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Ghosting

Chapter Text

As far as physically gruelling cases go, this one almost tops the list. Sherlock has easily had to use only ten percent of his mental faculties for this dull, barely-a-five, but the legwork has been tremendous and tiring and consuming and, by the time they’re chasing the prime suspect down (Sherlock is 99,6% sure he’s the culprit), his legs and chest are burning with fatigue and he can barely even be bothered to catch him. Luckily, John is there, as ever, ruthless in his almost single-minded focus on justice and before long, he has caught up with the man in question about half a kilometre from where Sherlock is catching his breath. There’s a big and rough tussle, but Sherlock isn’t concerned in the slightest - knows John will prevail - and then Lestrade is there, cuffs and all and Sherlock is relieved that he finally gets to go home and focus on things more worthy of his mind.

John saunters back to Sherlock, a smile lighting up his features and Sherlock is soon wearing a matching one, the familiar coursing of adrenaline that comes with every case hitting him now. He can’t help but notice that John looks beautiful this way - the late-afternoon sunlight shining in his silver-tinged hair, mussed up from the struggle. His shirt is half untucked and ripped at the ribs. He looks young and light, and Sherlock takes a mental snapshot to file away for later. The thrill-of-the-chase John. His John. The world gets to have the doctor and the friend, but he has the loyal soldier and companion.

“Let’s go home,” John chuckles, rubbing the back of his neck abashedly while his other hand gestures to his torn shirt by way of explanation.

Sherlock’s stomach does flips at the word. Home. It hasn’t been John’s home in four years - not in the traditional sense of the word. Thanks to Mycroft’s blithe remarks, he knows John moved out of 221B shortly after he jumped from Bart’s rooftop and hasn’t lived there since. And yet. And yet something prompts him to call it home , still, and for that, Sherlock can’t help but be optimistic.

He wishes John would just move back with Rosie but, for some reason, he won’t. They’ve never addressed it outright, but John insists on staying in his sad flat where he used to live with Mary. Sherlock often wonders if that’s it - if he’d rather live with the ghost of his dead wife than live with him. If the memory of her is leading him to stay, a sentiment he doesn’t think he could understand. Whatever the cause, it’s somewhat of an unspoken area between them, as is everything, so Sherlock doesn’t remark on his choice of words now. That doesn’t stop him from turning them over in his mind on the cab ride back to Baker Street, feeling their weight against his spirit and wondering what they mean - if anything - to John.

While Sherlock leaves John to take care of the fare, he climbs the familiar, well-worn steps to the sitting room and is about to enter his Mind Palace to store away the facts of the case when John clears his throat in the doorway behind him.

“Mind if I borrow a shirt?” John asks, tugging on the flapping end of his own ripped plaid… fiasco.

Sherlock nods once and waves a hand towards his bedroom, signalling for John to help himself. A minute later, though, he remembers one of John’s old sleeping t-shirts in the back of a drawer somewhere, and follows John to his room to let him know.

It happens in less than a flash, but Sherlock walks in just as John, who has somehow located his old t-shirt for himself, has undone his damaged shirt and is standing next to Sherlock’s chest of drawers, topless. Sherlock spots it immediately. A small, neat design tattooed on John’s chest - close to his left nipple. With laser-focus, Sherlock, appropriately, inks it into his memory.

“Just…” John says awkwardly, turning around quickly and slipping his tee over his head in one fluid motion.

“Right. Sorry, I… Sorry,” Sherlock mumbles, closing the door as he leaves.

Curious.

He knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that John didn’t have that before. As he takes a seat in his chair, he casts his mind back, trying to remember the last time he saw John without a top on. Not recently. There was the time Rosie threw up her formula all over John’s work shirt and he’d taken it off immediately, but he had been wearing a vest underneath. Other than that, nothing comes to mind. Living separately from each other clearly negated the incidental exposure that would sometimes happen, all those years ago: John, with just a towel slung low around his hips, brushing his teeth in the steamy bathroom with the door slightly ajar; Sherlock, cleaning a wound on John’s back where little shards of glass had pierced all along the left side of his spine, making sure to get every last piece out before helping him disinfect and plaster it up; John, leaning down to put his slippers on as his dressing gown slid open, exposing his whole chest.

Sherlock knows all this, intimately, dearly, thoroughly, because he has hoarded all these moments, and more, in his mind, for lonely nights. He had many of those in his time away, flicking through his catalogue of John to keep him company, keep him warm when everything was anything but.

So, the tattoo appeared sometime between their pre-Fall cohabitation and now. That doesn’t narrow it down by much, considering that five years has passed. Still, any data is to be appreciated, as Sherlock knows.

He steeples his hands to his mouth, allowing the image of the tattoo to come to life in his Mind Palace, displaying it in 3D before his eyes as though on a projector. It was simple black ink - quite thin yet prominent - in the shape of a sidewards 8. Infinity sign. The bottom left of the line, however, was broken by a line and a dot before it continued on. Sherlock quickly files through several possibilities - codes, ciphers, symbols - before settling on his rough verdict - inconclusive; not enough data. This will require a lot more probing.

Chapter Text

That night, Sherlock can think of little else. He lies in bed, very much awake while the rest of London surely is not. The planes of John’s pecs - little ripples of muscles even after all this time - marked just once with the unnatural black ink. He feels an odd sense of betrayal at the fact. Pushes it down, away, out. Now isn’t the time. Now is the time for figuring it out. He tells himself he can take out the illogical hurt and examine it at a later date, while hoping he’ll forget about it by then. Emotional explorations, even after all this time, are not his forte.

He has a few ideas as to what the tattoo could mean, but nothing concrete. His mind shuffles through images and sounds, smells and tastes, rejecting almost everything as implausible. He takes his time with each one, pinning them onto the John in his mind, but none seem to fit. John is a simple man, military. Doctor, soldier, friend, father, husband(?). The most obvious thing that springs to mind is morse code, the little line and dot representing one of many alternatives. An N. If read the other way, an A. Perhaps a T and an E. The most likely of these is initials read forwards, so T.E., considering people often get tattoos purely for sentimental reasons, coupled with the infinity sign. He files away the possibility of N for another time.

T.E.

Sherlock opens the cabinet in his Mind Palace with all of John’s acquaintances. One by one, they flash before him, rotating in front of his eyes and he swishes through them with a flick of the wrist. Ah. Stella and Ted. Ted. What is Ted’s last name? Think!

He rifles through another drawer in the filing cabinet, but comes up empty. Pulls out his phone and opens his text thread with John.

02:09 What is Ted’s surname? SH

The answering vibration is almost immediate.

02:09 What?

02:09 Ted. Surname? SH

02:10 Sherlock are you alright? It’s 2 in the morning?

“Oh for goodness…”

02:10 TED of Stella and Ted, John. Their surname is??? SH

02:10 Collins. Why?

He tosses his phone back on the nightstand and digs the heels of his hand into his eye sockets. Wouldn’t it be convenient if that thread could be followed to completion? Not that it would be a tidy explanation, but it would be simple and easy. His phone vibrates three times more before he retrieves it.

02:12 Why are you asking me about Ted at 2 in the morning?

02:12 Why aren’t you asleep?

02:14 Sherlock?

02:14 Can’t sleep. Was just wondering. SH Why are you awake? SH

02:15 Same. Can’t sleep. Anything in particular you’re wondering about?

02:15 Just missing data. SH

He rolls his onto his back, ready to put his phone back down but then opens his texts once more.

02:15 Goodnight, John. SH

02:15 Goodnight Sherlock.

That leaves N. Sherlock uses the same technique to look for the mysterious N, but comes up empty. Infuriating. Unacceptable.

---

The next morning, before he can even think of his coffee and toast, he’s opening up his laptop, and Googling almost a hundred different variations on infinity+tattoo+dash+dot+chest. He doesn’t notice when Mrs Hudson brings up his morning tea and biscuits, too busy rifling through eleven open tabs. The internet - while the fastest possible one he could pay for - still doesn’t keep up with his thoughts and his impatience.

He’s on an obscure page on army symbols and insignia when he realises that none of the things he’s seeing look or feel anything similar to what John has. Time to explore another avenue.

Perhaps a visit to a friend that owes him a favour would be more suitable. He downs the now-cold tea that Mrs Hudson left for his breakfast hours ago and rushes downstairs, putting his coat on as he storms through the door. When there’s a puzzle to explore, every inch of him comes to life. Not even cocaine can make him feel this way. (Only John can really make him feel this way, he realises abashedly and pushes it down; not now).

The tattoo parlour is only a short cab ride away and soon, he’s pushing open the heavy glass door to a low bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Stupid thing, tattoos. Sherlock has always found them pointless. A waste of time, really. The fact that John has one has not only surprised him due to his lack of knowledge about it, but it has also somehow shifted the idea he has had of John. Utilitarian, neat, old-school. None of these things fit with the concept of permanently marking his body. The tinge of betrayal threatens to make itself known, so Sherlock decides rather to focus on the matter at hand.

“Can I help - oh, hi Sherlock. Come to get inked? Or got another disgusting dead body to show me?” Elaine notices him in the doorway.

“I need your help with something of a more… personal nature,” Sherlock stammers.

“Sure,” she says, gesturing for him to take a seat by the front desk.

“I have a friend who quite recently got ‘inked’, as you call it, and I’d like to find out if the design means anything to you.”

“Okay?” Elaine looks skeptical, but willing.

Sherlock draws the tattoo that is now seared into his memory onto a blank page on his notebook and turns it over for her to look at.

“Ring any bells?”

“Hmm. That’s probably an infinity sign. With… morse code?”

Sherlock snaps his eyes to hers. Smarter than she looks. (“Pretty damn smart, then”. Shutup! Not now!)

“So it isn’t anything common or familiar?”

“Not at all. You know, Sherlock, people do come in with their own unique designs. It’s not like we hand them a chart and they pick from it. Well, not often,” she says, rolling her eyes and standing back up. “Is that all?”

“Obviously. Yes. Thank you.”

Once he’s outside, he decides to walk back to Baker Street, allowing his mind to work on the problem at hand without any distractions.

As he’s climbing the steps to 221B, he can hear a little girl’s giggling which lights up his whole face, too. Rosie. John. Home.

“What’s this, then?” John asks teasingly as Sherlock enters the flat and his stomach drops. All his research is out. Papers with the little design drawn on it all in different ways. His laptop with the tabs on tattoo symbols open. He can feel his cheeks heating up and doesn’t know how to respond.

“Nothing,” Sherlock eventually replies indignantly, shutting his laptop and pulling all his papers into a messy pile on the coffee table. He turns his attention to Rosie to shift the vibe. “Hello, little Watson. How are you today?” he asks as she toddles over to the couch and tries to climb up.

John helps her on and gives her the dummy that she’s reaching out for. He turns around to glare at Sherlock, who suddenly urgently needs to stare down at the fading carpet.

“You’ve been doing a lot of research?” he asks, and his tone is light, easy, but there’s something lurking underneath. Something challenging and almost dark. It only intrigues Sherlock more.

“Well, what did you expect, John? You know how I am. If there’s a string to pull…”

“Not this string, Sherlock. Just leave it, yeah?” John says with finality.

The rest of the evening passes by awkwardly, and by the time they leave, Sherlock is glad to be alone with his shame and his puzzle.

Chapter Text

N. N. N N N N N.

Sherlock repeats the letter over and over in his mind as though it were a mantra. He’s familiar with the use of mantras in meditation, having tried the practice out himself when he tried to go cold turkey in his early thirties once. It enabled him to enhance his Mind Palace technique and hone in on how best to easily and quickly access certain wings but, other than that, he hadn’t found it very useful - being alone with his own mind was a recipe for disaster, truly. And now, instead of the letter bringing comfort or relief as a mantra should, it brings a wash of emotions, some of them foreign to him. Curiosity, intrigue, motivation; all to be expected, under the circumstances. What he can’t explain, however, is the feeling he keeps trying to bury. Has been trying to bury since he first saw the little mark on John’s chest a couple of days ago. The one that makes his stomach roil and his heart feels heavy and constricted. He feels… hurt. That’s the only word he can find that could possibly match. It doesn’t make any sense to him, but there it is, in all its gory glory. Hurt.

So he deals with it the only way he knows how: push it away, fight it down, obsess over the little things surrounding it to come to the truth instead. Eyes on the puzzle at hand. If his focus lies elsewhere, even if it’s slightly to the left of it instead of at the centre, he never has to face the demons. Never has to actually go to the trouble of slaying them.

He rolls over onto his back, kicking the heavy duvet off his legs. He feels too stifled to be caged in right now, even by something as usually comforting as fabric. Taking his phone of the side table, he checks the time. It’s after one in the morning, but he suspects John will be awake; knows he’s been battling bouts of insomnia lately (undereye bags being the strongest indicator, among other things). His suspicion is confirmed when John answers the phone after only two rings.

“Everything okay?” he asks in lieu of a greeting. Ever on alert. Battle-stations John.

“Yes, fine, I -”

“Case?”

“No. I have a question…”

“A que- What, Sherlock? What question could warrant you ringing me at one in the morning on a work night?” John’s tone is exasperated, but Sherlock knows it’s still fond. Perhaps teasing, even.

“You were awake already,” Sherlock offers defensively.

“Yeah, well, I shouldn’t be,” John sighs. “What’s the question?”

