Chapter One: Shepherd's Pie
That was not at all what he had expected when Lestrade had texted, asking Sherlock to meet him at the pub near New Scotland Yard after work. Specifically requesting he come alone. To be honest, Sherlock had thought the detective was going to talk to him about John. He'd been prepared for an awkward and painful conversation about the stages of grief and emotions and being a good friend. And he'd been willing to go through with it, for John's sake. Because it was clear that John still wasn't happy, even after all this time. It had been nearly a year. Fifteen months since the mess with Magnussen. Sherlock had done all he knew how to, taking as many cases as he could, even boring ones, when there was any sort of prospect of danger or thrills. When was he going to get the old John back?
A drawer in one of the filing cabinets deep in his mind palace popped open. He slammed it shut again, but not before his own voice had echoed back at him: But that was ages ago. Why would she still be upset? Sherlock shook his head as he unlocked the front door to 221B Baker Street. Not now.
As it turned out, Lestrade hadn't wanted to talk about John after all. Although it had still been an awkward and painful conversation. Sherlock went up the stairs, registering the muted sounds of the telly coming from Mrs Hudson's flat along with the mixed scents of shepherd's pie, cinnamon scones, and fish curry in the stairway. And very faintly, marijuana. The latter two from their landlady (Chatterjee must be on the outs with his wife again), the former from upstairs. John had been cooking. Not only cooking, but baking. Sherlock steeled himself and opened the door to the flat.
"That you, Sherlock?"
Sounds from the kitchen. The telly was on here too, the early evening news. A good sign. Sherlock relaxed slightly and grunted in a vague response -- it would have had to be a very clever intruder indeed to duplicate precisely the weight, speed, and rhythm of Sherlock's gait on the stairs along with the specific twist he habitually gave the doorknob and the rustle of his coat across his shoulders. But then John had likely been listening to the latest political furor or international outrage instead of paying attention to the sounds from outside. Or to his own internal demons.
Sherlock went straight to his desk after divesting himself of his outerwear, tapping the laptop that stood open there to wake it up.
"Lestrade says to say hello," Sherlock said over the sound of the sportscaster reading the league results or something equally vapid.
"Oh? You saw Greg?" John appeared in the kitchen doorway, florid and shiny-faced from the heat of the oven and with one of Mrs Hudson's blue-flowered tea towels slung over one shoulder.
Sherlock glanced at him then said as he entered his password, "You got off work early, they closed up half an hour early for that nurse's farewell party but you skipped out, not really your thing, plus you didn't want to give that other one..." Sherlock snapped his fingers in John's direction.
"Rona?" John grinned, half embarrassed and half flattered.
Sherlock pointed at him to confirm. "...Rona any more chances to corner you. You should just tell her you're not interested." Sherlock was of course not-so-secretly pleased that John wasn't interested in this Rona. He hadn't dated anyone since Mary. On the other hand, Sherlock knew it wasn't a good sign for John's mental state. Having a female companion was virtually a prerequisite of his identity. Sherlock might eventually have to do something about that. Eventually.
John came over and stood next to the table. Close enough that Sherlock could see the faint stubble on his chin (he'd shaved carefully that morning: another good sign) and smell the cinnamon caught on his jumper (he'd spilt some on the counter, brushed it away with his sleeve). Also his aftershave (when had he taken to wearing that again?) and the slight sourness of his breath at the end of the day (no alcohol, though; Sherlock might have been wrong about the reason for the pie).
"Who says I'm not interested?" But it was teasing. John was smiling at Sherlock, something warm and happy in his eyes. Maybe the baking did help. Something loosened inside Sherlock that he hadn't even been aware was clenched tight.
Sherlock reached down and clicked open the browser. With any luck he still had the pertinent bookmarks stored somewhere.
"Greg?" John prompted, his voice thrumming with an undercurrent of excitement and anticipation.
"Oh. No, no case," Sherlock said, regretfully, as he slid into his chair. They'd just wrapped up a case last week but it hadn't involved much legwork. Mostly combing through phone records and tracking down the manufacturer of a certain type of piano wire. John had been happy anyway. Sherlock wished Lestrade had a case for them. Sherlock would have liked to see again the way John's entire body came to life, the way his expression became focused and his jaw firm with purpose. But that would have to wait. Lestrade had other things entirely on his mind at the moment.
"Apparently Detective Inspector Lestrade and Dr Hooper are getting married," Sherlock muttered as he dug around in the bowels of his hard drive. Not that it was a complete surprise. They'd been dating for over a year, the man practically lived at her flat.
John barked out a laugh. "Really? That's fantastic. When?"
"In six weeks."
"Wow, that's soon," John said. "Cutting it close on invitations. You don't think... is Molly?"
"Not pregnant, no," Sherlock said. Refrained from adding a remark that might be construed as referring to John's wedding. He hadn't known, after all. "I gather they simply want to do it and don't see any reason to drag it out. Very close friends and family only, no big fuss," he said distractedly as he opened the bookmark library.
"Right. Right yes, of course." His earlier upbeat tone turning stiff.
For God's sake. While it was true John's interactions with both Lestrade and Molly had been more cordial than warm since his marriage, he was obviously included if Sherlock was going. "Don't be an idiot, John," Sherlock said irritably, "of course you're invited too. Although, that wasn't the only reason he wanted to see me." He scrolled through the entries. Ah, here it was. He hadn't deleted it after all.
"Then what did he want? You have a caterer who owes you a favour or something?"
"He's asked me to be his best man." Sherlock opened the internet page. Tips for a Best Man Speech. It had all ended up being entirely useless for what he'd wanted to say at John's wedding, but this was only Lestrade. It didn't really matter what he said.
Beside him, John stilled, then shifted. "Oh?" Too casual. What was wrong now? Sherlock glanced up at John but he was already moving away. "You should open a side business." His voice tense and clipped.
Sherlock blinked at the retreating figure, then sprang up and followed him into the kitchen.
"What-- you're not jealous, are you? You're welcome to the job." He hadn't thought it was that important. John rarely saw Lestrade outside of their investigations. But then John rarely saw anyone outside of their investigations and his own erratic locum assignments. He'd never actually gone back to work full-time. Maybe Sherlock had underestimated the strength of his friendship with the inspector.
John went to the oven and took out the pan with the pie. The scones were already done, cooling on the sideboard. He sighed. "No, no. Greg wants you. Course he does. You eating?" He didn't sound angry or hurt now. Conciliatory. Maybe resigned.
Sherlock took down two plates and got cutlery from the drawer to lay the table while John cut up the pie.
"It's nice, for Molly and Greg," John said, and that sounded more sincere. "Nice to have some good news. I'll call them later to congratulate them. Or is it all right that you've told me? Not meant to be a secret or anything?" John raised his eyebrows and glanced at Sherlock, but immediately looked away again, concentrating on serving up two large, piping hot portions of potatoes and vegetables onto the plates.
"No, I don't think so." Sherlock was nonplussed by John's reaction. He was also somewhat distracted by the fact that the pie looked suspiciously like his father's recipe. "We were in that pub all the Yarders go to," Sherlock said. "Anyone could have overheard."
John nodded. His mouth did that thing where the corners turned down to indicate he'd heard and acknowledged the statement. It made him look unnecessarily grim.
Sherlock frowned. He'd used to be baffled (surprised, delighted) on a regular basis by John's reactions to things, but he hadn't been this far off base in a long time.
"This doesn't actually bother you, does it? I don't know why he asked me, really," Sherlock said, waving his hand around. "It would have made more sense for him to ask you in the first place. Or that sergeant, Dimblock --"
"Dimmock," John sighed under his breath, shaking his head, but his mouth was edging towards a smile.
Sherlock ignored him -- pointedly, he knew the man's name perfectly well -- and ploughed on: "They seem to get on swimmingly. After the way I botched it at yours..."
That got John's attention. He stopped dishing up the food and looked at Sherlock earnestly. "Sherlock," he said in that firm, low voice that meant he was not going to accept any arguments. "You did not botch being my best man. You were you, and you were perfect. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way."
Sherlock felt inexplicably warm. His ears tingled. Something in his stomach too. He recognised the sensation but knew it wasn't productive so he ignored it. Tried to anyway. It wasn't easy, not with John's blue eyes staring into his. All Sherlock would have to do was lift his hand to rest it on John's arm or place it against his cheek. The roughness of his five o'clock shadow under Sherlock's thumb. His breath hot and damp on Sherlock's palm. But that wouldn't be welcome. Still, the moment hung there, as if waiting for the prompter to whisper the next line into one of their ears. Sherlock became extremely aware of his body, his chest rising and falling inside his shirt with his breaths, the slight prickling of nervous perspiration under his arms, his hands hanging large and buzzing with undirected energy at his sides.
John's tongue darted forward to touch the inside of his bottom lip. He broke eye contact suddenly, his gaze skittering down across Sherlock's mouth before landing on the food again, almost surprised to remember what he was doing. He took a quick step back. When he spoke again, it was with a casual, almost false cheer.
"Greg's probably just hoping to end up with an attempted murder at the reception. You know, spice things up a bit. It's his third, have to make it special." He flashed Sherlock a quick, tight smile and picked up one of the plates in one hand, knife and fork in the other. "Think I'll just take this upstairs. Get out of your way and let you work."
Sherlock was momentarily aghast. This was absolulely not the way he'd imagined the evening going. He hadn't visualised it in detail, but he'd had the vague notion that John would help him, that this was a project they'd work on together. Well, honestly, that John would do most of the speechwriting. But if the mere thought of it was causing him to flee in panic... Fine. Sherlock could adjust.
"No, no," he said quickly. "No need. Plenty of time, I've hardly anything to do anyway. Nothing, really. Forget about weddings and all that rubbish. We can..."
Sherlock stepped over to the desk and disconnected his laptop from the charging cable so he could bring it back to the kitchen with him. He sat down, haphazardly shoving dishes aside to balance the computer on the edge of the table and twirling it around so the screen would be facing John's chair. If he would sit down.
"Here, check my inbox," Sherlock said, pointing from John to the computer. "I'm gasping for a good missing pet case. Maybe an affair with the secretary." He picked up a forkful of food from the plate in front of him and shoved it into his mouth, hoping to make John believe they were already eating together. It would be rude of him to leave now.
John chuckled. "You are not, you bloodthirsty savage. You need a good decapitation is what. All right, let's see what you've got then..." He put his plate back on the table and sat down catty-corner from Sherlock. When he scooted his chair in, his knee accidentally bumped Sherlock's, but he didn't move it away. Maybe he thought it was the table leg. Sherlock didn't dare move. Hardly dared breathe. He took another bite of the pie. It tasted like his father's too. He poked around, visually gauging the ratio of sweetcorn to peas and surreptitiously testing the viscosity of the gravy.
Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
1/2 cup sweet peas (frozen are fine)
1 stalk of celery (optional)
1 can of sweet corn
1 large can of lentils (or 1 cup dried lentils, cooked)
5-7 large yukon gold potatoes
1/4 cup rice milk
sea salt and pepper to taste
pinch of cumin
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1 teaspoon dried paprika
oil for cooking
In a large pot, cook the peeled potatoes in salted water. In a large pan, saute the chopped onions, carrots, celery – cook until golden, add the frozen peas and lentils and cover to cook for a few minutes. Add a bit of water if these veggies start to stick to the bottom of the pan. Add in the corn, soy sauce, and season with cumin and thyme, salt and pepper. Keep covered, turn down the heat to low.
Your potatoes should be boiled by now, drain them leaving some of the water near the bottom, mash them with the rice milk until a puree forms. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
In an oven -safe dish, place in the whole mix of vegetables with lentils into the bottom of the pan and spread out evenly. Add the mashed potatoes on top and smooth out over top with the back of the spoon. Sprinkle the top with dried paprika, and poke through with a fork to make vents in the mashed potatoes.
Bake at 350 F /175 C for 20-30 minutes. Let it set for 10 minutes before serving, but serve while still hot.
Chapter Two: Leftover Lasagna
They hadn't found a case they both agreed on, but at least John had been distracted from whatever dark thoughts had been fomenting in his brain, and they'd ended up spending quite a pleasant evening in. Sherlock had stayed scrupulously away from any mention of Lestrade, Molly Hooper, or weddings, and that seemed to be the wisest course.
What was it that had put John off? It wasn't the relationship itself. John had never shown any signs of being jealous of either Lestrade or Molly, and in fact had expressed spontaneous delight and pleasure upon first hearing the news. It wasn't until Sherlock had mentioned he was going to be involved as the best man that John had retreated and extended his bristles. Did he think Sherlock was going to fill their shared living space with sample books, mock-ups, menus, and scale models the way they had for John's wedding?
Sherlock would have to reassure John that he wasn't planning the thing this time. Lestrade had made that clear. Sherlock's duties extended only as far as bearing legal witness to the proceedings with his signature, keeping track of the rings during the ceremony, and giving a toast at the reception. ('Five minutes max, Sherlock, no eviscerations, no mention of anything even remotely illegal, nothing you wouldn't want your mum or a judge to hear, and for God's sake no deducing anyone.') Lestrade had also expressly forbidden him from organising a stag night, which was fortuitous as Sherlock would have refused anyway. He had less than no interest in watching Lestrade become inebriated.
It might still be something else that was bothering John, of course. Sherlock would keep an eye out. It seemed as if he did nothing but observe John these days. Trying to suss out what would coax a smile, inspire a humorous jab, prompt a relaxed stance, ensure a good night's sleep. It wasn't a hardship, precisely; Sherlock was fairly certain he would never tire of watching John, listening to him, sensing his presence a room or a floor or even half a city away. Was that possible? Bioelectrical fields or something even more esoteric. It did leave him with a gnawing sense of emptiness sometimes, though, as if all that John-targeted focus were draining him of something essential.
