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Comme des enfants

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John is barely nineteen when it happens. At the time he liked to think about himself as a grown-up. No, more than that, as an adult. He had just finished his first year at uni, first successful year, and he was so sure of his future, so sure of where life would lead him. He would be an internationally recognized surgeon – the best in the world, he would give conferences and bestow his knowledge upon the world. He had absolute faith in what he was and who he would be. He isn’t currently dating anyone but he's had his fair share of girlfriends during the year, even though they didn’t really stick along the way. Well, John reasons, he’s still young and has all the time in the world. 

Then it happens. They’re all sitting around the kitchen table. The veranda’s doors are open and John can actually feel the smell of the lazy summer evening pouring inside the house in successive waves when Harry says – 

“I’m seeing someone.”

Looking back, it seems like a scene taken out of a play. Here they are, a perfectly normal family, to which nothing strange ever happened, nothing really hard. They’ve dealt with the usual, the lack of money at times, the occasional rows. Nothing irreparable. But, Harry says, I’m seeing someone, and John’s mother smiles and answers, what’s his name and Harry says – 

“Her name is Clara.”

It takes only a few seconds for John to understand. He registers, peripherally, the sudden worry on his mother’s face, the disgust on his father’s face, and it’s enough for him to realize that something irrevocably changed and that it only took one word. She instead of he. What he doesn’t register: his heart pounding, his hands trembling, the sweat suddenly dripping across his forehead. John doesn’t need the scene that’s going to unfold in front of his eyes to know, with an absolute certainty, that everything will be different. That he’s going to have to be the normal one. The perfect one. The one who doesn’t disappoint. The one who does everything right. 

Everything fractures in front of him. He can see a line that didn’t exist mere minutes ago drawing itself between his parents and his sister, between himself and his parents, between his sister and him. The vision seems so real that for a moment he’s afraid the line will actually turn into a crack that will swallow all of them, leaving but half-empty plates on the kitchen table.

John has the time to think about all this before it actually happens and then – 

“What did you say?” (his father says)

“Harry are you sure?” (his mother says)

And everything John had previously managed to suppress comes back to him, he can feel his heart pounding, pounding so hard, he can feel himself trembling. He’s dizzy, he never fainted but that’s how fainting feels, he thinks, and he needs to get out, right now, before it becomes ugly, before he has to choose a side. 

John gets up and gives all of them a tight smile. He can’t remember exactly what he says, maybe something about being tired, before going up to his room. 

There he can hear the screams downstairs, the inevitable row, but John doesn’t think about that. John thinks about men’s hands he eyed in the past. He thinks about the arses he checked out, about the almost kiss he drunkenly wanted to take from Stanley Parkers. He thinks about all that for hours, eyes closed, willing himself to let it all go. To make himself understand that it’s too late. Because Harry said – 

Harry said (and everything changed). 

It takes him hours to realize that the screams have faded, that the house is silent, except for Harry’s soft sobs in the next room. If John were a better brother – a better person – he would get out of bed and go comfort her. He would tell his sister that it’s going to be alright, that dad will forget, that mum will, in a distant future, stop thinking about the grandchildren Harry will never give her. If John were a better person he would put aside the feeling that he’s been robbed of something, a life he thought he could live and now will never be able to. But John is nineteen and can only think that Harry somehow broke something he didn’t even know could be broken, just because she couldn’t stay quiet – like him. Be discreet – like him. Just because Harry had to be special and remarkable, and that’s really nothing new, is it. 

John doesn’t move. 

The next day, when he sees Harry, she’s drunk and almost passed out and he helps her go to bed, as if it could somehow lessen the faint guilt he’s been feeling.

It doesn’t. 

***

John goes back to uni – of course he does – but something is broken. John looks at his parents and thinks – I can’t disappoint them. John looks at his parents and thinks – I have to make them proud. John looks at his parents and thinks – I can’t be like Harry. 

The problem is that he is like Harry. Not because he only fancies boys but because he can only fall in love with boys. John, somehow, knows that. That although he loves girls and their bodies and is so fucking attracted to them he will never fall in love with them. He doesn’t have a choice though. Harry came out and John has to carry on expectations. 

(Later, when John is in Afghanistan, on his knees, Sholto’s cock in his mouth for the first time, he will think about this and experience a rush of triumph at the idea that he finally overcame the part of himself that's afraid of his parents. He will be wrong.)

