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The Legacy of Martha J. Hudson

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The Legacy of Martha J. Hudson

 

John stops at the bottom of the stairs to zip up his coat when he hears his name and turns around.

Mrs Hudson is standing in the doorway of her flat, eyes bright. “I thought I heard you,” she says. “Do you have a few minutes for a cuppa?”

John thinks about it, then shrugs. “Sure, why not? I just had a cup after dinner with Sherlock, but I can always drink tea.”

Mrs Hudson beams. “Good! Come right in, then. Take that coat off, and I’ll put the kettle on.”

John dutifully does as he’s told and follows her, wondering what this is all about. “Sherlock’s still up, if you wanted him, too,” he starts, but she’s already shaking her head.

“No. I just wanted you. Catch you alone for once,” she says, and John feels apprehensive.

“Am I in trouble?” he asks, mostly joking. She doesn’t seem angry. There’s no banging of dishes or cupboards or anything along those lines.

Mrs Hudson pulls out one of the kitchen chairs and points him to it, bustling about near the teapot and organising a plate of biscuits. “Oh no, don’t be silly!” The kettle, which was clearly already on, switches off and she pours hot water into the teapot. The lid is fitted on, then she brings it over to the table.

He could have offered to help, but years of experience have told him that she would refuse it. For the entire first year of life at Baker Street he used to gallantly try and they’d go through their little ritual exchange of him offering and her refusing, and after awhile John stopped, in case his offers were making her feel as though he thought her incompetent or getting too old to manage on her own. She’s older than she looks, coming on seventy-seven soon, but she’s still doing just fine. He watches her bring the plate of biscuits over and sit down across from him. She pushes the plate over in pointed hint and John looks at them guiltily. “I shouldn’t,” he says. “We just ate dinner and I shouldn’t anyway, but – ”

“Nonsense,” Mrs Hudson says briskly. “A biscuit more or less isn’t going to make you balloon overnight. And besides, you’d be just as handsome with or without an extra five pounds. Don’t think about it so much.”

John hides a smile and takes a biscuit. “When you put it that way…”

“Well, I do.” Mrs Hudson takes one herself, still smiling as she waits for the tea to steep. “Case, was it? The two of you get it solved?”

John wipes a crumb from the corner of his mouth. “Yeah,” he says. “It was a tricky one, but Sherlock managed to solve it based on the colour of thread used to stitch a button back on, if you can believe that. It was quite something.”

Mrs Hudson smiles but doesn’t comment on this, her eyes still fixed on him. “And now it’s back off to the sticks?” she asks, which is how she generally refers to anything east of the A501.

John doesn’t bother correcting her this time. “Yeah.” He checks his watch. “I guess it’s a bit late…”

Mrs Hudson watches him for a moment, then pours two cups of tea and says, “You say that as if you’ve only just noticed. Weren’t you paying attention?”

Is she scolding him? It doesn’t seem that way; her eyebrows are arched but there’s almost a hint of a smile playing about the corners of her mouth. John frowns a little. “Not really, I suppose. Why do you ask…?”

She shrugs a little and the trace of smile fades, her blue eyes serious. Her shoulders have grown thinner, he thinks. “Do you feel it?” she asks, her voice gentle but very sober. “The pull between the two things. Your two lives.”

John definitely frowns now. “My two lives?” he repeats. “I don’t have two lives. I’ve got one very busy life. Work and cases and Mary and – the baby.”

Somehow he can’t bring himself to say the name, though he’s starting to get used to it. Mrs Hudson says it for him. “Alaska.” She pronounces it like the name of a disease. “Really, John, you couldn’t have pushed for something else?” Her nose crinkles delicately, which for Mrs Hudson is ultimate condemnation. She’s a modern woman, as she takes great pride in reminding he and Sherlock, but she tells fond tales of her mother, who was by all accounts what Mrs Hudson refers to as ‘a real lady’, telling stories of etiquette lessons and bridge clubs and high tea in the conservatories and drawing rooms of various grand houses around Wiltshire where she grew up.

John smiles a smile which is not a smile, the corners of his mouth tight, and says, “Well, at least it wasn’t Florida, right?” He can’t talk about Mary. Not with anyone. It’s been a month since Christmas, three weeks since his child was born. He’s getting used to it, but he can’t look at any of it directly, face it fully. It’s too – no. It’s best to just not think about it too much. That way lies madness.

Mrs Hudson doesn’t take his bait to leave the subject well alone. “Except it is separate,” she says, insisting. “You spend time here with him, working on cases and eating together as though you still live here, and then you go home to them. Always late. Always leaving this house as though it’s a chore. I’ve seen your face. And the other night, when I brought the casserole up and we all sat around talking afterward, it took you four different times to say you were going to go before you actually went. I don’t know what you call that, but I call it – ”

“Please don’t,” John interrupts, cringing.

“ – reluctance,” Mrs Hudson says, finishing mercilessly. Her eyes are boring into his face like twin drills, waiting for him to try to deny it.

John picks up the spoon he used to stir the milk in his tea and makes a vague gesture with it, then puts it down again. His chin ducks, his mouth pursing. He doesn’t know what to say. She knows, he thinks. He cannot deny it. She would know he was lying. Mrs Hudson is far closer to Sherlock than she is to him – and that’s another whole story, but – she has also become closer to him than his own, estranged mother. She knows him, knows him and Sherlock both. He should have known she’d see it, catch on, after the other night. It was the first evening the three of them had spent together since Christmas, since everything happened with Magnussen. There were some nights before, when he was looking after Sherlock, but everything was different then. Mrs Hudson knew it was Mary, of course, but she never said anything. Sherlock must have told her, but she was tactful enough not to bring it up in front of him. Perhaps they both knew he didn’t even know what he himself thought yet. Or felt. His fingers close around the handle of the spoon. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” he says, his voice a bit heavy. A bit stiff, too. He avoids her eyes.

Her voice is soft and a little sad. “Why are you doing this?” she asks, very gently. “Your heart isn’t in it. I think you know that. You must, John.”

John still cannot look at her. “There’s a baby,” he says quietly, his voice sticking in his throat.

“Of course I know that.” Mrs Hudson is unwavering. “Do you love her? Not the baby. You know exactly what I’m asking.”

John struggles internally. “I – don’t know,” he says jerkily.

Mrs Hudson studies him for a long moment. “Isn’t that answer enough?”

John cannot answer, staring at his hands.

Mrs Hudson lets the silence spin out a little, then says, very quietly, “You love him. Don’t you.”

The denial is instinctive and comes bubbling to his lips reflexively. “N – ”

“Don’t, John.” She’s sharp all of a sudden, her kind eyes stern. “Not with me. Just say it, for once. Be honest. I’ve seen it on your face half a hundred times. You love him and you know it.”

John cannot swallow. His mouth is dry. He looks away, at the floor, and nods. “We… got it wrong,” he says, the words difficult to produce. “There were so many times it could have happened. If we’d known. If one of us had taken the chance. And then it all went wrong. The timing. His suicide, or what you and me thought was… and then he came back, and Mary was already there. And then she shot him, and it almost… but there’s the baby. It’s my child. I can’t just – ” He shakes his head, still staring at the floor. “We got it completely wrong and now it’s too late.”

“Bollocks.” Mrs Hudson’s tone is gentle again, but the word surprises him nonetheless, causing him to glance up. Her eyes are incredibly kind and rather sad, drooping at the corners. “Listen to me: it’s never too late,” she says, her gnarled fingers twisting at her rings. “You both made mistakes, but is that any reason to spend the rest of your lives suffering on account of it? You must surely know that he loves you. Yet you’re keeping yourself in some sort of – of purgatory, married to that woman!”

John can feel his own brow, creased and heavy. He picks up his tea and takes a sip, the warmth somehow softening the tightness in his throat. Mrs Hudson’s tea always seems to work that way. “And my daughter?” he asks. “What kind of a man runs off and leaves his three-week-old newborn behind – all to indulge his own whims?” He does not say that whether or not Sherlock really does want that is another question altogether. He suspects – has done for a long time, truth be told. Since he came back. There were always glimmers, weren’t there? Sometimes more clearly than others. A certain look, now and then – those blue eyes slanting up at him through his lashes, something playing about the corners of those moveable, expressive lips. Something both too precious and too forbidden to be allowed into the firm shape of words, impossible to deny or retract once said. Sometimes it was in the warmth of a patch of upper arm touching arm as they watched the news. The silence between them in the loo as John changed his bandaging, removed his stitches, examined the skin beneath his hands closely, the air between them charged and full of things unspoken. Of course he’s felt it. What he doesn’t know is what Sherlock concretely wants. That Sherlock feels something… that much John is almost certain of, but given Sherlock’s confessed lack of experience, mentioned in oblique comments here and there and left carefully undiscussed, John has no idea what Sherlock would actually want if it came down to it.

Mrs Hudson answers his question, drawing his attention back. “Don’t misunderstand me,” she says. “Of course the child is important. But ask yourself if she would thank you for sticking around and resenting it, or whether she’d be better off. Or if it’s worth ruining at least two adult lives for the sake of what’s ‘right’ in one sense and completely wrong in others.”

John shakes his head. “That’s rationalisation at its finest. That’s just us looking for a reason so that I can feel good about going after what I really want.”

Mrs Hudson’s brows arch. “So you do really want him, then,” she says, and John feels heat sting his cheeks.

He takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly, looking away again. He cannot lie to her. She would know anyway, and besides, it’s Mrs Hudson. He doesn’t want to lie to her. There are so many times they could have talked about this, but they never did. Not directly. Never like this. “I’ve never let myself even put it into words before, you know,” he says slowly. “Never once. Not in all the time I’ve known him. But if we come right down to it, once and for all… yes. I do. That’s exactly what I want. He’s – ” John breaks off, struggling for the right words. He opens his mouth, searching, then goes on. “He’s the most important person in my life. Has been since the day I met him. And you’re absolutely right: every time I leave here, I’m leaving part of myself behind. If I could just – stay here with him, that would be more than enough already. But you’re right that it’s far more than that, too.”

“You love him,” Mrs Hudson says again. It isn’t a question.

Something in her voice compels John to turn his head and meet her unwavering gaze squarely. He makes himself say it, and strangely, it feels like a relief rather than a struggle this time. “Yes. I do.”

Mrs Hudson’s eyes glass over. She leans forward and puts her hands over his, the biscuits still there between her thin forearms. “Then for God’s sake, John, tell him,” she says, pleading, and John feels a lump come into his own throat, his eyes suddenly stinging.

“You’re – sure he wants that?” he asks, the words coming out gruff. He blinks hard, but Mrs Hudson nods and a tear streaks down over one softly wrinkled cheek.

“Beyond a single doubt,” she tells him. “Oh, John! What you’ve put the two of you through already!”

Guilt swims up and chokes him. He sees Sherlock being wheeled into the ambulance, the oxygen mask strapped to his face. Sees him bare-chested in the operating theatre, hears the straight beep of the heart monitor flatlining. Sees Magnussen’s tall form slump to the paving stones of his terrace. All because he met and insisted on marrying Mary, even though Sherlock had come back from the dead. Suddenly his eyes are flooding. He almost never cries, but now he can’t help it. He bows his face to hide it, but he is crying, his shoulders shuddering, his breathing noisy. Mrs Hudson is still covering his hands with hers, but now they squeeze in motherly comfort, not recriminating. Understanding. “I’m sorry,” John chokes out. “I’m so fucking sorry! It’s my fault – the timing and the rest of it. I didn’t know what else to do! It just seemed like the best – but it – I’m sorry, Mrs Hudson! I got it wrong!”

She doesn’t admonish him for his language the way she usually would. “Don’t say it to me,” she says. She pulls out a handkerchief and gives it to him. “That’s clean,” she tells him. “There, now. You’re not the only one to blame. We both know how difficult he can be. You and me, we’re the ones who know best, isn’t that right? And it’s not as though he ever came right out and said it, though it was obvious enough if you were looking for it. But it’s never too late to set things right, dear. It’s time you were both happy at last. I’d like that, to see you both settled once and for all. I thought last autumn… I couldn’t believe you went back, to be honest. I know, with the baby… but – and I know how this sounds, but – some things are more important. She won’t be the first child to grow up with parents who have separated. Better that than growing up with parents who despise one another, I say.”

John takes the handkerchief and wipes his eyes with it, then reaches for a tissue and blows his nose. He didn’t know that people still used handkerchiefs in this day and age. He examines it. The initials MJH have been embroidered onto one corner, surrounded by flowers stitched in orange and pink and green. “Did you make this?” he asks.

“Oh heavens, yes, when I was a girl,” Mrs Hudson says, but refuses to be sidetracked. “Have you decided, then? Will you tell him?”

John takes another deep breath, lets it out shuddering. He looks inward, asking himself the question, but as soon as he looks, he sees that he already has. He nods, then confirms it aloud, and the words feel good to say. “Yeah. I will.”

“Soon?” Mrs Hudson asks anxiously. “You won’t keep him waiting too much longer, will you?”

John shakes his head. “No. Do you think I should go up now?”

Mrs Hudson gives him a quavering smile and it’s like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. She pats his hand. “Best get it settled before you tell Mary, don’t you think?”

This actually makes a great deal of sense. Better to find out for real that Sherlock really does want this from him, wants them to become something more than what they already are… “Yes,” John says, and the firmness of his tone surprises him somehow. “I’ll go up now. If you don’t mind.”

“Mind?” Mrs Hudson’s eyes are shining. “That’s the entire reason I asked you in, you daft thing. Go, go!”

She flutters her hands at him, shooing him out of the flat, and John smiles at her, feeling warmth well in his gut. “Maybe you should have said all this ages ago,” he says ruefully. “Talked some sense into me.”

Her lips compress a little. “Oh, John – that’s one thing I’ll never forgive myself for. If I’d only known how long it would take the two of you, honestly! But go on, then – go to him!”

John feels he should say something to reassure her. On the other hand… she’s right. He’s already waited for far too long. He nods instead, and goes without another word. At the bottom of the stairs, he stops for a long moment, then takes a deep breath and starts back up the stairs.

***

Sherlock is sitting at the desk with his laptop open when John comes back into the flat, already looking up with a mixture of confusion and interest at the sound of his step on the stairs. The confusion stays in his eyebrows but his mouth quirks into a smile nonetheless. “You’re back,” he says. “I thought you’d gone awhile ago.”

John closes the door behind him and comes into the middle of the room. “Mrs Hudson asked me in for a cup of tea,” he explains. “She wanted a word.” He hesitates, not quite sure how to bring it up out of the blue.

Sherlock’s brows lift. “At this hour?” he asks. “What about?”

This is his way in. John takes it, taking a deep breath first. “About – us, actually,” he says, and meets Sherlock’s gaze steadily.

He sees wariness come over Sherlock’s beautiful, transparent features, a wince flickering in his eyes so quickly that John nearly misses it. He blinks several times and waits, not speaking yet.

John clears his throat. “Sherlock…” he says, and suddenly it’s all right there between them, unspoken but as plain as day. He can feel that Sherlock knows exactly what he’s talking about already. “Look – I’ve – I’ve made a huge mess of everything. The timing never seemed to work, or if it did, I just missed it every single time. I’m – I don’t know what you think or what you want, or if you feel anyth – but I sort of thought you might – ” He stops, the words jumbling and crashing into one another in partial sentences that don’t make any sense.

Sherlock has gone completely still, listening to him intently, his eyes never leaving John’s. “What are you saying?” he asks, one hundred percent of his focus riveted on John. “Are you – do you – ”

He stops, and John realises that he’s just as afraid of saying it aloud as he is. And somehow that alone confirms it. “Yes,” he says. “God, yes, Sherlock. Maybe you think it’s too late now, but I – ”

He stops talking. Sherlock looks as though John just said that the world is on the brink of nuclear war. “It’s not too late,” he says urgently. He is on his feet and across the room in seconds, stopping right in front of John. “I don’t think it’s too late,” he says, the intensity even greater, his eyes on John’s like lasers. “If you don’t think – or even if you do – it’s not too late, John. Do you – ”

Yes,” John says, searching his eyes, not even needing to know what the specifics of the questions are. Yes is the only possible answer just now. “Yes, Sherlock – and I – ”

Sherlock interrupts him by ducking in and putting his mouth on John’s. John hears himself make a slightly surprised sound but Sherlock’s lips are as warm and as soft as they’ve always looked and John stops trying to talk his way out of the tangle he’s made of everything and gratefully lets the kiss say the rest of it. Sherlock’s hands are on his shoulders, gripping them, so John puts his on Sherlock’s hips. He wonders again if maybe they should stop and talk this thing out first. But he can’t seem to make himself stop, the vertigo of Sherlock’s nearness making him dizzy. The kiss is hungry on both sides, the dam having finally burst between them. All it needed was a handful of words, after all this time. (God.) John catches Sherlock’s full lower lip between his own and sucks, needing more of him, more of this. It’s completely addictive, he thinks, getting closer and putting his arms around Sherlock properly, and Sherlock follows suit, pulling John into his chest, the kiss not breaking. It goes on and time stops having any particular meaning. It feels like every kiss they never managed to make materialise happening concurrently.

It feels like hours later when they finally break apart, both of them breathing heavily, opening their eyes to look into each other’s. Sherlock’s eyes are so intense that it hits John right in the knees, and those long fingers of his are cradling John’s face as though it’s the most precious thing on the planet, and John’s arms are wound tightly around his back. It’s almost as though they don’t even have to say anything, standing there, eyes locked on each other’s. It’s all perfectly clear. Saying it out loud is worth it only for the joy of hearing it said. “God, Sherlock,” John says, exhaling. “All this time, you – ”

“Yes,” Sherlock says. “I always wanted this. It feels odd to be able to say so at last. I never thought – ”

“Nor did I,” John admits. “I was – there were so many reasons I told myself that this couldn’t happen, you know. That the timing had never worked, that we’d missed our chance. That you wouldn’t want this anyway. That you don’t feel things this way. And then Mary was here when you came back, and then the accidental pregnancy, and her shooting you – I just – I couldn’t see past all of that stuff.”

Sherlock rubs his thumbs over John’s eyebrows, still holding his face intimately. “But now you can?” he asks, watching John’s features intently.

John nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Mrs Hudson talked some sense into me. But it was always there, obviously. You know I never wanted to leave when I left. Not before Christmas and not every time since then.”

“I saw it sometimes, or thought I did,” Sherlock tells him soberly. “But I also told myself that I was imagining it, seeing what I wanted to see. Trying to make the evidence fit my preferred theory. But at the end of the day, you always went home. Back to Mary.”

John shakes his head a little. “That was never home, Sherlock. I am home.”

Sherlock holds his eyes for another moment. In lieu of answering verbally, puts his mouth back on John’s with his mouth and the kiss is even harder, even hungrier this time. John touches his tongue to Sherlock’s lips and Sherlock gets it and the kiss shifts, their tongues touching and then pressing together. John can’t seem to touch enough of Sherlock at once, and inexperienced as he said he is, Sherlock is nonetheless pulling his t-shirt out of his jeans to get at John’s bare skin. They kiss and kiss, swaying together in the middle of the sitting room. It’s dizzying; John had no idea that this intensity of want was always there, just simmering beneath the surface. Sherlock transfers his mouth to John’s neck and throat and says, against his skin, “Are you going to leave Mary?”

John puts his fingers into Sherlock’s soft curls, his eyes closed, lips parted. “Yes.”

“You don’t love – ”

“No. You’re who I love. You must know that. You know everything.” John pulls Sherlock’s head up and kisses him again, their mouths hard and insistent, and it’s amazing. “You know me,” he says, between kisses.

“Not half as well as I intend to before the night is out,” Sherlock says, his voice low and astonishingly sensual, and then he adds, “I want this so badly – want you so badly, I can’t even – but after everything that’s happened, how can you have possibly not known that I felt the same way?”

John’s fingers are already on the buttons of Sherlock’s shirt. “Maybe I did, in my heart of hearts,” he says, and gets his hands onto Sherlock’s chest. “Maybe we both did.”

“I love you,” Sherlock says, saying it directly now, looking into John’s eyes. “I always have, though it took me too long to – never mind that now. The point is, now you know for certain.”

His eyes are blue, as blue as the sky, as blue as the sea, and they’re completely transparent. John feels his chest clench. “Yes,” he breathes. “Sherlock – ”

The kiss is almost violent this time, their need for each other overwhelming them both. His hands are on the firm curves of Sherlock’s arse, just as Sherlock’s are on his now, and standing is starting to become a problem. The bedroom seems a bit far, but John considers the sofa for all of three nanoseconds before determining that it’s far too small and limiting for what he has in mind for the rest of the night.

“Bedroom,” he says, and begins to walk Sherlock backwards down the corridor. Inside the room, they rapidly strip the rest of the clothes off each other’s bodies and fall into the bed still kissing. Sherlock is hard against him, and the knowledge of his causes John’s mouth to fill with saliva. He’s been mostly hard since about five minutes into this already, and when their cocks touch, he feels the tremor that shudders through Sherlock’s entire frame. He feels it, too, the shiver of pleasure immediate, stopping the breath in his lungs. It’s fast, the urgency driven by years of unfulfilled longing on both their parts. They roll over and over in the bed, falling off the far side and continuing without so much as acknowledging it, not caring a fig as their bodies surge together, arms locked around each other. He’s on top of Sherlock, thrusting against him, and he knows it’s fast, maybe too fast, but on the other hand it’s horrendously late and he thinks with a bit of desperation that if it didn’t happen, his very skin would split open for wanting it. It’s certainly nothing all that fancy, just them rubbing and writhing against each other, but it feels better than anything he’s felt before and he wouldn’t stop now if there was a gun to his head, not as long as Sherlock wants it just as badly, which he certainly seems to. His hands are gripping and squeezing John’s arse, his back arching up from the floor to press himself to John. John moans and reaches between them to get a fist around them both, jerking hard. Sherlock groans loudly and John barely has time to wonder if anyone’s ever touched his cock before when all of a sudden his hand is there around John’s, his back straining upward even harder as he thrusts into their joined hands and rubbing hard against John’s cock and then he’s spurting against John’s skin, his voice loud. John is close but opens his eyes to see Sherlock’s face as he comes and it’s phenomenal – the very sight of it makes his balls tighten, his cock jerking. He thrusts against Sherlock’s still-twitching cock and feels it spiking, the wave of the orgasm spreading through his frame and turning him inside out. He’s shouting and Sherlock’s voice is breathless as he pants into John’s face.

When he’s spent, John lets himself slump onto Sherlock, boneless and sated, and maybe he came in a record time for brevity rivalling only his teenage years, but he doesn’t care at the moment. This is the best he’s ever felt in his life.

“That was – phenomenal,” Sherlock says, his breath hot on John’s ear. “This is the best I’ve ever felt in my life.”

John manages a single huff of laughter and Sherlock makes a questioning sound. “Nothing. I was just thinking the same thing,” he says. He raises his face. “Usually I last a bit longer than that, though…”

Sherlock gives him a quizzical look. “It’s not over,” he states. “Perhaps that was only one – I don’t know what to call it, but it’s not over, John. I have every intention of doing this all night. Or possibly the foreseeable future.”

John laughs and it comes out lower and randier than he intended it to, given that they’ve only just – but it doesn’t matter. He takes Sherlock’s face in his hands and kisses him with all of his strength, his body still loose and relaxed against Sherlock’s. “That was a bit fast,” he says after, a touch ruefully. “But I don’t think that anything could have held that back. Not now that we’ve finally got here.”

“It would have killed me,” Sherlock says, with complete sincerity, and John laughs and digs his arms between Sherlock’s back and the carpet and hugs him to himself fiercely. Sherlock’s arms are tight around him, too, and they lie there for several long, wonderful moments, just holding each other and revelling in it.

“We fell off the bed,” John says after a little, his voice muffled in Sherlock’s neck.

“So it would seem.” Sherlock’s voice is lower and slower and easier-sounding than John has ever heard it before. “We could remedy that, if you like. Though I’m entirely content right here.”

“Me too. Could be more comfortable up there, though.” John’s eyes are closed, but he knows he’s smiling.

He feels the vibration of Sherlock’s thoughtful agreement through Sherlock’s chest, his voice resonating in John’s. “All right, then.”

