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Centuries of Nerve

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John comes down for a cup of tea and finds the Holmes brothers in a heap on the floor. It looks less like an embrace and more like some terrible accident befell them and made them touch each other and now they’re stuck. He freezes in the doorway, and Sherlock turns alarmed eyes on him.

“Nothing,” John says too loudly, and dashes back up the stairs.

In his bedroom, John picks the book he was reading back up and stares through the pages.

Sherlock Holmes is back from the dead. John doesn’t know how, or what he’s been doing in the meanwhile — though he looks like he’s been living rough, the idiot — but the knowledge of it churns in his belly alongside the poisonous weight of watching his death, and John is dizzy for the collision. When he came home to 221b and found Sherlock in his bed, it seemed like the world had reordered itself around the very fact of Sherlock, warm and breathing. Something tense and aching inside John had burst and he’d thought, yes, at last, this is what I’ve been waiting for. But John knew this was how the mind played tricks — he may have been waiting for Sherlock, but that didn’t mean he’d ever expected to see him again. John had expected — had been walking through — a fractured life with a phantom limb.

John had watched him fall. John had seen his body broken on the pavement, drained of colour, washed in blood. He’d had nightmares for months — Sherlock bleeding in Afghanistan, hand outstretched, mouth stretching wide to accommodate a murder of crows.

John draws in a tight breath and presses his fists to his eyes.

Being alone just now, so soon after he found Sherlock planted in his bed, was perhaps not the finest idea. His blood itches beneath his skin — he has to go see him, has to reassure himself he’s still there, has to make sure he’s not disappeared or run off or evaporated or whatever the hell it is that Sherlock does.

“You are an arsehole,” John mutters. He knows he can’t intrude on the brothers’ moment — or whatever it is that passes for a moment between them — but the anxiety is an expanding thing inside him, locking around his vital organs. John sets the book down properly and bends to press his forehead into the edge of the desk. He does some of Ella’s breathing exercises. There is sweat on his back that has only a fraction to do with the heat of July.

Minutes pass though his nausea doesn’t, and then he feels in his pocket the negligible weight of a willow figurine. His hand closes around it, and he remembers that earlier, when he had forced Sherlock to come down and eat something, he’d seen Little Man on his side beside the skull, and he’d snatched him up so Sherlock wouldn’t see. He can’t be sure he was entirely successful, but either Sherlock hadn’t seen or didn’t care a grown man had a doll. John squeezes Little Man hard until the blunt edges of him bite into his palm, until the dull pain of it releases the gathering heat at the back of his skull.

It takes less than an hour for Sherlock to show up, hovering, in John’s doorway. John is worrying at Little Man, and Sherlock’s eyes flick to it in his hands. John’s ears go red and he rolls his shoulders inward after shoving Little Man back into his pocket.

“Where did you get that?” Sherlock asks in a quiet voice, as if Baker Street is a fragile space whose silences must be kept.

John swallows. “Mycroft makes them,” he says. Sherlock nods absently and looks around the room. He must be too wrung out to muster the energy to sneer at one of Mycroft’s pursuits.

“May I?” he asks, gesturing to the bed.

John nods dumbly. Sherlock on his bed, John opposite him in a chair, they stare at one another.

Finally, Sherlock says, “Mycroft had an outburst, but he’s gone now.”

“Jesus, Sherlock. He’s your brother and he found out you were still alive. He’s allowed an ‘outburst.’”

“And he says I owe you an apology. Without qualifiers or excuses.” John drops his gaze. “So I’m sorry, John. I’m sorry for hurting you.”

John’s throat and eyes grow hot. Fuck, he thinks, not now. He gives himself a moment before meeting Sherlock’s eyes again. They are sea-changing under furrowed brows. Bruised, cut up, emaciated and shorn, he is the most beautiful thing John’s ever seen.

“Thanks,” he says. “Thank you. I accept your apology.”

Sherlock’s smile is small, but it crinkles his eyes and sends flares into John’s gut. As if without his own volition, John’s up and on the bed, hands reaching out to cradle Sherlock’s face. He presses their foreheads together and his eyes fall shut. He can feel the sweep of Sherlock’s lashes as he follows suit. He rubs his thumbs over the wide crest of prominent cheekbones. Their noses rest together. They share breath.

“How did you do this?” John whispers. “How have you come back to me?”

“John,” and that’s as far as he gets before John swallows the rest in a kiss. Sherlock makes a low, rumbling sound and pulls John in closer. John moans his approval and clambers fully into Sherlock’s lap as the kiss deepens. Sherlock’s arms are a tangle around him, and John feels the growing evidence of his appreciation against his stomach. Sherlock gasps and bucks up, but when John looks up into his face he sees a wildness uncharacteristic of the Sherlock he knows.

“Hey.” John pulls back. “Sherlock.” He places a hand on Sherlock’s cheek and ducks to meet Sherlock’s eyes. Sherlock’s chest heaves with breath. “Are you all right?”

“This is…” Sherlock swallows. His sharp shoulders roll inward as if anything could hide the erection John can feel against him. “I’m not accustomed to this.”

John rises to his knees and shuffles backward.

“We can stop,” he says. “This is really sudden. And. We can stop.”

Sherlock’s eyes are wide when he shakes his head. His fingers curl around John’s shoulders, and he tugs John back towards him.

“No,” he says. “I have been so… I want this. John. Please.” Those hands spider up John’s neck, cup his jaw. Pull him in.

“God, Sherlock,” John murmurs against that full pink mouth. “God, you’re really here.”

“I’m never leaving again, John, I promise.”

John heart stutters and his breath leaves him and he pulls away from Sherlock’s mouth to bury his face into Sherlock’s neck and squeeze his hot eyes shut. He plasters himself against Sherlock’s body and hugs him tight enough that he’s sure he’s grinding Sherlock’s ribs together, but Sherlock only draws his arms around him in an answering lock.

“I’ll need that in a legally binding document, possibly signed in blood.”


“I need to feel you. Sherlock, God, I need to feel you.”

He pushes Sherlock’s shirt up even as Sherlock tugs at John’s, and they get caught in a tangle. With some awkward wriggling, they finally shuck their clothes, and Sherlock is a kaleidoscope of bruises.

“Jesus, Sherlock, what—”

“Tell you later, just — I need your body on mine right now.”

