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White Knight

Chapter Text

*

I remember how we danced
Through the towns on the Thames
For one little night I felt like
I could be made new again
And you stayed here with me
While I lost nearly everything
But "what do you really love?"
I heard you say

-Brian Fallon, "Watson"

*

There was a slushy grey mess in the road, and traffic moved slowly.

John shifted in the back seat of the taxi, unzipped his coat, leaned his head back against the seat. It was warm. The cabbie had the heat blasting, and that coupled with the jerking stop-start motion of the car in heavy traffic was vaguely nauseating.

Rosie, at least, seemed content to sleep through it. She was worn out, slumped sideways against the glass, cheeks flushed in the warm air.

It had been a good holiday. Better than he'd expected, in all honesty.

"Come out for Christmas?" Harry had asked a few weeks back, as they were ending one of their periodic, obligatory phone calls. She'd laughed a little, after she'd asked. It had been an odd laugh; dry, sardonic, as if she already knew his answer but felt compelled to go through the motions anyway.

She'd had a point, he knew. They were not close. He did not willingly seek out her company. Never had.

But that laugh, that mocking little laugh—

He'd found himself irritated at her, wanting to call her bluff. Wanting to prove her wrong.

"Yeah," he'd said. "Yeah, all right, we will."

There had been silence on Harry's end, and that silence told him he'd read the situation correctly, that she had not expected him to say yes, had not even expected him to give the idea serious consideration.

"All right," she'd said, finally, and her voice had lost its sharp edge.

And he'd hung up and breathed out hard, suddenly relieved that he wouldn't need to go through the motions of decorating his quiet little house, putting up a tree, making a fuss about it for Rosie's sake. Christmas had rather lost its lustre, over the years.

He'd expected argument, or at least complaint, from Sherlock when he'd told him his plans. He'd received neither. Just a long, level, considering stare from across the room, and a quiet "yes, obviously."

"Obviously?" John had asked, with a half-incredulous laugh. He couldn't think of anything less obvious than a sudden desire to spend a week with his sister.

Sherlock had opened his mouth, and John had braced himself, had drawn up tense and rigid, expecting:

Yes, obviously, you've a small child and will feel the need to make the holidays special for her—though she's likely still too young to form any lasting memories—and yet the thought of festooning the house you shared with your dead wife is strangely abhorrent to you. You don't enjoy your sister's company, though you do feel a sense of obligation towards her, and it's likely that recent events have made you more open to mending fences, so to speak. People tend to choose holidays for that sort of thing, don't they? They find it—symbolic. Or something. So, there you have it. Obvious.

The sharp words had been quite clear in his head. John had ground his teeth, ready for it, waiting for Sherlock to say it. He'd waited and—

Nothing. Sherlock had said nothing. He'd nodded, made a small sound in the back of his throat, looked away.

The cutting voice in John's mind was his own. If those thoughts, if any of those thoughts had crossed Sherlock's mind, he'd not voiced them.

John wondered if, perhaps, Sherlock had a new perspective on the topic of estranged sisters. Though Harry, even if she'd occasionally wished him dead in her darkest moments, had certainly never tried to kill him.

So he'd gone. Spent a week out at Harry's place with Rosie. He'd surprised himself by having a nice time.

She'd been enamored of her niece, more so than he'd expected, really. She was sober, or, if not, she was doing a hell of a fantastic job at shamming it. They'd passed the week without engaging in the sort of mean-spirited sniping he'd grown accustomed to.

She hadn't mentioned Mary at all.

Harry had not attended his wedding, nor Mary's funeral. She seemed uncomfortable about it, as if she knew she'd committed some grave faux pas, and instead of attempting to rectify it had chosen to ignore it entirely.

He found, strangely, that he didn't mind.

He didn't much care what her reasons were for avoiding the subject. He'd been relieved not to have to discuss it, not to have to think about it. He'd done little else since it had happened, it seemed, had nearly torn down what remained of his entire world in a haze of guilt and anger.

It was good to forget, for a little while.