John gets himself into an upright position and pulls Sherlock to his feet. Somehow this leads to them kissing again, which continues as they get themselves back into the bed, both of them kicking the sheets and blankets out from around their legs. Their bodies are warm and relaxed against one another’s, as intimate as John’s only ever felt with other people after months and months of dating, and even then only rarely. With Sherlock – astoundingly – it feels like they’ve already been doing this for years. Their legs tangled together, John gets himself propped up onto one elbow and strokes Sherlock’s face as they kiss, his fingers raking through those messy curls, too, and Sherlock’s hands are both pressing into his back as though trying to fuse their bodies together. “I had no idea,” John tells him, hearing how uncharacteristically tender he sounds. He’s turning into a complete sop. He touches Sherlock’s lips with his thumb, hardly able to believe that he’s allowed to do this. “I honestly never knew that you wanted this so much.”

Sherlock gives him a half-smile that’s a little too sad. “Years of practise in trying to hide it, I suppose. Are you really going to leave Mary?”

John nods, very sober. “Yes. Absolutely. This is what I want. You’re what I want. I love you, too – there wasn’t even a chance to say it back earlier, but I do. Mrs Hudson just talked some sense into me and pointed out that I was ruining both of our lives by denying us this. She basically packed me off back up here, and here we are. I can’t believe that. I barely even said anything!”

Sherlock smiles for real now. “You barely needed to. It was all there, just waiting.”

“And you always – ?” John asks again, searching his face, wanting to hear it. “Really?”

“It took me a long time to recognise it for what it was,” Sherlock allows. “But yes, more or less. I thought I could handle it rationally. I knew that the months leading up to your wedding were difficult, but I kept gritting my teeth and handling it. We had cases. I distracted myself. But – well, I suppose I can say now that it was almost unbearable, John.”

His blue eyes are full of pain and John winces. “I’m sorry,” he says. “So sorry, Sherlock. I just got this all wrong. But from now on, it’s going to be better – right?”

“It wasn’t all you,” Sherlock says, putting a hand on John’s face, his long beautiful fingers cradling his jaw. “I played a decided part in it, myself. I had no relative experience and had never wanted any. I’d never dreamed I might want it one day, that I might like to have a clue what to do about all of this. How to approach it, how to express what I wanted, but it always seemed so impossible.”

“I know,” John says, and means it. “I know exactly what you mean. I thought so, too. It was almost just a fantasy of sorts. I didn’t have the first idea that it was an actual possibility.”

“And now a reality,” Sherlock says, holding his gaze, and John lowers his face and kisses him again.

His hand roves over Sherlock’s chest and stomach, squeezing a pec, his fingers exploring the soft dusting of hair on Sherlock’s lower belly. He touches Sherlock’s hips and thighs and feels his flesh beginning to stir, responding to him as they kiss. He cups Sherlock’s mostly-soft bits and rubs his fingers over Sherlock’s balls, feeling his cock grow against his palm, feels his sharp intake of breath. He releases Sherlock’s mouth and kisses his face and jaw and neck as he curls his hand around Sherlock and strokes him into hardness, shifting in Sherlock’s arm to bend and suck at his left nipple, lave his tongue over Sherlock’s neck where he can feel the breath rushing beneath his skin. It’s intoxicating, getting to do this for Sherlock – feel the arousal come over him, quickening his heartbeat and making his fingers clutch at him this way. “Feel good?” he murmurs, more because he wants to hear Sherlock’s breathless voice than that he needs a confirmation.

Sherlock actually moans, then says his name. “John – please – ”

He’s pushing himself into John’s fist and John goes faster, harder, his teeth on Sherlock’s skin. He can felt the wetness at the tip of Sherlock’s rather nice cock and moans a little himself, completely turned on by doing this for Sherlock. “Yeah,” he says, his own voice breathless. “God, you’re gorgeous, Sherlock – I love seeing you like this – love touching you – ” He squeezes hard, rubbing his thumb into the moisture leaking out of Sherlock and strokes him from root to tip in long, hard strokes.

Sherlock cries out loudly and grips John’s hand with his, thrusting upward once, hard, his body going stiff, and his release arcs out onto his chest and stomach.

John keeps touching him until it’s stopped, then moves his hand from under Sherlock’s slackened grip and presses hot kisses into the line of his jaw, rock hard and completely, helplessly aroused, his cock aching where it’s pushing into Sherlock’s hip. Sherlock is panting and John can feel his own breath gushing out hot into Sherlock’s neck in response, needing but wanting to give Sherlock a moment. He could just take care of it himself, but he thinks that Sherlock might want to, might be hurt if John were to deny him that.

Sherlock seems to come back to himself, still breathing hard but turning onto his side to kiss John, the kiss wet and a bit sloppy, but this is even more of a turn on. His hand is already snaking down between John’s legs to take him in a firm grip, and John groans in something like a mixture of relief and sheer lust – it feels incredibly good and it’s just a hand job, he thinks, feeling dazed, his brain clouded with sheer amounts of desire.

“Like this?” Sherlock asks against the side of his mouth, voice muffled, and John nods frantically.

“Yeah – just like that – God, fuck, yes!” It’s as though Sherlock has read the exact blueprints of how his body is wired, that he knows precisely how much pressure to use, how fast to go, and it’s so good John almost wants it not to end. But then Sherlock goes a step further and shifts downward, and the next thing John’s heat-fogged brain knows, the hot, wet slide of Sherlock’s mouth is closing around him and sucking. He must be shouting; there’s a lot of noise in the bedroom and it seems to be coming from him. It can’t be helped – Sherlock is sucking him as though his mouth was designed for the sole purpose of sucking his cock, his curls bobbing as his mouth slides over John’s length, his fist following. John’s legs are moving and spasming involuntarily and he’s got to say something; he’s so close. “Sher – !!” It’s as far he gets before the orgasm thunders through him like a waterfall. He’s dimly aware that he’s coming like a fire hose, directly down Sherlock’s throat. He can feel the press of Sherlock’s nose in the skin just above his cock, feels himself coming in an unstoppable flood, his fingers gripping Sherlock’s shoulder and hair respectively as he empties himself down that long throat.

When the stars clear from his vision, John opens his eyes. They’re wet at the corners – he came so hard that his eyes watered, he realises, and Sherlock is curled around him, his head pillowed on John’s stomach, fingers curved around his hip.

“You’re amazing,” John tells him, breathing hard. “Absolutely phenomenal. Brilliant. Devastatingly so.”

He can feel Sherlock’s smile against his belly. “The reverse is also quite true,” he says. He turns his head to look up at John along the length of his body. “I love you,” he says again, looking into John’s eyes, and John thinks that he has never been so beautiful to him before this very moment.

“I love you, too,” he says, and Sherlock uncurls himself to crawl back up, puts his elbows and forearms down on either side of John’s head as his body settles like a heavy blanket over John’s, and kisses him for a very long time.

***

John wakes in the night, hot from the body heat trapped between them under the blankets. Sherlock is frequently cold at night, he remembers. He always sleeps under at least one heavy blanket, even in summer. He can feel the sweat that’s gathered between them, though, and pushes the blanket down Sherlock’s back. Most of the heat is Sherlock himself, though, warm and loose and heavy. He makes a discontented sound and reaches back to pull the blanket back up. “Oi,” John says mildly. “I’m hot.” He turns them over, getting Sherlock onto his back, his own exposed to the blessedly cool air in the bedroom. Much better.

Sherlock’s slanted eyes are open and blinking at him, a smile playing about the corners of his mouth. It’s completely dark. It was very late when they went to bed already, between midnight and one, and now it must be three or so. It doesn’t matter. The crescent moon is shining in through the window, pooling in the sheets and reflecting in Sherlock’s eyes. Sherlock is definitely smiling now. “Better?” he asks.

“Much better,” John confirms, smiling back at him, unable to help it. He’s already five times cooler and settles back into the curve of Sherlock’s arm, putting a leg over Sherlock's where it’s sticking out from under the blanket. He puts an arm over Sherlock’s chest and squeezes, pressed up against Sherlock’s side.

Sherlock looks down at him, then turns his head a little to press a kiss to John’s forehead. “This feels surreal,” he says. “You, here. In my bed. With me.”

“It’s very real,” John confirms. “I’ll still be here in the morning. Promise.”

“I don’t want to sleep through any of it,” Sherlock says, and John looks at him, feeling wonder and love pouring out of his face in a way he’d never thought to allow himself to do, ever, and he just has to kiss Sherlock over this, and does. Time stretches into a standstill and disappears, somehow, nothing having any meaning beyond every place where they’re touching, every movement of skin against skin, lips against lips. Eventually they fall asleep again, holding each other even more tightly than they were the first time they fell asleep.

***

In the morning, the sun is bright outside and John wakes because Sherlock’s fingers are trailing lazily against his back and it feels good. He can’t think of the last time he woke up smiling, which almost makes him sad. It feels novel, and also completely right in ways that it’s never felt so right with anyone else before. He makes a contented sound in his throat and shifts closer. He’s got a morning stiffy that’s pressed up against Sherlock’s hip bone and can feel that Sherlock’s not soft, either, from where his thigh is draped between Sherlock’s legs. “Morning,” he says, his face still half-mashed into Sherlock’s shoulder.

“Morning,” Sherlock replies, his voice low and relaxed and a little scratchy, and John remembers having pumped himself down Sherlock’s throat last night. His arm tightens instinctively.

“Best wake up of my life,” he says.

Sherlock does not ask him what the worst was. Perhaps he already knows. No, scratch that, John thinks. He definitely knows. They do not bring up Bart’s Hospital. Instead Sherlock slides his fingers into John’s hair and shifts down to kiss him, slowly, languorously. Deeply. After a little while, Sherlock pulls back and says, “I honestly can’t believe this is actually happening. I keep expecting to – wake up, or something along those lines.”

John smiles at him and gets his arms and legs touching as much of Sherlock as he can. “It was really fast,” he admits. “Maybe we should have talked about it more, but I feel like it just had to happen the way it did. That fast. We both wanted each other so badly, and it’s hardly as if we don’t know each other well enough yet.”

“Precisely,” Sherlock says. “I hadn’t quite intended for that to – but then, once it started, I couldn’t begin to persuade myself to stop it, and since you didn’t seem to want to, either, I just – went with it.”

“Me too – exactly that,” John says, and Sherlock kisses him again. This kiss keeps going, their bodies pressing instinctively together, and Sherlock reaches down to touch him just as John is doing the same. They kiss over and over again, stroking each other, thrusting into one another’s fists, and when it accelerates and turns into them panting into each other’s mouth, Sherlock gets a leg hooked around John’s hip and arse and their cocks are rubbing together now, caught between their hands and it’s pure bliss. When Sherlock shouts out and comes all over John’s stomach, John hears himself make a sound of sheer animal want, his pelvis snapping forward, straining for it – and then the orgasm wrings the pleasure from his body in shuddering pulses. Sherlock touches him throughout, rubbing John’s come between his fingers in obvious fascination, which is dirty and makes John’s body squeeze out another spatter or two, and Sherlock receives these with interested sounds, too.

They kiss again, still a little breathless, and hold each other tightly. About ten minutes into this, John’s stomach gives a loud rumble where it’s pressed against Sherlock’s. Sherlock is amused. “I felt that. Is it time to feed you?” he asks, the way he used to jokingly put it when they were on cases sometimes. (“Can’t be seen to be starving my blogger, after all.”)

“Mmm. Maybe.” John looks around but can’t think where he might have left his phone. Jeans pocket, probably. “What time is it?”

Sherlock leans away to look behind him at the clock on his night stand. “Just after eleven. No wonder you’re hungry. Should we make breakfast?”

John feels the smile that comes over his face, huge and ridiculous. They always used to do breakfast together on weekends, back in the day. Weekends without cases were always for sleeping in, making huge breakfasts, maybe doing a spot of cleaning, and then being generally lazy around the flat. Ordering in for supper, maybe watching a film or going out somewhere. A pub night or dinner in a restaurant or something. Since Sherlock’s come back, they’ve eaten dinner together any number of times, but breakfast is special. Breakfast is in the realm of actually living together, which John hasn’t done with him except now and then during the summer and autumn when he was living here, taking care of Sherlock’s gunshot wound, but that was different, notably because Sherlock had been far too weak to get out of bed at the beginning, and then later only fit for sitting at the table while John got things together. They haven’t made breakfast together, not properly, since before St. Bart’s. “Yes!” he says, smiling all over himself like an idiot. “What should we make?”

“Let’s go see what there is,” Sherlock proposes, so they get up and go nude into the kitchen, John trying not to giggle. They explore the fridge and Sherlock shivers, glancing at him sideways. “Good thing I’m not trying to – impress you at the moment,” he says, his brows lifting to indicate the entendre.

John laughs and puts his arms around Sherlock from behind. “Cold air,” he says. “Don’t worry – you’ve got absolutely nothing to worry about on that front. I’ll have you know that your cock is – not to be crass, but – everything I could have hoped it would be. It’s gorgeous, Sherlock.”

Sherlock smiles, his face distinctly pink. “I like yours,” he counters, and clears his throat. “It seems that we have ham, eggs, mozzarella, spinach, mushrooms… omelette?”

“Mmm. Yes. And toast,” John decides. “And tea. Something strong. But maybe a shower first.”

Sherlock smiles at him again. “You go first,” he says. “I’ll just – get some of the dishes out of the way.”

If this isn’t a sure sign that Sherlock is in love, John doesn’t know what is. They used to fight about the dishes regularly, the arguments usually winding up with Mrs Hudson doing them in exasperation while they were out. He smiles and kisses Sherlock’s neck. “No. Come with me. We can do the dishes later. Let’s not – worry about stuff like that yet.”

Sherlock concedes at once. “If you insist,” he says, and lets John pull him off toward the loo.

They shower together and it’s wonderful and when they’re towelling each other off, Sherlock gets hard again, to his slight embarrassment, and John drops to his knees and gives his first ever blow job, Sherlock leaning up against the counter and moaning, the fingers of his right hand clenched in John’s wet hair. It’s even more arousing than he’d thought it might be. He loves getting Sherlock off, making him make these delicious sounds. He’s so hard, doing it, that he can’t help but give himself a stroke or two, which gets a panted protest from Sherlock.

“No – don’t – I want to – ”

John makes a sound to show his agreement and speeds up, tugging at Sherlock’s balls and sucking with obscene enthusiasm at the head of his cock and that does it – Sherlock gives a drawn-out wail. His hips judder forward and he shoots off down John’s throat. John is surprised by his ability to take it – he hadn’t known before now that he was capable of such a thing.

Sherlock’s cock is still flushed and mostly hard as he pulls John up and lifts him forcibly onto the bathroom counter, then bends to suck him down, hands gripping John’s hips. John groans, leaning back against the mirror and letting Sherlock do this for him, and it’s so good that he already knows he isn’t going to last all that long this time, either. The loo is steamy from the shower, the air warm, and his entire body is thrumming with the pleasure building between his legs, Sherlock’s hot mouth surrounding him, hands stroking his thighs. It builds and builds, John moaning and grasping at anything he can reaching, knocking the toothbrush cup into the sink and leaving a smeared handprint in the condensation on the mirror, fingers scrabbling at his own chest and finally taking root in Sherlock’s wet curls as he pants, a foot and leg gripping ineffectively at Sherlock’s back. When he comes, he stops breathing, white lights pounding behind his eyes, and it’s phenomenal, the pleasure wracking through him in waves, Sherlock’s mouth unbearably sensual on his flesh, his hands perfect, absolutely bloody perfect wherever they’re touching him.

When it’s finally passed, Sherlock straightens up and steps into the space between John’s knees and puts his arms around him, and John clutches at his back, breathing into Sherlock’s wet hair and marvelling again at his incredible luck. Thank God for Mrs Hudson, he thinks, meaning it with all his heart. What would they have done otherwise? Just never got here? Maybe he would have, one day. Woken up and just known that he couldn’t take it any more, living a lie with Mary and dying of unexpressed, unsated love for Sherlock. Thank God Mrs Hudson gave him the push, so that they didn’t waste any more time. He understands why Sherlock couldn’t have been the one to do it – not with him off married to someone else, having had a child with that person. And especially after Mary shot him, it hardly would have come across as unbiased. No: it had to be him.

They disentangle themselves after a bit and pull on dressing gowns to go and start the cooking, and even this everyday-ish act is heightened and coloured and eloquent in ways that it wasn’t before, or wasn’t allowed to be. They weave around one another, washing and chopping things, elbows brushing, smiling constantly, feeding each other bits of raw vegetable or ham or cheese and kissing whenever the spirit moves. John finds a loaf of thick-crusted Dutch bread from the bakery on Marylebone they always used to shop at and slices off four thick pieces for toast, then goes to where Sherlock is standing at the stove and puts his arms around him from behind, leaning his face into the back of Sherlock’s neck, happier than he’s ever been in his life. Sherlock’s laugh is a low resonance in his back.

“I’m going to burn the filling,” he says, but doesn’t object to John holding him this way in the slightest.

Somehow they get breakfast made and then sit cati-corner at the kitchen table to eat it, the way they always used to, only this time the fingers of their free hands (John’s right, Sherlock’s left) are linked together, bare feet cradling each other’s under the table and it’s so right that it almost hurts. Almost.

“The only thing putting a damper on this day in any way is the fact that I have to do the whole thing with Mary,” John says as they’re drinking their tea afterward.

Sherlock’s fingers tighten in his. “Are you going to do that today?” he asks.

“Yes. The sooner, the better,” John says firmly. “I’ve never believed in infidelity, no matter how many vows she’s broken or lies she’s told. If it needs to end, then so be it, but I’d prefer to keep the overlap as short as possible. I only needed to know for sure that you wanted this.”

Sherlock’s brows lift, his mouth quirking a little. “Are you sure yet? I could always try to persuade you a little more… though, truth be told, that was my plan, anyway…”

John laughs. “You won’t catch me complaining on that score,” he says, meaning it. “But yeah, I should just go and pick up my clothes and finish things properly. I’m dreading it, honestly, but the sooner it’s done, the happier we both can be.”

Sherlock nods. “Yes.” He hesitates. “How long do you think it will take?”

John shrugs. “A couple of hours? She might want to really hash things out, I don’t know. And then I’ll have to pack, but that won’t take long. We’ll have to have the custody discussion and all of that… I don’t even know, Sherlock. I still can’t believe I have a child, honestly. But I do, and I’ll do whatever it takes to do right by her. I just don’t even know what would be the best thing for her. I mean, I can’t exactly have custody of a newborn. She has to be with Mary for now.”

“Agreed,” Sherlock says. He studies John’s face. “Do whatever you need to do. I’ll support it in whatever ways you want. No exceptions.”

John smiles at him. “Well, we’ll see,” he says. “I don’t really see an infant fitting in with our life. A child at any age, for that matter. What do we know about raising a child? And a bit more to the point, at least for me, what would we want with raising a child?”

Sherlock digests this, his eyes on John’s face. “It isn’t a question of what we want as much as it is about what you need to do,” he points out. “If we have to have a child here with us, then so be it. Mrs Hudson would help a little.”

“Yes, but Mrs Hudson is coming on seventy-seven this spring,” John reminds him. “She’s too old to be up all night giving feedings and changing nappies. And the idea of it, having a baby here – I know it’s my child, but it fills me with dread, honestly. It would be like my life with Mary had never ended, that she still has the power to intrude, something to hold over my head and control me with. I mean, having a child with someone is not a short-term responsibility, and you know Mary. How manipulative she is. She could make absolutely everything a struggle if she wants, from custody stuff to how our daughter is raised, et cetera. Maybe it’s terrible, but I’m rather hoping she’ll want full custody. It would be simpler for everyone. I just want a clean break from her, without having to see her every other week or so for the foreseeable future.” He looks over at Sherlock and winces a little. “It is terrible, isn’t it.”

Sherlock shakes his head very slightly. “I completely understand about Mary. And you never wanted to be a father.”

“No.” It feels like a relief to come out and say it, to hear Sherlock state is so calmly, just delivering a fact. “I don’t suppose I did, no. But Ill do whatever I need to do. I might be leaving Mary, but I’m not deserting my child.”

“You’re sure that it is your child?” Sherlock asks, curious. “I don’t suppose you’ve done a paternity test, have you?”

John looks at him with something like shock. “No,” he says. “I never even thought of it. Do you think – ?”

Sherlock gives him an oblique look and picks up his cup to drink the last of his tea. “It is Mary,” he points out. “There is much that we don’t yet know about her. I’m merely suggesting it as a possibility.”

The idea is still a bit stunning, but it’s already losing shock value. In fact, it does seem perfectly plausible in some ways. Hmm. “I guess I should ask to have a test done, then,” John says blankly. “Good thought.”

Sherlock leans over and pulls John’s face to his. They kiss for a long moment and then Sherlock says, “Better to just know the truth, isn’t it?”

John nods. “Yeah. Definitely.” He kisses Sherlock again, then again. Sherlock’s mouth is addictive and he can’t get enough of it. Sherlock seems to feel the same way, his hands tugging John out of his chair and onto his lap, John’s legs astride him, and they’re clawing at each other’s dressing gowns to get themselves skin-to-skin again. John can feel Sherlock’s cock hardening directly against his, hears the sounds they’re both already making. The chair rocks onto its back legs and thumps down again once or twice as John grinds himself against Sherlock, those giant hands gripping his arse beneath the dressing gown. They’re going to tip over, he thinks. “Floor,” he says, the word mashed against Sherlock’s mouth, and without waiting for an answer, wrestles Sherlock down onto his back. They keep going, hardly interrupted by the move, feverishly rubbing each other and thrusting into their joint hands. It’s sweaty and primal and John is getting off just on seeing Sherlock come undone like this. “Oh yeah, that’s it,” he gets out, breath pounding in his ears. “Come on – I can feel you – ”

Sherlock groans and comes, and John hears himself give a grunt that seems to come from his very gut and joins him even as Sherlock is still spurting all over them both. John grits his teeth and throws his head back as he comes himself, then looks down between them, panting and watches their cocks both jerking and dribbling out the last ebbs of it. “If this keeps up,” Sherlock says, breathing hard, “we’ll be caught in an endless cycle of showering and having sex. I’ve already had two orgasms just since we showered.”

John grins, circling his hips lazily, letting himself relax against Sherlock. “Is that – ”

“It’s not a complaint,” Sherlock says emphatically. He smiles up at John. “Kiss me.”

John complies readily, the sticky mess squishing between them as he does. It feels intimate and warm, and he’s reluctant to pull away and separate himself from Sherlock. He’s awash with endorphins and loving it, happiness suffusing his being and being echoed back at him in the strength of Sherlock’s arms and lips and hands. After a little while, though, he knows he’d best just go and put a proper end to his marriage. The sooner he does it, the sooner he can come back to Sherlock and start the rest of their life together properly.

“The sooner you go, the sooner you can come back,” Sherlock says, a hand cupping John’s face.

John shakes his head. “How are you reading my mind again? I was just thinking that exact thing.”

Sherlock smiles but doesn’t try to explain it. They get themselves up again and take their plates and themselves over to the sink. “We should thank Mrs Hudson,” Sherlock says spontaneously, turning on the taps to run warm water.

John takes a clean flannel from him, smiling. “That’s a great idea. She would love that. Maybe we should take her out for dinner or something.”

“Tomorrow night?” Sherlock suggests. “Or the night after. Whenever she’s free. Do you want to ask her on your way out, or back in?”

“I’ll do that,” John says. “You choose a restaurant. You know her tastes better than anyone.”

Sherlock smiles. “I have a few ideas. You’d better get dressed.”

John sighs and goes to find his clothes. He comes back and buttons his coat, stepping into his shoes. “I’ll be back in a bit, then,” he says. “Wish me luck.”

Sherlock comes over to him. Instead of saying anything, he takes John’s face into his hands and kisses him deeply, passionately, tenderly, enough so to make John weak in the knees. After, he leans his forehead against John’s and says, “That says everything I could hope to put into words. Don’t – let her change your mind, John. Do come back. To – this.”

“To you,” John says, looking into Sherlock’s eyes, and means it as a vow. “I will. I promise.”

Sherlock kisses him again, then pulls away and says, “Go, then.”

John smiles at him one last time and goes.

***

At the bottom of the stairs, he turns the corner and starts toward Mrs Hudson’s flat, but she opens the door and slips out before he’s even there. Her face is full of delight, her fingers twisting together, shoulders hunched in conspiratorial anticipation. “So?” she asks in a stage whisper that Sherlock can almost certainly hear from upstairs. “How is everything?”

