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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.

Chapter Text

It was pitch black and well after midnight when the car pulled into the hotel’s grand entrance. Sherlock stepped nimbly out into the balmy air, smoothing his shirt over his stomach and pulling a hand through his hair self-consciously. As he closed the door behind him, the driver handed him his bag, and Sherlock looked up at the illuminated Hilton sign above him.

“Thanks,” he said idly to the driver, then ignored the bellboys as he strode into the lobby. Now to find John.

After a short wait at the concierge desk, Sherlock had a key in hand and was in the lift heading up to the rooms. He wrinkled his nose at the garish blue carpet. How very “holiday resorts 1995”. Striding along the 7th floor, he stopped outside No. 735 and took a deep breath. Moment of truth, then. He pressed the key card against the sensor on the door, and heard it unlock loudly. Even if John had been sleeping, he’d be awake now.

He pushed the door into the room, noting it was mostly dark, but one lamp had been left on at the far end, near the sliding doors out to the balcony. Sherlock moved quietly on the terracotta tiles, pulling his suitcase in the door behind him then softly closing it, hearing the lock click back into place. Putting his key in his pocket and moving the suitcase to the side so it wasn’t in the way, Sherlock quietly toed off his shoes and walked lightly down the hallway in his socks. He didn’t think John would be sleeping, but nor did he think this moment called for a grand entrance.

Despite the blood rushing in his ears and his pervasive nerves, Sherlock noted the bathroom on the left, the small closet, and a table set up at the far end. There was a big TV on the right, and then, when he stepped into the main room, two queen sized beds. John sat up in the far one, closest to the balcony, wearing a white t-shirt on top but otherwise covered by the bedspread. He smiled a nervous, uncomfortable smile, which looked odd on his face, and put down the book he’d apparently been reading before Sherlock came through the door. Sherlock didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but a lip-biting, worried looking John hadn’t really been it. They held each other’s gaze for a moment.

“You came,” John said tentatively.

“I came,” Sherlock agreed, nodding a little. He moved further into the room, scanning John’s face, which already felt more intimate a gesture than it had this morning. “But you knew I’d come. You packed for me.”

John smiled crookedly, still looking more anxious than pleased. “I hoped you would.”

“And here I am.”

“And here we are.”

They smiled at each other then, both still nervous, but hopeful too. Sherlock stood awkwardly, unsure where he should put himself, and John wondered if he should get out of bed. Sherlock realised that he’d been so focussed on making it to John, to this moment, he hadn’t put enough thought into what he’d say when he actually got here.

They each moved at the same time, with John pulling his legs up from under the covers just as Sherlock said, “Can I sit?” and gestured at the bed. When John nodded and drew his knees up to sit cross-legged, with his back upright against the headboard, Sherlock moved to sit down on the opposite side of the bed, facing John. While he sort of expected John to begin, he realised John had really said his piece, and it was probably Sherlock’s turn to speak up.

He thought for a moment, and then spoke softly, “That was very brave, you know, John. Telling me how you feel. If I’d been in your shoes I’m not sure I ever would have told you. I would have been so afraid about what the answer might be. Too concerned that we’d lose our… you know.” Sherlock tipped his forehead in John’s direction a little and raised his eyebrows meaningfully.

John nodded slowly, without breaking eye contact. “It was one of the scarier things I’ve done in my life. Exhilarating and terrifying… But also… a huge relief. I’m glad that you know, and I’m even gladder you’re here.” John scooted forward and picked up Sherlock’s hand from where it had been resting lightly on the bed. He gave it a tentative squeeze, not sure how this would be received. Sherlock looked a bit surprised at the contact, but didn’t pull away.

“Me too.” Sherlock smiled at John cautiously, and they held each other’s gaze. Without letting go of John’s hand, Sherlock shifted around so he was facing John square on, one leg bent on the bed, and the other trailing off the side. This was more comfortable, and facilitated Sherlock’s continued inspection John’s face. John did, in fact, look relieved. His face had relaxed, and Sherlock realised how much tension it had been holding these last few months.

“You look calmer than you did this morning.”

“I am, now you’re here. Are you feeling ok? Or a bit overwhelmed by it all? I don’t want to push you.”

“The idea is settling. It’s still a lot to take in, but I’m coming around to it. I don’t really know what this means for us, to be honest.”

John smiled reassuringly at Sherlock. “Mutual, then. But I think we’ll work it out. You wouldn’t have got on the plane otherwise.”

Sherlock nodded. “That’s true. Thank you for the FAQ. Lestrade thought that was hilarious, by the way.”

John’s face dropped and he looked mildly horrified. “You showed Lestrade?” John grimaced as he tried to remember the worst of what was on there. “It wasn’t really intended for his eyes, you know.”

Sherlock squeezed John’s hand reassuringly. “No, I knew that. I didn’t really show him. I did read one of the answers out to him, and I showed him briefly to prove that you’d told me where you were. He didn’t believe me.”

John smiled as he thought of Lestrade doing his best to protect both of them. He found he couldn’t really picture what had happened at Baker Street that day after he’d left. The idea of Sherlock and Lestrade sitting around and talking about their feelings seemed rather unlikely, and yet Sherlock was here before him, so it can’t have gone terribly. He’d give Lestrade a call in the morning to check in and thank him properly.

Sherlock’s eyes continued to scan John’s face. “Mycroft helped too, you know. He arranged the flight on two hours’ notice, and Lestrade made me thank him and everything.” Sherlock made dramatic eyes at John, so John would understand what a sacrifice this had been on Sherlock’s part. John chuckled, and Sherlock liked that he could feel the reverberations through John’s hand. Much to Sherlock’s surprise, he found himself shyly running his thumb up and down over John’s knuckles.

“Yes, I rather thought Mycroft must have known I was up to something,” John responded. “I didn’t tell him, you know. I didn’t think you’d like that, and I felt quite private about it myself, for obvious reasons.”

“What made you think he knew, then?”

“Well, I was googling around for hotels – I’d already decided on Malta – and they were all pretty expensive, it being peak summer and all.” Sherlock nodded at this. “And so I shut off my laptop and went to bed, wondering what my best approach was given the prices. Then, mysteriously, the next day I got an email from the Hilton loyalty program, which I had no memory of ever having joined, with a generous discount offer for this exact week. It said I could use the voucher anywhere in Europe, but the main photo in the email was of this hotel, and in the corner, in small white writing it said, ‘Hilton Malta’.”

Sherlock nodded, understanding immediately why John suspected Mycroft must be involved. “Of course. Can’t help himself, can he?”

John chuckled, “No, I suppose he can’t. Though I have to say, we’ve done pretty well for ourselves. Wait til you see our view in the morning. It’s incredible. I don’t think I’ve stayed in a hotel this nice in my entire life!”

Sherlock drank in John’s excitement. John deserved everything. All the views. All the best hotels. Sure, this was nice, but for it to be the nicest of John’s life gave Sherlock a little tightness in his chest. He wanted everything for John. All the happiness. He gave John’s hand another squeeze. John squeezed back, seeming to understand.

“So, did you have a nice day?” Sherlock said after a pause, looking around the room and hoping to lighten things up a bit.

“Not really,” John said frankly, and Sherlock looked back at him quickly, concerned. “Oh no, don’t worry – I don’t mean I had a bad day, exactly. The hotel is great and I had a lovely walk around all the pools. There are loads to choose from! And I had a nice walk down to the little village next door, St Julian. Had dinner down there, sitting and looking out at the bay. Very pleasant. Just… I didn’t know where I stood with you, and I spent a lot of the day worrying about that. Worrying I’d messed us up.”

Sherlock nodded, looking serious. That made complete sense, though in all his self-absorption today, he hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how John’s day must have been.

“I’m sorry. That must have hurt.”

“No, Sherlock, that’s not what I meant. You don’t need to be sorry. This was always the plan – that I’d tell you and then leave you to think about it. I knew what I was signing up for. Honestly, it could have been a whole week of this. I always knew that was a possibility.”

Sherlock still looked unhappy, and frowned down at the bedspread as he dropped John’s hand, pulling his own back towards him and cradling them in his lap. John panicked slightly, thinking about how best to move them along.

“Sherlock, look at me.” Sherlock looked up. “I don’t want either of us to be sad. I want us to move forward – I want us to talk about what this means for us. And I want us to have a great holiday. We’ve never been on holiday together before!” John shared a boyish grin with Sherlock, feeling his love for Sherlock bubbling up in his chest again. He leaned forward a bit, pulling his crossed legs under him.

Sherlock cheered up a bit at this, finding John’s enthusiasm infectious. “Ok then. I shall endeavour to be as perky as you are. But… I am worried that I won’t be enough for you. That I’m not sure enough of what I feel for you, and that I might let you down.”

John studied Sherlock’s face, seeing how much he was trying. “Sherlock, you’re here, and that’s miraculous. Honestly – I don’t know if I can possibly express how amazing and terrifying it felt to hear the buzz of your key card on the door just now. I didn’t expect you tonight, and after how the conversation went this morning, I was preparing myself not to see you at all.”

Sherlock nodded, biting his lip.

“But, I know this is really big for you. And I don’t expect you to know exactly how you feel when you’ve had this information for less than a day. I really hope you’ll find that you feel the same way, but I mean it when I say that I’ve prepared for that not to be the case. That’s just the chance I had to take, if I wanted to have the possibility that you might care for me too.”

Sherlock looked up at John at these words, earnestness flooding his expression. “John... I care. Of course I care.”

John nodded, “No, I know that. I’ve known that for a long time. I meant… as more…”

Sherlock nodded, thinking. “Lestrade said it would probably be ok with you if we tried it out a bit… so I could see how I felt, having dinner with you and knowing that you love me.”

John smiled at this, and his heart ached at Sherlock’s open acknowledgement of John’s feelings. Good on Lestrade, doing his part. “Of course, Sherlock. I know it’s not really dating, exactly, when we’re already here on holiday together, but we can take it super slowly. I think it’ll be nice, spending time together away from work. We can explore the island, and hang out here at the hotel. I want to show you how I feel, and you can ask me questions, and maybe when you’re feeling ready, we can talk about how you feel?”

Sherlock nodded, and reached back out for John’s hand again. “I like this part, anyway,” he said as he recommenced running his thumb over John’s knuckles. “It already feels familiar.”

They sat in silence for a moment, both watching Sherlock’s thumb. John breathed out deeply, actually feeling more relief now even than when Sherlock had arrived. He really wanted to hug Sherlock, but wasn’t sure if that would be too much too fast. He suppressed it, deciding that slower was better.

“I can hear you thinking… will you tell me what it is?” Sherlock ventured.

John considered this. Better to be honest with Sherlock about his thoughts, or would even sharing them be too much?

“Come on, John – after this morning’s performance, nothing going through your head right now can possibly be that big.”

John chuckled. Sherlock was right about that. “Ok, then. I was just thinking that I’d very much like to give you a hug, but then I worried that it was too fast, and decided to just enjoy this instead.”

Sherlock mused on this for a moment, then nodded decisively. “I think I’d like that. But first, I want to tell you something.” Sherlock leant forward and made serious eyes at John, frowning a little. It was what John privately thought of as Sherlock’s ‘Will you damn well listen to me’ face. “I want you to tell me exactly what you’re thinking this week, John. I think what we learned today is that I can’t read you as well as I thought I could, and if we want to make this work, then I’m going to need you to spell things out for me, at least until I get the hang of things.”

Sherlock looked expectantly at John, clearly requiring his verbal agreement. John chuckled at how serious Sherlock was. Sherlock doubled down on his ‘damn well listen to me’ face. “I’m serious, John. I’m a grown man, and I think you know me well enough to know that I won’t do anything I’m not comfortable with. So what I’d really like is for you to trust me enough to tell me what it is that you want. And then I can be the one to decide how I want to respond. Otherwise I’m afraid these moments will all pass me by, and frankly we might not get anywhere.”

John raised his eyebrows, interested by this idea and thinking through the practical implications. “I’d tell you what I’m thinking even if I think it’d freak you out?”

“Even then. I’m not saying I won’t freak out – I think that’s overambitious, and frankly you know me better than that – but I think I’d like to know what you’re thinking, and then at least I’ll have all the information. You know how I like to have all the information, John,” Sherlock winked at John, and this lightened the mood.

John chuckled. “That I do. Ok… how about this. I’ll do my best to tell you what I’m thinking, and I promise to try and tell you if you ask me. But I have two conditions.” Sherlock frowned lightly at this, but then caught John's eye and gestured for him to continue. “First, I reserve the right not to tell you if I’m genuinely worried that I’ll jeopardise this completely. But I promise I’ll employ a pretty high bar for that, and I won’t use it as a crutch.” Sherlock nodded at this. “And second, I want you to try and do the same thing. I know yours will probably be quite different, but I’d also like you to be honest with me if I ask you. And you get the benefit of the first condition too, of course.” John raised his eyebrows in question to Sherlock. “Deal?”

Sherlock nodded. “Deal.”

“Good! Now come over here. Let’s try this hug thing, then. And if it’s horrible, you can tell me.” Sherlock thought John sounded altogether too cheerful about the idea of their hug being terrible, but scooted up the bed nevertheless. After a mildly awkward moment as they worked out how to arrange themselves – fair to say this was an overthought hug – Sherlock reached for John, draping his long arms around John’s shoulders and pulling him close, just as John’s arms went under, circling around Sherlock’s sides and clasping his back.

They both breathed out with relief, settling in. Sherlock dropped his head, tucking it into the crook between John’s neck and collarbone, and John rested his head against Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock breathed, “Mmmm,” contentedly, and tightened his grip on John. This was perfect.

They sat like that for many minutes. Sherlock felt calm in a way he rarely did, and idly noticed that his constantly whirring mind seemed to be slowing down. He gripped John’s shoulder briefly, enjoying the feeling of the cotton in his hand and the scent of toothpaste from John’s breath. He felt John tighten his hold too, and enjoyed the slightly squeezed feeling of an excellent hug. “Of course we’re good at this,” he thought to himself. “We’ve always been good at this.” He closed his eyes, and snuggled further into the soft fabric at John’s collarbone. He wondered what it would feel like to press his lips against that skin, and decided John would likely be fine with him testing that out, so he lifted his head a little, shifting the angle of his face downwards and nosing the t-shirt fabric aside as he dropped a whisper of a kiss to John’s skin.

John startled a little, clearly surprised, but relaxed again almost immediately. “Sherlock, that feels amazing,” said John softly, rubbing his hands up Sherlock’s back.

It went no further than that, but they rested there for long minutes, each comfortable in his own thoughts and enjoying the embrace. With his eyes closed, Sherlock realised it was less of a choice and more of an imperative as he relaxed further and struggled to open them.

“Sherlock?”

“Hmm.”

“I don’t think we want to fall asleep like this.”

“Hmm. Speak for yourself.”

“No, really Sherlock, you’re fully clothed and we’re both on top of the covers. How about you get into your pyjamas, at least?”

Sherlock shook his head and cuddled John more closely. John chuckled as he realised how Sherlock’s stubbornness might look a bit different if they were in a relationship.

“Come on, you. I promise it won’t take much effort, and then we can get comfortable again.”

Sherlock gave a deep sigh as though he were terribly long-suffering, and released John, leaning back into more of a seated position. “Fiiiiiiiine. I’m up.”

John laughed, and ruffled Sherlock’s hair familiarly as he said in a sing-song voice, “I’m proud of you. Now, what do you think? Teeth then pyjamas, or pyjamas and then teeth?”

Sherlock sat much further upright at that, and shot a glare at John. “I’m not a child.”

“Yeah, well…”

Sherlock rolled his eyes and wiggled back off the bed, less elegantly than was characteristic for him. He stood up and gave himself a bit of a shake. “Fine. I’ll get into my pyjamas and brush my teeth, but I’ll be right back.”

