Actions

Work Header

Paved with Good Intentions

Chapter Text

In the weeks after Sherlock jumps—twelve of them, to be exact—John remembers poignantly the feel of Sherlock's hand in his own, of holding into him by the hand, of now people will definitely talk. He thinks that, if he had not undone those handcuffs, had kept Sherlock's hand in his, Moriarty would not have been able to get Sherlock alone, that he would never have been able to force him to jump off that building. He knows it's irrational, but after Sherlock dies, it feels as though all rationality has been taken from his life, and he doesn't care.

When Lestrade is making him listen to the recording they recovered from Sherlock's cracked phone (Closure, Lestrade had said, although when John was done listening to it all he felt was desolation) John can actually feel Sherlock's hand in his own. Its warmth, its weight. He wonders about all those times that he could have reached out and taken Sherlock's hand, and yet he did it only once.

So much time and opportunity wasted.

Their reunion, when Sherlock does return to Baker Street, to London, and to John, is explosive. Sherlock has his reasons for leaving, John knows this, but it doesn't stop his rage. It doesn't stop the relief from flooding into his body so quickly that it dislodges all of the anger and resentment that he'd kept hidden inside as well. It doesn't stop him from instinctively balling his hands into fists and giving Sherlock a couple of good punches.

It had not, in hindsight, been the best idea. Sherlock had been swaying on his feet as it was. But it had been the only thing he could think to do, and Sherlock hadn't held it against him. For too long, that is.

Things, obviously, do not go right back to normal. There is a madman named Sebastian Moran that has placed a target squarely on Sherlock's life—perhaps even John's—and is just manic enough to stop at nothing until he avenges Moriarty. There is a week of running around, dodging bullets and general cacophony that ends with Sherlock in a hospital bed and John beside him, staring at his friend and willing him to wake up.

Minor concussion, broken leg, exhaustion the doctors had said. Nothing life-threatening or incredibly dangerous, but debilitating. Best to let him sleep, they told John and they are not at Bart's so no one even knows he's a doctor, and he doesn't have the willpower to speak up and tell them he knows what the prognosis and treatment for Sherlock is, thank you, now will you leave me alone. I had him diagnosed before the ambulance even arrived you overconfident snobs.

They are at some private hospital and the private room and decreased wait time are almost not worth suffering through the inflated egos of the doctors and the short-temperedness of the nursing staff. John assures them on the second day that they needn't check in on him every hour; that Sherlock is in good hands with John, that if there's anything wrong he'll alert them. NHS regulations are no so applicable here as they are elsewhere, so the nurses listen to him.

Mycroft seems to be the only one aware of where exactly Sherlock is, aside from John, because he is the only one that visits the entire four days Sherlock is in hospital. On the second day, he brings John a change of clothes and watches over Sherlock as he showers in the en-suite bathroom. Mycroft leaves and, shortly thereafter, Sherlock wakes up.

He stirs, slowly and gently, and the first thing he does is roll over and gag bile onto the floor. John clucks his tongue and buzzes for a nurse, has her bring a ginger ale that Sherlock does not want to drink ("Vomiting is less painful than dry heaving, Sherlock, and it might settle your stomach.") and a bucket. Sherlock falls back asleep quickly, after drinking half the soda and being medicated for concussion-related nausea, and John settles in to read a book.

Sherlock wakes up again that night, around midnight, and it's less eventful. His eyes look clearer, and he does not have the need to immediately retch, so all is relatively well. He looks small on the hospital bed, small in a way that a grown, six-foot-two man never should. His hair has, for some unfathomable reason, been died red. His roots are showing, though. He looks like he hasn't showered in a month and, for all John knows, he hasn't.

John quietly says, "You owe me an extended explanation."

"I know," Sherlock mutters, voice rough from his own stomach acid. "I'll need more time to gather my thoughts. I didn't exactly write anything down."

"You can take your time," John says. "But I won't be left in the dark forever."

"I won't leave you in the dark," Sherlock mumbles. His long fingers pick a fuzz on his blanket and eventually he says, "What are you reading?"

To be honest, John picked up the book at random, from the bookshelf in the family waiting room, and didn't actually bother to glance at the title. Flipping it over, he says, "Er…the twentieth volume of Encyclopedia Britannica." It's not exactly stimulating reading, and he lost interest almost as soon as he picked up the book, but he needs something to do with his hands. Handling the monstrous book and turning its pages had proved satisfactory in that department.

What would be the odds, he wonders, of convincing Mycroft to bring him a decent book?

"Will you read it to me?" Sherlock mutters, quietly. His left eye is still swollen shut from Moran's monstrous fist, but the right one stares out at him earnestly. "I'm bored."

"Do you want me to bring you a book?" John inquires, already half-out of his chair. Maybe another glance at the bookshelf will bring to light something a little less dry than the Sahara desert to read, and if not he could hand off the encyclopedia to Sherlock. He likes that kind of mind-numbing text.

"I can't read," Sherlock says.

John's eyes widen. "What? You can't comprehend the text? Your concussion may have given you brain damage; I have to tell your doctor."

He's half out of his seat before, smiling slightly, Sherlock shakes his head and says, "No, nothing like that. Reading with only one eye makes my head hurt, and at this point I don't want my headache to get any worse." He gestures towards the book and says, "So?"

Nodding, John reopens the book and scoots closer, so he can read quietly and Sherlock can still hear him. Crosses his legs and rests the book in his lap. The weight of its own pages keeps it open, and he sets his hand on the mattress next to Sherlock's. He begins, "The Great Salt Lake—A massive saltwater lake located in Utah, United States. It is the biggest salt lake in the Western Hemisphere—" he stops, because Sherlock grabs his hand.

Sherlock says, "I…the last few months without you have been…" He sighs and chews on the inside of his own cheek. "I…"

"I missed you too," John murmurs. "More…more than I could ever possibly say."

"I'm sorry, John."

"I know," John replies. Squeezes Sherlock's hand and continues, "And I'll forgive you…just not today." To take any heat off the words, he leans forward and gently kisses Sherlock's bruised forehead, then sits back and retakes his hand. "Shall I continue?"

"Please," Sherlock says, and John settles in to read.

He holds Sherlock's hand, and continues to do so even after they both fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Getting Sherlock up seventeen steps with a cast on his leg is a challenge. It involves Sherlock, one arm slug over John's back, being half-carried upstairs, griping all the way. Halfway up, John entertains the idea of dropping him. Had Mrs. Hudson not been tottering along behind them, carrying Sherlock's crutches (Almost as tall as her), he probably would have. However, dropping him would also present the possibility of another break, and the last thing John needs is more to take care of. So he eases the complaining detective up the stairs and into the living room of Baker Street.

"It's so clean," Sherlock mutters, staring around distastefully. "I don't like it."

Rolling his eyes, John drops him none-too gently on the sofa and goes to take the crutches from Mrs. Hudson.

"I'll just be downstairs if you need antyhing," she says, and heads back downstairs. In the confusion and relief of Sherlock's return, she's forgotten to remind them that she is not their housekeeper.

Sherlock is still muttering about the cleanliness of the flat when John returns from the landing. "Where are all of my papers? My reference material? What did you do with it?"