John beams at her and shoos her back inside, pointing upstairs in indication, and she takes him by the arm and tugs him bodily into her kitchen before turning to face him, hands clasped near her face.

“Well?” she demands.

“It’s wonderful, it’s brilliant,” John tells her, smiling all over himself. “You were completely right – he did want it, he does love me – you were absolutely, one hundred percent right and I was an idiot for having taken so long.” There, that should satisfy her, he thinks.

She crows in utter glee. “Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaims. “Have you got time for a cuppa, or are you going somewhere?”

“I’m headed out, actually,” John says. “I’m – going back to, er, Mary’s flat to… let her know. You know. End things properly.”

Mrs Hudson’s face takes on a plaintive look. “Oh dear,” she says. “But it’s the right thing to do, of course. I shouldn’t keep you.”

John thinks, then decides it would really be better to let Sherlock invite her out for dinner. “Why don’t you come up and have tea with us, when I get back?” he suggests. “Sherlock wants you to know all about it, too.”

Mrs Hudson gives him a coy look. “I’d love that, but are you sure he won’t want to see you on your own when you tell him it’s definitely over with Mary? I did… hear a few things last night and again this morning…”

John feels himself flush in a way he hasn’t done since he was about seventeen. Somehow it feels like being caught out by his mother. Mrs Hudson is not his mother, but it’s pretty damned close. She’s been there for him in ways that his own mother never was at any point in their relationship. He clears his throat and looks away. “Er, sorry,” he says, and she giggles at him. “I didn’t realise – I guess we were a bit – erm, loud.”

Mrs Hudson is laughing at him and reaches over to pat his arm. “Nonsense,” she tells him. “You haven’t got a thing to apologise for. I can’t even tell you how happy I am for the two of you! I won’t pry for details, but I think you must know by now that he’s never had anyone before, I don’t think. Never been with anyone, I mean. You’re all he’s ever wanted since the two of you met and I’m so pleased for the both of you that you’ve finally got there.”

John feels affection well like a wave within him. “Not half as happy as we are,” he says frankly. “I mean that, Mrs H. And it’s all down to you. Now I’ve just got to go and deal with the rest of it, so that I can come back here to stay, at last.”

“Then go,” Mrs Hudson tells him. “Come and get me when you’re back and we’ll have that cuppa then, all three of us! I’ll do a little baking, meanwhile.”

John thinks briefly of telling her not to go to any trouble, then realises that this would be unkind. This is almost as much her celebration as it is theirs. “That would be lovely,” he says instead, and her eyes swim again.

She bats at his arm. “Go on then, you silly thing,” she says, and John grins at her and goes, his heart feeling fuller than it has any right to.

***

When he walks in the door of the flat, the stony silence within tells him already that Mary knows.

He takes off his shoes but leaves his coat on, and walks into the sitting room. She is sitting in one of the armchairs, her legs curled beneath her. Alaska is sleeping in the cot just inside the doorway. John’s eyes meet Mary’s across the space, and hers are cool and judgemental, the angle of her eyebrows sharp. “Hello,” John says quietly.

Mary’s rosebud mouth tightens. “Not so much as a text,” she says, unimpressed. “Honestly, John. Who was she, then? Or are you going to try to tell me this was a case? I know Sherlock would cover for you.”

John is a little taken aback. Somehow he’d assumed she would have guessed the truth. “You’re… half right,” he says, not dodging it. “I was with Sherlock the entire time, and he would definitely corroborate that.”

Mary rolls her eyes. “So where were you really?” she asks.

John pauses. “With Sherlock,” he says again. She opens her mouth to object, and he raises a hand, forestalling her. “Mary – listen to me,” he says firmly. “I wasn’t with another woman; I was with Sherlock. With Sherlock.” He watches her, waiting for his emphasis to sink in, and he sees the moment of her realisation dawn, followed immediately by a narrowing of her eyes.

“You mean – ”

“Yes.” John waits.

Several expressions pass over Mary’s face in rapid succession, settling finally a tight-lipped calm. “I see,” she says, the words tight but otherwise even. “Was that the first time? Be honest.”

“It was,” John tells her, watching her warily.

“Then it was also the last time,” Mary informs him, the lines around her eyes strained.

“It wasn’t.” John doesn’t budge, standing his ground, shoulders squared.

Mary opens her mouth, inhales, stops, then says, “Excuse me?”

“I’m leaving you.” He meant to be gentler about this, but it’s all right out there on the surface already. There’s no point beating around the bush. “I’m sorry, Mary. It was the first time anything happened between us, but it certainly wasn’t the first time either of us wanted it to. We’ve loved each other for a very long time. I would have stayed.” He gestures at Alaska’s crib. “I’d have stayed for her. And I’ll do what it takes to do right by her. But you and I… even if you hadn’t shot Sherlock, I’m not sure that it could have lasted, given that I was in love with someone else. I’m sorry. I know that, er… can’t be easy to hear. But there’s nothing that can be done to change it. I love him, and I’ve decided at last to stop denying us both and just be with him.”

He glances at her and sees that her mouth has gone even tighter. “I see,” she says, the words hard. “And you just – came to this conclusion out of the blue, did you? Or have you been thinking about it ever since I had the nerve to put a bullet in your precious Sherlock?”

John shakes his head. “I never would have acted on it. Not with a child – and by the way, I’d like to do a paternity test before we discuss custody arrangements. Just to be sure. There’s so much I don’t know about you.”

Mary doesn’t answer this, her lips thin. “So, your sudden decision,” she prompts.

John shrugs. “Mrs Hudson talked sense into me, that’s all. She’s right: there’s no point in my ruining four lives by being in a marriage or family that I don’t want to be in, with none of us having what we really want.”

Mary files away this information, nodding, then says, with a sharp look back at him, “I wanted you. That’s all.”

“That’s – everything,” John replies. “It’s not a small thing to ask for or to give. And my heart was already spoken for. I’m sorry. We should never have got married. That’s my fault.”

Mary doesn’t respond to this, looking away as though the very sight of him is intolerable.

The tension is tight in John’s gut. “I’m going to get my things,” he says, and goes into the bedroom he so recently shared with Mary. There aren’t many of things. None of the household stuff is his. Mary already had a completely furnished flat and he’d had nothing after Afghanistan or Baker Street, the awful place he’d been living in before Mary also pre-furnished. He gets his suitcase out of the closet and packs his clothing into it as quickly as possible. Checking over his shoulder, he furtively retrieves his Sig from the back of the night stand drawer. It’s still loaded, the safety on. He slides it carefully into the waistband of his jeans, tugs his jumper down to hide it, then turns back to putting his shirts in the suitcase. At least they were already folded.

“She’s not yours, you know,” Mary says from the doorway.

He doesn’t jump, but it’s close. (How long has she been standing there?) John goes on putting his shirts away, but closes his eyes for a brief moment, thanking deities he only half-believes in for this piece of information. “Who was it, then?” he asks, not even particularly caring.

“None of your business.” Mary is cold. “What else do you need? I’ll help you.”

He straightens up, shaking his head. “Just my things from the loo.” He looks at her. “Listen: I did try to do this all honestly, you know. I would have stayed. And you already knew that she isn’t even mine. You cheated first – before we were even married! And you shot Sherlock. He was trying to help you, and you shot him.”

Mary’s eyes go to his waist and the concealed Sig. “So, what? Are you going to shoot me?” She rolls her eyes at him and goes into the loo, clearly unafraid of him and not waiting to let him deny it. She comes back with his shower things and pre-packed shaving kit. “You still have a toothbrush at Baker Street. I’ve seen it.” She hands him the things.

John takes them and thinks of having knocked their toothbrushes into the sink that morning with his cock in Sherlock’s mouth. Sherlock’s toothbrush, and his own that he’d brought when he was staying there in the summer and autumn, nursing Sherlock through the gunshot wound and trying to sort out what the hell he was meant to do with his life. This is absolutely the right choice, he knows. Absolutely. He has no doubt about this, and no regret. He is merely correcting a long-running wrong, and it feels like waking up from a prolonged bad dream. He puts the remaining items in his small case and zips it closed. “I’ll hire a solicitor and make arrangements,” he says. “I plan on being entirely civilised about this. I assume that you will be, too.”

He sees Mary’s jaw clench, then release. “No need for drama,” she says coolly. “I agree.” She turns and leaves the bedroom.

John glances around for anything else he might have forgotten, then brings the suitcase out to the door. He puts his shoes back on, then goes over to the crib where Alaska is still sleeping. He puts his hands on the rail and looks down at the infant he’s believed was his child for the past three weeks. He feels enormously relieved that the disconnect in his feelings of attachment to her have a basis in reality now, that he has not felt that his own child was a stranger. The baby is a stranger. Nevertheless, he’s held her and changed her and picked her up when she was crying. Three weeks of this were enough to leave an impression, despite the disconnection. He bends over to touch her face.

“Leave her where she is,” Mary says sharply. “She’s sleeping.”

John ignores her, but leaves the infant where she is. “Goodbye,” he says softly. Perhaps Good luck would be more appropriate. “You take care of yourself.” He straightens up and turns around. “Well,” he says to the woman he married. “I guess this is it.”

Mary has gone back to the armchair and resumed the same position. For the briefest of moments he catches a glimpse of fierce bitterness and anger on her face, but then it’s tucked away, the arch of her eyebrows masking it all in cool indifference. “I suppose so.”

“Right,” John says. He thinks of Baker Street and Sherlock, and Mrs Hudson waiting anxiously to come up for tea. Yes. “I’ll be in touch about that solicitor. Goodbye, Mary.”

He turns and goes. Behind him, Mary makes no response.

***

Mrs Hudson finally finishes fussing with her cake and brings it over to the kitchen table, where they’re already sitting, a fresh pot of Earl Grey steeping in wait. “There, now,” she pronounces, setting it down and seating herself across from Sherlock. “I’ll cut it. How big a piece does everyone want?”

Sherlock leans forward, smiling. It’s his favourite cake of Mrs Hudson’s, which of course is why she made it. It’s his favourite for a good reason, John thinks, admiring the cake himself. It’s an almond lemon cake layered with custard and dusted liberally with powdered sugar, and she always makes it for special occasions like birthdays. Usually if she decides to produce one for tea, she leaves out the custard, but she knows perfectly well that Sherlock loves the custard in particular. Of course she did the full version, John thinks fondly.

“It looks delicious,” he says. “I’ll have a normal-sized piece, please.”

“I’ll have the same,” Sherlock says, and Mrs Hudson scrunches up her nose at him.

“For starters, you mean,” she says archly. She knows very well that Sherlock, who is entirely capable of going days without food of any sort, is just as capable of eating half the cake in one go.

Sherlock smiles serenely and doesn’t deny it. “Are you being mother?” he asks. “I can, if you’d rather.”

Mrs Hudson cracks him lightly over the back of the knuckles with the knife she’s using to cut the cake, which leaves crumbs and custard on his hand. “Don’t you dream of it,” she scolds, though it’s playfully meant.

“Ow.” Sherlock licks his knuckles clean, looking slantwise at John as he does so, and John’s chest flutters. He came up with Mrs Hudson and they haven’t had a chance yet to crow over the fact that he hasn’t just come home from being away somewhere, but that he’s come home properly, his suitcase sitting just there inside the door. He wants to kiss Sherlock for a rather long time, but it hardly seems the thing to do with Mrs Hudson right there, so he restrains himself. There’s a definite air of festivity in the flat, though, all three of them brimming with happiness.

Mrs Hudson slides plates of cake to them both, then pours everyone’s tea. That done, she pulls her own modest piece of cake toward herself and cuts a forkful. “Now,” she says, beaming at them. “Tuck right in! I had to pop over to Mrs Turner’s to borrow an egg for the custard and I’m just glad it set in time. Now tell me: how long did it actually take, last night?”

Sherlock stares at her. “For what?”

John elbows him. “Idiot. She means for us to – get ourselves sorted,” he mutters, though Mrs Hudson can hear him perfectly well.

Sherlock’s laugh comes out through his nose, ducking his head toward John’s shoulder. “Oh, God, I thought you were asking – never mind,” he tells Mrs Hudson.

She shakes her head indulgently. “I’m a modern woman, Sherlock, but I don’t believe in kissing and telling! Go on, then – answer my question properly! How long did it take before John spat it out and told you he was an idiot and you got yourselves sorted?”

Sherlock looks at him. “Less than five minutes, I think.”

John smiles. “My sense of time wasn’t functioning particularly well, to be quite honest.”

Mrs Hudson leans forward, her hands clasped under her chin. “And now you’ve talked about everything?”

“‘Everything’ would be rather a lot,” Sherlock says dryly. “But we’ve certainly begun.” He takes another bite of his cake, swallows it, then says, “We wanted to thank you. For helping us get here. Obviously we weren’t doing terribly well with that on our own.”

“Nonsense,” Mrs Hudson says dismissively. “You might have got there eventually. But I was so tired of seeing you both so unhappy. It was obvious that John never once wanted to leave you when he went. And I know how desperately unhappy you were before, during, and after the wedding. And again after he left, at Christmas.”

John looks at Sherlock, but Sherlock’s eyes are still on Mrs Hudson. “True,” he says. “All true. Nevertheless, we’d like to take you somewhere nice for dinner. Tomorrow, if you’re free, or the night after. I thought perhaps Angelotti’s, where we went for your birthday four years ago.”

Mrs Hudson’s smile is delighted. “Oh, that would be lovely! But you don’t have to do this, Sherlock!”

“It was John’s idea,” he tells her, deflecting the praise. “And of course we do. We’re family, the three of us.”

She nods. “But Sherlock… your own mother – ”

“So, tomorrow night, or Saturday?” Sherlock interrupts, speaking over her. “When are you free?”

Mrs Hudson’s eyes go very slightly stern, but then she relents. “I can’t tomorrow. I’ve got a boring meeting to go to with my ladies group.”

“Saturday, then?” John asks, carefully steering them past the prickly subject of Sherlock’s relationship with his mother. “Would you be free then? We’ll make a reservation.”

She relents. “Saturday would be lovely. Not too late, if you don’t mind. Gives me indigestion, eating too soon before bed.”

“Six o’clock?” Sherlock asks, and she nods again. “I’ll make the reservation.”

“Perfect.” She smiles fondly at them both. “I really can’t tell you two how happy I am! This is all I could have hoped for! You know you boys are like my own sons and I’m thrilled for you both that you have each other now – properly, the way it was always meant to be.”

Sherlock finds John’s hand under the table and takes it, their fingers linking together. “So are we,” he tells her, not even trying to be facetious about it. “Does that mean you’ll finally relent and let me have the recipe for this cake?”

“Don’t be silly, of course not! You know I’ve said I’ll leave it to you in my will. But go on, then – give us a little kiss,” Mrs Hudson adjures. “Let me see it. I’ve been waiting for so long.”

John thinks wryly of the fact that Mrs Hudson’s certainly already heard them, so why should a kiss be any worse? He shifts closer to Sherlock and leans over, and Sherlock obediently closes his eyes and puts his arm around John’s shoulders and kisses him. It’s a relatively chaste kiss, their lips mostly closed, but it already feels like it’s been an age since this morning and John actually forgets about Mrs Hudson entirely for a moment or two. When they part, Sherlock’s hand is cradling his jaw and they’re still looking at each other, holding one another with their eyes alone.

Mrs Hudson sniffs and John remembers where they are and what’s happening again. He looks over and sees that her eyes have misted over. “Oh, you two,” she says, waving a hand in front of her face. “I never thought I’d live to see the day! Thank heavens I said something!”

John, being closer, reaches over and puts a hand on her thin wrist. “Exactly,” he says, keeping his voice gentle. “Thank heavens you did, Mrs Hudson. Thank you. We owe you.”

“Enormously,” Sherlock adds.

She is in floods, her eyes radiating happiness at them through her tears. “I thought – when you got married,” she starts, her voice quavery with tears. “I thought it should have been your wedding, the two of you, and with the things you said, Sherlock – ”

She stops and John glances at Sherlock. “It’s all right now,” he tells her. “Everything is going to be fine now.”

Mrs Hudson picks up a serviette and dabs at her eyes. “I’ve smudged my make-up,” she says, noting the streak of mascara left behind. She looks at both of them, first Sherlock, then John. “I’d like to see you two married,” she says firmly. “I’d like that very much. It’s legal now, and you love each other – you’ve been waiting for this since the very start. I’d like to see you both settled before I die.”

“Oh, well, that’s not going to happen for ages,” Sherlock tries, but Mrs Hudson is adamant.

“I mean that,” she says, every bit as firmly. “It doesn’t have to be this week or next week, but sometime, I’d like to see you two get engaged. Tell me at least that you’re both serious about this.”

“Completely,” Sherlock says.

“Utterly,” John agrees.

“Well, good!” Mrs Hudson says, and Sherlock laughs. Somehow he’s finished his slice of cake already and pushes his empty plate back to Mrs Hudson, his eyes glinting.

John looks at them both and loves them more than anything. He didn’t leave his family behind today, he thinks. They’re right here.

***

When Mrs Hudson leaves, Sherlock says, “Come to the sofa and tell me.”

John agrees and they move to sit down together, half-turned to face each other. “It was… okay,” John says. He thinks of the gun, then remembers that he took it out surreptitiously while Mrs Hudson wasn’t looking and put it nonchalantly into the silverware drawer. He picks up Sherlock’s hand and holds it in both of his. “The baby isn’t mine. She told me.”

Sherlock raises his brows. “She volunteered that?”

“Yeah. I think she was trying to rub it in about having cheated before I did,” John says dryly.

“And – ” Sherlock’s eyes are intent on his face, his expression a bit anxious. “How do you feel about that?”

“A little disappointed,” John admits. “But mostly relieved. It would have been nice to say a proper goodbye, I guess, but she was sleeping and Mary didn’t want me disturbing her. Probably better that way, anyway.”

Sherlock still looks troubled. “I’m sorry, for what it’s worth. Did she tell you who the father is?”

“No, and I didn’t pursue it.” John brings Sherlock’s hand up to his face and turns his own into Sherlock’s palm, closing his eyes. “I wanted to come home to you. For real this time. For good. I will never leave you again, Sherlock. Never.”

Sherlock’s thumb passes over his cheek and then Sherlock’s face is there, his lips warm on John’s and already so dearly familiar. “I love you,” Sherlock tells him, his voice a little rough, and John thinks of how many times he’s already said it and thinks of how long Sherlock’s been suppressing the need to do that, to say it out loud at last.

“I love you, too,” he says between kisses, his arms around Sherlock’s back and vowing to himself that he will tell Sherlock as often as Sherlock wants to hear it. Hell, he wants to hear it, too. Joy is suffusing his entire being. He never should have left at Christmas, never should have stayed with Mary without determining once and for all that having this with Sherlock wasn’t an option. They were both so wrong. But now they’ve somehow stumbled onto a second chance, and this time, nothing will keep them from being happy. Not after having waited as long as they have.

They spend the whole of the next day together, not even leaving the bedroom before noon. Sherlock seems surprisingly content to lie around, talking and touching and revealing secrets they’ve kept from each other all this time. When the touching and exploring gets heated, the talking stops and their bodies take over again. They go out for a very late brunch, their hair still wet from the shower they took, and go round to the shops for some groceries afterward. Sherlock roasts a chicken so exquisitely that John tells him that he is going to dream about it that night and Sherlock laughs, his entire face crinkling in lines of laughter John has rarely seen before. He compliments John’s garlic mashed potatoes and they agree that the salad they made together is delicious, too. They drink a bottle of sauvignon blanc and John feels pleasantly full and tipsy by the time they pile themselves onto the sofa to see what’s on the news. There is an election on in America and a minor war in the Balkans, and after that everything is dull and Sherlock is far more interested in kissing him than in watching. When it becomes clear that neither of them is watching any more, John gets up and pulls Sherlock to his feet and they move jointly to the bedroom. They strip each other bare just inside the door and stumble into bed, the door still half-open behind them. It doesn’t matter.

The jut of Sherlock’s erection is still a marvel every time and John can’t keep himself from touching it as they kiss, half on top of Sherlock, their thighs flexing together. He kisses Sherlock’s neck and chest and ribs, shunts his nose into the fine, dark hair beneath his arms to drink in his scent, laves his tongue over Sherlock’s lithely-muscled stomach. “You’re gorgeous,” he says fervently, shifting down to settle himself between Sherlock’s legs. “So beautiful. I’ll never stop wanting to touch you, make you feel good.”

Sherlock is watching him through hooded lids, his eyes dark blue and gleaming down the length of his torso at John. He’s propped up on his elbows, one shoulder higher than the other and he looks like a model, John thinks. “It’s a bit soon to promise that, don’t you think?” he asks, though his tone is relaxed and low, resonating in John’s balls where they’re pooled against the cool sheets. “We only just started this two days ago…”

John turns his head and licks a long stripe up the length of Sherlock’s cock, starting at the base and ending with a swirl around the sensitive head. Sherlock moans. “I doubt it very much,” he says, his own voice full of dark promise, and Sherlock doesn’t contradict him. He’s already lost track of how many times he’s had Sherlock in his mouth. Is this the fifth? The sixth? It doesn’t matter. John gets his mouth around Sherlock properly and begins to suck. Sherlock makes a loud, very appreciative sound, his head thrown back, lips parted, and John feels another stab of arousal spike aggressively through his body. He lifts his mouth off long enough to say, “I think I may be developing a fetish for getting you off, actually.”

“Mm – fine by me,” Sherlock groans, his hips moving, pushing very slightly into John’s mouth. “No complaints here whatsoever.”

“Pass me that awful lube of yours,” John says in response, and Sherlock doesn’t hesitate, reaching to find it in the pillows and shoving it into his hand. He doesn’t ask what John plans to do with it. So far all they’ve done is get each other off with their hands or mouths, or rub themselves together into ecstasy, and it’s been phenomenal, but John wants to experiment a little further. Sherlock’s lubricant is completely unsexy, medical-grade stuff, unscented and uninteresting, and John has already made (gentle) fun of it several times. (“It works,” Sherlock had said, not rising to his bait. “What am I supposed to use, some sort of – fruit-scented nonsense?”) John promised to show him, and he will. For now, the boring stuff will do. “Turn over,” he says. “I want to try something, if you’re game.”

Sherlock turns himself, careful to avoid kicking John in the head as he does so. “What are you going to do?”

“Explore you a little more, if you don’t mind,” John tells him.

“I don’t mind. Go ahead.”

Sherlock’s eyes are closed, which John takes as a sign of trust. He starts with his hands, touching Sherlock’s perfect, perfect arse, then sliding his palms up to rub over Sherlock’s back. He follows with his mouth, kissing the long, scarred expanse of that pale skin. Sherlock told him about Serbia in the autumn, explained briefly how he acquired the scars the day John discovered them while helping Sherlock into the shower. Sherlock had stood in the shower and talked about it while John had sat on the lid of the loo and listened, the information soaking into him and wracking his chest with pain and grief over what Sherlock had gone through out there. He kisses the scars now and traces them with his tongue, and Sherlock shivers a little. “This okay?” John asks, checking.

“Very okay,” Sherlock confirms, his eyes still closed. Then he adds, “It feels good, what you’re doing. I like it.”

It’s unusual for him to be this forthcoming and John’s heart swells. He kisses his way down Sherlock’s spine, then starts in with his teeth on Sherlock’s arse, biting it gently. Sherlock makes a surprised sound of pleasure and moves a little, responding. John follows the soft bites with his tongue and lips, licking with hard, firm strokes, and Sherlock begins to make very specifically aroused sounds. He works his way inward, using his short fingernails on the underside of the curve of Sherlock’s beautiful arse, then pushes his cheeks apart and drags his tongue slowly over Sherlock’s hole. Sherlock shouts out in surprise, his entire body jolting so hard that John wonders for a moment if he just came, but he hasn’t – Sherlock is squirming against the sheets, his arms folded beneath his face and he’s talking, the words coming out in a jumbled stream.

“Oh my – oh God, John, do that – do that again, please – I nnn – do it again!”

