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Malta

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John was making his way down the stairs from his room with a few bumps and some muffled swear words. Sherlock, laying on his back on the sofa with his hands steepled and eyes on the ceiling, deduced that John was struggling with something heavy. He was making slower progress than usual, and yet not so slow as to indicate moving furniture. Something under 15kg, then. And an awkward shape, or John wouldn’t be bumping the walls. He squinted a little as he considered what it might be. John wouldn’t have that amount of rubbish in his room, and wasn’t really the Salvation Army-donation sort. If anything, he was the wearer of those clothes, not the giver. Sherlock snorted to himself at the appalled look any of the homeless might sport, receiving John’s knobbly jumpers as an act of charity.

Flicking his eyes to the door to the stairs, musing idly on whether he should check if John was ok, Sherlock decided John would yell out if that was necessary. As disinclined as Sherlock was to help with these things, he knew John would eventually lose patience if it really mattered. And so his eyes flicked back to the ceiling and he waited for John to appear before him with an explanation. John was predictable like that.

Moments later, John indeed appeared, with a small suitcase behind him. Not a nice one – those wheelie ones now were so clever, with four spinning wheels and lightweight materials – but some relic from *Sherlock squinted at it* maybe the early 1990s? When John was in university? His eyes lifted from the suitcase to John, taking in his rumpled linen shirt (a gift from Sherlock-via-Mycroft a few Christmases ago) and casual trousers, and… were they boat shoes? What was going on? He’d known John for years, and he didn’t even know John owned boat shoes. His eyes continued scanning, noting a document wallet in John’s left hand, a piece of paper haphazardly folded in it and enough weight to the wallet that there was clearly a passport inside. International travel, then? But not a very big suitcase, so he couldn’t be going too far or for too long. John wasn’t a particularly efficient person, so he was unlikely to pack multiple weeks’ worth of clothing into a bag that small. So one week, then. Somewhere with water, based on the boat shoes, and warmer than London, based on the shirt. Sherlock squinted again, and turned to look out the window at the steady London rain. Not heavy, but rather a drag given it was August.

Looking back, Sherlock’s eyes rested on John’s face, finding him looking back at him expectantly, with amusement around his eyes and lifted brows. He’d been waiting for Sherlock to deduce… planned for it, even.

“So…”

“So, you’re going on a holiday. One week or less. Somewhere warmer than here. Can’t be more than a few hours away as you clearly plan to arrive at your destination today wearing that outfit. You have your passport, so it’s not in the UK. You’re flying, not taking the train, or you would just have relied on your e-ticket on your phone. Silly, because most airlines are fine with an e-ticket now too, but you’re conservative that way. It’s August, and you’re pretty poor, so it’ll have to be somewhere the budget airlines have a direct flight. You haven’t told me about it… not sure why yet, but I’m sure you will in a minute. Though actually now I think about it maybe you’re clutching a paper ticket because you know I read your emails, and you wanted to keep this a secret. You’re going alone, because I’m not going and you would never risk a holiday with Harry.”

John spluttered and looked a bit offended at this, though he’d had an encouraging expression on his face until then.

“I have other friends…”

“No, you don’t. You like Molly and Lestrade well enough, but not well enough to spend a week with them full time. The conversation would be awkward. And inviting Molly might make her think you were interested in her romantically, which you would never encourage. Also Lestrade has already taken a holiday this summer and he’s not the sort to take two holidays within a few months’ time. Much more likely to take a single, longer holiday, and maximise his time away from work. Too hard to hand over his cases twice within a few months. So that means you’re going alone. But the question is, why? You’ve never taken a holiday in the entire time I’ve known you. I’m not even sure you’ve taken a long weekend somewhere. Even on Bank Holidays, we stay here and explore London while everyone else racks off to wherever they’re going.”

Sherlock paused, considering. John looked pleased again, clearly having moved past the “no friends” moment to pleasure that he’d flummoxed Sherlock.

“Do you want me to tell you?”

Sherlock deliberated. He really preferred to work things out for himself, and yet John was rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, eager to share with Sherlock.

“You want to tell me. You’re almost giddy with it. Which makes no sense, because you wanted this to be a surprise. You haven’t mentioned going away, and you certainly hid your packing and planning. It’s not just that you failed to mention it; you actively took steps to make sure I didn’t know.”

“Yes.”

“But why, is the question. I wouldn’t begrudge you a holiday. You know that. You haven’t taken one since you got back from Afghanistan, and I’ll bet it was a long time before then that you actually relaxed. And I myself like holidays, so you could just have invited me if you didn’t want to go alone. But you didn’t. Hmmm.”

“Can I just tell you, please? Every guess so far has been spot on.”

“Deduction.”

“What? Oh yes, sorry, deduction. Every deduction so far has been spot on.”

“Go on.”

“Look, I don’t want to spoil your fun if you want to keep going, but as it happens I do have a plane to catch, so we are somewhat on the clock.”

“Ok, so it’s roughly 10am now, you’re the sort that likes to be at the airport 3 hours before an international flight, and it’ll take you roughly an hour on the Tube to any of the three major airports. You won’t spring for a cab because you’ve already invested quite enough in this holiday and you think a cab is frivolous. I’m going to assume Heathrow, because it has the fewest Tube changes, even though Gatwick would probably be faster. And you knew I’d want to spend at least 15 minutes working this out, and you would want to build in a buffer time for me being hurt and surprised that you hadn’t told me, so let’s add another 30 minutes.”

Sherlock pulled out his phone, tap-tap-tapping at it while John looked on with an amused expression. He loved seeing Sherlock in action.

“You’re either on the 2.50pm flight to Malta, or the 3.10pm to Lisbon. Weather forecast in both places for the next week is delightful. 28’C and sunny every day in Malta. Bit more cloud cover and hotter in Lisbon. I’m going to guess Malta, because you’ve been to Lisbon before, and I think if you’re taking your first holiday in god-knows-how-long, you’re not going to waste it on somewhere you’ve already been. Also you want a swim, which is easier in Malta than Lisbon.”

John chuckled to himself, pleased and surprised. “That was brilliant, even for you, Sherlock. How do you know I’ve been to Lisbon? I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it.”

