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You Should Have Changed Course Long Ago

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The November wind bit at John’s cheeks, ruffling his hair and slipping under his coat collar as he fumbled his keys out of his pocket. His phone was buzzing in his trousers, but his hands--clumsy in thick woolen gloves--were barely capable of fitting the front door key into the lock, let alone checking a text. It wasn't until he'd dropped his coat onto a chair, put the kettle on, and gone for a much-needed trip to the toilet that he remembered to check his phone.

[Lestrade]
You owe me a fucking pint.

[Sent]
What did he do?

[Lestrade]
Buckingham Arms. 9 o'clock.

[Sent]
It's been a bit of a day, mate. Tomorrow?

[Lestrade]
He accepted a case for the first time in three weeks today, and besides the necessary deduction, he didn't say a word to anyone.

[Sent]     
See you at 9.

John entered the pub a few minutes late and found Greg wedged into a corner table, curled around a mostly empty glass with two more full ones in front of him and picking through a half-empty basket of chips.

"Catch up," Greg said, shoving a full pint across the table at John before draining his first and reaching for the next. John took a long pull of the lager gratefully before eyeing Greg up, gritting his teeth, and diving in.

"Rough day?"

Greg snorted before lowering a glare over the rim of his glass at John. They drank in silence for a minute, neither willing to be the first to go deeper. John tried to focus on the rugby playing on the screen over Greg's shoulder, but the resentment and curiosity and frustration rolling off the older man in waves was both distracting and guilt-inducing. Finally he met the glare head-on.

"Go ahead then."

“Stop fucking him around.”

“Jesus Christ, Greg, Mary’s only been dead three months.”

Greg snorted again. “I’d be worrying about that if you’d still been in love with her, or even liked her at that point. Or if you hadn’t been in love with someone else for your entire marriage.”

Something in John bristled at that, even as something else acknowledged it as true. It appeared, however, that Greg wasn't done.

“I can't get him to answer his phone half the time, even when I'm promising an eight. Mycroft says he’s sleeping in his bolt holes half the week and walking the streets all night the other half. You're never with him at crime scenes. He never mentions you. Hell, he never mentions anything. What the fuck is going on?”

“He’s not exactly calling me at all hours either,” John spat, and heard the sudden bitterness in his tone.

“Does he know you want him to call?”

“Christ, Greg, you make me sound like a teenage girl.”

“Christ, John, you’re sort of acting like one. He killed your wife, for fuck’s sake. Don’t you think you’re the one that might need to push?”

John grimaced. “Technically, she killed him first.” He held up a hand when Greg’s eyes lifted to the ceiling. “Yeah, okay, you’re right. I haven’t been trying very hard.” He scrubbed his hands over his face, guilt washing over him, along with the familiar wave of missing Sherlock that had been part of his daily life for so long now that he could hardly imagine a way to make it better. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to do this.”

Lestrade sighed. “Yeah you do. That’s not it. What is it? Is it still the whole ‘not gay’ thing? Because...just...stop hiding behind the bullshit. Either go be with him, or don’t, but either way, he deserves to know. He’s been waiting for you long enough.”

John opened his mouth to answer, and then closed it again, all the fight draining out of him. “I know. Fuck, Greg, I know. I know he has.” He sat for a long moment, tracing the condensation on his glass. “It took me a long time to figure it out. Not just me, but...him. I didn’t know. For so long. He’s always called me an idiot, and he’s right.”

“None of that matters and you know it. Are you in love with him?”

John’s voice was steady, and his answer was immediate. “Yes.”

“Well, put us all out of our misery and go fucking do something about it already.”

--

They stayed a while longer, drinking and talking about everything besides Sherlock, and eventually working their way through a couple of burgers. By the time John shook Greg’s hand at the end of the night, he still hadn't decided when to talk to Sherlock.

It was true that John had been avoiding his best friend, and he couldn't even come up with a good reason why. He would never be angry or upset that Sherlock had killed Mary (beaten John to it, really); she’d been seconds away from shooting John when Sherlock had found them and taken her out immediately with a gun he'd had in a drawer since Serbia. Sherlock had looked him over with frantic intensity, not believing John wasn't hurt until he'd thoroughly checked himself. John had just been reaching to pull him into a hug when the Met burst in, and then it had been a maelstrom of police and government agents and statements, and they'd been separated at some point. By the time John was finished, Mycroft’s men had already taken Sherlock back to Baker Street.

They'd seen one another only a handful of times since, and always in the company of others. John had gone on several small cases but they always met at the victim’s flat or NSY or the crime scene, and Sherlock always left right after. John had invited him for food the first three times before he stopped asking, and eventually, Sherlock had stopped texting. John knew he should have kept trying, should have just showed up at the flat, but he was afraid. He was afraid of everything changing.

He was afraid that nothing would.

He glanced at his watch: just after midnight. Sherlock would still be awake. John could do it now, could tell him now. Suddenly nothing seemed more important.

If only it was that easy.

[Sent]
I’m going to stop by in a few minutes, alright? I have something I'd like to talk to you about.

He paused on the pavement and waited for the response. True to form, it came almost immediately.

[Sherlock]
Not home.

[Sent]
Are you out on a case? Do you need help? I’ll meet you.

There was no response, so John reluctantly went home. You’ve waited years, he told himself. You can wait until tomorrow.

But when he went to the flat the next day, Mrs. Hudson told him Sherlock had left for Brussels that morning, something for Mycroft. When he got back from Brussels, John had been working at the surgery, and by the time he was able to text Sherlock, the detective had gone to Manchester on a case. Before he knew it, nearly three weeks had passed. Lestrade had checked in more than once, seemingly as frustrated as John that the conversation hadn't happened yet. Finally, late on the first Thursday in December, he got a text of the type he'd been waiting for.

[Lestrade]
He left here about 20 minutes ago.

[Sent]
Thanks, Greg.

[Lestrade]
Good luck, mate.

One long, expensive cab ride later, John stood on the pavement outside 221B.

[Sent]
I know you’re home. Can we talk?

[Sherlock]
I'm still away, John. I’ll let you know when I’m back.

[Sent]
I’m standing on the pavement. I know you left NSY an hour ago. Unless a burglar’s broken into the flat, you’re there. I just saw your shadow move past the window.

John watched as the dots that meant Sherlock was typing a response appeared and disappeared on the screen twice. Finally, another text popped up.

[Sherlock]
Come up.

John let himself into the flat and took the stairs two at a time, his heart pounding. There was no greeting as he swung the door open, but he saw Sherlock’s coat hanging up as he stripped his off. “Sherlock?” He hung up his jacket next to the Belstaff and craned his neck to peer into the kitchen.

“Hello, John.”

Sherlock’s voice, nearly inaudible, came from the sitting room. John took a few steps closer and finally recognized Sherlock’s figure, slumped low in his armchair, lit only by the embers of a dying fire. He reached for a lamp, but Sherlock’s voice stopped him. “Leave the lights off, please.”

There was a note in Sherlock’s voice John couldn't decipher. “Are you alright? I have something I’d like to talk to you about, and I'd rather be able to see you.”

There was a long pause, and then: “I’d rather do this in the dark, if you don't mind.”

Somehow, finally, Sherlock had deduced it. He'd anticipated why John was there and was trying to save them both from the inevitable British awkwardness that was about to follow. But John Watson was no coward, and it had taken him a long time to get to this point, and damn it, he wanted to be able to see Sherlock when he told the detective he loved him.

“I do mind.”

There was a soft sigh, and then a lamp snapped on. Sherlock’s face was blank, but there was something about his eyes that didn't sit right with John. “Has something happened? Why are you sitting here in the dark?”

“Waiting for you.” John saw Sherlock swallow. “Text from Lestrade.”

That gave John momentary pause, and then he let out a sigh. “He told you I was coming over. Wanted to make sure you'd be here.” At Sherlock’s brief nod, John let out a short laugh. “Hard to fault him for that. I think he feels invested in this visit. I am glad you're finally home tonight.” He crossed to his chair and sat down, taking a deep breath before opening his mouth to plunge in.

“Please, John. Don't.”

John closed his mouth, and then opened it again to speak. Sherlock held up a hand.

“It won't make either of us happy to have this conversation, John. I'd. Just. Can we not?”

“You don't know what I'm going to say.” At Sherlock’s raised eyebrow, John nearly rolled his eyes. “If you'd deduced this, you'd have told me.”

“No. Not this. And I did deduce it. I've been deducing it for a long time.”

John stared at him. “Then why--”

“Because I've also deduced which choice you would make, and I've been right every time. It will not help either of us to have this conversation. Please just go home, John.”

“No.” John leaned forward in his chair, and as he did so, he saw Sherlock leaning further away. What the hell is going on? he thought, and then he repeated the thought out loud. “I came here tonight to tell you something, and I think we both need me to.”

Sherlock pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. “John. I need. Please. Turn around, go home, and come back tomorrow. Come back tomorrow, after you've slept and realized your mistake. Just don't--”

“I love you.” John watched Sherlock’s shoulders sag, and then his eyes opened again, slowly, and they were unreadable. “You haven't deduced everything,” John pressed on.”I love you. I want to come home.”

“John.”

The pain in that one syllable was so palpable that John finally understood that this conversation wasn’t going well. He opened his mouth to reply, but Sherlock held up a hand. “Please, John. Please stop now before--before there’s no going back. You can still choose to get up and go home, and--and I’ll delete this. Come back tomorrow, John, please.”

John sat dumbly in his chair, shaking his head a little. “But. Sherlock, no. No. That isn’t the choice I want to make. I choose you, Sherlock.”

Sherlock barked out a bitter laugh, and anything good that had been left in the atmosphere was gone. “I've lain here at Baker Street month after month, year after year, alone. You've never chosen me, and you're not choosing me now. I'm just what's left.”

No one had ever said anything to John that felt more like a punch. He fisted his hands in his hair, desperately trying to figure out what was happening, and Sherlock kept talking. “You have spent the last several years--all of the years, really, since we met--choosing anyone and everything that wasn't me. I know I pushed you away the very first night, but there were a thousand moments after that where you could have. Had me."

Sherlock stood and paced to the window, staring out into the evening darkness of the street below. “I never wanted--this--with anyone. Never believed true affection could have a positive outcome. So I tried to show you. No, I have shown you. Many times. So many times. I have told you--in fact, I have told you in front of people. I...I know I am not an obvious person, I know I deride sentiment, that I turn away from it. But not with you. Never with you. I thought you were the exception...to all things. For me. But then you got married, and I stood next to you while you did it. Because I wanted you to be happy, because I loved--”

To John’s shock, Sherlock’s voice broke, and he took a few shaky breaths before turning back to meet John's gaze. "I thought I could wait forever. I thought I would always trust you. But I couldn't, and I can't. Not with this. I have died for loving you, and I have killed for loving you, and it's gotten me here.

“I do not think I can be...here...any longer."

John tried to swallow around the horror and self-loathing and despair rising up in his throat. "What does that--what does that mean?"

Sherlock's gaze slid sideways to the window, unfocused. "Mycroft always has work for me. I'll take...one of the quieter options, this time."

"Away from..." Me, John tried to say, but the word lodged in his throat with everything else.

"London," Sherlock said.

But all John heard was You, and what could he say to that? What counterargument did he have that was worth anything? Sherlock had come back for him--twice--and John had given him nothing but pain in return. And now that he was ready--eager--desperate to give him everything, his time had run out.

"For..." Ever? His words were failing him completely.

Still Sherlock didn't look at him. "No. Long enough for me--long enough to--"

Delete. "Delete. This." For John, just speaking the words was like putting a sword through his own gut.

"I've never deleted anything having to do with you."

"But you will. Now."

"Delete it--or stay away. Yes."

John had been shot in the desert. He'd watched his best friend jump off a roof. He'd killed people and hurt people and been hurt and nearly killed more times than he could even comprehend. He'd been betrayed and lied to, neglected and abandoned, and watched love die and destroy. He remembered every minute of every time.

So it was with complete confidence that he could say that nothing in his life had hurt him more than this moment.  

He loved Sherlock. Sherlock clearly loved him. But it was not their time, would now never be their time. He had destroyed it at last; he had pushed even Sherlock to the end of what he could bear. So this impossible, frustrating, beloved genius of a man would go away and...delete. The love. And even if he came back after that, could John bear it? The knowing? He knew from vast experience that his strength and his ability to bear things was severely limited when it came to this.

He let his gaze skitter over Sherlock: his beautiful, beloved face; the pale expanse of his neck; his impossibly long fingers. His rigid form, completely motionless and so close that John would only have to lift a finger to touch. Twice before, John had thought he was seeing Sherlock for the last time. On the tarmac, he’d stepped away after only a handshake. Could he leave Sherlock (forever) without...something?

As if he sensed John’s thoughts--oh, hell, of course he did--Sherlock took a deliberate step away.

John had been a surgeon; he knew the human heart couldn’t actually wither inside your chest. He wondered if his heart knew it. “Are you sure?” He rasped, barely audible. He felt, rather than saw, Sherlock’s immediate, infinitesimal nod.

"I'm..." Sorry? Was there even a point to saying it? It had never been a more inadequate word than at this moment. How do you apologize for causing the destruction of two people?

There seemed to be nothing left to do but leave.

So John did.

Chapter Text

John couldn't even fake surprise when he stumbled numbly out of the front door of 221B and saw the black car idling at the curb. When the door opened, he got in, closing the door quietly as he slid into the seat. There was white noise in his head, and it wouldn't clear. Maybe he was asleep and about to wake? Surely this wasn’t his reality now, this world without Sherlock? He watched his hands clenching and unclenching in his lap and wondered, idly, if Mycroft was planning to kill him.

Then he wondered if he would care.

"I've warned my brother time and again that caring is a liability. Letting people get close to you ultimately brings nothing but pain."

"Yes, well, the message sank in, okay? You don't need to worry about that. I won't be a problem for him much longer."

"John."

The uncharacteristic ferocity in Mycroft's voice finally got John to look up from his lap, and he was stunned to see actual emotion on the older man's face. He had seen Mycroft display true emotion only a handful of times, and it was rarely this one:

Anger.

"What, in the end, has loving you done for my brother? Ultimately, what has he gained? A scarred back, a gunshot wound, and a broken heart. More than one of the latter, in fact, because you weren't content with just breaking him once. You are the only person he has ever loved, the only person he has ever trusted, and because of that, I trusted you too. I trusted you to take care of him, and you failed.

"And now," continued Mycroft relentlessly, "he will give up even more for you. He will give up the work he loves and the city he calls home so that he can take a job with me that he will hate just to get away from you. Tell me, Doctor Watson--why is it always Sherlock who must lose everything?"

John swallowed hard, unable to look away. "I don't--what--" He shook his head sharply and tried again. "What are you really asking me, Mycroft?"

Mycroft picked up a small pile of envelopes from the seat next to him and passed them over to John, who took them without thinking. "Pick one.” It wasn't a request. “I'll make the arrangements. Leave my brother with the only things he has left: his work, and his home."

Leave. Leave London, then; that's what Mycroft meant. Leave the clinic, his life, his friends.

Leave Sherlock.

Leave Sherlock, so Sherlock wouldn't have to go.

"I need--" his voice cracked, and he stopped and tried to take a deep breath. "Can I have some time? To think about it?"

A sharp nod was the only response he got as he felt the car come to a slow stop. Without another word he took the envelopes and left a Holmes brother behind for the second time in half an hour.

--

[Sherlock]  
Thank you, Mycroft. - SH

[Mycroft]
Are you certain of this, little brother?

Mycroft hadn’t expected a response to that, and was therefore unsurprised not to receive one.

--

“Thanks for seeing me, mate.”

Mike Stamford settled back into his desk chair. “‘Course, John; it sounded urgent on the phone. What do you need?”

John swallowed hard, steeling himself for the inevitable questions his request would engender. “I need to look through the current job postings. The...out of town job postings. I was thinking Scotland, maybe, or even America, if any alumni have sent queries in from overseas.”

In the ensuing silence, John couldn’t bring himself to meet Mike’s eyes.

“Out of town?” He could hear the confusion in Mike’s tone, but John continued to look steadily at his left knee. There was another long silence, and then, mercifully, Mike began to type. “We have gotten several requests recently, and at least four or five were outside London. I’ll forward them to your email, yeah?”

John raised his gaze to meet Mike’s. “That’d be great. Cheers.”

---

John pulled a folded piece of paper from his inside jacket pocket and handed it to Molly. “The contact info’s all there. I appreciate your doing it.”

“Of course, John, I’m always happy to…” Molly trailed off as her eyes scanned the lines on the page, and then she looked up at him, puzzled. “I don’t understand. Why would you move all the way...what happened?” When he looked away, she grabbed his chin and forced his eyes back to hers. “John. Is Sherlock going with you?”

He didn’t need to answer. The sudden bleakness in his eyes made her want to weep.

--

[Sent]
I’ve taken care of it on my own, and depart London at the end of the month. I won’t try to see him again. Thank you for your offers. Look after him?

[Mycroft Holmes]
As ever. Good luck, Doctor Watson.

--

When Greg slid into the booth across from him, John drained the last of his first pint and signaled the waitress for a round for both of them. One glance told him that the DI already knew. Or suspected.

“Didn’t expect Sherlock to show up alone today,” Greg said mildly, flashing a grin at the waitress in thanks and then quickly sobering. “I asked where you were, and all he would say was ‘not here.’ Matter of fact he hardly said anything the whole time he was there; didn’t even preen about solving the case in less than five minutes. Didn’t seem himself. I expected, after you'd headed over there, that his mood might have changed.” Greg took a long pull from his beer--waiting for a response--but John said nothing.

He was getting pretty good at that.

“Thought you were moving back to Baker Street.”

“So did I,” John said before he could stop himself, and he could hear the bitterness lacing his words. “I--Sherlock--fuck.” The alcohol was a bad idea; the unshed tears that had been threatening to burn his world down for days were back in his throat, and eventually he wasn’t going to be able to swallow them away. He could feel Greg waiting for him to pull himself together, and he took what he hoped might be a couple of calming breaths before he tried again. “I told him.”

“And...what? It didn’t go well?”

Something--not a laugh, not a sob--broke free from John’s throat. Hysteria was building. It would burst from him eventually, and he began to silently promise the universe anything it wanted if he could just hold the explosion back until he was alone. “No. It didn’t go well.”

“But--”

“I won’t be at any more crime scenes, Greg. In fact, I’m leaving London. I’m here to say goodbye.” John stared down at his hands, unwilling to look up to see the face of yet another friend he was disappointing.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

The vehemence of Greg’s response had John’s head snapping back up. “I’m not moving back to Baker Street, I’m moving to Ireland. For a year, anyway, and then after that, I’ll see. I fucked it up. Sherlock got tired of waiting. Can you blame him?”

“Bullshit, John. You must have misunderstood.” Greg’s face was angry, disbelieving. “I still don’t pretend to know everything that makes Sherlock tick, but the bastard loves you like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

“It isn’t enough.” When Greg opened his mouth to respond again, John cut him off. “Greg. I didn’t misunderstand. I didn’t misread him. He told me to leave. He told me he was going to let Mycroft send him out of London so he could delete loving me.” John’s throat worked again; he could feel bile rising up. “I can’t take anything else away from him. I can’t push him, and I can’t have him, and I can’t just try to be his friend, and I can’t live here without him. I have to go.”