John moans himself, heat sweeping down his back and making his cock harder than ever. He buries his face in Sherlock’s arse and licks again, again, letting himself go. He’s never done this to anyone before, but Sherlock’s response is so unrestrainedly enthusiastic that it makes him feel completely liberated about doing it. He’d worried that Sherlock might flinch or be disgusted, but here he’s practically gagging for it. So John kisses and rubs his tongue over him, pushes inside, and Sherlock moans and pants and tries to say words that come out garbled and unintelligible. John reaches beneath Sherlock to find his cock hard and already wet at the tip. He lifts his face and uncaps the lube with shaking fingers, then rubs two of them over Sherlock’s hole in lieu of his tongue. Sherlock is moaning raggedly and continues to do so as John works his fingers inside his body. He finds the nub of Sherlock’s prostate and presses it with his middle finger, just enough to make Sherlock gasp, his hips shunting back onto John’s fingers.

“John – ” He sounds desperate, wrecked with it. “I need you inside me! Not your fingers – I want – ”

“Yes,” John breathes, his voice thick with arousal so heavy he’s almost choking on it. “If you want that, I’m there.”

“Please – !”

John kisses Sherlock’s back again, working his way up to the nape of Sherlock’s neck, fingers still moving inside him. He leaves his fingers where they are and shifts himself onto Sherlock directly so that his cock is pressing in between the curves of Sherlock’s arse. He’s practically shaking with arousal, with hunger for Sherlock, his free hand buried in Sherlock’s curls as he kisses Sherlock’s long neck.

“Now – please!” Sherlock begs, and John entire body throbs with need.

He withdraws his fingers now, gets some more lube onto his cock, then lifts himself to fit the head of his cock to Sherlock’s body and gives a long, smooth push inside. He stiffens, the pleasure so strong that he has to struggle to keep it together. It’s tight but his tongue and fingers prepared Sherlock well. He gets himself all the way inside, sunk root-deep into Sherlock and asks, breathlessly, “You all right?”

“I – ” Sherlock cannot seem to speak, his back heaving beneath John’s chest. “Yes – I just – ”

“We’ll take a moment,” John promises. “This is – a big adjustment.”

“It feels – ” Sherlock struggles for the words. “I feel – complete. For the first time. I feel like I’m not – missing something.”

John’s eyes sting for a moment. He gets his arms around Sherlock’s chest and hugs him fiercely, his cock still buried within Sherlock’s body. “I know,” he says fiercely. “God – I know!” As he holds Sherlock, he feels the muscles of his body begin to loosen gradually, accepting his presence there, and after a little, still holding Sherlock to himself, he begins to roll his hips, moving within Sherlock a little. He manages to find Sherlock’s prostate with his cock in short order and feels the shock waves that go through Sherlock’s body when he does. The tempo accelerates rapidly after that and it dissolves into a blur of him thrusting frantically into the heat of Sherlock clamping around him, Sherlock’s cock thrusting in turn into his fist. They’re moving jointly toward the same goal, panting as John plunges into him, barely pulling out of Sherlock at all as his hips jam into Sherlock’s arse over and over and over again, and when Sherlock comes, his breath suspends into wheezing gasps, coming so hard that John thinks he might be losing consciousness, but then he shouts out, the breath expelling from his lungs, and the muscles of his arse clamp so hard around John’s cock that he hears himself swear and then he’s soaring, spilling himself in long ribbons into Sherlock and it’s absolute euphoria, pleasure electrifying every cell of his body. They had all the boring conversations about being tested that morning, and in this particular moment, feeling his release soaking into Sherlock, he’s tremendously happy to have nothing whatsoever between them. He keeps moving until he’s completely, utterly spent and sated, then slumps onto Sherlock, feeling bonelessly and entirely satisfied. He pulls the arm that’s trapped beneath Sherlock’s chest out and wipes his handful of Sherlock’s come on the sheets beside him. “Holy fuck,” he pants.

Sherlock’s back is gleaming with sweat in the lamplight. “Indeed,” he says, his voice two octaves lower than usual. “That was – good.”

John huffs out a laugh, pulls out of Sherlock and urges him onto his back to settle alongside him, an arm stretched out over Sherlock’s chest. “Just good?” he wants to know, teasing.

Sherlock’s entire face is slack and relaxed in a way that John’s never seen before, his mouth smiling and dreamy. “Very, very good,” he amends. “Phenomenal, even. That thing you did, with your mouth – ” He stops, reaching over to put a hand on the back of John’s head. “I couldn’t have imagined anyone doing something like that for me before. The idea of being this – intimate with someone – it would have frightened me before I knew that I felt this way about you. Even now, it almost shocks me that you would want to do that.”

“I loved doing it,” John tells him honestly. “I love making you feel good. There is nothing I wouldn’t do with or for you, Sherlock. Nothing whatsoever. If you want to try it with you inside me next time, or sometime, that’s fine with me, too. Anything you like. Anything at all.”

Sherlock gazes at him, his eyes full of wonder. “What have I ever done to deserve you?” he asks, almost more to himself than to John, the question an echo of the bitter version John asked of Mary seven months ago. He puts a hand on John’s face, holding his gaze.

John puts his hand over Sherlock’s. “Everything,” he says, meaning it completely. “You’ve done everything to deserve it. I love you. I love you more than I know how to tell you.” Sherlock leans in, but some part of John’s brain raises a flag and he pulls back, apologising. “Sorry – bacteria,” he says quickly. “Don’t want to make you sick.”

“John – ” Sherlock is protesting. “I don’t care, just – ”

“Two seconds,” John promises, and drags himself out of bed to go to the loo, rinsing his mouth with an antibacterial rinse. He rinses again, wets a flannel to clean himself, wrings it out and brings it back to bed for Sherlock, in case he wants it.

Sherlock takes it from him and John gets back into bed. “That’s better,” Sherlock admits. “I was a bit – sticky.”

John slides over to him and settles into the same position. “Good,” he says, smiling. “Now where were we?”

Sherlock closes the space between them in lieu of answering verbally and puts his mouth on John’s. John feel himself felt into Sherlock’s arms and body, swimming into the kiss and drowning himself in it. It’s so perfect, he thinks, his entire being surging into Sherlock’s. It’s their own private world of two, complete at last and utterly, utterly right. He has everything he needs in this. Tomorrow, they’ll take Mrs Hudson out and thank her in proper style, and when they’re all back, it will be the two of them and this again, for as long as either of them can imagine. They haven’t – of course they haven’t – talked about getting married yet; there’s hardly been a moment, but when Mrs Hudson said it, John sensed already that it absolutely wasn’t out of the question. It would merely be a confirmation of what’s already happening.

It’s wonderful. And the best part is, it’s just the beginning. It will only get better from here.

***

John wakes abruptly. Sherlock sits bolt upright in bed, his entire body quivering with tension. “What was that?” he asks, his voice sharp and already very awake.

John’s brain is thick with sleep. “What – what did you hear?” he asks.

Sherlock doesn’t answer, getting out of bed.

John scrambles after him. “Sherlock – wait!” He joins Sherlock at the half-open bedroom door. Sherlock is pulling on his camel dressing gown, the first one that he grabbed, and he hands John his maroon plaid one.

“I don’t know,” he says tersely. “But – something woke me. I need to go down and check on Mrs Hudson.”

“I’m coming with you,” John tells him, and Sherlock nods. He ducks into the kitchen to retrieve his Sig and puts it in the pocket of Sherlock’s dressing gown, along with his phone which he left on the table. Sherlock is waiting impatiently, his lips pressed into a tight line.

“Let’s go,” he says, and practically runs down the stairs.

Following him, John rushes with him into 221A. The door is locked, but the bolt was always loose and a firm jiggling gets it open. She didn’t put her chain on, John thinks, and hears some past version of Sherlock scolding her over that very thing in his mind’s ear. He notes that the door to the lane is standing ajar. “Sherlock….” He nods at it.

Sherlock says her name, calling her, pushing open the door to her bedroom without waiting for an answer. He stops so suddenly that John nearly runs into him. He gets himself around Sherlock and sees.

Mrs Hudson is in bed, blinking, her breath fluttering in her throat. Her arms are splayed out at her sides, her gnarled fingers twitching and moving weakly on the coverlet, and from the amount of blood pooling from her chest and actively creeping down the floral-patterned linen, John can already see that it’s much too late.

Sherlock is stricken. He takes two steps toward the narrow single bed. “Mrs Hudson,” he says numbly. “God…”

The word breathes itself from his lips and he looks at John, the fear plain on his face. John, his heart in his throat and blocking his breath, gives a minute shake of his head. He sees the understanding register on Sherlock’s face and sink in, his brows lifting into frames of grief around his eyes, his lips unsteady. John goes to the other side of the bed and sits down, taking her hand. Sherlock takes the other one. “Who did this?” John asks. “Can you tell us?”

Mrs Hudson’s eyes find his, and even though she is dying, she finds it in her to make her face kind. As if she could be anything else, John thinks, hardly able to take it in that this is happening. “It’s not your fault,” she says, her voice thready and weak. John can feel her pulse slowing actively in his palms. And her answer tells him enough.

“Mary,” he says. She tries to nod but it’s too much. “Shh – don’t move, just take it easy,” he tells her, willing his voice to stay even, for Sherlock’s sake.

He looks across at him. Sherlock is mute with horror and grief. “I’ll kill her,” he says, his voice low and hoarse, his eyes wet.

Mrs Hudson smiles a little but doesn’t say anything to refute this. Instead she says, “Sherlock… on my dresser… my will. Had it done up last… I put in a letter. You’ll see to… everything?”

“Yes,” he tells her. “Of course. But – ”

“Listen,” she interrupts him, with a shadow of her old strength. “I haven’t got much – need to say this. I only wanted two things for you. You’ve got one now. Read my letter… and try, Sherlock. Promise me that. That you’ll try. For me.”

Tears spill over and stream down both of Sherlock’s cheeks. “I promise,” he says, his voice rougher still. “Whatever it is – I promise.”

A smile comes over her face, beatific and peaceful. “Then it doesn’t matter,” she says vaguely. “Silly, this… it’s not how I thought… but never mind.” Her eyes find John’s and he tightens his fingers. “You’ll look after…”

“Of course,” John vows. Her fingers feel like sticks in loose skin, all the strength gone from them. “Always. I promise.”

“Thank you,” Mrs Hudson says. Her voice is very faint. “Sherlock…”

Sherlock bends closer. “Yes?” Her eyes are drifting closed. “Mrs Hudson. Mrs Hudson!” He lifts her into his arms, clasping her to his chest, and John hears the last of the breath ebb from her lungs, her fingers hanging lifeless where her arms are dangling. Sherlock begins to sob in a way that John has never heard him do before, rocking Mrs Hudson’s still form in his arms.

John watches him, tears running down his own face, and asks himself what the hell he can possibly do for Sherlock just now. Sherlock was much closer to Mrs Hudson than he ever was, close as they were, and he cannot intrude upon this. And yet… Sherlock isn’t even trying to conceal this, the sound of his grief filling the room with wracking sobs. John sits there, watching the terrible tableau of Sherlock and the woman he considered almost a mother, the next best thing, at least, and cannot stop himself from crying just watching it, the tears running down his face and dripping from his jaw onto the borrowed dressing gown.

Eventually Sherlock lays her down again. The front of his dressing gown is covered in her blood, as are his hands where they were clutching her back. He gets up and stumbles to the doorway of the bedroom and screams out his rage and grief, a sound so heartrending that John is on his feet before he knew he was doing it. He puts a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder and Sherlock wrenches himself around. “I’ll kill her! I’ll kill her!”

“I know,” John tells him, the tears still dripping from his chin, his mucus membranes loose. “I know, Sherlock – and I’ll help you do it – ”

“John, I can’t – ” Sherlock staggers forward and John catches him and holds him, and this, at least, he can do. Sherlock is sobbing wildly, his back shuddering, and John cries and holds him. There can be no comfort given here. Only the bitterness of his own grief has any place here and now – that, and a mutual promise of revenge.

***

It all feels like a nightmare.

At some point John asked if he should call Lestrade. He half-expected some sort of terse response along the lines of What can Lestrade do about it?, but Sherlock nods. He seems numb, sitting at Mrs Hudson’s kitchen table and staring at nothing in particular.

Lestrade comes, bless him, despite it being not yet four in the morning. He is tactful and gentle, and when John tells him bluntly who killed Mrs Hudson, Lestrade nods carefully. “I see,” he says. “I imagine you’ll be… involving Mycroft, then?”

John looks at Sherlock, who is still staring blankly at nothing. “Yes,” he says, answering for him.

Lestrade still looks curious. “And you were… already here?” he asks delicately, leaving it open, and John realises that he doesn’t know yet.

“Yes,” he says directly. “We were in bed. Mary and I split up.”

Lestrade nods again, absorbing this without question. “I see,” he says again. “So – this was some sort of revenge, then.”

A stab of recrimination pierces John in the chest so violently that for a few moments, he can hardly breathe. “I would imagine so,” he mumbles. He gets up abruptly and goes to the back door, stepping out into the lane. The cold January air prickles his skin like needles. He did this. Not directly, but he was the one who told Mary that it was Mrs Hudson who talked sense into him. What possessed him to tell her that? He thinks with fierce bitterness that he never thought she would do this. Murder an old woman in her bed – not even having the decency to do a proper job of it, either, but leaving her to bleed out in pain and fear, all alone. At least they made it down in time to be with her, to make their promises. That’s the only comfort they can possibly take from this.

He feels rather than hears Sherlock’s presence join him. “You should be wearing shoes,” Sherlock says. His voice is weary and ragged. “You’ll get sick.”

“I don’t care.”

“John.” Sherlock exhales, the condensation billowing in the corner of John’s eye. “It’s not your fault. You could never have known that she would do this.”

He steps closer and puts his arms around John, who realises only then that he is shivering with cold, naked under the dressing gown. He puts his hands over Sherlock’s, grateful that Sherlock came to him, grateful for his warm, for the absolution of his blame, but he knows that some part of this is on him. “I hate that Mary left her to bleed out,” he says vehemently. “She’s a bloody monster!”

“Yes.” Sherlock speaks into his hair, his face pressed into John’s head. “But at least we made it in time.”

Again, he manages to speak John’s precise thought aloud. John’s eyes well again, his grief sharp and stabbing him from within as though he’s swallowed a mace. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”

He feels Sherlock take a deep shuddering breath, warm in his hair on the exhalation, hears the tears in Sherlock’s voice. “I know.”

John grips his hands and they stand there, weeping, each of them devastated and unable to hide it, but at least Sherlock isn’t shutting him out of this and leaving him to feel it all on his own, unable to process it or deal with it. After a little, he turns in Sherlock’s arms to put his around Sherlock’s back and they hold each other for a long time.

After a little while, Sherlock says, “Come back inside. It’s freezing out here.”

“Okay.” John nods against his shoulder, then lets himself be led back indoors.

Lestrade is waiting, a bit awkwardly. He doesn’t remark on their absence, just says, “So, we’re going to do an autopsy for the police report. I’ll just send everything to Mycroft, shall I, or do you want it?”

“Send it to Mycroft,” Sherlock says. “But I’d like a copy.”

“Right. Absolutely.” Lestrade checks his notepad, then says, “I’ll, er, let you know when the autopsy’s finished, so that you can schedule a funeral and that. Will you be the ones looking after that?”

Sherlock thinks about this for a moment, gazing at the surface of the kitchen table, then nods. “Yes. I suppose so.”

“Right. It could take five or six days,” Lestrade warns. “But I expect you’ll want to wait a little anyway.”

Sherlock’s brow furrows, not comprehending. “Why?”

John tells him. “To give people time to travel here,” he says quietly. “She had a lot of friends. They’ll want to come.”

“Exactly,” Lestrade says. He pauses again. “If you two want to go back upstairs… I’ll bring in the forensics team. I imagine you’ll want to keep out of this one… ?”

He looks back and forth between Sherlock and John. John looks at Sherlock, who nods again, his stare going vacant. “Yes,” John says for him. “We’ll go back up. We just need her will and that, from the bedroom.” He hesitates. “I’ll get it.”

He leaves Sherlock’s side and goes quickly, wanting to spare Sherlock the sight of the blood-soaked sheets, dark and sinister in the unlit bedroom. Mrs Hudson’s body has been removed and taken to the morgue, but the lifeblood that seeped out of her frail form was left behind. He takes his eyes from it and goes to her dresser. There is a low, wide bowl with several envelopes, bills and such, and one thicker brown envelope with the name of a solicitors’ firm in the corner. He has a quick look inside, confirms for himself that it is indeed a will, along with a hand-written letter, an index card, and a smaller envelope that have been attached with a paper clip. He puts it all back inside and brings it away.

They go upstairs in silence. Inside, Sherlock goes to the kitchen table and slumps down into one of the chairs, his fingers pushed into his curls. John looks at him. It’s half-past four and dawn will be coming on soon. “Do you want some tea?” he asks.

“I don’t want anything.” Sherlock sounds drained, and glancing at him, John sees that his face is white with exhaustion and grief.

He hesitates. “Okay.” He comes over and pulls out the end chair, choosing the nearest spot possible. “Should we talk about the funeral now? Do you want to read the will?”

Sherlock shrugs, just a twitch of his shoulders. “I suppose we might as well.”

John pulls out the contents of the envelope. “This part is the will itself,” he says. He reads the top portion, then says, “You’re the executor. I guess you should be the one reading it, then.” He slides the document over to Sherlock to let him see it.

Sherlock takes it from him as if half in a dream, his long fingers plucking at the pages, unfolding them. He skims it. “She left me everything,” he says, sounding slightly stunned. “Except for a particular jade bead necklace that’s to go to her sister and the matching earrings, and a diamond ring she had.”

“There’s her letter, too,” John says. He opens that, scans it, then reads it aloud.

Dear Sherlock (and John),

I’ve made an appointment to see my solicitor, but just in case, you should
have this. Better safe than sorry, I always say! I’m going to have my will
adjusted, now that everything’s finally turned out between the two of you.
If by some chance I don’t have this done, I know you’ll share everything
with him anyway, Sherlock. I’ll just make it official next Tuesday.

Funny how one thinks of these little things at certain moments in life! I don’t
know what’s got into my head, that I’m saying all this now, but I do want
to say two things, to you, Sherlock, so do listen a moment:

You’ve been waiting for a very long time to get your John. Now that you’ve
got him, treasure him. Remember that he’s got a heart and it will need tending.
You can’t go off and leave him behind again. He’d never survive it or
forgive it a second time. We both know you did what you had to do, but
remember you’re a team now. You’ve been alone so long and I know it will
be an adjustment for you. Love him, and let him love you. In the end, that’s
all you need to do.

The only other thing I want you to do, if you haven’t by the time you read this
is to make things up with your mother. It’s been a long time now. Let it go,
dear. She’s a flawed human being like the rest of us but she loves you very
much. Perhaps she didn’t understand you very well. Help her. Try, Sherlock.
It’s been more of an honour than I can say to have stood in for her a little all
these years, but I want you to have her. She loves you. John will help, if need
be. But promise me you’ll try, Sherlock.

To you, John, all I ask is this: that you love him and never leave him again.
I think you know now what you have in him, and I don’t think you’ll throw
it away. Love each other. That’s all you need to do. I know you will, though.

I’d like it if there could be a lot of flowers at the funeral. And there’s a rather
nice hymn, Abide with me. I’d like to have that. It doesn’t have to
anything fancy, just a simple service. For the rest, I don’t mind. I’m sure
you’ll arrange things nicely.

All my love to you both, my good boys.
Martha J. Hudson

PS: I’ve attached the deed to the house. It’s yours now. That, and the recipe.
I did promise, after all. Make it together, won’t you?

John’s voice breaks on the last lines, and by the time he’s finished, tears are streaming down his face again, as they are over Sherlock’s in silence, dripping from his jaw and onto his blood-soaked dressing gown. He reaches for Sherlock’s hand where it’s hidden in his lap and weaves his fingers through Sherlock’s, putting the letter down in front of him with his free hand so that Sherlock can read it himself if he wants to. Sherlock doesn’t reject his touch, to his relief. His fingers tighten in John’s almost painfully hard, as though John is the only anchor grounding him.

For a long time they just sit there, lost and without any idea what to do, how to proceed, how to cope with this. After a long while, Sherlock says, “We have to cancel the reservation.”

John shakes his head, thinking that the restaurant is the last thing they need to worry about. But Sherlock’s brought it up and he can’t bear the thought of Sherlock having to do that, to call. “I’ll do it. I’ll call.”

“And a funeral. We have to have a funeral.” His voice sounds out-of-focus and vague.

“Yes,” John says. “We need to invite her friends. Her sister.”

“Not her ex-husband,” Sherlock says with a touch of vehemence.

“Definitely not.” John hesitates. “Should we ask your family?”

Sherlock is quiet for a long time, then nods. He pulls his hand out of John’s and puts it back in his lap, withdrawing.

John tries not to feel hurt. He knows that Sherlock is raw with grief and has no idea how to deal with it. “You know, you’ve never told me how you met Mrs Hudson,” he tries, trying to keep Sherlock with him.

Sherlock inhales, then stops and says, “I – can’t, John. Not now. Maybe sometime. Right now I have to – I need to – ”

He stops again, looking blank, and John’s heart aches for him. Sherlock doesn’t know what he needs or wants, what could possibly make this any less painful. “Do you want to go back to sleep for awhile?” he asks. “We’ve barely slept. I know it won’t – change anything, or bring her back, but – ” He doesn’t want to say that Sherlock will feel better.

Sherlock thinks about this for a few moments, then nods. Without a word, he gets unsteadily to his feet and leaves the kitchen, his footsteps heavy as he makes his way down the corridor.

John gets up and follows him, anxious. In the bedroom, Sherlock is peeling off the bloodied dressing gown and uncharacteristically leaves it on the floor. John watches him, then asks, cringing inwardly, “Can I… join you? Or – would you rather be alone?”

The question hangs there between them for an agonisingly long while, but then Sherlock’s mouth tightens unhappily. “I don’t want to be alone,” he says, his voice low, and John’s relief is sharp.

He tells himself that he would understand if Sherlock pushed him away now, but it’s a lie. It would hurt fiercely, and he has no desire to be left all alone in his own grief, either. “Okay,” he says. He hangs takes off Sherlock’s plaid dressing gown and lays it over the chair. It’s bloody from when he was holding Sherlock and will need to be dry-cleaned. He goes to the far side of the bed and gets in. Sherlock is already lying facing away from him, so John shifts over to cradle Sherlock’s body with his own, his face pressed to the back of Sherlock’s neck, his arm around him, hand pressing into Sherlock’s chest where his heart is beating steadily. Sherlock’s frame is rigid with tension and John aches for him, and for himself, and for Mrs Hudson, dying in pain at the hand of someone she knew. Frail, alone, unable to defend herself. In bed.

John closes his eyes. It feels like weeks or months ago since last night – it’s still the same night, even if the sun is rising outside. He holds Sherlock and waits for the tension to ease from his frame, but instead, Sherlock’s back begins to shudder and John realises that he’s crying again. He tightens his arm and tries to say the unspeakable with his body instead, because there are no words that can help this.

***

Mycroft ascends the stairs slowly.

It was John who called him; Sherlock seems to be numb. They slept for seven hours, waking now and then, but each time John had proposed going back to sleep and Sherlock had gone with it. Eventually, though, the new day had to be faced. John had gone into the loo, turned on the shower taps, then went to find Sherlock to pull him in with him. John washed his chest and back and arms and arse, but Sherlock didn’t get hard or respond particularly and John didn’t push it or ask for anything in return. After, they dried themselves in respective silence and John couldn’t help but think of their first shower together, unable to stop touching each other, getting aroused while drying each other off, him giving his first blow job. It feels like the entire world has changed. His chest gives a pang. Surely he isn’t going to lose Sherlock over this. He remembers Sherlock coming to find him outside in the lane last night and this helps a little. Of course there will be ebb and flow in Sherlock’s moods – and his own. They’ve never grieved something together before. Mrs Hudson was family, their family. Newly-minted in the form it was always supposed to have been. They should have had more time together. It isn’t fair.

Now, John crosses one knee over the other, sitting in one of the desk chairs. Sherlock is sitting beside him in his armchair. “Would you like some tea?” John asks, nodding Mycroft toward his own armchair across from Sherlock’s.

Mycroft shakes his head, pulling his gloves off one finger at a time, umbrella hooked over his forearm. “Thank you, no. I just had some.” He seats himself pompously, the way he always does, and looks across at his brother with some concern. Sherlock is avoiding his eyes. “My condolences, Sherlock,” he says, and manages to leave off his customary sneer for once.

