It had been an absolutely faultless day: the sun was shining, the ceremony had gone off without a hitch, and the reception venue looked stunning. Sherlock had micromanaged this wedding, and his customary epicurean tastes shone through, in each piece of perfectly placed silverware and cut glass crystal, in the Michelin star worthy food, and in the impeccable clothing choices.
Sherlock had outdone himself, yet John could not find it in himself to be truly satisfied.
They sat on the top table, Sherlock to his left, Mary to his right, making their way through their dessert; a delectable concoction of meringue and fruit, with a French name John had no hope of pronouncing. He was strangely touched that Sherlock had remembered his fondness for meringue.
Mary looked beautiful in her cream, lace gown, hair artfully styled using so much hairspray, John is concerned about any naked flames.
John had been unnaturally nervous delivering his vows, considering he had never before had a problem speaking in public. When the Vicar ask if any persons present knew of any lawful impediment to the marriage, John half expected Sherlock to interrupt, to ruin this relationship as he had with all of his others. Did part of him actually want him to? Was he getting cold feet at this late stage?
John tried to lose himself in his wife’s radiant smile as she pledged herself to him, and if his eyes flicked to Sherlock’s before he said “I do”, he’s sure nobody noticed.
Now that the ceremony was over, the meal almost finished, John’s mind kept returning to the expression of pain and sadness he had seen etched on his friend’s visage.
‘John? You’re awfully quiet’, Sherlock leans over and whispers to him.
John almost jumps, realising he’s been caught lost in his mind, ‘Just… the first dance, you know? A little nervous.’
‘Now, come on, John. You’ve improved significantly over the course of our lessons. Almost a natural now’, the younger man smirks.
‘Prat’, John mutters as he rolls his eyes, but Sherlock doesn’t hear him.
‘You taught John how to dance?!’ Janine’s Irish lilt has a playfulness to it, ‘You’ll have to give me more details later, Sherl.’
The chatter in the hall continues around them as the desserts are finished and more wine is consumed, and before long, the tinkling of a fork against the side of a glass, breaks through John’s reverie.
‘Pray silence for the best man.’
Sherlock stands, not a curl out of place, straightening the jacket of his suit. As usual, he looks flawless, which annoys John somewhat, considering their outfits are identical. The groom shouldn’t be shown up by his tall, dark, handsome best man.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, and… erm… others.’
Sherlock uncharacteristically stumbles over his words, as he observes all of the gazes turned on him. Feeling placed under a microscope, he freezes; the enormity of what he is doing, suddenly dawning on him. His mind goes back to the day John had asked him to fulfil this role. He had called him his best friend. And today he was losing him for good.
The faces of those around them – Mrs. Hudson, Molly, Greg – reflect a certain resigned acceptance. Though they would never admit it, they had all expected Sherlock to fall at the first hurdle. A best man speech needed humour and kindness, and those were really not Sherlock’s area of expertise.
John, beside him, is somewhat concerned by the silence, but never for a moment doubts that Sherlock can pull this off with the same panache he has managed the rest of the wedding. Sometimes his friend just needs rebooting.
He leans over and whispers, ‘Telegrams’.
Sherlock jolts out of his mind palace, picking up the cards from the table in front of him. ‘First things first. Telegrams.’
‘Well they’re not actually telegrams, we just call them that. I don’t know why. Wedding tradition… because we don’t have enough of that already.’
Mary frowns, and her husband takes her hand, reassuring silently. Possibly reassuring himself too.
‘To Mr. and Mrs Watson. So sorry I’m unable to be with you on your special day. Good luck and best wishes, Mike Stamford.’
‘Ah, Mike’, John smiles.
Sherlock continues to read the messages from absent friends, and John sniggers with Mary as Sherlock says the words “cuddles” and “poppet”, words he had probably never said before in his life. John feels such affection for the man, for the fact that he is doing something so far out of his comfort zone, just to please his friend.
‘… oodles of love and heaps of good wishes, from CAM. Wish your family could have seen this.’
John feels Mary tense beside him and he sees the smile drop from her face. Squeezing her hand in comfort, he resolves to ask her about it later, knowing very little about her family or friends from her past. She smiles at him again, and he turns his attention back to Sherlock, who is now skipping over the telegrams with disgust and throwing them on the table.
‘People are basically fond.’
This draws a nervous laughter from the guests, and Sherlock takes a deep breath in, calming himself, the fingers of his left hand tapping nervously against his leg.
‘John Watson.’ Sherlock lays his hand on John’s shoulder and looks down at him, earning him an award-winning smile from the groom. ‘My friend, John Watson. John.’
‘When John first broached the subject of being best man, I was confused. I confess at first I didn’t realise he was asking me. When finally I understood, I expressed to him that I was both flattered and… surprised. I explained to him that I’d never expected this request, and I was a little daunted in the face of it.’
John is perplexed, trying to remember the conversation as his friend was describing it, but he only remembers Sherlock staring blankly at him for ten minutes.
