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Chapter Text

John ran up the steps to 221B lightly. He wasn’t late for work, not yet, but he still couldn’t dawdle. Funny that, he’d chosen to work on the other side of the city from where he lived, with Baker Street smack in the middle. He’d brought an extra coffee and a cheese Danish from Sherlock’s favorite bakery and he had time enough to leave them beside his chair, even if Sherlock himself wasn’t yet up and around.

Physically, it had taken months for Sherlock to recover from both his bullet wound and his near-overdose the day he’d almost left John behind for a second time. The detective was only now going out on cases again with any regularity, and they were usually no higher than a five. He’d grumbled about his enforced inactivity, but without bite. And then when the long tendrils of Moriarty’s web had finally reclaimed Mary and taken her away forever, John had been a bit preoccupied with the minutia of the funeral and the official explanations and the shock of it all, the guilt that he felt in being more than a little relieved, and he hadn’t noticed that Sherlock had started venturing outside of the flat more and more, until John started dropping by again and Sherlock seemed to be out half the time. He’d begun texted before showing up, to save himself the trip, he supposed, though it was really to save himself the disappointment of not seeing Sherlock.

John wondered if the fact that Sherlock had not once asked for his company on a case since Magnussen was because of what he’d almost said on the tarmac that day. Had Sherlock deduced how difficult it had been for John to say good-bye?

In any case, John had been given a second chance, or perhaps a third. He’d resolved to be a better friend. Not demanding things of him, but trying to be there for Sherlock, if he needed him. Bringing him treats. Forwarding him the more interesting cases that the blog readers still turned up with. He kept the flat he’d shared with Mary and he hated it, but he couldn’t justify moving somewhere new. Though he supposed the expense was no longer an issue with his little Mary-provided nest egg--the million-pound life insurance policy he’d discovered after her death. Perhaps that was why he hadn’t touched it, even after Mycroft had helpfully made the arrangements for the money. John had loved her once, but Mary had proven to be as devious as Moriarty and it didn’t feel right to profit off her—even in death.

He opened the door with his own key, and whistled out a soft greeting. The flat was quiet, so he set the coffee and bakery bag down, and was about to dash off a quick note to Sherlock when the door to Sherlock’s room opened.

“I was just going to—“ he turned, but it was not Sherlock in the doorway. Instead there was a man John had never seen before. A young man. Probably mid-twenties, sandy blond hair, a trifle taller than John, definitely more built. He was wearing pajamas—old-fashioned striped ones, the kind that matched on the top and bottom that you saw in old movies. He was barefoot. He had a terrible case of bedhead. You didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that he’d just rolled out of bed. Out of Sherlock Holmes’s bed to be precise.

The coffee John had chugged on the way there turned to acid in his stomach. It was like Janine all over again. Except this was so much worse. Because on some level he’d been convinced that Janine was a put-on, and he’d been proven right. Janine had even told Mary that she and Sherlock had never done the deed, so to speak, and he’d been unbearable grateful to have been on the receiving end of that particular bit of gossip. And this—person—was, though random as he might seem—the kind of person that John had always assumed Sherlock would gravitate towards. Somehow posh, refined, even standing silently in a hallway in his pajamas. Young. Fit. Male.

“Oh, sorry—“ John said, just as the blond raised a finger to his lips in the universal symbol for quiet. He tiptoed toward John, avoiding the squeaky board on the hallway floor, which surprised John. It meant that he was familiar enough with the flat to avoid making unnecessary noise. Who the hell was he?

“I’m Evan,” the man whispered. “You must be John.”

He was, Evan, apparently. Also apparently a mind reader. Fuck.

“Yeah, hi. Um, is Sherlock--?”

“He’s sleeping. Don’t want to wake him. He needs the rest.”

“Oh, of course.” John ordered his mind not to speculate on the reason that Sherlock might be so worn out. “I’ll just leave these…” he gestured to his pathetic little offerings.

“I’ll let him know you dropped by,” Evan said. Something proprietary in his tone had the John’s eyebrows rising and his shoulders squaring off.

“Thanks.” There was a moment of unbelievably awkward silence. “Well, I’ve got to get to work.”

“Nice to meet you,” Evan said, still whispering.

“Same,” John called over his shoulder as he made for the stairs, not bothering to be particularly quiet. If Evan was on the receiving end of a grumpy Sherlock Holmes, what business was it of John’s?

No business of his at all.

Chapter Text

John felt he’d done a reasonably good job of putting the encounter with pajama-clad Evan out of his mind while he went about his business at the clinic. He only went over their conversation a dozen or so times before his lunch break. Not too bad.

What bothered him most, well, nearly the most, about running into someone with such an obvious familiarity with Sherlock’s habits was that the interloper seemed to know all about John while John had never heard Sherlock mention having…an…Evan. A boyfriend? Gah, John pushed his lunch away. This entire thing had put him off his food. Why hadn’t Sherlock just told him there was someone like Evan in his life? They were in touch, they saw each other and texted several times a week. But still, Sherlock hadn’t asked him on a case in months. Perhaps it was because he had a new partner? Someone who could be called that in more than one sense of the word?

This speculation was getting him nowhere. He should just ask Sherlock outright. And whatever Sherlock said, he’d support him. Because that’s what friends did. And whatever Sherlock’s position on the matter, John still considered Sherlock to be his friend. His best friend. The best friend he’d ever had.

Maybe obsessively thinking about him did have an effect, because John was startled out of his thoughts by the buzz of his phone.

Thank you for the Danish. It was good.

John waited for the inevitable next text to appear.

The coffee was rubbish, though. Completely cold.

John couldn’t help the smile that bloomed across his face. Git. He chewed on his lip, considering how to respond. Would it be more weird to mention Evan or more weird to pretend like they hadn’t met?

He was saved from indecision by Sherlock’s next text.

Come by after work? I need a consult.

That was easy. When had John ever been able to deny Sherlock in need?

I’ll be there.

 

*

 

Sherlock was at the window, violin in hand when John arrived that evening. He was dressed in a suit, and noodling with the instrument, jotting down something on a scrap of paper.

“Composing?”

“Just a little something I’ve been working on,” Sherlock said. He seemed to be in a good mood, and John responded to him like a plant responding to sunlight. He plopped down in his chair and leaned toward Sherlock.

“Let’s hear it, then,” John said.

“Not finished yet,” Sherlock said, but in an agreeable tone. John pushed away the stab of disappointment. He loved to hear Sherlock play and it had been a while. Instead, Sherlock set down his instrument and took up his phone.

“A case has come up. Take a look at these photos and tell me what you think.” He tossed the phone and John caught it with one hand. John tried to hide his excitement at the mention of the word case. He’d missed this, the drama and adrenaline of the adventures they used to find themselves embroiled in. He glanced through the pictures. They were all of a body, a man stripped to the waist, definitely dead, though the cause of death was not immediately apparent. There was something about the shoes…

“When were these photos taken?”

“Very good, John. Twelve years ago. It’s a cold case but Lestrade recently got a new piece of evidence. He’s got his plate full, so he’s handed it over to me to see if I can make any progress.”

“Cause of death?”

“Toxicology reports indicate opiate overdose.”

“But?”

“His system was definitely full of opiates but the way they were administered remains a mystery. The coroner’s report is bare bones, so to speak.” They exchanged a quick half grin over the pun. “If I’d had an opportunity to examine the body in person, I’d probably already have it solved by now.” Sherlock didn’t seem overly put out by the handicap. John detected some of his friend’s old sparkle at the prospect of a puzzle to be solved.

“Well, it’s difficult to tell from these pictures, but we’d be looking for a puncture wound if the drugs were administered intravenously.”

“Hmmm, yes, a wound.” Sherlock steepled his hands under his chin. “He had bruises around his wrists, indicating he’d been restrained. But no puncture marks were found on the body.”