Sherlock nods, his gaze still directed at the carpet somewhere slightly left of the chair. “Thank you.”

A moment goes by and John clears his throat. “So,” he says. “You have the police report, then?”

Mycroft gives him with the sort of smile one would give an adolescent for knowing the correct answer to two plus two makes four. “Yes,” he says, and the sneer is back. “And as long as we’re clarifying the facts of the case, can I safely assume, based on your proximity to my brother and the angle of your pelvis in his direction that you have been staying here rather more often of late?”

John can see precisely where he is going to go with this line of questioning. He clenches his jaw and says, “Yes, Mycroft, you can assume all of that. I’m not just ‘staying’ here; I live here. I moved in a few days ago. Sherlock and I are together. I left Mary. And yes, I made the idiotic mistake of telling her that it was Mrs Hudson who made me see sense. If you’re going to insinuate that her death was my fault, just come out and say it. And don’t think I haven’t already thought it!”

“John,” Sherlock says, very quietly. He reaches without looking and takes John’s hand, sending an almost-defiant glare his brother’s direction.

John subsides. Mycroft shifts his bottom ponderously, eyebrows high and slightly offended on his broad forehead. “If we’re going to discuss that, I might as well point out that Ms Morstan is a highly-skilled operative and could have put facts together for herself,” he says, a trifle distantly.

John has the wit to realise that Mycroft is actually letting him off the hook. Some of the rigidity leaves his shoulders. “I suppose so, yes,” he says stiffly.

Mycroft favours him with a trace of unpleasant smile. He bends and withdraws a file folder from his briefcase and opens it on his lap. He scans it – for show, John knows; obviously he has its contents committed to memory already – then says, “At precisely twelve minutes past three this morning, the woman we know as Mary Morstan entered the kitchen door of 221A, picking the lock with a set of lock picks. It took less than thirty seconds, which suggests that she had some prior knowledge of the make of the lock. The shots were made with a .22-calibre pistol, three bullets to the chest. She then quit the scene in a considerable hurry, not even cleaning up the bullet casings. The bullets extracted during the autopsy are an exact match, down to the make and batch, of the bullet used on you, Sherlock. Ms Morstan left the door unlocked and left the way she came, leaving footprints that match the same brand of trainers which she often wears in the lane. They stop at a kerb, indicating that she drove. The car was found earlier this afternoon at Gatwick. No passengers under the name of Mary Morstan flew or made reservations to do so within the next six months, so she is clearly travelling under an alias.”

Mycroft stops this recitation and fixes his eyes on Sherlock for a long moment before shifting his gaze to John. John gazes back at him, his face stony. “And her baby?” he asks, making the distinction clear. “Did Mary take her along?”

Mycroft shakes his head. “No. The child was left with the neighbour lady, a Mrs Whitney. Apparently Mary came over during the night and claimed a ‘family emergency’ and asked Mrs Whitney to look after the infant for an unspecified length of time. She could hardly refuse. I have spoken to Mrs Whitney and asked her to go on looking after the child, but if you want her brought here, that can be arranged.”

John thinks about this. It’s not his child, but he knows her. Then again, Mrs Whitney knows her, too. He thinks of bringing the baby here and feels blank. A baby, here with them. The thought is untenable. He cannot imagine it under the best of circumstances, never mind now. No. His first priority is Sherlock. And he has a filial duty to Mrs Hudson, to see her laid to rest in the way that she deserves. “No,” he says aloud. He does not tell Mycroft that Alaska isn’t his. He’ll have to do a paternity test to be sure, anyway. Nothing Mary says can be trusted. “If Mrs Whitney is willing to go on looking after her until arrangements can be made, that would be great.”

Sherlock’s fingers tighten in his slightly, possibly in silent thanks. John can’t be sure.

“Fine,” Mycroft says. He shuffles the papers in his file, then looks at Sherlock and asks directly. “What do you plan on doing?”

Sherlock’s brow clouds. He swallows, and retracts his hand again. “I plan on burying Mrs Hudson,” he says shortly, then gets up and walks out of the room in the direction of the bedroom.

John watches him go and wants to follow, but he also knows that if Sherlock left, he wants space. He feels his mouth clamp unhappily shut and looks helplessly at Mycroft. With anyone else, he would apologise for Sherlock’s behaviour, but it’s Mycroft and he doesn’t think this requires an apology, anyway.

Mycroft is watching him carefully. “I can see that you care for him,” he observes. “Well: you always have. I suppose it was inevitable, in a way.”

Something in this rankles. “Is that your way of congratulating us?” John asks, a little too sharply.

Those brows lift again. “It was merely a remark,” Mycroft says, but John knows enough about Sherlock by now to recognise the aloofness as a sign of emotional retreat.

“Sorry,” he mutters, looking down at his (empty) hands. “This is all just – I mean, we’d only just got together, at last. It was so perfect. I thought we couldn’t possibly be happier. And Mrs Hudson was like family to us both.”

“Yes,” Mycroft says. “I know. My condolences to you, too. I am aware that you have not been in contact with your own mother in quite some time.”

“If she’s still living, she’s probably drunk herself to death by now,” John says. Unpleasant memories lie back that way. “I know where to find her if I want to. I don’t need you to tell me where she lives or whatever.”

“I wasn’t going to offer,” Mycroft returns, his voice even.

Suddenly John leans forward. “Look – it’s none of my business, and maybe you don’t know either, but – what happened between Sherlock and your mum? I’d ask him myself, only every time the subject comes up, he gets evasive and withdraws.”

“Hardly surprising,” Mycroft says dryly. “Especially when one considers Sherlock’s lack of experience with… intimate relationships in the first place.” He shakes his head. “I don’t know that anything in particular ever happened, per se. Sherlock was very close to her as a child. I suppose he grew into – well, himself, and she never really understood him. To be fair, I don’t know that anyone ever has, yourself excluded.”

This warms John in a way he never expected anything uttered by Mycroft Holmes ever could. “But there was nothing in particular, to your knowledge?” he presses.

Mycroft shakes his head. “But remember, I was hardly there during his childhood,” he reminds John. “I was away at school from the age of eight, only home during holidays, and never had a lot of time for my much younger brother. He didn’t become interesting to me until I was in university and by then we barely knew one another. I mean, we did and we didn’t. We do now. But again, no one has ever got as close to him as you have. I’m afraid that this is your particular mystery, John.”

John nods, processing this. “Yeah. Okay. I get that. Thanks anyway, I guess.”

Mycroft recrosses his stork-like legs the other way. “Now then: about Mary. Can I put the question to you? What do you plan on doing?”

John purses his lips. “If I told you directly that we plan on hunting her down and killing her, would you try to stop us?” he asks bluntly.

For the first time, a real smile crosses Mycroft’s face, creeping slowly over it like lichen growing on a boulder. “Oh no,” he says softly. “On the contrary. That’s why I’m here: to help to that end in any way possible.”

***

When Mycroft goes, John is finally able to go to the bedroom to find Sherlock. The door isn’t locked, to his relief. He opens it quietly. Sherlock is curled onto his side, facing away from the door. John goes around and gets into bed without a word, and Sherlock moves closer and presses his face into John’s chest. John puts his arms around him and holds him, and neither of them speaks.

***

Later, they wake and Sherlock says that he’s hungry. To John’s knowledge, he hasn’t eaten anything all day, having refused John’s offer of lunch when he made something around two, before Mycroft came over.

“I’ll make something,” he says. “Unless you want to just order in.”

Sherlock shrugs. “I don’t really care. Do you want to cook? If not, let’s just order in.”

John nods. “Right. Chinese?”

“Sure.” Sherlock goes to the loo and shuts himself inside.

John finds his phone and calls the place on the corner, ordering their usual favourites. He busies himself in the kitchen, putting on the kettle to make a pot of jasmine to go with dinner and tacitly giving Sherlock a bit of space to himself. He cleans off the table and sets it, folding up the will and Mrs Hudson’s letter and putting them in the bowl on the counter. They’ll have to call a solicitor and an undertaker, once the morgue calls to release the body. He wonders if Sherlock is even the next of kin. Mrs Hudson never had children. Would it go to her sister? No, it seems far more likely that she would have listed Sherlock. After all, he is the executor of the will. The doorbell rings as John is pouring hot water (just below the boiling point) over the fragrant tea, but before he can go down to answer it, Sherlock slips past in his peripheral vision, going to the top of the stairs.

“I’ll get it,” he says, unseen, and John hears his footsteps descending. He listens, a bit anxiously, but Sherlock comes back up again a moment later. He stops in the kitchen doorway and takes in John’s face. “What?” he asks, his focus honing in.

John shakes his head a little. “Nothing. You didn’t have to get that.”

Sherlock doesn’t buy this for even a second. “No. There’s something else.”

John shrugs, looking down at the tea and putting the lid on the pot. “Nothing. It’s – it was stupid.”

“Tell me.” Sherlock is inexorable.

John feels his mouth purse. “It’s just – I told you, it’s stupid. I just thought – maybe Mary – ”

Sherlock goes very still without even moving, somehow. For a moment he stays where he is, then he comes forward, drops the bag of food on the table and comes around, putting his arms around John and holding him tightly. “I’m all right,” he says quietly, and John puts his arms around his back.

“No, you’re not,” he says into Sherlock’s shoulder. “But at least it wasn’t my bloody wife at the door.”

He feels the tension shiver through Sherlock’s frame before it’s forced down again. “After the funeral,” he says, the words dark, and John nods.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to find her,” he vows fiercely. “And when we do – ”

Sherlock goes still again. “Yes?”

He’s intense. John looks up into his eyes. “Yes,” he says. “That’s a promise, Sherlock.”

Sherlock kisses him suddenly, and hard. It’s a bit surprising, but John doesn’t pull back – on the contrary, hunger for it sweeps through his entire body like a shock wave. It feels better than it has any right to, considering everything – but then, another voice in the back of his mind, the one that actually paid some attention during psychology classes, reminds him that in loss, people seek out confirmations of life, of their own vitality, and it’s as though all of that doubled with the desire and joy of their newfound relationship has coalesced into a white hot ball of blazing need on both their parts. His fingers are curled into the back of Sherlock’s shirt, desperate and needing so fiercely he can’t even articulate it, and Sherlock is doing the same thing to him. The kiss is rough and driven by this absolute need to fuse themselves together again, remind themselves that they, at least, are still alive and breathing and able to feel desire and hunger and the need for love, for touch. For the proof of their own physicality.

Their hands are wild, tearing each other’s clothes open, shirts first, though Sherlock is already touching him through his jeans, rubbing over the front and coaxing a very ready rising from John’s flesh. He groans into Sherlock’s mouth and gets his trousers open, reaches inside to curl his fingers around him. It’s not at all surprising to find Sherlock is already hard, but the knowledge still makes him salivate. He pulls Sherlock down to the kitchen floor, getting his jeans open in the process, shoving them down to get the metal teeth of the zip well out of the way, and then Sherlock is on top of him, his body bucking against John’s, the length of his back stretching down John’s torso, his mouth on John’s, and it feels good. John’s hands are both on Sherlock’s arse, fingers digging into the meat of the muscle so hard it must hurt, but Sherlock isn’t objecting. John thrusts up against him and it’s good but not quite enough. Sherlock has the same thought and shifts his weight to his left arm in order to wrap his long fingers around them both, still thrusting against John, and that’s it – that’s going to do it. John breaks away from the kiss, gasping. He clutches Sherlock’s back and arse, babbling meaningless, breathless words, and Sherlock’s voice is low in his throat and encouraging it. For the first time, John is the first one to come, his hips straining up off the floor, desperately rubbing himself against Sherlock and then it’s on him – he’s coming and maybe shouting in Sherlock’s ear, but it’s okay because Sherlock’s breath is rushing out in a hot gust of vocalisation, his back stiffening, and then John feels the wetness of his release on his bared stomach, his shirt unbuttoned and hanging off his arms. His cock is still twitching out little aftershocks of his own release, and he finds himself gazing into Sherlock’s face, his hands having somehow got onto it, and Sherlock wordlessly lowers his mouth to John’s again and they kiss for a long time, lying together on the floor, their clothes half off and everything a mess, and John feels intensely relieved somehow.

After a little, they pull themselves together and get up, smiling a bit and cleaning themselves up, zipping and buttoning themselves back into order. Sherlock tucks his shirt back in and says, “Well, the tea should be steeped by now,” and John laughs. Sherlock does, too, a little, and it’s the first time since Mrs Hudson died – was murdered, John corrects himself – and he’s relieved about that, too. Laughter hasn’t left the house with Mrs Hudson’s life, then.

They eat holding hands across the table, their ankles and feet tangled together, and it’s ridiculous and sentimental and completely, one hundred percent necessary, John thinks. And after they’ve finished, John pulls Sherlock up and leads him to the sofa, pulling a blanket over their legs, their arms around each other.

Sherlock puts his lips to John’s forehead. “Did you learn a lot from Mycroft?”

“Hmm?” John was only half paying attention, but Mycroft’s name gets his focus.

“When I went to the bedroom. I know you must have asked. About – our mother.” Sherlock’s words jerk but his arms haven’t gone anywhere.

John wouldn’t have lied to him, anyway. “Well, yes,” he says, not trying to hide it. “Of course I did. He didn’t have a lot of light to shine, though. He reminded me that your childhoods barely overlapped. I suppose he went away to school when you were only one.”

“He was home for holidays, though,” Sherlock says. “What did he tell you?”

John turns his face to look at Sherlock properly, their eyes meeting. “That he thought your mum doesn’t understand you,” he says. “And that I do. Or that I’m the closest so far.”

Sherlock almost smiles. “Surprisingly perceptive,” he comments, and kisses John again, briefly. “There will never be someone who understands me better,” he murmurs after, and that makes John reach for him again, unable to get enough of Sherlock’s mouth on his own.

But – he cannot let himself be distracted, though he strongly suspects Sherlock wants him to forget the subject at hand. “Sherlock,” he says, not quite objecting, but pulling back a little. “Come on: let’s just get this out. Your mum: what happened?” Sherlock looks troubled, so John presses a little, gently. “You promised Mrs Hudson,” he says. “And I think it would be nice to fix things before the funeral. Don’t you? Then you could know that there was nothing left – outstanding, as it were.”

“I know,” Sherlock says, and sighs. He shrugs. “It started with one thing, which should have been a small thing, but I couldn’t let it go. I still haven’t, and that led into other things.”

He falls quiet, thinking, and John doesn’t interrupt. He waits, his eyes on Sherlock’s face, one arm around his back, the other holding his hand.

“I was – a sensitive child,” he begins, as though making a distasteful admission. “And possibly a difficult one. I was, as my brother never fails to remind me, as precocious in some areas as I was behind in others. My intellectual abilities were advanced, but my social skills appallingly poor. I had no armour, no way to shield myself from the cruelty of other boys. And girls. My father would give me these little chats that were meant to either cheer me up, but in a very making-light-of-it-all sort of way. You know: ‘chin up, chap, it’ll pass’ sort of thing, or else these little bits of advice that didn’t apply because he’d never been in my shoes and had no idea what it felt like. It was my mother who seemed to know how to handle it. She never tried to say anything, just – hugged me, or found me things to do that distracted me from it.”

John waits, but Sherlock stops talking. “So what happened?” he asks, prompting a little.

Sherlock’s fingers twitch in his. “She lied to me,” he says starkly, and John hears thirty years of betrayal still echoing in his voice.

“How so?” he asks, carefully, not wanting to push.

“My dog. Our dog. Redbeard.” Sherlock ducks his face a little, hiding his eyes. “I suppose he was sick. I didn’t know. I was only eight. My mother arranged for me to spend a weekend with her sister’s family. She said it was so that I could get to know my cousin Sherrinford better. He was boring and she knew I didn’t like him so I couldn’t understand why she was making me go.” He sounds bitter and John suddenly thinks he knows what’s coming next. “And when I came home, Redbeard was gone.”

He blinks and John catches the sheen of tears, even after all this time. He understands: he had a dog as a boy, too. Dogs are family. One does not just ‘get over’ the death of a dog, any more than one gets over the death of a person. “Oh no,” he says softly. “Oh, Sherlock…”

Sherlock blinks some more. “She told me that he had cancer. I told her that she should have told me. She should have given me the chance to say goodbye. Our relationship was never the same. I went to school that autumn and after that we just drifted. The trust was gone and never came back. Then she started trying the same tactics as my father, trying to steer me toward some ideal of normality that she had, and I understood then that the way I was wasn’t what they wanted, either of them, that she didn’t understand me any better than my father had. Meanwhile, Mycroft was causing political scandals by selling information to the papers and they never minded that, even when he exposed a corruption ring headed up by her beloved local council member, who was a friend of theirs. Yet he was the one who could do no wrong, while everything I did was wrong. So naturally I drifted into being ever less and less ‘acceptable’ and it spiralled downward from there.” He shrugs again, looking down at their hands. “Until I met you, no one ever thought that I was interesting or special or even particularly talented. I wasn’t even terribly good at school, like Mycroft was. He was the straight-A student while my marks ranged all over the place depending on my level of interest – which was, perhaps predictably, frequently not all that high. No one had ever said ‘amazing’ or ‘phenomenal’ after I’d deduced them for the first time before you. Not ever.” He pauses, then adds, “It still astounds me, you know. That you think of me that way.”

“Oh, God,” John says. He shakes his head and slips his hand free to turn Sherlock’s face upward by the chin. “Listen to me, you extraordinary man: you are incredibly talented, phenomenally brilliant, and beyond that, you’re unique and special and I love everything about you, even when you’re appallingly rude. Sometimes especially then, to be honest. I love you exactly as you are, and I have so much respect for your abilities. And for all that people have misunderstood you or failed to believe in you, sometimes I think it’s amazing that you haven’t become a Moriarty. You could be putting all of this intelligence into making yourself incredibly wealthy or creating genius master plans for crime lords, but instead you put it all to the good of humanity, and you do it for free. I’ve never been able to understand why you don’t see yourself as a hero, because you absolutely are one, Sherlock. And I – ”

He has to stop talking because Sherlock is kissing him again, a hand wrapped around the back of John’s neck, and John gives in and throws himself into the kiss with abandon, holding Sherlock to himself like the incredibly precious thing he is to John. He puts a leg over Sherlock’s knee and is half in his lap by the time it comes to a close. Sherlock’s beautiful lips are parted and he’s looking at John with something very much like wonder. “For you to say that to me…” he starts, and trails off. “John – I don’t know how I’m supposed to fix this. With my mother. I don’t know how to keep that promise. But I did promise, so I’ll have to try.”

“Yes,” John agrees soberly. “You can’t get out of that one. You do have to try.” He pauses. “You know I’ll do anything I can to help you, though. If there’s anything, just tell me.”

Sherlock searches his eyes for a long moment. “All right,” he says. “Tomorrow, we need to plan the funeral. Get everyone invited. Contact her solicitor and a funeral home and all of that. Buy a plot of land. Once that’s taken care of, I’ll invite my mother over for tea. Just her, not my father. But – when she comes, would you stay with me? You don’t have to say anything. Just – would you just be here with me?”

John frowns a little, looking into Sherlock’s face. “Of course I will, if you want me to,” he says. “But – you wouldn’t rather have that conversation in private?”

Sherlock hesitates. “It would help me remember who you think I am, versus what my perception of what she thinks I am,” he says quietly. “It would give me the confidence to stand my ground and insist on being accepted for who I am. The way I am.”

John feels his heart become liquid in his chest. “Of course,” he says again. He kisses Sherlock for a long moment, his hands on Sherlock’s jaw, his forehead against Sherlock’s. “I would do anything to make any of this easier for you, Sherlock. If I could bear all of the grief for you, I would. I’ll do anything I can. Absolutely anything.” His love for Sherlock is hot in his bones, his entire being prickling with it, and he vows to himself then that there are no limits on what he would do for him.

Sherlock pulls away, though, his face troubled. “I haven’t – you’re grieving, too,” he says. “I haven’t done enough for you. It’s all been you. I’m sorry, John, I didn’t – ”

“Stop,” John says, cutting him off gently. “You were closer to her than I was. It’s fine. Just – keep letting me in, okay? That’s all I want. Just let me do what I can for you. That’s what will help me.”

Sherlock searches his face for a long time, then nods as though finally understanding something. “All right.” His voice is low. “I’ll – try, John.”

John swallows hard. “I don’t want to lose you over this,” he says, the words unadorned and starkly plain. “Not when we’ve finally got here at last.”

He yearns for Sherlock to reassure him, but it wouldn’t be particularly Sherlock, would it? Sherlock looks down at his hands where they’re lying on John’s thigh. “I’ve – never lost anyone that I cared about so much before. The closest it came was when I was away, or – when you were with Mary. But a death, like this – ” He shakes his head, his eyes pained. “I don’t even know what to do with it, John. How to get through it. But I don’t want to lose this, either.”

“Then – can’t we just decide that we won’t?” John asks, though he can hear how pathetic the question sounds. “I love you. I can’t lose you now, Sherlock. We’ll get through this. Together. I think that’s how we have to cope. One day at a time, but together.”

Sherlock studies him. Whatever is passing through his head stays there, unspoken, until after a little he nods and says, “Okay.”

Relieved, John leans over and holds Sherlock to himself for a long time, his eyes closed, and neither of them moves or speaks. Perhaps this will be enough, John thinks. Maybe.

***

Mrs Holmes is sitting in his chair, where her elder son was holding the police report on Mrs Hudson’s murder just a few days earlier. Sherlock is sitting across from her in his own chair, John sitting next to him in one of the desk chairs, as before. They’ve all got their tea and have been chitchatting, but the atmosphere is a bit tense and John wonders if Mrs Holmes has an inkling that a major talk is in the offing. It’s highly unlikely that Sherlock has ever brought it up before, and if she ever tried, he can imagine exactly the way Sherlock would have shut it down.

He doesn’t prompt Sherlock to start it, just reminds himself that he promised to sit there quietly and be supportive.

Mrs Holmes is still wearing her coat – accustomed to short visits, the voice in his head that sounds a lot like Sherlock’s points out. The collar is turned up around her silvering hair and the bright daylight coming in has turned her eyes to a piercing light blue, so much like Sherlock’s that it’s almost hard for him to look at her. She hugged Sherlock for as long as he stiffly tolerated it when she came in, and murmured something about being very sorry. Sherlock had thanked her no less stiffly, then detached himself from the embrace. Now they’ve discussed the funeral and all of that, run the course of necessary smalltalk and exchanging of details. Mrs Holmes leans over and puts her cup down on the table beside her and folds her hands in her lap. “Now then,” she says briskly. “What else is on your mind?”

Sherlock takes his time responding, then asks, evasively, “What makes you think there’s something else?”

Her smile is fond, but sad. “Otherwise you’d be herding me out the door by about now. What is it, Sherlock? Why didn’t you want Dad to come? He wanted to see you, you know.”

“I’ll see him on Saturday at the funeral,” Sherlock says. He hesitates. “I wanted to talk to you.”

Those light-blue eyes haven’t moved from his face. “What about?”

“A few things,” Sherlock says, a bit vaguely. “First – you don’t mind if John stays?”

Mrs Holmes’ eyes shift to John’s, and for a moment he feels them weighing him in a new way, another angle considered. “Of course not,” she states. “Why should I mind?”

John glances at Sherlock. “I think Sherlock is trying to say, sort of, is that this could be a bit difficult. I understand if you might – feel as though my being here is – well, an intrusion.”

Before she can respond to this, Sherlock says firmly, “John is – John and I are lovers, Mother. I want him here for this.” There is just a touch of defiance to his tone that strikes John as rather telling of a certain underlying insecurity.

Mrs Holmes does not react with shock or delight or anger or surprise. “I did wonder,” she says evenly. “Though I did for years before, too, if you want to know. When did it finally start?”

Sherlock looks down at his knees. “About twenty-four hours before Mrs Hudson was shot.”

“So it’s new, then,” Mrs Holmes says. “Well: congratulations to you both. And your marriage, John?”

Her tone isn’t exactly cool, but it nevertheless makes John uncomfortable. Those eyes are on his again and he begins to understand the weight of the intelligence behind them, the risk of being judged and found to be wanting. “It’s very much over, just not on paper yet,” he says. He clears his throat. “There was, er, very little overlap, if you’re concerned. I just – wanted to be sure of Sherlock before I left her.”