“Oh, that wasn’t really a deduction. Just felt more likely that you’d been to Lisbon than Malta – maybe a university trip with friends, or a group trip while at Bart’s. Malta tends to be more popular with the over 40s crowd, which hasn’t been you until rather recently.”

“Rude. But you’re right. It is Malta, and I am on the 2.50pm.”

“Well then, good on me, I suppose.” Sherlock gave an unexpectedly heavy sigh and looked rather resigned. “Will you tell me why you kept it a secret, then? I can’t deduce that.”

John’s face dropped a bit, shifting from a warm smile to something more serious. Sherlock noted the change – it wasn’t bad news, exactly, but John wasn’t sure how it would be received. John’s heart rate had sped up, and he was breathing faster too. So… nervous, then.

“Why are you nervous?”

“I’m not nervous.”

“Yes, you are. You don’t need to lie to me, you know. Just spit it out, and then we’ll both know whatever it is.”

John looked uncomfortable. He’d been hoping to present as poised and calm during this conversation, and instead he really was nervous. Being goaded by Sherlock wasn’t helping.

“Sherlock… I want to tell you something.”

“Clearly,” Sherlock said snarkily.

“Sherlock… please. Can you let me get this out?” Sherlock nodded, and John continued. “Actually, I think it’d be better if you came over here so I can see your face.” John gestured at their chairs, encouraging Sherlock to get off the sofa and come over.

Sherlock swung his legs around and sat up in one sinuous movement, neatly sidestepping the coffee table and loping across the room. John noted his grace, even as he saw doubt begin to flicker on Sherlock’s face. Sherlock was bracing himself for bad news, then.

“Sherlock, it’s not bad news… at least, I hope you won’t think it’s bad news.”

“You’ve met someone.”

“Yes… no… I mean, sort of…” John trailed off awkwardly, moving to sit down in his own chair, facing Sherlock.

“How can it be “sort of”? Meeting someone is binary. You either have or you haven’t, and I think you’d know, John. You’re a decisive sort.”

John’s expression lifted at this – almost a compliment, coming from Sherlock. He started again, “No, I meant, this is about me having met someone but it’s not new and I suspect it’s not what you think. And I do know. Quite concretely. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Sherlock looked glum at this, and John wondered if Sherlock was plotting how to scare this one off too. None of the others had made it past a few dates as soon as Sherlock got wind of them.

“Sherlock, it’s not what you think. It’s not… a woman. It’s not, you know, the usual….” John took a deep breath and steeled himself. No point having done all this preparation, hidden his holiday for months, just to lose his nerve at the pivotal moment. He pushed on, “It’s you, Sherlock. It’s always been you. I – I just took a while to realise it, that’s all.”

John paused to check Sherlock’s reaction. He scanned Sherlock’s face, expecting Sherlock to look taken aback, maybe speculative, maybe happy or angry or shocked. John had spent days considering every possible outcome of this conversation, every reaction Sherlock might have to this news. Instead, much to John’s surprise, Sherlock looked confused and John realised that Sherlock wasn’t following.

“Sherlock… I mean… I’m trying to say… I’m trying to tell you that I’m in love with you. That I want to be with you… you know… romantically.” Sherlock’s confused expression morphed a little. Shifted into more of a considered look, like he was assessing this new information. John decided to plough on. Cat’s out of the bag now, and all that.

“I – Look I know this must be a lot to take in. I’ve known for a while, and the idea has had time to settle. I knew… I mean I knew for a long time that I loved you. Maybe I’ve always known I loved you… but in the last six months… It’s like it hit me over the head one day. I didn’t love you like a best friend is supposed to love another… I loved you like I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. Like I wanted us to live together, and cook together, and…” John looked a bit embarrassed now. “You know… *be* together.”

Sherlock looked startled at this, and John rushed on. “Not… not that that’s important. You might never want that… and that would be ok with me. But… I realised a while ago that I couldn’t keep this to myself. I don’t want to do anything to change our relationship… to change us… but not telling you is killing me. Every time you did something remarkable… solved a case, cooked an incredible meal, just looked at me in that way you have, I was scared it would burst out and I’d freak you out. Imagine if I told you I loved you in the lab at Bart’s, in front of Molly. Or forgot myself and took your hand at Angelo’s. Or…” John drifted off, shuddering as he thought of the many and varied ways his feelings for Sherlock might have spilled out.

“So I decided I’d better tell you in a planned way. So I didn’t embarrass myself or you, and so you could have time to think about it without me staring expectantly at you. So… that’s what I’m doing.”

Sherlock’s expression had moved back to a calculated neutral, and John knew Sherlock was deliberately masking himself. That was probably to be expected. Sherlock was probably horrified by this development. Wished John had just shut up and kept this to himself until he got over it. Wished their lives, their little flat, could just keep going as it always had. John decided to continue on. May as well get the rest out while he was here, and then he could escape Baker Street and cower alone. He would get a cab, he decided. Who had he been kidding, that he’d have the most important conversation of his life and then just stroll on down to the Tube?

“So… yeah. That’s what I wanted to tell you. And I booked the trip to Malta so you could have a week alone to think about it. Because I know this will be a big shock, and maybe quite an unwelcome one, and I didn’t want to be awkward around you while you take it in.”

John paused, just in case Sherlock wanted to say something. But he didn’t, it seemed. Nothing about Sherlock’s expression indicated he was about to speak, or even particularly that he’d heard John. But John knew that he had, and for now that would have to be enough. John felt disappointed; his heart sank, and he suddenly felt exhausted. The adrenalin had run out, then. Clearly some part of him he’d buried had been hoping for a matching declaration, the passionate sharing of reciprocal feelings, even a soft acknowledgement that Sherlock was even remotely open to having the conversation.

He let the minutes pass, knowing he had time before he needed to leave, and hoping beyond hope that he might get something from Sherlock before he went. Anything at all. Even a “What on earth was that about?” or “I’m sorry, John, but I just don’t feel the same way.” Instead… nothing. Silence. Blank expression and a slight squint of those beautiful eyes, staring into the middle distance.

John shook himself. No point embarrassing himself further. He stood, and pulled the paper out from his document wallet, and handed it to Sherlock, who took it silently.

