 

Sherlock stared at the ceiling through the darkness and admitted defeat. He was not going to sleep that night. He’d always had trouble sleeping, but now, especially after one of John’s visits, sleep was even more elusive. He couldn’t shake the feeling that John was disappearing a little more each time he saw him. His trousers were looser, his jumpers baggier, his voice thinner. One day he’d reach out and John would be gone.

He turned over, pulled the blankets closer. It was chilly in the bedroom, the heat from the fireplace long gone. He sat up and fluffed the pillow and lay back down with a sigh. The only noise in the room was Graham’s soft snore rising from the foot of the bed.

He was deciding whether to turn on the lamp and read when the bedroom door opened suddenly, silently. Sherlock knew that whoever was there couldn’t see him in the dark, so maybe he could get the jump on him before . . .

He snorted. Who was he fooling? Most mornings he barely made it to the toilet in time.

He reached for his glasses on the table by the bed. He could almost make out a silhouette in the doorway when he felt a shock of recognition. Arpège? The only woman he knew who wore Arpège was Mrs. Hudson. John had bought the perfume for her one Christmas – it had been gift and apology both. They were always apologizing to Mrs. Hudson in those days.

The figure in the door moved slowly into the room and sat down in the armchair opposite the bed. Graham stirred, then settled back to sleep. Sherlock breathed carefully, his heart racing, and lifted his hand slowly towards the lamp.

“Don’t. I look better in the dark.” Her voice hadn’t changed.

“Mrs. Hudson?” Even as he said it, he knew it couldn’t be. She’d been gone almost twenty years now. He’d attended her funeral. Wept real tears.

“Yes, dear.”

“But, you’re . . .”

“Yes, dear.”

He leaned up shakily on one elbow. “Hallucinating. The only logical explanation.” He reached for the lamp again, found the switch, but it wouldn’t turn on. His breathing sounded very loud in the room. The only thing louder was his heart beating in his ears and he wondered whether he might actually be having a heart attack. Is this how John had felt? He’d never thought to ask.

“What are you doing here?” In my hallucination, he meant. Because she couldn’t be real. The rules of the universe did not change.

“It’s about John,” she said.

He sat up in bed and threw back the cover. “Has something happened?”

She shook her head. “John made a wish.”

Not what he expected. Wishes were for birthday candles. Sick children. “What does he want?” More biscuits? Less Rosie? Those would be his wishes.

“You.”

Now he was certain this was a dream. John had never wanted him. Not like that. John wanted many things from Sherlock over the years. He’d wanted him to be more polite. He’d wanted him to eat regularly. He’d wanted him not to be dead . . . but he’d never wanted . . . him. Preposterous. Sherlock would have known. John would have said. He wouldn’t have married Mary. Who marries someone despite . . . in spite . . . who could keep a secret like that?

The room tilted and Sherlock stumbled backwards onto the bed and pressed his hands to his face. It was too much. Even for a dream. “Enough. Go away.”

She sighed. “John has been in love with you for a very long time.” Mrs. Hudson stood, moved toward the door and looked back at him. “We’re offering you a chance to make things right. Don’t waste it or I shall be very cross with you indeed.”

The door blew shut behind her and when he got up and looked down the hallway, it was empty. He turned on the light in the hall and returned to his bedroom.

He glanced at his reflection in the mirror. “You’re a bloody old fool.” He padded across the cold floor and slid into bed. This time he fell asleep immediately.

 

Sunday

 

The first thing he noticed when he woke up was that he’d slept late. Graham usually needed to go out before Sherlock needed to get up, and Graham usually won, but not this morning. The second thing he noticed was that nothing hurt. Since his surgery, it had been a dull throb from his ankle, which would roll into a painful twinge in his right shoulder that usually nudged him awake. His eyes still closed, he reached down to check his ankle when his hand brushed against something even more curious. Something he’d almost forgotten about.

An erection. His eyes flew open and he raised his head and lifted the sheet and stared at the outline of his penis, straining against the cotton of his pajama bottoms. He fell back against the pillow and looked at the ceiling, thinking.

That’s when he noticed the light. It was streaming in from the window to the right of his bed. He didn’t have a window to the right of his bed. Not anymore. Not since 221 . . .

He rolled to a sitting position, careful not to disturb the miracle between his legs, and noted as he did the continued lack of any pain whatsoever. He reached for his cane, and came up with nothing. He sat up straight and stared at his dresser. His old dresser. His dark blue dressing gown hung on a hook on the door. He didn’t own a dark blue dressing gown. Not since . . .

He closed his eyes and took two deep breaths. A stroke? Possibly, except what stroke leaves you with more function than you had before?

John has made a wish . . . Mrs. Hudson’s voice breezed across his cheek.

His dream. He shook his head. He must still be dreaming. He lay back down, pulled the covers up and closed his eyes tight. He would just wait until he woke up properly.

He breathed slowly, willing his brain either back into REM sleep or up into actual consciousness. As he ticked off any number of reasons for this neurological episode, he heard the sound of a Hoover clicking on, faint, but familiar. He held a breath as he listened for what he knew would be the turning up of a transistor radio, adding to the noise. Why Mrs. Hudson couldn’t just wait until after the hoovering to listen to her music . . .

He opened his eyes again and stared at the ceiling. John made a wish . . . you have a chance to make it right . . . it’s about John . . .

The door flew open and John walked through the door, a cup of steaming tea in one hand, the newspaper in the other.

“I know you told me not to wake you before eleven, but this is important.” John tossed the paper toward Sherlock, who caught it without thinking. He pulled himself up onto an elbow and stared at John. Old John. The old John. The John of old. He looked so . . . young. He looked so . . . beautiful.

John frowned and took a sip of tea. “Besides, I knew you’d be out in a minute to complain about the hoovering. But Mrs. Hudson sent up biscuits and told you to behave – she’s got company coming later.”

Sherlock swallowed hard and tried to say something. This could not be a stroke. Or a dream. He could actually smell the tea. Earl Grey.

“Come on, Sherlock. Read the headline. Identical twins . . . double murder? You said you were bored.”

“What . . . who . . .” Sherlock sat up and tried to stand.

John stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder. “You okay?”

Sherlock felt John’s hand through his pajamas. Warm. Real. He stared at John’s neck. Tanned, no wrinkles, a bit of brown chest hair peeking out from the top of his shirt. He sat back down.

“Oi, there.” John set his tea on the bedside table and took Sherlock’s chin in his hand, staring at his eyes. “What did you do last night, eh?” His other hand slid down and grasped Sherlock’s wrist. “Your heart is beating too fast.”

John dropped Sherlock’s wrist, pulled both hands away and stepped back. Crossed his arms. Frowned. “What did you take?”

All Sherlock could do, after poring over every file in every room of his mind palace, was whisper, “Hi John.”

John rolled his eyes and Sherlock was certain it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. And he’d seen it before. Thousands of times. Thousands of situations. But not lately. Lately John preferred the old man harrumph.

“Hi yourself. Are you? High?” John glared at him, his feet firmly planted. “Because I should be on my way to an excellent pre-brunch shag with Sheri right now, instead of whatever the hell it is you’re doing . . .”

“Sheri was the worst shag you ever had.” The words just fell out of Sherlock’s mouth. His eyes opened wide as he remembered.

“What the hell?”

