Morning sunlight slants in through the blinds. Sherlock opens his eyes.
The flat is empty. John moved out yesterday.
Sherlock closes his eyes and goes back to sleep.
“Are you—?” Lestrade stops as he watches Sherlock peel at the edge of a nicotine patch on his wrist. The case is solved: a plumber who put mercury chloride into the taps of men his wife had cheated with. Barely a one-patch problem, really and here Sherlock was, pulling two off his arm.
“I have no interest in helping you complete any paperwork,” Sherlock says, rolling the patch up. There is adhesive under his nails and his fingertips are sticky, “As always.” He starts towards the door.
“I wasn’t going to ask you to do that,” Lestrade says as he follows, “I was going to ask you if you were all right.”
Sherlock doesn’t look back and hurries down the stairs, “What an inane question, Detective Inspector.”
“Sherlock,” Lestrade grabs the back of Sherlock’s elbow.
“Am I late?” John steps into view at the bottom of the stairs, shaking rain from his umbrella. He peers up at the two of them, “I’m sorry, I got held up at the surgery again—oh you’ve solved it already haven’t you?”
“No matter,” Sherlock says, pulling his arm from Lestrade’s grasp, “You can pay for dinner.”
Her name is Mary and she is a primary school teacher. She is different from the rest because she lets John run around London without question. She never brings it up except the few times John had shown up at her flat with stray blood on the sleeve of his shirt. Or at least this is what John says. Sherlock has never met her for longer than the span of a forced smile. Sherlock believes him if only because Mary would have never lasted so long otherwise.
The first time that Sherlock tried to read her (occasional binge eater, survivor’s guilt over a brother who had committed suicide, abandonment issues from growing up without either of her parents), John had gone silent. And when Sherlock turned back to his microscope, John had said to the back of his head, “Please not this one, Sherlock.”
Sherlock keeps his mouth closed but it doesn’t stop him from cataloguing her flaws every time he sees her.
“Coffee?” Molly asks as Sherlock digs into the kneecap of some corpse with a dull scalpel.
“Two sugars,” Sherlock says, never taking his eyes off the mess of coagulated blood.
“No you git,” Molly says, but it’s affectionate. He did live in her flat for almost two months. “I mean at an actual café. You know, later, after you’re done.”
Sherlock doesn’t answer, is intent on sawing through the bone.
“Are we friends, Sherlock?” Molly pulls a stool over to where he’s sitting. Sherlock leans away from her just to be petulant.
“Hm.” He scrapes against the tendon, revealing white.
“We can talk,” Molly says. Sherlock stills. If she touches him, he will toss the scalpel down and leave. She can clean up the mess, he doesn’t care. Her hand hovers close to his shoulder but doesn’t make contact. “I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”
“No,” Sherlock replies, putting all the ice he can in his voice as he raises his eyes to look at her, “Thank you.”
She bites her lip and looks away, “I just thought—”
“My life,” Sherlock enunciates every syllable, “Does not revolve around John Watson.”
“All right,” Molly lifts her chin, “I just thought I’d offer.”
In a different universe, Sherlock thinks that maybe things would have turned out differently. Perhaps in that timeline, he and John would have returned from a crime scene with the thrum of adrenaline in their veins and the giddiness of a problem well solved. They would close the front door and Sherlock would lean against it with a grin. They would look at each other and Sherlock would hear the rush of blood pounding in his ears as John boxed him in with his arms. Anticipation would make Sherlock breathless and all he would have seen were the grey hairs at John’s temple and the dip of his eyelashes. John would lean in, maybe. He would change his mind last minute and stop, would exhale a breath against Sherlock’s jaw until Sherlock drew a shaky hand through the soft hair behind John’s ear and said brokenly, “Please, John.”
And in a different universe, John would press his lips to the underside of Sherlock’s jaw, and it would be too much. John would breathe against his skin and he would kiss Sherlock’s jaw, his chin, his mouth and Sherlock would be lost.
In this universe, Sherlock sits in the dark and watches television with the sound off. His phone buzzes with texts from a man who now lives miles away. Something has gone wrong with this timeline but Sherlock is tired of pinpointing what it is.
“Hello,” she says, “Fancy meeting you here.”
Sherlock shoves his hands into the pockets of his coat. He’s been watching her from a distance for months. It took less than a day to work out how to follow her unnoticed. “Hello Mary.”