“Not a print out of your ticket then?” Sherlock noted, as he looked at the page. It was the first thing he’d said in ages, and it came out in a low tone.

John gave a grim smile of acknowledgment. “No, that was the one thing you were wrong about. I wouldn’t print out a ticket – they’ll know who I am. This is for you to keep. It’s… ah… it’s sort of an FAQ on what happened just now.”

Sherlock snorted and looked more closely at the paper. “You wrote an FAQ on this conversation? I… I don’t think anyone has done that before. That is a very odd thing to do. I was… you know… here.”

“Yeah, no, I know you were here. I just… ah… I just thought there were some things you should know. Some context that you might need or want as you think this week. And while you are, of course, able to contact me the whole time, I thought that you might not want to. You might prefer just to have a page you can read and absorb in your own time. I’m happy to tell you all of this to your face, of course, but I don’t want to overwhelm you.”

Sherlock nodded slowly, and continued reading. He didn’t look up. His face remained steadfastly neutral, and a last piece of John’s heart broke. This wasn’t going how he’d hoped at all. He decided it was time to cut his losses, grabbed the handle of the suitcase and turned towards the door, leaning the suitcase forward so it could roll on its wheels the old-fashioned way.

He looked back, “Goodbye, then. I’ll be back next Saturday. And… if you want me to move out then, I will.”

Sherlock’s head lifted sharply and his eyes widened as they made contact with John’s. “Move out? Why would you move out?”

“Well, you know, judging by your reaction this isn’t welcome news at all, so I just wanted to let you know that I don’t have to stay. I know that would be uncomfortable. Obviously my preference is for things just to stay as they are if you don’t feel the same way, but I don’t want to force that on you. I want it to be your choice. You found the flat, after all.”

Sherlock scrunched up his nose and looked displeased. “John, this is our flat. It will always be our flat. Me knowing Mrs Hudson first doesn’t make it any more my flat than yours. You know that.” John breathed a sigh of relief. This, at least, was good news. The idea of moving out, not seeing Sherlock every day, having to start afresh after his declaration, felt a bit much. Even if he had to suppress every feeling, restrain every gesture, and go to bed alone and broken-hearted each night, it was still better than the alternative.

“Thanks, Sherlock. That’s very kind of you.”

Sherlock’s brow furrowed a bit – clearly he didn’t agree with John’s assessment of this, but he decided to let it slide.

John turned back to the door and took another deep breath. “Bye, then.”

Sherlock didn’t respond, and John gulped as he opened the door and pulled the suitcase behind him. Telling himself not to cry. Telling himself he had always known this was a possibility. Telling himself to pull it together. That he’s a grown man in his 40s, and not a lovesick teenager. But this doesn’t help, and he feels the tears gather as he heaves the stupid suitcase with its stupid wheels over the threshold and pulls the door shut behind him. He stops a second on the landing, still trying to gather himself. Even as he does this, he knows Sherlock will have noticed his footfalls stop, and know John is hiding behind the door. This is the motivation John needs to get going, to head down the stairs to Baker Street and out the door to the airport where he can feel thoroughly sorry for himself without Sherlock’s scrutiny.

_____________________________________________

Back inside the flat, Sherlock is staring at the closed door, John’s crushed silhouette as he pulled it closed behind him imprinted on his mind’s eye. Sherlock doesn’t always read others’ emotions well, but he can read John. And John isn’t ok. John is devastated.

Sherlock closes his eyes and leans back in his chair, musing on what to do. He could run after John, ask him to stay, ask him to talk. But what would Sherlock say? What could he say? Sherlock has no idea what just happened. He didn’t see this coming at all – any of it. The suitcase, the holiday, the declaration of love. From John! His John! Who had never indicated he had any of these feelings. Who hadn’t been acting oddly at all these last few months.

Though now Sherlock thought about it, maybe John had? He had noticed John watching Sherlock more closely. Maybe standing a bit closer too. And sometimes when Sherlock looked over to catch John’s eye, he’d see a tender expression on John’s face; one that would be masked almost immediately with a friendly smile when John realised he’d been caught.

Well, this was new then. Sherlock looked down again at the paper John had pressed into his hand. An FAQ indeed! For a conversation Sherlock had been a part of! Though… he couldn’t really say he’d been an active participant, could he? He’d just listened. Maybe that’s why John had done the FAQ – so Sherlock’s Qs could be answered, when he hadn’t even tried to ask them while John had been in the room.

Sherlock decided to check that John had really gone. He stood up quickly, and strode across to the door, whipping it open and leaning forward to check John wasn’t waiting at the bottom of the stairs either. That ascertained, instead of going down to the street, he whipped back around and made for the windows overlooking Baker Street. He couldn’t see John, but then the angle wasn’t really right. He struggled with the catch on the window for a second before throwing it wide and shoving his face directly downwards in the gap. There was John, collapsing the long handle back into the suitcase and grabbing the short handle on top to heave it into the black cab that had pulled up.

A cab! For John, alone! Sherlock didn’t think he’d ever known John to do that. John, who protested the expense of shared cabs for years, before giving up and acknowledging that Sherlock wasn’t going to change his behaviour. It’s not that Sherlock didn’t like the Tube – he did, the system was very clever and efficient, and worked well for the rest of the city’s people – but it wasn’t as good as whisking through London’s streets with full visibility around him and John by his side. Just the two of them.

Sherlock had a split second to decide whether to shout at John not to go, but even as he started to think that through, John jerked the door shut behind him and the cab pulled out into Baker Street. Sherlock could text him… but he found he didn’t want to do that either. What he really wanted was to think.

He went and sat back down in his chair, facing John’s.

_____________________________________________

Hours later, Sherlock stood up again. He strode into the kitchen, hitting the kettle’s switch on for tea before realising there wasn’t enough water in it. With a melodramatic sigh – really, why did these things always happen to him – Sherlock lifted up the kettle and pressed the button for its lid to fly up, as he turned around to fill it at the sink. As the water rushed in from the tap, he made a decision. He shut off the tap and snapped the kettle’s lid closed, shoving it haphazardly back into its mount, and hitting the switch again to get it to boil.