“You told me that.”

“I haven’t even kissed her yet . . .”

It was Sherlock’s turn to frown. “Oh please. It was the night Lestrade took you out to that horrendous pub in Brixton and then left you for some, and I quote, “bird in yellow spandex with enormous tits.”

John’s look of disbelief (also too familiar) startled Sherlock. Reminded Sherlock. This was a dream.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Sherlock ignored him and crawled back into the bed. “Oh bugger off.” He felt something poke into the side of his neck. He pulled the newspaper out from under the pillow and was about to toss it in the direction of the tedious ghost named John, when he caught a glimpse of the date.

March 28, 2010

He pulled the paper closer and reached for his glasses. Which were nowhere to be found. He looked over and the bedside table was covered in teacups and papers and scientific journals. No glasses.

He took a second to admire the attention to detail this dream had and then thrust the paper towards John. “What’s the date on this paper?”

John took the paper and stared at Sherlock. “Seriously, what the hell are you on? Do I need to call Mycroft?”

A pain shot through Sherlock’s heart. Mycroft was ten years cold in the plots in Sussex next to their parents. “Yeah, I’d like to see that. Please, call him.”

John reached into his pocket for his mobile. “That does it.” He held the paper out to Sherlock. “I just saw you last night. You know what the bloody date is.”

Sherlock heard a noise from the kitchen. Both he and John turned as the noise became Mrs. Hudson, carrying the vacuum, a red tea towel draped over her shoulder.

“Hoo hoo,” she called from the doorway. “You boys enjoying a nice lie in this morning? Lovely thing on a Sunday.”

“I just got here,” John sputtered.

Sherlock watched in fascination as John turned three shades of red. And then turned to Mrs. Hudson, cheery and vibrant and very much alive.

She stepped around John and into the room. “Yes, yes, John. Whatever your little heart wants to believe.”

John turned to Sherlock, but Sherlock was already up and reaching around him for a dressing gown. He was dismayed to notice that his erection was gone.

“Mrs. Hudson, what have you done?” Sherlock cinched his belt and glared.

“Just a bit of hoovering, dear. I didn’t think you’d mind.” She patted Sherlock on the chest. “Some things need to be gone over again you know.” She winked at Sherlock and leaned down to pick up teacups from the bedside table. “We don’t quite get them right the first time.” She handed John the vacuum and turned towards the door.

John took the vacuum, and shook his head. “Is everyone barmy today?”

Mrs. Hudson chuckled as she headed toward the kitchen.

 

When Sherlock came out of the shower twenty minutes later, a towel wrapped around his waist, John was sitting on the edge of the bed waiting. Sherlock recognised the look on John’s face – John had worn the same pained expression all through Rosie’s childhood. But there was something else there he’d never noticed. John was looking at him.

“Should I be worried?” John asked.

“No, I’m fine.” He was more than fine. He was fucking young. In the shower, he’d decided that if he couldn’t extract himself from whatever temporal whirlpool/dream he was caught in, he’d play along.

“Still going to your brunch?”Sherlock asked.

He shook his head. “Maybe next time.”

Sherlock stood in front of the wardrobe, fingering a purple silk shirt and admiring his taste. God, he missed having somewhere to go. “Fancy a little dim sum?”

 

Sherlock gave the taxi driver the address of Wing Fa. He saw John’s surprise; they hadn’t been there since the night John shot the cabbie. Sherlock stared out the window, tapping his fingers against his legs, reveling in the breathing, living thing that was London, cars like blood vessels speeding towards the heart, the hum in the concrete, the beat like a pulse beneath the pavement, the warmth of the buildings.

“Hungry?” John asked.

“Famished.” If he had to wake up, he only hoped it would be after he’d finished at least two servings of Wing Fa’s pork dumplings with peanut sauce.

John turned to look at him. “Yesterday, you claimed eating was a waste of time.”

“That was yesterday.” He grinned and was rewarded with one of John’s best laughs. John’s hand rested on the seat between them and Sherlock covered John’s hand with his own. He expected John to pull away, mutter something about how everyone’s gone barmy, but John just exhaled deeply and his shoulders relaxed.

Sherlock’s phone pinged and he reached into his coat pocket. “Lestrade.” He read the text and held out the phone in front of John.

Need you. 208 Ferndale Road. Brixton.

Ferndale Road . . . Sherlock remembered this one, a mundane domestic murder made interesting only because the murder weapon was a frozen leg of lamb. Not one to pass up a good roast, the murderer served it to his family the following week for Sunday dinner. When the lab came back with traces of sheep blood at the scene, everyone put it down to lab error. Everyone except Sherlock. He knew Molly didn’t make those kinds of mistakes.

John leaned forward and started to give the driver the new address when Sherlock stopped him. He texted Lestrade.

Tedious. Murdered by lover/neighbour. George Carlyle. 43. bus driver. 3 doors down. Check freezer for bloody leg of lamb.

John took the phone from Sherlock and read the text. “Yesterday, you were whinging about how bored you were. So bored you were talking about flying to Minsk. What are you playing at?”

“Dumplings wait for no man.”

 

Sherlock slid into a booth at the back of the restaurant away from the rest of the diners. A bored waiter dropped two menus on the table in front of them. Sherlock pushed them to the side. “I’ll order for us.”

“Tea?” the waiter asked.

Shi. Shi,” Sherlock nodded. He then placed their order in fluent Chinese.

John’s mouth fell open. “When did you learn Chinese?”

Years ago, he wanted to say. After you left me. He was bored after John moved to Sussex with Rosie. Lonely too. So he filled his time with a series of distractions. Mastered Chinese and Japanese. Wrote a book on the forensics of British soil. Composed a violin concerto. Hacked into John’s email. Wrote long letters he never sent.

“Picked up a few phrases here and there.”

He watched John shrug and run a hand through his hair. He marveled at John’s unrelenting talent for choosing bad jumpers. He would have understood if they’d been chosen for John, gifts from his mother or an elderly aunt, but he’d actually seen John order several online. From a website in Canada that apparently specialised in ill-fitting jumpers in odd colour combinations. This particular one was dirty snow.

But for some reason he didn’t mind. He found himself imagining what it would be like to tug it up over John’s head, his fingers scraping up John’s chest . . .

“. . . if you think it’s possible.”

He realised John had been talking to him. “If what’s possible?”

John rolled his eyes and waited as the server brought two glasses and two bottles of Tsingtao. “I said, do you think Moriarty shares a connection with Shan that we missed?”

“Moriarty?” he said as casually as he could.

John poured beer into his glass. “Yeah, I guess I’ve just been thinking . . . he’s been quiet. Can’t help but wonder if it’s the calm before the storm.” He poured the other bottle into Sherlock’s glass.

Sherlock watched John take a long drink. “Is quiet so bad?”

John smiled. “Seriously, you’ve been weird all day. You want Moriarty to come out and play, admit it.”

Sherlock set his glass down and looked at John. “Yes. I did.”

Over the clatter of dishes and the static of a hundred conversations, Sherlock closed his eyes and smelled chlorine and Semtex. He remembered playing the game that was never his to win, John standing by his grave under a brilliant summer sky. He remembered his own hand spread out against a brick wall in an alley somewhere in Serbia, knowing that if he took his hand away, he would collapse and never get up again. He leaned back in the booth, tracing patterns in the condensation that coated his glass.