They'd got on well. She'd spoiled Rosie with far too many gifts. It had been nice, in a way, sharing space with another person again. There were quiet domestic sounds in the morning, none of the aching empty silences that haunted the halls of his own home.

And if he'd found himself frowning down at his phone in the evenings, checking for messages that never materialised, well . . . it was only because he'd been worried that Sherlock might find some reason to interrupt his holiday.

But that hadn't happened.

Instead there had been tea by the fire, and gifts under Harry's lopsided little tree, and several good photos of Rosie wide-eyed and smiling under the fairy lights. There had been careful, quiet evenings not talking about Mary, not talking about Clara, not talking about drinking or mistakes or disappointments or failures.

Quiet evenings not talking to Sherlock.

Harry had taken a job as a barista at a cute little coffee shop. She shared outrageous stories about customers that had John snorting with laughter and Rosie giggling at her exaggerated expressions and voices.

John had left his position at the surgery shortly after the explosion at Baker Street, after Sherrinford, after all that had happened with Sherlock and Eurus. The work had bored him to tears, and Mary had left behind a bank account with the kind of startling balance that made him wonder why either of them had ever been working there to begin with. There was Rosie to consider, Rosie who deserved so much more from him than he'd given her over the first year of her life.

And there were cases, of course—no amount of sensationalism or scandal surrounding Sherlock ever seemed enough to drive away clients.

"I've been back at Baker Street a lot lately," he'd told Harry, skirting entirely around the subject of Mary and money and jobs. "Cases, and—well. That sort of thing. It's been good. Yeah."

He did not mention the times he'd arrived at Baker Street and found the flat empty and quiet, Sherlock gone out without a word. The cases they worked together seemed only to be a matter of convenience—a client ringing the bell while John already happened to be there.

He didn't mention that, as much as things felt back to normal, it was a new sort of normal, and not one he was particularly contented with.

And he definitely did not mention that, lately, he'd been missing his old life terribly. That he sometimes woke in the morning in his empty bed in his too-quiet house and let himself imagine that none of it had happened, that he was still at the Baker Street flat in his old upstairs bedroom and Sherlock was downstairs setting something on fire in the kitchen.

There'd been no sense in his mentioning any of that. It would only bring down the mood. And he'd been having a lovely time, truly.

On Christmas Eve, he'd sent Sherlock a text. He had not received a response.

That had troubled him more than it should have.

Sherlock frequently lost himself in projects, neglected communication in favor of his work. It was far from the first time one of John's texts had gone unanswered.

Still—

Well. He worried. After everything, after all they had been through, he couldn't help but worry.

He'd texted again on Christmas morning, sent along a photo of Rosie chewing on the edge of a brightly wrapped gift. This time, the response was immediate.

Merry Christmas. SH

He'd waited, but that was all.

It had made him uneasy. Sherlock was usually far more loquacious. He tended to bombard John with stream of consciousness texts throughout the day. Instead, almost a full week had passed with nothing.

He'd spent the rest of Christmas day on edge. Had barely tasted the dinner Harry had prepared, had defaulted to terse replies to her hesitant inquiries. Rosie had picked up on his tension and had spent much of the day in ill temper, alternating between wailing and whimpering, thunderous tantrums followed by bouts of extreme clinginess, refusing to eat, impossible to soothe.

"Ah," Harry had said with a wry little smile. "After a week of being a perfect angel, I'm glad she chose to remind me why I never wanted to have kids."

She'd meant no ill will by the comment, but it had irritated him regardless, and he'd found himself suddenly quite eager to leave, relieved that he would only have to pass one more night until his scheduled departure.

He'd packed his bags. Finding himself on edge and unhappy with little to do, he'd unpacked them again and refolded all of his shirts. He'd slept poorly. Rosie fussed through the night in the little portable cot next to his bed in the guest room, did not settle for more than a half hour at a time.

He'd been unsure if she was disturbing his sleep, or if he was disturbing hers.

He woke early on Boxing Day, gathered his bag and Rosie's collection of gifts. Declined Harry's offer of breakfast, but accepted a mug of strong coffee. He'd hugged her goodbye, feeling a bit badly that he was ending a good week in such a sour state.