John dates girls he never falls in love with. He keeps thinking that the next one will, maybe not be the one, but at least the right one for the time being. They never are. John is good for them – or so he thinks – he treats them right, he takes them on dates, to fancy restaurants he can’t afford and late movie sessions. He kisses them before they go back to their flats, he’s always proper, always in control. He wishes it were harder for him to keep himself from kissing them until they invite him back to their houses. Especially when he knows they want him to. He likes them. He never loves them. He certainly never falls in love with them. 

He acquires a reputation for breaking girls’ hearts. His friends congratulate him. They buy him pints when they go out drinking and slap him on his back and say things like , “Well done mate.” John feels sick all the time. It’s a sinking feeling. The feeling that he’s not lying to anyone about anything and yet lying about everything to everyone. 

(Later, when John is in Afghanistan he will have to lie too. He will lie to Bill, sweet, innocent Bill. He will lie to his unit, he will lie to everyone. But he will not lie to himself or James, he will have him in his bed as often as he can, he will get down on his knees for him, he will bend for him, he will make him bend and he will be high, high on finally being able to do whatever he wants, to shatter the mould Harry made for him, the mould he made for himself. He will be high on kissing hard muscles and feeling the heavy weight of a cock between his fingers and licking the pre-come and loving it, loving it so fucking much. He will be high on blue eyes and high cheekbones, he will be high on the sun making him sweat, on tanned skin, on muscled thighs. More than that, more than that still, John will be high on being in love for the first time of his life, the very first time. John will want to go down on his knees and cry.)

***

John always feels it. It’s like a hunger you can never appease. You can try, but there’s always something missing and the more time passes the more he feels like he could break under its weight. 

He doesn’t. 

If there’s one thing John’s good at it’s denying himself. He denies himself sleep to work late on medical textbooks, he denies himself food when money becomes sparse at the end of the month, he denies himself the romantic connection he desperately wants. 

He looks at his parents’ faces, beaming at him and happy and tries to convince himself it’s worth it. 

He enlists in the army. 

***

Distance doesn’t make everything fade away, but when he’s in the middle of the desert, the sun high and burning his skin, when he’s in the middle of the desert saving lives John forgets about Harry and his parents and the never-ending hunger. 

He comes back in time for Harry’s wedding.

***

Harry insists on calling it a wedding, their parents insist on calling it by its legal name, a civil partnership. 

Harry, for once in her life, does the reasonable thing and ignores them.  She and Clara both look beautiful, but to John Harry is almost incandescent. She takes up the entire room, she laughs and dances and radiates joy. But John can see that something is broken in her. It’s in the way her fingers tremble slightly when she holds her glass of champagne, in the way the corner of her mouths tightens when she smiles. 

She’s here, in a sumptuous reception room with her new wife, their parents saw her getting married, trying to tamper their usual disapproval for the sake of their daughter’s special day, and for the first time John wonders what coming out must have cost Harry. 

At the time, John had taken it as just another one of Harry’s desperate needs to be special. Not that he didn’t believe her when she said she was gay, he just didn’t understand why she had to say it. As if her terrible grades, her getting into fights all the time wasn’t enough, hadn’t already caused so much trouble, she had felt the need to announce that in the middle of dinner, without a hint of warning. It hadn’t been fair. Not when John always did everything right, not when he had wanted and didn’t even have the time to try, to explore, before she said – 

John knows now that he’s being unfair. He can’t really blame Harry for wanting to be happy, to live her life fully. He still resents her for it. For putting all the weight of their parent’s expectations on him. He’s not sure he will ever be able to let go of it. 

There are people like that, John thinks, people who are heartbreakingly true to themselves. People who will – not stand in the spotlight – but emit light. And they will draw people to them. John knows that because he’s one of them. John, despite all his foolish adolescent dreams, has never really wanted to be the person in the spotlight. He wants to be the one beside them. The one they can rely on – everyone can rely on. Later he will recognize this very same thing in Sherlock. And John will not be able to do anything but get caught in the incandescent light Sherlock always emits. John is attracted to fire. John dreams of burning. 

Maybe the truth is John never really forgave Harry for not needing him anymore. 

John congratulates Harry and is surprised to realize he means it. If they can’t both be out at least one of them can be happy. 