Irritably, John says, "Well, the Yard started it by taking back every cold case, personnel record, and unauthorized evidence file you'd stolen from them over the years. I figured I might as well finish the job. Don't worry—I packed everything that looked useful or important into a box upstairs. They should be in your closet."

"I'm supposed to rely on your judgment of what looks important and what doesn't?" Sherlock demands incredulously, rearing his head back in an expression of intense displeasure. It makes him look rather like a ruffled pigeon, but John can't bring himself to chuckle. At the moment, his 'humor' switch is broken, and the repairman is on an extended leave. So John stomps upstairs, grabs the three boxes all piled on top of each other in Sherlock's closet, and comes back downstairs.

Sherlock looks up when they are dropped onto the coffee table.

"These two boxes," John points to the leftmost one, and the center one, "Are from the living room. The other one is things I gathered from the rest of the flat. I kept everything that wasn't ripped, stained, or blank." He opens the box, takes out an envelope, and hands the contents to Sherlock. "I even kept the receipts from the chemical supply store, for God's sake."

Slowly, Sherlock looks from the receipts to John and says, "I thought you said you only kept important things?"

John shakes his head and, in spite of himself, laughs. Says, "It was all important, Sherlock. Every last thing. It was all I had to remember you by. So I kept it. I had to limit myself, of course, or else I'd have to admit that I had a problem…So the things that were ripped up beyond recognition, or were stained with tea or coffee, or blank, I threw away. And that made up a lot of the mess, I'll admit. This was everything left. All of your personal reference material."

"You organized it," Sherlock mutters.

Sitting down on the couch, John drags one of the boxes closer and says, "Yeah. Organization, contrary to your personal belief, does make things easier to find. I figured I'd need the material someday, if I did publish a book…about you, and what we did. I couldn't bring myself to look at it, though; everything was too raw. So I put it in your closet and tried…tried to forget about it, I suppose."

Sherlock sets down the receipts and asks, "Why didn't you just say that in the first place?"

"Because…" John sighs and sits back, careful not to jostle Sherlock's leg. "Because I was hoping you'd just let it be, and…well, that when you did find it, you wouldn't ask." Even he realizes that his attempt at nonchalance had failed, but it's a wonder that Sherlock was even perceptive enough to notice it. Then again, he could have chosen less suspicious wording than 'everything important.'

John puts the tops back on the boxes and carries them back upstairs. When he comes back down, Sherlock is sitting up on the sofa, rather than reclining like John had left him. He looks pensive. John sits down beside him and, as he'd gotten used to in the hospital, takes his hand. For a minute, they sit there silently.

"I don't know what to say," Sherlock mutters.

"Perhaps," John muses, "'Thank you, John, for saving all of my reference material.'" He rubs his thumb along Sherlock's knuckles and says, "Part of me wanted to get rid of all of it, you know? Just start over new. I felt like, if I got rid of it…I could move on faster. I almost wanted to forget you. But I knew that wouldn't be a good idea."

"Thank you, John," Sherlock mutters. He squeezes John's hand.

They are silent for a few minutes more. Even the street below their window is quiet, which is odd for Baker Street. It's as if London itself is conspiring to bring them the quiet they so desperately need. John stares out the window and watches twilight set in, and Sherlock contemplates the far wall. Neither notices how long they sit there, but when John finally stirs—to put the kettle on, of course—it's gone dark and the flat has gone cold.

"Mrs. Hudson hasn't been keeping the heat on while we've been gone," Sherlock mutters irritably, and pulls the heavy wool blanket John's taken to keeping on the sofa over himself. John, on his way back in from the kitchen, turns up the thermostat and retakes his place next to Sherlock. Grabs the remote and sets the television at a dull roar. He tugs on the blanket and mutters, "Oy, give me some."

Rolling his eyes, Sherlock forfeits a corner of the blanket and sinks into the sofa, covering himself up to his shoulders. John toes off his shoes and brings his legs up to lay across the sofa, leans his back against Sherlock's side and crosses his arms to get comfortable. It's only eight o'clock or so, and yet his eyes are drooping. He heaves a sigh and mutters, "I think I'll go to bed soon."

"Alright," Sherlock mumbles, but neither of them move.

Twenty minutes come and go before Sherlock speaks again, to say, "John…do you believe in second chances?"

"How so?" John inquires. It's a strange question coming from Sherlock, and it's worded strangely besides.

"Do you believe that…a man can change who he is, given the chance?"

Shrugging, John says, "A man can so anything if he puts his mind to it…but I don't understand why someone would want to change who they are. Become better, yeah, but not completely change. That would make him an entirely different man." John is no fool; he knows why Sherlock is asking the question. Slowly, he adds, "If a man is given a second chance…he has to look at it as a way to improve, and a way to right wrongs. Not an opportunity to become someone else and shuck all responsibility. The responsibility is always going to be there, Sherlock. Changing yourself won't change that. But you can avoid further hurt and pain." He grabs Sherlock's hand under the blanket. "This is a second chance to right your wrongs and do what you know is right…not to continue hiding."

"Have I wronged you John?" Sherlock asks.

Yes, John thinks, and I've wronged you, in more ways than one. But what he says is, "That's for you to figure out."

Quietly, Sherlock nods and wraps his arm around John's chest. John reclines his head until it hits Sherlock's shoulder, and closes his eyes.

"All I could think about," Sherlock mutters, "is that…I'd left so much unsaid."

"So say it now," John suggests, opening one eye.

"I can't," Sherlock sighs, and he sounds pained. "I'm not ready yet."

Nodding, John says, "Alright. You know where I am when you are."

He closes his eyes again, and squeezes Sherlock's hand. Sherlock is warm and solid against him, feelings that he doesn't think he's experienced for a long time, especially not from another person. He takes a breath of Sherlock-scented air—clean cotton and something almost spicy—and sinks into sleep.

Chapter Text

Two weeks after Sherlock returns from hospital, he's still languishing on the sofa. Lestrade cannot bring him in on any cases until he has the felony charges against him cleared, and that will not happen until they can process the statements John made in regards to the supposed kidnapping. He also can't bring Sherlock in to consult until he's officially declared alive once more, and that's a slow-going process as well.

So Sherlock has been bored. And, as so many people in London know, a bored Sherlock Holmes is like encountering a hellhound.

John has had quite enough of it.

"Get up," he snaps to the prone figure on the couch. Sherlock has his leg propped backwards on the arm rest, which can't be good for him, although Sherlock would argue that the doctor had told him to keep it elevated; not the specific direction the foot had to be facing. It makes John terribly nervous, because if the bone heals in just slightly the wrong way, Sherlock could limp for the rest of his life, and that's not something John would wish on anyone. He knows how cumbersome it can be.

Sherlock groans into his pillow and mutters, "Why should I?"

"Because I'll be forced to pick you up and flip you right over if you don't," John says, slamming Sherlock's teacup on the coffee table with more force than necessary.

"You can't lift me."

"Want a bet?" John walks over to his chair and sits down, turning on the television. "Drink your tea. I'm not taking that cup away until it's all gone, and I don't care if it goes cold; you're going to drink it." It would seem that Sherlock has been amusing himself by making John prepare endless cups of tea. It's one of the reasons why John, usually incredibly patient, is at his absolute wit's end today.

