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The In-Between

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The restaurant is quiet and the pervading scent of oil seems to hang heavy in the air. It should be claustrophobic or nauseating, but right now, as John stabs his steamed pork dumplings and attempts to keep his eyes open through his waning adrenaline, it's perfect.

Delicious, too. Who knew the bottom third of the door handle could be so accurate?

A waitress brings a plate of fortune cookies, which is distraction enough for Sherlock to reach over and steal a dumpling, popping it in his mouth before John can even argue.

"I offered to share, you know," he mutters not unkindly.

“Not hungry,” Sherlock replies even as he spears another one.

“Stop it,” John laughs as he smacks the man’s hand away and Sherlock slouches in his seat, looking slyly sheepish as he pops a piece of steamed broccoli in his mouth instead. “Do you want me to order more?”

“No,” he pouts and John smirks.

“So it’s just mine you like.” It may come off a tad flirtatious. No, enough of that.

“Apparently,” Sherlock replies, but he doesn’t make a move for another dumpling, grabbing for a fortune cookie instead with a sly smile.

"Go on, then," John says through a mouthful, leaning back and jutting his chin out at the biscuit. There’s challenge in his eyes, which he can tell Sherlock will more than certainly rise to.

The man clears his throat and cracks his knuckles, like a magician about to perform a particularly astounding feat, before sitting back and unwrapping the cookie with panache.

John is rapt as Sherlock closes his eyes, lids flickering in concentration, before he announces:

“Good things take time.”

John snatches the biscuit before Sherlock can somehow disappear the slip of paper (he still isn’t entirely sure the man isn’t an illusionist) and cracks it in half, popping part of the sweet biscuit into his mouth as he pulls the fortune from between its baked folds.

“You will have a lot of love in your future,” John reads, eyebrow raised as he holds the uneaten half out for Sherlock in a teasing manner. “Close, but not quite.”

“Next time,” Sherlock smiles as he eats the other half.

“Next time,” John agrees.

xxxxxx

Sherlock hears John before he sees him, padding down the stairs, the sash of his dressing gown trailing behind him as his socked feet take the steps gingerly. It’s nearly four in the morning and Sherlock’s arm is beginning to ache as he attempts to remove the Michigan Hardcore Propellant Light Yellow from the windows of 221B.

Dead man.

He shakes his head and scrubs harder, foot nudging the bucket of soapy water by his feet.

“What are you doing?” John’s bleary voice asks and Sherlock grunts as he goes to town on a particularly stubborn section.

“Thought that was fairly obvious,” he replies, though he can imagine what a sight he makes. For a man who won’t wash a single dish, he’s both managed to procure a bucket and put soap in it. John is probably convinced he’s still sleeping, except for the grunt of pain that escapes his lips as his hip catches on the back of his chair.

The gang certainly did a number on him. Sherlock was lucky he got there when he did.

“Sherlock Holmes is nothing at all like him. How would you describe me, John? Resourceful? Dynamic? Enigmatic?”

“Late?”

Sherlock had gone for sarcastic and flippant, but he can only thank his voice for not giving away the fact that his heart was in his throat. John came so close to –

He scrubs harder.

“Oi, be careful,” John admonishes. “You press any more firmly and you’ll go right through the glass.”

“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” he snaps.

“I was until I heard some lunatic in the flat muttering to himself,” John replies, inching closer, as if Sherlock were a frightened deer or some such nonsense. “I’m just checking on you. It’s what any decent friend would do.”

“Well any decent friend wouldn’t have – ” Sherlock stops and sighs, free hand coming up to rest against the pane.

“Wouldn’t have what?” John whispers, but Sherlock only shakes his head.

What’s the reply anyway? Wouldn’t have dragged you into this? Wouldn’t have gotten so wrapped up in the case that I might have stopped you from getting kidnapped. Wouldn’t have insinuated myself so far into your life that a Chinese smuggling gang thought you were me. Instead, what he says is:

“I just – need it to go away.”

“Hey,” John murmurs as he steps forward and gently takes hold of the brush in Sherlock’s hand. “We’ll do it together.”

They clean until morning and finish the opened bottle of wine from the aborted dinner with Sarah for breakfast. They sleep the rest of the day and order curry takeaway upon waking, but it’s another two weeks before Sherlock’s able to look at the windows and not see “Dead Man” written for him to find.

xxxxxx

“Gents, in here, yeah?” Greg herds them into his office and motions for Sally to bring them a cuppa. It’s to her credit, John thinks, that she only grumbles minimally.

He can still smell the chlorine from the pool, but the burnt coffee in the pot in the hall is doing something to dispel the cloying scent. The shock blanket wrapped around his shoulders gives off a clean and clinical air and he burrows his nose further into its folds.

Now that the adrenaline has worn off, John is exhausted. It’s a bone-deep fatigue that has him feeling like there are weights strapped to every limb, bringing him down. Though perhaps that’s just the phantom pressure of the semtex vest that Sherlock forcibly removed from him what feels like ages ago and yet also mere seconds. Speaking of Sherlock –

John glances over to find him silent in the chair beside him, staring at a particular patch of carpet. Scarily silent. His knees aren’t bouncing, his eyes aren’t darting, his fingers aren’t moving.

“You okay?” he asks, Sherlock’s voice echoing in his ears.

“All right? Are you all right?”

Sherlock hums something, but it’s neither a negation nor a confirmation so John leans over and nudges him with his shoulder.

“Sherlock?”

“Fine,” he answers quickly as Sally returns, handing them each a paper cup full of tea. She must really feel bad for them since she’s actually prepared it, adding milk to John’s and sugar to Sherlock’s.

John manages a grateful smile, though he’s pretty sure it comes out more like a wince. Sally gives him a nod and retreats to the hall once more.

There are questions to answer and paperwork to fill out, but it can wait. It’s the second time John’s been kidnapped in his relatively short span of living with the madman at his side and, frankly, he needs a moment.

The tea is hot and it burns as he swallows a too-large sip. Despite the humidity of the pool and the weight of the layers he was forced to wear, John feels cold. The doctor in him whispers ‘shock’ but the soldier merely shrugs.

Beside him, Sherlock has started to shake. Should have kept the damn blanket, he thinks.

“Hey. It’s over,” John murmurs, but they both know it’s not. They got a reprieve in the form of a well-timed disco ringtone, but their run-ins with Moriarty are just beginning. John knows this and Sherlock must too, but the fact that he’s not bouncing around the room with theories and ideas and mutterings about the game being on is… worrisome.  

“Did you really expect me to run?” Sherlock finally asks, head turning and haunted eyes dragging up to meet John’s.

John’s breath stutters to a stop in his chest as he remembers the feel of his arms wrapped around Moriarty’s body.

“Sherlock, run!”