***

Harry lights a cigarette and John frowns.

“Not really the place Harry.”

She snorts. “They’re dead John. It’s not like it can really hurt them.”

John’s frown deepens. They’re dead. He still has a hard time adjusting to this new reality. He feels hollow and bare, like someone has stripped him of his skin and he’s standing there in the outdoors, only muscles and flesh and nothing to protect him against the wind. 

If John is honest with himself, he has to admit that at his worst he imagined this moment. Not the funeral, precisely, but the moment where he would be free of his parents’ expectations. 

“Was it worth it?” Harry asks. 

“Worth what?”

“Worth letting them die without them ever knowing who their son is because you didn’t want to shatter the precious image they had of you?” 

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“Oh John,” Harry sighs. “I have to go, Clara is waiting for me outside.”

“Right,” John says. He watches her extinguish her cigarette with her heel and he resolutely turns back to face his parents’ grave. 

Was it worth it?

The truth is, John learns, death doesn’t free anyone from expectations. It only makes you want to fulfill them in memory of those who died.  

***

When John comes back to Afghanistan, this time, he has a new commanding officer. His name is James Sholto. 

The first time they’re introduced to each other Major Sholto smiles to John in a kind, reserved way and it makes John’s knees go weak with want. 

He says, “Everyone told me you were the best, Watson. I’m counting on you.”

It’s enough for John to know that he’s going to break every promise he’s ever made to himself in the name of his parents’ approval. It’s not a betrayal, John reasons. He held his part of the bargain. He was the normal son, the perfect son when they were alive and they’re dead. 

They’re dead. 

It takes John only three days before he’s kneeling in front of Sholto, sucking his cock. 

They’re in love. They meet during hazardous times and kiss and kiss and kiss and they can’t get enough of each other and John certainly can’t get enough of him and John fantasizes about them coming back to London and buying a little flat and living happily ever after. John is a romantic, Sherlock will say. 

Sherlock will be right. 

They’re in love but they’re not happy. 

They fight all the time. About the danger they’re in, about the future of their relationship, about James being John’s first man. 

Everything. 

John feels tired all the time, but that’s what being in love is, he thinks. It’s a battle. A never-ending war. 

John has never been in love before. 

***

They’re in a coffee shop near Trafalgar square. Harry has done most of the talking, John occasionally interjecting a grunt or an “oh” in order to show he’s following the conversation. John is drinking what can only be described as a disgusting latté, more focused on Harry’s hands, trembling with the lack of alcohol, than anything else. But then Harry says – 

“Clara and I split up.”

He should have known when she asked him to have a get together, to talk. When she said that she had missed him. You can only miss what’s there, John thinks, and he hasn’t been there for Harry since she came out and he was nineteen and -

And. Here they are. 

John came back from Afghanistan broken and without purpose, he came back wounded and alone and sat in a dingy coffee shop with his estranged sister and listened to her telling him about her life without ever asking him what it was like to be back from war, to have seen the things he had seen (to have loved and lost – but she doesn’t know that, doesn’t want to know) and he stared at her, mourning the loss of a life she stole from him. A life where he could have been himself. A life where he wouldn’t have had to be closeted. And all of this for her to leave Clara in a fit of childish despair. At this moment he has never hated anyone more than he hates his own sister. 

“John?”

“Yeah. I’m sorry Harry.”

(He is. But not for her.)

“Thanks. I guess.”

John doesn’t answer. He doesn’t have anything to add. He feels dizzy and sick and he just wants to get out of there, walk into a bar, pick up the first man that looks at him the right way, take him in an alley and push him down to his knees – watch him suck his cock. And then he would take the man home to his horrible bedsit and fuck him until he can forget James (no Sholto), until he can forget the war and how horrible he should feel for missing it, missing it so badly that he would do anything to go back to it. He doesn’t feel horrible though. He feels tired and empty. It’s only two in the afternoon and if he was alone he would order a pint or even a glass of scotch, but Harry is here and he can’t let her win. 

The tremor in Harry’s hands worsens and she says – 

“I have to go. Here, take my phone. It was a gift from Clara and I don’t really fancy keeping it. Let’s do this again some time, yeah?”

John nods and thinks no bloody thank you. 

He waits for Harry to leave before standing up and paying the check. Outside he can smell autumn enveloping London, the heavy perfume of rain on asphalt.  He looks at the phone Harry just gave him. 