‘I nonetheless promised that I would do my very best to accomplish a task which was, for me, as demanding and difficult as any I had ever contemplated. Additionally, I thanked him for the trust he’d placed in me, and indicated that I was, in some ways, very close to being… moved by it.’
‘It later transpired that I had said none of this out loud.’
John huffs out a laugh, relieved that he hadn’t imagined the whole thing, and the other guests visibly relax at the humour.
Sherlock takes his speech from his jacket pocket and begins discarding cards while muttering to himself, before finally deciding where to start.
‘I’m afraid, John, I can’t congratulate you. All emotions, and in particular love, stand opposed to the pure, cold reason I hold above all things. A wedding is, in my considered opinion, nothing short of a celebration of all that is false and specious and irrational and sentimental in this ailing and morally compromised world. Today we honour the death-watch beetle that is the doom of our society, and in time, one feels certain, our entire species.’
The room is deathly silent, Molly looks horrified, and even John is beginning to wonder if this was a good idea. Someone coughs, and Sherlock blinks as if he’s just waking up.
‘But anyway… let’s talk about John.’
‘Please’, he smiles nervously at Mary.
‘If I burden myself with a little help-mate during my adventures, it is not out of sentiment or caprice, it is that he has many fine qualities of his own that he has overlooked in his obsession with me.’
Greg snorts a laugh so loud, both John and Sherlock glare at him.
‘Indeed, any reputation I have for mental acuity and sharpness comes, in truth, from the extraordinary contrast John so selflessly provides. It is a fact, I believe, that brides tend to favour exceptionally plain bridesmaids for their big day. There is a certain analogy there, I feel, and contrast is, after all, God’s own plan to enhance the beauty of his creation…’
The vicar smiles at Sherlock, proudly.
‘… or it would be if God were not a ludicrous fantasy designed to provide a career opportunity for the family idiot.’
As the smile falls from the Vicar’s face, John is really starting to worry that he, and some of the other guests, might get up and leave. He’s considering signalling someone to cut Sherlock off, but he still has a little faith in his friend. He tries to ignore Mary not so subtly kicking him under the table.
‘The point I’m trying to make is that I am the most unpleasant, rude, ignorant and all-round obnoxious arsehole that anyone could possibly have the misfortune to meet. I am dismissive of the virtuous...’ he nods towards the vicar, ‘… unaware of the beautiful...’ a slight smile for Janine, ‘… and uncomprehending in the face of the happy. So if I didn’t understand I was being asked to be best man, it is because I never expected to be anybody’s best friend.’
Molly and Greg share a long glance, filled with sadness for the man who never had anyone by his side.
‘Certainly not the best friend of the bravest and kindest and wisest human being I have ever had the good fortune of knowing.’
Mary is beaming now, the guests are smiling, and John clears his throat, feeling the tears prickling at the back of his eyes.
‘John, I am a ridiculous man...’ John nods and chuckles in agreement, ‘... redeemed only by the warmth and constancy of your friendship. But, as I’m apparently your best friend, I cannot congratulate you on your choice of companion’, he looks down at them and smiles softly, ‘Actually, now I can.’
Sherlock’s voice sounds somewhat constricted, and his own eyes are starting to sting.
‘Mary, when I say you deserve this man, it is the highest compliment of which I am capable. John, you have endured war, and injury, and tragic loss… so sorry again about that last one… so know this; today you sit between the woman you have made your wife and the man you have saved, in short, the two people who love you most in all this world. And I know I speak for Mary as well when I say we will never let you down, and we have a lifetime ahead to prove that.’
There’s a murmur of positive comments, and even some soft crying, coming from around the room. John leans into Mary’s touch, moisture clouding his vision and giving his denim blue eyes an oceanic quality.
It suddenly hits him like a sledgehammer; the depth of the emotion in those words, the love which he never would have dared to hope for, the realisation that Sherlock’s feelings for him may be less than platonic. Because, this isn’t a best man speech – these are vows!
‘If I try and hug him, stop me.’
Sherlock attempts to move on with his speech, oblivious to the crisis going on beside him, but he pauses when he realises every guest is crying.
‘What’s wrong? What happened? Why are you all doing that?’
Greg and Molly smile so proudly at him, and Mrs. Hudson weeps even more, ‘Oh, Sherlock.’
Sherlock turns to John, confusion and concern flooding his verdigris eyes, ‘Did I do it wrong?’
John glances up at him, and quickly away again, unable to fight the feelings that the look on his friend’s face conjure inside him. Within a beat, he’s standing up, ‘No, you didn’t. Come here.’
The room cheers and claps as John pulls Sherlock into a tight hug, pushing his face into the taller man’s neck and inhaling his scent; tears threatening to spill over onto his shoulder. Sherlock tentatively lays a hand on his waist, still nervous that he has made a mistake, and John has never felt more content with someone in his arms; and isn’t that a thing? He has to remind himself that this isn’t the person he just married.
