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Sherlock watches as John makes his way towards the Baker Street tube entrance, only turning away from the window when the familiar black jacket becomes indistinguishable from the press of humanity surrounding it.  It’s been three weeks since he revealed his continued existence to John - and then, after a few days, to the rest of the world - yet this is the first time they’ve voluntarily been separated since.

For an instant he is frozen, uncertain what is he supposed to do with himself and this unwanted freedom, a sense of abandonment threatening to overwhelm him. He crushes the feeling ruthlessly. He is no child, unable to cope without a companion, the last two and a half years have shown just how capable he is alone.

Yet he remains unsettled. The Stradivarius is picked up then put down un-played, the laptop switched on then discarded, the books on the shelves summarily dismissed. He’s about to fling himself onto the sofa in disgust when a London bus passes the window, the vivid flash of red stirring the memory of the first night of his return, a snatch of conversation:

“I almost got rid of all my mementos but when it came down to it there were a few things I couldn’t part with – the pants, my dog tags, the photos and the bloody medals.”

The contents of John’s tin box. The one thing of John’s he has never investigated before. Now he knows what is inside, and yet does not know. This gap in his experience is, suddenly and overwhelmingly, intolerable; the need to see the items - to touch and explore them for himself - is more urgent than any need for nicotine or cocaine he’s ever experienced. He can no more resist than he can stop breathing.

Regardless, he remains still for long moments, listening intently. All he can hear, floating up from below, are the faint sounds of splashing and the murmur of a radio. Excellent, Mrs Hudson’s washing up rituals are thorough and never hurried; he’ll not be interrupted for a good half hour at least.

The stairs to John’s old room are taken two at a time, his desire not to waste a moment only checked at the threshold as a sudden spike of uncertainty lances through his stomach.

Bit not good, Sherlock, says the John-in-his-head. Snooping like this.

‘I need to see,’ Sherlock answers aloud. ‘I need to see what’s in your tin for myself.’

You could just ask me to show you when I get back. After all I did tell you what was in there in the first place. I’m hardly going to refuse.

Sherlock inclines his head in acknowledgement of a point well-made but then dismisses it with a curt shake of his head. If John were here then his body language and expressions would influence the deductions. If he is to form a proper opinion then sentiment cannot be allowed to cloud his judgment. He must examine the objects alone.

What a load of bollocks! You just don’t want an audience because you’re not sure how looking at them will affect you.  

He doesn’t even deign that thought with a response, annoyance propelling him into motion once more, chin jutting out as he strides across the room to the dresser and yanks its top drawer fully open with a defiant flourish.

The tin is still there, tucked away in the back right hand corner exactly as he remembers. The metal is dull, battered from years of use, and not even the morning sun, glancing off the very front of the lid, can make it shine. Somehow its commonplace appearance only adds to the sense of import that surrounds it and Sherlock finds himself lifting it out and setting it on the dresser top with a reverence he had not expected to employ. No piece of evidence, however fragile or important to a case, has ever been handled with more care.

As his fingers curl around the cold metal, gently working the lid from the body of the box, an ache forms in the pit of his stomach. These few things, that he’s about to examine, are – bar the red pants that now reside in John’s drawer of the bedside table in their room - all that John has chosen to keep from a period of his life that shaped him as nothing else has before or since. When the lid finally pops open he pauses for a moment, takes a deep, steadying breath. Then he lifts it free.

And there they are.

Just as John had said; dog tags pooled atop dog-eared photographs that nestle against a lumpy folded square of what looks like velvet. What little of the base of the tin is visible seems to be lined with yellowing paper – no doubt ripped from a handy note pad to protect the photos from any roughness of the metal below.

He turns his attention to the dog tags first, the chain clattering against the side of the tin as he raises them to eye level. The smooth metal circles are cool against his fingers but send a tingle of warmth shooting through his veins. John wore these, day in and day out, for more years than he’s known Sherlock and it shows. The discs are scratched and marred on both sides, mottled with age, the engravings blurred from use and touch. John’s blood type – O negative – is the least readable line and Sherlock wonders how many times John has needed to clean blood off them. And how many times – other than the last – that the blood has been John’s own.