He considers, for a moment, giving into his fantasy, going out and fucking the first man who seems amenable to it. 

Instead he composes the number of the therapist the army assigned to him. 

***

The first time John sees Sherlock Holmes he has been invalidated from Afghanistan for five months, has been seeing his therapist for two and is dead tired of everything. To be honest John almost didn’t acknowledge Mike and only turned around because of the man’s insistence. John only follows Mike into St Bart’s because what else does he have to do?

And then. 

(John doesn’t think about Harry. John doesn’t think about Harry for the first time in his life when he sees a man that he likes. John can’t think about Harry. This man obliterates her, surpasses her and everything she ever did, this man is so much more. He looks like a mix between ink and clay and it should be wrong, he should be wrong but he isn’t, he is perfect and John knows that. This is it. John’s been in love before, once. John loved a soldier and it was fire and passion, and hard kisses and desperate goodbyes. John thought that this was love. Longing and hatred and loving so much you ended up broken and dying inside. But that’s not what happens when he sees Sherlock for the first time. Sure the rush is there, the adrenaline is there. But more than everything else he feels calm. At peace. As if he had finally found the place he belonged after years of searching. John can barely look at him. He feels that if he looks at him for a moment too long he will be burned beyond repair. He will evaporate. The man is talking to him anyway so he looks at him, he looks at him and keeps everything to himself, his love, the absolute certainty that they are made for each other, that whatever happens John is going to say yes and then ask him out. The man almost dashes out without leaving his name but then he comes back.)

John smiles. He comes home and googles Sherlock Holmes. That night, for the first time in months he doesn’t stay awake thinking about the war. He thinks about Sherlock, about how utterly perfect and unattainable he is, he thinks about his cheekbones – and lets his hand slides into his jeans – he thinks about those eyes that make no sense at all – and begins pulling on his cock. He thinks about this mouth, about how full it is, how round it is, what it would look like if Sherlock was on his knees sucking John’s cock. His lips stretched around it. 

(John’s hand goes faster and faster)

More than everything else, John thinks about this voice whimpering and broken, this voice reduced to soft sobs because of him, John thinks about that, about having Sherlock under him, withering, Sherlock watching him, eyes wide and lips parted, Sherlock being amazed by him. Sherlock whispering “John.”

John comes.

When he opens his eyes, trying to dismiss the fantasy, he’s still alone in his fucking bedsit. He doesn’t cry. He’ll meet this Sherlock Holmes tomorrow. And maybe he’ll be wrong about what he feels.

(He isn’t.)

***

John has been living with Sherlock for more than a year when he buys a bottle of wine. He has planned this carefully. He’ll make dinner and they will drink a glass of wine or two and then, John will see if Sherlock’s stance on relationships has changed. 

It seems like it has, with the woman and everything that happened. 

Maybe John has a chance. 

Maybe tonight, John will have Sherlock in his bed and will praise him and make love to him and will tell him finally, finally, how beautiful he is. 

Instead they come home to Irene sleeping in Sherlock’s bed. 

John bins the bottle of wine and tries to forget about his broken heart. 

***

After Sherlock dies, John goes to live with Harry for a while. He needs to get out of Baker Street. Out of Sherlock’s stuff, Sherlock’s scent. 

Harry’s flat is honestly shitty but it’s not like John intends to stay for a long time. He just needs to pull himself together and think about what he’s going to do. 

(If John actually had the strength to finish that sentence he would say, what he’s going to do without Sherlock, but John isn’t there yet, maybe never will be and he’s certainly not thinking about this.)

“Were you in love with him?” Harry asks. 

John almost bursts out laughing. Of course, of all the people he knows, Harry would be the only one to ask the right question. 

“Why do you ask?” 

It’s a habit. Deflecting the question, answering with half-truths, not quite lies. 

“Oh for fuck’s sake John, once in your life answer the bloody question!”

Harry gets up and disappears in her small kitchen before coming back with a bottle of wine, two glasses and what looks like an ashtray. John looks at the ashtray and wants to cry. God he’s a mess. Harry fills their glasses and lights a cigarette. John snatches it and inhales. If they’re going to have this conversation, twenty years later, he’s going to smoke at least one cigarette and before Harry has the time to say anything he gives her a look clearly saying don’t. She nods in acknowledgment. 