Maybe he was just hungry.
Sherlock glanced at the clock in the corner of the computer screen. John would be back in about twenty minutes. He'd texted to ask Sherlock what he should pick up for dinner on the way home from work. (Four weeks at a clinic in Edgeware, covering for a doctor recovering from back surgery. The commute was tolerable, forty minutes each way door to door.) Sherlock had replied that he'd make something. He'd noticed a correlation between takeout and John's sleep habits. Too much salt and grease tended to have him settling late, or up in the middle of the night.
They were getting too old to sustain that kind of diet. Especially John. His parents had both died of cardiovascular deficiencies (his father had suffered cardiac arrest at 54, his mother a massive stroke at 68). Sherlock probably didn't have as much to worry about: Mummy and Dad were still in excellent health, not even so much as a hint of high blood pressure, although Mummy did have slight diabetic tendencies. But if John was to enjoy a healthier diet, then so was Sherlock.
It wasn't something they'd addressed directly. Sherlock didn't feel that confronting John with his own mortality would have been either particularly welcome or productive. But whenever he could, Sherlock silently encouraged vegetables and food made from scratch, long walks and quick sprints. The project dovetailed nicely with John's newly acquired tendency to cook as a method of emotional distraction. A distressing dream would see him making shortbread at 4 a.m. Too many pregnant women and push-chairs in the Tube would have him looking up pasta primavera recipes. Sherlock had quietly asked Mrs Hudson to siphon off a portion of the surplus fruits and vegetables Mr Chatterjee passed on to her from his shop, to make sure their larder always had a selection for John to work with when the mood hit.
It wasn't that John was overeating. The cooking alone seemed to satisfy whatever was in need of an outlet. Anything that wasn't consumed in the course of a modestly portioned meal went into the freezer, or was shared with Mrs Hudson. Or -- particularly in the case of baked goods -- taken to work for the break room. Sherlock had been mildly embarrassed when John brought along an entire coffee cake to a deposition for a case they'd been involved in three months back, but the solicitors on both sides had been appreciative. One had later sent John an email asking for the recipe. And fishing for a date, but that had been politely declined. Eventually, Sherlock reminded himself.
Sherlock went into the kitchen and took the heavy-duty plastic zip-loc bag with half a lasagna out of the freezer and turned on the oven. There was still half a packet of rocket and some porcini he could turn into a salad.
He'd just finished slicing up the last of the mushrooms when he heard John downstairs. Sherlock paused, the knife hovering in mid-air, to listen. Footsteps measured, not quick but not plodding. Probably just tired. No hesitation at the top, the door opened as soon as he reached the last step. Sherlock set himself into motion again, sweeping the mushrooms off the cutting board into the dressing to marinate.
"Hi, smells good," John called from the other room.
"It's just the rest of that tofu lasagna," Sherlock said. "It'll be about ten more minutes."
John came into the kitchen and went straight to the sink to fill a glass with water. Sherlock watched him from the corner of his eye as he ran water over the greens. Tired, an underlying tension in his shoulders. Slept poorly again, or spent too long sitting behind a desk. They needed a case.
"What'd you get up to today?" John asked, leaning back against the sink. His arms crossed, still holding his half-full glass.
Sherlock made a noncommittal sound. "Nothing much. Some research." Outlining his speech, rummaging in his mind palace and John's notes for "humorous" anecdotes involving Lestrade.
"No, old stuff. Boring." Sherlock had ended up being distracted for more hours than he cared to admit reviewing his internal files on John. His actions, behaviour, reactions, quips, smiles, outfits, postures, and expressions. Sherlock told himself it was relevant. Not to Lestrade's wedding, that was immaterial. But to this new John Sherlock had had thrust upon him. This time it wasn't a psychosomatic limp he needed to heal. This time, the limp was emotional; much more subtle, much more entrenched.
John sighed and set the glass down. "Sounds like my day. Anything I can help with?" He nodded at the counter where Sherlock was working.
Sherlock glanced at the oven, glad to move onto safer ground. "Just waiting for the lasagna."
"I'll go wash up then." John pushed away from the counter and went to the bathroom. When he returned a few minutes later, everything was ready.
Sherlock had never appreciated regular mealtimes before, but this was something he found himself looking forward to, on days when he had nothing else on: sitting with John at the kitchen table or on the couch with their plates in their laps, sharing a meal they'd both had a hand in (whether by buying it, picking it up, making it, or just preparing the area for them to enjoy it in pleasant, sanitary surroundings); half watching the mindless early evening fare or talking about anything that came to mind, what they'd done during their hours apart, what they'd read or heard, theories or ideas they found intriguing or puzzling or troubling, plans for the evening or the weekend or 'some day'. More often than not -- always, in fact, unless they were interrupted -- the mood would carry over through the rest of the evening, a lively discussion continuing into the living room, perhaps accompanied by a bottle of wine, a philosophical disagreement requiring additional research and proofs to be looked up at the desk with John leaning over Sherlock's shoulder, or simply the comfortable hum of mutual understanding and good will and the simple, bone-deep pleasure of each other's company while they both settled into their own pursuits with reading material or music.
John made an appreciative sound as he took a bite of the salad. "This is good. What'd you put in? Some kind of nut?"
"Walnut oil. And lime."
John nodded. "'S good," he said again around his next mouthful.
There was something deeply satisfying in watching John eat. Sherlock had noticed that from the very start, that night at Angelo's. The way he appreciated every bite; not necessarily concentrating on the food, none of that mindfulness nonsense, but simply unconsciously responding to the flavours, the textures. Sherlock always knew whether John liked what he was eating, whether or not he said it out loud. Whether or not John was even thinking about it himself.
"So I spoke to Greg today over lunch," John said, cutting into his lasagna.
Sherlock made an inqisitive sound as he picked up his wine glass. A bordeaux, probably too heavy, but Sherlock had thought it would be optimal for helping John relax and maybe sleep well tonight.
"He said you're all going up to Molly's mum's this weekend?" The question wide-eyed, overly innocent. He knew something more.
And what was Lestrade up to? It was true Lestrade had mentioned a desire to that effect but Sherlock had never had any intention of accompanying him. He shook his head. "He's going. No need for me to be there. All they're doing is finalising the arrangements for the chapel and the reception."
"That may be but as the best man he's counting on you to be there too."
"I'm not helping with the planning this time, John. Just misplacing the rings, making an atrociously embarrassing toast--" he teased, glad for the opportunity to put John's mind at ease.
John smiled, a bit. "Drunken debauchery on his stag night followed by a night in jail."
"No, we'll be spared that at least. I'm barred from stag night."
John frowned a bit at that. Made a disgruntled sound which, on second thought, might actually have been a burp. Ate a few bites before speaking again. "Anyway, he said something about meeting with the vicar to discuss the ceremony. You'll need to be there for that. And..." John pointed his fork at Sherlock before he could interrupt. "And he's invited me along as well to make sure you go."
Oh. Oh, that was interesting. Sherlock watched John take a sip of his wine, another bite of salad. He had a faintly smug air about him. Pleased. Pleased about being included? About the prospect of getting out of town, even if the only excitement would involve the traffic on the A12? About conspiring with Lestrade to make Sherlock do something he didn't want to? Balance of probability. The irony was that if this small inconvenience made John happy, Sherlock was surprisingly willing to go along with it.
1/2 (12 ounce) package uncooked lasagna noodles
1 (12 ounce) package firm tofu, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup spaghetti sauce
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
Preheat oven to 350F / 175 C.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add lasagna and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.
In a medium bowl combine tofu, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, milk, spaghetti sauce, parsley and 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Spread a layer in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish.
Layer lasagna noodles with the sauce mixture, ending with sauce. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes.
Chapter Three: Tasting Menu
Lestrade pulled into the driveway of a small, L-shaped bungalow halfway along a cul-de-sac lane. The brick walls were almost entirely obscured by a profusion of flowering greenery crawling up trellises and overflowing from hanging planters. Sherlock groaned as he unfolded his legs from the cramped back seat of Lestrade's Fiesta. At least he'd been able to take advantage of the entire width of the car. And John had been happy to chat with Lestrade in the front for the duration of the hour-long ride.
They'd barely closed the car doors when a chorus of female voices hailed them from the environs of the house, and Molly came down the poured concrete path followed by two other women. The older one was clearly her mother, (dyed) blond hair messily pulled back into a twist. She wore a brightly patterned shirt, grey leggings and red shoes. The other woman trailed behind, almost hesitant -- teeth clenched in an overly bright, skittish smile. Hand-knit blue fuzzy jumper, shapeless jeans, sandals. The cousin? No, must be Molly's sister, Sherlock realised as she came closer. Same eyes, same nose. Same shade of brown hair, but thinner and cut to a practical chin length. Older than Molly, but not by much. Single. Unhappily so.
Introductions were made. The mother was Daisy, the sister Posy. Sherlock wondered how Molly had escaped a flower name. Molly and Lestrade greeted each other with a quick, self-conscious peck. Daisy hugged everyone. Posy shook hands as if it pained her, her smile never wavering. She was apparently to be the maid of honour. Mother and sister clearly assumed John to be Sherlock's boyfriend despite being introduced by Lestrade only as 'Dr Watson, a friend of Sherlock's'. ('Just John, please,' John had said briskly, not touching the rest of the statement.)
And then they were off. On foot, as everything was apparently 'just down the lane' and it would be 'silly', according to Daisy, to take two cars. Sherlock suspected she just wanted a chance to pump him for information on Lestrade, as she proceeded to do just that, playing the frail old lady card to hold onto his elbow as they strolled into the village. Sherlock rolled his eyes but let her after a sharp glance from John.
The day's plan called for going to the church first to discuss the ceremony with the vicar, then on to Molly's cousin's pub for a menu tasting-cum-lunch. It had been agreed upon on their way up in the car, to everyone's mutual relief, that Sherlock and John would then be released on their own recognizance for a couple of hours while Lestrade spent the afternoon with Molly's family before they drove back to London.
While Daisy dug -- rather too obviously -- for dirt on her future son-in-law, Molly and Lestrade walked ahead holding hands, leaving John to field Posy at the rear. Sherlock half suspected Molly and Lestrade of trying to set them up together (really, why else would John have been roped into this outing?), but then again someone must have planted the boyfriend idea. Sherlock would have said Lestrade but for the way Molly had kept a close eye on her mother when John had been introduced.
The church was a relic from the late Middle Ages and charming in the way of old stone chapels, with moss and lichen providing artfully casual daubs of colour. Inside, the three-paned stained glass window behind the altar drew the eye immediately. It must have been a much newer addition, to judge by the style and freshness of the colours, and portrayed a meal, possibly the Last Supper, albeit with only three participants. The central figure was obviously meant to be Jesus, but Sherlock wasn't well enough versed in Christian lore to place the others. Some apostles or saints, most likely. The supper depicted consisted of bread, wine, and a bowl of some small green fruits. The lower panels displayed angels bearing sheaves of grain beside a bucolic river. Sherlock was leaning in to try to discern whether the fruits were meant to be olives or grapes when a voice echoed through the church:
"Here we are," the man said, cheerful, brisk, the voice of someone used to getting things done. Sherlock's entire body prickled at the sound. It couldn't be. Quick, purposeful steps on the ancient stone floor. But of course it was. The universe was just that cruel. "So, so good of you to come all the way out from the city." Same broad smile, newly receding hairline, a good two stone heavier although half of it was muscle, reaching out to shake the hand of the closest visitor (Molly), scanning the group, pleasant, bland. Stuttering, doing a double take and freezing as recognition settled in. Sherlock had gone through precisely the same process mere seconds earlier as the voice had triggered a cascade of drawers flying open in his mind palace, haphazardly tossing out sounds, smells, words, touches. Things he'd locked up years ago.
"My God. My God. Will!" Victor dropped Molly's hand and moved toward Sherlock without so much as a backward glance. His shock turned to delight as he clapped both hands on Sherlock's upper arms and squeezed. "What the hell are you doing here!"
"Sorry, Reverend, this is Sherlock Holmes, Greg's best man," Molly jumped in, gently correcting him.
A flicker of hesitation in Victor's brown eyes, his grip loosening.
"Victor." A nod. "I go by Sherlock now." He was rather pleased with the way his voice came out: steady, firm, cool. Victor's confidence returning, his hands moving away after one final reassuring squeeze. Sherlock only now noticed the wedding ring. (Married to a woman, no children.) Sherlock's desire to be quit of the place increased exponentially. Fewer explanations would be required if he stayed, though. Fewer questions from John.
"Wait, you two know each other?" Lestrade's incredulity more irritating than warranted.
A new round of introductions. Explanations. Reverend Victor Trevor, incumbent clergyman, attended the divinity course at King's College. William Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, attended the chemistry course at King's College during overlapping years. Common areas, meals, library. Really, it was quite simple, Sherlock had no idea why everyone was goggling like that.
Had Sherlock stared at John and Major Sholto the way John was now staring at him and Victor? Eyes wide, jaw tense. Assessing, comparing. Alert, as if poised to spring into action. But that was ridiculous. John would have no idea, and even if he did, why should he care?
Victor recovered quickly and the novelty of the moment soon faded for the others as well, allowing them to move on to the purpose for their visit. Victor took the lead, showing the group around the building and grounds as they discussed the facilities, music options, worship service, and the staging of the ceremony.
John held Sherlock back to let the rest of the party get a few steps ahead. "Hey, you okay?" he asked, keeping his voice low.
"You look like you've seen a ghost."