“Are you here for a cake?” Mary asks, “I only ask because I’m actually here to pick up mine and maybe we could coordinate different flavours if you were going to get one too.”
“A cake,” Sherlock repeats blankly.
“Oh,” Mary tucks a curl of hair behind her ear, “I thought, you know, John’s birthday and all. I was so sure I sent you an email about the get-together.”
“Ah,” Sherlock says. He hasn’t read a non-case related email in weeks. “Yes, I must have forgotten to RSVP.”
“No matter,” Mary smiles at him, “I’ll put you down as coming, yeah?”
“Of course,” Sherlock says, “Where will it be held?”
“Our flat,” Mary says. Our flat. Sherlock doesn’t know when he became so maudlin, the way that the very shape of the word makes him want to hit something. “You know where it is, right?”
“Yes,” Sherlock replies, “I’ve been there before.”
“Right,” she smiles at him again.
“Congratulations,” Sherlock blurts out. It comes out sharper than he intended, so he backtracks and says more quietly, “On your engagement. I really can’t be more pleased for both of you.”
Her smile fades as she looks at him. “Sherlock. I don’t—I would never come between the two of you, you know.”
No, Sherlock thinks, you already did.
“You don’t have to pretend,” she says. Sherlock hates her kindness, would rather she tell him to stay away from John. “I know it must feel like losing your best friend.”
Sherlock smiles at her. It’s not real and he knows that she knows.
“Your cake, madam,” the man behind the counter says and she turns away to pay. It’ll be red velvet. John’s favourite. One of the many useless things that Sherlock hasn’t managed to delete.
“See you then,” Mary says to him as she picks up the white box.
Sherlock nods and pretends to be absorbed by the cupcakes as he watches her leave out of the corner of his eye.
In this universe, Sherlock stops playing violin at four in the morning because there’s no thrill of footsteps coming down the stairs. There’s no John to pace the kitchen in effort to banish the war from his subconscious. There’s no John to settle on the sofa with a mug of lukewarm water as Sherlock closes his eyes and coaxes slow sweet notes from the strings.
In another universe, perhaps: Sherlock curled along John’s back, lips touching the nape of his neck. His hand on John’s chest, heartbeat under his palm. Sherlock will wake as John stirs and he’ll hold John tight, drag fingers through his hair and recite the periodic table against John’s skin while John’s mind shakes itself to pieces.
And perhaps also: golden sunlight in stripes across John’s chest, catching on hair. Sherlock will wake to a smile and John never says I love you and Sherlock never has to say it back.
“Sherlock!” John says as he opens the door, “Thought you wouldn’t show.” Sherlock can tell that he’s at least tipsy, perhaps verging on drunk, by the way that he’s crowding into Sherlock’s personal space, arm around Sherlock’s shoulders as he steers him into the flat. Sherlock can’t help but look and he sees the photographs scattered everywhere: Mary and a classroom full of children, Mary and someone who must be a cousin (from the colour of his hair, the shape of his face) hiking in the woods, John with sunglasses, a candid of John and Mary laughing at a restaurant. Sherlock feels like an intruder, he doesn’t want to be here.
“John!” someone calls. John touches Sherlock’s elbow and then the warmth of his presence is gone.
“Hello Sherlock,” Mary says as she comes out of the kitchen. She smiles at him as she wipes her hands on a towel, “So glad you could make it. We didn’t want to cut the cake without you.”
“I brought wine,” Sherlock says, holding out the bottle, “I hope it’s adequate.”
“Oh, you’re already a far better guest than John’s other mates. They’re all thieving freeloaders,” Mary tells him, leaning in, “This is more than adequate, Sherlock, we’re honestly just glad you could make it.”
“Right,” Sherlock says. He’s met John’s other friends before: played rugby in their youth, sometimes soldiers, sometimes physicians, and almost never interesting. But he knows that John likes to feel normal once in a while.
“Do you need any help?” Sherlock asks Mary, because the thought of facing Mary is less terrifying than the thought of facing John right now. He doesn’t want to see how well John fits into this new flat, how easily he entertains his old friends here. It must have been masochism that drove Sherlock here in the first place.
“I couldn’t possibly ask you to help,” Mary says, “You’re a guest.”
“Nonsense,” Sherlock says as he follows her into the kitchen. Molly is leaning against the fridge with a drink in one hand and her phone in the other. She looks surprised when she sees him.