“So, were you in love with him?” 

Ella asked him the exact same thing a few days ago, only in other words. This is Harry though, not Ella, and she won’t be satisfied with anything else than the truth.  

“Yeah. Yeah of course I was.”

“I’m truly sorry John.”

John doesn’t answer. If he starts speaking now he’s half-afraid he won’t be able to stop and half-afraid he’ll stumble upon something – a word, an emotion, a memory – that will break the hazy fog of grief he’s been walking through since Sherlock died and he can’t, he can’t bear thinking about Sherlock so he says –

“How long have you known?”

“That you’re bisexual? Since you were fifteen and I caught you staring at Andy Abbot’s arse I guess.”

“Since I was fifteen? Why didn’t you ever discuss this with me?” John can feel the anger building up in his chest, anger and outrage and somewhere, rationally, he knows that he has no right to say that, to even say something like that but he has been carrying this for so long, the weight of his lies, the weight of Harry’s harsh truths and he just lost Sherlock and it’s suddenly all too much. 

“Are you fucking kidding me, John?” Harry asks, incredulous. “You’ve never wanted to talk about it, you made that very clear when you ran away the night I came out. Don’t you dare  put that on me.”

And John knows that he should leave it at that, that he should apologize and go to bed or at least calm down before talking about it but now that it’s  in the open between them he can’t let it go. 

“Yeah, let’s talk about that then. You, coming out at fucking dinner without a hint of warning! Didn’t you think about the consequences? About what it would do to mum and dad?”

“And what was I supposed to do John, hmm? Wait until they died to live my life like you did? Lie to everyone about who am I? Fuck boys?” 

“I didn’t,” John stutters, “I didn’t wait until they died to live my life.”

Harry snorts derisively. “As if I couldn’t tell that you were having this thing with your commanding officer just from reading your letters. For Christ’s sake John you’re utterly transparent, have you seen your blog?  A fourteen year old girl writing in her diary about her favorite celebrity would look less enamored than you do with Sherlock.”

“Don’t,” John says. "Don’t bring Sherlock into this. Not now.”

“This isn’t about Sherlock, John, and I’m not trying to make it about him. This is about you and the fact that you’ve been hiding your whole fucking life and that, on top of everything else, you have the gall to blame me for your cowardice! You’re almost forty, John, fucking grow up and stop blaming me for something I didn’t do.”

Harry finishes her glass of wine, picks up the bottle, her pack of cigarettes and storms away to her bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind her. 

“Right,” John says, to no one in particular. “Right.”

It takes him only a few minutes to pack up his things, it’s not like he had planned to stay anyway, and get out of Harry’s flat. 

Outside, John stays still for a moment. He doesn’t know where to go. He can’t go back to Baker Street, it’s absolutely out of the question. He can’t ask Greg to let him kip on his couch for the night, seeing Greg would mean having to talk about Sherlock and everything, everything in John’s life right now comes back to Sherlock. 

Sherlock is dead.  John feels like he’s going to throw up. 

He walks for a moment, not really knowing where he’s going and ends up entering the first pub he sees. The first gulp of whiskey tastes like relief. The second tastes like redemption. The third one tastes like oblivion. 

The details are fuzzy but John distinctly recalls flirting with a stranger and ending up fucking him in an alley behind the pub. It’s messy and he feels like he’s cheating on Sherlock even though that’s stupid because Sherlock fucking didn’t want him. 

It all comes down to that. John is in love with Sherlock, has been for years and Sherlock didn’t want him and now Sherlock is dead. 

John kips on Greg’s sofa. Greg doesn’t ask questions. Doesn’t try to talk about Sherlock and what happened. 

When John sees his face in the mirror, the next morning, he understands why. 

***

Harry is right. John knows that Harry is right. It doesn’t make it any easier. 

John knows Harry resents him. He doesn’t blame her for it. He was nineteen, self-centered and a shit brother. Maybe if he had been straight and assured in his own sexuality he wouldn’t have reacted like that. He likes to think about that. He’s not sure it’s true. 

Because, at the heart of things, there’s something else. Something he hasn’t named before, something he has dismissed, hidden under his righteous anger. The truth is John is jealous. Of Harry’s capacity to say fuck you to everything and everyone when John has always felt the need to respect social conventions, even when he thought them stupid. John knows he doesn’t fit in but still feels the need to pass as one of them. Maybe, what John resents the most, is Harry’s courage. 