John lets out a low moan and obliges him. They kiss, a hungry, raw thing with too much sharp stubble, and John crowds Sherlock down into the bed. Sherlock’s legs open and the cradle of John’s hips fall into the space provided. Sherlock lets out another broken gasp at the shock of their damp, heavy cocks slotting together. The slide of their bodies against each other becomes a grunting, inelegant rut. Sherlock is making desperate, surprised sounds, and John’s too caught up in his mouth, in the scrabble of his hands on John’s hips, in the the flush that follows from chest to ears, to care much when he takes an elbow to softer bits of himself. Then, Sherlock’s hands are in John’s hair, and he’s dragging him away from the humid consumption of his kiss, and he’s meeting John’s eyes, and John whimpers. Gasps Sherlock’s name.

“Look at me,” Sherlock says. “Look.”

“I see you.”

“You were the only one who ever did.”

John braces himself on an elbow and brings his left hand down to wrap around both their pricks. Sherlock’s eyes flutter and narrow into slits of green.

“My miracle,” John says. “I see you.”

Sherlock’s breath hitches, and he tangles his arms hard around John’s neck, arches into a deep curve and comes in great spurts all over his own stomach and chest. His body shakes until the tremors die down and he lies panting in the nest of sheets and pillows, an arm thrown over his eyes.

“You are so fucking beautiful,” John tells him. He pulls Sherlock’s arm away from his head and finds him wrecked from his orgasm, face slack, eyes dazed. He laughs a little and sits up, still straddling one lean thigh, and cups Sherlock’s face. Weakly Sherlock strokes at his sides.

“I think I should like for you to come on me, John,” he says solemnly, voice thick.

“I will.” John leans down to kiss him again, and it’s gentle, slow this time. Sherlock’s lips are soft and pliant.

“I have wanted to kiss you properly,” he says, “for far too long.”

“God, why didn’t you?” John asks. Their single, chaste kiss, so many horrors ago, lingers like a ghost in his mind, bittersweet for its brevity.

Sherlock doesn’t answer, but he puts his hand over John’s cock and begins an inexpert wanking that nonetheless has John shuddering and incoherent in quite short a period of time.

“Come on, John,” Sherlock is whispering. “Come on, come on, come on—”

John’s orgasm wracks him and he keens, shoving his face into the fragrant juncture between Sherlock’s neck and shoulder as he pumps out what feels like a year’s worth of come onto Sherlock’s belly. He buckles against Sherlock’s side, wrung out and done in and wanting nothing more than to burrow into Sherlock and sleep forever. He may say something to that effect, but he can’t be sure of anything other than how he can feel the curve of Sherlock’s smile against his shoulder, and the idle stroke of his fingertips on his back, and how his own hand fits over the crest of Sherlock’s hip perfectly. Time floats.

“This is our DNA,” Sherlock says suddenly, some indeterminate amount of time later. John grunts into his neck. “I said this is our DNA, John. Mine and yours, all mixed together. I didn’t understand but now I do.”

“What didn’t you understand,” John mumbles.

“Love.” Sherlock says it like he might recite empirical fact. John blinks and draws back to look into his face. Sherlock’s eyes are clear and lush again. He turns his head to look at John, who is flummoxed and might be gaping at him. “How it produces something new between two people. How it is an act of creation.”

“I hate to break it to you, Sherlock, but we can mix our DNA all we want and there still won’t be a baby.”

“Not like that. You’re being deliberately obtuse.”

“I love you too, you know. Always have.”

Sherlock doesn’t respond, but begins to run his fingers through the mess of semen pooled on his torso. John watches him test its viscosity between his fingers, taste it with the tip of his tongue, rub it into his skin. The musky smell of it wafts up and threatens to enflame John’s libido again. His prick gives a feeble twitch.

“No discernible taste, volume, or consistency difference between yours and mine,” Sherlock says. “Wouldn’t even be able to tell whose sperm was whose under a microscope.”

“Sure we could,” John says with a drowsy smile. “Yours would be the ones with the gigantic heads swimming circles around the little slow ones.”

Sherlock slants his eyes at him. “Hardly slow, John.”

There is quiet as they gaze at each other. The entire universe is blue and green and grey.

“We should get cleaned up, I suppose,” John says, and makes no move to get up. “You don’t want that to dry on you.” His eyelids are heavy, and Sherlock smells good. John rubs at the sharp hipbone underneath his palm and lets his eyes fall shut.

“No,” Sherlock says, “I need to keep this.” Then he gasps and sits up abruptly, dislodging John from his side. John’s eyes snap open and he looks up at Sherlock, looming over him, disheveled and covered in come. “John! I’ll need equipment!”

He throws the duvet off the bed, slings on one of John’s tatty terrycloth dressing gowns that comes only to his knees, and dashes out of John’s bedroom without another word. John collapses back into the mess of bedding.

“He’s back.”

A day and what must be thousands of pounds’ worth of installations of God knows what into 221c later, Mrs. Hudson comes home from her sister’s and does what John thinks, in retrospect, he should have done himself: she gives Sherlock a solid wallop to the face, then shoves biscuits at him and frets aloud about the state of his ribs. She’s on a tear, and Sherlock is listening dutifully, chastened and nodding, looking generally pitiful. John catches only about a third of her ranting. Sandwiches and how dare he and who does he think he is and fattening him up and giving him a thorough lice shampoo. God, is there lice? No. No, John would have noticed.

In the end, Mrs. Hudson crumples against Sherlock’s chest and sobs there while Sherlock arranges his arms around her and murmurs whatever his version of comfort is into the top of her head.

John gets the distinct feeling he’s intruding. Again. He burrows into his chair, eyes fixed on his laptop even as he stares through the screen, unseeing.

John loiters in the doorway to 221c. The sounds of knocking and sawing and sanding emanate from below. If he places a single toe on the first step down the stairs, Sherlock will bark up at him to go away. This is how it’s been for two days. They have not fallen into bed together since the day Sherlock returned, and John is wondering now whether he hallucinated the whole thing — the desperate figment of a desperate man’s desperate imagination. He snorts at himself; had he truly expected sex to change anything between himself and Sherlock? He’s not been so silly over sex since he was sixteen and mooning after Elspeth Harrow, whose skin had smelled of fresh strawberries with the tits to match.

“Tea, Sherlock,” John calls down. “And a boiled egg, or Mrs. Hudson will brain you again.”

“Just a minute.”

“That’s what you said half an hour ago.”

“Just leave it, John!”

John can’t. He can’t. He can’t move from this spot, from where he can hear the banging and the clanking and the who knows what else, from where he can listen to Sherlock’s madcap experiments, from where he has definite confirmation of life. Even the thought of moving to his chair in the sitting room weights his chest with a dark, oppressive dread.



“I’m going to sit on the top steps, okay? Just sit.”

“Go away, John, you’ll ruin everything!”

John grits his teeth. “Just what in the hell will I ruin by sitting here?”