He shouldn’t be surprised by the C E notation on the last line at all. Should have expected it, since one of the first things John voluntarily shared about himself was that his last words – as his life drained out of him onto the hot, dust dry Afghan ground – were “Please God, let me live”. Yet seeing the plain declaration of religious faith on an object designed, in the baldest possible terms, to identify a soldier once they are incapable of doing so themselves, does surprise him. Immensely. John doesn’t go to church, normally only mentions God when he’s swearing and has never really spoken about what he thinks happens after death. Is this unequivocal proclamation that he is a member of the Church of England just a throwback to his youth; a standard response given purely because that’s how he was brought up? Or is it something more?

If I were here – if you’d done this right – you could have asked me.

‘I can still ask you,’ he murmurs, slipping the chain over his head, letting the tags fall inside his shirt and come to rest just to the right of his heart. ‘My mental faculties are excellent. I’m not likely to forget something just because I can’t do it instantly. Unlike some.’

Smug sod.

‘I merely speak the truth.’

Sherlock stops talking as he turns the stack of photos face up, his breath catching painfully in his throat.

John looks to be in his late twenties in the uppermost picture. Possibly he’s actually younger. It’s hard to tell since the bits of his face that aren’t scraped or bruised are smeared with dark green camouflage cream. His fatigues are covered in mud and there are deep, dark circles under his eyes, leaving Sherlock in no doubt that whatever he’d been doing to get into that state had been protracted and arduous. Yet his eyes are alight with happiness and his smile is as wide as Sherlock has ever seen it.

The Commando course, Sherlock concludes. This must have been taken after John had successfully completed the final 30 miler, capturing the moment he knew he’d earned the right to wear the Green Beret. It is pride shining out of his face. Pride and joy that he’s done what he set out to do, that he’s won himself the future he wants.

A future some fucking Taliban bastard ripped away from me with one well-placed bullet.

Sherlock’s jaw clenches and he inhales heavily through his nose, pretending he doesn’t notice the photo quivering in his fingers as he sets it aside and turns his attention to the rest of the stack.

It doesn’t take him long to deduce who’s who of the three men that appear most frequently in the snaps; he’d have been able to recognise Matt, Danny and Bill even without the few physical descriptions John shared on that long night. They’re smiling in most of the pictures, taken in a range of places that prove far more difficult to identify than the men. After all, one Forward Operating Base looks very much like another when the pictures are mostly of people sitting around sleeping cots and fires or against Hesco built walls. Even those few that John has seen fit to annotate on the reverse don’t help; they are so appallingly scribed they could be referencing places in the fantasy books John reads for all Sherlock can decipher them. That said, he’s still able to sort them into a vague timeline, the size of the smiles and those who are missing bearing eloquent testament to what has gone before.

There’s one photo, though, that he can tell exactly when and where it was taken. It’s the most dog-eared of the pictures and has absolutely nothing scribbled on the back. All four of the friends are in frame, standing in front of an armoured jeep, kit at their feet, arms slung around each other’s shoulders and grinning so widely you’d think they’d just won the lottery. The source of their amusement as far as Sherlock can see – although he’s aware that a lot of soldiers humour is lost on him so it’s possible he’s wrong – is the sign Matt is holding in his free hand. It says “Viva Lash Vegas”, which is an appalling nickname for Lashkar Gah, but at least it means, together with the few other details John has shared in the past weeks about his time in Afghanistan, that Sherlock can pinpoint its origin; taken as they were about to begin the first major operation of their first tour and four weeks, almost to the day, before Matt was killed by the IED.

How did they do it? Sherlock finds himself wondering. How did they find it in themselves to smile, to joke, to laugh in such circumstances? In the two years he spent sneaking across the globe, constantly under threat and aware it truly was kill or be killed, he doubts he even managed one real smile. He kept himself going with sheer determination alone, using the terror generated by the certainly that failure meant the death of those he cared for and that he’d never see John again, to propel muscle and sinew when nothing else could. Yet John, and those men he called brother, not only signed up for a far less personal reason, but they put their lives on the line on a daily basis with visible and sincere cheerfulness. They made the best of every single day, regardless of what it might bring, facing death with a calm resolve that Sherlock has never been able to emulate, despite the indifferent mask he’s so adept at showing to the populace at large.

The words “for your tomorrow, we gave our today” are suddenly echoing around his head. He can’t remember who coined the phrase during World War One but he’s very much aware of why he’s thinking of it now. Because it’s exactly what John did. He gave all that he was and all that he wanted to be, to a war that couldn’t be won. And he did it for the simple reason that he believed serving Queen and country was the right thing to do.