“Can you send a list of the names of all your ex-girlfriends to my email? Preferably in alphabetical order, although you may rather organise them in order of sentiment, in which case I wouldn’t be opposed. In fact, it might be rather more helpful if - ”

“Sherlock.”

“Yes?”

“I’m obviously not sending you a list of my girlfriends in any order.

“Ah. Tomorrow then, when you’ve had more time to -”

At any time.

Sherlock is silent, hoping his pout will be audible somehow.

“And if this is about the bloody tattoo again, I told you to leave it, and I mean it,” John practically seethes through the phone and hangs up.

Sherlock is shocked. It isn’t like John to be so abrupt. He normally encourages Sherlock’s little explorations. Sherlock thought that’s one of the things John liked about him - his insatiable curiosity and his willingness to always, always, always hunt for the truth. Maybe he doesn’t appreciate it when it’s directed at him, sure, but he’s never outright refused him like this before. Which only serves to heighten Sherlock’s already-intense curiosity.

---

As soon as his eyes pop open the next morning, Sherlock reaches for his phone once again. This time, it takes a couple more rings before John picks up.

“This is a more practical time to be ringing,” John says, a little out of breath but not uncheerfully, and Sherlock can tell he’s in a good mood. He’s probably been playing with Rosie. Sherlock can picture it now: John good-naturedly yelling, “I’m gonna catch you,” while Rosie squeals and runs down the corridor. Sherlock has seen them play that little game many times before.

A brief flash of something else crowds over the image, though: John, sweaty, naked, back arched, sheets tousled, someone beneath him. He shakes his head harshly to physically remove the picture somehow.

“Sherlock?” John asks, bringing him back to the present.

This isn’t the time for your masochistic imaginings.

“What is your maternal grandmother’s name?” Sherlock shoots out without preamble.

“Elsie. Goodbye,” John says in a slightly irritated tone.

“Wait wait wait!”

“What?”

“And your grandfather?”

The line is disconnected before he even finished his sentence.

---

When John brings Rosie for a visit the next day, all Sherlock can think about, of course, is the tattoo on John’s chest. Whenever he has a case to solve, nothing else matters. Every other passing detail becomes just that - a detail. Inconsequential. Especially when the case is his substitute for dealing with emotions. He learnt a long time ago that it’s either the needle or the chase - without either, his mind seems to collapse in on itself with the gravity of merely existing.

Sherlock has done some digging into family records posted online here and there. It hadn’t even really required much hacking because once Sherlock knew that John’s grandmother’s name was Elsie, he knew that a family tree he found on some inane blog belonged to a distant relative of John’s.

None of John’s parents or grandparents’ names match the possible initials, though. He also has no mysterious siblings Sherlock doesn’t know about (he checked - one can never be too sure these days) and, as far as he knows, none of his exes match either. Unless…

“Have you ever dated any men?” Sherlock asks suddenly.

John’s head jerks up from his plate. They’re sat at the kitchen table eating some brunch while Rosie happily plays with her dry cereal on the tray of her high chair.

“Sherlock…”

“I know that you may or may not have had multiple sexual partners while in the army - didn’t earn your Three Continents moniker for naught, I suppose - but what I don’t know is how many of these men - if any - were actually your boyfriend at any point in time.”

For almost a solid thirty seconds, the only sound in the room is Rosie’s activities, while John glares at Sherlock. He looks… wild, somehow. Like a feral dog having been caught out. Sherlock senses something in the air shifting, and dangerously so. It’s too late to backpedal now, though - the stupid words are out of his mouth before he’s even thought them through, so he has to stand by it. He holds his chin up in defiance.

“Listen to me carefully, Sherlock,” John says, dark and low, “And listen well. I’m not discussing this. Not with you. And especially not now.”

At that point, John stands up from the table with his plate and almost throws it into the sink. The resulting clash makes Sherlock jump. John stands with his back to Sherlock, facing the sink. He leans on the counter slowly, breathing out steadily. Sherlock knows this particular John. Not well, but well enough to know that he shouldn’t push him any further. Not right now, at least.

“John, I -”

“Nope,” John says with finality. Sherlock closes his mouth with a small click. Even Rosie has gone quiet, sensing the shift in the room.

“I’ll take Rosie to change, shall I?” Sherlock asks softly as he stands up.

“Sit.”

He sits back down, eyes wide. John turns around and a little shiver runs down Sherlock’s spine at the sight of him. He’s incensed. He takes a step forward and Sherlock can’t help it; he flinches lightly. At that, John’s expression changes, softens up. He looks regretful.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” John mutters quietly, casting his eyes towards the table between them.

Sherlock doesn’t answer.

“I think we’d better go. Rosie needs to nap soon.”

“She can nap upstairs,” Sherlock mutters, but he knows it’s not going to happen.

“Bye, Sherlock.”

John lifts Rosie out of her chair, gathers all of their things and leaves quietly.

It feels as though all the air has been sucked out of the room upon his departure. The tension is still electrifying the atmosphere, and Sherlock’s stomach is in little knots. He knows he crossed a line, but he isn’t quite sure where. It isn’t always easy for him to gauge where in social situations he’s gone wrong, but that’s what John has always helped him with.

What he really feels, above all else, though, is the prevailing sense of unfairness. He has given John all of himself. As much as he was able to give, anyway. And in return? All he’s left with is questions and obfuscations. He often feels as though he has flayed himself wide open for John Watson to inspect, to have, to take. What he’s never realised before this very moment, however, was that he was the only one doing so. The only one giving. The only one pushing and talking and inviting and seeing and worrying and wondering and, yes, loving. Before this very moment, the realisation that John is selfish had never dawned on him before. He’d always seen their relationship as perfectly reciprocal. He the yin to John’s yang somehow. Even when that delicate balance was disturbed by time away and Mary and conflict, somehow there was always the sense that there were two of them - just the two of them against the rest of the world. He thought it was that way and that it’d always be that way. But now he’s sat at the kitchen table at eleven thirty in the morning wondering just how much he has to give before he’s all given out.

He stands up from the table soundlessly and walks to the window in the living room. Just in time to see John clipping Rosie into her carseat in the back of the car. When that’s done, he goes around to the driver’s side and opens the door but, before climbing in, he looks up, as though aware that Sherlock is there. He locks eyes with Sherlock and gives his head a slow, sad shake before looking away and climbing into the car.

Chapter Text

For the next few weeks, neither of them budge. Sherlock makes no move to contact John, partly out of pride and partly because he’s angry. Underneath that anger, though, lies something else. The dangerous thing. The thing he’d rather ignore. The problem - as Sherlock, at nearing middle-age has slowly come to find out - is that ignoring feelings, moods, sentiments; it’s not as easy as it once was. Where John, especially, is concerned, he finds it difficult to shove his emotions in a black box with a lock in a dark room of his mind palace. He did try, though.

The first time he realised that he was irreversibly in love with John Watson, he was standing atop St Bart’s and it was too late to do a thing about it. He still had some kind of hope, though, call it blind optimism, and it kept him going for the following two years. Every situation he found himself in was successfully navigated only thanks to the belief that he had to make it through and make it back. He never considered the fact that John wouldn’t be his to have when he did eventually make it. When he thinks about it now, he realises how stupid he was for thinking that John wouldn’t move on. He never belonged to him in the first place, so move on isn’t quite the right term but, for the life of him, Sherlock can’t come up with a better one to fit the situation. Where issues of partner-friend-companion-colleague-John are concerned, conventional words and phrases do seem to elude him.

When he came back and there was suddenly Mary and anger and then wedding and best man/friend, Sherlock tried his very hardest to lock John up in that black box. For a month after the wedding, he didn’t contact John (not that John ever attempted to reach out to him first - a very sore point, to this day). He holed himself away, planning and organising and pushing deep, deep down. He should have known from the start that the whole exercise was futile. He’d managed it with Redbeard, but even those demons weren’t truly buried.

Now, though, he’s learning. Love hurts and sometimes, the hurt has to be felt in order to be managed. This revelation is how he’s come to be sat on the couch at five thirty on a Wednesday afternoon breathing deeply with his eyes closed, allowing himself to just feel. It should probably be easier, he knows, but he’s out of practice, what with a lifetime of suppressing behind him. Ironically, he has Eurus, his repressed-secret-sister, to thank for his newfound embracing of matters of the heart.

What he feels now, though, is initially so sharp that he almost backs out, but he reminds himself to forge ahead. Something tight and claustrophobic enters his belly and work its way up to his throat, constricting it. Something that, at the very root of it, says, “He doesn’t love you, he doesn’t love you, he doesn’t love you.” Because that’s surely why John is behaving the way he is. He can’t even tell Sherlock about his body art because he doesn’t care for him the same way that Sherlock does. John is a closed book to him. Sherlock has deduced some things, stuff about his past with Harry and his parents and the men he slept with in the army, but John has never shared any of it with him. He’s never even met any of John’s relatives.

John, on the other hand, has a kind of all-access pass to Sherlock’s life. He knows Sherlock’s family, a lot of his past, and more of his wounds than Sherlock is comfortable with anyone knowing, even John. The biggest thing he has, though, is Sherlock’s very heart. Through loving John, Sherlock has learnt to be soft and vulnerable and open. He has learnt that sentiment is not a chemical defect and that caring can be an advantage (but only sometimes). If Sherlock had a tattoo, John would definitely know about it. Not only did John not bother to mention that he’d gone and gotten himself a tattoo sometime during their acquaintance, he also refuses to tell him what it means. In fact, he’s actively against Sherlock’s inquisition. Sherlock understands, of course he does, about boundaries - John taught him all about those, too. This, however, isn’t a boundary issue. This, to Sherlock, is more personal. This is a heart issue.

Sherlock stands from the couch, done with self-exploration for the day. The conclusion is that he supposes he can’t fault John for not loving him back, but he doesn’t have to be glad of it.

He’s allowed to feel angry and hurt and yes, even betrayed. He’s granting himself the permission nobody ever granted him.

---

Exactly three weeks and five days after their argument, John phones Sherlock. He doesn’t answer. John doesn’t leave a voicemail.

---

Two days later, John phones again. Sherlock doesn’t answer. There’s a brief voicemail. Hi, just wondering - but Sherlock stops it there. He can’t stomach niceties and small talk in a normal context, but it just feels hateful now.

---

Three days after that, Sherlock receives a text.

20:12

So you’re just not going to call me back, is that it?

Sherlock deletes it, albeit after reading it fourteen times.

---

Later that night, John texts again.

23:54

This is childish. If you want to talk, let me know. If not, I’ll be waiting anyway.

---

A whopping six weeks pass without Sherlock speaking to John.

Sherlock wonders who he’s hurting more - John or himself. He remembers when Mycroft used to chide him about cutting off his nose to spite his face and concludes it’s probably himself.

Chapter Text

Six weeks and two days after Sherlock sees John, Lestrade rings with a case.

“This better be above a six,” Sherlock answers his phone in lieu of a simple hello.

“Oh, I think you’ll definitely want to see this. Double homicide. Both victim and prime suspect, that is.”

“Text me the address,” Sherlock rings off, already slipping his arms into his coat.

On the way there, he wonders if he should have called John to invite him along and then decides better of it, reasoning that he needs some time away. There is a tiny voice inside, though, that says that isn’t really the truth. The truth is that you’re scared. Sherlock pushes it away.

---

As soon as Sherlock arrives at the crime scene, all thoughts of John go out the window as he dashes from outdoor muddy footprints to indoor blood splatter. Unfortunately, thoughts of John never stay buried for long and he can’t exactly ignore them when the man himself shows up fifteen minutes later with two cups of takeaway coffee - one of them ostensibly for Sherlock.

John nods his head at him by way of greeting, and Sherlock just looks away. He doesn’t know what’s wrong with him, but he can’t bring himself to put on a face. Not this time. He’s done it before, most notably at John’s wedding, but all previous instances had been to make John happy. He’s starting to feel like he’s rather tired of working to keep John happy while discounting his own happiness.

John keeps on trying to make hideous small talk with him throughout the course of the case, and Sherlock is barely verbal in response. It isn’t anything new - Sherlock is usually quite inside his own head during cases, but John must sense that something is off because, instead of just assuming anything as usual, when the case wraps up, he asks Sherlock, “Mind if I come by?”

Sherlock doesn’t know what to say, so he just nods curtly and stalks off in search of a cab.

The ride to Baker Street is awkward and quiet, and Sherlock just wants to be in his flat curled up on his couch thinking his thoughts. For some unknown reason, John doesn’t take their uncomfortable silent ride as a hint or a sign, and he still insists on his ridiculous idea of coming upstairs.

When they reach the top of the sitting room, before Sherlock even has a chance to settle in, John turns to him, looks him head on and asks, “So you’re still sore about the other day?”

Sherlock doesn’t say anything, just turns around to storm off but John grabs him by the arm lightly, forcing him to turn back around.

“Sherlock, you can’t ignore me forever. This is ridiculous.”

“Is it?” Sherlock finally snaps. “Is it so ridiculous that I’d be allowed to experience my own feelings for once?”

“And what’s that supposed to mean, exactly?” John asks, folding his arms, looking entirely unamused by this point.

“I’m not really in the mood for this,” Sherlock mutters.

“For what?”

“This!” Sherlock gestures between the two of them.

“You don’t get to decide that, though.”