Greg stared back at him, disbelief still flashing in his eyes, but his mouth softened. “Let me talk to him.”

John shook his head. “Please don’t. He doesn’t want--this. Me. He’s made his choice, and after all I’ve done, the very least I can do is respect it.”

“I don’t think you’re making the right decision.”

“Well what the fuck else is new?”

--

He wrote Mrs. Hudson a note and dropped it in the mail. He couldn’t go back to Baker Street. Not without...he couldn’t go back to Baker Street.

Harry didn’t answer her phone and after the third attempt, he left her a voice mail. It would piss her off that he hadn’t said goodbye in person, but the John that might have cared was otherwise occupied.

--

In the mornings he woke on the couch in the suburban house he’d shared with--the suburban house where he lived, and he grit his teeth and he swallowed down the screams and the vomit that mingled in his throat every minute and he packed away the detritus of a failed life. It was the kind of task your best friend might help you with, he thought, forcing down yet another hysterical laugh, if your best friend wasn’t Sherlock and if you hadn’t spent years slowly and methodically breaking his heart. In the back of his mind, every day, he thought how convenient it would be if someone would just blow the house up and save him from having to deal with it.

And then he shook his head violently against that thought, over and over, and forced himself to box up the abandoned belongings of his (lyingcheatingmurdering) (chosen) (dead) wife and call the charity shop to collect them. He was as ruthless with his own belongings, ridding himself of anything he didn’t plan on taking with him. In the end he was left with clothes, phone, computer, and a small case of remembrances he couldn’t make himself part with: medals and dog tags; newspaper clippings and photos; a glass ashtray. He would messenger the box to Harry. Even if she was pissed about his leaving, she would hold onto it for him. He couldn’t take pictures of Sherlock with him.

He couldn’t take any of Sherlock with him.

He’d promised to say goodbye.

--

He couldn’t say goodbye to Sherlock, so he said goodbye to London instead. To their London. He spent days walking for hours at a time, past old crime scenes and alleys they’d sprinted down and the doors of favorite restaurants; through museums and under bridges and across parks. He wasn’t sure when he’d be back. Couldn’t imagine living in a London where Sherlock lived but not having Sherlock in his life. He thought about the awful beige days in the horrible post-Army bedsit. He thought about the long black years after the Fall, when the colors and lines of the city first lost their sharpness and then faded around the edges and into the darkness he'd been drowning in. He thought about the many gray months when he’d been living with Mary, when he didn’t text Sherlock or call him for long periods of time, taking their friendship for granted. He thought about the wasted days of anger, and the long years of denial. He thought about mourning and loving and raging and hating and laughing and saving and not fucking seeing, and he kept walking because the other option was to crumble. And he wouldn’t crumble.

He couldn’t.

Instead he went to the cemetery and put his hand to the gravestone of a living man, and whispered:

I’m so sorry.”

Chapter Text

JANUARY

Private blog entry
27-01-2016
Castletownbere, Beara Peninsula, Ireland

When I graduated high school I went straight to university--no money for a gap year. I suppose I'm having one now, this year before the rest of my life (whatever it is, wherever it is) starts.

If I'm going to have a gap year, this is a good place for it.

I used to dream we’d retire to a place like this, you and I. Even after the fall, even after the wedding, if I ever thought about retirement, you were always there. When I step outside of the little house I’ve rented from Doctor O’Sullivan, the first thing I see is the sea. The clinic is a slow fifteen minute ramble away, and I’ve taken to walking no matter what the weather. I’ve the use of the good doctor’s rusty little sedan, but after so many years of not driving anywhere, I still feel awkward behind the wheel of a car. It’s been about 10 degrees on average here but feels colder closer to the sea. Not as much rain as I’m used to, but everywhere can’t be London.

(Do I miss London, or do I miss you? Can one be untangled from the other? I know there was a Before Sherlock London but I can hardly remember it.)

I think you’d like the people here. They’re friendly, but not nosy. It seems that Doctor O’Sullivan spread around what details she had about me, so intrusive questions have been few and far between. It helps, I think, that I don’t frequent the pubs. I’m sure there’s all kinds of talk about the new doctor who does nothing but walk and pick up takeaway, but I can’t be arsed to care. I want neither alcohol nor companionship.

Well, that’s a lie, but I shouldn’t have the first and can’t have the second.

The clinic workday is steady and uneventful. There are throats to swab and sprains to wrap, and every once in a while someone gashes the fuck out of their arm or breaks their ankle and gives me something slightly more interesting to do. The hospital’s almost an hour out of town, so part of the reason they liked me was my history in trauma. (My medical history in trauma. They don’t need to know about my mental history.)

The neighbors across the road - the ones whose land backs up to the sea - keep bees. The day I moved in they left a jar of honey on the doorstep. I put it in the back of a cabinet. I can’t think of bees without thinking of you, and I’m trying so hard not to think of you.

As you can see, it’s working quite well.

--

FEBRUARY

Private blog entry
03-02-2016

Nora--she’s the clinic nurse--asked me to the pub after closing Friday. She was meeting her husband and some of their mates. I couldn’t think of a reason to say no, so I went. Big fucking mistake. Not even ten minutes in someone asked if I was “that John Watson.” It took me a minute to understand what he was asking; it never occurred to me, I guess, that they had things like newspapers and the internet in southwest Ireland, but then, I’ve always been an idiot.

Was I which John Watson? The former soldier? Former husband? Former famous detective’s assistant? Former future father? Former resident of London? Former best friend? Former human being?

“Not anymore,” was what I settled on, and managed to make it another fifteen minutes before I stammered the world’s worst excuse and fled.

I didn’t leave the house again until my shift yesterday. I barely slept; if I ate, I didn’t taste the food. Am I trying to be closer to you by living the way you live? Imagine what Ella would say to that.

Nora tried to apologize when she saw me, but I brushed it aside with a smile that only you would have known was forced.

 

Private blog entry
5-2-2016

When I was living at Baker Street and you pissed me off, I’d go for those long walks. You would always tell me to go, snapping at me in those razor-sharp tones, but I never considered not coming back. I could see, every once in a while, how relieved you would be when I returned. On the truly bad days, you’d have already ordered takeaway, or made some ridiculous attempt at straightening the sitting room by combining four piles into one pile.

You aren’t here, and you haven’t pissed me off, and I still can’t stay at home. If I’m not walking to or from work, I’m just...walking. I don’t know how to be still any longer. I don’t know how to do anything without you. Everything I do, you are there - sleeping, eating, watching telly, reading. I look up from my laptop because I’ve seen you at the edge of my vision and there is no reason for me to think that but it still crushes me every time.

But we never walked on the Beara Peninsula together, so I leave the house and I do that. I walk across fields and up hills and over streams, and on weekends I drive a little further and I walk there instead. It’s cold and I suppose it’s beautiful in a desolate kind of way, and it is absolutely nothing like anywhere we have been together. When I walk now, I walk alone.

You still come with me. You are there, everywhere. There is no escape, no matter how far I go.

--

Private blog entry
7-2-2016

I was barely awake this morning when I opened the fridge looking for the milk. I must have dreamed about you last night, because I was expecting to see mold spores or bottled toxins or maybe a hand or two, and instead there was nothing but food. These truths hit me so hard I had to walk out of the kitchen:

There will never be body parts in my fridge again.

My kitchen table will never have a microscope on it.

My sink will always be used for the cleaning of dishes and never for the rinsing of loose teeth.

I will never go to a crime scene again.

I will never help capture a criminal again.

I will never again run through the midnight alleys of London, hand in hand with a madman.

I will never touch you--hell, I will never see you again.

It's really over.

I went to work without breakfast.

--

MARCH

It took exactly fourteen weeks for John to finally break down. He did not easily cry, being more of the bear-it-stoically type since his teens. It took a major emotional event to make it happen, and it rarely if ever took him by surprise.

He just hadn’t seen the vacationing family coming.

Twenty minutes before the clinic was due to close, a dark-haired man rushed in cradling a small girl in his arms, with a blonde man right on his heels. They were down from Galway for the week, this couple and their daughter, and she’d stumbled in the street and gashed open her knee on a stray piece of glass. There were no other patients in the waiting room, so John ushered them all into a treatment room and closed the door, crossing to the sink immediately to wash his hands.

“I’m Doctor Watson; can you tell me what happened?”

The two white-faced men stared first at each other, then at John, and then at their daughter. The little girl, who wasn’t crying, grinned at John as he crossed back to the examination table. “I fell down. There was glass. Daddy and Papa were loud. Do I get stickers?”

John laughed. “Everyone who falls down gets stickers. What’s your name?"

“Trixie.” She looked at her fathers quickly, and then leaned closer to John a little. “They say it’s Beatrix, but I don’t like it.”

She was adorable. “I’m going to touch your leg now, Trixie ,” John said, emphasizing her name and winking at her. He reached out and carefully tilted her bleeding knee left and then right, and then carefully straightened the bent knee and bent it again. “Does that hurt?”

Trixie shook her head. “It did for a minute, but it doesn’t anymore. I didn’t even cry!” She said proudly. 

“I did,” admitted the taller of the two men.

John smiled reassuringly at them over Trixie’s dark curly head. “It’s a clean cut, and not too deep. She won’t need stitches. I’ll just clean it up a bit and cover it for you. The nurse will give you cleaning and bandaging instructions on the way out, as well as how to recognize signs of infection. As long as everything looks good to you over the next couple of days, you won’t have to see a doctor again.”

John carefully cleaned the cut, swathed it in antiseptic cream, and closed the skin with butterfly bandages, covering the whole thing with gauze and tape. He learned all about Trixie’s best friend Kira, and the little inn they were staying at, and the dog she had at home and that her favorite color was purple and that she was five (“Almost six; I’ve been five for four whole months!”). When he solemnly presented her with the sticker box and told her to pick two, she pondered all the options very seriously before picking a Peppa Pig sticker and one with a very glittery picture of a kitten on it.

Nora took their payment and passed them the cleaning instructions, and John pointed out his mobile number at the top of the paper. “Just in case,” he said. “We have an emergency number, but I live much closer than the other doctor and don’t have a family to disturb, so it’s easier for you to just call me directly if you need anything.” The fathers both thanked him and they shook hands all around, and then he crouched down in front of Trixie.

“If you fall down again while you’re here, you come back and see me, okay?”

The tiny girl hugged him around the neck. “You should get a family,” she whispered in his ear. “They’re nice.” Before John could even process her words, she was grabbing one father’s hand and thrusting her new stickers at the other. “‘Bye!”

--

You should get a family.

John walked home in the near-darkness with Trixie’s words running through his head again and again. It was a beautiful night, and the last of the sunset was still painting rose and gold on the horizon, but he saw none of it. There was a queasy feeling in his stomach and a dull pain behind his ribs but he was fine, he was completely fine, it was all fine .

He stumbled on the step in front of the door as an image of curly-headed Trixie and her fathers--one tall and dark, one short and blonde--flashed through his mind again. Blindly he jammed the key into the lock and managed to get inside, closing the door and sliding down the inside until he hit the floor, hard. He gripped his head in his hands, trying desperately to shove the thoughts back down. He was fine, he was completely fine, it was all fine .

He was on the sofa at Baker Street, legs stretched out, feet resting on the table. There was something on the telly--one of those competition cooking shows--and he was half-paying attention to it while pecking out a blog entry he'd been working on for hours. It was taking twice as long as usual, because the rest of the couch was occupied by the endless limbs and non-stop complaints of the world’s only consulting detective.

“Honestly, John, are they getting these ingredients out of the nearest skip? Just because they were all found together doesn't mean they should be combined to make a dish. They should pair this ridiculous waste of time and energy with that other absurd show, the one where people accept dares for money. Then the BBC could kill two birds with one stone and find some other way to waste tax dollars.” Sherlock shifted in his corner irritably and one of his feet dug into John’s side.

“Oi, you, keep your bony toes to yourself,” John muttered, shoving the foot away.

If his hand lingered on it a little too long, neither one of them said anything.

If he'd known he would lose the friendship along with everything else, would he have ever said anything? Could he have gone on in silence and contented himself with the easy camaraderie and the crime scenes and toast and tea and never reached for more?

There was a new Thai restaurant a few blocks over, and Sherlock had mentioned trying it a couple of times, but they hadn't gotten around to it. John decided that night would be perfect, so he called in an order before he left the clinic and picked it up on the way home. He was pretty sure Sherlock hadn't eaten the day before, so it would be a good night to coax some noodles and spring rolls into him.

He took the stairs to the flat with a spring in his step, looking forward to sitting across the table from Sherlock and sharing a meal. John had been filling in for a few vacationing doctors, so he hadn't been out on a case in nearly two weeks. He'd dish up the food, open the bottle of wine he knew was on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, and let his flatmate tell him everything he'd missed.

“Sherlock, I brought…” he started, shoving the door of the flat behind him with one foot, only to see that the table had been cleared of experiments and was covered with...Thai food. “Dinner,” he finished lamely.

“From the new Thai place,” Sherlock said, amused, waving an identical but empty bag at him. John saw that he'd also opened the wine and poured them each a glass. When John just stared at him, Sherlock drew himself up. “Come now, John; I'm just as capable of a surprise as you are.” He took the bag from John’s hand and put it in the refrigerator, and then crossed back to the table and dropped into a chair.

“Yes, I think you are,” John murmured, before moving to join him.

He clutched harder at his hair and felt his stomach roll. You should get a family.

He'd had a family--not the one he'd thought, not the one he'd created through marriage--but him and Sherlock; Mrs. Hudson and Molly; Greg and Mike and Harry. Even Mycroft. He'd had a family and he'd tossed it aside again and again, and he was surprised Sherlock had turned him away? Of course Sherlock had turned him away.

You’ve never chosen me, and you're not choosing me now. I'm just what's left.

Years of ignoring evidence even Anderson could make a deduction from. Years of telling himself that what he was thinking, feeling, seeing wasn't real. That he wasn't gay, wasn't attracted to men, wasn't attracted to Sherlock. Years of telling himself he was making Sherlock more human, and then shoving aside the result of that. Years side by side with the person who turned out to be the love of his life and never once reaching out and touching, telling, tasting, taking. Years of small moments he'd brushed aside without a moment’s thought.

“Cluedo was bad enough, you wanker. I'm not diving headlong into the humiliation that this will surely be.”

Sherlock flashed him a rare grin, sidelong and mischievous. “Come now, John, I'm sure your brain will challenge me for at least the first minute.”

Was it possible to roll his eyes all the way back? Permanently? “Despite what you think, I'm not actually an idiot. If I sit down and do this, I'm in for at least an hour of total abuse.” John looked over at Sherlock, who raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, okay, I suppose that's true either way. Fine. One game, genius,” he said, plunking down on the other side of the table and reaching for the Scrabble tiles. Sherlock’s expression slid into one of triumph, but it didn't distract John from the pleased glint that sparked in his friend’s eyes.

Once he could have had everything.

Once he'd had everything.

He felt the tears rising in his throat as the enormity of all he'd lost swept over him. Right behind it was the horrible realization of the things he would never have, the things he wasn't sure he'd ever even known he'd wanted until their possibility slipped through his fingers.

The hazy first sunbeams of morning slipping through the window and falling across Sherlock’s sleeping face...John lying beside him, propped up on one elbow, the other hand stroking gently through the dark curls that were mashed into the pillow, watching Sherlock stir and open his eyes slowly...a sleepy smile curving his lips as he sees John gazing down at him…

John and Sherlock, wedged into a booth at the local with Molly on one side and Lestrade on the other, half-empty glasses scattered over the table, Lestrade and John half-drunkenly teasing Molly while Sherlock rolls his eyes and rubs tiny circles on John’s thigh under the table…

John, slumping up the stairs at 221B after a rubbish day at the clinic, feeling irrationally hurt that Sherlock hadn’t bothered to respond to any of the complaining texts he’d sent, and finding a bath already drawn for him by an unusually remorseful detective who’d gotten lost in an experiment all day...Sherlock silently washing John’s hair, his long fingers carefully rinsing away both shampoo and the beginnings of a headache that had begun to pulse behind John’s eyes...John emerging from the bathroom, dressed in the clean pajamas Sherlock left carefully folded on the toilet lid for him, finding dinner on trays in their bed and a terrible movie about robots queued up on the laptop...finally drifting off to sleep hours later, Sherlock’s arm flung over his chest, hardly able to remember what was so bad about the day...

The images were relentless. Where had he been hiding these fantasies?

Sherlock and John, chasing an internationally wanted jewel thief to Paris as a favor for Mycroft...and then after she is apprehended, taking their payment in the form of a weekend in a suite at the Grand Hotel du Palais Royal, where they order room service, drink champagne, and shag on every available surface...

Walking through Regent’s Park, Sherlock’s fingers laced through his, smiling at the antics of a small curly-headed child running just ahead of them…

John, waking on their last morning at Baker Street, uncertainty settling over him again as he blinks up at the familiar ceiling of their bedroom...Sherlock appearing in the doorway and crossing to sit on the side of the bed--a little slower than he used to but still beautiful to watch--and brushing John’s cheek with a mostly unlined hand...John sighing and reaching up to twine his fingers in the curls at the back of Sherlock’s neck, the worn gold of his ring glinting among the silver strands...knowing in his heart that moving to the country is only the beginning of their next adventure...

How long had he been crying? His throat was raw and his eyes were stinging and the tears were hot on his cheeks. He shoved blindly up from the floor and staggered into the living room, dropping down onto the couch and curling tightly in on himself. He thought back to fourteen weeks prior, when he’d looked at Sherlock and known that he’d ruined everything forever. Everything he’d loved was gone, and running away hadn’t made it hurt less. The world was filled with reminders of what a complete fool he’d been, and there was nowhere he could go to escape those reminders. There wasn’t a thing in the world that didn’t remind him of Sherlock. Everything he saw, every breath he took was Sherlock.

His arms were wrapped hard around his stomach and he dug his fingernails into the backs of his forearms, hoping the pain would give him something to focus on. Instead, all he could focus on was the image of the child. He’d been more relieved than anything else to discover Mary’s baby wasn’t his; at the time, he hadn’t even been sure he’d wanted to be a father. He still wasn’t sure. But seeing Trixie--her hair and coloring so like a mix of the two of them--drove home that he had taken every single possible future they’d had and ripped them all to shreds.

When he’d unpacked his meagre belongings the day he arrived on Beara, he’d searched through his suitcases in vain for the (in no way legal) handgun he’d packed, and found it missing. He knew Mycroft had done it somehow. Had he foreseen this moment, the moment John would break down and long for everything to just...end?

He knew he should call someone. He knew he wouldn’t do it, not really; the pain it would cause to those he still loved would keep him from being that selfish. But as he laid on the couch in the dark, body wracked with sobs and aching for the touch of a man he’d spent years pushing away, it was hard to remember other people. Which was no surprise, since that’s what had gotten him here - thinking of himself, and no one else. In the past he’d accused Sherlock of horrible things when it came to interpersonal relationships, when in truth it was Sherlock whose heart was pure, and John who was damaged beyond the point of being good for anyone.