“He called it a dance once. What he and I did. I was so sure of myself, so fucking arrogant, that I let him lead. It was the only thing that mattered. But it didn’t matter. And then it was too late. For me. For us.”

“Sherlock.” John’s voice was quiet, unwavering. Concerned.

Sherlock opened his eyes and caught his breath because John looked perfect in that moment, and he was undone by the sudden need to know what John’s skin tasted like. He made his own wish then. That he’d be here long enough to find out.

“Sorry.” He rubbed his hands together. “Here comes our food.”

The dumplings were sublime, the beer cold. He’d forgotten what young taste buds added to the enjoyment of a meal. That and the way John sucked plum sauce off his pinky finger, the way his eyes sparked as he talked about his time in medical school and the terrible Chinese takeaway near Barts that served ketchup with their dumplings.

Sherlock stopped himself short of reminding John that this was also the place where John had taken two dates on the same night. But John hadn’t told him that story yet. That story had come out the night of John’s bachelor party . . . the night when they had almost . . . when a lean too far forward would have undone everything Sherlock had tried to rebuild after . . . he remembered John splayed out in his chair, drunk, happy, beautiful . . .

 

Outside the restaurant, Sherlock said, “I need to walk.” He started down the street, then stopped and turned. “Aren’t you coming?”

John sighed loudly. “Yeah, okay.” He hurried to catch up. “You did notice it’s raining?” He turned up the collar on his jacket.

Wardour Street was nearly empty, everyone huddled under shop awnings and in doorways, waiting for the downpour to let up. Sherlock spread out his arms and tilted his head back, his mouth open wide. He spun around, his coat whipping at his knees. He had missed London rain. Unrelenting, unforgiving, unforgettable. He missed feeling this . . . alive. He looked over at John, his arms wrapped tight around his coat, smiling at Sherlock despite his obvious discomfort. Sherlock stepped towards John and, before he could think of a reason to wait another second, another lifetime, he was kissing John in the rain, lost in the sensation, the smells, the weather.

John opened his mouth just a bit, and Sherlock thought he might say something to stop him or push him away, so he slipped his tongue between John’s lips. John made a sound like a groan, way down in his throat and then he was kissing Sherlock back. Sherlock’s hands linked at the small of John’s back and they were pressed against each other from knee to shoulder. A disjointed thought ricocheted around Sherlock’s brain, how did I not see?

They broke apart for half a moment, and John wiped away rain from his eyes. Sherlock took John’s hand and pulled him into the nearest alley under a metal awning and they were kissing again. Sherlock threaded his fingers through John’s wet hair, and dropped his mouth to John’s neck, drawing a line of kisses and sucking hard on one spot that made John moan out loud.

John suddenly put his hands on Sherlock's chest and shoved him away, putting an arm's length of space between them. Sherlock stared at him, surprised. John gripped Sherlock’s arm and said, "Not here.” John jerked his head to left and then right, scanning down the alley. “Home,” John said and grinned brilliantly and Sherlock mirrored it back at him.

They headed back to the street, almost running, the puddles splashing up around them, the sound of their laughter swallowed by the rain.

As they turned the corner onto Baker Street, two things hit Sherlock at the same time. There was a familiar car from the Yard in front of 221 B, and John had slowed to a crawl. He turned back to John.

“What?” He wiped a hand over his face, and took two steps back to John.

“What are you doing?” John asked.

“I’m trying to get out of the rain.”

“No, I mean what are you doing to me . . . us . . . this? What is this?”

Sherlock knew what John meant. He also knew that if this was his first time in 2010, he would completely disregard John’s question and fly up the stairs to see what Lestrade had for him. The work was everything.

He reached for John’s hand. “Despite evidence to the contrary, I do not have all the answers.” He pulled John to his chest. “But I do know we have a better chance of exploring this . . . development more thoroughly if we are not in the A and E being treated for pneumonia.” He kissed John quickly on the lips and tugged him toward the door.

John took a reluctant step, staring at Sherlock’s face. “If this is some kind of experiment . . . I will kill you in your sleep, you know that, right? I was a –”

“Soldier,” Sherlock finished. “Yes, we all know. And it’s not.”

Sherlock watched as John seemed to come to some kind of decision and he took Sherlock’s hand and headed toward the door. Their shoulders knocked together as they both tried to reach for their keys and the door flew open. Mrs. Hudson motioned them inside. Sherlock’s chest felt a twinge of hurt as John quickly dropped his hand, kicked off his shoes and headed up the stairs two at a time.

Mrs. Hudson pushed a stack of towels into Sherlock’s arms. “Mind you dry off before you sit on anything. We don’t need mildew up there along with all your bacteria.”

Sherlock nodded, still looking up the stairs. Mrs. Hudson patted Sherlock on the back.

“There you go, my dear. We know how you love a good chase.” She hustled back to her flat and closed the door.

Sherlock paused when he got to the top of the stairs. He could hear someone in the kitchen and opened the door to find Lestrade, filling the kettle with water. He took three cups from the cupboard and set them on the kitchen table. “John’s gone up to change. I suggest you do the same.”

“Yes, Mother.”

“Where do you keep your tea?”

Sherlock pointed to the jar to the left of a stack of Petri dishes.

“Charming,” Lestrade muttered as he carefully extracted three teabags. “I don’t even want to know where you keep the biscuits.

When Sherlock came out of the bedroom, John was sitting in his chair, Lestrade had pulled a kitchen chair next to him, a file folder open on his lap. He looked so . . . well, young. Everyone was just so . . . young.

Sherlock sat down in his chair, and noticed that John had changed into a blue shirt. The blue shirt that he usually wore on second dates. He filed that away to think about later.

“Superintendent. What can I do for you?” Sherlock asked.

“Ha. Though if I – you – solve many more murders as quick as today, I’ll make Superintendent soon enough.” He scratched his head. “How the bloody hell did you know about the neighbour?”

Sherlock crossed his legs. “I have my methods.” He did his best to sound inscrutable.

“Well, ta for that one. Not sure I should be grateful though, Lewis is off sick so I got handed his case as I was leaving. And since you’re the genius, I thought I’d let you have a look.” He winked at John, who was very busy ironing the wrinkles out of his jeans with the palm of his hand.

“Yes, yes. Fine.” He steepled his hands under his chin and closed his eyes. “Begin.”

Lestrade recited and Sherlock listened. The more he listened, the more confused he became. Not because the murder was so complicated, but because he didn’t recognise any of it. Until now, everything was exactly as he remembered it. Mrs. Hudson, the flat, John, even the pork dumplings at Wing Fa. If Lestrade hadn’t solved the murder so quickly that afternoon, he wouldn’t have been available for this new case. It seemed to Sherlock that he was changing his past – his memories – by living them again. Not only with John . . .

He tried to dismiss the thought – this was all a dream. It had to be. But if it wasn’t . . .

“So, what do you think?” Lestrade asked.

“Sorry, what?”

“Were you not even listening?” Lestrade grumbled.

Did I ever listen, Sherlock thought. He opened the file and stared at the pages, willing the details to jog something . . . anything. He took a drink of tea and watched John pull his phone out of his pocket, tapping the screen.