“How do you figure that? What exactly do I get to decide then, if not the way in which I’d prefer to handle my affairs?”

Our affairs, Sherlock. That’s the point. You aren’t in this relationship alone. There’s two of us.”

Sherlock’s brain briefly short-circuits at the word relationship, but helpfully comes back before he makes an utter fool of himself. He still can’t respond, though.

“Is this about the stupid tattoo?” John asks condescendingly.

“No, John. Well, yes, but no. It was about that, but now it’s something so much more than just that.”

John plops down in his chair, emphasising the fact that he’d like to have it out. Sherlock realises the futility in trying to escape this conversation in the face of John’s stubbornness and rolls his eyes as he sits opposite him. John raises his eyebrows, willing Sherlock to go on.

A couple of points run through Sherlock’s mind. Points he should be making. Instead, what he says is, “I’m tired, John.”

“Tired of what?”

“You never share anything with me.”

“You never ask. You just barge in and deduce.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that that’s my way of asking?”

“Has it ever occurred to you that some things are better left alone?”

“You don’t trust me.”

John huffs out a laugh, but he isn’t amused - not by a long shot. He shakes his head, clearly (barely) holding back his indignation.

“If you trusted me, I would know more about you.”

“About my tattoo?”

“About your tattoo, yes. About your family. About your childhood. Your army days. All of it. Any of it, really.”

“We’re not like that, though. We don’t talk like that, do we?”

“Maybe not, but you know it all about me.”

“So this is a case of ‘show me yours and I’ll show you mine’?” John asks sarcastically.

“No,” Sherlock snaps, “It’s a case of ‘give and ye shall receive.’ It’s a case of this ‘relationship’, as you put it, feeling a little bit one-sided a lot of the time. It’s not about a stupid tattoo. It’s about a tattoo being one more thing that I’m not privy to in your life. It’s about you claiming that I’m your best friend, but keeping me constantly at arm’s length.”

John says nothing, just looks down pensively.

“I’m allowed to be angry, John. And if you’d just give me some space to do so, we can move on from this. After everything - ”

“Yeah, I get it. After everything you’ve done for me. After everything you’ve shared with me. I never asked for any of it, though, did I?” John says and it’s cruel and it hurts and Sherlock hates him in this moment more than he’s ever hated him before; even more than the day he said “I do” to another woman.

“How long must I pay for what I did?” Sherlock bites back. “Is two years not long enough for you?”

John looks at him sharply. He hadn’t been expecting that. Sherlock hadn’t been expecting it either but, after all this time, it seems always to lead back to him falling off of Bart’s bloody rooftop.

“Sherlock, I… That’s got nothing to do -”

“Oh, of course it does. Of course it’s got everything to do with it. You don’t trust me and it’s because, four years ago, I jumped off of a rooftop to save your life.”

“And I owe you now. Is that it?”

“No. I’m obviously not saying that.”

“Then what are you saying, Sherlock? Because it sounds an awful lot like your frustration with me is stemming from the fact that you feel as though you’ve done so much for me and I’ve done nothing to repay you. And I get it, okay? I do, actually. In fact, all I have done is let you down and blame you and - and beat you!” John raises his voice, punctuating his point by punching his left fist on the already-worn armrest of his chair.

“It’s not about payment or repayment. It’s about the reciprocal nature of relationships. It’s about the fact that I’d do anything for you - anything - and you can’t even be bothered to tell me about your new body art.”

“It isn’t new,” John mutters.

“What?”

“It isn’t exactly new, but you probably know that.”

“I estimate it’s around four years old, yes.”

“Yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes, exactly. Exactly four years old,” John says purposively, holding Sherlock’s gaze with his chin up.

Oh. Oh.

“The tattoo is -”

“Yes.”

“It’s about me?”

“Yes.”

“An infinity sign and...” Sherlock’s brain is suddenly working in double speed, as it usually is wont to do when he has to prove that he’s clever, “And a semicolon.”

“Yes.”

“A semicolon as in Project Semicolon. The movement where people tattoo semicolons on themselves in memory of those they’ve lost to suicide.”

“‘A semicolon is used when an author could've chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to’,” John rattles off, as though he’s had to explain this many times before.

“For me,” Sherlock says.

“Yes.”

Sherlock does nothing but blink rapidly while he tries to process the implications of it. Several minutes drag by, but Sherlock hardly notices them.

“Yeah, that’s still a bit scary, Sherlock.”

Sherlock blinks a bit more. John got a tattoo for him. In honour of him. In memory of him. Because of him. That explains the dash and dot, but it doesn’t explain -

“The infinity sign?” Sherlock asks and John immediately looks away, deliberately avoiding his gaze.

“That I added in at the last minute,” John laughs softly, humorlessly. “I sat in that chair in the tattoo parlour and worked together with the artist to come up with an appropriate design that would encompass…” he chokes on his words then, tears coming to his eyes. “That would adequately encompass the way I felt about you.”

“Felt?” Sherlock asks, his own eyes stinging slightly now.

“Feel,” John says resignedly, and it’s barely a whisper, but it’s enough. In this moment, as the afternoon sunlight slants weakly through the window onto the worn, deep red rug of 221B, it’s enough for Sherlock.

Chapter Text

The air in the flat seems to have stopped circulating. Either that, or Sherlock can’t really breathe properly anymore, and it’s all due to John’s admission.

“John,” he barely manages to breathe out, eyes searching John’s face for any sign that this may not be what he thinks it is. For it all to have been a misunderstanding or cruel joke. He knows John would never do that to him purposefully, but once you have eliminated the impossible and all that (the impossible being that John could ever feel for him anything remotely close to what he feels for John).

“Sherlock,” John says simply and, where Sherlock feels unsure and dizzy, John is steadfast and bold. His soldier. His John. His John.

He says nothing, just keeps looking at John. Keeps searching, still. For what, he couldn’t say exactly.

“Do you see why I wanted it left alone?” John smiles softly, but it’s ugly somehow, full of regret and melancholy. Not really a smile at all, but a mask for something he’s holding back on.

“No, I don’t,” Sherlock responds evenly.

“I don’t - I’m not good. At this sort of thing. You know that. We - We’re not those people. I’m sorry if it’s all a bit too much for you. This is why I never said anything. I didn’t want you to feel pressured or awkward around me. Never that. I always wanted - I always knew that, no matter what happened, you’d be my friend and I was never willing to give that up. Not for anything” John is barely choking out the words, as though the weight of them is too much for him. Sherlock wishes he could reach across and carry some of them for him; lighten the load a little bit.

“John, I - I never meant to pry,” Sherlock says even though it’s not what he means to say at all.

“Yes you did,” John laughs.

“Yes, I did. But I never would have… If I had realised that…”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s alright. Let’s just forget it, yeah?” John says softly and he looks down into the small but somehow increasing gap between their chairs, something almost sick twisting his features as though he’s in physical pain. Sherlock hadn’t meant to cause it, but he doesn’t know where he went wrong and, typically, he doesn’t know how to fix it.

“I don’t want to forget it,” he replies evenly.

“Yeah, well, I don’t want to make a thing of it. I don’t want you to - I wouldn’t ever want to make you feel uncomfortable, Sherlock.”

“Why would I feel uncomfortable?”

“Because I. Because of the way I feel. About you.”

“Why would that make me uncomfortable?”

“Why would it - Nevermind. Maybe it wouldn’t. I just don’t want you to think I expect anything in return, yeah?” John says, and he starts to stand up, which makes Sherlock’s heart beat a little too fast for comfort. “I better go fetch Rosie from daycare. It’s getting late.”

“John, wait,” Sherlock says, but it’s as far as he can go right now and, as the seconds tick by into minutes, John huffs out an unamused laugh and nods once, tearing his eyes off of Sherlock’s.

“Talk later,” he says quietly, defeatedly and leaves.

Sherlock is still stuck in his chair long after, even as the sun gives way to the cool evening, the words jammed deep in his throat, the words that never made it out, the ones he can’t really pinpoint anyhow.

What he meant to say was me too and I’m afraid, though and When you say ‘feel’, do you mean forever? Because I can’t bear ‘feel’ unless it’s attached to ‘forever’.

He has no idea how long he’s fixed in the same position, eyes unseeing but heart working overtime as his brain whirrs to keep up with it, for once not taking the lead. It feels as though something has shifted irrevocably. Something he thought he’d never have, and so has never prepared himself to take. He wishes he could be like any other human being and say the things that need saying, but he can’t. Not when it matters so much.

He’s uncertain as to how to move forward. John had said he doesn’t expect anything in return but, if Sherlock can give it - wants to give it - will he take it? They seem always to be pushing towards each other, but is it possible for this last push to be the one that counts? Sherlock doesn’t know if he can figure it out by himself, but he knows he needs to maybe try. The last thing he wants is to make a mistake with something as big as this.

There is so much shared history between the two of them that it burns a hole in his heart whenever he thinks about it. Every moment where they ought to have but didn’t, every smile they shared and flirtatious exchange they suppressed. A death, a wedding, a baby. The distance seems to stretch on as Sherlock tries to reconcile who they were with who they now are. He wonders if it’s too late for them to become what they should have been all along. He wonders if Not really my area paved the way for this - if every stepping stone from that first stakeout to here was a consequence of his hasty dismissal. The fear he felt then was too palpable to shake off - he had never been anything more than just Sherlock, consulting detective, only one in the world. There had never been a Sholto or a Mary for him, not ever. And, if that isn’t bad enough, that fear is only a fraction of what he feels now.

Useless adrenaline courses through his veins as he considers what could be. As badly as he wants it, he doesn’t know if he can even have it. The years and months and weeks and days and hours that span from then to now seem to forbid it. There’s so much that has gone wrong - more than what has gone right. There is so much to forgive and move over and move towards. There have been times, especially recently, when they haven’t even been friends, let alone anything more. There have been words that can never be unsaid and fists that can never be put down and apologies that only glossed over what stung more than anything. There has been Anyone but you and a letter read in the back of a cab and 221B empty save for himself and wars won, but probably at the expense of the battle. The balm of forgiveness has been patchy at best on both their parts, and moving forward will take a lot more than just skipping over it to come to the end. They’re both shadows of the men they once were, barely there if at all and it makes it difficult for Sherlock to imagine being able to move forward in this way.

John is a ghost of what once belonged to him, all those years ago, before he had to leave. The hardest part for Sherlock is knowing that they will never be able to capture what they had and lost - or lost before they ever had it, actually. He isn’t sure that it means that they shouldn’t try, though.

He opens up his texts and decides, before he can change his mind, to send one.

21:25
I’m sorry. SH

21:25
It’s alright. Not your fault. Not at all.

21:26
I think there might be elements that you’re missing. That I was maybe missing, too. SH

21:26
Elements such as?

21:26
Let’s discuss in person. Coffee tomorrow? SH

21:27
2pm, the boathouse cafe?

21:27
I’ll be there. SH

Chapter Text

Sherlock arrives first. Which is fair, considering he’s a full forty-eight minutes early. He doesn’t know what to do with himself, with his hands, with his feet - have they always been this big and awkward? - so he orders two espressos in a row. Once he’s finished draining his second cup, he takes a look around the terrace. There’s barely anybody around, which isn’t unusual, considering the time and day of the week. The Boating Lake hosts a few ducks and some parents with small children, but nothing of consequence. Nothing good enough to hold his attention or do some deductions. He fidgets with his phone, refreshing his email and texts and Twitter and slamming it down on the table when there’s nothing new there.

Eventually, at ten to two, John shows up, a nervously wonky smile lighting up his face and Sherlock knows, right at that exact moment, that he’s doing the right thing. That no matter where this leads him, it’s too late to turn back now. Even if he has to dive in headfirst without any kind of support or ability, he knows he has to do it.

“Alright?” John asks as he takes a seat opposite. He nods lightly as John orders himself a freshly pressed juice and pulls his attention to Sherlock completely.

They both have their legs crossed in the other’s direction, the body language laughably simple and telling, but their mouths still struggling to communicate. Sherlock, especially, finds that his jaw has been temporarily wired shut.

“So,” John starts, unsure. “About yesterday?”

“Yesterday. I. I think, John, you’ll find that you were not operating with a full data set,” Sherlock mumbles, mostly into his lap. He isn’t sure he can do this, now that they’re sat opposite one another and it’s real and it’s now.

“Hey,” John replies softly, reaching out under the table to rub Sherlock’s knee reassuringly. “It’s just me. It’s still just me, Sherlock.”

And it is. It’s John. The same John that has helped him on innumerable cases. The one he has fought with and laughed with and done mundane, silly things like eaten and done grocery shopping with. It’s the very same John.

Sherlock also knows that a fire can’t start without a spark, so he forges ahead, into those uncharted waters he has been fearing all along.

“What I meant to say is… Me too,” he says, and forces himself to look John directly in his eyes, seeming to lose himself in the greys and browns and blues for a second.

“You too?” John smirks, raising his eyebrow.

“Yes. Me too,” Sherlock asserts, more confidently this time.

John huffs out a light laugh, a sweet thing that Sherlock wants to capture and bottle and hold onto forever and a day.

“What now, then?” John asks.

“I… don’t know.”

“Well, neither do I.”

They look at each other and start to giggle, low at first but soon morphing into a full on, hearty moment, relief undoubtedly washing through both of them.

