“You are not in bed,” Sherlock observed, glaring at the jumper-clad figure in the visitor’s chair next to an empty hospital bed. Sherlock had developed a habit of stating the obvious, just like everybody else did, when he had been around seventy-five. Age really had softened him.
“You’re not in bed, John,” he repeated accusingly when he got no response.
John sighed heavily. “I’m going home."
Sherlock sounded positively scandalised. “You’re going to undergo major surgery in a few days.”
John gave him a sad smile. “Surgery’s been called off. I’m going home.” His voice was surprisingly steady, which was good. At least one of them had to fake a bit of nonchalance right now.
Sherlock, meanwhile, had probably never looked more puzzled. “What? Why?”
“There’s no point," John explained, "I had another pre-operative PET this morning. Turns out the metastases have spread to my lungs. They're no longer restricted to the liver. They’re sending me home.”
Sherlock blinked. He was still standing in the doorframe, looking dramatic with his graying curls that were actually turning white at the roots, wearing his iconic Belstaff and scarf even though it was April. It had never mattered less that it was April, of course, because there was not going to be another April for John Watson. “They’re sending you home to die,” he concluded.
There was no point in lying. “Yes.”
Sherlock clenched his jaw. “How long?”
“A few weeks. Maybe a month. Who knows?”
“And then? What’s going to happen then?”
John rubbed his forehead absentmindedly. “We both know what’s going to happen then, Sherlock."
Sherlock’s stare had become absolutely deadpan. He looked like a hawk observing its prey, eyes narrowed, his body stiff and absolutely motionless. “No,” he said firmly, and it was not an answer to John's last statement.
John felt like he had to explain. “I don’t want to die here, Sherlock," he said tiredly, "with cables and wires all over my body, and… and tubes, I... I’m a doctor. I know exactly what they’ll do to me if I don’t go home as long as I can. As long as they still let me. But it's going to be alright. I’m going to have everything I need at home and… and I’m going to have morphine for the pain.”
“You’re going to have me,” Sherlock said after a far too long pause.
“I know.” John swallowed heavily. He looked up at the man who had been his best friend for nearly fifty years and saw a whole world crumble behind a façade of perfect composure. “I know, Sherlock.”
When they came home, John read a bit in his chair and Sherlock went outside to check his bee hives for parasitic mites. He did that once a week. He had explained to John that mites were not to be underestimated, and it was vital to discover them sufficiently early. He kept a rigorous routine when it came to his bees.
John read his newspaper and then got up to make tea for both of them, and he wondered how long he would be able to make tea all by himself. Then he brushed the thought away and continued reading. They didn't talk anymore, that evening.
Life went on.
John had good days, from time to time. They took long walks on good days, over the fields around their cottage, and John waited patiently while Sherlock collected poisonous mushrooms and rare caterpillars and told him about the Latin nomenclature and what he thought was wrong with it. He showed John his latest experiments and explained to him why it was important to assess the decomposition rate of a cat’s kidneys. They spent afternoons in the garden and Sherlock read passages from his manuscript about modern beekeeping out loud while John watered the flowers. In the evenings, John read a book, and Sherlock played his violin for him, and John eventually laid down his book and closed his eyes to listen, and when he thanked Sherlock for playing, they smiled at each other.
John had bad days, when the morphine couldn't chase the pain away and he couldn’t eat and every touch to his skin made him scream in agony. Sherlock made him tea and soup and told him it was alright that he wasn’t hungry, and sometimes John managed to eat a spoon full. Sherlock fetched damp towels to cool his forehead and wipe the sweat away. He held the bucket when John vomited, and he supported him with an arm around his waist on the way to the bathtub or the toilet.
On bad days, John shouted at Sherlock a lot, especially when the pain was unbearable, and called him useless and idiotic and a waste of space. Afterwards, he apologized and they laughed a bit, because it had been Sherlock who had talked to John like that for years on end, when things had been much less hopeless and much more serious.
It had taken stage four thyroid cancer to turn things around.
The bad days became more frequent every week, until good days were a very rare occasion. They tried to cherish them.