“Curious,” John remarked. He supposed his area of expertise had been exhausted, and he settled back in his chair. He glanced around the flat, his thoughts turning to his visit that morning. There didn’t appear to be any evidence of a boyfriend, or partner, or live-in PA for that matter. He thought back to the days when he and Sherlock had cohabitated. His stuff had always been lying around, mingling with Sherlock’s. John’s jumper over the back of a chair, his paperback mysteries on the side table, a half-full tea mug on the kitchen counter. Not that it had been like that with them. Not exactly. For John, it had been the most fulfilling relationship of his life, even if it had lacked a physical dimension that he occasionally longed for with a sharpness that felt like a kick in the gut. He’d resigned himself to the fact that Sherlock would never think of him that way, that their friendship would remain platonic. And it had been enough. Before Sherlock…went away…John had given up on trying to find a soul mate in a more convenient gender. He already had a soul mate, gender be damned. It wasn’t like he’d never had physical or romantic relationships with men before, anyway. He’d just been raised not to broadcast his bisexuality to the world. And then Sherlock had jumped. Fallen. Jumped. Left John behind. Ultimately, it didn’t matter how he did it, it was the fact that he’d left and John was left alone.

And then he’d come back and things hadn’t been the same. Because John had had his heart broken by this man once already. He was loathe to put himself in a position where he might do it again. So he’d been hard, and kept his distance, and forced himself to stay with Mary. Sherlock had pushed him toward her again and again, after all, even after she’d done the unthinkable. The unforgivable. He never had forgiven her, that was their problem. He’d been able to get past Sherlock’s betrayal, but not hers.

“I need more data,” Sherlock said, jumping up, interrupting John’s thoughts. John was grateful for the distraction. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t gone over a million times before.

Sherlock grabbed his Belstaff and twirled it on. John spared half a moment to admire the angle of his cheekbones and the snug fit of his trousers before they were hidden behind the folds of heavy fabric.

“Let’s see if we can dig up the physical evidence in the archives. Lestrade should be able to get us access.”

“Us? You mean, you and me?” John knew he sounded idiotic, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Problem?” Sherlock had his sardonic expression on, the one he wore when he already knew the answer to a question. Only there was something underneath it, a minute hesitation. Perhaps he’d missed having John along on cases. Perhaps he hadn’t known how to ask. Perhaps they’d both been dancing around each other for too long.

John scrambled to his feet embarrassingly fast. “No. Lead the way.”

Chapter Text

They’d grabbed some takeaway on the way to New Scotland Yard and were eating it cold in an empty conference room, shuffling through the rather limited physical evidence in the twelve-year-old unexplained death of a one Mr. Hirbod Darabi.

John tried to concentrate on reading the coroner’s report while Sherlock combed over the clothing and shoes with his magnifying glass, but it was difficult. He was pleased that Sherlock had finally asked him back on a case, and he was trying to parse what it meant. Were they finally moving past Mary and the wedge she’d driven between them? Was their friendship going to find a new status quo?

He supposed instead of just stewing over things he and Sherlock could have a proper conversation and get things out in the open once and for all. Ella would have said that was the healthier option. But he and Sherlock had never been good at verbal communication. Even from the first night at Angelo’s, John had always felt there was some unspoken, unacknowledged line between them that neither of them dared to cross.

He’d never felt that more acutely than on the tarmac. On some level, he’d been aware he could be saying goodbye to Sherlock forever. On another level, even with Mary hovering and Mycroft silently machinating in the background, he knew it couldn’t end this way. Perhaps that was why neither of them could put their feelings into words. Sherlock had come closest. He’d started to say something, and John had held his breath, half terrified, half elated that perhaps the thing he’d wished for years might actually come true. That Sherlock would signal that he cared for John, and not just as his best friend, or his best man. But that he loved John the way John loved him and would always love him, even if he was never given the opportunity to act on it.

But he hadn't. And that was that. John had to face the fact that Sherlock didn't feel that way about him. His main source of comfort was that even if Sherlock wasn’t interested in John in that way, he wasn’t interested in anyone else that way, either. The idea that that might not be strictly true grated.

John was beginning to think he’d imagined the encounter with Evan that morning. Sherlock still hadn’t said anything, though one might assume Evan had told him that he’d run into John. Perhaps it didn’t mean what John thought it meant. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. John pushed back from the table, disgusted with his own fruitless preoccupations.

“Can I ask you a question, Sherlock?” He hadn’t quite decided which question he would start with when Sherlock replied in a distracted voice.

“You’re going to ask why the coroner neglected to run a full tox panel. Of course! Either he was intensely negligent or he was in on it. We need to run down this Dr. Parma. I’ve never heard of him before this case. Perhaps he didn’t work for the Yard long.”

“Er, yes, good idea, but—”

“What is it?”

“Why now, Sherlock? Why all of a sudden are we running down a cold case together?”

“I told you, Lestrade didn’t have the time—”

“Yes, but why am I here?”

Sherlock stilled in the act of putting on his scarf. “Ah. Well.” He was uncharacteristically hesitant. “You know I have been taking on limited cases.”

“I know. But you said your last physical was positive. Everything’s healing the way it should, your PT finished up. Unless there’s something you aren’t telling me?” The idea that Sherlock’s health might be perilous, that the effects of being shot in the chest might be with him permanently, woke a fiercely protective side of John. He still felt partly responsible, considering his own wife was the one who’d put the bullet in his best friend. And there was something else there. Fear. The fear that had nearly paralyzed him for days after the initial shooting, when in all likelihood they could have lost Sherlock. It was something of a miracle he’d pulled through, no matter what nonsense Sherlock spouted about “surgery.” Mary had shot to kill and she’d nearly succeeded.

Sherlock spoke slowly. “No, physically, I’m recovered. It took time, as you know.”

John had attended Sherlock as best as he could. Sherlock was never a particularly good patient, but he’d seemed to realize the severity of his injuries and done everything prescribed to him. He even ate more regularly now, took regular exercise. He hadn’t touched so much as a nicotine patch in months, to John’s knowledge.

“But since…Appledore…I’ve been loathe to take unnecessary risks. And I haven’t wanted to put you in a situation where you might be…triggered, so to speak.”

John was incredulous. “You haven’t been taking cases or inviting me along because you’re worried about me?”

Sherlock looked uncomfortable. “Well, you did just lose your wife.”

“That was months ago.” John squeezed the bridge of his nose, knowing how callous that sounded. “I mean, Mary’s lifestyle was inherently dangerous. There was nothing we could have done to stop what happened. And the truth is—”

Sherlock was staring at him, intense and curious.

“—the truth is, I never forgave her. For what she did to you. And I tried to only see the things that I loved about her, the things that saved me when I was in a very dark place, while you were…gone. But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to, honestly. What she and I had, it wasn’t real. It was a lie. And of course I’m sorry she’s dead, but I’m not sorry she’s out of my life.”

“Really?” Sherlock seemed surprised.

“I should have told you sooner. I should have done a lot of things differently, since you came back.”

“Like what?”

John rubbed his jaw, suppressing a tired chuckle. “Only just about everything.” Now was not the time to bring unrequited love into the conversation. He’d about exhausted his ability to be emotionally candid with his speech about Mary.

Sherlock seemed to sense the change in mood. “Let’s go find out who this Dr. Parma was,” he said, sweeping the evidence back into its container and tucking the box under his arm.

It wasn’t until later that John realized Sherlock hadn’t exactly answered his question. Why now?

Chapter Text

By the time they’d traced the coroner, Dr. Parma, to his untimely end in a car crash not two weeks after Mr. Darabi’s death, it was going on midnight. Sherlock was buzzing on adrenaline and talking a mile a minute as they climbed the stairs to 221B. John was feeling the last 18 hours in his shoulder and knees and only absorbing about every other word. He was embarrassed to recall this was the latest he’d been up in months. He felt old and weary, and didn’t want to do something, anything, that would make Sherlock regret asking him to consult on this particular case.

But you didn’t have to be a detective to draw conclusions from the enormous yawn he let out after collapsing into his chair.

“You need sleep,” Sherlock commented, breaking off mid-stream.

“Nah, I’ll make coffee,” he said, halfheartedly pushing himself out of his chair.

“Don’t be ridiculous. The case won’t evaporate if you rest. The killer—or killers—have been free for twelve years. One night won’t make a difference.”

It was so logical and sensible that John leveled a stare at Sherlock. “Are you feeling all right?”

“Of course, John.” Sherlock waved him away with one of his long-fingered hands. “There’s no bedding upstairs at the moment, I’m afraid. But take mine.”