“No,” he answers truthfully, something sharp panging behind his ribcage. “But I wanted you to.”

A crease forms between Sherlock’s eyebrows, one of his few human tells that John is slowly learning to spot. His lips part as if to refute John’s confession, but it’s only there for a flash. His mouth closes and he returns his gaze to the carpet, straightening, swallowing hard, and then clearing his throat in one fluid transition.

“As if I would have let you have all the fun. Please,” he huffs and John knows avoidance when he sees it. Which is why he can only smile fondly, clap a hand on Sherlock’s now rapidly bouncing knee, and offer him half of his shock blanket.

“Yes. Fun,” John wryly replies, not acknowledging the brief moment of vulnerability or the way Sherlock burrows under the cloth without complaint. “That’s the word for it.”  

xxxxxx

“Sherlock, can you hear me?”

He vaguely remembers a hand on his cheek, gentle fingers (doctor’s fingers) opening his lids and checking his pupil dilation. He makes a muffled noise as John’s arms go around his back and haul him into a sitting position, but the actual act of getting out of The Woman’s house is hazy at best. It’s just pieces – a car ride, Lestrade laughing, possibly a video recording? But always John. Even in the moments that don’t make sense, John was there – of that, Sherlock is sure.

Seventeen steps. A hallway too narrow for two grown men to navigate. John’s huff of amusement/exertion when Sherlock hits the mattress and immediately falls backwards. Fingers working his shoes. Mumbled curses usually cocooning Irene’s name. A hand on his cheek as his legs are swung up onto the bed and his head makes it onto the pillow.

Something nagging at the back of his mind, though…

Fingers pushing his hair off his forehead. “Sleep now.”

Oh right –

John had a date. John didn’t go. John stayed.

He wakes hours later feeling hungover, but oddly pleased for a reason he just can’t seem to pinpoint.

xxxxxx

“No… it’s not you! Not you!”

John shoots up in bed, breathing heavily, momentarily jarred when the whimpers and mumbled yells don’t stop upon his waking. It takes a disorientating moment to clock the single bed and lack of city lights before he remembers that he’s not in 221B, or even in London. Only that shocking floral pattern of wallpaper could be found in The Cross Keys of Dartmoor, John thinks with no shortage of fondness.

He had been dreaming about playing fetch with a dog, which is odd, considering he and Harry never had one growing up. But, given the events of the evening, it makes a certain sort of morbid sense. He’s just thankful, for once, that the disturbance was not his own warped and war-torn psyche. But that leaves –

“No, please,” Sherlock murmurs, shifting in his sleep in the bed opposite, shirt clearly plastered to his sweat-drenched body, and something inside John breaks. Sherlock never says please. And certainly not like that: pleading, broken. Desperate.

Sherlock has saved him so many times. It’s only right that John return the favor.

“Sherlock,” he murmurs, but when he gets no response, he kicks the covers back and pads across the small room. “Sherlock,” he tries again a bit louder, but the other man merely whimpers and thrashes his head on the pillow.

John holds his breath as he places a hand on that hot shoulder, feeling the damp cotton beneath his palm. He’s been woken from enough nightmares to know that Sherlock’s reaction could run the gamut, but he takes his chances and gives Sherlock a little shake, completely prepared for the moment when Sherlock shoots to sitting, arms lashing out.

“Whoa, hey,” John blurts, grabbing Sherlock’s wrists and gently guiding them to his shoulders so he can take his face in his hands as he sits next to him. Sherlock’s eyes dart around the room before landing on John, but his chest doesn’t rise nor fall.

“Breathe, breathe,” he instructs, holding Sherlock’s sweaty face gently, but firmly in his hands. “That’s it,” he murmurs as Sherlock takes a rattling inhale. “It’s me. It’s over.”

“Moriarty – ”

“Is not here,” he says firmly, forcing Sherlock to meet his eyes. “It’s me. Just me.”

“John.”

“Yes.”

Sherlock’s hands wander from John’s shoulders to his chest, over his beating heart. “Just you.”

“Just me.” John leans forward, letting the dark of night hide the blush of his cheeks, and presses their foreheads together. “Always.”

He stays at his side long after Sherlock falls back asleep, and then some to ensure the nightmares stay at bay, but that secret can stay between John and the wallpaper.

xxxxxx

 

“Here,” Molly murmurs in the quiet of the mortuary. Sherlock isn’t sure why she’s whispering. It’s not like there’s anyone to wake.

She pulls the door to the drawer open and slides the body out. Sherlock peers down briefly before straightening once more.  

“He’ll do,” he clips, tugging his Belstaff tighter around his body and telling himself it’s to ward off the chill, but Molly isn’t even wearing her lab coat.

She slides the body back in and worries her lower lip, but Sherlock ploughs on, praying the words which are so clearly on the tip of her tongue don’t come.

“I’ll get you duplicate clothing,” he says. “I assume you can handle the blood.”

“Sherlock – "

Please, don’t.

” – what about John?”

And there it is. His precious heart, that he fooled the world into thinking he didn’t have, laid bare in the basement of the building where he clapped eyes on John Watson for the first time.

“What about him?” he manages but he knows he isn’t fooling either of them.

Molly, to her credit, remains silent.

Sherlock finally meets her eye and his pain must show on his face because hers positively crumbles. “Keep an eye on him for me, will you?”

He ignores the tear that tracks down her cheek. His own eyes are burning, but those tears won’t come until that fateful phone call.

You could.”

Even he’s surprised he makes it that long.

He thinks the worst of it is over – for nothing can be worse than that roof – but then comes the funeral. He goes, out of some sort of morbid, Tom Sawyer-like curiosity. It’s an odd thing, to be sure, not helped by the fact that John’s words echo in his ears, haunting his every breath since Molly cleaned him up in the morgue after the fact, unable to even meet his eye.

“Let me come through, please. He’s my friend. He’s my friend.”

John doesn’t sit like Mycroft, Mrs. Hudson, or Molly. He stands at attention at the end of the row, eyes straight ahead and not on the shiny black box being lowered into the cloyingly damp earth. Lestrade stands behind him and to the side a bit – far enough away to give John his space, but not so far that he shouldn’t be there if… Sherlock swallows and tears his eyes away, focusing on the ground – if John should have need of him.

After all, that role is no longer Sherlock’s to play.

Not that he was ever any good at it to begin with.

xxxxxx

John’s lungs are on fire even though he knows (he knows ) no part of him is actually burning. Sherlock made sure of that, the mad bastard.

Still, the first lungful of clean air is like water to a man in the desert and his gasp seems to crack the silent night air like thunder.

“John! John?” The feel of Sherlock’s cool leather glove on his cheek is soothing given the heat still coming off the fire, but he can only blink sluggishly in reply. “Come on, look at me. Keep your eyes fixed on me.”