Instead of listening to John—because that would be too difficult, wouldn't it?—Sherlock lifts up his crutches from where they lean against the side of the couch and uses them to lever himself up. He then uses them to hobble over to his armchair and sits down across from John.

Watching his progress with contempt, John mutters, "I'm not joking, Sherlock…"

"Oh, I have no doubts that you weren't," Sherlock remarks, easing himself down into his chair and placing his crutches to rest against his seat. John wonders how gross of a violation of his Hippocratic Oath it would be to take one of them and hit Sherlock upside the head with it. "I'm just not inclined to cave to petty threats." Folds his hands in front of him and contemplates John for a moment, head tilted to the side. "Tell me what's bothering you?"

A request hidden inside a demand. It would be almost timid, did John not know the source. True that it's strange Sherlock would even bother asking, but weirder things have happened in the living room of 221B Bake Street, and it may be the only chance John has to air his frustration, so he says, "You."

Sherlock's head rears back—another one of those 'alarmed pigeon' expressions. "Me?"

John rolls his eyes and snaps, "Yes, Sherlock. You. I've done…well, frankly, I've been doing everything I can to make sure that you're comfortable in this condition, and yet you still complain to no end. You reject all of my help, and then act like I'm not doing anything. You ignore everything I say because you're Sherlock Holmes and obviously you know better than a trained doctor. It bothers me. It's…it's blatantly disrespectful, is what it is." He curls his hands into fists on the arms of his chair, and stares at the corner of the room. "I've half a mind to leave you alone here. See how well you fare then."

"Please don't."

Slightly shocked, John snaps his gaze back to Sherlock whom, despite his words, has an impassive as ever expression on his face. His eyes, though, shine a little too bright, and John can tell he means what he says. It's confirmed when he says, "I've spent too long being alone, John. I find myself…unused to you again. But I know I don't want to be alone."

"The process would be faster if you weren't so difficult all the time," John points out, perhaps a little nastily, and Sherlock scowls.

"That was difficult for me to say," he snaps. "Taking my emotions and throwing them back in my face is not what I would expect from someone who supposedly wants me to be comfortable and content."

John throws his hands up. "Oh look, the pot is calling the kettle black!" His hands land back on his chair with enough force to make an overly loud bang. It's enough to make Sherlock jump. "How many times have I, have others, conveyed our emotions to you, only for you to shove them back in our faces? Perhaps, Sherlock, the best medicine for you is the stuff you dole out to other people."

For a moment, Sherlock does not speak. He puffs up like a balloon and gets red in the fact, but he doesn't speak. Then, all at once, he deflates. All of the air and all of the fight goes out of him, and he slumps against the back of his chair. Says, "You're right."

"I know I am," John mutters, but it doesn't make him feel any better.

They sit there in silence, both staring at the floor. Eventually, John gets up and crosses the room to sit on the arm of Sherlock's chair, the arm opposite his broken leg, and drape an arm over Sherlock's shoulders. He says, "I know it's hard for you."

"I get bored," Sherlock mutters. "Lack of activity hurts, John. It physically hurts. It's like…Imagine how much of a headache you would get if you were locked in a room with ten people trying to tell you ten different things all at once. They just keep shouting louder and louder and you can't focus in on any of them, and they don't even hear you when you tell them to shut up. That's what it's like for me. All the time. There are only a few things that make it stop…and even fewer are legal."

John does not choose to comment on this.

"You never said it that way," John murmurs, "or even mentioned…"

"It was never so imperative that you understood," Sherlock says.

Although John is not fully aware of why it's 'imperative' that he know now, he has his suspicions, and they are enough for the moment.

"Let's," John murmurs, and squeezes Sherlock's shoulder, "do that thing where I turn on a movie and you scream at the television. How about it?"

"Mmm…" Sherlock, lips pursed, cups his hand over John's knee pensively and mutters, "Make it one of those science fiction movies. The inaccuracies keep me occupied." Biting his lip, he moves his hand slowly up to squeeze John's thigh and looks up. "Alright?"

Until now, John had not realized how close their faces are. He swallows and whispers, "Alright," and gets up to find a DVD.

His skin his cooler when he's got the DVD in the player, and Sherlock has migrated back to the sofa. John joins him, and remains at a respectable distance. Sherlock sips his lukewarm tea and watches the opening credits of the movie with unwarranted focus. The entire scene borders on uncomfortable.

"Am I," Sherlock mutters, "misinterpreting your signals?"

It takes John a moment, but finally he says, "No."

"I was gone for a long time, John," Sherlock says into his teacup, still staring resolutely ahead. "Your mind could be playing tricks on you. You may not feel so strongly in a few months…or a few weeks, really."

"No," John mutters. "It's…it's not that."

"How do you know?"

John considers everything from just post-Afghanistan until now. The disturbed fascination that had turned into respect, which in turn had become…whatever it is that he feels now. It's hard to put a name to, because it's not love per say. It's the overwhelming feeling that he cannot live without Sherlock. He doesn't even know how he survived three months without him. Unfortunately, he hasn't the words to articulate it. So he says, "You'll just have to trust me. Do you trust me?"

Quietly, Sherlock pronounces, "Implicitly," and the words almost feel like a caress.

They are, John realizes, the stuff of novels and movies. The thought makes him chuckle, and all at once the mood is not so sullen.

Sherlock turns towards him. "What are you laughing about?"

"I don't know," John chuckles, and leans his forehead against Sherlock's. "I really don't know."

"Oh."

John closes his eyes and tilts his head. He can feel Sherlock's breath over his lips, the odd stuttering of pre-kiss. Sherlock's long fingers travel up into his hair and their noses brush together—

The television explodes into the sounds of a space battle. It makes them jump, and Sherlock rockets back with force. John clears his throat and retreats to his own side of the couch, and they stay there for a few moments, each red in the face. Wondering what they'd almost just done and yet, why it had to have been aborted.

Sherlock's hand crosses no-man's land and grabs John's. They squeeze.

John smiles into his palm.

Chapter Text

The day Sherlock finally gets his cast off—and has a walking brace put on, but it's just a precaution and he doesn't have to wear it around the house or out on small errands—he's in a celebratory mood. He makes a show of first disposing of his crutches in Mrs. Hudson's wheelie bins (John makes a mental note to fish them out later; you never know when you're going to need crutches) and then climbing the stairs by himself. John stays close behind him because, even though he looks steady on his feet, he still hasn't walked by himself in over a month and God only knows what might happen if he loses his balance.

When Sherlock gets to the top of the stairs, he kicks off his shoes, takes off the brace, and sits on the sofa to put his legs on the coffee table. He wriggles his toes and smirks at them, remarking, "I haven't seen my own foot for six weeks, John. Casts; entirely too cumbersome."

"You were kicked down a flight of stairs by a man twice my size," John mutters, sitting down beside him, and copying Sherlock's motions. Their feet are a sight next to each other; Sherlock's black trouser socks and long, thin feet next to John's wool-clad pudgy ones. "You're lucky a broken leg and a mild concussion is the only thing you got away with."