John is brave, he thinks. Harry is courageous. 

And that, apparently, makes all the difference in the world. 

***

Her name is Mary.  She’s not Sherlock and that’s precisely what John likes about her. 

More than that, John likes her. He feels something for her he has never felt for a woman before. Something more than lust and attraction, something that could turn out to be love. 

They go out for drinks together. John laughs and feels normal for the first time in ages. 

When Harry asks who Mary is on his blog he ignores her. 

They haven’t talked since the day he walked out of her flat, almost a year ago. 

John doesn’t need Harry, or Sherlock. Mary, he thinks, is going to be enough from now on. Every one has exceptions. Mary is his. 

***

Mary only asks the question once. John considers himself lucky – not all his girlfriends believed him the first time he answered them. 

‘Were you and Sherlock together?”

“No.”

John doesn’t even question his own answer, doesn’t think about it for one second, it’s automatic, it’s the truth. They weren’t. They never have been. John feels, for a fleeting minute, relief at the idea that Mary didn’t ask the right question. That he didn’t have to outright lie. She didn’t ask him if he had been in love with Sherlock. Better yet, she didn’t ask him if he still is. He looks at her, on the bed, and he can feel the thousands of threads that connected him to her, that made him like her, already disappearing. Sherlock only just came back tonight, but John can feel, as if it were a physical force, the space that Mary used to take in his heart, in his veins, in his whole body shriveling, bending under the sheer space that John’s love for Sherlock needs to reclaim. Mary is suddenly less real than she was a few hours ago – before Sherlock came back, before John’s hands around his neck, against his skin. Mary seems blurry, as if she had only been a lovely dream he made up while waiting for Sherlock - his reality - to come back to him. 

Or maybe Sherlock was the dream, this incredible, unattainable dream he always had but could never have, and Mary the only reality he will ever know. John is exhausted, John can’t think about this right now. He can’t think about Sherlock. He can’t bear not to think about him. 

He looks at Mary again and she’s staring at him, a curious expression on her face. For a moment John thinks that he didn’t fool her at all, before dismissing the thought. Less than a year later, he will think back to this conversation and realize how much he missed that night. 

***

The day after the bonfire incident Harry texts, “Are you going to leave Mary?”

John answers “Let’s get coffee.”

***

They’re sitting in another dingy coffee shop and John thinks he should really start choosing the places for their dates. 

“You look good,” Harry says and John can see she means it. 

“Thanks.”

“So.”

“So?”

“How do you feel about the whole ‘Sherlock coming back from the dead’ thing?”

Fucking angry, is John’s first thought. Elated. Incredibly happy. Like miracles can happen and this time it happened to me. Uncertain. Like I’m falling in love all over again. 

“I asked Mary to marry me,” is what he says. 

Harry looks at him like he’s gone mad. John can’t blame her for that. But what is he supposed to do? Before the bonfire incident, before he almost died less than 24 hours after Sherlock Holmes entering his life again, he tried. He went to Baker Street, and he wasn’t sure what would happen but he was prepared for everything. (What he wanted to happen: Sherlock apologizing and explaining, Sherlock telling him it had all been a huge mistake, Sherlock telling him he’s in love with him and John clutching his hands in Sherlock’s fucking curls and kissing him and kissing him. It didn’t happen.) 

“Right. John are you sure you’re not rushing into this?”

“Yes.”

“You’re in love with Sherlock.” It isn’t a question.

“Yes.” 

“John…”

“Listen Harry. I’m not… I know I’ve been wrong about things. With you and with mum and dad. And I know that this isn’t ideal and that it’s even fucked up ok, but I love Mary and I think she loves me and Sherlock doesn’t. He never will. So.”

Harry looks at him like she wants to cry. 

“John.”

“Don’t. Harry, please just. Don’t. I’m going to marry Mary and ask Sherlock to be my best man, and you’re invited of course. We would be thrilled to see you there.”

Harry says, “Sure. I’ll think about it,” and John knows she won’t come. 

Well, John thinks, her loss. The wine is going to be amazing. 

***

The day before his wedding Harry texts him, “You’re making a mistake.” John deletes it. 

***

John isn’t making a mistake. 