Nausea was merciless. Most days, all John could keep down was Sherlock’s home-made soup.
Sherlock bought a book with soup recipes.
He had always despised cooking, but he claimed that he didn’t mind making soup whenever John was a little hungry. “Cooking is chemistry, John,” he explained. “It’s a set of accurately calculated reactions, plus a certain creative component. I find it fascinating.”
When John couldn’t sleep because the pain wouldn’t leave him alone long enough to relax, Sherlock made tomato soup.
When John broke out in cold sweat and couldn’t stop trembling, he made potato soup.
When John couldn’t breathe properly, he made soup with broccoli and ham.
For some reason, soup always helped.
Sherlock read John one book after another. It was marvellous.
Sherlock’s voice was dark, silky and beautiful, like it always had been. In addition to that, he was an excellent voice actor, and he tended to get very passionate about his favourite characters. He put a lot of effort into his impersonations of them. He put a lot of himself into them, too.
John could listen for hours. They sat in their chairs in the sitting room, sipping tea with honey while Sherlock read, or on the small bench under the willow in their garden, and John closed his eyes and let Sherlock’s voice transport him somewhere else, and in those moments, he was a little less afraid of leaving.
John had been home for exactly three weeks when Sherlock sat down on the edge of his bed, turning his back on him, careful not to touch him. He looked unsure and hesitant and clenched his hands repeatedly. John knew something was wrong.
“I need to tell you something,” Sherlock explained after a minute of silent staring at the floor. “And I need to say it now, because if I don’t say it now, I will never say it.”
John looked at him expectantly, and perhaps in a slightly alarmed kind of way. Sherlock closed his eyes, took several deep breaths. He was clearly uncomfortable with what was going to happen, and he was planning on getting it over with as quickly as he could. Like pulling off a band-aid.
“The day you got married,” Sherlock whispered, “I saw the way you looked at her and I wished you could look at me like that.”
John stared at him. Sherlock continued talking, still decidedly not looking him in the eye. “I need to tell you before it’s too late. That day… that day I realised that I had been in love with you from the start.”
Sherlock looked so desperate, defenseless, vulnerable that, all of a sudden, John’s chest felt like it was on fire, and it was not the familiar pain caused by the aggravating pulmonary edema that was slowly suffocating him. “Oh my God,” he said.
Sherlock groaned and buried his face in his hands. “I know. I know, and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, but you need to know and… and I really don’t expect anything, and you should forget about it and go to sleep now, and...-“
“Sherlock,” John said softly and, finally, Sherlock turned around and their eyes met. John smiled slightly, looking at the marvel that was the man he had spent his life with. Sherlock was so beautiful with his wide, crystal blue eyes, his riot of grey curls, the small, graceful movements he made without being entirely aware of it. He had aged like expensive wine, becoming more elegant and sophisticated with every single year. John knew it was a privilege that he had been there to witness it.
It was surprisingly easy to reach for Sherlock’s hand and cover it with his own. Sherlock’s hand was pale, lined and wrinkled by years of chasing murderers and tending to bees in any wind and weather. John’s hand was small, even more callused than Sherlock's, still covered in bruises where needles and venous catheters had pierced the skin. Miraculously, Sherlock’s huge hand managed to disappear entirely under John’s.
It was so quiet around them that they could hear the clock on the wall ticking, sardonically counting down the seconds they had left.
John raised the hand that wasn't holding Sherlock's, and slowly ran his fingers through those grey curls, really feeling them for the first time in his life. Sherlock's hair was like silk under his fingertips. Sherlock lowered his head to give him better access.
John sighed. “When you jumped,” he said slowly, “I knew it. I knew it when you were standing there on the edge and I couldn’t lose you.”
Sherlock made a noise that could have been a strangled sob. John pretended not to hear it.
“We wasted so much time,” Sherlock murmured. “We’re complete imbeciles. We could have had everything and we threw it away.”
John nodded, still smiling his sad smile, feeling a giant lump in his throat. “Just imagine, love,” he whispered when he had his voice back, and Sherlock's breath hitched at the endearment, “Imagining is all we can do now. Just imagine what would’ve happened, if either of us had mustered the courage before it was too late. Imagine how much we would have loved each other.”