He'd taken the train back to London, laden down with bags and gifts and toddler, his back aching and his head pounding and a sick mounting sense of worry in his gut.

The taxi lurched and stuttered through traffic. John looked out the window, watched the slow creep of cars around him. Thought about his phone, dark and silent in his pocket.

A week. A full week gone by, with nothing more than that single, terse Merry Christmas.

Since he'd known Sherlock, there had been only three occasions where that length of time or more had passed without any communication between them.

The first time, he had been dead. The second two times, he'd been high.

John bounced his knee, stared out the window. It would have been easier to go home first, to unload his packages and unpack his bags, to settle Rosie before trying to make contact with Sherlock. But he'd given the cabbie the Baker Street address without hesitation.

They finally pulled up along the kerb, and John fumbled to pay. He zipped up Rosie's coat, left his own hanging open as he struggled out of the cab into the damp icy air.

He managed to unlock the door, stumbled inside, set his bags on the ground along the wall. He balanced Rosie on his hip and she fisted at the back of his shirt with her small hands, grumbling with discontent.

"I know," he murmured, pressed a kiss to the side of her head. "Just going to make sure everything's all right. Then we'll go home."

He went up the stairs, cautious, listening for anything amiss.

Rosie made a grumpy noise against his neck as they reached the landing, shifted uncomfortably in his arms.

He went through the door to the sitting room without knocking. Stopped. Stared.

Janine was on the sofa, mid-laugh, one hand pressed against her mouth. She was looking out across the room towards Sherlock's chair. Towards Sherlock, in his chair. Towards Sherlock, who was—who was smiling.

She turned towards the door, still laughing, as he came through. Her wide smile faltered a bit at the sight of him, and she cleared her throat, quieted. Across the room, Sherlock slipped from his chair, his face sobering. He disappeared into the kitchen without a word.

"John," Janine said, standing up. "Hi." She came towards him, hesitated for a moment before closing the distance.

He leaned in, uncomfortable. They exchanged a stiff, one-armed hug.

She pulled away quickly, barely brushing against him. Looked down, her gaze fixing on Rosie, who was studying her with a bewildered, scrunched face.

"Oh, is this the little one, then?" she asked.

"Yes," John said. He cleared his throat, looked at his daughter, smiled at her furrowed brow. "This is Rosamund. Well. Rosie."

Out of habit, he dipped the arm holding her slightly towards Janine. It had been his experience that most people, upon being presented with the most charming baby in the history of the world, immediately wanted to hold her.

"Oh," Janine said, recoiling slightly. She smiled, shook her head, let out a halting little laugh. "No, I'm not—I find children a bit scary, to be honest."

"Ah," he said. Stepped back.

"She's cute, though," Janine said. "Very."

"Yes," he agreed. "She—yes. She is."

The silence between them was strained. He glanced away, looked at the wall, pursed his lips.

"John," she said, hesitant.

He shook his head, feeling sorry but not quite sure why. He turned back towards her. "No, just—"

"I'm sorry about Mary," she said. She bit her lip.

"You don't need to—"

"I was angry," she said. She spoke quickly, but there was genuine warmth in her voice, real regret. "Of course I was—but I didn't want anything like that to—I didn't know what to think, when I heard. But I should have called. Or sent a bloody card, or—"

"It's—" John said.

"Don't. Don't let me off the hook. I should have called, John," she said. "I was a shite friend not to."

He looked at her helplessly. Somehow, thank you for your sympathy. In turn, I'm sorry my wife lied about her past and befriended you under false pretenses, then bashed you over the head and tried to murder your boss did not feel like an appropriate reply.

It was an uncharitable thought, however true. Though she had never once spoken of it, he'd got the sense that Mary had deeply regretted losing Janine's friendship.

"It was a difficult time," he hedged. That was—putting it mildly. But accurate.

"And how are you doing now?" she asked, lowering her voice a bit, looking from him to Rosie.

"Better," he said. And he mostly meant it. He cleared his throat. "And you?"