“I didn’t know you were coming,” Molly says and then she turns to Mary, “You didn’t tell me Sherlock was coming.”
“Why wouldn’t Sherlock come?” Mary asks, “He’s John’s best mate, isn’t he?”
“Right,” Molly says, and reaches over to pour him a glass of wine, “I’m just going to assume you’ll need this then.”
“How can I help?” Sherlock asks Mary.
“Really Sherlock—you don’t have to—”
Sherlock finds the dish cupboard within seconds, “I’ll set the table then, shall I?”
He’s laying forks next to the plates when John comes up behind him. “What the hell are you doing?”
Sherlock moves to the next plate but John follows. “Don’t make me state the obvious, John.”
John’s hand circles Sherlock’s wrist. Sherlock stills and looks up at him.
“You’re,” John says steadily, “Setting the table.”
Is this what you wanted of me? Sherlock thinks, is this why we never were? Because Sherlock is selfish and demands for John to make him tea, to bring him food, because they eat take away from the carton with plastic forks on the sofa, because he leaves all of the dishes for John to do, all of the shopping for John to do? Does Mary wipe the counters down? Does she lean over and feed him bits of food with real metal utensils? Sherlock’s jaw tenses. He wants to shove John against the table in breathless anger, to sweep all of the plates off. He wants to bite down on John’s collarbone and palm John’s cock through his trousers until he’s begging to be undressed. Does Mary do that?
“Well observed,” he says and pulls his wrist away.
“Why?” John asks.
Sherlock is too tired to feel angry. “I like Mary,” he says instead and wonders if John sees it as the filthy lie it is.
The thing is: Sherlock thought that the two of them would have forever to figure it out.
Two glasses of expensive sauvignon blanc later and he’s having a conversation with Molly about whether or not she’d be willing to lend him some lab space for his own toxicology studies. John sits in an armchair in the living room. Sherlock has been watching him all night from a distance. John throws his head back to laugh at a joke and Sherlock looks back at Molly. She keeps her eyes on him.
She must have noticed that he’s been distracted all evening. He appreciates that she hasn’t mentioned it.
“Would you like another piece of cake?” Mary asks from behind them. She holds out a plate with a slice on it.
“I’m really quite full, thank you,” Sherlock says. He barely touched his food earlier.
“Really good cake though,” Molly says, shaking her head. Mary laughs and touches her shoulder before moving away.
John looks up as she approaches and Sherlock’s attention snaps to them. She holds out the cake. John laughs and shakes his head. She touches her fingertips to his forehead, right at the hairline and bends down for a kiss. John cups her cheek like an afterthought as she pulls away.
Sherlock swallows. He bites the inside of his lip and forces himself to look back at Molly.
“Sherlock,” she says softly.
Sherlock shakes his head and unclenches the fists he’s made behind his back. He can feel the crescent imprints of his fingernails. “What were we discussing?”
He can’t remember when he first wanted John Watson. But he knows that it predates the realization that he could even want at all.
“That was absolutely fantastic,” John says when they’re standing in a dimly lit basement, and Sherlock’s just shoved his hand through a grate in the ground to come up with the victim’s congealed blood smeared on his gloved fingertips. He looks up at John and for a single irrational moment Sherlock thinks that time has really rewound.
But then John’s mobile rings and he steps away to answer and when he comes back, he says, “Really sorry but I’ve got to go, Mary’s had a family emergency.”
No second chance, just wishful thinking. Sherlock reminds himself not to indulge so often.
“Parkinson’s,” John says when they’re in the taxi to the Scotland Yard, “Mary insisted that I look at her charts.”
Sherlock watches shop fronts speed past, “Her aunt can’t be much older than fifty-five.”
“It doesn’t change her diagnosis.”
Sherlock pulls out his phone and is relieved for the excuse of having to answer a text from Lestrade. John sinks into silence, looking out the window. Sherlock waits until the taxi is coming to a halt before he asks, “When will it be, then?”
John pauses in the midst of pushing the door open, “Sorry?”
“The wedding. I assume Mary would have asked you to move it up to accommodate her aunt.”
John shakes his head with a laugh and gets out of the cab, “December. It’ll be bloody impossible to find a venue in time.”
Sherlock thrusts a few notes at the driver through the window and looks up at the building instead of looking at John. Barely five months away.