You once told me not to make people into heroes, Sherlock. You should take your own advice. I chose that life. I chose to put myself in harm’s way. All I did was the job that was in front of me. Nothing more, nothing less.

Sherlock swallows, hard, closing his eyes until he has regained mastery of himself. Then he re-sorts the photos into their original order, squares them off neatly and places them on the lid of the box.

The square of velvet has been warmed by the sun, the plush fabric feeling almost alive under his fingers as he lifts it out, taking care to note exactly how it was placed and folded so that he can return it exactly as it was. John may miss the obvious most of the time but would most certainly notice should they not be in same state as he left them; the way he has stored them telling Sherlock that however disparagingly John may describe them, on the rare occasions he mentions them at all, they actually mean an awful lot to him.

The moment he opens he first fold he realises memorising their order isn’t going to be necessary, each one carefully pinned to the fabric protecting them.

And in the exact order John would wear them, his inner Mycroft points out.

‘Shut up. This doesn’t concern you,’ Sherlock snaps, smoothing the fabric out as he settles it on a clear patch of the dresser top. The medals shimmer in the light, bright and clean as when they were presented to John and the faint scent of cleaning fluid wafts up from them. If Sherlock hadn’t already deduced precisely how highly John valued them then this would be all the proof he needed.

He reaches out, finger tracing the Military Cross on its white and purple ribbon.

Awarded to all ranks of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, and Royal Air Force in recognition of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land, quotes Mycroft superciliously.

Sherlock wrinkles his nose at the interruption and moves his finger to the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, its red, white and blue ribbon reminding Sherlock strongly of the Union Jack.

‘Given to all ranks of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, and Royal Air Force in recognition of acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy’ he notes before Mycroft’s can speak.

He knows the stories behind both these medals, but the knowledge has come in spite of, rather than thanks to, John.

Because John, other than making the occasional reference to the more obvious parts of life as a Royal Marine Commando, hadn’t – until the night Sherlock returned – told Sherlock any details of his active service. Other than the story of how he got shot. Even then, the story had been little more than a listing of the bare facts, told so dispassionately that anyone overhearing would have assumed John was talking about something that had happened to someone else. He certainly hadn’t shared the fact that his actions that day had been the reason he was awarded a medal, never mind that it was his second medal and a CGC.

No, the full details of how John earned both medals (and six mentions in dispatches over the course of his career) were provided by Mycroft. Something Sherlock finds infinitely annoying.

I think thanks would be more appropriate than annoyance, brother mine. Given why I was sharing the information with you.

Sherlock nods his head in grudging acceptance. The information had been imparted to him over a crackling mobile connection after he’d lain for three days in a dingy hovel in Krakow trying to heal himself through sheer force of will. He’d stitched the ragged wounds in his side together himself, without either anaesthetic or antibiotics, desperate not to attract notice, but when his water had run out and his fever had reached such a pitch that his nightmares were crawling out of the walls, he’d realised he’d passed the limits of his endurance and, in desperation, called his brother.

If Mycroft had tried to keep him conscious with any other topic of conversation, he’d probably have been dead by the time the carefully disguised medical minions reached him. As it was Mycroft spoke of John, starting with what he’d been doing that week and then, in a desperate effort to keep Sherlock talking, made Sherlock tell him everything John had shared about his time in the Commandos. For every bit of information Sherlock slurred down the phone, Mycroft provided something additional and then - when Sherlock’s minimal knowledge and deductions ran out - simply worked his way through the highlights of John’s file, demanding Sherlock deduce information at various points to keep him as alert as was possible.

Sherlock is sure Mycroft justified the breach of John’s privacy by telling himself Sherlock wouldn’t remember anything, as out of it as he’s sure he sounded. He’s never asked Sherlock whether that is, in fact, the case and Sherlock’s not sure he would have told him the truth. Because he can; he remembers everything, could repeat all of it verbatim in Mycroft’s voice if the mood took him, because he’s replayed it all in his head so many times. Those stories of John - of what John saw, dealt with, and endured during his ten year career - sustained him through the remainder of his task and breathed additional life into the John-in-his head who remains with him to this day.

Not that I do much good, John cuts in, wryly. If I did, you’d not be invading my privacy now.

‘I’m not invading anything,’ Sherlock mutters, lifting the medals up and sliding his left forefinger under the cross, feeling the weight of it. ‘That’s your job. I’m simply augmenting my knowledge of the man I … well, the man I love.’

Maybe you should tell the real me that occasionally … that you love me, I mean.