"Oh, I've been keeping busy," she said. There was a bit of mischief in her voice.

She shifted where she stood, and something glinted in the light. He glanced down, his gaze caught on the delicate band on her ring finger, the sparkle of diamond.

"Oh," he said, smiled. "Congratulations. I—" he hesitated, because her presence here in the flat, which had not made much sense to him moments earlier, now seemed to make even less sense. "I hope you're not here to have him investigated," he finished, breathing out an awkward laugh.

Her grin widened. "Not unless he's the one doing the investigating."

What?

He looked at her hand again. The stone gleamed prettily. Except he'd—he'd seen that ring before. He'd—

"A happy occasion, no doubt," Sherlock said, approaching from behind her, holding a bottle of champagne. "Care for a toast?"

There was a sick lurching in John's stomach, as if the ground had just fallen away beneath him. He looked from Janine's smiling face to Sherlock—Sherlock who had raised his brows and was staring at John with something approaching a challenge in those pale eyes.

He popped the cork. The sound was like a gunshot.

John clenched his hand. "Sherlock," he said. "Can I talk to you for a moment?"

"Yes?"

He pressed his lips together, breathed through his nose. Sherlock looked back at him, wide-eyed, innocent. The champagne bottle had begun to sweat in his hand, condensation running down the neck and beading up against his long fingers.

"Privately?" John said, forcing a hard smile.

"I'll pour," Janine said, plucking the bottle from Sherlock's hand and disappearing into the kitchen with a quick, indulgent smile in John's direction.

"Not fond of champagne?"

"Don't play stupid," John said. "It really doesn't suit you."

Rosie chose that moment to fuss against him, kicking her legs. She lifted her head from his shoulder and babbled at Sherlock, reached out a straining hand towards him.

"Not right now, sweetheart," John murmured against the side of her head, shifting her on his hip.

When he glanced back up, Sherlock was frowning, his brow creased. He'd clasped his hands behind his back and was studying John quite intently.

"What are you playing at?" John asked, finally, when it became apparent that Sherlock was not about to volunteer any information.

"I've no idea what you're talking about."

"Janine," John said. He flapped his hand. "The—engagement ring."

"Oh, that," Sherlock said, the furrow in his brow smoothing out. "Handy thing to have held onto, don't you think?"

"Handy." John cut himself off, not wanting to shout while holding Rosie. Already she had sensed his rising tension, was squirming in his arms, pushing against his chest. He lowered his voice. "What's this all about? You decided the last engagement ended too quickly? Time for another go?"

"Don't be ridiculous. It's for a case."

"Does she know it's for a case?"

"Of course!" Sherlock had the nerve to sound offended.

John stared at him, thought of the way he'd beamed that soppy, false smile into the security camera, the way he'd held up that ring and bit his lip like he was nervous. He thought of Janine, sleep-rumpled and clad in Sherlock's shirt, wearing an unashamed smile, moving around the flat like she lived there. Thought of Sherlock, still and pale on Magnussen's floor, blood seeping from a hole in his chest and that damned ring still in his pocket.

"What case?" John's face felt hot. He struggled to keep his voice down. "What case could possibly—?"

"Reginald Teller."

"Who?"

"Oh, John, surely you haven't forgotten already," Sherlock narrowed his eyes. He waited a moment, then let out an impatient huff. "The groom. Died from anaphylactic shock at his own wedding, halfway through the ceremony."

John frowned, thrown.

"For God's sake, it's not as if we've had a surplus of wedding murders," Sherlock said.

"I remember the case," he said, irritated now. "Yeah that—you took one look at the body, proclaimed it boring, and blamed the florist."

"To be fair, I also blamed the bride," Sherlock said, his nose wrinkled up. "Sloppy work on my part, won't happen again."

"Sherlock, that was four months ago."

"I've received new information."

"What new information?"

Sherlock huffed again, clearly already losing interest in the conversation. "Information that suggests I may have been hasty in my initial assessment."

He started to whirl away, hesitated. Spun back. Ducked down, locked eyes with Rosie, and offered her a sudden, genuinely terrifying smile.