“Take your—but what about you? Don’t you need sleep, too?” For a moment John considered the possibility that Sherlock might want to share. As ever, he didn’t know whether to hope for it or dread it.

“I slept last night.”

John remembered. His mouth flattened into a line. “Oh, right.”

“After a full night of sleep, I seldom need more than four hours in the next twenty four. I’ll kip on the sofa if need be.”

“If you’re sure…” John didn’t know why Sherlock giving up his bed made him feel, well, rather inadequate. John was used to being the one that took care of Sherlock. To have it the other way around unsettled him.

“You’ll fall asleep in the cab if you have to go back to your flat. You don’t have work tomorrow. We’ll go interview Parma’s widow in the morning. Sleep. Here.”

It was just a shade less insistent than a command and John couldn’t think of a reason to argue. He visited the bathroom, brushed his teeth with his finger, then stripped down to his vest and pants and slipped under the sheets of Sherlock’s soft, cozy bed. He couldn’t help himself. He sniffed the pillows, but couldn’t find the trace of any other odor besides Sherlock’s own signature brand of poncy shampoo. There were no striped pajamas flung over the back of the chair or in a heap on the floor. And the only thing on the bedside table was a book titled 85 Untraceable Poisons and Their Origins.

His eyes grew heavy and he breathed in Sherlock’s scent, feeling safe and warm all around.

Chapter Text

John’s heart races. His feet are pounding down the alley. It’s dark, muggy. He can hear his footsteps echo. The alley is endless. Suddenly, he’s not alone. Footsteps fall in beside him, and he glances over. Sherlock. “Stop running, John.” His voice is far away. And then John stops, and Sherlock melts around him, arms and legs, fingers and mouth, all around, crowding him up against a brick wall of a nameless building. It’s so dark John can only see the gleam of teeth before Sherlock’s mouth is on him, all over him. It’s sweaty and rough and John arches up, trying to get closer, closer, chasing something that’s just out of reach, panting, begging. “More. Sherlock. More.”

John wrenched his eyes open on a gasp. He sat up, pulse racing. Listening. Something woke him up. A cry. Not his own.

There it was again. He slipped out of bed, silently padding to the door to the hallway and opening it. The flat was dark. Not as dark as his dream; he can navigate by the gray of pre-dawn coming through the sitting room window.

Sherlock lay on the sofa, twisted up in a ball. John waited, now completely unsure of what he’d heard and what he’d only dreamed. Then came a groan, from deep within Sherlock’s chest, rough and ragged and full of something that sounded like fear. John hadn’t imagined it. Sherlock was in pain. John’s duty was to help him. He crossed over and knelt beside the sofa.

“Sherlock, wake up.” Instead of a soft, soothing tone, John used his Captain Watson voice. Strong, in control. “Wake up.”

Sherlock’s eyes flew open and the grimace of pain he’d worn in sleep took a few moments to relax into something closer to annoyance. “What’s wrong?”

“You were—I heard you cry out. You were dreaming.”

Sherlock’s entire body stiffened. “Oh.”

John waited. He scanned Sherlock’s body. He was so tense. He was still wearing his suit, sans jacket, and even his shoes. John was filled with an overwhelming urge to comfort, to bring Sherlock back from whatever place had filled him with that agony of fear.

Carefully, he brought a hand to rest on Sherlock’s shoulder. He could feel the tension vibrating within. He held on, feeling Sherlock’s muscles contract, and then brought his other arm up, slowly, slowly, not wanting to spook Sherlock any more than he’d been already. He eased his friend to a sitting position, then methodically moved to remove Sherlock’s leather lace-ups. He didn’t look at Sherlock’s face, just concentrated on the act of untying the laces, tugging the shoes off one by one and placing them carefully to the side.

He glanced up. Sherlock was watching him, his face unreadable. He seemed to be a bit more relaxed, a bit less ready to jump out of his skin. John got to his feet, ignoring the creak in his knees, and reached out to grab Sherlock’s hand. It was clammy and Sherlock shivered at the contact. “Come,” John said, and he pulled, not leaving Sherlock any leverage to protest. He simply started walking backward, pulling Sherlock along toward the bedroom. Sherlock silently allowed John to steer him toward the bed. Perhaps he was still half-asleep? He lay down, folding himself in two, curved away from John so he couldn’t see his face. John fussed with the blankets. The room wasn’t particularly cold, but he didn’t want to leave Sherlock just yet. The man clearly needed his own bed, his own space, and John would be fine on the sleep he’d already gotten. He tucked the duvet around Sherlock’s hunched shoulders.

“There.” He hesitated another moment, then went to gather his clothes and retreat to the sitting room.

“John.” The single word stopped John in his tracks. “Stay.” It was a plea, a suggestion, an admission of something. John wasn’t going to question it. He didn’t answer, just set his clothes back down and lay down—on top of the covers—next to Sherlock, who scooted over just enough to make the space between them feel as wide as an ocean.

He lay on his back, until he heard Sherlock’s breaths even out. And even then he couldn’t sleep. He turned on his side and watched Sherlock. His curls and the curve of his spine moved slightly with each breath. He thought about how they could be so close to each other and yet too far for him to reach out and snug Sherlock against his body, to give him all of the comfort and care and love that had been pushed down inside him for years.

He thought about his creaky knees and his sterile flat full of bad memories. He thought about Sherlock’s eyes when he was excited and his mouth when he was laughing and he thought about the desperation he’d felt after Sherlock had left and the guilt and the anger and the unproductive ways he’d shown each emotion. He thought of the near misses and, as ever, he thought about that damned afternoon at the air strip. About all the things they hadn’t said. They couldn’t say. And he wondered why they still couldn’t say them.

He was still wondering when, hours later, the doorbell roused him from his semi-drowse. Sherlock made a noise. But it wasn’t a groan, more like a sleep-roughened grumble, and John was immensely relieved to have Sherlock back to his normal level of morning cheerfulness.

“Tell him to go away or I will buy three tickets in his name to every musical in the West End and have them mailed to Mummy.”

“How do you know it’s Mycroft?” John asked, chuckling and pulling on his trousers while Sherlock remained buried in the covers.

“Length and pressure of the doorbell buzz. Hour of the day based on the position of the sun. And the fact that yesterday he texted me he’d be coming by this morning.” Sherlock sighed and sat up. His curls were sticking up and he had pillow creases on his face. John couldn’t help staring or the fondness that seeped through his chest at the sight.

“Hello,” he said. And if it was in a tone he usually used for mornings-after with dates, it couldn’t be helped. He’d done a lot of thinking and wondering in the past few hours. And he’d come to the conclusion that life was too bloody short to let emotional incompetence—his and/or Sherlock’s—ruin the chance that the two of them could be happy, together. He just wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.

But he had to believe he’d think of something.

Chapter Text

John went out to greet Mycroft, forgetting what it looked like that he was coming out of Sherlock’s bedroom at nine in the morning wearing yesterday’s clothes until he saw Mycroft’s eyebrows raise delicately. Sod it—if Mycroft could deduce that he was wearing yesterday’s clothes, he could bloody well deduce that nothing…physical happened last night. More’s the pity.

“Sherlock says—”

“Let me rescue you from having to deliver my brother’s schoolyard-level threats,” Mycroft interrupted. “I have a simple message, which surely you can convey to him. Stop looking into the Darabi case. It’s old news.”

“What? Lestrade gave him that case because there was new information—”

“New information that makes the involvement of consulting detectives and their…friends obsolete.” Mycroft said ‘friends’ as if it were a communicable disease.

“Why’s that?” John bit out. His patience with Mycroft was never great, but this morning, when his head was full of hopes and plans and his stomach was empty, he had even less time to indulge Sherlock’s meddling older brother.

“All I can say is the party responsible for Mr. Darabi’s death has been brought to justice. Surely that’s all Sherlock cares about, anyway?” Mycroft pursed his lips superciliously.

John raised his eyebrows at that. Sherlock’s primary motivation for solving a crime was rarely justice. It was the puzzle and the chase and the fantastical feats of deduction that kept him in the game. Mycroft knew that as well as anybody. And if he thought that Mycroft’s warnings were going to keep Sherlock off the scent, he was wrong.