“The surprise, John, you’ll ruin the surprise!”

John’s mouth snaps shut. He hopes this surprise is better than the last one — a pile of “rescued” baby mice in a box some eighteen months ago, which Sherlock had presented to him as if he should be grateful and ecstatic at the sight.

“I promise not to look,” he says. “I’ll just sit here and I won’t even crane my neck or anything.”

There is a pause, and the cessation of sawing.

“Fine,” Sherlock says. “But don’t look, I’ll know.”

John settles the tray behind himself before planting his arse on the top step and clasping his hands on his knees. He can hear Sherlock sanding something by hand, something small. Moments tick past. John shrugs and takes Sherlock’s tea. Still hot enough.


A grunt. John will take that and run with it.

“How’d you crack your ribs? And what happened to your hair? And are you ever going to tell me how you faked your —” John swallows around the sudden thickness in his throat and curses the heat that springs to his eyes. “—fall?” John clears his throat. “You did promise,” he says.

He hears Sherlock set something down, and footsteps, and then Sherlock is at the foot of the stairs peering up at him with wood shavings in what’s left of his hair and a light dust about the front of his dress shirt. Leave it to Sherlock Holmes to take up carpentry in clothes that cost more than two months’ rent. Leave it to John Watson’s fool heart to constrict at the sight.

“I did, didn’t I,” Sherlock says, not a question.

John sits up a little straighter, makes a conscious effort to unclench his twisting hands.

“You did.”

Sherlock wipes his hands on his trouser legs and a cloud of dust rises into the air. He plants himself down on the bottom steps and presents John with a view of the broad line of his shoulders, how his waist tapers into boyish hips. John squeezes his eyes shut.

“Moriarty wasn’t working alone, John. He had an extensive network — cunning and sly and well-placed. I traveled all over finding them out, doing frame jobs, removing them from the equation altogether when I had to. But there was one who kept eluding me, the one that really mattered. Moriarty’s right hand man, Colonel Sebastian Moran. Have you heard of him?”

John shakes his head. “No,” he says when Sherlock fails to divine that from the rustle.

“Hm. I thought perhaps you had — his tours would have overlapped with yours, but he was dishonourably discharged.”

“You realise that’s a bit like when someone knows someone else in London and asks if you know them too, right?”

A piqued little huff. “Fine. Colonel Sebastian Moran, expert marksman, but not, apparently, much of a gentleman around female soldiers.”

John’s stomach clenches. He’d known men like Moran in the service — and he wishes he could say that they were ferreted out quickly, but too often it was not quick enough, and too often the army’s own justice was painfully inadequate.

“You know how it is,” Sherlock says with a flick of his wrist. “Daddy with friends in high places, no jail time, slap on the wrist, and he’s back in England just in time to hitch his wagon to someone as twisted as he is.”

“Jim Moriarty.”

“They made a great pair. Complementary. Moran did so like to get his hands dirty.”

“Past tense?”

Sherlock inclines his head. “I caught up with him in Paris, just about the time you exonerated me. He was in Quatier Pigalle, to be precise. He was doing his damnedest to terrorise the women there, but soon he was blacklisted so thoroughly that even freelance girls would be mysteriously unavailable when he went hunting. So, he had excess energy to burn off. Excess aggression. And then he found the underground cage matches.”

“Oh, Sherlock, tell me you didn’t.”

“Just him, John. Just the one fight.”

“Do you know how dangerous those matches are? Jesus, Sherlock, you could have —”

Sherlock turns abruptly, and his eyes are electric, on fire, cauterising John’s words before they can spill out, vulnerable.

“But I didn’t, John. Look at me. I’m fine. Look.”

He has breath, a flush, the tick of a pulse in his neck. John slides his bum down a few steps and clutches at Sherlock’s collar anyway. Sherlock’s heat flows into John, but still it’s not enough. He gathers Sherlock close, crushes him to his chest.

“I got him, John,” he says into John’s shirt. “I cut off my hair and wore facial prosthetics and it lasted all of five minutes, John, all it really took was a knee to the chest, it was actually fairly anti—”

John kisses him to obliterate the image from his mind, the one where some disgraced solider has Sherlock broken and bleeding before him, before John can save him, and Sherlock moans and blooms beneath his lips.

“I need—”

“Yes,” Sherlock says, “anything.”

This is how the curious stair-shaped bruising on John’s back will form, and how he will come to have such a sore jaw, but in the moment John’s skin feels electrified, and the only balm is Sherlock’s prick in his mouth, Sherlock’s knees on the step on either side of his head, Sherlock’s hand in his hair.

When Sherlock comes down John’s throat with a startled gasp, stars burst behind John’s eyes, and all he can think is, “Alive, alive, he’s alive.”

John wakes to a London clamouring for its erstwhile consulting detective.

At some point while John slept, Sherlock emerged from 221c long enough to venture outside and get his picture taken on someone’s mobile. The same rag that declared him a fraud just a year ago is now running fuzzy photos of him on its cover in celebration of his return. Photographers and reporters are camped out in front of Speedy’s.

John ventures a look out the sitting room window only to whip the drapes shut when camera flashes begin to dazzle his vision.

“Jesus Christ,” he says, blinking away the points of light. “Is there no such thing as privacy anymore?”

There is no answer, because Sherlock has already repaired to 221c. In the heat of July, a lick of cold grips John’s core.

He crosses the room in four strides and bangs down the seventeen steps too loudly and stands in front of the closed door to 221c, chest heaving, adrenaline surging. He squeezes his eyes shut.

“Sherlock?” he calls, voice modulated into some semblance of evenness.


John takes a step back, counts his breaths. Up the stairs, he hears his mobile ring.

“I’ll be right upstairs,” he says. There is a grunt in response, and John plods back up the stairs, heart calming its mad flutter.

It’s Lestrade on the phone.

“Is it true?”

“Hello to you too, Greg.”

“John. I about had a heart attack with my morning cuppa.”

John heaves a sigh. “Yes, it’s true,” he says. “He showed up about four days ago and promptly set up shop in the basement flat doing God knows what. Mrs. Hudson keeps making increasingly elaborate dinners we have to leave out for him like some kind of puppy. I’m not even sure if he knows he’s got London in an uproar.”

There is a long near-silence during which John can discern the quality of Lestrade’s breath. Then,

“Think he’s up for visitors? And I can clear some of the vultures out while I’m at it.”

“He’s not letting anyone down there. I mean, you can come make a nuisance of yourself in the doorway like the rest of us, and he may or may not deign to show his face.”

“I’ll take my chances, I think.”

“Right. I suppose I’ll shower then.”

“Ta, mate, that would be the height of hospitality.”