Sherlock drew himself up. "I should hope I would muster a bit more enthusiasm for a ghost."
John smiled at that. "Yeah, all right. This Reverend though." John nodded at the stolid figure engaged in some sort of discussion with Molly's mother and Greg about overflow parking, while Molly and her sister took pictures of the church with their phones. "He's not one of Sebastian Wilkes's crowd, is he?"
So that was it. Sherlock relaxed slightly. "Hardly, John. Two completely different circles. Sebastian was from Imperial, and as we've just established, I met Victor at Cambridge." He'd known Victor as an undergrad, hadn't started to groom his contacts with Sebastian, amongst others, until he'd rebranded himself as Sherlock. Put away childish things.
"Ah right. Yeah, yeah you're right. I wasn't thinking." John was only momentarily appeased, though. "So he doesn't make you uncomfortable?" he pressed.
"Please, John," Sherlock scoffed, walking around him to catch up with the others, who had moved on by now. "This entire spectacle makes me uncomfortable. Let's just try to get through it as quickly as possible, shall we?"
"Yeah, all right. I wonder what they're going to serve for lunch?"
That had been too easy. Sherlock was sure he hadn't heard the last from John on the subject, although they managed to make it through the rest of the visit without any more inquiries into Victor and Sherlock's acquaintance. Sherlock thought he was going to escape any further interactions entirely by slipping out to the adjacent cemetery for a smoke while the others attended to some of the necessary paperwork inside. Really, this shouldn't be affecting him like this. At all, in fact. It was nothing. Over and done with. It had been unexpected, that was all. Sherlock took a deep drag on his cigarette and closed his eyes to try and tidy away the chaos the earlier confrontation had caused.
Fish and chips, too hot to taste, the heavy odour of old grease, the sticky red table in the back corner. Pink lips, shiny.
The smell of books and furniture polish. His neck stiff, the buzz of a fluorescent light. A yawn from across the table, a sliver of soft stomach visible with the stretch.
Running through the freezing rain, shoes and socks sodden, cursing, laughing. A finger touching the back of his hand.
Brown eyes, up close. Too close to focus. Closing.
Lying in bed watching snow gather on the windowsill with a warm weight at his back.
Stupid. He'd been so stupid. He stuffed everything haphazardly back into the drawer they'd spilled out of and made himself run through the design of a new experiment to refocus his thoughts.
He wasn't to get off that easily, of course. John came to fetch him before they left, saying it would be rude for Sherlock not to say good-bye. Any protest would only have caused him to dig his heels in and say something about not ruining things for Molly and Lestrade. Plus he was already peeved at having caught Sherlock smoking. Sherlock grudgingly ground out his cigarette and trotted along obediently. Shook Victor's hand. Heard him say the expected things: great to see you -- have to get together -- catch up -- keep in touch. Agreed to everything with no intention of following through.
He'd have to see Victor once more, of course, at the ceremony, but it would be a simple matter to avoid speaking to him. He only needed to keep John away from him as well. It might have been smarter to let John think Victor was one of Sebastian's ilk after all. This way, all he'd done was pique John's curiosity further.
Lunch served well as a distraction. It developed that the pub used to belong to Molly's parents, and when her father died, the cousin -- Jeremy, a dour, bald man around John's age with the physique of a person who enjoyed their own cooking -- had taken it over. What he lacked in good humour he made up for in the kitchen. The food samplings presented were hearty and wholesome yet fresh and inventive, without being fussy or exotic. Things like butternut squash and sage soup with rosemary foccacia, wild mushroom and garlic puff pastry tarts, game sausages with caramelised red onion gravy, breast of chicken stuffed with porcini mushrooms. And as the reception would start with a tea service as well, stilton and poppy seed butter biscuits, raspberry shortbread, mini Victoria sponges and lavender meringue with lemon and vanilla cream.
The six of them were seated around a round table, John to Sherlock's left, making little appreciative sounds at every new dish. It was a kind of exquisite torture. An exclamation of surprise at the black bean and avocado salsa. A groan after the first spoonful of pork and pancetta pie. "Sherlock, you have to try the mini stuffed peppers. You like them? I wonder what's in the filling. Think I could try something like this. Molly, do you think your cousin would share the recipe?" John leaning across Sherlock to reach the parsnips roasted in honey. Taking two and putting one on Sherlock's plate. A quick smile, knowing Sherlock's particular weakness for honey. Their chairs closer than necessary. The simplest explanation: John had unconsciously created a buffer zone between his left hand and Posy's right, on his other side. He and Sherlock didn't even need to think about it anymore, the two of them always gravitating into position such that their dominant hands were on opposite sides for maximum mobility and dexterity. A pleasant thought, if fruitless.
"What about you two, then?" Daisy said brightly, startling Sherlock out of his observation of John's throat as he swallowed. The creases in his skin, the soft flap of his earlobe. "I hear you people can get married now," she said.
Posy and Molly's discussion over whether to have anything with garlic on the menu fell silent. Lestrade cleared his throat and sat back in his chair, his eyebrows raised.
Daisy looked around, startled. "What? Did I say something? Is that not right?"
"No, Mum, it's right--"
"Aside from the 'you people'," Greg said pointedly, but Molly shot him a look, half apologetic, half shushing, with a quick shake of her head. Sherlock agreed with her. Not worth it. Especially not with this a perennial sore subject for John. He clenched his teeth and stared at his lemon and blueberry tartlet, waiting for the denial.
"It's just..." Molly glanced hesitantly at Sherlock and John. And here it came. John shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Not something we've ever discussed," John said diplomatically.
Sherlock's eyes snapped to him. He looked calm. Unbothered by the insinuation. His statement was entirely truthful, yet surely he knew what it implied.
"Anyway, I was married once before. Didn't exactly end well." John gave Daisy a small, self-deprecating smile and took a sip of his mineral water. They were all drinking mineral water. The wines and other beverages would be decided on at a later date, once the food menu was set.
"Oh well now, Greg's done it twice, hasn't he?" Daisy simpered.
"Mum," Molly growled.
But her mother continued blithely, "Third time's the charm, I always say. You'll see, John, we'll get these two squared away and then it'll be your turn." She beamed and tucked back into her apple tart.
After lunch, everyone else went back to Molly's mother's, leaving Sherlock and John somewhat at loose ends. There wasn't much in the way of sightseeing destinations in the village, and as they'd just eaten, a visit to a cafe seemed somewhat redundant.
"I wouldn't mind stretching my legs a bit," John suggested. "Walk off some of those biscuits. We'll be sitting for an hour on the way back anyway."
It was a relatively mild afternoon, although overcast and with a bit of a breeze that hinted at rain to come later on. They set off at a leisurely pace down the road. Daisy had said there was a path branching off about a kilometre ahead that would take them into a patch of forest. It wasn't much to look at, but at least it would take them away from the road.
"So tell me about this Reverend," John said after they'd walked for a few minutes.
Sherlock had known not to trust the peace. "I already said there's nothing to tell."
"Look, you don't have to talk about it but I'm not stupid. Something about him makes you uncomfortable. I just want to make sure you're all right with this."
"It's fine, John. An old school chum. Surely you have those too?" Sherlock sneered.
John refused to be put off. "Yeah, but you don't. You've never once mentioned him, or anyone from back then. Leads me to believe you've probably deleted them all, and for good reason."
"I didn't delete Victor Trevor," Sherlock scoffed. "I simply had no reason to speak of him. You're making too big a deal of this, John, really. It's nothing more than a funny coincidence that we should run into him here. There were hundreds of fellows at King's at the same time as me. Thousands at Imperial. The real wonder is that we don't come across more of them."
John peered at him from the side, trying to find the lie, trying to find the truth hidden behind Sherlock's obfuscations.
"Quite honestly, I wouldn't put it past you to have kept tabs on all of them so you know what places to avoid." John grinned.
"Far too labour-intensive. Much easier to farm that kind of thing out to Mycroft. Give him something to do between starting wars."
John chuckled. Stepped around a pile of horse manure, bringing him close enough for their arms to brush through his jacket and Sherlock's coat. Both their hands were in their pockets, otherwise they couldn't have avoided touching skin. Should Sherlock move over to give John more space? But now the path was clear again, and John could resume his former distance. Only he didn't. Maybe he didn't realise how close they were. His eyes were fixed on the ground, watching for any more heaps.
John cleared his throat. "I hope you weren't insulted before. During lunch, I mean, what Daisy said."
"Her dubious matchmaking attempts, you mean?"
"Mm. I didn't want to put her on the spot by correcting her." A slight frown.
That made sense, in a way. Although John had never worried about putting people on the spot before, but what he probably meant was that he didn't want to put himself on the spot, open up a discussion of his private life. That's why he'd mentioned his past, unfortunate marriage.
"It's true we never have discussed it," Sherlock offered, by which he meant to offset any potential guilt John might have felt at misleading Molly's mother.
"No, we haven't," John agreed, his intonation indicating he was going to say something more, only he didn't.
They'd never discussed it: John's marriage. Mary. Everything that had happened. Sherlock sometimes (constantly) wondered whether John was still angry. No, he didn't wonder that. He knew it. John was still angry. Furious. Filled with a kind of desperate, impotent rage. Thus the pies and coffee cakes and cinnamon scones. John needed to act, to do, to confront, to engage, to interact. Physically, with his hands and feet, elbows and knees. But what Sherlock didn't know was whether John was still angry at him, at Sherlock, for his part in it all. He wanted to tell John he hadn't known. He hadn't known any of it. He'd been just as blindsided as John to see the face of Mary Watson on the other side of that gun. In the grainy, faxed image in Mycroft's dossier. On the stainless steel slab.
Did John want to discuss it now? Was that an opening? He'd taken his hands out of his pockets, flexing his hands. Working himself up to something. Sherlock got the queerest feeling in his stomach, and all of a sudden he was both desperate to hear what John had to say, and panicked at the thought of it.
But then John let his breath out, a light chuckle, put his hands back into his pockets. Mission aborted. Adjusted his course so there was once again a hand's breadth of space between himself and Sherlock "I don't envy Greg, though," he said, his tone coloured by amusement. "I can tell Daisy's going to be a handful to have for a mother-in-law."
The stray, intrusive thought popped up in Sherlock's mind of what kind of mother-in-law John thought Sherlock's mother would be, before he brutally squashed it. Where in the world had that come from?
An email arrived for Sherlock while they were driving back to London. John and Lestrade were in the front again, arguing eloquently and loudly on the merits of some classic rock band. Sherlock took one look at the sender of the email (sent to his work address: he'd looked up Sherlock's website) and put his phone back in his pocket, message unread. He could imagine what it was going to say, and he wasn't interested.
However, that didn't explain why it took him until they were back in London, John long since gone upstairs to bed, to delete it.
Mini Stuffed Peppers
8-12 mini sweet peppers
1/2 cup goat cheese, softened at room temp - unflavored chevre is best!
herbs and spices of your choice
Preheat oven to 400 F / 200 C.
Cut the peppers in half and pull out the membranes and the seeds. They won't add any spice - they'll just taste bitter!
Pop them on a baking sheet and drizzle over a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix them so every single pepper is nice and coated.
Mix your cheese and spices. I used several pinches of dried parsley and a couple pinches each of oregano and red pepper flakes with a few grinds of black pepper.
Add a small amount of cheese to each pepper - press it down with your fingers as you fill them so it gets in all the nooks and crannies.
Pop them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the peppers start to soften and wrinkle. The cheese should be beginning to brown as well as the bottom of the peppers.
Eat them while hot!
Chapter Four: Ginger Chicken
Victor was nothing if not persistent. When Sherlock didn't respond to his initial email, he followed up with another two days later. Sherlock sat staring at the subject line (Re: Great to see you) for several minutes, indecisive. If he continued to delete the messages without responding, it was likely Victor would contact Molly. If he did respond and say he wasn't interested in 'catching up', it would make the wedding awkward. Not that Sherlock cared about that kind of thing, but he didn't want to intentionally do anything that might cast a shadow on Molly's (all right, and Lestrade's) day. It would only make it more difficult to rely on them for favours later. To say nothing of the fact that John was sure to hear of it then, and that would only make him ask questions.
At the same time, there was certainly no way he was going to suffer through an hour (although Sherlock thought he could whittle it down to half that or even less if he was insufferable enough) of small talk at a chain coffee shop so that Victor could feel smug and self-satisfied over his good fortune and wise foresight of having rid himself of the likes of Sherlock Holmes.
Seeing what he'd become, Sherlock couldn't believe he'd ever thought himself attracted to the man, much less in love with him. What a fool he'd been. A pathetic, pitiable fool who had fallen for the first person who showed him any sort of attention and kindness, fancying he'd found his soulmate. Only to find out that Victor didn't see things that way at all. Drawers sprang open, spewing words Sherlock never wanted to hear again; in fact, went to lengths to keep himself out of any situation in which they might potentially come up. Time to move on -- long-distance relationships -- miss you of course -- best all round -- always remember.
Sherlock tapped on the Reply arrow and started his message.
Message: Reverend entered cafe. Table @ bk wall. Glass of water.
Message: Doing sth w phone. Dunno what.
Message: Btw patients, waiting for ear wax to soften. How's the fitting going? Better than mine I hope.
Message: The patient's you nit! I mean I hope it's going better than when we had ours done. I can still feel where the tailor jabbed me.
Message: No, not your fault at all! *rolleyes* I should have warned Greg to wear his bulletproof vest.
Message: Rev still @ phone.
Message: Ha ha. Your turn yet? Send me a picture when you have it on.
Message: I know but just to get an idea.
Message: Running late? We can reschedule.
Message: It doesn't, I just thought it would be nice if I wore something that didn't clash with yours.