You should get a family.

He hadn’t cried himself to sleep since he was six, but after a long while, that’s exactly what (mercifully) happened.

--

Private Blog Entry
15-03-2016

I don’t know who I am without you.

Chapter Text

Hi, Greg, it’s Molly--Molly Hooper. I was wondering if you’d heard from Sherlock. I’ve texted and left a couple of messages about an autopsy he was waiting on, and he’s not getting back to me. Maybe he’s out of town? If you know where he is, call me back?”

--

[DI Gregory Lestrade]
Sherlock’s not been answering his texts; is he okay?

[Mycroft Holmes]
I’m not certain what your definition of “okay” is, Gregory, but my brother is at home and functional.

[DI Gregory Lestrade]
Yeah, that’s not exactly my definition. Have you seen him?

[Mycroft Holmes]
He has made it clear on several recent occasions that neither my presence nor my contact are welcome. He has also been uninterested in any information I may have come into concerning Doctor Watson.

[DI Gregory Lestrade]
May have come into?

[Mycroft Holmes]
Gregory, the British government is responsible for the security of its citizens, whether they are home or abroad.

[DI Gregory Lestrade]
Right. Of course. There’s a lot of danger that British citizens living in small Irish towns might encounter. Like a sheep stampede, or a shillelagh shortage.

[DI Gregory Lestrade]
I can't believe my phone can spell “shillelagh.”

[DI Gregory Lestrade]
So how are the British citizens living in small Irish towns?

[DI Gregory Lestrade]
Mycroft?

[Mycroft Holmes]
Let's just say that relieving him of his weapon before he left was a good idea.

[DI Gregory Lestrade]
Jesus Christ. Does Sherlock know? How closely are you watching John?

[Mycroft Holmes]
The surveillance is sufficient; action could be taken quickly if necessary. Sherlock has forbidden all talk of Doctor Watson, so no, he doesn't know. Unless he's been reading the Doctor’s poorly protected private blog entries, Sherlock has had no news at all since their falling out.

[DI Gregory Lestrade]
It's hard to imagine Sherlock resisting the temptation to know how John is.

[Mycroft Holmes]
You underestimate my brother’s sense of self-preservation.

[DI Gregory Lestrade]
You underestimate his feelings for John.

[Mycroft Holmes]
That has usually been the case.

--

Greg Lestrade hadn’t been to Baker Street on anything but business for months, maybe longer. When John had been there, he’d occasionally strong armed Sherlock into hosting some sort of holiday party, and every once in a great while, a dinner of some sort. After John moved to Ireland, Greg had stopped by once to see if Sherlock needed anything, but the detective hadn’t been home. He’d seemed well enough at the next crime scene, so Greg had decided to leave it alone. Sherlock wasn't the type who had ever needed or wanted a confidante.

When he knocked, Mrs. Hudson answered the door. She tilted her face up so he could awkwardly buss her cheek, and then waved him into the front hall. “He’s upstairs, Inspector; you should just go on up. I’m sure he’ll be glad to see you.”

“I don’t know about that, Mrs. Hudson, but I’m here anyway. How--well--do you think he’s okay?”

Mrs. Hudson pursed her lips, and her whole face pulled downward. “I’ve seen him in a lot of moods, but this is a new one. There wasn’t nearly the amount of breaking things and screeching violin as I expected there to be after John left. I’m not sure what to make of it. You’ll understand when you see.” And with that, she gestured him up the stairs and went back into her flat.

Greg climbed the stairs slowly, wishing he was anywhere but there. It wasn't his place to interfere. Sherlock was an adult who had clearly made a choice, and if he was settled with that choice, who was Greg to do anything about it? He'd just reached the top when he turned and made to go back downstairs.

“You might as well come in, Lestrade,” he heard through the cracked door, so he let out a sigh and pushed into the flat instead. He opened his mouth to say hello and gaped around the room instead.

The flat was...clean.

Books were neatly arranged on shelves. The reams of loose papers that were usually piled everywhere were gone. The desk where John used to sit, his laptop shoved in among notebooks and files and on one memorable occasion, a stuffed and mounted skunk wearing its own bowler hat, was completely clear. Sherlock’s violin case rested alone on the sitting room table; a deep russet throw was folded neatly over the back of the couch. The mantle displayed nothing but the skull. The chairs where John and Sherlock used to sit were gone, and in their places stood two unmatched but complimentary armchairs in deep shades of green.

Greg’s head swiveled left to take in the kitchen table, empty but for a small bowl of fruit, and the counters, devoid of anything that wasn't related to the preparation and consumption of food. Sherlock stood by the sink, a mug in his hands.

“Tea?”

Greg nodded, closing his mouth as he moved to sit at the table. Sherlock busied himself at the counter, filling another mug from the kettle and dropping a diffuser of loose tea into the water. He set it before Greg and then placed the sugar bowl on the table between them before sliding gracefully into the chair across from him. Greg cupped his hands around the mug, waiting for the tea to steep, and looked across the table at Sherlock.

It had been almost two weeks since he’d seen Sherlock, and the last time had been in dim light; they'd been investigating a murder in an alley behind a florist’s, and Sherlock hadn't needed to come by the Yard after. The light in 221B showed Greg everything he'd missed seeing then--skin paler than usual; hands thinner than usual. Shadows under the eyes that looked more like bruises; hair absent its usual product and care.

“What can I do for you, Greg?”

Greg blinked. “What?”

Sherlock hated to repeat himself. This was exactly the moment for the deep sigh and the eye roll. Instead he look a sip from his mug and said again, “What can I do for you?”

“Sherlock. What the hell is going on with you?”

Another sip of tea. “Very little; thank you for asking. I’ve got an ongoing experiment about the deterioration rate of--”

“Are you having a laugh?”

“Not at the moment, no.”

Greg slumped back on his chair, dropping his mug to the table with a thud. "Sherlock. The flat’s clean. You offered me tea. You remembered my name. Jesus Christ, you just exchanged pleasantries with me.”

Sherlock met his eyes evenly. “All things I have long been urged to add to my daily routines.”

“Yes, but…”

“Yes, but my minder’s gone, so you could hardly expect me to actually be civil?”

Greg gaped at him. “This is past civil. This is a whole different--look, I’ve known you for years, and we have never once had a social interaction like this.”

Calmly, Sherlock pushed back from the table, rising to his feet and opening a cupboard. He removed a box of biscuits, offered them to Greg first, and at the DI’s head shake, slipped his own hand into the box. He ate a chocolate-covered biscuit slowly, staring off toward the sitting room, while Greg sat and drank tea, waiting to see what else he would say.

Finally Sherlock met his eyes again. “Tell Mycroft I’m fine, Lestrade. Why he cannot deduce this himself, I do not know. I have left his latest surveillance cameras untouched. I am keeping to a fairly regular schedule. He’s had the flat searched so he knows I’m not in possession of any illegal substances. If you’d like to stay, I’m planning on ordering Chinese takeaway in a little while and some company would not be unpleasant. However, you’d need to cancel your evening with your children, and surely that is more important than staying here to make sure I am not overly despondent about the departure of my flatmate.”

Greg sighed and stood. “I don’t know how despondent you are, Sherlock, but I can tell you that John--”

Stop .” The word was a quiet hiss in the room, and the two just stared at each other for a long moment before Sherlock spoke again. “I know Mycroft told you I’ve decided to receive no knowledge based on any foreign surveillance he may have set up. Please honor that wish.”

“Why did you send him away?”

“I said--”

“Thought you’d always wanted--”

“This conversation--”

“I know he loves you, he told me as much before--”

Please go .” Sherlock’s voice was still steady, but his hands were crushing the biscuit box. “Greg. Please .”

Greg held his hands up in surrender. “Okay. Okay. If you need--if there’s anything--you know where to find me, yeah? Send me a text and I’ll come as soon as I can.”

Sherlock nodded, no longer meeting his eyes, and after another long silence, Greg made his way to the door and away from Baker Street.

--

From: “Gregory Lestrade” glestrade@met.police.uk
Date: 17-04-2016
To: “John Watson” john.watson@gmail.com
Subject: news

John--

Hope everything’s well on the Emerald Isle. Those Instagram shots of the gloomy sea are starting to give me seasonal affective disorder by proxy, I think. You ever consider getting one of those full-spectrum lights? Hopkins swears by his.

I know I said I wouldn’t talk about this anymore, but I thought you should know that I went over to 221B and Sherlock’s cleaned the flat. Not only that but he remembered my name, offered me biscuits, and thanked me when I asked if anything was going on with him.  He also looks totally shattered and like the last time he slept was before you left.

I understand that you felt you needed to leave London, but what I’m saying is that he’s not okay. No matter what temporary stupidity made him turn you down, he’s not okay with your being gone.

Maybe there’s nothing to be done, but I owe you both too much to not at least send this.

Greg

--

[Sent]
I thought you were looking after him.

[Mycroft Holmes]
You can’t have forgotten that it’s 2:00 AM here as well, Doctor Watson.

[Sent]
You can’t have forgotten that I know your sleep habits aren’t much better than Sherlock’s. Who you were supposed to look after. It was the only thing I asked when I left.

[Mycroft Holmes]
Sherlock is no longer your concern.

[Sent]
Greg says he’s cleaned, and being polite.

[Mycroft Holmes]
I’m aware.

[Sent]
Mycroft. Please. Is he okay?

[Mycroft Holmes]
I’m watching him carefully.

[Sent]
Drugs?

[Sent]
Is he using again?

[Mycroft Holmes]
I don’t believe so.

[Sent]
You’ve been wrong before.

[Mycroft Holmes]
I’m hardly the only member of that particular club.

[Sent]
I know I promised. But I need to know he’s alright.

[Mycroft Holmes]
I don’t think any of us can assure you of that.

[Mycroft Holmes]
But I can assure you that he too has been relieved of any weaponry he may have been hiding.

John stared down at his phone before scrolling through his contacts and tapping Mycroft’s name.

“I fail to see what our discussing this on the phone--”

“I wouldn’t have done it.”

“I thought it prudent to remove the means from your possession in case the temptation overcame your better angels.”

John snorted mirthlessly. “I no longer have a better angel. And if the temptation overcame me, there are plenty of avenues available. I’m not calling to discuss any suicidal tendencies I may or may not have, Mycroft. He’s not okay .”

There was a hesitation, and then: “No.” And then, before John could say anything else: “I believe we may have each made an error, Doctor Watson.”

Chapter Text

MAY

Private blog entry
01-05-2016

Dear Sherlock,

Every word I've written since I left London has been to you, so I've decided to abandon any pretense otherwise. I don't know if you've been reading these private blog entries I've been writing. Greg says you won't talk about me, and that you won't let Mycroft tell you how I am (because of course he knows) (and is probably reading this) (bugger off, Mycroft). I understand. I'm going to keep writing anyway. Even if you never read these, I need to say so many things to...well, to myself if no one else. And if you do read them...they are things I would like you to know. I have no expectations and no hopes. I took you at your word when I left. I just want to make sure you know that.

So many days I wake up and for a brief moment of happiness I forget where I am. In the darkness behind my unopened eyes, in the fog of my sleep-lulled brain, I'm lying in bed at home. In 221B. When I open my eyes, I'll take my phone off the charger and get out of bed, pulling on a dressing gown over my pajamas as I pad downstairs to you. You're probably awake, lying on the couch, waiting for me to make your tea. I'll roll my eyes at you because it's an ingrained habit now, and go into the kitchen to make us both tea and toast. You'll accept yours from me silently, but I'll see that smile in your eyes that's only for our lazy Baker Street mornings.

That fantasy snaps out of existence when I open my eyes to the green walls and white curtains of my Beara bedroom. I don't have the right words for the draining acceptance that washes over me again, this daily reaffirming of my stupidity crushing my chest anew. I get out of bed, I shower, I make tea and toast for one and eat it grimly before leaving the cottage and walking to the clinic. I do this alone, like I will every morning for the rest of my life. Probably not here--this quiet town is fine temporarily, but I need tall buildings to block out the sun and crowds of people to block out my thoughts and I can't have either of those things here. So I can't stay here. I don't know where I'll go next. It doesn't really matter. I can be a doctor anywhere, and a doctor is all I am now.

I was only ever more when I was with you.

After Afghanistan, I was certain any chance I had at happiness was over. I feel the same way now. Which is no less than I have earned.

John

Private blog entry
07-05-2016

Dear Sherlock,

You were right, of course. When you said I didn't choose you. I never chose you. I wanted to be near you, yes. Wanted to be in your life. Needed to. So maybe I chose the life I had with you, at least for a little while. Before the Fall. But there was more even then, wasn't there? More I could have had if I'd chosen it. After Irene, after the pool. Instead I chose to look away. I looked away, and then you were gone, and I ran.

I kept running.

I chose anger. I chose work. I chose the suburbs. I chose Mary. I chose grudges and I nurtured them deep inside myself, keeping them warm and letting them feed on my insecurity and self-loathing and inability to fucking see.

But I didn't choose you.

I would go back if I could. All the way to the beginning, Sherlock. I would go back and I would choose you every bloody day. I would choose you and you would never doubt me. I would choose you and be grateful that you let me.

I would choose you. I would love you.

I love you.

John

--

Greg wasn’t surprised to find a black car waiting for him outside New Scotland Yard at 1 AM; he was only surprised that it had taken Mycroft almost a week to seek him out after his spectacular fail of a visit to Baker Street. When the door opened, he got in; there was never any point with trying to avoid a Holmes.

“Detective Inspector,” Mycroft said by way of greeting.

“Personal business, then? You only call me ‘Detective Inspector’ when what you’re going to say makes you uncomfortable.” At Mycroft’s raised eyebrow, Greg continued: “I’m a detective. We detect. Just because I don’t have a bloody mind palace or control of half the free world doesn’t mean I don’t have two eyes and a brain.”

Mycroft stared at him for a long moment before nodding his head once in acknowledgment. “You told Doctor Watson about Sherlock’s state of mind.”

“I sent a mate an email, yeah. Look, I don’t know what went down between the two of them, but whatever it is, it’s not making anyone happy.”

“I’m afraid that I am at least partially to blame for that.”

Greg looked at Mycroft sharply. His face wasn’t fully visible in the half-light of the car, but Greg could see signs of strain nonetheless. “You mean because you told John to leave? Yeah, he told me it was your idea, though he came around to agreeing with you pretty quickly. Ultimately he made his choice, and it wasn’t like Sherlock was telling him to stay. I’m not claiming to understand your relationship with your brother, but I don’t think this is your fault.”

Instead of responding, Mycroft opened a panel next to him and pulled a bottle and two glasses out of a hidden compartment. He poured some of whatever it was into each glass and silently handed one over to Greg before replacing the bottle in the compartment and taking a long drink. Greg sipped at what turned out to be an excellent bourbon and waited.

“I’m sure it will not surprise you to learn that Sherlock was a very sensitive little boy,” Mycroft finally began. “I remember how charming I found that period in his life. How delightful I thought my little brother was, with his deep attachment to people, and animals, and the simple beauty of the world. Even from childhood I was always harder than he was; I know it worried Mummy. But I also know she worried that he would be hurt, out in the world, because as he grew older, she said as much to me. ‘Take care of Sherlock, Myc,’ she would tell me. ‘It’s your job to take care of him.’ I took it very seriously. It may be hard to believe now, but in our younger years, Sherlock and I were very close.

“Everything changed when I went away to school. As the day approached for my departure, he became more and more withdrawn. He wouldn’t talk to me when I called home, wouldn’t answer my letters. Mummy told me not to worry, but I did, and when I came home for the winter holidays that first semester, I knew I had been right to. He’d become attached to an unfortunate person at school--a hideous boy, really, but for some reason, he and Sherlock became close. The boy eventually tired of Sherlock, but rather than just move on like a reasonable person, he became quite a bully and encouraged others to act the same way. Mummy wanted to have a word with the headmaster but Sherlock begged her not to, and eventually, she gave in.”

Mycroft stared out the window for a long moment before continuing. “He was a different person when I finally came home. Sharper. Quieter. He spent long hours holed up in his rooms, working on experiments late into the night. I had been looking forward to telling him about boarding school, how I thought it might be a better place for him as it had become for me, but when I saw how this one broken friendship had affected him...well, I gave him some advice I have come to regret. If I had known how he would embrace it, how it would color every relationship he ever had...I might have spoken differently.”

Greg furrowed his brow in confusion. “Mycroft, he’s a grown man. What could you have possibly told him in his childhood that would still be affecting him now? I can’t imagine that’s true.”

Mycroft let out a quiet huff of breath, meeting Greg’s eyes again. “I’m entirely afraid that it is.”

--

JUNE

Private blog entry
06-06-2016

Dear Sherlock,

Apparently hiking is a thing I do now. I thought I was just walking, but after watching me patch up my blisters three Mondays in a row, Nora told me that what I was doing was definitely hiking and she made me go online and order proper hiking boots.

I hike now.

There's an interconnected series of trails on the Peninsula called the Beara Way. It supposedly takes about 9 days to hike the whole thing. I'm thinking about trying to do it before I leave. (I figure some sort of goal is a good thing to have.) So far my favorite thing to do is to take the ferry from the harbor here in Castletownbere early on a Saturday morning and hike a section of Bere Island. I’m pretty sure I've seen most of it now, but my favorite's this bit that takes you to a lighthouse. I found a spot on a rock that juts out into the sea, and I end up on it more often than not, sometimes reading if I've stuffed a book into my jacket. More often recently I'm writing something to you--bits of letters I'll never mail. Not polished like these pieces are.

(You'd scoff at that. I can't believe I long for your scoff.)

(There's not a thing about you I don't long for.)

Sometimes I just sit on the fucking rock and think about being alone. “Alone protects me.” Yeah, I suppose it did. You were a lot less hurt before I came along.

How many different ways are there to say you're sorry? (as if I didn't know) (as if I didn't push them all away when you came back) (as if any words out of my mouth or my brain or pulled up from the churning mess in my gut could make up for the absolutely shit choices I've rained down on the world)

John

 

Private blog entry
12-06-2016

Dear Sherlock,

Maybe if I’d had some of these words six months ago, or six years ago, things would be different now. Maybe I would be different now. I was broken, and you fixed me. Everything that happened after that I did to myself.

“I was so alone and I owe you so much.” That’s what I said at your grave, when I asked you for one more miracle. I wanted nothing more for you to be alive and once you were alive I could have had everything and instead I gave you nothing. Now I am here, awake in this nightmare of my own making.

I hope you find some happiness. It is, it turns out, the only thing I want in this world.