“Well,” he says eventually, “Miracles have been known to happen.”
Perhaps you should look into finding a new flatmate. –MH
Sherlock has half a mind to throw his phone at the wall when he reads the text. He has enough saved to pay for next month’s rent and Mycroft knows it.
You understand I am merely interested in your well being. –MH
Don’t be. –SH
His phone rings. Sherlock goes to make himself a cup of tea. When he returns, he has one new voicemail.
He turns on his laptop and musters up the motivation to look at the inane cases people email him. He’d rather endure hours of earnest stupidity than replace John.
I suppose it’s very strange getting an email from me since we don’t know each other very well but I’d really love for that to change. You’re clearly an integral part of John’s life and I was hoping that perhaps we could get to know each other better. Perhaps we could do lunch this weekend? John has a shift so it would just be us two. Or I could try to make whatever time would be most convenient for you.
Mary choses a tiny French restaurant tucked behind an art supply store. The pavement leading up to the front door is streaked with old yellow paint that had been spilled ages ago and the smell of turpentine drifts out from the open windows of the store and into the restaurant. The chatter inside is quiet and Sherlock only has to glance around once before finding Mary sitting in the back, turning a butter knife over in her hands.
“I haven’t kept you for long,” Sherlock says as he sits in the seat across from her.
“No,” she replies, giving him a smile even though he hadn’t phrased it as a question, “Good to see you Sherlock.”
Sherlock picks up the menu without looking at it.
“Might I suggest the apple and brie crepe? Their crepes are fantastic here.”
Sherlock keeps his eyes on Mary’s face and doesn’t blink.
“Or the waffles,” Mary adds, then stops. She sets down the butter knife, “Or I suppose we could just talk.”
“You want us to get along better.”
“For John’s sake,” she says, “Clear the air and stop any grudges before they begin to form.”
“You want me to like you.”
“Well,” she smiles and Sherlock can’t tell if it’s fake, “That would be my endgoal, yes. John places a rather high value on your opinions. But I’m perfectly aware that any high opinion should be earned rather than demanded.”
“You won’t be able to fix John,” Sherlock blurts out because he is a terrible person and he will stoop as low as defacing John to bring him back.
“I wasn’t aware that John required fixing,” Mary replies and Sherlock hates her for the reply.
“Five years from now,” Sherlock says and his voice is a monotone, “He’s going to wake up shouting in the middle of the night and it’ll be the fifth time that month. When you touch his shoulder he’s going to grab your wrist and squeeze until your bones rub against each other before he realizes what he’s doing. And then he’s going to apologize and slip out of bed and he won’t come back or be able to look you in the eye until morning comes. You will ask him a thousand times to share his burden but he will say no every time.”
He knows what it sounds like, he wonders if she will go home tonight and ask John if he and Sherlock—did they ever? And he imagines John’s disbelieving laugh, maybe he will say not you too, Mary. Or maybe he’s already said it. Maybe Sherlock is pathetic enough that he wants to live in his own words spoken aloud.
“Five years from now,” Sherlock continues, “He’s going to get a text from me. You two finally have a day away from your child to have dinner at a nice restaurant. But in that text, I will tell him that there’s a case that I need him to come, that it’s urgent and that lives depend upon it. And he will cancel the reservation and tell you sorry, that he’ll make it up to you, he promises. And he will come to me, every time.”
Mary leans back and folds her arms. Sherlock hates the way that his eyes go to the plain engagement band on her left hand. “Why are you telling me this?”
“You said it yourself,” Sherlock says, unable to tear his eyes away from the ring, “Stop any grudges before they begin to form. I am merely giving you the facts.”
Mary shifts so that her left hand is hidden. His eyes snap back up to her face.
“I think it’s a little late to try to intimidate me out of this relationship, Sherlock,” she says, making eye contact, “You haven’t told me anything that I don’t already know.”
Sherlock lets his eyes drop to the table. Mary Morstan is smarter than he initially gave her credit for and he wonders if she can read it on him, read it in the slope of his shoulders, read it in his downcast eyes. Hell, Lestrade read it and Molly read it—everyone except for John.
“I want you to like me,” Mary says, “But I also want to like you, Sherlock. So maybe we can start over.”