“But, John,” Sherlock breathed, “we did.”
The days became longer.
Sherlock held John’s hand now, whenever John was in pain, or feeling nauseated or cold, or had simply been alone for too long. Sherlock couldn't remember the last time he hadn't held John’s hand.
One day, when John was shuddering violently because the morphine was not enough to muffle the pain, Sherlock crawled into bed with him, enveloped him in his endless limbs and held him tight until the tremors stopped and John could breathe again.
They kept sharing a bed after that. John woke up with Sherlock wrapped around him every morning, and it was fine.
One day, John’s fingers had gone so numb that he was entirely unable to hold his spoon, and Sherlock ended up feeding him. They started eating in bed, always from the same plate, and when John’s muscles didn’t comply, Sherlock massaged the feeling back into John’s fingers.
More days passed and they loved each other, and neither of them admitted to himself that life had become and endless line of could-have-beens.
“You know, that first night at Angelo’s,” John murmured, mouth full of tuna sandwich because it was an exceptionally good day, first good day in a week, and he was ravenously hungry, “I wanted to jump at you across the table and rip your clothes off.”
Sherlock snorted. “Please, John. You have never been prone to public display of sexual attraction. You would have waited until we got home, and then ripped my clothes off.”
“Or,” John said, squeezing Sherlock’s hand, “I would have pushed you up against the wall in some darkened alleyway on our way home, and then ripped your clothes off.”
“Affirming the importance of the fact that you weren’t gay while ravishing me?”
John giggled a bit. “Of course. And then I would have told you that you were so gorgeous and exceptional and brilliant that I didn’t give a fuck about labels anymore.”
“Hmm,” Sherlock hummed, contemplating this. He looked very thoughtful. “I would have liked that.”
"Maybe I could donate my liver, my lungs and my thyroid gland to you,” Sherlock grumbled into the back of John’s neck, wiggling his fingers on John’s belly. John wondered when he had become the little spoon. He had never been the little spoon in his life.
“You know you would die without your liver, your lungs and your thyroid gland, right?”
“Collateral damage,” Sherlock said dismissively.
John chuckled and then decided to stop chuckling, because firstly, the tension in his abdominal muscles hurt like hell, and secondly, Sherlock had just offered to kill himself for him.
“Pity you’re the wrong blood type,” he said after a pause.
Sherlock grunted in annoyance and pulled him closer. John could feel Sherlock's breath becoming a bit ragged, making the hair on his nape stand up, and if he felt tears dripping onto his skin, he ignored it.
"I would have married you," Sherlock said while adding honey to John's tea and stirring it.
John drank his tea, closed his eyes and waited until they were cuddled up under the covers again. Then he intertwined their fingers. "I would have married you, too," he whispered.
“I’m dying,” John declared, six weeks and three days after he had come home, as Sherlock draped another blanket over his knees. He was shivering again.
“I know.” Sherlock reached for the mug on the bedside table to bring it to John’s lips. John’s trembling hands were no longer able to hold it.
“No, no,” John contradicted softly. “I mean I’m dying right now. I won’t be alive tomorrow.”
Sherlock set the mug back onto the table with an audible clink and glared at him. “You’re being absurd. You cannot know that.”
John took a deep breath that sounded strangled and brought way to little oxygen into his lungs. “Yes I can,” he said calmly. “Take my hand.”
Sherlock gasped in surprise. “It’s so cold.”
John smiled. “Yes, it is. My bloodstream is centralising. My limbs are underperfused and becoming hypoxic. My body is shutting down now. I can feel it. It won’t be long.”
“We can do something about that,” Sherlock said eagerly, fumbling with John's blanket. “We… we can make you warm again. I’ll make you more tea, or… or some really hot soup. Potato soup. Or the one with the peas. And then I’ll bring you an extra blanket and cuddle you and massage your limbs until they’re warm and then-“
“It’s okay, Sherlock.” John whispered, cutting him off. “I am doing better than I have for weeks. I don’t even feel cold, you know.” It was not a lie. He was stiff and numb, and the pain was muffled by the all-consuming fog that was slowly crawling through his body and addling his brain. All John felt was tiredness, indescribable fatigue, and it was, ironically, a welcome change.