He strode back to his chair and dug in the gap between the cushion and the chair’s arm, looking for his phone. Blasted thing always fell out of his pocket and down the side. Scooping it up, and brushing the crumbs that also inhabited that space casually onto his trousers, Sherlock sent a text.

Come now. Urgent. – SH

He waited only a second before three grey dots appeared… typing. Sherlock sighed with impatience.

Really urgent, or you-don’t-know-where-John-keeps-the-teabags-urgent?

Really urgent. Of course I know where John keeps the teabags. I live here too. – SH

Yes, but you don’t make the tea and I bet you’re craving one right about now.

Sherlock stood up straighter, surprised that Lestrade knew him that well. He looked around suspiciously and wondered if he was being watched. Even though he hadn’t texted Lestrade to find out about the teabags, the timing was unbelievable.

Are you watching me, or am I really that predictable? Also how do you know John isn’t here? – SH

You’re that predictable. And also I know John left hours ago. He’s at the airport. There’s still time if you want me to whisk you there…? You could have your very own Love Actually moment.

Sherlock looked alarmed now. How did Lestrade know? Clearly John had told him. Had John told Lestrade about his feelings before he’d told Sherlock? That didn’t seem like John – he was a very private person – and yet clearly Lestrade knew more than Sherlock expected.

What the hell is a Love Actually moment? – SH

Really? You haven’t seen that film? You definitely should. It’s fantastic.

Lestrade, I swear to god. Get over here. Now. – SH

Really. I need you. I don’t know what you know but clearly you know enough. – SH

Only if you promise you’ll watch Love Actually at some stage.

It’s really very good.

The airport scene will really tug at your heartstrings. Great score, too.

But also, probably more importantly, it’s one of John’s favourite movies.

Fine. Will watch. Now come over. – SH

Sherlock put the phone down, and went back into the kitchen to steep the tea, satisfied that Lestrade would be on his way. As infuriating as the man could be, he was there any time Sherlock had ever really needed him. After precisely four minutes steeping, he lifted the teabag out and whisked it into the new compost bin John was insisting they use. Sherlock had thought it a nuisance at first – just one more thing to clean, to manage – but now he was in the swing of it and quite liked the idea. Not that he’d tell John that.

_____________________________________________

Sherlock had just settled himself back into his chair with a second cup of tea when he heard the door to the street open and close, and Lestrade’s familiar footsteps make their way up the stairs. Not running, but moving at a strong clip. This pleased Sherlock – it felt as though Lestrade knew exactly how intentional Sherlock needed to be about what was next.

Lestrade knocked, and Sherlock called out “Come in!” even though they both knew Lestrade would anyway. He entered, wearing a fitted grey t-shirt, dark jeans, and shockingly white trainers. Sherlock squinted at him, “What are you wearing?”

Lestrade looked down, “Um… clothes?”

“You know what I mean. Why do you look…” Sherlock waved his hand dismissively up and down Lestrade’s body, “like that?”

“If you mean, why am I not dressed in a collared shirt and work trousers, the answer is that it’s the weekend and I’m not working today.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. Why wouldn’t I have a day off?”

“I don’t know. I thought you were always working.”

“Well, trust me Sherlock, it’s always work when it involves you,” Lestrade smirked. Sherlock frowned a moment before realising Lestrade was joking.

“Oh ha ha. Very funny. ‘Sherlock’s such a pain to work with’, isn’t that droll?’ Heard it all before.”

Lestrade rolled his eyes, knowing Sherlock wasn’t actually offended and mildly impressed that Sherlock had identified the joke. That hadn’t been his strong suit in the past.

“And so, to the matter at hand…” Lestrade started, gesturing at John’s empty chair, and catching Sherlock’s eye. “Shall we sit?”

“Yes, I think we should,” Sherlock said seriously. Sherlock returned to his seat and Lestrade stepped neatly around into John’s. He looked evenly at Sherlock, noting the worried expression and the nervous twisting of hands. It was the most jittery Lestrade had seen Sherlock in years. Actually, Lestrade thought to himself, the most jittery he’d seen Sherlock since John had come into his life. He took a deep breath, noted idly that he hadn’t been offered a tea, then breathed out as he remembered his role here. He caught Sherlock’s eye once more, and Sherlock began.

“So... what do you know? When I texted you, I didn’t expect that you would know anything, but the nature of your texts suggest that John let you know what he was going to do.”

“Yes, I was rather on notice that you might text me.”

“Meaning?”

“John let me know that he was going to talk to you, and that he intended to leave immediately for a holiday to give you time to think about it. He asked me when my days off were, and we agreed that I would be available on the day he did it, so you would have someone to talk to if you wanted to. So ... I wasn’t terribly surprised to get your text.”

“But I didn’t know that I was going to text you right until the moment that I did.”

“That might be so, but John knew. He told me he’d be leaving for the airport between 10.15 and 10.45 and that he expected you’d text me sometime after that.”

Sherlock sat with this information for a second, marvelling that both John knew him so well. Knew that he’d text Lestrade and not Molly or Mycroft, or head downstairs to find Mrs Hudson. He filed that information away to examine more closely later.

“So, you knew what John was going to tell me, then?”

“Yes. I wasn’t really surprised.”

“You weren’t?”

“No, I mean – I knew he felt that way about you. I guess I was surprised that he was telling you now, and choosing to tell you this way. I assumed you already knew, and that you’d had that conversation before now. And I was pretty surprised that he thought the right way to do it was drop the news in your lap and then leave immediately, but he knows you better than anyone, so I trusted him that he was making the right choice. I did try to talk him out of it, mind, but I could see that he’d decided already.”

“You tried to talk him out of telling me?” Sherlock looked a bit miffed, and frowned at Lestrade.

“No – I tried to talk him out of leaving straight away. I thought you’d have questions, and that it’d probably be better to discuss what this meant for the two of you. But he was sure, so I didn’t push it.”

Sherlock considered this, and eventually nodded. “I think he was right. I did need time to think. I don’t know that he needed to fly to another country to give me that, but I don’t think I could have had the whole conversation with him right there in front of me. It was… a lot. A lot to process.”