John

 

Private blog entry
19-06-2016

Dear Sherlock,

I wish I'd kissed you, just once. I wish I had it to play over in my head, instead of these unsatisfying imagined kisses my brain keeps dreaming up in the middle of the night. I know they make dream-me happy, but dream-me always wakes up as real-me and it's hard to imagine a worse feeling. I remember when I thought you were dead and I dreamed so many times of waking and finding you alive. I dreamed of taking your face in my hands and tracing your lips with my thumbs and my tongue before finally, gently, opening your mouth with mine. Of sliding my hands up into your curls; of spending long hours carefully, slowly taking you apart. I've spent so much time imagining what you taste like and I know that my brain can't conjure up anything close to reality in this case.

Despite its horrors and difficulties, there were so many beautiful things in Afghanistan. When I came back to London after, I thought nothing would ever be beautiful again...but then a mad genius met my eyes across a lab and nothing was ever the same. From the very first moment, I found you extraordinarily beautiful. Not just the life you gave me, or your magnificent brain--but you. The dreams I have had about you would make you blush, I am sure, though I can't believe you are as innocent as Mycroft would have had me believe. Am I supposed to believe that you have experimented in every way possible but have never touched another person sexually? I can't believe that.

It wouldn't have mattered to me, though. I wouldn't have cared if you were untouched or if you'd buggered half the students at Cambridge. Touching you would have been like coming home, if only I'd ever let myself.

The worst part in all of this is the thought that you believed I didn't want you. That I made you feel undesirable. I can't blame you; what evidence did I ever give you to the contrary? I wish I could tell you now how much I want you. How I wake from a dream of our bodies tangled together and can't catch my breath when I realize it isn't reality. How I lay awake at night and catalogue every touch I can remember--every time our hands grazed while passing tea; every time I touched your elbow or forearm at a crime scene to pull your attention; every time we were flat against a wall in an alley, pressed together shoulder to hip, waiting for a suspect to round the corner. I took every one of those moments for granted. I took you for granted.

I'm so sorry.

John

 

Private blog entry
23-06-2016

Dear Sherlock,

Nora asked about you today.

I've known since that disastrous pub night I wrote about that some people here knew who I was. I'm sure the new doctor always gets Googled, and we weren't exactly secretive, you and I. The Internet is full of stories about us. My old blog comes up on the first page of searches. I'm sure the whole town knew who I was before I'd ever accepted the job. This is a good place, though, and the people keep to themselves for the most part. It's not like I'm famous; I just ended up in a lot of stories about the adventures of an incredible genius. Nonetheless I am grateful that I'm almost four months into this contract and I've been allowed the illusion of anonymity.

Nora and I have got to be pretty friendly. The clinic is rarely that busy, so we've spent a lot of time talking, and slowly progressed from daily banalities and current events to some more personal stuff. I've told her a little about the war; she's told me about the back and forth between she and her husband about whether or not to stay in this town where they both grew up. She knows about Harry and the drinking; I know about her dad running off when she was eleven.

Today she finally asked the question I've been waiting for: why did I leave London and move to a tiny, isolated Irish village?

I didn't know what to say at first. Finally I settled on the truth. It's always the simplest, isn't it?

“I was an idiot and fucked up the most important relationship I've ever had.”

“So you ran away.” There was no judgement in her tone. The matter of fact way she said it left me a little short of breath.

“Yeah,” I eventually managed. “I suppose I did.”

“Did he want you to go?” (Yes, I know, the entire bloody world was apparently capable of figuring out I loved you before I was.)

“My leaving London wasn't his idea, but it allowed him to keep his life, and I owed him at least that much.”

She sat for a long moment, thinking, before eventually saying: “Do you think he'll ever want you to come back?”

I wanted nothing more than to say yes, but in the end, I just shook my head slightly.

“Would you go back if he asked?”

“On my hands and knees,” I admitted. It is perhaps the most honest thing I've said since I moved here.

John

Chapter Text

JULY

Mycroft Holmes wasn’t often welcome at Baker Street, but that never stopped him from intruding whenever needs must. Usually Sherlock was aware of his presence the moment he opened the front door, greeting him with some sort of shouted insult before he’d even begun to ascend the staircase to the flat. The silence that hit him was unsurprising given recent events, and he had no idea what sort of reception was awaiting him at the top of the stairs.

If he’d had to guess, he wouldn’t have imagined that he would find Sherlock asleep, curled on his side on the couch, clutching the Union Jack pillow that used to sit in John’s chair.

With an inaudible sigh, Mycroft sank into one of the green armchairs and waited for his brother to wake up. He used the time to examine the flat and Sherlock himself. It was true; he’d never seen 221B cleaner than it was right now. The sitting room was completely free of clutter. He suspected Sherlock had boxed up everything that reminded him of John and either discarded it or put it up in the second bedroom - probably the latter - and when that was completed, there simply wasn’t much left.

A cabinet door stood open in the kitchen, and he could see the familiar outline of a beaker at the edge of the shelf. Sherlock must be storing his scientific equipment in the kitchen rather than leaving it all out on the table, which only held a bowl of fruit and a microscope.

Sherlock himself looked thinner than Mycroft could remember seeing him in a long time. Even in a fully reclined state his thin cotton pajama pants hung off his hips. His knees jutted out at sharp angles, and the veins on the back of his hands were more visible than ever, the pale skin stretched over them tightly. Sleep had done little to relax Sherlock’s face, and a deep furrow bisected the skin between his eyebrows. The urge to reach out and stroke it away was overwhelming, so instead Mycroft looked away toward the kitchen briefly before settling his eyes once more on his brother.

Who was now awake, and staring at him.

“You look terrible,” Mycroft said flatly.

“Go away, Mycroft,” Sherlock said, closing his eyes again, but the usual bite was missing from his tone.

The two brothers sat in silence a long while before Mycroft finally asked, “Did it work?”

Sherlock snorted, but it was halfhearted. He knew Mycroft would understand immediately why the flat was clean, and why he'd been pleasant to Lestrade.  He didn't need to answer.

“Sherlock,” Mycroft said carefully, “I believe I have done you a disservice.”

Sherlock’s eyes narrowed. He swung his feet down to the floor and pushed himself up to a sitting position, leaning forward and staring at his brother. “I usually believe that, but you never agree with me.”

Mycroft’s breath huffed out in what might have been a laugh had he been a different person. Now that the moment had come, Mycroft wasn’t entirely sure what to say. He stalled for time by standing and walking to the window, looking out over the Baker Street afternoon. He heard no movement behind him as the silence stretched on, so he knew Sherlock was waiting for him to speak. None of this was typical behavior for the Holmes brothers. If it hadn’t been one o’clock in the afternoon, he would have brought scotch to help them both deal with it. Finally, he tucked his hands into the pockets of his trousers and straightened his shoulders. He’d stopped more than one bloody war with words; surely he could sway one younger brother.

“When we were younger, I gave you a piece of advice on relationships.”

“All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage.” Sherlock said flatly, and Mycroft finally turned to face him.

“Yes. And you have never forgotten it. I believed it to be the right advice for you at the time. It appears, however, that I was wrong, at least in regards to Doctor Watson.”

Sherlock froze, his mouth falling open a little. “I’m sorry, but did you just say--”

“Yes, and I won’t say it again, so don’t ask. In a moment, we can both pretend this conversation never happened. What you are doing won’t work, Sherlock. It won’t change anything for you, and I am…afraid. For you.” Mycroft pushed on before Sherlock could say anything. “Generally it is my practice to pretend you do not have interpersonal relationships, so let me just get this over with. I know I promised that I would not tell you anything about him, and I will not. I will simply encourage you to take a look around the back end of that hideous blog of his, if you’re interested in perhaps reading any entries that he hasn’t bothered to make public. I feel quite sure you can deduce the password without any help from me.”

As Mycroft crossed the room to go, Sherlock reached out and caught his wrist in both hands. The brothers looked at one another for a long moment, and then Sherlock released him. Mycroft was out the door and halfway down the stairs before he murmured, “You’re welcome, Sherlock.”

 --

Private blog entry
08-07-2016

Dear Sherlock,

When a patient brought a casserole in for me for the third time in as many weeks, I finally stepped on the scale. Turns out between all the hiking and adopting what I can only call the Holmes Diet, I have lost over a stone since I left London. I took a good look in the mirror today for the first time in as long as I can remember, and I definitely look...gaunt.

So I have accepted the cheese-heavy casseroles with grace, and set an alarm on my mobile to make sure I eat lunch. I even took a deep breath and dug that jar of honey out of the back of the cupboard where I stashed it. I can’t stop thinking about you no matter what I eat, so I might as well make good use of the extra calories. It turns out to be delicious on yogurt. And toast. And a spoon.

(I try not to think about...other things...it might be delicious on.)

I’m afraid you aren’t eating now that I’m not there to make sure of it. Molly says you look thin. Well, thinner than usual. You’re not good at taking care of yourself. You need someone to take care of you. That’s not an insult, you know. It’s okay to need people. I know you’ve always prided yourself on not, but I like to think that you did need me. Or grew to need me, anyway. I miss taking care of you. Even when you were being a giant prat, I liked taking care of you. Loved it. I never really thought of myself as the nurturing type until you. And maybe it was a Sherlock-specific thing. So much was, after all.

I miss you.

John

 

Private blog entry
17-07-2016

Dear Sherlock,

I came to Baker Street that night absolutely one hundred percent sure that you would be happy to hear what I was going to say. That it was perfectly okay that I had fucking made you wait for years.

I am such an arrogant fucking wanker.

John

 

AUGUST

 

Private blog entry
02-08-2016

Dear Sherlock,

I’ve been adopted twice over.

I ran out of honey last week and decided to venture across the road to the neighbors and see if they would sell me some more. I’ve met them a few times coming and going--a lovely older couple named Maeve and Bertie. They’re probably in their early seventies (I’m sure you could tell me their exact birthdays) and they have three children, all grown and living in Cork, Dublin, and Barcelona. They’ve been married almost fifty years, and he looks at her like she hung the moon.

(Did you ever observe me looking at you like that? You must have done.)

Maeve bustled me right into their dining room and put the kettle on for tea, while sending Bertie out to get me a half-dozen jars of honey. Which they refused to let me pay for, because I’m their neighbor, and the doctor, and wouldn’t I like to try some on one of these scones she just took out of the oven? By the time I left ninety minutes later (with four scones, the six jars of honey, and half an apple pie), I knew all about their quiet life of beekeeping and baking and books, and they’d asked me questions I might have found invasive if they weren’t so damn charming. Like:

“Where are you running away from?”

And somehow I found myself telling them about Mary, and the baby, and you. Not everything by a long shot, but enough that by the end, Maeve had tears in her eyes and Bertie was just patting my hand over and over. I fell in love with both of them at that table, and I’ve been to dinner twice since then. They are delightful company, and I’ve stayed longer each time. I’m having them over for lunch on Sunday, which means I should probably investigate whether or not my stove actually works.

It appears I’m not always very good at figuring out that I’m lonely.

Which leads to my second adoption: I’ve somehow managed to acquire a dog, an Airedale Terrier named Einstein (I suppose I’m destined to live with geniuses). He’s seven, and belonged to an elderly man who lived alone on the other side of town. His next door neighbor was in with some allergy complaints, and telling me that the man’s children couldn’t take the dog, and they were afraid he was going to have to go to a shelter. Somehow I found myself handing over my cell phone number and telling my patient to have the daughter call me, and two days later, Einstein, his bowl, his leash, and his doghouse all came to live with me.

I haven’t had a dog since I was twelve, and I’d forgotten how joyful it can be. Einstein is well trained (though I lost a pair of slippers before I learned to keep all shoes in a closet) and we’ve adjusted to one another quite nicely, though I think he misses his former owner very much. I think I'm good for him, because I understand the missing.

He needs a lot of exercise so we now hike together. I like to take him off of the usual trails to the more deserted areas of the countryside so I can let him off of the leash and watch him run. When I’m at the clinic he usually stays in the backyard, though Bertie comes over and walks him most days I’m gone. Like another former flatmate of mine, he’s quite good at taking up the entire couch. I think you'd like one another.

Even though he wakes me up at a truly offensive hour of the morning to go out every day, it’s hard to imagine what I did without him.

He is, however, a poor substitute for a consulting detective. But then, everything is.

John

 

Private blog entry
12-08-2016

Dear Sherlock,

I know I’m British, but if I eat any more sodding fish I think I may turn into one. Yes, this is a port town. Yes, there’s bloody fish everywhere. People bring me fish casseroles and I’ve taken to fobbing them off on Maeve and Bertie because really, fish casserole? I can’t even feed them to Einstein - he’s too damn smart for that. I may choose my next position based on its proximity to major bodies of water. When I get out of this country I’m going to eat nothing but bacon for a year, and damn my cholesterol.

In the meantime, I’m going to try eating at the pub more often. They have several nightly fish specials but I can avoid those if I try hard enough. Maybe I’ll even get to know a few of the town residents a little better. Going home to an empty house, Einstein or no Einstein, has started to wear. Maeve and Bertie go to bed by 9, so they’re not exactly up for late night beers and crap telly. It’s hard for me to admit this, but I could use a few more friends here.

John

 

Private blog entry
22-08-2016

Dear Sherlock,

When you were dead (I know you weren’t dead, but you were. You were dead to me. You were more dead than I could have ever imagined anyone being, because you were always more alive than I had ever known anyone could be) I dreamed about you every night. Some nights I dreamed the fall, over and over. Sometimes I got there in time to stop you, but most of the time, it played out in my dreams like it played out that day. One thing never changed, though: every single time I woke up, I wished for a miracle. I asked for you to not be dead. I promised everything I had to give in those moments. I would have done anything for you to still be with me.

The years passed and the dreams became more sporadic, but they always ended in the same way. There wasn't a moment I was breathing that I wouldn’t have given anything in my power for you to still be in the world.

And then suddenly, you were.

Looking back, it was such a ridiculous fucking Sherlock way to reappear in my life, what you did. It was hurtful, too, the way you played it off as a sort of joke. I know you understand that now, and I understand that you must have panicked and not known what to do. You thought I would be so happy to see you; that I would welcome you back into my life with open arms. And why wouldn’t you think that? Hadn’t I promised that exact thing, every single time I woke up from a dream of you? Instead what I did was about as far from what I should have done as I could have imagined on those horrible mornings: I punched you; I shut you out; I stayed far away from Baker Street; I got married.

You hid and fought and ran and nearly got yourself killed more times than I can imagine, and you did it for me. I think you believe I still don't know, that it was for me. I know about the snipers, Sherlock. I never asked you about it, but I eventually broke down and asked Mycroft. After she shot you.

After the first time I changed your dressing and saw your scars.

I have been ashamed of myself many times in my life, but never more so than when I went to Mycroft and he realized that I had no idea what you had been through. He barely said two words to me, but the contempt and anger on his face was well-deserved. He left me alone in his office with your file.

I have never hated myself more than when I figured out that your back would have still been raw when I knocked you to the floor of the restaurant.

You jumped off a building for me. You left everyone and everything you loved behind for me. You were captured and tortured for me. Alone. Completely alone, for years. And when you came back from the dead - as I had dreamed of you doing for years - I tossed you aside like you hadn’t committed actual miracles. I think now how you must have felt, coming home, believing you would no longer be alone, and what did I do? I ensured that you would continue to be.

There is nothing that I could do in this life to make that up to you, but I would try. If you would let me, I would try.

John

Chapter Text

SEPTEMBER

Private blog entry
08-09-2016

Dear Sherlock,

Einstein ate the sleeve of my oatmeal colored jumper today.

You’d like each other.

John

 

Private blog entry
16-09-2016

Dear Sherlock,

A tourist tried to pull me at the pub tonight, and I won't deny it--I was tempted. It’s been a very, very long time since I've had any sort of sexual encounter that didn't involve my hand (I told you to stop reading, Mycroft), and I have been incredibly lonely as of late.

And he was gorgeous.

Yes, a man asked me back to his B&B, and yes, I seriously considered it. I have to admit that the idea of thinking about someone else sexually, if only for a couple of hours, was appealing. But the longer I thought about it, the less interested I became. There’s only one person I really want, and if I can't have him...well, I don't know how much celibacy it will take before I can bring myself to touch someone who isn't you. So instead I thanked him while explaining my heart lay elsewhere, refused his cell number, and walked home.

Turns out the walk home feels like forever when your head is filled with fantasies of fucking your (former)  best friend into the mattress.

Several entries ago I wrote about wishing I'd kissed you, but I wish so much more than that. I always have. You have no idea how many times I've fantasized about you over the years. How many times I've stood in the shower at Baker Street, wondering what would happen if I invited you in with me. Would you stand outside the open curtain and watch me pull myself off under the water? Would you get undressed and let me press you to the tile wall, drop to my knees, and suck you until you come down my throat? Would you wrap those gorgeous fingers around us both, fuck us together with your fist while I gasp against your neck?

If I hadn't been such an idiot I would already know what it feels like when my cock is buried in your arse. I would have a very clear picture of what you look like from below as you ride me, all of that glorious pale skin stretching upward in my line of sight. I would know what it feels like to have your criminally beautiful lips wrapped around my cock, your fingers deep inside me. I would remember, not just imagine, the feeling of lying on my side in bed in the early morning, you curled around my back, fucking me agonizingly slowly. I would know how every square inch of your body tastes--and I do mean every square inch. There wouldn't be a safe surface in the flat, I'm certain; we would need to test them all. For science, Sherlock. How can you draw conclusions without all the data?

I'm excellent at assisting with data collection, you know.

Are you loud in bed? In my fantasies you are. In my fantasies you are as verbal as you are in everything else you do. I think of all the sounds you make--the snorts of surprise and the disdainful sniffs and the uncontrollable giggles; the roars of rage and the barely audible whispers and the absent minded murmurs--and I transfer them all into the bedroom. On particularly frustrating nights, the thought of your voice alone is almost enough to get me off.

I want to know how to touch you in order to make every one of those sounds happen. What sound do you make if I lick that ridiculous stretch of skin your fucking shirts always leave bare? What comes out of that glorious mouth if I press you up against the inside of our door and shove my hand into your pants without so much as a by-your-leave? Are you rendered incoherent if I push you down onto your back and lower myself onto you in one long, slick slide? (Am I?)

(Since you never deduced I was in love with you, I'm assuming you also don't know that I am not experienced in that particular act. Not with a man, and not on the receiving end. There were a handful of related experiences in the army, but never that. You would have to show me...or we would learn together.)

So, let’s see...I need to collect data on the sounds you make, and the way you taste. I need to evaluate the best places in the flat for sex. I think I'd also need an extensive survey of what else you can do with your tongue besides call me an idiot. I think I might need an entire spreadsheet devoted to where on my body your fingers prove cleverest.

I've been fantasizing about you for a very long time, Sherlock. I think I might need permission for a lifelong study to truly gather all of the necessary facts.

If you'll excuse me, I have an early morning, and there’s no way I'm getting to sleep with my cock in this state. I make love to you in my dreams almost every night; tonight is certainly one of those nights.

I would give anything I possessed to be able to show you how beautiful you are, how brilliant, how desired, how fucking loved.