Sherlock’s mouthed opened as if he were about to reply, and closed again when he thought the better of it.
“Cuddling sounds nice, though,” John said, lifting the blanket for Sherlock to crawl under it. They both needed a bit of soothing now.
Sherlock wrapped his lanky body around John’s, intertwined their legs, sighing heavily. John gently stroked his arm, giving his shoulder a tiny squeeze, and for a moment, it was alright.
“I haven’t danced with you in years,” Sherlock stated all of a sudden.
John smiled a bit. He found it increasingly hard to move any muscle at all, but he managed. “No, you haven’t.”
A crinkle appeared between Sherlock’s eyebrows. “We should dance, John. We should dance now.” The fact that John was about to die without having danced with Sherlock seemed to bother him immensely.
“We can’t dance, Sherlock,” John said tiredly, “I can’t even move my legs. I can’t possibly get out of bed.”
“I’ll hold you,” Sherlock promised and took his hand.
Sherlock slowly led him into their sitting room, one of John’s arms over his shoulders, his own arm around his waist, supporting John’s entire weight.
It was early evening, and the beginning sunset bathed the room in rich red and orange colours. When John looked out of the window he could see their apple trees, the purple dahlias in the flower bed and Sherlock’s beehives. The world outside was alive and buzzing with energy, and that was exactly how it was supposed to be.
The music filling the room was powerful, joyful and a bit melancholic at once. John was reminded of Baker Street, where he had woken up in the middle of the night to Sherlock playing sad melodies on his violin.
“It’s a waltz,” Sherlock said, pulling John closer to him, holding him upright with firm arms around his waist, pressing their bodies together. John buried his face in Sherlock’s neck, his cheek against the pulse point, and sighed. Sherlock tightened his grip around him and gently, rhythmically rocked them back and forth.
That’s how they danced the day John died.
Sherlock’s strength left him before the waltz was over. He slowly lowered them both to the floor, until they were half-sitting, half-lying there, John half on top of Sherlock, between sheet music, endless essays about Sherlock’s bees and the Encyclopedia Of Poisonous Plants In Britain. All of a sudden, John felt infinitely grateful that he had left the bed one last time.
And then Sherlock kissed him.
It was a brief kiss, just a touch of lips. John could barely muster the strength to reciprocate, but it was intimate and beautiful, and they both knew it was all they had. They stayed there on the floor, listening to their waltz, foreheads pressed together, Sherlock cradling John like a half-lifeless puppet.
“I wish you could wait for me,” Sherlock whispered, and it sounded so broken and hopeful at once that John’s heart clenched.
“I wish I could,” he agreed as the music faded out.
Darkness began to claim John's body a few hours later, when they were wrapped around each other in his bed once more. Sherlock had pulled himself up to a sitting position with John’s head in his lap, their fingers intertwined on John’s belly.
“I’m tired,” he whispered and attempted to squeeze Sherlock’s hand with his own. He found that he didn’t have enough strength. All he could manage was a twitch of his thumb. Sherlock understood and squeezed for him.
He lay there in Sherlock’s arms for long minutes, feeling the warmth of tears dripping onto his face as the man holding him wept quietly, and he was ready.
“Good night, Sherlock,” he said, and it felt right that Sherlock’s name was the last word he’d said in his life.
“Sweet dreams, John,” Sherlock breathed, and John closed his eyes.
The world went dark at first, then very bright, and then it was over.
Death was not what John had expected. Death looked like 221B Baker Street, only more blurred and coloured in light pastel shades. It bore strange resemblance to a watercolour painting.
John inhaled and marveled at the fact that drawing breath was easy and painless. Being dead did already have its advantages.
He looked around. The sitting room was unusually clean and tidy, but not empty like the day they had moved out and left for Sussex. It looked lived-in. There were sheets and books just about everywhere. Sherlock’s violin was lying on the floor, and John was about to touch it when he realised that he was not alone.