Sherlock rests his hands on his belly, as if he has any belly to speak of, and heaves a great sigh. For once, it's not exasperated; rather contended, actually. "Been shoved down my fair share of stairs, really. One learns how to roll into a fall when the recreational activities of one's dorm mates includes pushing him down flights of stairs on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost some of the flexibility that I had when I was fourteen…" Experimentally, he rotates his wrist, shrugs, and leans his head back against the sofa.

Although it bugs him that Sherlock can recount his adolescent torment with such nonchalance, he figures there is no point in pitying the boy Sherlock once was; after all, he's grown into quite a powerful and capable man. There is no point in crying over spilt milk, especially if said milk has been long ago mopped up.

Besides, Sherlock's good mood is infectious, and John just plain does not want to dwell on it.

So he leans his head back against the sofa as well and closes his eyes as well and is quiet as well. They're silent for twenty minutes and everything is peaceful. John would be able to doze off if it the curtains weren't wide open and light wasn't flooding the room. He's not tired enough that he'd sleep in a well-lit room.

John feels Sherlock shift into the indent caused by John's heavier form on the couch and rests his head against Sherlock's. He can feel Sherlock's soft hair against his ear, and Sherlock's breath on his collarbone, and he's quite content.

"Where do you want to go for dinner?"

"Hmm?" John stirs just enough to glance down at Sherlock, but he hasn't moved, and all John can see of him is the top of his head. They'd dyed his hair back, but there is no dye in the world that can exactly impersonate the deep, dark brown-auburn of Sherlock's hair, and John can see the roots against the dye. Not enough to notice unless you know what you're looking for, but John knows what he's looking for.

The effort of holding his head at such a strange angle gets to be an annoyance, and John tilts his head back once more. Closes his eyes again.

"We should go out to dinner."

"Why?"

"To…celebrate." Sherlock wriggles a bit deeper into the sofa. It's going to be one of those warm, lazy afternoons that always bring John back to summertime at his grandparents' house, although he can't really fathom why. "Me finally getting that cast off…and because we've both been cooped up in this flat for the better part of a month."

John can't argue with that. It's not as though they have any particular reason to conserve money. John hasn't seen a single water or gas and electric bill since Sherlock jumped off the roof of Bart's, and he can't quite tell if it's intervention at the level of Mrs. Hudson or somewhere higher—perhaps a certain someone in the government. Either way, it's taken a load off his chest, especially since John has been out of work since then as well.

Speaking of, it would probably be a good idea for him to start the job search again.

"I should get a job," he mutters, without thinking about it.

"Why?" Sherlock groans.

"Because sooner or later your brother is going to stop paying our bills," John mutters. Upon closer inspection, it's almost certainly Mycroft's doing. Mrs. Hudson is a generous woman, but nor is she Mother Theresa, and John knows this. It's been five months. Mrs. Hudson might have paid two or three of his bills, at least until John got back on his feet. But Sherlock is back now, has been for nearly two months.

In his head, the numbers add up to spell 'Mycroft' and he can't tell whether he's more grateful or exasperated.

"Only it's not Mycroft," Sherlock replies.

"If not your brother, then who?"

"Me," Sherlock replies easily, lazily, and drapes his good ankle over John's. "Before I left England, I set it up so bills would be automatically taken out of my account."

"It's not as though you have much money in that thing," John mutters.

"Mmm…not quite." Sherlock sighs and sits up, to better look at John. Feeling obligated, John opens his eyes, but refuses to sit up. He's just too comfortable. "You see, my account contains a trust fund that wasn't supposed to come to maturity until my twenty-first birthday. My parents set it up for me at birth so that I might use it to…start a family, I suppose. I've no idea. Anyway, the fund came to maturity but I was never able to access it because my parents cut me off at age eighteen. When my father died, my mother reopened it, only for Mycroft to close it again because he was afraid I would use it on drugs. It was still closed when I met you because I was still rehabilitating when I met you."

There is an anger that John registers in the back of his mind, simmering slowly. It's not at Sherlock, but he thinks it might boil over before he sees Mycroft next. To release steam, he mutters, "So all of our money problems…they were basically caused by your brother?"

"Well…and my drug habit."

"Did he not trust me to help keep you clean? God knows he put me on enough one-man drug watches."

Slightly sheepishly, Sherlock admits, "I believe he thinks you…indulge me too much."

"Right. Because a doctor would indulge you right into a relapse." John snorts loudly—it's almost reminiscent of a sound Sherlock would make—and crosses his ankles one over the other on the coffee table.

"I never said it was smart of him." Sherlock is quiet for a moment, somewhere just out of reach. It's a bit disconcerting to John, to have him so near that he can hear his breath and yet not be close enough to touch. The last few weeks, it seems Sherlock has always been just a stretch of fingertips away. John can't tell for whose reassurance that's for.

Quietly, Sherlock says, "Angelo's?"

"What?"

"For dinner."

John makes a noncommittal noise and shrugs. "Yeah, sure."

"Tea?"

It takes John a second to realize what Sherlock is asking, because he honestly can't remember the last time Sherlock made tea of his own volition. He opens his eyes and raises his eyebrows. "Are you offering to make it, or telling me to?"

Sherlock smiles. "I have a leg that I haven't used in quite a while. I'm offering."

He gets up and heads into the kitchen. John closes his eyes and listens to him banging around, making tea.


Billy seats them at their usual table at Angelo's. Although the entire city, by now, has heard of Sherlock's miraculous return from the dead, Billy is still quiet and pale as he seats them, and only once they're settled does he smile tremulously and say, "It's good to have you back, Mister Holmes. It hasn't been the same without you." Then he walks off, presumably to get Angelo.

"What was that all about?" Sherlock mutters, mostly to himself as he picks up the menu and begins browsing. It's not as though he doesn't know what he's going to get; Angelo makes a special dish for Sherlock that's not on the menu, simply angel hair pasta, olive oil, a bit of garlic, parsley, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. It's the only thing that Sherlock will eat more than halfway.

John stares at Sherlock for a moment, wondering if this is one of those times when Sherlock will answer his own question. But he just continues his pointless staring at the menu, and eventually John says, "Sherlock," in a way that prompts him to look up. "You were missed, you know. By a lot of people. People who read the papers and believe what they hear may have believed that you were a fake…but the people who know you…we all knew that you couldn't have been a fake."

Quietly, Sherlock mutters, "Lestrade did."

"Lestrade did not," John says. "Lestrade was doing his job. You don't know how much he beat himself up inside after they found that recording." When Sherlock continues to stare at the menu—so intensely that John is sure he's not trying to decide between lasagna and fettuccini—John says, "Hey," softly but firmly, and Sherlock looks up again. "Moriarty was a master manipulator. He knew just what strings to pull to get people to behave how he wanted…he even manipulated me."

There was not a day that went by whilst Sherlock was 'dead' that the words 'You machine' had not run through John's head.

"It's…" Sherlock looks down, taps his ring finger against his thumb and rakes his top row of teeth over his bottom lip. "It was for the best, I think, that you weren't there. I don't know what Moriarty would have done to you had you not gone."

Angelo chooses that moment to burst into the dining room and hurry over to the table. He somehow works his large body into the space next to the booth Sherlock is sitting in and leans down to bring his massive arms around Sherlock's shoulders. "Sherlock! Oh, you have no idea how glad I am to see you! I heard the news but I didn't know what to believe—imposters you know—and—" here, he dissolves into frantic Italian which, by the look on Sherlock's face, even he cannot follow.