But John finally just shrugged. “I’ll tell him,” he said, though he knew it wouldn’t change anything. When had he ever been able to persuade a Holmes to do something he didn’t want to do? Mycroft could forbid them until he was blue in the face, but Sherlock wouldn’t pay him a whit of attention if he though there was still a case to solve.

“Tell me what?” Sherlock said, somehow crisply attired and coiffed despite not having had enough time to have a proper wash. John immediately felt dowdy in his wrinkled trousers and button-down.

“I’ll let Dr. Watson impart my message. I have a meeting about the upcoming royal wedding. Wouldn’t want to be late.” Mycroft smirked and then he was gone.

“Wouldn’t want to be late for elevensies, he means,” Sherlock grumbled.

“Speaking of elevensies, I’m starving,” John said. “And I need a shower.” He wished he had a change of clothes, but he was loathe to leave Sherlock’s side for the time it would take to go back to his place and change.

“Dr. Parma’s widow lives less than a mile from your house. We can grab something to go, stop at yours, then see what she has to offer.” Sherlock made it all sound so matter-of-fact. Not like it was monumental that they were going to stick together, just like in the old days. John straightened his back and cocked a grin.

“So the fact that Mycroft explicitly told us to lay off the case doesn’t matter.”

It wasn’t really a question but Sherlock replied anyway. “God no. Why would he waste time coming all the way over here to warn me off is there wasn’t something he wanted me to find out?”

John supposed there was a certain logic in that. “But then—you’re doing what he wants in the end? A double bluff?”

“This isn’t The Princess Bride, John. At the end of the day, I want to get to the bottom of this case. It doesn’t matter what Mycroft thinks he’s manipulating me into.”

“S’pose your right,” John said. He furrowed his brow. “Wait, when did you ever see The Princess Bride?”

*

An hour later, John smoothed his damp hair across his head and trotted to catch up with Sherlock as he marched up the stairs of Mrs. Parma’s townhome. They gorged themselves on coffee and pastries and Sherlock had gone through the slim file on Dr. Parma’s car accident again while John had showered and changed at his place. He really hated this flat. There were reminders of Mary everywhere and to John it had become little more than a place to sleep. He wondered, not for the first time, if Sherlock would consider letting him move back in. If he had a boyfriend now, a roommate might not be as desirable. But Sherlock had still not mentioned Evan and John hated to be the one bringing him up, afraid that all of his conflicted feelings about the matter would rise to the surface and be deduced by Sherlock before he could properly explain.

John had definitely decided that he was going to say something to Sherlock about this dance they were doing, though. It had been a start, telling him how he’d felt about Mary. But he hadn’t yet gone far enough to explain how deep his feelings toward Sherlock went. He still had no idea how such an admission might be received, but there was a part of him that would go mad if he didn’t try. He thought that if their friendship had survived bombs, snipers, weddings, and even death, perhaps it could survive one confession of love, even if it turned out to be unrequited.

When a middle-aged woman with frosted blonde hair opened to the door to Sherlock’s knock, John set aside his ruminations and focused on the case at hand. He even pulled out his notebook, ready to take notes.

“Mrs. Parma? I hope this won’t be an imposition, but I find myself in desperate need of your help.” Sherlock was using his charming voice, putting an emphasis on desperate that made all manner of non-case related things come to John’s mind. That rich baritone combined with Sherlock’s effortless good looks made a devastating combination, and Mrs. Parma was not immune to it, either, judging by her quick, coquettish smile and quick invitation inside.

“Oh, I’m not Mrs. Parma anymore. I’m Mrs. Swenson, now, darling. Married two years,” she waggled her ring finger at Sherlock, patently ignoring John. But he was used to that.

“Ah, practically newlyweds,” Sherlock purred. John tried not to roll his eyes. But the charm offensive was working because in short order they’d been poured surprisingly good coffee, and had heard all about Mrs. Swenson’s husband, the dentist, and her previous husband, Dr. Radoslavich, the obstetrician, which ended in divorce after a mere six months (“never marry a man who sees that much of the competitor’s goods”), and before that, her dear, dear, Jerry.

“He was a good soul. A GP when I first met him, but after we were married he took a job as coroner. He liked the quiet, and the steady hours. He’d only been doing it for about six months, when he was—he was—“ she looked genuinely upset to recall her first husband’s death.

“We know, he died in the car crash. At the time, investigators ruled it an accident. What do you recall from that time?” Sherlock asked with uncharacteristic gentleness.

“I remember being shocked, because why on earth would he be all the way in St. Albans when he distinctly told me he was going golfing at Wimbledon?”

“I know it was a long time ago, but please try to remember,” Sherlock said. “Did your husband have any safe deposit boxes or perhaps a home safe that no one else knew about?”

“What, you think he left me a packet? Not hardly. There was barely enough to pay off the mortgage on our flat. I had to go back to work!” Mrs. Parma/Radoslavich/Swenson seemed the scandalize herself at the very thought. “At least, until I met Boris. The OB.”

“And what work would that be?” John asked, trying to contribute something to the conversation, though Sherlock was clearly trying to glean something specific from the widow.

“I was a receptionist, dear. A medical receptionist.”

“Of course you were,” John said under his breath.

Sherlock just kept on looking suitably enthralled by whatever Mrs. Swenson had to say, even though she claimed she had no idea about a safe deposit box, a safe, or any other secure location that her husband might have left something in. “Not after all these years,” she said, looking regretful.

“Of course, well, thank you for your time,” Sherlock said, standing and shaking her well-manicured hand.

“Anytime, darling,” she trilled as she showed them out.

John was about to chalk the whole thing up to a waste of time, when she called after them. “You know, I hadn’t thought of it in donkey’s years, but since you brought it up, he did have a locker at the Royal Wimbledon—his golf club. I don’t suppose anything is left in there after all these years, but I don’t remember ever going back to clear it out. Probably just his extra cleats and tees and things.”

“You’re probably right,” Sherlock said, over he shoulder. But then he was off running down the pavement and John had to sprint to catch up to him.

“What? Did she give us a clue?”

“The golf clubs, John!”

“His golf club?”

“No his clubs. They were mentioned as evidence collected in his files, but were never returned to his widow. They must still be stored in evidence somewhere. We have to find those golf clubs.”

John shrugged and flagged down a cab. He knew Sherlock would explain everything in time. He didn’t need it to make sense. He just needed to be with the madman he loved.

Chapter Text

Sherlock explained, sort of, on their way to the evidence lock-up near St. Albans indicated on the file on Dr. Parma’s death.

“Darabi had something in his possession when he was killed. Something valuable. The killing must have been hired out, and the assassin didn’t know where to look for the item in question. But Dr. Parma found it when he was doing the autopsy. Something caused him to botch the coroner’s report and hide the item instead of turning it over to the police. Perhaps he hoped to stay in his young bride’s good graces by providing her with the lifestyle she craved. Anyway, the people who killed Darabi followed the trail to Parma, and arranged for his unfortunate accident. But they were no better at locating the object, because he’d hidden it in his golf kit, which was in the boot of the wrecked car, marked into evidence, and then never returned to Mrs. Parma, which it should have been after his death was declared accidental.”

“But what was the item? And how do you know it was in the golf stuff? And who killed them? Mycroft said the killer had been brought to justice.”

“He wasn’t wrong. I’m sure the assassin who killed Darabi but failed to recover the item was summarily dispatched by his boss, who would have arranged Parma’s car accident himself to make sure there were no loose ends. He must have had a lot on his plate just then to let the item go without tearing Dr. Parma’s effects upside down for it.”

“He? He who?”

“Moriarty, of course.”

It had been a while since he’d heard that name, and it still stung that Sherlock always seemed to utter it with a hint of reverence for the man’s diabolical skills.

“Ah. Well, that does explain the whole justice thing,” John remarked, trying to keep his cool and his adrenaline from rising. “So our killer is out of the way. Case closed.”

“Not quite. That new piece of evidence that had Lestrade looking at the case again?”

“Oh right, I’d forgotten about that.”