The words are familiar, making his chest hurt for some reason, but he can’t place them at the moment. Everything is moving slowly, as if through molasses.

“C’mon, we’ll get you checked out,” Sherlock murmurs and John manages another hacking cough, nearly rolling over onto his side.  

“M’fine,” he manages, voice slurred.

“Yes, clearly,” Sherlock replies, voice tight ( is that worry?) but there’s an underlying fondness to it. Because of course John got himself kidnapped again and of course Sherlock had to come and rescue his sorry arse.

Of course he did. Because he always does. John smiles softly and Sherlock mirrors it.

Mary appears over his right shoulder and John tries to manage a smile for her too, but it falls rather short, which is probably why she looks like she swallowed something sour a moment later.

Sherlock’s glove still hasn’t left his face, thumb moving slowly back and forth just under the pain in his head ( sticky, warm, head wound ).

“No doubt one of these imbeciles has called an ambulance,” Sherlock mutters, right hand hovering over John’s bad shoulder, as if to prevent it from further harm. “Do you think you can – ”

“Sherlock, I’ve got it,” Mary says. Nearly snaps, really, and it’s those four words that have Sherlock’s hand leaving John’s skin. Have him standing up and backing away.

No, no, no. John only just got him back.

But John can only reach out half-heartedly, the drug still coursing through his system, missing Sherlock’s ankle by a mile.

Such seems to be his lot in life.

xxxxxx

“I wanted you not to be dead.”

“Well, be careful what you wish for.”

The words echo in his head over and over as John climbs the ladder ahead of him up to the catwalk that will wind its way back to Westminster. They haven’t said a word since informing the police of what they’d found in the carriage and the silence is slowly suffocating him.

They trudge up the stairs into the crisp November air with Parliament’s lights glittering in the background and Sherlock has to stop and inhale, getting London in his lungs once more.

“I find it difficult, this sort of stuff.”

“I know.”

“John, I – ” he starts before he can stop himself, or before he can truly process what’s meant to follow, which just leaves the words dangling in the night sky.

“Yeah?” John turns and asks, but Sherlock takes one look at the gleam in his eyes and shakes his head. More words would only snuff it out once more because botching things up seems to be Sherlock’s modus operandi.

“Nevermind.” He straightens his gloves and sets off at a brisk pace down Whitehall. He’ll surely find a cab somewhere along the way.

“Hey, wait.” John’s shoes slap against the pavement as he jogs to catch up. “Sherlock, hold up a second!”

“I didn’t want to leave you,” he turns and blurts before he can second-guess himself. Before he can talk himself out of all that needs to be said.

John stops short and a stricken look takes over his features. Sherlock can almost see himself falling in the reflection of the streetlights in his irises, before that gaze softens once more.

“I know,” John quietly replies.  

“I’d do it again, though,” Sherlock reveals because now that the confession is out, he just can’t stop himself. He stares off into the distance, in the general direction of 10 Downing, unable to face whatever judgment might be on John’s face. “To save you, I’d do anything.”

“Yes, of course I forgive you.”

“Likewise,” John murmurs and Sherlock’s heart, which he didn’t even realize had cracked, mends.

“Dinner?” he whispers, finally meeting John’s gaze and the man offers him a crooked smile.

“Starving.”

They begin their familiar march down the street once more before a thought dampens Sherlock’s suddenly boisterous mood. “Do you need to call Mar – ?”  

“Angelo’s, I think,” John interrupts, and only in that moment does Sherlock understand that this is for them. It’s their healing. No one else’s.

And when Angelo puts a candle on the table less than an hour later, neither says a word to stop him.  

xxxxxx

So. Much. Alcohol.

That’s the only thing John manages to think as he watches Sherlock try and fail to get the key in the lock five separate times.

“Give it here, ” he slurs, but Sherlock whirls around, coat slapping him in the face.

“Unhand me, John,” Sherlock haughtily replies, swaying dangerously close to the edge of the steps. John grabs hold of his lapels and hauls him forward hard enough for his fuzzy brain to register an ache where he’s sandwiched up against the door.

He hears the slide of the key and Sherlock makes a triumphant noise, but he clearly doesn’t think things entirely through because the minute he turns the lock, the door swings back, sending them both careening into the entryway.

“Oof,” John grunts as he spins in time to catch himself on the railing. Sherlock slams into him a moment later before tumbling to the side and curling up in a ball on the steps, as if that had been his plan all along. “That can’t be comfortable.”

“You’d be surprised,” Sherlock mutters, tugging on John’s trousers until the man stumbles over the git’s long legs and lands in a heap on his other side.

“Now what?” John asks, inadvertently closing his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest. Maybe he’ll just have a quick kip here. Sherlock is a warm presence next to him and everything feels just a bit… swell.

That is until Sherlock’s bony shoulder blades keep digging into his arm. John cracks an eye open and glances over to find Sherlock tapping his thumb to his forefinger, staring at the digits like he’s never seen them before.

“I’m all sticky.”

John snorts. “Because you ran into that shirtless bloke at the last bar.”

“But why am I sticky?”

“Because he was covered in baby oil,” John mutters.

“But… why?”

“Because it makes him shiny.”

“But… why?”

“Christ, Sherlock, because it makes his muscles look good! Because he wants to pull someone! He wants to rub up against them and not chafe! I don’t know!”

“Oh.” Sherlock goes quiet, but shifts restlessly in the cramped space. “You thought his muscles looked good?”

John’s face heats. “Switch topics, Sherlock.”

“Mkay.” Sherlock scoots backwards until he’s pressed head to tailbone into John’s side. John unwinds his arms and squeezes Sherlock’s bicep.

He thinks he hears him murmur, “Don’t need you shiny,” but he can’t be sure. It’s the last thing he remembers thinking before Mrs. Hudson comes out and insults their alcohol tolerance.

For good reason, in all honesty.

xxxxxx

John is not an entirely hopeless dancer, but it’s a very near thing.

Sherlock sighs like the put upon man he is for the tenth time in as many minutes and grips the shorter man’s waist.

“I thought I was supposed to be leading?” John grumbles and Sherlock holds his hand so hard, he thinks he must hear their bones grinding together.

“You are, but I’m showing you how to properly do it first. Now for God’s sake, put your hand on my shoulder.”

“Christ,” John mutters but places his palm there without further complaint, far enough over that his fingers brush the nape of Sherlock’s neck.

Sherlock tries not to shudder and very nearly succeeds. It wouldn’t do to go getting all wobbly. John already made a joke about closed curtains and Sherlock needn’t make him feel more uncomfortable than he already does by developing something as pedestrian as feelings.

John smiles up at him when he manages a complete waltz rotation without tripping and Sherlock dispels any thought about developing anything. That ship has sailed and taken every piece of Sherlock’s emotional battlements in its cargo hold.