Sitting in John’s chair was - Mycroft Holmes, of all people. In an overpriced three-piece suit and with an umbrella in his right hand, of course.
“You?” John asked incredulously.
“Dr Watson." Mycroft put up his umbrella and held it above his head. A tiny cloud appeared out of thin air just beneath the ceiling and it started raining. The drops hit Mycroft’s umbrella but never reached the floor. John blinked.
Mycroft eyed him questioningly.
“I didn’t know afterlife had you in it,” John told him after a few seconds of staring.
Mycroft looked incredibly smug. “I’m not really to blame. This is your hallucination.”
John cursed his dying brain and its lack of oxygen. “You may have a point,” he conceded, and, after a pause, added “but you have to admit that this is a bit... unsettling.”
“Dying is scary business, Dr. Watson,” Mycroft explained, in that familiar, condescending, Holmesian way that suggested that John was far too stupid to be taken seriously. "That’s why most people don’t do it voluntarily."
John briefly wondered if this was some kind of post-death validation of his morality. Maybe he would end up in hell if he punched imaginary Mycroft in the face. It would probably be worth it.
Mycroft looked down on himself and sighed. “I didn’t know you had an inclination towards mundane aesthetics. I look like an aquarelle.” He gave John an exasperated eye roll. “But who am I to complain? Since I am apparently an authority figure your subconscious supplies you with when under extreme pressure, I should probably feel… honoured.”
John cleared his throat and didn’t know what to say.
Mycroft presented him with his best imitation of fake politeness, looking up at John expectantly. “Do you happen to have tea?” Before John could react, a tea set appeared on the coffee table. Mycroft made a pleased noise and poured himself a cup.
“Anyhow,” he said when he had finished drinking, wiggling his umbrella a bit. “I’m not here for meaningless chatter. I need to remind you of something.-” He cut himself off, his gaze dropping to John’s ancient Rolling Stones album on top of a pile of magazines next to his chair. “Aaah,” he exclaimed, proceeding to observe it curiously. “How inconsiderate. You bought that three years after moving out. This album has never been to Baker Street. Do try to keep your hallucinations historically correct.”
John was getting slightly impatient. He was absolutely not going to put up with Mycroft Holmes' perception of an absurdist drama, despite the fact that he was dead and trapped in a surreal version of 221B.
“What exactly do you need to remind me of?”
Mycroft glared at him. “Missed chances are guileful. Regret drives people mad. Do keep in mind what my brother said to you this evening. And try to act upon it, this time.”
“This time?” John repeated, taken aback.
He never got a response.
Mycroft dissolved in front of his eyes, melted like ice in the sun and disappeared, along with 221B and the umbrella and the sodding cloud on the ceiling. It was dark again.
John cracked one eye open and blinked into the sparse sunlight of a rainy day. It took him several seconds to right himself a bit and notice that he was, in fact, lying on the ground. His head felt like it had been split in at least two parts and he felt slightly nauseated.
This was not much of a problem. John had survived a gunshot wound and three rounds of chemotherapy. John was used to pain and nausea. At least he was breathing fine.
People around him were screaming, running, car breaks were squealing, and John blinked the blur in his vision away before looking around.
The asphalt he was lying on was the pavement opposite St. Bart’s hospital. Those people were running towards the body of a man who had committed suicide. It was November 20, 2011. John was thirty-seven years old and had just been knocked over by a cyclist.
Sherlock was playing his role with complete abandon. Not a single twitch of a muscle or an eyelid. Body control brought to perfection. John was pretty impressed.
Sherlock’s body was young, so very alive, a radiating source of energy, even as he lay there, covered in fake blood, posing as a corpse. John could see it now. He could see that the light had not vanished from Sherlock’s eyes, and he could barely suppress a smile.
He didn’t bother taking his pulse before they carried him away.
He knew he wouldn’t feel it.
It was surprisingly easy to settle into this reality.
John just went home, and it was fine because 221B felt more like home than he could possibly have imagined. It was as simple as that. He was alone now, but he wouldn’t be for long. Two years of waiting are nothing if you have already lived for nearly eighty.