Mrs Holmes gives a sound that might be a snort and very definitely rolls her eyes. “Anyone who had eyes in his head could have been sure of that, dear,” she says. “But there, that’s all done, then. Good. I’m glad. I never liked your wife, to be quite honest.”

John gives her a tight smile. “I think you’re about to like her considerably less,” he warns.

The question forms on her lips, but Sherlock cuts it off. “Mary is the one who shot me,” he says bluntly. “And she murdered Mrs Hudson.”

Several expressions come over his mother’s face at once. Her lips compress and go white. “I knew there was something off about her,” she says, the anger roughening her voice. “I just knew it. Sherlock – why didn’t you tell me?”

Their eyes meet and hold and John almost holds his breath. “Because I had to deal with it myself, in my own way,” Sherlock tells her, his jaw taking on a stubborn look. “If I’d told you back before Christmas, you would have had a thousand things to say about it and I needed to decide what to do about it on my own.”

Mrs Holmes’ eyebrows arch and John thinks that she looks unimpressed. It’s a decidedly different angle to her than he’s seen before. “Well, you’re certainly right that I would have had something to say about it,” she says acerbically. “And what possessed you to invite this woman into my home?”

“Mycroft was there,” Sherlock shoots back, defensive. “I took precautions. I needed her not to suspect anything was remiss.”

His mother gestures with both hands. “And what was remiss, precisely? Have you had her arrested? No. I see now why John was staying here, but I also assume he went back to her once your gunshot wound had healed.” She ignores John entirely for this, her eyes riveted to her son’s. “It wouldn’t appear that you had any problem with her actions whatsoever, based on your utter lack of reaction.”

Sherlock fidgets. “I still hadn’t – I was going to be sent away, Mother. I couldn’t risk leaving John behind with her thinking that he hadn’t forgiven her. It was too dangerous.”

He isn’t looking at either of them, his knees pressed together, shoulders slumped forward a little, closing in on himself. Mrs Holmes’ body language is the opposite, John notes; she’s sitting upright in the chair almost regally, her forearms resting on the arms of the chair, one knee crossed over the other, and suddenly John sees the resemblance to her elder son in a way he never quite grasped before. He experiences a flash of what Sherlock must have been up against as a child with those two formidable people in his family, and the gentle, caring father who had never come close to grasping his youngest child. No wonder Sherlock shut himself out of it all, didn’t try to compete with it, he thinks.

“Too dangerous,” Mrs Holmes repeats. “Interesting: so you let her roam free, not an ounce of legal or moral repercussions to pay. And now you’re telling me that she not only shot my son in the heart – but that she also murdered the woman who was more of a mother to you than I ever was?”

John looks at her, startled by this candid statement, but she is still ignoring him. There are hard lines framing her mouth, her eyes lighter and cooler still. He opens his mouth to speak, but she hasn’t finished yet, taking advantage of the pause that Sherlock is squirming through, his mouth open, searching for a suitable explanation that he thinks might hold water with his mother.

“That was the consequence,” Mrs Holmes tells her son, suppressed fury sparking in her eyes. “You didn’t stand up for yourself, and you allowed this woman to not only come within a hair’s breadth of killing you, but – worse still – you then allowed her to kill someone who was very dear to you.”

“Hang on a moment,” John says, unable to keep his mouth shut about this. The amount of anger he hears in his voice is almost surprising. There’s a lot of it. “You can’t just lay something like that at someone’s feet, least of all your own son’s! Mycroft knew about this, too, you know. And given the – span of Mary’s criminal record, it was far more within his purview than Scotland Yard’s to make a decision as far as dealing with her went. There were reasons for these decisions, and you cannot possibly blame Sherlock for Mary’s decision to break into an old woman’s flat and murder her in her bed!”

Mrs Holmes’ eyes flash, but before she can speak, Sherlock cuts in. “This is precisely why I didn’t tell you,” he says, his voice strained. “I knew you would have opinions about it all and for some time I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do. I wasn’t in any condition to protect John from her had he decided to leave her when he found out and she decided to lash out. Clearly I underestimated her capacity for vengeance.”

“But I was the one who told her that it was Mrs Hudson who talked sense into me,” John says, looking first at Mrs Holmes, then at Sherlock. He wants to reach for Sherlock, break into his tightly-contained prison and remind him that he’s loved, valued, validated. But he also doesn’t want to risk embarrassing Sherlock in front of his mother, whose good opinion John can now see he’s always found difficult to win. Sherlock doesn’t meet his eye, though, so he looks back at Mrs Holmes. “I’m at least as much to blame for that.”

Mrs Holmes’ jaw tightens in exactly the way Sherlock’s does when he’s being stubborn. “The point is, this woman shouldn’t have been running free. Where is she now?”

John defers to Sherlock, who mutters, “We don’t know yet. Mycroft’s looking.”

“Ah.” Mrs Holmes sounds satisfied. “Well, I’m glad he’s helping. You’ll need it, especially if she’s got this sort of head start on you already.”

Sherlock does not say any of the things he could say about how Mycroft’s position with the MI6 gives him access to resources that normal people, even genius detectives, could never access on their own. Instead, he lapses into some well within himself, the resentment still showing on his transparent features.

John aches for him. So far the reconciliation isn’t going particularly well, he thinks. “We’re planning to deal with this just as soon as the funeral is over,” he tells his prospective mother-in-law quietly. “It was important to us to treat Mrs Hudson’s death with all of its due.”

Mrs Holmes nods, accepting this, her eyes on his now. “I see,” she says. She sighs. “Sherlock – I don’t mean to harp on, and I know that you’re grieving right now, but I just wish you would learn once and for all that doing things ‘your way’ rarely works out well – for you or anyone else. This is a steep price to pay to learn that lesson, and I worry that you won’t actually take the lesson from it at all. What will it take? Would you allow Mary to kill John, too?”

“John is more than capable of defending himself, Mother,” Sherlock says, prickling visibly. “And ‘my way’ works quite frequently, in fact. I’m very good at what I do. I know it’s not Mycroft’s career, but I don’t want that. I’ve told you that.”

She shakes her head. “Yes, you certainly have,” she says dryly. “And obviously you would be terribly bored in an office environment. I know that.”

Sherlock hesitates for a moment, then says, “Mother – this is what I wanted to talk about.” He pauses again, choosing his words. John watches him, his heart beating close to the surface of his skin. Sherlock lifts his chin a little and meets his mother’s gaze squarely. “All my life, I’ve felt I was a disappointment to you,” he says slowly. “Before I went to school, I used to think that you understood me, at least mostly. It was always Dad who used to dispense advice that had no relevance to my situations. But you were supposed to be the one who understood.”

Mrs Holmes’ eyes are bright. “And I didn’t?” she asks. “Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

“No, you didn’t,” Sherlock says sharply, volleying the question back at his mother. “I used to think that you did. That it didn’t – lessen me in your view that I wasn’t like the other boys at school. But then you lied to me, and then you started telling me I needed to be become more like the very sort of boys whose bullying you used to comfort me over, that I needed to fit in. Do only the work I was given. To curtail any part of myself that didn’t and doesn’t conform.”

Mrs Holmes’ brow creases. “When did I lie to you?”

“Redbeard,” Sherlock says, the name full of anger and pain. “You should have told me. You should have let me say goodbye.”

Mrs Holmes goes still. She looks down, clears her throat. Tucks a wisp of hair behind her ear and refolds her hands in her lap. “I didn’t realise you hadn’t got over that yet,” she says, considerably quieter. “I really thought you would have by now.”

“I might have, if it hadn’t been the beginning of doubting you,” Sherlock says, the words raw with years of pent-up, unspoken anger and hurt, and while John understands, he also catches the wince the words produce on his mother’s face.

“Am I not allowed to be human?” she asks defensively.

“Am I not?” Sherlock demands in return.

Mrs Holmes looks at him, her mouth falling open, but she stops. She blinks several times, then says, “Of course you are. Oh, Sherlock. I’m sorry. Of course you are!”

“I’ve never felt that I had any such leeway,” Sherlock says, still sharp and clearly not ready to back down yet. “I always felt that I could never live up to your precious Mycroft, that there was no point even trying. That I was nothing but a constant disappointment.”

Mrs Holmes leans forward and puts a hand on the wrist that John still wishes he was holding. “You’re not. You never were.”

Sherlock looks down at her hand and makes no effort to return the gesture. “That’s a bit hasty,” he says, the resentment lessened but not gone. “Given that I’ve had a lifetime of hearing about my mistakes and only very rarely my successes. The famous cases that are in the papers, perhaps, but not the majority of them. And now you’ve just told me that Mrs Hudson’s murder was more or less my fault, through my idiotic negligence!”

Mrs Holmes swallows. “I shouldn’t have said that,” she says, and John feels in his gut that it’s sincere. “I was – oh, Sherlock, where do you think you get this from?” She sighs, but Sherlock doesn’t look up, his eyes still down at her hand. “I’ve just worked out a better social veneer. I’m not always terribly good at expressing myself. I get sharp because it pains me to see you suffering. And that’s all I ever wanted, you know. I wanted you to have an easier time at school. I wanted you to have friends. I never wanted you to be any different from who you were or are.”

John sees Sherlock’s back inflate as he inhales, then catches a glimpse of the sheen in his eyes. “You never said that,” he says, his voice heavy and a bit thick. “In all that time, you never bothered to explain your method to me.”

“I didn’t know how to,” his mother tells him, and John notices that though her eyes are still dry, her features are deeply unhappy. “And I suppose the things that exasperate us the most in others are the things which bother us the most about ourselves. I worried about you, Sherlock. Mycroft developed his armour at a young age, hard and smooth and without facet. Though his one weakness, perhaps, is his ability to carry a grudge. You’ll recall, of course, that he hasn’t spoken a single word to your father ever since he embarrassed that council member over a silly bookkeeping mistake.”

“Your precious council member was deliberately embezzling funds,” Sherlock tells her, still looking down. “Mycroft didn’t make that happen.”

“No, I know that, but it was the way he did it, and the way he made your father feel so foolish about it all.” Mrs Holmes sighs again. She withdraws her hand and studies her fingers. “I think I’m beginning to understand now. Where it all went so wrong. I never realised that Redbeard was the turning point. I thought it was that school. I’ve always asked myself whether or not you would have been better off at home. I could have taught you myself, yet I also thought that you might learn the social things better if thrown in the deep end at last. I struggled along with you, Sherlock. I wished things were better for you. But you were never a disappointment to me. You are my precious, youngest son, the child in whom I see so much of myself.” She raises her eyes to Sherlock’s, bright with tears. “I’m sorry – I’m so sorry!”

“Mother – ” Sherlock’s voice is choked. Mrs Holmes leans across the space and pulls him into her arms and Sherlock accepts it, his face buried in her shoulder.

John’s throat is tight. He can see tears slipping from Mrs Holmes’ closed eyes and tracking over her cheeks. He touches the corner of his own eye and gets up quietly to go and put the kettle back on, give them a moment. He can hear Sherlock’s breathing from the kitchen and knows how emotional this must be for him, to hear for the first time in thirty years that he was never the disappointment he believed himself to be. He shakes his head, thinking of his own estranged mother and wondering how and why dysfunctional people decide to have children if they’re so incapable of communicating basic love. He thinks unwillingly of Mary’s child and wonders what the hell is to become of her. Has Mary really changed enough from her past ways to learn how to actually love another human being? Is she selfless enough for that? John supposes that no one can know that, least of all Mary herself, but he feels extremely dubious.

In the sitting room, Sherlock and his mother break apart, both wiping their eyes, and Mrs Holmes goes on speaking in low, urgent tones, perhaps finding more that she always should have said and never knew how to communicate before. John glances over at them as he quietly fills the kettle.

“Martha Hudson was a wonderful woman,” Mrs Holmes is saying quietly. “I was jealous of her closeness to you at times, but at the same time, I was glad that you had someone like her to be what I couldn’t. I mean that, Sherlock. I agree with what your John said: it’s important that you mourn her properly. But then, once it’s all over – ”

“Yes,” Sherlock says, his voice low. He raises his gaze to John, over his mother’s head, and John meets his eyes for a long moment and nods. They’ve agreed on this. It’s a vow they’ve made to one another. When Mrs Hudson has been properly laid to rest, they will hunt Mary down and they will avenge her.

***

The small church is full, but John has attention only for the man sitting beside him. Sherlock’s shoulders are rigid with tension, jaw clamped shut. His eyes have been closed for most of the service, but his fingers are wound through John’s, gripping so tightly it hurts, but John would never ask him to let go. Instead, he grips Sherlock’s hand back just as hard and tries to focus on Mrs Turner’s gentle eulogy of her neighbour and best friend. She’s worked through Mrs Hudson’s early life, giving the dodgy bits a tactfully wide berth, ditto for Frank Hudson. She talks about Mrs Hudson’s move back to London and the purchase of 221 Baker Street, her retirement, her acquaintance with Sherlock, whom she describes as having been “like a son” to Mrs Hudson. John pays closer attention now, his thumb stroking over Sherlock’s.

“The last time I saw her was just two days before her death,” Mrs Turner says. She is five years older than Mrs Hudson was and her voice is quavery and frail. “She came to borrow an egg and I’d never seen her so happy. So I asked, of course, and she told me the big news: Sherlock had finally got together with his beloved John. That was a long time coming, believe me, and took no small amount of trouble before it could happen. I can safely assure you all that it was the thing Martha wanted more than anything: to see Sherlock and John together at last. She had that, at least, and I’m grateful.”

Mrs Turner stops to smile at them, her eyes meeting John’s, and he smiles back despite the lump in his throat.

Mrs Turner goes on. “She was a brave, wonderful, extraordinary woman,” she says. “She wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone. She did just as she liked, spoke her mind, and we all loved her for it. Just look around and see how many friends she had. She didn’t have much family of her own, just her sister Sybil, there. She made her own family and in some small way, each and every person here was a part of it. That she was murdered – ” Mrs Turner’s voice breaks. The vicar gets up from his seat and comes to hover near her elbow, a hand on her shoulder, a tissue offered. She takes the tissue and dabs at her eyes, then continues, her voice stronger. “That Martha was murdered in her bed was absolutely shocking for us all, I know. She was the kindest and best of women, a friend or sister or mother to so many of us, and I know we want answers. The police are doing their best, I’m sure. But it doesn’t seem right that my friend Martha was taken from us this way.” She wipes her eyes again, and John swallows, his eyes stinging. Mrs Turner tucks the tissue up her sleeve. “May the legacy of her goodness never be forgotten, and may her soul rest in peace.”

She steps down from the lectern and goes back to her seat in tears, where another elderly woman comforts her. The vicar steps up and reads from Revelations, from the verse John suggested when Sherlock was blank. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” the vicar begins. He gives a gentle talk about mourning the death of a loved one and focuses on Mrs Hudson’s life and the things she accomplished and was known for, and John half listens and thinks that it’s good, that he chose the right things to say. It’s a nice funeral, but the loss still hurts fiercely.

A hymn is announced, the one she wanted, and when the music begins, tears stream down Sherlock’s face. From the pew behind them, his mother leans forward and puts her arms around him, and Sherlock puts a hand over hers. John watches, unable to sing the hymn himself, and is grateful that this lifelong misunderstanding has been finally laid to rest. Mrs Hudson gave Sherlock his own mother back. He thinks of what Mrs Turner said about Mrs Hudson’s legacy. This is it: Mrs Hudson gave them each other, and she gave Sherlock, by making him promise her on her own death bed, the resolution of his troubled relationship with his mother. He wipes away his own tears as the people sing around them and thinks of Mrs Hudson with fierce gratitude. He hopes she knows, somehow. How loved she was, and how missed she is and will be for the rest of their lives.

***

At the grave side, it’s even harder. Her coffin is so small, somehow. Sherlock is white as paper beside him, so still that he seems to be carved out of marble. “Ashes to ashes,” the vicar says, scattering a handful of earth onto the wood of the coffin. “Dust to dust.” John puts an arm around Sherlock’s back and Sherlock surprises him by putting his own around John’s shoulders, his fingers tight. As people begin to leave afterward, he turns blindly to John and hides his face in John’s hair and John holds him, not caring about the people going by. Over Sherlock’s shoulder, Mrs Holmes catches his eye and gives him a very small smile and a nod, as if to thank him. John closes his eyes and forgets everyone but Sherlock for the time being, holding him and pouring everything he has into him, there beside the open grave.

***

That night, Sherlock seems exhausted and drained, and John realises that he is, too. He’s spent so much of the day focusing on Sherlock’s state of being that he’s barely thought of his own. Better that way, really.

They order in for dinner and eat sitting across from each other. They got through it all: the service, the burial, the reception. Everything went well. Everything happened as they planned it. Sherlock gamely forced smiles and shook hands and endured people telling him nice things about Mrs Hudson, as though he really had been her son. John got a lot of it, too, along with quite a few ‘so you must be John Watson’ remarks and questions about the murder. John stuck to the party line and said that the Yard is doing everything they can.

It’s a relief to be back in the sanctuary of 221B and able to stop being stoic and stiff-lipped and brave, though John knows he’s still keeping some of it on if only to give Sherlock strength. They eat quietly and John takes their dishes to the sink. Sherlock is withdrawn, wan and pale. He gets up and goes to stand at the window and John looks at him with a twinge of worry. His fear that the pain of this will be too much for their fledgling relationship to survive has not gone anywhere. He puts everything down, runs some warm water over their plates, then goes to stand with Sherlock. He crosses the sitting room quietly and puts himself at Sherlock’s shoulder, not sure what to say, or if Sherlock wants to be left alone, or what.

Sherlock doesn’t move or speak for a few moments, either. The winter night is cold and clear, stars just visible through London’s light-polluted skies. A bright half-moon is hanging above the building opposite. “It feels so quiet in the house,” Sherlock says eventually.

John puts his arms around him now, his head on Sherlock’s shoulder. Sherlock doesn’t resist it, getting one around John’s waist in return. “She never made a lot of sound,” John says. “But you’re right: you can feel it all the time. That something is missing. Someone, rather.”

Sherlock turns his head and looks down at him. His eyes are have turned silver in the moonlight coming in, but are haunted with grief. His throat moves, swallowing. “John…”

John moves from beside him to face him, drawing Sherlock properly into his arms. “I know,” he says tightly. He thinks of the small coffin, of the sound of the earth falling onto it, and the injustice of it bats at him in futility.

Sherlock’s arms are around John’s back and John leans into him, grateful for the comfort. “People have been telling me since it happened that it gets easier,” Sherlock says. “That it will get easier. I can’t even fathom that. She was just always there. I suppose I always knew that she would die one day, but I never really considered it as a genuine possibility.”

“I know,” John says again. “But we have to feel the pain. Or else it isn’t real.”

Sherlock’s arms tighten. “Are you okay?” he asks. “It’s been a hard day. And a long day.”

John is moved by the question. “I – don’t know,” he says, trying for honesty. “I haven’t thought about it too much. What helps me is being here for you. That’s how I’m coping.”

“You’re extraordinary,” Sherlock says, his voice low and intimate. “I’d be lost without you, you know.”

John turns his face up. “Same,” he says, and Sherlock lowers his face and kisses him again. It’s tinged in the hollowness of their loss and almost bittersweet, but John puts his hand on Sherlock’s face and draws it out anyway. “I’m exhausted,” he says after a little. “Let’s go to bed. Is it too early, or can we just –?”

“I was just going to say the same thing,” Sherlock says.

They turn and go down the corridor into the bedroom and set about getting ready for bed, brushing their teeth and getting undressed. John strips entirely and reaches for a pair of pyjama pants from the dresser drawer just as Sherlock comes out of the loo. They haven’t had sex of any sort for the past two nights. John hasn’t wanted to push anything and has been wearing pyjamas to bed out of habit, and so has Sherlock. It’s been since in the kitchen on Wednesday. Mrs Holmes came to visit on Thursday and that night they just went to bed and fell asleep fairly quickly, and although Sherlock seemed content enough sleeping in his arms, he was up and out of bed before John both that morning and today, the day of the funeral. But now, Sherlock has stopped, eyeing the pyjama bottoms in John’s hand, his eyes travelling over his naked form. “No?” John asks, keeping it carefully light.

Sherlock comes over to him, moving right into his space. He takes the pyjamas out of John’s unresisting hands and when his shakes his head, his curls brush John’s forehead. “No,” he says, his voice low and it sends a shiver of desire up John’s spine. He bends, closing the space between their faces, his mouth on John’s, his hands following a moment later, holding him by the shoulders and then stroking down over his biceps.

John hears himself make a sound of combined relief and desire, tremendously grateful that Sherlock is the one initiating this, that he wants this. Sherlock’s wearing nothing but his dressing gown, tied loosely at the waist, and John’s fingers find the knot and deftly loosen it as they kiss, pushing the dressing gown down Sherlock’s arms to slither into a silken heap on the floor. Sherlock steps closer, and the kiss becomes incredibly sensual, just them standing together, naked, their bodies hardening tangibly against each other’s, and it feels like an oasis in the desert. It feels good, as though he was starving for this particular thing, John thinks, wanting it desperately and not even realising how much until just now. They need each other right now, he thinks. They need this.

Sherlock’s fingers are in his hair, cradling his skull. “She wanted this,” he says, his lips on John’s face and neck. “She wanted us to love each other.”

“And we do,” John says, his eyes closed, drinking in the feel of Sherlock’s mouth on his skin. “I love you. I love you so much. I always have, and I always will.”

“John – ” Sherlock’s mouth is on his again, urgent, his hands roving down John’s back and latching onto his arse and squeezing, almost trying to lift him. John is half climbing him, a leg curled around Sherlock’s hip and thigh, their cocks rubbing together, the soft warmth of Sherlock’s balls pushing against his, too.

The height difference makes it awkward, though, with John standing on his toes, so he propels Sherlock backward toward the bed. They tumble gracelessly into it, get themselves together properly, and set up a nice rhythm of thrusting together, facing each other on their sides, John’s leg hooked around Sherlock again and anchoring them in place. It’s hungry and feels good, but it’s also gentler than it was the other day in the kitchen, more subdued. The wild need and euphoria of the first time, when they fell right off the bed, is missing. But there’s a warmth in its place, and the muted grief mixed into it all, too. But they’re kissing deeply and holding each other, and it’s beautiful, John thinks. It’s beautiful anyway.

Sherlock breaks the kiss off, his breath coming harder. “I want to touch you,” he says, his pupils flooding his eyes. “Do you mind? Can I – ?”

John nods quickly. “Yeah – of course, Sherlock. You can do anything you want. I’m all yours, you know that.”

Sherlock blinks, and almost smiles. “I want to touch you the way you touched me,” he says, his voice low and almost velvety. He moves his hand from the cheek of John’s arse to the centre, his long middle finger settling between his cheeks like a whisper, his meaning extremely clear.

John nods again, his mouth suddenly a little too full of saliva. He swallows. “Yeah,” he says, aware that it came out a bit breathlessly. “Whatever you want. I want whatever you want.”

Sherlock does smile now. His face comes in again, as though drawn magnetically, and the kiss is warm and open-mouthed and messy, a lot of tongue and lips and hot breath. John manages to shove the arm that’s trapped beneath Sherlock under the pillows, feeling about for Sherlock’s unsexy medical lube and finds it. He manages to pass it to himself behind Sherlock’s back and gives it to him. “Mm – thanks,” Sherlock says, his mouth mashed against John’s, and goes on kissing him. He fidgets with the tube for a moment, then John feels him toss it not too far away.

They go on kissing and rubbing themselves together and Sherlock brings his hand between them to get some on their cocks, aiding the slide of their skin, and it feels even better this way. John groans a little and pushes against him, his cock harder than a rod and beginning to leak a little in its need. Sherlock chooses that moment to reach down and slip his middle finger between John’s cheeks, rubbing at his hole. It feels surprisingly good, actually. He’s tried it on himself before and liked it, but honestly wasn’t sure how he would feel about someone else doing it to him, even Sherlock. But it doesn’t matter because he would do anything for Sherlock now, anything to take him out of the grief, distract him, anything that would give him pleasure or comfort or a sense of being in control of something, anything to counter the hopelessness of death and loss. That’s the idea, at any rate – just now, completely surrounded by Sherlock, his arms and legs around him, John’s wound around him, all he can feel is the dizzying intimacy of it all, of their bodies touching all down their fronts as they kiss hungrily, their cocks rubbing together, and having Sherlock’s finger pressing into him punctuates it all with a thrill of even deeper connection. John’s heart is hammering, his breath short. He sucks at Sherlock’s tongue and moans into his mouth. He instantly craves even more of it, more of Sherlock within him. A deeper bond. He reaches back and puts his hand on Sherlock’s, trying to convey without breaking the kiss that he wants Sherlock to go deeper, come further within him.