“Yes, yes, don’t get cocky,” he mutters, but John’s smile doesn’t dim. Sherlock almost wishes it would. It might make this whole fiasco slightly easier to bear.

“Switch?” John asks and Sherlock wordlessly nods, allowing John to take up his right hand in his left as his other finds his waist.

Through the silk of his dressing gown and the cotton of his shirt, Sherlock feels John’s palm like a brand.

“And this isn’t what we’ll actually be dancing to, right?”

“Correct,” Sherlock replies, letting John lead him around room rather impressively.

“And why can’t we practice with the actual piece?”

“It’s not finalized.”

John snorts. “Can’t even decide my own wedding dance.”

“Please. Like you’d want to,” Sherlock replies with an eyeroll. “Had you had your choice, we’d be attempting a waltz to Baba O’Reilly.”

John’s eyebrows shoot up. “You actually know The Who. Miracles do exist.”

“Well you made me watch that ridiculous crime scene investigation show enough, something was bound to sink in, even if it wasn’t their frankly preposterous methods.”

John smiles that smile again and Sherlock clears his throat, which turns into a rather mortifying yelp when John’s arm begins to slide behind his back.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m dipping you,” John cheekily replies, shifting his leg behind Sherlock’s knee and moving his center of gravity before Sherlock’s quite prepared.

“You’re going to drop me - ”

“Well only if you keep wiggling around - ”

“John, don’t - ”

“Sherlock, wait - ”

There’s a spectacular crash as they end up in a heap on the floor, Sherlock bringing a chair down with them. John’s arms are still around his waist and he’s shaking, face pressed into Sherlock’s shoulder. For a moment, he wonders if he’s injured - Sherlock did land on his arms, though John’s palm managed to cup the back of Sherlock’s head and break the fall - but it takes Sherlock longer than it should to realize John is laughing.

It’s a high-pitched, beautiful thing, making his ears red and his eyes tear, and Sherlock can’t help but join in. Then again, he finds he’s helpless about a lot of things when John Watson is around.

“Don’t do that to Mary,” he manages, hating himself for bringing her into this sacred space, as John pulls away and flops onto his back.

“No,” John replies, wiping his eyes and continuing to let out the occasional giggle.

Sherlock feels him sigh next to him, shoulder to shoulder, but his eyes remain on the ceiling. He’s not sure his heart can handle staring at John in this moment.

“I never said ‘thanks,’ by the way,” John says quietly. The sudden seriousness of the moment steals the breath from Sherlock’s lungs.

“For what?”

“Everything. All of this.” John’s head turns and Sherlock swallows hard. “You’ve been… you’ve been great. Above and beyond, really.”

Sherlock shrugs, but the gesture feels infinitely juvenile. Then again, all he wants to do is curl up under the covers and shut the world away. If that makes him like a child, he knows half of London and the majority of the Met would likely agree with the assessment.

“You’re welcome,” he says instead, listening as the waltz recording comes to a close.

“Again?” John asks, sounding hopeful and how could Sherlock resist?

Into battle.

“Again.”   

xxxxxx

Oh, I felt a rush like a rolling bolt of thunder
Spinning my head around and taking my body under
Oh, what a night (do do do do do, do do do do)
Oh, what a night (do do do do do, do do do do)”

John’s eyes scan the crowd, but the tall mop of curls is nowhere to be seen. He spots Greg’s silver head bopping by the bar and John bobs and weaves his way through the masses to get closer to him. Greg had made it to the station and back in record time, passing the Mayfly Man off to Donovan in order to get back to the wedding in short order.

John can’t help but feel chuffed by that.

“Hey, Greg, you seen Sherlock?” he calls, and Greg scans the crowd with a frown on his face before shaking his head with a shrug.

John doesn’t like that.

He nods a greeting at a few guests that pass by before dropping the facade and searching the crowd once more. He’s about to give up the reception as a lost cause and start wandering the halls shouting his name, when his eyes light upon Molly, standing in the corner, looking guilty and studiously ignoring his gaze.

Right.

He marches over, saying, “You know where he is,” without preamble. Molly bites her lip, eyes darting to his for the briefest of moments before finding the floor once more. “Molly, please. He’s my best man.”

“He left, John.”

And the floor drops out from beneath John’s feet. “What? When?”

“A few minutes ago.”

“Why?”

But Molly doesn’t answer, and if John’s honest with himself, he doesn’t need her to.

He sprints into the night, yelling Sherlock’s name, but all he hears is his own voice echoed back to him, sounding as hollow and forlorn as he feels inside. On this, the happiest day of his life.

xxxxxx

The smell of sweat and mildew hangs in the air, and Sherlock is grateful that he had enough presence of mind to change out of his bespoke suit and into a pair of track bottoms and a sweatshirt.

It isn’t until he’s pulling the hoodie off one arm, though, that he realizes the t-shirt he’s wearing beneath once belonged to John.

Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry

He stares at the letters in the cracked mirror propped up against the wall across the way, vaguely registering Wiggins measuring out the solution he paid for to his left.

“Runnin’ never helped nobody,” Wiggins mutters, watching him out of the corner of his eye.

“I didn’t pay you to be my therapist,” Sherlock snaps, tearing his eyes away from the mirror and tying the tourniquet around his arm. He squeezes his hand into a fist a few times and the vein pops beautifully.

“What would the good doctor say?”

“Piss off,” Sherlock replies as he presses the syringe, welcoming the first cool hit of cocaine bliss.

He knows John would have an awful lot more to say than just that.

xxxxxx

If John has to drink one more cup of hospital coffee, he might actually lose his mind. The doctor in him understands that the caffeine is the only thing keeping him upright at the moment, but the man who’s thisclose to an emotional breakdown just wants a goddamn cup of decent, drinkable tea.

He grimaces as he swallows a gulp of the sludge from the machine at the end of the hall. The lone nurse at the station winces in sympathy and he toasts her from afar as he makes his way toward room 208. Through the closed door, he can hear the steady beep telling him that Sherlock’s heart continues to beat. John thinks he’ll hear it for the rest of his life.

He stands outside the door and braces himself for the sight beyond, shoulders kicking back and spine straightening, ever the soldier. He turns the handle, letting light spill into the dim room, casting shadows on Sherlock’s gaunt, pale face. No matter how many times he walks over the threshold, nothing will ever prepare him for seeing the man he truly believed to be invincible laid flat on the mat at death’s door.

He shuffles closer to the bed, listening to the telltale snick of the latch catching. Setting his poor excuse for a coffee on the bedside table, John straightens the cannula pumping oxygen into Sherlock’s nose, letting his hand linger before gingerly cupping that too thin cheek.