Sherlock’s chest seems to shrink three sizes at that thought and he swallows uncomfortably. He lowers the cross and lets his fingers brush over the five other medals; all general service, from Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. Each of them representing a tour of duty that offered an infinite variety of ways John could have been taken from him before he’d even known John existed. So many ways their future together could have been stopped before it had a chance to begin. So many what-ifs that make a mockery of his reticence to say the three words aloud that he’s perfectly willing to articulate in the privacy of his own head. Especially when they’re the only thing he’s absolutely certain about in this universe.

Why he’s been holding them back he can’t fathom. It makes no logical sense whatsoever. It’s not as if he’s never said them to John. He said them that first evening he returned, the words bursting out of his mouth because it was absolutley imperative that he declared the truth of his feelings at that point. If it was imperative then, what has changed? Why hasn’t he said them again? What on earth does he think holding them back will achieve, other than to give John completely the wrong impression? Does he want John to misunderstand, to think they were not the truest words he’s ever spoken?

‘I’ve been so stupid,’ he says, voice overloud in the empty room.

‘Possibly.’

He whirls around, almost dropping the medals in shock. The room may be empty but the doorway isn’t. John is there, leaning lightly against the frame. His arms are folded across his chest, his left foot hooked over his right and there’s an air of studied nonchalance about him which is only compounded by his inscrutable expression. Stare as Sherlock might, he can see nothing to indicate either how long John’s been there or how best to react to being surprised. Finally, with no other alternative, he finds his tongue.

‘John, I-’

John cuts him off with a shake of his head, pushing away from the door frame and walking over, holding out his hand for the medals as he does so. Sherlock can deduce exactly how John’s visit to his new therapist went – from his stride and the set of his shirt sleeves - but he still can’t find anything in John’s placid expression to tell him what the man is thinking now. Sherlock places the medals gently across John’s palm as soon as he’s close enough, feeling his own teeth worrying at his lower lip but unable to stop himself exhibiting such an obvious sign of anxiety.

‘I’m sorry, John,’ he says in a rush, letting the bubble of guilt in his stomach push the words out of his mouth, ‘but you’d gone and I remembered the tin and … well, I couldn’t stop thinking about what you’d said was in it and I wanted to see for myself.’

‘It’s okay, Sherlock.’ John sounds sincere, if a little resigned, as he carefully places the medals onto the dresser top next to the photographs. ‘I don’t mind you looking at them.’

‘But you wanted to show them to me them yourself.’ Sherlock notes, staring into the John’s now far more readable expression.

John inclines his head in agreement. ‘I did. I wouldn’t have chosen right after a therapy session to start telling you war stories but I said no secrets and I meant it. So …’ John sits down on the bed and gestures for Sherlock to join him. ‘Do you want to start with whatever prompted you to declare your stupidity out loud?’

‘I –’ Sherlock stares at John, infinitely grateful for the unexpected reprieve from having to tell John what he already knows and how he came to know it. ‘That wasn’t … It’s that I love you, John.’

Sherlock watches John’s face crease into confusion and realises just what he’s missed out of that declaration.

‘Me loving you isn’t the stupid thing,’ he says quickly. ‘That’s as far from stupid as I can get. The stupidity is related to me actually telling you I do. I … I was stupid to waste time in the first place, before I had to … before I went away. And then I was significantly more stupid for not telling you again, every day, after the first time.’

John’s face clears and his eyes go soft. ‘That’s not stupid. That’s … yeah. That’s …’

Sherlock suddenly finds himself pressed back into the pillows and being kissed so thoroughly his brain goes off line entirely.

‘You may not have been saying the words,’ John says, somewhat breathlessly, when he eventually pulls back, ‘but you’ve been showing me, in a variety of little ways, that you do. Practically from the day we met.’

Sherlock blinks up at John. ‘I have?’

John gives a snort of laughter. ‘Yes.’

He smiles down at Sherlock, contentment radiating from his entire body, but he doesn’t elaborate in words. Instead he hums the moonlight sonata. Rather badly. It’s enough, though, for Sherlock to understand what he means.

‘I still want to say the words more often. Regardless of how many times I play the violin to ease your nightmares and whatever other things you think I do.’

‘That’s fine by me. I like hearing them.’