John knows he isn’t making a mistake because there have only been two choices. Sherlock or Mary. And John tried with Sherlock. He tried again and again. He tried on his stag night, when they were alone, and relaxed and happy. And Sherlock didn’t want him. John would have gotten down on his knees if Sherlock had given the slightest indication that that’s what he wanted too. 

But Sherlock doesn’t feel things like that. 

John should really be used to it by now. 

***

John is marrying Mary. He’s going to be happy. 

***

And then Mary shoots Sherlock and Sherlock almost dies – twice – again, and John is back in Harry’s shitty flat, on Harry’s shitty couch and he is fucking tired. 

Harry doesn’t tell him ‘I told you so’ but it’s clearly written on her face. John wishes he could only tell her the truth. Tell her that his wife, the only woman he's ever had romantic feelings for, is actually an assassin, a killer for hire, that he has been fucked over and over again. 

He doesn’t say a thing. 

“So,” Harry says and John says, “Yes.”

“Here we are again.”

“Yes.”

“For what it’s worth,” Harry begins, “I’m sorry.” She stops. Then. 

“In the end you did make it easier for me. Mum and Dad still had you and you were their perfect son and yeah, it was easier to be the rebel than to be the one carrying their expectations. So I’m sorry. I still resent you for not supporting me though.”

“That’s okay. I blame myself for this too.”

Harry looks at him. She suddenly seems so small to him, like she has somehow regressed to her nineteen-year-old self and John wishes he could do it all over again, that he could protect her in a better way, in a way that wouldn’t result in him alienating her. 

John looks at Harry. They are similar in a way. Like Siamese twins that, one day, forgot how alike they are and started hating each other for everything the other did wrong. John looks at her and remembers that they are twins. 

They fought like cats and dogs, they burned each other and broke each other, but in the end, when Harry pulls him into her embrace he lets himself go, he lets everything go and he sighs in relief. 

***

When John moves back to Baker Street they don’t talk about it. And by it John means everything that has happened since the day they met and they never took the time to discuss. 

By it John means that he’s desperately in love with Sherlock, has been since the beginning, and that he’s sure Sherlock knows. 

They don’t talk.  

Until, one day, John decides to search for sibling coming out stories. He’s seen Harry the night before and once again wondered if their situation was so peculiar, if they were so special. According to the internet, they aren’t. According to the internet, they are nothing but a cliché, so common and stupid and little that John just wants to get on his knees and cry for all the things he did wrong. 

He doesn’t. He stays on the couch, incapable of moving. Unable to do anything.

He wonders how badly he fucked up. 

He wonders how to mend everything. 

***

It’s not something that happens suddenly. It’s slow, and quiet, and it feels like relief.

John is sitting on the couch – their couch – when he feels it. Like rain on his face, like absolution. 

He’s crying. It’s delicate, at first. Just a few tears that seem to escape him and John is so fucking tired he doesn’t have the courage to withhold them. 

John didn’t cry when Harry came out and he felt like his world ended. John didn’t cry when his parents died, in a car accident of all things. John didn’t cry when a bullet pierced his shoulder and robbed him of the only place he had ever been happy. John didn’t cry when the first person he loved left him. John didn’t cry when Sherlock died – the first time, the second time, the third time. 

But now that he has to face the truth of his mediocrity, of his utter normalcy, of who he is and who he always has been no matter how much he lied, John cries. He doesn’t only cry for himself. He cries for his parents, who never really knew their son, he cries for Harry who he hurt again and again, he cries, most of all, for a life that was never meant to be his, a life made of gentle wives and smiling children and a lovely garden where you can lie down during the summer. 

John cries for the life he never could have had. 

It’s gentle – at first. Almost peaceful. Before it turns into ugly sobs and then, then John feel so fucking angry at everyone, at everything. At Harry who didn’t confront him earlier, at his girlfriends who seemed to think it was okay for him not to love them, at Sholto who pushed him away again and again, at Sherlock who turned him down that first night. John feels like punching something, shooting something. John wants to hold something in his bare hands and break it and watch it shatter, and he laughs. 

And he’s laughing, he is, he’s crying and laughing too and it’s really ugly and that’s how Sherlock finds him.

***

“John?” Sherlock says. It’s quiet and John never realized before how quietly – how softly – Sherlock utters his name and it just renews his hysteria. 

“John!”

