John opened his eyes.
The sun had not yet started to creep over the horizon. The room was dark and still.
He was warm. Too warm. He was on his stomach, blankets twisted and tangled around his legs. His arm was draped across Sherlock's chest, his skin sweaty and slick where they were pressed together.
He smiled down into the bedding.
Sherlock's chest rose and fell beneath his arm. They were steady, even breaths, but shallow.
He was awake.
John shifted, stretched. Lifted his arm away from Sherlock's body and savoured the draught of cooler air against overheated skin. Rolled onto his side and tipped his head up to get a look at Sherlock's face.
Sherlock's eyes were open. He looked as if he had been awake for some time.
"Hi," John said.
Sherlock wrinkled his nose, said nothing.
John scrubbed a hand over his face, yawned. "What time is it?"
"Just past four."
"Mm," John said. He hesitated for a moment, not entirely sure what to make of Sherlock's quiet tone. "You're awake."
"Well observed," Sherlock said.
John huffed a small laugh. "Did you sleep at all?"
Sherlock was silent for a long moment. John listened to his breathing in the dark.
"I've been—" Sherlock said.
John waited, but he said nothing more. Outside, a lorry rumbled past.
"—thinking," Sherlock said, finally.
John frowned, the last vestiges of sleep falling away. He propped himself up on his elbow, studied Sherlock's profile in the shadows.
Sherlock did not answer. Just went on looking at him, pale eyes gleaming.
"Are you all right?" John asked, worried now.
"Go back to sleep," Sherlock said. A small smile curved at the corner of his mouth, softening the dismissal.
John hesitated, then leaned forward to brush his lips against that smile.
Sherlock sighed, shifted back against the pillows. When John pulled back he was still smiling faintly, and his eyes were closed.
John slid a little closer, ignoring his vague misgivings. He let his arm drape back across Sherlock's chest, burrowed his face into his pillow. Sherlock's skin was still very warm. He did not move away.
When John opened his eyes again, the sun was up and Sherlock was gone.
He sat up, uneasy. The sheets next to him had long gone cool.
He stood, looked for his clothes. His wedding suit was on the ground, twisted and crumpled.
He sighed, scrubbed his hands over his face.
Opting for a pair of Sherlock's pyjama bottoms seemed—oddly intrusive, too intimate given the unsettled feeling in the pit of his stomach. He settled for attempting to salvage the tuxedo trousers, hopelessly creased as they were, and a white t-shirt.
He shook out the jacket and the dress shirt and left them draped across the bed, made his way downstairs in bare feet.
Sherlock was in the kitchen, microscope in front of him. He did not look up as John entered.
John stood for a moment, studying his back. He was in pyjamas and a dressing gown. That, he thought, could be a good sign. Or a bad sign. Who knew, really.
He weighed his options, the seconds ticking by. Sherlock did not acknowledge his presence, though he surely had noticed him by now.
"Good morning," he said, finally.
Sherlock turned around. His gaze swept up and down, and John found himself wondering what Sherlock made of his decision to wear his wrinkled trousers. Sherlock's face gave nothing away.
"They went to university together," Sherlock said.
John blinked. "Sorry?"
"Pete," Sherlock said, "and Christine Thomas. An acquaintance set them up on a blind date, but she felt they didn't really click—" he brought his hands up and made exaggerated air quotes, "—and should remain friends. Apparently he'd carried a torch for years."
"Ah," John said.
"Lestrade rang about an hour ago with updates."
"Right," John said. He swallowed, looked down at the ground, at his own feet against the lino. Thought about the expression on Pete's face that night in the studio. He thought it might be a long time before he got that look out of his head. "Tea?"
"Okay," he said, grateful for something to do with his hands. He went to the counter, filled the kettle.
"You were right about the rest."
John turned around, surprised. Sherlock had lifted his head, was studying him from across the kitchen table.
"He encountered Robert and Winston Crane at the bakery, purely by chance. Stopped in for a croissant, overheard their argument and felt—compelled to intervene."
John rubbed at the back of his neck, leaned against the counter.
"Jennie Teller shared a drink and a dance with a handsome man at her hen party. He was all too keen to hear about her fiancé's failings, and she was all too keen to tell him." Sherlock folded his hands under his chin, went on watching John with sharp eyes. "And Olivia St Clair—"
"The dance lessons."
"Precisely. She'd booked a class at Pete's studio. Apparently her fiancé found the idea disagreeable and insisted she cancel, so she did."