“All I do know,” Sherlock starts, sobering for a moment, “Is that I couldn’t do this if… I wouldn’t be able to stand it if…”

“Sherlock,” John interrupts, “Do you truly think I’d have gotten a bloody tattoo if I didn’t mean forever?”

Sherlock is hit suddenly with the gravity of it all. John is right - he knows this. He would never do something that permanent if he didn’t mean it. He may be many things, but John is definitely not foolishly impulsive. Sherlock can’t believe that from one moment to the next, his life is irrevocably changed. With a few beats and fewer words.

John sighs, steeling himself. “I do want to apologise, though. I never - I know I was keeping you at arm’s length, as you said, but I didn’t even realise that I was doing it. It started as a force of habit that I formed during my army days. There were a lot of things that went on during that time that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anybody, the least of all my… sexual history. When I met you, the habit kind of continued. And then. And then, as we grew closer and more intimate with each other, the habit seemed to stick. Not because I didn’t trust you - God knows I trust you more than anybody. Never doubt that. No, it stuck because… I was holding back. I didn’t want you to know - anything, really. Because if you knew one thing, you’d know it all. You’d figure out this thing. The biggest thing. And I was terrified, Sherlock. I could handle anything except losing you.”

“I’m sorry too, John. I never meant to imply that you were selfish -”

“But that’s just it, Sherlock. I was selfish. Am. I promise that going forward, though, I won’t be. I know I’ll give you all of me. If you’ll have me.”

“I never imagined this. I didn’t think I’d - we’d - ever get here. I didn’t dare hope,” Sherlock says quietly, putting his hand in the middle of the table, between them.

“I think I know what you mean,” John says, joining his hand with Sherlock’s.

They sit like that for a long time, comforting each other with just a steady touch and a presence, the admissions settling between them and gaining weight and clarity.

“I think,” John says, looking hesitant and, if Sherlock didn’t know him better, he’d swear a little bashful. “I think I’d like to take you out on a date.”

“Ah. I’m going to receive the full Three Continents treatment, I assume?” Sherlock smiles, hiding his own blush behind a joke.

“No,” John answers, suddenly turning serious. “Not that. This is for real.”

Sherlock looks at John, sensing the shift into the more intense. “I see. Well. Good, then.”

John rubs his thumb along the palm of Sherlock’s hand and even that small sensation causes electricity to seem to run along his spine. John must sense the shift too, because his pupils widen (just a fraction, but he’s Sherlock Holmes so he notices and files it away for later inspection) and he licks his lips.

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow then? Seven o’clock?” John says, eyes hooding, and Sherlock knows exactly where his thoughts are going to, because his are going there too.

To the afterwards. Whatever happens when dinner is finished and the plates have been cleared. He feels nervous suddenly, brief stutters of trembles going through his stomach, but knows it’s going to be okay, because this is John. It’s still his John. And that’s the best part of all.

Chapter Text

By the time John is downstairs with Rosie at seven o’clock, Sherlock has sweated through one shirt and is well on his way through the one he’s wearing. He has spent the entire day thinking up a myriad of plausible sequences of events and most of them lead to the moment after dinner when something of a more… physical nature might happen. He has calculated that about 84% of the possibilities lead that way, with the other 16% being pretty evenly split up into the possibility of a catastrophic disaster or being interrupted by a case. He easily discards the former 8%, having decided the previous day not to dwell on those odds. If he were a betting man (and he sometimes is, especially considering the fact that the majority of the population consists of people too stupid to adequately identify and separate good odds from bad), he’d bet on the 84%. Which leaves him sweaty and anxious and just a little bit curiously turned on.

One part of his attraction to John that he’s been more open with - if only to himself - is the physical side. There’s no harm in admitting you find your friend and flatmate handsome, after all. And if that attraction led to him rediscovering certain parts of himself in the still of the night under the covers of his bed, well, that’s nobody’s business but his own.

It’s not that Sherlock is celibate or anything. Well, not entirely. He just prefers to keep his body under certain conditions. Ones that don’t involve giving into its every whim. He has always seen sexual urges as a mind over matter problem, and his mind is certainly strong enough to push it aside. Besides, there’s never really been anybody that he felt he’d want to go down that particular road with. He isn’t squeamish, but the prospect of swapping bodily fluids with most people made him feel quite ill. So much so that he had often toyed with a few labels that precluded him from those kinds of activities. In the end, though, he’d realised labels and proclamations weren’t necessary. It was what it was. Matters of human attraction were never going to be his forte, not even when they concerned his own proclivities. He didn’t really care to dwell on it either.

Not until John came along, that is. With him came a reawakening of sorts. Where almost every sense Sherlock had suddenly came to life and his sexuality as well as his sensuality were brought to the fore - sometimes at the most inconvenient moments.

Which brings him to the present dilemma. Well, not a dilemma per se. More of a… situation. An anticipated future state. One that he suspects he can’t overcome by sheer brainpower.

Once John enters 221B, Sherlock is very nearly sweating through his jacket, too, but he ignores it in favour of deducing the man before him: well rested, slightly nervous, freshly shaven, date shoes, jacket slightly crumpled where Rosie had been held - oh.

“Where’s Rosie? I saw her downstairs.”

“With Mrs Hudson,” John smiles. “When she heard we were… doing this, she insisted. I figured it might be nice to give us some time alone.”

Sherlock’s stomach flips a bit at that, but he ignores it.

“I thought she’d come with. I just assumed. I wouldn’t want her to feel left out,” Sherlock stammers, but that isn’t it. The truth is, Sherlock was counting on Rosie to break any tension or potential awkwardness. Her not coming with put the figure at well below 84% now, and he wasn’t prepared for this kind of revision. In fact, he’d have to spend a considerable amount of time coming up with a new -

Suddenly, he is quite forcibly pulled out of his inner monologue/meltdown by a kiss. A straightforward, quick peck. John is in front of him, looking quite pleased with himself.

“I’ve always wanted to do that,” he says and his smile could make the sun rise again, of this Sherlock is sure.

Sherlock can unfortunately do nothing but stare at him, lifting his hand to his lips to check if they’re still there. He finds that they are, although they can’t really do anything useful beyond falling open slightly.

John starts to look worried. He rubs the back of his neck in self-conscious self-awareness. “I - er, hope that was ok? I didn’t mean to misinterpret or rush you, I just -”

“Fine. Fine! More than fine. Good, actually. Good. Very good,” Sherlock shoots off through his nerves. The last thing he wants is for John to look like that. Especially after he happened to do something so very near perfect.

“Good,” John says, offering Sherlock his hand to lead him out the door. “And we’ll have plenty of time to bring Rosie with us in future, don’t worry about that.”

Future. Sherlock brings his fingers up to his mouth again as he considers the word as John grabs their coats and leads them down the stairs.

They catch a taxi to a restaurant that Sherlock has been to once and concluded was over-rated and over-priced, but he says nothing as he notices John’s proud little grin and the way he holds his head high. Besides, there’s a distinct possibility that being here with somebody - not somebody, John - on a date will make it a more pleasant experience than eating hastily alone out of necessity.

The hostess leads them to a small table near the back of the dim, crowded room, where a candle already adorns the top. He can’t help but smile as he considers the implication and, indeed, the reality. John must sense his train of thought, because he squeezes his hand and winks before sitting down.

Having sat down and ordered their drinks, though, it’s suddenly exactly as Sherlock feared - awkward. The uncharted territory doesn’t make for an easy course and, even though a part of him knew that this might happen, he still doesn’t know what to do about it. He hardly ever feels awkward around anybody else in his life, mostly because he doesn’t give a toss what they think of his actions or words. With John, though, it’s different. Everything with John is different.

“So -” he says, breaking off a piece of bread at the same time as John says, “I’ve -” and each of them gestures for the other to speak first.

“Why is this so awkward,” John breathes out on a half-laugh.

“I’ve no idea,” Sherlock replies grimly.

“Hey. It’s alright.” John reaches across the table and Sherlock takes the hint, offers his hand in return. “It’s still us, Sherlock. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen, I’ll always be glad that it’s still us.”

“Doesn’t happen?” Sherlock frowns, alarm bells sounding quite clearly in his Mind Palace at the words.

“I didn’t mean - What I meant to say is that whatever happens, however it happens, I’m ok with it. As long as I’ve still got you, in one way or another. I’m clearly not in this for a short haul, and I never intend to lose you again. Not ever,” John says softly as he strokes Sherlock’s hand with his index finger. Sherlock huffs out a long sigh he wasn’t aware he’d been holding in.

They relax into something more easy after that, although a bit of tension remains underneath, threatening always to rear its head and become either something uncomfortable or something very much the opposite. Sherlock finds that he quite likes it. It’s like a little dance; push and pull, give and take, lead and follow. They’re flirting easily and laughing through their main course before long and it’s like slipping into his favourite nightgown, this ease with which they can tease and joke and chat.

When there’s a lull in the conversation, though, John turns serious, asks, “How long?” and Sherlock doesn’t dare ask How long what?

“Does it matter?” Sherlock counters.

“Yes. No. I don’t know. Maybe?”

“Well, I suppose if I’m being honest with you, and with myself, probably since the beginning, or very close to it.”

“For me, from the beginning. I only admitted it to myself after… yeah, after Bart’s and your time away and all that. But it was definitely there, in some form, from the very start. I remember thinking that I was the luckiest bloke on earth, getting to run around with a mad, gorgeous genius and still go home to him every night, too.”

“I always thought… You used to vehemently deny we were anything more than just friends, to the point where I thought the idea disgusted you somehow.”

“I’m sorry about that. Truly. It’s a funny thing, being so deep in denial. First there was my fragile masculinity to consider. And then. Then there was Mary,” John’s voice falters a bit as he says her name, and Sherlock squeezes his hand, just once.

“We don’t have to talk about that.”

“No, I want to. I think it’s important. I was so angry with you. When you came back, I thought I’d forgiven you, but on my wedding night, right after you deduced that Mary was pregnant, I realised that I’d made a terrible mistake and I lay in bed that night wondering what it had all been for. It was my stupid, pathetic anger, driving me into her arms and further away from you.”

“But you loved her.”

“I did, yes, in some way. It was never the same, though,” John breathes deeply through his nose, clearly struggling to let the words out. It’s never easy to speak in retrospect where the dead are concerned, Sherlock knows. “It couldn’t ever have been the same as the way I felt about you. I was completely gone on you, Sherlock, and, as terrible as this sounds, she was a poor substitute. But I did love her, and I made sure to honour the commitment I’d made to her and to our unborn child. And then. And then… Well, you know.”

“I know.”

“I’m so sorry,” John barely breathes out, choking on the words and the sentiment.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for.”

“No, there is. There is. I’m so sorry for all of it. But most of all, I’m sorry that I couldn’t find it in me to forgive you when you came back. I know what you did was for me. I know that now. But that didn’t change the fact that I carried you with me all the time you were gone, and it was even difficult to stop once I knew you weren’t dead. It was somehow easier when you weren’t there; to love you. To go out and get a tattoo in honour of you. Because I didn’t have to face up to it and the consequences of it. I didn’t have to deal with the longing and the pain and… It just hurt so much, that-”

“I know.”

“But that’s behind us now, yeah? If you’d like?” John quickly, surreptitiously wipes the side of his eye with his middle finger.

“I’d definitely like that.” Sherlock is more than happy to put their ridiculously tangled past behind them.

“Good. Yeah. I think that’s for the best. To just focus on what we have now; on what we are now.”

Sherlock’s grin escalates into something he fears is truly ridiculous after that, at which point John asks, “What?”, as though there is anything normal or casual about this entire conversation.

“I just. I know I said it before, and you know me, I do hate to be redundant, but I can’t believe… I never imagined this. I knew I loved you, I just didn’t -” he quickly snaps his mouth shut at the sight of John’s shocked expression. He looks horrified and Sherlock wants to hide under the table, out of sight, possibly for forever.

“I’m sorry, I never meant -”

“No, no. Don’t be ridiculous. Let’s call this what it is, yeah? Love. I’m just surprised, that’s all. But pleasantly so.”

“Right. Well. Good,” Sherlock mumbles awkwardly.

John reaches under the table and rests his hand on Sherlock’s thigh, stroking the inside seam with his fingertips, sending little shivers through Sherlock’s stomach and chest. He looks John directly in the eyes, sensing more than deducing the shift and his mind flashes to after dinner and he gasps a tiny breath, which causes John to try and remove his hand. Sherlock quickly traps it where it is, encouraging him and John smiles his lopsided smile of fondness. Something low and deep in Sherlock’s belly comes to life.

“Do you want dessert?” John asks when the waiter comes to clear their plates.

“No,” Sherlock says, staring John down like he’s the dessert, finding courage in his blatant and long-suppressed desire. John licks his lips in return and replies with a hoarse, “Ok”.

John insists on paying once the bill comes and Sherlock lets him, knowing it’s part of the dating rules that inexplicably makes up a bunch of absurd rituals that he doesn’t have time to remember or pay much attention to. He wants to give John this, though. He wants to give John whatever he wants, truth be told.

They hold hands on the way to and inside the cab all the way back to Baker Street, where John stops them just outside the door and turns to Sherlock, mere centimetres away from his face. Their breaths are mingling together and Sherlock doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going, but he’s along for the ride, this much he knows.

“Can I kiss you now?” John asks softly.

Sherlock nods emphatically.