John kisses him again but this kiss is gentle and achingly sweet, deliciously similar to the one they shared after Sherlock said I love you for the first time. As the memory unfolds, a shadow of the present, Sherlock can’t help but remember just what John had told him he’d been about to do that day, before Sherlock had come back. Now, as then, he find the words demanding to be said. Sherlock breaks the kiss carefully, hands cradling John’s head so that he can look directly into John’s eyes, and tells him exactly what’s in his heart.

‘I love you, John Watson, wholly and completely.’

Sherlock watches John’s throat shift as he swallows. When John speaks, his voice is rough.

‘I love you too.’

They stare at each other for a minute more then John is moving, sliding off the bed and standing in one fluid movement; offers his hand to help Sherlock up behind him.  

‘Tea, I think,’ he says briskly, ‘and then we can- Oh! You’re wearing my dog tags!’

Sherlock looks down to see the silver circlets sticking out of one of the gaps between his shirt buttons.

‘Yes. Sorry, I-’ He starts to pull them off but John stops him.

‘No, it’s fine.’ John settles them back round Sherlock’s neck with exaggerated care, a very strange expression on his face. His voice wobbles as he adds, ‘It’s more than fine, actually. I want you to wear them.’

Sherlock’s mind starts to deduce John’s reaction on autopilot but then he stops himself.

‘Will you tell me why?’ he asks, softly, instead.

John takes a deep breath, then turns back to the tin on the dresser, motioning for Sherlock to join him.

‘If you’d had time to finish your investigation of my mementos, you’d already know.’ He lifts the yellowing paper from the bottom of the tin and offers it to Sherlock. ‘This should explain everything.’

Sherlock blinks at the folded rectangle as if he’s never seen it before, barely noticing John move over to the window and stare out into the street, studiously not looking at Sherlock. He’s too busy running his fingertips over the paper, feeling the raised areas where a pencil has pressed on it.

‘How did I not see this wasn’t just lining?’ he mutters, unfolding the paper carefully. The creases are deep, the paper brittle and marred with smudges that tell him it, too, has been taken to far off countries. Yet none of that seems to matter once he gets it open fully, sees John’s handwriting, and realises what he’s holding.

His right hand closes around the tags, through the thin material of his shirt, as he starts to read.

 

11/10/2008

Brize Norton Airfield

Harry,

If you’re reading this then my luck has run out and I haven’t made it home. So there are a few things I need to say to you.

First off, I’m sorry. Sorry for the years when we weren’t talking. Sorry for the things that happened with Dad that I couldn’t fix. Sorry you think I abandoned you when Mum died. Maybe I did, in a way, but you were living your own life. I had to live mine. The life I wanted, not the one Mum had wanted for me.

But I’m not just writing to apologise and tell you things you know already. I’m writing because I don’t want you to grieve for me. Not like you grieved for Mum, anyhow. I want you to know that I went willingly. I know you hate the fact that I chose a job which brought me so close to death so often, but I need you to understand that it really was my choice. I wasn’t running away, I was running towards – running towards everything that made me happy.

We’re so different, you and I, and I’m not asking you to try and understand. I just need you to know that it’s never just been a job to me. It’s how I wanted to live and so I have to accept it might be how I die. If that doesn’t help then remember what Mum always said: Death is just another part of the journey we all must take. I’ve just gone on ahead a bit. Checking the path is clear, if you like.

I’m glad you’ve got Clara now. Let her in, keep her close. She loves you so much, I can see it in the way she looks at you. Don’t waste that gift.  

Right now I don’t have anyone like your Clara. Can’t see that changing while I’m in a war zone to be honest but, just in case … If by some miracle I’ve fallen in love in the middle of the dust and the heat and the madness - if I’ve found someone who loves me for who I am, not who they want me to be - then please make sure they get my dog tags. Bill and Danny will know if I have and how to sort everything out.

Take care of yourself, Sis. Keep well, stay strong.

I’ll miss you.

Love you,

John

 

Sherlock carefully replaces the letter in the bottom of the tin before he walks over to John at the window. He doesn’t speak. The tight ache in his throat and the burning behind his eyes tells him it would be neither a wise nor a particularly successful move. Instead he plasters himself against John’s back, wrapping his arms over John’s own and buries his nose in John’s hair. John leans back into the embrace, some of the tension easing out of his frame as he does so. Nevertheless, the hitch in his breathing tells Sherlock that he’s not as calm as he’s been trying to appear.

