The small box sits on his pillow, illuminated by the moonlight. It is matte black, square, tied with a red ribbon and screams expensive. More importantly though, as far as Sherlock is concerned, is that it’s completely unexpected.
He glanced over his shoulder but the corridor to the kitchen is empty, the rest of the house silent. Under the covers, on his own side of the bed, John slumbers on. He’s making the snuffling noises that are not quite snores and thus resist any sensible description (other than endearing and Sherlock certainly isn’t about to start using terms like that, even in the privacy of his own head). What they do tell Sherlock is that John’s barely been asleep for five minutes. So not long enough for anyone else to have left it whilst Sherlock was in the bathroom.
This is a present from John then. One that he hadn’t wanted to give in front of the others. Or one he’d thought Sherlock wouldn’t want to receive in company. Either way, it means the gift is something inherently sentimental.
Sherlock looks at the size and shape of the box again.
Suddenly his knees don’t seems to want to support his body and he finds himself sinking shakily down onto the edge of the bed. Is this …? Is John …?
The box is light as he picks it up, but that is no surprise, and the bow comes undone at the first tug, ribbon falling away and pooling in his lap. A small part of him doesn’t want to lift the lid and he’s not sure whether it’s because he’s frightened of being wrong or being right. He shakes his head to dismiss the thought and then opens it.
The lid slips off seamlessly but instead of the band of metal nestled in velvet that he expects to see inside, he finds himself staring at a wad of folded paper. Several sheets of ordinary paper (the luxuriousness of their trappings making them seem more so) folded together, the outermost page at least being blank. He runs the pad of his index finger over the face of the paper and the faint ink markings visible from the underside. It’s smooth, so whatever is inside is printed, rather than handwritten. He raises the box to his nose and inhales. Ordinary ink from a home printer. Probably their printer.
‘You won’t find out what it says by sniffing it.’ John’s voice, slurred with sleep but tinged with amusement, jolts him out of his reverie. ‘Even you aren’t that good.’
Sherlock shifts so he can see John’s face and the tightness in his chest begins to ease at the look in John’s eyes. Without looking away he tips the box up, letting the papers slide out and into his hand and unfolding them by feel alone. Only when he has smoothed them flat on top of the duvet does he let his gaze drop.
The top of the front sheet proclaims “King & Chasemore Estate Agents – Established 1840” and below are the particulars of a two bedroomed cottage in Friston. He scans the details quickly and then looks at the two other sheets. Sure enough, they are also for houses on the Sussex coast. All of them have good-sized gardens.
‘If you don’t like any of those, that’s fine,’ John says as he sits himself up properly, ‘but they seem like a good place to start and are easily affordable if we pool the compensation payments from the newspapers that ran Kitty’s stories.’
‘You want us to leave London?’
John laughs and takes Sherlock’s hand. ‘Not right now, love, no. Not for years, in fact. But someday we’re going to want to retire and I’d rather be doing the DIY now than when I’m seventy and more rickety than whatever you do set your heart on. Plus it’ll give you time to stock the garden right for the bees.’
Sherlock is aware he’s blinking like an idiot and his mouth is hanging open unattractively but he can’t seem to do anything about it. Doesn’t care either. Because what John is offering him is so much more than what he thought he was being given. A proposal of marriage is really only a vague promise, hazy and undefined. This though, this is fully formed future for both of them, concrete proof that John has really thought about it and that he understands. John shares the same hopes Sherlock allows himself in his most self-indulgent moments and, more importantly, John is happy to share them. Forever.
The realisation that he is genuinely wanted - that his feelings for John are truly reciprocated and not merely something he wants to see in John’s looks and touches – sends a rush of heat through his entire body that is more intoxicating than intake of alcohol. For a moment he can’t think, can’t speak, can’t do anything other than stare down at his hand, still wrapped in both of John’s.
It’s John who brings his brain back on line, by releasing his hands and says ‘Sherlock?’ in such a concerned tone he automatically lifts his head to see John’s face. It’s nothing like he expected. The cheerful good humour is gone, replaced by a disconcerting pallor that is enhanced by the wide eyes and taut lips. Lips that move haltingly to ask, ‘Did I get it wrong?’
Sherlock gives a curt shake of his head, when his verbal denial fails, voice still caught somewhere at the back of his throat. But words, he realises a second later, are unnecessary to resolve the situation and he’s leaning forward, hands reaching for John, one cradling a cheek and the other sliding into the hair at the nape of his neck and he presses their mouths together.
John’s lips part under Sherlock’s at once, a soft sigh escaping him at the contact. His hands mirror Sherlock’s own, producing an answering gasp as his fingers tighten in Sherlock’s curls. The kiss is not passionate, but the gentle sweetness burns with promise nonetheless; beginnings and endings, questions and answers, all rolled into one glorious physical exposition of love.
When they pull apart, Sherlock makes no attempt to restrain his emotions, resting his forehead against John’s as his mouth curves into a smile that feels too big for his face.
‘Merry Christmas, Sherlock,’ John whispers, eyes bright and warm.
‘Yes, it is,’ Sherlock whispers back, ‘and the start of many, many happy years to come.’