John was not in pain in his thirty-seven-year-old body, if you don’t count the dull ache in his bad shoulder and the occasional twitch in his leg. It was perfectly bearable, all around.
Being young was a gift. Being young knowing what it felt like to be old and dying, however, was more of a burden. Constantly being reminded of how time flew away and ran through his fingers while he was desperately trying to get a grip on it was profoundly unpleasant.
However, he was not afraid of what was going to happen. He would do it better, this time.
Mrs. Hudson was taken aback by the fact that John didn’t grieve properly. She let him stay in 221B, of course, and neither of them moved any of Sherlock’s possessions, not even the half-finished notes on gradual liver decomposition on the table.
He had missed being here. He had missed it so much.
John tried his best to cry at Sherlock’s grave and attempted a pained expression while listening to Mrs. Hudson’s monologues about how much she missed him, but he’d always been a dreadful actor. After a while, Mrs. Hudson told him she was glad that he had his own way of mourning the man he loved, and John just hugged her and thanked her for understanding. He had missed her, too.
It was alright, really. This life was quiet and a bit boring, and he hadn’t eaten Chinese takeaway in years, and every single day he just marvelled at the fact that he could move and breathe effortlessly again. His limp didn’t come back.
He wasn’t grieving. He was just waiting.
It wasn't the question whether Sherlock would come back that bothered him. He knew he would. What kept him awake at night was the question if Sherlock had lived before, too. If Sherlock would remember.
John got a job at a small, nearby private clinic as a general practitioner. Of course he got it. He’d had it before.
He tended to dripping noses and broken arms, got sneezed and vomited on and semi-regularly beaten up with old ladies’ handbags after telling them how much they had to pay for their medication.
In June 2012 the clinic management deided to employ a new nurse. A lovely, competent and very self-confident blonde by the name of Amelia Gillian Reynolds-Albury, known as Mary Morstan, got the job.
She smiled at John, way too often to keep it subtle in any way. Sometimes, John smiled back, just because he could. He tried not to think about the fact that he knew what she looked like naked. Or the fact that he knew what she looked like with a gun in her hand, about to kill mercilessly, without a trace of emotion in her eyes.
Sometimes she winked at him when she walked past him on the corridor. He never winked back.
When she finally asked him to spend his lunch break with her, he declined politely and ate his sandwich alone in his office, feeling perfectly content with himself.
Mary started taking shifts on a different ward and eventually announced that she was dating the clinic’s receptionist.
They still smiled at each other on the corridor, but while Mary's smile was strangely daring, inviting, John’s was reserved and subdued. She wasn't supposed to get the wrong idea.
One day, it occurred to John that, maybe, this Mary had lived her life before, just like he had. He dismissed the horrible thought and never smiled at her again.
Sometimes, John went through their photos on his laptop. Photos of Sherlock, of Sherlock and him, of their cases, their suspects, the people they had met. He printed some of them out, framed them and positioned them on the mantle so he could look at them when he was sitting in his chair.
Sometimes he caught himself talking to Sherlock’s skull, or his chair, or his violin, and for a brief instant, he thought he was going mad. But then, he giggled at the empty flat and the empty flat didn't giggle back, and he was at home and waiting and he didn't feel lonely at all.
Sometimes he flicked through Sherlock’s lab journal or his note books and slowly ran his finger over the handwriting he knew so intimately. Sherlock's handwriting had never changed as they had grown old together.
Sometimes, he took one of his photos out of its frame. It showed Sherlock wearing his infamous deerstalker and a slightly disgruntled facial expression, and seeing him like that made John’s chest hurt and his breath hitch, because sometimes, waiting was hard. He brought the photo to his lips, pressed a kiss to the top right corner and put it back into its frame where it belonged.
John understood why he had been brought back to the day Sherlock jumped. It was the day they had drifted apart. An invisible barrier had been built between them, and they had never dared to cross it until the day John died.
Maybe the universe had granted them justice in some way. Maybe they both had to see each other die to fully understand.