"And for that, he had to die," John said. He thought of the messages he'd exchanged with Olivia St Clair, the bleak despair in her correspondence. He wondered if the news of Pete's arrest would bring her peace or further anguish.
The kettle clicked off.
John turned away, unsettled by Sherlock's unwavering gaze. He poured the tea, taking his time. When he finally turned back, Sherlock had returned his attention to the microscope. John stepped forward, set a mug on the table next to his hand.
"Thank you," Sherlock said.
John nodded, picked up his own mug. Leaned back against the counter.
"I need to pick up Rosie by noon," he said. He ought to go home first, have a proper shower and change his clothes. He ought to call Harry, too. She'd have seen the news coverage of the arrest by now and would undoubtedly want to shout at him a bit.
Sherlock's breath caught, but he said nothing.
John took a sip of his tea, swallowed hard.
Sherlock's bedroom door creaked open. John straightened up, set his mug on the counter.
Janine came down the hall, pulling a wheeled suitcase. She left it by the door, came back into the kitchen. Stood smiling with her arms folded.
"Well," she said, after a moment. "I'm off, then."
"Oh," John said, when it appeared that Sherlock would not be responding. "Well—it's—been fun."
She raised her brows.
He cleared his throat. "Off to—Majorca, was it?"
Her smile widened. "Don't suppose I could interest either one of you in my extra ticket?"
"No," John said, too quickly. He laughed at himself, looked up at the ceiling. "No, I think—I'm fine right here."
"Yeah." She winked at him. "I think you are."
"Thank you for your assistance," Sherlock said, not looking up from the microscope.
"Oh, no," she said, shaking her head. She went over to the table, right up close. "Thank you, Sherl."
She bent, kissed him on the cheek. He sat quite still, endured it without complaint.
John looked away.
"And thanks for the kitchen," she said, straightening up.
Sherlock scoffed. "Sell the cottage, your talents are wasted in Sussex Downs."
"Oh? And what should I be doing, then? Solving crimes? Doesn't look like you've got a vacancy."
Sherlock wrinkled his nose. "God no. You're terrible at this. You nearly invited a serial killer on holiday."
"Shut up," she said. "It's not like you did much better."
"No," Sherlock said, throwing a searching gaze in John's direction. "Not this time."
John cleared his throat. "Well. Erm. If you're ever back in London—"
"I'll be sure to pop in for a visit," she said. She smiled, a crooked smile, genuine and appealing. "Though maybe I'll arrange for a hotel next time."
"That would be best," Sherlock said. "You're utterly appalling to live with."
There was an odd affection in Sherlock's sharp tone that seemed to imply he thought quite the opposite.
John felt a pang as he thought about it, about the weeks and months that Janine had resided at Baker Street. She'd made herself at home, and Sherlock had enjoyed her company. There had been no romance, but they'd got to be friends. Actual, proper friends. And, he thought, Sherlock was going to miss her a little bit when she was gone. Even if he'd never admit it.
"Well, here's hoping that I meet someone tall, dark, and handsome," Janine sighed. "I think the universe owes me one, don't you?"
"Do a background check first," Sherlock said.
She smacked his arm. "Enough of that. I'll probably wind up spending the week by myself on the beach. There are worse ways to pass the time."
"Are there?" Sherlock looked appalled at the idea.
John smiled down at the ground.
"But—" Janine shrugged her shoulders, "—first things first. Victoria's already got a bit of a head start on me, you know. Out there telling anyone who will listen that she played an 'instrumental role in a murder investigation' and all that rot."
"Seriously?" John lifted his head, feeling a spark of outrage on Janine's behalf.
"'He had to keep Janine in the dark, of course,'" Janine said, pitching her voice high in an eerily accurate impression. "'But he needed someone to confide in, and so he turned to me.' Blah, blah, blah."
"Use that. Better to be seen as pitiful than devious," Sherlock said, looking back down at the microscope. "Play on their sympathies. It pays more."
"It's like you read my mind," she said.
"Mm," Sherlock said. He glanced up, frowned. "Oh. Don't wear the waterproof mascara. You'll be wanting it to run for the camera."
She laughed, the sound low, indulgent. "Don't worry about me. I'm an old pro at this by now."
She turned back, aimed a catlike smile at John, and then she was gone.
He listened to her heels clicking down the steps, the sound of the front door opening and shutting.
The flat felt strangely quiet. Empty.
"Kitchen?" John asked, finally. "Did you pay for a new kitchen?"