“Fuck off, all bets are off when you invite yourself over to see the resident madman.”

“Resident miracle, you mean.”

John swallows, mirth sapped like desert dew. “We’re still working on an explanation,” he says. “You know how he gets when he has a project.”

“Let me guess: His Highness has no earthly clue you’re even there.”

John smiles, just a bit. “Sometimes he comes down from his throne to mingle with us common folk.”


“Right. Well, I’ll see you in a bit, yeah?”

Lestrade hangs up with a pledge to bring a paparazzi-blasting cannon along with him, and John takes one more trip to the doorway of 221c before going for that shower he promised.

When Lestrade arrives, he’s got his fists balled in his jean pockets, and his shoulders are hitched up and rolled inward. If it weren’t a sweltering summer day, John would say he is conserving heat. As it is, he’s nervous and a touch guilty. John can relate. The icy fingers locked around John’s insides can relate. He and John do a bit of not making eye contact as they stand there in the entryway, making no move toward the door to 221c.

“That picture was terrible,” Lestrade eventually says by way of greeting. “Out of focus and all, like bloody Sasquatch. I thought, ‘it can’t possibly be him.’”

“How long did you stare at it before deciding to call me?”

Lestrade flattens his mouth — a politic non-smile. “I almost raided the place unannounced. You should be grateful.”

John forced a smile. Grateful. Once upon a time, before Sherlock pitched himself off a roof, before John cracked in half, John and Lestrade had been mates. Down the pub, rib each other about footie teams type mates. It is only now, now when everything should be reordering itself back to Situation Normal, that John realises he’s not getting any of it back. Not Sherlock-as-flatmate-with-whom-I-have-an-understanding-about-being-in-love-but-never-being-together, not Lestrade-as-drinking-partner, and especially not John slightly-worse-for-wear-but-in-general-a-solid-fully-formed-bloke Watson. There is no magic reset button Sherlock hit by returning. It’s amazing, how many times in life one must have an epiphany to understand that the only direction available is forward.

“Right,” John says, clearing his throat. “Better come in properly.” John steps aside and gestures for Lestrade to lead the way. “Tea?”

“Oh, that’s all right, thanks. Trying to cut back on the caffeine and all.”

They loiter in front of the door to 221c.

“He’s not letting anyone in.”

“That’s fine.”

“He’ll probably just shout up at you.”

“Got it.”


“John.” Lestrade lays a hand on John’s shoulder and levels serious brown eyes at him. “I’m familiar with Himself. Thanks.”

John looks away, ducks out from underneath Lestrade’s hand, and starts up the stairs into his own flat.

“Well,” he says. “If you need anything.”


In the kitchen, John bangs the pots and pans about to do a proper fry up. Full English and coronary-inducing. Enough for everyone, especially Sherlock. Bacon, sausage, egg, tomato, beans, mushrooms, toast, and as loud a preparation as possible. He doesn’t want to hear the echo of Lestrade’s voice, with Sherlock’s intertwined. He could close the door between 221b and the stairs but that might be impolite. He fiddles with the ancient analogue radio gathering dust on the windowsill until he finds some station playing Lou Reed, and he turns it up as high as it will go.

He fishes Little Man from his trouser pocket, rubs his thumb over the smooth non-face — habit — and sets him down to stand on the counter. He opens a tin of beans and pours them into a saucepan, puts the gas on low. In a pan he places rashers and some sausage links. He rummages for tomatoes, mushrooms, a cutting board, and sharpens a knife for the job.

“Bit of a turn up, don’t you think?” he mutters.

Little Man, as ever, has nothing worthwhile to say.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m as glad as anything. Gladder. Christ, when I saw him…” John’s mouth snaps shut, and he brings the knife down on the flesh of the tomato with more force than is required. He swallows and thinks about his long-dead parents, their mismatched union. His dad had broken with the Church when he was quite a young man. He didn’t want his kids raised in that environment, he always said. But John’s mum, when his dad wasn’t around, taught them prayers.

John moves on to the mushrooms, slicing them into uneven cross sections.

“She’d tuck us in,” he says to Little Man, “and ask if we’d thanked God today for all good things. And if the day hadn’t been good, she said we could talk to God then too. But it was important not to forget about Him when things were good. It was important to be thankful. She said that, I remember.”

Lou Reed fades into Iggy Pop, some early 70s grind, and John makes a racket pulling four plates out and setting them on the table too hard. He whirls around again and lifts the cutting board to push the tomatoes and mushrooms into the bacon and sausages pan. Little Man stares without judgement.

“I think I’m somewhere between them, when it comes to God,” he says beneath the din of the Stooges. His mum thought there was a man in the sky, flowing robes and beard and all, sitting there and watching everything, judging. His dad liked to quote Marx — he would remind his family at length that religion was the opiate of the masses. A lie the establishment tricked everyone into believing to keep people docile and cowering. “Anyway, there’s room for middle ground, don’t you think? And it’s not so bad a thing, is it, to thank the universe for granting you your dearest wish?” He picks up a spatula and pushes the veg around just as things get sizzling. With his other hand he stirs the beans with a wooden spoon.

John catches sight of Little Man, his blank face worn smooth. “Christ,” he says. “Look at me. Talking to a doll. I have lost my damn mind.”

Burned against the redblack of John’s eyelids is the neverending film reel of Sherlock plummeting to the pavement.

“Of course I have,” John grumbles. “Might as well go with it. So, Little Anthropomorphised Wood Man, he came back. He came back, and I’m so glad, and grateful, and every thought in my head might as well be a prayer.” John puts four slices of bread into the toaster. “But I wonder. I wonder.”

What he wonders is something he cannot say aloud, not even to Little Man: can he survive this miracle, knowing Sherlock could spirit himself away again at any moment? Does he even want a miracle that can be dashed so easily? Would never knowing Sherlock walked among the living be better than having him disappear again? Hang the miracle — can John Watson survive another round of Sherlock Holmes?

Another pan, another burner, four eggs frying in butter. He turns down the music, stuffs Little Man back into his pocket, and shouts for Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, and Sherlock to join him.

Sherlock needs to be threatened a little, but he follows on Lestrade’s heels, pouting.

In the late evening, Sherlock finally cottons onto the offensiveness of his own stench — he’s at least two days without a wash — and goes to the loo for a shower. John trails in after him.

The space is cramped, barely big enough to accommodate two bodies. John has stitched Sherlock up in here, in a different life. This is where all their intimacy resided, once upon a time. Sherlock pauses, awkward, hand on shower curtain.

“Are you staying?” he asks.

John plants himself on the toilet lid and rests his elbows on his knees.