Message: Never mind. Ear wax is good to go. See you tonight?
Message: Rev ordered tea n cake. Choc I think.
Message: Looks like I missed you, Will. Shame. Let me know if you'll have another chance before the wedding. Otherwise maybe we can talk then. -Vee
Message: Rev called server, wants 2 pay.
Message: Hes leaving. Want me 2 follow?
Message: Roger u no where 2 find me.
Message: Quick break. You still with Greg?
Message: Just spoke to Greg you fucker. Where the hell are you? Have to get back to work.
Message: ok thx
Sender: DI Lestrade
Message: John's looking for you. We didn't have a fitting today did we? Not till Thurs. ???
Sender: DI Lestrade
Message Ok see you then. Call John!
Message: On my way home now. You back?
Message: No I'll make something. I feel a stir fry coming on. You could buy some wine though.
Smells of ginger, lemon grass and chicken as he went up the stairs. Telly off. Music on. Soft jazz. He'd asked for wine. Mixed signals. Was John still upset about the lie?
John called out his usual greeting when Sherlock came in. ('That you, Sherlock?' -- Obviously, etcetera.) Sherlock couldn't hear anything in his tone that might set off any alarms. Maybe John had simply decided to strike the afternoon from the books. He'd swallowed a lot worse than a misdirection about where Sherlock spent (or didn't spend) the afternoon. Sherlock decided to play it as if the entire incident were forgotten.
"I got a Riesling and a Gewurztraminer. Wasn't sure what you were making," he said as he went into the kitchen, holding up both bottles.
John looked over his shoulder from where he stood at the cooker. Looked longer than necessary to check the wines. His eyes on Sherlock's face, his body, his hands, his shoes, back to his face. No heat, none of the simmering dark something Sherlock sometimes felt when John's gaze lingered on him. It was more clinical this time, assessing, as if checking that everything was still in its proper place. So that was it. Not forgotten then. John was concerned Sherlock had been out getting himself into some sort of trouble, that that was the reason for his disingenuity. A simple notion to refute. Sherlock withstood the muster. This would hopefully be the end of it.
John seemed satisfied with what he saw. "The Gewurztraminer, I think," he said, turning back to stir the pan. "It's ginger chicken with snow peas. I'll take a glass now, if you don't mind."
Sherlock opened the wine and let it stand on the counter while he went to use the loo. He was unaccountably shaky. In the first moment, John's assumption had appeared fortuitous. But now Sherlock realised the underlying preconception under which John was labouring: that Sherlock was still using. Or at least that it was still a present risk, that all it would take was a single unsupervised afternoon for Sherlock to sneak off and get high.
Suddenly, all of John's quick texts to Sherlock between patients, on his way home, that awful week (not to be repeated) when Sherlock had had to go to Helsinki alone on an errand for Mycroft -- not just today, but every day, every time they were apart for more than a couple of hours -- became tainted and sour. Sherlock had looked forward to them, savoured them, probably read much more into them than ever intended or indeed appropriate. Those little check-ins like invisible I-miss-yous, reaffirming how closely their lives were intertwined, how closely they both wanted their lives to be intertwined. Saw this and thought of you. Looking forward to seeing you. Life without you is boring. And now it turned out they were just John making sure Sherlock was still sober enough to provide cogent responses. Still coordinated enough to hit all the right letters and symbols. Not dead.
It stung. John didn't trust him. With reason, absolutely, no question. Sherlock was not to be trusted. He hadn't used, of course, hadn't even thought about using for months. Not with John home, and Sherlock's focus on him, on keeping him occupied, keeping him functional, keeping him from drinking himself into a stupor and walking into the Thames. (John's service revolver had quietly and mysteriously disappeared during Sherlock's time away. They'd never spoken of it, but Sherlock suspected Mycroft.) But the fact that Sherlock hadn't touched any drugs since that mad day of Moriarty's 'return' was beside the point. There was still a risk. How long would it take? What would the next trigger be? Sherlock realised he needed John here as much for his own sanity as for John's. God, the two of them were an utter mess. He washed his hands and checked his expression in the mirror. A little pale. He'd take a glass of the wine too.
His hands were steady as he poured, setting John's glass on the counter near the cooker for him. That was something at least. John started talking about his day, his prospects for his next job when this one finished next week, and Sherlock started to relax. The music coming from the living room was mellow, instrumentals only, no singer to force meaning onto the winding harmonies and aching dissonances. The food smelled good, and Sherlock became aware that he was hungry. He hadn't eaten since breakfast (he'd gotten up early to have tea and toast with John before he left for work), aside from a chocolate bar he'd found in the bottom of a strong box in the bolt hole where he'd spent the afternoon.
His hunger wasn't just for the food though. Because despite his apprehensions, despite not knowing what awaited him, he'd come back to have dinner with John. He could have stayed away, all night even. Wouldn't have thought twice about doing so before. Well, all right, he might have brooded over it, sulked about the injustice of the world in general, and specifically the inconvenience of having to adjust his behaviour because of another person -- a person whose opinion mattered, whom he wanted very much to like him. But instead he'd come home, and not because he thought it would be worse to stay away, but, he realised with a start, because he was feeling out of sorts over all this old business and he wanted to restore balance to his world. Wanted comfort, even if he cringed at the thought that might be something he was in need of. And this was the only place in the world he could find that. Not at 221B Baker Street per se, but with John. Because he'd lived here without John once, and no matter how familiar the rooms, no matter how comfortable the furnishings and forgiving the landlady, the place was utterly devoid of anything worthwhile without John in it.
When they sat down to eat, then, Sherlock was feeling quite nostalgic and tender and so it hit him like a bucket of cold water in the face when John brought up the very topic Sherlock had spent all afternoon (all week, in fact) avoiding.
"You want to tell me about this afternoon?" John asked it casually just before taking a bite, as if it were just an extension of their earlier conversation. How was your day? Fine, how was yours?
Sherlock considered playing dumb but thought that would only rile John up.
"I got the dates mixed up," he said lightly.
John swallowed and shook his head. "No, if that were true you wouldn't have carried on pretending to be at the fitting." Still calm, but there was an underlying tension now. Not just now. It had been there all along, since Sherlock came in.
Sherlock became irritated, his good mood slipping away, which made him even more annoyed. John was supposed to be making him feel better, not turning the screws.
"I never actually said I was there," he said peevishly. "You mistook my answers." He picked up his wine and took a large sip, then immediately regretted it. John had had him bring the wine to soften him up, to loosen his tongue for this conversation. He'd been planning this all along, and Sherlock had played right into his hands. He found he didn't much care at this point if he were being antagonistic. He'd made it clear he didn't want to talk about it, yet John persisted.
John put down his fork, abandoning all pretense. "All right, let's try this," he said, his ire unmistakably rising. "That vicar contacted me. Victor Trevor? He sent me a text asking if you were all right, said you'd missed a meeting with him. So I called him back. Had a chat."
The bucket of cold water now felt as if it had settled in Sherlock's gut. "He had no right to do that."
"No, I'm glad he did. You might have been lying under a bus somewhere, or kidnapped, or dangling by your ankle out the back window because you lost control during one of your bloody experiments!" John's voice had risen as he spoke until he was almost shouting at the end.
"But I wasn't."
"No, but you might have." A more moderate tone. He was clearly making an effort to rein himself in.
"Where did he get your number?" Sherlock realised suddenly.
"That's really not the point here, stop trying to distract me. I gave it to him, all right? At the church, when you were out clogging your lungs up with tar. Thought it might come in useful. And to be honest, I didn't like the look of him. The way he grabbed you and you just froze."
"So you thought you'd play my minder, screen my contacts. Bit controlling, don't you think?" Sherlock said bitterly.
"No, I thought I'd play your friend. What the hell is going on, Sherlock?"
"Nothing is going on."
"No, you're making dates behind my back with mysterious old acquaintances you refuse to tell me about, lying to me about it, then not even going and lying to me about that as well?"
"Let me get this straight then, John, if I may. You can feel free to date any women you want, but if I so much as plan to go to see an old acquaintance -- a fat, balding, married one at that -- you feel entitled to dress me down for it. And I didn't even go to see Victor. Nor did I go to score drugs, shoot up, or any of the other unsavoury things you apparently believe me capable of the moment I'm out of your sight," Sherlock spat.
"Right. Right. Because we're not. We're not -- I mean, I wish you would tell me. Because I honestly do not know. What is this? Hm?" John's nostrils flared as he waggled his finger between them. "What is this that we're doing?" He put his elbow on the table and started holding up fingers to count off the items on his list. "We live together. All right. Fine. We share the household expenses. We share meals. All normal things between flatmates. We share the laundry. Well, I do your laundry. But still, fine. It's been known to happen between flatmates when one is a lazy sodding arse. But here's where I think it starts to get interesting.
"We don't just eat together once in a while, we actually plan our day so we can have dinner together every night. I've noticed, Sherlock. Every night, without fail, since I've moved back, unless there's a case on and neither of us eats." John had now gone through all the fingers on one hand and moved on to the other. "We go out to restaurants together. Not just meeting up for lunch or getting together with a few friends once in a while, but the two of us. Alone. Planned, with goddamned reservations. We share clothes. Don't pretend you didn't take my old army t-shirt to sleep in, and I know I've been rather free with your dressing gowns when you leave them on the hook in the loo. We text each other constantly. We Skyped every bloody night that week you were in Helsinki, and if we hadn't I think I would have been on a plane to follow you. We get invited places together, Sherlock, and if we're not both invited we bring the other one along anyway."
John had used up nine of his fingers. He now folded his arms on the table and leaned in, his eyes on Sherlock's, so cold and intense that Sherlock nearly flinched when he hissed, "We have killed for each other, and very nearly died for each other. The last woman I dated -- who I married mostly -- mostly -- because I thought you wanted me to -- turned out to be a pathological liar who almost killed you. She almost killed you, Sherlock." John broke off, his voice choked. He turned his head away, squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his fists on the table.
Sherlock couldn't breathe. Couldn't think. His chest ached, there in the very spot Mary's bullet had struck him. He knew, at the core, what John was saying, what all of the evidence added up to, and yet he was utterly unable to formulate the thought consciously. He had denied himself that for so long, had convinced himself so thoroughly that it was tantamount to emotional suicide that his entire being revolted against so much as entertaining the thought now.
After an eternity, which was probably only about a minute in reality, John inhaled sharply and cleared his throat. When he spoke again, it was flat and controlled, almost painfully so.
"So yes," John said, "when a man who you obviously have a past with touches you, and makes you look like you're going to be ill simply being in the same room with him, and you sneak off to meet him without telling me... What am I supposed to think? How am I supposed to react? How do you imagine I feel?"
"I don't know," Sherlock rasped, staring down at his food. The food John had made for him. That John had planned and cooked and made for the two of them together. Because this was something he looked forward to too. This was something John needed just as much as Sherlock did. Not because he was trying to trick Sherlock, or shame him, but because he'd been hurt and wanted to understand, wanted Sherlock to make him see, to give him an explanation that would make it all make sense, like bringing all the threads of a case together that no one else was clever enough to. And even though he'd been hurt, even though Sherlock had lied to him and betrayed his trust, he'd tried to make it easier for Sherlock. To let him know things weren't about to change just because Sherlock had been a royal arse.
John held up his hands in surrender. "That's good. I mean, yeah, that's good neither of us knows. Maybe I shouldn't have brought this all up, I don't know. It's something I've been thinking about for a while though, and things seemed to come to a head. I'm glad you're all right, and I'm sorry if I overstepped. But please, if you figure this out, maybe you could tell me." He sounded drained, all the fight leached out of him. He pushed his chair back and stood up. "I'm going out for a bit. I'll clean up when I get back."
Sherlock watched him go, walk out of the kitchen into the hall. Heard him take his jacket down from the hook, jangle his keys to make sure they were in his pocket, then quickly go down the stairs and out the door.
Time to move on -- miss you of course -- best all round -- always remember.
Aaaaahhhh I'm so happy, threadoflife/wssh-watson has written a gorgeous one-shot outtake on Tumblr of John and Sherlock skyping during the week Sherlock was in Helsinki. So good! (Now also here on AO3!)
And now for this chapter's recipe:
1 chicken breast
Half a carrot
A few sprigs of fresh coriander (cilantro)
4 tbs grapeseed oil
Lemon grass sauce:
1 shallot (chopped)
1 lemongrass stick
Fresh ginger (approx half inch piece)
1 tsp tomato paste
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup oyster sauce
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
DIRECTIONS for Lemon Grass Sauce
Chop lemon grass and shallot finely. Crush the garlic and chop finely.
In a hot saucepan on stove add grapeseed oil. Add shallot and garlic and let them sweat a little.
Add oyster sauce and tomato paste. Add 1/2 cup of water and let sauce simmer on low heat.
Grate and add the ginger. Add the lemon grass. Continue cooking for 5 minutes.
Ready to use or pour in container and refrigerate once cooled.
Slice the whole chicken breast quite thinly width wise.
Top and tail, and string the snowpeas. Cut snow peas in half lengthwise and on an angle (like two long triangles). Grate the carrot.
Add oil to a hot pan and heat a little. Add the chicken slices one at a time ensuring the flat side is in the oil. Brown both sides and then transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Back to the same hot pan, (if dry add more oil) add the snow peas. Add the carrot toss and cook 2 minutes.
Return the chicken back to the pan. Add the ginger lemon grass sauce (if too thick add a touch of water) mix well, and cook for two minutes.
Serve on hot cooked rice. Garnish with coriander (cilantro).
Chapter Five: Pub Food
Scottish cartographer John George Bartholomew is credited with naming which continent?