____________________

 

Ten minutes later, a clean and pyjama-ed Sherlock appeared at the end of John’s bed, looking expectant. John had tucked himself back into the position he’d been in when Sherlock arrived. “So…”

John smiled back at him. “So… The choice is yours. I got a room with two beds because I thought it might be a bit soon to share, and I wanted you to have the option.” Sherlock looked mildly displeased at the notion of his own bed. “But – I should hasten to say – I would love it if you joined me here.” Sherlock brightened up at this. “And of course, I think this goes without saying, but nothing needs to happen.”

“And it’s ok if I change my mind?”

“Of course it’s ok if you change your mind. You can start in this bed and head over there afterwards, if you like.”

“Good,” Sherlock said softly, and he lightly lifted up the covers on the bed, slipping into them and leaning on his elbow to face John.

John smiled to himself as he wriggled down into the bed, matching his posture to Sherlock’s. He’d been worried about moving too fast, making sure he wasn’t pushing Sherlock, making sure that Sherlock could take his own time for everything, and yet here Sherlock was, within an hour of arriving, disappointed at the very idea of his own bed. “Ok if I turn the light off?”

Sherlock nodded seriously, shifting down in the bed so he was fully on his side, watching John as John rolled back to stab repeatedly at the plethora of buttons on the bedside table. “Bloody hotels,” muttered John, eventually finding the right one. The light switch had a pleasant dimming effect, so they were eased darkness.

John rolled back over to face Sherlock, wondering what was next.

“What are you thinking?” Sherlock said softly in the darkness.

“Just wondering if this is what you wanted.”

“I think so… but I liked before better.”

John nodded, even knowing Sherlock couldn’t see it. “Me too. How about this – if you lay on your back, I’ll come over for a cuddle.”

Sherlock would have laughed at John using the word ‘cuddle’, but he found that that was exactly what he wanted to happen, and he didn’t think laughing was going to get him there. He rolled onto his back, centring his head precisely on his pillow, and reached his arm out for John, who he found was already on his way. John settled in along Sherlock’s side, resting his head in the dip between Sherlock’s shoulder and chest, and lightly resting his arm over Sherlock’s torso. Their legs tangled together lightly. “Close but not too close,” Sherlock thought with a smile. “Trust John to know exactly what I’d like.”

With that thought, and a few slow rubs on John’s back, Sherlock found himself drifting off to sleep.

Chapter Text

When John woke up in the morning, it was to a still-dark room, with blinding lines of light around the edges of the curtains. He gave a little wiggle, enjoying the feeling of Sherlock’s chest pressed against his back, and then reached behind him to find Sherlock’s arm, pulling it comfortingly around himself, and weaving their fingers together over his bare chest.

“Mmm sleeping,” said Sherlock in a muffled voice behind him. John could feel Sherlock’s face nuzzling into John’s neck, and he chuckled, enjoying the feeling of a snoozy hug. Pretty good first morning on holiday, if he said so himself.

They lay there like that for ages, John not quite sure if Sherlock was in fact sleeping, or just enjoying the embrace as much as John himself. As pleasant as it was, John’s stomach gave a rumble. Time for a shower and some breakfast, he thought. Lifting Sherlock’s arm lightly off him and doing a less-smooth-than-he’d-have-liked roll sideways out of the bed, John stood and turned to look at Sherlock in the dim morning light. Taking a chance that he wouldn’t wake Sherlock, John opened the curtains a bit, pulling them aside from the side furthest from the bed, so the room would brighten without shining light into Sherlock’s eyes.

Sherlock still seemed to be sleeping, peaceful on his left side, dark curls in high contrast against the white sheets, with his right arm thrown across the bed as though reaching for John to come back. John smiled fondly, knowing he’d never forget this moment, or tire of watching Sherlock as he slept. He ran his eye down Sherlock’s beautiful face, those striking cheekbones and strong jaw, down his collarbone to his shoulder and lightly muscled arm, and ending with his hands, those remarkable fingers. He really was perfect, John thought.

_________________________________

 

After an invigorating shower in which John used every one of the fancy toiletries the hotel had on offer, he whipped open the door to let the cloud of steam out. He was fragrant – clean hair, clean skin, newly moisturised. Not a thing John usually did, but then staying in fancy hotels was not a thing John usually did either. He chuckled to himself as he thought he should take a holiday more often.

Stepping out of the bathroom, John wasn’t sure what to expect. Would Sherlock have moved at all, or would John need to wake him? After the brightness of the bathroom, John peered into the darkness. Sherlock clearly hadn’t opened the blinds further.

Reaching silently for his battered old suitcase, John pulled out his swim shorts, a soft green colour that pleased him as much today as the day he’d bought them, and a plain white t-shirt.

Musing on whether he could justify waking Sherlock up just because he was hungry, John reached instead for his book and a hat, and decided on a compromise. He’d just pull open the curtains enough to open the sliding doors to the balcony, and if that amount light “so happened” to wake Sherlock, then so be it. With a silly little smile to himself, he grabbed his phone off the charger and a bottle of water from the fridge, before starting his stealthy exit.

Watching Sherlock closely as the curtains moved and light flooded the room, John pulled the doors open quietly, blinking into the astonishing brightness that was 7am in Malta. Squinting into the sunshine, he decided his plan to wake Sherlock was really rather unkind, and also that he would need sunglasses. Dumping his stuff on the outside table, he ducked back into the room to hunt for his sunglasses and carefully pulled the curtains closed behind him. If Sherlock needed the sleep, let him sleep. It was certainly rare enough.

Sunglasses in hand, he stepped back out onto the balcony and stared around himself with delight. Their room was on the top floor, with incredible views of the sea for 180'. The horizon was stark before him, and John realised how pleasing it was, that dark blue line. The sky was cloudless, and the horizon was broken only by an evenly spaced row of palm trees. John looked down, admiring the main pool and noting that at least 50% of the deck chairs had been claimed, as early as it was. To his right lay St Julian, the town he’d had dinner, though his view was blocked somewhat by a marina. He breathed in the salty air happily, utterly delighted. After a bit of snooping at what was on the neighbours’ balconies (mostly towels, some laundry, last night’s champagne and beer bottles), and judging the hotel guests who’d claimed deck chairs before going to breakfast, John settled into one of the two wicker chairs on the balcony, picking up his book but quickly abandoning it for his phone.

Two new messages. One, from Harry at midnight, wishing him a safe flight, and a second, from Lestrade at 6.48am, that just said,

So???????

John chuckled to himself, idly noting that with the time difference, Lestrade was up particularly early. He debated what to respond, typing and re-typing his answer.

He came. Can’t stop smiling. – JW

Three grey dots appeared; Lestrade indeed had his phone in hand, despite the early hour.

That good, huh? Also I see the Holmes’ brothers broke you. Signing your texts with initials, as though I wouldn’t know it’s you.

That good. And yes, they broke me. Are you really surprised? – JW

No, not in the slightest. So, did you guys talk?

Yes, I think we’re on the same page, with many thanks to you. – JW

No worries, mate. Was all good, though I thought I was going to have to give him the sex talk for a minute there.

??? – JW

Not getting involved – I really don’t want to know – but you should probably know that was his biggest concern. Don’t think I’m breaching his confidence to tell you that.

John paused, thinking about what that meant. Unlike Lestrade to share a detail he didn't think was important. John wasn’t that surprised that the physical side of a potential relationship would be the biggest barrier for Sherlock – he’d written a special FAQ for it, after all – but he was surprised that Sherlock had raised it with Lestrade of all people, even though Lestrade had been the only one there. John wondered what Lestrade had advised. He half wanted to respect the privacy of their conversations yesterday, but he was deeply curious too.

Still there?

Yes, sorry. Just thinking. Don’t want to pry, but is there anything I should know? – JW

No, we didn’t get into specifics. Just wanted to give you a heads up that I think he’ll want to take it pretty slowly. I know you’d never pressure him, but I was also a bit taken aback by the discussion. Only reason I’m raising it.

John nodded slowly. He had every intention of taking it slowly. Glacial, even. Last night’s embrace had been more than he’d dared hope for, and knowing that Sherlock was still in John’s bed, sound asleep, made John feel pretty sure they’d be ok.

Thanks, mate. I really do appreciate everything you did yesterday. He said you had a good talk. You’re a good friend to both of us. – JW

Yeah, we really did. I’m glad you let me know he might need me – I wanted to be there for him, and I’m glad I was.

Well, we’re both very grateful. Wouldn’t be here without you. Though, speaking of… get a load of this view: – JW

[image file] – JW

I rather suspect Mycroft interfered to get us this room. Definitely not something I merit alone. – JW

Hah. I bet. He did some pretty good meddling to get Sherlock on the last flight out last night too. I know Sherlock gives him a hard time, but he’s not a bad bloke.

Beautiful shot. What a day!

John smiled and put his phone back on the table, intending to pick his book up again. Then he grabbed his phone once more, deciding there was another text needed.

Thank you for everything you did to get us both here. The room is incredible. – JW

No thanks necessary. I am, as always, thankful for everything you do for him, John. I hope you are both well, and enjoy this time away. The Blue Lagoon is really something - worth a day trip later in the week. – MH

John smiled to himself. The line between meddling and caring was very thin with Mycroft.

______________________

 

Just when John could stand it no more and had decided he was ravenous enough to justify shaking Sherlock awake, the balcony door opened and Sherlock stepped out in only his pants, stretching his arms widely as he squinted into the bright sunshine. John gulped as he took in the expanse of pale skin, lightly muscled and moving gracefully from the sliding doors out towards the edge of the balcony. John’s eyes ran from Sherlock’s toes to his outstretched fingertips, marvelling at the man before him. He was utterly beautiful. John shook himself and tried to stop staring, only managing to return his eyes to Sherlock’s face when Sherlock angled his body towards John, resting his bum on the balcony railing as he spoke.

“There you are! I thought you’d abandoned me, until I saw the flutter of the curtain.”

“Hardly! Though I was tempted. I’m bloody famished. But look at you in just your pants! Someone’s feeling good this morning.”

Sherlock looked down at John with a grin. “I really am,” he said softly. He looked a bit nervous then, and his eyes scanned John’s face, seeming to check that they were going to pick right back up from last night. John gave him a reassuring smile, and gestured for Sherlock to take the other chair.

Sherlock gave a light shake of his head, looking more confident, stood up straight again to take in the view. “Wow, this is really something.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s incredible. Also these chairs are surprisingly comfortable. I think we’ll enjoy this balcony a lot.”

“Do you think we can rent a sailboat?” Sherlock mused, staring out at the horizon. John followed his gaze to see a white-sailed boat moseying along in high contrast against the intense blue of the sea.

“Probably… though you know I don’t know how to sail, right? Army not Navy.”

“Pfft! We’ll be right. Also, you were a doctor, so what does it matter which military branch you were in?”

“Sherlock, look at me.” Sherlock did, in fact, turn to look at John. “Sherlock, we are not renting a sailboat when neither of us has any idea what we’re doing.”

Sherlock looked back at the horizon and grinned, not acknowledging John’s words. John rolled his eyes and decided he’d deal with that battle when it arose.

“So…. Breakfast?” John enquired hopefully.

“Sure… I’m not really hungry, but I’ll come and join you.”

John rolled his eyes again, and decided that was the best he could hope for. “On you go then, you’ll need some clothes if we’re to be seen in public. Though I guess we could order food to the room, if you prefer?”

Sherlock shrugged, and John didn’t push it. Sherlock wasn’t big on eating at the best of times, and John preferred to sit somewhere rather than their room, so he decided they would go down.

“Alright, let’s go out then. I’d like to sit on the restaurant balcony and consider a different view, and you can deduce all the other hotel guests while I try to convince you to eat a waffle.”

“Deal. I’ll go put on some clothes.”

“Good then – also, you can probably see, but I’m already in my swim shorts. You do you, obviously, but no need for real clothing unless you want to. I figured we’d just hang around the hotel today.”

“Yep, suits me.” Sherlock headed back inside, and reappeared minutes later in deep purple shorts, a loose white button up linen shirt, and Wayfarer sunglasses. John licked his lips. Sherlock looked like an ad put out by the Maltese Tourism Board. He laughed to himself at this thought, as though Sherlock would ever deign to appear in an ad.

Sherlock looked down at himself, momentarily self-conscious. “What? Don’t I look right?”

“God, no, you look perfect. I was just thinking that you look like an ad for being on holiday – like, you know, you’re the chap in the photograph, leaning off the sailboat with joy, encouraging other Englishmen to come to Malta and see the sights!”

Sherlock laughed at the thought. “Well, that’s ridiculous. But I am glad that you’re on board with the sailing idea.”

John snorted and grinned, reaching out to take Sherlock’s hand as he stood.

__________________________________________

 

Back in the lobby, John had planned to ask the concierge what the breakfast options were, but as he slowed near the desk, Sherlock kept right on marching. “This way, John!”

John gave an apologetic sort of look to the concierge, who had opened her mouth to greet him, and hurried to catch up to Sherlock. “Sherlock, I think breakfast is downstairs. Look, you can see them seated, and there’s the buffet.”

“No, well, yes. I’m sure there is breakfast downstairs, with all that lot. But look – this bar is serving breakfast and then we can sit alone on the balcony in those comfy chairs.” At this, Sherlock gestured outside on same floor as the lobby, where there did seem to be some sort of service. John looked dubiously at the inside bar, and then outside again.

“Ok – let’s see what they have on offer. If it’s just cocktails, I’m not there yet.”

Sherlock scoffed, and thrust a menu in John’s hand as they passed a table. Indeed, there were scrambled eggs and an assortment of other breakfast items on the list. It wasn’t a very long menu, and certainly wouldn’t compare to the buffet, but there was enough to interest him. Trust Sherlock to know that, having been in the hotel fewer than eight hours. He slowly followed Sherlock outside, where he already was chatting in a friendly way to a tanned young woman in a navy polo, with long dark hair tied back in a ponytail. She had her hand up to shelter her eyes against the sun, and was discussing seating options with Sherlock in lightly accented English.

Sherlock turned to address John, “Alessia says we can sit here, in the shade, or over there, in the sun. She recommends the shade, as it’s quite hot in the sun and she’s worried we’ll burn.”

Alessia laughed and said, “That is not what I said… I said the shade is more pleasant for the English, generally.”

“Same-same,” said Sherlock, and dropped her a wink. John enjoyed flirty Sherlock, particularly when he was feeling quite secure as to his own position. “You’re right either way. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in such bright sun and I don’t have my sun cream down here. Let’s take that nice looking sofa thing in the shade.”

John followed along to where Sherlock had pointed, and looked quite pleased at the outcome. There were four seating spaces around a low-ish table. Two wicker chairs, bigger and deeper than those on the room balcony, with thick navy blue cushions with white piping, and a matching sofa. Sherlock plonked himself down on one side of the sofa, and John pursed his lips as he decided whether to sit next to Sherlock on the sofa, or perpendicular to him on the chair.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Come on, John. We haven’t got all day. Pick one, and you can choose the other tomorrow if it doesn’t take your fancy.”

John shot a quick glare at Sherlock and chose the chair, plonking himself down just as Sherlock had done. He sat back, delighted with this. So deep and comfortable! The table did seem rather far away and too low to be of much use, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. What bliss!

Sherlock looked John up and down, and smiled. He loved seeing John like this – relaxed and a bit giddy. He turned back to Alessia, who looked amused at them both. Sherlock tried to summon some embarrassment for two grown men taking such pleasure in their seating choices, then decided he didn’t care. “I will have scrambled eggs with toast and some fresh tomato slices. John will have the same, but add some avocado for him, will you? Plus two orange juices and I’ll have an English Breakfast tea, please. John – latte for you?”