Lestrade watched Sherlock closely, with his head cocked slightly to one side. “Was it really? I guess, I’m pretty surprised that you didn’t know that already.”

Sherlock nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I can see that. In retrospect, it’s not that John was particularly subtle, it’s more that… you know, nothing had changed. I knew he loved me – he’d never said it, but I knew. But that was different. Because I knew I loved him too, and we’d always been this way.” Sherlock gestured around the room, and Lestrade nodded understandingly.

“I was surprised to hear this morning that he is in love with me, though. Because that’s quite different. That implies… feelings… and commitment… and,” Sherlock took a deep breath and flushed, “… touching.”

Lestrade snorted with laughter then tried to school his face after receiving a quick glare from Sherlock. Sherlock was so earnest, and really looked quite vulnerable in this moment.

“Sherlock, two things. First, if you want to make the big romantic gesture and get to the airport before John gets on the plane, we have to leave right now to have any chance of making it. But secondly, and I think this is more likely, if you want to just sit here and talk for a bit, you know that’s fine with me too, right?”

Sherlock nodded in acknowledgment. He was touched by Lestrade’s words, and felt idly sorry he’d been so rude in the past when Lestrade was being so kind now. He shifted a bit at that uncomfortable realisation, then focussed on Lestrade again.

“I don’t want to go to the airport. I did already consider chasing after him but I dismissed that because I don’t know what I’d say. And I think if you’re going to chase down a man who’s just been that honest with you, you need to know what you’re going to say, one way or the other.”

Lestrade agreed, quietly. He loved the idea of a bold declaration, and had enjoyed momentary visions of himself and Sherlock flying through London traffic with the blue and reds on, pulling into Heathrow Departures with a flourish, and Sherlock tearing down the terminal after his one true love. But that wasn’t very Sherlock, after all. As impulsive (and infuriating) as Sherlock could be, he could understand wanting to get this one right. It was John, after all.

Sherlock continued, “So, I texted you because I wanted to bounce some ideas off you. And usually I’d bounce ideas off John. But, for obvious reasons, I can’t do that. And I’d got to the point in my thinking where I really wasn’t making much progress. So here you are.”

Lestrade nodded, “Of course, mate. Anything I can do.”

Sherlock read sympathy and genuine concern on Lestrade’s face, and wondered about it. Did Lestrade think Sherlock was a bit pathetic, needing a buddy to discuss his feelings? From what Lestrade said before, it wasn’t news at all to him that John was in love with Sherlock. Maybe best to start there, then.

“You weren’t surprised that John is in love with me.” Sherlock left it as a statement deliberately, sitting up straight in his chair and steepling his fingers in thought.

Lestrade picked up the thread easily. “No, I wasn’t.”

“Because…?”

Lestrade took a breath before starting, wanting to be honest with Sherlock but not freak him out. It was a fine line. “Because I’ve seen you two together, Sherlock. I’ve known you both for years. I see the way he looks at you. And often, you know, the way that you look at him. It’s there for anyone to see – you’re connected, deeply. I can almost see a physical tether between you – you know exactly where the other one is at all times, you’re in each other’s space, and then you spring apart, but never too far. You communicate with a series of meaningful looks and eyebrow movements. You drive each other mad, but only because you deeply understand each other. And I don’t think John has many people in his life who really get him. I try, obviously, and there are others who think he’s great, but he doesn’t let people in. But he let you in. More than even he realised, I suspect.”

Sherlock slowly nods at this, considering. He has known that others are watching the two of them work. He’s aware of the snickers and sometimes he catches an eye roll from one of the detectives, as if saying “Look at them, at it again.” He’d thought they were being juvenile, children, assuming no adult men could live and work together without there being more to it. He’d also mostly thought that it was because Sherlock was annoying them, but now he wonders if they all could see what he was too blind to notice.

“Does everyone know?”

Lestrade purses his lips at this. He knows what Sherlock is getting at, and this isn’t where he wants the conversation to go. It doesn’t help anyone for Sherlock to feel scrutinised, or as though he’s the last to know. It doesn’t help John, either, and ultimately that’s the most important thing. Lestrade feels a rush of sympathy for them both, surprised at how much he wants this to work out, despite being an impromptu therapist on a Saturday afternoon.

“Look, I don’t want to lie to you, but I also don’t think that’s the right question. I think what you really need to work out is what you want. John’s put all his cards on the table, even though I think it almost killed him. He’s terrified of jeopardising your friendship, your …” Lestrade waved his hand, gesturing around the room. Sherlock nodded. Lestrade went on, “It’s ok if you don’t feel that way, Sherlock. Really. I want you both to be happy, and sometimes we fall in love with people who don’t feel the same way. If that’s the case here, John will be in pain for a while, but he will be ok. You don’t have to reciprocate his feelings, and you may find that you feel differently over time, as the idea of John’s feelings settles with you.”

Sherlock nodded again, looking down at his shoes. His mouth subconsciously twisted with uncertainty, and worry wracked his face. Lestrade’s heart gave a twinge. This was a man in pain. He and Sherlock hadn’t always seen eye to eye in the past, but now he wanted nothing more than to comfort Sherlock. Lestrade noted the oddity of that feeling – a new one, certainly – then moved to reassure Sherlock.

“Sherlock, please don’t worry. There isn’t a right or wrong answer here. I’m sure John doesn’t mean this as a test. I just think he couldn’t not tell you any longer.”

Sherlock sat up a little, and reached over to the side table to pick up the FAQ again.

“John did say that, actually. And he wrote it in the FAQ too.”

“What?” Lestrade looked deeply confused.

“Yes, John wrote it for me. He said it should answer some of my questions, and that I could text him if I had more.”

Lestrade snorted. An FAQ on declarations of love. How very “them”. Trust John to know that Sherlock would need more than a little help to absorb this.

Sherlock acknowledged Lestrade’s snort with a raised eyebrow and light shrug. “I know how weird that is. I was dubious too. But you know what? It’s actually helped already. I think he knew I needed some reference material to work through this.”

Lestrade smiled easily back at Sherlock, “Well, he certainly knows you well enough. What does it say, then?” He felt pangs of curiosity, and wondered if Sherlock would hand it over. It was probably private, but then he knew Sherlock’s interpretation of privacy was rather different than others’. 50-50 chance Lestrade would get to read it, he reckoned.