She squealed with glee at the sight, twisted in John's arms, reached out again. He sighed, resigned, and handed her over.

"Creepy," he said. "You do know that's creepy, right? Next she'll be mimicking that face."

Sherlock settled her onto his hip without comment, continued his sweep through the flat as if he'd never been interrupted in the first place.

"Sherlock," John said, following. "What—"

"A serial killer, John!" Sherlock said, turning back. He looked pleased. Rosie, John noted, was smiling too. The effect was somewhat unsettling.

John shut his eyes, pinched his brow. He could hear Janine rustling about in the kitchen.

"Reginald Teller. It was anaphylactic shock," John said, after a long moment. "From the bouquet."

"Very good," Sherlock said, his voice dry. "You do remember."

John huffed, folded his arms across his chest. It had been one of the more chaotic crime scenes he'd seen. Guests milling about with cameras, a weeping bride, a shocked and stuttering vicar, and amidst it all the groom—sprawled face-up and gape-mouthed before the altar in his tuxedo, crushed flowers strewn in his wake.

Sherlock had taken a keen interest in the flattened bouquet, paying particular attention to the delicate yellow flowers woven in with the larger blooms.

"Ragwort," he'd announced, his expression at once bored and smug "It's a weed. Not common to bouquets. A bane to those who suffer from seasonal allergies—and I'd wager that the unfortunate Mr Teller did, indeed, have a severe reaction to the plant's pollen." He'd made a wide, sweeping gesture towards the corpse on the ground. "John?"

And John had taken his cue, had dutifully crouched down and examined the body, had confirmed that it looked like anaphylactic shock, and—

"Letting him in on our little secret, then, Sherl?" Janine's voice cut through his thoughts and he blinked away the memory, focusing on the present.

"Sorry," John said. "Secret?"

She smirked, pressed a champagne flute into his hand as she walked past. Her heels clicked on the wood floor.

"Secret?" John asked again. He followed Janine into the sitting room, stood behind her and looked up at the wall over the sofa, which had been plastered with photographs.

"Someone's been offing insufferable grooms," Janine said.

John frowned at the photographs. There was Reginald Teller, dead amongst his flowers. A smattering of photos from at least three other distinct crime scenes.

He looked over towards Sherlock. He'd shifted so that Rosie was facing away from the wall, was bouncing her absently on his hip. Mollified, John returned his attention to the photographs.

"Insufferable?" he asked.

"Four murders. Reginald Teller, four months ago. And—" Sherlock pointed. "—Vincent St Clair, one week ago. These two, Christopher Thomas and Winston Crane, happened last year. Cause of death was ruled accidental in all cases—"

"Could they have been?" John asked. "Accidental?"

"One groom dropping dead in the middle of speaking his vows is an accident," Sherlock said, and his lips were twitching, that unconscious little smile that he seemed unable to suppress when he was excited about a new case. "But four? No, four is a pattern."

John had to admit that was a fair point. "But the deaths all appeared accidental, yeah? No one was—I don't know. Stabbed with a salad fork?"

"St Clair nipped off to the gents immediately following his wedding ceremony, and was discovered half an hour later in the church basement at the foot of the stairs." Sherlock pointed at another photograph. "He'd suffered a broken neck, and displayed bruising consistent with a fall. Post-mortem blood testing revealed him to be quite inebriated—apparently he'd required a fair bit of liquid courage to go through with the ceremony—and the basement door was meant to have been locked. The bathroom was just down the hall, so naturally, Scotland Yard's finest assumed he'd simply opened the wrong door and—well." He smiled, a quick flash of teeth. "There was no suspicion of foul play."

"And Thomas and Crane?" John smiled, in spite of himself. Raised his brows. "Speared by a tossed bouquet? Tripped over a flower girl? Gluten in the gluten-free cake?"

"Peanuts."

"Sorry?"

"Not gluten. Winston Crane had a severe peanut allergy. By all accounts, very careful about it. His death was attributed to an unfortunate mix-up in the restaurant kitchen. There were two wedding celebrations occurring simultaneously. The wrong cake was served."