John groaned with delight. He loved it when Sherlock ordered for both of them. He acknowledged that it should feel patronising, and yet it didn’t. It was pleasant to have his decisions made for him, on occasion. “Yes, please,” he directed Alessia, who smiled and nodded as she headed off.

“She didn’t write anything down,” Sherlock noted with mild annoyance. While clearly an Alessia-fan, she’d disappointed him. He hated it when wait staff didn’t write down orders.

“I’m sure she’s got it, Sherlock. We’re the only two people out here and I don’t think it was that complex.”

Sherlock huffed a little but decided to wait and see before developing into a strop. John smiled, pleased at Sherlock’s self-control. Sherlock smiled back, pleased to be here, with John, on a beautiful morning. They both sighed happily and angled their bodies to take in the view.

___________________________________

 

The food came delicious and error-free, to John’s delight and Sherlock’s annoyance. Alessia cleared their plates and they both stared out to sea peacefully.

“What shall we do today, John?”

“I was thinking… upstairs to get our books and sun cream, grab some water, then back down here and we choose a pool to sit by? I don’t feel the need to go terribly far today, do you?”

“Sounds good to me.”

___________________________________

 

Back up in the room, John was rummaging through his suitcase, looking for sun cream, and Sherlock was brushing his teeth as he drifted around, picking things up and putting them down again, inspecting every cupboard and drawer.

John said, “Eureka!” and hoisted the sun cream into the air with a triumphant grin. Sherlock smiled indulgently, not having been remotely concerned about the location of the sun cream, and drifted back to the bathroom to spit and rinse out his mouth. When he reappeared, he’d unbuttoned his shirt and shrugged it off, turning around and presenting his back to John.

“Do me first, then I’ll do you.”

John snorted. “Right-o, then.”

“John, really. Get your mind out of the gutter.”

“Pretty hard when you’re standing right in front of me looking like you do.”

Sherlock twisted his head around to look at John, eyebrows raised. “You’re not so bad yourself, Doctor.”

John smirked even as he was surprised by this exchange. He’d have thought Sherlock would have run at the first hint of flirting, but here he was leaning right into it. John squeezed out sun cream onto his hand. Sherlock turned his head back around, and stared out to sea. John felt overwhelmed for a second that they were both here, that this was going so well. Taking a liberty, John pressed a quick kiss to Sherlock’s shoulder, then started rubbing the sun cream in broad sweeps across Sherlock’s back. Sherlock shivered a bit at the sensation – the cool cream, the light kiss, John’s warm hand. It was an intimacy he hadn’t known before.

“Pretty good, huh?” said John softly.

“Pretty good,” Sherlock agreed.

Once Sherlock was done, they switched, and Sherlock found he enjoyed rubbing the sun cream into John’s back even more than he’d enjoyed his own back being done. It felt… sensual. Not a word he’d ever used before, but apposite in the circumstances. He paused in his ministrations, running his hands slowly down John’s sides and, emboldened by John’s move, leaning forward to drop a tentative kiss on the top of John’s ear as he rested his hands on John’s hips, just above his shorts.

John groaned, “Fuuuuck, Sherlock.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Sherlock whispered in John’s ear. John shuddered and leaned back into Sherlock’s hands. Sherlock dropped a second, less tentative kiss on the side of John’s neck and ran his hands back up John’s sides and down the back of his arms in a sweeping movement. John’s skin felt amazing under his hands, and Sherlock enjoyed the goose bumps that rose in the path his hands had taken. As John sighed with pleasure, Sherlock felt relieved. He snuck a look over John’s shoulder and straight down, hoping to see that this was affecting John just as much as it was affecting Sherlock. He groaned softly when he saw it was. He stepped forward so his front touched John’s back, dropped his forehead to rest on the crook between John’s neck and shoulder, and thrust forward a little so John could feel just how much Sherlock was enjoying this.

John groaned again, pushing his arse back into Sherlock’s crotch as he muttered, “Swear to god, Sherlock. If you keep that up we won’t make it down to the pool.”

Sherlock considered this, still running his sun creamy hands over John, moving now to his collarbone, and sweeping his hands down John’s chest. “Is that what you want?”

John’s head fell back to rest on Sherlock’s collarbone. “Sherlock, I swear I’ll do anything you want right now as long as you keep touching me.”

Sherlock chuckled at this. Although he still felt self-conscious and unsure of where the boundaries were, he was pleased John was giving him such clear signals about what was acceptable. He stepped back for a moment to get some more sun cream on his hands, then forward again as he resumed his spot, now rhythmically rubbing the cream into John’s chest, around his nipples, over his stomach, and skirting around the line of his shorts. He could see John’s interest straining against his shorts and mused on his best next step. Now he’d got here, he wasn’t sure what happened next. What was John expecting to happen now?

“John… I’m not sure…”

John slowly opened his eyes at Sherlock’s querulous voice and turned around to catch Sherlock’s uncertain expression. As hard as John was, and as clearly as he knew what he wanted, the sight of Sherlock’s worried eyes brought him straight back to himself.

“Oh Sherlock, don’t be worried. That was amazing… Clearly.” John looked down at himself with a bit of an embarrassed smile, before making eye contact with Sherlock again. Sherlock’s expression eased a little, looking tentatively pleased. “Nothing needs to happen. I meant what I said – we’re going to take it as slowly as you want.”

Sherlock nodded once, eyes scanning John’s face to check that John was telling the truth. Aware of this scrutiny, John focussed on schooling his face, ensuring everything Sherlock could read about him was consistent with his words. After a moment, Sherlock looked away, satisfied.

“I’ll just need a minute, to… ah… calm down… but then we can go down to the pool. Ok?”

Sherlock nodded, aware that he was himself rather flustered and also needed a minute. He turned for the bathroom and washed his hands carefully, noting with mild annoyance how hard it was to get the sun cream off with soap and water. He dried his hands intensely with a flannel, using it to scrape the last of the sun cream off his hands. When he came back out, John was standing exactly where he’d left him, eyes closed, and a big smile on his face. He must have sensed Sherlock’s return, as he opened his eyes when Sherlock came to stand before him again, and they crinkled in that way that made Sherlock’s chest clench.

John licked his lips as he took Sherlock in, shirtless and still hard in his shorts. “God, you’re beautiful.” Sherlock blushed, endearingly embarrassed by the compliment.

“Can I…? I mean, I don’t know exactly what you’re thinking… but would it be ok if I kissed you? Or is that too soon?” John looked hopefully at Sherlock, scanning his face to see how Sherlock might feel about that.

Sherlock looked a bit surprised and a trifle concerned, biting his lip quickly before smiling tentatively. “Yes, I think I’d like that.”

John leaned further forward, taking one of Sherlock’s hands in his and resting the other against the side of Sherlock’s face, framing those incredible cheekbones and pushing Sherlock’s hair back lightly. He turned his head to the side a little, aiming for an easy angle, and pressed his lips softly to Sherlock’s, breathing him in as he did so.

Sherlock didn’t move an inch at first. It felt like kissing a statue. John chuckled a little against Sherlock’s mouth. “You can kiss me back, you know?”

Sherlock huffed out a nervous laugh, then pressed his own lips determinedly back against John’s. Feeling their softness, their pressure, revelling in the sensation of John’s hand cradling his head. He leaned forward, deepening the kiss and moving to clutch John’s hips once more. Sherlock was pleased to find he liked this. Liked touching John, kissing John, feeling John’s arms come around him and hold him in place. He kissed John until he ran out of breath, and leaned back a bit, panting. He smiled.

“That was amazing.”

John smiled back, glad that Sherlock had been so responsive. He hadn’t known, still didn’t know, what experience Sherlock had, and if he’d even be open to this. He felt a bit relieved, if he were honest with himself. He meant what he’d written in the FAQ, that John was fine with whatever Sherlock wanted, but he was also pretty glad that Sherlock wanted this, at least.

___________________________________

 

Twenty minutes later, Sherlock was bouncing on his feet by the room’s door, book and hat in hand, water bottle in the crook of his elbow, and yet more sun cream stuffed precariously in the pocket of his swim shorts. John was lingering, pottering around inefficiently, and Sherlock was Ready. To. Go.

“Come on, old bean, old sock, old thing!”

John looked up in surprise from where he'd been rifling through his carry-on bag. “… What?”

“I said, ‘Come on!’”

“No, you didn’t. I think you called me a sock?”

“Oh, that. Yes. I’m trying out pet names for you. I feel like I should have something more affectionate than ‘John’ up my sleeve, now that we’re… you know.”

John quirked an eyebrow at this. He was deeply unconcerned about Sherlock calling him ‘John’, and in fact strongly preferred it to being called ‘Old Bean’.

“And you thought some pet names from Jeeves and Wooster would be the ticket, did you?”

“I did, indeed.”

“Well then, I think I should be quite clear. I feel remarkably less inclined to snog you when you call me a sock or a bean.”

Sherlock nodded slowly and approvingly, “That’s good feedback. Actionable, direct. Thank you, John.”

John snorted a little. Only Sherlock.

“Pip-pip, then.” And with a wink and a smile, Sherlock pulled the room door open and headed out to the corridor.

“Pip-pip, indeed,” said John to himself, shaking his head as he followed Sherlock out and pulling the door closed.

Chapter Text

Down on the ground floor, the pool options abounded. They started at the main pool that they could see from their balcony, and found that this was where most of the young families seemed to have settled in for the day. Sherlock wrinkled his nose, and John was inclined to agree.

“There was a nice one I found yesterday down by the sea,” John said, pointing straight ahead. “You can’t see it from here because it’s rather lower and a longer walk, but I figure we’re up for that?”

“We certainly are,” said Sherlock, striding out. John hurried a bit to keep up. “Sherlock, you don’t even know where it is!”

“Yes, but you said it’s by the sea, and I’m walking towards the sea, so how hard can it be?”

John shook his head. Same old Sherlock, then.

“I’m not wrong, am I?”

“No, you’re not.”

“Off we go, then!”

And around the main pool and down the path they went, heading towards the staggering blue of the ocean. It was a deep blue, azure, not a tropical colour, but John loved it. He also admired Sherlock’s back as he walked, the swing of his loose shirt and the pleasing outline of his smart straw hat. Pretty good Sunday!

When they got to the lower pool, John was pleased to see that it was considerably less crowded than the main pool. Three or four small groups were scattered around the pool itself, and there was a second row of loungers even lower, almost on the rocks themselves. “Where do you reckon we sit?” said John, musing.

“Well, I like that second row down there. Bit further away from everyone else, and we can easily nip up here for a swim when we want one. And if we flip the loungers around, we can look straight out to sea while we read.”

“Heaven,” agreed John, and they walked on down, picking up towels from a cabana on the way. There were even fewer people down here, just an older couple probably 30m away. It felt delightfully private.

Sherlock was squinting up at the sun and considering the headlands. “We’ll need to move the umbrella here, so we get the best coverage for the path of the sun. Otherwise we’ll have to get up and keep shifting it all day.”

John chuckled. Of course Sherlock would plan their umbrella positioning for maximum efficiency. “I think I’ll bask in the sun for a bit given I’ve got all this cream on, but then I’ll join you under the shade when I’m thoroughly warm. Sound good?”

Sherlock nodded, and set to arranging the umbrella “just so”. They collapsed on the loungers with their books, propping their water bottles neatly against the umbrella pole to ensure they stayed well out of the sun. John closed his eyes immediately, soaking it all in, but Sherlock was fascinated that the side tables featured laminated menus on top, and immediately set to examining their lunch options.

“Sherlock, we just ate!” John didn’t even open his eyes.

“I know that, but John these tables! They’re menus! It’s so clever.”

John snorted. For a brilliant man who never hesitated to call others ‘idiots’ it was quite pleasing to see him so captivated by such a simple thing. He filed it away to tell Lestrade – he’d enjoy that too.

After a few moments of silence, John opened his eyes and rolled onto his side to watch Sherlock, who was still steadily reading all the menu items. John quietly reached into his shorts and pulled out his phone, quickly navigating to the camera to take a sneaky shot of Sherlock before he noticed. He rolled back over to look at the photo, sheltering the phone with his hand so he could see the screen in the bright light. The photo was great – captured Sherlock perfectly. Under the umbrella, his face was clear and his pale skin and white shirt stood out against the blue sea behind him. The photo clearly caught Sherlock’s laser beam focus on the task at hand, his beautiful features looking downwards, and it framed the plastic menu table nicely too. John chuckled. First photo of the relationship, and it was of a silly table.

“What’s got you chuckling over there?”

“Just feeling happy, Sherlock. Aren’t we lucky?”

Sherlock looked evenly over at John, face serious for a moment. “We really are.” John smiled at that, and leaned back again with his eyes closed, enjoying the warm sun on his skin.

_________________________________

“John, wake up. I want to swim.”

John opened one eye, and scrunched the other closed as he squinted up at Sherlock, whose face was mere inches from his own. He didn’t even jump anymore, so common was this occurrence in their Baker Street lives. “I’m awake. Just resting.”

“Sure. Whatever. Are you coming for a swim or not?”

John scrunched both his eyes closed now, and ran his hands over his face. He felt hot and a bit disoriented, and wondered if he had really been asleep.

“Uh… Yes. I am. Give me a sec. You go ahead.”

“Ok.” And Sherlock was off like a rocket, shedding his shirt then dodging loungers and picking his way nimbly up the stairs to the pool. John let his head fall back on the lounger once more, wondering if he’d already had a bit much sun. He leaned forward, then, and quickly scooted over to Sherlock’s lounger to sit in the shade for a second. He took a long drink of water, and put his sunglasses back on. That was better.

He gave it another few moments, just to be sure he was ok, and then stood up to join Sherlock. He tucked his phone carefully under his towel so it wouldn’t be visible, and deliberated taking his sunglasses with him. With considerably less grace than Sherlock had shown, John meandered up to the pool.

When he arrived, he smiled to see that Sherlock wasn’t really that far ahead of him at all, seeming paralysed about knee-depth into the pool, halfway down the stairs.

“Bit chilly, is it?” John asked as he made his way to the edge.

“No, I don’t think so. I’m just adjusting slowly.”

John didn’t believe him, and carefully lowered one foot into the water from the safety of the edge. It was cool, but not unpleasantly so, and given how hot John was currently feeling, it was ideal. He carefully rested his sunglasses on the side of the pool away from the steps, then took the stairs quickly down into the pool, moving swiftly past Sherlock, and dropping into a surprisingly tidy dive. He surfaced about two-thirds of the way down the pool, already feeling refreshed. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been swimming, and he gave a small “whoop” of pleasure as he swam the rest of the length of the pool slowly before pushing off the other end and making his way back to Sherlock.

“Come on Sherlock, get in! It’s lovely.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes and didn’t move.

“Fine then, in that case, can you reach over and get my sunglasses? I’m going to put them back on as I mosey about in here.”

Sherlock did so, stepping up and out of the pool, scooping the glasses up and looking as though he might peg them at John. John reached out a hand and looked meaningfully at Sherlock, daring him to throw them. Sherlock caught the look and changed his mind, slowly descending the stairs once more and handing the sunglasses deftly to John, who promptly put them back on. “That was unexpectedly mature of you, Sherlock.” Sherlock just smirked, not denying his train of thought.

John reached out his hand to Sherlock, now, offering to accompany him into the pool itself. Sherlock chuckled. “I’m fine! Just a bit cold. Mycroft always thought I was rather a wuss about these things.”

John laughed, picturing two small boys cowering on the edge of some English garden pool, which would likely have been genuinely freezing even in the height of summer. “Did you guys have a pool at home?”

“No, but our grandparents did, and Mycroft delighted in taunting me. Of course, he’s 7 years older and was actually quite a good swimmer, so in retrospect I’m not that surprised that he found my cautious approach to pools rather underwhelming.”