“You know I can come back later.” Lestrade sighed and stood. “You two are somewhere else today.” He checked the time on his phone. “I’m off duty in an hour,” he said as he slipped the phone back into his pocket. “Why don’t you meet me at the Queen’s Arms at eight? You can buy me a pint and tell me how the hell there were no footprints near the body.”

Sherlock frowned at Lestrade. A pint? At the Queen’s Arms? Not bloody likely. Not that he didn’t hold a certain fondness for the copper. He named his dog after him after all. Well, sort of. He’d thought he’d named his dog after him until John finally asked him where he came up with the name Graham. It was not your usual kind of dog name.

“Don’t be obtuse, John.”

“No, seriously. It’s an unusual name.”

“The superintendent’s mother didn’t think so.”

“Wait. The superintendant – you mean Lestrade?”

“Of course.”

“Greg Lestrade? You named your dog Graham after Greg Lestrade? Here I always thought you were taking the piss never knowing his name.”

Sherlock looked up when he heard John clear his throat.

“Yes, yes. The Queen’s Arms.” He started reading the file again. Twenty minutes later, he texted Lestrade.

No footprints because the field was dry when she was left there – time of death wrong – killed earlier – Anderson still an imbecile – victim’s husband owns restaurant – check cold storage for traces of blood

Sherlock stood and started to clear away the tea cups. John stared.

“You never pick up tea cups–”

“Don’t I?”

John took the tea cups out of Sherlock’s hands and set them on the kitchen counter. He turned back and pointed to Sherlock’s chair. “Sit.”

Sherlock sat.

John sat in his chair opposite Sherlock. He sat on the edge so that their knees were almost touching. “I don’t . . . what are you doing, Sherlock?” he asked, his voice unsure.

“I am doing the work of the entire Scotland Yard.”

“No, I mean here. Now.”

“I was trying to tidy up a bit . . .”

“Stop.” John looked at Sherlock, his hand drifting to Sherlock’s knee.

Sherlock didn’t have the heart to continue what he’d always thought was a delicious game of make John stomp off somewhere. He was also unsure what they were doing. They had never done this bit before. He’d obviously missed every clue (subtle and not so) the last time. Sherlock put his hand over John’s. “Was I wrong? Did you not want me to kiss you?”

John blushed. “Of course I wanted you to. That’s not the point.” He pulled his hand away, scrubbed his face. Blew out a breath.

“What is the point then?” Sherlock asked.

“It’s an anomaly. You hate anomalies.”

“It’s only an anomaly if it happens once.” He stood and pulled John up by one hand.

“You’re deflecting . . . this is not . . .” John started, but Sherlock moved forward, his hand rising to find the side of John’s face, and he caught John in the middle of a word, the middle of a heartbeat and kissed him. He kissed him as long as he could, until his thoughts began to fracture and white spots burst on the backs of his eyelids.

He barely noticed that John had shifted, pulling them both down into John’s chair. Sherlock placed his hands on the arms of the chair and pressed his chest against John’s. John reached his hand around and pulled Sherlock closer. Sherlock couldn’t breathe, didn’t want to breathe and then really needed to breathe, all in the space of a few seconds. He pulled his head away and took a deep breath.

“Wait . . .” he managed between gasps.

John stilled for a moment and then slid out from under Sherlock, struggling to stand. Sherlock rolled himself into John’s chair and watched a symphony of doubt and longing and lust play across John’s face.

“We can’t.” John brushed his hands down his trousers.

“We just did.”

“No we didn’t. I mean . . . we need to . . . I need to think . . .”

Sherlock stood and busied himself with tucking his shirt back in. He recognised the warning signs of a full blown anxiety attack. “Excellent idea. You go think. I need to do the washing up.”

John frowned and muttered, “I’m going to take a nap.” He turned and headed towards the stairs.

Sherlock watched him go and fingered his lip, brushed a hand across his chest. He’d only been here a few hours, but as every minute passed, this life felt more and more real. It seemed wise to entertain the possibility that this was not, in fact, a dream. Not entertaining that possibility seemed the greater folly.

“Bollocks,” he muttered to himself. If he were honest, he liked it here and he wanted it to be real. He liked solving Lestrade’s cases. He liked kissing John and was certain he would really like where they were headed. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to see everything that had happened – and was now to happen again. The picture grew darker the longer he imagined it.

Moriarty . . . Richard Brooks . . . his suicide. . . Serbia . . . Mary

He felt something break inside him, felt a lump in his throat and a shredded pain in his heart. He stumbled back and sank into his chair. He couldn’t have been given this chance with John only to have Moriarty snatch it back. The universe could not be that cruel.

Of course it could.

He needed a cigarette. He hadn’t smoked in nearly twenty years, but he needed one now. He looked around, thinking. Wardrobe. Top shelf. His grandfather’s old cigar box.

He opened the wardrobe and reached around – it was exactly where it was supposed to be. He pulled it down and sat on the bed, the cigar box on his lap. Inside were two unopened packs of Mayfairs and a lighter. A loaded gun. A small bag of cocaine. His hand hovered over the cocaine for a few seconds, but he settled on the safer choice. He lit the cigarette with shaky hands and took a long drag, letting the smoke fill his lungs.

The newspaper was lying on the bed and he picked it up. He looked at the date again – March 28, 2010. Why return to this day? Why not yesterday or tomorrow or ten years from now?

He closed his eyes and concentrated. March 28, 2010. They’d just finished the case John called The Blind Banker. Something tweaked at his memory . . .

He dropped the cigarette into the empty glass on the bedside table and went to find his laptop.

He sat in his chair, logged on and found the blog. He scrolled down the page until he found March 28th. John must have posted the entry this morning while Sherlock was still sleeping. He skimmed it – John’s writing skills were appalling – how he managed to make a living as a crime novelist, he didn’t know. There were several comments – from Harry and Mike Stamford and a few other names he didn’t recognise. He knew he’d written a comment but he couldn’t find it.
And then he read Molly’s.

John, my new friend Jim says that we all make our own choices in life. I don't think you should worry about others so much. Did I tell you about my new friend Jim?

Molly Hooper 28 March 13:25

My new friend Jim.

Jim from IT.

His phone vibrated and he answered before looking at the number. “What?”

“Should I be concerned?”

“Mycroft?”

“How droll. I hear you’re clearing cases at an alarming rate. Back on the sauce, are we?”

“Where are you?”

“That’s classified. Now do I need to intervene?”

Sherlock closed his eyes for a moment. He had missed Mycroft. But his brother more than anyone would certainly suss out the change in him. “You need to stay out of my business.”

Mycroft chuckled. “As if that possibility has ever existed. What would Mummy say if I left you to your own devices?”

Sherlock smiled. He was an arrogant ass. “I am not on drugs, Mycroft. You have at best a mediocre police force that needs to be shepherded all over London on a lead. So be a good brother and go away.”

He hung up before he said something stupid, like I miss you and I forgive you and come over immediately.

He looked back at the blog. He carried his laptop with him to the kitchen. He set it on the table and opened the cupboard under the sink. Reached his arm to the very back and found the very good bottle. His hand scraped against something he looked down to see a mandible bone.

He shook his head at his appalling housekeeping. Why hadn’t he ever noticed? Oh yes. He heard his own voice in his head. The work is everything – the only thing . . .