“I mean a proper kiss?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Just do it alr-”

He’s interrupted by John’s lips and tongue meeting with his and if he didn’t know any better, he would swear that this is a cosmically life-altering moment. He is the earth and John is the sun and he’s rotating around John or John is rotating around him or whatever stupid, pointless thing goes around the other.

It’s sloppy and a bit awkward and his neck feels like it’s at an odd angle and he doesn’t know what to do with his hands but it’s still perfect, breathtakingly so, to the point that John has to break the kiss to say, “Breath, love,” but Sherlock is sure to surge back for more.

John kisses him and kisses him on the doorstep and the rest of the world is empty save for this one connection where suddenly everything makes sense and nothing hurts anymore.

When John breaks the kiss a few minutes later, Sherlock grunts out his dissatisfaction, to which John smiles lightly and runs his hands through Sherlock’s hair, his eyes trailing a journey from his eyes to his mouth, which he captures again for a brief peck.

“Alright,” he says, straightening his jacket and reaching for the door handle. He gives Sherlock one more heated look before opening the front door and going to Mrs Hudson’s to collect Rosie. Sherlock follows him in a daze, and he feels like the epitome of a lovesick fool, but he can’t find a single drop of him deems it necessary to care.

When John readjusts Rosie’s diaper bag on his shoulder with Rosie in his arms, though, he’s suddenly saying, “Well. We’d best be off, then,” and Sherlock can’t quite believe it. His stomach drops in disappointment and something close to shame.

Is that all there is?

John pecks him goodnight and Sherlock mumbles a distracted “Night” in return as he smoothes a hand down Rosie’s sleeping face, and he realises that everything he felt before - all the anxiety and nerves - it was all something more akin to anticipation than dread. He hadn’t been afraid of the future after dinner so much as he’d been looking forward to it, albeit a little apprehensively. But there’s no point in any of it now that John’s quietly closing the front door of 221B behind him.

He climbs the stairs in a daze, thinking about how this is somehow only fractionally better than the 8% would-be disasters and he didn’t see it coming at all. He sits in his chair and fidgets with his phone, hitting each end against the armrest in between spinning it around. He contemplates sending a text, but wouldn’t even know where to begin. Why wasn’t there more? That hardly seems like it’d go down well, after all the effort John put into everything. He allows twenty minutes to pass in the same way before his phone buzzes.

23:35
I had a lovely time with you. I hope we can do it again very soon.

23:35
Me too. Of course. SH

23:35
Is everything alright? You looked a bit somber at the end there.

23:36
Yes. Just wondering about something. SH

23:36
Anything I can help with?

23:37
I just wondered… Is that how dates normally end? SH

23:37
Meaning?

23:37
Nevermind. SH

23:37
Are you sure?

Sherlock considers for a moment. He should be able to be honest with John. If they’re to do this properly, it has to start right; right from the beginning. He wants to do this properly so terribly much that he almost aches with it. With all the false starts and, more accurately, never-starts littering their joint past, there’s almost no room to do this by half-measures anymore. He may be choosing his next words carefully, but he still manages to hit send on his next text, and he considers it an accomplishment all the same.

23:38
Truth be told, I was expecting something… more. Before we parted ways for the night. SH

23:38
I see. I’m sorry about that. It’s not always easy to know the right step to take. I should’ve just asked, I suppose, but I assumed you’d want to go slow.

23:39
I’m not made of glass, you know. SH

23:39
Of course you’re not, but you’re special. Precious. This is precious to me. Don’t want to screw it up with my usual untoward behaviour ;)

23:39
I’d love to experience firsthand some of that so-called untoward behaviour. SH

23:40
You would?

23:40
Yes. SH

23:40
Well, then. I’m sure that could be arranged.

23:40
I look forward to it. SH

23:40
How about another date? Tomorrow night?

23:40
I’ll see you then. SH

Sherlock pockets his phone, a smile lighting his face. He goes to bed that night thinking about tomorrow night and special and precious and he can’t help but fall asleep with the same smile still lingering on well past the time when his heart rate and body temperature register that it’s time to be sleeping.

Chapter Text

From around five thirty onwards, Sherlock is somehow even more of a nervous mess than he was the previous evening. He strategically leaves his date shirt hanging over the back of his chair until ten to seven, at which point he attempts to close it slowly, carefully, methodically, willing time to move by filling it with this one small thing. He then goes to wait by the window as the minutes pass leading up to seven o’clock. He knows now that there is no more being coy - not even with himself.

When John arrives at three minutes to seven, he runs down the stairs two at a time to greet him at the door, leaving all pretenses back at the window of the flat. He yanks open the door like a boisterous child but then suddenly feels a little bit shy and exposed. John’s entire face lights up, though, his hand with the key in it paused midway to where the lock would be.

“Rosie?” Sherlock asks, eyes narrowing.

“With Molly. Tonight it’s all about us,” John answers sheepishly, his hand coming to cup the back of his neck in a classic John expression.

“Ah.”

Sherlock isn’t sure what to do with his hands now that they’re face-to-face. He should probably move aside and let John in or he should grab his coat so that they can leave, but he’s paralysed by the indecision of it. As though this one minute detail would make any bit of difference. The problem is, in his mind, every move he makes could be the contrast between a great evening and a lousy one. He wants to control for every single element in order to ensure that things run as smoothly as possible, without any surprises other than the one he knows he’s bound to feel later on, when John finally takes him to bed.

“Can I have a kiss?” John asks too-casually, pocketing his keys. As though he even has to ask.

“Of course.”

He cups Sherlock’s face with his hands and pulls him down, meeting his lips in a soft kiss that seems somehow to implode with affection and tranquility - Sherlock can almost feel himself coming back down to earth; being grounded in this one exchange.

When they part, John says, “Been thinking about that all day.”

“Really?”

“Yes, and last night, too…” he trails off, and if it were possible for a pocket of speech to contain a wink, his would right then.

He grabs Sherlock’s hand boldly, almost as if to say We’re not playing anymore and Sherlock has never felt so grateful. He’s not sure he would have felt confident enough to bridge that gap, but John, as ever, has courage enough for both of them.

Tonight they’re in John’s car. John behind the wheel for some reason makes Sherlock feel a little bit warm, as though it’s a prelude for things to come. The thought sends a little flutter down low in his belly, but he does nothing to block it. He’s allowed. For once in his life, he’s allowed to think like this. The whole ride to the restaurant, when John isn’t changing gears, he has his hand splayed on Sherlock’s thigh, firm and possessive almost. Mine. The thought makes the flutters return.

There’s a bit of traffic, which Sherlock appreciates because it means more time with John’s hand on his thigh, which seems to settle higher and higher each time it comes back from changing a gear. By the time they arrive at their destination, Sherlock’s breath has hitched in his throat and he’s more than a little bit aroused. He notices the restaurant in front of them for the first time.

“This is -” he starts.

“The restaurant we went to after we solved The Inexplicable Matchbox case,” John says, pulling up to the pavement and looking quite pleased with himself. “You couldn’t stop going on and on about their dessert for weeks after. That was one of the best nights of my life.”

“Mine too,” Sherlock replies, taking John’s hand back in his as they enter the little Italian restaurant. He remembers that night very well. Before he left. John was in a good mood, despite not having eaten since the day before. When they finally solved the case close to eleven o’clock that evening, John insisted they stop into this restaurant, and Sherlock hadn’t refused. The little fairy lights adorning the venue twinkled just so in John’s eyes, and that’s what he remembers most, not the dessert, not anything else, really.

What he doesn’t say is that that very night and the memory of it was one of those he took with him in his time away, pulling it out to examine it from all edges like a faded photograph from a time past. He feels a clutch against his heart and allows it before discarding it. Dwelling on what would have and could have and didn’t may have become somewhat of a forte for him, but he isn’t going to let that ruin their evening together.

They are seated at a table very near the back corner of the restaurant. There’s a booth and a seat opposite, and when Sherlock sits in the booth, John slides in next to him, all of which Sherlock is grateful for. He just wants to be alone with John, soaked up in him. Before the waiter has a chance to leave them alone, Sherlock stops him and asks that he bring a candle for the table. John giggles under his breath and reaches for his hand immediately, as though he can’t stand to not be touching him for a second longer. Sherlock feels much the same.

“How was your day?” John asks after they’ve ordered, stroking Sherlock’s palm.

“Fine.” He can barely think straight. He never realised that such a simple gesture could be so… sensual.

“Just fine?” John teases, leading Sherlock to realise that he knows exactly what he’s doing.

“Boring. Inconsequential. How about you?” he asks, stroking his way up John’s arm suggestively.

As John recounts the details of his average day, they can’t seem to stop touching each other, even when their food arrives. It’s as though the entire dinner is just an appetiser before the main course; fraught with tension - the good kind, Sherlock notes. He wasn’t aware there even was a good kind of tension, but he feels it now, something primal and private low in his stomach. Something that wants to reach out and say Mine mine mine mine mine mine over and over until the point is beyond made and there’s no questioning anything anymore.

It seems as though John is on the same track, because once again, he has his hand on Sherlock’s thigh under the table, moving higher and higher, tracing almost-hypnotic patterns as he makes his way towards his goal. Before he gets there, though, Sherlock can’t help but blurt out:

“I haven’t done it yet. That. I’ve not done it. Not even once.”

He regrets it instantly when John’s hand just stops where it is and he stares Sherlock right in the face as though he’s had a shock.

John withdraws his hand suddenly with a murmured “Sorry,” and goes back to his meal. Sherlock grabs it and settles it back where it was, on his thigh.

“This is what I was afraid of. I’m not a baby. I may be… that… but it isn’t because I’m too precious to have tried. I just never saw the point or found the time, really. The work has always taken precedence, almost to a fault - you of all people should understand that. So I never… It just never seemed to matter. It’s not as though there was a queue ‘round the block of people who were gasping for it. I also shut that part of my brain off a very long time ago. There’s no point in wasting valuable resources on such entanglements. Was. There was no point. Until now,” Sherlock is speaking more to his pasta than to John at this point, but John gives his leg an encouraging squeeze nonetheless.

“But you want to?”

“Yes,” Sherlock breathes out.

“You’re sure?”

“John. Trust me. I’m sure. More than anything.”

“Good. Me too.”

They continue eating for a while in affable silence until John meekly begins: “When you say never… what about… Irene Adler?”

Sherlock snorts, and it soons turns into a full-on giggle.

“What’s so funny?”

“She’s a lesbian, for starters,” he says, shaking his head as the last of his mirth dies away. “Also, she’s seriously not my type. At all.”

“Janine?”

Sherlock’s laughter begins anew.

“She slept in your bed. She was wearing your shirt.”

Sherlock just chuckles again in reply.

“So no girlfriends?”

“John. I’m. I’m quite obviously gay.”

“Boyfriends, then?”

The question, so innocently posed, reminds him of that first night in Angelo’s, before the mad cab chase. Something like nostalgia threatens to overwhelm him until he remembers where he is, and with who, and why, and joy replaces it. The past sorrow becoming sweet when mixed with the present.

“I still remember when you asked me that for the first time,” he smiles.

“Me too. Our first date.”

“Yes. I suppose it was.”

He turns to look John in the eyes then and sees nothing but warmth and lust, his eyelids lightly hooded as he continues tracing patterns on Sherlock’s leg. He can’t quite help it - he lets out a small groan, which makes John lick his lips, his pupils dilating.

Suddenly, the waiter comes to clear their plates and John coughs, seemingly remembering himself and where he is.

“Coffee? Dessert?” the waiter asks.

“No!” Sherlock barks.

“Uh, just the bill,” John says with an apologetic smile and then, to Sherlock, “I thought you’d at least want to order dessert.”

“Sorry, I. I just want to. I want us to go home. If that’s okay,” Sherlock says, bashful.

John just grins adoringly and leans over to capture Sherlock’s mouth in a sweet, chaste peck.

In the car ride home, John holds Sherlock’s hand over the gearbox and he feels almost drunk with arousal, contentment, eagerness. He shifts over slightly and whispers in John’s ear, “I love you,” and John smiles, eyes on the road. Without even intending to, he starts to kiss a line up and down John’s neck, licking and biting his ear.

“Shit,” John says, gripping the steering wheel tighter. “I’m in way over my head, aren’t I?”

“Possibly,” Sherlock replies coyly, to which John grins and speeds up.

Once they’re finally - finally - through the door of 221, they can barely get up the stairs, their hands here, there and everywhere on each other. It feels as though if they stop, something terrible might happen. There’s hunger and ever-present longing that Sherlock knows will finally reach its end tonight. Once they’re on the landing, they turn to each other and kiss, tongues meeting halfway in desperation. Sherlock pulls away just far enough to murmur “Upstairs” and they make their way to John’s old room, meeting for kisses every few steps, the tension and heat almost tangible in the thick air that follows them.

They’re just inside the door when John stops, cups Sherlock’s face in both his hands and says, “Hey. You’re so beautiful, I’m always in awe,” and Sherlock wants to cry and scream, something akin to elation bubbling over inside of him. He looks away, feeling exposed, but John catches him by the chin again: “I mean it. You’re bloody gorgeous.”

“You as well,” he mumbles.