“Yes,” he says. When Sherlock is in his line of vision, John’s heart ceases its manic clatter against his ribs. So — yes. Of course, yes. “I won’t look.” John closes his eyes and turns his face away. He can still feel that familiar, assessing gaze on him. In the tiny, echoey space of the toilet, he can hear with heightened clarity Sherlock’s swallowing.

“It’s… it’s fine. You can look.”

John squeezes his eyes shut tighter and shakes his head. He hears Sherlock pull the curtain back and step into the tub. Only when he hears the slide of the curtain again does John open his eyes. He stares at the wall opposite him as the shower sputters and begins its flow. In his peripheral vision, Sherlock is a lithe, resplendent silhouette. Distantly, John can appreciate the beauty of this moment: Sherlock’s nakedness, literal and figurative, his vulnerability, the lines of his body, the very fact of his allowance of John’s presence here. Rather than inspiring lust, however, the display only makes John wish he were an artist capable of capturing all that Sherlock is. All his beauty, all his transience.

John ducks his head and links his hands together on his parietal bone. Head between his knees, he tries to regulate his breathing.


“I’m fine,” he says. “It’s fine. A bit of a headache, is all.”

“I saw paracetamol in the cabinet.”


“Four or five should do the trick.”

“Christ, Sherlock. More like one or two.”

Sherlock may or may not make a dismissive sound. If he does, it’s lost in the the spray of the shower.

That night, John cajoles Sherlock into leaving his project in the basement and getting some sleep. They share John’s bed. There is kissing — Sherlock initiates — and a less frantic push/pull of bodies in collision than their previous two encounters. But, in the wake of his orgasm, Sherlock still looks wrecked and lost, and John tries to soothe him with soft touches and closeness. They don’t speak. Afterward, when even London is quiet, Sherlock lets John rest his head between his shoulder blades, push his leg between Sherlock’s, sling an arm around his waist, claiming.

When John wakes in the morning, he’s alone, and his heart is pounding.

A few days later, Mycroft materialises in 221b and imposes on John’s hospitality. He can’t impose on Sherlock’s because Sherlock is ensconced in the basement again.

Mycroft looks lined and haggard, his pinstripe suit loose and ill-fitting. He sags into a chair and stirs his tea. He takes it with far too much cream. John sits opposite him and doesn’t bother suppressing the urge to tap his fingers against the armrest.

“Everyone settling in, John?” Mycroft asks in that way he has, where it’s not a question at all. “Cohabitation going swimmingly?” It seems, like most of Mycroft’s conversational offerings, like a trap. Mycroft knows John is terrified, awash in anxiety. John knows Mycroft knows, Mycroft knows John knows Mycroft knows, and so on. There is even room, somewhere in that miasma of knowing, for Mycroft to know that Sherlock manages to be oblivious to all of it. Why bother asking, John wonders? He clenches his jaw.

He settles on saying, “We’re making our way,” instead of something impolitic and unBritish.

“Surely you must return to St. Bart’s soon,” Mycroft says, tone all mild effrontery. “You teach there, yes?”

“Not during summer term, Mycroft. You know that.”

Mycroft hums, lifts his teacup to his lips and does not sip.

“Mycroft.” John’s lasted all of thirty seconds of forced gentility. His jaw will be sore from all the tooth-grinding soon. “What do you want?”

Mycroft sets his cup down and sighs.

“I need to speak with Sherlock about a manner of some… delicacy. I refuse to hover in the doorway to his little playroom and shout down like some kind of child minder.” John does not miss the quick, deliberate scan Mycroft does of his person.

“You think you can out-stubborn him?” John snorts. “I have doubts as to your stamina in that arena, Mycroft.”

Mycroft’s mouth takes on a sour little twist.

“No, I thought you could fetch him, like the very skilled handler you are.”

John’s mouth hardens.

“So is he a pet or is he a toddler?” he asks in an even voice. “You ought to watch your metaphors, lest you mix them, mate.”

John gets up and stomps down the stairs. He pounds on 221c’s door, then pushes it open without waiting for a response.

“Get up here and talk to your brother before I’m arrested for assault!”

There’s a crash, and some kind of exclamation of disgust, and then Sherlock is up the stairs and brushing past John, poised to hurl abuse at his brother. But Mycroft raises one smooth hand and stops the onslaught by saying,

“Malcolm Norbury has passed away.”

Abruptly Sherlock sinks into his chair, looking suddenly aged. Frozen in the doorway, John furrows his brow.

“When?” Sherlock asks.

“Just after your triumphant return, though before it was revealed to the world. It seems, however, that he knew your little secret anyway and kept it quite close to his chest.” With a flourish, Mycroft produces an envelope from within his suit jacket and hands it to Sherlock, who snatches it away with greedy fingers.

“Have you read this?”


Sherlock snarls, and John turns to tiptoe up to his bedroom to give the infuriating pair of them their privacy, but Sherlock’s voice stops him.

“John, stay. Mycroft, you leave.”

Mycroft huffs a great, long-suffering sigh and stands. “There will be a service tomorrow,” he says. “I expect you’ll be there, and I expect you’ll behave like a human being. I’ll send a car.” He fiddles with his umbrella, gives John a stiff nod, and avails himself of the exit.

John takes hesitant steps to Sherlock’s chair. He’s turning the envelope over in his hands, inspecting it. He scrubs at his scalp with a balled fist. John reaches out to touch him, but comes just short of his shoulder. He can’t bring himself to cross the centimetres between them.

“Are you all right?”

How preposterous — to ask someone, even Sherlock, if he’s all right mere moments after he’s heard someone has died. Someone John presumes he was close to, or Mycroft wouldn’t have come in person. There’s no such thing as all right, maybe never will be again. He tucks his lips behind his teeth and bites them.

Sherlock wipes a hand over his brow, sets the envelope down unopened, and extends his arm toward John. John comes close and lets Sherlock wrap that arm around his hip. Sherlock presses his face into John’s stomach, and John runs his fingers through shorn hair. The hollows inside him ache.

“He was old and had emphysema,” Sherlock mumbles. “Grief would be irrational.”

“Oh, Sherlock. It’s okay to mourn someone, no matter how natural their death seems.”

Sherlock shrugs John off of him, as if he weren’t the one to plaster himself all over John’s body in the first place. He gets up and begins to pace.


“This wouldn’t have happened before,” Sherlock says, voice harsh. He gestures toward his midsection before attempting unsuccessfully to yank at his own hair. “This, this twisting, ugh.”

John sighs and takes a seat on the sofa.

“Take a deep breath and come sit over here.”