Sherlock pushed 'C' on the the hand-held device to select Antarctica. He'd never heard of the man but none of the other answers made any sense. He watched the timer on the overhead screen count down the remainder of the 15 seconds allotted to log in answers. Then the reveal: 67% correct. 22% had said North America, 11% Africa. No one had guessed Europe, which was something at least.
Sherlock had figured out after the second question, based on the response percentages, that there were a total of 9 devices transmitting responses in the pub. Most of them representing teams or couples, although there was one other solitary user seated in a booth by herself, an unassuming white-haired lady with thick-lensed glasses who had been slowly devouring an enormous plate of chips smothered in mayonnaise over the course of the evening. One for each answer she got right. He was all but certain she was 'SassyFox', who was currently holding the lead. Sherlock had missed 'Who preceded Queen Victoria on the British throne?', 'In which American state was Madonna born', and something about Chad Varah which he hadn't been able to see the screen for because a large party had walked past his table just then.
Shouts from the back room, where the match between Liverpool and Chelsea was on the widescreen. A missed opportunity, it sounded like. Lestrade's voice audible above the others: "Christ's sake, man, he was wide open!"
The next question appeared: Which Formula One racing circuit is located in and around Albert Park? Sherlock entered 'B' for Melbourne. John was a fairly keen fan. 89% correct. Only one team missed it: FridayNightLights. A groan from the group of uni students, two of them thwapping a third on the back of his head.
How many hearts does an octopus have?
"Thought you'd gone home."
Sherlock glanced up at John. Half-full pint glass. His third. Pacing himself.
"And miss out on the scintillating entertainment?" Sherlock checked the screen and pushed 'D' for 3. A nature documentary, this time Sherlock's choice but John had been drawn in and they'd ended up spending a very enjoyable evening trying to outdo each other with ever more bizarre facts and anecdotes about cetaceans, including the one about the octopus that had climbed out of its tank in the science lab and crawled across the hall to toss a rotten shrimp at the scientist studying it.
John pulled out the chair and dropped into it, burping gently. Starting to feel the effects, but not as much as the rest of Lestrade's crew, who had now launched into a sloppy chorus of 'You'll never walk alone'.
"I am definitely too old for this. I don't know where Greg finds the reserves."
"Mm," Sherlock hummed. It wasn't his age or energy level that had seen him slipping out of the side room to find refuge in the main seating area. He'd simply felt entirely out of place, uninterested and uninteresting, an object of curiosity to those of Lestrade's friends who'd never met him, and of anything ranging from disdain to mild amusement and even pity to those who had. John and Lestrade had both made attempts to draw him into the group, Lestrade pushing a pint glass into his hand and encouraging him to loosen up, and John making comments to him about the match or asking for Sherlock's input whenever he -- John -- was talking to one of the other men.
Sherlock didn't care about the teams, though, it was too loud to carry on a proper conversation with the match running (Lestrade had purposely scheduled the evening to coincide with what was apparently an important match for his favourite team -- his party, his rules, he'd said), and Sherlock didn't see the point in getting drunk with a bunch of strangers, only to have to suffer through the effects all the next day. He didn't want to leave entirely, though, leaving John here. Leaving him behind. Not with things so tentative and fragile between them.
Only two had got the right answer about the octopus. Really, 56% had guessed none? The mind boggled. SassyFox stoically ate another chip.
John glanced from the electronic box on the table in front of Sherlock to the screen suspended in the corner of the ceiling. "You doing the quiz? Which one are you? Wait, don't tell me. SassyFox?" he guessed, seeing the tail end of the results from the last question along with the overall rankings still displayed on the screen.
"That honour belongs to the octagenarian with the arteries of steel behind you."
John craned his neck to look.
Where is the RAF's national training centre for commissioned officers located?
Sherlock quickly punched 'A' for Cranwell.
"Cranwell," John said when he turned back a moment later.
"Got it." Sherlock gave him a small smile. They'd been walking on eggshells around each other since the ... Sherlock didn't want to call it an argument. Nor even a disagreement. More like a flaying open of all the unacknowledged fears and desires that had been lurking between them. Still unacknowledged. Still unaddressed. And Sherlock still didn't know how to answer John's question. Didn't know if he dared, not even to himself.
Their shared meals continued, though. The first night after that had been some bland takeaway, neutral ground. A couple of days of leftovers. John had kept away from the kitchen for a few days, finally easing back in with spag bol and a pound cake. Sherlock had countered with salmon and new potatoes. He didn't cook as much as John, generally preferring to warm up whatever he found in the refrigerator or freezer, but the situation had seemed to call for it. For him to make a statement.
33% correct. No chip. Although to be fair, Halton had been amongst the choices.
"If you're not SassyFox then you must be DontBeBoring," John surmised from the latest results screen.
"The game has almost entirely failed to comply," Sherlock said dryly. John giggled. Giggled! Sherlock's face expanded into a reflexive smile in return. Their eyes caught and held. Something settled warmly into Sherlock's stomach, fluttered hopefully behind his ribcage. John's gaze deepened. Maybe not so tentative and fragile. Maybe things were even stronger and more solid than before. A new direction. Or not so new. The same direction. A kilometre further on. A turning into the woods.
Only one question left in the round. He had no chance of catching up to SassyFox, even if she got this wrong.
What is the favourite food of the cartoon character Garfield?
Sherlock had a vague notion that Garfield was the fat orange cat, but he'd never paid attention to what it ate. Cat food was too obvious. Fish was the only one of the remaining choices that made any sense, but the other two -- lasagna and gummy bears -- were so preposterous, it was likely that one of them was in fact correct.
John grinned at him, seeing his hesitation. "Don't know that one? Shall I tell you?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes and pushed the quiz remote over to John, who carefully (motor skills slightly impaired) pushed 'A'.
"Lasagna?" Sherlock said sceptically. "Isn't Garfield that ridiculous cat?"
John slid the remote back to Sherlock's side of the table and picked up his beer. "Are you doubting my expertise in lasagna?" He looked up at the screen expectantly, taking a sip.
He was right. Along with everyone else. 100%. Final results: SassyFox, DontBeBoring, WestHamSucks. If not for John's help on the last one, Sherlock would have been third. Scattered applause. People looking around for SassyFox. No one suspecting the white-haired lady with the thick-lensed glasses. One more chip. She still had half the plate. Apparently she was in for the long haul. The next round started in ten minutes. Enough time for a bathroom break, cigarette, or fresh pint. Sherlock lifted the quiz remote and tapped it to his forehead, a salute in her direction. She scrunched her face up. Possibly unable to see that far. Sherlock returned his attention to John.
John sighed. "Sorry for making you come."
"You didn't make me." Lestrade had invited them both. (Sherlock recalled that being item nine on John's list, but surely this didn't count; Sherlock was a member of the wedding party and John was Lestrade's friend. He would have invited both of them even if they weren't together. Even if they didn't live together, Sherlock corrected himself.) To be honest, Sherlock didn't think he would have come, wedding party or not, if not for John. It wasn't that John had pressured him in any way. It just would have felt... wrong, somehow, to let John go alone.
"No, well." John inclined his head thoughtfully. "I know Greg appreciated it anyway."
Sherlock snorted. "Lestrade won't remember any of this tomorrow."
John chuckled, then frowned slightly. "Why do you still call him Lestrade? You know his name's Greg."
Sherlock shrugged. "It's the name I knew him by when I first met him. Felt odd to change."
"Yeah. But you're friends now."
"We're not friends," Sherlock said distastefully.
"Sherlock, you're the best man at his wedding. I think that's pretty much a textbook definition of friends."
Sherlock didn't really know what to say to that. He didn't consider Lestrade -- Greg; it felt awkward even to think it -- a friend. John was his friend. John was the one he wanted to spend time with, the one who made him feel good and important and interesting. It wasn't that he disliked Lestrade. He was tolerable, as people went. One of the very few in that category, in fact. Mrs Hudson (was he going to have to start calling her Martha now?), Molly, Janine, even Irene, although he thought of her more as a like-minded adversary or rival than someone he genuinely liked. Maybe Wiggins and a few of the other denizens of the streets he had occasional dealings with. They all certainly had admirable qualities, here and there. A sense of humour or a toughness or a sharp intellect.
But all of those people had won a place in his life (he hesitated to say heart) because of something they had done for or given Sherlock; whether a kindness or a service or an ego boost or a sense of being useful. Was that what a friend was? Maybe. Quite possibly. A barter system, mutual benefits, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Maybe Lestrade was his friend. Maybe -- even more startling -- Sherlock was Lestrade's friend. It certainly appeared he thought so, anyway. Greg. It had never seemed to matter what he called him before, as long as everyone understood who was meant. But maybe names were important. Will. Sherlock. Maybe it was time for another rebranding. Greg.
What about John? If Lestrade -- Greg -- and all the others were his friends, then what was John? Yes, he had all of those qualities and provided Sherlock with all of those things too. But there was more to it than that. It was impossible to quantify or describe, but Sherlock felt things in relation to John that bypassed any sense of mere gratitude or loyalty. His presence alone, his existence, his very John-ness, was a source of pleasure and satisfaction. A condition and presence to be striven toward, that filled all the nooks and crannies in Sherlock's soul even in the physical absence of its originator. John was simply John. His Something.
John stayed with Sherlock through the next quiz round, moving his chair around to sit on the same side of the table so they could both see the screen and reach the input device. John sat back and slowly drained the rest of his beer, commenting or making suggestions, laughing and commiserating. SassyFox continued to make progress through her chips. WestHamSucks had left, and FridayNightLights became a contender. Sherlock came in third for the round, even with John's help, but it didn't matter. Because John was here with him, a solid warmth at his side. Even if they weren't touching, he could feel it. Not his body heat, but his affection and good will, his happiness and quiet satisfaction in sharing this moment of banality with Sherlock. Just being together. Friends. Best friends? Somethings.
The start of the next round coincided with half time of the football match, and Greg (it got easier with time) and the others poured out of the side room and crowded around, dragged over chairs and put their elbows on the table, cheerfully called out wrong answers and started good-natured arguments with each other, commandeered the quiz remote and didn't perform too poorly all things considered.
When the match started up again, Sherlock was induced to go back with them to watch the second half, which was somehow less tedious than the first half had been. Alfred (Dimmock, but Sherlock was feeling magnanimous by this point) shared his nachos with Sherlock, and Sanjay spilled beer on his shoe. Greg pounded him soundly on the back when their team scored, and John didn't seem to care one whit that everyone thought Sherlock was his boyfriend. 'Your man's got it going on upstairs, eh?' 'Hey, pass this to your fella.' 'So if he's the best man, does that make you the best man-in-law?' Raucous laughter. John took it all with equanimity and good humour. They were all drunk. John wouldn't want to make waves. This was Greg's night. None of it mattered.
By the end of the evening, Greg was, to put it delicately, sloshed. Sherlock discharged his duty as a best man by expertly forging G. Lestrade's signature on the credit card authorisation. John called two cabs, and between the two of them, they managed to stuff Greg and three of the other partygoers into one car, then dropped into the back seat of the other one.
"I'd say that went down well," John said as the driver pulled away from the kerb.
"Mm," Sherlock agreed. He suddenly felt incredibly sleepy. He'd only had one pint -- well, one and a half if you counted finishing John's last one.
"No one ended up in jail anyway," John mumbled.
"The night is still young. We were already back home when that woman showed up."
"Mm." It appeared John was similarly afflicted. He had closed his eyes and folded his arms, leaning his head against the corner of the window.
All of a sudden, Sherlock found himself filled with an overwhelming fondness for the greying, middle-aged man with the softening belly and bags under his eyes slumped on the seat beside him. Something both fierce and tender. He knew what it was. He'd known it all along. Somethings. Did they need a name for it? Maybe. Maybe John did. Maybe Sherlock did, too. Naming it would make it real. Would make it something that could be hurt. Something that could end. Will had been hurt. Sherlock was untouchable. And yet John had touched him. John had reached him. John had burrowed his way in, underneath the skin, to the person who was Will and Sherlock and Shezza and all the others.
Somethings. John hadn't minded. He'd come back. After the other night. After Mary. After Sherlock's mission. After all the thoughtless, rude, inappropriate things Sherlock had done as he failed to make John happy. Yet here John was, and there was their home just up ahead. Theirs. Together. Home.
Pub Style Chips
5 large Russet potatoes, peeled or well scrubbed, if leaving leaving the skin on
1 quart peanut oil
Cut the potatoes lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then cut each slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick fries. Put the fries in a large bowl of cold water and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed medium stockpot over medium heat, or in a tabletop deep fryer, to 160 C / 325 F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside.
Drain the fries well and pat dry in batches with paper towels. Fry each batch, turning frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes or until the fries are a pale blond color and limp. Remove with a mesh skimmer to the baking sheet lined with paper towels.
Increase the heat of the oil to 190 C / 375 F.
Fry the potatoes again, in batches, turning frequently, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with the skimmer and drain on clean paper towels. Season immediately with salt and serve hot.
Chapter Six: The Fast Before the Feast
"How do I look?" Sherlock stepped into the living room, tugging on his cuffs to straighten his shirtsleeves under his jacket.
John looked up from the couch, where he'd been leafing through the newspaper. He'd been ready for half an hour already, but then he didn't have all these curls to deal with. He was also only wearing a blazer and tie, while Sherlock had to wrangle all the buttons on the waistcoat. Greg hadn't wanted to do morning suits, but to add a touch of class to the mid-grey trousers and jacket, they each had an embroidered silk waistcoat and tie: Greg's in cream, a similar shade to Molly's dress, and Sherlock's in silver. The florist was providing cream and silver-sprayed boutonnieres, respectively, which should be waiting for them at the church.