They exchange looks over Angelo's shoulder. John smiles indulgently and makes no move to help, but finally Sherlock pats Angelo's back and says, "It's nice to see you too, Angelo."

"Of course, of course," Angelo stands up straight and pulls out his order pad. "What will it be? On the house, of course, anything at all. Sherlock, your usual?"

Sherlock nods, and John orders baked ravioli. Angelo hurries back into the kitchen, most likely to personally cook their meal himself.

It's Wednesday night, so the restaurant is practically empty. It is even more empty by the time Sherlock and John finish their meal. Despite protests, Angelo had comp'd them a bottle of wine and, not wanting to waste it, John pops it open and pours them both a glass. He wedges himself into the corner of the booth and lets Sherlock drape his bad leg (They both have a bad leg now; it's somewhat amusing) over his lap, so he can rest it on the portion of the booth not occupied by John's body.

Sherlock stares pensively out the window and sips the dark red wine. He comments, "I'd almost forgotten what London looked like."

"I'm sure any other major city looks relatively similar," John mutters, squeezing Sherlock's leg.

Billy waves at them as he leaves for the night, and adds, "Angelo says you two can stay as long as you want; he's going to be here for a few hours anyway. Have a good night."

"Have a good night," John echoes, whilst Sherlock grunts something agreeable, and Billy walks out the door.

They sit there in silence, the comfortable sort they've started having, until Sherlock rolls his head to the side and says, "This was fun, right?"

John tilts his head to the side and says, "I think 'fun' has a different connotation…but I enjoyed myself."

"I'm glad."

He looks at Sherlock, and the urge strikes him to kiss him. It sends a ripple of excitement down his spine, to curl in the small of his back something like pleasure. Before he has the chance to act on it, however, Angelo pokes his head out and jovially bellows, "Everything alright?" and the moment is ruined.

"Yes, thank you," John replies, looking down and clearing his throat. He can hear Sherlock's low chuckle coming from next to him, and he slaps his thigh—he's not cruel enough to slap his newly-healed leg. It doesn't stop Sherlock from laughing, but it makes him feel better.

Angelo ducks back into the kitchen and Sherlock leans forward and kisses John's cheek.

"Thank you," John mutters, feeling condescended.

Sherlock laughs at him some more, and things feel normal for the first time in five months.

Chapter Text

The holiday season creeps slowly but surely in. It's now almost three months that Sherlock's been back, and John is almost used to him again. Things are still different, of course. They will always be different, John thinks. One does not lose their best friend and have everything go back to the way it was, even if said friend returns from the dead. He's not so sure he can speak for Sherlock, but he can feel the change in the air as surely as he feels the drop in temperature.

They touch constantly now. It's something John is still adjusting to.

One night, they come home to find their living room decorated—even a small Christmas tree sits on the desk by the window. John is terribly amused, but Sherlock has a raging strop and refuses to come out of his room until all decorations are taken down. They, apparently, impede his ability to think. John, of course, is not one to give in to every whim, and ignores him. Even puts a few little decorations on the Christmas tree, and thanks Mrs. Hudson for taking it upon herself to decorate their flat.

Several hours later, John happens to look up in the archway between the kitchen and living room. A familiar sprig is hanging there, and although John cannot fathom how Mrs. Hudson got up there (If she used that rickety step ladder of hers, he's going to have a stern talk with her. If she fell and broke her hip at her age, it would be incredibly bad news) it spends a jolt of something he can only describe as whimsy through him, and he grins up at it for several seconds before going to find Sherlock.

"Oi, pouty," John says, poking his head around the door. Sherlock is laying on his side. He's pretty sure his arms are crossed. It's typical 'Sherlock Holmes strop' position, and it doesn't dissuade him from his goal in any way. "I have something to show you."

"I'm not interested."

"You don't even know what it is!"

Sherlock turns over fractionally and looks vaguely in John's general direction. "Is it a triple homicide?"

"Of course not!" In the last few years, though, he's lost all ability to be shocked or scandalized when Sherlock says things like that, and so chuckles on the end of that statement. He adds, "You'll like it though; trust me. Come here."

Rolling towards the edge of the bed, Sherlock gives birth to a frustrated groan. If it was practical for him to roll all the way to the kitchen, he probably would have—that's the kind of mood he's in. As it is, he has to fit through the doorway and to do that, he has to be vertical. That doesn't stop him from dragging his feet all the way to the kitchen. John, giggling lowly, grips above his hips and presses his thumbs into his back to get him to move faster. Sherlock says, "You're in a good mood," as though it disgusts him.

"It's Christmastime," John says. "Always did love Christmastime."

"It's December second," Sherlock snaps, not even bothering to examine his surroundings as John plants him squarely below the mistletoe. "If Christmas decorations are your sole criteria for it being 'Christmastime,' then it's been Christmastime since July."

"Nah," John says jovially, "just since September. That's when Boot's put up their first decorations."

"Because that," Sherlock snaps, "is such an improvement."

John simply sighs and shakes his head, and points upwards. When Sherlock looks up, an irritably perplexed look crosses his face and he snaps, "What on Earth is that?"

"Seriously?" John demands, raising his eyebrows. "You don't know what mistletoe is?"

"Mistle what?" Sherlock demands, still staring with incredulity at the white-berried sprig. Then he adds, "On second thought, I don't frankly care what it is; what's it doing in our kitchen?"

John has to giggle at the irony. How many times has he said the exact same thing to Sherlock about countless experiments? "Oh, this is just too good. You really don't know what mistletoe is. That's fantastic."

"Are you being facetious?" Sherlock asks, glaring down at John.

"Oh no; I'm quite serious. This is hilarious."

"For God's sake, John; tell me what this is!" Sherlock roughly gestures towards the plant, and there's enough momentum in his arm to send it far enough to brush the sprig. Sherlock jerks his hand back, as if he's touched something particularly vile or slimy, and it's so reminiscent of John's daily battles with the refrigerator (And the freezer, and the bread box, and the cabinets…) that he has to chuckle again.

"It's a Christmas tradition."

"Oh joy," Sherlock snarls. "Can kind of ridiculous thing do you do with it? Do you hang it to bring good luck? Or sing to it? Or perhaps eat it?" He scowls and reaches up, probably to attempt to pop one of the berries, and John stays his hand.

"Well, first of all, I'm pretty sure mistletoe isn't edible, and not just because eighty percent of the stuff people hang nowadays is fake." He reaches up and squeezes a berry to assure that, yes, the mistletoe that Mrs. Hudson has hung is quite fake. "Second of all, it's none of those things, although I'll admit it's no more ridiculous." Despite his words, he grins indulgently up at the little plant. It reminds him of good times. Drunken parties at Uni, mostly, but good times nonetheless.

"So?" Sherlock mutters, canceling John's reverie before it can really start.

Grinning mischievously, John steps closer and says, "When two people step underneath it at the same time…they kiss." On the word 'kiss,' he grips Sherlock by the waist and pulls him closer, as Sherlock's eyes widen, both from being jerked and John's words.

"That," Sherlock mutters, "is stupid." He does not, however, make any move to pull away. He grips John's upper arms and licks his lips.