He took the bottle and his laptop back to his chair. He poured two fingers into the empty cup beside him and brought it to his lips. He stopped for a moment and listened. To the sounds in the street. To the clock in the kitchen. To the quiet meanderings of Mrs. Hudson below him. To his old life. It was like a symphony of comfort he hadn’t even noticed he missed. He heard the bell jingle as the door to Speedy’s was opened and he took a quick drink. Maudlin was for old men. He had work to do.

 

Two hours later, he had the beginnings of what might pass for a plan. He had two days before Moriarty scored his first direct hit – the explosion across the street. It was the opening move in a chess game he believed he still couldn’t win – even if he did know all of Moriarty’s moves in advance. He’d briefly considered simply keeping one step ahead of him, blocking him at every turn, but experience had shown him that events in this present were not set in stone. He knew Moriarty would raise the stakes, a course that would inevitably lead back to the roof.

He wouldn’t do it again. Couldn’t do it again.

There was only way to win this game.

Don’t play.

 

Sherlock was still in his chair when John came downstairs wearing a jumper the colour of mushy peas. Sherlock was capital T thinking, legs crossed and hands steepled under his chin. It was past six and he listened as John prowled the kitchen, opening and closing cupboard doors, standing in front of the open fridge, tapping his fingers against the door. He picked up the empty kettle, sighed and put it back on the burner. Sherlock heard paper rustling and John came back into the living room with a stack of cream crackers in one hand.

He lay on the sofa and bit into one of the crackers. He choked and spat out the crumbs onto the floor.

“Problem?”

“Christ, how old are these? It’s like biting into sawdust.” He got up and drank from Sherlock’s cup.

He choked again. “Why didn’t you say it wasn’t tea?” He wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Wait. Is this my Glenfiddich?”

“You’re hungry. I can get takeaway,” Sherlock offered. “Tikka masala, if you like.”

John frowned. “Stop it. Whatever game you’re playing, just stop.”

“I’m not –”

“Do I need to make a fucking list? You solved two cases in one day. One without even looking at the file. No one’s that brilliant. You paid for dim sum. You tidied up in here. And now you’re offering to get takeaway.”

“And I kissed you. Don’t forget that,” he said helpfully, biting back a smile.

John scowled. “You’re like Sherlock 2.0. Like the old you, only more, I don’t know, human . . . You swear you’re not high?”

“Not high. Hungry.” He stood and stretched. “I’ll be back in a minute. He tossed John his phone. “Call Ajit Palace. I want the lamb vindaloo. Extra spicy. Extra naan.”

 

They ate side by side on the sofa, plates balanced on their knees, watching The Great British Bake Off. Sherlock found it surprisingly entertaining even if it was clear from the outset who would be the week’s star baker. John chose not to be enlightened. Typical.

It was during the programme’s technical challenge that he first noticed it. Just a little itch, a tickle in the back of his head, like a door rattling in his mind palace. It was like when he couldn’t solve a problem even though he knew the solution was right there under his nose.

It was John with the ocean at his back, squinting against a tropical sun. John laughing so hard his whole face was tomato-red, bent over, his arms around his stomach. John, stretching out his legs on the worn, faded blue carpet of the cottage, bare feet at the ends of his jeans, his toes curling. John, snow in his hair and melting on his eyelashes, his gloved hands forming an impossibly large snowball. John, lying on Sherlock’s bed, his hand wrapped around his own cock, his face flushed with arousal. John, reaching out his hand.

These images weren’t memories, but it almost seemed like they could be. Blurry afterimages, so close to reality, déjà-vu like pictures of an alternate universe, as if these moments had taken place while Sherlock’s back was turned, like he had just missed them.

The episode ended (exactly as Sherlock had predicted) and John carried their empty plates out to the kitchen. “Tea?” he called back at Sherlock.

“Later.”

John came back a few moments later, sleeves pushed up to his elbows and a damp line across the bottom of his jumper where he’d leaned against the sink. He sat beside Sherlock and turned to look at him, head tilted and eyes narrowed, as if he were trying to make a decision. He took a breath, leaned in and kissed Sherlock hard, open-mouthed, all tongue and teeth and heat. Sherlock’s hands found the edges of John’s jumper and tugged it, separating from John just long enough to get it up over his head. Sherlock’s hands crept under John’s shirt, running along his ribs and stomach.

“Fuck,” John gasped.

Sherlock smiled and bent down, sucking a trail along John’s neck, dipping into the hollow of his shoulder blade. He felt John’s hands on his hips, pulling, and he lifted a knee, pressing it against John’s crotch. John moved a hand onto the back of Sherlock’s neck, guiding his head back to John’s mouth, thrusting his tongue into Sherlock’s mouth. Sherlock moaned against John’s lips.

They were in Sherlock’s bedroom without noticing they had moved through the flat, leaving a trail of trousers and shirts and pants behind them. John pushed Sherlock back on the bed and Sherlock arched under him just as John’s mouth landed on his lower stomach. His tongue traced across his skin and Sherlock shuddered. John ran his tongue, slow and deliberate, up the length of Sherlock’s cock. Sherlock’s hands were laced in John’s hair and when John finally took him into his mouth, Sherlock pulled him closer and tightened his hands against his arse.

Sherlock wasn’t going to last much longer, and then his orgasm was just rolling through him, wave after wave, until there was nothing left.

Sherlock was dead, lost, limp and sprawled across the bed. John moved up to lie beside him and Sherlock tried to get to him, but John just leaned up on one elbow and took his own cock in his hand. John was panting, his hand moving in quick, slick movements, and then his panting turned to low, desperate groans and he came while Sherlock watched.

John kissed him again, softer and slower now, before pulling back and letting his head fall on Sherlock’s chest.

“I . . .” Sherlock started. He stopped and blinked. “I . . . you . . . I just . . .”

“I know,” John said, kissing him quiet.

Later they showered and went back to bed. John untangled the sheets and tugged them over them, and they fell asleep like that. When Sherlock woke a few hours later, John was looking at him in the dim light, gazing down at him like he was something new, like a gift he never expected.

Sherlock felt something settle in his chest, and he let out a breath of air he felt like he'd been holding in for decades. The past and future faded out of him and he was left with only this moment, this impossible moment.

 

Monday

 

It was John’s phone alarm, going off at six am in the pocket of a pair of trousers lying somewhere between the bedroom and the living room, that woke Sherlock the second time. He nudged John awake, then breathed a sigh of relief that he was still here. John groaned and slid out of bed. A long thirty seconds later, the alarm stopped.

John came back with a cup of tea and set it on the bedside table. “I’ve got a double shift at the clinic today so I’ll be late tonight.” He sat on the edge of the bed and laced up his shoes.

“Yes, fine.” Sherlock pulled the sheet up to his chest. He wasn’t sure what to do. What to say. Oh, he knew what he wanted to say. Don’t leave. You can’t leave. I don’t know how much time I have here. I love you. I’ve always loved you. Jesus, one night with John and he was a bloody schoolgirl.

“Okay, see you later.” John stood, leaned over and gave Sherlock a quick kiss. He looked at Sherlock and frowned. “What?”

“What?”

“You have that look.”

“What look?”

“Like your brain is on fire.”

Sherlock didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how to do this part. It wasn’t that he’d never had lovers in his long life. In fact, in his 50s, he had conducted an exhilarating month-long experiment in Barcelona . . . it was just that most never stayed. He preferred they slip away, lost in the darkness.