They stay there, together, looking out at the still busy Baker Street, for long minutes; John flexes his hands beneath Sherlock’s until their fingers are entwined; Sherlock angles his head so his lips are pressed against the skin of John’s right temple. Eventually, when they are breathing steadily and in tandem, Sherlock tries to find some words. Only they won’t come.

Instead his mind offers him images of John; some real, some merely his own ideas of what occurred.

He imagines John on the floor of the departure hanger at Brize Norton, clad in fatigues, back against the well, Bergen at his side and a sheet of notepaper (borrowed, along with a pencil, from Bill) balanced on a paperback on his knees. Danny, Bill, and the rest of his company surround him, banter filling the air, but he is oblivious, face creased in thought as he pens the letter to be given to his sister - the only living relative he still gives a damn about - on the event of his death.

Next he sees John standing outside the police tape after he shot the cabbie, his amazing abilities and what he’s done obvious to Sherlock but hidden to everyone else. He sees John’s face, eyes sparkling and checks glowing, as he laughs; the infectious giggle that never fails to make Sherlock laugh in return.

Then come the memories of the nightmares that have been waking him in a cold sweat since he returned to 221B. He sees John’s face as he imagines it was during his phone call from the roof of Bart’s; the panic, the fear, and the horror, then the light draining out of his eyes as he drops to his knees on the cold pavement and says, in a voice as dead as Sherlock was pretending to be, “Please, I’m his friend”.

Finally the images morph into his first sight of John the day he returned.

John is standing in front of his grave, running a hand over the top of the black marble headstone, exactly as he used to caress the top of Sherlock’s curls before he joined him on the sofa or climbed into bed beside him. Sherlock knows what really happened next, knows he walked forward and touched John’s shoulder as he said his name, getting an - admittedly well-deserved - punch in the face for his trouble but that’s not what happens now. Instead Sherlock is rooted to the spot, unable to move, unable to call out, unable to do anything as John draws himself up and salutes the grave just as smartly as if he were on the parade ground, greeting his commanding officer. “I’ll see you soon,” he says softly and then he’s turning, eyes already looking beyond the mundane, not seeing Sherlock at all as draws his Sig from his waistband, slides the cold barrel between his lips and pulls the trigger. The shock of the gunshot breaks Sherlock’s paralysis and he charges forward … but he’s too late. John is lying on his back, above where Sherlock’s body would have been had he been buried there, his eyes wide, staring and empty, as his blood and his brains seep into the cold, hard earth. The scream that is rending the air is Sherlock’s own.

He’s not screaming now but as he comes back to the present he realises he has finally found his voice; whispering sorry over and over again into John’s skin in an ineffectual litany of unassuageable guilt that will help no-one. He can’t stop talking though.

‘Sorry isn’t enough,’ he says, voice cracking. ‘Sorry will never be enough but it’s all I have. All I can say. Other than to promise I’ll never make that mistake again. I …God, John, if you’d died before we met or if I hadn’t come back when I did and you’d actually … If I’d lost you because of my own actions I don’t … I couldn’t …’

He stutters to a halt and hides his face in John’s neck as he struggles to contain the fears that crush his lungs and strangle his stomach. His hold on John tightens as he fights to return them to the padded cell in the cellar of his mind palace, where they can’t hurt him any more.

‘But you didn’t lose me.’ John squeezes Sherlock’s hands, his voice calm and warm and soothing. ‘I’m right here.’

‘Yes, but-’

‘Hush.’

Sherlock heaves in a breath as John unlinks their hands and turns in Sherlock’s arms until they’re face to face. His eyes hold a depth of love Sherlock is certain he doesn’t deserve and a depth of pain Sherlock knows he’s more than partly responsible for, yet feels incredibly privileged to be seeing at all.

‘We are lucky to be here and we’re even luckier to have each other.’ John’s hands tighten on Sherlock’s waist as he speaks. ‘But I’ve always believed you make your own luck in this world and that you have to take your chances when you find them. We’ve got another chance here, you and I, and we need to make the best of it. We’re neither of us good at talking, not about the important things at any rate, but we’ve been given this time so maybe we need to learn; learn to bleed the pain from the bad memories, learn to relive the good times as well, learn to say the things to each other that we didn’t say before, that we’d never say to anyone else. We’ve made a start these last weeks, a good start, but we’ve still got a long way to go.’

‘Yes.’ Sherlock can’t help his gaze flicking across to the letter in the tin box before it returns to the man who could so easily not have been here to come home to. ‘Yes, we do. But at least we’re travelling together.’