"Yeah, I know," John laughs, quietly, and says, "My Aunt Ethel used to chase us around with it and hold it above our heads and tell us to give her a kiss…my cousin was allergic to it and one time he sneezed right in her mouth. It was so funny, but so gross."

In spite of himself, Sherlock laughs. There's a nervous tone to it that John can empathize with.

"Well I suppose we shouldn't spit on tradition," Sherlock mutters, even though he's all about spitting on tradition.

John nods with utmost seriousness and says, "Yes; it may spit back."

Tilting his head to the side, Sherlock drops his eyes to John's mouth, then closes them. It's like being fifteen again—especially when the bump noses ("Oh, sorry—" "No, no, my fault.") and John is forced to pull back and readjust.

But then, they succeed.

Fireworks do not go off. It's not cliché. It's rather normal; John is aware of the whir of the refrigerator and the muffled noises coming from Mrs. Hudson's television, not to mention the cold of the kitchen tiles below his feet. He's also, however, aware of Sherlock's hair on his face and the difference in texture between his lips and the very inside of his mouth, which John can feel against his bottom lip. He's aware that it's awkward because they are two grown men standing barefoot in their kitchen kissing, but for some reason it's all okay.

They pull away, and Sherlock glances up at the mistletoe, as if to check if it's changed in any way. Curiously, he inquires, "What now?"

"Now you sing to it!" John says jovially. Sherlock looks horrified, and John laughs. "Kidding! Just kidding. Now you just leave it be and wait for it to claim more victims. It's much more fun when you're not one of them."

"Would you consider yourself a victim?" Sherlock demands incredulously, still staring up at the little plant.

John smiles indulgently and says, "This time, no."

Chapter Text

John wakes up at three o'clock in the morning because the door of his room opens and he's a light sleeper. The figure silhouetted there is far too short to be Sherlock, and John cannot make out a face due to bleariness from sleep, and he hall light casting shadow on the face of the person. He shoots up in bed, and is about to grab the gun out of his bedside table when a distinctly feminine squeak sounds from the door, and John realizes who it is.

"Miz Huds'n?" he slurs, dragging a hand down his face. He blinks two or three times in rapid succession to try and bring her into focus. He's so relieved he's shaking, because if she hadn't squeaked when she had, he doesn't know what he would have done.

"Sorry to wake you," Mrs. Hudson says, "but there's a leak under my sink, and it's flooding my kitchen. I need someone to go in the back and turn off the water…I'd do it myself, but I don't see well at night and it's quite slippery. If I broke my hip at my age, well…" the talking-to John had given her about the step ladder is still in place, at least. John's not sure how long it will stay that way, but he's grateful she came to him anyway.

Nodding, John says, "Alright, Mrs. H…give a bloke a bit more warning next time though, will you?" She doesn't know there's a gun in his bedside drawer, and she also doesn't know about his PTSD, so he can't really blame her. Best to warn her, though.

"Oh, thank you John. You're an angel." Mrs. Hudson smiles—John's eyes have adjusted so he can just barely see her, pink nightie, curlers and reading glasses. She'd probably fallen asleep reading when the pipes burst—and starts out of the room. John waits until she's out, because he's wearing only pants, and gets out of bed to put on his pair of jeans from earlier, one of his heavier jumpers, and his winter coat. He also grabs the flashlight on his dresser as he's walking out the door.

Halfway down the stairs, he takes pause and considers the possibility that he might need an extra pair of hands. The building is old and he's not sure how long it's been since the handle has been turned on the main water line; it may need some encouragement. With that thought, he detours to the broom cupboard by Sherlock's room, grabs his toolbag, and pokes his head into Sherlock's room.

"Hey," he says, knowing that Sherlock is a light sleeper too—although he pretends not to be. He's not as light a sleeper as John, whom can be woken by sudden light or a creak of feet on the stairs, it doesn't take a gun going off under his nose to wake him up, either.

"What?" Sherlock grumbles into his pillow. He's splayed on the bed—John pities anyone who's ever had to share a bed with the man—prone and completely uncovered except for one foot. The rest of the blanket has escaped onto the floor and, it would seem, is trying to make a break for the door. John wouldn't put it past anything in Sherlock's room to walk by itself.

"Mrs. Hudson's kitchen is flooding," John says. "I think it's a rather slow-moving flood or she would be a lot more frantic about it, but we need to go downstairs and turn off the main water line."

"Why we?"

"Because someone needs to hold the flashlight and I don't have four hands."

Sherlock grumbles into his pillow, flops over, and drags himself out of bed. He heads out the door, only stopping when John says, "Hold on."

"What?"

Gesturing to his pajamas, John says, "You can't go outside in just that. It's below freezing outside. Go upstairs and grab one of my jumpers if you have to. Just put on something heavier than that tee-shirt." Deciding not to wait for Sherlock, he heads downstairs, walks through Mrs. Hudson's kitchen and out into the alley behind the building. The line, he thinks, is behind a panel behind where Mrs. Hudson's wheelie bins sit beneath the window.

The wheelie bins are out of the way when Sherlock arrives. John isn't so sure he listened to him, because he has the great coat on and it's hard to tell, but at this point he's too cold to argue and just wants to get it over as soon as possible. He has Sherlock hold the flashlight as he opens the panel to the line, twists the handle (Which is surprisingly complacent) and closes it back up again. Sherlock is shivering by the time they are done, but then so is John, so he can't exactly say anything.

When they get back inside, Mrs. Hudson is mopping up the mess in her kitchen. John offers to help, but she just says, "No, dear; you go back to bed. I'm sure you have something to do tomorrow. I just sit around here all day."

"Shall I call a plumber for you in the morning?" John asks. He knows that he can find a plumber on the internet faster than Mrs. Hudson can find one in the phone book, and the earlier they call the better. It's the holiday season, after all, and if the city got so cold last night that the pipes in this building burst, it's only logical to assume it got cold enough to burst pipes all over the city.

"If you would, dear," she says and, smiling, thanks him and sees them to the front door. When they get upstairs, Sherlock takes off his coat to reveal John's favorite jumper—the cable-knit brown one—and John is glad that he at least listened to him.

He also doesn't mind the sight of Sherlock in his clothes.

"I'm going back to bed," Sherlock grumbles, stretching his arms over his head as he walks back towards his bedroom. John doesn't mention it to him that he's still wearing the jumper, and follows him as far as where the back hallway halves to make way for the staircase. He pats his bum and says, "Thank you for helping."

"Wasn't so much to ask for," Sherlock remarks, and continues into his room.


John doesn't see that jumper again until three days later, when he comes home from grocery shopping to see Sherlock curled in his chair. It's remarkable, not only because it's the first time in two days John has seen him out of his room (Lestrade is refusing to let him in on a reopened cold case and it's making him incredibly cross) but because he's wearing jeans, which John rarely sees him do, and John's jumper.

"Been wondering where that got to," he mutters, setting down the shopping on the kitchen table. Shockingly, he can see parts of it.

"You let me use it a few nights ago," Sherlock sighs. He's twirling what looks like a pencil around and around in his hand—a nervous tick of his.

"Well, I said you could use it, not that you could keep it," John mutters.