“Well, it says lots of things, I guess. But relevantly to your original point – in response to the question, ‘Why Today?’ he’s written ‘I just couldn’t wait one more day to tell you. I love your every smile, your every word, your every movement. I love your brain. I love your hands. I love you every time we’re in our chairs, every time we’re on a case, every time you play the violin. It doesn’t feel right to sit on that information any longer. And for me to have any chance of anything ever happening between us, I have to tell you. So that you know, and you can decide what it means for us.’

Lestrade’s eyebrows shot up and he sat back in his chair to absorb John’s words. Quite a sentiment. He huffed out a breath and looked back at Sherlock, “Wow, mate. That’s really something.”

“I know,” Sherlock said softly, looking back down at the paper in his hand. “I believe him, you know. Not that I wouldn’t – he’d have no reason to say that he loved me if he didn’t – but he’s also written an answer for ‘Why do I love you?’ that seems to assume that I might not believe him.”

Lestrade gulped at that, and wondered at the depth of John’s feelings. Loving Sherlock enough not only to tell him so, but to prepare for the fact that Sherlock might consider himself unlovable, or unworthy of being loved.

“I won’t ask what those reasons are – I think that’s probably between the two of you – but I’m really happy for you, Sherlock. Assuming this is what you want, of course.”

Sherlock nodded and looked at his hands, now folded neatly in his lap. “I… I don’t think I’ve ever been loved like this before. Even… even my parents, and Mycroft. I know they love me, even when Mycroft is being a right arse, but this feels different. Like John chose me. No one has ever chosen me before.”

Sherlock paused, and his words sat between them in the stillness of the flat. Lestrade looked past Sherlock, out the window onto Baker Street, and considered how peaceful the rain was as a backdrop for pronouncements like these.

After a few moments, Lestrade shifted his gaze back to Sherlock. “It’s an honour to be loved like that, Sherlock. Not many people get that in their lifetimes. I’m…” Lestrade gave a sigh and bit his lip before he continued, “I’m not sure I’ve ever been loved like that. Or will ever be loved like that.”

Sherlock nodded understandingly. Other people would have reassured Lestrade that his wife had loved him like that; that surely others would love him like that in the future. But that wasn’t Sherlock, and Lestrade wasn’t expecting it.

“Anyway, this isn’t about me. Tell me what you’re thinking. Do you think maybe you feel the same way as John?”

Sherlock nodded slowly, ruminating.

“I… I think I might. I don’t really know how I feel because I’ve never felt like this before. But I know that John is the best man I know. He’s my favourite person in the world. I want to talk to him forever. I want to listen to every word he ever says. I like to watch him reading, and eating, and sleeping.” Lestrade’s eyebrows raised at this, his tanned skin reaching up higher into his silver hairline and his face shifted into an amused smirk.

“Oh shut up, you can’t be that surprised that I like to watch him sleep.” Sherlock said evenly, without a hint of irony. Lestrade chuckled and acknowledged that was probably correct – he was actually more surprised that Sherlock had said it aloud than that it was true. Somehow this was funnier in Sherlock’s posh accent – Lestrade wasn’t quite sure why. Sherlock continued, softer after his previous retort.

“When I think about my life, John is there. Any future I see for myself – whether it’s here at home, or working, or travelling, or Christmas with my parents – John is right by my side. Anything less than that would be devastating.”

Lestrade nodded. That’s exactly how he’d expected Sherlock would feel. He ventured an opinion, “I think that’s the difference between having the best flatmate of all time, and being in love with someone, Sherlock. It sounds like you have feelings for him, but maybe it’s all just a bit new? You don’t have to know straight away, you know.”

“I don’t?”

“No, I shouldn’t expect so. I think you could tell John that this is new for you, and that you would like to see where it goes. I think he’d understand that. He knows you, after all.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. I thought I had to know before I talked to him.”

“No, I don’t think so. I think you could say you’d like to date him, if that’s the case. Then you can test it out… see how it feels to be with him in that way. I think you’ll find it feels quite different to have dinner with him or go for a walk with him, knowing that he’s in love with you. And thinking about how you feel. I don’t want to overstep here, but I suspect you’ll find that you know quite a lot about how you feel, once you do that.” Sherlock nodded – that sounded right to him. Lestrade continued, “That being said, I think if you really don’t feel anything for John, or if you don’t want to have the conversation or see how it feels, you should tell him. You owe him that.”

Sherlock considered this. “No, I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t feel worried about what he told me, and I don’t think I can ignore how John feels. I’m curious, I guess.”

Lestrade smiled and looked a bit relieved, “Curious is good!”

“And it doesn’t matter if I don’t know if I want to do… the other stuff?”

“The other stuff?”

“You know… touching stuff…”

Lestrade’s eyes widened and he gulped. Embarrassment washed over him. He got a sudden, vivid mental picture of Sherlock pressing John up against a wall, holding John’s hands above his head as he kissed him passionately, rhythmically thrusting into him. He shook his head abruptly, shuddering and willing those thoughts away. Sherlock looked amused, and Lestrade flushed, thinking his mental scene must have been perfectly apparent to Sherlock.

“I – uh – I don’t really know what to say, Sherlock. I’m a bit out of my depth here.”

Sherlock snorted, “You’re out of your depth?”

Lestrade laughed. “Fair. Look. I don’t know what the answer is about the touching stuff. I’ll just say this – and bear with me because I am awkward as fuck when talking about sex and frankly this is not a conversation I ever expected to have with another adult man.” Lestrade took a deep breath, pausing for a moment as he thought about how best to put this. He considered his marriage, his sexual experiences before and after, and how to relay them in a way that would help Sherlock out. He made a mental note that this was probably the most awkward conversation of his life, but decided to proceed anyway. No eye contact, because how could he?

Lestrade looked at his hands as he began again, “OK… here goes… I love being intimate with another person, particularly when you’re in love with them… Both touching and being touched. It’s the best I’ve felt in my entire life. The most loved I’ve felt in my entire life. And I think that when it’s John, you’re going to feel the same way. And you know what, even if you don’t, I know John, and I know he would never, ever push you to do something you didn’t want to. He would never want you to feel uncomfortable, or pressured.”