John

 

Private blog entry
17-09-2016

Sherlock--

I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have written that. I was drunk and lonely and yes, I feel those things but I shouldn’t be writing them down. I shouldn’t be writing at all. What business do I have of saying these things on the fucking internet when I couldn’t even see them when you were right in front of me most of the time, let alone open my fucking mouth and tell you. I’m so sorry. You sent me away and I should be respecting that, I should be letting go. I don’t know how the fuck to let go of you but I have to, yeah? In a few months I have to leave this place for somewhere else, and I can’t move in this state of mind again. I have to find some way to make peace with this. Or at least to survive it. I survived you once. At least this time I’ll know you’re out there somewhere.

John

--

OCTOBER

Molly wasn’t surprised to push open the doors to the morgue at 6 o’clock in the morning and find Sherlock slumped over a table, his legs tangled around his stool and his head pillowed on his arms. It had been almost a month since she’d seen him, and she knew from Greg that he hadn’t been taking many cases. She could also see for herself that Greg’s observations about Sherlock’s health had been correct - the detective looked terrible, even in sleep.  Her normal inclination would be to leave him there, but she had a group of students coming in for a rotation at 7 and she needed to prepare. She shook his shoulder gently and then harder when he didn't respond. “Sherlock. Sherlock .”

He stirred, mumbling something she couldn't hear and turning his face into the crook of his arm. One eyes cracked open and, after a moment, focused on her. When it did, he sat up quickly. “Molly. What time is it?” His eyes flicked upward to the clock on the wall instead of waiting for an answer. “I didn't mean to fall asleep. I was out walking last night and ended up here. I was just…”

“Avoiding the home you shared with John?” When he looked at her, she raised an eyebrow. “It's still going to be empty when you go back.” She heard him draw in a breath of surprise. It wasn't like Molly to be this blunt with him, but it was 6 o’clock, and it wasn't like Sherlock to be an idiot. “You're both miserable. Why don't you tell John to come home?”

“John’s in Ireland…”

“Yes, I know. For another two months. The only thing stopping him from coming home after that is the fact that you’re being an idiot.” The withering glare Sherlock shot her would have shut past Molly right up, but present Molly had had exactly enough. “He loves you. It’s all you’ve wanted for years and it’s finally happened. Yeah, he’s been a right stupid prick and he married someone else and he’s hurt you, a lot, but he loves you. You’ve both forgiven one another time and again for far worse things than taking too long to figure something out. So I’ll ask you again: why don’t you tell John to come home?”

Surprisingly, Sherlock hadn’t even opened his mouth during this speech. Having delivered it, Molly gave a little nod of self-satisfaction and plunked down on the stool next to his to wait. When Sherlock finally spoke, the question he asked was not what she had expected to hear.

“How do you know he’s miserable?”

Molly sighed. “Because he’s my friend, Sherlock, and we text and email. He doesn’t complain a lot, but it’s not hard to figure out.”

“So you aren’t--” he broke off, hesitated, and then continued. “You aren’t reading his blog.”

“He hasn’t updated the blog since he left.”

“Not publicly, no.” He ran a hand restlessly along the back of his neck, the crease between his eyebrows growing deeper. “Mycroft became aware that he was updating it privately, and I’ve been reading it. He’s not really writing entries,” he assured her as she opened her mouth to protest, “he’s writing letters. To me. In common discourse you might call them...love letters.” His eyes slid to hers, and then away again. “I--they--make me feel unsettled.” When his hand began to rub at his neck again, she reached up and took it in both of hers.

“You’re afraid to trust them.” He hesitated, and then nodded, and she took a deep breath and squeezed his hand to stall for time. Somehow he had trusted her enough to bring this to her, even though he knew she hardly had a stellar track record in this area herself. If she didn’t distinctly remember waking up, eating breakfast, and taking the Tube to work, she would think that she was still dreaming. She didn’t want to give him the wrong advice. “Do you want me to take a look and let you know what I think?”

Another pause, and then another nod. “Not...all. But I’ll email you a few.” He slid off the stool and moved toward the door. “Thank you, Molly,” he said, not turning back around.

“Don’t thank me yet,” she said, trying to inject her voice with a smile, but fearing she’d failed miserably.

--

Sherlock sent Molly five entries to read.

It only took two before she was texting him through tears.

--

NOVEMBER

Private blog entry
15-11-2016

Dear Sherlock,

It turns out my word isn’t worth much, as here I am, writing again. But then, you knew that, yeah?

Before I decided to find my own job away from London, Mycroft offered me some options, including a position in Africa with Doctors Without Borders. I think the only thing I can do is to go as far away from my life with you as possible. Somewhere without regular internet access, certainly. Work that will exhaust me every day. A place that will, hopefully, change me for the better. A place where I can figure out what's next, and who I am, and who I want to be.

I'm so tired of contemplating these questions.

It’s getting a little colder here, and Bertie’s begun to prepare the bees for the winter. What I’ve seen of the process looks fascinating, but I mostly keep Maeve company inside the house. She likes the honey, and she likes Bertie having a hobby that makes him happy, but she is not overly fond of the bees themselves. So we sit in their sunny kitchen most mornings or afternoons, depending on when my clinic shifts are, and she feeds me meat pies and tells me what it’s like to grow old in the town where you were born. I eat the meat pies and tell her about our casework and Harry’s addiction issues and how much I miss Mrs. Hudson’s scones. She asks a lot of questions about you, and it doesn’t hurt to talk about you to her. There’s something about Maeve that makes everything better. I’ll miss them both when I’m gone. I'll miss Einstein, too; I can't exactly take him to Africa with me. But he's become as attached to Bertie and Maeve as I have, and they've agreed to keep him.

I try to not ask our friends about you, but I think sometimes Greg takes pity on me and he mentions a case you've worked on together. It sounds like you’re keeping busy. I'm glad. I think you need the world as much as it needs you, loathe as you may be to admit it.

Don't deprive the world of the wonder that is you.

John

--

DECEMBER

Private blog entry
24-12-2016

Dear Sherlock,

It’s Christmas tomorrow, and then it’s the end of the year, and my time here in Ireland is almost at a close. It’s been really busy at the clinic, so this month has flown by. It seems like the Irish get clumsier as the weather gets colder, because even though we haven’t had any ice yet, there’s been a rash of broken bones. That with a lovely outbreak of the seasonal flu (which I managed to avoid, thanks to my yearly jab) (which I’m guessing you didn’t get and should) has kept all of us hopping.

I swallowed my pride and asked Mycroft to help me arrange the Doctors Without Borders position, so that’s all sorted for February; I’m going to use January to see the rest of Ireland, as the clinic schedule hasn’t allowed me any real time off the Peninsula.

I’ve also decided to truly bring this not-really-a-blog to an end with this entry, so if you’re reading, settle in - I want to make sure I don’t miss anything.

I want you to know that I will carry our time together with me for the rest of my life.

I want you to know that you are the best thing that ever happened to me or ever will happen to me, and because of that, I will always count myself lucky.

I want you to know that the biggest regrets in my life all involve pain I caused you, and I would give anything to be able to change that. To go back and hug you in the restaurant. To never deny that there was something between us. To never let Mary get that close. (Your face when you deduced the pregnancy will be with me for the rest of my life. How many times can one person apologize? And yet: I am so sorry.)

I want you to know that you are terrible at frying sausages. Christ, Sherlock, you're British. Figure it out.

I want you to know that there were times early in our friendship when I was half-convinced you could perform magic - not just because of the deductions, but the way cabs just appeared for you out of thin air. And the way you could almost always conjure up a free meal. Or get me to make you tea.

(Okay, the tea wasn’t magic. That was just me, taking care of you, loving you in one of the only ways I would let myself.)

I want you to know that I know you burned my brown jumper on purpose, and that it wasn't Mrs. Hudson who kept stealing my toothbrushes. Sometimes, you are a truly terrible liar.

I want you to know that you are worthy of companionship; of affection; of being seen; of belonging. Let our friends keep showing you.

I want you to know that if you ever change your mind, be it tomorrow or twenty years from now, I will always want you back in my life, in whatever way you will have me.

I want you to know that I have never loved, nor will I ever love, anyone or anything as much as I love you and loved our life together. You are the love of my life, and if I never see you again, you will still be the love of my life.

Always.

Everywhere.

John

John posted the entry without re-reading it, and closed the laptop with a snap. It was Christmas Eve. He would go share an afternoon with friends, and then he would come home and make travel plans, and very soon, the next part of his life would begin.

He would figure out a way to make it okay.

--

“We're going to miss you, John,” Maeve said wistfully as she crossed behind his chair and over to the coffee table, where she began to unload a tray of filled appetizer plates. John jumped up to take the tray from her hands, allowing her to move the plates more swiftly, and she flashed him a grateful smile.

“Let me do the next trip, yeah?” he said, dangling the now-empty tray from one hand and dropping a kiss to her wrinkled cheek. “Is Bertie still in the kitchen? I can bring the drinks in too.” She opened her mouth to protest and he waved her off. “It's enough that you wouldn't let me bring anything but presents; at least let me do this.”

“He thought he heard a knock at the door and he’s gone to answer it. I'm guessing it's Henry, and if I know Bertie, he’ll make him come in for a cuppa before finishing the route.” Maeve tilted her ear toward the door that connected the cozy back sitting room to the rest of the house. “Yes, I definitely hear two voices. John, if you’ll take that tray through to the kitchen and--”

Her voice was stopped short by the sound of the tray slipping from John’s suddenly numb fingers and hitting the floor. Bertie had opened the sitting room door and was ushering in a man: a tall, curly-headed man in a long dark coat who was most definitely not Henry the postman. A tall, curly-headed man who was only made more gorgeous by the snowflakes twinkling in his hair and flush of cold on his high cheekbones. A tall, curly-headed man who was looking at John, who was looking back, aware that his mouth had dropped open.

Maeve looked from one to the other, and a smile began to spread over her face. “John, dear, is this your young man?”

John seemed to have lost all power of speech as well as the ability to close his mouth. It turns out neither skill was currently required.

“Yes,” said Sherlock.

Chapter Text

John didn’t remember what he said to Maeve and Bertie - if he said anything at all - and he didn’t remember leaving their house. His brain kept repeating an endless loop of Sherlock is here. It's Christmas Eve and Sherlock is here, right here, and he's following me home. Fucking hell. Sherlock is fucking here. John crossed the road, Einstein at his heels, more aware of the tall figure next to him than he'd ever been aware of anything in his life. He had his keys out, and Sherlock was silently holding the storm door open while John wrestled with the sticky lock, and then the door was open and they were in the house.

Sherlock is here.

John hung his coat on a hook and held out a hand for the Belstaff like he'd done a thousand times, in 221B, back during what in this moment seemed like an entirely different life. He toed off his shoes and felt rather than saw Sherlock doing the same. He moved uncertainly into the living room as he became aware that there was a pressure in his chest and his heart was racing. Panic. I'm going to have a panic attack, he thought, and shoved down the laughter he felt rising under his tongue. “Tea,” he managed, but didn't move.

“John.”

It was the first time he'd heard his name on Sherlock’s lips in a year, and he had to grip the back of the couch to avoid going to his knees at the sound of it. “Let me. Tea. A minute.” His mouth was so dry he wasn't sure how he'd managed that much.

And then Sherlock reached out and placed a hand on his arm, and he stumbled. The world blurred around him and he saw sparks at the edge of his vision, and it was awhile before he realized he was sitting on the couch, head between his knees, with Sherlock’s voice murmuring in his ear.

“I’m here. I’m here, John, it’s going to be all right.”

John closed his eyes and tried to take a deep breath. “Where’s--”

“I put him in the backyard.”

You’re here, John thought, but he must have said it out loud because he felt Sherlock’s hand slide slowly into his, and he gripped it hard. “How are--why are you--”

Why was Sherlock here?

“I read your letters,” Sherlock said quietly, and he brought his other hand up to cover the back of John’s.

“I'm so sorry,” John whispered, and to his mortification, he could feel hot tears begin to slide down his face. “Sherlock, I’m so sorry.”

“Sshh.” Sherlock's voice was still quiet, and his hands gentle as he slipped them up John’s arms to his shoulders and tugged slightly. John went willingly - indeed, he was unable to do anything but move in the direction Sherlock guided him in - and somehow found himself reclining back onto the couch, his head on Sherlock’s chest, Sherlock’s arms around him tightly, grounding him to...what, exactly?

John didn’t know how long they lay there, but he felt disoriented and confused and happy and nervous and the sound of Sherlock’s heart beating under his ear was the most amazing thing he had ever heard.

Sherlock was there. Sherlock was...holding him. He hadn’t seen him, hadn’t spoken to him in a year, and yet here they were.

But why?

“Stop thinking,” Sherlock murmured, resting his cheek on the top of John’s head. John let out a laugh, but there were tears behind it.

“I don’t think I can,” he admitted.

“I wrote you letters as well,” Sherlock said, and his arms tightened still further around John. “In a notebook. One for every letter you wrote me. I brought them for you.”

John sat up, startled, and turned to look at him, tucking one leg underneath him for balance. “I want to read them. Can I read them?”

Sherlock nodded. “I knew you would. But...maybe…” He lifted a hand slowly and traced the edge of John’s ear and the line of his jaw before cupping the back of his neck lightly. “Maybe not right now?” He moved forward slightly, and John mirrored the movement, and he could feel his cheeks heating and his pulse beginning to race and Jesus fuck, they had barely touched.

Is this actually happening?

“Should I pinch you?” Sherlock whispered, his face closer to John’s than it had ever been. All John would have to do would be to tilt his chin and press forward just a little and...so he did, barely dragging his lips over Sherlock’s. They both gasped and froze, and then Sherlock surged forward, framing John’s face in his hands and bringing their mouths fully together. John did his best to keep up, but he could feel the panic rising again.

Why was Sherlock here?

The room began to tilt.

He had accepted that Sherlock had sent him away. He had gone away, and he had grieved and raged and tried to heal and figure out next steps. He had told himself over and over that the dream was dead, that he would never have what he had hoped for.

But.

Sherlock had read the letters,and Sherlock was here. Sherlock was here , all long limbs wrapped around John and soft lips moving against John’s and a tongue licking into John’s mouth and I guess this answers any question about his experience, John thought as a hysterical giggle again threatened to shove its way out of his chest. He felt as if he were watching the scene from the outside, even as his hands fisted in Sherlock’s shirt, dragging him closer as if they were trying to crawl inside each other. He could never get close enough to Sherlock, especially when Sherlock was far away, back in London, out of reach. Out of reach forever. Sherlock was gone...yet Sherlock was here.

Why? Why? Why?

“...breath, John, please. Just one, for me.”

John came back to himself, again, and realized three things: his hands were twisted in Sherlock’s shirt so tightly they were shaking; his face was buried in the crook of Sherlock’s neck; and he'd begun to cry in earnest. Sherlock had one hand on the back of John’s head and the other rubbing slow, rhythmic circles on his back, and John could feel that he was shaking too. John tried to take the deep breaths Sherlock was encouraging but the only thing that came out of his mouth was a rasping sob, and he gave himself up to it as Sherlock’s hands tightened on him again.

The world went away and John let it, let his weight slump against Sherlock and the tears fall and the single, questioning syllable escape into the room over, and over, and over. Distantly he was aware that Sherlock was still talking to him, a broken murmur that couldn’t quite penetrate the fog of his brain. There was also another sound, a banging of some sort, and he was sure he could recognize it if he could only pull himself together. He was suddenly so tired, and it was all he could do to hold on and let the tears flow, but if he let go...would Sherlock vanish? Change his mind and leave?

Had he changed his mind?

“Why, Sherlock?” he finally managed coherently, though he could hear the rawness in his own voice. Sherlock’s arms twitched around him as a shiver ran down his lanky frame.

“John, I--”

There was another bang, and John’s brain finally registered the sound as seconds later his lap was full of Einstein, barking and licking at his tears. Sherlock must not have shut the back door securely. John wrapped his arms around the wriggling mass of fur and buried his face in it, wiping his cheeks as best as he could and trying once again to pull himself together. Sherlock’s hand was a steady, constant weight between his shoulder blades, just enough to begin pulling him back to the moment. When he was finally able to draw a breath that approached normal, he lifted his head from Einstein’s back.

And couldn't believe what he was looking at, now that he had calmed down enough to focus properly.

“Are you wearing a Christmas jumper?” was not what he intended to say, but it's what came out. He peered more closely at the deep green jumper that did amazing things for Sherlock’s eyes.

Sherlock’s lips twitched infinitesimally, but his tone was classic Oxbridge snobbery. “John. Please. This is a piece of limited edition Winter 2016 Tom Ford knitwear.”

“It's got snowflakes on it.” Sherlock was here on Christmas Eve, and he was wearing a Christmas jumper, and he'd kissed John.

“It has a very small, very tasteful winter pattern in the weave.”

“Of snowflakes.”

Sherlock’s mouth tipped upwards at the corners, and John found himself staring at it. Jesus Christ, he kissed me. Before John could begin to feel awkward and anxious again, Sherlock cleared his throat and rubbed the length of Einstein’s back. “I like your dog.”

John looked up and met Sherlock’s eyes, but quickly looked away when his stomach roiled. Not yet. “Me too. Just don't leave those posh shoes lying around or he’ll be having a very expensive dinner.”

They both laughed a little, and John took another deep breath. “Sherlock, I don't--”

Sherlock held up a hand, and John trailed off. “I know we need to talk--quite desperately--but it has been. Well. I haven't slept well, lately, and it doesn't seem like you have, either. Perhaps we could...sleep a little. Nap? First.”

Though there were a thousand questions battling for dominance in John’s head, suddenly a nap sounded not only amazing, but necessary to his very survival. “Oh. Please.” He gave Einstein a gentle shove and pushed a little unsteadily to his feet. Halfway across the sitting room he turned back, realizing Sherlock was considering how best to nap on the couch rather than following him.

There was not a chance in hell he was letting Sherlock out of his sight.

“Together?”

--

In the small, cheerfully decorated bedroom, John decided against drawing the drapes over the setting sun and pulled his jumper over his head before he could think too closely about it; he could see Sherlock out of the corner of his eye, hesitantly removing his own. It's just a nap. You've shared a bed before. Christ, you’ve both still got your trousers on. John lifted the corner of the duvet and slid in, followed seconds later by Sherlock.

“I have so many--”

Sherlock silenced John with a soft brush of fingers against his mouth. “Nap first,” he said, dropping his head down to a pillow. When John followed suit. Sherlock ghosted those same fingers over the shell of his ear, the line of his jaw, the slope of his nose.

“It'll all be here when we wake up.”

“Promise?” John heard his voice crack on the first syllable, but was too drained to care.

“I promise,” Sherlock murmured, and slid his hand over John’s where it lay on the sheets.

Despite John not wanting to take his eyes off Sherlock for a second, he was soon fast asleep.

Chapter Text

John crawled back to awareness, the heaviness in his limbs keeping him from waking fully for quite a while. He knew he was warm, and safe, and his brain felt hazy in the way that it does after a late-day nap. It wasn't until his eyes slid open and he saw the head on the other pillow that he remembered he wasn't alone.

Sherlock is here.