John paused his arms’ steadily floating movements, saying mockingly, “Sherlock, who are you?!”

“What?”

“You just complimented Mycroft. You acknowledged he was good at something! Voluntarily!”

Sherlock fake shuddered and they both laughed. “I haven’t even been here 24 hours and look what this holiday has done to me! I’ve let my guard down.”

John smiled at this, thinking how true the statement was. “Well, given he got you here, I think we could ease up on him for a few days…?”

Sherlock considered this. “Hmm… no. Though I will acknowledge this has been one of his more useful weekends in recent memory.”

John snorted. “I think that’s as good as we’ll get for a while.”

_____________________________

When Sherlock finally made it chest deep into the water, they had quite a nice time moving steadily up and down the length of the pool, half-swimming, half-walking, and chatting easily the whole time. John enjoyed learning more about Sherlock’s childhood and teen years. Somehow it was easier to talk about these things when they were a long way from Baker Street.

John floated on his back for a while, feeling light and happy and enjoying the sensation of being buoyed by the water. It’d been a long time since he’d spent as relaxed a morning as this, and he was struggling to remember his last actual holiday. Certainly he’d had leave while he’d been in the Army, but he’d mostly used that to potter around London seeing friends and, when duty called, family.

He mused idly that he could probably have gone on holiday at any point since meeting Sherlock, once he was rather more financially stable and actually had the time, and yet it hadn’t once crossed his mind. That probably said something a bit messed up about their working relationship, but whatever. John set that thought aside, and revelled in the fact that they were here, together, and he was floating.

*SMACK*

John collapsed in the middle with an undignified “Oof” as something hard slapped him on the stomach. He felt a bit winded and struggled to get his feet under him in the pool as he caught his breath. Even as he kicked upwards, he was aware of Sherlock laughing loudly to his right, where he’d last been basking in the sun as he rested against the pool’s edge. Once John finally got to shallower water and could stand, he shot a glare to Sherlock, who clearly got the message despite John’s sunglasses, and didn’t care.

“What the fuck was that?”

Sherlock continued laughing, having hit that point of amusement when it’s very hard to stop laughing even though the moment has passed. He did pause, momentarily, to say “John, language!” which John took with a grain of salt as Sherlock had rather a potty mouth himself when the mood struck him.

“I’m so sorry, mister,” a small voice came from behind John, with startling sincerity. John turned to see a skinny kid with pale skin and medium brown hair standing in the slightly shallower water, looking mortified. His shoulders were hunched in and he was clearly preparing for John to tell him off. A worn rugby ball was tucked in the crook of one elbow, and John immediately identified what had caused the ungainly end to his floating.

John bit his tongue, immediately sorry both that he’d sworn, and that his tone had been so angry. He wasn’t good at guessing kids’ ages, but this boy looked like he was still in primary school. John squinted… maybe 8? 10? Either way, too young to be sworn at by a man in his 40s.

John took his sunglasses off and schooled his face into something more relaxed. “Oh, mate. No worries. Sorry that I swore, I was just a bit startled, that’s all.”

The kid looked relieved, and rather surprised to have escaped worse. His small frame relaxed immediately, and he offered John a tentative smile. “Ball got away from me.”

“I can see that! But no harm done.” John smiled easily at the kid. “I’m John.”

“I’m Tim.”

“Where are you from, Tim?”

“Guildford… in England.”

John laughed at this. Both that the kid felt he needed to explain that he was English, which was blatantly obvious from everything about him, and that he felt the need to explain where Guildford was. Conscious that Tim had already had rather a rough introduction to John, John decided to point neither of these things out.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Tim from Guildford. I’m John. Sherlock,” here, John turned and pointed to Sherlock, who had stopped laughing and was watching the interaction with great interest, “and I live in London. Have you been to Regents Park? Or the London Zoo? We live near there.”

“Yep,” said Tim cheerfully. “My uncle sometimes takes me. We go on the train from Guildford and spend Sundays sometimes.”

“That’s great!” said John with sincerity, thinking that it’d been a long time since he’s had a chat with a child, and that he’d forgotten how enjoyable it could be. “How old are you, then? Still in primary school?”

“Yep, I’m 10. I’m going into Year 6 in September. I’m a prefect at my school.”

“That’s wonderful! Your parents must be very proud.”

“Yeah, Mum is really pleased. I get a badge and everything!”

John smiled at this, thinking back to his own time at school, and how important those things had seemed at the time. In the military too, actually – badges and honours and things that didn’t really exist in the “real” world. He missed that feeling sometimes, of good work being rewarded with something visible, tangible.

“Are your parents here?” John looked around the edges of the pool, sure a parent would be keeping an eye on Tim. He wasn’t young enough for there to be a real concern about water safety, but John imagined any parent would be keeping a close-ish eye on their son talking to strange men. Sure enough, he caught the eye of a woman in her late 30s, wearing a pink one piece swimsuit, a surprising tan, and a wide brimmed hat, who was leaning forward and clearly checking that Tim was ok. John gave her an acknowledging head tilt, and a bit of a wave. She waved back, not looking terribly concerned.

“That’s your mum, then?”

“Yep, she’s reading. Dad’s taken my sister to get an ice cream.”

Sherlock, who had been silent through the conversation so far, interjected. Without John noticing, Sherlock had come much closer, and was only a foot or so from John when he spoke.

“Doesn’t she know she can just order off the plastic tables? They’re menus!”

John snorted. Of course Sherlock was concerned that this English family wasn’t taking full advantage of the amenities. Tim, however, didn’t seem at all concerned by the interjection. “Oh yeah, Dad saw that. There are buttons in the umbrellas and everything, did you notice?” he said excitedly.

Sherlock nodded, matching Tim’s wide-eyed earnestness. He was clearly impressed by this small boy, to John’s amusement. “So why didn’t you order that way?” he asked sincerely.

Tim nodded. “Well, I would have. It’s cool that they come to you! But Sophie wanted to see the ice creams. She likes to choose, you know. Look at them, and that. She’s only 6.”

Sherlock nodded understandingly. John rolled his eyes. As though Sherlock had any idea of the difference between a 6 year old and a 10 year old! But even as he rolled them, he was a bit chuffed that Sherlock was making an effort. John wouldn’t have been sure…

“Do you want to play?” Tim said suddenly, holding out the ball and directing the question at Sherlock, who looked taken aback. His relaxed posture stiffened, and he looked at John with something approaching panic on his face. John laughed, and said to Tim, “We’d love to! Sure your mum won’t mind?”

“Nah, she’ll be right. She’ll be pleased I’m not asking her to get in. She doesn’t like to get wet.”

Sherlock snorted behind John, who shot him a glare and turned back to Tim. “How about we move into the shallower water and throw the ball? It’s a bit hard here where it’s deeper.”

Tim nodded enthusiastically as Sherlock muttered, “Speak for yourself,” under his breath, and the three moved towards the far end of the pool. As they moved, John took a look over the edge of the pool to where their deck chairs sat below, ensuring their stuff was still there. Comfortable that it was, he sorted himself and Tim into a triangle shape, with Sherlock standing further into the pool, given his height advantage. Tim immediately launched the ball at a surprised Sherlock – it hit his chest with a wet “thwack”, and Sherlock made an inelegant clapping motion, managing awkwardly to keep the ball from hitting the water. John laughed loudly at the sight, and Sherlock looked mildly injured.

“Screw you!” Sherlock said, without heat.

“Language!” John responded immediately, shooting a look at Tim, who didn’t seem terribly concerned. Sherlock did have the good grace to look a bit guilty.

“Sorry, Tim!”

“It’s ok,” Tim responded, with a quick smile. “You should hear Dad when he’s watching the rugby.”

John and Sherlock both laughed at this. Sherlock pegged the ball at John, clearly intending to take John by surprise. John, who’d played rather a lot of grade rugby in his time, wasn’t concerned at all, and plucked the ball out of the air elegantly with his left hand. He was pleased to see a moue of annoyance from Sherlock, as he turned and lightly passed the ball to Tim, who caught it easily with both hands and quickly punted it on to Sherlock, who caught it much more deftly this time. Still not the catch of a person who’d spent years doing this, but not bad, John thought.

Round and round they went, chatting and laughing a bit. John told Tim that he was a doctor, and Sherlock was a detective. Tim was markedly more interested in Sherlock. What 10 year old wouldn’t be impressed? Tim peppered Sherlock with questions and Sherlock answered them all frankly, though seeming to edit somewhat for Tim’s age, which made John smile. Wouldn’t edit himself for any adult they’d ever met, but for this 10 year old it seemed no trouble. Tim also clearly liked that Sherlock was trying to make it as difficult for John to catch as possible, and John took multiple dives into the water as Sherlock’s passes became increasingly erratic. On one occasion, John emerged from the water spluttering, holding the ball aloft, to see Sherlock drop a wink in Tim’s direction. Tim beamed.

Another lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan, then, John thought to himself. Join the club, kid.

____________________________

“Tim! Time to get out!” A tall man with freckled shoulders and foppish auburn hair eventually called out from the edge of the pool. Tim turned, grinning up at this fellow, who was clearly his dad. John gave a friendly wave in the father’s direction, and saw Sherlock do the same. “Why don’t you thank these nice gentlemen for playing with you, and we’ll head up to get some lunch?”

Tim turned back to Sherlock and John and said earnestly, “Thank you, Sherlock. Thank you, John. That was brilliant!”

John chuckled and caught Sherlock’s eye. Sherlock looked quite overcome for a moment, then made his way to the edge of the pool as Tim clambered out. He pushed up and out of the pool in one sinuous movement, water rushing down his pale back as he got his knee under him and stood up to shake Tim’s father’s hand. John couldn’t hear the exchange, but could see the surprised smile and raised eyebrows on Tim’s father’s face as he clearly worked out that it was “That Sherlock”. Tim stood, dripping, beside his father, grinning up at them both as his head swivelled between them. As the exchange ended, Sherlock looked down at Tim, putting out his hand to shake Tim’s. This clearly was the cherry on top for Tim – to be treated with such respect by Sherlock was clearly more than he expected. He put his small hand in Sherlock’s large one, and shook it solemnly. John grinned. Bloody good day.

___________________________

After a light lunch, ordered to the plastic tables, per Sherlock’s request, they decided to head up to the hotel and get out of the sun for a few hours. John never really had an issue with sunburn, but he could feel a nap coming on, and was a bit concerned about Sherlock’s alabaster skin in the harsh Mediterranean sun.

Back in the room, they took turns showering then collapsed on the bed. They’d both been rather quiet since Tim’s departure with his family, but pleasantly so. The silence felt companionable, like Baker Street. Sherlock pulled out his book, a paperback on Roman Londinium, and flopped onto the bed on his stomach, propping himself up on his elbows while John lay on his back. He didn’t even pretend to crack a book open, just let sleep overtake him.

Around 6, Sherlock gently woke John with a light hand on his calf. John blinked, a bit confused about where he was, to see Sherlock sitting at the end of the bed by his feet. He said softly, “John – it’s 6pm. I thought you might like to go out for dinner? Totally fine if you want to keep sleeping.” John shook his head a bit to clear it, then groaned a little.

“God, I am a terrible napper. I always think I’ll just rest for an hour, and then suddenly it’s 6pm and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.”

Sherlock chuckled at this. Probably not a feeling he’d ever had, mused John. “You didn’t sleep, did you?” Sherlock shook his head. “But I did read a good part of my book, and I sat on the balcony for a while and googled stuff for us to do this week. I thought tomorrow we could go exploring?”

John smiled. “That sounds great. Give me a moment to wake up, and you can tell me about it over dinner. Have you chosen somewhere, or do you want to do some research?”

___________________________

They ended up down on the St Julian waterfront, seated out front of a local restaurant lauded for its seafood and Maltese specialties. Their table had a stiff white tablecloth but was otherwise perfectly casual, and John enjoyed the light breeze as they silently studied the tourists drifting past. Lots of sunburnt faces, wet hair fresh from evening showers, with the women and daughters in floaty sundresses and the men and sons in loose cotton shirts with shorts. As the waiter cleared their plates, John smiled to himself, enjoying the classic summer uniforms of European holiday towns. It felt delightfully timeless.

He looked over to catch Sherlock’s eye, wanting to share the moment with him, and found Sherlock staring at him thoughtfully, a small smile on his face. “Hey,” breathed John, and he reached over to take Sherlock’s hand, where it was resting lightly on the table.

“Hey yourself.”

“This ok?” John inclined his head towards their joined hands.

Sherlock nodded calmly, and John felt a strong sense of peace wash over him. They stared quietly into each other’s eyes for a few moments, then John looked back out to the cobblestone street, enjoying the soft touch of Sherlock’s hand. By any measure at all of what he’d hoped would happen after he opened up to Sherlock, this was exceptional.

Feeling the need to tell Sherlock how much this all meant to him, he looked back. Sherlock was still gazing at John, and John flushed at the scrutiny.

“You’re brilliant, you know John.”

“What?”

“I’m just sitting here, thinking how incredible you are. And how lucky I am that you love me. And that we’re here, together.”

John huffed out a laugh. “You took the words right out of my mouth. That’s precisely what I was going to say to you.”

Sherlock blushed, “Really?”

“Yes, really. Today was perfect. And I don’t mean in the cliched “what a perfect day” way, I mean literally from the moment that I woke up until this moment right now when you let me hold your hand, I have been truly, blissfully happy, in a way that I have never once been in my life.”

Sherlock pursed his lips, looking a touch uncertain. “But that can’t be right. You’ve been in relationships before.”

John squeezed Sherlock’s hand lightly. “Not like this, Sherlock. Nothing like this.”

“You mean it doesn’t usually feel this way?” Sherlock asked, genuinely.

John thought a moment about how best to put it. For him, it was unequivocal, but he knew it might not be so simple for Sherlock. “Let me put it this way, Sherlock. I don’t know how you’re feeling right now, but I’ve never felt like this about anyone in my entire life; nothing’s ever come close. And that you are here with me, having this conversation, holding my hand, and will let me hold you in bed tonight, means more to me than anything ever has. I don’t want to freak you out, but even if we never take it further, this will be the most romantic holiday of my life.”

Sherlock looked utterly floored by this revelation. He opened his mouth and closed it multiple times, seeming to think better of whatever he was going to say. John let him think – he knew Sherlock well enough to know how important the processing was, and was comfortable with silence anyhow.

Some minutes later, Sherlock opened his mouth again, and this time words came out.

“Me too.”

John looked back over, and said gently, “Me too, what?”

“Me too, this is the most romantic holiday of my life.”

John chuckled lightly, careful not to admonish Sherlock, who was clearly new to this kind of sharing. “Well, I’d hope so. Have you ever been on a holiday with a partner before?”

Sherlock shook his head, but clarified, “I do mean that, but really I mean today has been incredible and being here with you is the best I’ve ever felt in my life too.”

John’s heart swelled in his chest, tears pricked his eyes, and he felt overcome by love for this wonderful man. He wasn’t sure if Sherlock would want him kissing him in public, particularly given this was so new, but he couldn’t let the moment pass.

“Sherlock, in the spirit of honesty, I’d very much like to kiss you right now.”

Sherlock didn’t even pause before breathing out, “Ok,” as he stared at John’s lips and licked his own. Never one to let an opportunity pass by, John leaned over and gave Sherlock a chaste kiss, pausing to breathe him in before leaning back. Sherlock looked pleasantly stunned, and moved his free hand up to touch his lips, seeming to savour it. John’s heart filled further – honestly, each time he didn’t think he could feel more, Sherlock managed it every time.

Chapter Text

As they wandered back up to the hotel hand in hand, Sherlock was quiet. Each time John looked over, Sherlock was deep in thought, seeming not even to notice John checking in. The sun had set while they’d eaten, and the street lights had come on. His face was softer but no less ethereal in the gloaming, his pale skin lovely against the muted yellow limestone of St Julian’s buildings. The overall effect was one of great warmth; so different to the grey, pale light of London.