Sherlock thought about this. That felt true.

“Also – dare I say it – I think you should talk to John about this. Not just because I am so utterly out of my depth, but also because he’s the person who knows the answer to the question.”

“The question!” Sherlock jumped up with a start. Where were those FAQs? Finding the paper had fallen just to the side of his feet, he leant down and snatched it up again. “Here we go – I didn’t read this closely enough earlier. There’s a question on here: ‘Does this mean I want to have sex with you?’

Lestrade guffawed, his blush spreading right across his face and deepening into utter mortification. This wasn’t what he’d signed up for. He made a mental note to hit John the next time he saw him. Helping Sherlock think the relationship through was one thing. Discussing Sherlock’s sex life was quite another. This was worse than giving his kids “The Talk”. Lestrade laughed a little to himself as he suddenly wondered if maybe someone needed to give Sherlock “The Talk”. If the answer was yes, Lestrade was outta there. Time to call Mycroft. He laughed to himself again. He could only imagine what that conversation would be like. Mycroft might bring props or pictures or something. Or maybe he’d outsource it? Lestrade squirmed and giggled again.

“Why are you laughing?” Sherlock asked accusingly.

“Oh, no reason. I am just struggling a bit with this conversation and I’m a bit afraid of what John’s written answer might be. Ignore me. I’ll just sit over here quietly dying of embarrassment while you read it.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes and his expression said that Lestrade was intolerably immature. Lestrade found he didn’t care. The less he was involved in this part of the conversation, the better.

Sherlock decided to read to himself, not aloud. If Lestrade was going to choose this moment to lose his nerve, Sherlock needn’t push it further. He read: “I want to do whatever you want to do. Being physically intimate is important to me, and obviously if you would like to, then I’ll be right there with you. But that’s also a very big step and if that’s not what you want then that’s fine by me. We can take it as slowly as you like.”

Sherlock tried to imagine John sitting down and writing this. How it must have felt to pre-empt Sherlock’s question, and to answer it. Sherlock knew that John liked sex. He’d certainly overheard John’s enjoyment often enough in the early part of their relationship. But not recently; there had been no women for a long time now, Sherlock reflected. Now it was John alone that he could hear sometimes. Soft moans, muffled bedsprings, long showers that ended with a stifled groan. Sherlock thought of those now, considered the implications. That John had been lonely. That John had sorted himself out because there was no one else to do it for him. That maybe he’d been thinking of Sherlock as he…

Sherlock felt a tingle in his belly and found the mental image of John in the shower, John under the covers of his bed, John hunched over and pulling, tugging on himself, was giving him quite the physical reaction. Sure he’d been uncomfortable in the past, torn between wanting to listen and knowing he should respect John’s boundaries. But this felt different. This felt… possible.

Sherlock crossed one leg over the other and tried to hide the evidence of how John’s answer affected him. Not that it was terribly risqué, but the implications were… enticing. He looked up at Lestrade, and was unsurprised to see that Lestrade was deliberately looking away from Sherlock. The rustle of Sherlock’s trousers probably told Lestrade all he needed to know, anyway. Loath as Sherlock was to admit it, Lestrade was no idiot.

“Ok, then. I’ve made up my mind.”

Lestrade looked back at Sherlock, surprised. He’d been steeling himself for terrible questions, words he never wanted to hear out of Sherlock’s mouth. Instead, Sherlock was getting to his feet decisively, and striding down the hall into his bedroom. Startled, Lestrade stood up too, and followed him.

“Made up your mind about what?”

“I’m going to Malta. To join John.”

“You’re what?”

“Going to Malta. To join John. Keep up, Graham.”

“Greg”, Lestrade said absent-mindedly as he looked around Sherlock’s room. He hadn’t been in here since the last drugs bust, years before. It looked much the same, though pinprick neat.

“Greg, then.”

“Um… Sherlock. You don’t have a flight booked. Or know where John is. I mean... I guess you could text him and ask, but I don’t think that’s quite what he intended…”

Sherlock paused from rustling around in his chest of drawers, poking his head around to look at Lestrade, who was leaning in the doorway. “I think that’s exactly what John intended. Otherwise he wouldn’t have told me what hotel he’s staying at.”

“He did what?”

“Look!” Sherlock pulled the FAQ off the dresser where he’d left it, and handed it to Lestrade. “Right there at the bottom. Last question, ‘Where can you find me?’ has the address of the Hilton. Though how he can afford the Hilton, I don’t know,” Sherlock mused. “He wouldn’t have given me the address unless he wanted me to come. He would have made me deduce it.” Sherlock smiled to himself, thinking about how easy that would have been, though he did appreciate that John had saved him the effort.

Lestrade looked down at the paper and saw that John had indeed shared his hotel information at the bottom of the page. Struck with curiosity, he started to scan the rest of the page, wanting to know what John had written to Sherlock that had provoked this frantic reaction. Before he could get much beyond the first question, ‘How long have I known?’ Sherlock snatched the paper back from him.

“Enough reading. It’s time to pack. Also I’ll need a flight, as you say. I assume there are more flights to Malta tonight. Otherwise I’ll have to wait until tomorrow, which isn’t ideal.”

Lestrade’s eyebrows raised. How they’d gone from the soul-searching, woe-is-me Sherlock of an hour ago to this cheerful mania, he didn’t understand at all.

“Sherlock… this is moving quite fast…”

“Yes, yes. But you know me. Once I’ve made up my mind, the game is afoot!” Sherlock threw Lestrade a mischievous grin and continued rummaging through his drawers.

“Where are my bally swim shorts? I’m sure they were here.”

Having nothing to offer in response to this, Lestrade shrugged and continued to watch Sherlock’s jerky movements.

“Do you want me to google flights for you?”

“Ah… No. Good thinking, but this is Mycroft’s speciality. No point having one’s big brother running the entire country if you can’t use the perks.” Sherlock fished his phone out of his pocket, noting the time (4.23pm), and then sending a text, fingers flying.