“No, I have to go. I have to finish my surprise. I have to stop thinking—”

“Or, you can sit here for twenty minutes and tell me about your friend.”

Sherlock pauses then, skewering John with a flinty gaze. His mouth is a contemptuous little knot marring his face.

“He was not my friend.”

John purses his lips and crosses his arms.

“What was he then, to have you in such a lather? Another arch-enemy? Or, no, let me guess, some wonderful distraction from the rest of us Great Unwashed?” John shakes his head and pushes himself up to stand in Sherlock’s space.


“No, this is fun! Who does the great Sherlock Holmes deem worthy of his grief? Certainly not a friend, no no no, how common, it must be something else, something greater.” He pushes at Sherlock’s chest and Sherlock gives ground, steps back. “Tell me, Sherlock, did he set off bombs like symphonies, or could you be dazzled by something less showy back then?” John shoves him again. “Maybe a kidnapping or two, a couple of light torture sessions?” Another shove, and he’s got Sherlock against a wall. “What does it take? What does it fucking take, Sherlock, for a little consideration from you? What do I have to do? Tell me! Tell me! Just say the word and I’ll bloody do it. God help me, I really will!”

Sherlock gasps his name again, a single, meaningless syllable.

“Do you have any idea?” John shouts. Distantly, he’s aware of his raised voice, of the way he’s making the furniture rattle, but he has no earthly concept of how to sop the flood now. “Do you have any idea what it did to me, watching you fall? Watching you die? You fucking awful, selfish shit, you bastard son of a bitch, you fucking made me watch you die! You did that to me! You can’t take it back, not with all the miracles in the fucking world! Jesus Christ, Sherlock, you made me watch you die!”

By the time he’s finished, John is panting, his eyes are burning, and he has Sherlock’s t-shirt in a grip it might never recover from. Sherlock is flushed, and his breath comes quickly too. John chokes on his stuttering breath and pushes his face into Sherlock’s chest, holding on. He tries not to gag around the effort it takes not to weep.

Sherlock closes his hands around John’s wrists, gentle but firm, and extracts him from his body. He guides John back down to the sofa, where John sags as if his spine has been held together only by tension and closely lashed truths, now loosed and floating in the ether, unable to keep him upright any longer. Sherlock settles in next to him, and they are two strange peas in the pod of the sofa — close enough to share breath, side by side, but separate, hands kept to themselves. Sherlock leans his forehead against John’s, but John is shattered, squeezing his eyes shut, boneless and devastated.

“Mr. Norbury was my father, when my own father — when Mycroft’s father couldn’t bear the sight of me,” Sherlock says quietly.

John imagines he can feel his own chest cracking in two. Shame is a blossoming heat rising from his gut to the crown of his head.

“Oh God, Sherlock, I’m so sorry—”

“Shh,” Sherlock murmurs. “You weren’t to know. And who he was doesn’t negate… anything. I’ve not been taking very good care of you, have I?”

John says nothing. Swallows.

Sherlock gives a humourless bark of a laugh. “My first go at this caring lark, and look where it’s got us. Coming to blows over a curmudgeonly groundskeeper.” He stands and sweeps a hand around. “Come on, John. I want to show you what I’ve been making.”

John congratulates himself on all the tears that have gone unshed in the last few minutes and sits up with as much dignity as he can muster.

“What about the surprise?” he asks, then feels promptly like a tit.

“Pfft.” Sherlock flicks a wrist at the air around his head. “It won’t be done for some time anyway. Probably shouldn’t have kept it from you in the first place. It’s for you, after all.”

He turns to lead the way down to 221c, and John follows. As ever, he thinks.

221c is awash in wood, wood shavings, vices, saws, carving tools. The tiny windows are open, but they don’t do enough to ventilate the hazy smell of glue hanging in the air. Sherlock leads John to a worktable, where, in a complicated series of clamps, John can recognise the body of an incipient violin. A glance underneath the worktable tells him Sherlock went through several failed attempts before carving out this one to his standards.

“Oh,” he says.

“Do you like it?” Sherlock bounces once on his toes before appearing to rein himself in. John looks between his face — his dear, ridiculous, excited face — and the worktable. Tries to smile.

“I didn’t know you could do this.” He reaches out to touch it. It really is quite nice, and the workmanship is as flawless as he might expect from any Sherlock Holmes production.

“I couldn’t — I taught myself. Books and youtube, John.”

“I see.”

Sherlock’s expression dims. “What is it? You don’t like it. I made it for you.”

John can’t help it — a cracked little laugh bubbles up from his throat.

“Oh, Sherlock, no you didn’t. You made it for you.”

“I was going to play it for you!”

“You could do that on your regular violin.”

Sherlock’s hanging mouth snaps shut and he stares, brow furrowed, at his work.

“I wanted to make you something significant,” he says. “To create what wasn’t there before, the way lovers do.”

John smiles, a sad little thing.

“Didn’t you say we already had? When you first came back.” At Sherlock’s pensive frown, John shakes his head. “I’m being an arse. It’s a beautiful gift, Sherlock. You’ve done something — incomparable. I could never hope to achieve even this much.” He gestures to the smooth body, the painstakingly moulded sides. “You should finish it.”

Sherlock comes up close behind him and touches the violin, palm gentle on its belly as if it’s a newborn. He doesn’t say anything.

The memorial service paints a picture of Malcolm Norbury as a hardworking, taciturn man who kept the grounds of the Holmes family manor immaculate even when there were no Holmeses left in occupation. He was a husband and a father and a grandfather. He was a tireless gardener and an inveterate smoker, a keeper of mutts and a maker of wooden trinkets. John cannot fathom how this altogether sensible and decent human being fit into Sherlock’s life.

Later, they are in his cottage, and his daughter Ainsley, a solid woman a bit older than Mycroft by whom both he and Sherlock seem cowed, pours some pints and shoves them into John, Sherlock, and Mycroft’s hands. Mycroft looks at his as if surprised and affronted by its presence, but gathers himself when Ainsley raises a challenging eyebrow in his direction.

“So,” Ainsley says as she leads the way into another room. “Whatever are we going to do with his lathe?” She flicks on a light to reveal a workroom, neat and orderly with only the smallest piles of wood dust in every nook. Mycroft presses a hand to the antique lathe in the far corner of the room and closes his eyes. John glances at Sherlock, who in turn is staring hard enough at Mycroft’s back that John fears it might catch fire.

Neither Holmes seems inclined to answer her and the silence grows itchier and itchier until John ventures an innocuous question.

“Do you do woodwork, Ms. Norbury?”

Ainsley smirks at him, and suddenly John’s head fills with images of a brawny little girl messing up Mycroft’s suit, sitting on his head in the mud, tripping him at every available opportunity — and never getting caught.