Sherlock wakes up in the morning hating himself more often than not, clinging to the whisper-remnants of dreams where John shows up on his doorstep with a suitcase and the simple explanation of it just didn’t work out. Nothing even happens—John just moves back into his upstairs room and even in Sherlock’s dreams he gets annoyed about body parts touching food in the fridge and grumbles about Sherlock’s inability to clean up after himself. Nothing even happens and Sherlock wakes with something akin to an ache fading behind his sternum, tension running down the length of his neck.
This must stop, Sherlock thinks as he pinches loose leaf into a strainer. The boiling water goes all over the table and soaks into the unanswered post. Sherlock sets down the kettle and stares at the soggy mess of papers before he starts to laugh.
He’s operating at low efficiency, he knows. But short of forgetting John Watson’s existence, he doesn’t know how to make it better.
“It’s for the Quinn case,” Sherlock says with the phone pressed between ear and shoulder, “I could really use your help.”
“It’s our nine month anniversary,” John says, “I already put in a thirty quid deposit at her favourite restaurant.”
“Do people really celebrate such trivial things?” Sherlock asks, “Might I remind you that there are two children who are still missing?”
There is silence. And then, “All right, all right,” John says, “What the hell do I tell Mary?”
Make something up, is what Sherlock meant to say but somehow it comes out as, “Why not ask her to come?”
Sherlock doesn’t know what he wanted to accomplish. Maybe that the prospect of corpses and danger would somehow drive Mary away, somehow. His logic is failing him, his normally rational decisions are abandoning him.
Mary has the toddler in her arms and she’s speaking softly to the child. John has draped a blanket around the ten year old boy who is staring blankly at the pavement and he’s murmuring words of reassurance. Sherlock’s seen him do this before with other victims, knows that it’s born from years of practice in the clinic.
But taking the sight of both of them together, Mary with a child in her arms and John crouching next to the boy—it’s close enough to resemble a family and Sherlock can’t help it—his post-solution high is destroyed by this reminder of one more thing he cannot be to John because there are no children in their hypothetical future together. John doesn’t have to say it for Sherlock to know that it’s there: he wants children, he’s scared of turning out like his distant parents, but he wants children. And Sherlock is selfish but he’s not selfish enough to delude himself into thinking that John wouldn’t make a good father with his steady hands and stoic strength.
John looks up, still shaping quiet words into the boy’s ear—but he doesn’t look for Sherlock. He looks for Mary instead and the two of them exchange a silent look before John turns his full attention back onto the boy.
Sherlock slips away from the crime scene and finds a cab on the main road.
When Sherlock strips his ego away from the matter, when he approaches the entire situation from a neutral standpoint, he knows that John made the right choice.
What does Sherlock have to show for him? Five failed relationships and eight years of almost-celibacy. A profound lack of sexual experience for someone of his age. John probably would have been bored of him by the second week. Or maybe he would have humoured Sherlock’s terrible attempts with his usual patience, all the while wishing he had never agreed to it in the first place.
Sherlock can appreciate aesthetics and he knows that Mary is an attractive woman. Between her popularity in university and her engagement to a soldier who died in Afghanistan, Sherlock is certain that she knows how to navigate the more troubled aspects of a long-term relationship.
She probably knows how to please John in bed. How to tongue the head of his cock just right so that John is a whimpering mess, hands fisted in the sheets. How to suck bruises at the junction of his neck so that they won’t be visible under his collar the next day at the surgery.
A surge of want rises and Sherlock has to push down on it. And even as every instinct in his body screams against it, he has to tell himself, not mine, not mine.
The cab drops him off five streets away and Sherlock takes the opportunity to think.
He paces in front of the building for almost three minutes before he receives the text.
Why don’t you just come up? –MH
“To what do I owe this rare pleasure?” Mycroft asks as he opens his office door. Sherlock slouches against the wall in the hallway and doesn’t look up at Mycroft.
“Come in,” Mycroft says, stepping aside. Sherlock considers staying in the hall just to spite him, but eventually slips past and seats himself in one of the armchairs.
“I need your help,” Sherlock mutters.
“A rare day indeed,” Mycroft says.
“It’s not for me,” Sherlock adds, “John’s wedding is in four months and they haven’t booked a venue.”
“You book those ridiculous conferences barely weeks in advance,” Sherlock says, “I know you could find a way to help them.”
“I could,” Mycroft agrees, “What would be in it for me, dear brother?”
“Three days,” Sherlock says, “I will do whatever cases you want me to do for three days.”