“Tell me what you’re thinking?”

Sherlock didn’t acknowledge the question, seeming not to hear it. John gave their joined hands a bit of a jiggle to get his attention. Sherlock blinked and looked over at John.

“Sorry, what?”

“Will you tell me what you’re thinking about? You don’t have to. You just look like you’re a million miles away.”

Sherlock considered this for a few moments, biting the inside of his cheek. Eventually, he ventured, “I don’t mind telling you, but I’m aware that there are certain social rules about these topics that I’d be breaching if I did.”

John frowned at this mysterious statement; unsure what Sherlock could possibly be referring to.

“Um.. I don’t really know what to say to that. But, you know there’s nothing you can’t tell me, and I don’t put that much stock in social rules.”

Sherlock snorted and caught John’s eye. “Yes, you do. You’re constantly haranguing me about etiquette and niceties and playing the game.”

John chuckled, seeing Sherlock’s point. “Yes, that’s fair. But (a) I don’t harangue, and (b) I mostly do that for the benefit of others, not because I care in relation to me. Those things are important to third parties, and help you – us – navigate life more easily, and hopefully avoid pissing people off. You know that. If I cared about niceties, I would probably have shut down most of what happens in our kitchen…”

Sherlock grinned. “Well, I’m glad you don’t do that. And I’m sorry for saying you harangue me. It’s more of a low-level pestering…”

John chuckled again. He loved this ridiculous, amazing man. “Ok, fine, don’t tell me. You’re entitled to your secrets.” He smiled to himself and swung their arms together in time as they walked, feeling quite chipper.

Sherlock laughed at the exaggerated movements, feeling pleasantly silly even as he marvelled at how much he liked that John was demonstrative in public. It made him feel even more loved, that John didn’t want to hide him; hide this.

He angled his body towards John, drinking him in. “You’re not embarrassed by me.”

John looked surprised. “No, of course I’m not.”

“That’s unusual, you know. Most everyone is.”

John was hit with a pang of sadness at that, but also reflected on the nugget of truth. Mycroft, Lestrade, and others who had made Sherlock feel that way in the past probably hadn’t intended to hurt Sherlock’s feelings (mostly), but Sherlock did make it hard sometimes. The Palace came to mind, as did various moments where Sherlock had loudly insulted people in the vicinity with comments on their marriages, hair plugs, social climbing, and so on. John couldn’t always blame them, but he knew that as long as he lived, he would do everything in his power never to make Sherlock feel John was embarrassed by him.

“Well, I’m not. Even before this,” John gestured between them with their joined hands, “I was always proud to be by your side. At a crime scene, in the grocery store, at Bart’s, at New Scotland Yard. Whatever, wherever. Not embarrassed. Never embarrassed.”

Sherlock gulped a bit at this, aware for the hundredth time how John had shaped his life around Sherlock. How he complemented him, rounded him out, made it easier for Sherlock to be in the world. He paused, then spoke.

“I want to tell you.”

“What?”

“I want to tell you what I was thinking, even though I know it’s not a normal thing to tell you when we’ve only been doing this,” here, he mirrored John’s hand motions from earlier, “for a day. And even though I think it might freak you out.”

John took this seriously, aware of the faith Sherlock was placing in him, and determined to respond appropriately no matter what it was. He wanted to stop moving while Sherlock said his piece, and slowed as he looked around for somewhere to pause. “Let’s sit over there?” he said, and pointed at a stone bench looking out over some yachts, moored in a small bay in front of an expensive looking apartment complex. Sherlock nodded.

Once seated, facing each other, Sherlock looked thoughtfully at John for a moment, before starting. “I was thinking… If we do this… you know… permanently… I think I’d like to raise children with you.”

John was floored. Of all the things he’d possibly expected to come out of Sherlock’s mouth, this wasn’t it. He felt his eyebrows raise in surprise and his heart rate spike, and reminded himself that he’d been determined to provide a reassuring response to Sherlock, regardless of what it turned out to be. He just hadn’t expected this.

“…. You would?”

“Yes, I think so. I always wanted children; always had this idea of being a father, making a child feel loved and supported. Teaching him useful things. Making sure he was never lonely. Always had someone to talk to, and show things to.” John’s heart hurt at this, thinking of Sherlock as a boy, curly haired and alone on the playground. Sherlock continued, “When I realised I wasn’t… you know… that I wasn’t really the sort of person anyone wanted to have children with… I gave it up. Just assumed it wasn’t meant for me. It’s been years since I even thought it might be something I could do.”

John gave Sherlock’s hand a squeeze, aware of the depths of this disclosure. How incredibly private and tightly-held a hope this must have always been. “Sherlock…”

Sherlock smiled sadly, “No, I know how that sounds. I don’t say it to make you pity me. It was just a fact. And I moved on, don’t get me wrong. I love my life. I love Baker Street, and our cases, my experiments, and living with you. And I doubt I would have had kids before now anyway – I had things I wanted to achieve before I did that. But then, I think the pleasures of today caught up with me at dinner. That you are my family. That our home really is a home, and not just a flat. That I want to build a life with you. Not just be your flatmate, or your partner, or whatever we’ve been. And while that’s definitely scary, and not something I saw for myself, it also rekindled this desire I’ve always had…”

Sherlock trailed off here, and John pulled him into an embrace, feeling the need to be physically closer as he absorbed the weight of Sherlock’s emotions, and the interconnectedness for Sherlock of John’s love and Sherlock’s surprisingly traditional concepts of family. He breathed in Sherlock’s smell, enjoying the rosemary and mint scent of the hotel’s shampoo, and the feeling of Sherlock’s linen shirt under his fingers. It was looser than his London shirts, and John enjoyed the movement of the fabric as he rubbed his hands up and down Sherlock’s back as he held him. He was glad for the contact, and also for the time to think without his face being scrutinised. He knew it wasn’t fair, but some part of him was wondering how they could possibly be discussing kids when Sherlock hadn’t actually said he wanted to be in a relationship with John yet. Or even really shared his own feelings.

But… John hadn’t known Sherlock wanted children. It had never even occurred to John that Sherlock would want children. When John thought of their lives together, with or without a romantic component, children hadn’t factored in at all. John shook himself a little and felt guilty at that; in some ways John had fed right into what Sherlock already thought about himself. He determined to do better to be more understanding. Sherlock wouldn’t have said it unless he truly felt it – he wasn’t a sharer at the best of times – and he’d clearly been aware this may not receive a welcome reaction even before he’d volunteered it.

John eventually pulled back from the embrace, aware he’d been silent for a length of time that was likely to worry Sherlock. He shuffled back a bit on the bench so he could make eye contact with Sherlock and take both Sherlock’s hands in his, before taking a deep breath and preparing to respond. Seeing this, Sherlock beat him to it, scanning John’s face rapidly as he spoke.

“I know that was a lot to share with you, John. You want a relationship, and I upped the ante with the children thing. It’s fine if that’s not what you want. But I do want to be honest with you, and that’s what I was thinking about.”

John nodded slowly, acknowledging Sherlock’s words. “I’m glad you did – truly. That was a bit of a surprise, but I don’t want you to think that it was a bad one. I just didn’t know, and now I do.” He smiled tentatively, hoping Sherlock could see it in the low light of the bay. “How about this? I don’t know exactly what I think about having children. I’m in my 40s, and it hasn’t happened, and I honestly got to the point years ago that I assumed it was never going to happen. But I’m open to the idea, and if it’s as important to you as you’re telling me it is, then I think we should find a way to make it happen.”

Sherlock looked stunned at this, then worried. “John… I didn’t mean…”

“No, I know. I don’t feel pressured by what you said. And I don’t think you necessarily mean any time soon… I get that you just meant it was on your mind. I had personally stopped thinking about it, but that doesn’t mean I’m averse to the idea, it would just… you know… reframe things a bit. All I’m saying is that if it’s really something that’s important to you, and it sounds like it is, then it merits further discussion. We only get one life, Sherlock, and we owe it to ourselves to do everything we can to secure those things that feel this important to experience, or to have, or to do. Honestly, that’s what prompted me telling you how I feel in the first place. And I know we’re having some of these conversations out of order, but when have we ever done anything like other people?”

At this, Sherlock smiled softly, tentatively. John continued, “I meant what I said last night, just as I think you did. I really want us to be honest with each other. I’d much prefer you’re honest with me, even if it’s a bit of a shock, than that I don’t know what you’re thinking. Really.”

Sherlock nodded at this.

“Can I ask you something, though?” John paused. “Just because I feel like maybe we did skip over something.”

“Of course, anything.”

“You do want to be in a relationship with me, right? I mean, we’ve had a great day and it seems like you’ve really enjoyed the kissing,” Sherlock rolled his eyes at this, but with a fond smile on his face, “but you haven’t actually said what you want… you know… about us.”

Sherlock huffed out a laugh. “Are you serious, John?”

“Of course I’m serious!”

“John, I told you at dinner this was the happiest I’ve felt in my life. And then I told you I want us to raise kids together. Of course I want to be in a relationship with you! I’ve never felt like this before, and if I can feel even half this good any day in the rest of my life, I’ll be luckier than I ever dared hope.”

“But you didn’t actually say…”

“Oh my god, John. Here, let me spell it out.” Sherlock threw his hands up in exasperation, a familiar movement that made John huff out a laugh even as he watched and listened closely for what came next. “I’m utterly in love with you. I loved today, and I want to spend tonight showing you how much. I’ve got no real idea what I’m doing, but I know you’ll show me, and I have complete faith that we’ll work it out. Every particle of my being wants to be with you, and that’s enough. I trust you.”

John gulped and felt his eyes fill with tears. He’d known he needed to hear the words, but hadn’t known how much. “Sherlock…”

“Come here. No crying.” Sherlock pulled John close to him this time, putting his hands on either side of John’s face and kissing his cheeks gently, tasting salt as John’s tears fell. “Oh you duffer, John. No more tears. Of course I love you. On some level I’ve always loved you… I just needed you to kickstart this chapter of “us”. And you did… you did such a wonderful job.”

John snuffled a little, feeling he ought to be embarrassed by his tears but honestly so overcome that he didn’t care. Sherlock kept kissing John’s face, showering him with love. “Sherlock…”

“Come on… let’s get back to the hotel. It’s high time I cleared any doubt from your mind about how I feel.” Sherlock nimbly stood, pulling John up with him, and tucking John’s arm into his so their bodies were touching all along the side as they walked. “And no more chat about children. Tonight is about you and me, and we have the rest of our lives to work out the rest.”

John smiled gratefully up at Sherlock. What a day. What a night.

________________________________

Back in the hotel room, the air conditioning was a bit of a shock after the balmy air outside. Sherlock shivered as they entered then he headed straight for the bathroom as John paused to turn the air conditioning down. Sherlock came out again with his toothbrush in his mouth, and gestured that John should head in if he wanted to. He strode off to the end of the room, and slid the balcony door open to warm the room up a bit, pulling the gauzy curtain across for a bit of privacy.

Sherlock ducked back into the bathroom to spit as John exited, smelling minty too. Sherlock grinned at John – they often did this at home, and it was calming to bring their Baker Street routine into the holiday. Sherlock stared at himself in the mirror as he put his toothbrush next to John’s in the glass. He smoothed his hair down a bit – he was amused at the volume the humidity was giving him – and made dramatic eyes at himself as he considered the significant moment ahead.

He came out to find John in bed, under the covers but in a t-shirt like last night. The room was warmer and Sherlock blushed a little, wondering if John had anything else on. He slowly unbuttoned his shirt, and lay it carefully over the chair before wiggling out of his trousers under John’s intense gaze. Feeling rather exposed in just his pants, but feeling like putting clothes on was obviously counterproductive, he bit his lip nervously and drifted towards the bed. Towards John.

John bit his lip too, though he looked less nervous and more as though he was restraining himself. Well, that was flattering. Sherlock lifted the covers up lightly, and slid in, and across to join John on his side. No need to be coy, he supposed. John grinned and reached for Sherlock, leaning in to kiss him deeply. Gone were the afternoon’s chaste kisses – Sherlock felt John’s tongue enter his mouth almost immediately and suddenly his feelings roared up and his nerves abated. He melted into John, letting him lead. This was right. This was everything.

John deepened the kiss hungrily, and pulled Sherlock half on top of him, stretching his legs out under the covers. Sherlock understood, leaning forward and resting his torso against John’s, enjoying the feeling of their chests touching as he kissed John even more deeply than before. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, so he just left them where they were, one bracing on the bed so he didn’t put his full weight on John, and the other resting lightly on John’s shoulder, the injured one. He rubbed it rhythmically with his thumb, letting John know that he knew.

John smiled into the kiss; message received. He shifted on the bed, scooting down further and adjusting for Sherlock’s weight. God, but he had dreamt of this. The feel of Sherlock on top of him, his beautiful mouth, his eyes closed as he felt everything for the first time. John lifted his hands and started to lightly run them up and down Sherlock’s back, slowly. He felt amazed, blown away, really, that he was touching Sherlock. That he was permitted to touch Sherlock. He could feel Sherlock’s warm skin, the firmness of his back, the tension in his shoulders, and the narrowing of his hips.

Though he desperately wanted to give Sherlock’s perfect arse a squeeze, he thought that was probably a bit fast. Better go slow and not risk freaking Sherlock out. They had time.

Coming up for air, John broke off the kiss and rubbed Sherlock’s back as he said softly, “That ok?”

Sherlock nodded, eyes still closed.

“Really, Sherlock, I want you to be honest with me. I know this is a lot.”

Sherlock nodded again, still not speaking, but John could feel Sherlock start to relax. He dropped his head down to John’s chest then, breathing in John’s skin and softly running his fingers over John’s injured shoulder. “This is good,” he said softly, his voice slightly muffled against John’s t-shirt.

John breathed a huge sigh of relief, and bought his hands up into Sherlock’s beautiful hair, touching it gently and cradling Sherlock’s head as he did. They lay like that for a few seconds before John lifted his own head up a bit and whispered, “I love you, Sherlock Holmes.” Sherlock kissed John’s chest in acknowledgment. “Me too,” he said softly.

After a few minutes breathing in tandem, Sherlock reached over to turn off the lamp and picked up the pace on exploring John’s body, no longer just softly stroking his side but moving to touch and kiss a path down John’s neck and chest before shifting up to kiss John’s mouth, hard. John’s eyes shot open in the darkness. This was new.

Sherlock took control then, feeling more confident. He pulled John’s shirt up further, not just running his hands under it, but clearly trying to get it off. John shifted, lifting up off the bed and almost tipping them over in his haste to remove it. They both laughed as the t-shirt sailed across the room and John righted himself, coming back down to rest under Sherlock.

“You’re amazing”, whispered John, softly grazing Sherlock’s belly as he lay back down. Sherlock gasped a little at the skin-to-skin contact, new as it was. John was so warm, so alive. Sherlock kissed John’s neck, John’s collarbone, John’s sternum, moving steadily across his chest and down. John opened his legs a little so Sherlock could rest between them and press his weight more fully on John. This change of angle felt good, so good.

“Christ!” exclaimed Sherlock, as he gave an involuntary thrust into John’s hip. He was getting harder by the second. John grinned in the darkness, pleased to have elicited this reaction even as he realised Sherlock was genuinely shocked.

“It’s ok, Sherlock – I like it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Come back here.” John pulled Sherlock up and kissed him full on the mouth again. “Ok for me to try something?”

“Uh huh.”