“We’re not all of us as gifted as my da, Dr. Watson,” she says. “He was an artist.” She nods at Sherlock pointedly.

“Right,” John says faintly. He clears his throat. “Well. I mean. It’s an heirloom, isn’t it? All… old and such. It belongs in the family, surely.”

Sherlock snaps from his reverie to roll his eyes at John.

Ainsley is as subtle as she is delicate, John,” he says. “She wants me to take it, and if I won’t, she’ll press Mycroft. Possibly literally.” He clasps his hands together around his pint and grins at the prospect. John can’t even tell if he’s shamming such naked glee.

Ainsley snorts.

“Oh, Pinocchio,” she says, “it’s no fun now that he doesn’t cry.”

Sherlock sneers and takes a long slug of beer. Mycroft turns from his inspection of the lathe to join the conversation.

“He’ll take it, of course,” he says.

“Who says?”

“I do,” Mycroft replies. “And Mr. Norbury. And you, come to think of it, with that pathetic attempt at recreating this space in 221c. This lathe is your legacy, Sherlock. You will accept it with grace.” Mycroft faces Ainsley fully. “I’ll arrange for transportation within the week. Does that suit?”

Ainsley taps her pint against Mycroft’s.

“Ta,” she says, “and don’t forget the box of books he labelled with that one’s name all over it.” She waves at a cabinet.

Sherlock opens it and crouches to pull the box out. It’s half rotted, but he opens it and looks pleased at the contents.

“Yes,” he says. “I know just what to do with these.”

In the car on the way back to London, John has approximately five billion questions he can’t bring himself to ask, mostly to do with the singular childhood Sherlock must have had on those sprawling, lonely grounds. Sherlock’s profile is sharp and striking as he watches eastern England pass by his window.

“It was stranger than you’re imagining,” he says then, and really, John should be less surprised at the deduction of his thoughts, but he isn’t. He wonders if he ever will be. “And more normal, too, I’d wager.”

“Is that so?” John smiles and inches his smallest finger over to touch Sherlock’s hand. He sees one side of Sherlock’s mouth quirk in answer. “And what, pray tell, did these normal antics entail?”

“Oh you know. Disgusting pranks on Mycroft’s food, horsemanship lessons, hide and seek in the hedge labyrinth, the usual sort of thing.”

John snorts. “I actually think we’re operating on very different definitions of the word ‘normal,’ Sherlock.” He squeezes Sherlock’s hand properly now and adds affectionately, “Posh git.”

Sherlock yanks his hand away, swivels to face him, and sweeps his eyes down John’s front and up again.

“To be fair, John, alcoholism, depression, and gambling addictions aren’t usually considered normal, either.”

John’s mouth pinches and the swell in his heart rapidly deflates.

“Why are you like this? Why do you always go for the low blow?”

Sherlock’s gaze shutters, and he turns back to the window.

“You know how I am. You’ve always known. I can’t be something else just because we’re — whatever we are, now.”

“You could attempt to be more considerate, you know. You could decide not to use your skills to cut the people you care about down. It wouldn’t kill you.”

“I think you’re quite unfamiliar with what will and will not kill me.”

John flushes, remembering Sherlock’s broken body on the pavement, his blood spreading beneath his crushed skull like so much spilt milk. Sweat springs to the skin of his back with surprising alacrity. He catches his bottom lip between his teeth and bites down hard enough to distract from the hot clawing sensation rising from the base of his spine. He leans over to knock on the partition, and the window rolls smoothly down.

“Could you stop the car please?” he asks the driver.

“Oh, John, don’t be like—”

“No, you know how I am,” John spits. “You’ve always known. I can’t be something else just because we’re whatever we are now.”

John throws the door open with more force than necessary when the driver pulls over. Clambering out of a car is not as dramatic as one might think, and far more awkward, and Sherlock is able to get a grip on John’s sleeve before he can make an escape.

“Let me go, Sherlock.”

“How do you imagine you’ll get home, John?”

“They have these fancy things called buses, nowadays. Oh, and mobile phones, and trains.”


“And don’t worry, I’ll get out of your lack of hair as soon as I can. Maybe the Mike Stamford flatmate matching company has improved in the last three bloody years.” John tries to wrench away, but Sherlock tangles their legs together and locks his other arm around John’s waist. “Sherlock. Let me go, I’m serious.”

“John, please. Please don’t do this.”

John shoves Sherlock hard, but their legs are still entwined and they topple. He ends up sprawled on top of Sherlock in the expansive backseat. Sherlock locks his arms around him and John is trapped. He slumps into Sherlock’s warm, sharp-angled body, panting.

“You don’t care at all,” he whispers. “You don’t even know how.” He lets out a hollow laugh. “God, I should have known.”

“I know how. You taught me.”

“Don’t do that, Sherlock. Don’t sham me on this.”

“John. John, I wasn’t real until I met you.”

“Shut up, Sherlock.”

“It’s true. It’s all true.”

“I can’t listen to you fabricate the things you think I want to hear. It hurts too much, do you understand that, Sherlock?”

“John!” Sherlock jostles him and contorts enough to force John to meet his eyes. “I’m not shamming, I swear. I swear.”

“I can’t do this. I just can’t do this.”


“I have to go, Sherlock. Please let me go.”

He does. John closes the car door behind him and straightens his suit before he begins to walk westward, Little Man clenched in hand.

When John does return to Baker Street, he feels grubby from a night in Harry’s presence and a full day in the same starchy, funereal clothes. He’s met with silence — if Sherlock’s in the basement, he’s not knocking around making a nuisance of himself. There’s a bit of wood on the fourth stair up to 221b — John picks it up on his ascent. There’s another in the jamb and —

Strewn across the floor of the flat is Sherlock’s homemade violin, splintered and scattered as if Sherlock had repeatedly whipped it at the floor, at the wall, at any surface that could do it damage. John’s stomach turns cold and flips. His hand rests instinctively on the lump Little Man makes in his trouser pocket. The familiar hard shape of him there calms the seizure of his insides.

“Sherlock?” he calls out. He had intended to slip in and out unannounced — he has little in the way of belongings, and it wouldn’t take long. But now, his body is falling into the familiar rhythm of protecting Sherlock, making sure he’s safe. He does a sweep of the entire flat before running down the stairs to throw open the door of 221c and storming that too.

Sherlock is sitting at his worktable, hunched over a plank of mahogany, sanding it. He looks up, lips parted.

“Jesus, Sherlock. What the hell?”


“What happened to your violin? What are you doing?”

Sherlock turns back to his task.