“Time to wake up, Sherlock,” he murmurs, thumb running over the purple shadows on his skin. “C’mon. Just open your eyes.” He perches on the edge of the bed, resting his left hand on the pillow as his right continues to trace patterns through the stubble on Sherlock’s jaw. “Please. For me.” His breath catches and his voice breaks. “I need you to wake up now.”

Sherlock doesn’t respond, because of course he doesn’t. John is a doctor. He knows the drugs alone will keep Sherlock under for a few hours yet. Still, he’d asked for one more miracle once upon a time and Sherlock had complied. Perhaps John’s just selfish or greedy in his desire for yet another.

“I’ll just be right here until you decide to grace us with your presence, then. Okay?”

Sherlock doesn’t blink or twitch or whisper, so John takes his hand and presses a kiss to his forehead as if his silence is an answer all the same.

“Okay.”

xxxxxx

Sherlock braces himself against the cement wall, pain radiating through his chest from more than just the bullet wound as he tries to focus on the words coming through the phone pressed to his ear.

“Sherlock, what the hell is going on? Where are you?”

“John, I need you to come to Leinster Gardens. Get in a cab - ”

“Why is Mary’s perfume here?”

“John, get in a cab.”

“Goddammit, Sherlock - ”

“John, you know why.”

He’s left with nothing but John’s harsh breathing echoing through the receiver. The pain in his chest grows sharper.

“Please, just… get in a cab.”

“Okay… Jesus, okay. I’ll be there in ten.”

The phone goes dead and Sherlock misses the connection immediately.

“Got everyfing?” Wiggins asks and Sherlock looks over the wheelchair, intravenous drip, and ear piece.

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Righ’. I’ll go take my position then.” He wraps himself in a ratty blanket and heads out the door.

Sherlock takes a seat in the wheelchair and glances at his watch, counting down the minutes until he hears the telltale screech of the tires on the pavement outside. Seven minutes and forty three seconds. John clearly paid the cabbie extra for speed.

He heaves himself to standing, trying to conserve his energy when he can, and greets John at the door. The man looks like he’s aged a decade since Sherlock last saw him, but then again, he wasn’t exactly in his right mind at the hospital. Perhaps John has looked like this since Magnussen’s office.

“Sherlock…” John breathes, hands immediately reaching for his body, fingers checking the pulse in his neck, palms examining the bandages that need redoing.

“Put this on,” Sherlock manages, pushing a bulletproof vest at him.

“No, not until you tell me what the hell is going on.”

“John, please.” And if the word itself didn’t convince John, the way Sherlock’s voice broke on it certainly did. His eyes soften, though they’re still full of concern, and he swallows hard as he takes the vest.

“Please tell me this isn't actually happening.”

“I’m not going to tell you anything.”

“Sherlock-”

“But she is,” he interrupts. “Do you trust me?”

He thinks of plans he left John out of, the pools he visited alone, the roofs he jumped off of his own volition. John would have every right to turn around and walk out of his life forever, but a part of Sherlock that he very rarely accesses does what he hardly ever allows to happen. He hopes.

“Yes. Of course I do.”

“Then put this on and sit in the wheelchair.”

“Why?”

“Because,” he swallows, “your wife is going to come in that door in a matter of minutes and I need her to think you’re me. And God help her if she does anything to you because of that.”

John sits and slides the piece in his ear, staring so fiercely at Sherlock, he leaves no doubt that he’d follow the man through the very gates of hell.

Sherlock nods once. John nods back.

He dials the phone and prays he knows John Watson better than his wife does. 

xxxxxx

He and Sherlock are the only two not wearing headsets and the roar of the helicopter is positively deafening. His wrists are not bound in handcuffs, as Sherlock’s are across from him. It’s seems a little ridiculous - it’s not like there’s anywhere to run, unless one wants to plummet to the earth - but considering Sherlock did just shoot a man at point-blank range, he supposes it does make sense. Proper protocol and all.

Christ.

He swallows hard and rubs his hands over his face, trying for the umpteenth time to catch Sherlock’s gaze, but the man remains staring at his shoes, palms clasped calmly in his lap. John meets Mycroft’s worried glance where he sits next to his brother instead and that alone is enough to turn his stomach. Mycroft Holmes doesn’t worry. At least not outwardly.

They land rather gracefully at the London heliport but the small jolt shakes John from his morose musings. Sherlock still refuses to meet his eye as a hand is clasped around his bicep and he’s pulled onto the landing pad. John's ears are ringing in the sudden silence and he adjusts his jaw to try to get them to pop. They’re shuffled into an awaiting limo, driver and agent in the front, Sherlock, Mycroft, John, and another agent in the back. The tension is suffocating.

“Sherlock - ” he whispers.

“Don’t.”

“But - ”

“John,” Sherlock clips, but his eyes (finally dragging up to meet his) betray him. They ask, they plead, they beg for John to acquiesce.  

John swallows and nods and the rest of the trip passes in silence. What should be at least a fifteen minute drive to Vauxhall (if John is right and that’s where they’re heading) is turning into a fast ten, London being quiet on this cold, Christmas evening. They head into an underground car park and come to an abrupt stop. More hands, more pulling, more pushing. They’re ushered down a nondescript, poorly lit hall made to intimidate, before coming to a dead end. Sherlock is taken right and John left, and the moment John realizes this, all hell breaks loose.

“No, no, where are you taking him?” He twists in his captor’s arms and breaks one shoulder from his strong grip. “Sherlock – No, wait!” John tries to get an arm out, a hand around Sherlock’s elbow, anything, but he’s yanked away. “Sherlock!”

But Sherlock disappears behind a door with Mycroft following, and John finally breaks free and sprints down, running into it at full tilt. It doesn’t budge.

“Let me in!” He bangs his fist three times against the metal, but all he gets in return is own desperate voice echoed back at him.

The agent isn’t even trying to stop him. He probably knows that John can’t do any real damage and it will only work to tire him out. He clearly underestimates John’s stamina when Sherlock is in trouble.

“I swear to God, Mycroft! I know you can hear me! Let me in!”

He screams until his voice is hoarse, but he never stops banging. He’s not sure how much time passes, but eventually, the lock clicks and John steps back, ready to bulldoze whomever passes through, but Mycroft Holmes stands before him, looking closer in age to his father than his brother.

“You have to let me see him. We both did this,” he begs.

Mycroft merely shakes his head and straightens his cufflink. “I have over a dozen witnesses, Dr. Watson. Sherlock’s fate is out of my hands for the time being.”

A heavy silence descends. John swallows and the click of his throat is loud under the unforgiving florescent lighting.

“You can’t fix this, can you.” It’s not a question.

Mycroft sighs, looking every bit the weary government agent. “I don’t think he’s expecting me to.”

“No, Mycroft.” He runs a hand through his hair. “This isn’t - This isn’t how it was supposed to be.”