"Christ," John said, the smile fading from his face. "That's awful."

"Mm," Sherlock agreed noncommittally. "Though I imagine the restaurant will be relieved to know it was an intentional act and not, in fact, caused by their own negligence."

John pinched the bridge of his nose, looked back at the wall of photographs. His gaze fell on the last victim. "What about him, then?"

"Ah," Sherlock said, perking up. He gave Rosie an unconscious bounce on his hip, and she cooed against his shoulder. "Saved the best for last. Or, should I say, first."

"Sherlock."

"Christopher Thomas was the first victim," Sherlock said, toning down his interested good humour slightly. Only slightly. "Apparently there was a good deal of money tied up in the wedding. Something of a spectacle, by all accounts. He and his bride had arranged a photo opportunity on horseback following the ceremony. Witnesses claim there was a loud noise. His horse spooked, he was thrown. The whole thing was caught on camera."

"I assume you've watched the video," John said.

"Oh yes," Sherlock said. He gave a pleased bounce on the balls of his feet. Rosie made another happy cooing sound, settled more firmly in his arms.

John waited. When it became clear that Sherlock was going to make him ask, he rolled his eyes and huffed. "And?"

"The story checks out," Sherlock said. "Bride and groom on horseback, in full formal attire—begs the question of why, I suppose, but—"

"Sherlock."

"—but, as reported, there is indeed a noise, perhaps a car backfire. Difficult to say for sure without a detailed audio analysis. The horse spooks, Thomas hits the ground at a bad angle and rolls under the hooves, and suddenly it's not a wedding but a funeral."

"Right," John said, and looked down at the ground. He breathed through his nose for a moment, then lifted his head, met Sherlock's gaze. There was something strange in Sherlock's expression, something fleeting and uncomfortable. "So you're telling me that the video showed exactly what the police report said it did."

"Precisely."

"A tragic accident."

"Yes."

"But you think it's murder."

"Oh yes."

"Explain."

"I was so hoping you'd say that," Sherlock said. "If we go to the video—"

"No."

Sherlock stopped, the smile slipping from his face. "No?"

"No. I don't want to watch—" John breathed out, clenched his hand. "I don't want to see some poor bastard get his head kicked in on what's supposed to be the happiest day of his life."

"To be fair, he doesn't look entirely happy," Sherlock said. "In fact, he appeared quite nervous around the horse."

"With good reason, apparently."

"Well, yes." Sherlock hesitated, then ploughed on. "Except his bride is not discomposed at all. You can see in the video that she's quite comfortable on horseback. The noise spooks both horses, but she reacts instinctively, keeps her seat. He does not."

"So you think—what, exactly? That she planned this? You've already falsely accused one bride of murder, best not make it a pattern."

"No!" Sherlock said, his brow scrunching up in irritation. "I'm saying that, as with the other deaths, there was planning involved. Whoever did this had access to details about each couple, enough information to make a murder look plausibly like an accident."

"Including the fact that Christopher Thomas didn't like horses."

"And his wife did," Sherlock agreed, a smile pulling at the edge of his mouth again. His eyes gleamed with interest, that great mind cycling through endless variables, alive with possibilities. The sight made something in John's heart stutter.

It was contagious, that enthusiasm. It always had been, and it always would be. He could feel it in his veins, in his lungs. A siren call. The thrill of the chase.

"The victims are all white males between thirty and forty years of age. There are no obvious connections between them," Sherlock said.

"Except for the fact that they've all been described, by family and friends, as difficult," Janine added.

John twitched where he stood, suddenly feeling caught out, uncomfortable. He'd forgotten her entirely.

He tore his eyes away from Sherlock, looked at Janine. She smiled, took a sip of her champagne. Her ring sparkled.

"Ah," John said. He pinched at his brow again, shifted where he stood. Dragged his thoughts back to the case, back to what Sherlock had said. Thought about who might have it out for someone whose own grieving family and friends would label as difficult. "The waitstaff? Vendors?"

"Excellent, John, you're getting better at this."