John stood. Looked. Stared a bit, really. Started, as if realising an answer was expected. "Yeah," he said lightly. Forcing a casual tone. Why? "Looks good. Yeah." He moved closer, still looking at Sherlock's suit, his shoulders, chest, trousers, up to his hair, his face.
Sherlock fidgeted, ignored the impulse to touch his hair.
"Just, here, think there's..." John lifted his hand, bringing it to Sherlock's chest. Sherlock looked down to see him plucking a hair off the top of Sherlock's waistcoat. A dark, gentle loop. John flicked it away.
"Thanks," Sherlock said, feeling unaccountably short of breath.
John cleared his throat. "Sure." A beat. An eternity. Blue eyes searching Sherlock's. Sherlock's heart in his throat. Then a slight shake of John's head, once again as if recalling where he was. A step back. "Yeah. We should..."
He jerked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate they should be going. Greg had left the city earlier to pick up his parents from the train station, and would be meeting them at the church. They'd begged the use of a car and driver from Mycroft. Recalling the favour from Helsinki. At least part of it. It would take several cars and drivers to balance out Helsinki.
John turned away, leaned over to retrieve his phone from where he'd left it on the coffee table. Something was off, though; something still on his mind. A furrow between his eyebrows. It had been there since the beginning: his initial hesitance. Sherlock had ascribed it to John not wanting to be inconvenienced by the wedding planning, but he'd known even then that wasn't the real reason. Whatever it was, it had never entirely disappeared, even though John had gone along with everything since then with more or less good humour.
He'd helped Sherlock with his best man speech, steering him gently away from some really quite educational illustrations to a kind of mindless drivel that was sure to bore everyone to tears. John had insisted tears of boredom were far more desirable than tears of shock and horror, and Sherlock had acquiesced, remembering the stomach-sinking feeling he'd had for that fleeting moment at John's reception when several people had broken out their handkerchiefs. Sherlock didn't know exactly what it was he'd done wrong, but John had hugged him so it didn't matter. Sherlock recalled the feeling of John's arms around him, and while he would have done virtually anything to replicate that moment, he recognised that it had been a unique set of circumstances and he didn't want to incite anything remotely similar in Greg, so drivel it was.
John might have found peace and happiness in their odd, co-dependent, shared life. He might not mind other people believing they were intimate. He might even see what they had as a kind of exclusive partnership. But he was still straight. An occasional brush of the arm, a clap on the back, an incidental bumping of knees, those were all within the realm of shared meals and convenient dressing gowns. Anything more overtly physical -- sexual, to be blunt -- wasn't. Which was fine. John had stopped dating women. Sherlock had no need to date other men. What physical desires either of them might feel had been dealt with privately up to now, and that would continue. Fine. A hug would still be nice now and then. Very nice. Maybe there would be another opportunity.
But the point was -- and there had been a point, a salient one relating to John's furrowed brow and the faint aura of dissatisfaction that continued to hover around him regarding this wedding -- that there had been a moment while working on the speech, before their vigorous discussion of illustrations versus drivel, when John had drifted off, as if brooding, troubled just for a second by some word or image. His expression had cleared almost instantly, but that hadn't erased the suggestion of some deeper concerns.
Then when Sherlock had gone with Greg (it was really quite fun to say the name: peppy, like a bird chirping) to the appointment for their formalwear fitting -- the real one this time -- the tailor had suggested a pale cafe au lait shade for Sherlock's waistcoat, to play off Greg's cream. Sherlock had sent John the picture, remembering John's interest, and John had texted back that silver would match his eyes better. So silver it had been. Which would have all been fine, except when Sherlock got home, John had already made tomato soup and oatmeal muffins, and was up to his elbows in homemade gnocchi. And it was only mid-afternoon.
And now two mental absences within five minutes, upon being confronted with Sherlock in his costume. The brow furrow. Past experience informed Sherlock that if he continued to say nothing, life would go on as usual and eventually new crises and traumas would overlay the old ones, burying them deep enough they might as well be forgotten. But past experience was based on the time before. Before Sherlock had died. (Twice.) (Both times in front of John.) Before Mary. (Before the baby, which was never, ever referenced, not ever, not even obliquely.) Before Sherlock's life had become nothing more than a string of moments of borrowed time. Before John had asked the question. Before Sherlock had admitted he knew the answer. He still hadn't told John. Maybe it was time to start.
"Yeah?" John looked up from checking his phone, his eyebrows raised expectantly.
"This is all right for you, isn't it? Going to the wedding? Me being the best man?" Sherlock wasn't sure if that was the right question, if that was even close to the core of the problem. But it was the only starting point he had.
John straightened up, looking nonplussed. "Yeah, of course. You're going to be fantastic."
Sherlock ploughed ahead. "There was something, though, at the start. It seemed to make you uncomfortable."
"What? No! No, it was nothing." John waved Sherlock's doubts away with his hand. "Bad memories. My wedding, you know. All that. I mean not you. Not the wedding itself. That was all grand."
So that was it. Bad memories. They still plagued him, but Sherlock had already known that. The regrets. The losses. The association of Sherlock and the role of best man must have conjured up unpleasant images for him. The wedding itself had been fine, but it had started the ball rolling on a great many things that were distinctly not fine. Sherlock wished he could fix it the way he'd fixed John's limp. In lieu of a good chasing down of a murderer, he offered, "Could probably have done without the attempted murder."
"Probably have done without that, yes," John conceded, a smile fighting to break through, and something lightened in Sherlock's heart. "But no, nothing else. All done with now. Greg and Molly are lovely together, and I couldn't be happier for them. And um... the suit." John wiggled a finger up and down to encompass Sherlock's outfit. "Turned out nice."
Sherlock brushed a hand down his front. "Yes, well. The silver. Your choice."
"Brings out your eyes."
John looked away, suddenly shy. Rubbed his eyebrow with his thumb. "Um. We'd better--" He nodded toward the door. "The car's probably waiting."
"Yes, right." An odd sense of disappointment.
An hour sitting next to John, even in the roomy back seat of one of Mycroft's town cars. This new, palpable sense of feeling their way through this thing taking shape between them. Lines being redrawn. Butterflies. Not productive. John set out down the stairs. Sherlock followed.
* * * * * *
The door to the vicar's small office-cum-vestry was ajar. Sherlock knocked twice.
Sherlock pushed the door open. Victor stood by the window, holding his mobile phone. The last time Sherlock had seen him, when they'd come to make the arrangements, he'd been wearing a black shirt and trousers, the white tab collar the only outward sign of his vocation. Now, he wore a long, white cassock with a loose, white, lace-trimmed surplice over it and a white stole laid over his shoulders. It was somewhat startling. Like expecting the ravioli to be filled with spinach, only to take a bite and find lemon custard inside.
Victor looked up, his expression brightening when he saw Sherlock. "Will, come in! Hard to get 4G inside. The walls are so thick." He waggled his phone toward the window as explanation.
"I'm to let you know they're ready." John had been about to offer to run the errand in Sherlock's stead when Greg had asked, but he didn't like the feeling of being coddled, not even by John. Didn't like the fact that John thought there was a darker past lurking between him and Victor. Drugs, physical abuse, issues of consent. None of that could be further from the truth. Their relationship had been entirely straightforward and mundane. Polite. Victor had always been, and was still, unfailingly polite.
"Brilliant," Victor said, stowing his phone somewhere in the voluminous folds of his surplice. "You know, I'm sorry things didn't work out for us to meet." Victor reached down to the desk and clicked the mouse. He raised his eyes to give Sherlock a knowing look. "You didn't really mix up the dates, did you?"
Sherlock didn't see any point in lying now. The ceremony would be over and done with in a matter of minutes. And it would give him a certain vicious satisfaction, even if Victor sounded more amused than angry. "No," Sherlock said.
"I hope my interest didn't cause problems between you and John." Concerned now. The kindly village priest.
Sherlock bristled. "Why would you think that?" Of course it had, but that was none of Victor's business. And things were better now. Even if still unsettled.
"An idea," Victor said vaguely then shook his head. The computer made shutting-down sounds. "Never mind. I really would have liked to hear about what you've been doing. I gather you're leading quite the interesting life." He inclined his head toward the computer, suggesting he'd been reading things on the internet.
"I don't imagine it compares to the life of a country vicar," Sherlock said.
Victor smiled obsequiously. "No, I imagine not."
"Your wife?" Sherlock nodded at the framed picture standing next to the computer on the desk. Due to the oblique angle, he could only tell that it was of a dark-haired woman.
"Yes, Nancy." Victor picked up the picture and held it out to Sherlock. "I met her at my first posting. Big scandal," he confided, but he sounded rather smug. "Typical Mills and Boon stuff. I was cited to the Bishop over it, given an ultimatum. Get married or get out. I chose the life sentence."
Sherlock took the picture. It was a posed shot, amateur, of a young woman, late teens or early twenties, leaning against a tree with her arms crossed. Only her head and torso were visible, but to judge by the clothes and hair, it had been taken ten to twelve years ago. The subject was unremarkable, round cheeks, bland smile, dimples. But then Sherlock hadn't thought much of Mary when he'd seen that first snapshot of her in the manila folder in Mycroft's office. Victor's wife would have several pounds more on her frame by now, of course. Crow's feet starting. Maybe dying her hair to cover the creeping strands of white.
Sherlock was struck by the thought that he'd never seen a picture of John from more than five years ago (his passport). Also that Victor and his wife had been together for what must be something like ten years now. Would he and John still be together in ten years? John had already gone noticeably more grey, gained several sags and wrinkles in the time they'd known each other. Most notably in the past year. Sherlock resented every one of those grey hairs and deepened lines, resented the time they represented that the two of them had been apart, and the reduction of the time they had left. Which wasn't to say, paradoxically, that he didn't find John more attractive and appealing today than he had the day they'd met. (He was still quite glad he'd got rid of the mustache, though.)
"A politic choice, no doubt," Sherlock said crisply as he handed the picture back, startling even himself at the amount of venom he injected into the statement. He had nothing against the woman.
"I do love her," Victor said, mildly defensive. "Do you think I would have risked everything for less than that? She's absolutely everything I could ask for."
"Female, for one."
Victor sighed as he replaced the picture on the desk. "I always did feel that there was something unfinished between us when you never responded to my attempts to contact you after we parted ways. Will-"
"Sherlock," he said irritably, feeling the renewed need to separate himself from the weak-willed, naive boy Victor had known.
"I'm sorry, of course. Old habits. Sherlock. I hope you don't believe I didn't want you in my life anymore because your gender was incompatible with my career or my faith. It certainly would have been more difficult to live openly as a gay couple in the church fifteen years ago, but the doors were opening. Jeffrey John, Christopher Wardale, Peter Cowell and David Ward. I don't know if you've followed any of their stories."
"No," Sherlock said shortly. This was precisely why he'd wanted to avoid seeing Victor again. Being lectured, having to hear the justifications.
"I'm sure you can imagine anyway. The point is, you can't honestly say life as the spouse of a clergyman is what you wanted, either then or now. It was hard to say good-bye, but I knew it was the right decision."
The infuriating thing was that he was right, of course. Sherlock would have been miserable following Victor around, settling in some backwater. They would have grown apart at some point anyway. Better early on, when they only had good times to remember, than after the disappointments and resentments set in. It didn't make what had happened hurt any less. But if they hadn't gone their separate ways at that time, Sherlock might never have started down the path that had brought him to John. A horrifying thought.
A knock at the open door. "Everything all right?" It was John. He looked from Sherlock to Victor and back again, something tense in his expression.
"Oh, John!" Victor exclaimed, oblivious, suddenly bustling around the desk. "So sorry, we're keeping everyone waiting."
"We thought you might have dug up that attempted murder after all," John said, standing back to let him through.
Victor stopped short to give him a look of alarm. "Murder?"
"Only an attempt, not to worry," Sherlock said breezily from behind. "It all worked out in the end."
"It's a long story," John said. "You can read it on my blog."
"As I said, an interesting life!" Victor called over his shoulder as he strode off in the direction of the chapel.
Sherlock started to follow him, but John touched his arm lightly, holding him back. "Hey, everything all right?" His blue eyes on Sherlock, anxious, concerned. Stormy.
Sherlock was on the verge of reacting brusquely, his embarrassment and discomfiture over the conversation with Victor spilling over. He wondered how much John had heard. But then he took in the grey hair scattered amongst the gold, the creases at the corners of John's mouth, the bags under his eyes, the veins in his hands, and he remembered that every day was both a gift and one day closer to saying good-bye.
"It's fine, John," he said, and he meant it. He put his hand on John's shoulder and squeezed lightly. It would have to suffice. John's hand, still on Sherlock's elbow, squeezed back. They both waited, poised. Sherlock didn't know for what. He felt that a moment was coming, but this wasn't it.
Sherlock let his hand slide away. "I'm ready."
John nodded. "Okay." His voice came out rough, almost breathless. He cleared his throat. "Yeah, okay," he repeated, more brightly this time, and clapped his hands together. "Let's go get these two married."
Together, they headed for the chapel.
Homemade Potato Gnocchi
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 5 small)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 large egg, lightly beaten
In a large pot, bring potatoes to a boil in salted water; reduce to a rapid simmer and cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, 35 to 40 minutes. Lightly dust two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets with flour; set aside. Drain potatoes and peel while still hot with a paring knife (use a thick, dry kitchen towel or pot holder to hold them). Immediately pass potatoes through a ricer onto a work surface. Let cool completely.
Sprinkle potatoes with flour and 2 teaspoons salt, then top with egg. With your hands, work flour and egg into a dough.