“Sherlock!” John stood with his hands on his hips. “I have to go.”

“Fine. Yes. Go.”

John sighed and turned to leave. “I’ll text you when I’m done.”

Sherlock watched him go. “John?”

John looked back from the doorway.

“It’s not an anomaly.”

John’s grin filled Sherlock’s chest for the rest of the day.

Sherlock spent the morning writing a detailed timeline of everything that happened between the explosion across the street and jumping from the roof. He added what he’d learned later about Moriarty’s assassins and where they were during that spring – this spring, he reminded himself. In Sherlock’s favour was Moriarty’s paranoid belief that he was surrounded by traitors and spies. Every soldier in Moriarty’s “army” in London knew as little as possible, and then only at the last possible moment.

Moriarty had enjoyed being the star of his own show. After the old woman was killed in the bomb blast, John had angrily shouted at Sherlock that he and Moriarty were two sides of the same coin. He wasn’t far wrong, was he? If John knew the things Sherlock had done during those two years away . . .

He felt a hand on his shoulder and he jumped. He looked up and Mrs. Hudson was standing beside his chair, a plate of ginger biscuits in one hand.

“I didn’t hear you come in,” he said.

“I thought you might need a break. I could hear you thinking all the way downstairs.”

He took a biscuit, closed his eyes and bit into it. It tasted heavenly. “Thank you.” He brushed crumbs from the front of his shirt. “I don’t think I ever said that enough.” It was strange to think he was now older than Mrs. Hudson.

“It’s fine, dear. More than fine, it sounds like.” She set the plate on the table, leaned over and kissed him lightly on his cheek. “Thin walls, I’m afraid.”

He coloured. “Sorry. I’ll try –”

“You’ll do no such thing.” She smiled and clasped her hands to her chest. “You’re never too old to enjoy a little romance.”
He wasn’t certain who she was referring to.

At three o’clock, he saved the file and shut the laptop. He needed some air – not all problems could be solved from the comfort of his chair. When he unconsciously whistled for Graham to follow him downstairs, he was glad he was alone. He bought a coffee and an apple at Speedy’s, headed to the corner and turned left.

Two hours later, he was standing across the street from the staff entrance at Barts. He leaned against the stone wall of the car park, smoking a cigarette and checking his phone. At six, Molly walked out, buttoning up her jacket, an oversize purse slung over her shoulder. No sign of Moriarty. She walked to the bus stop, checked her watch, then looked down the street to see if the bus was coming.

As the bus turned onto King Edward Street, a man hurried out the door of Barts and sprinted to the bus stop. Molly smiled and smoothed her hair as she watched him approach. He had time for a quick kiss before they boarded the bus together.

Moriarty.

He felt sucker-punched. He leaned forward, hands pressed flat against his thighs. He was trying hard not to feel like he was being crushed from the inside, trying hard to remember how to breathe.

It was now, it was forty years ago.

Events were falling out of sync.

"For a heart attack, it didn’t hurt that much,” John said, lying pale and eerily still in his hospital bed, the blue gown matching the colour of the veins in his arms. Rosie was trying her best not to cry, and Sherlock was trying with everything in him not to break down and tell John yes, it hurt, it hurt worse than he could have ever imagined.

"Of course we can buy the cottage,” John said, his arm wrapped around Sherlock’s chest as they fell asleep, his breath falling feather light across his cheek.

"You were the best and wisest man I have ever known,” John said, as the timer counted down and Sherlock was dismayed that the suffocating sense of failure felt so familiar to him, felt so much like coming home.

"Maybe we should just get married,” John said, and a key turned in Sherlock’s heart, simple and quiet and sure.

Sherlock took a taxi home, stopping under Vauxhall Bridge to set things in motion. He was dismayed to find that no one had ever heard of Freddy the Torch, but he found three familiar faces he could trust. He realised he was running against an unseen clock of his own making. Each step smudged his past – the present – which would in turn fuck up the future. Or would it? He opened the window and let the smells of London refocus his resolve. It all hinged on one fact. One string to be unraveled so it all could be set right.

The lights were on in 221B and he slowly pushed the door open. John sat in his chair, laptop balanced on his lap, sipping a whisky. Sherlock’s heart took an extra beat as John turned toward him, smiling.

Sherlock turned away, trying not to leap over all obstacles to John’s chair and unwound his scarf instead. “No one in need of a doctor today?”

John stood and walked toward Sherlock. “It was quiet.” He leaned up and kissed Sherlock lightly on the mouth and then stepped back. “This okay?”

Sherlock’s answer was to pull him closer. The laptop slipped from John’s grasp and they both reached down to steady it. Sherlock took it and set it on the coffee table and turned back to John. “Always okay, John. Always.”

John took Sherlock’s hand and led him into the kitchen. “Whisky or tea?”

Sherlock was too busy marveling at the fact that holding John’s hand was making him very hard.

“Sherlock.” John let go of his hand and ran his hand down Sherlock’s chest. “You in there?”

Sherlock grasped John’s hand tight to his chest. “Whisky, please.”

John turned and poured the whisky and Sherlock walked back into the living room and took off his coat. They met again at their chairs and Sherlock made a mental note to remember this moment as the most perfect one. Of both his lives.

John crossed his leg and looked at Sherlock. “You seem mellow. Off one-upping Lestrade again?”

Sherlock took a drink. “Hardly need to leave the flat for that anymore.” He stared at John over his glass. “Admit it. You came home because you missed me.”

John’s face turned red and he stared at something above Sherlock’s head. “It was slow.”

“You mentioned that.”

“And I was . . . preoccupied.”

“With?”

John sighed. “What do you think? Last night was . . .”

“Brilliant?”

John smiled. “Different.”

Sherlock sputtered. “Different?”

John leaned forward and ran a hand up Sherlock’s thigh. “You deserved that.” He set his whisky glass down and moved between Sherlock’s legs. “And I deserve this.”

John reached up to Sherlock’s trousers, pulling his shirt out, running a hand up his chest. Sherlock took in a breath. John unfastened buttons, unzipped zippers, touching, massaging, watching Sherlock’s face between moves. When John had Sherlock’s nipple in his mouth, and his hand around Sherlock’s cock, Sherlock amended his last thought. This moment. This was the perfect one.

 

They ordered again from Ajit Palace. The delivery man was smiling as he handed John the bags. “You must really like curry.”

John’s phone rang while they were eating. He glanced at the number and shut it off. “Sarah,” he said. “I broke it off with her today.”

“Ah.”

“She asked if you and I were – well, you know. It seemed important to her, for some reason . . .” He looked up at Sherlock. “You don’t give a shite, do you?”

“God, no.” He remembered that John didn’t find out about the explosion until the next morning because he’d spent the night at Sarah’s. That clearly wasn’t going to happen this time. He only hoped that particular sequence of events didn’t matter, but he couldn’t be sure. The absence of Freddy the Torch proved that.

Sherlock did the washing up while John wrote up case notes from the clinic on his laptop. After he was done, he made tea for John and brought it out to him.

“What’s this?” John asked, looking surprised.

“You always have tea after a curry.”

“Do I?” He took a sip.

They talked for the next few minutes – about how Mrs. Hudson’s Bakewell tarts would fare on The Great British Bake Off and a cold case file Lestrade asked Sherlock to look at. All the while, Sherlock did his best not to touch the dusk-coloured mark on John’s neck, just above his collarbone.