“I got it wrong,” he says. “I always miss something.”


Sherlock leans the plank against the worktable. He meets John’s eyes for a moment before dropping his gaze again. He begins to fiddle with the sandpaper in his hands.

“While I was away, I learned what pain was,” he says. “The physical, of course — that was new and terrible in its own way. But worse was the gnawing ache that felt physical but had no convenient remedy, and only got worse. Your absence.”

John refuses to acknowledge the thickness gathering at the base of his throat. Sherlock continues.

“And you—” Sherlock makes a vague gesture toward him. “—and me, and this, us. It’s been so — overwhelming. Like a balloon that won’t stop expanding inside me, rearranging my organs, pressing everything too close. Then there was something beyond that, something big, pushing at the edges of my awareness, and I kept missing it, and missing it, and missing it. It was driving me spare, John. But then, yesterday I realised what it was, connected the painfully obvious dots, and it was so simple, so stupid. You’ll be pleased, I think, to know how monumentally stupid I’ve been.”

“What,” John croaks.

Sherlock tilts his head and looks John in the eye.

“That as surely as I had suffered, so had you. That I had been the cause of your suffering. That I cause it still.”

John cannot open his mouth. If he does, surely his heart will leap from his throat and embarrass him beyond redemption.

“Logically I knew I’d hurt you, but only yesterday did I understand what that meant. I couldn’t bear it, thinking you felt what I felt when we were apart. That you felt more acutely our separation because you thought it a permanent one. And now, for you to think I didn’t hold you in the same regard as you held me, to think I was indifferent to you — no. No, John, I couldn’t bear that.

“I came down here yesterday after you’d chosen the bloody M2 over me, and I saw that perfectly ludicrous violin, and I hated it with everything in me capable of feeling. It wasn’t what the intimacy between us had wrought. It wasn’t the purest expression of my esteem for you. It was everything that was wrong with me, everything you saw that I could not, everything awful and selfish about me.”


“It was absurd, John. It was insulting and absurd. It had to be destroyed.”

For a long moment, the only sound in the makeshift workroom is their breath, unmatched, uneven. Then,



“Tell me how you survived the fall.”

Sherlock gets up, and for a wild moment John thinks he’s going to leave, but instead he crouches behind the staircase and rummages through the mouldy box Mr. Norbury bequeathed him. He emerges again rifling through a book, then thrusts it into John’s hands and taps a drawing of a life-size wooden artist’s model lying in parts on a worktable, beset by clamps and vices. The book is old, tissue-thin pages on the verge of crumbling under the weight of John’s fingertips, and the text looks not-quite-Irish, faded and barely legible.

“What is this?”

“Transmogrification of wood. It’s what he did, John. To make me.”

John flicks his eyes up to meet Sherlock’s, which are slate grey and grave. John anchors himself by the amber fleck in Sherlock’s right eye.

“I don’t understand,” he says. “You have to help me out.”

Sherlock takes the book away and sets it on the worktable. He steps into John’s space, too close, and John’s breath catches. Sherlock reaches toward him only to skim one hand down his side until it rests on the bump of Little Man.

“This is willow. That’s what he made my head from. The rest was spruce and maple. Just like a violin.”

John steps back, shaking his head.

“Why are you saying this?”

“John. John, you have to believe me.”

“Making up children’s stories. God, and you sounded so sincere. How can I ever believe anything you say? How?”

“John, please.”

“Jesus.” John passes a hand over his eyes. “No. No. This is unbelievable. You’re unbelievable. I’m leaving.”

“John, no. No, no, no.” And Sherlock’s close again, close enough to feel his heat, his heartbeat. He wraps long arms around John’s body, buries his face in John’s neck. He smells like the wood he keeps sanding.

“Sherlock, stop it.” John is rigid in his arms, poised to escape.

“I was willow and spruce and maple,” Sherlock says into John’s skin. “I was a gift for a grieving mother and a lonely boy. I was hopes and fairy dust and dreams until it wasn’t enough, until the spark turned to flesh turned to pulse. Until I met you, John. Until I plummeted to the earth and rose again, blood and bone for love of you.”

John’s breath is ragged. “God,” he gasps. “God, Sherlock.”

“I’m still feeling my way around this body, around all these feelings. I can’t promise I’ll always get it right, but I’ll get better, John. I swear I’ll get better. Just — stay. Please stay.”

John’s stubborn, misplaced resolve begins to crack and crumble.

“Oh Christ, Sherlock,” he says. “No one gets it right all the time.” He lets the tension bleed away, lets his arms do what they long to do — wrap around Sherlock in turn, hold on so tightly he grinds Sherlock’s bones together until he groans. He groans, but doesn’t complain. He only hitches John closer, and closer still.

Belief is beside the point. Belief is incidental to fact. Fact: Sherlock Holmes is warm in John’s arms, breathing humid air into his neck, alive by grace of God, or the universe, or a groundskeeper named Norbury.

“Okay,” John says. “Okay.”

A tremor wracks Sherlock’s body, and soon big, fine-boned hands are cupping John’s face, and Sherlock’s lips are on his, sweet and soft.

“I’ve started a new surprise,” Sherlock murmurs against John’s mouth. Their foreheads are pressed together, and Sherlock’s thumbs trace John’s cheekbones over and over. John gives Sherlock’s waist a squeeze.

“Do I get to know what it is this time?” he asks.

“I’m beginning to think you don’t know the meaning of the word, John.”

“If you’d really wanted it to be a surprise, you wouldn’t have told me about it.”



Sherlock disengages himself from John and turns back to the worktable to run his hands over the smooth mahogany plank.

“I’ll need different lumber of course, but I ordered it already. Maybe this can be a hutch or something.”

John comes to stand beside him, to peer at the whorls in the wood.

“A hutch.”

“For your desk, John. For your writing. I’m building you a proper desk, so you don’t have to write at the sitting room table with all that rubbish everywhere anymore. Ergonomic, the right height, drawers and all.”

“Sherlock that’s—” John falters, collects himself. Sherlock, despite himself, occasionally gets it very right, this caring lark. “That is so kind of you. It’s perfect. Just the thing.”

Sherlock gives a little shrug and John catches a curl about the corner of his mouth.

“And a little bed for this one,” he adds with a poke at Little Man in John’s pocket again. “Cashmere of course. Only the very best for bits of me, obviously.”

John catches Sherlock’s wrist and presses a kiss into his pulse point. Belief, the truth — they’ll come in good time. For now, John has Sherlock’s conviction, his attention, and a flat to clean. He flicks his eyes up and meets Sherlock’s, lush and green and full of wonder.

“The very best,” he says.