Sherlock’s voice is more self-assured and John remembers this tone, remembers getting off to imagining it a hundred times. 

“John?”

And here it is, soft again and almost pleading. 

John turns and looks at Sherlock. Sherlock, if it’s possible, looks even more human, broken and defeated that he looked on that tarmac.  He looks utterly breakable and there’s nothing that John wants more than taking Sherlock in his arms and breaking him. For one fleeting instant he thinks Sherlock would let him. 

Sherlock kneels in front of him and touches his arm, hesitantly. It breaks John’s heart. 

He wishes he could convey to Sherlock how in love he is with him, how Sherlock is and always has been the most beautiful, desirable thing in John’s life. He wishes he could erase the past three years. 

He can’t and instead he takes Sherlock’s hand in his and briefly kisses his knuckles. 

Sherlock emits a low sound, something between a grunt and a whimper and John smiles between his tears. Then Sherlock is kissing him. Not a kiss, not really. Sherlock kisses his hair – a soft kiss, a tender kiss. Sherlock kisses his forehead and his chin, and the corners of his jaw. Sherlock is leaving wet kissing on his face, it’s clumsy and if it came from anybody else it could be considered innocent but this is Sherlock and Sherlock doesn’t do that and Sherlock is pressing tiny, delicate kisses against John’s skin and John lets him until Sherlock’s lips are so close, so close that John doesn’t have a choice but kiss them too. 

John takes hold of Sherlock’s jaw between his hands, keeps him in place and kisses him - hard.  Sherlock whimpers and opens himself up to John and John doesn’t hesitate. 

Sherlock’s tongue is hot and heavy against his own and it’s everything John's ever wanted. It’s Sherlock and at this precise moment John is so aroused he’s not sure how he manages to still be standing. John wants to rub himself against Sherlock, he wants to possess Sherlock and for Sherlock to be possessed by him. John breaks their kiss, and traces Sherlock’s cheekbones with his hands and asks him – 

“Is this okay?”

And Sherlock says:

“Yes.”

It’s breathless and desperate and John can’t help himself, he goes down on his knees and tears Sherlock’s trousers open. 

Sherlock’s cock is heavy and full and John can feel his mouth watering just at the sight of it. John knows it sounds cliché, he knows he should feel stupid but the only thing he can think of is sucking Sherlock’s cock. 

John begins by licking the side of Sherlock’s cock. Veins are jutting out of it and John wants to moan so badly. This is what he loves. This is what he’s good at. He knows he can reduce Sherlock to tears and he wants to, so badly. 

He licks Sherlock’s cock before taking it all in his mouth and sucking. 

He’s on his knees, in front of a man he’s so in love with it should break his fucking heart but he has never felt so happy. He hums against Sherlock’s cock and Sherlock makes a tiny broken sound. It only takes John a few minutes to make Sherlock come and when he does – when he does – Sherlock is trashing and moaning and his hair is wild and his lips are parted and his eyes clouded and he seems ready to do everything John wants him to do. 

***

They’re in bed, pressed together and John radiates contentment. He has never felt so happy. He’s against Sherlock, he can feel Sherlock’s skin touching his own and it's like a homecoming. 

“Sherlock. We should talk.”

Sherlock turns to face him and John automatically burrows his nose in Sherlock’s curls and begins playing with them with his hand.

“What do you want to talk about?”

John hesitates. He doesn’t want Sherlock to be afraid, not now that he has Sherlock in his arms, and a heavy conversation, right now, would do it. So he settles for – 

“Are you alright with this? You and me?”

Sherlock chuckles and whispers yes against John’s torso and John wants him so badly, even though he only had him a few minutes ago, John is so in love with him he  thinks he might faint.

He doesn’t. 

That’s what he says:

“Okay. It’s okay then.”

(And he kisses Sherlock’s curls, Sherlock’s eyelids, Sherlock’s stomach.)

***

They’re in a nice tea shop (John chose the place, this time).  

John is holding Sherlock’s hand and Harry is smiling at them both. 

And then Harry says – 

“I’m seeing someone.”

“What’s her name,” Sherlock asks. 

“Can’t say,” Harry smiles.

“So, when are we going to meet her?” John asks. 

“I don’t know. But, I think it’s serious.”

John squeezes Sherlock’s hand harder. He looks at Harry and smiles.