Get me on next flight to Malta. Don’t care price. You’re paying. Send car to Baker Street for me once you have the details. – SH

Instantly, Sherlock’s message shifted up the screen as the reply came in.

Need a hotel too? – MH

No. Staying at Hilton. – SH

Of course you are. – MH

Sherlock humphed a bit at this, though probably he shouldn’t have been surprised. Of course Mycroft would have tabs on John having left the country.

If you’re so smart, then where are my ruddy swim shorts? – SH

Why don’t you start by getting your suitcase down? – MH

Sherlock squinted at the screen. What a useless answer, even from Mycroft. Nevertheless, he stepped back from his dresser and turned to face his wardrobe. Up on top, his suitcase was in its usual spot, waiting for the next adventure. Sherlock stood on tiptoe, reaching his long fingers up to grasp the wheel and pull it down. Instead of giving easily and sliding neatly off as it usually did, the suitcase felt resistant. Heavy. Reluctant to bring it down on his own head, Sherlock tried to remember if he’d been storing things in it. Books? An experiment? Maybe he’d forgotten to unpack from his last trip? That didn’t seem terribly likely. Not that Sherlock was particularly neat generally, but he was generally fastidious about his clothing.

With a sigh, Sherlock realised he would need a chair to get the suitcase down without injuring himself. With a long-suffering sigh, he stopped craning upwards and whipped around, pushing past Lestrade as he headed back down the hall to the kitchen. Lestrade gave a soft “oomph” as Sherlock went by, but didn’t actually protest. Sherlock grabbed a kitchen chair and came flying back down the hall, noting Lestrade had moved safely into the room now, and was sitting awkwardly on Sherlock’s bed.

Sherlock grimaced. Weird to have Lestrade on his bed when John had never even taken that liberty. Sherlock gave a shudder of surprise as that thought crossed his mind. How comfortable he would be with John being on the bed. How uncomfortable he is that Lestrade is. Putting that thought aside, he pulled the chair right up beside the wardrobe, turning it around so the back was right up against the wood and he could easily step on and up. Grasping the suitcase now at its top and bottom, he swivelled on the chair.

“Oi, Lestrade. Help.”

Lestrade got up, walking over to take the suitcase from Sherlock, noting its heft as Sherlock stepped nimbly off the chair. Cor, but the man was graceful. Even Lestrade could acknowledge that.

“Why is it heavy?”

“I don’t know… I was just wondering that. I might have forgotten to unpack it from my last trip, but that’s quite unlike me. I would have noticed when I went to put it on top of the wardrobe.”

Taking the suitcase back off Lestrade, Sherlock dumped it unceremoniously on the bed, and reached around the back to find the zip. As he pulled it neatly around, and tipped the suitcase’s back, he gave a small gasp. There, on top, were his favourite swim shorts. And resting lightly on top of them was a note, in John’s handwriting.

“I’m glad you’re coming.”

Sherlock pressed his lips together and looked like he might cry. Lestrade put his hand on Sherlock’s back, noting that he was quite overcome with emotion, and reached around to pick up the note.

“Oh wow. He’s good.”

Sherlock sniffed a bit, feeling silly for his reaction, then took the note from Lestrade. “He knows me. Maybe better than I know myself.”

“Definitely better than you know yourself, mate. This is incredible.”

Sherlock just nodded. He lifted the swim shorts up and did a quick check of what else John had packed for him. Shirts, trousers, sun cream, Sherlock’s favourite cap, toothbrush, toothpaste, pants. Pants! Sherlock shivered at the thought of John in his drawers. It felt oddly intimate, but… in a nice way. Lestrade smirked when he saw what Sherlock was looking at.

“He’s very… thorough… isn’t he?”

Sherlock looked over at him. “Shut up. But yes. Also keep your mouth shut.”

Lestrade laughed now, openly. That after the day they’d had, this was what Sherlock wanted Lestrade to keep his mouth shut about, was hilarious.

Sherlock blushed, but was distracted when his phone vibrated in his pocket, and he pulled it out.

Take it you found your swim shorts, then? – MH

Sherlock rolled his eyes. Mycroft was bloody everywhere. He didn’t think John would have confided in Mycroft, and yet… the Hilton was niggling at him. How could John have afforded the Hilton? He pushed the thought to the back of his mind, and replied.

What time’s my flight, then? – SH

Air Malta, 19.05 from LHR. Car will be at Baker Street in 17 minutes. That should give you enough time to check John’s packing and clean out the fridge so nothing goes off while you’re away. You’ll land at 23.15, and there will be a car for you at the other end too. – MH

Sherlock rolled his eyes again. Bloody Mycroft. Sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.

“What’s that, then?” Lestrade leaned over Sherlock’s shoulder to read the text. “Oh, Mycroft came through. Good on him. He’s a good brother, you know.”

Sherlock refrained from rolling his eyes. Of course Greg would be president of the Mycroft Fan Club. How very predictable.

“Yes, well, he’s good at this sort of thing, I’ll grant you.”

“Aren’t you going to thank him, then? You can’t let that be the last text.”

Sherlock scrunched his nose up dismissively. “We don’t thank each other. That’s not how we work.”

“Oh come on, Sherlock. He got you on a flight to a peak holiday destination in the middle of the summertime, and arranged for cars at both ends, on two hours’ notice. That’s pretty nice. Even you have to acknowledge that.”

Sherlock sighed heavily and relented. “Fiiiiiiiiiiiine, then.”

Greg says I should thank you. – SH

“You do know my name!” said Greg, with pleasure.

Of course. I’m happy to do it. Tell Greg that I thank him too. I’ll be in touch. – MH

_____________________________________________

Two hours later, as the plane sat on the tarmac waiting for take-off, Sherlock breathed out slowly. Really happening, then. He looked down again at the FAQ, reading it from top to bottom once more. He’d essentially memorised it at this point, but having the physical paper in his hand made this all feel real somehow. Breathing a sigh of relief, he reached for his phone and sent the same text to two numbers.

Thank you both for today. Really. John and I are very lucky to have you. – SH

Not waiting for a response, Sherlock switched his phone into aeroplane mode, put it back in his pocket and leant back in his seat with a soft smile, his eyes closed. Big day.