John shifted again, pushing his pelvis up towards Sherlock’s, seeking a bit of friction. He felt Sherlock harden further, could feel his length resting comfortably in the dip between John’s thigh and his torso. He pushed up again, smiling as Sherlock gasped at the contact. John was himself intensely hard, his erections from earlier that day coming back with a roar, and he could feel himself pulsing against Sherlock’s stomach.

Sherlock groaned as they settled into a bit of a rhythm. He stopped focussing on the individual touch, the smaller sensations, and let himself relax into the rocking movement as he continued to kiss John – eyes, neck, ears, back to his mouth. He felt John’s hands running down his back and under his pants, squeezing his arse as he thrust upwards. Sherlock rutted into John, moving faster and faster until he realised with a start what was about to happen.

“John, I’m going to…”

“Wait – just wait a sec.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“No, you can. This’ll feel even better. Promise.”

John paused, slowing them down but continuing the movement. He changed angles, reaching down to adjust them so their cocks were lined up next to each other. “This should feel good.” Sherlock gasped with pleasure as John moved and Sherlock understood immediately. Even through both sets of pants, Sherlock’s sensitivity skyrocketed.

“Unnnh John… I’m not going last…”

John thrust upwards harder and harder as Sherlock rutted into him urgently. Any sense of rhythm was gone. John gripped Sherlock’s perfect arse in his hands as he keened, “That’s good Sherlock, come for me… come for me… come for me...”

Sherlock gave a last, low “Fuuuuuuck” and his whole body stiffened. John felt Sherlock’s toes press against the bed, and his chest lifted off John as suddenly John felt wetness hit his own pyjama pants. As Sherlock came down, he collapsed on top of John and John gasped as the friction returned. Reaching his hand down, he gave himself a few quick strokes and bit into Sherlock’s shoulder as he came himself in a flood. Over the next few minutes, their breathing slowly returned to normal, and Sherlock remained collapsed on John.

“Sherlock…”

“Mmm.”

“Hey, don’t take this the wrong way, but I need you to move over a little. I can’t breathe.”

Sherlock gave a shocked laugh, and lifted up immediately. “Oh my god, John! Why didn’t you say something? I must have been crushing you.”

“I did! Say something, I mean. I just… I like the feeling of you laying on me, but… “

“But I’m a bit heavy to lay there boneless for long periods of time, you mean?” Sherlock snorted.

Though they were both decidedly sticky and John idly thought of getting a flannel, he rolled onto his side, facing Sherlock but not quite touching, deciding this conversation was more important. He leaned forward to give Sherlock a slow kiss and ventured, “Seems like that went ok for you?”

Sherlock breathed out a laugh, chuffed that John kept checking in even with overwhelming evidence that Sherlock was fine. “Yes, that was more than ok. I liked it enormously, in fact.” Even in the dark room, John could see the outline of a grin consuming Sherlock’s face. His voice was gravelly and amazing, imbued with excitement and still slightly puffed.

John laughed and ran his hand down Sherlock’s side from shoulder to waist, feeling a great sense of calm wash over him as he rubbed his thumb rhythmically over Sherlock’s hip bone. “I’m really glad to hear that, Sherlock. That was pretty incredible for me too.”

Sherlock continued grinning into the darkness, reaching his arm out to drape around John in a loose hug. He dropped a kiss onto John’s throat and whispered, “Thank you. Really. For everything.”

“Sherlock, you don’t need to thank me.”

“No, really I do. You’ve made me feel amazing today. More loved than I expected to feel in a lifetime.”

John stiffened a bit beside Sherlock. Sherlock felt this immediately, and hastened to clarify, “Oh, don’t take that the wrong way. I don’t feel sorry for myself, and I don’t need you to feel sorry for me either. I just… I’m 36 years old and I’ve never had anyone tell me they loved me. Or… you know… show me they love me… like you just did. And I’m trying to tell you how much that means to me. Clearly not very well.”

John thought about this. It was still, to John, a heart-wrenching thing to say, but he knew what Sherlock meant.

“You’re welcome, Sherlock. And let me just say this, before we go to sleep. I will show you, and tell you, that I love you every single day for as long as you’ll have me. I never, ever, want you to wonder where you stand with me. I want you to know that you are the person I love most in this world, and go to sleep every night knowing that I’ll be right there next to you when you wake up in the morning. Or… you know… I’ll be around somewhere, given you’re not a big sleeper.”

Sherlock sighed happily at this, tightening his hold around John’s shoulders and feeling pleasantly drowsy. He felt John pull their pillows closer together, and roll so he was tucked in close. With deep, slow breaths, they both dropped off to sleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning found Sherlock and John up by 9, showered and ready for adventure. Sherlock had bounded into action, keen to show John his research from the night before. He’d determined it was time to leave the hotel grounds and visit Malta’s capital, and that they could breakfast there.

“Valletta City Gate, please.” Sherlock instructed the cab driver. On the 15 minute ride between St Julian’s and the city, Sherlock peppered John with fun facts about Valletta’s history. John let it all wash over him, content that they were together and he’d soon have a coffee in hand.

“And then, during the Second World War, it was still a British colony but the Germans had worked out the strategic benefit of it being so close to North Africa, and so they decided to basically starve Malta out and…”

John blinked, feeling this was vaguely familiar from senior school history but rather rusty on the details. He was also a bit confused as he was pretty sure Sherlock’s story had started in the 1500s so he wasn’t sure how they were already up to the 1940s. He stared out the window and marvelled as the cab pulled up at an enormous fountain, wide and shallow with three bronze men holding up a large bowl thing. A smattering of tourists milled around, taking photos and drifting away from the area the cabs pulled in, towards an enormous yellow bricked wall.

As they clambered out of the cab, John did a slow spin and took everything in. “Wow, this is amazing.”

Sherlock snorted at John’s expression of wonder (so predictable), before looking around himself and marvelling. They were in an enormous plaza. The same mellow yellow limestone that made St Julian’s so beautiful was everywhere here – under their feet, and forming the basin of the fountain, plus the enormous walls. Against the cloudless blue sky, it was really something.

“Shut up, you’re impressed too. I can tell.”

John caught Sherlock’s eye and winked, before holding out his hand. Sherlock took it happily, and they strolled towards the walls, which John only belatedly realised must be the city gate Sherlock had referred to. “To breakfast, and beyond!”

__________________________

 

After a startlingly good iced coffee and a delicious knotted pastry from a hole in the wall café, John perked up noticeably. Trust Sherlock to know Valletta’s best options! Sherlock smirked as he noted the difference. John looked considerably more engaged in the sights around him, and seemed inclined to actually read the plaques on the sides of buildings and even venture inside those that were open, instead of trailing half a step behind Sherlock in a stupor. On the way to the café, they’d passed incredible historic sites like St John’s Co-Cathedral and the National Museum of Archaeology, and John had been completely oblivious. With coffee in him, Sherlock felt John now stood a chance of learning something.

“Ok – options for you. We can inspect the Stock Exchange and some gardens that apparently have amazing water views, or we could line up for the cathedral, or we could just potter through the streets for a bit? Or… there’s this 5D film experience which is startlingly highly rated as an activity. Though I’d suggest we wait til later in the day to do that, as it’s only 21’C now and it’ll be 28’C by lunchtime. We may want the air conditioning by then!”

Sherlock rattled off the options without taking a breath. John considered. “How about we do the gardens first, as it sounds like that’ll get busy if the views are really good? I don’t really fancy standing in a line for the cathedral, but if you want to then we can.”

“Excellent choice!” Sherlock said enthusiastically, and spun John around down a side street. No Google Maps, no street signage, no previous trips here, and yet the man apparently knew exactly where he was. John chuckled. Trust Sherlock to acclimatise immediately to the walled city. John hurried a bit to keep up – Sherlock had abandoned “wandering together” in favour of a “keep up, John, it’s long past adventure time” approach. Given his singular focus, he was lucky they hadn’t marched into traffic.

“Sherlock…” John said wonderingly, as he paused in the middle of the street. “There aren’t any cars.”

Sherlock slowed down and turned back to John. “Are you seriously telling me that you just noticed?” His brow was furrowed, and he looked quite concerned. They’d been in the city for well over an hour.

John looked around, noting that there were neither any cars in their current street, nor in any of the streets they’d been on since the café. The streets were all neatly arranged in a grid pattern, and now he thought about it he didn’t think he’d seen a car on any of them since they got out of the cab. “Ahhh… yes? Why aren’t there any cars?”

Sherlock huffed with impatience. “Really, John. You call yourself my sidekick.”

“I don’t, actually. You call me your sidekick.”

Sherlock didn’t acknowledge this, pressing on without pausing. “You are most unobservant. We’re in the fortified city – the old town. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, as you would have known if you’d been listening in the cab. It’s all protected. You can’t drive in this part at all. That’s why we got dropped off outside the city.”

John was unconcerned that Sherlock had already told him this. If Sherlock wanted to pepper him with facts before he’d had breakfast, that was Sherlock’s prerogative. He knew John was useless until he’d had a good sit, some tasty carbs, and nursed a coffee. “Huh, that’s cool.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes, clearly writing John off completely. John snorted. Good to know some things wouldn’t change!

__________________________

After plentiful exploration and rather too much sun, Sherlock and John drifted back into the centre of town in favour of shops and shade. John had successfully pulled Sherlock back from the ramparts at Upper Barrakka Gardens, where he’d leaned so far forward over the wall that John felt physically ill. Clearly the fortifications hadn’t been built with someone as tall as Sherlock in mind, and even so, John didn’t think the builders expected anyone to fold in half to examine the brickwork on the seaward side of the wall for erosion. With one hand holding Sherlock’s shirt, John had reluctantly allowed Sherlock to lean back over to take photos, and smiled slightly as he heard Sherlock mutter, “Marvellous, just marvellous,” as he inspected the masonry.

“1661, John! That’s when the arches were built. Can you believe it? And there was a roof back then too, though that was removed 1775 after a rebellion by the clergy…”

John chuckled to himself as Sherlock’s pleasure washed over him. He was truly in his element here – marching about confidently and delighting in knowing more than the informational plaques. John had always considered himself interested in history, and had enjoyed the lessons both at school and as part of his military training. But Sherlock’s fascination with it was really something else. History was alive to him in a way that it had never been alive to John. He cared deeply about the tools used, the ingenuity taken, and who’d known what and whom at the time of the various developments. If he’d had a pen, John felt sure Sherlock would have marked up the signs, correcting dates or adding context in that the signs’ authors had apparently glossed over.

Sherlock interrupted John’s musings with an abrupt stop in the middle of the street. “Here!” he said ebulliently as he made a sharp right-hand turn into a white-fronted store with navy blue awnings. John, startled, didn’t move for a second, gaping at the speed with which Sherlock could move when he wanted to. He looked up at the awnings, reading “Vilebrequin” and having no idea what that might entail. Under the awnings were two windows separated by the door Sherlock had disappeared through. In the left window, he saw a t-shirt, a plain sort of thing in a solid red which was unremarkable except that it was paired with lurid “matching” shorts, red with orange hibiscus flowers. John couldn’t imagine what sort of a person might put that outfit together. It was vile: blinding and awful. In the right window, on the other hand, was a wonderfully simple pair of sunshine yellow swim shorts with a white drawstring. The mannequin was shirtless, and somehow that made the shorts even more pleasing to John. They were what they were – nothing more and nothing less.

“Huh,” said John to himself, as he wondered why this store in particular had taken Sherlock’s fancy. Sherlock had swim shorts – that much had been clear yesterday, and given John had done Sherlock’s packing – and yet the shop clearly interested him. “Once more unto the breach…” John muttered to himself as he followed Sherlock inside.

He found Sherlock utterly absorbed, running his hands across the hangers lovingly and pausing periodically to pull various collared shirts out for closer inspection. The shelving was a bright white, and John noticed immediately how vivid the colours of the clothing were in contrast. Unusual for menswear to be so vibrant – John could see why it appealed to Sherlock. There was a decidedly nautical vibe in the store, and John decided he quite liked the environment himself. Never really one for shopping, he decided to take Sherlock’s lead and inspect the wares.

He pulled out a navy-blue t-shirt with a single pocket, enjoying the way the fabric felt against his skin. For the first time in a long time, he considered not only how he would look in it, but whether Sherlock would like it on him. It wasn’t a thought he had allowed himself to indulge in recently, what with the strong intention to suppress his feelings in the last few months, but now he considered this deeply relevant to his choices. Meandering along the row, he saw a clutch of the same sunshine yellow shorts from the window and rifled through them until he found his size. Normally he wouldn’t go for a yellow – he was firmly in the blues / greens / greys spectrum – but with his nascent tan starting to emerge, he thought he might be able to pull it off. Plus, perhaps ridiculously, the colour matched the bubbly feeling that had consumed his chest these last few days – it was the colour of happiness and Sherlock, intertwined.

And so with that, he looked up for the change rooms, passing Sherlock and saying “I’ll just try these on,” as he headed towards the back of the shop. Sherlock gave an approving nod as he glanced at the clothes in John’s hands, but said nothing as he returned to closely reading the label on some violently orange shorts in a section of the store that pronounced itself “Magical”. John wondered, briefly, then decided to keep moving.

He let himself into a stall, undressing then pulling on the t-shirt and the buttercup yellow shorts. He looked at himself in the mirror, quite pleased with what he saw. It wasn’t his usual look at all, but then he didn’t feel like his usual self here in Malta. He decided to go out and show Sherlock, and see what he thought.

Padding barefoot out of the changing area and back to where he’d last seen Sherlock, he did a spin of the shop before he realised Sherlock wasn’t there. Biting back a bit of panic, that funny sensation of being separated from his mother as a child, he spun around at a voice. A young man, maybe 19, was smiling at him from behind the counter. “Are you looking for your friend?” John nodded. “He’s in the changing rooms – I think you just missed each other. Great shorts, by the way! That colour really suits you.”

John gave a polite smile and a nod – he’d always been awkward in clothing stores – before heading back to the changing rooms. “Sherlock…” he called, conscious that while they seemed to be the only people in the shop, he was also unclear which of the four stalls housed one Sherlock Holmes.

“Wait a sec!” Sherlock said cheerfully, and John waited outside the door the voice had come from. The doors didn’t reach the floor, and John had a glimpse of Sherlock’s familiar ankles shifting as he moved about. It felt oddly voyeuristic, though John couldn’t quite put his finger on why. Weird to know that John would know those ankles anywhere. Loved those ankles, even. John snorted and rolled his eyes at himself. Talk about sentimentality!

Moments later, Sherlock whipped the door open and emerged into the corridor, shirtless but wearing the violently orange shorts John had seen him inspecting. John’s lip curled involuntarily at the sight.

“Not a fan, then, I take it?” Sherlock said with amusement, taking in John’s expression.

“Ahh… no… they’re not really my… but if you like them then you should do it!” John spluttered, trying to be supportive and failing miserably.

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to get them after that face! You hate them.” He squinted at John, “You think they’re garish and they clash with my skin colour and you have a pre-existing aversion to orange as to you it always feels somehow industrial.” He grinned in triumph. “Right?”

John snorted, amused that all this was apparently visible on his face. “Fine, then. They’re not my favourite. Did you like any others?”

Sherlock dove back into the change room, evidently not at all concerned about this turn of events. He popped back out again momentarily, a cheerful expression on his face.

“Now… what do you prefer, John? The dancing elephants?” Here, Sherlock held up some navy-blue shorts with outlines of large lime green elephants in a vaguely Indian drawing style on them. “Or, these delightful embroidered seahorses?” Here, Sherlock held up some subtler shorts – a pink, tactile pattern on navy base, though honestly John couldn’t see any seahorses at all. In fact, the shorts looked rather like the pattern of their wallpaper at 221B, though John knew better than to share that thought. John opened his mouth to respond.

“No wait –“ Sherlock interrupted, holding out a hand like a traffic cop. “Before you tell me… you should know that the elephants glow in the dark.”