It had been so long since John had seen him that he was grateful for waking first, to have a chance to examine his face closely and unobserved. A few more lines around his eyes--flattened out in sleep, certainly, but still there; one or two silver strands woven into his hair; the always prominent cheekbones displaying the sharpness that meant Sherlock hadn't been eating enough. Even in sleep, his brow was furrowed a little, and John’s instinct was to reach out and smooth it lightly with his fingertips.

So he did.

He was sleep-slow here in his dimly lit bedroom, and before he quite realized what he was doing, his hand had drifted over the soft skin of Sherlock’s forehead and toward his hair. A tiny sigh escaped from John’s lips as he finally slid just his fingertips into the dark curls and he bit it off as soon as he realized it, but it was too late: Sherlock’s eyes blinked open and met John’s.

They stared at each other for a long moment, silent on their separate pillows, until John, flushing a little, moved to take his hand away. Sherlock reached up and caught it in his own, lifting John’s hand slowly to his mouth and pressing a brief, chaste, closed-mouth kiss first to the palm and then to each knuckle in turn.

It was nothing at all, then, for John to scoot over and press a similar kiss to Sherlock’s mouth. He'd not exactly been himself the first time, in the living room, and wanted--needed--to be fully present now. As he took his time memorizing the feel of Sherlock’s lips under his, he tried to pay attention to every detail--the softness of Sherlock’s curls against his forehead; the curve of Sherlock’s neck under his hand; the warmth of Sherlock’s exhale as they came apart briefly before moving toward one another again. Barely a minute had passed, though, before he felt the world growing hazy at the edges again. He broke away, burying his face against Sherlock’s chest, trying to breathe through it.

Sherlock again held him in a way that might have been too tight any other time, but was perfect for John’s seemingly uncontrollable uncertainty and anxiety. Sherlock held him, one hand smoothing down the planes of John’s back, while John just shook.

“I'm sorry, I'm so sorry,” he gasped into Sherlock’s shirt. Sherlock just held on harder.

“John. I should have told you I was coming. I should have written, texted, anything. You'd think I would have learned the first time. I just decided overnight to come today, and--” Sherlock said, and John stopped him, hearing the self-recrimination in his voice.

“No. Sherlock, no. I want you. Here. Please don't think--” John tried another deep breath and was mostly successful. “I thought I would never see you again,” he managed, his voice nearly inaudible even to his own ears. “But I wasn't thinking of--don't think-- fuck, I am terrible at this.” He made another attempt at breathing and forced his grip on Sherlock’s neck to relax. “Just. Can we just--can you--”

Of course Sherlock immediately knew what he meant, what he needed. He gently pushed John away just far enough to roll him to his other side and then curved his body around him tightly. As he slipped his arm around John’s chest, he nestled his head closer so that they shared a pillow. He felt John exhale slowly, and then John’s hand took his and pulled it in close to his chest. They lay there like that, just breathing, for a long time.

“If it would be easier, I could go. Meet you back in London, when you’re ready.”

John’s hand tightened on Sherlock’s to the point of pain. “I’m not certain I’ll let you out of my sight long enough for you to take a piss, Sherlock.” He forced himself to take a few more deep breaths and relax his grip. “I didn’t think you would come. I wanted you to come, but I was...pretty certain you’d made up your mind. I tried to understand. I did understand. But I…” He trailed off, unsure how to finish the thought.

“Wanted me,” Sherlock breathed against the back of his neck. A violent shiver shook John’s body.

“Wanted you. I wanted-- want you--but couldn’t expect you to want me. Not after everything. I...tried. I tried to tell you, in the letters.” John swallowed around the seemingly perpetual lump in his throat. “Wasn’t enough. Should have told you. Chosen you. I should-- fuck ,” he broke off, closing his eyes, fingers reflexively clutching at Sherlock’s even tighter than before. “Don’t go.”

“I won’t.”

John wasn’t sure how long they lay there in the semi-darkness, his breathing slowly beginning to match the rise and fall of Sherlock’s chest behind him. He should have known Sherlock Holmes would be a cuddler; Sherlock had always responded to John’s touch with immediate positivity and reciprocation. For a moment, he allowed himself to imagine them exactly like this, but on the couch at 221B. Some ridiculous police procedural would be on the telly and Sherlock would be murmuring a steady stream of complaints about it into his ear. He took a deep breath, and then another, the comfort of the thought mingling with the physical sensation of an extremely lanky detective wrapped around his back.

It was already so much more than he’d thought he would ever have, just hours ago.

He nestled back into Sherlock’s chest tighter, and then he felt Sherlock’s nose in his hair; felt his breath on his ear; felt his lips on his neck in a gentle brush.

He pulled Sherlock’s hand up to his mouth and carefully mimicked the kiss, taking deep breaths before and after to make sure he didn’t completely lose it again.

Sherlock nuzzled at John’s neck with his nose before pressing a longer, more open-mouthed kiss to the skin there; John responded with the same, but on the back of Sherlock’s hand. They continued this way through several more kisses, each growing a little longer, a little wetter, and John’s anxious elevated heart rate began to turn into...something else. When John felt the first touch of Sherlock’s tongue on his neck, he took a shuddering breath, circling one of Sherlock’s fingertips with his tongue before drawing it into his mouth.

There was a long groan behind him, and John realized he was feeling the hard press of Sherlock’s erection against his arse. He felt an answering pulse in his own cock and, releasing Sherlock’s hand, turned back so they were facing one another again.

Christ. The pupils of Sherlock’s eyes were completely blown, and the pulse at the base of his throat was hammering. John hissed in a breath and knew he was utterly, completely done in. This would be it for him. After they crossed these lines, there was no way he could go back.

As if to confirm this, Sherlock slid forward and pressed their bodies together, running the tip of his nose just under John’s jawline. When John groaned and shoved one hand into Sherlock’s hair, reaching around with the other to (finally, finally) grab a handful of Sherlock’s arse, Sherlock’s groans mixed with John’s, and his tongue traced the path his nose had taken as their hips bucked together. John felt the hard proof of Sherlock’s arousal against his own, and even through four layers of cloth it was almost more than he could stand.

“Fuck,” Sherlock rasped against his neck, and John shivered. Sherlock almost never used profanity, and his use of just that one word (like everything else the man was doing at the moment, including breathing oxygen) was so arousing that he was afraid he would come off in his pants before they'd even kissed again. This thought was a Bit Not Good, so he tilted his head and licked slowly along the seam of Sherlock’s lips. Helpfully, Sherlock’s mouth dropped open in another groan, and John took the opportunity he was given. Hot and wet and Jesus fuck yes . Within seconds John had his tongue so far into Sherlock’s mouth he wasn’t sure it would ever see the light of day again and they were lost, mad, utterly out of their heads for one another. Sherlock rolled onto his back and pulled John with him, his hands taking John’s arse and moving them both around until John was between his open thighs and braced above him on his forearms.

“Is everything...to your liking?” John managed from his new vantage point above.

“Not yet.” Sherlock leaned up and kissed him again, and John decided it would be an excellent time to try something new. He ground his hips down against Sherlock’s, and the hitch in Sherlock’s breath and the deepened intensity of their kiss proved that it had been a truly fantastic idea. So he did it again, and again, punctuating each roll of his hips with an increasingly sloppy crush of lips. Sherlock was panting and John kept forgetting to breathe through his nose, and eventually he tore away from Sherlock’s lips to lick at his neck, his pulse point, and a particular spot behind his ear that was seemed very sensitive, going by how hard Sherlock grabbed John’s arse when he grazed it with his teeth. John bit down harder and then sucked, pulling away every several seconds to lap at the quickly darkening mark.

He took every gorgeous noise Sherlock made and answered it with one of his own until a sound he was pretty sure neither of them were making crawled into his awareness.

The rattling of a chain.

And a bark.

Fuck.

“His previous owner had him scheduled like a soldier,” John groaned against Sherlock’s mouth. “It must be 7:00: evening walk time.” There was another bark, and another chain rattle. “He won't give up until I take him. All attempts to make him lazier have failed miserably.”

He felt Sherlock’s lips curve into a smile, and hell, was there anything better than that? “The faster you walk the beast, the faster you'll be back. I'll make tea.”

John drew back in mock alarm. “Wait--you'll do what?”

Sherlock’s smile grew bigger, and then faded. “I've changed, John.”

The lump in John’s throat was back. “I know.” He pressed a light, lingering kiss to Sherlock’s mouth. “We both have.” He swung out of bed, wincing as his cock rubbed painfully against his pants. He quickly adjusted himself as best as he could while Sherlock folded his hands behind his head and raised an eyebrow.

“Need some help?”

John snorted, decided against putting his jumper back on, and bent to fasten the leash to Einstein’s collar. “Don't even think about it. Okay, think about it, but stay right there. I’ll be back in ten.” He sighed. “We should...probably talk. First.”

“Talk. Yes.” Sherlock sounded about as eager for that part as he felt, but it needed to be done. First they would talk, and then, well...then they'd see what came next.

--

Einstein started barking before John had even gotten the door closed, and as he turned around, he saw why: the familiar shadow of Maeve was coming across the road with a large wicker hamper over her arm. They met at the end of the walk, and Maeve grinned at him.

“He’s even prettier than he was in the papers,” she said slyly, and he blushed. “What on earth are you doing outside, my dear?”

John gestured at the gray blur at her feet. “Himself let me know it was time for his rigidly scheduled evening walk.”

“You let us take care of that, John Watson,” she said, taking the leash and handing him the hamper. “You get back to that lad, and we will see you for lunch tomorrow. Late lunch,” she winked, and he felt his face flush hotter. She reached up and patted him on the cheek. “Happy Christmas, love.”

John smiled at her with grateful affection. “Bertie’s a lucky man.”

“Oh, he knows.”

As Maeve led Einstein down the lane, John peeked inside the hamper. He saw bagged finger sandwiches, a glass container of cookies, and a plate of fruit, and that was just the top layer. She was the Irish equivalent of Mrs. Hudson, and he would miss her dearly when he left.

“Maeve took the menace off my hands and gave me a feast in exchange,” he called out as he re-entered the house. The kitchen was empty, so he dropped the hamper on the counter and then made the fatal mistake of going to see if Sherlock had climbed out of the bed yet. Jesus bloody buggering Christ. Sherlock’s arms were over his head in an impossibly long stretch, and his vest had ridden up to reveal several inches of skin beneath. The mark John had sucked just below his ear shone luridly red in the low light from the corner lamp. Sherlock’s hair was tangled from John’s fingers and his mouth was reddened and John wanted to climb back into the bed and take.

Sherlock turned his head and looked at him, and he could see his eyes dilate from across the room.

They needed to talk. They hadn't seen each other in a year; there were years of hurt and anger and misunderstanding between them; hell, they hadn't even said I love you. Not since that night at Baker Street, anyway, and never without pain behind it. Not to mention he had no knowledge of Sherlock’s sexual history, and Sherlock only knew part of his. There were so many things to work out, and John was supposed to go to Africa in a month, and he should read Sherlock’s letters to him so they could really work out their feelings with a complete set of information and…

Sherlock licked his lips, once.

Fuck it.

In three strides he was across the room and covering Sherlock’s upturned mouth with his own. There was nothing hesitant about this kiss. This kiss was deep and sloppy; fevered and frantic; wet and desperate and necessary. They were panting into each other’s mouths and their hands were everywhere, and before John realized what was happening, Sherlock had grabbed him by the arse and pulled them both backward onto the bed.

Better, he thought, and then grinned as Sherlock echoed his thought out loud. He let himself be pushed and pulled until they were once again pressed together all the way down, and then he shoved both hands into Sherlock’s hair and started pressing open mouthed kisses along his jawline.

“I can't believe-- oh --that you-- yes, John, fuck-- thought we should talk first,” Sherlock managed while trying and failing to capture John’s mouth again with his own.

“I can't believe you didn't,” John murmured into his ear, before experimentally biting down on the join between neck and shoulder. Sherlock bucked underneath him, so John did it again. “Hmm, looks like I can deduce too.”

Sherlock’s sarcastic eye roll turned into one of pleasure as John sucked at the bite mark, and whatever comeback he had lined up was lost in a long moan. His hands curved around John’s neck and held him in place, and as John obligingly added more suction, Sherlock’s hips rose again.

It became immediately apparent that they were wearing too much clothing.

John rolled off of Sherlock and they made short, frantic work of undressing. Vests, trousers, pants and socks flew, and then they were on their sides, facing one another, with nothing between them. John’s eyes roamed over Sherlock’s lithe body, still muscled from years of running and fighting despite being far too thin. He took in Sherlock’s long legs, nearly bare chest, and the curve of his hips into his arse before settling for a long moment on what John saw was a truly gorgeous cock: long enough to be proportionate with Sherlock’s body but also thick, with a slight curve to the left. It was half-hard against his thigh, the foreskin retracting around the glans, and John wanted . It had been a very long time.

“You're beautiful,” Sherlock whispered, and John’s eyes snapped back to his.

“I think that's my line.” He reached out and stroked a hand down Sherlock’s side, settling at his waist, rubbing at the hipbone with one thumb. “I fantasized, and I dreamed, but this is so much better.” He tugged just a little and Sherlock moved closer and then their cocks brushed together and fuck fuck fuck this is going to end quickly. “Nightstand,” he gasped, and Sherlock, brilliant Sherlock, knew exactly what he meant. It only took a moment’s frantic searching before he was pushing the bottle of lube into John’s hand.

John shook as he flipped the cap on the bottle open and poured a ridiculous amount of lube into both his palm and Sherlock’s. He tossed the bottle over his shoulder before reaching down with his left hand and grasping Sherlock's cock at the base, savoring the feel of it in his hand as he gave it one long, slow pull.

He would never forget the sound Sherlock made, not if he lived another hundred years.

He propped himself up on his right elbow and Sherlock leaned in, pressing their foreheads together, before reaching out and wrapping his hand around John’s cock. “ Please , Sherlock,” John gasped, suddenly desperate to come. They could take their time the second time, or the fifth, or maybe a year from now but he needed an orgasm right fucking quick and the only thing he wanted more than that was to see Sherlock have one. Sherlock slid his hand down to the base of John’s erection and up again, sliding the foreskin over the glans and back down again once, twice, three times.

John lost track of reality after that, as his world narrowed to two hands flying over two cocks; two foreheads pressed together hard enough to hurt if either of them could stop to notice; two mouths open and gasping. At some point, John distantly recognized that he had begun to emit a long, desperate stream of curses and that Sherlock was groaning his name, over and over, but nothing mattered beyond the feeling of each other’s skin. And then Sherlock was keening, his back arching as he came in hot pulses over John’s hand and stomach. It was a gorgeous sight, but he barely had time to savor it before his own orgasm overtook him.

Chapter Text

They drifted, after, collapsed on their sides, neither willing to move despite the fact that they were rapidly growing sticky. Sherlock’s face was tipped up, his lips grazing John’s forehead lazily, and John enjoyed a few moments of a quiet brain before the world began to creep back in.

“If your dog was truly a genius, he’d bring us a flannel,” Sherlock murmured.

“Alas, there’s only one genius in this house,” John sighed, and slid from the bed to take care of it. In the en suite, he stood in front of the mirror for a long moment, examining his face. Seeing what Sherlock was seeing. He was still too thin (though Sherlock made him look positively robust; clearly their time apart had been a strain on him as well). His hair was more silver, his wrinkles deeper. But his skin had a healthy glow to it, thanks to all the time he and Einstein spent outside, and his eyes...didn’t seem as dead to him as they had for so long.

Sherlock was there.

Sherlock was there, and they’d just had sex. He and Sherlock Holmes had just had sex, and even though John had been thinking about it for years, he still couldn’t quite believe it.

“Stop thinking so loudly, John; the semen you deposited all over my stomach has congealed and it’s quite unpleasant.”

Yes, Sherlock is definitely here, John thought with a genuine grin.

John swiped at his own stomach quickly and patted himself down with a towel before wetting the flannel again for Sherlock. He had to stop in the doorway for a moment, though, and just breathe. Sherlock had turned over onto his back, eyes closed, one arm bent under his head and the other flung out to the side. The lamplight cast him in low shadow, and he was so beautiful that it made John’s chest ache. He moved back to the bed and cleaned Sherlock gently, then tossed both flannel and towel over his shoulder to the floor before hesitating.

“Don’t be an idiot, John,” Sherlock said, eyes still closed. John moved closer until his body was pressed to Sherlock’s, and then two long arms pulled him still closer. “I missed you.”

John felt his eyes go hot again, and blinked furiously. This was getting ridiculous. “I was only in the bathroom,” he said, but he knew that wasn’t what Sherlock meant. “I thought…”

“I know.” Sherlock began to run one hand slowly down John’s spine, over and over. It was grounding, somehow. “I read all of your letters, and I still didn’t know if I could do...this. I tried to set all of those feelings aside.”

John shifted uneasily in his arms, but stilled again when Sherlock stroked his back a little more firmly. “What changed?”

“Writing out responses to you made me begin to question my decision. They are angry at first--you will see that--and then, they became. Well. Practice, I suppose. Practice at letting you back in, at listening to you. In October I brought in more of a neutral party to advise me.”

“A neutral--”

“Molly. I asked Molly to read some of your letters and tell me if she thought I could trust them as much as I wanted to. I already knew that Lestrade believed you. And...Mycroft.”

John jerked upright, looking down into Sherlock’s face. ”Mycroft.”

“I'll explain fully another time, but Mycroft is the one who told me about the private blog posts.”

John shook his head in disbelief. “I knew he was worried about you, but--”

“And I love you.”

John froze, and Sherlock kept talking, more rapidly now. “I meant to say it as soon as I got here, and then before the nap, and after, and you've already said it--I mean, before, at 221B, and again in your letters, and I didn't want to wait any longer before--”

Whatever the rest of his sentence was, it was lost when John leaned down and crushed their mouths together. He took Sherlock’s words and kissed them back into his mouth over, and over, and after minutes or hours or a century had passed, he tightened his arms around Sherlock’s back and whispered them into his neck and still more tears were shed.

When he had managed to calm himself again, and felt Sherlock’s chest begin to settle beneath him once more, he thought back over what Sherlock had said. “You talked to Molly in October, so what took--I mean, did something--fuck. It’s like I’ve never had a conversation before.”

“There was a serial murder case that took up most of November,” Sherlock said, thankfully coming to his rescue. “Early in December, Mummy had a benign tumor removed from her lung, and I didn’t want to go too far away until she had recovered. That took me to about a week and a half ago, and I started to...second guess myself.”

“But you’re here now.”

Sherlock let out a huff that was meant to sound annoyed, but didn’t quite make it. “Molly yelled at me when I showed up at the morgue several days ago, and then she texted Lestrade, who sent me an increasingly unhinged series of messages, which I ignored. But then he just showed up and yanked my suitcase out of the wardrobe and sat on the couch and refused to leave until I agreed to come. That was last night.”

John pressed a kiss to Sherlock’s collarbone, and felt him shiver. He did it again, letting his tongue graze the skin; this time, a quiet moan rumbled in Sherlock’s throat..

And then John’s stomach rumbled, loudly.

“Excellent timing, John. I see you’re still being held hostage by mundane habits.” Sherlock tilted John’s chin up and pressed a brief kiss to his mouth. “Shall we go investigate the contents of that hamper?”