“Three days,” Sherlock snarls.
Mycroft smiles, “Five days.”
Sherlock dreads the tedium of the petty bureaucratic crime that Mycroft will be sure to put him on. “Fine.”
“This is unexpectedly generous of you.”
“I can be kind,” Sherlock snaps.
Mycroft scribbles himself a note on the pad of paper next to his arm. Sherlock takes it as a sign of dismissal and gets to his feet.
Sherlock pauses with his hand on the doorknob. He doesn’t look back.
“There have been others before him and there will be many after.”
Sherlock swallows. He hates the way that his voice is unsteady. “I rather think not.”
He exits and shuts the door behind him before Mycroft can reply.
The doorbell buzzes. Sherlock opens his eyes and stops plucking the violin. Mrs. Hudson will get it.
“John!” he hears her exclaim. He sits up and reaches for the bow. John had always fancied a bit of contemporary so Sherlock fingers the beginning notes of Philip Glass and gets to his feet.
He watches John come up the stairs in the reflection of the window and doesn’t stop playing. John hovers in the doorway for a bit before wandering off to the kitchen. Sherlock closes his eyes and focuses on the music but he hears the clink of dishes and silverware. The scent of roast beef makes him open his eyes and turn—yes John has just opened a Tupperware and is forking slices onto two plates.
He trails off on a thoughtful note and John looks up. Sherlock lowers the violin from his chin.
“Are we eating this week?” John asks, “Or are we on a case?”
Mary’s cooking, no doubt. It smells delicious.
“I’m a terrible cook,” Sherlock says without meaning to.
“You’re decent,” John replies, “Though compared to Mary, we’re both absolute shit at cooking.”
Sherlock wipes his violin down. John pushes one of the plates towards Sherlock and searches under the cushions for the remote.
Sherlock shuts the violin case and sits next to John, making sure to keep space between them. It doesn’t matter because he finds John’s knee pressed against the side of his thigh anyway. He tries not to think about it and eats. The beef is delicious, of course.
“Are you happy?” Sherlock hears himself ask during a commercial break.
John looks at him. Sherlock’s been staring determinedly at the television for the last fifteen minutes. The contact is enough. He doesn’t need to see John’s face too.
“I think I really am, yeah,” John says, sounding cautious, “Are you happy, Sherlock?”
“Yes,” Sherlock lies because John is happy and that has to be enough.
Later Sherlock looks up from working on his laptop and finds John asleep on the sofa, head pillowed on the armrest. He looks younger than Sherlock remembers him looking before. Sherlock isn’t there to wake him at obscene hours in the morning, ask him to stay up until dawn working on cases. Sherlock isn’t there to order takeaway every day, all oil and grease and processed meats.
Domesticity must suit him. Mary must suit him.
Sherlock tosses a blanket over him. He know he shouldn’t but he pauses and puts a hand on John’s cheek. How is it possible that Sherlock misses John so much when he sees John almost every day?
It would be so easy to bend down and press his lips against John’s temple. So easy to imagine waking John with a kiss. So easy to imagine that John might give him a sleepy smile before following him to bed.
Sherlock lets out a breath and turns away. He pulls on a coat and goes for a walk.
Miraculous opening at 116 Pall Mall. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about this? –JW
Did you set a date? –SH
12 December. Since this is a thing that’s actually happening and all, would you be my best man? –JW
“You’ve been selectively ignoring my texts,” John says by way of greeting as he ducks below the crime scene tape.
“Careful you don’t trample over the footprints,” Sherlock says, not looking up from where he’s crouched next to the victim.
“Sherlock, you’re allowed to say no if you don’t want to,” John says, “Seriously. I just thought I’d ask you because you’re my best mate and all.”
“Am I?” Sherlock asks, rising to his feet.
John looks at him, then the corpse, then back up to him, “Er, yes. Was this ever in question?”
“No. I suppose not.”
“I won’t be offended if you don’t want to, I swear.”
Sherlock snaps open his magnifying glass and turns back towards the victim, “I’ll do it.”
“That isn’t fair,” Molly says as she cleans her bench around where Sherlock is currently staring into the microscope. “He shouldn’t have asked you. You shouldn’t have agreed to it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Molly,” Sherlock says, looking away to jot down a cell count, “I would far prefer the best man to be me rather than one of those braindead types John met in Afghanistan.”