Sherlock makes a questioning sound into the kiss, pushing further inside and pausing, waiting on confirmation, and John gives it to him, urgent. All ideas of this being slow and lacking in the fire they had the first time are out the window now. Sherlock goes as far as he can, his finger sunk up to the knuckle. He moves it a little, sliding it in and out, probing gently, waiting for the muscle to release on its own. When it does, he makes a satisfied sound and begins to move a little more. His fingertip pushes into John’s prostate and a burst of pleasure flashes like fire through his body, forcing him to break the kiss to gasp. “Too much?” Sherlock asks – murmurs, really, his voice so velvety it should be illegal, and John shakes his head almost frantically.

“No – no! Keep doing it – please!”

Sherlock kisses him again, then stops to ask, “Does it feel good? I’m trying to do what you did, the night – ”

The night Mrs Hudson was killed, he doesn’t finish, but John nods. “Yes,” he says fervently. “Do another one. I like it. I like – having you inside me like this.”

Sherlock’s eyes close, a look of almost pain on his face, or exquisitely deep pleasure, perhaps, at what John said. He carefully inserts two fingers into John and this time there’s a flare of discomfort, of tightness, but also of being stretched and filled, and the sensation of opening himself so entirely to Sherlock is practically intoxicating. John wonders if Sherlock can hear his heart beating out loud, or feel it through his chest. The tightness fades into the warmth of pleasure, spiking every time Sherlock’s fingers skate over his prostate. He begins to pant, his breath gusting onto Sherlock’s face, the state of his arousal impossible to hide at this point. “I didn’t know if you would like this,” Sherlock says, his lips on John’s sweaty temple, his jaw. His cock is wet, too, and John wonders how he can keep his voice so even, though it’s rather breathy.

John makes a sudden decision. This is glorious – he’s already dangerously close to coming. Their cocks are thrusting together in a rhythm that will peak in the very near future. He could just wrap his hand around them and they would both come within less than three minutes. But he meant it all along when he said that he would be open to anything, and Sherlock’s interest in being inside him this way could well indicate an interest in going even further down this path. And at this particular moment, John suddenly knows that he absolutely wants that. “Sherlock.” He opens his eyes to look into Sherlock’s, and asks it directly. “Do you want to fuck me?”

The crease at the bridge of Sherlock’s nose appears. “I didn’t think you would ever want that. I didn’t think it was your sort thing.”

“I think it just became my thing,” John tells him, meaning it. “I’ve told you from the start: you can have absolutely anything when it comes to me. Do you want that? To try it?”

Sherlock hesitates for a moment, and when he pulls his full lower lip into his mouth to worry at it with his teeth, John has his answer. Sherlock swallows visibly and nods. “Only if you want to.”

John’s heart feels as though it’s swelling in his chest. “I’m loving having you inside me like this,” he says, very frankly. “I never realised how much I might like it.”

“I didn’t think it was your sort of thing,” Sherlock tells him. “I would have been more than content to keep doing it the other way.”

John looks down between them, feeling Sherlock’s cock twitch against his own and sees how hard it is, and how large. Sherlock does want this. His want is fuelling John’s desire ever more, flooding his mouth with saliva. “I want to try everything with you,” he says, meaning it completely. A frisson of desire shivers down his spine.

Sherlock bites his lip again. “I want to, but I don’t know what I’m – I mean, how do we… do you have a preference for – positioning?”

John considers the options and what would be the easiest. He shifts then, dislodging Sherlock’s fingers gently and turning onto his front. “Just like this,” he says, pulling Sherlock closer. “Come get on top of me and into me.”

Sherlock takes in a lot of air at once and does as he’s told, the heat of him touching John before their bodies meet again, lying fully on top of John, the hard length of his cock fitting itself into the cleft of his arse. He reaches out for the lube and gets it open with his teeth, slicking it onto himself. “You’re sure?” he asks, sounding uncertain. “You don’t have to do this just to – reassure me or something. I’m quite content the other way. Or with what we were doing before.”

John turns his head a little, unable to look at Sherlock directly. “I’m very sure. I want this. I want you, in every way that I can have you. Let me feel you.”

Sherlock’s breath releases now, ragged and uneven. He pushes himself up a little, positions himself carefully, and begins to push. The instant he does, they both moan loudly. It’s a completely new sensation for John, and to know it’s the first time that Sherlock has got his cock into the heat of another body before, that it’s his body Sherlock is doing it with – the thought is almost overwhelming. And yet, at the same time, it’s not enough. He can feel the burn of his flesh stretching tightly around the intrusion of Sherlock’s cock, hot and skewering through him like a burning rod, and yet it feels good in ways he can’t even describe, his cock throbbing and drooling out precome against the sheet in strings. He gets his knees under him and lifts his arse a little to give Sherlock better access, and Sherlock grasps him by the hips and pushes slowly the rest of the way into the tight passage of John’s body. John’s eyes are closed against the return of the discomfort, but at the same time it’s nothing short of thrilling to have Sherlock inside him this way. He honestly never thought he’d like it so much, but he would have done it for Sherlock regardless.

Sherlock’s hips are touching his arse, fully buried within him. They’re both panting and Sherlock says, “This is – John – ”

John is trying not to actively drool on the sheets. “Yes,” he agrees, the word heartfelt. Then – “You can move, if you want.” His resolve cracks a little. “Please move – God, I need it – ”

Sherlock moans again, and begins to move. They don’t speak any more after that, just grunts and moans and the occasional attempt at a word. Sherlock manages to angle his cock into John’s prostate again and again, seeming to know instinctively how much pressure to use, how often to do it to get John shaking with pleasure, everything in his body quivering. Sherlock bends over him and uses both hands to stroke over John’s nipples and belly, and when they finally reach for his cock, John comes almost instantly, his back bucking as he comes so violently that he’s seeing stars, his breath stuck in his lungs. Sherlock makes an absolutely desperate sound and goes wild, his hips snapping forward as he thrusts into John, and when he comes it almost seems to take him by surprise, bursting over him. His entire body tenses, freezing against John’s, and John feels several judders of release pump into him, Sherlock’s groaned exhalation following, then another hard thrust and another gush of warmth blooming within John. Then he slumps forward, one hand still cradling John’s softening bits, the other wrapped around his chest.

“Oh my God,” John pants, when he’s recovered enough for speech. Sherlock is draped over his back like a hot, sensual blanket and it’s good. He tends to get sensitive after he’s come, but the feel of Sherlock’s hand on him is nice. “That was absolutely fucking phenomenal!”

Sherlock gives a huff of breath that might be a laugh. “And here I thought we were only going to do something – low-key tonight,” he says.

He’s still inside John and John loves it, though he knows that Sherlock will soften and slip out soon enough. “I thought so, too,” he says. He turns his head as far as he can and Sherlock gets it and cranes his head over John’s shoulder to kiss him. The angle is awkward, though, so after a moment Sherlock shifts and a warm wash of his release goes with him, warm on John’s thighs and cheeks. John twists around so that he’s facing Sherlock and they kiss for a long time.

After, Sherlock lifts his face to look down at him, his eyes intense. “I never thought you would like that,” he says. “I thought it would be – I don’t know. Just not your style.”

John raises his eyebrows. “What, you think my sense of masculinity can’t handle it or something? Fuck that. You’re my style.”

Sherlock laughs unexpectedly, and John kisses him again and rolls them over so that he’s above Sherlock for a moment or two, then settles onto his side, half his body spread out over Sherlock’s. “I like it both ways,” Sherlock tells him, and John nods.

“Me too. Anything with you is good, though. Just as long as it’s you and me, I’ll be fine.” He touches Sherlock’s face, his thumb stroking over Sherlock’s delectable lower lip. “So, tomorrow,” he begins, searching Sherlock’s eyes. “Mycroft is coming to give us the latest.”

Sherlock nods, and suddenly the mood is completely serious. “The moment he has a location, we’ll leave,” he says. “We owe her that, John. We don’t get our happy ending until we’ve avenged her properly.”

“No,” John agrees soberly. “She was the one who gave us this. And it was at least partly my fault that Mary killed her.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock says, a bit cross, but he puts his lips to John’s forehead at the same time. “Mary killed her. It was her decision. And you know very well that she could have come to that conclusion all on her own. As Mycroft said. It was Mary who pulled the trigger.”

John thinks of the small coffin, of Mrs Hudson bleeding out in Sherlock’s arms, gentle and loving and kind even as she was dying, and anger suffuses him all over again. “We will find her,” he vows. “Sherlock – whatever it takes, we will find her, and we will kill her for what she did. No mercy. No explanations. Agreed?”

Sherlock looks at him in surprise. “I was more concerned that you would decide to be merciful,” he says. “I agree completely. She dies. And I’d like to be the one to do it, ultimately. Though you have every bit as much cause.”

“We’ll see when the moment comes,” John tells him. “We can’t predict exactly how it will go down. You know she’ll put up a good fight.”

“We’ll do it together,” Sherlock says, his voice low and fierce, and John’s heart gives a spike of love so sharp it’s nearly painful.

He kisses Sherlock hard, sealing the vow with his mouth rather than in words. It’s been said and confirmed and confirmed again. Now all that remains is to actually do it.

***

“Prague,” Mycroft says, walking through the door of the flat and dropping a file on the coffee table.

They both sit up, detaching themselves from where they’d slouched into the sofa after breakfast, Sherlock on his laptop, John scanning through the papers. Sherlock puts the laptop aside, his eyes gleaming at his brother. “Where precisely?” he asks, already reaching for the file.

Mycroft sounds smug. He attended the funeral yesterday, seated in the back and slipping out as soon as the service was over, foregoing the burial. He sits down on one of the desk chairs, crosses one knee over the other and laces his long fingers together over his knee, like a professor about to launch into a lecture. “She’s been careful,” he says. “She knows how to avoid cameras. For the most part. She was seen in Wenceslas Square surrounded by a pack of tourists.”

Sherlock is intense. “You’re sure – ”

“No less than three separate cameras caught it, little brother. Facial recognition is a solid match.” Mycroft sounds especially pleased with himself and for once, John can’t even grudge him for it.

He leans over to look at the file. “What’s all this?” he asks.

Sherlock answers before Mycroft can. “Photos,” he says, flipping through the eight prints, varying in clarity, in black-and-white versus colour. His finger taps a map. “Wenceslas Square is about here.” He picks up the map and gives it to John, revealing the page beneath. “And – flight confirmations,” he says, a note of surprise in his tone as he looks up at his brother. “Mycroft – ”

“You’ll find the hotel confirmation on the next page,” Mycroft informs him. He rolls his eyes. “A double, naturally.” Their eyes meet and hold for a moment, and the sarcasm and humour both drop. “There’s cash as well. Eighty-two thousand Czech Koruna, which is roughly – ”

“Three thousand Euros,” Sherlock supplies before Mycroft can tell him.

Mycroft nods. “Do you need a weapon?” he asks, the question directed to Sherlock.

Sherlock doesn’t move but his eyes gleam a little. “A government-sanctioned one would be nice.”

Mycroft lifts his briefcase onto the table, opens it and promptly hands over a pistol. “It’s loaded,” he says mildly. “But I expect you’re familiar enough.” His eyes move to John’s face. “I’m sure you’re still in possession of the weapon I returned to you after the events of Christmas Day.”

John nods. “Any special instructions?” he asks, his eyes boring into Mycroft’s face. “In the case of legal complications, for instance.”

Mycroft fixes him with a particularly condescending look. “One assumes that you will be intelligent about this. Avoid doing it in front of a crowd, won’t you?”

John rolls his own eyes. “Yes, we’re not stupid. But sometimes things get complicated. I want to know that you’re not going to abandon us to a Czech prison or something.”

“He won’t,” Sherlock says, his eyes on Mycroft’s face.

Mycroft sighs a little as though this is disappointing to admit, and gets to his feet. He picks up the briefcase and says, “Officially, of course, we never had this conversation and that weapon most certainly did not come from me.” He pauses as though for dramatic effect, but when he speaks again, it’s sincere. “Unofficially, good luck to you both. Find her and get it done as quickly as possible.”

“We will.” Sherlock gives him a rare smile, and Mycroft goes.

When the door downstairs closes, John reaches for the file. “When do we leave?”

Sherlock points at the sheet. “Tonight. I want to study the map before we go. Pack lightly.”

John’s old military instincts roar back into life. “I always do.”

***

They land between midnight and one, and Sherlock directs the cab driver in impressively functional Czech to their hotel. As the cab draws up, the driver says in heavily accented English, “Old Town Square Hotel.”

Sherlock asks him something. The driver responds and Sherlock gives him some bills. They get out and Sherlock mutters, “Trust Mycroft to have chosen a hotel with an English name. It’s his subtle way of intimating that I can’t speak Czech.”

John looks up at the edifice of what looks to be one of the most beautiful buildings in a square filled with some of the most beautiful architecture he’s ever seen and offers, “Maybe he just picked it because it’s nice and accessible by car. The streets are pretty narrow, and he knew we’d be arriving late.”

“Possibly. It’s also pretentiously expensive. He’s showing off.” Sherlock shoulders his bag, glances around the square, and nods toward the front doors. “Come on.”

John hangs back a little as Sherlock checks them in, keeping a wary eye out. He doesn’t expect Mary to be hanging about in a posh hotel in the middle of the touristy old city square, but one never knows. He thinks of her having abandoned Alaska. What was she thinking? Surely she must have known that if she came back for the child, she’d have been caught instantly. He knows that Mrs Whitney knows of no arrangement, that Mary never told her how long she’d be gone. Nothing. She just left. That baby deserves better than that, he thinks with irritation. Mrs Whitney is fond enough of her, but he doesn’t want the child staying in the home of a heroin addict. He thinks with a touch of rue that this could be applied to Sherlock, too. Just as well the child isn’t his, then. He knows that he should probably confirm that for certain. He doesn’t trust a word that Mary has told him, although this feels instinctively true.

“Ready?” Sherlock asks, his voice low, breaking into John’s thoughts. He nods toward the lifts. “This way.”

Mycroft has booked them an impressively nice room. John pokes about, takes in the bath with its shower the size of some rooms he’s lived in during his younger years, the huge bed and stately furniture scattered about. Sherlock is at the window, pulling the curtains closed, but he stops as John comes over to him. John puts his arms around Sherlock’s waist and his chin on his shoulder. “That’s quite the view,” he says, and Sherlock nods.

“Prague is incredibly lovely. Probably the most beautiful city I’ve seen,” he says, his hands stilling on the curtains. “I haven’t spent a lot of time here, but I know this section fairly well.”

John digests this. “You were here during – ”

“Briefly.” Sherlock looks out across the square. “That’s the famous clock, there. This square will be packed with tourists during the day.”

John tightens his arms. “Speaking of which,” he says, “we’re going to have a busy one. We should get some sleep.”

Sherlock finishes closing the curtains now and turns away from the view. “Agreed.” He pulls off his coat and John kicks his shoes under a table and lays his Sig in the drawer of the night stand. They undress and get ready for bed quickly. John is already in bed when Sherlock comes back from the loo. He slides in and finds John in the middle, switching off the lamp and slotting his long limbs into and around John’s. “I hope we find her quickly,” he says. “I’d hate this to become a months-long wild goose chase.”

“I agree,” John says. The dark of the room makes it easier to open up. “I want to get this over with and get back to our life. To the way things always should have been.”

“Except that Mrs Hudson should have been a part of it,” Sherlock says starkly.

“I know,” John says softly, all too aware that they’ve only just buried her yesterday. The wound is still incredibly fresh. “We’ll find her, Sherlock. And killing her won’t be something we lose any sleep over. It will be justice. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

“Justice,” Sherlock repeats, as though tasting the word, testing it for weaknesses. “Hmm. Maybe. Almost.”

John presses himself closer. “I love you,” he says, and Sherlock leans forward and kisses him for a long moment.

“I love you, too,” he says in response, after. “Good night.”

Between the flight, the lateness of the hour, and Sherlock’s arms around him, John drifts almost instantly asleep.

***

When he wakes, Sherlock is already up, sitting at one of the tables with his laptop. John sits up, seeing an open map. The room smells like freshly-brewed coffee. “What are you doing?” he asks, his voice scratchy. “What time is it?”

“Just past seven,” Sherlock says. “Coffee? Though you needn’t get up just yet.”

John frowns and rubs his eyes. “Did you even sleep?”

“Yes. A bit.” Sherlock picks up his cup and drinks. “There’s no hurry. Mycroft’s surveillance hasn’t reported anything yet today. I thought we’d go by the place where she was spotted, but it’s quite close, just off the square.”

John lets himself sink back into the pillows, yawning. “Is there time for breakfast before we head out?”

“Yes,” Sherlock reassures him. “And as I said, you don’t need to get up just yet.”

“I’m awake now,” John says. He yawns again.

“I’ll get you some coffee,” Sherlock says, getting swiftly to his feet to cross the room to the coffee maker. He pours a cup, adds milk, and brings it over to John, perching himself on the side of the bed.

“Thanks,” John says, taking the cup. He sips. “So, what’s the plan for today?”

“There isn’t one, precisely,” Sherlock says, looking frustrated. “The old city is like a labyrinth. Mycroft is watching the cameras from London. If they see anything, they’ll let us know at once. She might not even be here any more, for all we know. She could have left at any point, by a number of different ways. Train, plane, bus, car, even boat.”

“So what do we do?” John asks, frowning.

Sherlock shrugs. “Wander around with our eyes open, I thought. I don’t know whether or not Mary speaks the language. The baby’s name suggests to me that she comes from Alaska or else has some other personal connection there, but she could have spent time here. If I were on the run, I would rather be somewhere familiar. If she’s a lot more familiar with Prague than I am, we’ll be at a significant disadvantage. She also had quite a head start, though she gave that up when she got caught on camera. Even so.”

“It’s also very popular with tourists,” John points out. “I mean, I’ve never been here, but lots of people do come. Maybe she wanted somewhere crowded more than anything else.”

“Excellent point,” Sherlock says. He leans over and kisses John swiftly, then gets up and goes to the window. “We’re overlooking the square,” he says. “If you’re really finished sleeping, come and see now that it’s light outside.”

John gets out of the bed, careful not to spill his coffee, and goes to join Sherlock, fitting an arm around his back and thinking privately that having something to do, something other than planning a difficult familial resolution or the funeral of a woman he loved like a mother, has already helped him immensely. He sips the coffee leaning against Sherlock and looking out over his shoulder. “Wow,” he says, and means it. The architecture he saw in the dark last night is even more stunning by day. Gorgeous building after gorgeous building are lined up in rows like pastel-coloured sweets in a box, mostly white or pastels and trimmed in pink, blue, mint green. The pavement is cobbled and, as he thought, covered in tourists. Impressive for early February, he thinks. There’s a tower with an elaborate clock, the one Sherlock told him about on the plane, and across the way there’s another beautiful building which must be the National Gallery. “It’s beautiful,” he says, and Sherlock nods.

“It really is. As I said, it’s probably the most beautiful city I’ve seen. Wait until you see all of those little winding side streets we just glimpsed yesterday.” Sherlock’s body relaxes a little as he speaks, leaning back into John’s, but John can feel the underlying tension of anticipation humming just beneath the surface.

“Is this what it was like for you while you were away?” he asks softly. “On the run like Mary, always looking over your shoulder?”

“A little,” Sherlock tells him, looking back into his face. “Less with the five-star hotels, though, and I was usually the one in pursuit. It would have been a lot better if I’d had you with me, too.”

John smiles at him and Sherlock smiles back, his eyes dropping to John’s lips. John knows that if they start something now, it will delay them horribly, though, and this is too important to wait any longer. “I’d best shower and get moving, then,” he makes himself say, and Sherlock nods. He detaches himself, finishes the coffee, and takes himself into the loo.

***

They spend the day playing tourist, more or less. Sherlock shows him the entire old city with its uneven cobblestones, narrow, curving streets, Bohemian crystal shops, souvenir shops, outdoor terraces with sheepskin and fur blankets to ward off the winter’s chill, torches blazing in the corners. It feels bizarrely like being on a honeymoon, only they’re attempting to hunt down a woman with the express purpose of killing her. They eat lunch at a rooftop restaurant overlooking Prague’s red roofs and the Vltava River flowing peacefully by, a passenger ship sliding through its tranquil brown waters. By the time they’re drinking coffee and paying the bill, a mist has gathered over the city. They look into the shops, but also into the dark nooks and crannies of back alleys and hidden alcoves, which Prague has in plenty. By the time they return to the old city square, whose name Sherlock has attempted to teach him to pronounce, dark is falling. John can see his breath frosting in the air and concludes that they’ll need to resume the search tomorrow.

A mob of tourists is listening to a guide speak in German about the astronomical clock. He and Sherlock are forced by the crowds to pass directly through it, Sherlock just ahead of him. As John squeezes himself through a narrow space, something catches his peripheral vision. He turns his head and comes face-to-face with Mary. She is dressed in dark colours, grey, he thinks, a woollen cap covering her hair, but there’s no doubt that it’s her. Her eyes are round and scared, at least for a nanosecond, and then she turns and bolts. He reacts on instinct. “Sherlock!” he barks, and turns to pursue Mary without waiting to check that Sherlock heard him.

He’s there behind John, though, his shoes audible on the cobblestones and John silently thanks whatever deities there are that Sherlock did hear him. Mary slips like smoke through the crowd, leaving no space behind her and in the half-light, it’s difficult to keep eyes on her. She has a lead of about ten metres and is running west, toward the end of the square. She makes her way free of the crowd before they do and takes off down a narrow, winding street. “Karlova!” Sherlock says, reaching his side, still running. “She’s making for the river!”

“Shit!” John wrenches himself free of the mob at last and thunders after Mary. The weight of his Sig is there in his coat pocket, comfortingly heavy. He and Sherlock are running, everything around them a blur except for the dark shape of Mary, moving like a shadow in front of them. People are getting out of their way in a hurry, though a few shout at them. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Mary not escape.

The road twists and turns but Mary doesn’t take any of the side streets that cross it or disappear into any of the alcoves they looked into earlier, just continues in a beeline toward the water. After eight hundred metres or so, they reach the bridge they crossed earlier, and John is surprised. He’d thought perhaps that Mary had transport waiting at a dock or something, but instead she’s heading onto the bridge.

“The bridge – ” Sherlock pants. “She must be trying to keep to crowded places!”

“Public places!” John agrees, elbowing an unwary tourist out of the way. “We can’t shoot her on a bridge, Sherlock!”

“I know that!” Sherlock is slightly ahead of him. People are browsing through the jewellery and art stalls at the sides of the bridge, but Mary is streaking directly down the centre. They’re closing on her, though – a path has opened in her wake and perhaps she’s also tiring, John barely has time to think. They’re nearly at the far side of the bridge when she veers to the left side, stops, turns as she drops to one knee and fires from an unseen gun. Sherlock grabs John’s arm and drags him down to the cobbled pavement. “Get down!” he shouts.

There’s a second shot and people start screaming. From the sounds of it, the second bullet found a victim and pandemonium breaks out. The shooting stops. “Come on!” John grits out through clenched teeth, for once not stopping to check on the victim. There are tons of people on the bridge. Someone will call an ambulance.

Mary, meanwhile, has disappeared. They reach the spot where she was last seen, near the end of the bridge but still about fifty metres away. The bridge continues past the point of the river and they’re actually over land now. John is at a loss, but Sherlock isn’t. “This way!” he says, still running. A staircase opens up, leading down to the northern bank of the Vltava. They leap down the stairs and over the rails. At the bottom, Sherlock puts an arm out in caution. “Careful,” he says. “She could be waiting…”

They ease out onto another fairly busy street, though the crowds are far less dense than on the other side of the bridge. “Which way?” John asks.

“Not here,” Sherlock decides. He nods to the left, toward the riverbank. “Let’s try there.”