“It was a tip from one of Darabi’s associates. He’s recently been arrested for money laundering and apparently decided to cooperate to the point of excess—he’s been blabbing about every shady deal he’s heard of for the past two decades. Keeping the white-collar boys and girls very busy indeed. But since the Darabi case had to do with murder, Lestrade caught this one. This associate says that he’d heard a rumor that Darabi was in possession of a very rare, very valuable blue diamond. Worth millions. Nearly the size of a golf ball. Darabi was just a mule, bringing it to England from the Middle East. But he got greedy and didn’t want to turn it over to the buyer. Namely, Moriarty. He signed his own death warrant. And greed killed Dr. Parma, too.”

“Sad. His wife really seemed to love him,” John said.

“Ah, John, ever the romantic.” Sherlock remarked, but lightly. John hid his smile by turning toward the window of the cab.

“So you’re guessing the doctor—what—stashed the diamond inside a golf ball just because it’s the right size? What do you think are the odds of finding it after twelve years? Perhaps someone else found it and sold it.”

“No—Mycroft would have checked the legal and illegal diamond sales since that time. If he’d found a trace of it, he wouldn’t have sent us on a wild goose chase. I hope. No, he’d like us to find it. And since I love a good treasure hunt, off we go.” Sherlock said, rubbing his hands as they pulled up to their destination.

*

A fruitless search of the evidence lock-up at the local headquarters, tepid coffee for lunch, and thirty minutes of Sherlock pacing in front of the on-duty DI, demanding to know how vital evidence could just have gotten up and walked away, had John rubbing his bad shoulder and longing for a proper meal.

“Oh!” Sherlock got that look on his face that said he’d figured something out thanks to his own brilliant clue. “How long have you been with this department?” Sherlock asked the DI, whose patience was wearing thin even after a conciliatory phone call from Lestrade a few minutes earlier.

“Going on fifteen years,” she said begrudgingly.

“And who was here twelve years ago who fits the following criteria: male. Probably no longer works with the department due to minor but chronic abuses of power. Enjoys golf.”

John gaped at Sherlock. How could she possibly answer that question? She’d probably worked with hundreds of officers and support staff during the past twelve years. But to his surprise, the DI narrowed her eyes.

“As incredible as this might sound, I can think of one person who fits that description. Thomas Kinney. Fired about ten years ago for fudging his petty cash accounts. A nut about golf. Always talking about how he could have gone pro. Crazy bastard. But good luck finding him,” the DI said.

“That’s what I do,” Sherlock replied simply.

Outside, John saw Sherlock texting. “You’re getting Mycroft to run him down for you, aren’t you?”

Sherlock hummed in assent.

“Isn’t that cheating?”

“It’s not cheating, John, it’s more efficient.”

“Then can we take the time we’re saving with this shortcut to get lunch? I’m starving.”

It was closer to dinnertime than lunch so they found a nearby pub. John tucked into a plate of fish and chips and a pint while Sherlock kept an eagle eye on his phone and swiped fries off John’s plate when he thought he wasn’t looking.

“Do you think he’s dangerous, this Kinney fellow?” John asked after swallowing the last of his pint.

“Doubtful. I don’t have my hopes up that he’ll still have the golf bag in question after all this time. But perhaps he can tells where he pawned them.” Sherlock picked up his phone. “Ah. Success. An address. We can be there in forty minutes.”

 

*

Evening had fallen by the time they arrived at Kinney’s address on the other side of the city. He lived in a garden-floor flat in the middle of a block of row houses. The flat looked dark and they quickly determined their quarry was not at home. Which meant a little breaking and entering would be required.

“Mycroft has our backs if we get caught, right?” John whispered while Sherlock picked the lock and he kept an eye out for Kinney, or, worse, the police.

“If we find the diamond, I’m sure the powers that be will be able to overlook any slightly illegal acts.” Sherlock grunted as the lock gave way and the door swung open silently.

“And if we don’t find it?”

“Then we best not get caught.” Sherlock winked and switched on his pocket torch.

They systematically explored the small flat. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, until they came to a locked door.

“Small second bedroom?” John guess, based on the layout of the flat.

“Perhaps,” Sherlock said. He examined the lock. “Not new, but high quality. Not sure I’ll be able to pick it. And look, security system,” he said, pointing out wiring that ran around the doorframe.

“Just for this room?”

“Must be something valuable in there,” Sherlock remarked.

“Like a diamond?”

“Only one way to find out.” Sherlock studied the door for a moment. “It’s too risky to break in. The alarm could fetch the police, or it could just alert Kinney. No, we’ll see if we can get him to let us in.”

“How?”

“By making him worry his precious possession has been interfered with. Come.” Sherlock turned on his heel and John followed, watching as Sherlock reopened the front door, leaving it just ajar. There would be no mistaking it when Kinney came home. They left the lights off, but Sherlock started ransacking the kitchen and living room, so that when Kinney got home he’d think he’d been burgled and head straight to his locked room and make sure everything was as he’d left it. John helped him strew papers across the floor and open cupboards doors. When it looked sufficiently disarrayed, Sherlock said, “Now we need a hiding place.”

They decided on two spots that had a view of the locked room. John wedged himself behind the bathroom door in the hallway, while Sherlock took the bedroom. John would have preferred to stay with Sherlock, but it made sense to split up and keep their advantage of surprise.

“What if he calls the police when he sees the place?” John asked in a loud whisper.

“A corrupt ex-officer who has something to hide? Come now, John. Quiet, now, I hear something.”

Indeed, John heard footsteps and a light clicking on. He shifted and palmed his gun. He’d retrieved it that morning when he’d showered and changed. As far as he knew, Sherlock wasn’t armed, but he wasn’t concerned. John had a better line of sight from his position.

As Sherlock predicted, Kinney let out an oath when he saw the mess, and he immediately went to the hallway and examined the locked door. He hardly hesitated before pulling a ring of keys out of his pocket and inserting one into the lock. John waited while Kinney pushed open the door. He heard another light click on and then some faint beeps. Presumably Kinney overriding his security system. He heard something that resembled a sigh of relief, and then a low whistle. Sherlock signaling him to approach.

In tandem, the stormed the door, John training his gun on the subject, Sherlock blocking the door and his possible escape route.

“Who the hell are you?” Kinney said. John didn’t hear Sherlock’s answer—he was too busy taking in the contents of the small room. It was covered floor to ceiling, wall to wall with golfing paraphernalia. Posters and trophies and hats, golf bags, tees, cleats. And golf balls. Rows and rows of golf balls. Hundreds, maybe thousands of golf balls. Some of them appeared to have autographs scrawled across them. To call Kinney a golf enthusiast was a mild statement.

“What now, Sherlock?” John asked, nodding to the balls.

Sherlock stared at the myriad golf balls. He stared at Kinney. He closed his eyes. John waited. Kinney looked more irritated than afraid. Sherlock said, “While I’m sure than many of the items in this room were acquired illegally, we’re only interested in one particular item. If you cooperate with us, we’ll leave and no one needs to know about your little…museum. However, if you do not, we’ll have the Met down here in three minutes and they’ll want receipts. For everything.”

Kinney’s shoulders sagged. “What are you looking for?”

“Twelve years ago you stole a navy blue golf bag containing a full set of Ryoma golf clubs. They retail for approximately twenty thousand pounds. Where is that set now?”

Kinney debated. John could see him struggling with the answer. Finally, his gaze swiveled to a corner. There, on a hook, was a navy golf bag. Dull silver clubs peeked out the top.

“Excellent. John, stay where you are.” Sherlock crossed the room in two strides and extracted the bag. He rifled through it. “Did you remove anything from this bag in the intervening time?”

“No. I just put it in here. I couldn’t pass them up. A beautiful set of clubs. Beautiful.” Kinney looked animated. “I couldn’t even make myself play with them. But I didn’t want anyone else to have them.”

John rolled his eyes. Some people had the weirdest obsessions. This one seemed to be harmless enough, but the question remained, was the diamond in there as Sherlock had deduced?

“Perhaps we could do this somewhere else?” John suggested.

“Very well,” Sherlock slung the bag over his shoulder. It made an incongruous picture—Sherlock in his Belstaff on his way to the first hole. John smiled.

“Shut up.” Sherlock said as he passed. John chuckled.

“What do we do with him?” John asked.

“Not sure,” Sherlock said. “It depends on what we find. Let’s leave him be for now.”

John lowered the gun, shot Kinney a warning glare, and then backed out of the room. Sherlock took the bag out the front door and John was about to call for a cab, when he heard footsteps and Sherlock suddenly yelled, “Duck!”