“I told him not to get involved,” Mycroft quietly replies, shaking his head. “But you, John Watson, turned out to be both the making and the breaking of my brother.”

“Mycroft…” But that’s all he gets out as his voice cracks, because what can he say? This is his fault.

No. No. This is Mary’s fault.

Though, a secret part of him whispers, if he hadn’t allowed her to be his pressure point, they wouldn’t be here at all. If Sherlock hadn’t left, he wouldn’t have met her at his lowest moment. If John had just opened his mouth and told Sherlock… If...

The brutal truth is that Sherlock is his pressure point, too. And John feels that so acutely now, his knees nearly buckle.

And, as if Mycroft has followed every beat of that line of thought, he places a hand on John’s shoulder as he passes, pausing long enough to say,  “I’ll do what I can.” He squeezes once before letting go and John realizes that the more sentimental Mycroft gets, the more hope he loses.

xxxxxx

“This could kill you. You could die.”

If only.

His veins are on fire, his brain is trying to escape his skull, and his hair follicles are razors, digging into his skin with every movement his head makes on the pillow or his clothes make against his body. Is his head on a pillow? He can’t remember. Can’t open his eyes, either, because the light is too bright, despite the fact that it’s clearly gone evening and not a single switch in the flat has been flicked.

“Oh dear,” he thinks he hears Mrs. Hudson fret, but her presence (if it was even there to begin with) abruptly retreats. Was that just minutes ago? It feels like hours. Days, even, since his insufferable brother placed him on house arrest with strict instructions not to leave until the drugs had run their course.

He snorts and then promptly winces in pain. Like Sherlock could actually go anywhere. Not when his bones have turned to liquid. What would he stand on?

The front door closing. Footsteps. A gust of breath. A murmured, “Jesus, Sherlock.”

John.

Warmth floods Sherlock’s chest and he wants to reach out, to smile, to let John know that his presence is welcome, but all he can do is twitch a finger and hope John isn’t an hallucination.

A feels a cool flannel on his forehead and he moans as he leans into the touch. The sofa dips at his side (so he is on a pillow) as John’s weight settles next to him. A palm touches his shoulder and the blood in his veins doesn’t feel as scorching anymore.

“You really did a number on yourself, didn’t you.”

“Mmm,” he groans.

“Can you drink some water for me?” John asks and Sherlock’s eyes crack open, clocking John’s worried yet capable expression first, followed by the glass of water he holds in his hand.

He leans forward and John’s fingers cup the back of his neck, giving him some support. He gets two small swallows down before his stomach rebels. He must make a warning sound, or perhaps the look of alarm on his face is enough to clue John in because the next thing he knows, his head is being guided to the bucket John is holding. He empties what little sustenance he had there as John murmurs, “Easy, easy” and runs his hand up and down Sherlock’s back. It’s nice.

He wants more of it.

“Done?”

Sherlock grunts and collapses back onto the pillows, arms flailing to grab hold of John’s wrist and tug him closer. He’s freezing, beginning to shake, and trying to curl himself into as tight a ball as humanly possible. 

“Okay, okay, hang on,” John quietly says as he situates himself somehow behind Sherlock, against the cushions of the sofa. Sherlock turns over, burrowing into the heat as John pulls the blanket from the back of the couch over them and shifts Sherlock in his arms until he’s practically draped over his chest.

Sherlock’s shakes get more violent and his teeth begin chattering. “Mycroft… has… a plan,” he manages, but he’s so sleepy and John’s hands rubbing up and down his back once more aren't helping him retain consciousness. 

“Of course he has a plan. Shhhh,” John whispers and holds him a bit tighter.

Sherlock presses his face against the strong chest beneath him, arms tucked up under him, and sighs in the closest thing to contentment one can get when one is going through a rather vicious detox. “Don’t go,” he breathes.  

Fingers in his hair. Lips against his temple.

Definitely an hallucination.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” John replies.  

xxxxxx

John cradles the squirming, squalling bundle to his chest and huffs out a laugh of complete disbelief. This perfect person is his. She’s wrapped in his blue cardigan and he does his best to share his body heat with her as he uses the sleeve to cleaned a couple of spots they missed. His daughter (his daughter) yawns and he laughs because, yes, he supposes it has been a very trying day, as he allows her to latch onto his finger.

Mary had sighed and closed her eyes against the cool glass after she had handed the baby to John. “Just going to rest for a moment,” she had said and now she’s breathing deeply. They’ll go to the hospital in a moment, but for now, John just needs to savor this. To study the little human he helped create.

“Sherlock, get off the goddamn phone,” he murmurs through tears, but it’s the reply that tilts his world sideways.

“I’m not on it.”

John glances up and, sure enough, Sherlock is staring at the wiggling bundle in his arms with nothing short of awe, mobile nowhere to be seen. In fact, his fingers are laced tightly in his lap as if trying to keep himself from reaching out and that is just unacceptable.

“Here, hold your arms out.”

“What?” he asks in alarm, knuckles going whiter, and John can only chuckle as he dabs at his face with the sleeve of his shirt.

“Your arms, Sherlock. Hold them out. I’m putting my daughter in them.”

“Is that really the best – okay,” he blurts as the precious cargo is passed over. “Oh,” he breathes when she settles, snuffling into his chest and yawning once more.

“She’s… tiny.”

“Yes, they usually are.” John watches as Sherlock peers in close and his heart bursts as his daughter reaches out and bops him on the nose.

“Decent right hook,” Sherlock murmurs. “Always room for improvement, though, Watson.”

John muffles his laugh behind his hand, which quickly turns into a sob. Sherlock glances up, his own eyes somewhat glassy and smiles softly.

“You did good, John.”

“Mary did all the work.”

“But she’s half you.”

“God help her, then,” John chuckles, but Sherlock doesn’t.

“She’s lucky that you’re her father, John Watson, and don’t you ever say anything to the contrary,” Sherlock brusquely replies, gaze boring a hole through every fear and paranoid thought John has about letting his child down, before dropping his eyes to the baby in his arms and giving her his thumb to hold.

And right then, John falls a little bit more in love with him. Because he does love him. Always has. He just never allows himself to admit it.

John knows that, tomorrow, Sherlock will be back on his phone, texting and tweeting away at anyone and everyone who will listen. But for now, he can savor this. Because the man he loves is holding his daughter and, despite his near-constant denial of his feelings, exceptions must be made.

xxxxxx

Anyone.

Sherlock didn’t think it was possible to hate such an innocuous word, but its three syllables continue to hammer away at the shattered remains of his heart until there seems to be nothing left but dust.

The edges of the paper are worn. Far more weathered than a new note should be. It’s clear that the creases have been made and remade, brought to light and then hidden away once more. The irrational part of his brain wonders how many drafts John went through, until his common sense kicks in and tells him that this is not a recently written missive.