John finished the tea and yawned. He stood and stretched, “I don’t know why I’m suddenly so sleepy.”

“Long day,” Sherlock offered, feeling a twinge of guilt.

He shrugged. “I guess. I’m going to lie down for a bit.” He sat on the sofa and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. He lay back and was asleep a few moments later.

Sherlock waited a few minutes to be sure. He reread the texts before deleting them and retrieved the cigar box from the back of the wardrobe. He checked on John one more time, grabbed his coat and scarf and ran downstairs to hail a cab.

 

Tuesday

 

Sherlock woke up slowly. His head felt messy with fragments of dreams and memories, past and future, ricocheting through his head. The other side of the bed was empty and he couldn’t remember if John had ever come to bed. He rolled into a sitting position. His head was throbbing and his neck was stiff.

He stepped into the shower. He turned his face up into the spray and when the water hit his eyelids he saw a picture, a freeze-frame of Moriarty’s face, his eyes widened in surprise.

John was in the kitchen when Sherlock came in. He was staring into his cup, his elbow on the table and his hand in his hair. The newspaper was open and lying on the table in front of him. Sherlock cleared his throat and John jerked his head up and looked at Sherlock with surprise and something else? Anger?

“Is there more tea?” Sherlock asked carefully.

“On the counter.”

Sherlock poured a cup and took it to the table. He moved aside the newspaper to make room and saw the cigar box lying open underneath. He closed it quickly and set it on the counter behind him.

John reached in his pocket and threw the bag of cocaine on the table. “You said you weren’t using.”

“I’m not.”Sherlock wanted to reach out, touch John’s shoulder and curl his fingers in John’s jumper and tell him everything. “It’s old. I don’t know why I kept it.”

John opened and closed his hands carefully on the table. He looked up and met Sherlock’s eyes and Sherlock was suddenly afraid. “I’m not using,” he repeated.

“Don’t lie to me –” John shouted, his fist slamming into the table, almost splintering it. “You said things. Things I chose to believe . . .”

“Nothing happened, John,” Sherlock said.

John took a breath and looked up at Sherlock. “Something happened. You’re different. If it’s not drugs . . .”

Sherlock took a step toward him, but John held up a hand. “I swear to Christ, Sherlock. I can’t . . . I don’t want to . . .”

Sherlock took John’s hand and pulled it close to his chest. John struggled, but Sherlock held on. John gave a token shove and dropped his head against Sherlock’s chest.

“I’m not kidding,” John said. “I can’t do this. Like this.”

Sherlock felt his heart shred. He wanted to take John to bed and show him a thousand ways why he would never leave him. “I know,” he said.

John looked up at him. He ran his hand along Sherlock’s cheek. “You’re a fucking bastard.”

Sherlock frowned. “Why?”

“Because I don’t know what you’re up to and I know it’s all going to come crashing down around us and despite that, all I want to do is take you into the bedroom and fuck you for the rest of the day.” He leaned in and kissed Sherlock hard on the lips.

Sherlock wrapped his arms around John’s waist and the kiss deepened. He let himself be carried away, to the place where this was real and nothing mattered but John.

 

The shadows were long and low when Sherlock woke up in his new favourite position – naked and tangled in sheets. He reached over for John but the bed was empty. He felt a moment of panic until he heard noises from the kitchen and recognised the sounds of the toaster, the hiss of the kettle. He checked his phone. Four o’clock. A little more than two hours until he’d find out if what he’d done last night had made a difference. If there was a still an explosion, he’d have to start over, find another way.

“Sherlock, did you see this?” John asked as Sherlock came into the kitchen. He was sitting at the kitchen table eating tomato soup and toast and reading the news on his laptop.

Sherlock walked over to John and trailed wet kisses down his neck.

John shrugged him off and turned the laptop around to face Sherlock. “Read this.”

MAN’S BODY FOUND.

Police are investigating after the body of a man was found in a square just off Tottenham Court Road early this morning. He has been identified as James Moriarty, formerly of Dublin, Ireland. The cause of death has not been released, but police are treating the death as suspicious and are asking people who were in the area last night to contact them.

Investigating officer Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade from the major crime unit of New Scotland Yard said: “We would like to speak to anyone who had any connection with Mr. Moriarty in the days before his death, or who knows anything about his associations in London. If you know something or someone who could help, please do not hesitate to contact us."

Those with information are asked to call the non-emergency 101 number.

“His name was Moriarty. Do you think –” John said.

“It’s a common enough name,” Sherlock said casually. He took a bite of John’s toast.

“I suppose.” John didn’t look convinced. “Shouldn’t we talk to Lestrade?” He moved his plate away from Sherlock’s hand.

“And say what? We have no evidence linking Moriarty to anything. All we have is a name. If it really is his name.”

“I suppose.”

Sherlock’s phone vibrated on the table. He picked it up without looking at the number and walked toward the living room.

“You want a juicy one?”

Lestrade.

“Not today.” Sherlock looked over at John, who was engrossed in the article. “We’re busy.”

“Yeah, well, you won’t be after I tell you the weird part.”

Sherlock closed his eyes. “Busy. Don’t care.”

“Found a body this morning. Near Tottenham Court. Guess where he worked?”

“Tedious.”

“Barts. He worked at Barts.”

“Boring.”

“Yes, but guess who he was seeing?”

He knew the answer to this one. Molly. Poor sweet dumb Molly. Brilliant scientist Molly, but dumb about men Molly. She’d run the forensics lab at Barts for thirty years before finally retiring to Cardiff with her Welsh husband, who immediately left her for a tenor in the Castle choir.

“Molly Hooper. Our Molly Hooper. ”

Sherlock could hear the excitement in Lestrade’s voice. There was no way he was getting off the phone very soon.

“Yes, and . . .”

“You know it’s a real joy talking to you, Sherlock.”

Sherlock walked to the window. “Continue.” He stared at the flat across the street.

“We found a scrap of paper in his pocket that had the private number to the switchboard at Vauxhall Cross. And your brother’s name.”

He’d never sussed out just how early Mycroft had known about Moriarty. He didn’t want to know now.

Sherlock closed his eyes. I’m going to burn the heart out of you. “You still haven’t told me the weird part.”

“Really? MI6 and your brother’s name. And not a single working CCTV camera in a five street radius. I figure you’d be halfway to the Yard by now.”

“Well you figured wrong. Not interested.” Sherlock clicked off the phone and turned to see John staring at him.

“Was that Lestrade? Was he talking about Moriarty?”

Sherlock slipped his phone into his dressing gown. “I told him we were busy.” He walked back into the kitchen and closed John’s laptop. “I hope you won’t prove me a liar.”

John stood up from the table and stretched. “What did you have in mind?” he asked, smiling.

He took John’s hand and pulled him toward the bedroom.

 

At six, Sherlock was standing by the window, staring at the building across the street, while John watched the evening news on the telly. There was a brief mention of Moriarty’s murder near the end of the broadcast. Sherlock knew Lestrade would never solve this one.

When the news was over, Sherlock took his violin out of the case. He pulled up a chair in front of the window and folded himself into it, picking out short melodies, a little Saint-Saëns, a little Kreisler. His fingertips squeaked on the strings, and he closed his eyes. It had been a long time since he picked up the violin, the arthritis in his hands had made playing more painful than pleasurable.