He was a split second too late, but he was able to twist away from the blow and the full force of Kinney’s blow rolled off his unscarred shoulder. “What the—”

“No one takes something from my collection!” Kinney snarled, wielding a lethal-looking nine-iron. “Give it back!” John couldn’t get a grip on his gun, and in close quarters he didn’t want to risk it being let off accidentally. So he fought back with his fists, grappling with the man, trying to get a grip on the club and avoiding any more blows with it. They were evenly matched in size and weight, though John was the marginally fitter of the two. But Kinney broke free, abandoning his quest to take John out, and going after his prey—the golf bag.

Kinney chased after Sherlock. John went after them both as fast as he could. Sherlock was hampered by the golf bag, and tripped, rolling onto the flagstone patio outside. He was hemmed in by a row of rose bushes and lost his grip on the bag, allowing Kinney a chance to raise his golf club, poised to strike Sherlock on his beautiful head. John drew his gun and fired a warning shot toward the ground. Pieces of terracotta and dirt went flying and Kinney jumped and froze. “Do not move,” John warned.
He grabbed a length of clothesline that had been looped over the fence and was about to restrain Kinney with it when the man launched himself at the golf bag. John picked his moment, shifted his grip, and coshed Kinney on the back of the head with the gun. The man went down, groaning, and John sat on him, while Sherlock rolled to a sitting position, moaning about dirtying his precious coat.

“Police now, yeah?” John said, breathing heavily.

“I suppose,” Sherlock said. John pulled out his mobile and called Lestrade, while Sherlock started pulling the bag apart. While they waited for Lestrade to send a clean-up crew, John tied Kinney’s hands together with the clothesline and then helped Sherlock go through the bag.

“It must be here,” Sherlock said, increasingly frantic. “It must. It’s the only place it could be.” There were four golf balls in a zippered pocket, along with a handful of tees, a rag, golf gloves, and a business card for one Dr. Jerry Parma. There was a full complement of clubs. Sherlock took each one out and examined it minutely. John shook the golf balls, but they seemed ordinary enough. They were all the same weight. He supposed one holding a diamond might be heavier.

He was about to declare failure, when Sherlock’s face lit up like a five-year-old’s on Christmas morning. “Oh John, I do believe I’ve found our diamond in the rough.” He was holding up a hybrid club and carefully unscrewing the head from the shaft. John couldn’t even complain about the truly terrible pun because Sherlock shook the head of the club and out slipped the largest diamond John had ever seen. It was incredibly beautiful, winking in the light thrown by their torches.

“What the hell?” Kinney said. “That was in there this whole time?”

“Indeed,” Sherlock said. “Right under your nose. You thought the prize was a bunch of golf clubs. Perhaps if you’d played with them you would have realized there was something off about this one. I suspect Dr. Parma had this one modified to create a little compartment inside. Ingenious, really.”

“Incredible,” John said, staring at Sherlock. And he wasn’t talking about the diamond.

 

*

John finished giving his statement to one of the officers Lestrade had sent over and glanced around for Sherlock. Kinney had been taken away. Mycroft had sent Anthea over to collect the diamond and clear the whole breaking and entering thing up with the Met officers.

Sherlock hovered on the edge of the garden. He was texting again. John just watched him for a moment. He hadn’t yet reconciled their going on cases again with the very real possibility that one day one of them could get seriously hurt. Tonight had been a near thing. And living without Sherlock again was something that John was not prepared to do. He was about to suggest they get some takeaway on the way back to the Baker Street when he remembered that he didn’t actually live there anymore.

For the first time in a long time, he thought maybe that could change. That he and Sherlock were getting to a place in their relationship where cohabitation was possible. The rub for John was that he so much very wanted to be moving in as more than friends who went out on cases together. He wanted everything with Sherlock. And he simply had no idea if they were ready for that. Perhaps they needed more time.

He realized he was staring at Sherlock when the other man glanced up from his phone and met his gaze. His cheeks were a bit pink, and did he—did he look embarrassed? John shrugged and walked over. The ping of an incoming text had Sherlock looking down at his phone again. John suddenly got a sinking feeling in his gut. Sherlock was texting, but the case was over. It was getting late…

Evan must be worried about him.

“So, that was a near miss,” John said. He could do this. He could be Sherlock’s friend and be supportive and bury everything deep inside again. Right. He cocked his head and saw bits of mulch clinging to Sherlock’s curls. Of its own volition, his left hand reached out to brush them away. “Are you sure you’re all right?” It came out soft and low. Fuck. So much for burying his feelings.

“Of course I’m all right.” Sherlock sounded perfectly normal, but he didn’t move as John’s hand brushed through his hair, once, twice. If anything he seemed to sway toward the touch, but John made himself drop his hand before he could smooth it across the curve of Sherlock’s neck, rest on his shoulder. “It’s just—”

“Yes?” John said, staring at Sherlock’s mouth. Fuck it. He couldn’t help it. Life was too short.

“It’s getting late and I just wanted to make sure—well, you’ll need to kip at your own place tonight.” Sherlock sounded a bit apologetic, which made the words sting that much more. Perhaps he’d deduced that John had been imagining moving back in, sharing a bed with Sherlock for real, and he was trying to let him know that was definitely not on.

“Oh. Right. Of course.” The softness left John’s voice. He’d gotten the message. His attention wasn’t wanted.

“Look, John—” The phone pinged again and Sherlock looked down at it impatiently.

“Is that Evan?” John asked. His voice sounded hollow, but it couldn’t be helped. It was his own fault for letting his imagination run away with him. Sherlock didn’t feel that way about him. And John had to accept what Sherlock could offer him—friendship, excitement, loyalty. It would have to be enough.

“Er, yes. How did you—” Sherlock looked faintly embarrassed again.

“Why didn’t you tell me about him?” John hoped he didn’t sound as wrecked as he felt. He had no right to feel betrayed, disappointed, jealous. But he was. Desperately so.

“It’s private,” Sherlock said at last. “I didn’t want anyone to know.”

“Not even me?” John felt his temper rising. “Jesus, Sherlock, I’m your friend. I thought—I thought we would be able to share this kind of stuff with each other.” Not that he particularly wanted to hear about Sherlock’s dating adventures. But if that’s what Sherlock wanted, he’d endure it. For him. It was the least he could do, after all, after all he’d put him through.

“Oh? Because you’ve been so open with me in the past?” Sherlock said, biting out the words.

John flinched. Was he talking about John’s feelings for him? About how he had never said anything about them? John knew he’d missed his chance, but Sherlock didn’t have to rub it in.

“I just thought—it would have been nice to know you were—” John stalled, unsure how he was going to finish that sentence. Seeing someone? Shagging someone? In love? Happy? “Moving on.” Moving on? That implied there was something to move on from. He grimaced.

Sherlock looked understandably confused. John sighed. “Anyway, cheers. I think we’re done here. See you soon?”

Sherlock nodded, close lipped, and John walked away, leaving Sherlock, and his heart, behind.

Chapter Text

That night, lying in his cold, empty bed in his cold, empty house, John tortured himself with imagining Sherlock and Evan together. He imagined them meeting in front of 221B. Would Sherlock kiss him on the street before bringing him up to the flat? Would he tell him all about the case—their case—over a nightcap, Evan running his hands through Sherlock’s curls, smiling and gasping over the twists and turns of the silly adventure? Would Evan call Sherlock “amazing” and “brilliant?” Or would he skip right to “gorgeous,” and shush his deductions with his mouth, moving the encounter to the bedroom? The bedroom where John had shared a few precious hours within arms distance of the man he loved with all his heart.

It didn’t matter. John drifted to sleep in the early hours of the morning, hard and wanting, and unwilling to give himself relief, when it was so very clear that Sherlock was never going to be his.

*

He slept til almost noon, but it didn’t matter. Nothing seemed to matter today. He’d pull himself together for work tomorrow, but today he could wallow. He almost ignored the text from Mike, but he figured it would be better to drink with someone else than alone in the house he hated.

They met for a mid-afternoon pint in a pub John liked. It was near Baker Street, but that couldn’t be helped. All the places John liked were near Baker Street. It was like a magnet that he was tugged toward at all times. He told himself it was because he had happy memories there. Not because Sherlock was his air. Because if that was true, and Sherlock was with someone else, he might as well give up and drown.