They slip away from the crowd and around the corner, the arches of the King Charles Bridge rising above their heads to the left. To the right is a pedestrian walkway, a riverboat dock, and some restaurants. The shadowed arch coming up would be the perfect place for an ambush, however. Deserted, hidden from view. He points and Sherlock nods, clearly already thinking the same thing. Sherlock goes first, his pistol drawn, and they creep quietly along the wall leading to the opening of the arch. He stops at the edge and listens, and John hears it, too: the attempts of someone trying to conceal heavy breathing after a prolonged chase, echoing in the stone archway. They exchange a look.

Sherlock kicks a tiny pebble forward in open invitation and Mary bursts out of the archway. Sherlock is too fast for her, knocking her arm aside before she can even fire the gun again. It goes clattering down the cobbled bank toward the water. Sherlock forces her back into the archway, a hand clapped over her mouth. Beneath the arch it smells strongly of the river and the lapping of the water echoes oddly. It’s very dark, the dusk having given way to night now. “Quiet,” Sherlock snarls. “John.”

John moves forward, the Sig in his hand and levelled at Mary’s head. “Not a sound,” he says. “Not that there’s anyone particularly close. Not close enough to help you, at any rate.”

Sherlock takes his hand off her mouth and John sees then that his other hand is holding the pistol directly to the centre of her chest. No wonder she isn’t protesting. “Let’s be very clear,” he says, his voice clouded with anger. “This is revenge. You are going to die. But we won’t shoot you and leave you to bleed out in slow agony, the way you did to Mrs Hudson. Do you have any last words?”

Mary glares fiercely at Sherlock, then shifts her gaze to John. Her eyes are cold, colder than ice, a pale fury burning in them. “I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she grits out, and somehow John is relieved that she’s not taking the coward’s way out, tears and pleas for mercy. Better for her to go down unrepentant to the last. “I would rather be dead than see you with Sherlock. And I don’t have a shred of regret for killing the person who brought it about. God knows you never would have done it yourself! I could have killed all three of you, but I wanted you to suffer. I knew what Mrs Hudson meant to you. Especially you,” she says, aiming this at Sherlock.

“I think I’d have got there eventually,” John says, his voice hard. “That’s it, though? Really? Not a word about your daughter, whom you abandoned without any sort of provision. Just bitterness and hate, that’s all you’ve got?”

Mary’s face is full of poison. “I wish I’d never met you,” she tells him.

“That makes two of us,” he says sourly. “Sherlock – ”

“Three of us.” Sherlock releases the safety of the pistol. “For Mrs Hudson,” he says, and pulls the trigger. The bullet report is muffled against the stone and Mary immediately sags against it. Sherlock stows his pistol in a pocket and catches her, pulling her away from the archway before the blood can spread. He moves her toward the water and John helps him, lowering the body into it. It’s shallow here, but he can see a strong current moving just a little way out. Blood is emptying out in clouds in the clear brown water.

He puts two fingers to Mary’s neck to feel for a pulse, but there isn’t one. Her eyes are closed. He says her name and she doesn’t respond. He looks up at Sherlock and nods. Sherlock’s lips compress a little, but he nods back and starts looking around as John holds the body by the shoulders, preventing it from slipping away right away. He also glances around for witnesses, but so far no one has come running. Sherlock comes back with several large stones in each hand. Together they place them in the pockets of Mary’s coat, adding more until Sherlock thinks it should be adequate to keep the body from rising to the surface in a few days’ time. Better to avoid the awkward questions. This done, they slide her as deeply into the water as they can without going in, themselves. For awhile the body doesn’t move much, but then a current stirs and picks it up, shifting it lower down. When it’s out of view, John straightens up and looks around for Mary’s gun. He goes to it, picks it up with his scarf, and flings it out in the direction of the body. They stand there in silence for a moment. John thinks again of Mrs Hudson’s grave, of the sound of the earth hitting the lid of the small coffin. He thinks of going there in spring with Sherlock and planting flowers, the sort she would have liked. He thinks of Sherlock choosing them. Of there being a place to remember her gentle spirit, her sense of humour. Her love. “Mary didn’t deserve a grave,” he says now, bleakly.

Sherlock comes to him and puts an arm around him. “No,” he agrees soberly. “She didn’t.”

“God even knows who she really was,” John goes on. “She stole the name from a gravestone. Maybe people loved her. Maybe she had parents somewhere. Maybe the father of her child. I don’t know. But she lost the privilege of being remembered.”

Sherlock says nothing, but his arm tightens. After awhile he says, “Perhaps we should put some distance between ourselves and – this spot.”

John nods, and together they go back to the stairs and onto the bridge. It’s fully dark now, and if anyone on the bridge remembers them as the two men who were chasing a woman just a quarter of an hour ago, no one remarks on it. They stop and look at the art, or pretend to. John’s heart is still racing, and when Sherlock takes his hand after a little, he can feel that Sherlock’s is, too. They make their way back along Karlova toward Wenceslas Square. It’s nearly nine and they haven’t eaten yet, so Sherlock suggests a place tucked into an alcove. There’s a fire burning in the fireplace and the lights are low and intimate and warm. John feels as though he’s half in a dream.

They eat, their shoes touching under the table, and John thinks that very few couples in the world could probably avenge someone together and not be destroyed by it. He doesn’t feel troubled by it, but the entire thing takes some time to come down from. For the tension to release. Sherlock watches him carefully as they eat, but they both say very little.

Afterward, they walk back to the hotel. John’s not much of one for holding hands, but it was nice when Sherlock did it before, and this time he’s the first one to reach for Sherlock’s, wanting to give his own reassurance that they’re okay, that he’s not upset that Sherlock shot the woman who was once his wife. He said it just last night: it was justice. And more merciful than Mary deserved, when he remembers Mrs Hudson bleeding out in Sherlock’s arms, her body almost weightless in death.

They go up to their room and it starts without either of them saying anything to instigate it. It only takes one look and then John has Sherlock pushed up against the wall across from the bathroom, the kiss fierce on both sides. They need this, just as much as they needed it after Mrs Hudson was killed, John thinks, though most of his focus is on getting Sherlock out of his coat and then his clothes as quickly as possible. They need this confirmation, of life and of themselves and the fact that they’re solid as rock. That Mary didn’t manage to take that from them, even if she did take Mrs Hudson. Sherlock’s hands are just as frantic, stripping articles of clothing from him like piranhas swarming a carcass, devouring every inch of revealed skin with his touch, his mouth. John backs him toward the bed, their hands wild, mouths sucking at each other as though for oxygen. They stumble onto it, palms pressed together, Sherlock’s cock hard against his as John thrusts against him, mouth still biting at Sherlock’s. Their fingers curl around each others, linked together and they move in tandem, kissing hard, the need to breathe forgotten.

Sherlock reaches down and grasps his cock, rubbing it hard, and John groans into his mouth. Sherlock makes an appreciative sound in return and rolls them over, moving down John’s body, his mouth leaving a trail of open-mouthed kisses on John’s body, each one feeling better than the last until Sherlock’s mouth dips over the length of his cock, hot and wet, the balance of suction to the press of his tongue exactly perfect. He’s moaning, hips pushing just a little. Sherlock’s hands are gripping his arse, lifting him from the sheets. John grips Sherlock’s sides with his feet, his legs hooked over Sherlock’s shoulders, and revels in the wash of pleasure flooding his being. Sherlock knows exactly how to make him feel good. He doesn’t want to come so soon, though, and besides, his mouth is watering with the need to return the favour, taste Sherlock again.

“Sherlock – ” Sherlock looks up at him and John smiles, pulling himself out of Sherlock’s mouth with some reluctance. “Come here, I need to – ”

Sherlock makes a low sound of acquiescence and allows John to reverse their positions. He makes a sound of gut-deep appreciation as John gets his mouth around Sherlock’s girth and begins to suck. Only a few minutes into it, Sherlock says his name. “Turn around,” he says. “I’m not finished with you – I need you back in my mouth.”

John understands instantly what he wants to do and agrees enthusiastically. They shift onto their sides and organise themselves hastily, then resume sucking each other. John is swimming in pleasure. He’s only ever tried this once before and it didn’t quite work that time. He throws himself into it, getting Sherlock’s cock all the way down his throat and feeling it throb there. He licks and touches without restraint, loving the way Sherlock responds audibly, physically, his cock quivering within John’s mouth. He rubs at Sherlock’s hole with two fingers. Sherlock makes a sound in his throat and pauses, then puts a tube of lubricant behind him, within John’s reach. John takes that as encouragement and gets his fingers coated, mouth still lipping at the head of Sherlock’s cock. He shifts so that he can suck Sherlock’s balls into his mouth and works both fingers inside at once, testing for resistance. Sherlock groans and his cock leaks out a warmth of precome. John presses deeper still, his fingers stretching and waiting for the muscles to release. They do after a moment, and then Sherlock is sucking him frantically. John’s entire being trembles violently and he has to lift his face. “Sher – stop!” he gasps. “I’m going to – ” come all over your face, is what he does not say, but Sherlock doesn’t seem mind, releasing him.

John shifts again, turning Sherlock onto his front and rubs his arse a little before burying his face between his cheeks and rubbing his tongue over and into Sherlock’s body. Sherlock gasps and writhes and pounds on the mattress with one fist, spasms shivering down his long spine as John fucks him with his tongue, revelling in the way Sherlock’s every nerve is responding in return. Sherlock is panting vocally, his low voice grating. “John – I need you to fuck me,” he gets out. “Right now!”

John’s mouth fills with saliva. He lifts his face and replaces his tongue with his fingers. “You sure?” he asks. “Do you feel ready – ”

“Right now!” Sherlock is moving restlessly, hands scrabbling for purchases in the blankets, arse thrust back toward John’s face. He sounds desperate. “Please!”

John hears himself make a sound more animalistic than human. “Turn over!” His hands are pulling at Sherlock, who is hastening to do it, pulling back his knees, and John can barely wait long enough to slick a palmful of lube over himself before he’s right there, pushing into the heat of Sherlock’s body and they both groan loudly enough to incur a noise complaint from any neighbouring rooms. He doesn’t wait this time; Sherlock is as open and relaxed as he could be, and looking into his face as their bodies join is incredible. Their eyes hold and John pumps himself steadily into Sherlock’s body. They’re both making a lot of sound in their pleasure, their skin slapping together as John thrusts wildly, unable to pace himself or hold back in any way, and that’s fine because the few times coherent words make it out of Sherlock’s mouth, they’re things like harder and faster and oh God, yes, please!! It all dissolves into a blur of frantic fucking, Sherlock’s body tight around him, his legs locked around John’s back. They’re panting in each other’s faces and suddenly John’s orgasm is upon him. He curls his fingers around Sherlock’s cock and jerks it hard. Sherlock shouts out, his back arching and as the breath bursts from his throat, John’s body spasms and he starts to come, still pounding into Sherlock, rutting into the release flooding from his body and into Sherlock’s, pleasure being wrung from every part of his frame. Sherlock is coming almost violently, his cock jerking in John’s fist and shooting out ribbons of pearly release over John’s fingers and all over his chest, his arse clenching around John’s still-spurting cock. He thrusts five, six more times, then stops at last, slumping down onto Sherlock. Stars are sparkling in his vision, his throat raw, back heaving with breath.

For several long minutes they just lie together, panting, the aftershocks trembling through both of them, Sherlock’s echoing into John’s own flesh, and it feels better than anything ever has before.

“That was phenomenal,” Sherlock pants after a bit, digging five fingers into John’s hair, the other hand sliding south to grip at his arse. “That felt – I didn’t even know it could feel better than it did before.”

“It’s the tension release, I think,” John tells him, his face buried in Sherlock’s neck. “We needed that. After all that, we needed this.”

“Yes,” Sherlock agrees. “That’s precisely it. Exactly.”

John lifts his face now and looks down at him for just a moment before Sherlock puts the hand that was in his hair on his face and draws him down, and they kiss and kiss and kiss and John thinks dimly that it should feel incongruous, so soon after having done what they did, but it doesn’t. All it feels is right.

***

When John wakes, it’s to the sound of Sherlock’s low voice speaking into his phone. He turns onto his back and pushes himself up onto his elbows. Sherlock sees him, moves the phone away from his face and mouths, “Sorry”. He points at the phone and rolls his eyes and John understands that it’s Mycroft. He shakes his head, smiling. Sherlock is dressed in nothing but one of the white towelling robes from the loo and his curls are damp, so he must have showered. Could have been fun to do that together, John thinks, but never mind. He gets himself out of bed and pads naked in the direction of the loo, where he takes a long, very hot, very relaxing shower. He cleans every inch of himself with care, using the expensive, scented products the hotel placed in the shower. He’s a little hard just thinking about last night, but decides to wait and see if Sherlock might be interested in participating before taking care of it himself. He shuts off the water and towels himself dry before reaching for the other robe and pulling it on. He rubs a towel through his hair and combs it, then brushes his teeth and shaves. After this, he opens the door and emerges to find Sherlock making another pot of coffee and looking up at him.

“Good morning,” he says, smiling a little. “Sorry I woke you. My brother called.”

“So I gathered. It’s all right.” John smiles back and kisses Sherlock briefly before continuing to the window to have a look at the scene below.

Sherlock follows him over, evidently not finished, his lips in John’s damp hair, hands sliding warmly onto his waist. “I had every intention of crawling back into bed with you, or at least joining you in the shower,” he says, his voice a low murmur that makes John’s skin prickle. “He was too bloody long-winded, though…”

“It’s fine,” John tells him, though it’s a little breathless. Sherlock’s mouth is on his neck now and whether they woke up together or not isn’t going to matter after all. “Morning after a mission: I get it.”

Sherlock’s long fingers pluck at the loosely-knotted sash of his robe and slip it open, his mouth still on John’s neck. “I love you,” he says, the words muffled on John’s skin. It’s not the first time he’s said it but he rarely says it first and John’s heart swells fiercely.

He puts his hands over Sherlock’s on his belly and turns his head back. “I love you, too,” he says, moved by Sherlock’s unusually emotional display. “What’s brought all this on?”

Sherlock stills a little, then says, “It’s just that – it’s over now, John. The nightmare. And the fear that you could ever change your mind.”

“I never could have and you know that,” John tells him, his own voice low. “Sherlock – tell me you never really doubted that! Not after what she did!”

“No,” Sherlock admits after a moment, his thumbs caressing John’s skin. “But all the same: I’m glad this is over.”

“So I am,” John says. He closes his eyes, drowning in Sherlock’s proximity, in his obvious desire for him. “Go on with what you were doing, there…”

Sherlock makes a pleased sound and resumes kissing his neck, then pulls the robe down John’s shoulders and tugs it off altogether. “You’re still warm from the shower,” he says in tones of decided approval. “I wanted to come in there with you.”

“Tomorrow,” John says. “Can we stay another night?”

“How about another two?” Sherlock asks. “We could see the city properly…” He kisses John’s ear and pushes his nose into the nape of John’s neck, drinking in the scent of him. “Also, I’ve had Mycroft arrange our flight to leave from Vienna. You’ve never been and I thought you might like it. We could take the train, spend half a day or so in the old city, then fly home. Only if you’d like to, of course.”

John is having a hard time keeping his voice even. “I’d love that,” he says, his breath already coming faster.

Sherlock hums his approval into John’s back, kissing his way down it. “Are there a lot of tourists out already?” he asks.

John grips the edge of the windowsill and looks out over Wenceslas Square, attempting to focus as Sherlock gets to his knees, kissing the base of his spine. “There are,” he says. “And it’s not even nine o’clock yet! I wonder why there are so many in February…” He’s distracted; Sherlock is alternately licking and biting his arse, the latter very gently, and somehow it’s an enormous turn-on.

“It’s the off-season,” Sherlock says into his skin. “Cheaper rates.” He pushes John’s cheeks apart and, without warning, licks a long stripe over him, his tongue lingering at the entrance to John’s body and rubbing a little.

John gasps, oxygen searing his lungs like fire. “Holy shit!”

Sherlock chuckles into his skin and does it again, spending a little more time there the second time, his tongue working at John’s hole.

John hears himself give a sound alarmingly like a wail, his head dropping forward, unable to focus on the scene in the square below. Sherlock’s large hands are caressing his thighs and arse, tongue licking into him in a way that has no right to feel as good as it does. He knows from having done it to Sherlock that it must produce some pleasure, but he never imagined it could feel this good. He could come just from this, he thinks, his cock already wet, drops welling from the slit. He wants to touch himself but he also wants to let Sherlock do whatever he wants, because so far that’s working just fine for him. He’s panting and groaning uncontrollably, and when Sherlock straightens up, a questioning sound low in his throat, his mouth near John’s ear, John nods fervently. “God, yes – please!”

Sherlock pauses for a moment, probably seeing to himself, John thinks, and then he’s there, positioned and then pushing forward. He does it all in one long, slow thrust, not stopping until he’s all the way inside. He moves his hands to John’s hips. “Okay?” he asks, his voice strained with need, and John nods again.

“Yeah,” he says hoarsely. “It’s good. It’s really good.” Then – “You can move if you want…”

Sherlock starts off slowly, his hips circling almost experimentally, searching, and when John hisses and goes rigid, he stops. “Wait – was that good or bad?”

“Good!” The word is pained, but only because John is clenching his teeth from the power of the shock of pleasure drilling through him.

Sherlock sounds relieved, or as relieved as he can, given that his voice is ragged with lust. “I think I prefer it the other way, in fact,” he says, the statement incongruous given that he’s thrusting rhythmically into John, bent over him at the window. “But I’m a little bit sore from last night – no objections to that, though – and I wanted to be – joined to you like that again, in whichever way.”

He’s panting and so is John. “No objections here, either,” John manages, his breath huffing out hard. “I like it both ways!”

“John – ” Sherlock is losing his ability to be coherent. He wraps his arms around John’s chest and stomach and goes hard, his hips plunging him deeper and deeper into John’s body. He’s hitting John’s prostate on every stroke and John is practically drooling in bliss. Sherlock drops his head forward and bites at the junction of his neck and shoulder, his hand curling around John’s cock and tugging at the same time and John comes shouting, spraying release all over the wall beneath the window, more and more of it coming as Sherlock rubs and squeezes him. And then his voice rises sharply, his hand transferring back to John’s hip to pound into him hard and he comes a moment later, voice stuck in his throat, hips jammed up against John’s arse and John feel the wet gush within him, feels Sherlock trembling and shaking as he plunges in again, still coming. “Oh – !” The word is suspended as Sherlock’s moment of ecstasy stretches out, pumping shot after shot of come into John, and John feels it so hard that his own cock twitches out another shot of its own.

They collapse onto the floor somehow, completely unable to stand any longer, and it’s fine. The carpet is luxuriously soft and when he can see again, John reaches up and tugs one of the blankets off the bed and pulls it over them both. He gathers Sherlock’s bundle of limp limbs into his arms and holds him tightly to himself. Playing tourist can wait, he thinks. When he can move again, they’ll go back to bed for a little while first. This is far more important.

***

They take four more days before returning to London, not wanting to end the brief trip. Vienna proved too tempting to leave so quickly, so they stayed, and if Mycroft protested, Sherlock didn’t bother relaying the message. They’re back now, though, because there were things that needed seeing to. The first order of business was having a paternity test done. John was unsurprised to discover that Mary had told him the truth, that Alaska is not his child. Nevertheless, as he has no idea who the biological father is, he made it his first priority to arrange a private adoption. The queue of parents waiting for a newborn is very long and he was able to find people within ten days. He has them come to Baker Street for an interview and lets Sherlock observe them, asking only a few questions. John tells them briefly the circumstances of the adoption and finds the couple sympathetic and understanding. When they leave, Sherlock announces his approval and John concurs. He brings the baby back to Baker Street the morning of the official adoption, exchanging her for a very generous thank you gift for Mrs Whitney, who cries when she says goodbye. The couple’s reaction to meeting their new daughter is everything he could have hoped for. They’ve promised to give him updates and even visit, if he wants. John isn’t sure whether he’d like that, but he appreciates the offer and says so.

That was a week ago now, and everything has settled. They’ve begun to go through Mrs Hudson’s things and clean out the flat, but they’re taking their time about it. Mrs Turner is helping them sort through things, too. Otherwise, things are quietly settling into something that John hardly dares believe could be considered ‘normal’. They’re just so good. Of course, Mrs Hudson’s absence still grieves them both. She of all people should have had more time to celebrate the fact of them finally getting it together. They miss her tea, the way she would ‘accidentally’ bake two lasagnes and implore them to take one off her hands, her constant presence, her succinctly-given opinions about this and that. Her racy perfumes and sly sense of humour. It’s a huge hole in their lives, in the house. But what she left behind is so enormous. She changed their lives permanently.

As though to punctuate this point in John’s thoughts, Sherlock is on the phone with his mother, wandering about the flat as they chat. John is browsing about online, not listening particularly, but catching bits and pieces of their conversation. At one point Sherlock says, “This Sunday? I think so; let me ask.” He looks up at John and shifts the phone away from his mouth. “Lunch at my parents’ this Sunday?”

“Of course,” John says, smiling at him.

Sherlock smiles back. “We’ll be there,” he tells his mother. “Should we bring something? A cake, perhaps?”

John thinks of Mrs Hudson’s treasured almond cake recipe even as he listens to Sherlock’s we’s and savours them in private triumph. It already sounds so natural in Sherlock’s mouth. He wonders if Sherlock wants to tell his parents about their engagement already, or keep it secret awhile longer. It was barely even a discussion that needed to happen. John reflects with a touch of irony that avenging someone together is a fairly permanent bond as it is, but still: after dinner on their last night in Vienna it just came up. Sherlock said something vague about coming back to Prague and Vienna for anniversaries in the future, then added almost as an afterthought, “… that is, if you’ll marry me, of course,” and John had laughed and asked if that was his way of asking. “No,” Sherlock had said. “I suppose I just rather assumed…” John thinks of it, smiling dreamily to himself. There’s someone he needs to tell, too. There’s also Harry, but this needs to come first.

Sherlock finishes his call and comes back into the sitting room. He comes over and bends to kiss John, letting himself be pulled down onto John’s lap. He touches John’s face after, rubbing over his cheek with a thumb. “Are you going to do it now?” he asks. “Are you ready?”

John takes a deep breath, then nods. “Well, ready or not, it can’t really be any worse than it is now, can it? I mean, I suppose it’s worth giving a shot, at any rate. I should have done something years ago, but I just never… yeah. Anyway – yeah, I’m going to do it now.”

Sherlock looks into his eyes for a long moment, but all he says is, “Good luck. I’ll go downstairs and sort through a little more of the kitchen things. Give you a bit of privacy. But come and find me after, if you want?”

John nods again. “I will.” He puts a hand on the back of Sherlock’s neck and kisses him again, then another time after that.

Sherlock pulls himself away with reluctance. “Shall we go out for dinner tonight?” he suggests. “There’s that new Moroccan place that Mike told us about. The Times review said the lamb tagine is divine.”

John smiles at him. “Perfect. I love lamb.”

Sherlock smiles back, then goes, carefully closing the flat door behind him.

It’s not really necessary, all the tip-toeing around it, but John nevertheless does appreciate the privacy, and Sherlock’s recognition of the fact that he would want it for this. He takes another deep breath, then picks up the number Mycroft gave him. He’d needed help getting his hands on it after all. He dials and listens to the phone ring three times. Finally a woman answers.

“Hello?”

He knows her voice, familiar as his own. She sounds sober, too. He has to clear his throat. “Hello Mum,” he says, his voice sticking in his throat all of a sudden. “It’s me. It’s John.”

“John!” There’s warmth in her voice, and it dissolves the knot in his gut. This was Sherlock’s idea, his stubborn thought that perhaps if he’d been able to resolve things with his mother, perhaps Mrs Hudson’s gift could go one further and prompt John to do the same thing with his own. “It’s been so long,” his mother says. “I’m so glad to hear your voice.”

He opens his mouth to respond, tears prickling at the backs of his eyes. He should have called so much sooner, but it’s all right: it’s not too late, after all. Somehow he can already tell that things are going to be okay now. “I’m glad to hear yours, too, Mum,” he says.

She begins to talk, to ask questions that need answers, and John fumblingly gives them and asks his own. Somewhere behind it, he can almost see Mrs Hudson beaming fondly at him.

Everything is turning out exactly as it should.

*