Knead dough until smooth but not elastic, dusting with flour if it becomes too sticky, 4 minutes. Do not overwork dough.
Divide dough into 8 portions. Roll each portion into a rope (1/2 inch thick and 24 inches long). Cut each rope into 1/2-inch pieces.
Gently roll each dough piece against the back tines of a fork to make ridges, then arrange in a single layer on prepared baking sheets.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In batches, add a few handfuls gnocchi and cook until most have floated to top, 2 minutes. With a wire-mesh spider or a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi immediately to a sauce.
Chapter Seven: Cake and Champagne
Sherlock didn't lose the rings. No one stumbled over their lines. Victor delivered a decent enough homily, nothing objectionable. It didn't rain on the way over to the pub for the reception. And Sherlock's speech was well received, drivel or not. Scattered laughter, no tears. Nods and smiles. Although Sherlock didn't escape a hug from Greg at the end. Not as close as John at his wedding, more of a side-armed hug-slash-clap-on-the-back combination. John beaming and looking proud. Well, he had more or less written the thing.
Sherlock was seated next to Greg at the front table with the rest of the wedding party, but aside from thanking him for the speech, Greg hadn't exchanged a word with him, having eyes only for Molly. And hands. Before they'd sat down, they'd both kept their arms wrapped around each other's waists or shoulders as if glued there. And once at the table, they'd either held hands or else Greg had kept his arm over the back of Molly's seat, his fingers constantly wandering up to touch her neck or shoulder. This would invariably cause Molly to squirm and shoot Greg a heated look or lean over to whisper something that would make him clear his throat and nip a quick kiss or two or three to her jaw. At one point, Sherlock became so annoyed he suggested they slip off to the loo to get it over with.
"Anticipation's half the fun, old man," Greg said knowingly, squeezing Molly's hand against his thigh under the table.
"Anticipation of what?" Sherlock scowled. "You've been having sex for eighteen months already. If you count that tryst in the morgue during the case with all the dismembered nuns, even though it only involved --"
Sherlock stopped short and looked around as he realised a lull in the room's conversation had coincided exactly with his statement. Looks of shock, surprise, amusement, and disgust, along with a solitary wolf whistle from the third table. John grinned and took a sip of his champagne.
Greg bent his head forward to rest his forehead on his hand.
Molly leaned forward to speak around him to Sherlock. "It was in my office," she said firmly. Then a little louder, defensively, to the room at large: "It was in my office!"
"Not making it any better, Molly," Greg muttered.
"What was that about the nuns," Sherlock heard Daisy hiss to John from their table as conversations resumed.
Sherlock sighed and returned to his stuffed mini peppers. He hoped John had been able to get the recipe. They were quite good.
It was insufferable that he'd been stuck up at the front table with the rest of the wedding party for the entirety of the dinner service, including dessert, while John sat at one of the other tables with a bunch of strangers. It was a small wedding, only about thirty guests, but Sherlock hardly knew anyone, aside from Molly's mother and sister and the five other men who had been at the stag night. Greg's father was frail, so he and Mrs Lestrade had only stayed for the tea. Sherlock had assumed the duty of driving them back to the train station, which meant he hadn't even been able to mingle with John during the break between tea and dinner.
Sherlock had lost track of how many glasses of champagne John had had. At least five. Spread out through the afternoon and evening, to be sure, but still. Plus the whisky. Sherlock had seen him on two separate occasions with a fresh tumbler in front of him. There might well have been more. John had been quite good at hiding his alcohol intake from Sherlock on his stag night. Both of them had been good at hiding things from each other.
Finally, the wedding cake. A frothy, over-the-top, multi-tiered confection in white and silver. Sherlock couldn't help comparing it to John's. John and Mary's. He realised he never thought of it as John and Mary's wedding, only as John's. But without Mary, there would have been no wedding. None of the rest, either. Maybe not even this. Would John have settled into this thing with Sherlock, whatever it was, if it hadn't been for her? Would he have met someone else? Found happiness with her? Impossible to say. Unproductive to speculate. It didn't matter. John was back home now, after a long and arduous detour.
John kept glancing at the front table, glancing at Sherlock. A nod now and then, a quick smile. Checking that Sherlock wasn't going to blurt out any more sex-in-the-morgue stories (and he did have several). Or maybe remembering. Was he also comparing everything to his (and Mary's) wedding? The cake, the wines, the colour scheme, the weather, the music. There was a three-piece local band -- friends of Jeremy's -- getting set up for the dancing to follow. Keyboard, guitar, and bass, with the keyboardist and guitar player collaborating on the vocals.
Sherlock was required to dance the first dance with Posy, but as soon as he let go of her, he looked around for John. He found him just releasing Daisy to Greg, trading for Molly in turn for the next song. Sherlock pursed his lips. Did John actually mean to dance with everyone there, now that Sherlock was finally free to spend the rest of the evening with him? He grabbed the next woman who passed by him -- a matronly woman in a purple trouser suit who belonged to Greg somehow -- and aggressively led her through a rather sloppy waltz as he tried to catch John's eye. John, however, aside from a friendly nod and wave, kept his attention on the bride, apparently engrossed in a quite serious conversation. Sherlock moved closer in an attempt to hear what they were talking about, but the music was too loud.
Posy claimed John for the next dance, and Sherlock resigned himself to making the best of a bad situation by sitting out that dance to observe everyone and find the most accomplished of the female dancers. That turned out to be a tall woman from the Subcontinent who, Sherlock discovered in the course of the small talk that arose as they moved around the cramped space that had been cleared for dancing, had been Molly's best friend during medical school. She was now a senior researcher at a pharmaceutical company, and moved with an easy grace that was often the exception rather than the rule amongst tall women.
They ended up sharing two dances, and by the time Sherlock returned her to her husband, John was back at his otherwise empty table with yet another drink in front of him.
Sherlock dropped into the chair next to him.
"Who was that you were dancing with?" John asked, not quite meeting Sherlock's eye.
Sherlock reached for one of the bottles of water that stood on all of the tables. "Old school friend of Molly's. Neela something or other." He cracked open the bottle and drank straight from it.
"The two of you looked good together." Anyone else would have heard only the compliment, but Sherlock caught the faint bitterness in the undertone.
He looked at John in consternation. He couldn't possibly be jealous. Not with the declarations that had been made. Or rather, Sherlock realised with a start, that hadn't been made. All of the discussions, admissions, and decisions had only taken place in Sherlock's head. For John, they were still at the point of his frustrated outburst in their kitchen. But that had been over a week ago!
Something loosened inside Sherlock. John. His Something. "She's married," he said gently. He nodded at the dance floor, where his erstwhile dancing partner had her arms wrapped around the neck of a dashing, square-jawed, broad-shouldered man, gazing at him with stars in her eyes.
John harrumphed. Then burped. Frowned and looked down at his drink, turning the tumbler slowly around. It was more than half empty. Only a couple of millimetres left. How many was that? Three? Four? More? Enough was enough.
Sherlock took a deep breath. Straightened his back. Stood up, pulling his waistcoat down and smoothing his jacket. John continued to brood over his drink.
"John," Sherlock began. John grunted, lifted his head, his eyes slightly glazed. "John, may I have the honour of the next dance?" He held out his hand, palm up, in invitation.
John looked up at Sherlock blankly. "What?"
"I'd like to dance with you, John."
John snorted. "You want to dance with me."
"Not sure how that would go over," John said, looking around the room at the other guests. Couples. All men with women and vice versa. Although the unaccompanied blonde with the nose ring (another of Molly's cousins?) was a lesbian and the keyboardist and bassist were definitely together. Sherlock also got strong bisexual indications from Robby, Greg's rugby playing friend who had been at the stag night, but he was here with his girlfriend.
"It will go over excellently," Sherlock said crisply, "as I am the best dancer here and I will make even you, in your inebriated state, look like Fred Astaire."
John brightened. "Or Ginger Rogers."
"Let's not overreach."
John chuckled. Giggled. Shook his head in amusement. Didn't move to take Sherlock's hand.
"John. I would like to have one dance with my partner. Please." There. He'd said it. Unmistakable. His heart chose that moment to lodge itself in his throat. He hadn't expected the admission to have such a strong effect on him. He swallowed, forced himself to keep breathing, and offered his hand again.
John stopped laughing. Shook his head a bit, as if clearing it. "Sorry, with your?"
"Yes," Sherlock said, still holding out his hand. Hoping this was the moment. That he hadn't got it wrong again.
John searched Sherlock's face, his own doing something complicated: scepticism, wonder; tenderness, maybe. Finally, it shifted into realisation. Softening. "All right. Yeah, all right," he said quietly.
John stood up. Sherlock resisted the urge to reach out and steady him. They moved out into the dancing area, Sherlock in front, John behind, not looking at each other.
John was self-conscious, Sherlock too careful. They barely touched, their fingers hovering lightly on their points of contact: Sherlock's shoulder, John's back, their palms. A chasm between them. John's shoulders were rigid, his legs wooden. Sherlock himself felt the tension in his neck, the stricture on him not to invade John's space. They'd danced like this before, of course, preparing for John's wedding. (John and Mary's.) That had been safe. Mostly. No witnesses. Covered by the veneer of John's engagement, of his commitment to someone else. This was like stepping out onto an unsecured scaffold. One false step, an inadvertent bump, even a slight breeze, would send one or the other of them skittering back to safety. Or plummeting to the ground. It's not the fall that kills you. It's the landing. Sherlock kicked the drawer shut. It was just the two of them now. As it should be. John had said yes.
They moved stiffly, John staring at his feet, willfully shutting out any outside eyes that might be on them. Sherlock was aware of them -- curious, startled; indulgent, pleased -- but kept his focus on John. On moving them safely around the other dancers, on keeping his motions smooth and confident. Sherlock ached for this to be something they could enjoy, moving freely and easily together, sharing the sensation of their bodies shifting in harmony, not a trial to be gotten through to prove a point. Doors were opening.
The song ended. Light applause. Sherlock started to release John but John didn't let him, grasping his hand more firmly. He lifted his head, for the first time since they'd stepped onto the dance floor. Determination in his eyes. Understanding. Gratitude. Something deeper.
"My turn now," he said. "Dance with me?"
Sherlock's heart swelled again. John. What he wouldn't do for this man. They switched their arms so that John was in the lead position. This time, John's grip on Sherlock's hand was tight and warm, his hand on Sherlock's back a solid, reliable presence. John nudged Sherlock closer until their chests almost touched. He kept his eyes on Sherlock's as the song began, as he steered them through the prescribed steps. Eyes to get lost in. Their eyes had met before, of course, countless times. Countless moments of something deeper, something rising up and threatening to inundate them, to sweep them with it. But they'd always looked away, stemmed the rising tide, fled before the storm. This time they allowed it, let it happen, let the current flow between them, accepted and welcomed it. Lost. And found.
"Shit dance instructor you are. I was looking at my feet the whole time. Eyes on your partner," John said, his voice both gruff and warm.
Sherlock's face bloomed into a smile. "Always." Always. His partner.
Anticipation. Sherlock forgot entirely about the rest of the guests. Forgot about why they were here. He did remember why he'd wanted to do this, though, as with every step, every glide, every breath, his and John's bodies fell ever more into alignment, into sync, the same rhythm, the same beat, blood and heat thrumming through their veins, pulses pounding, not just from the exertion. The single point where their skin touched between their hands insufficient. The single line of communication between their gazes overflowing.
By the end of the song, they were virtually chest to chest, hip to hip, toe to toe. There was no need to ask, no need to speak, as they held the position waiting for the next song to start.
Sherlock relaxed his left arm to let it curl around John's shoulder. John bent his elbow to draw their joined hands in close to their chests. His arm around Sherlock's back held him snugly to his body. When the music started, their feet set into motion as one, not fast, not far, just enough for them both to feel the other's flesh and sinew, their combined power and strength, the anxious tension of the first dance given way to a new tension, the strictures keeping them apart released, redrawn as a thread drawn taut between them. Poised. Ready to be sprung.
It was too much: John's arms, his body, his heart, his eyes. Here in the midst of all these strangers. Friends too, Greg and Molly. Maybe Alfred, Sanjay, Robby. So many. Too much to be contained. Was there a need to contain it any more? Sherlock closed his eyes, drew John those last few centimetres closer so that Sherlock's cheek rested against the side of his head. The smell of his hair, of his perspiration, of the fusion of his aftershave with his own particular chemistry. John's ear just by his mouth. His lips. John's breath on his neck. His nose nudging Sherlock's jaw. His arms encircling Sherlock, squeezing gently, hugging him. Their feet were barely moving. Sherlock wasn't even sure they were moving in time with the music. The moment floated in time, detached from the here and now. Filling drawers, entire filing cabinets, every available nook and cranny in Sherlock's head, and heart. Eternity in the length of a song.
Still, it had to end. Too soon. John's grip relaxed. Sherlock let his arms drop, sliding down John's back and chest. Loath to lose the contact. As they started to move apart, Sherlock turned his head just a bit to gather one last breath of scent. His mouth grazed John's cheek. Inadvertent. Caught the corner of his mouth. Unintentional. Mostly. Partially. John paused. He hadn't let go. Sherlock moved his head away, slowly. Plausible deniability. But John followed his motion, chasing after him, darting forward to reclaim the lost centimetres. Full on, mouths closed, not moving but impossible to deny. He held it for a few seconds. Three. Five. Then broke it off, resting his face against Sherlock's.