"Nope," Sherlock said. He popped the 'p' with some degree of vigor.
Sherlock lifted his face away from the microscope, slid his gaze towards John. His expression was difficult to read. There was a bloom of red on his right cheek, a perfect imprint where Janine's lips had pressed.
John's hand twitched. He clenched it, pressed it against his thigh, held it still.
Downstairs, a door shut. Mrs Hudson's careful steps began to ascend the stairs.
"And—waterproof mascara?" John asked, bewildered.
Sherlock hummed, his lip quirking. He turned back to the microscope.
"Sherlock," Mrs Hudson said, coming through the doorway. "I've just passed Janine on her way out—she seemed so upset. And after last night's excitement! Is everything—"
"Don't worry about that, Mrs Hudson," Sherlock said.
She huffed out a breath, frowned. "I brought up those papers you wanted—"
"Just leave them on the table," he said, not looking up. "I'm in the middle of some very delicate work."
John rolled his eyes.
She set the papers down, looked over at John, caught his expression. She gave him a worried smile. He smiled back, and the motion pulled strangely at his face.
"Anything interesting?" Sherlock asked, not looking up.
John shifted where he stood, watching closely.
Mrs Hudson flipped open the first newspaper. "Oh," she said, and her voice had gone heavy with disappointment. "Oh Sherlock."
Sherlock smirked, his lip curling upwards. He did not turn his head, but it was quite clear in the line of his shoulders that he was paying close attention to her.
Mrs Hudson opened the next paper, tutted to herself. Put her hand over her mouth. Gave Sherlock another disapproving look, which he ignored entirely.
John stepped up behind her, craned his neck to see.
221B HEARTBREAKER STREET, the headline read. There was a photograph of Janine and Sherlock in their wedding finery, a cartoonish broken heart slapped over it.
John groaned, looked at the other paper.
FOOL ME TWICE…
"Oh, Sherlock," Mrs Hudson said. "How could you? That poor girl—"
She'd switched allegiances rather quickly, John thought. He took another paper from the stack. HEARTBREAK HOLMES, it read. The one beneath that had run a photograph of Sherlock smirking in his deerstalker under the headline BAD BOY ON BAKER STREET.
The laugh forced its way up through his throat, a sharp bark that seemed entirely too loud. He put his hand over his mouth, shut his eyes. Snorted.
He heard Sherlock exhale, an amused rush of breath, and that was all it took. He started giggling, properly giggling, his shoulders shaking, his hand pressed against his mouth. Sherlock leaned away from the microscope, laughing now too, doubling over with it.
Mrs Hudson looked scandalised.
"A new kitchen?" John asked, between hiccupping giggles.
"Mm. The one in her cottage was terribly outdated, or so she told me. She'll likely be able to afford an extended holiday, too," Sherlock said. "Or several."
"That was the plan, then? All along?"
"Well obviously I wasn't going to actually marry her," Sherlock said, his voice hitching as he laughed.
John snorted again, shook his head fondly. Sherlock looked utterly pleased with himself, his smile genuine, his face creased with mirth. The red lip print on his cheek stood out in sharp relief against his skin.
John hesitated for a moment, his heart kicking. Then he squared his shoulders, went to Sherlock. Pressed a gentle thumb to his cheek.
Sherlock went still and quiet at the touch.
John wiped the lipstick away. Let his hand slacken so he was cupping Sherlock's face, his thumb moving gently against his cheek.
"You had—" John said. He cleared his throat. "Lipstick. Just there."
"Ah," Sherlock said. He swallowed. His Adam's apple bobbed up and down. He did not blink.
"Boys," Mrs Hudson said, her voice stern. "While I appreciate that you've worked things out, I do wish you could have done it a bit more kindly. Janine had mascara all down her face when I saw her, poor dear, looked like she'd been crying for hours."
John snorted again, shut his eyes. Felt Sherlock's cheek curve under his hand as he smiled.
"Clever girl," John murmured. Poor dear, indeed, he thought.
"Oh yes," Sherlock agreed.
John was distantly aware of Mrs Hudson's frustrated huff, and the door shutting a bit harder than necessary behind her.
"You ought to go apologise to her for that," he said.
"Mm," Sherlock tipped his head to the side, leaning more fully into John's hand. "No need. I estimate she'll figure out within the hour that Janine was in on the whole scheme and then she'll be back up to shout at me."
"My sister is going to be furious, too," John said.