John kisses him until he’s breathless, until he’s on the bed without noticing or caring how he got there, until he’s hungry for more yet completely satisfied, too, somehow. He’s on his back, stroking and rubbing himself on every bit of John he can, lifting John’s shirt out of his trousers and grumbling for him to remove the rest. John sits up and unbuttons his shirt, then removes his vest and trousers. Before he can lower his pants, though, he asks, “Is this alright?” tentatively.

“If it wasn’t alright, would I be doing it?”

He considers for a moment. “Fair point.”

“Please don’t worry and please stop treating me like I’ll break. I want you. I need you. I feel… This thing between us, it just grows and grows and I almost feel empty without you. Like there’s something missing and only you know what it is. Please. Claim me as yours. I am yours. Yours, yours, yours,” Sherlock whines softly, barely aware of what he’s saying, his brain turned to some kind of foreign mush from the heady arousal.

“Oh, fuck. Yeah, alright. Yeah,” John responds, kissing his way down Sherlock’s jaw and neck, rubbing his hands down his sides.

“Hold on,” Sherlock says. “Let me just…”

He climbs under the covers and begins to undress while John sits on the bed and watches him with the most doting smile he has ever seen in his life. The sensation of John’s sheets against his now-bare skin is the perfect sensation for the moment - soft and warm and safe. He feels a brief pang that they aren’t John’s sheets anymore - not really, even though he occasionally stays over whenever circumstances dictate the necessity - but he files it away for later and instead focuses on the now, on the way his body is almost marking his presence in John’s bed - inking himself into John’s life like the little mark he now sees clearly across John’s chest.

John climbs into the covers and pulls Sherlock closer, until their bodies are almost flush against one another. He wipes Sherlock’s fringe off of his face and cradles his jaw, kissing him tenderly, sweetly. Pretty soon, it turns more heated, and Sherlock climbs half on top of him, both of them groaning in something like relief. This has been a long time coming - forever and ever all converging into this one tiny moment that may seem insignificant to anybody outside, but to Sherlock means more than any words he could ever articulate.

John kisses his way down Sherlock’s collarbone, stopping to look up into his eyes and murmur, “You know… Technically, I haven’t exactly ever done this, either.”

“Sholto?”

“Was a friend.”

Sherlock raises an eyebrow.

“More than a friend,” John admits with a kind of faraway regret. “But nothing more than that.”

Sherlock understands perfectly, bringing John’s mouth to his once more, more than welcome to the idea that the playing field is sort of levelled. That they get to explore each other with fresh eyes and lips and fingertips. He bites John’s bottom lip and John groans, but soon he’s rubbing the sides of Sherlock’s abdomen and arms, wordlessly urging him to slow down.

“What’s the rush? Let’s take our time. I want to remember this. I need us to savour it.”

“John. John, I need you now,” he whispers urgently and John nods once, understanding what he needs. “Ink yourself on me forever.”

He lets Sherlock pull him on top of him, kissing mad, wet patterns all over his clavicle, his chest, his shoulders. Sherlock’s cock lies untouched against his stomach and John grabs it by the base, pumping it a few times before Sherlock stops him. He wants the real thing tonight. He needs to come with John inside of him. When he says so, John pauses for a second in breathless amazement and whispers, “Okay. Yeah. I know what you mean,” and slides his hand lower, circling Sherlock’s entrance and teasing him until he relaxes a little bit. With the other hand, he reaches into the bedside drawer, grinning with relief when he finds what he’s looking for there, and dribbles some of the cold liquid on his fingers. With that hand, he takes over, teasing Sherlock more, opening him up slowly, lovingly, piece by piece, until Sherlock is writhing against the bed, every thought lost and every emotion concentrated into the present, the way it should be, the way he never knew it could be.

“Please, please, please,” he huffs out eventually, and John withdraws his fingers slowly, driving Sherlock mad with pleasure and an almost-painful tension.

“Ready?” John asks, his head lined up with Sherlock’s entrance.

“Wait,” he replies, pulling John down for a kiss that he urgently, desperately needs, to which John is only too happy to oblige. He digs his heels into John’s arse then, with a commanding, “Now,” and John just smiles and pushes in slightly, allowing Sherlock to stretch around him once more.

“John,” he says in awe, breathless. “John.”

What a marvel, what a miracle, what a wonder.

“I know,” John whispers back, his eyes moistening slightly.

Sherlock begins to bear down experimentally, both of them letting out long, luxuriating moans all the way until John is fully seated. He kisses Sherlock once on each of his cheekbones and then on his mouth and begins to rock back and forth, slowly at first but soon building a level, steady pace. Sherlock feels as though every part of him, every part of his life, has just been leading up to this one moment, this one connection. How did he ever survive without this? How had the world been so cruel as to allow him to go all these years never knowing this? He moves in tempo with John and if his eyes glisten too, neither of them says anything, the only audible sounds coming from the rustling sheets, their little huffs in the moonlit room. The adoration laid bare in John’s eyes sends shivers up and down Sherlock’s spine and it only takes a few more pumps for him to spill over completely untouched, completely unashamed. John follows soon after with a cacophony of groans that Sherlock would love to document, but truly can not at the present moment.

John rolls over onto his back, pulling Sherlock half onto him and cradling him in his arms.

“John,” Sherlock says once more, feeling choked up and mystified.

“I know, love. I know,” John replies, kissing the top of his head.

He feels so utterly sated, content and full of peace here in this moment, between John’s sheets. In a flicker, he remembers that they’re not John’s sheets - not anymore - and he feels momentarily lost, like the sadness of the fact that John is going to go home and leave him here alone once again just can not be true. John, of course, notices immediately.

“You okay?” he asks, kissing Sherlock’s forehead again and again until he answers.

“Fine, just…”

A pause settles between them, threatening to expand and take over.

“You can tell me anything,” John states and Sherlock kisses his chest in gratitude.

“I know. It’s just ridiculous, really.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

“I just hate the idea that… that this isn’t your room anymore. That you’re going to go home - probably tonight, in fact - and I’m going to be here, empty. It - it feels as though I’m losing something I only just figured out. I know it’s stupid, but it feels so big.”

John tightens his embrace, snaking his leg over Sherlock’s so that there’s no part of them that isn’t wrapped up in the other.

“Well,” he replies, “I actually know what you mean. It’s been a long time coming, really, and I’d been thinking about it a lot even before… before this,” he gestures with his free hand between them. “Before us.”

“Come home,” Sherlock breathes into John’s collarbone.

“God, I want to. I do. It’s just. It’s complicated.”

“It is? Why is it?” Sherlock frowns. “Because of us? Because of me?”

“No, no, of course not. If anything, this - us - makes it easier. It’s just Rosie and… and all the baggage I’d be bringing with me, into our home. That wouldn’t be fair on you.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Sherlock blurts out, lifting himself up onto his elbow to look down into John’s eyes. “That doesn’t make any sense. We’ve both got baggage and, quite frankly, I know every bit of baggage you carry and I carry it, too. It’s our baggage. When you’re not here, I’m not myself. God knows I never thought it possible, but I’m lonely and miserable and - and untethered somehow. It makes no sense for you not to be here with me. I don’t understand the point of it at all.”

“You’re sure,” John says, and it’s more of a statement of disbelief than a question.

“I’m sure.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why would you want me? After everything I’ve put you through? After everything you know about me and have experienced? All those things I’ve done to you...”

“Because I’m ridiculously in love with you,” Sherlock says matter-of-factly, kissing away the silent tears pooling on the sides of John’s eyes. He settles back onto John’s shoulder. “And baggage or no baggage, that can never change. We know each other’s baggage, John. It’s what we know more than anything.”

“Well then, I think we should make an effort to get to know the other bits better,” John replies, lifting Sherlock’s chin up for a soft, wistful kiss.

They fall asleep folded in each other’s arms and Sherlock knows, even in his sleep, that he’s never been this happy in his entire life. That everything else has been little more window dressing compared to what he has now, in John’s embrace, in John’s bed, in John’s heart.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later, they’re sat on the red carpet of the living room of 221B surrounded by boxes and bags and the setting sun’s light coming in weakly through the windows and Sherlock hasn’t felt this tired in a very long time. He might even manage a full eight hours tonight, he thinks. There isn’t a part of him that doesn’t ache right now, including his mind, if that’s possible. Even though they had the help of professional movers and Molly, Lestrade and Mrs Hudson (Mycroft had dropped by for an hour or so, but had mostly supervised and been a generally controlling prat so Sherlock had told him to piss off eventually), they’ve done the brunt of the heavy lifting themselves in their eagerness to get it over with and not waste a second more not living with one another. They’ve spent the previous couple of days planning for the move, but couldn’t really do much while John was at work.

“God. The thought of actually opening all these boxes up and packing everything away is just. Can we just never deal with doing that?” John says, leaning against the couch and closing his eyes while he massages his fingertips into his neck.

Sherlock crawls to the empty space next to him and links hands with him, leaning his head on his shoulder.

“Mmm. Maybe if we ignore them, they’ll go away,” he mumbles, feeling a bit more comfortable but still bone-tired. All he really wants to do now is have a hot shower and climb into bed surrounded by John.

“I guess tomorrow is another day. It was a bit ambitious of us to think we could pack up my old flat, move everything and still unpack it all in one day,” John points out.

“Ambitious of you. I just went along with it.”

“Because you’re that agreeable?” John teases, and Sherlock can hear the smile in his voice.

“Precisely.”

“We have to at least take some of Rosie’s things out and pack them into your old room. Nappies and pyjamas and stuff for her bath this evening.”

Sherlock grunts in agreement. They had already moved most of Sherlock’s furniture and clothing up to John’s room so that Rosie could have his old room - less stairs; plus, John’s room is bigger and gets more light, John had argued. Sherlock really didn’t care whose room they slept in each night as long as they were together, so he hadn’t objected to any of it. The only thing he had insisted on was that they get rid of John’s old bed and use Sherlock’s instead. When John had asked why, Sherlock had just shrugged, saying that his mattress was more comfortable, not wanting to admit that he didn’t like the idea that another person - any one of John’s previous, inane girlfriends - would have ever slept in their bed before him.

“Okay. Let’s get up,” John suggests, making no move to do so himself but knocking Sherlock’s leg with his own.

“Five more minutes,” Sherlock whines, closing his own eyes.

“Alright,” John chuckles and lifts their joint hands to his mouth to plant a kiss on Sherlock’s. “Five more minutes. Then we should seriously think about getting on with it. The rest, we do tomorrow.”

“Agreed. Tomorrow,” Sherlock mutters. “We’ll see,” he amends.

John chuckles again. Sherlock loves the sound of John happy. “No. Not we’ll see. We really have to do it. This place needs to be livable at some point. We can’t just have boxes in the middle of the living room.”

“Alright, yes. I’m sure we can figure something out,” Sherlock goads, trying to get a rise out of John.

“Sherlock,” John complains in mock-exasperation and Sherlock sniggers.

“In five minutes,” John says into Sherlock’s hair, his tone low and menacing, but Sherlock knows he’s just playing, “we’re going to get up and we’re going to sort out Rosie’s room then we’re going to fetch her from downstairs and eat dinner together as a family. And tomorrow we get rid of all these boxes. Is that clear?”

“Aye aye Captain. Five minutes.”

They stay that way for fifteen or so minutes, not saying anything, just relaxing and reveling in each other’s company. Sherlock can’t quite wrap his head around the fact that it has only been little over two weeks that they’ve been this because it feels eternal, somehow. It feels as though the transition was so seamless. He supposes it’s because, on some level, they never were really just friends. Most people knew it. They were just idiots all these years.

Now that they’re together, though, the adjustment period has been surprisingly minimal. It could be because they’ve spent every day together, even if it’s just for an hour or two. They’ve managed to make love almost every single day since that first time. Some days, John has even come to the flat between seeing patients or on lunch breaks. On those days, they always started out claiming they’d be having a quickie, starting with hastily discarded socks and undershirts, which inevitably turned into slow, systematic adoration every single time. Their lovemaking, in contrast, would frequently somehow turn into fucking. The alleged monotony that accompanies monogamous relationships that Sherlock had heard so much about doesn’t seem to have any place in their world. As with everything else in their shared lives, unpredictability and sometimes even danger are the order of the day. Their cases are their frantic fucking are their humdrum daily chores are their luxurious lovemaking are their lives. Nothing is immune to the usual storm that was Sherlock and John, with all its complexities. And that’s what Sherlock appreciates the most - by joining together this way, they haven’t lost their core, but merely maximised it. They are better together, as always. Six days ago, lying in bed after one such quickie-turned-worshipping exploration, John had said as much, too:

“Well. That was.”

“Yes,” Sherlock answered. “Very.”

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Manage to surprise me every single time. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a sex life this exciting before.”

Sherlock was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, next to John, who was on his stomach, his face to Sherlock’s. He turned to look back at him. “I’ve no idea. I’m not the one with the Three Continents reputation, am I?”

“Cheeky,” John smiled, swatting at Sherlock’s bare hip. He still felt a bit strange being stark naked in front of somebody else in the middle of the afternoon, but John had made it abundantly clear how okay - more than okay were the words he used - that was. He made Sherlock almost believe that he was beautiful and worth being seen. Worth being loved.

“On a serious note,” Sherlock mused, folding his hands behind his head and looking back at the ceiling, “If I had known that sex was this fantastic, I would’ve done it ages ago.”

“Well, yeah. What do you think us mere mortals have been on about all this time? What do you think all the songs and the art and the films and even a lot - if not most of - of our cases were about? It’s all about sex.”