“I love you, you mad genius.”

They might have stayed there awhile longer, just smiling at each other, if John’s stomach hadn't growled again. Instead, they pulled on vests and pants and padded out to the kitchen. The hamper seemed bottomless as they lifted out one dish after another, spreading them across the small counter. John pointed Sherlock toward the dish cabinet as he pulled a corkscrew from a drawer and set to opening the wine that had been nestled underneath all of the food. There was a knock at the door, and he set the wine down.

“Einstein must be giving them trouble,” John sighed, and walked over to pull the door open. Just outside the storm door, at the edge of the pavement, sat a suitcase and garment bag that John recognized; he’d certainly hauled them in and out of enough cabs while Sherlock sprinted ahead to wherever their destination was. His question about how they had gotten there vanished when he looked up and spotted the black car just pulling away from the house. The rear passenger window was open partway, and John caught sight of Anthea bent over her phone. She looked up, met his eyes, and gave him a little wink. Mycroft.

“Left without your luggage this morning, did you?” John asked, setting it down inside the door. Sherlock looked at it without much surprise.

“I...wasn’t sure how long I’d be staying,” Sherlock said quietly. “I didn’t know what to bring, and Lestrade kept yelling at me to pack and then threatening to pack for me, and I ended up just waiting until he fell asleep and then heading for the airport.” He sighed. “I suppose it was nice enough of my brother to do that, although the idea of Anthea pawing through my sock index is abhorrent.”

“Stay,” John said, crossing back to the kitchen and settling his hands on Sherlock’s waist carefully. “Stay until...Christmas. Until New Year’s. Until I...just stay, okay? Can you?”

Sherlock nodded, and John stroked under the hem of his vest for a moment before letting go. “Let’s indulge my mundane habits, shall we?”

They ended up back on the couch with heaping plates of food and more still on the table next to them. Sherlock insisted everything John had selected tasted better but refused to switch plates with him, nibbling delicately at the choicest pieces of everything available while John shook his head and ate around him. In this way, it was as if they’d never been apart. Sherlock filled him in about Mrs. Hudson and the hip replacement she had scheduled for the spring and John talked about a few of his favorite regular patients that hadn’t made it into the blog posts. They talked about cases Sherlock had been working on and Molly’s nice but incredibly dull new boyfriend and how Sherlock had been trying for two months to get Lestrade to admit that he and Mycroft had gone out to dinner.

“On a date?” John asked, stunned.

“The mind boggles, John; and to think I once thought highly of Gerald.” But there was a glint in his eyes that told John he didn’t really mean it.

Eventually, though, the plates were set aside and they both grew steadily more quiet. Sherlock was refilling their wine glasses when John finally took a deep breath and asked:

“Can I read your letters now?”

--

It was two hours before John, his head and heart on emotional overload, closed Sherlock’s notebook and set it aside. He wiped away a few last tears--he’d cried more this year than he had during the entire rest of his life--and put his head in his hands.

Sherlock’s letters were awful and gorgeous and eloquent and heartbreaking and insightful and John felt as if they had torn him to pieces and then patched him back up. If Sherlock showing up on Maeve and Bertie’s doorstep hadn’t convinced John that he could actually have this, the letters certainly had. Sherlock hadn’t exaggerated about the emotional journey they spanned, and John felt completely wrung out. He needed to see Sherlock that very minute. After handing John the notebook and kissing him thoroughly, Sherlock had taken John’s laptop into the bedroom to work on a counterfeiting case Greg had emailed him.

But when John opened the bedroom door, the bed was empty...and the shower was running.

As he stepped into the bathroom, there was a low rumble of “Are you coming in?”, so he pulled the door closed behind him and quickly slipped out of his vest and pants. The room was full of steam, but he could still see the hazy outline of Sherlock’s naked body through the glass door of the oversized stall shower that was usually one of his least favorite parts of the house. John loved a proper bath and hadn’t had one in nearly a year.

Just now, though, the shower was looking very appealing.

Sherlock ducked completely under the spray as John entered the shower, so he was greeted by the breathtaking sight of water sluicing down all of that gloriously creamy skin. As soon as their eyes met, however, Sherlock stepped forward and took John’s face in his hands. “You've been crying again.”

“It seems to be what I do now.” John shook his head, slowly, as Sherlock’s thumbs caressed his cheekbones. “I knew it would be hard, and I knew it would hurt. And even though I knew you were here, when I was nearly to the end of the notebook and you still hadn't decided I started to think I would walk in here and find you gone. Reading the letters...I couldn't imagine why you'd want this with me.” He swallowed hard, and his hands found Sherlock’s hips. “But you do.”

Sherlock slid his hands down to John’s shoulders and pulled him closer. “‘I have never loved, nor will I ever love, anyone or anything as much as I love you,’” he quoted, his voice very low.

John’s heart slammed against the walls of his chest and his eyes grew hot again. “You read it. When could you have read it?”

“On the ride to Beara from the airport. I re-read them all, and when I got to the end, it was there.” Sherlock’s fingertips trailed lightly through the water that was running down John’s skin. “I want you back in my life in every way possible, John. Will you come home?”

Home. Tea and toast and quiet Baker Street mornings. Crime scenes and danger and the triumph of getting it right. Waking up in Sherlock’s--no, their bed--and knowing no matter what else the day would bring, be it good or horrible, that he would love and be loved by this man.

Oh, fuck.

“I need to get in touch with Mycroft...Sherlock, I'm supposed to go to Africa.”

“Do you want to go to Africa?”

“Not now I bloody well don't. I mean, I don't want to be an ungrateful bastard and tell Doctors Without Borders to fuck off, but--”

“Mycroft will. He’ll fix it. They take volunteers for smaller periods of time; you can do it in a year or two if you still want to, but John. You cannot go to Africa.” Sherlock’s hands were tight on John’s shoulders, and one finger was digging a little too deeply into his scar. He grimaced, and Sherlock loosened his grip a little, though he didn't let go completely. “I'm asking you not to go. I'm a selfish prick, John. The world has plenty of doctors and I only have one you.”

“I'll call Mycroft the day after Christmas,” John said quietly, stepping even closer to Sherlock and turning his face up. “I want to come home.”

Sherlock bent his head and their lips met in a kiss that felt more like a promise than any words they'd yet spoken. The warm water ran freely over them both as they embraced under the spray, their kiss becoming less gentle, more fevered. John rolled his hips and as his half-hard cock rubbed against Sherlock’s, they both moaned. Sherlock tore his mouth away from John’s to breathe and John took the opportunity to lick up the side of his neck, and then traced the same path with a graze of teeth.

“Want you,” Sherlock gasped, sliding his hands around John’s arse and teasing a finger down his cleft, making John’s hips buck. “All those things you wrote about…I want to do them all, right now, right here.” He thrust against John, and they were both fully erect now. “But I want to do this first.”

John felt Sherlock begin to go to his knees, and he scrabbled at his elbows to bring him back up. “You don't have to--”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Do you have any idea how long I've waited to have you in my mouth? You must.”

John’s mouth dropped open, but then the implication behind Sherlock’s words hit him like a freight train. The water seemed to suddenly run cold, and he shivered once, violently. John knew exactly how long Sherlock had waited to have him, to love him, to be loved by him, because it was entirely his fault. They could have had this, all of this, so long ago. If he hadn't been so fucking stupid. He swallowed hard, wondering if there would ever be anything he could say that would make this better.

Sherlock grabbed his shoulders and shook him once, hard. “John. Surely it is considered impolite to succumb to depressive thoughts when you have been offered oral sex. Cease them immediately.”

There was a stunned beat, and then the corner of Sherlock’s mouth quirked up. A laugh bubbled up in John’s chest, so he let it out, followed by another, and another. Sherlock began to giggle, and the sound made John so happy that he laughed harder.

It was long moments before they had recovered enough to pick up where they left off, but this time, when Sherlock sank to his knees, John pushed his fingers through the wet curls and just hung on.

Chapter Text

“Your mouth needs its own warning label,” John said some time later, when they’d made it back to the bed, dry, dressed in pajamas, and (momentarily) sated. Sherlock, smiling a little, fussed with the pillows behind them so they were both propped partially upright. He reached out for John's hand and twined their fingers together, and then the smile faded.

“Can we...do this, John?” His voice was quiet and his tone unsure. “We do seem to be very good at the carnal aspects of a relationship, at least in comparison to my past experience.”

“Very,” John agreed, stroking a thumb over the back of Sherlock’s hand. “But that isn't everything, not by a long shot.”

“No.”

John rested his head back against his pillow, tilting his face up and staring at the ceiling. “There are definitely...things to consider. This--today--has been amazing, but I am still a little worried. That you might still decide that you can't trust me. Or that you might decide over the next day or week that I am--that this is--not worth the trouble. That it would be easier, and better for you, to go home and truly move on.”

“That sounds more like you do not trust me. I do not choose to work at anything I do not feel is worth it, which I think you know,” Sherlock said. “And I believe if the last year has proven anything, it is that for me, there is no ‘moving on’ from you. But you, John...you had moved on. You've spent a year here, built a life--”

“Of sorts,” John interjected, but let Sherlock go on.

“Whatever sort it is, you built it. And then you made more plans, and were ready to make those real as well.”

“What choice did I have, Sherlock? I had to go somewhere, do something with my life. And I couldn’t do it at home, because I couldn’t take that from you too, so I went away. To bloody Ireland. Where I made plans to go away even further, to fucking Africa. It didn’t help. It could never help. The moon wouldn't be far enough. There’s a difference between moving and moving on, and there is a vast difference between living in the world and surviving in it. Sherlock, surely you have to know by now that since the day we met, any day spent away from you has only ever been a day I survived. I need...I need. For you to understand. To hear me when I tell you now, not just in the letters, that you are the love of my life. That you are all I want.”

“I do hear you.”

“But do you believe me?”

Sherlock was quiet for a long moment, and then: “I think so. I want to.”

John’s heart sank. “That's not the same thing.” He swung his legs out of bed and stood up, reaching for his jeans and beginning to pull them on.

Sherlock narrowed his eyes. “You can't be serious.” By way of answer, John grabbed Sherlock’s trousers from the floor and tossed them at him.

“Get dressed. We’re never going to finish an actual conversation this close to the sodding bed. Come storm out of the house with me.”

--

The night air was crisp, and Sherlock was glad he’d opted for the wool trousers that morning. One gloved hand was tucked into his coat pocket, but the other held John’s firmly as they walked along the road. The walk had been a good idea. Sherlock had wanted to touch John for so long that a warm house filled with flat surfaces was simply an endless source of temptation; John appeared to feel the same way.

Neither of them had said anything in the fifteen minutes since they left the house. He suspected John was waiting for him to speak, and he allowed that it was a reasonable expectation. He had been the one to send John away in London, and he had been the one to renew their contact. He had been the first to say “I love you” that day and the one to express lingering uncertainty. He was the one that needed to work out what was in his head.

It wasn't that he didn’t trust John when he said that he loved Sherlock and wanted to come home. He had a year’s worth of letters, a day’s worth of confessions, the opinions of friends, and his own considerable deductive skills to show him that John was telling him the truth. He suspected his was irrational doubt, based in the heart rather than in the brain, and Sherlock was unaccustomed to personal irrationality. The facts presented to him told him that John would be nothing less than completely devoted to him.

For once in his life, Sherlock needed more than facts.

“What happens the first time I'm an insufferable prick?” he asked suddenly.

John didn't miss a step while looking over at him incredulously. “Sherlock, you were often an insufferable prick, and I've loved you for years. Do you think I expect you to be different now that we've both said it?”

Sherlock kept his eyes straight ahead. That was, he realized, exactly what he expected. “Love always comes with an expectation of improvement.”

“No. No, it bloody well does not.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “John, you have spent a portion of the entire time we have known one another trying to improve me. Don't pretend that's not been the case; it's tiresome.”

John stopped walking and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Well, you're being insufferable now, and I still love you.” He huffed out a laugh and shook his head a little. “Trying to get you to remember that I existed or to be a little nicer to Molly was not trying to improve you. There's a you in there that already knows how to treat the people he feels affection for. I just helped you...remember he existed. That same you is also sometimes a selfish arsehole who puts decaying body parts in the crisper with the spinach and passive-aggressively saws at the violin instead of calling up Mycroft and telling him to fuck off.” John paced away a little and then back, sighing. “Christ, Sherlock, I'm an insufferable prick too. We've both been different this year, apart, and maybe we’re both permanently different. I'll admit I wouldn't hate it if the Sherlock-who-cleans visited every once in awhile; I'm guessing you'd be happy to see the last of the John-who-storms-out. We might get home and find out that we are both changed, or we may be the same fundamental Sherlock and John we've always been. I don't see how we are supposed to know that until we're back in London together.”

Sherlock didn't think he'd ever heard John say that many words all at the same time before, and suddenly, he knew exactly what they needed. “I don’t think we should go back to London together. Not yet.”

John’s eyes widened. “Sherlock…”

“If we go back together, I need us to be sure. I believe that I--we--need more than a handful of hours together before we try to return to our old life. It has been a very long time since we were in that life, John. It has been a full year since we were in any sort of life together. And as much as I want to get on a plane this very second and return to Baker Street with you, I also very much want that return to be. Well. For a very long time. The rest of our lives.”

“What are you suggesting?”

Sherlock could hear a little fear in John’s voice, and a little anger, and more than a little exasperation. He could, however, also hear love, and a willingness to listen. “You were going to take a holiday, I believe. A month’s travel.”

John nodded. “Before I went to Africa, yeah. But then I figured I’d just be going home with you instead.”

“Let’s take the holiday. Together.” Sherlock reached for John’s other hand and pulled him close. “I believe if we take the time to adjust to our...status change...before we go home, we have a better chance of success when we’re there.” He sighed, staring down into John’s open face in the moonlight. “I do not fully believe you yet, John, and I know that is...more about me than it is about you. I am unaccustomed to trusting my feelings or those of anyone else. It has been a very, very long time since I tried to do this with anyone, and I have never been successful at it.”

John gave him a small, rueful smile. “My track record isn't exactly stellar either.” His eyes drifted down to the spot on Sherlock’s chest where proof of that would never disappear.

“I wasn't considering that, but you were still panicking over my arrival not two hours ago. I think you have at least a small amount of doubt as well. I believe it might be easier for us to begin this in a place where we have no history. Perhaps an unfamiliar location will help us to concentrate on making sure this is what we want.”

“No distractions.”

“No distractions,” Sherlock agreed.

“And if all goes well…”

“We go home together at the end of January.”

“And if it doesn’t…” John’s voice trailed off and he swallowed, hard. “Yes. Alright. We’ll take the month.”

They walked back to the house with their hands tucked into their pockets, each lost in his own thoughts, in his own mix of certainty and fear. Sherlock crowded John into the door as he wrestled the lock open, and barely let him over the threshold before he had engulfed him in a tight embrace.

“I don’t have to kiss the Blarney Stone, do I?”

He felt John chuckle. “The only thing you're required to kiss is me.”

So Sherlock did.

--

When John woke on Christmas morning, the sun was streaming through the window, and Sherlock’s hands were slowly pulling his pants down off of his hips. Normally John was slow to wake, especially after he'd only slept a handful of hours, but within seconds he was completely alert and reaching to help Sherlock slide his own pants off. He found himself kneeling in the center of the bed with Sherlock’s mouth lazily working his, while their hips rocked together in a slow grind.

It was already the best Christmas John had ever had, and they hadn't said a word to one another.

Sherlock pulled off of John’s mouth, panting, and tilted his head to one side, nudging John with his chin. John took the hint and began to work his way down what seemed like acres of glorious neck, stopping below the ear to revisit the mark he'd left there the previous night, and to slowly, lingeringly, leave another just below it. Sherlock whined a little when he moved on, but the whine was quickly strangled by an open mouthed moan as John’s lips wrapped around a nipple instead. John chuckled, and gave Sherlock a push. He went over on his back easily, and John moved to straddle his thighs.

And nearly stopped breathing.

John had imagined this very moment so many times--Sherlock, naked and willing, spread out beneath him--but nothing could have prepared him for the reality of how gorgeous Sherlock was like this. The morning sun lit him perfectly and he was all creamy skin and long limbs and hard cock bobbing against his stomach, and he was gazing up at John with so much love and desire that John felt his eyes prickle. He reached a hand out and stroked down his cheek, and Sherlock leaned into the gentle caress immediately, his lips curving into a smile.

Mine.

Sherlock didn't speak the word aloud, but he might as well have.

Yours, John agreed silently, and, bending down, wrapped his lips around the head of Sherlock’s cock. Sherlock’s back arched up but John was ready with his hands, pinning the thrusting hips to the bed as he slowly worked him with his mouth. It had been a very long time since he had had anyone this way, but there was a lot to be said for muscle memory. John wrapped a hand around the base of Sherlock’s length and took him in as far as he could, letting the underside drag against his tongue on the way out. He developed a rhythm, bobbing up and down lightly, his mouth tight enough to tease but not to give any real relief. As he opened his mouth wider and slid down again, he looked up at Sherlock.

Sherlock’s eyes were closed and his hands were fisted in his own curls, and his breath was coming in heavy pants. There was a flush spreading over his chest and a light sheen of sweat rising on his skin, and John’s heart slammed against the walls of his chest.

He hovered at the top of Sherlock’s prick, tonguing at the slit and the edges of the foreskin until Sherlock opened his eyes and looked down at him. Only then did he lick a long, wet stripe up the side, grinning as Sherlock’s back arched again and his mouth fell open in a moan. John held his gaze while he flattened himself on his stomach and slipped his hands underneath Sherlock’s arse. He nudged Sherlock’s thighs open farther with his head, and then let his intention show on his face as he nudged again, encouraging his thighs wider. Sherlock’s eyes widened in surprise, and then John’s hands tilted his arse up further and he flicked his tongue lightly over Sherlock’s entrance.

John might have to start his own mind palace just to catalog the sounds Sherlock made during sex, because fucking hell, he'd never heard anything so unbelievably hot in his life.

He ignored Sherlock’s cock then in favor of deep, filthy, spit-slick kisses against his hole, his tongue teasing it open slowly until he could dip inside. He'd done this to a couple of his more adventurous girlfriends at their request, and enjoyed it because they enjoyed it, but in this moment he'd be willing to admit to anyone that licking Sherlock Holmes’s arsehole was about the hottest thing he'd ever done in his life. His hips were involuntarily thrusting against the bed, and he was certain he could make both of them come this way. But then there was a grip in his hair, and a tug, and an urgent grunt, and he reluctantly left off and raised his head.

Sherlock’s eyes were blazing, and his cock had smeared pre-come all over his stomach, and he gestured frantically toward the bedside table with his chin. John saw the lube and condom he'd somehow gotten out of the drawer, and swallowed hard.

Are you certain? His eyes asked. Sherlock rolled his, and John snorted. Alright then. He shoved his nerves down, hard, and picked up the condom packet, tearing it open and rolling the condom on. They'd get tested, he knew, and he was pretty certain they were both clean, but for now, he was glad he'd brought them from London. His hands shook a little as he poured lube on his fingers, and he dropped the bottle back on the table as he reached down between them and pressed against Sherlock’s entrance.