“So, how’ve you been?” Mike asked. John knew he could see the bags under his eyes. John’s laugh was brittle.

“Until a couple of days ago I’d say I was doing pretty well. Work’s fine.” John shrugged.

“And what happened a couple of days ago?”

Finding out that Sherlock was with someone still hadn’t fully sunk in, even after the horrendous images he’d tortured himself with half the night. John opened his mouth to brush off Mike’s question, but he was afraid if he started to explain, or make something up, he might lose it completely. He shut his mouth, swallowed. Avoided Mike’s careful look of concern. And then he saw something. Someone. On the other side of the pub. A blond. He wasn’t wearing striped pajamas, but John recognized him.

Evan was sitting at a table with three other people, two women and a man. They were chatting, laughing, drinking. And John’s gaze focused on Evan’s hand, resting on the other man’s shoulder. It was a proprietary gesture that John recognized instantly. He didn’t need to see Evan lean over and kiss the man briefly on the lips before standing up, announcing his intention to get the next round, to know what was happening. Evan was cheating on Sherlock Holmes.

John’s own misery was instantly superseded with a flare of anger. How could anyone cheat on his best friend? A small, still-rational part of his brain suggested that perhaps they weren’t exclusive yet, or some such nonsense. But John couldn’t think. He was so tired of his own fight to tamp down his feelings for Sherlock. To see someone else disregard him was like throwing whisky on a fire. John pushed back from the bar.

“John? What’s going on?” Mike asked, just as Evan noticed John approaching him en route to the bar.

“John, hello,” Evan said with surprise. He wasn’t whispering this time so John could fully appreciate his mellow baritone. The young, polished man complimented Sherlock far better than a wrinkled, graying ex-army doctor ever could. But it didn’t matter that Evan was better suited to Sherlock. He was obviously not loyal. And that was something that John could not let stand. He got right up in the blond’s face and glared.

“What the bloody hell is going on?” His voice was low and serious and Evan instantly registered him as a threat, his eyes narrowing, his posture shifting. Good.

“John, let’s take a step back, okay?” Evan’s voice was gentle, but firm, and he took a literal step away. John didn’t move, but he didn’t invade Evan’s space further. “You’re upset. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Yes, I’m bloody well upset. Does Sherlock know you’re here with…” John gestured to the table of friends, who were watching the scene unfold silently.

“He might. You know how he notices everything,” Evan said. But he didn’t sound defensive. His entire manner was purposefully nonthreatening. John found himself relaxing a degree.

“Not everything,” John felt compelled to say.

“No.” Evan tilted his head to the side, gazing at John frankly. “Sometimes when he doesn’t want to see something he can be blind as a bat.”

“Well, we all have our blind spots.”

“Indeed. What are yours?”

John frowned. This confrontation was not going how he planned. “That’s not the point. The point is, Sherlock clearly trusts you, and you are betraying that trust.”

“Am I?” Evan smiled, as if he knew a secret, and John very strongly felt the urge to throw a punch. “I think you should tell him what you saw. I think you should tell him why it bothers you so much.”

John wasn’t expecting that. He suddenly felt like he’d made a mistake. He’d been unbalanced ever since Evan had walked out of Sherlock’s bedroom two days ago and the idea that Sherlock had been with someone (else) had been all he could think about.

Evan evidently decided that John wasn’t going to respond to that, so he completed his trip to the bar. John just stood, wondering if it could be as simple as that. As simple as telling Sherlock the truth of his feelings for him. Time passed while he thought about all the ways it could go wrong. And then Evan was back, clutching four pints together, but he paused and said. “But what if it goes right?” As if he was a bloody mind reader, the way it seemed Sherlock was sometimes. Who the hell was he?

But John couldn’t spare another thought for Evan. He turned to Mike, who had a resigned look on his face.

“I’ve got to go,” John blurted out.

Mike just smiled and tipped his glass. “Good luck, mate.”

John nodded. He was going to need it.

Chapter Text

Just like two days before, as John approached 221B he could hear Sherlock on his violin. The notes were beautiful, if a little sad. John wondered for the hundredth time since leaving the pub what he was going to say. He was terrible at this stuff. And with Sherlock, he was ten times worse. There was a break in the music and through the door he heard Sherlock say sharply, “Come in, John.”

He squared his shoulders and let himself in. Sherlock stood by the window, instrument hanging down from his hands, illuminated in a beam of late afternoon sunlight. He looked like an angel sent down from heaven for being naughty, curls mussed, lips pouty, dressing gown open over slacks and button-down shirt. Barefoot. John swallowed heavily. This was a very bad idea, indeed.

“Are you just going to stand there?” Sherlock’s tone was impatient but there was something else. Hurt? John supposed they hadn’t entirely resolved their strop from the night before. But he didn’t want to fight. He wanted answers. He wanted relief. His gaze traveled over Sherlock’s form. He wanted…so very many things.

He cleared his throat. “Am I interrupting?”

Sherlock took a moment to respond. “I suppose not. Composing is not going very well, I’m afraid. Tea?”

“Yes, I’ll—” John stopped, decided not to take the easy way out. “No. No tea. First, I have something to say.”

Sherlock raised his eyebrows. Then when John failed to actually say anything, he set about replacing the violin in its case. John watched the familiar movements. It wasn’t too late to turn back. But Evan’s voice echoed in his head. What if it goes right?

“Evan’s not your boyfriend, is he?” John said. Well, it was out there now.

Sherlock looked up, frowning. “My boyfriend?” He said the word as if it were a disease. “Of course not.”

The relief that flowed through John’s body almost made him sag, but he stayed on his feet. Then Sherlock followed it up with, “We have been sleeping together, however.”

There was one long, awful beat of silence. “Care to elaborate?” John clenched his fists painfully tight waiting for him to respond.

When Sherlock spoke it was much softer than his normal tone. Almost hesitant. “You might have guessed that the events of the past couple of years have taken somewhat of a toll on me,” Sherlock said. “I started having nightmares, which led to insomnia, which led to worse nightmares. It was a vicious cycle. I wasn’t functioning well. I couldn’t take cases. It got to a point where I thought that my only remedy might be chemical.” He glanced at John’s face, as if expecting reproach. John tried to stay as neutral as he could. “But in the end, I tried something else.”

John tried to imagine what that something else was. Sex? Was Evan some kind of prostitute?

“I did some research on post traumatic stress. It turns out that Ella’s something of an expert.” He paused. “Therapy can be very helpful, you know.”

John tried to process what he was hearing. “Ella? As in my therapist, Ella?”

“She’s been kind enough to take me on as well.”

“Jesus. That’s got to be a conflict of interest.” It was the first thing that occurred to John and he immediately regretted it.

“Why?” Sherlock looked resolute but John could sense a certain vulnerability underneath. The great detective, in need of therapy. John could relate.

“Why? Because she knows how I feel about—” John stopped himself. This wasn’t exactly where he thought this conversation would lead. He took a breath. “I’m glad you’re finding therapy helpful. Ella is quite…patient.” He wondered exactly what the sessions were like, then pushed the thought away. None of his business.

“But I’m still a bit confused. Who is Evan and why are you sleeping together?” John hoped the question sounded merely curious and not accusatory.

“Ah, well, Ella thought it might be helpful if I had a person to sleep near. Sort of like a therapy dog, but instead a therapy bed-sharer. I was skeptical, but, to my great surprise, it worked. Evan’s a licensed therapist and he’s interested in alternative treatments. I still don’t need all that much sleep, but two or three times a week he stays over here so I can get enough. I find I sleep more soundly, with fewer interruptions and fewer negative dreams with a comforting presence within arms distance. I’ve got a spreadsheet detailing my sleep habits for the last two months. It’s really quite interesting. I believe you saw the effects first hand the other night. I fell asleep on the sofa, had a nightmare, and was able to transition into a healthier sleep pattern after moving to the bed with you.”

“And that really works?” It made sense, but it seemed a bit far-fetched to him that Sherlock, who rarely showed his weaknesses, would submit to sharing a bed with someone, a veritable stranger, in order to get a good night’s sleep. His insomnia and nightmares must have been terrible. John felt a stab of regret that his friend had been suffering and he’d been too self-absorbed to notice.