"Needed it."

"For what?"

"Something."

John laughs exasperatedly and leans against the archway to the kitchen, shaking his head. "What's 'something?' Have you been experimenting on my clothes again? Or did you just need it to keep you warm?"

Not speaking, Sherlock just continues spinning whatever he has in his hand over and over. John draws nearer, and realizes that it isn't a pencil—it's a cigarette. Exasperatedly, he holds out his hand. "Give me the cigarette, Sherlock. You don't need it. You know you don't need it."

"I've been trying to tell myself that," snaps Sherlock.

"Come on," John says, gently.

"Don't be so condescending," Sherlock mutters, but sets the cigarette in John's palm. He mutters, "I'm in pain, John."

"What can I do for you?"

Sherlock stares at him and says, "Stay there where I can see you. Don't leave me alone."

"Alright." John sits down and stays there calmly, not speaking. He waits until Sherlock looks marginally calmer, less tetchy, to ask, "What's the 'something' you needed my jumper for?"

"You wear it so often," Sherlock mutters. "I associate the smell and feel of it with you."

"Oh."

Sighing, Sherlock finally uncurls himself from the bunched-up position he'd been in, and says, "I need something…to remind me that I'm not alone. When you're not around, something that I associate with you helps." He starts dapping his fingers against each other—another nervous habit—and continues, "When I was…quote-unquote 'dead,' the only thing that could help was…sometimes, I just smoked and felt better…other times, I needed something stronger. I'm not strong enough to resist it by myself, John. Sooner or later my brain starts screaming, and I just haveto."

John asks, "You relapsed?"

"Only once," Sherlock says. "I only did cocaine once. The other times, I drank."

John considers this, and then he nods and says, "I understand why. But that doesn't make me happy about it."

"I know."

"Keep the jumper."

Sherlock nods and curls back in on himself. John goes into the kitchen and makes tea, drops a cup next to Sherlock and kisses his head.

"For the record," he mutters against Sherlock's temple, "you're one of the strongest people I know."

Chapter Text

"Where are you going in that get-up?"

Sherlock, whom from the back it appears is wearing merely a cloak and boots, turns around to reveal that he's actually entirely decked out in some variety of costume. He wears a forest green tunic, brown breeches, and has pointed prosthetics on the tips of his actual ears. Around his middle is a belt that looks like it holds a sword, and he has a makeshift bow in his hand.

John bursts out laughing and says, "Are you supposed to be an elf?"

"Yes. The suspect I'm tracking is, I believe, going to meet a coconspirator at some variety of themed party tonight, and I have to blend in."

"What's the theme? Middle Earth?"

Sherlock's eyes widen. "Yes. How did you know?"

Laughing, John remarks, "I don't now whether to be more insulted that you think I don't recognize an elf when I see what, or that I don't know what Middle-Earth is." He wanders over to the bookshelf and pulls out his own, well-worn volume of The Hobbit. "I got this for Christmas the year I turned twelve, I think. As soon as my dad thought I was old enough for it. I read it over and over—Lord of the Rings, too, but I've lost two of the books—and I used to imagine going on fantastic journeys with elves and dwarves and wizards."

Far from being touched, Sherlock frowns and remarks, "At twelve you must have been old enough to realize that elves weren't real."

John rolls his eyes. "Well of course, but I still imagined it, you know. Even if elves weren't real, I wanted to go on my own adventures. At least as close as I could get in the real world." He smiles down at the book, turning it over in his hands, and says, "I liked it, you know? The idea of…seeing strange new lands, fighting for something you believed. Helping to save the world."

Sherlock steps back into the room and draws closer until he is standing in front of John. He stares at the well-worn cover and the dog-eared pages and says, "You did."

Almost sadly, John says, "Yeah, I know. But sometimes it seems like it'll never be enough, you know? After all, this is a story book."

"True," Sherlock remarks, tilting his head to the side. "But I think you got closer to your fantastical childhood dream than most people do. You actually went to strange new lands and saved people, and fought for something you believed in." He snorts and mutters, "I wanted to be a pirate."

"I know," John laughs, and when Sherlock narrows his eyes at him, John says, "Your brother told me. Can't say I can imagine you as a pirate. You're far too…far too clean." The word on his tongue had actually been 'flamboyant,' but he doesn't want to think on how vehemently Sherlock might disagree with that statement.

Rolling his eyes, Sherlock looks down, but he smiles slightly, and John knows he's not offended.

"I've never read them," Sherlock says. "I found an invitation to the party while I was looking around the suspect's flat—"

"Sherlock, how many times does Lestrade have to tell you that breaking and entering is illegal?"

"—Which stated that the party was 'Middle-Earth' themed. I looked it up on the internet, and this seemed the simplest thing."

Still terribly amused, John chuckles, "You're an elf."

"Will I ever live this down?"

"Umm…no." John sits down in his chair, laughing uproariously, and has half a mind to pull out his phone and take a picture. But Sherlock is already fleeing for the door and he knows he won't be able to pull up the camera on his phone in the amount of time it will take Sherlock to reach the door. He simply looks over his shoulder and says, "You're not going to get yourself into danger, are you? You don't need me to come with you?"

"No," Sherlock says, perhaps out of spite, but John is not inclined to argue. "I'm only going to observe—besides, you wouldn't be able to blend in."

"Oh, I don't know," John remarks, smirking up at the ceiling. "I've been told that I could pass for a hobbit."

Sherlock doesn't reply, and heads towards the door again. John gets up to see him to the front door, and when they reach the bottom of the stairs grabs onto Sherlock's tunic to get him to stop and turn back around. "Hey, elfie. Give us a kiss, yeah?"

"You're ridiculous," Sherlock mutters resentfully, but leans down for a quick press of lips.

"Hmm. Always wanted to kiss an elf."

Sherlock makes an infuriated noise in the back of his throat and stomps out the door, but John has a good chuckle and watches him go, then heads back upstairs. He stops for a minute, and stares at the abandoned book on his chair, then picks it up and opens it.

Perhaps it's time to read it once more.

Chapter Text

When John comes downstairs one morning between Christmas and New Year's, Sherlock is in his chair, curled so that his knees are almost at his ears and only his eyes are visible. It can't be good for his breathing, but John has long since stopped trying to convince Sherlock to sit in chairs like a normal person, and therefore ignores him as he grabs an apple out of the singular experimentless drawer in the fridge. Over his shoulder, he says, "I have to go to the store this morning. I'd prefer to get there before the rush starts." The entire last week of December was a mess at Tesco's, no matter what time you went but nine o'clock in the morning was about as tame as it got.

Sherlock doesn't reply, but John had half expected that, so doesn't try to persuade him into speech. He's probably stroppy this morning, or else lost in his own thoughts, and trying to bug him will do no one any good. So John leaves Sherlock to his own devices whilst he gathers his things up and starts for the door.

As he's grabbing his coat, a slender hand reaches out above his and grabs the great coat from the hook above where John's black jacket hangs. John looks behind, and sees Sherlock silently pulling on his coat. Only then does he realize that the other man not only looks like he hasn't slept, but also that he's wearing John's jumper—and a pair of loose jeans that John swears he hadn't been wearing five minutes ago—and has a slight tremor in his hand.