Sherlock frowned at him. "Why would she care?"
"Ah. I—" John shook his head, embarrassed. "I might have misled her. A bit. About all of this."
"You—" Sherlock trailed off, still looking bewildered. "Spoke to your sister about the wedding?"
"Yes, well, as you've already pointed out," John said, shifting in place slightly. "Jealous."
"You—complained to your sister about the wedding?"
"Might have done, yeah."
Sherlock blinked at him.
"She'll be happy for me," John said. "I think. Once she's done being pissed off, that is."
More than happy, he thought. Relieved. Proud. Present in his life in a way she had not been for many years. He found himself surprisingly eager to speak to her.
Sherlock opened his mouth, shut it again. Blinked. "Best brace yourself, then. Mrs Hudson's likely to start in on you once she's done with me."
"Fair enough," John said. He laughed a little bit, shook his head, feeling uncomfortably pinned by Sherlock's gaze. "You're being awfully generous today, yeah? Calling Janine clever, letting Mrs Hudson sort out this little plot of yours. Finally recognising you're not entirely surrounded by idiots?"
"No, you're still an idiot," Sherlock said.
John stopped stroking his face.
Sherlock rolled his eyes, stood up. "Took you ages to figure it out, and I told you the truth right from the start."
John took a half step backwards and clasped his hands behind his back. Frowned.
Sherlock looked down at him. Sighed, a bit theatrically. "Oh, you want to talk about it."
"Well," John said, his face heating. "Not really, no. But I think we ought to—"
Another sigh. "Yes, I would like you to move back in. As soon as possible. Immediately, in fact. When can you put your house on the market?"
John blinked, torn between wanting to laugh and wanting to shout. "Hang on, don't you think that's a bit hasty?"
"John, this is the absolute opposite of hasty. The pace has been positively glacial."
"A few days ago, I had no idea that this was something you wanted."
"And, as I've already pointed out, you are an idiot."
John huffed, shook his head, looked down at the ground. Fought against the urge to smile. He cleared his throat, lifted his gaze to meet Sherlock's. "You literally married someone else. Yesterday!"
"On the table," Sherlock said.
"On. The. Table." Sherlock spoke slowly, dragging the words out. He rolled his eyes, pointed back towards where he'd been sitting.
John looked at the table.
There was a small ring box sitting next to the microscope.
"Oh for—" John picked up the box, brandished it at Sherlock, fought the urge to throw it at his head. "You didn't let her keep it this time? For Christ's sake, how many times are you going to give her this thing and then take it back? Let her sell it and be done with it."
"Hanging on to it, just in case?" John continued. "Never know when you might need to get fake engaged again. Third time's the charm, right?"
"Maybe you'll make it a regular annual thing."
"Who knows, maybe next time it'll be a murderous vicar, or—or—you'll need to break into another office building—plenty of those around, yeah?—or—"
John stopped talking. Stared at Sherlock.
He let out a sharp laugh, shook his head. "I've seen it, mate."
Sherlock made a frustrated sound, lunged forward with his hand outstretched to snatch the box out of his hands. John yanked it back out of reach.
"All right, all right! Fine." John opened the box, held it out. "Happy?"
Sherlock raised his brows, said nothing.
John looked down.
"Oh," he said, because the ring he saw was not the one he'd expected to see at all.
Instead of the diamond that had gleamed so prettily on Janine's finger, there was the elegant curve of platinum that he'd admired first in a jeweler's case and then again against Sherlock's skin.
Against Sherlock's skin—and—trailing against his own, last night.
"This is yours," John said. He swallowed. His mouth had gone dry. He was suddenly tired, half-sick with longing for something he could never have, not really. "I'm not—I'm not taking it back to the shop for you, you know. You can do that yourself."
"John," Sherlock said.
John looked up.
Sherlock lifted his left hand, waggled his fingers. John's eyes were drawn to the band of smooth metal still gleaming against his skin.
John looked back down at the box in his hand, at the twin ring to Sherlock's band. His head felt light, far away. He sat down at the kitchen table. The chair legs squeaked against the lino.
"What—?" John said. He could not lift his eyes from the ring.
"I think it's fairly obvious," Sherlock said. His voice was steady, but John thought there was a bit of an uncertain edge to it.
I've been thinking, Sherlock had said to him in the hazy pre-dawn hours. Had he been thinking about this? Had he been turning it over and over in his mind, exploring the idea from every angle?