John snorted with laughter. Of course that was material information to Sherlock. Sherlock held each pair of shorts dramatically over the orange ones he was wearing, poking his legs out at an angle as he did so, so John could get the whole picture. “Ahhh… ok. Why would it be relevant that they glow in the dark? It’s 28’C and humid as fuck outside. I haven’t had this much sunshine at once since Afghanistan.”

“Well, it’s fun, isn’t it? You could see me if we went swimming at night. Or if I wanted to wear them around Baker Street in the winter.”

“… Why would you wear them around Baker Street in the winter?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes I get hot when I’m doing experiments, and these would make a nice change.”

John chuckled, picturing Sherlock’s pale, knobbly knees in the kitchen on a gloomy January afternoon, his elephant shorts illuminating whatever mad situation was covering their kitchen table that day. “Um… I guess the elephant ones then. I have to tell you, you seem very excited about them.”

Sherlock nodded thoughtfully. “That’s just as well. The seahorse ones are quite expensive, and if I got the elephants I could also get the lovely little turtles, and those two pairs would still be cheaper than the seahorses.” Sherlock dove back into the change room, re-appearing with a third pair of shorts that must have been hanging inside. These were magenta and had tiny grey blue markings on them. They looked like stars to John, but when he looked more closely (Sherlock looked very pleased at this level of engagement), he saw that they were indeed tiny, delicate turtles.

Even as John decided he in fact liked the third option the best, he shuddered at Sherlock’s words, wondering what constituted “quite expensive” to Sherlock’s mind. He decided not to engage… it was Sherlock’s money after all, and if he decided he needed two new pairs of swim shorts, who was John to complain?

“Don’t you want to try them on first?” John offered as Sherlock disappeared again.

“Nah, I’m fine,” responded Sherlock from behind the door. “They’re all the same size and I already own a pair. Those purple ones I was wearing yesterday are from here too.”

“Of course,” thought John. “He recognised the shop, this wasn’t random.”

“So… what did you think of my choices, then?” John ventured, waiting for Sherlock to reappear.

Sherlock’s head popped around the door again, while the rest of him remained hidden. John struck a sarcastic pose, modelling for Sherlock. He gave John a thoughtful once over, ignoring the pose, and pronounced the outfit, “Splendid! I like that colour on you, John. Also your calves look particularly shapely in that length of short.”

As Sherlock’s head popped back into the changing room, John looked down at his legs, bemused. Shapely calves indeed! What a ridiculous compliment. How very Sherlock. He drifted back towards his own stall to change back into his clothes. As he took the new things off, he glanced at the prices and blanched when he realised. €70! For a plain t-shirt! And €125 for the shorts. Even accounting for the reasonably good exchange rate with the British pound, John was horrified. Never in his life had he spent that kind of money on one casual outfit.

__________________________

 

As he came around to the counter, clutching his things and wondering how to quietly put them back without drawing scrutiny, he saw Sherlock was merrily reviewing the various trinkets around the point of sale. He was clearly in a spending mood, picking things up and putting them down again, trying on caps and sunglasses and then discarding them.

“Excellent, you’re here! Now, did you decide you want to get those shorts, or do you want to see what other colours they have? You didn’t even look in the “Magical” section – the patterns appear only when you get wet! I know you aren’t much one for a pattern unless it’s checks, and I don’t think they’ll have that here!” Sherlock chuckled to himself as he continued to touch all the accessories within reach.

The sales assistant looked on as John said quietly, putting the items he’d tried on the counter, “I, uh, think I’m fine, actually. I don’t really need new swim shorts – I barely use my current ones as it is.”

“Nonsense, John!” Sherlock said cheerfully, “This is fun. We can both wear our new things this afternoon.”

“Um… Sherlock?” John said, lowering his voice and feeling rather tense. “Mind if I have a quick word?”

Sherlock looked confused and put down the towel he’d been stroking, following John away from the counter. John kept his voice low and angled his body away from the assistant’s curious gaze.

“Sherlock, they’re really expensive. I’m not going to get them.”

Sherlock’s forehead crinkled. “But that can’t be right, I’m reasonably sure you’ve chosen the two least expensive items in the entire shop. Your frugal instincts do you proud!”

“Yeah, well, they’re about €200 together – that’s a lot more than I want to spend on clothes I’ll only wear on holiday. It’s fine – I love the shorts I’ve got and I enjoyed browsing here.”

Sherlock continued to look confused. “But…”

“No, Sherlock – it’s fine. I promise.”

Sherlock scanned John’s face, clearly seeing he was serious. In a startling moment of emotional intelligence, he said evenly, “Well, what if I got them for you? It’d be my treat. You got the hotel room, and I’d like to get this.”

John looked dubious – he didn’t love having things bought for him. He’d always been a bit weird about it, even in relationships; it made him feel like he was the poor kid at school again. On the other hand, Sherlock clearly wanted to do this for John, and John was idly aware that this conversation was bringing Sherlock down from the giddy mood he’d been in since they entered the shop.

“Are you sure? That’s a lot…”

Sherlock grinned, pleased that he seemed to be getting his way. “Course I’m sure. Plus we’ll charge them to Mycroft’s credit card if you’re that worried about it. I’m sure he’d want us to look spiffing on our holiday. We can send him a picture!”

John rolled his eyes at Sherlock’s enthusiasm but felt considerably better. He did love the outfit, and he also knew how pleased Sherlock was to do this for him.

“Alright then, that would be lovely.”

“Hurrah! Let’s go ring this up, then. And you can face the other way while this nice young man scans my labels, so you don’t judge me for how much I’m spending.”

John snorted as they walked back to the counter, sure that he didn’t want to know. As Sherlock whipped his credit card out and casually added a magenta hat from a nearby stand to the pile, John caught his mischievous grin and knew the card did indeed read “M. Holmes”. He chuckled and rolled his eyes as he put his arm around Sherlock’s waist and drew him in for a side hug.

“Thank you. This was fun.”

Sherlock grinned down at John. “I knew you’d come around. We’ll have you in Armani before you know it.”

Chapter Text

“Can I go back to the children conversation?” John ventured tentatively, as they sat on the balcony of their room a few days later, evening beers in hand and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps ripped open between them. Sherlock detested the flavour but indulged John, knowing it was his favourite. Filled to the brim with swims, sunshine, burrata, and incredible salads, Sherlock found himself much more accommodating of John’s preferences than he usually was at home.

“Um… sure?”

“Can I ask how you were thinking we might do it? Or is that further than you’ve gotten?”

Sherlock nodded thoughtfully, thinking it was a fair question. He’d raised it, after all.

“Well, this is just an idea, but I rather thought we could foster some of the bigger ones. You know, not babies or whatever. But those kids that no one else really wants, and who probably don’t have a lot of options. See where we go from there.”

John raised his eyebrows at this, and mulled it over.

“So not so much with the ‘Let’s make one who looks like us’ approach, then?”

Sherlock nodded, “Not so much. Though I’d be open to it if that’s more appealing to you. I just quite like the idea of offering a home to someone who doesn’t otherwise have one. I think we’d be good at that, you and I. We know people aren’t perfect. We know kids aren’t perfect. And I think we’re better placed than most to help a kid out who’s had a rough go of it so far. We could adopt, eventually, or not, if we find we like fostering.”

John was both surprised by this and not. On the one hand, he’d spent the last few days wondering if he was really up for the expense, logistics, and emotional turmoil of whatever IVF / surrogate process might be involved with bringing a “Holmes Junior” into existence. As unappealing as that felt to him, the idea of a small person with Sherlock’s brains, curls, and intense curiosity making his or her home in John’s old room did feel oddly perfect. But on the other hand, given Sherlock’s long history with the homeless network and his clear desire to ensure other children weren’t as lonely and isolated as he himself had been, fostering to adopt also made complete sense.

“Was it Tim that made you think of this?”

Sherlock nodded. “Yes and no – I really did enjoy myself the other day in the pool. It reminded me how great it is to speak to children and hear their unfiltered opinions and experience their unfiltered emotions. In some ways they’re easier for me, because they don’t care that I’m not good at ‘The Rules’. But it was also just watching you. You were so light and easy and unselfconscious. You would have thrown that ball for hours if he’d stayed. You looked more like ‘you’ than you have in ages. It’s the ‘you’ I love the most, and I loved seeing that. So a lot of it was actually about us, doing it together. And I think an older kid who really needed us would be the best beneficiary of that love.”

John was chuffed by this. He had felt deeply relaxed that afternoon in the pool, and it was true that throwing the ball with Sherlock and Tim had been one of the most mindless, simple joys he’d had in years. Maybe bringing a troubled kid into their lives wasn’t a bad idea… and they could try it out, unlike biological fatherhood.

“What did you say to Tim’s dad when you got out?”

“Oh, just how much we enjoyed talking to Tim, and that he should look us up the next time they’re in London on a Sunday. Obviously I didn’t have my card on me, but I explained about your blog and how he can just send us a message. Would be fun to take them out somewhere, show them around.”

John smiled at this – how unlike Sherlock! And yet, what the last few days had shown him was that Sherlock was full of surprises, even after all this time. For all the public oddities and certainly the quirks of living together, there was a confident, happy, satisfied Sherlock that had appeared on this trip that had nothing to do with crimes, experiments, science, or The Work. It reminded John of the first time he’d seen Sherlock play the violin. How Sherlock was so utterly himself, so languid and absorbed. It felt pure.

“Well, cheers to that, then! A Sunday in the park with Tim at some point, and potentially helping some kid out after that.” John tipped his beer bottle in Sherlock’s direction and was pleased with the returning *clink*. It was reassuring to John that they were developing a bit of a model to have the big, scary conversations – he hadn’t been in a relationship in years that was serious enough to merit these sorts of discussions, and he knew Sherlock never had. One down, X to go, thought John calmly.

The two looked out to sea for a bit, enjoying each other’s company and the cooling breeze of the early evening. The humidity was gone from the air. John closed his eyes and breathed deeply in and out, aware that the air temperature seemed so close to his skin temperature that he couldn’t tell where he ended and the air began. It didn’t matter, he supposed, but still – made a difference from London.

“Change of topic,” Sherlock announced.

John cracked one eye open, squinted at Sherlock. “Sure,” he said, then closed it again, relaxing his face.

“I know you said no, but I’ve booked us a sailboat for tomorrow.”

John’s eyes flew open. “You did what?”

“I booked us a sailboat. It’ll take us from that marina down there,” Sherlock pointed over the balcony to the right, “out to the Blue Lagoon on Comino Island. We can swim and have a picnic and whatnot. No need to mingle with the hoi polloi on the tourist cruises.”

“You love the hoi polloi, don’t lie… but when you say ‘It’ll take us…’ you mean…?”

“I mean, there’s a fully qualified captain on board and I will have zero responsibility for keeping us alive and the boat upright.”

“Ah, good. That’s exactly what I hoped you meant.”

“So… you’re in?”

John chuckled. “Of course I’m in. I’m not leaving you alone on a yacht with some ruggedly handsome sea-faring Maltese chap in his early 20s. I’ll never see you again! The only reason you put up with me in the first place was the lack of better options. Can’t leave that to chance anymore; not when I’ve finally locked you in.”

Sherlock snorted at this. “Yes. Nothing to do with your personality, your incredible smile, or the way you’ve literally and emotionally patched me up countless times over the years. Everything to do with the random chance of you running into Mike Stamford and being foisted upon me in the lab at Bart’s.”

John smiled. “Precisely. So, no solo nautical adventures with roguish sea captains. I’ll be there to put a dampener on things if you’re feeling frisky.”

Sherlock head fell forward with surprised giggles at John’s use of the word ‘frisky’. John chuckled at the sound, and the involuntary movement.

Sherlock caught John’s eye. “Frisky! Frisky!. I’ll show you frisky.” With this, Sherlock launched forward off his chair, pouncing on John and intending to snog him senseless. With arms propped straight on the wicker chair’s arms, Sherlock bent down to kiss John wetly, deeply, working out how to get his knees on either side of John’s thighs.

“Fuck, this chair’s too small!” Sherlock complained, breaking off the kiss.

“Too small for…?” John raised his eyebrows at Sherlock.

Sherlock smirked, “Fun things. Frisky things.”

“Well, I’d better get out of it sharpish then, hadn’t I?”

Sherlock reached an arm down to pull John up, pleased he understood. Pulling him close, he kissed him again and reached a hand down between them to cup John through his shorts.

“What do you say we move this inside?” he said in a low, deliberate voice.

John growled in his throat, thrusting a little into Sherlock’s hand as he buried his face in Sherlock’s neck.

“You mean you don’t want the neighbours to watch you blow me?”

Sherlock snorted with laughter, surprised. “You wish!”

“Trust me, Sherlock. I really do.”

John’s eyes were closed and he was clearly kidding, just enjoying the feel of Sherlock’s hand on him and shifting his face so he could kiss rhythmically up Sherlock’s neck. He didn’t notice that Sherlock’s eyes had blown wide at this comment. It hadn’t been his intention, and yet…

Without breaking contact, Sherlock pulled John through the sliding doors, leading him backwards into the room and away from prying eyes. He nudged John’s chin upwards with his knuckle, bringing John back up to Sherlock’s mouth. He carded his fingers through John’s hair and pulled softly, stroking the nape of his neck at the same time. John moaned, thrusting again against Sherlock’s stomach. Sherlock ran his hands down John’s back, up and under his warm shirt, breaking their kiss for a moment to pull it over John’s head and off, before doing the same with his own.

Skin-to-skin, Sherlock ran his hands down John’s sides and around to cup John’s bum. He hadn’t done this before and it still felt like he was invading John’s space. John’s groan and accompanying clenching quickly put his mind at ease, and he edged his hands under his waistband and gave a squeeze. John responded by mouthing wet kisses along Sherlock’s collarbone and rubbing his wrist against the hardening outline in Sherlock’s own shorts.

Pulling away, Sherlock silently knelt on the floor at John’s feet, eyeing John’s cock directly. “Now, you know I’ve never done this before, so go easy on me…” Sherlock started to say, looking up at John. John’s head shot forward immediately, and he stared wide-eyed down at Sherlock before him.

“Sherlock, you don’t need to…”

“No, I know I don’t need to. But I thought it might be fun to give it a go. And if it’s terrible you’ll just have more teaching to do later, ok?”

John chuckled at the idea that it could possibly be terrible, when he’s already so hard he’s worried the Velcro on his shorts won’t hold. “Ok, then. But for the record, not one single part of me is worried you’ll be terrible.”

Sherlock flushed in an endearing way, and leaned down to pull at the drawstring of John’s bright new shorts. Where to begin?

Chapter Text

Forgot I needed flight home again. What’s the chance you sorted that out already? – SH

High. I had every intention to upgrade both of you for the way back, but then I saw your little shopping spree come through and left you in economy. You are sitting next to John, though. – MH

Small mercies. – SH

Yes, well. My inner romantic coming out, I suppose, little brother. – MH

Just so I know for next time, what was the £ threshold at which you decided we didn’t deserve the upgrade? – SH

Somewhere between Tuesday’s full day hire of a private yacht with captain and today’s 9-piece spa package, I think. – MH

Damn. That’s what John said too. – SH

Sherlock rolled over onto his stomach, baking happily in the late afternoon sun and sneaking a glance over at John. He was on his back, one arm flung over his eyes and one knee bent upwards. The golden light Sherlock would forevermore associate with Malta was hitting him just right. Sherlock rested the edge of his phone on the rock to his side, and awkwardly bent around so his finger could hit the photo button. He wanted to remember John, this week, just like this.