He sighs in the back of the cab as he unfolds the paper, attempting to meet his fate head on, but the breath lodges in his chest as he reads the first two lines:

Dear Sherlock,

I miss you.

He inhales sharply and rereads the words over and over until they’re tattooed on his brain, stark against the black of his lids whenever he closes his eyes.

I miss you so much, I’m honestly not sure how to go forward. Each day I don’t hear you blasting the walls, or playing the violin, or yelling at me to make tea is a struggle.

Oh God. Sherlock knows exactly what this is.

Was there something I could have said or done to keep you from jumping? I keep playing it over and over in my mind, despite how many times I wish I could wipe that day from my brain. I always hope each new scenario will get you off that ledge the safe way, but I’m proven wrong every single time. I guess I just wasn’t enough.

Sherlock closes his eyes and stifles a sob against his fist.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re happy. I hope someone is making tea just the way you like it and that there are plenty of mysteries only you and your brilliance could solve. Spare a thought for me now and again, will you?

You’d call me ridiculous for writing this letter to begin with. It’s not like it has anywhere to go. But some things need to be put to paper, since all opportunities to say them aloud have been squandered. So here goes:

I love you. Always have.

Come back, one more miracle, and let me tell you in person.

John

By the time Sherlock finishes, his tears have joined the coffee stains that mar the once-pristine paper. His hands are shaking and the cabbie is glancing at him in concern in the rearview mirror. He doesn’t even need to look up to know they’re outside 221B. He pays the fare and enters the flat, proud of himself for managing to make it to the loo before he’s sick.

He wipes his mouth and presses the paper to his chest, feeling, he suspects, a great deal like John did all those years ago.

Alone. Bereft. In love.

And grieving for the loss of it all.

xxxxxx

Of all the times John thought about Sherlock's fingers threading their way into his hair, this wasn’t exactly what he imagined.

He pulls away with a hitched breath, momentarily clocking the wet spot he’s left on Sherlock’s shirt, before turning and scrubbing his hands over his face. He doesn’t move away, though, and if he leaned back just an inch or two, he’d be back in the arms that haven’t quite managed to leave his shoulders.

“Sorry,” he manages after a moment.  

“Don’t be.”

“I didn’t - ”

“John,” Sherlock breathes, fierce enough for John to feel it on the back of his neck. “Don’t be.”

But John shakes his head, because that’s not what this is about. There are so many things he needs to say, but this - these two words - need to be spoken first and foremost.

“I’m not - “ John begins (coward), before swallowing and turning once more, forcing himself to meet this head on. Because he must. Sherlock deserves so many things, but at least that much. “I didn’t just mean…” he gestures to his face, still wet and blotchy from tears, an atypical break from stiff-upper-lip protocol. His eyes leave Sherlock’s oh-so-blue ones and travel over the stitches on his brow, the bruise on his cheek, to the scars and abrasions hidden beneath bespoke clothing.

“Let me check your ribs,” he says instead and Sherlock replies with a fond if exasperated eye roll.

“They’re fine.”

“They’re not.”

“John, I was in hospital - ”

“Where you nearly died!”

Sherlock’s mouth shuts with a click, because he really can’t argue there, and John exhales, nearly swaying on his feet.

“Please just… let me,” he whispers brokenly. This is his penance. Which he knows he’ll be paying for days, weeks, months, years to come.

Sherlock sighs like the downtrodden, put-upon arse he is, but acquiesces and holds his arms out all the same.

John clears his throat and skims his fingers over angles he thankfully cannot see, tucked away as they are beneath light blue silk. Sherlock hisses when he reaches the third rib on his left side and John tastes bile in his mouth.

“That wasn’t you,” he murmurs and John lets out a bitter laugh.

“Wasn’t it?”

Sherlock tilts his head and does that blinking thing that nearly ( always ) cleaves his heart in two. “Ajay.”

John shakes his head and licks his lips, feeling every beat of his heart pound at his temple. “Doesn’t change what I did.”

Two words.

“I’m sorry, Sherlock,” he finally whispers, voice shattered, meeting his eyes once more. “So incredibly sorry. You deserve… so much better. So much more than me.”

He’s just on the precipice of another breakdown, because once the dam has been broken, all bets are off, but then Sherlock takes his hands (so, so carefully) and says the four words John didn’t even realize he’d been waiting to hear:

“We deserve each other.”

John smiles softly and steps into Sherlock space once more. Those strong arms that have borne the burden of far too much recently envelop him and he sighs, content for the first time in quite a while.

The cake can hold out a bit longer.

xxxxxx

“Tell me how to save my friend. Help me save John Watson.”

His legs burn as he sprints toward the well, heart thundering in his chest as every horrible, inconceivable scenario flashes through his brain, all of which end with Sherlock arriving too late and finding John floating face down in the water.

His throat tightens and he pushes himself faster, light from the lantern bouncing off the edge of the stones.

“John!” he screams.

“Here!” he hears in reply, but it’s distant and accompanied by a cough and a splutter. The water is at least up to his chin, then.

“I’m coming!” He grabs the rope that whoever placed John there left behind, still tied to the pump, and tosses the end into the well. Shedding his coat and suit jacket, he takes a deep breath and swings a leg over the edge. It’s not an easy climb down - the well is deep and his shoes don’t exactly have the best tread - but he makes it about three quarters of the way before he slips and lands in the water with a splash.

“John?”

“About bloody time,” John replies with a tired smile, reaching out and grabbing hold of Sherlock.

“Jesus,” Sherlock murmurs, hands immediately running over what he can touch to ascertain for damage.

“‘m fine. Tired.”

Sure enough, John’s arms are moving sluggishly in his attempts to keep his head above water, so Sherlock is quick to bear the brunt of his weight, allowing John a moment of rest as his arms go around the smaller man’s body.

“Just… breathe for a second,” he instructs and John nods where his head has fallen against Sherlock’s shoulder.

“Thanks.”

“Lestrade and his team will be here soon. We’ll likely need them to get back up. I don’t think either of us is up for that climb.”

“Christ, no,” John chuckles before sobering. “There is the little problem of the water level, though.”

Sherlock hums and hitches John higher in his arms, testing how much give the chains have.

“And you’ve got nothing to get me out,” John says carefully, as if bracing himself for the knowledge that he could still end up drowning in a moment.

“Eurus gave me the key,” he says, fishing it out of his pocket.

“Then, bloody hell, get me out of here,” John laughs, pulling away.

“You’ll be all right?” The water is already lapping at his lips and Sherlock knows he’s got little time to free him.

“I’ll manage,” John replies and promptly coughs as he catches a tiny wave from their movements in the face.