Lestrade turned up to bring him Sherlock’s possessions that had been left at New Scotland Yard. On schedule. He patted John on the shoulder before leaving and told him he was surprised how well he was doing, and that he wished he would move on, maybe find someone. John just smiled at him. “I’m fine, Greg,” he said, and he meant it.
John remembered the day he had received that box of insane memories first, in the flat he had rented with Mary, and how much it had hurt to watch the stupid video message.
This time, he watched it on his laptop, opened a bottle of Whiskey and replayed the idiotic smile-and-wink over and over again, until he was drunk like a sailor and crying with laughter.
John booked a table for two at the The Landmark. October 25, 2013, 8 p.m.
He spent far too much money on an impeccably tailored suit, new shoes and ridiculously expensive aftershave.
He decided that it didn’t matter if Sherlock had gone back in time with him. He didn’t care if he remembered their life and their ageing and their little eternity. It didn’t matter because John knew they had loved each other from the start. Time was just one variable in their story. At least that’s what he told himself.
He was only a little nervous.
He told the waiter that he was waiting for someone and wasn’t going to order alone.
“Big day today?” the waiter asked, smirking. John nodded.
He took a sip of his white wine, then another one, absentmindedly rubbing his thigh with one hand, fumbling with his pocket, glancing at his watch every ten seconds.
When he looked up, he was there. Dressed in the exact same suit he had worn all those years ago, on this very day, looking stiff and reserved, his expression unreadable.
John smiled into the face of the man he loved, and Sherlock’s mouth dropped open, and when their eyes met, John knew that Sherlock knew. That Sherlock had expected a moustache and a fiancée and a punch in the face, because he, too, had been here before.
John got up and moved closer, cautiously reaching for Sherlock’s hand. His skin was smooth, silky, not wrinkled or lined, unlike the way it would be in their last years together. It was delicate and beautiful, and John didn’t want to let it go. He caressed Sherlock’s palm with his thumb, whispering his name.
Sherlock made a noise that could have been a sigh, or possibly a sob, and let himself fall into John’s arms. And John held him tight, breathed him in and let him shudder against him and bury his face in the crook of his neck, and it had been worth the wait. It had been worth every single second of it.
They sat down quietly and John took another sip of his wine.
Sherlock cleared his throat. “Where’s Mary?”
“No idea,” John told him. “And I couldn’t possibly care less.”
“But you’re here to-“ Sherlock swallowed, apparently trying to wrap his head around what was going on and having more difficulties than John. “I know you’re here to-”
“To propose?” John supplied.
Sherlock nodded warily, fumbling with his serviette. “You have bought this suit last week and had it dry cleaned despite it is new. You shaved, not in the morning but mere minutes before leaving the flat. There’s product in your hair, and you smell like Bloomsbury’s Dark Velvet, which is clearly nowhere near your usual price level. You have glanced at my left ring finger three times so far, and there is obviously a ring box in your left trouser pocket. It’s not a difficult deduction, John, seriously.”
“You’re brilliant,” John said admiringly.
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed as he looked him up and down, observing John’s every move, as he had done in so often in the countless years they had spent together.
“You’re getting engaged,” he finally concluded, his voice strangely shaky. “Not to Mary.”
John took Sherlock’s hand in his before bending down on one knee in front of him. “The night I died, you wished I could wait for you. I did.”
“I lived for two more years,” Sherlock told him when they were walking home, hand in hand. “Died in the garden while drinking tea and talking to your reading glasses. Stroke, I think, but I'm not entirely sure. It's not like I can check.”
John stopped to smile at him in the light cone of a streetlamp. The ring on Sherlock’s finger sparkled a bit. Neither of them could stop looking at it. Sherlock clenched his hand repeatedly and held it up to the light whenever he had a chance to, making the ring reflect it in the most effective way possible.
“Was it… was it painful?”
Sherlock shook his head. “I was just sitting there and all of a sudden it was over.”
John was oddly relieved. His greatest fear had been for Sherlock to die slowly, in pain and fear and agony, just like he had.
“I woke up in Poland,” Sherlock explained. “Two months ago. Tied up in the basement of one of Moriarty’s former snipers. I escaped rather fast this time, since I didn’t have to find out where that idiot hid his keys. I remember when I was there for the first time. I think I had passed out. Dehydration. Pain. Something like that.”