“But you’re in love with him,” Molly says—and Sherlock’s hand closes around her wrist tight. He doesn’t look at her, focuses on the wall across from where he’s sitting.
“Life isn’t fair, Molly,” he says without inflection, “And it certainly doesn’t subscribe to whatever fairytale structure you are insistent on deluding yourself with. Kindly refrain from subjecting me to more of your drivel.”
He lets her go and looks back into the microscope so he doesn’t have to see the expression on her face.
He refuses to plan John’s stag night which puts one of John’s more imbecilic acquaintances in charge. Sherlock doesn’t understand the appeal of hiring mediocre looking women to dance provocatively with the stipulation of no-touching, when there were perfectly serviceable pornographic videos with far more attractive women. His interest was only momentarily piqued by the appearance of cocaine—but the look that John sent his way was enough to keep his hands in his pockets.
John seems more interested in the poker than the women anyway and Sherlock is interested in looking for an excuse to leave. He spends most of the hour that he’s present lounging in a corner booth on his phone, hoping that nobody will force him to socialize or worse, recognize him from over a decade ago.
Southwark, two bodies at Guy’s. If you’re not busy celebrating.
Someone touches his shoulder when he shrugs on his coat and turns to leave. John is pulling on his jacket next to him.
“What are you doing?”
“Coming with you,” John answers.
“You can’t,” Sherlock says, gesturing, “This is supposed to be your night.”
“Right,” John says, chin lifting, “And I can do whatever I want with it. I want to come with you.”
“You’re—” Sherlock starts, and doesn’t know how to end it. Mad. Terrible. Impossible.
“All right,” Sherlock agrees and smiles.
“At least there was no need for the gun,” John says in between breaths, hands on his knees.
“It would have been useful though,” Sherlock’s heart is beating fast and the adrenaline rush is such a euphoric high, “If only because you could have actually shot back when they started shooting.”
“I would have had much better aim,” John peers around the corner of the building, “Think they’re gone?”
“With any luck, Lestrade’s new lot aren’t as incompetent as they look.”
The morning sun colours the eastern sky. The streetlamps still glow brightly in the dim light. Sherlock finishes texting Lestrade and tips his head back against the brick wall to wait for his breathing to even out.
When he opens his eyes, John is looking at him. A thin chilly mist is starting to rise in the streets. Sherlock wants to look away but he can’t.
“How long?” John’s voice is quiet. Sherlock wants the wall to open up and swallow him.
“How long, what?”
“You know, Sherlock.”
Sherlock licks his lips. “I don’t know.”
John doesn’t move. Sherlock knows so many of John’s expressions intimately, but he can’t read this one.
“A long time,” Sherlock clarifies.
“I didn’t believe her when she told me,” John says finally.
“Your fiancée is far more observant than you.”
“I gave her a ring,” John says, “You understand.”
Sherlock shoves his hands into his pockets so John doesn’t see them shaking, “There’s nothing for me to understand because there was never a choice, John. She’s beautiful and intelligent and she’s more than eager to start a family with you.”
John steps forward, “Sherlock—”
“Don’t,” Sherlock says, “I don’t need your pity, John.”
“Would you stop—”
“Being correct?” Sherlock snaps, “Because I can read it in your face and I can hear it in your voice and I don’t need any of it.”
John stops. He takes a step back.
“In a different world,” John says, “We could have been.”
Sherlock laughs tonelessly, “I would have taken all of you. I would have tried to strip you down and rebuild you in my image. I would have ruined you, I would have killed you. You deserve far better than me, John.” He smiles, but it isn’t a smile at all, “I’m glad you found it.”
“Sherlock,” John breathes.
“Mary,” Sherlock reminds him.
The sun breaks over the horizon. It is John’s wedding day.
Sherlock watches John’s shoulders the entire ceremony. He looks at the audience when John and Mary kiss and accidentally makes eye contact with Molly. She looks sad for him. He looks away and joins in with the applause.
Harry Watson hands him a glass of champagne as she sits down next to him. He’s met her only once before.
“You know,” she says after downing her entire glass in one gulp, “I always thought that if my brother settled down, it would have been with you.”
Sherlock sets the glass onto the table without taking a sip. “John isn’t gay.”
“I mean,” she gestures, “From the way he always talked about you.”
Sherlock walks away.
London City Airport, 20 minutes? –SH
See you in 20. –JW