“Mmm. Petty mortal things.”

A few minutes had ticked by where Sherlock thought of nothing, just the sound of John breathing next to him, aware of John’s eyes on his profile. He had felt safe and contained in the bed they had just so creatively put to use.

“Actually,” Sherlock had recanted, “that’s not entirely true.”

“No? Which part?”

“The part about doing it ages ago if I had known it was this fantastic. I somehow don’t think it’s the sex that’s fantastic in and of itself, rather the sex with you that makes it so.”

Sherlock was aware of John’s changing mood next to him and he turned around and curled up to face him.

“What is it? Have I said something wrong?”

John let out a big exhale, his eyes misting over slightly. “No. God, no, you’re just. Sometimes you say the most perfect things and you have no idea you’re even doing it. Like they’re so matter-of-fact and not totally and utterly heartbreakingly profound. You’re a bloody poet without even trying to be.”

Sherlock smiled and shifted to rest his feet against John’s side, tucking his hands underneath his cheek.

“For the record, I know just what you mean. Sex with you is just… God, it’s perfect, isn’t it? That’s the only way I can really describe it. I knew you’d catch on quickly because you’re Sherlock Holmes, but I never imagined you’d be so affectionate and giving in the bedroom, even though most of my sexual fantasies were based around that.”

“You had fantasies about me?”

“Yeah, of course. Of course I did. All the bloody time, in fact. Used to drive me half ‘round the bend for years.”

“And? Do I measure up?”

“Sherlock,” John began with a quizzical smile. “I find it difficult to believe that a genius such as yourself would fail to deduce that you more than measure up. That things between us are so good and so right. It’s like it had to be this way. We had to end up together, just so.”

“Just so,” Sherlock smiled and leaned in for a soft kiss.

“I sometimes worry...” he began again after a pause.

“Oh?” John asked.

“Well, I’ve never had anything like this before. Relationships. Love. Sex, even. I’ve never done this. I’m not sure I even know how.”

“I think you’re doing a great job already,” John smiled, brushing Sherlock’s curls from his forehead.

“That’s just sentiment talking.”

“No, I mean it. I didn’t know it would be like this. I hoped, of course, but I never imagined that you and me - that we would work so well. It’s almost as though we took the best parts of ourselves and fused them together into something even better. I know I must sound like the romantic fool you always accuse me of being, but I truly believe that we’re so... brilliant together.”

“We complete each other,” Sherlock teased, rolling his eyes.

“Shutup,” John said without pique. “Don’t you know what I mean?”

He seemed worried then and Sherlock wanted more than anything to appease that. He wanted to smooth out the little lines forming between John’s brows. He wanted to make sure that John never felt worried again, that he never had to feel fear or uncertainty or anguish. All he had to do, for now, was tell the truth.

“I know exactly what you mean. ‘One half of me is yours, the other half yours - mine own, I would say. But if mine, then yours, and so all yours.’”

“Shakespeare?”

The Merchant of Venice.”

“I didn’t know you’ve read Shakespeare.”

“Of course I’ve read Shakespeare. I’m not a total cretin.”

John huffed out a laugh, shaking his head.

“What?”

“Nothing, just… I love you so much, you know that?”

Sherlock flushed at the fierce emotion and candour in John’s voice. “I know.”

“Do you?” John suddenly turned serious, as though this was the most important thing in the world for him to get right. “Do you really know?”

Sherlock met John’s eyes, determination in them. “Yes. I think I know.”

“Good.”

“Good,” he returned.

Sherlock turned back onto his back, his hand finding John’s somewhere in between them, the thought of them not touching each other in some part not sitting right with him.

“I just have one regret in all this,” he started.

“Yeah?”

“Yes. I wish… I wish it hadn’t taken this long for us to get here. I wish we hadn’t taken the very long way ‘round to get to this point. Death and marriage and misery. Never saying anything for all that time. Leaving, then coming back to you and her. Her... What was it all for, in the end? It just seems so pointless somehow. We both suffered so much and-”

“I know. I think, though, that the sooner we accept that part of it, the better. Else we’ll drive ourselves mad with the could-have-beens. God knows I’ve spent my fair share of time feeling sorry for all the horrible things we’ve had to endure. We made a lot of mistakes, between the two of us, but we’re here now, aren’t we? I think that’s more important.”

“The most important,” Sherlock corrected him.

“Right. Everything else, all the stuff that came before, is meaningless. We can’t give it any more importance than it’s already had. It’s what had to happen to make this happen. For us to become this.”

“Destiny...” Sherlock pondered aloud, only half-teasing this time. It was actually an interesting notion - him and John, preordained. Somehow, it made sense, as ridiculous as it was.

“In a way, maybe. It might be silly and completely self-commiserating, but it’s comforting to think that it had to happen this way. It softens the blow, I think. Especially considering the main regret is the time we wasted; I don’t want to waste any more time feeling bad about it. I just want to move forward with you. That’s all I want.”

“Me as well. More than anything, me as well.”

John kissed him on the cheeks, eyes and mouth, peppering his intimacy into the small actions.

“You know,” John began again after some time. “You’re not making getting out of this bed and going back to work seem very appealing at all.”

“Aren’t I?” Sherlock quipped, raising his eyebrow.

“No. Especially not with all your clothes off like that.”

“Doctor Watson, are you - are you flirting with me?” Sherlock pretended to be scandalised, raising a hand to his chest in mock-horror.

“I believe I am,” John answered, drawing his arm over Sherlock’s torso and pulling him closer. “Come here.”

“Yes, Doctor!”

“Ooohhh, you’re a bad man,” John said, kissing Sherlock’s shoulder and chest and anywhere else within reach.

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” Sherlock teased.

John dug his fingers into the side of Sherlock’s abdomen, making him squirm and giggle. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do…”

“Well?” Sherlock demanded between fits of giggles. John wasn’t letting up. Ever since he had accidentally discovered that Sherlock was extremely ticklish one eventful night, Sherlock had been waiting for him to use it to his advantage.

“I’m going to kiss you.”

“And th-then?”

“And then we’ll see what happens, I suppose.”

“Well y-you’ll have to - have to stop - John! You’ll have to stop t-tickling me then.” He could barely breathe by this point.

“Or what?”

“Or I’ll ki-kiss you back!” Sherlock shrieked in a fresh fit of laughter, rolling around to avoid further onslaught.

“Sounds like a plan,” John said, ending his assault on Sherlock’s reflexes and giving him the most enticing kiss imaginable. Sherlock had no choice but to make good on his threat.

 

It had been only a little journey to get to this point - them, unpacking all of John’s belongings and moving him back where he belongs, the sealed boxes the briefest of reminders that this hasn’t always been John’s home, but also a reminder that it’s being rectified - for good.

Now that they’ve finally managed to sort through Rosie’s boxes to prepare her for bed and had dinner together as a family, Sherlock waits for John to put her to sleep while he hangs back in the kitchen, clearing up after them. When he hears John start to sing a soft lullaby, though, he can’t help but want to check in and see the private little moment for himself.

He stands in the doorway to his old room, watching John with Rosie, illuminated only by her little twinkly lights. She’s almost asleep, so John’s singing is getting softer and softer:

“...brighter than the morning star. You are fairer, much fairer Than the lily that grows by the wayside Precious, more precious than gold.”

The way that John is so soft and careful with her - with both of them, really - makes Sherlock’s heart feel full to bursting and tears spring into his eyes. That John could be so full of love and that love could ever be directed at him is almost unimaginable, and yet it seems to be his present reality. One that he certainly intends never to take for granted.

A couple of days ago, Sherlock had experienced the same feeling when he had gone with John to fetch Rosie from her daycare. They had gotten there a little bit early, when the children were still packing up for the day. He’d looked through the window of the little classroom and, when he spotted Rosie’s blonde curls, he felt such an intense reaction that he couldn’t even begin to explain. She was tidying up some toys (actually, in fairness to the exasperated teacher, she looked to be more interested in playing with them just then) and she had a huge smile on her beautiful face, the same smile John sometimes displayed that made Sherlock want to melt. When they had finally opened the door to collect her, she had looked up to see Sherlock in the doorway and had toddled over as quickly as her little legs could carry her with her eyes bright and her arms open and had practically jumped into his arms when he bent down to pick her up. That tiny gesture had played on his mind all of that evening and the next day, too. In such a simple action, Rosie had made him realise that he was welcome, somehow. Not only in John’s life, but in hers, too. And that was something he had been worried about. He couldn’t help but compare himself to the mother-sized hole left by Mary and he knew he would never be able to be that for her. He wanted more than anything to find a place in their lives, but he wasn’t sure what that would be.

Afterwards, they had taken her to a little family cafe where she could play on puffy colourful blocks and wordlessly fight with other children over whose turn it was to play with a single wooden puzzle piece. With their coffees in front of them, they had spoken frankly, for the very first time, about Sherlock’s position in John’s little family of two. Sherlock was just telling John where they’d need to set up childproofing on plugs and tricky cupboards when John smiled and simply said, “She loves you too, you know.”

“Well,” Sherlock had flushed. “I hope so.”

“She does. I think it will be good for her to have somebody other than me to rely on, especially later on, when it’s going to count more.”

“I can never be what she doesn’t have, though. I can never be that for her,” Sherlock said quietly, the familiar guilt twisting in his guts.

“No,” John answered, “but you can be you, and I think that’s absolutely perfect, too. If only everybody could have a Sherlock Holmes in their life, I think the world would be a much better place. And we get to have that. Forever.”

Sherlock had smiled into his next sip or coffee, considering. He couldn’t imagine such fulfilment finding him before then - something he never hoped for and certainly hadn’t dared to expect. He had loved John so deeply and for so long, but it was something he thought he’d have to take to his grave (the real one this time). Nowhere in his Mind Palace was there ever a scenario where John could love him back in the same way, and there was definitely no scenario where he’d be a part of both of his and Rosie’s lives on a permanent basis.

 

And now, tt feels as though he finally belongs to someone, and someone to him. He never knew that was in the realm of possibility, so he always tucked it far back into the recesses of his mind. Love seemed to happen for people of all types - good people, bad people, painfully mediocre people - but never to Sherlock Holmes. To be fair, he had never especially wanted it to or sought after it. And now, he has something more than that. He has a family. He has two people to come home to every day for the rest of his life and that somehow makes him feel as though everything is safe now. The demons he didn’t even know he was afraid of are put to rest.

He’s always had a family and, on paper, even a traditional, nuclear one, too, but recent events have highlighted just how messed up that part of his life has been all along. How much emptiness there was just waiting to be filled. Not only everything with Eurus, but with his parents, too. It’s odd to think about the fact that Mycroft is actually the sanest of all of them somehow - which says a lot about everybody else. He feels incredibly fortunate, though, to have a balm to soothe those wounds - a family of his own, one created almost for him and him alone. A way to restore whatever order was meant to be bestowed upon his life. In the past, it was always you lose some, you lose some, but now it is finally time to win some.

As he watches John tuck Rosie’s blanket around her tiny now-sleeping frame, he can’t help but silently thank every deity he knows of for giving him somebody who is not just a friend or a lover, but somebody who means something much more than any of those things could ever encompass. Somebody who means more than conversations or sex or even love. Somebody who means home.

John comes out of Rosie’s room soon after, catching Sherlock just as he’s packing up their dry dishes. They work silently for a while before John turns him around against the sink and gives him a slow, thoughtful kiss. When he pulls away, he must notice Sherlock’s glossy eyes, because his expression turns to one of concern.

“Are you okay?” he breathes softly against Sherlock’s lips.

“More than okay,” Sherlock whispers back. “Almost too okay.”

“Okay,” he says, smiling. One of the things Sherlock loves most about John is his ability to understand Sherlock so deeply and so thoroughly without ever making a fuss.

Sherlock smiles back before they kiss again. Like they’re both in on it; this little world they’ve finally created for themselves which is a slice of pure heaven, unsullied by anything else, not even the past.

“Let’s go to bed,” John says suggestively, taking Sherlock by the hand and leading him upstairs.

It’s quiet in their flat and quieter still in their bedroom. They don’t seem to have much to say to each other, but they are able to communicate all the same, with Sherlock’s fingers hooking into John’s waistband to mean take these off and John’s hands in Sherlock’s hair to mean let me show you how I love you, let me give you this.

The air between them feels electrified as they undress slowly. A homecoming. A relief. When they’re both fully naked, they collapse onto the bed together in a heap, writhing and kissing and biting and sucking in desperate measure. It feels as though every ounce of concentration needs to be wrapped up in these activities. It’s desperate and a little bit messy, but soon it slows down as their kisses grow more languid and longing. The tiring events of the day and the gratitude they feel for one another all melt into one as they kiss each other’s eyes and lips and chests as though they’re telling each other little secrets in the confines of their private, safe space.

When John is finally buried deep inside of Sherlock, he lets out a little puff of air and leans down to capture Sherlock’s mouth in his, never breaking apart for more than a few seconds until they finally both climax almost soundlessly, emotion pouring right out of their mouths and bodies into the other’s, Sherlock’s hands in John’s hair and John’s hands on Sherlock’s chest.

They lie in each other’s arms after, appeased and filled. The events of the day have cemented something between them, and this was the cherry to top it all off. It’s the forever that they’ve recently been saying with their mouths but not quite managing to put into action and, before that, been putting into action but never ever saying with their mouths.