He began the piece he wrote for John, his fingers moving blind and flawless over the strings. This John had never heard it, he’d written not long after John had moved to Sussex.

John turned off the television and listened.

"What was that? It’s beautiful," John asked when he was done, coming over and leaning his hands on the back of Sherlock’s chair. Sherlock played the first part again, feeling John's knuckles against his shoulder and watching his reflection in the window.

"Something I’m working on,” he lied.

“You should write it down, give it a name.”

I did. It’s called The Soldier.

“One day.”

 

By seven, with the building still intact, Sherlock had reason to hope his plan had worked. He wasn’t certain it would be enough, but it was something. He wanted to shift forward in time, just a week or so, so that he could see how it would all turn out.

He set the violin on the floor and stood in front of John.

John was speaking, but it was hard to hear what he was saying. Sherlock’s heart was hammering in his chest and he had the strange sense that he’d been cut adrift, lost between the past and the present, between the present and the future.

John was smiling at him, looking truly, deeply, happy and Sherlock thought it had been a lifetime since he’d seen John look quite like this. The tightness in his chest broke off and floated away.

“I love you,” he said to John.

John had no answer or maybe his answer was in his touch. He wrapped Sherlock in a hug, his skin warm and alive under Sherlock’s fingertips.

“Get your coat,” John said.

“Where are we going?”

“Angelo’s. I reckon it’s time we go on a real date.” He kissed him quickly. “Think of it as a do-over.”

Sherlock’s laugh reverberated down the stairwell.

 

Wednesday

 

When Sherlock woke up, the room was still half-dark and he was cold.

He was confused for a moment, thinking disjointedly that he shouldn't be cold; there was a good reason why he shouldn't be cold. Then he realized that there were no blankets, and he remembered tossing the covers away, saying to John, "Who needs blankets, you're basically a space heater," as he lay back down, curling around John, both of them warm and sweat-slick. “Call in sick again tomorrow,” he’d whispered in John’s ear before falling back to sleep.

But now John was gone. He sat up and for half a second hope surged through him, his eyes flying to the bathroom, begging silently for the light to be on, for the sound of running water, for John to emerge, and smile at him, crawl back into bed, and chase the cold away. But all he heard were birds, the creak from the bathroom pipes and the soft whistle of Graham’s snoring. He was back. To the future. Nothing looked changed in his room. The same furniture, the same cardigans, the same picture of the shore in Devon.

He dragged the covers off the floor, and twisted himself up in them, squeezing his eyes shut as tight as he could. He felt a fool for believing any of it had been real until the door flew open and John walked through the door, a cup of steaming tea in one hand, a newspaper in the other. The dog jumped off the bed and disappeared through the open door.

“I know you told me not to wake you, but this is worth it.” John tossed the paper toward Sherlock, who caught it without thinking. He pulled himself up onto an elbow and stared at John. Sherlock reached for his glasses that he knew by now would be on the bedside table.

Old John. Old John. White hair and beard. Smiling. Healthy. He looked so . . . beautiful. But what was he doing here?

Sherlock swallowed hard and tried to say something. This could not be a stroke. He could actually smell the tea. Earl Grey.

“Come on, Sherlock. Look at the bestseller list. The new one’s at number one.”

“What . . . who . . .” Sherlock sat up and tried to stand. His ankle buckled and he leaned against the bed.

John stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder. “You okay?” He reached by the bed and handed Sherlock his cane. “Pride goeth before a fall. Literally.”

Sherlock felt John’s hand through his pajamas. Warm. Real. He stared at John’s neck. Wrinkled, a bit of white chest hair peeking out from the top of his shirt. He sat back down.

“Oi, there.” John set his tea on the bedside table and took Sherlock’s chin in his hand, staring at his eyes. “Did you take your medication last night?” His other hand slid down and grasped Sherlock’s wrist. “Your heart is beating too fast.”

John was wearing a ring on his left hand. A simple gold band. Sherlock looked down at his own hand. He was wearing one too. He closed his eyes and the blurry images he’d seen before came into sharp focus, like a photograph in developing solution. Other images drifted away. He felt dizzy. He felt like he was dying. Maybe he was dying. Perfect.

He reached out and hung onto John’s shirt as wave after wave crashed against his brain, laying waste to his carefully constructed mind palace.

John on vacation in Tahiti, with the ocean at his back, squinting against a tropical sun. John staring up at him on the roof, begging him to not to jump. John walking out of the clinic, bottle of wine in his hand, smiling. John, typing furiously on his laptop, John running after him in the rain, John whispering I love you over and over, John asking him to be his best man, John asking him to marry him, John’s hands in the air as he shot Magnussen, John handing him thousands of cups of tea, John telling him he was moving to Sussex, John telling him he was the happiest man on the face of the earth, John laughing so hard his whole face was tomato-red, bent over, his arms around his stomach. John, stretching out his legs on the worn, faded blue carpet of their cottage, bare feet at the ends of his jeans, his toes curling. John, snow in his hair and melting on his eyelashes, his gloved hands forming an impossibly large snowball. John sliding a ring on Sherlock’s finger. John, lying on Sherlock’s bed, his hand wrapped around his own cock, his face flushed with arousal.

John, reaching out his hand as he tumbled into the darkness.

 

When he woke up, John was sitting on the edge of the bed, holding his hand, looking worried. “Sherlock?”

Sherlock felt like he’d been hit by a lorry while doing a gram of cocaine. He didn’t quite understand where he was. When he was. He closed his eyes again and felt John’s hand on his chest.

“Hey, you’re really worrying me now. I’m going to call Dr. Reynolds.”

Dr. Reynolds. Their doctor. In Sussex. He could feel the information in his mind palace shifting, reorganizing, rebooting. Suddenly there were entire files on Sussex, Dr. Reynolds, bees, John . . .

He’d done it. He felt his chest grow warm. He tried to remember something from the past. He saw 221B, decorated for Christmas, Mrs. Hudson dancing with Mycroft, John’s hand on his thigh . . .

I don’t deserve you, John. Yes, but I deserve you, Sherlock. Now marry me already.

A movement by the door caught his eye and he watched with surprise as Mrs. Hudson gave him a wink and quietly closed the door.

He looked back at John. “You’re hovering.”

“Yes, I tend to do that when you faint dead away at my feet.”

Sherlock pulled at John’s shirt. “I think I’d feel better if you kissed me.”

John looked surprised and then smiled. “Is that right?”

He leaned down and softly kissed Sherlock. Sherlock pulled John down on his chest, whispering, “See, I feel better already.”

John nudged Sherlock over and climbed into bed, turning on his side, an arm over Sherlock’s chest. “You’re an impossible child.”

Sherlock turned so they were face to face. “I am an impossible old man.”

“True, but you’re my impossible old man.” John kissed Sherlock, pulling him closer.

Sherlock slid his hand down John’s chest, reveling in the feel, the smell, the familiar of John. His John. This life. Their life. Together.

The last bit of fog in his brain lifted, trailing out the window, the leaves falling from the trees, skittering along the ground, swirling up again when they caught a gust of chilly air, settling back down on the grass, the garden, the hives.

 

It was autumn in Sussex and everything had changed.