John nodded. “The day you jumped,” he said simply. Sherlock didn’t answer.
They kissed on the doorstep.
John took Sherlock’s face in his hands, crowded him against the door and kissed him. And Sherlock kissed back with so much enthusiasm that John’s legs were trembling when they broke apart, and there they were, beaming at each other for endless moments, eyes wide, not daring to move.
“I’m not sure if this was our first kiss,” Sherlock said thoughtfully when they had their breath back, “or our second.”
“I don’t know,” John told him, “but by the end of the night we'll have stopped counting.”
They walked upstairs, arms around each other’s waists. John felt Sherlock’s warm, solid weight against him, and it made him shiver, but only a little.
Sherlock looked around, slowly, carefully letting his gaze wander over all those tiny things that had made this place their home, years ago. His eyes were glassy and his hand was shaking a little, and John couldn’t stop looking at him. Sherlock was safe, protected, beautiful and where he belonged, and John had never felt so sure of anything in his entire existence.
He took Sherlock’s hand and led him into his bedroom. They undressed each other slowly, unhurriedly. They kissed and kissed, moved together, found a rhythm that made them spiral downwards and shatter in each other’s arms, and it was perfect. The world outside didn’t exist anymore. Everything that mattered was under their blanket, where they were whispering confessions into each other’s skin.
Afterwards, Sherlock snuggled up to him, his head tucked into the crook of John’s neck. John pressed his lips to Sherlock’s damp curls and Sherlock sighed. John could hear his throbbing pulse and feel his own, and he had never been so alive.
“We may have travelled through time and thrown the universe off balance, but one thing we know for sure,” Sherlock declared.
John propped himself up on one elbow and kissed the place where Sherlock’s bullet wound would never be. “What is it?” he asked, smiling against soft, unharmed skin.
The corners of Sherlock’s mouth twitched minutely. “I won’t die a virgin twice.”
John laughed and kissed him and pulled him closer, and Sherlock’s breath was hot on John’s cheek as they both slowly drifted into sleep.
When John woke up, it was still dark. Early morning, he suspected.
He had no idea how long he had slept, but he felt well-rested and blissful, and all around more energetic than he ever had. Sherlock was awake, lying on his side, watching him attentively while caressing his naked chest with one hand.
“Your heartbeat is much steadier now,” he said.
“Good morning to you, too,” John whispered and leaned over to kiss him.
Sherlock sat up, wrapping the duvet around himself, and reached for John’s hand. “We should dance again.”
They walked out into the sitting room, which looked like a fragment of a daydream, coloured by the dimmed light of early sunrise falling through the windows.
Sherlock found the exact CD they had danced to the evening John died, and the familiar waltz started playing.
John was still naked and Sherlock was still wrapped in only a duvet, and it should have been ridiculous when, in fact, it was absolutely glorious. Decadent and shameless and wonderful. Sherlock pulled him close, wrapped the duvet around both of them and took the lead as they danced.
The rhythm filled them, invaded every fibre of their bodies, and Sherlock made little noises of approval as John followed his every move. The duvet was like a soft, warm cocoon that shielded them from any sort of reality that may have been out there. John closed his eyes and let Sherlock guide him, getting lost in his scent and the feeling of their bodies moving in unison.
And then Sherlock kissed him and embraced him tighter, and all of a sudden they weren’t dancing any more. They were just standing there, swaying slightly in three-four time, just like two years ago (or maybe fourty-two years in the future) listening to the music slowly fading out.
“When I die again, I won't have any regrets,” Sherlock said when it was silent, miraculously silent around them.
John hummed in agreement. “Just this,” he said, looking at the gorgeous man he was going to love in every way possible for the rest of his life. “Just having this for one moment is worth dying a thousand deaths.”
Sherlock smiled at him and John decided that another life wouldn’t be enough to get used to the sheer beauty of it. Time really was insignificant, a detail of their story.
How utterly fortunate that this time, it was going to be absolutely perfect.