Suddenly, John pulls slightly back, far enough that he can look into Sherlock’s eyes but staying close enough that they’re still locked in their embrace.

“I love you so much,” he says fiercely, never breaking eye contact.

Sherlock is a little bit surprised at the broken longstanding silence and the intensity of the declaration. “I love you too,” he replies softly, tracing lazy circles onto John’s chest with the tip of his index finger. “More than you’ll ever know.”

“I think I’m learning just how much,” John whispers, eyes welling up.

“I think I’m realising, too,” Sherlock replies, tracing the little infinity sign over John’s heart again and again and again.

Chapter Text

Standing at the entry of the doorway, Sherlock waits and fidgets while John wraps his blue scarf around his neck for him, rolling his eyes. He normally likes it when John does up his scarf for him but today, he’s in a hurry and feeling restless. He just wants to get going already. It’s like waiting for the rest of his life to fully begin.

“Easy, love, your appointment is only for noon. No need to rush,” John says, finishing with Sherlock’s scarf and smoothing his hands down the sides of his arms in a now-familiar gesture that means take it easy. He has a knowing smile on his face and Sherlock doesn’t even have the patience to kiss it off right now. He does it anyway, pecking his upturned mouth as though conquering and seizing it for himself.

“Come on, let’s go, John!” He practically drags John out the front door and, as ever, John follows, patiently, understandingly, even if he does grumble a little bit.

It has only been a couple of months, but Sherlock is still surprised anew almost every day that John hasn’t lost patience with him and, most importantly, that he continues to make an effort to understand him and accept him for who and what he is. Even though John always insists that’s never going to change, a part of Sherlock is ever suspicious that it may well could. Today’s appointment could change that, somehow, if only for Sherlock’s own peace of mind. It’s silly and meaningless ultimately, but he needs to do this. For both of them.

They immediately find each other’s hands as they start on their walk and the minutes pass by pleasantly enough, the crisp late morning air creating a comfortable temperature to walk in.

“Are you nervous?” John asks, rubbing his thumb over Sherlock’s knuckles.

Sherlock says nothing.

“Are you excited?” he asks with a hint of hopefulness in his voice.

“Yes,” Sherlock replies, blushing lightly and looking to his feet as they continue to hit the grey block paving.

“Me too,” John says, scooting closer to Sherlock to allow the people passing them by more room. “I must say,” he says lowly, near Sherlock’s ear, “the fact that I still manage to make you blush that way after all this time is really endearing. If we weren’t in public right now, I’d really give you something to blush about.”

Sherlock’s blush deepens as he smiles shyly.

“Alright, come here,” John says, stopping next to the doorstep of a sweet shop. “I can’t not be kissing you anymore.”

He takes ahold of Sherlock’s chin and pulls him down for a slow, lingering kiss. Neither of them seems to care about the fact that they’re stood in the middle of the busy city on a afternoon near lunchtime. This takes precedence.

“Get a room, you lovebirds,” a lady walking out of the shop teases them, smiling.

“Yeah, we might just,” John says to Sherlock’s lips, making them both giggle. “What do you say, love? Should we get a room after this?” His eyes are twinkling and Sherlock wishes the kissing didn’t have to stop.

“Yes. Let’s.”

John pecks him once more before taking him by the hand again and leading them back out onto the bustling pavement.

Even here, in the midst of all these nameless, preoccupied people, in a city that can sometimes feel cold and unkind to individual persons, Sherlock still feels safe with John by his side. He isn’t just another face on the street. He belongs somewhere and to somebody. He has a decided place in the city, in the world, in the universe. There’s meaning to be found in his previously meaningless existence by virtue of their attachment.

“Anyway,” John says after they’ve been walking for some time. “I know I’ve said it a million times and you’ve emphatically asked me to stop saying it, but I just want you to know - again - that you really don’t have to do this. You don’t actually have to go through with it. Like, we could turn around right now and go back home and put on the kettle and get on with our lives and I wouldn’t care at all. I’d never hold you to it.”

“Stop being daft. Of course I’m doing this. I have to do it. It isn’t just for you, although that’s the main reason, of course, it’s… it’s also for me, somehow,” Sherlock admits. “I want - I need - to know that I’m yours, but you’re also mine. I don’t want there to ever be any doubt about that.”

“There never could,” John replies questioningly, as though he wasn’t aware that this was up for debate in any sense.

“I know that. Or, I know you think that, but for me, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. I’ve never… I’ve never had this before and it means so much to me and it’s so big and important that I feel like I have to do something big and important to sort of cement it, if that makes sense? I need this. For both of us. It makes all the sense in the world to me for us to be going to do this today. It may seem trivial, but I need it.”

“It doesn’t seem trivial. Not at all,” John comforts him. “I know exactly what you mean. Of course I do. When you were gone, you lived in my heart and that way, you were mine - permanently. I suppose that was part of the difficulty I faced when you returned: I had built up this fantasy where although you were gone, you were a part of me because you weren’t around to have any say. I romanticised what we were before you left to suit my own narrative. It was easy to forget, in my own longing and grief, that we were just friends.”

“John,” Sherlock says frankly, “we never never just friends.”

“I know. But on the outside, that’s all we were, especially to one another. To me, though, the more time passed by where you weren’t there anymore, the more you became this beautiful, melancholic dream I kept on adding to. I’d remember something as trivial as you making me a cup of tea and see it through a lens of something more meaningful. I read into everything that didn’t actually mean anything at the time because I just so desperately didn’t want to believe that you were truly gone without ever knowing how much…” he’s choking back sobs and Sherlock squeezes his hand in silent support, “how much I loved you. How special you were. The idea that you had left this world without ever knowing that was abhorrent to me. So my mind built up this complex dreamscape that I actually started to buy into. You become this legend and, our relationship, something belonging more to mythology than to the truth. That way, your leaving without ever having known was easier to deal with. I coped by lying to myself, bit by bit, about what we were to each other. And when you came back, it all came tumbling down around me, the reality of it - you staring at me with that ridiculous, drawn-on moustache - like jumping into a freezing cold pool.”

Sherlock squeezes his hand again and leans into him slightly, bumping his shoulder with his own.

“But now,” John continues, brightening his intonation. “Now, things are so much better than I could have ever dreamed up. You’re here and real and alive and mine and that’s so much better than I ever thought I’d have.” He bumps Sherlock’s shoulder in reply.

“Well, I’m certainly glad I live up to the fantasy version of me,” Sherlock teases lightly, kissing John’s cheek as they round another corner.

John grins, seemingly grateful for the break in the reflectful musings. “Hey, don’t push it,” he winks. “And for the record, even though, on paper, I’ve had this before, I’ve also not exactly had this before. We’re much more than anything I’ve ever had or thought I could have. I didn’t know there was more to be had, in fact. You’re not the only one who’s new to this. It’s big and important to me, too. We’re both still learning, I think.”

Sherlock links his arm through John’s in response.

“I hope…” John starts. “Before... you said that our relationship has never been entirely reciprocal and I just hope that that’s changed. I hope I’ve been able to express just how much...”

Sherlock looks sharply to John. He hadn’t been expecting those words at all. That conversation - ages ago yet so recent - feels like it belongs to another them in another time. “John,” he says soothingly, running his free hand up and down John’s arm that’s linked through his. “John, never doubt what we are. I’m doing this today so that neither of us ever has to again.”

“It was all worth it, then.”

“Hmm?” Sherlock asks, turning again to face him.

“The pain. It was all worth it.”

“Yes, of course it was,” Sherlock says simply, giving John’s arm a small squeeze as they turn into their final block.

They reach the glass-front store and push open the heavy door together. Elaine is at the counter, drawing something intricate. Sherlock spots cherry blossoms delicately framing a portrait and he feels a flood of relief that his design is much more straightforward and simple. Not that he’s afraid of pain; more that he’s afraid of the idea that his body could be so irreparably marked by something so sizable. He considers for a moment and realises he’d do it for John, though. In a heartbeat.

“Hi, Sherlock. You ready?” Elaine asks, putting her papers away.

“Yes,” he says brusquely, too quickly, and both she and John smirk at his response.

Elaine seats him in her chair and shows him the stencil. That something so small and fine could mean so much is a marvel. He nods once and she asks him to remove his shirt and get comfortable.

She cleans the area and places the stencil over his chest in the position they discussed the last time he was in and, once the transfer is done, hands him a handheld mirror and asks if it’s okay.

“Yes,” he barks out again. This time, he reaches for John’s hand as Elaine shows him the sterilised needle. John smiles and takes the petitioning hand, allowing Sherlock to squeeze tight even though the pain hasn’t begun yet.

“Just relax,” John says softly, just to Sherlock.

“Obviously,” Sherlock grumbles, which earns him a fond smile and kiss on his head.

As Elaine gets to work, Sherlock is grateful for her lack of questions about the little holde adorning the center of his chest and notes that the pain isn’t unbearable, but it is extremely uncomfortable. It feels like a blade slicing through the skin, which is a sensation he’s all-too-familiar with thanks to his time in Serbia. It’s not as painful as, say, a severe chemical burn or a hooked chain to the spine or a gunshot wound to the abdomen. He can endure this.

He looks down at the small, neat, half-permanent outline and can’t help but feel a swelling sense of pride at the fact that he’s somehow marking John onto himself. They do it almost all the time, unconsciously, with kisses and touches and words and bedroom exchanges, and he supposes that this is simply another way to do it. For everyone, including himself, to see it; visible and irrefutable.

He looks up at John, whose eyes are transfixed by the needle tattooing his chest. He has a small, almost imperceptible smile on the side of his mouth and he suddenly looks at Sherlock as though he knows he was looking at him and Sherlock knows, without a shadow of a doubt that John is all his, too, as much as he is John’s.

“All done,” Elaine says as she wipes the area one last time.

“Already?” Sherlock is surprised.

“Sorry to disappoint you, mate, but if you pick such a small design, it’s not going to take very long. Maybe next time I can design something more ornate for you and we can have you in this chair for longer.”

“I can assure you,” Sherlock says distractedly as he stands to look in the full-length mirror on the wall, “there won’t be a next time.”

He draws in a little gasp of air as he sees himself. The little infinity sign on his chest could bring tears to his eyes right here in the tattoo parlour, if he let it. He glances up in the mirror and sees John’s reflection behind him, focused on Sherlock’s chest, eyes misty and mouth drawn into a tight line that Sherlock has come to know very well. It means he’s trying to hold back the tide of overwhelming emotion, too, usually unsuccessfully. He catches John’s eye before he looks away and there’s heat there; raw emotion and passion.

Elaine covers the tattoo and they pay soundlessly and once they’re back on the pavement, naturally link arms again. The walk back to Baker Street is quiet, both of them in their own thoughts. There’s an anticipation that’s been building ever since they locked eyes in the mirror, and it’s a comfortable kind of tension that coils around and through them as they finally reach the flat.

Without a word, they hold hands all the way up the stairs and turn to each other on the landing, lips meeting lips, tongue meeting tongue, breaths mingling and forming something new. John pulls apart just far enough to remove Sherlock’s scarf, coat and shirt and lets them all fall into a dramatic puddle at their feet. John’s eyes find the covered, fresh tattoo on Sherlock’s chest and he gently places the palm of his left hand over it. He looks up into Sherlock’s eyes and just says, “You,” and they’re already kissing again, this time with more heat.

They clumsily climb the stairs to their room together, stopping for kisses along the way, bumping into the bannister and each other. It takes almost double the time to reach their bedroom but, once they do, the kissing begins again in earnest, all wetness and warmth, no room for anything like uncertainty or sorrow; not even for regret.

“Off,” Sherlock demands of John’s clothes, helping him remove them.

John presses Sherlock onto the bed and takes off his trousers and pants for him, no time for teasing. Once they’re both naked, John sinks to his knees and takes Sherlock’s entire, erect length into his mouth in one motion.

Between Sherlock’s aaaahs and John’s mmmms, John looks up into Sherlock’s eyes through his blonde lashes and Sherlock almost finishes right then and there. Instead, he cradles John’s biceps with his hands and lifts him up and off, pulling him on top of him for a kiss, the taste of John mixed with himself making him lightheaded with desire and affection.

John pulls off and leans on an elbow over Sherlock, tucking one of his long curls behind his ear. “What do you want?” he asks gently.

Everything,” Sherlock whispers and they’re kissing again, urgent and messy, his and his and theirs.

When John eventually lowers himself into Sherlock and Sherlock yanks him down for another kiss, Sherlock’s little covered patch fits over John’s tattoo and John lifts himself off slightly with a knowing grin.

“What?” Sherlock asks.

“You…” John’s eyes are roving back and forth between Sherlock’s - they’re that close - and his breath is coming out in little, delicate huffs. “This is why you had it done on your right side.” He looks at Sherlock as though he’s a miracle and Sherlock believes it, too, in the moment.

“Yes. I… didn’t see the need to do it over my heart, since you’re already permanently there, so this seemed like the most… logical placement.”

“Logic?”

“Yes.”

“Sweetheart, I don’t think logic has anything to do with it.”

John smiles as he captures Sherlock’s mouth for another kiss, their tattoos marking yet another place where they’re connected, where John is his, he is John’s, he is his and he is John’s: one half of him belongs to John and the other half also to John. All John’s and John, ever his.