"You're coming, then?" John asks, in an attempt to be casual. He knows he's failed, but Sherlock nods all the same, and they progress out the door.

Tesco's, thankfully, is not too terribly busy yet, or else it would have been just as bad for Sherlock to be there as for him to be at their flat alone. John grabs a cart and Sherlock follows sluggishly at his side, glancing disinterestedly at the produce and watching as John palpates avocados.

"Do you want to go find some things?" John inquires, glancing over his shoulder. It's getting disconcerting to have Sherlock just standing there, staring at him.

"No," Sherlock mutters. His voice is raspy from disuse, and he crosses his arms and leans against the adjacent display. Under any other circumstances, John would grumble, but now he just nods and places the avocados in the cart, in the seat so they won't be squashed by anything else he puts in the cart, and they continue through the store.

Eventually, Sherlock straightens up and becomes a bit more animated. He goes round the corner into other aisles to retrieve things John's forgotten, or didn't think to get until after he was out of that aisle. It's a big help, although he tends to go away and bring back something they absolutely don't need, like three different types of beans, or a package of absolutely horrid cheese that John makes him take back at once. It's reminiscent of times before, when they had just started living together and Sherlock would follow John to the store as a chance to study him.

It had been disconcerting back then, too. But John finds that, as Sherlock relaxes, he doesn't really mind having him along. It's convenient, actually, because Sherlock can reach higher shelves, and push the cart when John needs to go ahead and get something so he doesn't forget.

He thinks he would even call it pleasant, if forced to qualify the experience, and he feels a strange sense of accomplishment when he finally checks off the last thing on the list. He turns to Sherlock, although he doesn't really need to because the other man is looking over his shoulder so close as to have his chin almost touching John. "Alright, that's it…oh, except, we need tea." They ran out that morning, and he hadn't thought to put it on the list he'd made last night.

"I'll get it," Sherlock says, and John lets him go, even though he's not sure Sherlock knows precisely which aisle the tea is in. John figured that he'd find it eventually, deductive skills and all. The thought makes him chuckle to himself as he leans against the cart and watching Sherlock walk down the aisle, hands shoved in his pockets and eyes directed towards the ceiling to read the aisle headers. Before Sherlock disappears around the corner, John calls, "You know which type it is we get, right?"

"It's in a red box," Sherlock replies, and even though there are several teas in red boxes, John doesn't comment. Sherlock will just come back with four different teas anyway.

John smiles indulgently to himself, once Sherlock is away and can't see him. He thinks maybe they should go out to lunch after they're done at the grocery, and begins taking a mental catalogue of the restaurants in the area open for lunch.

"John?"

Having spent a lifetime with a common name, John doesn't immediately turn around when he hears his name. It's only when the same voice continues, "John Watson?" that he looks up and turns around, and finds a certain ex-girlfriend, Jeanine Mortimer, coming up the aisle pushing a cart of her own.

"Jeanine!" he says with surprise, eyebrows going up. She looks different from the last time he saw her—most notably because her dark hair is bobbed rather than over her shoulders. That, and her massively protruding belly betrays the fact that she's enormously pregnant. "Hello! I, uh…" What does one say to an ex-girlfriend in the middle of the canned goods aisle at Tesco's?

"Fancy seeing you here," Jeanine remarks, turning towards him, and John can't help but think that, at the size she's at, she should have given birth four months ago.

"It's, uh…Tesco's," John mutters, scratching the back of his neck, and they chuckle awkwardly. He looks up and adds, "So, uh…you're…"

"Pregnant," she says, smiling and nodding. "With twins."

"Oh!" That would explain her supreme roundness. "That's…that's great. Congratulations. I uh…well, I didn't even know you were married, to be honest."

"I'm, uh…not." It's Jeanine's turn to feel awkward, and she looks down and says, "But, you know, things happen."

"Ah." At this point, John is praying that Sherlock comes back around the corner with that tea so they can leave. He's never been good with talking with old flames—he's British, for God's sake. It's especially hard with Jeanine, considering that they had not exactly parted ways amicably; in essence, dumping him because he changed their plans to watch Sherlock and make sure he didn't relapse. She felt he spent too much time with Sherlock anyway, though, and had made no secret of it.

There had been no 'it's not you, it's me' that time but, in hindsight, some of what Jeanine had said may have been true.

Jeanine turns back to her cart, and John thinks that maybe he will be saved and she will simply walk away. She stops, though, and turns back and says, "John…I'm really sorry about everything. I know that I wasn't fair to you, and…" she sighs, and shrugs. "I was trying to be responsible for myself."

"I understand, really," John says, and reaches out to pat her shoulder.

"Really, I'd like to apologize," Jeanine says, but John can see in her eyes that 'apologizing' is not the only thing on her mind. "I…would you like to get coffee, or something?"

"You're not supposed to have coffee."

"I realize that," Jeanine sighs irritably, and then calms herself and says, "I…I keep thinking that, if I hadn't done what I did to you, I might not be in the situation I'm in right now. And I really, reallyregret what I said about…about him." John only knows who 'him' is, because during the time they had been dating, Sherlock had been referred to by her as nothing but the word 'him' with a certain inflection to it. Even now she can't bring herself to say his name.

Finally—finally —Sherlock comes round the corner, juggling three boxes of tea and muttering, "Is there a difference between 'strong' and 'robust'…?" When he looks up, he blinks for a moment and says, "Oh! Boring teacher."

To be honest, John is surprised that Sherlock even remembers her.

Dropping the tea in the cart, he adds, "You're…pregnant," and moves to stand next to John. He slips his hand next to John's, pushing gently on the cart to attempt to get him to move it, and John watches as Jeanine's face turns light pink.

"Well, John, do you still have my number?" she inquires, attempting to be casual, and Sherlock pushes harder on the cart. John, in annoyance, places his hand over Sherlock's and squeezes none-too-gently, and of course Jeanine takes notice. She does not, however, take the hint.

"Nope, lost it, I'm afraid," John mutters.

"Well, shall I write it down for you?"

"No." It's Sherlock that speaks. "No, he doesn't need your number."

Jeanine's face goes an even deeper shade of red. "Still letting him speak for you, I see."

"Well, Jeanine, I don't think you'd like it very much either if an ex-girlfriend was hitting on your boyfriend," John remarks, without even thinking, and Jeanine's mouths falls open a bit. Sherlock's does too, for that matter, but he's behind John, so he doesn't notice that as much. "So, you know…I think we'll be leaving now."

He turns the cart around and they start towards the check-out, and it's only once they have all of their groceries bagged and in the cab with them that Sherlock mutters, "Is that what you are? My boyfriend?"

"Well, I put it in terms that she could understand," John sighs, twists his fingers around each other. He doesn't quite know what he and Sherlock are; certainly nothing anyone else would understand, and certainly not Jeanine. "But…I don't think that's the term I'd use. And not just because it's a bit juvenile."

Sherlock looks down and smiles, just slightly, then says, "I agree."

There is silence, and then, snorting, John leans into Sherlock's ear and murmurs, "I'm sorry I outed us at Tesco's."

Then Sherlock breaks into a laugh, and his mood from that morning is completely gone. John finds that he can't regret what he did, if it helps Sherlock get through the day.