"Typically this sort of question demands a yes or no answer," Sherlock said. He cleared his throat, tucked in his chin. Bounced slightly on the balls of his feet.
John swallowed, hard. Thought about Sherlock's face had looked in the moonlight. Thought about the way he'd pretended, looking down at that ring on Sherlock's finger, that it was real.
"You'd promised me a week," Sherlock said.
John stared at him, uncomprehending.
"After a period of careful consideration, I determined that a week was insufficient," Sherlock said. He spoke staring at the ring box in John's hand.
"Only a lifetime would suffice," Sherlock said.
John rocked forward in his chair, his eyes stinging, his chest tight. Only Sherlock, he thought. Only Sherlock could just go and say something like that, matter-of-factly, like it wasn't the most momentous thing John had ever heard.
"John," Sherlock said, and now the edge of uncertainty in his voice seemed to have dropped into full-blown panic. "I apologise if—"
"No," John said, and the twist of Sherlock's stricken face had him shaking his head. "No, I mean don't apologise—yes. I'm trying to say yes. Of course, yes. Of course."
He breathed out, his heart hammering in his chest. It was a terrible idea, of course. It was also the best idea he'd ever heard.
"Oh," Sherlock said, and he took a step forward, then froze. He did not seem to know what to do.
"Come here," John said, something wrenching in his chest at the sight of Sherlock's expression. He lurched to his feet, took two hasty steps forward, and pulled Sherlock roughly into his arms.
Sherlock seemed to melt into his embrace, stumbling a bit as if the tension had been punched out of him. He breathed out, the sound shaky. Turned his face into the crook of John's neck.
John thought: desperately, and he thought: I would do anything for you, and his throat closed tight with emotion.
"It's not just as easy as saying 'yes'. There are things I need to consider," he said into Sherlock's hair, his hand sliding in soothing circles on the back of Sherlock's soft t-shirt. "Rosie. She's—"
"Welcome here, John. You know that."
"There's more to it than that," John said.
"She's a part of you, and I love her," Sherlock spoke quietly, plainly. "You must know I would never see her harmed."
"Stop punishing yourself," Sherlock said. "That is what you're doing, isn't it? Penance? Remaining on in that house. You can't tell me you're happy there. I know when you're lying."
"You make it sound so obvious."
"It is obvious."
John shook his head, amused. He went on rubbing Sherlock's back, absorbing the warmth of his skin through the thin t-shirt. He did not know how he'd spent so many years resisting the urge to touch, to hold, to claim.
He shifted slightly so he could look past Sherlock into the sitting room, at the morning sunlight filtering in through the windows and slanting across the scuffed floorboards. Thought of Rosie there, comfortable and happy in the best home he'd ever known.
He wanted it. He wanted it badly.
"You're right, of course," John sighed. "You always are."
"Good," Sherlock said faintly. "That's—good."
"You really want me here. All the time. With a toddler."
"I believe I've made myself exceedingly clear."
John stepped back slightly. He slipped one hand behind Sherlock's head, guided him so their foreheads met. Sherlock's eyes were very wide.
"No giant wedding, with the—the serviettes and the cake tasting and the flowers, all right? I've had enough of that to last a lifetime."
Sherlock smiled, a genuine thing that crinkled the corners of his eyes. "God, no. Besides, none of the shops in London will have anything to do with me after this."
John wanted to kiss him, to taste that smile, to capture his surprised inhale. So he did.
Sherlock kissed him back softly, carefully. He kissed, John thought, like he couldn't quite believe he was permitted to do so. It was sweet and just a bit heartbreaking.
"It'll be more than just the shops, you know," John said when they drew, reluctantly, apart. "You might have caught a killer, and Janine might be getting rich—again—off this whole scheme, but your public image is bound to take a hit. The press is going to paint you as an absolute bastard"
"Mm, I think I'll recover."
"What makes you so sure?"
"Because there will always be a need for a consulting detective. And I'm the only one in the world."
"Modest," John said.
"Not at all," Sherlock smiled. "Besides, they'll come around."
"Everyone loves a wedding."
John laughed, shook his head fondly.
Downstairs, a door slammed. Seconds later there were footsteps on the stairs, Mrs Hudson's unmistakable tread. She appeared to be stomping.
"Ah," Sherlock said. "Quicker than I thought."
"And that's my cue to leave," John said, leaning forward to press a hasty kiss against Sherlock's lips.
"Go get your daughter, John," Sherlock said. "And come home."
And so he did.