The hug may have gone on for a longer than acceptable amount of time, and as John begins to pull away, Sherlock immediately continues.
‘Now, onto some –’
‘I can’t’, John sobs, beginning to lose the battle with his self-control. He can feel each and every gaze directed at him, as his eyes roam around the room, looking somewhat like a deer in the headlights, before finally falling on his wife.
‘I’m sorry… I just can’t.’
He all but runs to the patio doors on the right-hand side of the room, throwing them open in his haste to get outside. He needs air; can’t breathe. His vision is fading.
Both Mary and Sherlock are frozen in place, staring at the door John has left through. Before either of them have a chance to move, Greg jumps from his seat and calls to them, ‘I’ll go. Both of you stay here.’
Molly and Mrs. Hudson share a look, concerned, yet seemingly more aware of what has transpired than any of the other guests. Sherlock is flicking back and forth between Mary and Janine, waiting for one of them to tell him what was going on. One minute John was hugging him, and the next…
Mary doesn’t speak to anyone, keeping her head down and refusing to meet Sherlock’s gaze.
Greg finds John learning heavily against a large oak tree in the grounds, hands on his knees, taking deep gulping breaths.
‘John? What the hell happened in there?’
John looks up into Greg’s concerned eyes and, as if he is Sherlock Holmes himself, the detective can read everything in his friend’s expression.
‘Jesus Christ.’ Greg puts his head in his hands.
‘Today of all days! After all these years.’
‘I bloody know, Greg! Hang on… What do you mean, “after all these years”?’
‘Mate… did you think we didn’t know?’
John is stopped from answering when he sees a movement in his peripheral vision. Sherlock is heading towards them, cautiously, unsure if he is welcome. Greg signals him with a tilt of his head and turns back to John.
‘I’ll leave you to it… Good luck.’
He clasps Sherlock’s shoulder in what he hopes is a comforting gesture, as he walks back into the hall.
Sherlock stands in front of John, who has straightened up but is still leaning most of his weight onto the tree behind.
‘John. Did I…?’
‘You didn’t do anything wrong, Sherlock. It was perfect.’
‘Then, I don’t understand?’
John turns away from his friend, nervously pacing two laps around the tree, before resting his head against it. His voice is muffled when he speaks again.
‘It’s you, Sherlock… It’s always been you.' Blood rushes to his face in embarrassment as he looks at his best man, 'You keep me right.'
‘I...’ Sherlock is chewing his plump bottom lip anxiously, and John finds he can’t take his eyes off it.
‘What you said in there, did you mean it? Because, Sherlock, there was more love in your words than in anything Mary and I said to each other today.’
Sherlock’s heart rate increases as he starts to panic. It seems that even with Lestrade’s help to “tone down” his words, he had still managed to allow his true feelings to seep through. If there was ever a time for him to know the answer to a puzzle; this is that time. He has no idea what the correct answer to John’s question is, but he’s so tired. Hiding his feelings, playing the best friend, the best man, befriending the woman who has taken away the only person he has ever loved… it’s been exhausting, and he finds he can’t lie any more.
‘John. I have loved you for longer than I can ever possibly articulate.’
With those words, John’s legs go weak and he’s thankful that Sherlock catches him before him crumples to the ground. He’s never before been bowled over by a declaration of love, and he’s the man who has just become a husband! He loves Mary, of course he does, but that love is a pale shadow hidden behind Sherlock’s bright light.
‘You could have said something before I got married’, John says with a wry laugh.
‘You could have said something before I jumped off a roof!’ Sherlock scoffs.
‘Would it have made a difference?’
Sherlock doesn’t answer; he doesn’t need to. John knows why he did it, and he surely knows that if they had been more, he would have only had more incentive to keep his partner safe. They say actions speak louder than words, so Sherlock leans down (John really is too short), and kisses the doctor with all the longing he has hidden away for years.
The kiss is deep and slow and more passionate than anything John has ever experienced. When they eventually part for air, they are smiling giddily at each other. John should feel guilty, but he’s the happiest he has ever been.
Sherlock slowly pulls the ring from John’s left hand, and pockets it.
‘I’ll replace it with one of my own, one day.’
‘Really? You would do that?’
‘I think I would do almost anything to make you happy, John.’
John smile is so wide it hurts, yet he cannot begin to care. ‘Will you clean out the fridge?’
Sherlock laughs, ‘I said almost anything.’
‘You’re a cock. You know, things are going to have to change if I’m moving back in.’
‘No, they aren’t. You’ll move back anyway.’
‘Yeah, I will. After everything we’ve been through, all I know is I want to spend every last minute of my life with you. Does that make me crazy?’
They are still holding each other when they see Mary hovering near the double doors, though they are unaware of how much she has seen. When she notices that they’ve seen her, she’s disappears back into the hall.
John watches her go, ‘How am I going to tell her?’
‘We’ll do it together.’
Sherlock reaches out and takes John’s hand, pulling him closer.
‘Just the two of us…’
‘… Against the rest of the world.’