The first finger slipped in easily, thanks to the rimming, and John mentally added another point in that act’s favor. He pulled it out and eased two in slowly, stopping at the first knuckle when Sherlock let out a hiss of discomfort. They breathed together, John rubbing slow circles on Sherlock’s stomach, and John only moved again when Sherlock nodded. This time Sherlock exhaled as John pushed in, and soon both fingers were completely inside. John moved them in and out slowly, carefully, twisting them a little and pressing down until...yes. Sherlock cried out as John stroked gently over his prostate, and things began to move a lot more quickly. Soon John was slicking his cock and kneeling closer to Sherlock, who had grasped his thighs behind his knees and pulled himself further open to give John better access.

John took himself in hand and lined up, just barely nudging at Sherlock’s entrance with the tip as their eyes met. He saw the same love and desire, amplified if anything, and trust. They both took one more deep breath together, and when Sherlock nodded, John pushed in slowly. As his cock slid further into Sherlock’s body, John wondered for a moment if people often passed out while doing this. By the time their hips were flush together, he had to close his eyes and just breathe for a moment. He wanted neither to faint nor to come immediately, and both seemed equally possible just then.

And then a foot shoved at him impatiently, and his eyes flew back open. Sherlock raised an eyebrow at him, and everything was...fine.

It was all fine.

He leaned down over Sherlock and took his mouth in a long, wet kiss, and then, bracing himself on his forearms, pulled almost all the way out before thrusting in again. When he was fully seated for the second time, Sherlock reached up and wound his arms around his neck, bringing their mouths back together and tangling their tongues sloppily. When John thrust again, Sherlock stroked his tongue along John’s at the same speed, and John growled low in his throat.

Sherlock’s heels were shoving at his arse, not-so-subtly encouraging him to pick up speed, and John took the hint and began to thrust in earnest. Sherlock fucked John’s mouth with his tongue as John fucked into his body, and his hips rose to meet John’s with every thrust. Something primal and raw seemed to overtake them both, and John was only barely aware that the headboard was slamming into the wall with the force of his thrusts and that Sherlock had shoved a hand between them and was frantically pulling himself off. Their mouths were still pressed together but they were only gasping now, and then Sherlock cried out suddenly, his back arching impossibly higher as he came between their stomachs. As Sherlock’s muscles clamped down around John’s cock his thrusts became shallower and more erratic, until he was following Sherlock over the edge, shouting his name as he spilled into the condom.

As John collapsed onto Sherlock’s chest, Sherlock’s lips murmuring incoherent sounds of love and praise into his hair, his only thought was that they would, indeed, be late for Christmas lunch.

Chapter Text

Whereas most people would have clambered over the uneven ground of the Giant’s Causeway, Sherlock sauntered. In the bespoke shoes he insisted on wearing everywhere they went, he should have lost his footing a dozen times over on their month-long tour of Ireland. (“Regardless of your nurse’s definition, John, I do not hike . Specialty footwear is of little use to me.”) But instead, being Sherlock, he strode around as usual no matter what the terrain, Belstaff collar turned up against the wind, with what had to be a ridiculously overpriced leather specimen case slung over one shoulder.

As John watched from his seat on a rock cluster fifteen or so metres away, Sherlock dropped to one knee beside a particularly low grouping of the basalt columns that comprised most of the geothermal phenomenon. He rummaged in his pocket for a minute, produced his magnifier, and began to examine the columns closely.

John took the opportunity to examine Sherlock’s arse closely, as Sherlock had helpfully flipped the Belstaff up over his back to avoid dragging the hem on the ground. He had become very familiar with Sherlock’s arse over the past month, and, despite having been familiar with said arse just that morning, his cock gave an interested twitch.

Before they'd even left on their Irish holiday, Sherlock and John had already had one another in all the ways John had imagined in his letters, and had moved on to experimenting with new ones. Sherlock had a very slight preference for being the penetrated partner, but they both had given and received many times by that point. They had made love in antique four-poster beds, narrow motel twins, and an extremely uncomfortable Swedish-make bed that Sherlock had told the clerk at checkout to repurpose as kindling. They’d fucked in three oversized showers (and only fallen down in one), and had a frantic mutual wank session in a hot tub. John had bent Sherlock over desks and sinks and ridden him slow and silent one glorious afternoon in the most fussy toile covered armchair either of them had ever seen. After being forced to take impromptu shelter in a gazebo during a torrential downpour, they’d frotted on the floor until they both came in their pants.

On one extremely memorable occasion, John had let Sherlock have him over a fallen stone in the middle of a deserted ancient stone circle. They'd all but run back to the car after, giggling about Sherlock’s musings on how the Druids would have surely approved.

Sherlock bent lower over the stone, and his trousers stretched even more obscenely over his arse. John’s mouth went a little dry as he remembered sinking deep into Sherlock before breakfast. It really was a miracle they ever left their hotel, he mused, as Sherlock put away the magnifier and ... no, no, Sherlock, what are you… John knew Sherlock better than anyone, and yet was still unprepared when Sherlock bent still lower and... licked the stone.

Jesus fucking… John looked around to see how many people were in the area. Quite a few. How many were watching his boyfriend examine a centuries-old piece of rock with his tongue? Most of them, if the not-so-subtle pointing was any indication. Before Sherlock could catch his eye and call him over, John decided his best and certainly most mature course of action would be to scarper.

So he did.

(After he snapped a quick picture with his mobile to send to Greg and Molly.)

He found himself another perch, this one on a long, flat formation that jutted into the sea, and settled in to wait until scientific curiosity was satisfied. It was a position he'd found himself in often during the last four weeks, but he couldn't say that he minded. Sherlock in the throes of discovery was, after all, one of his very favorite Sherlocks.

Since Sherlock’s surprise appearance on Christmas Eve, John had gotten to spend ample time with every version of Sherlock he knew, and some that were new to him. For instance, he'd become newly acquainted with dog-loving Sherlock, who he'd only previously known from stories. Sherlock had been horrified at the idea that Einstein would be staying behind in Ireland, and it only took a five minute conversation with Maeve and Bertie and a few texts to Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson for Einstein to have the promise of a home at Baker Street when John and Sherlock returned to London in February. He'd also gotten to see bee-obsessed Sherlock in the flesh when Sherlock had eagerly volunteered to help Bertie with the winter work on the hives in the days just after Christmas.

Sexual Sherlock was more than John had ever imagined. Nowhere in Sherlock’s larger-than-John-had-thought set of experiences was a long, monogamous relationship with someone who loved him, and the freedom to experiment and play and share that came with it. Their newfound trust and openness with one another had led to all sorts of surprises, including last week’s introduction of Occasionally Submissive Sherlock, who had quickly brought Quietly Dominant John to the surface.

The best Sherlock John had ever known, though, was a new one: in-love Sherlock. In-love Sherlock had many subsets--cuddle-loving Sherlock; tandem shower-loving Sherlock; the gorgeousness of orgasming Sherlock--but it was the basic, pure, simplest in-love version of Sherlock who had brought John to his knees (often, quite literally). This Sherlock smiled freely at John, constantly. This Sherlock was nearly always touching John, often without realizing it: hands entwined as they walked; an arm tossed across John’s chest in sleep; a hand on a thigh under the breakfast table. This Sherlock tracked John everywhere with his eyes and loved him openly, with words and hands and glances. This Sherlock was all in, and was making no secret of it.

Bored Sherlock had appeared from time to time, but between the sightseeing and the sex, they seemed to keep busy enough for him. He’d stopped an animal smuggling operation in the making at the Fota Wildlife Park early in their trip, but had waved off John’s suggestion that they let the various local police departments know of their presence. He was content on this holiday--they both were--and he had made sure John knew it. Slowly, any worry that Sherlock might eventually grow bored of him faded.

“Pretending you don't know me again?” Sherlock’s amused rumble was low in his ear, and John smiled in spite of himself, though he held up a hand before he could be kissed.

“I can't stop you from licking the sodding stones, you berk, but you don't get to snog me after.”

They were in the last few days of their holiday, and there was no longer any question about what would happen next. Soon they'd go back to Castletownbere to retrieve Einstein and spend a last night with Maeve and Bertie before returning to London. Mycroft, being certain what his brother would do, had never actually gotten John an appointment with Doctors Without Borders, so there was nothing to fix there. They were free from any obligations but those to one another, and despite the fact that their holiday had been nothing less than idyllic, were looking forward to finally beginning their Baker Street life again.

Together.

Despite Sherlock’s insistence that he didn't hike, they had spent much of the last month doing just that. They had walked everywhere, breathing in the fresh air and finally talking about everything. John had read Sherlock’s letters twice more, and then they had read both sets together, in order. Everything was far from perfect--they were doing their best, but they were still two British men unaccustomed to analytic personal discussion at the level their relationship required. For the first time since the day they met, however, they were being completely honest with one another. It would be enough.

Sherlock hopped gracefully onto the rock behind John and slid his arms around John’s waist, resting his chin on his unscarred shoulder. “It occurs to me that this is the most I've ever seen of one country, including our own.”

“Even when you were away?” It was easier, now, to talk about it.

“Mmm,” Sherlock agreed. “That was many countries, but not many places within each. And no sightseeing.”

“I did notice you didn't send any postcards.”

Sherlock gave no response, but held John tighter. The sarcastic reference was a monumental step for him.

Early in the trip they'd lost two days after Sherlock had walked too close to the edge of the Cliffs of Moher and impulsively opened his arms to the rushing wind. When he'd turned around to find John and seen him crouched on the ground, nearly hyperventilating with panic, he’d realized his mistake immediately. It was fortunate they'd been renting a tiny cottage for a few days, because the horrible succession of arguments, accusations, and confessions they'd hurled at one another for nearly 48 hours straight would have certainly gotten them ejected from a hotel. It had been during those days, however, that Sherlock had finally, haltingly, begun to tell him about those lonely, harrowing, horrible years, and that John was finally able to listen and begin to understand. Through his acceptance of Sherlock’s truths, he'd been able to share his own pain in turn.

“I saw most of Afghanistan,” John said quietly. “And much of it was still beautiful, despite the war. But other than that, I've not spent this much time anywhere either. I miss London, and 221B, but we should do this again. Somewhere else, some other time. Just us, and exploration that doesn't have any dead people attached to it.” Sherlock’s disappointment was palpable, so he amended: “Or maybe just a few dead people. Christ, I've got myself a morbid boyfriend.”

Sherlock’s hands tightened around his waist. “You love your morbid boyfriend.”

John grinned. “God help me, I do.” Sherlock had always mocked the terms of endearment that others used, but John had quickly learned that the easiest way to bring a flush to his skin was to use one.

(Easiest publicly acceptable way, that is; the application of John’s tongue almost anywhere also produced a lovely shade of pink.)

“This was the last thing on our Northern Ireland list,” Sherlock said. “What would you like to do now?”

“If you're quite done fellating the scenery, perhaps we could get back to Sligo in time for an early dinner?”

“John Watson, are you jealous because I paid attention to some rocks?”

John turned his head so Sherlock could read the intent on his face. “No, because I know you'll be kneeling for me later.”

Sherlock’s eyes went a little unfocused at that, and then he shook his head sharply and jumped to his feet. “If I ignore the posted speed limits, we can be back at the hotel in just over two hours.”

--

Three hours later, John had one hand wound tightly in Sherlock’s curls and the other holding the base of his prick, teasing at Sherlock’s lips with just the tip. Sherlock’s mouth was already reddened, his chin slick with his own saliva, and a steady whine emitted from the back of his throat as he again tried to pull John back into his mouth only to have his head pulled firmly back by the hair.

“John, please.”

Please what, love?” John brushed Sherlock’s mouth again, and the slick of pre-come appeared on his bottom lip. Sherlock licked it away, and John groaned. This sort of thing was not their usual, but last week, when a posh hotel they’d splurged on lost their reservation and Captain Watson had made a temporary appearance at the reception desk, they'd quickly been ushered to a suite, and John had been introduced to Sherlock’s submissive side.

“Please...let me suck you, John, I want it…”

John dragged his cock over Sherlock’s mouth once more and then shoved in, hard. Sherlock moaned, long and low, and John chuckled as he felt the head bump against the back of Sherlock’s throat. “Fuck, love, you’re gagging for it, aren’t you?” Sherlock moaned again, and John took his hand off his shaft and fisted it in the other side of the mass of curls. “Hands behind your back,” John snapped, and, as Sherlock quickly obeyed, John began to fuck his mouth in smooth, sure strokes. A choked moan came from Sherlock every time John hit the back of his throat, and soon tears were forming in the corners of his eyes.

John pulled out, and his hands became more caressing. “Alright, love?” he asked quietly, and thumbed away the tears. Sherlock turned his face into the touch, eyes closing briefly, and John felt tears pricking at his own eyes. They had almost missed this--this love, this connection, this fucking fantastic sex. It has almost slipped away from them, and John didn't--

“Ouch!”

Sherlock had nipped the tip of his finger, and as John met his gaze again, he widened his eyes in impatience.

“Christ, Sherlock, they invented the phrase ‘topping from the bottom’ just for you, didn't they?”

By way of answer, Sherlock guided John’s hands back to his hair and leaned forward until his lips nearly touched John’s cock, and then he slowly dropped his mouth open again.

“Cheeky bastard,” John said, and let the wet heat engulf him.

--

After, Sherlock took the proffered flannel and gave his mouth and hands a perfunctory wipe. “I'm certainly not complaining about the idea of spending tomorrow in bed, but are we in some sort of competition I don't know about? You have been particularly insatiable the last few days. We're not going to stop having sex when the holiday is over.”

John ran a hand through his hair, looking around on the floor for his pants. “I can't exactly make you scream at Maeve and Bertie’s, love; the walls in those cottages are thin, and while I know they're on board with this relationship, I don't want to scandalize them. It'll be a couple of days before I can really touch you again.”

Sherlock snorted. “You can't be serious, John. With all they've seen, I suspect I could suck you off at their breakfast table and the only one who would be embarrassed would be you.”

John's brow furrowed. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Maeve and Bertie. They're retired G2.” When John looked still more confused, he explained further. “Irish intelligence.”

“I know what G2 is, Sherlock, but the idea that Maeve and Bertie used to be a part of it is preposterous. What did he do, keep bees for them? And Maeve has many skills, but spying isn't one of them.”

Sherlock spotted John’s pants partially under the bed and tossed them over. “I assure you, John, that your sweet, elderly friends are retired Irish intelligence agents. Pretty high up, I'd suspect, though G2 is so secretive that even I don't know much about them.” He sat down on the bed to pull on his socks.

John just gaped at Sherlock while he described a picture hanging in Maeve and Bertie’s front hallway that featured them standing by a particular kind of plane while holding a particular kind of luggage, “not to mention there's an obvious gun safe in the parlor floor under that hooked rug,” and then a thought slammed into place. “Get Mycroft on the phone.”

Sherlock threw him a disbelieving look as he continued to dress. “Mycroft is good, John, but I don't believe even he could arrange for a doctor living across the street from former spies to get pregnant and--”

John cut him off, his tone level, firm, and colder than Sherlock had heard in a very long time. “Get. Your. Fucking. Brother. On. The. Fucking. Phone.”

A shiver ran over Sherlock, and not because of the temperature in the room. He moved to the desk and flipped up the laptop lid. “FaceTime, I think, for this.” His fingers flew over the keyboard, typing in a series of security codes, and soon the program was ringing. He brought the laptop over to the bed as John pulled a vest over his head and joined him. John was so angry he was vibrating with it. Sherlock shivered again, and felt his spent cock give a pathetic attempt at a twitch inside his pants.

Mycroft was seated at a desk in one of the parlors at his house, and Sherlock idly observed that he was wearing a collared shirt and jumper rather than a suit and waistcoat. Sherlock hadn't known Mycroft owned anything that wasn't a suit; he'd been fairly certain his brother even slept in one. “Little brother. Doctor Watson. A happy new year to you both. I trust the Emerald Isle is still in one piece?”

“Care to tell me how you arranged my neighbors, Mycroft?”

Mycroft clucked. “I arranged nothing, I'm afraid; the MacNamaras have owned that property for generations.”

“How convenient, then, that I happened to move in across the street.”

“Indeed. Surely you must agree that there can be no downside from having neighbors who are trained in advanced weaponry and have exceptional baking skills.”

Sherlock was looking from Mycroft to John and back again, glee lighting up his eyes. “Perhaps I should call down to room service for some popcorn.”

John opened his mouth to tell Sherlock exactly where the popcorn would end up if he did, when another voice came from behind Mycroft.

“Myc, we agreed no laptops tonight. Put that thing away and come to-- fuck!”

Mycroft and Sherlock turned identical shades of white as Greg Lestrade strode into the frame.

Naked.

He strode out just as quickly, with a continued stream of fuck, fuck, fuck following him.

“Alright, Greg?” John called, his bad mood suddenly gone.

“Alright,” came Greg’s voice, sheepish and embarrassed. Mycroft had snapped his mouth shut, and Sherlock was shaking his head.

“Close the lid, John; I can't delete the image of Lestrade naked while I'm staring at his--his-- fuck.” Sherlock buried his face in his hands, groaning.

“His what, Sherlock? His lover? Your brother? Oh, well done, Mycroft.” John had to restrain himself from rubbing his hands together in glee. “Anyway, why would you want to delete that? Greg’s got a fine arse on him.”

“Thanks, mate,” came Greg’s offscreen voice.

“Anytime,” John replied. “Now, Mycroft, let's talk about how I will never again find myself living across from spies, even if they are lovely people who I will ultimately--Sherlock. If you're going to make that awful retching sound, kindly sod off to the bathroom; there's a love.”

At the sound of the endearment on John’s lips, Mycroft made a small retching noise of his own.

Oh, this is going to be fun.

 

EPILOGUE

John stood on the pavement, looking up at the familiar windows. The last time he'd stood there, he'd been filled with hope and ready to give Sherlock everything. It had gone so terribly wrong, and he'd never thought to have a second chance at it, yet here he was, filled with hope and ready to give Sherlock everything. It had been a long, horrible year, but then, like some rom-com on late night telly, his madman had arrived and given him the present of a lifetime.

Said madman was standing in the open doorway of 221B, having just set the last of the suitcases down in the front hallway, and gazing at John with a combination of love, and anticipation, and disbelief. Slowly, he held out a hand, and John bent down, snapped the lead off of Einstein’s collar, and nudged the dog up the stairs and through the door. When he hesitated, however, Sherlock came down the steps to join him.

“What is it?”

John took hold of Sherlock’s scarf in both hands and pulled him down into a relatively chaste kiss. “Thank you,” he said quietly. Thank you for coming for me. Thank you for giving me another chance. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for bringing me home. Thank you for this life, our life, and for the place where we will live it. Thank you for trusting me with your heart.

Sherlock leaned down until their foreheads were touching. “Welcome home, John.”

They went up the steps, hands clasped, and closed the door of 221B behind them.