Sherlock hummed. “I find I need it most after days with activities of a dangerous or emotional nature. That’s when the nightmares seem to get their worst.”

“What are these nightmares about?” Any number of things from Sherlock’s past could be haunting him. John could empathize. He still had nightmares about Sherlock’s fall from the roof of Bart’s, waking in a cold sweat to reassure himself that his friend was very much alive. But he wasn’t expecting to hear what came out of Sherlock’s mouth.

“Your wedding, mainly.”

Again, a silence. He’d expected to hear about Magnussen’s violent end, or Sherlock’s time in Serbia, which from what John understood had involved torture and deprivation. Perhaps even Mary shooting him in the chest and leaving him to die. Things that would give anyone PTSD.

“My wedding?” John felt he was being very stupid, but it couldn’t be helped.

Sherlock looked at him, grave and serious and a little helpless. And then John knew that everything was going to be okay. What if it goes right?

He opened his mouth. Closed it. Licked his lips. Started again. “What were you going to say, on the tarmac? I know there was something else. I may not be able to tell when you’re lying, but I can tell there was something else. Please. I need to know.”

“John.” Sherlock looked miserable, but as far as John was concerned, that was a good sign.

“Please. Tell me now.” He felt shaky, as if he was about to race downhill on a motorcycle with no brakes.

“I can’t.”

“You couldn’t then. But you can now.” John waited, and said one more time, “Please.”

Sherlock huffed, and ran a hand through his hair, mussing it still further. “I don’t—I couldn’t—” He collapsed his shoulders as if in defeat and let out a hollow laugh. “I couldn’t tell you I love you before leaving you forever. It wouldn’t have been fair. To either of us.”

John sucked in a breath, almost afraid to believe he’d heard correctly. He said quietly, “Don’t you think I deserved to know?”

Sherlock replied soft and sure. “Don’t I?” John met Sherlock’s gaze and couldn’t look away from his quicksilver eyes.

“I’ve been such an idiot, Sherlock. Of course you do.” John closed his eyes, took the leap. What if it goes right? “I do love you. I loved you from almost the first moment I saw you. You saw me, you saved me. And God help me, you made me hurt more than any other person in my entire life, but it was worth it. Just to know you. Just to be near you. Just to know I could love another person that much.” He opened his eyes. Sherlock was still there. He had not evaporated after hearing John’s long overdue confession. “I’ll never love anyone as much as—as much as— are you crying?” Sherlock eyes were overflowing with tears. John crossed the room in three strides, and wrapped his arms around his friend. Sherlock’s face found John’s shoulder and they stood there until afternoon’s light gave way to dusk.

Chapter Text

It took a few minutes for John to assign a name to the unfamiliar emotion that flooded his chest, but he eventually settled on peace. Standing there, in the place he loved best, with the person he loved best in his arms was a kind of completeness he’d never experienced before.

All of the doubts, fears, self-recrimination felt as if they’d been swept away and he was left with the proverbial clean slate. He took a deep, cleansing breath. Sherlock moved with him, mirroring his relaxed posture, his deep breathing. They were on the same page, at last. John fervently hoped they would not find themselves on divergent paths ever again.

He squeezed Sherlock, released him, and they gazed at each other. Sherlock’s face bore the evidence of his tears, but he looked more beautiful than John had ever seen him, open, unguarded, and with trust shining out of his eyes. John promised to himself he’d endeavor never to break that trust.

“Sherlock, you have no idea—I’m not letting you go again.” John’s voice was low, urgent. “And you have to promise me--” John paused, breathing hard, chasing that feeling of peace again, as his anxiety rose to the surface.

“I promise, John.” Sherlock’s voice was sure.

“You don’t even know what I’m asking.”

“It doesn’t matter. I promise everything, anything. I’d give you anything you want, only to keep you.”

“All I want is you. Us. All right?” John took a shaky breath, made sure Sherlock was looking right at his eyes, to witness his sincerity for himself.

Sherlock nodded. His mouth even rose into a semblance of a smile. “All right.”

John ran his hands down Sherlock’s arms and laced their fingers together. “All right.” He managed a weak smile of his own. Not that he wasn’t happy. He was just overwhelmed with the fact that he could hold Sherlock like this, could tell him his innermost feelings and have those feelings reciprocated. It almost felt like a dream he dared not wake from.

“This is real,” Sherlock said, as if reading his mind.

“Is it? Sometimes I wonder how you can be real at all. My beautiful, impossible madman.” John lifted one of Sherlock’s hands and pressed a kiss to the smooth, warm skin that proved just how alive he was.

“I’m flesh and blood, John.” And just like that Sherlock’s sinful voice, his parted lips, the warmth emanating from his long, lithe body, had John’s thoughts tripping right over themselves, away from promises of forever, and toward activities of a more earthly nature.

“Thank God,” John murmured. He pressed their bodies together, nosed the side of Sherlock’s neck. “I had the thought before that you were an angel, but you’re just a man. My man.”

“Yours,” Sherlock echoed roughly, and then their lips were together, sudden and irrevocable. John couldn’t believe he’d gone this far in his life without feeling Sherlock Holmes’s lips against his. They were warm and soft, and they kissed with the kind of desperate abandon that John had felt in every daydream and fantasy he’d ever had about the gorgeous, untouchable consulting detective.

They moved together, joined at the mouth, and John knew what bliss was. Long minutes later, when they broke apart, panting and flushed, and John, for one, was achingly hard in his jeans, he couldn’t help but gasp, “Bloody hell, Sherlock, where on earth did you learn to kiss like that?”

Sherlock, damn him, smirked and looked John up and down. “I was worried I’d be out of practice, but I suppose it’s a bit like riding a bike.”

“How long are we talking about?” John knew they had more important things to be doing than discussing their sexual histories, but it was something he’d often wondered about.

Sherlock barely hesitated before saying, “The last time I kissed anyone not for a case was November 18, 2009.”

“2009—wait, that’s, what, three months before we met?” John pushed down a wave of jealousy at the heretofore unknown person who’d had the privilege of kissing Sherlock Holmes before John even knew he existed.

“I had a few relationships in my twenties, both under the influence and not,” Sherlock said. “But once I met you, my already tepid enthusiasm for finding someone else I could tolerate diminished considerably. I’d already met the person I wanted to spend all my time with, all my affection on. I just couldn’t risk losing your friendship, John. It has been the most important of my life.”

“As yours has been to mine,” John said. It didn’t matter what had happened in their pasts. They were making a fresh start. “And for the record, you won’t be kissing anyone, for a case or not, except me, from now on. Understood?”

“Yes, Captain,” Sherlock said, insolence in his voice, but a genuine smile on his face.

"And I'm afraid Evan is out of a job because I'm the only one sharing a bed with you from now on."

"Yes, Captain," Sherlock said again, but this time infinitely more suggestively.

John growled, and brought their faces together again. He shifted until his erection brushed Sherlock’s thigh and they both groaned at the contact.

“Bedroom?” Sherlock murmured, and John didn’t bother to answer, just pulled Sherlock toward his room, kicking off shoes and shedding his jacket at they went. When they reached the bed, John paused and looked at it, and then at Sherlock. He didn’t seem hesitant in any way, but John wanted to be clear that his love was not contingent on their relationship’s physical aspects, so he cleared his throat, not exactly sure how to communicate that.

“For heaven’s sake, John, it’s just sex,” Sherlock said. “We’re healthy, we’re of age, we’re even in love.”

John had to laugh, but his face grew serious again. “You’re wrong, Sherlock. This is not just sex. Not for me. This is—love. Life. You are my life. My love. I’m not worried about the mechanics. I’m worried about rushing things, about you feeling pressured. We don’t have to do anything in particular, right? We can take this part of things slow.”

“Slow?” Sherlock had that look on his face he got when he felt John was being particularly dense. “We’ve been dancing around each other for half a decade and you want to take things slow?”

“Well, what do you want to do then?”

“I was thinking that being shagged into the mattress by my beautiful, brave army doctor and the love of my life would be a fairly good start.”

John took a deep breath, took Sherlock by the hand. “Then that’s what we’ll do then.”

And they did.