"Sherl's got a list," Janine said.

"Oh, a list," John said, unable to keep the edge from creeping into his voice. "Let's have it then, Sherl."

"There are some overlaps," Sherlock said. He looked keyed up, enormously pleased with himself. "We'll be focusing on companies that provided services for all of the victims. You may remember, John, there are a lot people involved in creating that one perfect day."

John winced.

Sherlock cleared his throat, looked away. He seemed suddenly uncertain, regretful of hasty words in a way that he never used to be.

"I—" Sherlock said. "Not that—I mean—perhaps I shouldn't have—"

"So—" John interrupted, anxious to change the subject. He cleared his throat, looked at Janine. Found himself unable to look away from that ring on her finger. "You two—?"

"Obvious, isn't it?" Sherlock asked, seeming grateful for the change in subject. He walked over to stand next to Janine. He looked absurdly pleased with himself. "Pretend we're getting married, approach list of suspects in a nonthreatening way, find the killer. Shouldn't take long."

Janine smiled, looped her arm around his waist.

"And if—" John said, stopped. He looked at Sherlock, there with Rosie on one hip, Janine at his side. A proper family. "If it does? Take long?"

Janine laughed, a full, throaty sound. She glanced up at Sherlock and then over at John, her expression at once mischievous and mirthful. "If it does, then we'll have a wedding," she said. "Surely he'll have pissed off enough people by then that someone will try to kill him."

"Ah. So this case is going to have you acting like an arsehole to a bunch of strangers." He smiled tightly, looked back at the wall. "Business as usual, then, yeah?"

"Exactly," Sherlock said. It came out clipped, rushed, as if he were eager to return the conversation to familiar territory.

John's smile felt stiff and unnatural on his face. He could not quite bring himself to look back at where Sherlock and Janine were standing together.

"I will, of course, need your help."

John cleared his throat, squared his shoulders. Turned around. "Of course. What—"

"You'll need to put an engagement announcement on your blog."

It was like being hit with a bucket of ice water. "What?"

Sherlock huffed. "An engagement announcement, John. Use lots of exclamation points. That should indicate a certain level of enthusiasm."

"You want an engagement announcement. On my blog."

"Well, it's really my blog, isn't it?"

"Nope."

"It's a blog about me."

"It's my blog," John said. He pursed his lips, feeling wrong-footed, defensive. "I just write about you. Sometimes."

"All the time."

"Occasionally."

"Name an entry that isn't about me."

"Sherlock—"

"Boys," Janine said, smiling brightly. She squeezed Sherlock's arm. John found his attention caught by her fingernails, neat and squared at the edges and painted a vibrant red.

It reminded him, sharply, of Irene Adler, her red fingernails, and he pressed his lips together, forced himself not to look away.

"Can't you just tweet about it?" he snapped.

"Just did," Sherlock said, holding out his phone. "But there are certain expectations."

"Expectations."

"Expectations that you'll blog about any and all major events relating to me. It would seem suspicious if you didn't mention it. As the best man, of course."

"Best man," John said, trying hard not to feel like he'd been kicked in the stomach. "Right."

"John—"

"Look, I'll—fine. I'll do it. When I get home." John clenched his hand again, scowled. Looked up at the ceiling. "Which I should be doing. Now. We've had a long trip. Rosie's tired."

He gestured helplessly towards Rosie, who had fallen asleep against Sherlock's neck, her face slack and peaceful.

"Oh," Sherlock said, and there was a flicker of genuine surprise on his face, there and gone. "Of course. Right. Um—"

He shifted Rosie off of his shoulder, held her out towards John. She grumbled in sleepy protest, her eyes fluttering open to stare accusingly at him.

John took her, murmured an apology against her soft warm head. Did not meet Sherlock's eye.

"John—" Sherlock started.

"Congratulations," John said. It emerged sharp-edged, brittle. He tipped his glass in their direction. "To the happy couple."

He downed his champagne in one large swallow. It burned his throat. He put the empty glass down on the coffee table. Then he turned and made his way back down the stairs. He did not look back.