They were laying on the rocks around the bay from the hotel. They’d seen some of the younger couples among the hotel’s guests heading out this way and decided to follow them, delighted to find such a beautiful place to spread out. It wasn’t terribly comfortable, but after a week of lounge chairs and pools, Sherlock was actually pleased to be on the hard surface by the sea, towel stretched out languidly beneath him, the rock rough against his fingertips. He took a deep breath in with his eyes closed, revelling in the salty air and strong sunshine. As sorry as he was to be heading back tomorrow, he felt that they’d really made the most of the week.

“John! Let’s go for a swim.”

John opened his eyes and rolled onto his side, looking at Sherlock. He really looked very handsome in his new shorts. “Yeah?”

“Yes!” Sherlock tucked his book into their bag, and sprung up nimbly, as if in an advanced yoga move or some sort of lithe burpee. He reached over to pull John up, enjoying the warmth of his hands and the ease of his smile. As he stood, movement caught his eye.

“Look at those guys!” Sherlock pointed. John’s gaze followed Sherlock’s arm over to where some teenagers were launching themselves off the rocks and into the sea below. John paled. He grasped Sherlock’s right bicep, digging his nails into the skin, and said urgently, “Absolutely not.”

Sherlock chuckled, removing John’s fingers one by one with his left hand, and reassuring him that he valued his brain too much for that sort of recklessness. John squinted and scanned Sherlock’s face to see if he was telling the truth. Sherlock clearly did value his brain, but on the other hand, his recklessness knew no bounds.

“I’m serious, John, don’t worry. If I wanted to cause myself irreparable harm, there are more fun ways to achieve it than hurtling off those rocks.”

John snorted, not finding that terribly reassuring.

“Also, look, there’s a ladder. So we can lower ourselves in like the old men that we are, and have the same sea swimming experience without any risk of paralysis. It’s win-win!”

John rolled his eyes at the description of them as old men, particularly given the incredible body before him, but declined to comment, instead inspecting the ladder down into the water below. Perfect! He took off his sunglasses and dropped them into the bag with his phone, book, water, and room key, intending to make his way over to it. Sherlock stopped him.

“Wait!”

“Wait, what? We’re going in!”

“No, wait a sec. I want a photo.”

“You want a photo?”

“Yes, please stop repeating me.”

John snorted. “Fine, a photo of what?”

“Of us! Together! You’re in your snazzy new gear and I’m in mine, and I told you we’d need to send Mycroft a photo. That’s how we’ll secure those flight upgrades.”

John chuckled. He’d thought Sherlock was getting sentimental, just for a second there.

“Excuse me!” Sherlock called out, launching towards the main route most people were using to cross the rocks. He switched to his politest ‘Let me flirt my way into getting what I want from a passerby’ voice, as he intersected with an older family drifting past, heading back to the hotel. “Would you mind taking a photo of me and my boyfriend?”

John’s eyebrows shot up at the use of the word ‘boyfriend’. That was new. Sherlock didn’t see John’s surprise, as he was clearly trying to ensure the unsmiling-but-technologically-capable 17 year old daughter took the phone, not the charming-but-incompetent parents in their 50s, who had both reached out their hands with indulgent smiles on their faces. Ha! Trust Sherlock to secure the right talent for the job.

Once Sherlock was sure the girl had her brief, he scrambled backwards over the rocks to John, throwing his arm cheerfully around John’s shoulders and sporting an enormous grin. John relaxed, tucking comfortably into Sherlock’s side, where he'd always belonged. He looked up at Sherlock, grinning himself, and then over at the girl, who had now decided to take this worryingly seriously. She was crouching then standing, moving around and ‘working their angles’, and John shuddered to think how many photos might be produced.

“Now look back at him!” the girl ordered in an Italian accent, and John was startled into obeying, looking adoringly up at Sherlock before Sherlock turned side on and caught his eye. John felt pleasantly silly, doing this. He was far too old, really. But something about Sherlock brimming with happiness, his eagerness to have a photo together, and knowing that they were documenting this feeling, this week, overtook him. John beamed at Sherlock, mouthed “I love you”, then faced the camera again, thinking it was about time they wrapped this up.

Sherlock called out, “One more!”

Turning back towards John, Sherlock bit his lip for a second, considering, then put both hands on either side of John’s face and bent down to kiss him passionately. John melted into him, consumed by the kiss and surprised-pleased-embarrassed that they were making fools of themselves in front of this Italian family. They stayed there for a moment, enjoying the contact, before Sherlock broke off and dashed back to collect his phone from the girl, who now had an enormous smile on her face too. John chuckled – clearly a bit of romance had been required to cheer her up!

“Grazie molto!” Sherlock said cheerfully, before launching into a flood of Italian that John couldn’t follow. The girl and her family giggled, listening to Sherlock and sneaking glances at John, before giving cheerful waves and continuing back towards the hotel.

“What did you say to them?”

“Oh, nothing much. Just that you’re the love of my life and that I wanted some photo evidence of this week that I could plaster all over our walls at home. I think they enjoyed that.”

“No doubt – you even won over our stroppy photographer!”

“Indeed, though to be fair to her, her parents just found out that she’s sexually active and it’s been a rough day.”

John snorted, casting an eye over the retreating family. Clearly Sherlock’s deductive skills didn’t limit themselves to the British Isles.

“Shall we swim?”

“Yes!”

________________________________

 

“John.” John was flat on his back in bed, just about to fall over the precipice into sleep, when Sherlock’s soft voice cut into the darkness later that night.

“Yes?”

“Is there anything you wish we’d done on this holiday? That we didn’t, I mean.”

John forced himself to engage, though he kept his eyes closed and his voice low. “No, I don’t think so – though the next time we come I’d be happy to stay in a different part of the island and explore that area. Maybe Mdina?”

“No… I meant… sexually.”

That got John’s attention. He opened his eyes in the darkness, and rolled onto his side, facing Sherlock.

“What do you mean?”

“I… I was just laying here wondering if you were disappointed that we didn’t do… more… while we were here.”

John groped around under the covers with his right hand, feeling for Sherlock’s left. Once he’d found it, he wove their fingers together and pressed it to his mouth for a kiss. He rolled back onto his back and cradled Sherlock’s hand between both of his, resting it on his chest.

“Oh, Sherlock.” He spoke softly, “Of course not. This week was everything to me – not one second of it was a disappointment.”

“But, you didn’t want... to go further?”

John would have laughed at the euphemism from a man usually known for scientific and medical precision in all things, but Sherlock sounded forlorn. John thought for a moment, and then spoke carefully, aware of the weight of his words.

“No, honestly... I was pleasantly, deliciously,” here he pressed a kiss to Sherlock’s temple, “surprised that we went as far as we did. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen this week… I wasn’t sure if you’d want that at all, even if you were open to a romantic relationship. So I considered everything that we did do together a real gift.” He paused, not wanting to avoid what he felt Sherlock was really getting at. “That being said… I think what you’re really asking me is if I want to go further, at some point… and I’d be lying if I said the answer wasn’t yes. But,” he rushed to add, “That’s not now, and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. If you ever decide that you want to cross that bridge, I mean. I’m just glad that we’re here together. Really, truly.”

There was silence between them for a while. John had to force himself quiet, not to fill it. He knew Sherlock was thinking, that he would speak again when he was ready, but John’s heart was beating fast reassure him, reassure him, reassure him. Just when he was about to cave, Sherlock spoke again.

“Ok. I believe you. I just… I want you to tell me what you want, ok?”

“Yes, of course, Sherlock. I promise I will. But I really need you to believe me when I tell you that this week was perfect, holiday-wise and sexually. And that’s not a phrase I ever thought I’d say!”

Sherlock chuckled, and John was glad to hear it.

“Really, Sherlock. I mean it. And the same is true for you – if there’s anything that I can do that would give you pleasure, I want you to tell me. Doesn’t even need to be sexual – just, you know, anything that would be an important thing to you as part of a relationship, or our home.”

“Like what?”

“Um… I don’t know. Let me think about that.” John paused, knowing what he was trying to communicate emotionally but struggling to think of a concrete example that way-too-literal Sherlock would understand. “Ok… how about this. They’re just examples, right? But I had a housemate once who felt really strongly that the draining board in the kitchen should be clear at all times. Like, you wash the dishes, then you dry the dishes, then everything goes back into the cupboards – it never sits there drying in the rack.”

“…John, I have to tell you, I don’t care about the draining board…”

“I know that, stupid. I would be very surprised if any of your important things revolved around cleanliness or the kitchen! You cut me off – what I was going to say was that I thought that was a stupid thing to care about, but then she explained that that was the way her mother always did it. That that was how she’d been raised to leave the kitchen. So something that was really unimportant to me, and frankly took very little effort, was something that was really important to her. That’s what I meant.”

Sherlock was silent for a second. “Ok… I get it. What else?”

John thought for a moment. “Ok, here’s one for me. Not a sexual one. It’s important to me that you acknowledge me when I come home in the evenings. It doesn’t need to be a big deal, but I would like it if you looked up from your work, or your book, or whatever, when I come in. Obviously… you know… not if it would be super disruptive to you. But if you’re just there and you’re aware I’ve entered, that acknowledgement is important to me.”

John felt Sherlock move to face him in the darkness.

“Really? Has it upset you that I haven’t done that in the past?”

“Um… sort of. Not in a relationship sense, obviously… but I think while we’ve lived together that’s something that I’ve known is important to me, but it always felt kind of petty as a thing to say to you. It is, in fact, probably a very weird thing to say to a flatmate.”

Sherlock snorted at this. “Yeah, well. Not like I’d have known what a weird thing to say to a flatmate was anyway. You should have told me! I can fix that.”

John chuckled, then said, “It’s not about fixing things, though Sherlock. Really – not a criticism. All I mean is that I think we’ll both find that there are things in a relationship that are important to us, either in the bedroom or otherwise, and it’s sometimes hard to say them aloud. And I want us to be the kind of couple that says them aloud, even when it’s awkward. Sound good?”

Sherlock nodded in the darkness. “I like that. You know I’m not good at hints. Much better that we just spell them out.”

“Exactly!” John gave Sherlock’s hand another kiss. “I think we’re going to be good at this, you and I.”

Sherlock chuckled. “Well, yes. I’m good at most things. And you’re pretty good too.”

John gave Sherlock a light swat, but chuckled. There was the Sherlock Holmes confidence, back again.

“And you know what – with the sex stuff – we’ll work that out too. Dare I say, you might enjoy doing some research, and we could experiment a bit!”

Sherlock sucked in a breath. Clearly the thought hadn’t occurred to him. Experiments! With John! In bed! The mind boggled.

John chuckled, aware of Sherlock’s racing thoughts. “As long as you don’t throw my back out, I’m basically up for anything.” John then had a panicked thought at how literally Sherlock might take this, and hastened to clarify: “Anything within reason, I mean. I’m not into knives… or fire… or third parties…”. He wracked his brain, trying to think of more carve outs he should add. “Or… like… choking stuff.”

Sherlock gasped. “Why would I choke you?!”

John laughed aloud this time. “Well, you know, some people like that. You can add that to your research list but NOT your experimentation list. I think you’d be fascinated by what you find out.” John knew Sherlock would be itching to get started – he should have known this would be too tantalising. “And no, you’re not getting out of bed to find your laptop. You’re staying right here with me.”

Sherlock fidgeted; his earlier anxiety long forgotten. John could just imagine the Google strings he was constructing in his head. “choke + sex + why” / “choke + sex + pleasure” / “autoerotic asphyxiation physical reaction”. Mycroft would have a field day with their search history.

“Sherlock, while your mind boggles with all the sex research you can do tomorrow, I’m going to go sleep. It’s been a long and wonderful day. But if you need anything else to occupy your thoughts while I’m being boring, consider this: There are many interesting book stores and toy shops that we could visit in London, if you decide that this topic interests you. We count mount an adventure on Sunday, if you like.”

With that, John rolled over to give Sherlock an extremely dirty kiss, then rolled right back over the other way, to curl against Sherlock so his back was flush against Sherlock’s front. He pulled Sherlock’s arm around himself, kissed Sherlock’s fingers, and snuggled into his pillow. “I love you, brilliant man.”

Chapter Text

As the cab pulled up outside Speedy’s the following evening, Sherlock whizzed out with both suitcases, leaving John to pay, as usual. Mycroft had held firm on the upgrades, much to Sherlock’s annoyance, and they’d been seated in the absolute back row. John hadn’t minded one bit, content to hold Sherlock’s hand and canoodle when the flight attendants weren’t looking. Sherlock, on the other hand, was sure that Mycroft had actually meddled to get them allocated the literal worst seats on the plane, and intended to give Mycroft a piece of his mind as soon as they got home. John had just snorted, rolling his eyes and leaving them to it. In his book, Mycroft was a bit creepy but broadly a good bloke.

When John made his way out of the cab, stuffing his wallet back in his pocket and wondering why he ever bothered getting receipts, he was startled to see that Sherlock remained out front of 221, though the door was open and the suitcases appeared to have been deposited inside. He had an odd expression on his face.

“All right, then?” John said curiously.

Sherlock ran his eyes up and down John, seeming to evaluate.

“Why are you looking at me like that? You’re freaking me out.”

Sherlock pursed his lips, thinking, then seemed to decide.

“I think I ought to carry you across the threshold.”

“What?”

“You know… it’s a newlywed custom. First time into the house, and all that. Pretty sure the Romans started it.”

“Um… Sherlock… I hate to break it to you, but a couple of blow jobs and a lot of fantastic snogging does not a newlywed make. Also… I think it’s a pretty ‘hetero’ tradition. Not sure you see a lot of blokes doing that…”

Sherlock squinted at John, considering. “But… doesn’t this feel momentous? We’re coming home to our home, as an ‘us’.” Sherlock made air quotes with his fingers. “We’ve never done that before! And everything’s different. Shouldn’t we mark the occasion somehow?”

John snorted. Cor, but Sherlock was sweet sometimes. “Ok then, champ. How about this? I think it’s pretty weird, and I’m reasonably sure there’s some messed up reasons that people did the threshold thing back in the day, but if it’s important to you and you reckon you can lift me, go for it.”

Sherlock’s eyes crinkled beautifully as a grin split his face. John’s heart gave a lurch. “Splendid, John! Heave ho, and all that.” After an appraising glance at John’s body once more, seeming to assess the physics of what was to happen next, Sherlock stuck one arm behind John’s knees and one behind his back and tipped John sideways with an ungainly “oof!”. Even with the warning, John was surprised to be on his back, aloft in Sherlock’s arms. As Sherlock took a few unsteady steps up and through the front door, John felt pure joy, surprised that this did in fact feel fun and romantic, if a bit precarious. He laughed aloud and threw his arms around Sherlock’s neck, sure that this would round out the image Sherlock had in his head. He turned his head into Sherlock’s chest and whispered: “You’re my favourite person in the world, you know that?”

Sherlock, deciding that the threshold was sufficient and that the 14 steps up to the landing might kill him, carefully lowered John to the ground once they were through the door.

“I love you too, John Watson. Thank you for a truly life-changing week.”

______________________________

Up the stairs, resting at an angle on the coffee table facing the door, sat a large horizontal picture frame with three equal-sized A4 panes, wrapped in a novelty size red bow. In the left pane was a photograph of two men in brightly coloured swim shorts on a golden rocky foreshore, beaming at the photographer. Their tanned skin glowed in the late afternoon sun, contrasting wonderfully with the azure sea behind them. In the right pane was the same photograph taken seconds later, with the taller man bending down to consume the shorter man in a kiss, hands wrapped around the shorter man’s face, pulling him closer. The shorter man’s body curved impossibly towards the taller man; both utterly absorbed. And in the middle pane was a single page of densely typed text, headed “FAQ”.

As Sherlock bent down to inspect the gift, a tender smile on his face, John picked up the accompanying note that had been propped in front of the frame.

Dearest Sherlock and John,
Thank god you finally worked it out.
All our love,
Mycroft and Greg