Sherlock nods and dives, but not before taking hold of John’s hand and squeezing his fingers. It’s pitch black beneath the surface and Sherlock has to follow the length of John’s leg just to find the chains. He’s working by feel alone and the knowledge that this won’t be as fast as usual has anxiety clawing at his already straining lungs. He thinks he manages to find the keyhole, but right as he’s about to insert it, John’s hand rapidly taps the top of Sherlock’s head.

He breaks through the surface and immediately his heart seizes. John’s mouth and nose are below the water line and his eyes are staring at Sherlock in growing panic.

“Christ,” he mutters before inhaling deeply, holding the air in his lungs and pressing his lips tight to John’s, transferring the breath. “Hang on,” he orders as he pulls away, hands cupping John’s face. “I will get you out of this.”

John nods and Sherlock inhales, giving John one more breath, before taking an inhale for himself and diving back under the water. He knows where the keyhole is now and he can visualize it in his mind. With a click, the first cuff falls away from John’s left ankle and Sherlock makes quick work of the one on the right. He grabs John’s legs and shoves him up, ensuring he breaks the surface as quickly as possible.

“Are you all right?” he asks, voice breaking as he holds John’s head above the water even though the man is perfectly capable of swimming on his own now. “John, are you all right?”

“Yeah, fine,” he rasps, nodding as he grabs hold of Sherlock’s shirt. “Thanks to you, you madman.”

Sherlock makes a noise of desperation before crashing their lips together, arms coming around John’s waist and bringing them both below the water once more.

They pull apart before oxygen becomes a necessity and when John breaks the surface, his eyes are wide and his lips are swollen.

“Oh,” he breathes with a look of wonder on his face before tugging Sherlock forward and pressing himself to him once more.

“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” Sherlock whispers, burying his face in John’s neck as John’s fingers thread through his wet hair.

“Promise,” he replies, almost reverently.

There will be conversations to be had later, but right now, this is all they need.

Eventually, a light is beamed down and a harness lowered, but the two men who’ve nearly died so many times for the man at their side only have eyes for each other.

xxxxxx

John tries to bite back a smile as he hands Rosie off to Sherlock so he can pay the cab fare, watching out of the corner of his eye as Sherlock expertly bounces her in his arms while showing off the fairy lights hanging in a nearby shop window.

It’s the first night of John's (and Rosie’s) return to Baker Street and Sherlock thought a celebration might be in order. It was John’s idea to go to Angelo’s, though, and the ecstatic look on the restaurateur’s face when they walk in is absolutely worth it.

“My friends!” he booms, arms wide as he steps forward and heartily shakes John’s hand. Sherlock’s is still occupied with Rosie and Angelo turns his attention to her with a wide smile. “And who is this precious little princess?” he asks and Rosie must find his presence a bit overwhelming because she buries her face in Sherlock’s neck and hangs tight to the curls at the nape of his neck.

“It’s all right, love,” John coos. “This is Angelo. An old friend. Angelo, this is Rosie.”  

Rosie peeks out and Angelo offers her a big smile. She grins back, easily swayed, and offers a tiny wave.

“Gorgeous,” Angelo replies clapping both John and Sherlock on the shoulder. “C'mon, I have your table. I was so happy when I got your call. I’ll bring a highchair for the li’le one.”

Sherlock leads the way over to their usual and sits with the baby in his lap. She tilts her head back and stares at the ceiling, seemingly fascinated by the lights hanging there. John watches this with fondness from his usual seat in front of the window.

“Here we are,” Angelo says as he returns, placing the highchair at the end of the table and holding the straps so Sherlock can settle Rosie in it.

He’s incredibly good with her. Gentle, caring. It’s the side that Sherlock only shows to them and John feels all the more honored because of it.

“And a candle,” which Angelo snags from an adjacent table, “for you and your family.”

Sherlock’s eyes go wide. “They’re not – ”

“Yes, please,” John interrupts, his hand coming to land on Sherlock’s knee beneath the table. “That would be great.”

He watches Sherlock glance down and John holds his breath, waiting for the realization he honestly expected to come hours ago. 

His wedding ring is gone.

And if the way Sherlock numbly blinks as he stares at John’s left hand is any indication, he’s finally just noticing.

John clears his throat and lets go, picking up the menu and tossing a wink to Rosie who blushes and hides behind her stuffed bumble bee.

“So…” John begins, eyes perusing the specials and not reading a single one. “Got a girlfriend?”

He glances to his left in time to watch Sherlock’s lower lip wobble and he bites his own to keep the sudden influx of emotion at bay, because Sherlock finally knows what he’s trying to do. It's a restart. A do-over. A new beginning.

“No,” Sherlock whispers. “Not really my area.”

“Right,” John smiles, going slightly pink. “Got a boyfriend, then?”

John knows how this ended before; he knows how badly they bollocksed this up. He’ll be sure not to make the same mistake again and Sherlock seems to share the sentiment.

“It’s a bit… complicated,” he replies, eyes darting to John before finding his menu once more.   

John smiles warmly and glances at Rosie, who's watching the proceedings with detached interest as she gnaws on the wing of the bee.

“Complicated in what way?” John quietly asks and he can practically hear Sherlock swallow.

“I’ll let you know.”

Angelo chooses that moment to return, producing a bottle of wine with a flourish that has Rosie clapping her hands together.

“Some vino for your daddies, yeah?” he says to her and she giggles. “Yes, I agree.”

Sherlock can't help the gasp that escapes when he hears that word and John smiles so hard, his face hurts. He ringless hand finds Sherlock’s under the table and squeezes, threading their fingers together.

“What do you say, Rosie?” he asks, staring at Sherlock, voice a bit wobbly. “I think your Papa and I have earned some wine, yes?”

And it's that simple phrase that finally has Sherlock bringing his watery eyes up to meet John’s as a tear spills onto his cheek. If Angelo notices, the man (bless him) doesn’t say a word as he pours the chianti and leaves.

“Did I just make it more complicated or less?” John whispers, heart in his throat.

“Ask me again,” Sherlock blurts.

“What? If I made it more complicated?”

“No.” Sherlock shakes his head and another tear falls. “The other thing.”

“Oh,” John smiles, nearly giddy. “D’you have a girlfriend?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes, probably wishing John had just cut to the chase, but he dutifully replies, “Not really my area.”

“Ah.” John nods. “Got a boyfriend then?”

“No,” Sherlock quickly says and a slight frown forms between John’s brow. He thought the whole point of this charade was for the answer to be quite the opposite.

“No?”

“We prefer the term ‘partner,” Sherlock replies, taking their clasped hands and moving them onto the table. In full view of the rest of the restaurant. His expression is hopeful, but his voice tremulous as he finishes with, “Or so I’m led to believe.”  

“We do,” John breathes, bringing Sherlock’s hand to his lips and pressing a kiss on his knuckles, thinking of all the time it took to get here. To this precise, perfect moment. “We absolutely do.”