Sherlock waited a few moments, catching his breath, his mind whirling, he couldn't think, all he knew was that he had to be sure, had to know what this was, philia or eros, the bracing embrace of warrior brethren or the reunion of two halves rejoined. He curled in, tilting his head to touch John's lips with his once more, slow, cautious, tantalising the sensitive flesh, and John still didn't move away. Responded, a tight, choked sound, hands clenching in the material of Sherlock's suit, leaning in, pressure on Sherlock's mouth, moulding his lips to fit Sherlock's, adjusting and re-aligning, discovery, relief, tenderness, the underlying question being answered enthusiastically, unequivocally. Another pause, both of them with chests heaving, eyes closed, overwhelmed by their physical and emotional reactions.
"John," Sherlock whispered.
John nodded, his face against Sherlock's, his breath alcohol-sweet in Sherlock's mouth. "Yeah. Yes." Nodded again then kissed him again, hard, firm, punctuation marks, exclamation points. Yes. Yes!
The air was suddenly pierced by a sharp, shrill whistle coming from someone behind them. At the same time, a lusty shout of, "Yeeeaaah! Get it, son!" That was Greg.
Sherlock opened his eyes and turned his head. The wedding guests. The band. Greg and Molly were on the opposite side of the dance floor, grinning at them like fools. The wolf whistle had come from Molly. She took her fingers out of her mouth and gave them a double thumbs-up. Greg made a pumping motion with his fist. The other guests watched, laughing. Some cheering and clapping. Happy for them. For both of them. All four of them. Friends.
"Hey Greg?" John called out cheerfully, then held up both hands behind Sherlock's back to give him the double bird.
"Molly's got it covered, thanks!" Greg called back cheekily, pointing at her. She laughed and put her arms around him again to pull him back into the dance.
John laughed too and hugged Sherlock again, relaxed and happy, rocking him back and forth for a few seconds. Sherlock hugged him back, running his hands up and down John's back. His body was buzzing. His head too. He felt as if he were floating. He could fly if he wanted to. He could do anything. John in his arms. His partner. The band was playing a faster song now. People moved around them, couples on the tiny dance floor, trying to avoid intruding on their moment but smiling at them as they danced. A shared moment. Doors opening.
"Think we're kind of in the way here," John said. No need to shout, his mouth right next to Sherlock's ear. His hands spread across Sherlock's back, also rubbing, caressing.
He was drunk. A little. More than a little? Enough. Sherlock should take him home. Wanted to take him home. Mycroft's car was outside. He'd done his part as Greg's best man. It wouldn't be the first time he left a wedding reception early. It would be the first time he left one happy. The first time he held John's hand in the dark back seat of a car. The first time he nudged John awake when they reached Baker Street by kissing him softly on the mouth and saying, "We're home."
Vanilla Wedding Cake
250g pack unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
250g golden caster sugar
seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla paste
5 large eggs, cracked into a jug
85g plain flour
100g full-fat Greek yogurt
250g self-raising flour
3 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
For the syrup
50g golden caster sugar
seeds ½ vanilla pod or ½ tsp vanilla paste
Heat oven to 160 C / 325 F. Grease a round, deep 20cm tin, then line the base and sides with non-stick baking paper.
Using electric beaters or a tabletop mixer, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and ¼ tsp salt together until pale and fluffy, then pour in the eggs, one at a time, giving the mix a really good beating before adding the next. Add 1 tbsp of the plain flour if the mix starts to look slimy rather than fluffy. Beat in the yogurt.
Mix the flours; then, using a large metal spoon, fold them into the batter, followed by the milk. Spoon the mix into the tin and bake for 1 hr 20 mins or until well risen and golden – a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.
Meanwhile, make the syrup by gently heating 50ml water with the sugar and vanilla in a pan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. Once the cake is out of the oven, leave to cool for 30 mins in the tin, then use a skewer to poke holes all over the cake, going right to the bottom. Pour the syrup over, letting it completely soak in after each addition. Leave to cool completely, then either wrap the cake well or fill and ice it.
Chapter Eight: Aspirin and Tea
Light snoring. A weight on the mattress next to him. Warmth under the covers. Sherlock cracked an eye open. It was day, but the light outside the window was muted, filtered by the heavy rainclouds drenching London with their effluvia. Sherlock judged it to be late morning. They hadn't gotten to sleep until very late. After midnight. They hadn't talked a lot. Not with words. They'd still managed to tell each other a great deal.
Sherlock was lying mostly on his stomach, his head half buried in his pillow. He opened his other eye, moved his head just a little so he could see John's face. He was on his back, his mouth open slightly. His jowls slack under his morning stubble. Adenoids. Exacerbated by the late night and alcohol. Sleep apnea might become an issue some day. Sherlock would have to train himself to wake up if the hissing and rasping ever stopped for longer than a few seconds. They hadn't discussed it yet, but there was no question in his mind that this was now their bed. No matter what took place -- or didn't take place -- in it.
Sherlock had enjoyed the touching and hugging and kissing a lot. Very, very much. Sherlock's body thrummed at the memory. Some parts more than enthusiastically. John had seemed to enjoy it as well. But he'd also been more than a little tipsy. Not that Sherlock thought John would regret any of it, or that he wouldn't have done the same things if he were completely sober. Wouldn't do the same things completely sober. But that might well be all there was. John hadn't been... well, his body hadn't displayed the same reactions in response to the stimulus of them lying pressed together in bed as Sherlock's had. It might have been the alcohol, of course. John had been tired too. And he was older than Sherlock. Not old, exactly, but well. There could be lots of reasons. It was fine.
John's breathing shifted. Muscles flickering into motion in his face. His mouth closing. A grimace. A sound in his throat. Swallowing. Attempting to, at least. Another grimace. Sherlock held his breath. He might settle again.
"Time is it?" John croaked. Not going to settle again.
Sherlock rolled onto his back to reach his phone on the bedside table where he'd put it to charge. "Just after eleven."
John groaned. Sherlock rolled back onto his side, facing John. "You can sleep some more. Nothing going on today. Do you want some aspirin?"
"Have to piss anyway." John lay there unmoving for a while. Sherlock thought maybe he'd drifted off again after all, but then he hauled himself into a sitting position on the edge of the bed until his head stopped spinning. "Stay here, yeah?" he said, his voice gravelly, before he heaved himself up and stumbled into the bathroom, his eyes squinting against even the feeble light from outside, grasping furniture and walls along the way to steady himself.
Sherlock stayed there. He hadn't really thought John would backtrack or try to play off what had happened, but there was a possibility that he'd simply get on with things. That being intimate, allowing their bodies to express what was in their hearts, wasn't something that would be directly acknowledged, but like their shared meals, would simply be something that happened. That they both wanted, that they both made room for, that meant something beyond satiating a physical need. But that they didn't make a great fuss over.
The toilet flushed. Water ran. The medicine cabinet opened and closed. More water. Sherlock began to feel a pressing need himself.
John came back, looking steadier. He wore his pants from yesterday with the t-shirt Sherlock had handed him from his drawer before they got into bed. Sherlock had on his pyjama trousers and John's army t-shirt. It wasn't a conscious statement. It had simply been what he'd left on his bed from the previous night. Sharing clothes. John's eyes were open now as he climbed back into bed. He pulled the cover back up, settled it over Sherlock again, patting him through the material. He lay on his side, propped up on one elbow, looking sheepish and pleased and hungover, his eyes puffy and his face chalky, and something in Sherlock's chest tugged, that thread between them pinging.
Sherlock smiled, couldn't help it. Everything in him was happy. His face, his stomach, his ears, his toes. "Good morning."
John slid a little closer. "Morning." His eyes were on Sherlock's, a warm humour, affection, a shared secret. He tipped his chin forward, and Sherlock met him halfway. John had cleaned his teeth.
"I should clean my teeth too," Sherlock said between soft little meetings and partings of their lips.
"Don't care," John said. "I prefer you here."
Sherlock did too, so he didn't argue. He put his free arm around John and slung one leg over his, but kept his hips back. He didn't want to startle him or incite that discussion right now. He was enjoying the kissing. John was too, to go by the way he was clutching Sherlock's back, sliding a hand up the back of his neck. Following the line of Sherlock's jaw to his neck, nuzzling and nipping and generally causing mayhem down below.
Sherlock had been careful the night before not to touch John anywhere too delicate, nowhere alarming, kept his hands above the waist and over his clothes. But now he found to his dual consternation and delight that his hands had somehow slipped inside John's pants to grip and knead his arse. John didn't seem to mind one bit. In fact, he responded by clenching his buttocks to thrust his hips forward and making very enthusiastic sounds, redoubling his efforts to unhinge Sherlock completely by means of applying his mouth to Sherlock's skin.
John wasn't gay. Sherlock wasn't sure that he was wholly bisexual either, in the sense of finding the male form and male attributes generally appealing and arousing in the same way he did with women. His eyes didn't linger on attractive men the way they did on women. He licked his lips far less often in the presence of a sexually available male than a female. Sherlock had never found gay porn in his browser cache. He'd never responded with the slightest bit of encouragement to flirtation attempts by other men. And yet here John was, in bed with Sherlock, the evidence all but incontrovertible that he was not an absolute Kinsey zero.
He wondered -- extremely briefly -- if this were in fact not John's first foray into this area, but decided immediately that particular investigation could wait, as John had apparently taken the position of Sherlock's hand as permission for mutual exploration, and was rubbing and squeezing Sherlock's arse now too as his mouth found its way back to Sherlock's, where he suckled and played with his lips. Sherlock didn't think he could stand much more. All of his self-control and good intentions crumbled as he let John pull his hips forward to bring them into full contact. They both groaned, finding the other's readiness confirmed.
Somewhere overlaying the all-consuming heat and urgency, the wonder and gladness, a thought fluttered its wings, begging attention: this was going too fast. Sherlock was-- He hadn't showered, they had no supplies. He actually needed to empty his bladder rather desperately. More importantly, he hadn't had time to properly process it all, and neither had John. It felt as if they were on a train barrelling toward the station with no time to admire the view. It wasn't that he felt they should take things slow, exactly. But neither of them had slept well, John was hungover and not at his peak in terms of performance. That wasn't something that necessarily bothered Sherlock, but he felt certain John would want to make a -- to put it crassly -- good impression for the first time they shared this together. And it did look very much as if the station they were headed towards involved at least one of them blowing their whistle in the next few minutes.
It seemed that John was having some kind of second thoughts as well, as he suddenly broke away, taking laboured breaths through his nose. His face was pinched and pasty, his eyes squeezed shut. "Fuck. Fuck. Sorry."
Sherlock moved back a bit to give him some space. This looked less like second thoughts than physical illness. John blinked his eyes open and lifted his hand to touch Sherlock's face. "Not you," he assured him. "Not you. Sorry. I'm still feeling pretty shite. I shouldn't have drunk so much. God, I'm making a mess of this."
Sherlock was actually quite glad for the chance to catch his breath. It wasn't the right time for this. It was good (marvelous, fantastic, spectacular) that John was interested in more physicality, but not when he was ill.
"I could get up and let you sleep a bit more," Sherlock offered. "Or make you some tea?"
John huffed wryly, letting his thumb absently caress Sherlock's cheek. "I thought, if we ever ended up like this, our first morning together we'd make this big breakfast. Sausage and toast and eggs, a big pan of hash browns. Oh God, I'm making myself sick just thinking about it." John flopped onto his back and closed his eyes, looking distinctly green about the gills.
John had thought about this as a possibility. Of course he had. He was braver than Sherlock. Sherlock had never let himself imagine anything beyond keeping John in his life. His blogger. His partner. His friend. His north.
John had imagined sausage and hash browns.
"Dry toast and tea," Sherlock said decisively, giving John a peck on the forehead. "I'll make it."
"Maybe we could re-do it tonight?" John said, his voice thin but hopeful.
Sherlock made a questioning sound, still hovering over John.
John opened his eyes. The blue depths bloodshot but steady. He reached up to pull Sherlock down so that their foreheads were touching, an attempt to escape Sherlock's all-seeing gaze. "Our first night together," he said quietly, his breath warm on Sherlock's face. "No alcohol. Maybe one bottle of wine. We could go out to dinner. Go back to Angelo's, we haven't been there in a while."
Sherlock smiled. "I'd like that," he said, then closed the last few millimetres to kiss John lightly on the lips. "I'll make the reservations later."
There would be a candle, of course. And this time John wouldn't say anything about it. They would sit at the table by the window, and everyone would think they were a couple, and this time it would be true. And then maybe Greg would text them, and maybe there would end up being a footrace through London, an adventure in the sewers, danger on the rooftops. Or maybe they would come back home and make love, make it however they wanted, make each other feel and see and taste and know that they were each other's better half. That there was no one else they would rather be with, no one who could ever be what they were to each other. Friends. Partners. In everything. Always.
But now, tea.
1 egg, beaten
4 medium potatoes, peeled (like maris piper or king Edwards)
1 medium onion
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for frying
Coarsely grate the potatoes and onion into a clean tea towel and then squeeze out the excess liquid by twisting the towel. Place the mix in a large bowl.
Add the egg, a good couple of pinches of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix the ingredients well. (You need to salt the mix well otherwise the hash browns can be quite bland).
Heat a good glug of oil in a heavy based frying pan and when the oil is hot (but not smoking), add spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the pan and flatten into patties about 1cm thick. Flip over once browned and crispy - about 2-3 minutes each side.
Serve hot as a breakfast or supper side dish. Especially good with bacon and eggs.
All savoury wedding menu items found here: http://kempandkempcatering.co.uk/our-food/
All afternoon tea items found here: http://www.kingfishercaterers.co.uk/downloads/Kingfisher_Afternoon%20tea_menu.pdf
All pub quiz questions and answers found here: http://www.freepubquiz.co.uk/
The stained glass window described is from St. John's church in Snape: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1886245